Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

correspond with the emotions and sentiments he describes. Thus Virgil, when he gives the lamentation of a despairing lover, communicates a gloom to the scene.

Tantum inter densas, umbrosa cacumina, fagos,
Assidue veniebat; ibi hæc incondita solus
Montibus et sylvis studio jactabat inani.

With regard to the characters io pastorals it is not sufficient, that they be persons residing in the country. Courtiers and citizens, wbo resort thither occasionally, are not the characters, expected in pastorals. We expect to be entertained by shepherds, or persons wholy engaged in rural occupations. The shepherd must be plain and unaffected in his manner of thinking. An amiable simplicity must be the groundwork of his character; though there is no necessity for his being dull and insipid. He may have good sense and even vivacity; tender and delicate feelings. But he must never deal in general reflections, or abstract reasonings; nor in conceits of gallantry; for these are consequences of refinement. When Aminta in Tasso is disentangling his mistress' hair from the tree, to which a sav. age had bound it; he is made to say, 66 Cruel tree, how couldst thou injure that lovely bair, which did thee so much honour? Thy rugged trunk was not worthy of so lovely knots. What advantage have the servants of love, if those precious chains are common to them and to trees? Strained sentiments, like these, suit not the woods. The language of rural personages is that of plain sense and natural feeling; as in the following beautiful lines of Virgil;

Sepibus in nostris parvam te roscida mala
(Dux ego vester eram) vidi cum matre legentem ;
Àlter ab undecimo tum me jam ceperat annus,
Jam fragiles poteram a terra contingere ramos.
Ut vidi, ut perii, ut me malus abstulit error!

The next inquiry is, what are the proper subjects of pastorals ? For it is not enough, that the poet give us shepherds discoursing together. Every good poem has a subject, that in some way interests us. In this lies the difficulty of pastoral writing. The active scenes of country life are too barren of incidents. The condition of a shepherd has few things in it that excite curiosity or surprise. Hence of all poems the pastoral is most meagre in subject, and least diversified in strain. Yet this defect is not to be ascribed solely to barrenness of subjects. It is in a great measure the fault of the poet.

For human nature and human passions are much the same in every situation and rok of life. What a variety of objects within the rural sphere do the passions present! The struggles and ambition of shepherds; their adventures; their disquiet and felicity, the rivalship of lovers ; unexpected successes and disasters; are all proper subjects for the pastoral muse.

Theocritus and Virgil are the two great fathers of pastoral writing. For simplicity of sentiment, harmony of numbers, and richness of scenery, the former is bighly distinguished. But he sometimes descends to ideas that are gross and mean, and makes bis shepherds abusive and immodest. Virgil, on the contrary, preserves the pastoral simplicity without any offensive rusticity.

Modern writers of pastorals have, in general, imitated the ancient poets. Sannazarius, howerer, a Latin poet, in the age of Leo X. attempted a bold innovation, by composing piscatory eclogues, and changing the scene from the woods to the sea, and the character from shepherds to fishermen. But the attempt was so unhappy that he has no followers. The toilsome life of fishermen has nothing agreeable to present to the imagination. Fishes and marine productions bave nothing poetical in them. Of all the moderns, Gesner, a poet of Switzerland, has been the most happy in pastoral composition. Many new ideas are introduced in his Idyls. His scenery is striking, and his descriptions lively. He is pathetic, and writes to the heart. Neither the pastorals of Pope, nor of Philips,do much honour to English poetry. The pastorals of Pope are barren; their chief merit is the smoothness of the numbers. Philips attempted to be more simple and natural, than Pope ; but wanted genius to support the attempt. His topics, like those of Pope, are beaten ; and instead of being natural or simple, he is flat and insipid. Shenstone's pastoral ballad is one of the most elegant poems of the kind in the English language.

In latter times, pastoral writing has been exa tended into regular drama; and this is the chief improvement the moderns have made in it. Two pieces of this kind are highly celebrated, Guarini's Pastor Fido, and Tasso's Aminta. Both possess great beauties; but the latter is the preferable poem, because less intricate, and less affected; though not wholly free from Italian refinement. As a poem, however, it has great merit. The poetry is pleasing and gentle, and the Italian language coofers on it much of that softness, which is suited to the pastoral.

'The Gentle Shepherd of Allan Ramsay, is a pastoral drama, which will bear comparison with any composition of the kind in any language. To this admirable poem it is a disadvantage, that it is written in the old rustic dialect of Scotland, which must soon be obsolete ; and it is a farther disadvantage, that it is formed so entirely on the rural manners of Scotland, that none, but a native of that country, can thoroughly understand and relish it. It is full of natural description, and excels in tenderness of sentiment. The characters are well drawn, the incidents affecting, the scenery and manners lively and just.

LYRIC POETRY. The ode is a species of poetry, which has much dignity, and in which many writers in every age have distinguished themselves. Ode in Greek is the same with song or hymn; and lyric poetry implies, that the verses are accompanied with a lyre or musical instrument. In the ode, poetry retains its first form, and its original union with music. Sentiments commonly constitute its subject. It recites not actions. Its spirit and the manner of its execution mark its character. It admits a bolder and more passionate strain than is allowed in simple recital. Hence the enthusiasm that belongs to it. Hence that neglect of regularity, those digressions, and that disorder, it is supposed to admit.

All odes may be classed under four denomintations. 1. Hymns addressed to God, or compos. ed on religious subjects. 2. Heroic odes, which concern the celebration of heroes, and great actions. 3. Moral and philosophical odes, which refer chiefly to virtue, friendship, and humanity. 4. Festive and amorous odes, which are calculated merely for amusement and pleasure.

Enthusiasm being considered as the characteristic of the ode, it has often degenerated into licentiousness. This species of writing has, above all others, been infected by want of order, method, and connexion.. The poet is out of sight in a moment. He is so abrupt and eccentric, so irregular and obscure, that we cannot follow him. It is not indeed necessary that the structure of the ode be so perfectly regular as an epic poem. But in every composition there ought to be a whole; and this whole, should consist of connected parts. The transition from thought to thought, may be light and delicate, but the connexion of ideas should be preserved; the author should think, and not rave.

Pindar, the father of lyric poetry, has led his imitators into enthusiastic wildness. They imitate his disorder, without catching his spirit. In Horace's odes every thing is correct, harmonious, and happy. His elevation is moderate, not rapturous. Grace and elegance are his characteristics. He supports a moral sentiment with dignity, touches a gay one with felicity, and has the art of trifling most agreeably. His language. too, is most fortunate.

Many Latin poets of later ages have imitated him. Casimir, a Polish poet of the last century, is one of this number; and discovers a considerable degree of original genius and poetic fire. He is, however, far inferior to the Roman, in

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »