Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

What this imported I could ill divine:
And, pulling now the rein my horse to stop,

I saw three pillars standing in a line,
The last stone pillar on a dark hill-top.

The trees were gray, with neither arms nor head;
Half-wasted the square mound of tawny green;

So that you just might say, as then I said,
‘Here in old time the hand of man hath been.’

I looked upon the hill both far and near,
More doleful place did never eye survey;

It seemed as if the spring-time came not here,
And Nature here were willing to decay.

I stood in various thoughts and fancies lost,
When one, who was in shepherd's garb attired,

Came up the hollow:—Him did I accost,
And what this place might be I then inquired.

The shepherd stopped, and that same story told
Which in my former rhyme I have rehearsed.

‘A jolly place,’ said he, “in times of old !
But something ails it now; the spot is curst.

You see these lifeless stumps of aspen wood–
Some say that they are beeches, others elms—

These were the bower; and here a mansion stood,
The finest palace of a hundred realms

The arbour does its own condition tell;
You see the stones, the fountain, and the stream;

But as to the great lodge' you might as well
Hunt half a day for a forgotten dream.

There's neither dog nor heifer, horse nor sheep,
Will wet his lips within that cup of stone;

And oftentimes, when all are fast asleep,
This water doth send forth a dolorous groan.

Some say that here a murder has been done,
And blood cries out for blood: but, for my part,

I’ve guessed, when I've been sitting in the sun,
That it was all for that unhappy hart.

What thoughts must through the creature's bram have passed!
Even from the topmost stone, upon the steep,

Are but three bounds—and look, Sir, at this last—
O Master! it has been a cruel leap.

For thirteen hours he ran a desperate race;
And in my simple mind we cannot tell

What cause the hart might have to love this place,
And come and make his death-bed near the well.

Here on the grass perhaps asleep he sank,
Lulled by this fountain in the summer-tide;

This water was perhaps the first he drank
When he had wandered from his mother's side.

In April here beneath the scented thorn
He heard the birds their morning carols sing;

And he, perhaps, for aught we know, was born
Not half a furlong from that self-same spring.

But now here's neither grass nor pleasant shade;
The sun on drearier hollow never shone;

So will it be, as I have often said, <
Till trees, and stones, and fountain all are gone.’

‘Gray-headed Shepherd, thou hast spoken well;
Small difference lies between thy creed and mine:

This beast not unobserved by Nature fell;
His death was mourned by sympathy divine.

The Being that is in the clouds and air,
That is in the green leaves among the groves,

Maintains a deep and reverential care
For the unoffending creatures whom he loves.

The pleasure-house is dust:—behind, before,
This is no common waste, no common gloom;

But Nature, in due course of time, once more
Shall here put on her beauty and her bloom.

She leaves the objects to a slow decay,
That what we are, and have been, may be known;

But, at the coming of the milder day,
These monuments shall all be overgrown.

One lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide,
Taught both by what she shows, and what conceals,

Never to blend our pleasure or our pride
With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels.”

Mr. Wordsworth is at the head of that which has been denominated the Lake school of poetry; a school which, with all my respect for it, I do not think sacred from criticism or exempt from faults, of some of which faults I shall speak with becoming frankness; for I do not see that the liberty of the press ought to be shackled, or freedom of speech curtailed, to screen either its revolutionary or renegado extravagances. This school of poetry had its origin in the French revolution, or rather in those sentiments and opinions which produced that revolution; and which sentiments and opinions were indirectly imported into this country in translations from the German about that period. Our poetical literature had, towards the close of the last century, degenerated into the most trite, insipid, and mechanical of all things, in the hands of the followers of Pope and the old French school of poetry. It wanted something to stir it up, and it found that something in the principles and events of the French revolution. From the impulse it thus received, it rose at once from the most servile imitation and tamest common-place to the utmost pitch of singularity and paradox. The change in the belleslettres was as complete, and to many persons as startling, as the , change in politics with which it went hand in hand. There was a mighty ferment in the heads of statesmen and poets, kings and people.—According to the prevailing notions, all was to be natural and new. Nothing that was established was to be tolerated. All the common-place figures of poetry, tropes, allegories, personifications, with the whole heathen mythology, were instantly discarded; a classical allusion was considered as a piece of antiquated foppery; capital letters were no more allowed in print than letters-patent of nobility were permitted in real life; kings and queens were dethroned from their rank and station in legitimate tragedy or epic poetry, as they were decapitated elsewhere; rhyme was looked upon as a relic of the feudal system, and regular metre was abolished along with regular government—Authority and fashion, elegance or arrangement, were hooted out of countenance, as pedantry and prejudice. Every one did that which was good in his own eyes. The object was to reduce all things to an absolute level; and a singularly affected and outrageous simplicity prevailed in dress and man

ners, in style and sentiment. A striking effect produced where it was least expected, something new and original, no matter whether good, bad, or indifferent, whether mean or lofty, ex

LECTURE viii.] ON THE LIVING POETS. 193

travagant or childish, was all that was aimed at, or considered as compatible with sound philosophy and an age of reason. The licentiousness grew extreme: Coryate's Crudities were nothing to it. The world was to be turned topsy-turvy; and poetry, by the good will of our Adam-wits, was to share its fate, and begin de novo. It was a time of promise, a renewal of the world and of letters; and the Deucalions, who were to perform this feat of regeneration, were the present poet-laureat and the two authors of the Lyrical Ballads. The Germans, who made heroes of robbers, and honest women of cast-off mistresses, had already exhausted the extravagant and marvellous in sentiment and situation; our native writers adopted a wonderful simplicit of style and matter. The paradox they set out with was that all things are by nature equally fit subjects for poetry; or that, if there is any preference to be given, those that are the meanest and most unpromising are the best, as they leave the greatest scope for the unbounded stores of thought and fancy in the writer's own mind. Poetry had with them “neither buttress nor coigne of vantage to make its pendant bed and procreant cradle.” It was not “born so high: its aiery buildeth in the cedar's top, and dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun.” It grew like a mushroom out of the ground; or was hidden in it like a truffle, which it required a particular sagacity and industry to find out and dig up. They founded the new school on principle of sheer humanity, on pure nature void of art. J could not be said of these sweeping reformers and dictators in the republic of letters, that “in their train walked crowns and crownets; that realms and islands, like plates, dropt from their pockets:” but they were surrounded, in company with the Muses, by a mixed rabble of idle apprentices and Botany Bay convicts, female vagrants, gipsies, meek daughters in the family of Christ, of idiot boys and mad mothers, and after them “owls and night-ravens flew."—They scorned “degrees, priority, and place, insisture, course, proportion, season, form, office, and custom, in all line of order:”—the distinctions of birth, the vicissitudes of fortune, did not enter into their abstracted, lofty, and levelling calculation of human nature. He who was more than man with them was none. They claimed kindred only with

[ocr errors]

the commonest of the people: . peasants, pedlers, and villagebarbers were their oracles and bosom friends. Their poetry, in the extreme to which it professedly tended, and was in effect carried, levels all distinctions of nature and society; has “no figures nor no fantasies,” which the prejudices of superstition or the customs of the world draw in the brains of men; “no trivial fond records” of all that has existed in the history of past ages; it has no adventitious pride, pomp, or circumstance, to set it off; “the marshal's truncheon, nor the judge's robe;” neither tradition, reverence, nor ceremony, “that to great ones 'longs:” it breaks in pieces the golden images of poetry, and defaces its armorial bearings, to melt them down in the mould of common humanity or of its own upstart self-sufficiency. They took the same method in their new-fangled “metre ballad-mongering” scheme, which Rousseau did in his prose paradoxes—of exciting attention by reversing the established standards of opinion and estimation in the world. They were for bringing poetry back to its primitive simplicity and state of nature, as he was for bringing society back to the savage state: So that the only thing remarkable left in the world by this change would be the persons who had produced it. A thorough adept in this school of poetry and philanthropy is jealous of all excellence but his own. He does not even like to share his reputation with his subject; for he would have it all to proceed from his own power and originality of mind. Such a one is slow to admire anything that is admirable; feels no interest in what is most interesting to others, no grandeur in any thing grand, no beauty in any thing beautiful. He tolerates only what he himself creates; he sympathizes only with what can enter into no competition with him, with “the bare trees and mountains bare, and grass in the green field.” He sees nothing but himself and the universe. He hates all greatness and all pretensions to it, whether well or ill founded. His egotism is in some respects a madness; for he scorns even the admiration of himself, thinking it a presumption in any one to suppose that he has taste or sense enough to understand him. He hates all science and all art; he hates chemistry, he hates conchology; he hates Voltairé; he hates Sir Isaac Newton; he hates wisdom; he hates wit; he hates meta

« AnteriorContinuar »