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By Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) the narrative poem was brought to perfection. In Marmion and the Lady of the Lake his wonderful inventiveness in narration is at its height, and it is matched by the extraordinary vividness of his natural description. The poems we have named are his best.
In Samuel Rogers (1762-1855) we have a poet whose works exhibit a slow and cultivated mind, and contain some laboured but fine descriptions. He will be best remembered by his “Pleasures of Memory” and “ Italy."
Thomas Moore's (1779-1852) Oriental Tales in Lalla Rooke are pleasant reading, but one sees that they are little else than flash and glitter. Moore was an excellent song writer, but his lyrical abilities are more slight and pretty than true.
As a representative group of what have been called postRevolution poets we have Lord Byron, Shelley, and Keats.
If the finest poetry be that which leaves the deepest impression on the minds of its readers—and this is not the worst test of its excellence-Lord Byron (1788-1824), we think, must be allowed to take precedence of all his distinguished contemporaries. He has not the variety of Scottnor the delicacy of Campbell—nor the absolute truth of Crabbe-nor the sparkling polish of Moore ; but in force of diction, and unextinguishable energy of sentiment, he clearly surpasses them all. “Words that breathe and thoughts that burn,” are not merely the ornaments but the common staple of his poetry; and he is not inspired or impressive only in some happy passages, but through the whole body and tissue of his composition.
Of Shelley (d. 1822), it has been well said that “ as the poet of Nature, he had the same idea as Wordsworth that Nature was alive ; but while Wordsworth made the active principle which filled and made Nature to be Thought, Shelley made it Love. As each distinct thing in Nature had to Wordsworth a thinking spirit in it, so each thing had to Shelley a loving spirit in it ; even the invisible spheres of vapour sucked by the sun from the forest pool had each its indwelling spirit.”
John Keats (1796-1821) marks the conclusion of that poetic movement which the ideas of the French Revolution had started in this country. With Keats the impulse which began with Burns and Cowper became exhausted. “ There was no longer now in England," to quote the Rev. Mr. Stopford Brooke, “any large wave of public thought or feeling such as could awaken poetry. We have then arising after Keats's death a number of pretty little poems having no inward fire, no idea, no marked character. They might be written by any versifier at any time and express pleasant indifferent thought in pleasant verse. Such are Mrs. Hemans's poems and those of L. E. L., and such were Tennyson's earliest poems in 1830. But with the Reform agitation, and the new religious agitation at Oxford which was of the same date, a new excitement or a new form of the old, came on England, and with it a new tribe of poets arose among whom we live. The elements of their poetry were also new, though their germs were sown in the previous poetry. It took up the theological, sceptical, social and political questions which disturbed England. It gave itself to metaphysics and to analysis of human character. It carried the love of natural scenery into almost every county in England and described the whole land. Some of its best writers are Robert Browning and his wife, Matthew Arnold, and A. H. Clough. One of them, Alfred Tenr.yson, has for many a day remained the first.”
“Within the last ten years,” adds Mr. Brooke, writing in 1875, “the impulse given in 1832 has died away. The vital interests in theological and social questions, in human questions of the present has decayed ; and the same thing which we find in the case of Keats has again taken place. A new class of literary poets has arisen, who have no care for a present they think dull, for religious questions to which they see no end. They too have gone back to Greek Mediæval and old Norse life for their subjects. They find much of their inspiration in Italy and in Chaucer : but they continue the love-poetry and the poetry of natural description.”
PASSAGES FROM THE POETS.
I. JOHN BARBOUR.
FREEDOM. Ah, Freedom is a noble thing! Freedom makes man to have liking ! Freedom all solace to man gives; He lives at ease that freely lives. A noble heart may have none ease, Na else naught that may him please, If Freedom fail'th ; for free liking Is yearned owre all other thing. Na he that aye bas lived free May not know well the property, The anger, na the wretched dooni That is coupled to foul thirldom. But, if he had assayed it, Then all perquer he should it wit; And should think freedom more to prize Than all the gold in world that is.
11. GEOFFREY CHAUCER. 1. PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES. Whanne that April with his showers sote The drought of March hath pierced to the root, And bathed every vein in such liquor, Of which virtue engendered is the flower ; When Zephyrus eké with his sotè breath Inspired hath in every holt and heath The tender croppes; and the young sun Hath in the Ram his halfè course yrun; And smallè fowles maken melody, That sleepen alle night with open eye,
(So pricketh them nature in their corage)
Befel that in that season on a day
The chambers and the stables weren wide,
But nathless, while that I have time and space,
2.—MORNING WALK. I rose anon, and thought I wouldè gone
Into the wood, to hear the birdès sing, When that the misty vapour was agone,
And ciear and fairè was the morroning: The dew also like silver in shining