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· Whoever has read of Calypso, of the Sirens, and the Lestry
gones, must be aware of the old gentleman's propensity to fiction. Now our MS. does decidedly in this point bear marks of Homeric manufacture, for we have little doubt that it is, like the Odyssey,-All a Hum !
ON WORDSWORTH'S POETRY.
To Richard Hodgson, Knave of Clubs, &c. &c. MY DEAR SEC.-I now come to the latter department of my humble vindication of William Wordsworth's Poems, in which I proposed to myself to take notice of those other ingredients of matter or style, which are, or are supposed to be, peculiarly characteristic of those productions. But before I proceed any farther, I must here remark, that the distinction which I have apparently created between Wordsworth as a poet generally, and the same as a poet in a sense peculiar to himself, is in reality little better than imaginary; the whole of his Poems, from the shortest to the longest, from the most humble to the most impassioned, being composed strictly upon the principles of one grand comprehensive system ; and consequently the extracts in my first letter being just as thoroughly and genuinely the offsprings of that system as any thing which I may think it right to quote hereafter in this my second. The real foundation of the distinction, if any, is this, that the class of Poetry from which those quotations were made is one, with the external dress of which the world is commonly entertained in the writings of others,; whereas a few specie mens, which I shall take the liberty of presenting to your readers in this essay, will be either the living impressions produced on the heart and the mind by common incidents and natural objects, or they will be the emanations of impassioned feelings, deep thought, and high imagination, and which imperiously demand from the Reader a corresponding sensibility, and an associated temper of the affections, without which much of the most exalted poetry in the world must of necessity appear dead and meaningless phraseology, from the simple cause that the Reader is himself not sufficiently alive to perceive or be animated by the life that is before him. The motto and defence of all original thinkers must be, and ever has been, “ Intelligibilia, non Intellectum fero." ;
Having premised thus much, to guard against misapprehension, I now enter upon the particular subject of this letter, namely, the principles which are the foundation as well as the pervading spirit of Wordsworth's Poems.. And here I have to lament the
utter impossibility of doing any thing like justice to my cause within the narrow limits which necessity imposes on me; though certainly it is some consolation to remember that even Wordsworth himself, with all the eagerness of an advocate, and all his own nervous and fervid eloquence, has finished an exposition of his system with confessing that he found a full and satisfying development of his principles impracticable within the space allowed him in a Preface. What the Poet himself has left undone, I will not presume to fulfil, but will rather content myself by mentioning one or two of the grand creative articles of his faith, upon which every thing he has written is built up, and which, if duly attended to, will lead us, without fear of wandering, into the hidden and wonderful abysses of his Thoughts, and the treasurehouse of his Imagination.
This Poet, then, in the first place, is a lover of Nature; not a blind confounder of the Creator with his own creation—not a souless grovelling worshipper of the earth without even the supposition of a Providence;-—none of these,—but a genuine, pure, religious lover of the Universe, from an ardent belief that it is the symbol and visible exponent of the immeasurable wisdom, and goodness, and majesty of that Almighty God, who is, and was, and is to come. Penetrated, as he himself says, “ to his heart of hearts," with this living idea, he can pass by in neglect or contempt no component part of this mysterious whole; he denies not to any being, animate or inanimate, its due share of his love; he recognizes in all and singular of the infinite germs of the Universe, the finger and the impress of a superior Being; in winter or summer, in storm or sunshine, in solitudes or in crowds, in joy or affliction, he is still one and the same; ever extracting from human contingencies their universal essence; ever inspiring, in return, his own passionate and blended sympathies, whilst he chastens, subdues, and purifies every thought and every wish by a spirit of unutterable and boundless love. It follows intimately, from the foregoing convictions, that no natural object or incident (with obvious and manifest exceptions) can be too low or insignificant for poetry; nay, to carry the principle to its legitimate length, that not seldom in rustic life the passions are more vigorous and decisive, the moving springs of thought and action more simple and unelaborate, and the whole system of society more genuine and unadulterated, than when encumbered and concealed by forms of city ceremonial, and deadened by the depraving habitude of perpetual though unconscious deceit. Low life, therefore, is not destitute of admirable materials for poetry; and this particularly, when it is, as is usually the case, associated with the beautiful and sublime of Nature; but these are only the rude materials of poetry; they cannot become poetry itself, unless they are arranged, and modified, and combined by the Fancy; and, above all, impregnated and shaped by the Imagination of the Poet. To express what I mean more clearly by examples, I would entreat my readers to recall to their minds for a few moments the “ Tam o'Shanter” of Burns, and any of Bloomfield's or Clare's verses, and they will instantly understand and feel the mighty difference with which similar or even humbler subjects may be treated by a Poet and a Verse-maker. Here then it is, that Wordsworth lives and breathes in the full enjoyment of creative observation ; and, elevated as that observation must be by the vicinity, and, as it were, relationship, of the most noble scenery in England, much of his most interesting poetry is concerned at bottom with the ordinary incidents of humanity. Of Westmoreland, as well as of Valchiusa, may it be said
« Qui non palazzi, non teatro o loggia,
Onde si scende poetando, e poggea,
Levan di terra al ciel nostr” intelletto."Wordsworth is not a poetical man, but always and exclusively a Poet; or, to give you his own words
«. Thanks to the human heart by which we live;
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears;
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.” It would be unfair, however, both to Wordsworth's fame and to my readers also, if I compelled them to take what I have said simply upon credit ; and I am sure it is delightful to me when I can claim a proper opportunity of committing the cause to the Poet's own maintaining, by quoting his own words. The three following passages are an eminent proof, in different manners, of his wondrous power of creating and colouring common objects by the intenseness of his Imagination :
“ He scans the Ass from limb to limb
And Peter now uplifts his eyes:-
And quiet are the skies.
He stoops the Ass's neck to seize-
Meets him, beneath the shadowy trees.
The ghost-like image of a cloud ?
Is it a coffin,-or a shroud ?
A grisly idol hewn in stone ?
Or imp from witch’s lap let fall?
In sylvan bower, or haunted hall?
Is it a fiend that to a stake
Of fire his desperate self is tethering ?
Ten thousand miles from all his brethren?
A throbbing pulse the Gazer hath
Puzzled he was, and now is daunted :
A book that is enchanted.
Ah, well-a-day for Peter Bell!
He will be turned to iron soon,
Bristles and whitens in the Moon !
He looks--he ponders—looks again;
He sees a motion-hears a groan;
And drops, a senseless weight, as if his life were flown!”
Can any thing, especially if read in connexion with the original Poem, be more intensely terrific than this passage?-and yet what is the real cause of the terror ? • Again :
6 And the smoke and respiration
Rising like an exhalation,
He, or other God as old,
Of whom in story we are told,
Can any thing, I repeat, be more natural and exquisitely beautiful than this ?--and yet what is the object which has become the cause of this beauty ? . .
Now mark, lastly, the miraculous, and almost sylphish fineness of melody and imagination displayed in these lines following:
“ Withered leaves-one-two-and three
From the lofty Elder-tree!
In his wavering parachute.”
« Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
And cometh from afar;
And not in utter nakedness,
From God who is our home:
Upon the growing Boy,
He sees it in his joy;