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the obscurity of paganism, what was the high poetry of the ancients but the struggling of those surviving powers for something more adequate than a sensual faith to fill the caverns of the heart? When the knowledge of the Godhead, too vast for the fallen mind, was dispersed into the fantasies of polytheism — when a thousand deities were enshrined in gorgeous temples and in the household - when men were bowing down before images, or worshipping the sun, or fire, or whatever they might chance to turn to - in all these perverted creeds there was cherished the instinct of the insufficiency of this mere mortal life. Let it be meditated on, that the most sublime aspirations, approaching nearest to the sphere of Truth, were ihe efforts of poetic genius. It was neither reason nor the lore of philosophic schools, but the creative faculty of imagination that wrestled most strenạously with paganism. The moral wisdom of ancient heathendom was in its great poems. On the pages
of the chief Greek poets may be traced the consciousness of our mingled nature, as felt by them, - showing that they partly realized the condition of the soul — its weakness and its strength - its celestial attributes soiled with some, to them unknown, earthly taint. It was the poets by whom some light was shed on those "faded and mystical characters on the human soul.” How first inscribed, and how obscured, was a mystery to be broken only by the narrative on the first pages of the bible. The soarings of Pindar, in many instances, illustrate this view of heathen poetry. The famous simile of “the dream of a shadow” is not closed without adding that a ray given from the gods can send reality and splendor. The fine opening of the sixth Nemean ode, has, to our feelings, something deeply touching in its mingled humility and ambition — the flutterings of hope and the despondency of mere humanity - its “ voices of two different natures.” It awakens a christian commiseration, and we long to share with the poet the light of our faith. We'remember pagan language more clearly manifesting the sense of a human nature created in the image of God and in his likeness, but corrupted and deranged :
'Εν ανδρών, έν θεών γένος εκ
Μένει ουρανός. 'Αλλά τι προσφέρομεν
του φύσιν 'Αθανάτοις:
One is the race of Gods and men ;
We have entered into a somewhat elaborate disquisition on the subject of poetic art, because in venturing to class a living bard in the rank of Spenser, and Shakspeare, and Milton, we deemed it appropriate to show the scope of all poetry of a high order. We have sought to establish that poetic genius is not that fickle and lawless power it is often supposed to be — that imagination is sovereign among the faculties of the mind — and further, that the high aims of poetry, and its welcome to the heart, are in accordance with what the only authentic history teaches us of the history and constitution of the human soul, without which information the aspirations of poetry make a mystery in our nature that no philosophy can unriddle. From the same volume it might be shown to those who would place the imagination in vassalage to the understanding, that inspired patriotism, and prayer and praise and thanksgiving, took the voice of song, -and that prophecy and even the Redeemer's lessons are glowing with the fervor of the visionary faculty. This is indeed the proudest attribute of imagination, that when the wisdom of God comes down to earth to speak to man through inspired lips, it is addressed chiefly to that faculty, --- and when human imagination is faithful to its nature, it rises to claim its kindred with the skies. The highest order must be, as it always has been, moral. Earth-born and earthly it may be, but at the same time it must be ethereal. If it creep upon the ground, it is weak and perishable - if it strive to soar for ever to the sky, it becomes vain and fantastic. It must be at once lowly and aspiring, like Wordsworth’s sky-lark,
Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam ;
It is the duty of the great poet to spiritualize humanity, and otherwise can no one rightfully possess the fame. Sadly has genius often betrayed its trust by perverting its holy endowment to darkening by profanity the shade that already hangs upon our nature sensualizing instead of spiritualizing. We care not how great may be the power thus abused, the sacred title is forfeited for ever. In Shakspeare's rhapsody, there is a deeper truth than the meaning floating on the surface, when he tells us that "the poet's eye-doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven."
After detaining the reader from our main subject, we turn to the collection of Wordsworth's poems, to see whether they correspond to the ideal of poetry on which we have been dwelling. And first, we seek to know what is his own conception of the poet's calling. Like Milton, he has chanced to record it in prose, and there is enough to show that he “deems the art not lightly to be approached, and that the attainment of excellence in it, may laudably be made the principal object of intellectual pursuit by any man, who, with reasonable consideration of circumstances, has faith in bis own impulses.” The “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads,” and the “ Supplementary Essay,” are replete with a sublime sense of poetry. He describes the poet as
- a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with a more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than are supposed to be common among mankind; a man pleased with his own passions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men in the spirit of life that is in him ; delighting to contemplate similar volitions and passions as manifested in the goings on of the universe, and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them."
“ The knowledge both of the poet and the man of science is pleasure ; but the knowledge of the one cleaves to us as a necessary part of our existence, our natural and unalienable inheritance; the other is a personal and individual acquisition, slow to come to us, and by no habitual and direct sympathy connecting us with our fellow beings. The man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown benefactor ; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as a visible friend and hourly companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science. Emphatically may it be said of the poet, as Shakspeare hath said of man, that he looks before and after.' NO. VII.- VOL. IV.
He is the rock of defence for human nature ; an upholder and preserver, carrying every where with him relationship and love. In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs; in spite of things silently gone of mind, and things violently destroyed : the poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth and over all time. The objects of the poet's thoughts are every where ; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet be will follow wheresoever be can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings.
Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge - it is immortal as the heart of man." Wordsworth's exalted opinion of poetry is expressed frequently
In the lines with the simple title,“ September, 1819," he looks out upon an early autumnal scene, depicted with that miniature fidelity, which is one of his characteristics : the “ leafy shade, unfaded, yet prepared to fade,” becomes associated with the sere leaf of his own life, but from the still lively notes of the birds comes the reflection, that age has free choice of “undiscordant themes,” that may be prized" not less than rernal ecstasies and passion's dreams,"
For deathless powers to verse belong,
Not such the initiatory strains
Nor such the spirit-stirring note
And not unhallowed was the page,
pangs of vain pursuit ;
Love listening while the Lesbian maid
Oye, who patiently explore
That were, indeed, a genuine birth
Can haughty Time be just ? If more evidence be desired, let it be remembered that Wordsworth has consecrated his whole life to poetry. It has been his sovereign intellectual pursuit, for what he has given to the world in prose has chiefly been incidental. On this side the ocean we are aloof from biographical gossip respecting living British authors, but from Wordsworth's own pages we can gather, in his statements and allusions to his personal history, all that is needed to illustrate the genius of his poems. Relying on such authentic information, it is proper to advert to some circumstances in his career. Many years ago he “retired to his native mountains, [in the north of England,] with the hope of being enabled to construct a literary work that might live.” This was no morbid seclusion - nothing of that faint and false hearted flight from society of which genius has sometimes been guilty, but retirement was sought as the vantage ground of imaginative and meditative truth, and in his solitude, as we shall have occasion to show, he has nursed his heart to a quick sensibility to all healthy sympathies with his country and mankind. He has been fortunate in the cordial communion with Coleridge, and Southey, and “ Lamb, the frolic and the gentle," and in the friendship of such as Sir Walter Scott and Rogers. In another respect has he been fortunate -- the intellectual female sympathy he has enjoyed in the bosom of his own family.* This appears not only
• A newspaper report some time since raised an expectation that some of Miss Wordsworth's writings were about to be published: the extracts from her Diaries and other effusions scattered among her brother's poems are every way calculated to keep this expectation alive as a hope.