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That gleamed, with the light of another life,
Stern and sad on the false Sir Guy
And he shakes it right frank and free,
Thus mournfully speaketh he:
On thy knighthood the sooth declare;
Say by whom we murdered were."
“Ay, Mary Mother !” said he,
And his crossbow murdered me;
Unshriven we passed to our graves-
As it screamed to the chiming waves.
Alas! we could find no rest
And the arblast-bolt in my breast ;-
And we would not forgotten be ;
Long looked-for guests are we.”
'Twas a wild and a fiendish roar-
By man was seen never more.
VOL. XXXII.-NO. CLXXXVIII.
A FEW WORDS ON “POEMS," POETRY, AND POETS.
“ The Poetry of Earth is never dead."
Yes! most true, O prophetic John Keats, “the poetry of Earth is never dead.” Whether the poetry of heaven
-the true celestial harmony of the Muse_has the same eternal vitality in this world, is another question, not so easily settled, and not quite so certain; but that the poetry of earth, meaning by that phrase something very different from what was in thy soul, O short. lived Adonais! when thou didst sing that sweet sonnet, meaning in fact, that imperfect utterance of partially inspired, or totally uninspired versification, which, upon the title-pages of such countless myriads of never-to-beopened volumes, is called “ poctry !"that this poor, mangled metamorphosis of prose, shorn of its native clear ness and unambiguity, and confused by the jangle of its rhymes, like an idiot by the bells of his own foolscap, is not dead, nor even sleeping, any list of “new publications" will sufficiently prove.
Poetry! why what do the million mocking-birds of song, who chatter their imitative jargon from century to century, think that poetry is, if they fancy that a single human being who has ever been enraptured by the true melody, can be deceived by their "inarticulate shrieking,” even for an instant ? Poetry! the language of heaven, of inspiration, of revelation, and of love—the language in which God speaks to man, and by which man speaks to God the otherwise unutterable yearnings of his heart-the one universal religion, that has its votaries in every clime, as well beneath the crescent as the cross_in the east as in the west, and whose simple creed-a belief in the Beautiful and the True like the creed of a diviner faith, has been proclaimed to the world, but by the lips of about twelve apostles at various times, and in far separated countries, since the beginning of the world! Is it this, then, so lofty, so elevated, so pure, and so seldom heard or seen on this earth, that we are to expect when opening the pages of some printed matter which the author, with a despe.
rate courage denominates “poetry?" Yes! truly we ought to expect it, but we do not : disappointment has too frequently succeeded to reasonable expectation-disgust has too often replaced anticipated delight, to allow us to indulge the extravagant hopes that led us on “like the bird in the story," from volume to volume, at the beginning of our reading days. We formerly were inclined to forgive and forget a few blemishes and shadows, in consequence of the brightness and perfection that we hoped would characterise the work as a whole. We are now satisfied, and rewarded sufficient. ly, if, through pages of cloudy obscu. rity, one gleam of true intelligence breaks forth, and if, amid the mass of vanity, egotism, affectation, and silliness, that generally constitutes the bulk of cotemporary“ poetry," one natural sentiment, or one true throb of humanity relieves the surrounding inanity.
Our great poet Moore, in a conversation with Sir Walter Scott, is reported to have expressed his wonder at the considerable amount of really excel. lent poetry which was published anonymously in the magazines, sufficient, be believed, to have earned a high reputation for the writers, at any other period of English literature. With every respect for our illustrious coun. tryman, we must express our dissent from this opinion. If he himself, and the band of great poets who were his cotemporaries, had not spoken, and given, as it were, the key-note to the age, all the little nameless voices that joined their shrill treble to the glorious concert that then was ravishing the ears of men, would have been totally silent. They were but faint feeble echoes of great original harmonies, and would have been, had they existed at any earlier period of English literature, emasculated Drydens and diluted Popes, as they were infinitesimal atomies of Wordsworth or of Byron.
At the time that Moore expressed this opinion, Ireland did not possess any newspaper that deemed it advisable to intermingle the amenities of li.. terature with the almost unavoidable rudeness of politics, nor any magazine conducted with sufficient spirit, and endued with sufficient vitality to attract to it whatever resident literary ability this country possessed. Within the last eight or ten years, however, it has come into the possession of both, and, whether owing to the novelty, or to the want of publishing enterprise in any other direction, much poetry has been produced really worthy of the name, and which, retrospectively at least, proves the truth of the observa tions of Moore. This, however, compared with the immense quantity of published and publishing verse, is but a small matter, and weighs less than its intrinsic weight and value in the literature and the language of the Empire, in consequence of our local and provincial position; and even at the best,' is not sufficient to atone for the almost universal mediocrity of English poetry since the death of
This contrast or re-action is nothing very new in English literature, and is, perhaps, not very difficult to be explained, if we consider for a moment, what the ordinary character of that literature has generally been.
Chaucer has been called the morning star of English poetry, and correctly, if the figure does not imply that he heralded a long, calm, literary day, steadily brightening and warming into noon, and as steadily deepening again into night. Now this is the reverse of the fact-in English literature there has been no progression, no develop ment, no appearance of inevitable decay or dissolution. Every great poet that has appeared since Chaucer, came as suddenly and as unexpectedly into the system as the Poet of the Pilgrims himself. The glorious constellations of Spenser and Shakspeare burst upon the upturned eyes of the watchers in the age of Elizabeth, with the same surprise as that of Chaucer on those in the age of Edward III. Nothing announced the advent of Milton, of Dryden, of Pope, or of that glorious galaxy that shone upon the morning of this century, with a lustre that has not been seen in English literature since the days of the dramatists. A day, then, glimmering from twilight into dawn, brightening into morning,
deepening into noon, and darkening into night, is not a true illustration of English literature; it might, perhaps, be more correctly compared to the long, bright night of the poles, where magnificent constellations appear and disappear at intervals, leaving large, dark, starless spaces for a while, soon to be filled up by planets equally bright, glittering with untransmitted and unborrowed lustre, moving in distinct orbits, and girdled with satellites, to whom they give, and from whom they draw reciprocal illumination.
This being, then, the general character of English poetry-the occasional decadence, and almost total disappearance of poetical genius of a very high character for a time, is not to be wondered at, and may be accounted for in this way : when a great poet (or a great circle of poets, having a certain homogeneity and connection one with the other), lays down his pen, and having fulfilled his mission, withdraws bodily from the world, he leaves such a rich legacy of melody, and thought, and imagination behind him, as to be quite sufficient to supply the wants of the age that immediately succeeds. The young awakening spirits of the generation that is just emerging out of childhood, as he disappears, grow into manhood, with the harmony of his song ringing in their ears. Those of them who, from their natural endowments, would be most likely to be the foremost lights of an era more removed from the influence which a greater writer exercises long after his death, and which, as it never could have been attained without being thoroughly interfused by the character of his time, can never be diminished until that character becomes obsolete. The young spirits, we say, who would then be the originators of a new school, are precisely those on whom the charms of the dead magician have the greatest power. Their finer organization is worked on by double influences--the spirit of the time, as well as the genius of the great masters, whose songs have been the sublimest expression of that spirit-and thus their intellectual life is spent in worshipping the vanished divinities, rather than in collecting worshippers round themselves. In this manner a generation passes away-the world and the time assume new phases, and then, and not till then, returns THE POET, we say, possessed of all those rare and lofty qualities, had not been compelled
“ To make himself a motley to the view".
that is, the man most thoroughly per meated by the new spirit, and gifted beyond his fellows with the power of giving it expression.
The great spaces, however, which lie between one great poetical lumi. nary and another, are not totally void. They cannot boast, indeed, of any per. fect orb, however minute, moving in its brilliant though limited circle: but their utter desolateness is partially relieved by numerous small bodies, something like those incomplete fragments of planets that lie between Mars and Jupiter. As it is in one of those spaces that the literary world is at present moving, we cannot promise our readers any very wonderful discoveries, or any very dazzling spectacle, as they look through our critical telescope at the objects that may rise before them. We promise them, however, that we shall arrange our glass in such a manner, that nothing really beautiful or interesting in those objects shall be wilfully neglected — for there is a beauty and an interest in all created things--and to discover these, we sincerely wish that our small critical eve. glass had the magnifying powers of the leviathan telescope of the Earl of Rosse.
With the exception of Tennyson's (if the remark is not applicable to his also), the most successful poetry of the last twenty years has been unquestionably that species that sympathised most intimately with the social questions and difficulties of the age. In this department, no man would have reached such thorough and complete success_indeed, no man has attained such pre-eminence-as the late Tho. Mas Hood. If he himself had not been one of the most conspicuous victims of the unhealthy and unhappy social system under which this generation' is living-if he, with a heart genial and overflowing like a hot spring, with a fancy teeming with imagery and vi. sions of consummate beauty, with an ear attuned to sweetest harmony, and with a soul filled, like a mountain lake, with the deepest and the calmest thought, and shadowed by that slight, overhanging, melancholy gloom which is ever the attendant of genius-if he,
for bread_driven from the divine mission which nature had qualified him to fill, by the necessities of life-he, instead of being the jester of his age, might have been its best and loftiest teacher! As it is, he has left two or three texts which the world will not easily forget : need we mention one ? the most exquisite and yet most painful poem of its kind perhaps in the whole range of English poetry—“The Bridge of Sighs."
Since the death of Hood, the writer who has most successfully dealt with social questions, with the struggles and difficulties that specially beset life in these countries at the present time, and with the hopes that are rising, like crescent moons, upon the horizon of the future, is, unquestionably CHARLES Mackay.*
Dr. Mackay appears to us to be singularly well adapted for the particular poetical mission to which he seems to consider himself called. His sympathies are all with the classes to whom and for whom he sings; his prejudices are few, and those generally based upon some error, so generous as to be almost a merit; his style is simple, clear, and unpretending, while there is a popular melody in his versification that wins an easy way to the ear of “ the million."
He does not seek for inspiration, in this instance at least, at the ordinary sources
“Down by a purling stream's meander ;"
but amid the tremendous noise and uproar of the London streets, as he goes wandering (as we ourselves have done many a time and oft) from “Gray's Inn Porch,"
“Through Chancery-lane to Lincoln's Inn,
To Fleet-street, through the moil and din."
There is much in his present volume which we like, and a little that we dislike. We like his sympathy with the poor and the hardworked, and his words of encouragement and of hope to the unfortunate and the oppressed ; but we dislike very much the spirit in which a few of his pieces are conceived and written. We dislike, for instance, his “ Mary and Lady Mary,” as well for the injurious tendency and want of delicacy of such couplets as this
* “ Town Lyrics and other Poems.” By Charles Mackay, LL.D. London: Bogue. 1848.
* Her pulse is calm, milk-white her skin
She hath not blood enough to sin,"
as for its being deliberately written down to the level of some of the lowest prejudices of those classes whose habits of thought, as well as whose mate. rial condition, we are perfectly certain Dr. Mackay is sincerely anxious to elevate and to improve. There are two poems, however, which we give without curtailment, and which we think our readers will join with us in admiring :
Twilight saw him at his folios,
Undistinguished was his name;
Clinging to a hope deferred. “ So he lived. At last I missed him ;
Still might evening twilight fall,
“ But this man so old and nameless
Left behind him projects large,
" THE LIGHT IN THE WINDOW.
BY CHARLES MACKAY, LL.D. “Late or early home returning,
In the starlight or the rain,
The same shadow on the wall.
In the silence of my mind,
Filled the measure of his time.
He was portion unto me,
“ Who shall tell what schemes majestic
Perish in the active brain ?
The following, though written in town, has caught its inspiration from the fields. There is nothing to object to in it, except, perhaps, the use of the verb “ dogs," in the sixth line of the fourth stanza. The idea (which, however, is but a mere conceit) could not be easily expressed by any other word; but it is scarcely good enough to excuse the use of one so vulgar and unpoetical as this :