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"With ravish'd ears
"And seems to shake the spheres."
"Rich the treasure,
"Sweet the pleasure,
“Sweet is pleasure after pain," &c....Dryden.
These lines involuntarily remind me of some of the burlesque poems addressed to Gulliver; and are greatly below the dignity of a serious ode. The concluding thought in each of these poems is very nearly alike, and in each is too epigrammatical, another capital blemish in a lyric composition.
In truth, though we have no modern specimens of lyric poetry which equal the Allegro and Penseroso of Milton, we have many that far surpass the efforts of Dryden and Pope. Mr. Gray's Bard, the Progress of Poetry, his Ode on Eton College, the rich yet simple effusion to Spring, may be classed among the highest efforts of the lyric muse. The two first Dr. Johnson has criticised with unwarranted asperity; for after all he has given us little more than verbal criticisms: they are however deserving of your attention. Where even they are not just, they are still ingenious.
The bard is superior to the other in the plan and arrangement. Attention is caught by the solemn though abrupt opening of the scene, and is still preserved by the interesting nature of the historical prophecy. Notwithstanding Dr. Johnson's arch remark, I have always greatly admired the passage beginning....
"Ye tow'rs of Julius," &c.
In the "Progress of Poetry," Shakspeare and Milton are finely characterised. I wonder, however, the fastidious critic did not see something like conceit in these two lines....
"He saw....but blasted with excess of light,
The lyric poetry of Collins is less stately, solemn and sublime, than that of Gray, but it is more easy, natural, sweet, and interesting. Of the fine image in the first stanza of the Ode to Mercy I have already spoken. This, and the Ode to Fear, that on the Poetical Character, and "The Manners," an ode, have always appeared to me the most original and interesting, though none of them can be perused by any reader of taste without real pleasure.
We have many other beatiful modern productions of this kind. Some of the Odes in Mr. Mason's Caractacus and Elfrida, are very fine, particularly that in the former "to Death." I may particularly add Mr. Wharton's Ode to Fancy, Dr. Akenside's on Lyric Poetry, and the Ode to Superstition, by a living author, already mentioned in a former letter with I hope becoming respect.
The second description of lyric poems includes those on love, conviviality, and all the lighter subjects. The two fragments which we have of Sappho, though love is the subject, are yet in a style as polished and sublime as any production whatever of the lyric muse. of Anacreon (though I cannot praise their morality) are fascinating beyond expression, both for the vivacity of the thoughts, and the unrivalled harmony of his verse. Among the most beautiful of his productions I may specify the 3d, the 28th, and the 46th. The Dove and the Swallow are also charming. Cowley is among the best of his translators; and, as Cowley is not in every body's hands, I will transcribe a short but spirited ode, embellished, or defaced as you may please to call it, by the luxuriant genius of Cowley....
"Thee country hinds with gladness hear,
"Thee Phœbus loves, and does inspire ;
"But when thou'st drunk, and danc'd and sung
"Thy fill, the flow'ry leaves among,
(Voluptuous, and wise with all,
"Sated with thy summer feast,
In this ode
Ολίγην δρόσον πεπωκώς,
is beautifully translated....
"Fed with nourishment divine,
θέρεος γλυκυς προφήτης
is almost literally, but excellently given....
Prophet of the ripened year."
"Farmer he, and landlord thou."
is in the peculiarly playful style of Cowley.
Horace has also many odes of the gay and sprightly kind, of great beauty and excellence; but in no language whatever are so many to be found as in our own. With us they have been distinguished from the first by the name of SONGS, as most of them have been set and sung to music. Dr. Aikin, in an excellent collection which he has made, and which is preceded by a judicious es say on song writing, has classed them under the following heads: 1st. Ballads and pastoral songs; 2d. Passionate and descriptive songs; 3d. Ingenious and witty songs. To this arrangement I do no mean to object; yet it appears to me that another class might be added ....Patriotic and war songs; such as the celebrated Greek odes of Alcæus and Tyrtæus, which inspired their he roic countrymen with the spirit of liberty and the ardour of patriotism.
The English ballad will scarcely rank under the description of lyric poetry; and I place it here rather because I know not where else to assign it a station, than from any sense of the propriety of the collocation. An elegant poetess of the present time, who was so kind as to write the article Poetry for my Dictionary, has furnished us with the real origin of our ballad. the age of Charlemagne, the minstrels of Provence, or, as they were called, the troubadours, introduced the metrical tales or ballads, which, from the dialect in which they were written, were called also romances. Their poems were all written in rhyme; but whether this practice was borrowed from the Goths or Arabs is uncertain." But though the first ballads might have
for their subjects tales, or simple narratives, such as Chevy Chace, the Children in the Wood, &c., yet we find the term was soon extended to various subjects of love or morals. The ballad of " Death and the Lady," which yet occupies a place in the chimney of many a farm-house, is a moral dialogue. Dr. Aikin has therefore, with propriety, classed among the ballads the popular songs of Mr. Gay, which are real lyrics, and of which Black-eyed Susan is perhaps the best. The little songs in our comic operas have as much a claim to the title of lyric as the choruses in the Greek tragedies, and indeed are more naturally introduced, for singing corresponds better with a representation of joy than of sorrow.
Of "Passionate and descriptive songs," the number is very great in our language, as you will see in Dr. Aikin's collection, and yet this does not include the whole. Amidst such an assemblage of beauties, it is difficult to select; and if I followed the dictates of my own taste, the mere catalogue would fill a page. I will however mention Thomson's "For ever Fortune," Littleton's "Heavy Hours," Percy's "O Nancy," and the well-known ballad of " Old Darby and Joan," as extremely beautiful.
Our witty songs form a class not less numerous than the preceding. The following is exquisitely witty.....
"The women all tell me I'm false to my lass,
"Altho' I have left her, the truth I'll declare,
"My Chloe had dimples and smiles I must own, "But tho' she could smile, yet in truth she could frown. "Now tell me, ye lovers of liquor divine, "Did you e'er see a frown in a bumper of wine?