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POETRY OF LIFE.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POETRY. lating men to write Poetry: the love of fame,
the want of money, and an internal restlessThat the quality of modern Poetry is a ness of feeling, which is too indiscriminately subject of general complaint with those who called genius. The first of these ceases would purchase—that the price affixed to it with the second, for without the means of by the judgment of the public is equally circulation there can be no hope of fame. complained of by those who would sell—in The third alone operates in the present day, short, that Poetry is at present “a drug in and small, indeed, is the recompense bethe market,” is a phrase too hackneyed, too stowed in these ungrateful times upon the vulgar and too frequently assented too, to poets who write because they cannot help it. need repetition here; except as an established Yet after all, is not this the true and legitifact, the nature, cause, and consequence of mate method by which the genuine coin of which, I propose endeavouring to point out genius is moulded? The love of fame is a in the following pages.
high and soul-stirring principle, but still it is Wherever a taste for Poetry exists, there degraded with the stigma of selfish aggranwill be a desire to read as well as to write; dizement, and who does not feel that a shade to receive as well as to impart that enjoy- is cast upon those expressions of noble sentiment which poetic feeling affords. In other ment, which bear the impress of having been cases of marketable produce, the supply is prepared and set forth solely for public approfound to keep pace with the demand, ex- bation. The want of money is, indeed, a cept when physical causes operate against potent stimulus. How potent let the midit. If the poets of the present day have night labours of the starving poet testify. “written themselves out," as the common and The want of money may it is true, urge onunmeaning expression is, what, with a ra- ward towards the same goal as the love of pidly increasing population, should hinder fame, but the one operates, as it were, from the springing up of fresh poets to delight behind, by the painful application of a goad; the world? The fact is, that most of the while the other attracts, and fascinates by the living poets have betaken themselves to brightness of some object before, which too Prose as a more lucrative employment, thus often proves to be an ignis fatuus in the disproving, that the taste for Poetry is la- tance. But there is within the human mind mentably decreasing in the public mind; an active and powerful principle, that awakand while on one hand, genius is weeping ens the dormant faculties, lights up the brain, over her harvest " whitening in the sun," and launches forth imagination to gather up without hope of profit to repay the toil of from the wide realm of nature the very esgathering in the golden store ; on the other, sence of what every human bosom pines for, criticism is in arms against less sordid adven- when it aspires to a higher state of existturers, and calls in no measured terms upon ence, and feels the insufficiency of this. It the mighty minstrels of past ages to avenge is this heaven-born and ethereal principle, Parnassus of her wrongs.
not inaptly personified as the Spirit of Poesy, Three different motives operate in that weaves a garland of the flowers which
imagination has culled; and from the fer- | the human mind with all the advantages afvency of its own passion, to impart as well forded by the most enlightened state of civas to receive enjoyment, casts this gar- ilization should have become more base and land at the feet of the sordid and busy mul- degenerate, as that the treasury of nature titude, who pause, not to admire, but tram- should be exhausted, it becomes a subject ple its vivid beauty in the dust. It is this of curious and interesting investigation to principle that will not let the intellectual fac- search out the cause, and ascertain whether ulties remain inactive, but is for ever work- it may not be in some measure attributable ing in the laboratory of the brain, combin- to our present system of education being one ing, sublimating, and purifying. It is this of words rather than of ideas, of the head principle, when under the government of rather than of the heart, of calculation rather right reason, which is properly called ge- than moral feeling. nius. It is this principle when perverted While the full and free tide of knowledge is from its high purpose, and made the minis- daily pouring from the press, while books and ter of base passions, which produces the book makers appear before us in every possimost splendid and most melancholy ruin. ble situation, and under all imaginable cirIt is this principle, when devoted to the cumstances, so that to have written a volcause of holiness, which scatters over the ume, is no less a distinction than to have path of desolation flowers of unfading love read one through; while cheap and populiness : pours floods of light upon our distant lar publications fraught with all manner of prospects of the celestial city; and inspires interesting details are accessible to the poorthe harps of heaven-taught minstrels with est classes of the community, it is impossiundying melody.
ble to believe that there is not sufficient This principle, in less figurative phraseol- talent concentrated or afloat to constitute a ogy, I would describe as the Poetry of Life; poet. And while the blue sky bends over because it pervades all things either seen, all-while that sky is studded with the same felt, or understood, where the associations bright host of stars, amongst which the phiare sublime, beautiful and tender, or refined. losopher is perpetually discovering fresh In short, where the ideas which naturally worlds of glory; while the seasons with connect themselves with our contemplation their infinite variety still continue to bring of such subjects are most exclusively intel-forth, to vivify, and to perfect the produce lectual, and separate from sense.
of the earth ; while the woods are vocal with That there is much Poetry in real life, melody, and the air is peopled with myriads with all its sorrows, and pains, and sordid of ephemeral beings whose busy wings are anxieties, and that “all is not vanity and dipped in gold, or bathed in azure, or light vexation of spirit under the sun,” to him and fragile as the gossomer, yet ever bearwho can honestly and innocently enjoy the ing them on through a region of delight, commonest blessings of Providence,” has from the snowy bosom of the lily, to the been already proved by one in whose steps scented atmosphere of the rose; while the I feel that I am unworthy to walk; but since, mountain stream rushes down from the hills, in his admirable lectures on Poetry, he has or the rivers roll onward to the sea; and
treated the subject as a science, rather than above all, while there exists in the heart of | a principle; I am imboldened to take up the man a deep sense of these enjoyments-a
theme, to which he, above all men (more mirror in which beauty is reflected—an echo especially above all women) would have to the voice of music; while he is capable done justice, had he chosen to launch forth of seeling admiration for that which is noble into more abstruse and speculative notions or sublime, tenderness for the weak, symparespecting the nature and influence of poetic thy for the suffering, and affection for all feeling.
things lovely, it is impossible to believe that That the poetry of the present times is an true poetry should cease to please, or fail to unsaleable article needs then no farther proof awaken a response in the human heart. than the observation and experience of every And that man is capable of all this, and day, and since it is as difficult to believe that more, and more capable in proportion as he
cultivates and cherishes the noblest faculties noble, lovely or refined in nature, be able to of his nature, we have to thank the Giver produce a poem or a picture that will please of all our enjoyments, the Creator of all our | the imagination or warm the heart, even capabilities.
though in his laboured performance, the criHow are these faculties now cultivated ? tic should find no fault with the harmony of “ Knowledge is power.” But neither is his numbers, the choice of his colouring, or knowledge all that we live for, nor power all the subjects of both. that we enjoy. There are deep mysteries The qualifications of a true poet are, in in the book of nature which all can feel, but the first place, natural capacity, and favournone will ever understand until the veil of able opportunity for receiving impressions ; mortality shall be withdrawn. There are and in the second, ability to arrange, comstirrings in the soul of man which constitute pare, and select from these impressions. the very essence of his being, and which Without the former, he must be deficient in power can neither satisfy nor subdue. Yet materials for his work; without the latter, this mystery reveals more truly than the he must want the power to make a rational clearest proofs or mightiest deductions of use of any materials whatever. It is the science, that a master hand has been for former alone that we can suppose to be ages, and is still at work, above, beneath, wanting in the present day; for though the and around us; and this moving principle is human mind unquestionably retains the same for ever reminding us that in our nature we capabilities it possessed in the last century, inherit the germs of a future existence over it is possible that opportunities for imbibing which time has no influence, and the grave strong impressions from external nature may no victory.
not now be afforded with the same facility ; Far be it from every liberal mind to main- and that in the present rapid march of inteltain the superiority of feeling over the other lect, the muse of poesy may be so hurried faculties of our nature. In forming a correct out of breath, as not to find time to chant opinion on any subject of taste, it is neces- her charmed lays. sary to examine, compare, and criticise, with The same causes which tend to destroy an eye familiarized to what is most admira- that taste, which would ensure to the works ble, and a judgment controlled by a strict of our poets a welcome reception in refined adherence to the rules of art. No argument and intellectual circles of society, necessarily is required to prove that were feeling al- operate against the production of poetry; and lowed to be the sole impulse of our actions, thus, while we refuse to feast our minds with we should become as culpable in morals, as ideas of the sublime and beautiful, we must absurd in our pursuits; or that the man naturally lose the higher sensibilities and gifted with the quickest perceptions and finer perceptions of our nature. To awaken keenest sensibility, yet untutored in scientific these sensibilities, and quicken these perceprules, would expose himself to well-merited tions, by pointing out what it is which conridicule, should be attempt in a poem or a stitutes the poetry of life, will be the task of picture, to delineate his own conceptions of the writer through the following pages; to grandeur or beauty. Even were he able to prove, that in order to see, think, or write throw into his performance the force of the poetically, it is necessary that we should at most daring genius, or the most inextin- some period of our lives, have had time and guishable enthusiasm, it would prove in the opportunity to receive deep and lasting imend, no better than a mockery of art, and pressions; and that out of these impressions remain a memorial of his own madness and is woven the interminable chain of associafolly. Nor, on the other hand, will he who tion which connects our perceptions of things is by nature destitute of sensibility, or he present, with our ideas or conceptions of
in the crowded city, and expended all the in commencing a serious and arduous
fresh energies of his mind in the bustle and task, it would ill become an accountable hurry of sordid occupations, having laid up agent to neglect the important inquiry of no secret store of associations with what is what may be the moral good of such an un
dertaking; and here the question will natu- , are now wrapped up in his soul, as the rudi-
very foundation and sources of poetry. He, In touching upon this inspiring theme, it is who cannot interpret by his own consciousimpossible not to feel the inadequacy of ness what we have now said, wants the true moderate powers when compared with those key to works of genius. He has not peneof perhaps the most luminous writers of the trated those sacred recesses of the soul, present day, whose review of Milton's works where poetry is born and nourished, and incontains in direct relation to this subject, the hales immortal vigour, and wings herself for following eloquent and inimitable appeal to her heavenward flight. In an intellectual the highest feelings of human nature. I nature, framed for progress, and for higher quote at great length, because I would not modes of being, there must be creative enerbreak the charm of the whole passage by gies, powers of original, and ever-growing garbled extracts; and I risk the quotation at thought; and poetry is the form in which the peril of having the rest of my book con- these energies are chiefly manifested. It is trasted with these pages, like a chaplet of the glorious prerogative of this art, that it mock gems, in which is one true diamond. makes 'all things new for the gratification
“Milton's fame rests chiefly on his poetry, of a divine instinct. It indeed finds its eleand to this we naturally give our first atten- ments in what it actually sees and expetion. By those who are apt to speak of po- riences, in the worlds of matter and mind, ety as light reading, Milton's eminence in but it combines and blends these into new this sphere may be considered as only giving forms, and according to new affinities; him a high rank among the contributors to breaks down, if we may so say, the distincpublic amusement. Not so thought Milton. tions and bounds of nature ; imparts to maOf all God's gifts of intellect, he esteemed terial objects life, and sentiment, and emopoetical genius the most transcendant. He tion, and invests the mind with the powers esteemed it in himself as a kind of inspira- and splendours of the outward creation ; detion, and wrote his great works with some- scribes the surrounding universe in the colours thing of the conscious dignity of a prophet. which the passions throw over it, and depicts We agree with Milton in his estimate of po- the mind in those modes of repose or agitaetry. It seems to us the divinest of all arts; tion, of tenderness or sublime emotion, which for it is the breathing or expression of that manifest its thirst for a more powerful and principle or sentiment, which is deepest and joyful existence. To a man of a literal and sublimest in human nature; we mean of prosaic character, the mind may seem lawthat thirst or aspiration, to which no mind is less in these workings; but it observes higher wholly a stranger, for something purer and laws than it transgresses, the laws of the lovelier, something more powerful, lofty, and immortal intellect; it is trying and developthrilling than ordinary and real life affords. ing its best faculties; and in the objects No doctrine is more common among Chris- which it describes, or in the emotions which it tians than that of man's immortality, but it awakens, anticipates those states of progresis not so generally understood, that the sive power, splendour, beauty and happigerms or principles of his whole future being ness, for which it was created.
“We accordingly believe that poetry, so there is a wisdom against which poetry far from injuring society, is one of the great wars, the wisdom of the senses, which makes instruments of its refinement and exaltation. physical comfort and gratification the suIt lifts the mind above ordinary life; gives preme good, and wealth the chief interest of it a respite from depressing cares, and awak- life, we do not deny ; nor do we deem it the ens the consciousness of its affinity with least service which poetry renders to manwhat is pure and noble. In its legitimate kind, that it redeems them from the thraldom and highest efforts, it has the same tendency of this earth-born prudence. But passing and aim with Christianity; that is, to spirit- over this topic, we would observe, that the ualize our nature. True, poetry has been complaint against poetry as abounding in made the instrument of vice, the pander of illusion and deception, is in the main, groundbad passions; but when genius thus stoops, less. In many poems, there is more truth it dims its fires, and parts with much of its than in many histories and philosophic theopower; and even when poetry is enslaved ries. The fictions of genius are often the to licentiousness or misanthropy, she cannot vehicles of the sublimest verities, and its wholly forget her true vocation. Strains of flashes often open new regions of thought, pure feeling, touches of tenderness, images and throw new light on the mysteries of our of innocent happiness, sympathies with suf-being. In poetry, the letter is falsehood, but sering virtue, bursts of scorn or indignation the spirit is often profoundest wisdom. And at the hollowness of the world, passages if truth thus dwells in the boldest fictions of true to our moral nature, often escape in an the poet, much more may it be expected in immoral work, and show us how hard it is his delineations of life; for the present life, for a gifted spirit to divorce itself wholly which is the first stage of the immortal mind, from what is good. Poetry has a natural abounds in the materials of poetry; and it is alliance with our best affections. It delights the high office of the bard to detect this divine in the beauty and sublimity of the outward element among the grosser labours and creation and of the soul. It indeed portrays pleasures of our earthly being. The present with terrible energy the excesses of the pas- life is not wholly prosaic, precise, tame, and sions; but they are passions which show a finite. To the gifted eye, it abounds in the mighty nature, which are full of power, poetic. The affections which spread beyond which command awe, and excite a deep, ourselves, and stretch far into futurity; the though shuddering sympathy. Its great workings of mighty passions, which seem to tendency and purpose is, to carry the mind arm the soul with almost super-human enbeyond and above the beaten, dusty, weary ergy; the innocent and irrepressible joy of walks of ordinary life; to lift it into a purer infancy; the bloom, and buoyancy, and element; and to breathe into it more pro- dazzling hopes of youth; the throbbings of found and generous emotion. It reveals to the heart, when it first wakes to love, and us the loveliness of nature, brings back the dreams of a happiness too vast for earth; freshness of youthful feeling, revives the re- woman, with her beauty, and grace, and lish of simple pleasures, keeps unquenched gentleness, and fulness of feeling, and depth the enthusiasm which warmed the spring- of affection, and her blushes of purity, and time of our being, refines youthful love, the tones and looks which only a mother's strengthens our interest in human nature by heart can inspire ;-these are all poetical. vivid delineations of its tenderest and loftiest It is not true that the poet paints a life which feeling, knits us by new ties with universal does not exist; he only extracts and concenbeing, and through the brightness of its pro- | trates, as it were, life's ethereal essence; phetic visions, helps faith to lay hold on the arrests and condenses its volatile fragrance, future life.
brings together its scattered beauties, and “We are aware that it is objected to poe- prolongs its more refined but evanescent try, that it gives wrong views, and excites joys; and in this he does well; for it is good false expectations of life; peoples the mind to feel that life is not wholly usurped by cares with shadows and illusions, and builds up for subsistence, and physical gratifications, imagination on the ruins of wisdom. That | but admits, in measures which may be in