« ZurückWeiter »
“O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides ! The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds, the
moist, fresh stillness of the woods, The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all
through the forenoon. “O to realize space!
The plenteousness of all that there are no bounds To emerge, and be of the sky—of the sun and moon
and the flying clouds, as one with them. “O the joy of suffering,To struggle against great odds, to meet enemies
undaunted, To be entirely alone with them—to find how much
one can stand!” I used to think it was great to disregard happiness, to press on to a high goal, careless, disdainful of it. But now I see that there is nothing so great as to be capable of happiness; to pluck it out of “ each moment and whatever happens ;” to find that one can ride as gay and buoyant on the angry, menacing, tumultuous waves of life as on those that glide and glitter under a clear sky; that it is not defeat and wretchedness which come out of the storm of adversity, but strength and calmness.
See, again, in the pieces gathered together under the title “Calamus," and elsewhere, what it means for a man to love his fellow-man. Did you dream it before? These “ evangel-poems of comrades and of love" speak, with the abiding, penetrating power of prophecy, of a “ new and superb friendship ;” speak not as beautiful dreams, unrealizable aspirations to be laid aside in sober
moods, because they breathe out what now glows within the poet's own breast, and flows out in action toward the men around him. Had ever any land before her poet, not only to concentrate within himself her life, and, when she kindled with anger against her children who were treacherous to the cause her life is bound up with, to announce and justify her terrible purpose in words of unsurpassable grandeur (as in the poem beginning, “Rise, O days, from your fathomless deeps ”), but also to go and with his own hands dress the wounds, with his powerful presence soothe and sustain and nourish her suffering soldiers, - hundreds of them, thousands, tens of thousands,—by day and by night, for weeks, months, years ? “I sit by the restless all the dark night; some are so
young, Some suffer so much: I recall the experience sweet
and sad. Many a soldier's loving arms about this neck have
crossed and rested, Many a soldier's kiss dwells on these bearded lips :-" Kisses, that touched with the fire of a strange, new, undying eloquence the lips that received them! The most transcendent genius could not, untaught by that “experience sweet and sad,” have breathed out hymns for her dead soldiers of such ineffably tender, sorrowful, yet triumphant beauty.
But the present spreads before us other things besides those of which it is easy to see the greatness and beauty; and the poet would leave us to learn the hardest part of our lesson unhelped if he took no heed of these ; and
would be unfaithful to his calling, as interpreter of man to himself and of the scheme of things in relation to him, if he did not accept all—if he did not teach “ the great lesson of reception, neither preference nor denial.” If he feared to stretch out the hand, not of condescending pity, but of fellowship, to the degraded, criminal, foolish, despised, knowing that they are only laggards in “ the great procession winding along the roads of the universe,” “the far-behind to come on in their turn,” knowing the “amplitude of Time," how could he roll the stone of contempt off the heart as he does, and cut the strangling knot of the problem of inherited viciousness and degradation ? And, if he were not bold and true to the utmost, and did not own in himself the threads of darkness mixed in with the threads of light, and own it with the same strength and directness that he tells of the light, and not in those vague generalities that everybody uses, and nobody means, in speaking on this head,—in the worst, germs of all that is in the best ; in the best, germs of all that is in the worst, — the brotherhood of the human race would be a mere flourish of rhetoric. And brotherhood is naught if it does not bring brother's love along with it. If the poet's heart were not “a measureless ocean of love” that seeks the lips and would quench the thirst of all, he were not the one we have waited for so long. Who but he could put at last the right meaning into that word “ democracy,” which has been made to bear such a burthen of incongruous notions ? “ By God! I will have nothing that all cannot have
their counterpart of on the same terms !”
flashing it forth like a banner, making it draw the instant allegiance of every man and woman who loves justice. All occupations, however homely, all developments of the activities of man, need the poet's recognition, because every man needs the assurance that for him also the materials out of which to build up a great and satisfying life lie to hand, the sole magic in the use of them, all of the right stuff in the right hands. Hence those patient enumerations of every conceivable kind of industry “In them far more than you estimated-in them far
less also.” Far more as a means, next to nothing as an end; whereas we are wont to take it the other way, and think the result something, but the means a weariness. Out of all come strength, and the cheerfulness of strength. I murmured not a little, to say the truth, under these enumerations, at first. But now I think that not only is their purpose a justification, but that the musical ear and vividness of perception of the poet have enabled him to perform this task also with strength and grace, and that they are harmonious as well as necessary parts of the great whole.
Nor do I sympathize with those who grumble at the unexpected words that turn up now and then. A quarrel with words is always, more or less, a quarrel with meanings ; and here we are to be as genial and as wide as nature, and quarrel with nothing. If the thing a word stands for exists by divine appointment (and what does not so exist ?), the word need never be
ashamed of itself; the shorter and more direct, the better. It is a gain to make friends with it, and see it in good company. Here, at all events, “poetic diction' would not serve,-not pretty, soft, colourless words, laid by in lavender for the special uses of poetry, that have had none of the wear and tear of daily life; but such as have stood most, as tell of human heart-beats, as fit closest to the sense, and have taken deep hues of association from the varied experiences of life—those are the words wanted here. We only ask to seize and be seized swiftly, overmasteringly, by the great meanings. We see with the eyes of the soul, listen with the ears of the soul ; the poor old words that have served so many generations for purposes, good, bad, and indifferent, and become warped and blurred in the process, grow young again, regenerate, translucent. It is not mere delight they give us,—that the “sweet singers,” with their subtly wrought gifts, their mellifluous speech, can give too in their degree; it is such life and health as enable us to pluck delights for ourselves out of every hour of the day, and taste the sunshine that ripened the corn in the crust we eat-I often seem to myself to do that.
Out of the scorn of the present came scepticism; and out of the large, loving acceptance of it comes faith. If now is so great and beautiful, I need no arguments to make me believe that the nows of the past and of the future were, and will be, great and beautiful