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do nothing more than rhyme, critics from the remotest times have agreed rather to value the matter than the manner, and furthermore have, on discovering the matter to be bad, displayed a particular contempt for the manner, no matter how meritoriously musical. If the recognition of Longfellow's merits as a poet depended upon his merits as a metrician, conjecture might fairly hesitate to pronounce the posi tion in letters which he would occupy. Fortunately, however, his claims to both excellences can equally endure the closest scrutiny.
As a translator, Mr. Longfellow, if he has been equalled, has certainly never been excelled. Bryant and Lockhart are sometimes as happy as he is in their rendering; but Longfellow is more uniformly excellent. Moreover, some of his most felicitous translations are from a language the difficulties of which none can know who have never attempted it. I refer to the German. The charm of these translations is the means with which the spirit of the original is caught and embodied. Take, for instance, the well-known verses beginning
"I know a maiden fair to see,
She can both false and friendly bo;
Take "The Two Locks of Hair," or "The Legend of the Crossbill." Take "Frithiof's Temptation," from the Swedish, or the version of Uhland's "Castle by the Sea." More admirable specimens of genuine translation of translation, I mean, as opposed to the mere verbal accuracy without spirit of some, and the paraphrastical exaggeration by which the spirit of the original is diffused and weakened, of otherswill not easily be found.
The mentioning of the "Castle by the Sea," reminds me that Mr. Longfellow has to be considered in the light of a prose author as well as in that of a poet. It is in his "Hyperion" that he introduces the above-mentioned poem; those who have not read the work may thank me for transcribing the translator's comments upon the verses. Flemming, after rendering them, asks, "How do you like that?" Miss Ashburton rejoins, "It is very graceful and pretty. But Ubland seems to leave a great deal to his reader's imagination. All his readers should be poets themselves or they will hardly comprehend him. I confess I hardly understand where he speaks of the castle's stooping downward to the mirrored wave* below, and then soaring upward into
*I do not understand the term "mirrored wave." The wave may mirror something; but to be itself mirrored is to imply that it reflects itself. Now we might as well talk of a looking-glass reflecting itself.
the gleaming sky. I suppose, however, he writes to expose the momentary illusion we experience when beholding a perfect reflection of an old tower in the sea. We look at it as if it were not a mere shadow in the water; and yet the real tower rises far above, and seems to float in the crimson evening clouds. Is that the meaning?"
"I should think it was. To me it is all a beautiful cloud landscape, which I comprehend and feel, and yet should find some difficulty, perhaps, in explaining."
"And why need one always explain ? Some feelings are quite untranslatable. No language has yet been found for them. They gleam upon us beautifully through the dim twilight of fancy, and yet, when we bring them close to us, and hold them up to the light of reason, lose their beauty all at once; as glow-worms, which gleam with such a spiritual light in the shadows of evening, when brought in where the candles are lighted, are found to be only worms like so many others."
The language of "Hyperion," indeed of all Longfellow's prose works, is completely of this stamp, singularly refined, copious without profusion, and pregnant with thoughts, with sentiments, with allusions and similes of a nature the most admirable and happy. Of his numerous works in verse as well as prose, one of the most, if not the most, poetical is "Kavanagh." This unpretending story abounds with touches that, more than his happiest rhymes, his dantiest stanzas, his most melodious numbers, convince us that Longfellow is a poet. Whatever fate his poetry may meet with in the future; whatever judgment posterity may pronounce upon it; it is very certain that they who may read " Kavanagh" shall arrive at but one opinion, and exclaim, what though the name of the author be perished, "None but a poet wrote this." Nor can less praise be accorded to "Outre-Mer," though, being eminently discursive in its views and more colloquial and familiar in its style, it wants that compactness, that symmetry, those harmonious combinative excellences which constitute not the smallest charm of "Kavanagh." I know not whether it is that Mr. Longfellow is always singularly happy in the choice of his subjects, or that his subjects are rendered singularly happy by his treatment, but it is certain that it would be almost impossible to name any single volume more attractive than the volume that goes under the name of "Longfellow's Prose Works." Whatever he approaches he renders instinct with the spirit of the gentleman and the scholar; terms which embrace in their application the advocacy of religion, of the emotions,
of virtue: the advocacy, too, of whatever is exalted in art or admirable in nature. It may, perhaps, be a disputed point to which of the capacities he displays precedence should be given; whether the merit of his prose be not greater than the merit of his verse, or vice versa. It must be confessed that his poetry does not always display the same uniformity of excellence which is discoverable in his prose. "Kavanagh," for instance, may be opposed to "Hyperion," or "Hyperion" to "Outre-Mer," without in the least degree detracting from each other's merits. But to compare the " Courtship of Miles Standish" with “Hiawatha,” or his devotional poems with some of his translations, and with some of his secular verses, is to place "Hiawatha " and the secular verses first and the rest nowhere at all.
Taking him for all in all, the Americans are indeed justified of being proud of Longfellow; and their chief poets, of which Longfellow and Bryant are the most admirable examples, do well to cultivate the emotions of their fellow-countrymen, and to refine the national character. The indoctrination of art is always synonymous with the progress of art—at least when its appeals are directed to such an intellect as the American. There may come a time when America shall cease for a while her mighty activity; when the repose of arms and arts shall fall upon her as it has fallen, each in its turn, upon the eastern empires of the world. Then shall commence the era of retrospection. The future that has been gained shall then be a glory of the past. From this glory, meditation may evolve those secrets of original and unique intellectual greatness which it has been the business of every national poet to supply to every reflective nation.
Now you droop your eyes completely,
If you must smile, smile this way!
Ah! the rosebud fingers flitting
Kitty, do you know or care
"Tis my heart you're winding there?
Kitty, I am in a vision !
All the world to mist doth die;
Only, in an air Elysian,
Little fairy fingers fly:
Surely, if they flit too near,
I shall catch and kiss them, dear!
Tangled! pout not, frown not, Kitty!
For your anger is so pretty,
It may make me sin again.
There! 'tis well! Now, wind and wind,
Now, 'tis done! the last thread lingers
Sadly from me, slow to part;
Can'st thou see that in my fingers
I am holding up my heart? Wind and wind! I do not care! Smile or frown! and I will bear!
Ah! so fast and quick you wind it, I no more can keep it mine; you wonder that you find it
Throbbing now, close, close to thine:
Tangled, tangled are the twain;
Kiss, kiss, kiss them free again!