« ZurückWeiter »
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
To struggle through dark ways, and when a damp
The thing became a trumpet; when he blew
It is the poets who have best revealed the hidden harmony that lies in our short Saxon-English words-the monosyllabic music of our language. This was one of the secrets of the charm and the popularity of Lord Byron's poetry-his eminently English choice of words. Two short passages of Mr. Landor's Poems will serve to show the metrical effect of simple words of one syllable. In the sentence I am about to quote, out of thirty such words, there is but one long latinized word—the rest are nearly all monosyllables, the last line wholly so:
"She was sent forth
To bring that light which never wintry blast
Eyes that love back, till they can see no more."*
The next will better exemplify the harmonious combination of the simple English and the classical or Southern words.
"Crush thy own heart, Man! but fear to wound
The gentler, that relies on thee alone,
By thee created, weak or strong by thee;
* Landor's Works, vol. ii. p. 480. Hellences viii.
Touch it not but for worship; watch before
The temple-doors, and the last lamp is spent."
The combination of the various elements of the language will be found most abundantly illustrated in the poems of Milton, but from such a theme, too large for me to venture on now, let me pass to a few other illustrations more readily to be disposed of.
The poetry of our own times has done high service to the language by expanding its metrical discipline, opening a larger freedom and variety, and yet keeping aloof from mere license. Observe, for instance, in these lines, the effect produced at the close by a change in the structure of the stanza and the single long line with which, at the end, the imagination travels forth;
"O! that our lives, which flee so fast,
In purity were such,
That not an image of the past
Should fear that pencil's touch!
Retirement then might hourly look,
With heart as calm as lakes that sleep
Along a channel smooth and deep
To their own far-off murmurs listening."*
One of the most exquisite studies of the beautiful freedom of English verse is to be found in that poem, the music of which so fascinated the spirit of Sir Walter Scott and of Lord Byron, as to prompt them both to some of
their own finest effusions; I refer to Coleridge's Christabel, in which a variety of line and rhyme, and even blank verse is wrought into a marvellous unity-nowhere more than in that passage picturing Christabel in the forest, when she hears the moaning of the witch.
"Is the night chilly and dark!
The night is chilly, but not dark.
The moon is behind, and at the full,
Whom her father loves so well,
What makes her in the woods so late,
A furlong from the castle-gate?
She had dreams all yesternight
And she in the midnight wood will pray
She stole along, she nothing spoke,
The sighs she heav'd were soft and low;
But moss and rarest mistletoe;
The lady sprang up suddenly,
The lovely lady, Christabel!
It moan'd as near as near can be,
The night is chill, the forest bare:
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak.
There is not wind enough in the air
There is not wind enough to twirl
Hanging so light, and hanging so high
On the topmost twig that looks up to the sky.
There is one more principle in the study of language in poetic literature which I wish to notice, and that is the beauty of the adaptation in all true poetry of the metrical form to the subject and feeling of the poem. "Every true poet," it has been well said, "has a song in his mind, the notes of which, little as they precede his thoughts-so little as to seem simultaneous with them-do precede, suggest and inspire many of these, modify and beautify them."* How this connection exists between the poet's thought and passion, and their apt tune in language, is more, perhaps, than philosophy can discover; but there is an interest in observing the fact; and this also is to be thought of, that the true poet awakens this spiritual song in the mind of his reader.
Even the same form of verse is very different in the hands of different poets, and has great and characteristic variety of excellence-the blank verse of Milton, of Cowper, and of Wordsworth, having each a beautiful melody of its own. It adds to our knowledge of our language and its powers, and also greatly to the cultivated enjoyment of poetical reading, if we take the pains to observe and appreciate the harmonious relation of the measure and
Darley's Introduction to Beaumont and Fletcher, as quoted in "Chaucer Modernized," p. 48.
the subject. I will give an illustration of this relation, by quoting two pieces by the same poet, and then will detain you but a few minutes longer. The contrast between the pieces is a refined one, because in each there is an adaptation to deep pathos, but exquisitely varied to different forms of pathos, the emotion at the aspect of death in its gentleness, and of death in its terrible tragedy.
"We watched her breathing through the night,
Her breathing soft and low,
So silently we seemed to speak,
So slowly moved about,
As we had lent her half our powers
Our very hopes belied our fears,
Our fears our hopes belied;
We thought her dying when she slept,
For when the morn came dim and sad
What perfect tranquillity and sense of resignation there is in these purely simple English words and their gentle flow. Turn from them to that other poem of the same author, "The Bridge of Sighs,"-a poet's feeling rebuke of the vice and inhumanity of a great metropolis, and of sympathy with its poor, degraded victims, driven to suicide in the midnight waters of the city's river. The tranquil, soul-subduing music of the former piece is
*Collected Edition of Hood's Poems, vol. ii., p. 98, and vol. i., p. 264.