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of the vast multitudes of sea birds on the western coast of Scotland, is proof that he had indeed freed himself from the bondage of the school of Pope

'Where the northern ocean in vast whirls
Boils round the naked melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule, and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides;
Who can recount what transmigrations there
Are annual made? What nations come and go?
And how the living clouds on clouds arise?
Infinite wings! till all the plume-dark air
And rude resounding shore are one wild cry.'

The Elizabethan poets had almost exclusively treated of man, his actions, passions and thoughts; and, indeed, the thoughts, passions and actions of men must for ever remain as the supreme subject for poetry. But none the less in the beauties and teachings of Nature may the poets be versed, for man is the child of Nature, cradled in her embrace, fed by her bounty, covered by her kindly dust in the grave. This is a true view of Nature, but there is a view of higher truth. As the scene of the great passion-play of human life, Nature draws to herself a meaning and a mystery not altogether her own, but borrowed from a sojourn of the deathless spirit of man in her realm. And this is the view of the greatest poets.

Besides Thomson, before Blake and Cowper, two men lived and wrote who carried the art of versification, the pure form of poetry to a highly-wrought perfection in a new direction. Collins and Gray, born within a year or two of each other, though poets of a different order from each other, were scholars who introduced into their own language, as far as was possible, the classical metres and methods.

Neither of them wrote much. A very tiny volume would contain their collected works, but every line is chiselled to a degree of perfection never before seen in English poetry. It cannot be denied that the poems of Collins and of Gray are artifical, artificiality of style was inevitable; but they are in that highest style of the artificial where the art is so cunning that it conceals the art. They cultivated a very narrow strip of ground, but they made it a garden in which the flowers, if few, are of rare growth and delicate colouring.

Blake, as we have seen, longed for a return of the simplicity and passion of the Elizabethan time, and he stands a lonely precursor of the poetry that was to revive these qualities. He was not a child of his own age, but of that which followed his own, and which he lived to see. The 'Songs of Innocence and Experience' are full of the same sympathies that give the distinctive tone to the poetry of Wordsworth and of Coleridge-unalloyed delight in the simplest sights and sounds of Nature, a tender vein of feeling for childhood, and a passionate, disinterested fervour in the cause of the human race. Blake's poems, indeed, combine in a wonderful degree the most characteristic features of both the later poets. From his simplicity there breathes a like spiritual power; there is present in his poems the mystic vision of Coleridge, with the gentle innocence of Wordsworth. His was not a balanced mind, but it was visited by rare gleams of a pure and intense light, and his devotion to the ideal forms of goodness, truth and beauty, was that of a child. His recognition of them was no less intuitive and childlike. No strain of philosophic reflection is to be heard in his best poetry; it has the careless charm of a bird's note, the spontaneous, unpremeditated flow of one of Jonson's or

Shakespere's songs.

Blake felt, unconsciously perhaps, that it is not in the massing of details that the poet's exclusive province lies, but that his aim is accomplished when he leaves upon the reader's mind one pure, simple, affecting outline, one undying image of perfect feature. This he accomplished in many of his poems, and though his place in the history of English literature cannot, by reason of the smallness of his poetical contribution, be a high one, it is unassailable because of its rare quality, its sincerity of motive, its purity of ideal, its unaffected graces of form, and because he first sounded, in a degenerate age, the trump of liberty.

'What Pope is to our fashionable and town life, Cowper is to our domestic and rural life. This is perhaps the reason why he is so national.'* The choice of noble themes has always been a chief care of most poets. Among the Greeks, the subjects of the epic and the drama were drawn from the wellknown heroic tales of their ancestors, in the days when the gods visited earth, and took part in the affairs of men. Virgil and Dante chose large subjects, Shakespere treated of a great historic cycle of events and persons, and Milton's argument is the highest of all. But while the subject may elevate the poem, it is quite as likely that its weight may prove too much for the adventurous author. It needs the shoulders of an Atlas to support the superincumbent world, and not seldom has it happened that the very majesty of his theme has been the cause of a poet's failure. Keats knew this when he abandoned his poem of 'Hyperion.' Milton began a poem on 'The Passion'; 'but finding it to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and nothing satisfied ́


with what was begun, left it unfinished.' On the other hand, to treat of trivial or commonplace matters so as to make them shine with an unexpected beauty, is no easy task. Cowper has done this for us. In the very names of his poems he suggests the simplest and most domestic themes, and the quiet stream of his verse flows by the path of daily life, never turbid with passion or swollen with excitement, but bright and limpid and sweet-sounding.

'Home-born happiness,

Fireside enjoyments, intimate delights,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturbed retirement, and the hours
Of long, uninterrupted evening know.'

Cowper, first of English poets, dared a consistent simplicity of subject and of treatment. He discerns with the poetic eye the beauty of the most inconspicuous natural objects, nor does his interest in them ever wane. Out of the unconsidered trifles, left by all the other poets, his poems are woven, for he is a faithful student of the details of life. As he describes natural scenery, we seem to hear the voice of a companion upon a country walk directing our attention to the features of the scene :

'Here the grey, smooth trunks
Of ash, or lime, or beech, distinctly shine
Within the twilight of their distant shades:
There lost behind a rising ground, the wood
Seems sunk, and shortened to its topmost boughs.
No tree in all the grove but has its charms,
Though each its hue peculiar; paler some
And of a warmish grey; the willow such,
And poplar that with silver lines his leaf,

The lime at dewy eve
Diffusing odours; nor unnoted pass
The sycamore capricious in attire,

Now green, now tawny, and ere Autumn yet
Have changed the woods, in scarlet honours bright.'

It is not in all moods, we must confess it freely, that Cowper can be approached with any prospect of enjoyment. The fault lies here, that, owing to the circumstances of modern life, its rapidity and complexity, owing to the presence all around us of sources of constant mental excitement, we acquire what Wordsworth spoke of 'as a thirst after outrageous stimulation.' A distaste for literature which affords no keen mental excitement is almost unavoidable, and we cease to enjoy such quiet pleasure as is to be had in the society of Cowper or even Wordsworth. But if we are at all concerned for the health of our minds, some effort must be made to preserve a taste for the quieter walks of literature, the simpler flavours, the less voluptuously-scented flowers. To maintain a due mental balance, a fresh interest in all that enters the sphere of thought or action is essential; for a loss of the power of feeling follows close upon a neglect of the less exciting aspects of life, the fountains of natural emotions are dried up, and ennui and pessimism find ready entrance into the citadel of the heart. The poetry of Cowper, because it recalls us to simpler pleasures, recalls us from the hurry and bustle of our complex attractions, from the false cosmopolitanism which threatens to overwhelm all domestic interests. The burden of the sorrows of the whole world is, now that the world has become so small a place, laid upon every man. But to live abroad over all the earth, to make its innumerable problems ours, is to take upon us more than we can bear. To preserve the balance is needful, and in the delight which Cowper

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