« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust:
Divine love continues the earthly love; he was imprisoned in this, and frees himself. By this nobility, these lofty aspirations, recognize one of those serious souls of which there are so many in the same climate and race. Spiritual instincts pierce through the dominant paganism, and ere they make Christians, make Platonists.
V. Sidney was only a soldier in an army; there is a multitude about him, a multitude of poets. In fifty-two years, without counting the drama, two hundred and thirty-three are enumerated, of whom forty have genius or talent: Breton, Donne, Drayton, Lodge, Greene, the two Fletchers, Beaumont, Spenser, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Marlowe, Wither, Warner, Davison, Carew, Suckling, Herrick ;--we should grow tired in counting them. There is a crop of them, and so there is at the same time in Catholic and heroic Spain ; and as in Spain it was a sign of the times, the mark of a public want, the index to an extraordinary and transient condition of the mind. What is this condition which gives rise to so universal a taste for poetry? What is it breathes life into their books? How happens it that amongst the least, in spite of pedantries, awkwardnesses, in the rhyming chronicles or descriptive cyclopedias, we meet with brilliant pictures and genuine love-cries? How happens it that when this generation was exhausted, true poetry ended in England, as true painting in Italy and Flanders ? It was because an epoch of the mind came and passed away,—that, namely, of instinctive and creative conception. These men had new senses, and no theories in their heads. Thus, when they took a walk, their emotions were not the same as ours. What is sunrise to an ordinary man? A white smudge on the edge of the sky, between bosses of clouds, amid pieces of land, and bits of road, which he does not see because he has seen them a hundred
1 Astrophel and Stella, last sonnet, p. 539.
2 Nathan Drake, Shakspeare and his Times, i. Part 2, ch. 2, 3, 4. Among these 233 poets the authors of isolated pieces are not reckoned, but only those who published or collected their works.
times. But for them, all things have a soul; I mean that they feel within themselves, indirectly, the uprising and severance of the outlines, the power and contrast of tints, the sad or delicious sentiment, which breathes from this combination and union like a harmony or a cry. How sorrowful is the sun, as he rises in a mist above the sad sea-furrows; what an air of resignation in the old trees rustling in the night rain ; what a feverish tumult in the mass of waves, whose dishevelled locks are twisted forever on the surface of the abyss! But the great torch of heaven, the luminous god, emerges and shines; the tall, soft, pliant herbs, the evergreen meadows, the expanding roof of lofty oaks, --the whole English landscape, continually renewed and illumined by the flooding moisture, diffuses an inexhaustible fresh
These meadows, red and white with flowers, ever moist and ever young, slip off their veil of golden mist, and appear suddenly, timidly, like beautiful virgins. Here is the cuckooflower, which springs up before the coming of the swallow; there the hare-bell, blue as the veins of a woman; the marigold, which sets with the sun, and, weeping, rises with him. Drayton, in his Polyolbion, sings
“Then from her burnisht gate the goodly glittring East
To kiss the gentle Shade, this while that sweetly sleeps.” i A step further, and you will find the old gods reappear. They reappear, these living gods—these living gods mingled with things which you cannot help meeting as soon as you meet nature again. Shakespeare, in the Tempest, sings :
“Ceres, most bounteous lady thy rich leas
Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats, and pease;
1 M. Drayton's Polyolbion, ed. 1622. ?3th song, p. 214.
Which spongy April at thy hest betrims,
My bosky acres and my unshrubb'd down." I
“They are as gentle as zephyrs, blowing below the violet,
Greene writes :
“When Flora, proud in pomp of all her flowers,
Sat bright and gay,
And did display
Her mantle chequered all with gaudy green.”S The same author also says:
“How oft have I descending Titan seen,
His burning locks couch in the sea-queen’s lap;
In watery robes, as he her lord had been !” 4
“The joyous day gan early to appeare;
With mery note her lowd salutes the mounting larke." 5 All the splendor and sweetness of this moist and well-watered land; all the specialties, the opulence of its dissolving tints, of its variable sky, its luxuriant vegetation, assemble thus about the gods, who gave them their beautiful form.
In the life of every man there are moments when, in presence of objects, he experiences a shock. This mass of ideas, of mangled recollections, of mutilated images, which lie hidden in
1 Act iv. I.
2 Act iv. 2.
4 Ibid. Melicertus' description of his Mistress, p. 38.
Spenser's Works, ed. Todd, 1863, The Faërie Queene, i. c. 11, st. 51.
all corners of his mind, are set in motion, organized, suddenly developed like a flower. He is enraptured; he cannot help looking at and admiring the charming creature which has just appeared; he wishes to see it again, and others like it, and dreams of nothing else. There are such moments in the life of nations, and this is one of them. They are happy in contemplating beautiful things, and wish only that they should be the most beautiful possible. They are not preoccupied, as we are, with theories. They do not excite themselves to express moral or philosophical ideas. They wish to enjoy through the imagination, through the eyes, like those Italian nobles, who, at the same time, were so captivated by fine colors and forms that they covered with paintings not only their rooms and their churches, but the lids of their chests and the saddles of their horses. The rich and green sunny country; young, gaily-attired ladies, blooming with health and love; half-draped gods and goddesses, masterpieces and models of strength and grace,—these are the most lovely objects which man can contemplate, the most capable of satisfying his senses and his heart-of giving rise to smiles and joy; and these are the objects which occur in all the poets in a most wonderful abundance of songs, pastorals, sonnets, little fugitive pieces, so lively, delicate, easily unfolded, that we have never since had their equals. What though Venus and Cupid have lost their altars? Like the contemporary painters of Italy, they willingly imagine a beautiful naked child, drawn on a chariot of gold through the limpid air; or a woman, redolent with youth, standing on the waves, which kiss her snowy feet. Harsh Ben Jonson is ravished with the scene. The disciplined battalion of his sturdy verses changes into a band of little graceful strophes, which trip as lightly as Raphael's children. He sees his lady approach, sitting on the chariot of Love, drawn by swans and doves. Love leads the car; she passes calm and smiling, and all hearts, charmed by her divine looks, wish no other joy than to see and serve her for ever.
“See the chariot at hand here of Love,
Wherein my lady rideth !
And well the car Love guideth.
And, enamoured, do wish, so they might
But enjoy such a sight,
All that Love's world compriseth !
As Love's star when it riseth! ..
Before rude hands have touched it?
marked but the fall o’ the snow,
Or swan's down ever ?
Or the nard in the fire ?
What can be more lively, more unlike measured and artificial mythology ? Like Theocritus and Moschus, they play with their smiling gods, and their belief becomes a festival. One day, in an alcove of a wood, Cupid meets a nymph asleep:
“Her golden hair o'erspread her face,
Her careless arms abroad were cast,
Her breast lay bare to every blast.” 2 He approaches softly, steals her arrows, and puts his own in their place. She hears a noise at last, raises her reclining head, and sees a shepherd approaching. She flees; he pursues. She bends her bow, and shoots her arrows at him. He only becomes more ardent, and is on the point of seizing her. In despair, she takes an arrow, and buries it in her lovely body. Lo! she is changed, she stops, smiles, loves, draws near him.
“ Though mountains meet not, lovers may.
And laught that pleasant sight to see.” 3 A drop of archness falls into the medley of artlessness and voluptuous charm; it was so in Longus, and in all that delicious nosegay called the Anthology. Not the dry mocking of Voltaire, of folks who possessed only wit, and always lived in a drawing
1 Ben Johnson's Poems, ed. R. Bell Celebration of Charis; her Triumph, p. 125.
3 Ibid. 2 Cupid's Pastime, unknown author, ab. 1621.