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When the dying flame of day
“ Take thy banner! may it wave
Proudly o'er the good and brave :
“ Take thy banner ! and beneath
The battle-cloud's encircling wreath,
“ Take thy banner ! But when night
Closes round the ghastly fight,
And the muffled drum should beat
The warrior took that banner proud,
The last of these extracts shall be from a little posthumous volume, which has very lately appeared, the Remains of a young man named Arthur Clough. I know very little of him, or of the book, which I have only seen as quoted in a newspaper ; but I was much impressed with the depth and feeling of these lines. They are a comparison of the lives of two men, begun in concord and separated by divergence of opinion, to the course of two ships blown wide asunder by the winds in their voyage, but both arriving at the same haven, their common destination.
So the poet hopes that the friends parted here, will be re-united hereafter :
As ships, becalm'd at sea, that lay
With canvas drooping, side by side,
Are scarcely leagues apart descried :
When fell the night, upsprung the breeze,
And all the darkling hours they plied,
By each was cleaving side by side :
E'en so—but why the tale reveal
Of those, whom year by year unchang’d,
Astounded, soul from soul estrang’d ?
At dead of night their sails were filld,
And onward each rejoicing steer'd :
Ah! neither blame—for neither will’d,
Or wist, what first with dawn appear'd !
To veer, how vain! On, onward strain,
Brave barks ! in light, in darkness too,
To that and your own selves be true.
But O blithe breeze, and O great seas,
Though ne'er, that earliest parting past,
Together lead them home at last !
One port, one thought, alike they sought,
purpose hold where'er they fare :
At last, at last, unite them there !
I said this should be the last of these extracts; for there must be a limit to all things. Nothing would be easier than to add a hundredfold to them. It might almost be done by turning over the leaves of a charming little new book which I have here, and which I strongly recommend to all buyers, beggars, borrowers, stealers, givers, sellers, lenders, and readers of books : The Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics, edited by Mr. Palgrave. It contains a very large proportion of the flower of English poetry, confined to its shorter pieces.
I need not repeat that I have not even mentioned many poets of great note, living and dead; nor will I attempt to do so, for fear of omitting some whom I ought to name. But, in truth, in attempting such a function as mine, innumerable passages crowd and jostle together in the memory, according to the quaint comparison that has been used in another connection, "like
vipers in a pitcher, each struggling to get its head above the others."
We should be careful and temperate in our use of poetry as of other things ; we, I mean, who read and enjoy it. To poets themselves we may not presume to dictate. In all matters, even in amusements and recreations, in order that people in general may be able to partake of them in moderation, it is requisite that there should be some professors of the art who make it their chief or sole occupation. Poets are often unfitted, by their peculiar temperament, for the more active pursuits of life ; and no doubt it is an advantage when they, as in the case of our great living poet Tennyson, can withdraw themselves, and live in that ideal world from which they give forth their creations of imperishable sweetness and beauty for the refreshment and delight of the toiling multitudes of mankind. Yet there may be countervailing good to be found in the other alternative. I have before alluded to the curious definition of Poetry which I quoted in a former Lecture ; that it is the expression of feelings and tastes, for which there is no scope in practical life. This has its most obvious application to the case of those who, like Scott, have strong sympathies with some former age. But the case is not dissimilar of poetsand there have been such—who are engaged in active life, and can only indulge their genius in spare moments. It is possible their compositions, like a pent-up stream, may have gained in force what they lost in volume.
At all events, the saying may be transferred without violence to the case of the lovers and readers of poetry. We should never read too much of it at a time, or too frequently; or it will cloy instead of cheering us, as sugar and cream would do if substituted for wholesome bodily food.
* Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, p. 24.
Read it, I would say, the last thing in the evening; it soothes the mind to repose, and may produce pleasant dreams. I do not mean the more stimulating kinds, such as an exciting drama; but such writers as Cowper or Mrs. Hemans.
And so to conclude: which I will do in the graceful lines on the Curfew, with which the poet Longfellow dismisses one of his collections.* They are not literally applicable to us at this moment, but in a few hours they will be pretty nearly so, and on the whole you will think them not inappropriate.
Dealing its dole, The Curfew Bell
Is beginning to toll. Cover the embers
And put out the light ; Toil comes with the morning,
And rest with the night. Dark grow the windows,
And quench'd is the fire ; Sound fades into silence,
All footsteps retire.
No sound in the ball :
Reign over all.
* Ed. 1852, p. 374.