Изображения страниц

strong in the matter of heroic and vehement hatreds and love, the tragic Mary herself being but the perfect blossom of them; and it is from that history that Rossetti has taken the subjects of the two longer ballads of his second volume : of the three admirable ballads in it, The King's Tragedy (in which Rossetti has dexter. ously interwoven some relics of James's own exquisite early verse) reaching the highest level of dramatic success, and marking persection, perhaps, in this kind of poetry ; which, in the earlier volume, gave us, among other pieces, Troy Town, Sister Helen, and Eden Bower.

Like those earlier pieces, the ballads of the second volume bring with them the question of the poetic value of the 'refrain'

• Eden bower's in flower:
And the bower and the hours'

-and the like. Two of those ballads—Troy Town and Eden Bower, are terrible in theme ; and the refrain serves, perhaps, to relieve their bold aim at the sentiment of terror. In Sister Helen again, it has a real, sustained purpose (being here duly varied also) and performs the part of a chorus, as the story proceeds. Yet even in these cases, whatever its effect may be in actual recitation, it may indeed be questioned, whether, to the mere reader their actual effect is not that of a positive interruption and drawback, at least in pieces so lengthy; and Rossetti himself, it would seem, came to think so, for in the shortest of his later ballads, The White Ship--that old true history of the generosity with which a youth, worthless in life, flung himself upon death-he has contented himself with a single utterance of the refrain, 'given out' like the key-note or tune of a chant.

In The King's Tragedy, Rossetti has worked upon a motive, broadly human, in the phrase of popular criticism, such as one and all may realise. Rossetti, indeed, with all his self-concentration upon his own circle of work, by no means ignored those general interests which are external to poetry as he conceived it; as he has shown here and there, in this poetic, as also in pictorial, work. It was but that, in a life to be shorter even than the average, he found enough to occupy him in the fulfilment of a task, plainly 'given him to do.' Perhaps, if one had to name a single composition of his to a reader who desired to make acquaintance with him for the first time, it is The King's Tragedy one would selectthat poem so moving, so popularly dramatic and lifelike. Not:

withstanding this, his work, it must be conceded, certainly through no narrowness or egotism, but in the faithfulness of a true workman to a vocation so emphatic, was mainly of the esoteric order. But poetry, at all times, exercises two distinct functions : it may reveal, it may unveil to every eye, the ideal aspects of common things, after Gray's way (though Gray too, it is well to remember, seemed in his own day, seemed even to Johnson, obscure) or it may actually add to the number of motives poetic and uncommon in themselves, by the imaginative creation of things, ideal from their very birth. Rossetti did something, something excellent, of the former kind ; but his characteristic, his really revealing work, lay in the adding to poetry of fresh poetic material, of a new order of phenomena, in the creation of a new ideal.



The blessed damozel leaned out

From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth

Of waters stilled at even ;
She had three lilies in her hand,

And the stars in her hair were seven

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,

No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary's gift

For service meetly worn;
Her hair that lay along her back

Was yellow like ripe corn.

Herseemed she scarce had been a day

One of God's choristers ;
The wonder was not yet quite gone

From that still look of hers ;
Albeit, to them she left, her day

Had counted as ten years.

(To one, it is ten years of years,

Yet now, and in this place, Surely she leaned o’er me--her hair

Fell all about my face.
Nothing : the autumn fall of leaves.

The whole year sets apace.)

It was the rampart of God's house

That she was standing on ;
By God built over the sheer depth

The which is Space begun ;
So high, that looking downward thence

She scarce could see the sun.

It lies in Heaven, across the flood

Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and night

With flame and darkness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth

Spins like a fretful midge.

Heard hardly, some of her new friends

Amid their loving games
Spake evermore among themselves

Their virginal chaste names ;
And the souls mounting up to God

Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bowed herself and stooped

Out of the circling charm ;
Until her bosom must have made

The bar she leaned on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep

Along her bended arm.

From the fixed place of Heaven she saw

Time like a pulse shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove

Within the gulf to pierce
Its path; and now she spoke as when

The stars sang in their spheres.

The sun was gone now; the curled moon

Was like a little feather
Fluttering far down the gulf; and now

She spoke through the still weather.
Her voice was like the voice the stars

Had when they sang together. (Ah sweet! Even now, in that bird's song,

Strove not her accents there,
Fain to be hearkened? When those bells

Possessed the mid-day air,
Strove not her steps to reach my side
Down all the echoing stair ?)

• I wish that he were come to me,

For he will come,' she said. 'Have I not prayed in heaven ?-on earth,

Lord, Lord, has he not pray'd ?
Are not two prayers a perfect strength ?

And shall I feel afraid ?

“When round his head the aureole clings,

And he is clothed in white,
I'll take his hand and go with him

To the deep wells of light ;
We will step down as to a stream,

And bathe there in God's sight.

"We two will stand beside the shrine,

Occult, withheld, untrod,
Whose lamps are stirred continually

With prayer sent up to God ;
And see our old prayers, granted, melt

Each like a little cloud.

“We two will lie i’ the shadow of

That living mystic tree
Within whose secret growth the Dove

Is sometimes felt to be,
While every leaf that His plumes touch

Saith His Name audibly.

* And I myself will teach to him,

I myself, lying so,
The songs I sing here ; which his voice

Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
And find some knowledge at each pause,

Or some new thing to know.'
(Alas! We two, we two, thou say'st !

Yea, one wast thou with me
That once of old. But shall God lift

To endless unity
The soul whose likeness with thy soul

(Vas but its love for thee?)

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »