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Ye both so lovely are, that knowledge scarce can tell,
For feature whether he, or beauty she excel;
That ravished with joy each other to behold
When as your crystal waists you closely do enfold,
Betwixt your beauteous selves you shall beget a son,
That when your lives shall end, in him shall be begun.
The pleasant Surryan shores shall in that flood delight,

And Kent esteem herself most happy in his sight.” i Industrious and patriotic undertakings like those of Daniel and Drayton have a claim upon us even when unsuccessful in the accepted sense. They do more than display the greatness of the age and the men it bred. They assist us in measuring, as minor elevations among mountains enable us to estimate the giants, how far beyond the reach of common minds are the achievements of the world poets, how high rise the peaks beside which the poems of such men, great even in a great age, are inconsiderable, how rare are the gifts equal to the performance of tasks of the first poetic magnitude. So spacious is the work of these writers, so full of fine strokes, that one is in difficulty to explain their lack of a more complete success. Where in poetry of our own day are we to look for the spaciousness which they have almost at command, as here, for example?

“ A world of mighty kings and princes I could name
From our god Neptune sprung; let this suffice, his fame

compasse the worl these stars which never rise,
Above the lower south, are never from his eyes;
As those again to him do every day appear,
Continually that keep the northern hemisphere;
Who like a mighty king doth cast his watched robe,
Far wider than the land, quite round about the globe.
Where is there one to him that may compared be,
That both the poles at once continually doth see;
And giant-like with Heaven as often maketh wars;
The islands in his power as numberless as stars,
He washeth at his will, and with his mighty hands
He makes the even shores oft mountainous with sands:
Whose creatures which observe his wide imperial seat,

Like his immeasur'd self, are infinite and great." ; To explain to ourselves the success of some, the failure of others in poetry, we may call to our assistance the enigmatic word "style.” Style is the loadstone, the author's secret of attention. But what style? Daniel at his best has style, Drayton also. Yes, but only at their best. They attract, but · Polyolbion, Song xv.

: Polyolbion, Song xx.

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as often fail to attract; they are discontinuous. They forget how short must be the intervals which separate the passages where style is in evidence. The absence of vivid words, the intrusion of the insipid or lifeless provoke inattention. The successful style then must be sustained, unwearying, like the heavens divinely upheld. Again, it must be clear, yet not too clear. The style of Pope on the one hand, admirable as it is, yields up all it contains of meaning too readily, that of Donne, on the other, too much of a puzzle, wearies attention in the pursuit. The perfect style at once allures and conceals, allures by its ease and clarity, but leaves room and provides food for further thought. It is neither forbiddingly difficult nor smoothly exhaustive. The poet who would please all readers at all times must do them a mental service, but enlist their own efforts, he must make the path to meaning easy, but withhold its complete and final exposition. “Poetry gives more pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood,” said Coleridge. “An imaginative book," says Emerson, “ renders us much more

“ service at first, by stimulating us through its tropes, than afterward, when we arrive at the precise sense of the author.” It is for this reason that figures, or images, transport us. They are a sudden light in darkness.

“ I shall keep your honour safe;
With mine I trust you, as the sculptor trusts
Yon marble woman with the marble rose

Loose on her hand, she never will let fall.” 1 For it is their nature to illuminate, and at the same moment to increase the mind's activity, so as to be not only bright in themselves, but, as it were, the parents of further brightness.

1 Browning, Colombe's Birthday.

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CHAPTER X

THE CLASSICAL EPIC-MILTON

I should not think of devoting less than twenty years to an epic poem,said Coleridge. “Ten years to collect materials and

warm my mind with universal science the next five in the composition of the poem, and the five last in the correction of it. So would I write-haply not unhearing of that divine and nightly whispering voice which speaks to mighty minds of predestinated garlands, starry and unwithering.” Such was Coleridge's estimate, the estimate of a poet and critic, of a man, we may allow, qualified to judge, who knew, perhaps none better, the magnitude of this mountain labour. Poetry came easily to him if to any man, one would think, yet the conquest of such a peak was, he knew, no holiday excursion, nor even for genius an easy victory. Turn to Milton, who accomplished what was for Coleridge only a spacious dream. How similar is the estimate. To the " inward prompting" must be added, he held," industrious and select reading, steady observation, insight into all seemly and generous acts and affairs." Having calculated the cost, he paid the price, not sparing himself, in a life-long discipline, devoted, in the words of Keats, rather to the ardours than the pleasures of song.No such deliberate and prolonged preparation as Milton's for a great poem appears to be anywhere recorded in history, a preparation which amazes as much perhaps by its confidence and determination as by its extent. Educated for literature by the “ceaseless diligence and care" of his father, encouraged by his masters—surely not unworthy of praise, these men—who found that the style of his earliest compositions" by certain vital signs it had was likely to live,” his thoughts when a lad at Cambridge were already with the subjects to which the deep transported mindwas yet to soar. At Horton, where his

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studies were protracted far beyond the usual limits, though already a scholar, I in the most perfect leisure had my time entirely free for going through the Greek and Latin writers." He was "pluming his wings for a flight." When he returned from his travels abroad he was still without any profession save that of poet, still supported by the conviction that “ by labour and intense study (which I take to be my portion in this life), joined with the strong propensity of nature, I might perhaps leave something so written to after times as they should not willingly let it die.' In this confidence he thought it not shame to covenant with any knowing reader that for some years yet I may go on trust

I with him toward the payment of what I am now indebted.The few years passed, almost a generation, indeed, before the debt was paid. Other and less congenial tasks, in which he had, as it were, the use but of his left hand,prose works upon a multitude of controversial subjects, occupied him, he steered through a troubled sea of noises and harsh disputes.” But the unwavering resolution held, and in 1667, when the poet had almost reached his sixtieth year, Paradise Lost was at length finished—“A yet unwasted pyramid of fame.

Genius one perceives in this man of course, one perceives also, what is less common in poets, a will of iron.

Nothing in speculative matters appears more certain than that genius may be fortunate or unfortunate in its hour of birth. M. Taine, indeed, in a theory, much talked of a generation ago—the theory of race, surroundings, epoch-made genius, talent, almost superfluous in the description of a work of art, so much in the work, it seemed, might be withdrawn from individual endowment and otherwise accounted for. M. Taine's theory, in the opinion of some of us, attractive and brilliant as it was, hardly surprised the last secrets of art or poetry, but its value apart, one must, at least, acknowledge that like other men the child of his time, the poet or artist meets day by day forces friendly or unfriendly to his peculiar gifts and temperament. Lay aside influences from family, home, education, and the traditions, the doings, the manners, the conventions of that larger family his race, that larger home, his country, may well

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be for him or against him. Still, even with a knowledge of his peculiar talents, were it possible it would be an embarrassing charge to choose the hour of a poet's birth. And the more modest undertaking of criticism like M. Taine's, the attempt to calculate the effect upon genius of circumstances already given and known, must remain in the highest degree puzzling, perhaps in the end impossible. Hard in one's own case to determine the effect of spiritual, moral, or intellectual forces, how much harder in the case of that incalculable activity, genius, to disengage the power of the man from the power of the moment, to distinguish the poet's part in his work from the part which belongs to his race or times. To say with confidence, for example, that here Milton was helped or hindered, there assisted by fortune or defeated, demands some little critical courage. To be born twenty years after the defeat of the Armada, and eight years before the death of Shakespeare—was the hour, one might ask, a favourable one for the coming of a great poet? It meant, surely, that he would have a share in the imaginative freedom, the immense vitality, of the great age, be touched, at least in youth, by its after-glow. Yes, but the heavens were charged with doubtful omens. Dissension more bitter than England had ever known rent the social fabric from top to bottom, and for twenty years the poet breathed the hot and angry air of furious debate. At first sight not much seems favourable here. A country distracted by civil war appears hardly the best ground for the poet, more particularly if his interests be deeply engaged in the struggle. Inter arma silent Musae. Yet probably as an epic poet Milton gained even from this experience. Through his middle life, though he wrote little or no poetry, he lived amid historic scenes and historic persons, he was associated with great men and great events. Around him the tides of war ebbed and flowed, armies marched to victory and defeat, soldiers and statesmen came and went in the hours of military and political crisis. On one side the king held his court in the armed camp, on the other the parliament its councils, all England rang with news of battle and sieges. To live through such times was an education for an epic poet.

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