« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
them, though, like Browning in The Ring and the Book, they wrote at times with genius, were incapable, through some deficiency of ear or musical invention, of producing, except in their happiest moments, verse that was more than correct, that had in it any arresting or satisfying quality. They were wrecked on the shallows of commonplace, on the shoals of the superfluous, or on the rocks of rhetorical magniloquence. Our longer narratives are poems great in passages rather than great poems, splendid elevations are followed by melancholy and forbidding depressions. The English poets, following each his own vein, display marked originality, an originality so pronounced as to amount in the eyes of our foreign critics to eccentricity. They give full scope to their individual tastes, often to their displeasing idiosyncracies, unrestrained by any regard for tradition, or any inquiry into the principles of their art. They write to please themselves, “to give themselves the exterior sensation of their individuality,” rather than to please others, or to create objective and visible shapes of beauty. The metaphysical bent, too, the subjective tendency of the English nature, wars against success in narrative, in the objective style. Characteristic of the English nature in general, this metaphysical bent discovers itself more and more as we approach our own times, it has become a feature of modern thought. More and more the world seems impelled towards the theoretic, the interior, the mental region, so that for the artist to escape from it, to create bright, clear pictures, like those of the visible and real world, pictures such as Homer gives us, or Beowulf, seems for the present beyond hope. If Hegel is to be believed, we have even less to expect from the future. For if ours be a reflective age, coming ages will be even more reflective. Our ways of thought infect the artist, "the whole spiritual culture of the age is of such a kind that he himself stands within this reflective world and its conditions.” Art is, and will remain, “on the side of its higher destiny," concludes Hegel,“ a thing of the past.” Let us trust that the philosopher
1 The Introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of Fine Art, translated by Bernard Bosanquet, p. 55.
was deceived in this matter. Even philosophers have been known to err, and prophecy is dangerous work. But when Professor Bradley accounts for the ill success of the longer poems of Wordsworth's age by the same tendency, the bent of that age towards the intellectual and analytical mood, its keen interest in ideas, in abstract questions, his argument seems conclusive. Nothing, as he shows, can be more unfriendly towards the production of the more ambitious narrative poetry —which to interest us must make its ideas visible, must give them objective shape and value—than this preoccupation with abstract and critical modes of thought. The poets of that age exhibited this inward tendency, this speculative habit of mind. Fascinated by such ideas as lay at the roots of the French Revolution, they concerned themselves with the future and schemes for the reconstruction of society, whereas the poets of earlier epochs, undistracted by the clash of conflicting theories, were free to ponder and to shape anew in clear sculptured forms, in vivid scene and action, the ideas already familiar and fixed in the national imagination. Criticism may thus, partially at least, account for the defects in our longer narrative poems.
There are readers, however, who are far from deploring these defects, who, as we saw, have no liking for the long poem, or believe it under the friendliest conditions impossible. say that one half is very good,” said Byron, in reply to some criticism of Don Juan, you are wrong; for if it were, it would be the finest poem in existence. Where is the poetry of which one half is good? ... No-no; no poetry is generally good-only by fits and starts—and you are lucky to get a sparkle here and there." If not wholly good, however, there exist poems, like those of Virgil and Milton, so admirable, of such noble quality throughout, that the true lovers of poetry would sacrifice much to retain them, even in every word and line. If we are to have no more such poetry, if the long poem is doomed, we can only say with Professor Bradley that "something of inestimable worth will perish.” And we may, perhaps, take some comfort to ourselves by recalling the history of poetry, and how often that history shows her powers of revival and renewal; when
i The Long Poem in Wordsworth's Age, Oxford Lectures on Poetry. a Chap. ix., p. 176
“she herself hath burnt, and spicy nest, The lovely bird with youthful pens and comb, Doth soar from out her cradle and her tomb."
For the following translations I am indebted to my friend Mr. RITCHIE GIRVAN, Lecturer on English Language in the University of Glasgow.
' Exodus," 154-168
Hopeless in mind they stood
The Battle of the Kings
From south and north together. Stern game of war
“ ANDREAS," 369-377
There was the sea
FINNSBURG “[These gables) are never burning?' Then spake the king young in warfare: “This is no dawn
: from the east, no dragon flies here, nor are the gables of this hall afire, but [our foes] bear forward [their arms]. The birds 1 sing, the grey corselet 2 rattles, the war-spear rings, shield responds to shaft. Now shines out this moon, wandering 3 amid clouds; now shall arise deeds of sorrow which shall bring to end this affiiction of our nation. But rouse ye, my warriors, grasp your bucklers, 4 set your minds to prowess, haste to the front of battle, be resolute of heart.”
Then arose many a thane gold-decked, and girt his sword upon him. To the door went the noble warriors, Sigeferth and Eawa, and drew their swords, and at the other door Ordlaf and Guthlaf drew theirs, and Hengist himself followed behind.
Then further Garulf urged Guthere 5 that he should not bear in harness to the hall door for the first assault a life so noble, since the stern warrior was intent to spoil it. But he, the brave