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And the silvery marish-flowers that throng
One sublime component of landscape Tennyson had before him in perfection in his native Lincolnshire, namely, the sea; and, not forgetting Heine's remarkable series of pieces on the ocean, I know of no poems in which so grand, and, at the same time, so natural and heart-felt a use is made of the imagery of the world of waters as in those of Tennyson. He knows it in all its aspects: whether the "Norland winds pipe down the sea," or "the spangle dances in bight #nd bay," and "the rainbow hangs on the poising wave ;" whether the moonlight falls into the silent pools left by the tide, or the mid-day sun flames down on "glaring sand and inlets bright;" whether the hollow ocean ridges roar into cataracts, or the low wave breaks monotonously on cold gray stones.
Among the products of his fanciful dallying in boyhood and youth with things relating to the sea, none are more delightful than the three pieces, unique in their quaint sprightliness and delicate bloom, in which he presents us with his notion of mermaids, mermen, and those Sirens who tried to entice the mariners of Ulysses from their ship. The Sirens, who to the Greek imagination were alarming creatures, beautiful exceedingly, but of deadly influence, he turns into "sea-fairies," with whose girlish beauty we cannot associate anything very wicked or dreadful.
Slow sailed the weary mariners and saw,
There is something nice and naive in this transmutation of the serenely beautiful, but false and cruel, sea-women of the Greek legend into sweet, harmless fairies, by the tuneful boy THE ARABIAN NIGHTS.
of Lincolnshire. The most powerfully imagined, however, of the three poems is that on the mermaid. It is the office of imagination, in its most original mood, to summon up creatures of the mind, to bestow upon them local habitation and name, and, by sheer force of sympathetic realization, to give them poetic life. There is no test of imagination so sure and searching as capacity to endue its figures with life; and nothing impresses me more deeply with the power of young Tennyson's imagination than the fact that, in this poem on the mermaid, he not only makes me think of the mermaid herself as alive, but of the sea-snake, which she fascinates, as also a living thing. In the following lines it is the mermaid that speaks.
I would comb my hair till my ringlets would full
Low adown and around,
Over the throne
One of these earliest contributions which decisively announced the rise of a great poet is the Recollections of the Arabian Nights. The linguistic opulence of the poem is a small matter compared with the imagination required to plan and the fancy to execute such a work. The whole is a thing of the mind, a vision founded upon no fact, and yet we accompany the poet in his voyage down the Tigris with as distinct a realization of his whereabouts as if he were detailing the stages of a journey by boat between Oxford and Twickenham. We sec the blaze of light falling in golden green upon the leaves, when suddenly the million tapers of the Caliphate illuminate the scene; aud we, as well as the poet, are drawn on in wondering curiosity until we are in presence of the monarch.
Six columns, three on either side,
Pure silver, underpropt a rich
Throne of the massive ore, from which
Down-dioop'd, in many a floating-fold,
Engarlanded and diaper'd
With inwrought flowers, a cloth of gold.
Thereon his deep eye laughter-stirr'd
With merriment of kingly pride,
It is to be remarked of these first-fruits of Tennyson's poetical garden that there is nothing lawless, irregular, or extravagant about them, no trace of license, of moody bitterness, of discontent with the society into which the poet finds himself born, no conventional satire or flippancy. For him, as for Schiller, life is earnest, but not cruel, horrible, or contemptible. The conception he has formed of his mission as a poet is not more sublime than sincere.
The poet in a golden clime was born,
With golden stars above:
The love of love.
It is his to sow the world broad-cast with seeds of truth, winging them and heading them with the flame of his burning words.
Thus truth was multiplied on truth, the world
Like one great garden show'd,
Rare sunrise flow'd.
THE DESERTED HOUSE.
And Freedom rcar'd in that august sunrise
Her beautiful bold brow,
Melted like snow.
It can be said of Tennyson that he has never been false to the noble ideal which he set before himself in this poem.
The ballad of Oriana, and the lines entitled The Deserted House, occupy an important place in the tiny volume of 1830. They attest a massiveness of power, a breadth of imaginative handling, which the verbal richness, the almost too florid ornamentation, of several of the poems, would not lead us to expect. There is no fanciful word-painting, no elaborate laying on of tint after tint, in these pieces. Their supreme human interest swallows up all other interests. Imagination, merely painting, by a few broad sweeps of the brush, a stage suited to the occurrences described, dwells on the human action and passion alone. "The long dun wolds are ribbed with snow, and loud the Norland whirlwinds blow;" yes; but we think only of the lover who has slain his Oriana, and of the woe in his heart that seeks relief in the companionship of winter and of tempest. The five stanzas in which a dead body is compared to a deserted house arc stern and true as the most severe of the sonnets of Milton.
All within is dark as night:
Or through the windows we shall sec
The nakedness and vacancy
I may mention that Wilson, in his review, does full justice to Oriana and The Deserted House. The former he pronounces "perhaps the most beautiful" in the volume; and of the latter he says: "Every word tells, and the short whole is most pathetic in its completeness—let us say perfection—like some old Scottish air sung by maiden at her wheel—or shepherd in the wilderness." The reader would do well to compare Tennyson's wonderful lines with Shakspeare's description of the death of Cardinal Beaufort in the Second Part of Henry VI. "Close up his eyes, and draw the curtain close," are Shakspeare's final words.