페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

pher, Mr. Shepherd, are to be found touches which reappear in this finished and almost faultless poem. The exultation of the wild, splendid, witch-like woman when she thinks of her Antony is grand.

"\Vc drank the Libyan sun to sleep, and lit
Lamps which outburn'd Canopus. 0 my life
In Egypt! 0 the dalliance and the wit,
The flattery and the strife.

"And the wild kiss,when fresh from war's alarms,
My Hercules, my Roman Antony,
My mailed Bacchus leaped into my arms,
Contented there to die!"

The Bacchus had figured as a "captain" in the boyish rhymes.

With almost too strong a sense of contrast, we turn from Cleopatra to Jephtha's daughter. She comes through the wood singing.

"The torrent brooks of hallow'd Israel

From craggy hollows pouring, late and soon,
Sound all night long, in falling thro' the dell,
Far heard beneath the moon.

"The balmy moon of blessed Israel

Floods all the deep-blue gloom with beams divine:
All night the splintcr'd crags that wall the dell
With spires of silver shine."

The crags turned to frosted silver in the moonlight—how delicately beautiful! And how solemn, how true to the religious enthusiasm of a Hebrew maiden, arc not only these verses, but all that " the daughter of the warrior Gileadite" sings and says! At last

She lock'd her lips; she left me where I stood:

"Glory to God," sha sang, and past afar, Thridding the sombre boscage of the wood,

Toward the morning-star.

[merged small][ocr errors]

A sifted and brilliant diction is appropriate in a poem of which the subject is the love and the sorrow of renowned queen-like women; but I think that the exclusion of all common words—the elaborate burnishing of phrase—is carried in this poem almost to the point that suggests artificiality. The very grass is rather the enamelled green of costly porcelain than the mossy sward of an old English wood. Cleopatra lays bare the "polished argent" of her breast. Surely it would have been better to say silver than argent. Christopher North scored one against Tennyson when he hinted that dewdrops might look as well though not always called "orients." The dread of commonplace has lain heavy on Tennyson. In an address to Queen Victoria he does not dare to speak of Waterloo, but must say "Hougoumont." All artists, as well as authors in prose and verse, labor in these days under the disadvantage involved in the fact that people have been singing, carving, painting now for some three thousand years, and that all themes and all words are getting used up. The vast deluges of literature of the hour—newspapers, magazines, novels, books of travel — which flood all highways, take the edge and brilliance, the freshness and power, from word and image. Such is the condition under which literary artists of these times must work. Some men are driven by it to wild extravagance, like Walt Whitman; but the more general effect is that which has been produced in the case of Tennyson, namely, to enforce an intensity of elaboration unknown in former times. The great poetic schools of England have always favored high finish, but no poet since Spenser, with the doubtful exception of Keats, has finished so carefully as Tennyson. Rossetti's poetry also strikes me as an agony of effort and elaboration. Whatever may be the qualities of such verse, it cannot be said to come, as Goethe said that his came, straight from the heart of the poet, like the song from the bird on the bough. How different the manner in which Burns worked! — the immortal stanzas leaping from his pen, as if at hap-hazard, amidst poor stuff, in a rhyming letter to some Blacklock, or Lapraik, or Simpson, or welling up, in more pure completeness, as he followed the plough, musing upon some slightest incident of the moment, the sight of a scampering mouse, a trodden daisy, a wounded hare. Scott composed parts of Marmion in jubilant gallops along the sea-shore. It was inevitable that a proportion of the poetry thus composed should be loosely knit or commonplace. Byron, who wrote with headlong speed, laughed to scorn the idea that a poem could be expected to be poetical throughout. It may be said that Byron, Burns, and Scott would have left us better poetry if they had taken more conscious pains, and had pruned their superfluous foliage; and I do not care to maintain the contrary; but a strong thought or happy image has an enhanced effect when it occurs among others of a more ordinary kind; and in the rapid, sketchy manner there is a charm of lightness, grace, and freedom—a charm as of nature's very self—which goes far to compensate for the high-wrought beauty of the other.

With the Dream of Fair Women we naturally, from identity of metre and similarity in the texture and polish of the versification, associate The Palace of Art. It is one of many poems in which Tennyson becomes the ethical instructor as well as the poetical entertainer of his age. The truth he expounds and inculeates is very old, very simple, but of infinite importance, and specially requiring enforcement in a time of ripe intellectual civilization, and of the fastidiousness, cynicism, and cultured pride which are its besetting sins. Avoiding, with a willingness to make himself intelligible and useful which I wish he had exhibited in some other instances, the risk of being treated as having many meanings or none, he states, in a few lines addressed to an unnamed friend, his purpose in the poem. It is an allegory of a soul possessed of many gifts, loving beauty and knowledge, and even good in so far as goodTHE PALACE OF ART.

265

ness may gratify an aesthetic taste, but forgetting that beauty, knowledge, and goodness ought to be vassals unto charity.

And he that shuts Love out, in turn shall be
Shut out from Love, and on her threshold lie
Howling in outer darkness.

The palace of art is "a lordly pleasure-house," built by the poet for his soul, in which all the delights of intellect and hnagination—all the charm of fancied superiority to the mass of men — combine to make her happy. The problem to be solved is whether man can thus be made nobly and permanently happy, and the solution is experimental; that is to say, the poet places imaginatively before us a soul in the enjoyment of all delights, save spiritual and moral; realizes her experience step by step, and finds, in the concluding stage of that experience, the solution of which he is in quest.

First of all, we are present at the building of the palace; and this is not managed in the way in which Byron would very likely have managed it, by a stanza or two of vague allusion to curtains of cloud and the azure and vermilion that are mixed at eventide for the pavilion of the sun, but with an explicitness and fulness of detail that leave nothing to the imagination of the reader, and might have excited the wonder of Keats or of Spenser. On a huge crag-platform, high above the common world, it stands; we sec its courts, its cloisters, its squared lawns, its four fountains spouted from the golden gorge of dragons, which unite in one swell, and stream from the mountain-like platform "in misty folds, that floating as they fell lit up a torrent bow." Within, long-sounding corridors "over-vaulted grateful gloom," and along these the soul passed from chamber to chamber. Each room was a perfect whole, but no two rooms were alike. In a succession of incomparable stanzas, Tennyson describes first the landscape adornment of some of the rooms, then the figure-subjects treated pictorially in others. Here are two of the landscapes:

One show'd an iron coast and angry waves.

You seem'd to hear them climb and fall,
And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves,

Beneath the windy wall.

And one, a full-fed river winding slow

By herds upon an endless plain,
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,

With shadow-streaks of rain.

Any artist who is master of his business could put these pictures upon canvas; and I feel sure that Turner, austere critic as he was, would have confessed that he could not paint them in color more truthfully than Tennyson has painted them in words. Even Turner's pictures must have been dumb; but we hear the waves roaring rock-thwarted under the bellowing caves. It is not impossible that Turner's knowledge that words could convey more in the way of natural description than can be done by the brush may have been one of those motives which impelled him, during something like thirty years of his life, to make attempts in poetry, and, latterly, to sign himself "author" rather than artist. The following has been very often painted, and is probably familiar to all my readers:

And one, an English home—gray twilight pour'd

On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
Softer than sleep—all things in order stored,

A haunt of ancient Peace.

The figure subjects are Christian, Mohammedan, or classical.

Or in a clear-wall'd city on the sea.

Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair
Wound with white roses, slept St. Cecily;

An angel look'd at her.

Or thronging all one porch of Paradise,

A group of Houris bow'd to see
The dying Islamite, with hands and eyes

That said, We wait for thee.

« 이전계속 »