페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

splendor of sunny air to flood his soul with its freshness and joy. The four verses not only constitute a single sentence, but do not contain any punctuating mark except a few commas. The sentence in five stanzas, which I formerly quoted, had several points only less important than the full stop, but there is not even the rest of a semicolon in this long clarion-blast.

Sweet after showers, ambrosial air,
That rollest from the gorgeous gloom
Of evening over brake and bloom

And meadow, slowly breathing bare

The round of space, and rapt below
Thro' all the dewy-tassclPd wood,
And shadowing down the horned flood

In ripples, fan my brows and blow

The fever from my cheelc, and sigh
The full new life that feeds thy breath
Throughout my frame, till Doubt and Death,

111 brethren, let the fancy fly

From belt to belt of crimson seas

On leagues of odor streaming far,

To where in yonder orient star
A hundred spirits whisper " Tcace."

The second anniversary of the death is by no means so gloomy as the first. The poet thinks of all those to whom the day comes with memories, whether joyful or sorrowful, calls them "kindred souls," and says that they mourn with him. Before the third Christmas the Tennyson family quit their native Lincolnshire, and their departure affords suggestion for several descriptive lyries of great beauty.

Unlov'd, by many a sandy bar,
The brook shall babble down the plain,
At noon or when the lesser Wain

Is twisting round the Polar star;

[merged small][ocr errors]

Uncared for, gird the windy grove,
And flood the haunts of hern and crake;
Or into silver arrows break

The sailing moon in creek and cove;

Till from the garden and the wild
A fresh association blow,
And year by year the landscape grow

Familiar to the stranger's child;

As year by year the laborer tills

His wonted glebe, or lops the glades;
And year by year onr memory fades

From all the circle of the hills.

The third Christmas, therefore, is passed in a new land; and now, though grief is not oppressive, Christmas has lost its old associations, and the poet cannot permit it to be devoted to the old mirth, His mood, however, is not that of sorrow, but of pensive hope; and when Christmas-day has stolen quietly by, he bursts out in those jubilant verses, familiar wherever the English language is spoken, that bid the bells of the new year "ring in the Christ that is to be." It is still winter when Arthur's birthday arrives; but though the caves are fringed with icicles, and the "leafless ribs and iron horns" of the wood make harsh music, the day shall be mirthfully celebrated.

Bring in great logs, and let them lie,

To make a solid core of heat;

Be cheerful-minded, talk and treat
Of all things cv'n as he were by;

We keep the day. With festal cheer,

With books and music, surely we

Will drink to him, whate'er he be,
And sing the songs he loved to hear.

In the succeeding pieces, to the end of the poem, there is the same crescent glow of hope and strength and joy. Man is to set his foot on nature, and know himself nature's sovereign. Nature is but "earth and lime;" it dies; "human love and truth" endure. Man has been a giant laboring from his youth; much has he suffered, much also has he conquered; and now his "attributes of woe" are "glories," and the discipline of trouble has but fitted him for higher achievement, if he will

Arise and fly
The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.

Not inappropriately, and without any break in its pervading and perfect harmony, the work that had death for its suggestion ends with a marriage.

I conceive that this monumental and superlative poem has done more than any literary performance of the nineteenth century to express and to consolidate all that is best in the life of England, its domestic affection, its patriotic feeling, its healthful morality, its rational and earnest religion. Happy the nation whose accepted and greatest poet thus voices its deepest instincts. Let who will adjure Englishmen to galvanize the corpse of Paganism, I shall take my place in the throng of simple folk who listen, well pleased, to the home-bred, heart-felt, honest strains of In Memoriam.

CHAPTER XII.

Tennyson's Diction.Tiie Idyls Of The King.

SELDOM has it happened to any author to become, in his own lifetime, a classic to the same extent as Tennyson; and among the many subjects which his works afford to critic, lecturer, and annotator, none, perhaps, yields a richer harvest of remark than his diction. "To describe his command of language," I wrote many years ago," by any ordinary terms, expressive of fluency or force, would be to convey an idea both inadequate and erroneous. It is not only that he knows every word in the language suited to express his every idea; he can select with the case of magic the word that above all others is best for his purpose: nor is it that he can at once summon to his aid the best word the language affords; with an art which Shakspeare never scrupled to apply, though in our day it is,} apt to be counted mere Germanism, and pronounced contrary to the genius of the language, he combines old words into new epithets, he daringly mingles old colors to bring out tints that never were on sea or shore. His words gleam like pearls and opals, like rubies and emeralds. He yokes the stern vocables of the English tongue to the chariot of his imagination, and they become gracefully brilliant as the leopards of Bacchus, soft and glowing as the Cytherean doves. He must have been born with an ear for verbal sounds, an instinctive appreciation of the beautiful and delicate in words, hardly ever equalled. His earliest poems are festoons of verbal beauty, which he seems to shake sportively, as if he loved to see jewel and agate and almondine glittering amidst tropic flowers."

When these words were written the Idyls of the King had

not appeared, and it was only in the Morte D'Arthnr that Tennyson had given earnest of what he was one day to achieve in the poetic treatment of old British legend; but, though his later works speak less of the blossom - time—show less of the efflorescence and iridescence, and mere glance and gleam, of colored words—they display no falling off, but rather an advance, in the mightier elements of rhythmic speech. He does not permit that use of compound epithets, in which he exercises an Elizabethan freedom, to degenerate by frequency into a mannerism. The "silver-misty morn," the " wan-sallow plant" bitten at the root, "the satin-shining palm on sallows in the windy gleams of March," the "gloomy-gladed" hollow in the mountain landscape, the "livid-flickering" flash of lightning, the wave "green-glimmering toward the summit," the "sallowrifted glooms" of evening, the "battle-writhen arms" of the strong knight, are examples of his inventive diction gleaned from the Idyls. "Tenderest - touching," "dark - splendid," "love - royal," "passion - pale," are single color - words. Here and there the language of the Idyls is somewhat weakened by the too studious courting of an archaic tone, too scrupulous avoidance of Greek and Latin derivatives, and by the use of words like "reckling," "roky," "yaffingale," which have no place in contemporary speech, and were unknown to Johnson. If we are constrained to admit that, in expressiveness and picturesqneness, the language not unfrequently reaches the Shakspearian level, we cannot deny that, in variety and wild forestlike freedom, it falls beneath it. No English poet, however, since Milton, can keep the lists against Tennyson as a master of language.

The Morte D'Arthur, which now figures as one of the Idyls, has a history, and to some extent a character, of its own. It appeared in 1842, and was prefaced by a few admirably graphic lines, in which it was described as one of twelve Books of an Epic, condemned by their author to the fire as " faint Homeric

« 이전계속 »