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I love the eddying circling sweep,
The mantling and the foam
Amid the valleys lone.
The boy who wrote this last verso was father of the man that could do justice to the rich, brown, transparent water, circling and wreathing in long eddies, under the high cliff in Turner's Bolton Abbey! The closing verse in the poem goes far to explain why Ruskin became the greatest literary delineator of mountains in Europe.
There is a thrill of strange delight
That passes quivering o'er me,
Like summer clouds before me.
In these boyish poems we meet, as is usual in juvenile poetry, with many echoes from the poets in whom the boy delights. The influence of Scott is traceable everywhere, in light sunny sketching of landscape, and vivid observation of man and his works. In a fragment from a metrical journal recording the occurrences of what seems to have been Ruskin's first visit to the Continent, we find him looking from the crest of Ehrenbreitstcin upon the city of Coblentz, the junction of the Rhine and the Moselle, the old stone bridge, the bridge of boats, and the rafts of pine-wood floating down the river.
We climbed the crag, we scaled the ridge,
On Coblentz looked adown;
The tall red roofs, the long white bridge,
And on the eye-like frown
Of the portals of her palaces,
And on her people's busy press.
There never was a fairer town,
Between two rivers as it lay,
Whence morning mist was curling gray
On the plain's edge beside the hill:
Oh! it was lying calm and still . THE BRIDGE OF BOATS. 373
In morning's chastened glow:
The bridge of boats, casting across the impetuous stream its "one dark bending line," not only pleases his eye, but suggests a few of those moral reflections to which boy minstrels arc prone.
The feeble bridge that bends below
The descriptive references to the felling of the trees for the raft, which is to go like a sailing island from the mountain to the sea, are picturesque and felicitous.
The Schwartzwald pine hath shed its green,
The following description of a forest-glade is still more carefully elaborated, and still more boldly imaginative.
"Twas in the hollow of a forest dim,
Where the low breezes sang their evening hymn,
As in a temple by thick branches aisled,
Whose leaves had many voices, weak or wild;
Their summer voice was like the trooping tread
Of fiery steeds, to meteor battle bred;
Their autumn voice was like the wailing cry
Of a great nation, bowed in misery;
The deep vast silence of the winter's wood
Was hke the hush of a dead multitude.
And, in the centre of its summer shade,
Opened a narrow space of velvet glade,
Where sunbeams, through the foliage slanting steep,
Lay, like a smile upon the lips of sleep.
And dew, that thrilled the flowers with full delight,
Fell from the soft eyes of the heaven by night;
And richly there the panting earth put on
A wreathed robe of blossoms wild and wan:
The purple pansies glowed beneath unseen,
Like voiceless thoughts within a mind serene;
The passioned primrose blessed the morning gale,
And starry lilies shook in their pavilions pale.
Can these lines fail to remind any reader of Endymion of the delicate fingering of Keats? The lines on the voices of the forest leaves are worthy of any poet, and are wonderful for a poet of seventeen.
It has often been remarked that the poetry of happy boyhood is apt to be sad, and there is in Ruskiu's no lack of melancholy tones, frequently with something in them to remind us of Byron, yet never approaching either the sentimentality or the theatricality of Byron's stage manner. The following is too manifestly sincere, too quietly beautiful, to have been written by his lordship, and yet there is something in the lines that reminds one of Byron:
ThE Last Smile.
So full of soul, of life, of light,
Quite unmistakably, in the following Spenserian stanza, descriptive of a dream, is heard the music of Shelley:
And yet it was a strange dim dream:
I drifted on a mute and arrowy stream,
Under the midnight, in a helmless boat
That lay like a dead thing cast afloat
On the weight of the waves; I could feel them come,
Many and mighty, but deep and dumb;
And the strength of their darkness drifted and drew
The rudderless length of that black canoe,
As the west wind carries a fragment rent
From a thunder-cloud's uppermost battlement.
But though his early verses bear witness to his enthusiastic study of the poets of his time, they are by no means void of true originality. Not only do they display powers of description hardly paralleled by any poet of his years, but reveal no ordinary power of thought and insight, and are sometimes curiously prophetic of his career. It is startling to find, in a poem written when he was seventeen, lines which might serve as texts for chapters, almost for volumes, written when his fame had made the tour of the world.
There's but one liberty of heart and sqnl,
A thing of beauty, an unfelt control,—
A flow, as waters flow in solitude,
Of gentle feeling, passioned, though subdued,
When Love, and Virtue, and Religion join
To weave their bonds of bliss, their chains divine,
And keep the heaven-illumined heart they fill
Several of the poems were composed when he had attained the ripe age of twenty-five or twenty-six, and in these can be discerned not merely the prophecy of his power, but not a little of its manifestation. This remark applies particularly to descriptive passages on the Alps, which read like pieces of Ruskinian prose finely versified. He looks toward the mountains from Marengo, and speaks:
The glory of the cloud—without its wane;
The stillness of the earth—but not its gloom;
The loveliness of life—without its pain;
The peace—but not the hunger of the tomb!
Ye pyramids of God! around whose bases
The sea foams noteless in his narrow cup;
And the unseen movements of the earth send up
A murmur which your lulling snow effaces
Like the deer's footsteps. Thrones imperishable!
About whose adamantine steps the breath
Of dying generations vanishcth,
Less cognizable than clouds; and dynasties
Less glorious and more feeble than the array
Of your frail glaciers, unregarded rise,
Totter, and vanish.
Some lines on Mont Blanc, when he revisited it in 1845, have a solemn tenderness befitting a psalm or hymn.
Oh, mount beloved! mine eyes again
Along thy peaks expire;
And reverent desire.
Having referred to the worship which God "wins" from the lowlier creatures, "the partridge on her purple nest, the