Flower of the Mind and Later Poems
This etext was prepared by David Price, email email@example.com
from the 1893 Grant Richards edition of The Flower of the Mind and
the 1902 John Lane edition of Later Poems.
THE FLOWER OF THE MIND
Partial collections of English poems, decided by a common subject
or bounded by narrow dates and periods of literary history, are
made at very short intervals, and the makers are safe from the
reproach of proposing their own personal taste as a guide for the
reading of others. But a general Anthology gathered from the whole
of English literature--the whole from Chaucer to Wordsworth--by a
gatherer intent upon nothing except the quality of poetry, is a
more rare enterprise. It is hardly to be made without tempting the
suspicion--nay, hardly without seeming to hazard the confession--of
some measure of self-confidence. Nor can even the desire to enter
upon that labour be a frequent one--the desire of the heart of one
for whom poetry is veritably "the complementary life" to set up a
pale for inclusion and exclusion, to add honours, to multiply
homage, to cherish, to restore, to protest, to proclaim, to depose;
and to gain the consent of a multitude of readers to all those
acts. Many years, then--some part of a century--may easily pass
between the publication of one general anthology and the making of
The enterprise would be a sorry one if it were really arbitrary,
and if an anthologist should give effect to passionate preferences
without authority. An anthology that shall have any value must be
made on the responsibility of one but on the authority of many.
There is no caprice; the mind of the maker has been formed for
decision by the wisdom of many instructors. It is the very study
of criticism, and the grateful and profitable study, that gives the
justification to work done upon the strongest personal impulse, and
done, finally, in the mental solitude that cannot be escaped at the
last. In another order, moral education would be best crowned if
it proved to have quick and profound control over the first
impulses; its finished work would be to set the soul in a state of
law, delivered from the delays of self-distrust; not action only,
but the desires would be in an old security, and a wish would come
to light already justified. This would be the second--if it were
not the only--liberty. Even so an intellectual education might
assuredly confer freedom upon first and solitary thoughts, and
confidence and composure upon the sallies of impetuous courage. In
a word, it should make a studious anthologist quite sure about
genius. And all who have bestowed, or helped in bestowing, the
liberating education have given their student the authority to be
free. Personal and singular the choice in such a book must be, not
Claiming and disclaiming so much, the gatherers may follow one
another to harvest, and glean in the same fields in different
seasons, for the repetition of the work can never be altogether a
repetition. The general consent of criticism does not stand still;
and moreover, a mere accident has until now left a poet of genius
of the past here and there to neglect or obscurity. This is not
very likely to befall again; the time has come when there is little
or nothing left to discover or rediscover in the sixteenth century
or the seventeenth; we know that there does not lurk another
Crashaw contemned, or another Henry Vaughan disregarded, or another
George Herbert misplaced. There is now something like finality of
knowledge at least; and therefore not a little error in the past is
ready to be repaired. This is the result of time. Of the slow
actions and reactions of critical taste there might be something to
say, but nothing important. No loyal anthologist perhaps will
consent to acknowledge these tides; he will hardly do his work well
unless he believe it to be stable and perfect; nor, by the way,
will he judge worthily in the name of others unless he be resolved
to judge intrepidly for himself.
Inasmuch as even the best of all poems are the best upon
innumerable degrees, the size of most anthologies has gone far to
decide what degrees are to be gathered in and what left without.
The best might make a very small volume, and be indeed the best, or
a very large volume, and be still indeed the best. But my labour
has been to do somewhat differently--to gather nothing that did not
overpass a certain boundary-line of genius. Gray's Elegy, for
instance, would rightly be placed at the head of everything below
that mark. It is, in fact, so near to the work of genius as to be
most directly, closely, and immediately rebuked by genius; it meets
genius at close quarters and almost deserves that Shakespeare
himself should defeat it. Mediocrity said its own true word in the
"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
But greatness had said its own word also in a sonnet:
"The summer flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die."
The reproof here is too sure; not always does it touch so quick,
but it is not seldom manifest, and it makes exclusion a simple
task. Inclusion, on the other hand, cannot be so completely
fulfilled. The impossibility of taking in poems of great length,
however purely lyrical, is a mechanical barrier, even on the plan
of the present volume; in the case of Spenser's Prothalamion, the
unmanageably autobiographical and local passage makes it
inappropriate; some exquisite things of Landor's are lyrics in
blank verse, and the necessary rule against blank verse shuts them
out. No extracts have been made from any poem, but in a very few
instances a stanza or a passage has been dropped out. No poem has
been put in for the sake of a single perfectly fine passage; it
would be too much to say that no poem has been put in for the sake
of two splendid passages or so. The Scottish ballad poetry is
represented by examples that are to my mind finer than anything
left out; still, it is but represented; and as the song of this
multitude of unknown poets overflows by its quantity a collection
of lyrics of genius, so does severally the song of Wordsworth,
Crashaw, and Shelley. It has been necessary, in considering
traditional songs of evidently mingled authorship, to reject some
one invaluable stanza or burden--the original and ancient surviving
matter of a spoilt song--because it was necessary to reject the
sequel that has cumbered it since some sentimentalist took it for
his own. An example, which makes the heart ache, is that burden of
keen and remote poetry:
"O the broom, the bonnie, bonnie broom,
The broom of Cowdenknowes!"
Perhaps some hand will gather all such precious fragments as these
together one day, freed from what is alien in the work of the
restorer. It is inexplicable that a generation resolved to forbid
the restoration of ancient buildings should approve the eighteenth
century restoration of ancient poems; nay, the architectural
"restorer" is immeasurably the more respectful. In order to give
us again the ancient fragments, it is happily not necessary to
break up the composite songs which, since the time of Burns, have
gained a national love. Let them be, but let the old verses be
also; and let them have, for those who desire it, the solitariness
of their state of ruin. Even in the cases--and they are not few--
where Burns is proved to have given beauty and music to the ancient
fragment itself, his work upon the old stanza is immeasurably finer
than his work in his own new stanzas following, and it would be
less than impiety to part the two.
I have obeyed a profound conviction which I have reason to hope
will be more commended in the future than perhaps it can be now, in
leaving aside a multitude of composite songs--anachronisms, and
worse than mere anachronisms, as I think them to be, for they patch
wild feeling with sentiment of the sentimentalist. There are some
exceptions. The one fine stanza of a song which both Sir Walter
Scott and Burns restored is given with the restorations of both,
those restorations being severally beautiful; and the burden,
"Hame, hame, hame," is printed with the Jacobite song that carries
it; this song seems so mingled and various in date and origin that
no apology is needed for placing it amongst the bundle of Scottish
ballads of days before the Jacobites. Sir Patrick Spens is treated
here as an ancient song. It is to be noted that the modern, or
comparatively modern, additions to old songs full of quantitative
metre--"Hame, hame, hame," is one of these--full of long notes,
rests, and interlinear pauses, are almost always written in
anapaests. The later writer has slipped away from the fine,
various, and subtle metre of the older. Assuredly the popularity
of the metre which, for want of a term suiting the English rules of
verse, must be called anapaestic, has done more than any other
thing to vulgarise the national sense of rhythm and to silence the
finer rhythms. Anapaests came quite suddenly into English poetry
and brought coarseness, glibness, volubility, dapper and fatuous
effects. A master may use it well, but as a popular measure it has
been disastrous. I would be bound to find the modern stanzas in an
old song by this very habit of anapaests and this very
misunderstanding of the long words and interlinear pauses of the
older stanzas. This, for instance, is the old metre:
"Hame, hame, hame! O hame fain wad I be!"
and this the lamentable anapaestic line (from the same song):
"Yet the sun through the mirk seems to promise to me -."
It has been difficult to refuse myself the delight of including A
Divine Love of Carew, but it seemed too bold to leave out four
stanzas of a poem of seven, and the last four are of the poorest
argument. This passage at least shall speak for the first three:
"Thou didst appear
A glorious mystery, so dark, so clear,
As Nature did intend
All should confess, but none might comprehend."
From Christ's Victory in Heaven of Giles Fletcher (out of reach for
its length) it is a happiness to extract here at least the passage
upon "Justice," who looks "as the eagle
"that hath so oft compared
Her eye with heaven's";
from Marlowe's poem, also unmanageable, that in which Love ran to
"And laid his childish head upon her breast";
with that which tells how Night,
"deep-drenched in misty Acheron,
Heaved up her head, and half the world upon
Breathed darkness forth";
from Robert Greene two lines of a lovely passage:
"Cupid abroad was lated in the night,
His wings were wet with ranging in the rain";
from Ben Jonson's Hue and Cry (not throughout fine) the stanza:
"Beauties, have ye seen a toy,
Called Love, a little boy,
Almost naked, wanton, blind;
Cruel now, and then as kind?
If he be amongst ye, say;
He is Venus' run-away";
from Francis Davison:
"Her angry eyes are great with tears";
from George Wither:
"I can go rest
On her sweet breast
That is the pride of Cynthia's train";
"Return, return, gay planet of mine east"!
The poems in which these are cannot make part of the volume, but
the citation of the fragments is a relieving act of love.
At the very beginning, Skelton's song to "Mistress Margery
Wentworth" had almost taken a place; but its charm is hardly fine
If it is necessary to answer the inevitable question in regard to
Byron, let me say that in another Anthology, a secondary Anthology,
the one in which Gray's Elegy would have an honourable place, some
more of Byron's lyrics would certainly be found; and except this
there is no apology. If the last stanza of the "Dying Gladiator"
passage, or the last stanza on the cascade rainbow at Terni,
"Love watching madness with unalterable mien,"
had been separate poems instead of parts of Childe Harold, they
would have been amongst the poems that are here collected in no
spirit of arrogance, or of caprice, of diffidence or doubt.
The volume closes some time before the middle of the century and
the death of Wordsworth.
[As there would be considerable overlap between the poems in this
selected are shown below and are followed by her comments on them.-
The first carol
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
Verses before death
Edmund Spenser (1553-1599)
Like as a ship
John Lyly (1554?-1606)
Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586)
Wat'red was my wine
Thomas Lodge (1556-1625)
The solitary shepherd's song
I saw my lady weep
George Peele (1558?-1597)
Farewell to arms
Robert Greene (1560?-1592)
Sephestia's song to her child
Christopher Marlowe (1562-1593)
The passionate shepherd to his love
Samuel Daniel (1562-1619)
My spotless love
Michael Drayton (1563-1631)
Since there's no help
Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618)
Were I as base
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth
O me! What eyes hath love put in my head
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
When in the chronicle of wasted time
That time of year thou may'st in me behold
How like a winter hath my absence been
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
They that have power to hurt, and will do
Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye
The forward violet thus did I chide
O lest the world should task you to recite
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
How oft, when thou, my music, music play'st
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Full fathom five
Dirge (Fear no more the heat o' the sun)
Song (Take, O take those lips away)
Song (How should I your true love know)
Tom o' Bedlam
Thomas Campion (circa 1567-1620)
Kind are her answers
Her sacred bower
When thou must home
Follow your saint
Thomas Nash (1567-1601?)
John Donne (1573-1631)
This happy dream
Hymn to God the father
Richard Barnefield (1574?-?)
Ben Jonson (1574-1637)
Epitaph on Elizabeth L. H.
Hymn to Diana
On my first daughter
Echo's lament for Narcissus
An epitaph on Salathiel Pavy, a child of Queen Elizabeth's
John Fletcher (1579-1625)
Invocation to sleep, from Valentinian
John Webster (-?1625)
Song from the Duchess of Malfi
Song from the Devil's Law-case
In Earth, dirge from Vittoria Corombona
William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649)
Song (Phoebus, arise!)
Sleep, Silence' child
To the nightingale
Beaumont and Fletcher (1586-1616)-(1579-1625)
I died true
Francis Beaumont (1586-1616)
On the tombs in Westminster Abbey
Sir Francis Kynaston (1587-1642)
To Cynthia, on concealment of her beauty
Nathaniel Field (1587-1638)
George Wither (1588-1667)
Sleep, baby, sleep!
Thomas Carew (1589-1639)
Song (Ask me no more where Jove bestows)
To my inconstant mistress
An hymeneal dialogue
Ingrateful beauty threatened
Thomas Dekker (-1638?)
Thomas Heywood (-1649?)
Robert Herrick (1591-1674?)
To daisies, not to shut so soon
To the virgins, to make much of time
Corinna's going a-maying
Grace for a child
George Herbert (1593-1632)
James Shirley (1596-1666)
Anonymous (circa 1603)
Lullaby (Weep you no more, sad fountains)
Sir William Davenant (1605-1668)
Edmund Waller (1605-1687)
Thomas Randolph (1606-1634?)
Charles Best (-?)
A sonnet of the moon
John Milton (1608-1674)
Hymn on Christ's nativity
On his blindness
On his deceased wife
Song on May morning
Invocation to Sabrina, from Comus
Invocation to Echo, from Comus
The attendant spirit, from Comus
James Graham, Marquis of Montrose (1612-1650)
The vigil of death
Richard Crashaw (1615?-1652)
On a prayer-book sent to Mrs. M. R.
To the morning
On Mr. G. Herbert's book
Wishes to his supposed mistress
Quem Vidistis Pastores etc.
The flaming heart
Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)
On the death of Mr. Crashaw
Hymn to the light
Richard Lovelace (1618-1658)
To Lucasta on going to the wars
To Althea, from prison
A guiltless lady imprisoned: after penanced
Andrew Marvell (1620-1678)
A Horatian ode upon Cromwell's return from Ireland
The picture of T. C. in a prospect of flowers
The nymph complaining of death of her fawn
The definition of love
Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)
The world of light
Helen of Kirconnell
The wife of Usher's well
The dowie dens of Yarrow
Sweet William and May Margaret
Sir Patrick Spens
Hame, hame, hame
A lyke-wake dirge
John Dryden (1631-1700)
Ode (Thou youngest virgin-daughter of the skies)
Aphre Behn (1640-1689)
Song, from Abdelazar
Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
Hymn (The spacious firmament on high)
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
William Cowper (1731-1800)
Lines on receiving his mother's picture
Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825)
William Blake (1757-1828)
The land of dreams
To the muses
Robert Burns (1759-1796)
To a mouse
William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Why art thou silent?
Thoughts of a Briton on the subjugation of Switzerland
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free
On the extinction of the Venetian Republic
O friend! I know not
Surprised by joy
To Toussaint L'ouverture
With ships the sea was sprinkled
Upon Westminster bridge, Sept. 3, 1802
When I have borne in memory
Three years she grew
The solitary reaper
To H. C.
'Tis said that some have died for love
The pet lamb
The childless father
Ode on intimations of immortality
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
A weary lot is thine
The Maid of Neidpath
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Youth and age
The rime of the ancient mariner
Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)
Child of a day
Thomas Campbell (1767-1844)
Charles Lamb (1775-1835)
Allan Cunningham (1784-1842)
A wet sheet and a flowing sea
George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1823)
The Isles of Greece
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Wild with weeping
To the night
To a skylark
To the moon
The waning moon
Ode to the west wind
Rarely, rarely comest thou
The invitation, to Jane
Ode to heaven
Life of life
Stanzas written in dejection near Naples
Dirge for the year
A widow bird
The two spirits
John Keats (1795-1821)
La Belle Dame sans merci
On first looking into Chapman's Homer
The gentle south
Ode to a nightingale
Ode on a Grecian urn
Ode to Autumn
Ode to Psyche
Ode to Melancholy
Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849)
She is not fair
ALICE MEYNELL'S COMMENTS/NOTES
Written by Spensor on his marriage in Ireland, Elizabeth Boyle of
Kilcoran, who survived him, married one Roger Seckerstone, and was
again a widow. Dr. Grosart seems to have finally decided the
identity of the heroine of this great poem. It is worth while to
explain, once for all, that I do not use the accented e for the
longer pronunciation of the past participle. The accent is not an
English sign, and, to my mind, disfigures the verse; neither do I
think it necessary to cut off the e with an apostrophe when the
participle is shortened. The reader knows at a glance how the word
is to be numbered; besides, he may have his preferences where
choice is allowed. In reading such a line as Tennyson's
"Dear as remembered kisses after death,"
one man likes the familiar sound of the word "remembered" as we all
speak it now; another takes pleasure in the four light syllables
filling the line so full. Tennyson uses the apostrophe as a rule,
but neither he nor any other author is quite consistent.
It may please the reader to think that this frolic, rich, and
delicate singer was Shakespeare's very Rosalind. From Dr. Thomas
Lodge's novel, Euphues' Golden Legacy, was taken much of the story,
with some of the characters, and some few of the passages, of As
You Like It.
This splendid poem (from the same romance), written on the poet's
voyage to the Islands of Terceras and the Canaries, has the fire
and freshness of the south and the sea; all its colours are clear.
The reader's ear will at once teach him to read the sigh "heigh ho"
so as to give the first syllable the time of two (long and short).
FAREWELL TO ARMS
George Peele's four fine stanzas (which must be mentioned as
dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, but are better without that
dedication) exist in another form, in the first person, and with
some archaisms smoothed. But the third person seems to be far more
touching, the old man himself having done with verse.
THE PASSIONATE SHEPHERD
The sixth stanza is perhaps by Izaak Walton.
TAKE, O TAKE THOSE LIPS AWAY
The author of this exquisite song is by no means certain. The
second stanza is not with the first in Shakespeare, but it is in
Beaumont and Fletcher.
KIND ARE HER ANSWERS
These verses are a more subtle experiment in metre by the musician
and poet, Campion, than even the following, Laura, which he himself
sweetly commended as "voluble, and fit to express any amorous
conceit." In Kind are her Answers the long syllables and the
trochaic movement of the short lines meet the contrary movement of
the rest, with an exquisite effect of flux and reflux. The
"dancers" whose time they sang must have danced (with Perdita) like
"a wave of the sea."
I have followed the usual practice in omitting the last and less
Campion's "airs," for which he wrote his words, laid rules too
urgent upon what would have been a delicate genius in poetry. The
airs demanded so many stanzas; but they gave his imagination leave
to be away, and they depressed and even confused his metrical play,
hurting thus the two vital spots of poetry. Many of the stanzas
for music make an unlucky repeating pattern with the poor variety
that a repeating wall-paper does not attempt. And yet Campion
began again and again with the onset of a true poet. Take, for
example, the poem beginning with the vitality of this line,
"touching in its majesty"-
"Awake, thou spring of speaking grace; mute rest becomes not thee!"
Who would have guessed that the piece was to close in a jogging
stanza containing a reflection on the fact that brutes are
speechless, with these two final lines -
"If speech be then the best of graces,
Doe it not in slumber smother!"
Campion yields a curious collection of beautiful first lines.
"Sleep, angry beauty, sleep and fear not me"
is far finer than anything that follows. So is there a single
gloom in this -
"Follow thy fair sun, unhappy shadow!"
And a single joy in this -
"Oh, what unhoped-for sweet supply!"
Another solitary line is one that by its splendour proves Campion
the author of Cherry Ripe -
"A thousand cherubim fly in her looks."
And yet "a thousand cherubim" is a line of a poem full of the
dullest kind of reasoning--curious matter for music--and of the
intricate knotting of what is a very simple thread of thought. It
was therefore no easy matter to choose something of Campion's for a
collection of the finest work. For an historical book of
representative poetry the question would be easy enough, for there
Campion should appear by his glorious lyric, Cherry Ripe, by one or
two poems of profounder imagination (however imperfect), and by a
madrigal written for the music (however the stanzas may flag in
their quibbling). But the work of choosing among his lyrics for
the sake of beauty shows too clearly the inequality, the brevity of
the inspiration, and the poet's absolute disregard of the moment of
its flight and departure. A few splendid lines may be reason
enough for extracting a short poem, but must not be made to bear
too great a burden.
WHEN THOU MUST HOME
Of the quality of this imaginative lyric there is no doubt. It is
fine throughout, as we confess even after the greatness of the
"When thou must home to shades of underground,
And there arrived, a new admired guest--"
It is as solemn and fantastic at the close as at this dark and
splendid opening, and throughout, past description, Elizabethan.
This single poem must bind Campion to that period without question;
and as he lived thirty-six years in the actual reign of Elizabeth,
and printed his Book of Airs with Rosseter two years before her
death, it is by no violence that we give him the name that covers
our earlier poets of the great age. When thou must Home is of the
day of Marlowe. It has the qualities of great poetry, and
especially the quality of keeping its simplicity; and it has a
quality of great simplicity not at all child-like, but adult,
large, gay, credulous, tragic, sombre, and amorous.
Donne, too, is a poet of fine onsets. It was with some hesitation
that I admitted a poem having the middle stanza of this Funeral;
but the earlier lines of the last are fine.
The freshest of Ben Jonson's lyrics have been chosen. Obviously it
is freshness that he generally lacks, for all his vigour, his
emphatic initiative, and his overbearing and impulsive voice in
verse. There is a stale breath in that hearty shout. Doubtless it
is to the credit of his honesty that he did not adopt the country-
phrases in vogue; but when he takes landscape as a task the effect
is ill enough. I have already had the temerity to find fault for a
blunder of meaning, with the passage of a most famous lyric, where
it says the contrary of what it would say -
"But might I of Jove's nectar sup
I would not change for thine;"
and for doing so have encountered the anger rather than the
argument of those who cannot admire a pretty lyric but they must
hold reason itself to be in error rather than allow that a line of
it has chanced to get turned in the rhyming.
"I ever saw anything," says Charles Lamb, "like this funeral dirge,
except the ditty which reminds Ferdinand of his drowned father in
the Tempest. As that is of the water, watery; so this is of the
earth, earthy. Both have that intentness of feeling which seems to
resolve itself into the element which it contemplates."
SONG (Phoebus, arise!)
All Drummond's poems seem to be minor poems, even at their finest,
except only this. He must have known, for the creation of that
poem, some more impassioned and less restless hour. It is, from
the outset to the close, the sigh of a profound expectation. There
is no division into stanzas, because its metre is the breath of
life. One might wish that the English ode (roughly called
"Pindaric") had never been written but with passion, for so written
it is the most immediate of all metres; the shock of the heart and
the breath of elation or grief are the law of the lines. It has
passed out of the gates of the garden of stanzas, and walks (not
astray) in the further freedom where all is interior law. Cowley,
long afterwards, wrote this Pindaric ode, and wrote it coldly. But
Drummond's (he calls it a song) can never again be forgotten. With
admirable judgment it was set up at the very gate of that Golden
Treasury we all know so well; and, therefore, generation after
generation of readers, who have never opened Drummond's poems, know
this fine ode as well as they know any single poem in the whole of
English literature. There was a generation that had not been
taught by the Golden Treasury, and Cardinal Newman was of it.
Writing to Coventry Patmore of his great odes, he called them
beautiful but fragmentary; was inclined to wish that they might
some day be made complete. There is nothing in all poetry more
complete. Seldom is a poem in stanzas so complete but that another
stanza might have made a final close; but a master's ode has the
unity of life, and when it ends it ends for ever.
A poem of Drummond's has this auroral image of a blush: Anthea has
blushed to hear her eyes likened to stars (habit might have caused
her, one would think, to bear the flattery with a front as cool as
the very daybreak), and the lover tells her that the sudden
increase of her beauty is futile, for he cannot admire more: "For
naught thy cheeks that morn do raise." What sweet, nay, what
"Me here she first perceived, and here a morn
Of bright carnations overspread her face."
The seventeenth century has possession of that "morn" caught once
upon its uplands; nor can any custom of aftertime touch its
freshness to wither it.
TO MY INCONSTANT MISTRESS
The solemn vengeance of this poem has a strange tone--not unique,
for it had sounded somewhere in mediaeval poetry in Italy--but in a
dreadful sense divine. At the first reading, this sentence against
inconstancy, spoken by one more than inconstant, moves something
like indignation; nevertheless, it is menacingly and obscurely
justified, on a ground as it were beyond the common region of
tolerance and pardon.
An editor is greatly tempted to mend a word in these exquisite
verses. George Herbert was maladroit in using the word "rest" in
two senses. "Peace" is not quite so characteristic a word, but it
ought to take the place of "rest" in the last line of the second
stanza; so then the first line of the last stanza would not have
this rather distressing ambiguity. The poem is otherwise perfect
George Herbert's work is so perfectly a box where thoughts
"compacted lie," that no one is moved, in reading his rich poetry,
to detach a line, so fine and so significant are its neighbours;
nevertheless, it may be well to stop the reader at such a lovely
passage as this -
"He was a garden in a Paradise."
There is nothing else of Waller's fine enough to be admitted here;
and even this, though unquestionably a beautiful poem, elastic in
words and fresh in feeling, despite its wearied argument, is of the
third-class. Greatness seems generally, in the arts, to be of two
kinds, and the third rank is less than great. The wearied argument
of The Rose is the almost squalid plea of all the poets, from
Ronsard to Herrick: "Time is short; they make the better bargain
who make haste to love." This thrifty business and essentially
cold impatience was--time out of mind--unknown to the truer love;
it is larger, illiberal, untender, and without all dignity. The
poets were wrong to give their verses the message of so sorry a
warning. There is only one thing that persuades you to forgive the
paltry plea of the poet that time is brief--and that is the
charming reflex glimpse it gives of her to whom the rose and the
verse were sent, and who had not thought that time was brief.
The sock represents the stage, in L'Allegro, for comedy, and the
buskin, in Il Penseroso, for tragedy. Milton seems to think the
comic drama in England needs no apology, but he hesitates at the
tragic. The poet of King Lear is named for his sweetness and his
It is too late to protest against Milton's display of weak Italian.
Pensieroso is, of course, what he should have written.
Most of the allusions in Lycidas need no explaining to readers of
poetry. The geography is that of the western coasts from furthest
north to Cornwall. Deva is the Dee; "the great vision" means the
apparition of the Archangel, St. Michael, at St. Michael's Mount;
Namancos and Bayona face the mount from the continental coast;
Bellerus stands for Belerium, the Land's End.
Arethusa and Mincius--Sicilian and Italian streams--represent the
pastoral poetry of Theocritus and Virgil.
ON A PRAYER-BOOK
"Fair and flagrant things"--Crashaw's own phrase--might serve for a
brilliant and fantastic praise and protest in description of his
own verses. In the last century, despite the opinion of a few, and
despite the fact that Pope took possession of Crashaw's line -
"Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep,"
and for some time of the present century, the critics had a wintry
word to blame him with. They said of George Herbert, of Lovelace,
of Crashaw, and of other light hearts of the seventeenth century--
not so much that their inspiration was in bad taste, as that no
reader of taste could suffer them. A better opinion on that
company of poets is that they had a taste extraordinarily liberal,
generous, and elastic, but not essentially lax: taste that gave
now and then too much room to play, but anon closed with the purest
and exactest laws of temperance and measure. The extravagance of
Crashaw is a far more lawful thing than the extravagance of
Addison, whom some believe to have committed none; moreover, Pope
and all the politer poets nursed something they were pleased to
call a "rage," and this expatiated (to use another word of their
own) beyond all bounds. Of sheer voluntary extremes it is not in
the seventeenth century conceit that we should seek examples, but
in an eighteenth century "rage." A "noble rage," properly
provoked, could be backed to write more trash than fancy ever
tempted the half-incredulous sweet poet of the older time to run
upon. He was fancy's child, and the bard of the eighteenth century
was the child of common sense with straws in his hair--vainly
arranged there. The eighteenth century was never content with a
moderate mind; it invented "rage"; it matched rage with a flagrant
diction mingled of Latin words and simple English words made vacant
and ridiculous, and these were the worst; it was resolved to be
behind no century in passion--nay, to show the way, to fire the
nations. Addison taught himself, as his hero taught the battle,
"where to rage"; and in the later years of the same literary age,
Johnson summoned the lapsed and absent fury, with no kind of
misgiving as to the resulting verse. Take such a phrase as "the
madded land"; there, indeed, is a word coined by the noble rage as
the last century evoked it. "The madded land" is a phrase intended
to prove that the law-giver of taste, Johnson himself, could lodge
the fury in his breast when opportunity occurred. "And dubious
title shakes the madded land." It would be hard to find anything,
even in Addison, more flagrant and less fair.
Take The Weeper of Crashaw--his most flagrant poem. Its follies
are all sweet-humoured, they smile. Its beauties are a quick and
abundant shower. The delicate phrases are so mingled with the
flagrant that it is difficult to quote them without rousing that
general sense of humour of which any one may make a boast; and I am
therefore shy even of citing the "brisk cherub" who has early
sipped the Saint's tear: "Then to his music," in Crashaw's
divinely simple phrase; and his singing "tastes of this breakfast
all day long." Sorrow is a queen, he cries to the Weeper, and when
sorrow would be seen in state, "then is she drest by none but
thee." Then you come upon the fancy, "Fountain and garden in one
face." All places, times, and objects are "Thy tears' sweet
opportunity." If these charming passages lurk in his worst poems,
the reader of this anthology will not be able to count them in his
best. In the Epiphany Hymn the heavens have found means
'To disinherit the sun's rise,
Delicately to displace
The day, and plant it fairer in thy face."
To the Morning: Satisfaction for Sleep, is, all through, luminous.
It would be difficult to find, even in the orient poetry of that
time, more daylight or more spirit. True, an Elizabethan would not
have had poetry so rich as in Love's Horoscope, but yet an
Elizabethan would have had it no fresher. The Hymn to St. Teresa
has the brevities which this poet--reproached with his longueurs--
masters so well. He tells how the Spanish girl, six years old, set
out in search of death: "She's for the Moors and Martyrdom.
Sweet, not so fast!" Of many contemporary songs in pursuit of a
fugitive Cupid, Crashaw's Cupid's Cryer: out of the Greek, is the
most dainty. But if readers should be a little vexed with the
poet's light heart and perpetual pleasure, with the late ripeness
of his sweetness, here, for their satisfaction, is a passage
capable of the great age that had lately closed when Crashaw wrote.
It is in his summons to nature and art:
"Come, and come strong,
To the conspiracy of our spacious song!"
I have been obliged to take courage to alter the reading of the
seventeenth and nineteenth lines of the Prayer-Book, so as to make
them intelligible; they had been obviously misprinted. I have also
found it necessary to re-punctuate generally.
WISHES TO HIS SUPPOSED MISTRESS
This beautiful and famous poem has its stanzas so carelessly thrown
together that editors have allowed themselves a certain freedom
with it. I have done the least I could, by separating two stanzas
that repeated the rhyme, and by suppressing one that grew tedious.
ON THE DEATH OF MR. CRASHAW
This ode has been chosen as more nobly representative than that,
better known, On the Death of Mr. William Harvey. In the Crashaw
ode, and in the Hymn to the Light, Cowley is, at last, tender. But
it cannot be said that his love-poems had tenderness. Be wrote in
a gay language, but added nothing to its gaiety. He wrote the
language of love, and left it cooler than he found it. What the
conceits of Lovelace and the rest-- flagrant, not frigid--did not
do was done by Cowley's quenching breath; the language of love
began to lose by him. But even then, even then, who could have
foretold what the loss at a later day would be!
HYMN TO THE LIGHT
It is somewhat to be regretted that this splendid poem should show
Cowley as the writer of the alexandrine that divides into two
lines. For he it was who first used (or first conspicuously used)
the alexandrine that is organic, integral, and itself a separate
unit of metre. He first passed beyond the heroic line, or at least
he first used the alexandrine freely, at his pleasure, amid heroic
verse; and after him Dryden took possession and then Pope. But
both these masters, when they wrote alexandrines, wrote them in the
French manner, divided. Cowley, however, with admirable art, is
able to prevent even an accidental pause, making the middle of his
line fall upon the middle of some word that is rapid in the
speaking and therefore indivisible by pause or even by any
lingering. Take this one instance -
"Like some fair pine o'erlooking all the ignobler wood."
If Cowley's delicate example had ruled in English poetry (and he
surely had authority on this one point, at least), this alexandrine
would have taken its own place as an important line of English
metre, more mobile than the heroic, less fitted to epic or dramatic
poetry, but a line liberally lyrical. It would have been the
light, pursuing wave that runs suddenly, outrunning twenty, further
up the sands than these, a swift traveller, unspent, of longer
impulse, of more impetuous foot, of fuller and of hastier breath,
more eager to speak, and yet more reluctant to have done. Cowley
left the line with all this lyrical promise within it, and if his
example had been followed, English prosody would have had in this a
Cowley probably was two or three years younger than Richard
Crashaw, and the alexandrine is to be found--to be found by
searching--in Crashaw; and he took precisely the same care as
Cowley that the long wand of that line should not give way in the
middle--should be strong and supple and should last. Here are four
of his alexandrines -
"Or you, more noble architects of intellectual noise."
"Of sweets you have, and murmur that you have no more."
"And everlasting series of a deathless song."
"To all the dear-bought nations this redeeming name."
A later poet--Coventry Patmore--wrote a far longer line than even
these--a line not only speeding further, but speeding with a more
celestial movement than Cowley or Crashaw heard with the ear of
"He unhappily adopted," says Dr. Johnson as to Cowley's diction,
"that which was predominant." "That which was predominant" was as
good a vintage of English language as the cycles of history have
ever brought to pass.
Colonel Richard Lovelace, an enchanting poet, is hardly read,
except for two poems which are as famous as any in our language.
Perhaps the rumour of his conceits has frightened his reader. It
must be granted they are now and then daunting; there is a poem on
"Princess Louisa Drawing" which is a very maze; the little paths of
verse and fancy turn in upon one another, and the turns are pointed
with artificial shouts of joy and surprise. But, again, what a
reader unused to a certain living symbolism will be apt to take for
a careful and cold conceit is, in truth, a rapture--none graver,
none more fiery or more luminous. But even to name the poem where
these occur might be to deliver delicate and ardent poetry over to
the general sense of humour, which one distrusts. Nor is Lovelace
easy reading at any time (the two or three famous poems excepted).
The age he adorned lived in constant readiness for the fiddler.
Eleven o'clock in the morning was as good an hour as another for a
dance, and poetry, too, was gay betimes, but intricate with
figures. It is the very order, the perspective, as it were, of the
movement that seems to baffle the eye, but the game was a free
impulse. Since the first day danced with the first night, no
dancing was more natural--at least to a dancer of genius. True,
the dance could be tyrannous. It was an importunate fashion. When
the Bishop of Hereford, compelled by Robin Hood, in merry
Barnsdale, danced in his boots ("and glad he could so get away"),
he was hardly in worse heart or trim than a seventeenth century
author here and there whose original seriousness or work-a-day
piety would have been content to go plodding flat-foot or halting,
as the muse might naturally incline with him, but whom the tune,
the grace, and gallantry of the time beckoned to tread a perpetual
measure. Lovelace was a dancer of genius; nay, he danced to rest
his wings, for he was winged, cap and heel. The fiction of flight
has lost its charm long since. Modern art grew tired of the idea,
now turned to commonplace, and painting took leave of the buoyant
urchins--naughty cherub and Cupid together; but the seventeenth
century was in love with that old fancy--more in love, perhaps,
than any century in the past. Its late painters, whose human
figures had no lack of weight upon the comfortable ground, yet kept
a sense of buoyancy for this hovering childhood, and kept the
angels and the loves aloft, as though they shook a tree to make a
flock of birds flutter up.
Fine is the fantastic and infrequent landscape in Lovelace's
"This is the palace of the wood,
And court o' the royal oak, where stood
The whole nobility."
In more than one place Lucasta's, or Amarantha's, or Laura's hair
is sprinkled with dew or rain almost as freshly and wildly as in
Lovelace, who loved freedom, seems to be enclosed in so narrow a
book; yet it is but a "hermitage." To shake out the light and
spirit of its leaves is to give a glimpse of liberty not to him,
but to the world.
In To Lucasta I have been bold to alter, at the close, "you" to
"thou." Lovelace sent his verses out unrevised, and the
inconsistency of pronouns is common with him, but nowhere else so
distressing as in this brief and otherwise perfect poem. The fault
is easily set right, and it seems even an unkindness not to lend
him this redress, offered him here as an act of comradeship.
LUCASTA PAYING HER OBSEQUIES
That errors should abound in the text of Lovelace is the more
lamentable because he was apt to make a play of phrases that depend
upon the precision of a comma--nay, upon the precision of the voice
in reading. Lucasta Paying her Obsequies is a poem that makes a
kind of dainty confusion between the two vestals--the living and
the dead; they are "equal virgins," and you must assign the
pronouns carefully to either as you read. This, read twice, must
surely be placed amongst the loveliest of his lovely writings. It
is a joy to meet such a phrase as "her brave eyes."
TO ALTHEA, FROM PRISON
This is a poem that takes the winds with an answering flight.
Should they be "birds" or "gods" that wanton in the air in the
first of these gallant stanzas? Bishop Percy shied at "gods," and
with admirable judgment suggested "birds," an amendment adopted by
the greater number of succeeding editors, until one or two wished
for the other phrase again, as an audacity fit for Lovelace. But
the Bishop's misgiving was after all justified by one of the Mss.
of the poem, in which the "gods" proved to be "birds" long before
he changed them. The reader may ask, what is there to choose
between birds so divine and gods so light? But to begin with
"gods" would be to make an anticlimax of the close. Lovelace led
from birds and fishes to winds, and from winds to angels.
"When linnet-like confined" is another modern reading. "When, like
committed linnets," daunted the eighteenth century. Nevertheless,
it is right seventeenth century, and is now happily restored;
happily, because Lovelace would not have the word "confined" twice
in this little poem.
A HORATIAN ODE
"He earned the glorious name," says a biographer of Andrew Marvell
(editing an issue of that poet's works which certainly has its
faults), "of the British Aristides." The portly dulness of the
mind that could make such a phrase, and having made, award it, is
not, in fairness, to affect a reader's thought of Marvell himself
nor even of his time. Under correction, I should think that the
award was not made in his own age; he did but live on the eve of
the day that cumbered its mouth with phrases of such foolish burden
and made literature stiff with them. Andrew Marvell's political
rectitude, it is true, seems to have been of a robustious kind; but
his poetry, at its rare best, has a "wild civility," which might
puzzle the triumph of him, whoever he was, who made a success of
this phrase of the "British Aristides." Nay, it is difficult not
to think that Marvell too, who was "of middling stature, roundish-
faced, cherry-cheeked," a healthy and active rather than a
spiritual Aristides, might himself have been somewhat taken by
surprise at the encounters of so subtle a muse. He, as a garden-
poet, expected the accustomed Muse to lurk about the fountain-
heads, within the caves, and by the walks and the statues of the
gods, keeping the tryst of a seventeenth century convention in
which there were certainly no surprises. And for fear of the
commonplaces of those visits, Marvell sometimes outdoes the whole
company of garden-poets in the difficult labours of the fancy. The
reader treads with him a "maze" most resolutely intricate, and is
more than once obliged to turn back, having been too much puzzled
on the way to a small, visible, plain, and obvious goal of thought.
And yet this poet two or three times did meet a Muse he had hardly
looked for among the trodden paths; a spiritual creature had been
waiting behind a laurel or an apple-tree. You find him coming away
from such a divine ambush a wilder and a simpler man. All his
garden had been made ready for poetry, and poetry was indeed there,
but in unexpected hiding and in a strange form, looking rather like
a fugitive, shy of the poet who was conscious of having her rules
by heart, yet sweetly willing to be seen, for all her haste.
The political poems, needless to say, have an excellence of a
different character and a higher degree. They have so much
authentic dignity that "the glorious name of the British Aristides"
really seems duller when it is conferred as the earnings of the
Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland than when it
inappropriately clings to Andrew Marvell, cherry-cheeked, caught in
the tendrils of his vines and melons. He shall be, therefore, the
British Aristides in those moments of midsummer solitude; at least,
the heavy phrase shall then have the smile it never sought.
The Satires are, of course, out of reach for their inordinate
length. The celebrated Satire on Holland certainly makes the
utmost of the fun to be easily found in the physical facts of the
country whose people "with mad labour fished the land to shore."
The Satire on "Flecno" makes the utmost of another joke we know of-
-that of famine. Flecno, it will be remembered, was a poet, and
poor; but the joke of his bad verses was hardly needed, so fine
does Marvell find that of his hunger. Perhaps there is no age of
English satire that does not give forth the sound of that laughter
unknown to savages--that craven laughter.
THE PICTURE OF T. C. IN A PROSPECT OF FLOWERS
The presence of a furtive irony of the sweetest kind is the sure
sign of the visit of that unlooked-for muse. With all spirit and
subtlety does Marvell pretend to offer the little girl T. C. (the
future "virtuous enemy of man") the prophetic homage of the
habitual poets. The poem closes with an impassioned tenderness not
to be found elsewhere in Marvell.
THE DEFINITION OF LOVE
The noble phrase of the Horatian Ode is not recovered again, high
or low, throughout Marvell's book, it we except one single splendid
and surpassing passage from The Definition of Love -
"Magnanimous despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing."
One of our true poets, and the first who looked at nature with the
full spiritual intellect, Henry Vaughan was known to few but
students until Mr. E. K. Chambers gave us his excellent edition.
The tender wit and grave play of Herbert, Crashaw's lovely rapture,
are all unlike this meditation of a soul condemned and banished
into life. Vaughan's imagination suddenly opens a new window
towards the east. The age seems to change with him, and it is one
of the most incredible of all facts that there should be more than
a century--and such a century!--from him to Wordsworth. The
passing of time between them is strange enough, but the passing of
Pope, Prior, and Gray--of the world, the world, whether reasonable
or flippant or rhetorical--is more strange. Vaughan's phrase and
diction seem to carry the light. Il vous semble que cette femme
degage de la lumiere en marchant? Vous l'aimez! says Marius in Les
Miserables (I quote from memory), and it seems to be by a sense of
light that we know the muse we are to love.
It was no easy matter to choose a group of representative ballads
from among so many almost equally fine and equally damaged with
thin places. Finally, it seemed best to take, from among the
finest, those that had passages of genius--a line here and there of
surpassing imagination and poetry--rare in even the best folk-
songs. Such passages do not occur but in ballads that are
throughout on the level of the highest of their kind. "None but my
foe to be my guide" so distinguishes Helen of Kirconnell; the
exquisite stanza about the hats of birk, The Wife of Usher's Well;
its varied refrain, The Dowie Dens of Yarrow; the stanza spoken by
Margaret asking for room in the grave, Sweet William and Margaret;
and a number of passages, Sir Patrick Spens, such as that
beginning, "I saw the new moon late yestreen," the stanza beginning
"O laith, laith were our gude Scots lords," and almost all the
stanzas following. A Lyke Wake Dirge is of surpassing quality
throughout. I am sorry to have no room for Jamieson's version of
Fair Annie, for Edom o' Gordon, for The Daemon Lover, for Edward,
Edward, and for the Scottish edition of The Battle of Otterbourne.
MRS. ANNE KILLIGREW
This most majestic ode--one of the few greatest of its kind--is a
model of noble rhythm and especially of cadence. To print it whole
would be impossible, and one of the very few excisions in this book
is made in the midst of it. Dryden, so adult and so far from
simplicity, bears himself like a child who, having said something
fine, caps it with something foolish. The suppressed part of the
ode is silly with a silliness which Dryden's age chose to dodder in
when it would. The deplorable "rattling bones" of the closing
section has a touch of it.
SONG, FROM ABDELAZAR
It is a futile thing--and the cause of a train of futilities--to
hail "style" as though it were a separable quality in literature,
and it is not in that illusion that the style of the opening of
Aphra Behn's resounding song is to be praised. But it IS the
style--implying the reckless and majestic heart--that first takes
the reader of these great verses.
HYMN (The spacious firmament on high)
Whether Addison wrote the whole of this or not,--and it seems that
the inspired passages are none of his--it is to me a poem of
genius, magical in spite of the limited diction.
ELEGY TO THE MEMORY OF AN UNFORTUNATE LADY
Also in spite of limited diction--the sign of thought closing in,
as it did fast close in during those years--are Pope's tenderness
and passion communicated in this beautiful elegy. It would not be
too much to say that all his passion, all his tenderness, and
certainly all his mystery, are in the few lines at the opening and
close. The Epistle of Eloisa is (artistically speaking) but a
counterfeit. Yet Pope's Elegy begins by stealing and translating
into the false elegance of altered taste that lovely and poetic
opening of Ben Jonson's -
"What beckoning ghost, besprent with April dew,
Hails me so solemnly to yonder yew?"
All the gravity, all the sweetness, one might fear, must be lost in
such a change as Pope makes -
"What beckoning ghost along the moonlight shade
Invites my steps, and points to yonder glade?"
Yet they are not lost. Pope's awe and ardour are authentic, and
they prevail; the succeeding couplet--inimitably modulated, and of
tragic dignity--proves, without delay, the quality of the poem.
The poverty and coldness of the passage (towards the end), in which
the roses and the angels are somewhat trivially sung, cannot mar so
veritable an utterance. The four final couplets are the very glory
of the English couplet.
LINE ON RECEIVING HIS MOTHER'S PICTURE
Cowper, again, by the very directness of human feeling makes his
narrowing English a means of absolutely direct communication. Of
all his works (and this is my own mere and unshared opinion) this
single one deserves immortality.
This fragment (the only fragment, properly so called, in the
present collection) so pleased Wordsworth that he wished he had
written the lines. They are very gently touched.
THE LAND OF DREAMS
When Blake writes of sleep and dreams he writes under the very
influence of the hours of sleep--with a waking consciousness of the
wilder emotion of the dream. Corot painted so, when at summer dawn
he went out and saw landscape in the hours of sleep.
SURPRISED BY JOY
It is not necessary to write notes on Wordsworth's sonnets--the
greatest sonnets in our literature; but it would be well to warn
editors how they print this one sonnet; "I wished to share the
transport" is by no means an uncommon reading. Into the history of
the variant I have not looked. It is enough that all the
suddenness, all the clash and recoil of these impassioned lines are
lost by that "wished" in the place of "turned." The loss would be
the less tolerable in as much as perhaps only here and in that
heart-moving poem, 'Tis said that some have died for love, is
Wordsworth to be confessed as an impassioned poet.
This and the preceding two exquisite poems of sympathy are far more
justified, more recollected and sincere than is that more
monumental composition, the famous poem of sympathy, Hartleap Well.
The most beautiful stanzas of this poem last-named are so rebuked
by the truths of nature that they must ever stand as obstacles to
the straightforward view of sensitive eyes upon the natural world.
Wordsworth shows us the ruins of an aspen-wood, a blighted hollow,
a dreary place forlorn because an innocent creature, hunted, had
there broken its heart in a leap from the rocks above; grass would
not grow, nor shade linger there -
"This beast not unobserved by Nature fell,
His death was mourned by sympathy divine."
And the signs of that sympathy are cruelly asserted to be these
arid woodland ruins--cruelly, because the common sight of the day
blossoming over the agonies of animals and birds is made less
tolerable by such fictions. We have to shut our ears to the benign
beauty of this stanza especially -
"The Being that is in the clouds and air,
That is in the green leaves among the groves,
Maintains a deep and reverential care
For the unoffending creature whom He loves."
We must shut our ears because the poet offers us, as a proof of
that "reverential care," the visible alteration of nature at the
scene of suffering--an alteration we are obliged to dispense with
every day we pass in the woods. We are tempted to ask whether
Wordsworth himself believed in a sympathy he asks us--upon such
grounds!--to believe in? Did he think his faith to be worthy of no
more than a fictitious sign or a false proof?
To choose from Wordsworth is to draw close a net with very large
meshes--so that the lovely things that escape must doubtless cause
the reader to protest; but the poems gathered here are not only
supremely beautiful but exceedingly Wordsworthian.
YOUTH AND AGE
Close to the marvellous Kubla Khan--a poem that wrests the secret
of dreams and brings it to the light of verse--I place Youth and
Age as the best specimen of Coleridge's poetry that is quite
undelirious--to my mind the only fine specimen. I do not rate his
undelirious poems highly, and even this, charming and nimble as it
is, seems to me rather lean in thought and image. The tenderness
of some of the images comes to a rather lamentable close; the
likeness to "some poor nigh-related guest" with the three lines
that follow is too squalid for poetry, or prose, or thought.
THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
This poem is surely more full of a certain quality of extreme
poetry--the simplest "flower of the mind," the most single magic--
than any other in our language. But the reader must be permitted
to call the story silly.
Page 265 (Are those her ribs through which the Sun)
Coleridge used the sun, moon, and stars as a great dream uses them
when the sleeping imagination is obscurely threatened with illness.
All through The Ancient Mariner we see them like apparitions. It
is a pity that he followed the pranks also of a dream when he
impossibly placed a star WITHIN the tip of the crescent.
Page 266 (I feer thee, ancient Mariner!)
The likeness of "the ribbed sea sand" is said to be the one passage
actually composed by Wordsworth,--who according to the first plan
should have written The Ancient Mariner with Coleridge--"and
perhaps the most beautiful passage in the poem," adds one critic
after another. It is no more than a good likeness, and has nothing
whatever of the indescribable Coleridge quality.
Coleridge reveals, throughout this poem, an exaltation of the
senses, which is the most poetical thing that can befall a simple
poet. It is necessary only to refer, for sight, to the stanza on
"the moving Moon" at the bottom of page 267; for hearing, to the
supernatural stanzas on page 271; and, for touch, to the line -
"And still my body drank."
Never was a human name more exquisitely sung than in these perfect
THE ISLES OF GREECE
One really fine and poetic stanza--of course, the third; three
stanzas that are good eloquence--the fourth, fifth, and seventh;
and one that is a fair bit of argument--the tenth--may together
perhaps carry the rest.
The profounder spirit of Shelley's poem yet leaves it a careless
piece of work in comparison with Byron's. The two false rhymes at
the outset may not be of great importance, but there is something
annoying in the dissyllabic rhymes of the second stanza.
Dissyllabic rhymes are beautiful and enriching when they fall in
the right place; that is, where there is a pause for the second
little syllable to stand. For example, they could not be better
placed than they would have been at the end of the shorter lines of
this same stanza, where they would have dropped into a part of the
pause. Another sin of sheer heedlessness--the lapse of grammar in
The Skylark, at the top of page 296 (With thy clear keen joyance)--
will remind the reader of the special habitual error of Drummond of
THE WANING MOON
In these few lines the Shelley spirit seems to be more intense than
in any other passage as brief.
ODE TO THE WEST WIND
This magnificent poem is surely the greatest of a great poses
writings, and one of the most splendid poems on nature and on
poetry in a literature resounding with odes on these enormous
No need to point to a poem that so shines as does this lucent
LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI
Keats is here the magical poet, as he is the intellectual poet in
the great sonnet following; and it is his possession or promise of
both imaginations that proves him greater than Coleridge. In his
day they seem to have found Coleridge to be a thinker in his
poetry. To me he seems to have had nothing but senses, magic, and
simplicity, and these he had to the utmost yet known to man. Keats
was to have been a great intellectual poet, besides all that in
fact he was.
ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE
Of the five odes of Keats, the Nightingale is perhaps the most
perfect, and certainly the most imaginative. But the Grecian Urn
is the finest, even though it has fancy rather than imagination,
for never was fancy more exquisite. The most conspicuous idea--the
emptying of the town because its folk are away at play in the tale
of the antique urn--is merely a fancy, and a most antic fancy--a
prank; it is an irony of man, a rallying of art, a mockery of time,
a burlesque of poetry, divine with tenderness. The six lines in
which this fancy sports are amongst the loveliest in all
literature: the "little town," the "peaceful citadel,"--were ever
simple adjectives more happy? But John Keats's final moral here is
undeniably a failure; it says so much and means so little. The Ode
to Autumn is an exterior ode, and not in so high a rank, but lovely
and perfect. The Psyche I love the least, because its fancy is
rather weak and its sentiment effusive. It has a touch of the
deadly sickliness of Endymion. None the less does it remain just
within the group of the really fine odes of English poets. The
eloquent Melancholy more narrowly escapes exclusion from that
"I am the Way"
Via, et Veritas, et Vita
Why wilt Thou Chide?
The Lady Poverty
Cradle-song at Twilight
The Roaring Frost
The Modern Mother
West Wind in Winter
Unto us a Son is given
A Dead Harvest
The Two Poets
A Poet's Wife
Veneration of Images
She walks--the lady of my delight -
A shepherdess of sheep.
Her flocks are thoughts. She keeps them white;
She guards them from the steep.
She feeds them on the fragrant height,
And folds them in for sleep.
She roams maternal hills and bright,
Dark valleys safe and deep.
Into that tender breast at night
The chastest stars may peep.
She walks--the lady of my delight -
A shepherdess of sheep.
She holds her little thoughts in sight,
Though gay they run and leap.
She is so circumspect and right;
She has her soul to keep.
She walks--the lady of my delight -
A shepherdess of sheep.
"I AM THE WAY"
Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul.
I cannot see -
I, child of process--if there lies
An end for me,
Full of repose, full of replies.
I'll not reproach
The way that goes, my feet that stir.
Art Thou, time, way, and wayfarer.
VIA, ET VERITAS, ET VITA
"You never attained to Him?" "If to attain
Be to abide, then that may be."
"Endless the way, followed with how much pain!"
"The way was He."
"WHY WILT THOU CHIDE?"
Why wilt thou chide,
Who hast attained to be denied?
Oh learn, above
All price is my refusal, Love.
My sacred Nay
Was never cheapened by the way.
Thy single sorrow crowns thee lord
Of an unpurchasable word.
Oh strong, Oh pure!
As Yea makes happier loves secure,
I vow thee this
Unique rejection of a kiss.
I guard for thee
This jealous sad monopoly.
I seal this honour thine. None dare
Hope for a part in thy despair.
THE LADY POVERTY
The Lady Poverty was fair:
But she has lost her looks of late,
With change of times and change of air.
Ah slattern, she neglects her hair,
Her gown, her shoes. She keeps no state
As once when her pure feet were bare.
Or--almost worse, if worse can be -
She scolds in parlours; dusts and trims,
Watches and counts. Oh, is this she
Whom Francis met, whose step was free,
Who with Obedience carolled hymns,
In Umbria walked with Chastity?
Where is her ladyhood? Not here,
Not among modern kinds of men;
But in the stony fields, where clear
Through the thin trees the skies appear;
In delicate spare soil and fen,
And slender landscape and austere.
The time is now! Bring back, bring back
Thy flocks of fancies, wild of whim.
Oh lead them from the mountain-track -
Thy frolic thoughts untold.
Oh bring them in--the fields grow dim -
And let me be the fold.
The time is now! Call in, O call
Thy posturing kisses gone astray
For scattered sweets. Gather them all
To shelter from the cold.
Throng them together, close and gay,
And let me be the fold!
CRADLE-SONG AT TWILIGHT
The child not yet is lulled to rest.
Too young a nurse, the slender Night
So laxly holds him to her breast
That throbs with flight.
He plays with her and will not sleep.
For other playfellows she sighs;
An unmaternal fondness keep
Her alien eyes.
THE ROARING FROST
A flock of winds came winging from the North,
Strong birds with fighting pinions driving forth
With a resounding call!
Where will they close their wings and cease their cries -
Between what warming seas and conquering skies -
And fold, and fall?
"When Augustus Caesar legislated against the unmarried citizens of
Rome, he declared them to be, in some sort, slayers of the people."
Ah no, not these!
These, who were childless, are not they who gave
So many dead unto the journeying wave,
The helpless nurslings of the cradling seas;
Not they who doomed by infallible decrees
Unnumbered man to the innumerable grave.
But those who slay
Are fathers. Theirs are armies. Death is theirs,
The death of innocences and despairs;
The dying of the golden and the grey.
The sentence, when these speak it, has no Nay.
And she who slays is she who bears, who bears.
THE MODERN MOTHER
Oh what a kiss
With filial passion overcharged is this!
To this misgiving breast
The child runs, as a child ne'er ran to rest
Upon the light heart and the unoppressed.
A little tenderness, this mother thought
The utmost of her meed
She looked for gratitude; content indeed
With thus much that her nine years' love had bought.
Nay, even with less.
This mother, giver of life, death, peace, distress,
Desired ah! not so much
Thanks as forgiveness; and the passing touch
Expected, and the slight, the brief caress.
Oh filial light
Strong in these childish eyes, these new, these bright
Intelligible stars! Their rays
Are near the constant earth, guides in the maze,
Natural, true, keen in this dusk of days.
WEST WIND IN WINTER
Another day awakes. And who -
Changing the world--is this?
He comes at whiles, the Winter through,
West Wind! I would not miss
His sudden tryst: the long, the new
Surprises of his kiss.
Vigilant, I make haste to close
With him who comes my way.
I go to meet him as he goes;
I know his note, his lay,
His colour and his morning rose;
And I confess his day.
My window waits; at dawn I hark
His call; at morn I meet
His haste around the tossing park
And down the softened street;
The gentler light is his; the dark,
The grey--he turns it sweet.
So too, so too, do I confess
My poet when he sings.
He rushes on my mortal guess
With his immortal things.
I feel, I know him. On I press -
He finds me 'twixt his wings.
The colour of the electric lights has a strange effect in giving a
complementary tint to the air in the early evening.--ESSAY ON
O, Heavenly colour! London town
Has blurred it from her skies;
And hooded in an earthly brown,
Unheaven'd the city lies.
No longer standard-like this hue
Above the broad road flies;
Nor does the narrow street the blue
Wear, slender pennon-wise.
But when the gold and silver lamps
Colour the London dew,
And, misted by the winter damps,
The shops shine bright anew -
Blue comes to earth, it walks the street,
It dyes the wide air through;
A mimic sky about their feet,
The throng go crowned with blue.
Brief, on a flying night,
From the shaken tower,
A flock of bells take flight,
And go with the hour.
Like birds from the cote to the gales,
A fleet of bells set sails,
And go to the dark.
Sudden the cold airs swing.
A verse of bells takes wing
And flies with the cloud.
UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN
Given, not lent,
And not withdrawn--once sent -
This Infant of mankind, this One,
Is still the little welcome Son.
New every year,
New-born and newly dear,
He comes with tidings and a song,
The ages long, the ages long.
Even as the cold
Keen winter grows not old;
As childhood is so fresh, foreseen,
And spring in the familiar green;
Sudden as sweet
Come the expected feet.
All joy is young, and new all art,
And He, too, Whom we have by heart.
A DEAD HARVEST [IN KENSINGTON GARDENS]
Along the graceless grass of town
They rake the rows of red and brown,
Dead leaves, unlike the rows of hay,
Delicate, neither gold nor grey,
Raked long ago and far away.
A narrow silence in the park;
Between the lights a narrow dark.
One street rolls on the north, and one,
Muffled, upon the south doth run.
Amid the mist the work is done.
A futile crop; for it the fire
Smoulders, and, for a stack, a pyre.
So go the town's lives on the breeze,
Even as the sheddings of the trees;
Bosom nor barn is filled with these.
THE TWO POETS
Whose is the speech
That moves the voices of this lonely beech?
Out of the long West did this wild wind come -
Oh strong and silent! And the tree was dumb,
Ready and dumb, until
The dumb gale struck it on the darkened hill.
Two powers, two promises, two silences
Closed in this cry, closed in these thousand leaves
Articulate. This sudden hour retrieves
The purpose of the past,
Separate, apart--embraced, embraced at last.
"Whose is the word?
Is it I that spake? Is it thou? Is it I that heard?"
"Thine earth was solitary; yet I found thee!"
"Thy sky was pathless, but I caught, I bound thee,
Thou visitant divine."
"O thou my Voice, the word was thine."
A POET'S WIFE
I saw a tract of ocean locked in-land
Within a field's embrace -
The very sea! Afar it fled the strand
And gave the seasons chase,
And met the night alone, the tempest spanned,
Saw sunrise face to face.
O Poet, more than ocean, lonelier!
In inaccessible rest
And storm remote, thou, sea of thoughts, dost stir,
Scattered through east to west, -
Now, while thou closest with the kiss of her
Who locks thee to her breast.
VENERATION OF IMAGES
Thou man, first-comer, whose wide arms entreat,
Gather, clasp, welcome, bind,
Lack, or remember! whose warm pulses beat
With love of thine own kind;
Unlifted for a blessing on yon sea,
Unshrined on this high-way,
O flesh, O grief, thou too shalt have our knee,
Thou rood of every day!
Home, home from the horizon far and clear,
Hither the soft wings sweep;
Flocks of the memories of the day draw near
The dovecote doors of sleep.
O which are they that come through sweetest light
Of all these homing birds?
Which with the straightest and the swiftest flight?
Your words to me, your words!
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