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"Sky, mountains, river, winds, lake, lightnings! ye,
the far roll
Although Byron can lay claim to the highest honors of Parnassus, still it must be conceded that no modern author has written a greater quantity of perishing and perishable rhyme than he; and, without reference to the particular faults in the above stanzas, it may be asserted, with but little qualification, that they convey just no meaning at all.
Instances of this sort, among those who are called popular writers, are much more numerous than is commonly imagined. When the sentence is simple-when the construction is plain — when words glaringly unsuitable are not combined the reader frequently proceeds without hesitation, never suspecting that he does not understand sentence, the words in which are familiar to him, and of which he perceives the grammatical order. But if he, by any means, be induced to reflect a little, and to think more closely on the subject, and to peruse the words a second time more attentively, it is probable that he will at length discover that they express nothing, and that the pompous metaphors and sonorous phrases serve as vehicles for nonsense.
Thus far, we have endeavored to illustrate our remarks by referring to what is obviously defective. Let us now see what further illustration they may receive by a reference to what is excellent.
This is easily accomplished. We need not scale the heights of Parnassus, since we can find flowers at its very foot abundantly sufficient for this purpose. Here may be found specimens of verse most nearly resembling the best prose, in the plainness of the words employed, the natural construction of the sentences, the easy intelligence of the whole, where nothing is wanting, nothing superfluous, nothing out of place, out of season, or out of proportion.
"The wretch, condemned with life to part,
Hope, like a glimmering taper's light,
This is poetry. Every one must feel that it is; and, like the taper in the second stanza, it grows clearer and brighter the more it is contemplated. In point of diction, the ideas could hardly be more humbly attired; yet how much is expressed here in less than threescore syllables! First, we see the captive, under the sentence of death, yet nursing in secret, almost from despair, the hope of life, with every pang. Next, he is transformed into a benighted wanderer, whom Hope, a cherished deceiver, meets amid the darkness, and allures from afar, under the semblance of a stream of light from a cottage window, brightening as he approaches; while we, who fear the illusion may prove an ignis fatuus, look on with painful anxiety, expecting every moment to see him ingulfed in a morass.
"How sleep the brave, who sink to rest
By Fairy hands their knell is rung,
What a quantity of thought is here condensed in the. compass of twelve lines, like a cluster of rock crystals, sparkling and distinct, yet receiving and reflecting lustre by their combination! The imagery is of the most delicate
and exquisite character-Spring decking the turfy sod; Fancy's feet treading upon the flowers there; Fairy hands ringing the knell; unseen forms singing the dirge of the glorious dead; but, above all, and never to be surpassed in picturesque and imaginative beauty, Honor, as an old soldier, coming on a far pilgrimage to visit the shrine where his companions in arms are laid at rest; and Freedom, in whose cause they fell, leaving the mountains, the fields, the hamlets, and the cities, delivered by their valor, hastening to the spot, and dwelling for a while, a weeping hermit, there. In the simple apostrophe, "How sleep the brave!" is implied, how sweetly, how soundly, and how happily. Then, in the line,
"By all their country's wishes blessed,"
is implied every circumstance of bereavement, lamentation, and solemnity at their interment, and posthumous homage to their memory.
"Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee, in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free,
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies, - oh! then,
If solitude, or pain, or fear, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
These are the thoughts and the feelings of a poet in a state of excitement. Thoughts more patiently worked out of the very marble of the mind, and attired in a diction of more transcendent beauty, are rarely to be found either in prose or rhyme.
These are lines which none but a poet by nature could make. The same ideas might be expressed in prose; but the least variation in the words would break the charm; and the attempt would be like gathering up dew-drops, which
appear like pearls on the grass, mirroring forth the universe, but run into water in the hand. The elements remain; but the grace, the sparkle, and the form, are gone.
Dr. Johnson very justly observes, that from poetry the reader expects, and from good poetry always obtains, an enlargement of his comprehension, and the elevation of his fancy; but this is rarely to be hoped by Christians from devotional poetry. Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name of the Supreme Being Omnipotence cannot be exalted, infinity cannot be amplified, perfection cannot be improved. Of sentiments purely religious, it will be found that the most simple expression is the most sublime. Poetry loses its lustre and its power, because it is applied to the decoration of something more excellent than itself. Pious verse may help the memory, and delight the ear, and for these purposes it may be very useful; but it supplies nothing to the mind. The ideas of Christian theology are too simple for eloquence, too sacred for fiction, too majestic for ornament. To recommend them by tropes and figures, is to magnify, by a concave mirror, the sidereal hemisphere. The attribute of Deity called omnipresence is, perhaps, as difficult to express, otherwise than by that one emphatic word, as any other object that can be imagined. A thousand illustrations may be more easily given than one distinct idea of it. Perhaps the poet, in the following lines, has made the nearest possible approach to it:
"If I could find some cave unknown,
How simple is this language! yet how forcibly is the thought impressed! The longer we dwell upon it, the more do we feel ourselves in the immediate presence of the Deity.
Eternity is another indefinite and indescribable thing: yet, by the magic art of the poet, notwithstanding the impotency of the language, which seems to break down under
the weight of such thoughts, he has set forth an idea so vast and incomprehensible as to overwhelm the most gifted minds, in so simple, clear, and vivid a manner, that even the infant mind can comprehend it.
"Days, months, and years, will have an end.
"Twill always have as long to spend,
It will be seen that the above extracts have been taken as specimens from the productions of those, who wrote not for the amusement of that class whose taste has been pampered with delicacies even to loathing, and stimulated to stupidity with excessive excitement; gratified with nothing but novelty, and pleased with nothing less than feats of legerdemain in the exercises of the pen. It will at once be seen that they are selected from those writers who, in unburdening the mind, poured out the fulness of their feeling in words which they would have uttered if none but rocks, woods, and streams, had been their auditors. They are in reality the efforts of a mind having no motive except the pure impulse to do good, and content to clothe Truth in language so clear and pure that it should appear like a robe of light around her, to reveal her beauty, her symmetry, and her proportions, and thus attract the eye that rolled in darkness, and the feet that wandered in error.
The faultless reader should possess, for various occasions, all the qualities of the voice. The organs of articulation should be subjected to such a kind and degree of exercise, as will best develop their powers, and enable them to act with force, rapidity, precision, and effect. Well-directed and vigorous exercises on inflection, and the various forms of stress, will extend the compass of the voice, and render it smooth, powerful, and melodious.
Deep notes, extended quantity, and monotone, should be under the command of the reader or speaker for the expresion of overwhelming sentiments; his tremor should be under his control for the occasions of grief and exultation; his