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His wonning (dwelling) was full fair upon an heath,
Everyone knows the words of Lear, “most matter-of-fact, most melancholy.”
Pray do not mock me;
It is thus, by exquisite pertinence, melody, and the implied power of writing with exuberance, if need be, that beauty and truth become identical in poetry, and that pleasure, or at the very worst, a balm in our tears, is drawn out of pain.
It is a great and rare thing, and shows a lovely imagination, when the poet can write a commentary, as it were, of his own, -on such sufficing passages of nature, and be thanked for the addition, There is an instance of this kind in Warner, an old Elizabethan poet, than which I know nothing sweeter in the world. He is speaking of Fair Rosamond, and of a blow given her by Queen Eleanor.
With that she dash'd her on the lips,
So dyèd double red:
Soft were those lips that bled.
There are different kinds and degrees of imagination, some of them necessary to the formation of every true poet, and all of them possessed by the greatest. Perhaps they may be enumerated as follows :- First, that which presents to the mind any object or circumstance in every-day life; as when we imagine a man holding a sword, or looking out of a window ;-Second, that which presents real, but not every-day circumstances; as King Alfred tending the loaves, or Sir Philip Sidney giving up the water to the dying soldier ;-Third, that which combines character and events directly imitated from real life, with imitative realities of its own invention ; as the probable parts of the histories of Priam and Macbeth, or what may be called natural fiction as distinguished from supernatural ;-Fourth, that which conjures up things and events not to be found in nature; as Homer's gods, and Shakspeare's witches, enchanted horses and spears, Ariosto’s hippogriff, &c. *Fifth, that which, in order to illustrate or aggravate one image, introduces another; sometimes in simile, as when Homer compares Apollo descending in his wrath at noon-day to the coming of night-time : sometimes in metaphor, or simile comprised in a word, as in Milton's “motes that people the sunbeams;" sometimes in concentrating into a word the main history of any person or thing, past or even future, as in the “starry Galileo” of Byron, and that ghastly foregone conclusion of the epithet “murdered” applied to the yet living victim in Keats's story from Boccaccio,
So the two brothers and their murder'd man
Rode towards fair Florence ;sometimes in the attribution of a certain representative quality which makes one circumstance stand for others; as in Milton's grey-fly winding its “ sultry horn,” which epithet contains the heat of a summer's day ;-Sixth, that which reverses this process, and makes a variety of circumstances take colour from one, like nature seen with jaundiced or glad eyes, or under the influence of storm or sunshine; as when in Lycidas, or the Greek pastoral poets, the flowers and the flocks are made to sympathize with a man's death ; or, in the Italian poet, the river flowing by the sleeping Angelica seems talking of love
Parea che l'erba le fiorisse intorno,
Orlando Innamorato, Canto iii.
or in the voluptuous homage paid to the sleeping Imogen by the very light in the chamber and the reaction of her own beauty upon itself; or in the “ witch element” of the tragedy of Macbeth and the May-day night of Faust;-Seventh, and last, that which by a single expression, apparently of the vaguest kind, not only meets but surpasses in its effect the extremest force of the most particular description; as in that exquisite passage of Coleridge's Christabel, where the unsuspecting object of the witch's malignity is bidden to go to bed :
Quoth Christabel, So let it be!
a perfect verse surely, both for feeling and music. The very smoothness and gentleness of the limbs is in the series of the letter l’s.
I am aware of nothing of the kind surpassing that most lovely inclusion of physical beauty in moral, neither can I call to mind any instances of the imagination that turns accompaniments into accessories, superior to those I have alluded to. Of the class of comparison, one of the most touching (many a tear must it have drawn from parents and lovers) is in a stanza which has been copied into the “ Friar of Orders Grey,” out of Beaumont and Fletcher:
Weep no more, lady, weep no more,
Thy sorrow is in vain;
Will ne'er make grow again.
And Shakspeare and Milton abound in the very grandest; such as Antony's likening his changing fortunes to the cloud-rack; Lear's appeal to the old age of the heavens ; Satan's appearance in the horizon, like a fleet “hanging in the clouds ;” and the comparisons of him with the comet and the . eclipse. Nor unworthy of this glorious company, for its extraordinary combination of delicacy and
vastness, is that enchanting one of Shelley's in the Adonais :
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
I multiply these particulars in order to impress upon the reader's mind the great importance of imagination in all its phases, as a constituent part of the highest poetic faculty.
The happiest instance I remember of imaginative metaphor, is Shakspeare's moonlight "sleeping” on a bank; but half his poetry may be said to be made up of it, metaphor indeed being the common coin of discourse. Of imaginary creatures, none out of the pale of mythology and the East, are equal, perhaps, in point of invention, to Shakspeare's Ariel and Caliban ; though poetry may grudge to prose the discovery of a Winged Woman, especially such as she has been described by her inventor in the story of Peter Wilkins; and in point of treatment, the Mammon and Jealousy of Spenser, some of the monsters in Dante, particularly his Nimrod, his interchangements of creatures into one another, and (if I am not presumptuous in anticipating what I think will be the verdict of posterity) the Witch in Coleridge's Christabel, may rank even with the creations of Shakspeare. It may be doubted, indeed, whether Shakspeare had bile and nightmare enough in him to have thought of such detestable horrors