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less waves 1; or growing through adversity and enduring storms like the fir on the barren Alpine rocks. The guilty mind is like the scorpion girt by fire seeking death from its own sting 3; the shock of battle is compared to the meeting of opposing tide and torrent 3; deeds appear fierce as the gloomy vulture's 3; it is as if a serpent were wreathed around the heart and stung it to strife 3; the hero's eye flashes like the white torrent, or the lightning bursting from the black cloud 4; the hero battling alone is like a glutted tiger mangling in his lair 5; warriors assaulting the ramparts are like a pack of wolves tossed by a buffalo 6; the opposing force gives way and falls like a cliff undermined by the tides ?; wrath is like the rattlesnake's in act to strike 8 ; scorn affects one as the wind the rock, another as the whirlwind on the waters 9; the hero's locks rise like startled vipers o'er his brow 10; he faces his enemies dark as a sullen cloud before the sun 11; a woman's revenge is as the tiger's spring, deadly, and quick, and crushing. 12 As we review these images we touch, if we do not analyze, the psychology of Byron's temperament; and the partial similarity of his imagination to that of some of the Elizabethans, like Marlowe and Webster, becomes once more apparent.
Rhetorical dexterity marks Byron's handling of simile and metaphor; as when in the following lines he welds together a series of similes into a picturesque emotional climax:
16. The Giaour.”
? Id. xxiv.
"The tree will wither long before it fall;
The hull drives on, though mast and sail be torn;
The day drags through though storms keep out the sun ;
Or in these lines:
- Tell him what thou dost behold :
The wither'd frame, the ruin'd mind,
So, as an example of terse congruity, the familiar lines:
- Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen :
For effects of humor and satire, naturally, Byron uses imagery in quite a different manner. Here the rhetorical effect usually desired is that of anti-climax. This is especially seen in “ Don Juan.” “ And she bent over him, and he lay beneath,
Hush'd as the babe upon its mother's breast,
Lull'd like the depth of ocean when at rest,
1“ Childe Harold,” III, 32. Cf. the following stanza.
Fair as the crowning rose of the whole wreath,
Soft as the callow cygnet in its nest;
As in most of his similes drawn from nature there is present some element of human association or emotion, as in
“A shrivell d scroll, a scatter'd leaf.”
so in his descriptions of nature Byron habitually and on principle 2 compares natural things with human. Thus, in his description of the Lake of Nemi, 3 he writes:
“Calm as cherish'd hate, its surface wears
A deep cold settled aspect nought can shake,
In conclusion we are led to ask, What are the permanent elements in Byron's work? That his was a mind of surpassing genius few will deny. Whether he was a poet, or in what sense and degree he was a poet, is a question which has been mooted, and which in time may come to be debated as the question whether Pope was a poet has been debated. There is this difference in the two questions, however, that those who doubt Pope's position are those who insist on the test of inspiration over form, while with Byron the case
is precisely the contrary. Mr. Swinburne, for example, is for judging Byron to be a great prose writer in his letters, but in poetry infinitely inferior to Shelley and Coleridge. “Byron,” he says, “was supreme in
province outside the proper domain of absolute poetry.” The proper domain of absolute poetry of course is very much a matter of definition and opinion, and there is little use disputing about definitions. In some debatable borderland of creative literature just outside the proper domain of absolute poetry, then, we may safely say that Byron reigns as one of the dii majores of the world's literature.
“It is on the quality of the matter it informs or controls,” Walter Pater writes, “its compass, its variety, its alliance to great ends, or the depth of the note of revolt, or the largeness of hope in it, that the greatness of literary art depends.” To the superficial eye Byron's verse seems narrow in compass and variety; it seems narrow by reason of its personal note and constant egotism. The depth of the note of revolt in it is unmistakable, as well as the greatness of the ends with which it is concerned. Its egotism, moreover, is something more than a personal egotism. Byron is a protagonist of humanity. “The feeling for human suffering,” to use the phrase applied to him by Brandes, dominates his mind. It appears even in the early poems, but more intensely in “Chillon," “ Mazeppa,” “Manfred,” the later“ Childe Harold,'' and “ Don Juan.” A holy indignation is upon him. He represents his age, and is in revolt against all that is bollow and false and narrowing in life and thought, then and forever. He is for liberating our spirits and enfranchising us from the bonds of custom and cant and conventionality. When he is inspired, — and preferably he wrote, as he phrased it, only when the estro was upon him,—a current of elemental power sweeps through him. We forget all that is merely personal and temporal in him, his scepticism and cynicism and sense of satiety, and all that was unamiable in his character and temper, and feel only the lyrical resonance and sweep of his verse, the humanitarian aim and scope of his poetic passion, the vastness and indomitable energy of his imagination, and the sincerity of his outcry against fate and those blind forces of the world which repress and limit and baffle the aspirations of the soul towards a more perfect and absolute ideal. Byron and Goethe, as Mazzini says, are the two great representatives of their age. They are the two last great exponents of that spirit of individuality which dominates and inspires the long period of the Renaissance, and which slowly expires in the throes of modern Revolution.
Byron is not a great artist. He has not the artistic temperament and the sense for beauty of Keats or Tennyson or Rossetti. Nor has he the gift for poetical form and phrasing of Shelley and Coleridge: In the mere art of poetry he stands below these men; and this defect will prevent his being placed as a poet after Shakspere and Milton. But it is easy to exaggerate Byron's defects of form and of art. The positive merits of his poetical method have never been sufficiently recognized, partly perhaps because his method is so different from that of other poets of our age.