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As a specimen we will transcribe from the beginning of the Seventh Book or Canto the description of the voyage of the heroine, the lovely and virtuous Kailyal, through the air to the Swerga, or lowest heaven, with her preserver the Glendoveer, or pure spirit, Ereenia:
Then in the ship of heaven Ereenia laid
The waking, wondering maid ;
On either side, in wavy tide,
Around the living bark enamoured play,
That bark, in shape, was like the furrowed shell
Its hue ? - Go watch the last green light
Or fix upon the sun thy strenuous sight
An angel's head, with visual eye,
Nor aid of wing, nor foot, nor fin,
Disturbs the surface of the silver stream,
Recumbent there the maiden glides along
On her aërial way,
Had flagged in flight behind.
And all serene in mind,
Fear could not enter there ;
For sure she deemed her mortal part was o'er,
Daughter of earth! therein thou deem'st aright;
And never yet did form more beautiful,
Nor like a vision of delight
Of human form divine was he,
When no infirmity,
Deface the semblance of our heavenly sire.
The wings of eagle or of cherubim
Had seemed unworthy him ;
Imperial majesty :
When all the stars of midnight's canopy
Reflecting back to heaven a brighter blue.
Such was their tint when closed ; but, when outspread,
The permeating light
Now bright as when the rose,
From Douro's generous vine ;
The orient, like a shrine,
And, heralding his way,
Thus glorious were the wings
Nor there alone
Spreading like fibres from their parent stem,
Or as the chaster hue
On motionless wing expanded, shoot along.
Through air and sunshine sails the ship of heaven;
Far, far beneath them lies
gross and heavy atmosphere of earth;
The maid of mortal birth
Swift as a falling meteor shapes its flight,
Daughter of earth, Ereenia cried, alight;
Lo, here my bower of bliss !
Graceful as robes of Grecian chief of old.
Her eyes around in joyful wonder roam,
Now on his heavenly home. The affluence of imagery and gorgeousness of language here, and in other similar passages with which the poem abounds, is very imposing; and it is not to be denied that there is much of real descriptive power. Yet the glow that warms and colors the composition is perhaps more that of eloquence than of poetry; or, at least, it is something rather borrowed or caught by imitation,
and applied to the purpose in hand by dint of labor or mere general talent, than coming out of any strong original and peculiar poetic genius. The imagery, with all its copiousness and frequent magnificence and beauty, is still essentially commonplace in spirit and character, however strange in form much of it may seem ; any apparent freshness it has lies for the most part merely in its Orientalism; whenever it is not outlandish, it is trite and tame; so that in this way when it is most natural it is least striking, and whenever it is very striking it is unnatural. Neither has it much real variety; it is chargeable at least with mannerism, if not with monotony; nor does it commonly penetrate through and through the thought, but rather only decorates it on the outside like a dress or lackering. There is, in short, a good deal in this Indian poetry of Southey's that recalls the artificial point and sparkle of that of Darwin, though the glare is less brazen and oppressive, and the execution altogether much more skilful, as well as the spirit far larger and more genial. It is rightly remarked, however, by the author himself in the preface to the last edition which he superintended of his Curse of Kehama, that there is nothing Oriental in the style of the
poem. By the style he here means simply the diction, including the verse.
" I had learned,” he adds, “ the language of poetry from our own great masters and the great poets of antiquity.” What of foreign inspiration, not derived from the common Greek and Latin sources, there was in Southey's poetry, he drew, not, like some of the most remarkable of his contemporaries, from the modern literature of Germany, but from the old ballad and romantic minstrels of Spain.
WALTER Scott, again, was never accounted one of the Lake poets; yet he, as well as Wordsworth and Coleridge, was early a drinker at the fountain of German poetry; his commencing publication was a translation of Bürger's Lenore (1796), and the spirit and manner of his original compositions were, from the first, evidently and powerfully influenced by what had thus awakened his poetical faculty. His robust and manly character of mind, however, and his strong nationalism, with the innate disposition of his
imagination to live in the past rather than in the future, saved him from being seduced into either the puerilities or the extravagances to which other imitators of the German writers among us were thought to have, more or less, given way; and, having soon found in the popular ballad-poetry of his own country all the qualities which had most attracted him in his foreign favorites, with others which had an equal or still greater charm for his heart and fancy, he henceforth gave
himself up almost exclusively to the more congenial inspiration of that native minstrelsy. His poems are all lays and romances of chivalry, but infinitely finer than any that had ever before been written. With all their irregularity and carelessness (qualities which in some sort are characteristic of and essential to this kind of poetry), that element of life in all writing, which comes of the excited feeling and earnest belief of the writer, is never wanting; this animation, fervor, enthusiasm, — call it by what name we will, — exists in greater strength in no poetry than in that of Scott, redeeming a thousand defects, and triumphing over all the reclamations of criticism. It was this, no doubt, more than anything else, which at once took the public admiration by storm. All cultivated and perfect enjoyment of poetry, or of any other of the fine arts, is partly emotional, partly critical ;l the enjoyment and appreciation are only perfect when these two qualities are blended ; but most of the poetry that had been produced among us in modern times had aimed at affording chiefly, if not exclusively, a critical gratification. The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) surprised readers of all degrees with a long and elaborate poem, which carried them onward with an excitement of heart as well as of head which many of them had never experienced before in the perusal of poetry.
The narrative form of the poem no doubt did much to produce this effect, giving to it, even without the poetry, the interest and enticement of a novel; but all readers, even the least tinctured with a literary taste, felt also, in a greater or less degree, the charm of the, verse, and the poetic glow with which the work was all alive. Marmion (1808) carried the same feelings to a much higher pitch ; it is undoubtedly Scott's greatest poem, or the one at any rate in which the noblest passages are
1 See, in an article on the State of Criticism in France, in the British and Foreign Review, No. xxxii. (for January, 1814), a speculation on the distinction between these two states of feeling, which will be admitted to be ingenious, novel, and suggestive, even by those readers who do not go with the writer the whole length of his conclusions.