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method, to be natural, must seem unconscious. neous, and that is everything. A city-bred poet The virtue of a truth is spoiled by showing it is apt to strike false notes as soon as he hints off. Tennyson, the idylist, pauses at critical mo- at an intimacy with nature, and a false note is ments, not perhaps to moralize on the situation, as quickly detected in poetry as in music, even but to make a picture suggesting the feeling by those who cannot sound the true one. As which the action itself ought to convey. This for truth to life — that depends on the poet's practice, for a time so fascinating, has been car- sympathetic perception. It was native to ried to extremes. Now, in a class of his poems of Burns; it was impossible with the self-absorbed which "Dora" is a fine example, he has shown Byron. Most poets, whether cockney or rustic, that nothing can be more effective than a story can draw only the types under their direct simply told. A direct statement, through its observation. Whitman's out-of-door poetry truth, often has exceeding beauty — the beauty, should be familiar to you. His admirers, inpathetic or otherwise, of perfect naturalness. cluding very authoritative judges at home and You find it everywhere in the Scriptures; for abroad, make almost every claim for him exexample:
cept that to which, in my opinion, he is en
titled above other American poets. I know no I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me; other who surpasses him as a word-painter of
nature. His eye is keen, his touch is accurate. and everywhere in Homer :
No one depicts the American sky, ocean, A thousand fires burned in the plain, and by the
forest, prairie, more characteristically or with side of each sate fifty in the gleam of blazing fire. sive of every object, living or inanimate, in the
a freer sense of atmosphere; no one is so incluA deepsleep fell upon his eyelids, a sound sleep, lie in his theory of unvarying realism. Nature's very sweet, and most akin to death.
poet must adopt her own method; and she All genuine epics and ballads are charged with hides the processes that are unpleasant to see it, as in “ The Children in the Wood”: or consider. Whitman often dwells upon the
under side of things, the decay, the ferment, No burial this pretty pair
the germination, which nature conducts in Of any man receives, Till Robin-redbreast piously
secret, though out of them she produces new Did cover them with leaves.
life and beauty. Lanier, with equal fidelity,
avoids — a refined and spiritual genius needs In the heroic vein, Arnold's “ Sohrab and Rus- must avoid — this irritating mistake. His taste tum" has a primitive directness:
made him an open critic of the robust poet of
democracy: but it is manifest that the two (as So said he, and his voice released the heart
near and as different as Valentine and Orson) Of Rustum; and his tears broke forth; he cast His arms around his son's neck, and wept aloud, for an escape from conventional trammels to
were moving in the same direction; that is, And kissed him. And awe fell on both the hosts When they saw Rustum's grief.
something free, from hackneyed time-beats to
an assimilation of nature's larger rhythm – to The finest touch in Lady Barnard's ballad is limitless harmonies suggested by the voices of the simplest — that of the line,
her winds and the diapason of her ocean bil
lows. The later portion of Whitman's life-work, For auld Robin Gray is kind unto me.
his symphonies of "starry night," of death
and immortality, have chords that would have But I need not multiply such examples of the thrilled Lanier profoundly. beauty of direct statement of unsophisticated In certain poems which have been humortruth. It is too rare a grace among the ana- ously compared to “catalogues,” Whitman lytic and decorative poets.
supplies an example of the uselessness of a dis
play of mere facts. Facts, despite Carlyle's euWhen we come to the reflective poetry of logy upon them, are not “ the one ” and only nature, the broad effects of Wordsworth and "pabulum.” They are the stones heaped about Bryant are both true and imaginative, and the mouth of the well in whose depth truth therefore excellent realisin. For Nature does reflects the sky. I recall the words of Sir Wilnot differentiate her beauties; she combines liam Davenant, who wrote the feeblest of epics them. It is hard to better the truth “by her on a theory, yet preluded it with a chapter own sweet and cunning hand put on.” of noble prose wherein, among other fine disBryant's successors— Whittier, Lowell, Whit- criminations, he says: “ Truth, narrative and man, Lanier, Taylor - have great fidelity to past, is the idol of historians (who worship a Nature. How can they help it, brought up in dead thing), and truth, operative and by its efher own realm? Their touches are sponta- fects continually alive, is the mistress of poets,
who hath not her existence in matter but Thus every workman must be a realist in in reason.” Realism, in the sense of natural- knowledge, an idealist for interpretation, and ism, is the firm ground of art, but the poet is the antagonism between realists and romannot a realist merely as concerns the things that cers is a forced one; and when any one rules are seen. He draws these as they are, but as the poet out of debate, as of course a feigner, they are or may be at their best. This lifts he is in error, for the same law applies to all them out of the common, or, rather, it is thus the arts. The true inquiry concerns the qualwe get at the “power and mystery of common ity of the writer, his power of expression, the things.” His most audacious imaginings are limits of his character. For no small and limwithin the felt possibilities of nature. But the ited nature can enter into great passions and use of poetry is to make us believe also in the experiences. impossible. Raphael said that he painted“ that which ought to be.” And Browning writes: It is a fine thing for a poet to express the
life, feeling, ideal, of his own people; by so In the hall, six steps from us, One sees the twenty pictures
there 's a life
doing, he betters his chance of commending Better than life - and yet no life at all.
himself to after times. This is what the Greeks
did, but in our century we find poet after poet Lord Tennyson is reported as saying, with re- exercising his skill upon reproductions, workspect to certain contemporary writers: “Truth, ing the Grecian myths and legends over and as they understand it, is not the essential thing over again in pseudo-classical lyrics, idyls, and in poetry. For me verses have no other aim dramas. After Landor and Keats and Tennythan to call to life nobler and better sentiments son and Swinburne, our younger school canthan we feel and express in every-day life. If not find a real need for this sort of thing. I they can suggest pictures worthy of an artist's remember my own chagrin, twenty years ago, eye, so much the better.” Even the first Eng- when Mr. Lowell wrote a most judicious nolish writer upon the topic - George Puttenham, tice of one of my books, and failed to mention whose “ Arte of English Poesie" was published a blank-verse poem, with a classical theme, anonymously in the year 1589-said that upon which I had expended the technical skill “ Arte is not only an aide and coadjutor to and imagery at my command. On the other nature in all her actions, but an alterer of them, hand, he was more than kind to my native, if so as by meanes of it her owne effects shall ap- homely, American lyrics and ballads, written peare more beautiful or straunge and miracu- with less pains, yet more spontaneously; and lous.” And so there is nothing more lifeless, he told me very frankly that he thought the because nothing is more devoid of feeling and simple home-fruit of more real significance than suggested movement, than servilely accurate my attempt to reproduce some apple of the imitation of nature. In every art a certain de- Hesperides. He was right, and I have not forviation from fact is not only justifiable, but re- gotten the lesson. With respect to another art, quired. Some things must be told or painted I wonder that the American sculptor does not not as they are, but as they affect the eye or still more frequently make a diversion from the imagination. The photograph reveals, in- his imitations of the medieval and the antique. deed, the absolute position of the horse's legs What subjects he has close at hand — such as at a given instant; by its aid the spokes of the a Greek, if he now could chance upon them, revolving wheel are defined. Without doubt, would handle with eagerness and truth! Surely art has learned most important facts through our American workman, at labor and in rethe photographic demonstration of actual pro- pose, our young athletes, our beasts of the forcesses; our animal- and figure-painters, our est and of the field, are available models; and sculptors, can never repeat the absurd untruths Ward's “Indian Hunter,” Donoghue's “The which have become almost academic in the Boxer," and Tilden's “The Ball-Thrower," at past. They will not, and need not, however, least convey their suggestion of what should go to the other extreme. To the human eye, and will be done. There is a certain lack of with its halting susceptibilities, the horse and sincerity, despite their artistic beauty, in the the wheel do not appear exactly as when caught foreign and antique exploits of many poets and by Mr. Muybridge's camera, and the artist's artists; and lack of sincerity is always lack of office is to present them as they seem to us. truth. But, while they should favor their own In the prosaic photograph they are struck with time, they must avoid expression of its trandeath: the idea of life, of motion, can only be sient passions and characteristics. Seize upon conveyed by blending the spokes of the wheel the essential, lasting traits, and let the others as they are blended to the human vision, and be accessory. If the general spirit of the time by giving a certain unreality of grace to the be not embodied, a work is soon out of date. speeding animal. Otherwise, you have the fact, Against all this, the widest freedom is permitwhich is not art.
ted to that chartered libertine - the poet's imagination. Nature and the soul being the same rolling surges, the tempest, the live thunder forever, we care nothing for Shakspere's ana- leaping from peak to peak, mated the restlesschronisms and impossible geography; we find ness of a spirit charged with their own intensity nothing strange and impossible in his assembly of motion and desire. Wordsworth felt the subof medieval fays and antique heroes and ama- limity of the repose that lies on every height, zons, of English clowns and mechanics in Gre- of nature's ultimate subjection to law. His cian garb, all commingled to enact a fantastic imagination comprehended her reserved forces; marvel of comedy and poesy in the palace and and before his time her deepest voice had no forests of a “Midsummer Night's Dream.” We apt interpreter, for none had listened with an confess the poet's witchcraft, and ourselves are ear so patient as his for mastery of her language. of the blithe company - denizens of an en- His announcement that chanted land, where everything has the truth
He who feels contempt of possibility. A conception is not vitiated by the most novel form it may assume, provided
For any living thing, hath faculties
Which he has never used, that this be artistic and not artificial. For art, as Goethe and Haydon have said, is art be- was like a revelation. That he had purged cause it is not nature. That method is most himself of all such baseness was his absolute true which, invoking the force of nature, directs conviction: in such matters he was a kind of it by its own device; just as, in mechanics, the Gladstone among the poets of his day. Therescrew-propeller is more than the equivalent of fore self-contemplation, or, to be more exact, the fish's flukes or the bird's wing. Our delight the transcription of nature's effect upon himself, in art proceeds from a knowledge that it is not seemed to him a sane, even a sacred, vocation. inevitable, but designed; a human, not a nat. In fact, a lofty, if not inventive, imagination, and ural, creation; the truth of nature's capabilities, seen by man's imagination, captured by the An eye made quiet by the power of harmony, human hand, expressed and illumined when our Creator, intrusting his own wand to us, gave him for this faith a warrant which all his bids us test its power ourselves.
ponderous homiletics could not render null.
As he let “the misty mountain winds” blow What is called descriptive poetry never can on him, he was nature's living oracle. And be very satisfying, since the painter is so much the world soon yielded to the force of that more capable than the poet of transferring the “pathetic fallacy” which has imparted to visible effects of nature - those addressed to modern thought a distemper and a compensa
I suppose it is impossible for one tion: the refuge, be it real or illusionary, still not reared in England, and in that very part left to us, and so compulsive that neither reason of England which lies between Derwentwater nor science can quite rid us of it when face and the Wye, to comprehend thoroughly the to face with nature — when soothed by the truth and beauty of Wordsworth's pastoral sweet influences of our mother Earth. It is note and landscape. Neither can a foreigner true, in Landor's words, that rightly estimate the American idylists; the New World scenery and atmosphere are so dif- We are what suns and winds and waters make us ; ferent from the European that they must be The mountains are our sponsors, and the rills
Fashion and win their nursling with their seen before their quality can be felt. Aside from
smiles. this limitation, the poet expresses what he finds in nature, to wit, that which answers to his own But Ruskin avers that the illusion under which needs and temper. Her interpretation has been, we fondly believe nature to be the sympathetic it may almost be said, a special function of the participator of our sentiment or passion, and century now closing. Nature moved Cole- which he terms the pathetic fallacy, is incomndge to eloquence, rhapsody, worship, and, as patible with a clear-seeing acceptance of the an artist, to imaginative mysticism. Heine, truth of things. Longfellow, Swinburne, have read the secret Now, that there is a solace — a companionof the sea. To Landor, Emerson, and Lowell ship — found in nature none can doubt. It is the tree is animate; in their presence the flower as old as the fable of Antæus. Primitive races has rights: they would not fell the one nor pluck feel it so strongly that they inform all natural the other. But there were two English poets objects with sentient individual lives; our more whose respective temperaments answered per- advanced intelligence conceives of a universal fectly to the two conditions of nature embraced spirit that comprehends and soothes Earth's in Lord Bacon's profound observation, that“ In children. In our own youth, nature haunts nature things move violently to their place and us“ like a passion”: and as in the youth of a calmly in their place.” Byron's fitful genius race, we “cannot paint what then we were,” was stirred by her violence of change. The in mature years each of us can say,
And I have felt Lo! in my heart I hear, as in a shell, A presence that disturbs me with the joy
The murmur of a world beyond the grave, Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Distinct, distinct, though faint and far it be. Of something far more deeply interfused, Thou fool! this echo is a cheat as well,Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
The hum of earthly instincts; and we crave And the round ocean and the living air,
A world unreal as the shell-heard sea. And the blue sky, and in the mind of man. A motion and a spirit, that impels
How beautiful this ecstasy of disenchantment, All thinking things, all objects of all thought, - beautiful in its sad sincerity,- and yet how And rolls through all things.
piteous! Here is a fine spirit, for the moment This has never been expressed so well as in truth. More trustfully leaving the future to
baffled, heroically demanding the truth, the Wordsworth's elevated phrases. They must “the Power that makes for good," Lowell always be cited. But a disenchantment is at also confronts the scientific analysis of our atlast upon us, and we are sternly questioning titude toward nature: our reason. Is not nature's apparent sympathy, we ask, a purely subjective illusion ?' The old What we call Nature, all outside ourselves, belief, the new doubt, are well conveyed in the Is but our own conceit of what we see, early and later treatment of a favorite theme - Our own reaction upon what we feel; the moaning of a sea-shell held to the ear. In The world 's a woman to our shifting mood, Landor's “ Gebir” we have it thus:
Feeling with us, or making due pretense ;
And therefore we the more persuade ourselves But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue; To make all things our thoughts' confederates,
Conniving with us in whate'er we dream. Shake one and it awakens, then apply Its polished lips to your attentive ear, The poet, to be aware of this, must have drifted And it remembers its august abodes quite away from the antique point of view. And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there. The Greek certainly made nature populous
with dryads, oreads, naiads, and all the daughLandor complained that Wordsworth stole his ters of Nereus; but these had a joy and, like shell, and "pounded and flattened it in his Jaques, a melancholy of their own, not those marsh ” of “ The Excursion":
of common mortals. Doubtless the Greek I have seen
felt the charm of the hour when twilight deA curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
scended on his valley, but not the pensive sugOf inland ground, applying to his ear
gestions of the Whence and Whither which it The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell ; excites in you and me. “No young man," said To which, in silence hushed, his very soul Hazlitt, “ever thinks he shall die.” He recog. Listened intensely; and his countenance soon nizes death, but it concerns him not. The Greek Brightened with joy; for from within were heard accepted it as a natural process; he yielded to Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed Mysterious union with its native sea.
nature; we adjure her, as Manfred adjured his
spirits, and fain would compel her to our serByron acknowledged his obligations to “Ge- vice and demand her to surrender the eternal bir” for his lines in “ The Island,” beginning,
Nature, even in her most tranquil mood, is The Ocean scarce spake louder with his swell,
palpitant with motion, in view of which HumThan breathes his mimic murmurer in the shell. boldt was at times a poet. Motion is life, and
therefore fellowship. Herein lies the spell of And now, as we near the close of the century the sea, which has mastered Heine and Shelley which “Gebir” initiated, Eugene Lee-Ham- and every poetic soul. Its perpetual change, ilton devotes one of his remarkable sonnets eternal endurance— these image both life and to this same murmur of the shell
, and I can- immortality; its far-away vessels moving to not find a more poetic, more impassioned rec- unknown climes, its unbounded horizon sug; ognition of the veil which modern doubt is gesting infinity, buoy the imagination, and drawing between our saddened eyes and the thence come human passion and thoughts beautiful pathetic fallacy:
“ too deep for tears.” We have conquered it,
and it is the modern poet's comrade, as it was The hollow sea-shell which for years hath stood the ancient's fear and marvel. But what is the
On dusty shelves, when held against the ear sea? Tennyson's “still salt pool, lock'd in
Proclaims its stormy parent; and we hear The faint far murmur of the breaking flood.
with bars of sand,” would be an ocean to a We hear the sea. The sea ? It is the blood
man reduced to insect size -a stretch of water, In our own veins, impetuous and near,
infused with salt, and roughened into wavelets And pulses keeping pace with hope and fear by the air that moves across it. We have And with our feelings' ever-shifting mood. learned that the effect of the sea, of a prairie, of a mountain, is purely relative. One of the the fact that, with brief exceptions, he made latest “ Atlantic" novelists, with youth's con- verse his only form of expression. No wonder temporaneousness, realizes both the fact and that he produced an “ampler body" of good the dream. Her lovers are watching a big, poetry — and of prosaic verse as well — than red, distorted moon above the illimitable pal- “ Burns, or Keats, or Manzoni, or Heine.” But pitating waste" of the ocean:
in this country also the force of nature has been “A waning moon is so melancholy,” said Fe- sovereign, since Bryant first gave voice to the licia, looking at it with wide, soft eyes that had spirit of the glorious forest and waters of a relgrown melancholy, too. “I wonder why?”
atively primeval land. During an idyllic yet "I don't see that it is melancholy," Grafton speculative period, the maxim that“ the proper declared.
study of mankind is man” has for many rea“No, I suppose not,” she rejoined. “I dare sons been almost in abeyance. At last it is say you see a planet which suggests to you ap- again evident that we cannot live by bread ogee, or perigee, or something wise. I see only alone, even at the hands of the great mother. the rising moon, and it seems to me particularly There is a longing and a need for emotion exominous to-night. I am afraid. Something un- cited by action and life, for a more impassioned expected - perhaps something terrible --- is go- and dramatic mode-that of a figure-school, ing to happen."
so to speak, in both poesy and art. Not to You will note, by the way, that our débutante “fresh woods and pastures new," but to huis scientifically accurate upon a matter in re- man life with its throes and passions and acspect to which many a good writer has gone tivity, must the coming poet look for the wrong. She sees the moon where it should be inspirations that will establish his name and of an evening in its third quarter — to wit, ris- fame. ing in the east
. Giving the author of “ Felicia” credit for this unusual feat, I believe that rea- In my censure of didacticism I used that son never can greatly lessen the influence of word in the usually adopted sense. Its radical nature upon our feelings, and this in spite meaning is not to be dismissed so lightly. If of her stolid indifference, her want of compas- there is a base didacticism false to beauty and sion, her stern laws, her unfairness, unreason, essentially commonplace, there is a nobly philand general unmorality. To the last, man will osophic strain which I may call the poetry be awed by the ocean and saddened by the of wisdom. There is an imagination of the waning moon, and will find the sun-kissed intellect, and its utterance is of a very high waves sparkling with his joy, and the stars of order — often the prophecy of inspiration itself. even looking down upon his love. One may Were this not so, we should have to reverse conceive, moreover, that before a vast and vari- time's judgment of intellectually poetic masous landscape we are affected by the very pres- terpieces from which have been derived the ence of divinity revealed only in his works; wisdom and the rubrics of many lands. Shall that, face to face with such an expanse of na- we rule out the lofty voice of the preacher, ture, we recognize more of a pervading spirit whose lesson that all save the fear of God is than when more closely pent: as in a house vanity has been reaffirmed by a cloud of witof worship, with a host of others like ourselves, nesses, down to the chief of imaginative homiwe have more of him incarnate in humanity; lists in our own time? Whether prose or verse, whence comes a strange elevation, and at I know nothing grander than “Ecclesiastes” times almost a yearning to be reabsorbed in in its impassioned survey of mortal pain and the infinite being from which our individual pleasure, its estimate of failure and success; life has sprung.
none of more noble sadness; no poem working The aspect and sentiment of nature, more more indomitably for spiritual illumination. than other incentives to mental elevation, have Shall we rule out the elegies of Theognis or supplied a motive to the artistic expression of the mystic speculations of Empedocles, celethe last half-century. In the domains of the brant of the golden age and declarer of the painter and the poet, and on both sides of the unapproachable God? And who would lay Atlantic, the idealization of nature has been, rude hands upon the poet who concerned himas never before, supreme. Never has she been self with the universe, surpassing all other portrayed on canvas as by Turner and his suc- Latins in intellectual passion and dignity of cessors; never has she received such homage theme? The rugged “De Rerum Natura” of in song as that of the English and American Lucretius seems to me as much greater than the poets from the time of Wordsworth. Two sig- “ Æneid” as fate and nature are greater than nificant advantages confirmed Wordsworth's the world known in that day. Whether his sciinfluence: first, that of longevity, which, in ence was false or true,- and meanwhile you spite of the ancient proverb, is the best gift know that the atomic theory is once more in of the gods to an originative leader; second, vogue,- he essayed “no middle flight," but