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'Go, lonely man,' it saith;
They loved thee from their birth;
Their hands were pure, and pure their faith, -
"Ye cannot unlock your heart,
The key is gone with them;
The silent organ loudest chants
The master's requiem.' "-Poems, pp. 232 — 235.
Here is a little piece which has seldom been equalled in depth and beauty of thought; yet it has sometimes been complained of as obscure, we see not why:
"THEE, dear friend, a brother soothes,
Which tarnish not, but purify
To light which dims the morning's eye.
Listen what the poplar-tree
And murmuring waters counselled me.
"If with love thy heart has burned;
Thy softest pleadings seem too bold,
"But thou shalt do as do the gods
In their cloudless periods;
For of this lore be thou sure,
Though thou forget, the gods, secure,
But make the statute of this land.
Falls, in turn, a new degree.
And by her radiant youth delighted,
To bless that creature day and night;
And fetch her stars to deck her hair;
Build I to the All-Good, All-Fair.
Not for a private good,
But I, from my beatitude,
Albeit scorned as none was scorned,
I make this maiden an ensample
To Nature, through her kingdoms ample,
Poems, pp. 21
Several of the other pieces are poor; some are stiff and rude, having no lofty thoughts to atone for their unlovely forms. Some have quaint names, which seem given to them out of mere caprice. Such are the following: Mithridates, Hamatreya, Hermione, Merlin, Merops, &c. These names are not more descriptive of the poems they are connected with, than are Jonathan and Eleazer of the men thus baptized. What have Astrea, Rhea and Etienne de la Boéce to do with the poems which bear their names?
We should think the following lines, from Hermione, were written by some of the youngest Emersonidæ :
"Once I dwelt apart,
Now I live with all;
As shepherd's lamp on far hill-side
And my kindred come to soothe me.
He has come through fragrant wood,
And twilight nook,
Unveils thy form.
Out of the forest way
Forth paced it yesterday;
And when I sat by the watercourse,
Watching the daylight fade,
It throbbed up from the brook."-Poems, pp. 153
Such things are unworthy of such a master.
Here is a passage which we will not attempt to criticize. He is speaking of Love:
"He will preach like a friar,
And jump like a Harlequin ;
And fight like a Paladin." &c.
Good Homer sometimes nodded, they say; but when he went fast asleep, he did not write lines or print them. Here is another specimen. It is Monadnoc that speaks:
"Anchored fast for many an age,
I await the bard and sage,
Who, in large thoughts, like feir pearl-seed,
Shall string Monadnoc like a bead."
And yet another :
"For the present, hard
Is the fortune of the bard."
We have seen imitations of this sort of poetry, which even surpassed the original. It does not seem possible that Emerson can write such stuff simply from "lacking the accomplishment of verse." Is it that he has a false theory, and so wilfully writes innumerous verse, and plays his harp, all jangling and thus out of tune? Certainly it seems so. In his poems he uses the old mythology, and in bad taste; talks of Gods, and not God; of Pan, the Oreads, Titan, Jove and Mars, the Parcæ and the Dæmon.
There are three elaborate poems which demand a word of notice. The "Woodnotes" contains some good thoughts, and some pleasing lines, but on the whole a Pine tree which should talk like Mr. Emerson's pine ought to be plucked up by the roots and cast into the depths of the sea. "Monadnoc" is
the title of another piece which appears forced and unnatural, as well as poor and weak. The third is called "initial, dæ monic and celestial Love." It is not without good thoughts, and here and there a good line, but in every attribute of poetry it is far inferior to his majestic essay on Love. In his poetry Mr. Emerson often loses his command of language, metaphors fail him, and the magnificent images which adorn and beautify all his prose works, are gone.
From what has been said, notwithstanding the faults we have found in Emerson, it is plain that we assign him a very high rank in the literature of mankind. He is a very extraordinary man. To no English writer since Milton can we assign so high a place; even Milton himself, great genius though he was, and great architect of beauty, has not added so many thoughts to the treasury of the race; no, nor been the author of so much loveliness. Emerson is a man of genius such as does not often appear, such as has never appeared before in America, and but seldom in the world. He learns from all
sorts of men, but no English writer, we think, is so original. We sincerely lament the want of logic in his method, and his exaggeration of the intuitive powers, the unhappy consequences of which we see in some of his followers and admirers. They will be more faithful than he to the false principle which he lays down, and will think themselves wise because they do not study, learned because they are ignorant of books, and inspired because they say what outrages common sense. In Emerson's poetry there is often a ruggedness and want of finish which seems wilful in a man like him. This fault is very obvious in those pieces he has put before his several essays. Sometimes there is a seed-corn of thought in the piece, but the piece itself seems like a pile of rubbish shot out of a cart which hinders the seed from germinating. His admirers and imitators not unfrequently give us only the rubbish and probably justify themselves by the example of their master. Spite of these defects, Mr. Emerson, on the whole, speaks with a holy power which no other man possesses who now writes the English tongue. Others have more readers, are never sneered at by respectable men, are oftener praised in the Journals, have greater weight in the pulpits, the cabinets and the councils of the nation; but there is none whose words so sink into the mind and heart of young men and maids; none who work so powerfully to fashion the character of the coming age. Seeing the power which he exercises, and the influence he is likely to have on generations to come, we are jealous of any fault in his matter, or its form, and have allowed no private and foolish friendship to hinder us from speaking of his faults.
This is his source of strength: his intellectual and moral sincerity. He looks after Truth, Justice, and Beauty. He has not uttered a word that is false to his own mind or conscience; has not suppressed a word because he thought it too high for men's comprehension, and therefore dangerous to the repose of men. He never compromises. He sees the chasm
between the ideas which come of man's nature and the institutions which represent only his history; he does not seek to cover up the chasm, which daily grows wider between Truth and Public Opinion, between Justice and the State, between Christianity and the Church; he does not seek to fill it up, but he asks men to step over and build institutions commensurate with their ideas. He trusts himself, trusts man, and trusts God. He has confidence in all the attributes of infinity. Hence he is serene; nothing disturbs the even poise of his