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true poet is indestructible. It is only the charlatan and the versifier who sink in the conflict of criticism. Like a brave knight, the poet comes out of every critical encounter with honour, and the attempt to crush him only spreads wider the renown of his prowess.
Alfred Tennyson, the abused of Christopher North, and of Lockhart, has become one of the recognized spirits of the age. On each side of the Atlantic he has placed his foot. Education, (that grand conductor of sound,) carries now the voice of truth and beauty to every human ear. The words of the poet, orator and philosopher, are no longer uttered in one corner to die in another; no smaller group than the assembled world now gathers round the great teacher. The language of Shakspere spreads every day; America carries freedom and civilization West; England East and South; they divide the mission, and work with the characteristic energy of the Anglo Saxon nature. It is not too much to predict that in time the Shakesperian will be the Universal tongue. It seems as though Providence prefigured this when he taught the greatest of poets to deliver his wonderful revelations in the English language.
It must be conceded to the harsh judging and wrong headed Christopher North, and to the elegant and conventional Lockhart, that the young poet in his first volume displayed several peculiarities calculated to arouse the entire bile of men who pinned their faith to Dryden, Pope, Campbell, and Rogers and others of that school; bnt a truer and more generous appreciation would have convinced them that they were only misplaced ornaments, and not the main part of the building, and that there was ample evidence of the possession of the highest poetical genius.
Even the affectations and singularities of a young poet, should have made them more cautious. Originality is sometimes heralded by affectation, and the very unlikeness of a new volume to the old standards, should have counselled forbearance. Critics should always doubt the powers and individuality of a poet, if on his first appearance there is nothing to offend. Be assured, if he is slavishly true to the established forms of poetry, that he is a disciple, and not a master; that he is an imitator, not an original.
We do not mean to exalt such musical verses as the following into the region of poetry, but even these, like the melodious humming of a few notes, ought to have convinced the listeners that the spirit of harmony was within, and only waiting its time to come forth in fuller power and more unmistakeable shape.
"Where Claribel low lieth
The breezes pause and die,
But the solemn oak tree sigheth
With an ancient melody
Of an inward agony,
Where Claribel now lieth !"
And so on for several stanzas: the following tinkle, too, is not poetry :—
When I ask her if she love me
Laughing all she can,
She'll not tell me if she love me,
Cruel little Lilian."
These lines, however, have a rich lingering beauty of diction quite delicious to the ear.
"Thou art not steeped in golden languor,
Through light and shadow thou dost range,
"Mystery of Mysteries
Faintly smiling Adeline,
When the long dun worlds are filled with snow
And loud the hollow whirlwinds blow
Alone I wander to and fro,
Ere the light on dark was growing,
At midnight the cock was crowing,
"Thy dark eyes opened not,
Nor first revealed to English air,
For there is nothing there
Which from the outward to the inward brought,
Far off from human neighbourhood
Thou wert born on a summer morn,
A mile beneath the cedar wood.
Thy bounteous forehead was not fanned
But thou wert nurst in some delicious land
At the moment of thy birth,
From old well heads of haunted rills,
And the hearts of purple hills,
And shadowed coves on a sunny shore,
To deck thy cradle, Eleanore?"
In these specimens the poetical reader will find more to admire than to censure; but the critics sometimes are deaf, "charm ye never so wisely," their ears are shut to music, and their eyes to beauty.
Three years afterwards, Mr. Tennyson published another volume, and gave the fullest evidence of his poetical genius. He had been wise enough to profit by the criticism of his friends and enemies, and, consequently, the new volume was received with more favour; it showed a marvellous advance on the previous book, and stamped the author as one of the rising men of our time. In this volume were the exquisite poems of "The Miller's Daughter,"
and " "The Proud Lady Clara Vere de Vere." Shortly after he printed a poem called "The Lover's Tale:" this, however, he suppressed, contenting himself with giving a few copies away. As he disavows this production, we shall quote nothing from it. It is decidedly unworthy his reputation. Here lapse ten years of Alfred Tennyson's life; silent to the public, but slowly working. In 1843 appeared his two volumes, including many of his old productions previously published, with the addition of many new ones; alterations were also made in those he retained. In this volume he first made audible "The Two Voices," undoubtedly the greatest poem he has written; we observe that it was composed as far back as 1833; contrasting the union of force and thoughtful subtlety displayed in this poem, with the last of his productions, "The Princess," the conclusion is forced upon us that the mind of Alfred Tennyson is not progressive. We shall devote some space to its examination, and select instances of the peculiar force with which the poet places before the mind of his readers thoughts of the utmost subtlety. The poem is an argument, pro. and con. between the hopeful and despondent impulses of our nature, one prompting to suicide, the other urging cheerfulness and patience :
"A still small voice' spake unto me,
Thou art so full of misery,
• Were it not better not TO BE?'
Then to the still small voice I said;
Let me not cast in endless shade
What is so wonderfully made.'
To which the voice did urge reply,
To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie,'
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk-from head to tail