« AnteriorContinuar »
self-love, or rotted in the warehouses of change and vicissitude. I have said the more on this point, because in an age when the true inspiration has undoubtedly been re-awakened by Coleridge and his fellows, and we have so many new poets coming forward, it may be as well to give a general warning against that tendency to an accumulation and ostentation of thoughts, which is meant to be a refutation in full of the pretensions of all poetry less cogitabund, whatever may be the requirements of its class. Young writers should bear in mind, that even some of the very best materials for poetry are not poetry built; and that the smallest marble shrine, of exquisite workmanship, outvalues all that architect ever chipped away. Whatever can be dispensed with is rubbish.
Variety in versification consists in whatsoever can be done for the prevention of monotony, by diversity of stops and cadences, distribution of emphasis, and retardation and acceleration of time; for the whole real secret of versification is a musical secret, and is not attainable to any vital effect, save by the ear of genius. All the mere knowledge of feet and numbers, of accent and quantity, will no more impart it, than a knowledge of the "Guide to Music" will make a Beethoven or a Paisiello. It is a matter of sensibility and imagination; of the beautiful in poetical passion, accompanied by musical; of the imperative necessity for a pause here, and a cadence there, and a quicker or slower utterance in this or that place, created by analogies of sound with sense, by the fluctuations of feeling, by the demands of the gods and graces that visit the poet's harp, as the winds visit that of Eolus. The same time and quantity which are occasioned by the spiritual part of this secret, thus become its formal ones,—not feet and syllables, long and short, iambics or trochees; which are the reduction of it to its less than dry bones. You might get, for instance, not only ten and eleven, but thirteen or fourteen syllables into a rhyming, as well as blank, heroical verse, if time and the feeling permitted; and in irregular measure this is often done; just as musicians put twenty notes in a bar instead of two, quavers instead of minims, according as the feeling they are expressing impels them to fill up the time with short and hurried notes, or with long; or as
the choristers in a cathedral retard or precipitate the words of the chaunt, according as the quantity of its notes, and the colon which divides the verse of the psalm, conspire to demand it. Had the moderns borne this principle in mind when they settled the prevailing systems of verse, instead of learning them, as they appear to have done, from the first drawling and one-syllabled notation of the church hymns, we should have retained all the advantages of the more numerous versification of the ancients, without being compelled to fancy that there was no alternative for us between our syllabical uniformity and the hexameters or other special forms unsuited to our tongues. But to leave this question alone, we will present the reader with a few sufficing specimens of the difference between monotony and variety in versification, first from Pope, Dryden, and Milton, and next from Gay and Coleridge. The following is the boasted melody of the nevertheless exquisite poet of the "Rape of the Lock,"-exquisite in his wit and fancy, though not in his num. bers. The reader will observe that it is literally see-saw, like the rising and falling of a plank, with a light person at one end who is jerked up in the briefer time, and a heavier one who is set down more leisurely at the other. It is in the otherwise charming description of the heroine of that poem :
On her white breast-a sparkling cross she wore,
Look on her face--and you'll forget them all.
Compare with this the description of Iphigenia in one of Dryden's stories from Boccaccio:
It happen'd-on a summer's holiday,
That to the greenwood shade-he took his way,
For Cymon shunn'd the church-and used not much to pray,
His quarter-staff-which he could ne'er forsake,
By chance conducted-or by thirst constrain'd,
Crept through the matted grass-a crystal flood,
And on the margent of the fount was laid-
Her comely limbs-compos'd with decent care,
Her bosom to the view-was only bare;
Where two beginning paps were scarcely spied—
The fanning wind upon her bosom blows
To meet the fanning wind-the bosom rose;
The fanning wind-and purling stream-continue her repose.
For a further variety take, from the same author's Theodore and Honoria, a passage in which the couplets are run one into the other, and all of it modulated, like the former, according to the feeling demanded by the occasion;
Whilst listening to the murmuring leaves he stood-
At once the wind was laid.—The whispering sound
Nature was in alarm-Some danger nigh
WHAT IS POETRY?
But for a crowning specimen of variety of pause and accent, apart from emotion, nothing can surpass the account, in Para. dise Lost, of the Devil's search for an accomplice ;
There was a plàce,
Now not-though Sìn-not Tìme-first wroùght the change,
Rose up a fountain by the Tree of Life.
Where to lie hìd.-Sèa he had search'd-and lànd
If the reader cast his eye again over this passage, he will not find a verse in it which is not varied and harmonized in the most remarkable manner. Let him notice in particular that curious balancing of the lines in the sixth and tenth verses :—
In with the river sunk, &c.,
Up beyond the river Ob.
It might, indeed, be objected to the versification of Milton, that it exhibits too constant a perfection of this kind. It sometimes forces upon us too great a sense of consciousness on the part of the composer. We miss the first sprightly runnings of verse,—the ease and sweetness of spontaneity. Milton, I think, also too often condenses weight into heaviness.
Thus much concerning the chief of our two most popular measures. The other, called octosyllabic, or the measure of
eight syllables, offered such facilities for namby-pamby, that it had become a jest as early as the time of Shakspeare, who makes Touchstone call it the "butterwoman's rate to market," and the "very false gallop of verses." It has been advocated, in opposition to the heroic measure, upon the ground that ten syllables lead a man into epithets and other superfluities, while eight syllables compress him into a sensible and pithy gentleman. But the heroic measure laughs at it. So far from compressing, it converts one line into two, and sacrifices everything to the quick and importunate return of the rhyme. With Dryden, compare Gay, even in the strength of Gay,
The wind was high-the window shakes;
With sudden start the miser wakes;
Along the silent room he stalks,
(A miser never "stalks;" but a rhyme was desired for "walks")
Looks back, and trembles as he walks:
In every creek and corner pries.
Then opes the chest with treasure stor❜d,
And stands in rapture o'er his hoard;
("Hoard" and "treasure stor'd" are just made for one another)
But now, with sudden qualms possess'd,
And so he denounces his gold, as miser never denounced it ; and sighs, because
Virtue resides on earth no more!
Coleridge saw the mistake which had been made with regard to this measure, and restored it to the beautiful freedom of which it was capable, by calling to mind the liberties allowed its old