« AnteriorContinuar »
The sturdy rustic, in the middle wave,
[ROBERT BLAIR was born at Edinburgh in 1699. He became a minister, and was presented to the living of Athelstaneford in Haddingtonshire, where most of his life was passed. He died there in 1746. The Grave was published at Edinburgh in 1743.]
Blair's singular little poem, which has perhaps been more widely read than any other poetical production of a writer who wrote no other poetry, was, it is said, rejected by several London publishers on the ground that it was 'too heavy for the times.' As its introducer was Dr. Watts, it is not likely that he suggested it to any but serious members of the trade. The Grave thus adds one to the tolerably long list of books respecting the chances of which professional judgment has been hopelessly out. It acquired popularity almost as soon as it was published, and retained it for at least a century ; indeed its date is not yet gone by in certain circles. Long after its author's death it obtained an additional and probably a lasting hold on a new kind of taste by the fact of Blake's illustrating it. The artist's designs indeed were, as he expresses it in the beautiful Dedication to Queen Charlotte, rather visions that his soul had seen' than representations of anything directly contained in Blair's verse. But that verse itself is by no means to be despised. Technically its only fault is the use and abuse of the redundant syllable. The quality of Blair's blank verse is in every respect rather moulded upon dramatic than upon purely poetical models, and he shows little trace of imitation either of Milton, or of his contemporary Thomson. Whether his studies—contrary to the wont of Scotch divines at that time—had really been much directed to the drama, I cannot say ; but the perusal of his poem certainly suggests such a conclusion, not merely the licence just mentioned, but the generally declamatory and rhetorical tone helping to produce the impression. The matter of the poem is good. General plan it has none, but in so short a composition a general plan is hardly wanted. It abounds with forcible and original ideas expressed in vigorous and unconventional phraseology, nor is it likely nowadays that this phraseology will strike readers, as it struck the delicate critics of the eighteenth century, as being 'vulgar.' Vigorous single lines are numerous ; and it is at least as much a tribute to the vigour of the poem as to its popularity, that many of its phrases have worked their way into current speech. Nor is it difficult to produce sustained passages, the effect of which is marred only by the ugly technical fault already noticed. The poem naturally invites comparison with the Night Thoughts. In depth of meaning it is probably the inferior of Young's work. But its shortness is very much in its favour, as also is the absence of conventionality which distinguishes it, if we except a little stock satire about the trappings of the grave, &c. The wonder is however, not that Blair has sometimes fallen into the use of the cut and dried, but that he has so often avoided it. To have written a poem of seven or eight hundred lines on such a subject, which after the lapse of nearly a century and a half can be read with pleasure and even some admiration, is something ; perhaps it is something by no means inconsiderable. It is due beyond all doubt to the fact that Blair had the specially poetic faculty of saying old things in a new way. There is almost always something novel in his dressing up of his images and a suggestive unhackneyedness in their expression. It is sufficient to read the last four lines of the poem to perceive this.
[From The Grave.]
SELF-MURDER. Self-Murder ! name it not : our island's shame, That makes her the reproach of neighbouring states. Shall nature, swerving from her earliest dictate, Self-preservation, fall by her own act ? Forbid it, Heaven !-let not upon disgust The shameless hand be foully crimsoned o'er With blood of its own lord.—Dreadful attempt ! Just reeking from self-slaughter, in a rage, To rush into the presence of our Judge As if we challenged him to do his worst And mattered not his wrath : unheard-of tortures Must be reserved for these, these herd together, The common damned shun their society, And look upon themselves as fiends less foul. Our time is fixʼd and all our days are numbered, How long, how short we know not; this we know, - Duty requires we calmly wait the summons, Nor dare to stir till Heaven shall give permission, Like sentries that must keep their destined stand And wait the appointed hour till they're relieved. Those only are the brave that keep their ground, And keep it to the last. To run away Is but a coward's trick. To run away From this world's ills, that at the very worst Will soon blow o’er, thinking to mend ourselves By boldly venturing on a world unknown And plunging headlong in the dark—'tis mad, No phrenzy half so desperate as this.
OMNES EODEM COGIMUR.
Into fantastic schemes, which the long livers
In the world's hale and undegenerate days
Never to think of death and of ourselves