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“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem,
I sit and sing to them.
“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
And eat my supper there.
6. The first that died was little Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
And then she went away.
“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And all the summer dry,
My brother John and I.
And I could run and slide,
And he lies by her side."
“How many are you then," said I,
“If they two are in heaven?” The little maiden did reply,
“O master! we are seven.”
“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
300. CRITICISM OF POETRY.
With the young of both sexes, poetry is, like love, a passion; but, for much the greater part of those who have been proud of its power over their minds, a necessity soon arises of breaking the pleasing bondage; or it relaxes of itself; the thoughts being occupied in domestic cares, or the time engrossed by business. Poetry then becomes only an occasional recreation; while to those whose existence passes away in a course of fashionable pleasure, it is a species of luxurious amusement. In middle and declining age, a scattered number of serious persons resort to poetry, as to religion, for a protection against the pressure of trivial employments, and as a consolation for the afflictions of life. And, lastly, there are many, who, having been
enamoured of this art in their youth, have found leisure, after youth was spent, to cultivate general literature, in which poetry has continued to be comprehended as a study.
Into the above classes the readers of poetry may be divided; critics abound in them all; but from the last only can opinions be collected of absolute value, and worthy to be depended upon, as prophetic of the destiny of a new work. The young, who in nothing can escape delusion, are especially subject to it in their intercourse with poetry. The cause, not so obvious as the fact is unquestionable, is the same as that from which erroneous judgments in this art, in the minds of men of all ages, chiefly proceed; but upon youth it operates with peculiar force. The appropriate business of poetry (which, nevertheless, if genuine, is as permanent as pure science), her appropriate employment, her privilege and her duty, is to treat of things not as they are, but as they appear; not as they exist in themselves, but as they seem to exist to the senses and to the passions. What a world of delusion does this acknowledged principle prepare for the inexperienced! what temptations to go astray are here held forth for them whose thoughts have been little disciplined by the understanding, and whose feelings revolt from the sway of reason! When a juvenile reader is in the height of his rapture with some vicious passage, should experience throw in doubts, or common sense suggest suspicions, a lurking consciousness that the realities of the Muse are but shows, and that her liveliest excitements are raised by transient shocks of conflicting feeling and successive assemblages of contradictory thoughts — is ever at hand to justify extravagance, and to sanction absurdity. But, it may be asked, as these illusions are unavoidable, and, no doubt, eminently useful to the mind as a process, what good can be gained by making observations, the tendency of which is to diminish the confidence of youth in its feelings, and thus to abridge its innocent and even profitable pleasures? The reproach implied in the question could not be warded off, if youth were incapable of being delighted with what is truly excellent; or, if these errors always terminated of themselves in due season. But, with the majority, though their force be abated, they continue through life. Moreover, the fire of youth is too vivacious an element to be extinguished or damped by a philosophical remark; and, while there is no danger that what has been said will be injurious or painful to the ardent and the confident, it may prove beneficial to those who, being enthusiastic, are, at the same time, modest and ingenuous. The intimation may unite with their own misgivings to regulate their sensibility, and to bring in, sooner than it would otherwise have arrived, a more discreet and sound judgment.
If it should excite wonder that men of ability, in later life, whose understandings have been rendered acute by practice in affairs, should be so easily and so far imposed upon when they happen to take up a new work in verse, this appears to be the cause - that, having discontinued their attention to poetry, whatever progress may have been
made in other departments of knowledge, they have not, as to this art, advanced in true discernment beyond the age of youth. If, then, a new poem falls in their way, whose attractions are of that kind which would have enraptured them during the heat of youth, the judgment not being improved to a degree that they shall be disgusted, they are dazzled; and prize and cherish the faults for having had power to make the present time vanish before them, and to throw the mind back, as by enchantment, into the happiest season of life. As they read, powers seem to be revived, passions are regenerated, and pleasures restored. The book was probably taken up after an escape from the burden of business, and with a wish to forget the world, and all its vexations and anxieties. Having obtained this wish, and so much more, it is natural that they should make report as they have felt.
If men of mature age, through want of practice, be thus easily beguiled into admiration of absurdities, extravagances, and misplaced ornaments, thinking it proper that their understandings should enjoy a holiday, while they are unbending their minds with verse, it may be expected that such readers will resemble their former selves also in strength of prejudice, and an inaptitude to be moved by the unostentatious beauties of a pure style. In the higher poetry, an enlightened critic chiefly looks for a reflection of the wisdom of the heart and the grandeur of the imagination. Wherever these appear, simplicity accompanies them; magnificence herself, when legitimate, depending upon a simplicity of her own, to regulate her ornaments. But it is a well-known property of human nature, that our estimates are ever governed by comparisons, of which we are conscious with various degrees of distinctness. Is it not, then, inevitable (confining these observations to the effects of style merely) that an eye, accustomed to the glaring hues of diction by which such readers are caught and excited, will for the most part be rather repelled than attracted by an original work, the coloring of which is disposed according to a pure and refined scheme of harmony? It is in the fine arts as in the affairs of life — no man can serve (i. e. obey with zeal and fidelity) two masters.
SAMUEL TayloR COLERIDGE. 1772–1834. (Manual,
302. HYMN BEFORE SUNRISE IN THE VALE OF CHAMOUNI.
Hast thou a charm to stay the morning star
Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody,
Awake, my soul! not only passive praise
Thou first and chief, sole Sovran of the Vale!
Who sank thy sunless pillars deep in earth?
And you, ye five wild torrents fiercely glad! Who called you forth from night and utter death, From dark and icy caverns called you forth, Down those precipitous, black, jagged rocks, Forever shattered, and the same forever? Who gave you your invulnerable life, Your strength, your speed, your fury, and your joy, Unceasing thunder, and eternal foam? And who commanded (and the silence came), Here let the billows stiffen and have rest?
Ye ice-falls ! ye that from the mountain's brow Adown enormous ravines slope amain – Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice, And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge! Motionless torrents! silent cataracts! Who made you glorious as the gates of heaven Beneath the keen full moon? Who bade the sun Clothe you with rainbows? Who, with living flowers Of loveliest blue, spread garlands at your feet? God! let the torrents, like a shout of nations, Answer! and let the ice-plains echo, God! God! sing, ye meadow-streams with gladsome voice ! Ye pine-groves, with your soft and soul-like sounds ! And they too have a voice, yon piles of snow, And in their perilous fall shall thunder, God!
Ye living flowers that skirt the eternal frost!
Thou too, hoar Mount! with thy sky-pointing peaks, Oft from whose feet the avalanche, unheard, Shoots downward, glittering through the pure serene, Into the depth of clouds that veil thy breast Thou too, again, stupendous mountain! thou, That as I raise my head, awhile bowed low In adoration, upward from thy base Slow-travelling with dim eyes suffused with tears, Solemnly seemest, like a vapory cloud, To rise before me — rise, O ever rise,