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The common sun, the air, the skies,
Gray's contemporary, COLLINS, was a more original writer, and his productions show so much genius, that we must mourn over the great loss the world sustained in his mental decay, and premature death. The bold personifications in "The Passions" make that Ode his most striking performance, yet there is a quiet beauty in his "Ode to Evening," which steals into the heart, and haunts the memory of its readers. The finish of this poem is exquisite, and the pictures contained in it have, in their way, never been surpassed.
One stanza in this Ode, given in the following pages, is not generally printed, and as it contains a picture of Evening, as true to nature as it is exquisitely expressed, the reader will be glad to see it here:
"Then lead, dear votress, where some sheety lake
Reflect the last cool gleam."
Pictures like this, and others in this poem, are not derived from books, but arise from a close and patient study of nature herself.
COWPER, although he displays none of the highest characteristics of a poet, must always be a favourite with reflective and contemplative minds; there is a tone of tender and kind feeling in his works which will always have admirers, and the "Lines to Mary," and those "On the receipt of his Mother's Picture," will find an echo in the human breast as long as the affections of men remain what they have always been.
BURNS and MOORE have been compared together as Song writers,
and Professor Wilson awards the palm to the latter. Yet it must be maintained that the songs of Burns possess the highest grace and delicacy, and his serious poems-"A Bard's Epitaph," "To Mary in Heaven," "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and his poems "To a Mouse," and "To a Mountain Daisy,"-touch a chord in our hearts, which ever after vibrates at their recollection. His verses cannot be read without transporting us to the clear mountain air, and we seem almost to inhale the fresh smell of the mould just turned up with his plough.
The great difficulty with regard to some poets is to know, where all is so beautiful, what to select. The writer has found this to be the case with SHELLEY, a poet whose fame must increase with the spread of the language in which he wrote; and whose works, for creative imagination, wonderful melody, and gorgeousness, astonish and delight their readers more and more as they become more familiar with them.
Although the extracts from this charming writer are copious, the song here given can hardly be omitted.
"Music, when soft voices die,
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
This little poem, for condensation, melody, and beauty, is a perfect gem. The works of Shelley, however, are full of such, and Mrs. Shelley can hardly be charged with exaggeration in saying, that "every line and word he wrote is instinct with peculiar beauty."
Not only, however, is this writer remarkable for the riches of his imagination; there is also in him a continual aspiration for the advancement and happiness of his kind. His faith in the destination of humanity shines through all his poems, but in none is it more discernible than in the sublime Chorus from Hellas, given at page 192 of this volume. Coleridge has spoken of
"Ancestral voices prophesying war,"
but here is the voice of one, who has passed from among us, anticipating and predicting a reign of truth and love on earth.
In the reception of KEATS into the general regard of lovers of the highest kind of poetic composition, may be discerned the futility of adverse criticism.
No poet of the same merit was ever more violently and unjustly criticised, and it is mournful to reflect that the life of a genius so great should have been embittered, if not shortened, by the envenomed strictures of writers who were unable to appreciate him.
The "Ode to a Nightingale," and lines "To Autumn," both included in this volume, if he had written nothing else, would be sufficient to establish for him a high position among the English poets. The imagination and melody of "The Eve of St. Agnes " (the length of which has prevented its insertion in these pages) are truly wonderful, and no epic poetry has appeared since Milton, giving such large promise of the highest excellence as the fragment of Hyperion. When it is remembered that Keats died at the age of twenty-five, we can scarcely name any writer whose equal he might not have been, had his life been spared for a few years. Let those who are not already acquainted with his works, at once procure and study them, and, allowing for the faults of immaturity,
it may be confidently said that their delight will be proportioned to their ability to appreciate and enjoy the highest kind of poetry.
The specimens of WORDSWORTH given here are the poem commencing, "She was a phantom of delight," "Ruth," and "HartLeap Well." The first-named piece is one of the sweetest poems ever written. It is difficult to conceive how the development of a character could be more completely made out in so short a compass. "Ruth," and "Hart-Leap Well," also possess great beauty; the mixture of the familiar and the supernatural in the former poem is very striking, and the lesson of humanity taught in the latter is enhanced by the melody of the verse, and the vivid colouring of the description.
The riches of Wordsworth are unbounded, and there are hundreds of beauties in him only to be found by those whose minds are in a state to appreciate them. They do not obtrude themselves on the gaze, but may be compared, (to use their author's own words,) with
"A violet, by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Considering the exquisite melody of the poetry of COLERIDGE, it is impossible to help regretting that he has given us so little of it. The feverish excitement occasioned by the intense interest of Byron's poems indisposed readers to the perusal of the quieter productions of other writers, and among these, Coleridge, except to a limited number of readers, was comparatively unknown.
The specimens here given are some of the poems which appeared to the writer the most perfect of Coleridge's shorter productions; "The Ancient Mariner," "Christabel," and others, being
too long for insertion. The poem of "Love" (page 7), however frequently read, always exhibits new beauties, and there is such melody in this and other pieces, that they would be delightful for their sound, even if they did not possess the highest characteristics of poetry. Leigh Hunt says truly,-in a very acute criticism on Coleridge's Poetry, in "Imagination and Fancy,"-"Of all our writers of the briefer narrative poetry, Coleridge is the finest since Chaucer, and assuredly he is the sweetest of all our poets. Waller's music is but a court-flourish in comparison; and though Beaumont and Fletcher, Collins, Gray, Keats, Shelley, and others, have several as sweet passages, and Spenser is in a certain sense musical throughout, yet no man has written whole poems, of equal length, so perfect in the sentiment of music, so varied with it, and yet leaving on the ear so unbroken and single an effect." — IMAGINATION AND FANCY, page 78.
Perhaps the serious poems of THOMAS HOOD had few readers, until his "Song of the Shirt" rang out its melancholy chime, to remind us of the misery endured by some of the weakest and most helpless among us. Yet, years before, he had published a small volume of Poems, many of which were of rare beauty, and of which Ruth, and the Ode to the Moon, (given in this Book,) are sufficient to show what power he possessed in serious as well as in humorous writing; in the latter poem especially there is a mournful grace, which touches while it charms. The last stanza appeals to the universal feelings of the heart by its beauty and truthfulness. It is said that the Sonnets and Minor Poems of Shakspeare were favourite reading with Hood, and their influence is discernible in this Ode.
CHARLES LAMB is known more from his exquisite Essays, than from his Poems, yet the Editor thinks there is a merit about the