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RICHARD HENRY DANA.
THERE are a simplicity and individuality about Dana's writings, which give him the decided impress of being a man of more originality than he really possesses.
There is less reliance upon foreign sources for his subjects ; he likewise treats them in a manner of his own, which compels the reader to respect him for his intention, if he cannot applaud him for the successful result of his experiment.
We shall treat of his poems first, and then consider him as a lecturer and essayist.
He is well known to the public as the author of the “Buccaneer,” a poem of great merit, and full of fine thoughts, simply and forcibly described.
His portrait of the freebooter himself is drawn with a vigorous pencil. There is a total absence of all tawdry or adventitious embellishments in this old poet's verse, which stands out in bold relief to the artificial elegances and cuckoo-note tracks of many modern and fashionable authors.
“ Twelve years are gone since Matthew Lee
Held in this isle unquestioned sway;
A dark, low, brawny man was he;
His law,— It is my way!
From small grey eyes: his laugh a triumph spoke.”
“ A famous man was Robin Hood,
The English ballad-singer's joy;
‘And shortly after come these lines :
“ The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they shall take who have the power,
And they shall keep who can." These coincidences are, however, unavoidable in poetry when they partake of the same peculiar nature, and many of Dana's simple, manly productions, remind us of the poet-laureate's.
The American writer dashes off with a few vigorous touches a graphic picture of the old Buccaneer.
“ Cruel of heart, and strong of arm;
Loud in his sport, and keen for spoil,
Fierce both in mirth and toil.
Speak mildly when he would, or look in fear!"
show the old poet's strength of hand in painting the sea; it is very suggestive to remark how the nature of the writer comes out in describing the same object. Byron, Cooper, and Dana, of moderns, have been successful in interesting the reader in the glorious old ocean. How differently, yet the same! The quiet simplicity of Dana is shown in these lines :
“ But when the light winds lie at rest,
And on the glassy heaving sea,
Sits swinging silently.
* * * * *
Observe how little the subjective part of imagination is called into play here; only one incidental allusion of a remote kind in the ejaculation, “how beautiful !" All is pure outside description, simply and faithfully rendered.
“ 'T is fearful! on the broad-backed waves,
To feel them shake, and hear them roar,
Around, no cheerful shore.
* * * *
Their white tops flashing through the night,
A wild and shifting light.
On pale dead men, on burning cheek,
On quick, fierce eyes, brows hot and damp,
Shines the dim cabin lamp!
As swung the sea with heavy beat,
All this is literal, external painting. The two last lines are powerful; for, although the word “tumbling” is not very heroic, yet it is to a certain extent appropriately used in describing the mammoth rolling of the billows; nevertheless, there is a clumsiness about the word we do not like in connexion with the mighty ocean. There is a Titan march in the sea's movements which demands a word for itself.
“A sound is in the Pyrenees !
Whirling and dark comes roaring down
Sweeping both cowl and crown:
There is a sternness about this poem, indeed about all his poetry, which deducts materially from the delights we generally feel in reading strong bold verse. To a certain extent, Dana reminds us of Crabbe. He, however, as certainly excels the English poet in dignity of treatment, as he falls below him in those minute descriptions which so frequently give to Crabbe's poems the air of condensed prose placed in lines of equal length, the two last syllables of which are forced to rhyme.
Occasionally there are touches of great beauty and tenderness, which show that the poet can bring the tear as well as move respect.
“ Too late for thee, thou young fair bride,
The lips are cold, the brow is pale,
He cannot hear thy wail,
For he was gone who made it dear;
Away from strife and fear;
The Buccaneer persuades her to embark on board his vessel.
“ With wealth and servants she is soon aboard,
“ The sun goes down upon the sea,
The shadows gather round her home;
My home how like a tomb!
We are perpetually reminded, by every quotation, how ill-adapted for a sustained narrative is the stanza employed by Dana for this, the longest of his poems.