« PreviousContinue »
Which shoots its being through earth, sea, and air. 6 In the two following lines for instance, there is nothing objec. tionable, nothing which would preclude them from forming, in their proper place, part of a descriptive poem:
Behold yon row of pines, that shorn and bow'd
But with a small alteration of rhythm, the same words would be equally in their place in a book of topography, or in a descriptive tour. The same image will rise into a semblance of poetry if thus conveyed :
Yon row of bleak and visionary pines,
Streaming before them. I have given this as an illustration, by no means as an instance, of that particular excellence which I had in view, and in which Shakspeare, even in his earliest, as in his latest works, surpasses all other poets. It is by this, that he still gives a dignity and a passion to the objects which he presents. Unaided by any previous excitement, they burst upon us at once in life and in power,
“ Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye.”7 “Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
6 (France. An ode. Mr. C.'s P. W., i., p. 132. Ed.) [Shakspeare's 33d Sonnet. Ed.]
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests, and tombs of brass are spent.”S As of higher worth, so doubtless still more characteristic of poetic genius does the imagery become, when it moulds and colors itself to the circumstances, passion, or character, present and foremost in the mind. For unrivalled instances of this excellence, the reader's own memory will refer him to the LEAR, OTHELLO, in short to which not of the “great, ever living, dead man's” dramatic works? Inopem me copia fecit. How true it is to nature, he has himself finely expressed in the instance of love in his 98th Sonnet.
“ From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April drest in all its trim,
As with your shadow, I with these did play "’9 Scarcely less sure, or if a less valuable, not less indispensable mark
Γόνιμου μέν ποιητού --
- Goris enua yevvaiov lákou, 10 will the imagery supply, when, with more than the power of the painter, the poet gives us the liveliest image of succession with the feeling of simultaneousness :
8 [Sonnet cvii. Ed.]
9 [See Table Talk, pp. 229–31, 2d edit., for Mr. Coleridge's general view of Shakspeare's Sonnets, and also Mr. Knight's valuable essay on the same subject in that beautiful edition of our great poet by which he has rendered so signal and enduring a service to the cause of English literature. Ed.]
10 [Aristoph., Rana, v., 96–7. Mr. Frere, in the tone of the Bacchus of the play, translates thus :
With this, he breaketh from the sweet embrace
Look! how a bright star shooteth from the sky,
So glides he in the night from Venus' eye. 11 4. The last character I shall mention, which would prove indeed but little, except as taken conjointly with the former ;—yet without which the former could scarce exist in a high degree, and (even if this were possible) would give promises only of transitory flashes and a meteoric power ;-is depth, and energy of thought. No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language. In Shakspeare's poems the creative power and the intellectual energy wrestle as in a war embrace. Each in its excess of strength seems to threaten the extinction of the other. At length in the drama they were reconciled, and fought each with its shield before the breast of the other. Or like two rapid streams, that, at their first meeting within narrow and rocky banks, mutually strive to repel each other and intermix reluctantly and in tumult; but soon finding a wider channel and more yielding shores blend, and dilate, and flow on in one current and with one voice. The VENUS AND ADONIS did not perhaps allow the display of the deeper passions. But the story of Lucretia seems to favor and even demand their intensest workings. And yet we find in Shakspeare's management of the tale neither pathos, nor any other dramatic quality. There is the same minute and faithful imagery as in the former poem, in the same vivid colors, inspirited by the same impetuous vigor of thought, and diverging and contracting with the same activity of the assimilative and of the modifying faculties; and with a yet larger display, a yet wider range of knowledge and reflection ; and lastly, with the same perfect dominion, often domination, over the whole world
There's not one hearty Poet amongst them all
That's fit to risque an adventurous valiant phrase. But it is obvious that Mr. Coleridge meant by yoviyos fountńs, the genuine poet. Ed.]
11 [Venus and Adonis. Ed.]
of language. What then shall we say ? even this; that Shakspeare, no mere child of nature; no automaton of genius ; no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it ; first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge, become habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stu. pendous power, by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class; to that power, which seated him on one of the two glory-smitten summits of the poetic mountain, with Milton as his compeer, not rival. While the former darts himself forth, and passes into all the forms of human character and passion, the one Proteus of the fire and the flood; the other attracts all forms and things to himself, into the unity of his own ideal. All things and modes of action shape themselves anew in the being of Milton ; while Shakspeare becomes all things, yet for ever remaining himself. 2 O what great men hast thou not produced, England, my country !_Truly indeed
We must be free or die, who speak the tongue,
12 [“ Shakspeare's poetry is characterless, that is, it does not reflect the individual Shakspeare ; but John Milton is in every line of the Paradise Lost.” Table Talk, p. 67. Ed.]
13 [Wordsworth's P. W., iii., p. 190, edit. 1840. Ed.]
[Mr. Wordsworth’s noble Preface, often referred to in these pages, contains as high a tribute to
- that mighty orb of song The divine Milton
(to quote the author's words in another place), as one great poet could pay to another. (See also his three fine sonnets relating to Milton, Poet. Works, iii., pp. 188-9-90.) It would have been out of his way to speak of Milton's prose—though such prose none but the author of Paradise Lost could have written. If matter is spiritus in coagulo,* as some philosophers aver, this grand Miltonic prose may fancifully be called poësis
* “When Leibnitz calls matter the sleep-state of the Monads, or when Hemsterhuis names it-den geronnenen Geist-curdled spirit, -there lies a meaning in these expressions, &c." Transsc. Id., p. 190. See also Lit. Remains, ill., p. 339.
in coagulo. Yet I think it is more truly and properly prose than the high-strained passages of Jeremy Taylor.
Dante is by some accounted a greater poet than Milton, as being a greater philosopher; I think that he showed the philosopher in his poetry too much to be the best of poets, especially in the Paradiso A poet should avoid science, which is ever in a process of change and development, and abide by the fixed and eternal ; great part of the thirteenth century lore contained in Dante's poem is dead, and but for the poetic spices with which it is embalmed, and the swathe-bands of the poetic form in which it is preserved, would long since have been scattered abroad, like any unsepulchred dust and ashes. I am here speaking of physics and metaphysics : if wise reflections, just sentiments, and deep moral and spiritual maxims are referred to in this comparison, then surely the English poet has greatly the advantage in thought and still more in expression. Philosophy in the song of Milton is better harmonized with poetry than in that of Dante ; it is fused into the poetic mass by something accompanying it which appeals to the heart and moral being; or it is introduced obliquely, with a touch of tenderness, which brings it into unison with the human actions and passions of the poem, as in that beautiful passage,
Others apart sate on a hill retired *
which seeins so like a new voice of The Preacher, pathetically satirizing the efforts of man after speculative knowledge and insight. There is to be sure some fictitious or defunct astronomy and spherology in the great poem of Milton;t but it is lightly touched on and imaginatively presented; compare the passages that treat of these subjects in the Paradise Lost, especially that noble speech of the Angels in the eighth book, with the first and second cantos the Paradiso ; surely the later poetry is to the earlier as “ Hyperion to a Satyr," so far does it exceed in richness and poetic grace. Bizzarra Teologia! says a Commentator on a passage in the Purgatorio (C. iii., l. 18). Bizzarra Filosofia may we say of that in the Paradiso (C. I, at the end), which begins finely, but ends with making specific gravity depend upon original sin; unless nothing but a fanciful flight is intended. What a pomp of philosophy, exclaims M. Merian, speaking of this passage,-and all to usher in a foolery! “Every great poet is a profound philosopher:" that is, he sees deep into the life and soul of the things which are already known-and has a special mastery over them; but is not necessarily beyond his age in speculative science. Certainly this cannot be predicated either of Dante or of Milton.
I own myself of the vulgar herd in greatly preferring the first to the other sections of Dante's Poem-nay even venture to think, that if it had not been both more striking than those two other parts in its general structure and more abundant in passages of power and of beauty, the Di
* Paradise Lost, b. ij , l. 555-61. I Lines 39-178.
f Ib., b. iii., 1. 431, et seq.