« PreviousContinue »
another term "eclogues,' Pliny' using the words “idyls' and "eclogues 'as synonymous. Now the word “eclogues' is the exact Greek equivalent of the English word 'selections, and is the term used by the Greek for what we should call elegant extracts.' But the diminutive term seems also to suggest the homely matter of idyl poetry, the simplicity of theme that contrasts with the grandeur supposed to be proper for the forms of epic, lyric, and dramatic. The use of a diminutive term, and its double suggestiveness, may fairly be paralleled by a modern poet's application of the word “trifles' to his compositions. It is true that different ages have different ideas as to what is grand and what is trifling. Usage however seems to indicate that idyl poetry treats, not war, nor heroic actions, nor even love as an enthralling passion, but the domestic details of shepherd life, love as a social incident, popular superstitions such as witchcraft. To say then that where the word “idyl’ is used an antithesis is intended between homely and heroic — this is the nearest approach we can make to a definition; and the adjective “idyllic' will suggest perfection on its side of simplicity. Two modern usages of the term are interesting. Tennyson has made a contribution to Arthurian epic. But as he designed independent episodes rather · than a continuous poem, and as he was to mingle the
1 Letters iv. 14.
heroic achievements of Arthur and his knights with the treatment of love and domestic relations, he had a double claim to entitle his poem Idyls of the King. Again, Wagner has given us in his Siegfried a romantic epic of ponderous grandeur. But when he takes the themes of this opera and intermingles them with a traditional cradle song to make a serenade for his wife in honour of their infant child, the exquisite morsel is appropriately named The Siegfried Idyl.
One point of general importance appears from the above discussion. The term “idyl’ is descriptive of the matter of a poem : as' to form it suggests nothing beyond fragmentariness or brevity. As a fact, the idyls of Theocritus must be classified under various headings. Most of them are amabæan dialogue; in the Feast of Adonis the dialogue amounts to a complete dramatic scene, the visit being fully presented from its commencement to its conclusion. The poem on The Sorceress is a lyric song with a refrain; Virgil's imitation of it makes a dramatic lyric, since the incantation is carried forward to its success in the return of the lover. The Hylas of Theocritus is an epic narrative. Other of his idyls are combinations of more than one literary form: number twenty-two is an epic of Castor and Pollux, breaking into dramatic dialogue in the middle; number eighteen is a bridal song, led up to by the poet's narrative introduction. It appears then that a collection of idyls will embrace poems of varied
literary forms, and that a single one of these poems may pass in its course from one form to another. So the present collection of Biblical Idyls includes the lyric idyl of Solomon's Song, and the narrative idyls of Ruth, Esther, and Tobit. And the first of these is sufficiently elaborate in its structure to exhibit dramatic epic and lyric in combination.
The Song of Songs, commonly known as Solomon's Song, is here presented as a lyric idyl. It is of unusual importance to determine the exact technical form of this work, for upon its correct classification will depend, not only lesser details, but the interpretation of the very story which the poem is to convey. And for arriving at the true classification we have to fall back upon general considerations, since there is nothing else in Hebrew literature with which comparison can be made.
The poem is on the face of it dramatic: there is both dialogue, and a story underlying the dialogue. From this fact the majority of commentators have jumped to the conclusion that Solomon's Song is a drama: ignoring the possibilities of interpretation that lie in the wide range of the lyric idyl. It must be remembered that lyric poetry is the most elastic medium of literature: a lyric poem may pass to and fro between epic description and dialogue presenta
tion and purely lyric meditation, without at any point ceasing to be lyric. A careful analyst will have noticed this in poetry, and to the most popular mind it is familiar how the chorus of an oratorio may now give forth description, and now take up the personality of parties in the story in order to express their triumph or despair. It is clear then that those who assume the idea of complete drama, and those on the other hand who keep their minds open to the wider possibilities of the lyric idyl, will have very different instruments of interpretation which they can bring to bear upon a given poem. In particular, there are two points of difference between drama and lyric idyl which will be fundamental to interpretation.
In a drama every portion must be spoken by a definite personage of the story (or a group of personages), and in a definite scene. In lyric poetry, even where this is cast in dialogue, the poet may himself break in upon the dialogue with his reflections; or absolute description, not connected with any personal speaker, may come in at any point. The refrains so common in all lyric poetry are usually parenthetic, and so disconnected from the dialogue or narrative at the points at which they occur. In Deborah's Song the description
Then the people of the LORD went down to the gates — is interrupted by the performers momentarily apostrophis. ing one another —
Men - Awake, awake, Deborah,
Awake, awake, utter a song:-
And lead thy captivity captive, etc.
In Theocritus we have seen how epic and dramatic may mingle in the same poem. And in the Indian poem so exquisitely translated by Sir Edwin Arnold under the title The Indian Song of Songs, besides snatches of narrative, the poet Jayadev is continually breaking in by name to make religious application of points reached in the dialogue of the personages in the story. In analysing the Hebrew poem then we must be prepared to find passages not forming part of the dialogue, but which are the minstrel's refrains breaking up his poem into parts, or pieces of epic description introducing a change of scene.
There is another difference between dramatic and lyric, still more important for its bearing upon interpretation. From the very nature of drama it follows that the details of incident underlying the words of the speeches must follow the order of time. Drama instead of narrating actually presents a story: and hence dramatic action can never go back. The corresponding lyric forms merely meditate upon the incidents, however they may use dramatic dialogue to make the meditation vivid: they can therefore refer to the different parts of the story in any order, passing from the later to the earlier, without any restriction as