Page images
PDF
EPUB

The imagination of Southey is marked by similar traits; there is no flash, no scintillation about it, but a steady light as of day itself. As specimens of his best manner, I would mention the last stage of Thalaba's journey to the Domdaniel Caves, and, in the “Curse of Kehama,” the sea-palace of Baly, “ The Glen. doveer,” and “ The Ship of Heaven.” As Southey's poems are not very generally read, I will extract the two latter:

“THE SHIP OF HEAVEN.
“The ship of heaven, instinct with thought displayed
Its living sail and glides along the sky,

On either side, in wavy tide,
The clouds of morn along its path divide;
The winds that swept in wild career on high,
Before its presence check their charmed force;
The winds that, loitering, lagged along their course

Around the living bark enamored play,
Swell underneath the sail, and sing before its way.

“That bark in shape was like the furrowed shell

Wherein the sea-nymphs to their parent king,
On festal days their duteous offerings bring;
Its hue ? go watch the last green light
Ere evening yields the western sky to night,
Or fix upon the sun thy strenuous sight
Till thou hast reached its orb of chrysolite.

The sail, from end to end displayed,
Bent, like a rainbow, o'er the maid;

An angel's head with visual eye,
Through trackless space directs its chosen way;

Nor aid of wing, nor foot nor fin,
Requires to voyage o'er the obedient sky.
Smooth as the swan when not a breeze at even .

Disturbs the surface of the silver stream,
Through air and sunshine sails the ship of heaven.”

Southey professes to have borrowed the description of the Glendoveer from an old and forgotten book. He has given the prose extract in a note to the “Curse of Kehama,” and I think no one can compare the two without feeling that the true alchymy has been at work there. His poetry is a new and life-giving element to the very striking thoughts he borrowed. Charcoal and diamonds are not more unlike in their effect upon the observer,

"THE GLENDOVEER.

“Of human form divine was he,
The immortal youth of heaven who floated by,

Even such as that divinest form shall be
In those blest stages of our mortal race,

When no infirmity,
Low thought, nor base desire, nor wasting care
Deface the semblance of our heavenly sire-

The wings of eagle or of cherubim

Had seemed unworthy him;
Angelic power and dignity and grace
Were in his glorious pennons; from the neck
Down to the ankle reached their swelling web
Richer than robes of Tyrian dye, that deck

Imperial majesty:
Their color, like the winter's moonless sky
When all the stars of midnight's canopy
Shine forth; or like the azure deep at noon,
Reflecting back to heaven a brighter blue,
Such was their tint when closed, but when outspread,

The permeating light
Shed through their substance thin a varying hve;

Now bright as when the rose,
Beauteous as fragrant, gives to scent and sight
A like delight, now like the juice that flows

From Douro's generous vine,
Or ruby when with deepest red it glows;
Or as the morning clouds refulgent shine
When at forthcoming of the lord of day,

The orient, like a shrine,
Kindles as it receives the rising ray,

And heralding his way

Proclaims the presence of the power divine

Thus glorious were the wings
Of that celestial spirit, as he went
Disporting through his native element,

Nor these alone
The gorgeous beauties that they gave o view;
Through the broad membrane branched a pliant bone,

Spreading like fibres from their parent stem;
Its vines like interwoven silver shone;

Or as the chaster hue
Of pearls that grace some sultan's diadem
Now with slow stroke and strong, behold him smite

The buoyant air, and now in gentler flight

On motionless wing expanded, shoot along." All Southey's works are instinct, and replete with the experi. ences of piety, from that fine picture of natural religion, Joan of Arc's confession of faith, to that as noble sermon as ever was preached upon Christianity, the penitence of Roderic the Goth. This last is the most original and elevated in its design of all Southey's poems. In “ Thalaba” and “ Joan of Arc,” he had illustrated the power of faith ; in “Madoc” contrasted religion under a pure and simple form with the hydra ugliness of superstition. In “ Kehama” he has exhibited virtue struggling against the most dreadful inflictions with heavenly fortitude, and made manifest to us the angel-guards who love to wait on innocence and goodness. But in Roderic the design has even a higher scope, is more difficult of execution ; and, so far as I know, unique. The temptations which beset a single soul have been a frequent subject, and one sure of sympathy if treated with any power. Breathlessly we watch the conflict, with heartfelt anguish mourn defeat, or with heart-expanding triumph hail a conquest. But, where there has been defeat, to lead us back with the fallen one through the thorny and desolate paths of repent. ance to purification, to win not only our pity, but our sympathy, for one crushed and degraded by his own sin ; and finally, through his faithful though secret efforts to redeem the past, secure to him, justly blighted and world-forsaken as he is, not only our sorrowing love, but our respect ;this Southey alone has done, perhaps alone could do. As a scene of unrivalled ex. cellence, both for its meaning and its manner, I would mention that of Florinda's return with “ Roderic,” (who is disguised as a monk, and whom she does not know,) to her father ; when after such a strife of heart-rending words and heart-broken tears, they, exhausted, seat themselves on the bank of the little stream, and watch together the quiet moon. Never has Christianity spoken in accents of more penetrating tenderness since the promise was given to them that be weary and heavy-laden.

Of Coleridge I shall say little. Few minds are capable of fathoming his by their own sympathies, and he has left us no adequate manifestation of himself as a poet by which to judge him. For his dramas, I consider them complete failures, and more like visions than dramas. For a metaphysical mind like his to attempt that walk, was scarcely more judicious than it would be for a blind man to essay painting the bay of Naples. Many of his smaller pieces are perfect in their way, indeed no writer could excel him in depicting a single mood of mind, as Dejection, for instance. Could Shakspeare have surpassed these lines ?

“A grief without a pang, void, dark, and Jrear

A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear.

O Lady, in this wan and heartless mood,
To other thoughts by yonder throstle wooed,
All this long eve, so balmy and serene,

Have I been gazing on the western sky
And its peculiar tint of yellow green :

And still I gaze—and with how blank an eye!
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars; ..

Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen;
Yon crescent moon, as fixed as if it grew
In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;

I see them all, so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!

My genial spirits fail,

And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast ?

It were a vain endeavour,

Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the West,
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life whose fountains are within."

Give Coleridge a canvass, and he will paint a single mood as if his colors were made of the mind's own atoms. Here he is very unlike Southey. There is nothing of the spectator about Coleridge ; he is all life; not impassioned, not vehement, but searching, intellectual life, which seems “ listening through the frame” to its own pulses.

I have little more to say at present except to express a great, though not fanatical veneration for Coleridge, and a conviction that the benefits conferred by him on this and future ages are as yet incalculable. Every mind will praise him for what it can best receive from him. He can suggest to an infinite degree; he can inform, but he cannot reform and renovate. To the unprepared he is nothing, to the prepared, every thing. Of him may be said what he said of Nature,

“We receive but what we give, In kind though not in measure.” I was once requested, by a very sensible and excellent person, age to explain what is meant by “ Christabel” and “ The An. cient Mariner.” I declined the task. I had not then seen Cole. ridge's answer to a question of similar tenor from Mrs. Barbauld,

« PreviousContinue »