« PreviousContinue »
that given in our Bibles, it exhibits, notwithstanding that much of the original grandeur is abated, the distinguishing marks of true poetry, and is, moreover, an exceedingly intelligible exposition of the prophecy. The difficulty of transfusing the spirit of the Hebrew original, where the translator subjects himself to the trammels of rhyme, is so great, that in no one instance, to the best of my belief, has a version been produced that will stand the most distant comparison with the severe and chaste simplicity of the Hebrew, which our translators have certainly preserved with singular felicity. Cowley has altogether failed in exhibiting the parallelisms so beautifully prominent in the original; indeed, I suspect he was utterly unconscious of their existence; still, he has contrived to give a tolerably vigorous representation of the poetic grace of this prophecy, though he has failed in giving a faithful exhibition of its poetic character. In our translation the poetical characteristics are preserved with extraordinary accuracy, and by them alone it will be perceived that the whole poem is remarkable for vast copiousness of imagery, and prodigious elevation of thought. The figures are admirably diversified, and yet all bear that generic relation by which they greatly aid each other in adding the charm of consistency, as well as of variety, to those glowing hues of expression by which the descriptions are enlivened. There is wonderful animation in the pictures, which are made the representations of sublime and ennobling thoughts; and it is astonishing how fervid the descriptions are, when we consider their brevity and the extreme
condensation of language in which they are, in most instances, conveyed. So much is frequently expressed in one single hemistich, and yet with such chaste propriety of embellishment, that we are astonished at the depth, as well as the extraordinary comprehensiveness, of our impressions. In the parallelisms, moreover, are observed the nicest gradations of sense, which they at once strengthen and adorn. These parallelisms may
be traced in almost every pair of lines, more or less developed, and nothing can exceed in severe but lofty grandeur, the two closing distichs.
Calmet, bearing testimony in favour of the sublimity of the Hebrew poets, says* _" There is no doubt but that the ancient Hebrews had their poets; and we have in the Bible a good number of canticles and other pieces of poetry. What seems very remarkable is, that their poetry is dedicated, by their application of it, to celebrating the greatness of God and his works. The Hebrew poets, so many of them, at least, whose works have come down to us, were men inspired of God. We find among them kings, lawgivers, prophets. Moses, Barak, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and most of the prophets, composed poems or pieces in verse, the most pompous, the most majestic, and the most sublime. The expression, the sentiments, the figures, the variety, the action, every thing is surprising.”
Every reader of taste must concur with this testimony of an accurate and ripe scholar in
• Dictionary of the Bible, art, Poets.
favour of the beauties of Hebrew poetry, which I trust have been exhibited in these pages.
In Dr. Gregory's translation of Bishop Lowth's Prælections, the following metrical paraphrase occurs. It has certainly much less vigour than Cowley's, though somewhat more elegance.
BALAAM'S THIRD PROPHECY.
In proud array thy tents expand,
How is the sublime simplicity of the original, as rendered in our admirable version, diluted, and its majestic vigour attenuated, in this metrical para phrase !
It is remarkable to observe how this prophecy harmonizes with the predictions of Jacob relative
to the increase, prosperity, and settlement in Canaan of the twelve tribes. The man who pronounced these divine oracles, it will be recollected, was an alien from the race of Israel, and one altogether hostile to their success. The manner in which his predictions were fulfilled in the subsequent history of this distinguished people, shows, beyond question, that Balaam was a true prophet. Although he no doubt studied the arts of sorcery, a practice evidently in great vogue at that time, and was employed, not in the capacity of a prophet, but of a magician, by the sovereign of Moab, he nevertheless was endowed with the gift of foretelling future events, as has been already shown; and to the dismay of his royal employer, and to his own extreme disappointment, confirmed the blessings promised to Israel in previous prophetic announcements, which in the issue so signally came to pass. This is altogether one of the most extraordinary facts in sacred history, and nothing can be a stronger voucher for the truth of the transactions stated in that treasury of revelation, than the circumstance of their being authenticated by the testimony of the very man whose interest it was rather to have denied than confirmed them by his own recorded attestation.
It may be worth while, by way of contrast to this sublime prophecy of the inspired bard of Mesopotamia, to conclude this volume with an extract from Milton's hymn on Christ's nativity, a truly sublime subject; of which hymn a modern critic, with whom I can by no means concur, has saidą“ There is no doubt that the prima stamina of the bard's divine epics are exhibited in this poem; but it has several peculiarities, which distinguish it from the poet's other compositions. It is more truly lyrical; the stanza is beautifully constructed; and there is a solemnity, a grandeur, and a swell of verse, which is magical. The images are magnificent, and they have this superiority of excellence, that none of them are merely descriptive, but have a mixture of intellectuality and spirituality.” We shall see, by an extract, how far this tumid and undiscriminating praise is justified:
The shepherds on the lawn,
Sat simply chatting in a rustic row ;
Was kindly come to live with them below:
As never was by mortal finger strook ;
As all their souls in blissful rapture took :
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heavenly close. This is the poetry of the immortal Milton; but how vastly inferior to that of the prophet of Pethor! Whatever may really be the merits of Milton's Hymn on the Nativity, so pompously extolled by Sir Egerton Brydges, of which the two stanzas just quoted form a part, I think it must be allowed by every reader of taste to be far-very far inferior to the poetry of the Bible.
END OF VOL. I.
J. BARFIELD, PRINTER, 91, WARDOUR STREET.