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"the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands "on high." The poetry of the scriptures is very different from modern poetry. It is the burst of inspiration. Bold sublimity, not correct elegance, is its character.
The several kinds of poetry, found in scripture, are chiefly the didactic, elegiac, pastoral, and lyric. The book of Proverbs is the principal instance of the didactic species of poetry. Of elegiac poetry, the lamentation of David over Jonathan is a very beautiful instance. Of pastoral poetry, the Song of Solomon is a high exemplification; and of lyric poetry, the Old Testament is full. The whole book of Psalms is a collection of sacred odes.
Among the composers of the sacred books there is an evident diversity of style. Of the sacred poets, the most eminent are the author of the book of Job, David, and Isaiah. In the compositions of David there is a great variety of manner. In the soft and tender he excels; and in his Psalms are many lofty passages. But in strength of description he yields to Job; in sublimity, to Isaiah. Without exception, Isaiah is the most sublime of all poets. Dr. Lowth compares Isaiah to Homer, Jeremiah to Simonides, and Ezekiel to Eschylus. Among the minor prophets, Hosea, Joel, Micah, Habakkuk, and especially Nahum, are distinguished for poetical spirit. In the prophecies of Daniel and Jonah there is no poetry.
The book of Job is extremely ancient; the author uncertain; and it is remarkable, that it has no connexion with the affairs or manners of the Hebrews. It is. the most descriptive of all the sacred poems. A peculiar glow of fancy and strength of description characterise the author; and no writer abounds so much in metaphors. He renders visible, whatever he treats. The scene is laid in the land of Uz, or Idumæa, which is a part of Arabia; and the imagery employed differs from that which is peculiar to the Hebrews.
OF all poetical works the epic poem is the most dignified. To contrive a story which is entertaining, important, and instructive; to enrich it with happy incidents; to enliven it by a variety of characters and descriptions; and to maintain a uniform propriety of sentiment,, and a due elevation of style, are the highest efforts of poetical genius,
- An epic poem is the recital of some illustrious en terprise in a poetical form. Epic poetry is of a moral nature; and tends to the promotion of virtue. With this view it acts by extending our ideas of perfection, and exciting admiration. Now this is accomplished only by proper representations of heroic deeds and virtuous characters. Valour, truth, justice, fidelity, friendship, piety, and magnanimity, are objects which the
epic muse presents to our minds in the most splendid and honourable colours.
Epic composition is distinguished from history by its poetical form, and its liberty of fiction. It is a more calm composition than tragedy. It requires a grave, equal, and supported dignity. On some occa sions it demands the pathetic and the violent; and it embraces a greater compass of time and action than dramatic writing admits.
The action or subject of an epic poem must have three properties. It must be one; it must be great; it must be interesting. One action or enterprise must constitute its subject. Aristotle insists on unity as essential to epic poetry; because independent facts never affect so deeply, as a tale that is one and connected. Virgil has chosen for his subject the establishment of Eneas in Italy; and the anger of Achilles, with its consequences, is the subject of the Iliad.
It is not however to be understood, that epic unity excludes all episodes. On the contrary, critics consider them as great ornaments of epic poetry. They diversify the subject, and relieve the reader by shifting the scene. Thus Hector's visit to Andromache in the Iliad, and Erminia's adventure with the shepherd in the seventh book of the Jerusalem, afford us a well-judged and pleasing retreat from camps and battles.
Secondly, the subject of an epic poem must be so great and splendid, as to fix attention, and to justify
the magnificent apparatus the poet bestows on it. The Subject should also be of ancient date. and Voltaire have transgressed this rule. By confining himself too strictly to historical truth, the former does not please; and the latter has improperly mingled well-known events with fictitious. Hence they exhibit not that greatness which the epic requires.
The third requisite in an epic subject is, that it be interesting. This depends in a great measure upon the choice of it. But it depends much more upon the skilful management of the poet. He must so frame his plan, as to comprehend many affecting incidents. He must sometimes dazzle with valiant achievements; sometimes he must be awful and august; often tender and pathetic; and he must sometimes give us gentle and pleasing scenes of love, friendship, and affection.
To render the subject interesting, much also depends upon the dangers and obstacles which must be encountered. It is by the management of these, that the poet must rouse attention, and hold his reader in suspense and agitation.
It is generally supposed by critics, that an epic poem should conclude successfully; as an unhappy conclusion depresses the mind. Indeed it is on the prosperous side, that epic poets generally conclude. But two authors of great name, Milton and Lucan, hold the contrary course. The one concludes with the sub
version of Roman liberty; and the other with the expulsion of man from Paradise.
No precise boundaries can be fixed for the duration of the epic action. The action of the Iliad lasts, according to Bossu, only forty-seven days. The action of the Odyssey extends to eight years and a half; and that of the Eneid includes about six years.
The personages in an epic poem should be proper and well supported. They should display the features of human nature; and may admit different degrees of virtue, and even vice; though the principal characters should be such as will raise admiration and love. Poetic characters are of two sorts, general and particular. General characters are such as are wise, brave, and virtuous, without any farther distinction. Par. ticular characters express the species of bravery, of wisdom, and of virtue, for which any one is remarkable. In this indiscrimination of characters, Homer excels. Tasso approaches the nearest to him in this respect; and Virgil is the most deficient.
Among epic poets it is the practice to select some personage as the hero of the tale. This renders the unity of the subject more perfect, and contributes highly to the interest and perfection of this species of writing. It has been asked, Who then is the hero of Paradise Lost? The devil, say some critics, who affect to be pleasant against Milton. But they mistake his intention by supposing that whoever is triumphant