Page images
PDF
EPUB

ried and ardent zeal. He bas studied, that he might the better succeed as a poet; he bas lived in such a way as was best suited for a poet; he bas observed man and nature as a poet. As a poet, he has traveled ; as a poet, has conversed ; as a poet, bas trained bis habits of feeling and of action. Since the days of Milton, no one of all the poets of Great Britain, unless we except Burns, bas been so entirely and in his whole being given to the muses, as has Wordsworth. The lide of Dryden's poetic feeling and his poetic labors, rose and fell with the money in bis purse, inversely indeed; and Thompson composed when now and then he ventured forth from the precincts of bis favorite Castle of Indolence,” and shook from his spirit its enchanting and dreamy spells. Wordsworth, on the other hand, has written because he esteems poetry a high and noble calling, with duties and responsibilities peculiar to itself; as carrying with itself, when it is rightly directed, purity and elevation, consolation and hope, into the heart of man. 'Why he so esteems it, may be easily and satisfactorily manifested.

Man has been clothed with sympathies such as were fitted to bind him to his fellow-man in bonds of love; and to maintain these in their simplicity and freshness, it is the glory of man, as well as one of the high ends of tbat training, which he is ever receiving at the hand of God. But the tendency of man is to degrade bimself by sensuality and cunning; to harden himself against all gentleness by a false and foolish pride, or the lying and bollow vanities of social life. To set himself against these tendencies, is one end aimed at and effected by the genuine poet. In all ages, the true poet awakens man from his brutishness, and excites bis kindlier and nobler feelings. All real poets bave done this; some without reflecting upon it as the effect of the strains which they sung; and others with the express design of promoting so poble an end. Shakspeare and Burus wrote because their own spirits bade them write; and gentle and elevated were the feelings 10 which they were by nature aituned; wbile Wordsworth, and others like bim, with the same poetic organization of soul, have employed their power with a more distinct reference in their own minds to the end which they hoped to accomplish.

Man has also been placed in the fair and lovely creation of his God: above him is bung in beauty awful and pure, the blue heavens; beneath his feet is spread out the fair earth, variegated with wonderful art. To set before himself these works of pature, and to present them a second time to bis own notice, even in colors more lively and in forms more beautiful than those with which these works are themselves clotbed, is one office of the poet. The impulse, 100, which leads man to attach bimself to the objects about him, to draw forth from his bosom his most cherished seelings, and to associate them with those objects in nature with which they seem to correspond, thus making these feelings more distinct and permanent; this impulse directs the poet to his duty and gives him much of his power. It is what we are, that makes nature what it is to us. The joyful spirit clothes all nature with smiles, and adorns her with colors bright and radiant. The man who looks on the works of God with a benignant aspect, and who with a spirit of love watches the “ goings on” of the universe, will see his kind feelings reflected back to biniself from all that he

beholds. Above and around him they are bung, as it were, in la beautiful and graceful wreaths, new-creating that earth which to another is but a bleak and cheerless dwelling-place.

Would we aught behold of higher worth
Than that inanimate cold world allowed

To the poor loveless, ever anxious crowd, *

Ah! from the soul itself must issuo forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud

Enveloping the earth.'
By giving ourselves in this way to nature ; by thus setting be-
sore our own eyes with greater distinctness what we ourselves are ;
the feelings thus portrayed are rendered stronger and more vigo-
rous. But nature is always before us. It is therefore most desi-
rable, that she should be ever teaching us; ever suggesting to us
associations of the purest and noblest kind. Do we ourselves lack
that creative power which can clothe ber will these associations ?
The poet will come in to our aid. From his own mind will be
spread over all nature associations more various and exciting than
any which we could originate; and he will teach us to look on her
with feelings like bis own. The lofty mountain-top, which awa-
kens in bin grander and more elevating emotions than it exciles
in the minds of the great mass of mankind, he should cause, by the
magic of his verse, to become 10 us all that it is to bimself. The
daisy upon the common-field should reach us the same sweet and
affecting lesson which bis own spirit has made it read to him.
The mouse, fleeing from its nest in ruins, should touch the hearts of
all as it did his

· Who walked in glory and in joy

Behind bis plough upon ibe inuuntain's side.' Who would not esteem himself rich indeed with a soul such as that poet possessed? Who would not exchange for it the wealth of the world and be the gainer too? To be able like him, to respond with gushing emotion to all that he saw and heard in the works of nature; to feel an overflow of joy and elevated emotion as he did when he read her ample paye,-is not this to be indeed blest? Who, as he walked forth with Scott on a bright inorning in spring, and saw how his whole soul was alive within him to the joys that the morning breeze, the rising mist, and the sparkling dew, awakened, -who would not say, ibat to possess : soul attuned like bis was to be rich indeed ? Let not the man who makes bimself a drudge to enrich himself with gold, influence us in the answer of our hearts. Neither let us be thus guided bp him who values the possession of a refined and poetic feeling because it is valued by others, and is the passport to the esteem and the notice of those who move in the circles of high life. It is a possession rich in itsell, but rarely proved to be so, even by the few witbin whose reach it is placed. The world, the wide world is before us in its beauty and its grandeur; but the soul, that should drink in this beauty, and be exalted by this grandeur, where is it among our whole race ? Now and then, when some novel and startling display of power or loveliness presents itself

, the soul awakes, but it is for the moment; while the coinmon heaven that is hung over us each morning, that is lighted up for us each night, and the common earth that is spread out before our vien each successive day,-on these we bestow scarcely a thought. What might not the earth and the heavens be to us, did ive but preserve through our lives the freshness of the feelings of admiring childhood, or that ivterest in these wonders which he feels who walks abroad from the confinement of a long and tedious sickness?

The poet of humanity awakens, sustains and elevates our sympathies as men. The poet of nature gives us quiet peace, as he stands by our side and directs our eye and our heart io all that is lovely upon earih; and be exalts and strengthens all that is noble within us, as he bids us gaze with adiniration on the sublime and more majestic of the works of God.

Man was also made to live by faith, to be controlled by a sense of unseen power and goodness, living on the earth as a stranger and pilgrim, looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." The poet performs his divinest work, when he aids man in ibis bis noblest life, when bis strains chasten and purify the soul with a devout humility, or when they awaken it to its warfare with evil, as with the spirit-stirring notes of a trumpet ; or when again, by their magic and awful power, they bring to his view the world unseen, and cause it to take hold on the soul, as does the world which we see.

Such, in the estimation of Mr. Wordsworth, are the high ends of poetry. To accomplish such ends as these, he deems an object worthy of aspiration by minds the most gifted; or rather, that it is only the most gifted ninds to whom God has assigned this high vocation. He tells us, that be judges “the art not lightly to be approached, and that the attainment of excellence in it may laudably be made the principal object of intellectual pursuit, by any man, who, with a reasonable consideration of circumstances, bas

faith in his own impulses." As he has looked back through the bistory of man, he has seen how the bard has been in every age a person of sacred and high estiination ; how in the ruder but not the less human periods of society, he has been thought to be gifted with a divine inspiration. He has seen how, “ with a soul of power,” as his only means of influence, he has softened and subdued the harsh and stern by nature,-how he has ibrown new hues over the common earth, and has given a mayic beauty to the overhanging heaven, and how also he has opened to man a view of the world unseen, and has cheered him bis

way

thither by his songs of joy and praise. To sustain wortbily a character so sacred as this, has been the high aim of bis life. To be a poet, was the aspiration of his youth. To be a poet indeed, has de labored with the vigorous energy and the sober earnestness of his manhood; and in poetry he is now in a green old age, toiling with a power that has been chastened, matured and perfected, by the hand of time. We quote here his own words, as an exhibition of his views

on

of poetry :

• Blessings be with them, and eternal praise,
Who gave us nobler loves and nobler cares,
The Poets; who on earth have made us heirs
Of truth and pure delight, by heavenly lays.
0! might my name be number'd among theirs,

Then gladly would I end my mortal days.' vol. ii. p. 280.
And again :

• He serves the Muses erringly and ill,
Whose aim is pleasure light and fugitive.
O that my mind were equal to fulfill
The comprehensive mandate which they give.' vol. ji. p. 167.

Would that those who inflict on us each week some new volume of verses, could be brought into the stern and reproving presence of one who serves the Muses with aims as high, and with a reverence as sacred, as does Wordsworih. Would that they could be taught by his example, that to be a poet in reality, demands severe thought, habits of feeling that are nobler and more refined than fall to the lot of most men, and more than all, a purpose ruling the heart and directing the powers - which aims at enduring fame and abiding influence. Would that he could be placed at the foot of Parnassus, to repel those who would step within her inclosures with a mind untaught, and therefore vain,— with a soul in which no power abides; and who, as they cover the sacred mount with their vulgar and noisy throng, have made the name of poet to become almost a term of reproach.

Hitherto we have spoken not of the merits of Wordsworth as a poet, but of the estination in which he holds the art,—not of the success with which he has realized his aims, but of the elevated character of the aims which he has been bold to avow. Tbos who would understand more fully what these airns are, and wouk more vividly realize to themselves all that they are in the micdc the poet bimsell, may find them in the several introductions to be more important works, and may gather them in all their freshoes from those works themselves.

For the information of such as have not yet become famia with his writings, we would say to them at the outset, that in ad tion to the other disadvantages under which he has labored, in isning his way to popular favor, not the least serious is to be found it the langage in which he clothes his thoughts. We do not allude bere at all to his peculiar views of poetic diction, as they have been exen plified in their most obnoxious forın; but to his style, as it is seer in the natural and easy flow of his poetry and prose. His reades almost invariably find, at first, little that is startling or bigus wrought in bis words or sentences. His style, in its first appear ance, is plain and unadorved, perhaps somewbat tedious and defcient in spirit

. This is the impression which, at the present day, every writer of pure and chaste English must expect to make 09 the great mass of his readers. Let not such an one, if it is bis great object to be popular, think it worth his while to consume kis own time in deciding which of two words or two forms of expression is to be preferred; for he may rely upon it, that his readers will not consume theirs in marking that felicity or purity of language, which has cost him protracied and careful efforts. In our own estimation, as a writer of English, both in poetry and prose, Wordsworth deserves the highest rank. His use of the English tongue is marked by uncommon accuracy and propriety,-generally by a graceful ease, while his words are compacted into condensed and well-molded sentences. Occasionally, we consess, he is awkward and lumbering, and sometimes negligent and careless. His style is not noticed, and this is its merit and its grace. It is the transparent vehicle, the crystal shrine, as it were, of the thoughts which it embodies. But because it is so unnoticeable, its readers, as we have intimated, are not unfrequently disappointed ; and those who read poetry as it happens, 10 relieve the tedium of a leisure hour, do not find in it the stimulus of excitement. Let all such blame themselves, if they do not see in the style of Wordsworth a skill in the use of language, such as an attentive study of its porrers alone can give, and a felicity so refined, that it escapes the notice of those who have not also been attentive observers of what is indeed excellent in style. It is only when we place Wordsworth by a writer as careless and hasty as Cowper, that we see the marked superiority of the former, both in the general and even-toned course of his plainer passages, and in the higher efforts of bis lofti

[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »