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Thou hast no power nor may'st conceive of Mine,
The madman saith He said so; it is strange.' The spell which this new fact, in the physician's experience, exercises on his imagination, is most subtly and exquisitely portrayed. And throughout, the character, so faithfully conceived, completely informs the movement of the verse with its own spirit. We have no hurry, no gasps of utterance, but a work perfect in manner as in matter, grave and staid, the pauses answering to the pondering, and _altogether fine in expression as it is weighty in thought. This poem leads us up into the highest range of Mr. Browning's poetic powers. He has the true reverence for the Creator of all that beauty on which poetry is fed—the clearest of all the seeing faculties—and recognises the Master of the feast. His poetry, however, is not religious in a vague general way, nor dry through being doctrinal: it is, as in Christmas Eve' and Easter Day,' passionately alive with the most intense yearning for a personal relationship. In many places we shall find the influence of the unseen treated as a solemn verity—the dark disc of this life's orb edged with a touch of light from the next. But in the last-mentioned poem the mystery of the Incarnation is pondered and proclaimed in the most powerful way. In a Death in the Desert, there is a close grapple of thought with the Subject of Subjects. No one can understand Mr. Browning's poetry without having fully examined these two poems. The casual reader may possibly set the Christmas Eve down hastily as a strange mixture of grave matter and gay manner; a religious subject loosely treated with quips and cranks of irreverent rhyme. But this would be a mistake. The author has a sardonic way of conveying certain hints of the truth when no other way would be so effective. In this poem we have a contrast such as furnished a hint of the true grotesque in art.
But is the work of a man whose faith can afford the freaks of fancy.
The Death in the Desert' is one of Mr. Browning's finest poems ; a very lofty and solemn strain of religious thought. It is evident that he takes great interest in the stir of our time, the obstinate questionings of doubt, which will yet make the flame of faith burn up toward heaven more direct and clear
And he says his say emphatically on the side of belief. It is a poem for the profoundest thinkers, and yet a dramatic creation of exceeding beauty. It embodies the death of the beloved Apostle St. John in a cave of the desert, where he has been hidden from the persecution. This cham.
ber in the rock, a nestling-place of coolness and shadow, outside of which is the blinding white sand, the 'burning blue,' and the desert stillness, the waking up from his last trance to utter his last warning words of exhortation to the watchers listening round, are all rendered with impressive power. The dying man rises and dilates, “as on a wind of prophecy,' whilst in solemn vision his spirit ranges forward into the far-off time, when in many lands men will be saying, 'Did John live at all? and did he say he saw the veritable Christ?' And, as he grows more and more inspired, and the energy of his spirit appears to rend itself almost free from the earthy conditions, the rigid strength of thought, the inexorable logic, the unerring force of will, have all the increased might that we sometimes see in the dying. We have no space left to touch the argument, but we should greatly regret if the poem failed to be made known far and wide. After M. Renan's Life of Jesus, and the prelections of the Strasbourg school of theological thought, it should be welcome as it is worthy.
In the course of our explorations and explanations we have shown something of the poet's range, which is the result of peculiarity as well as of power. He carries along each line of the radius almost the same thoroughness of conception and surprising novelty of treatment. We have also shown that the obscurity is not always poetic incompleteness. It sometimes arises from the dramatic conditions. In support of this statement we may remind readers how much greater was the demand on their patience when Mr. Tennyson cast his poem Maud' in a dramatic mould, than with his previous poems. At other times it comes from the murky atmosphere in which the poet has had to take some of his portraits in mental photography; the mystery of the innermost life; the action of the invisible, which can only be apprehended dimly through the veil. His genius is flexible as it has been fertile. If he could have brought it to bear in a more ordinary way by illuminating the book of life with traits of our common human character, making the popular appeals to our home affections,-if he could have revealed to the many those rich colours in the common light of day, which have delighted the few in many a dark nook of nature and desert-place of the past, he would have been hailed long since as a true poet. His poetry is not to be dipped into or skimmed lightly with swallow-flights of attention. Its pearls must be dived for. It must be read, studied, and dwelt with for a while. The difficulties which arise from novelty must be encountered; the poetry must be thought over before its concentrated force is unfolded and its subtler qualities can be fully felt. Coming fresh from a great
deal of our nineteenth-century poetry to that of Mr. Browning, we are in a new world altogether, and one of the first things we are apt to do is to regret the charms of the old. But the new land is well worth exploring ; it possesses treasures that will repay us richly. The strangeness and its startling effects will gradually wear away, and there will be a growth of permanent beauty. With all its peculiarities, and all its faults, the poetry of Mr. Browning is thoroughly sanative, masculine, bracing in its influence. It breathes into modern verse a breath of new life and more vigorous health, with its aroma of a newly-turned and virgin soil.
There are plenty of poems for beginners. Simple lyrics like the * Cavalier Tunes,' brave ballads, and tender poems like · Evelyn Hope,' lead up to such fine romances as .Count Gismond' and the • Pied Piper;' these again conduct the reader to a gallery of portraits in Men and Women,' painted with the strength of Velasquez, the glow of Giorgione, or the tenderness of Correggio. No one is forced to plunge into the mysteries of Sordello' and get entangled there. Curiously enough, the author in arranging his latest edition has printed this poem last; the reader, if so minded, can reject it altogether. The mass of poems is crowned, as we have stated, with noble religious poetry, most suggestive and profound in thought, most Christian in feeling.
We conclude with the latter part of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.' The Piper had agreed with the mayor and magistrates, for a thousand guilders, to clear the town of rats, had accordingly by his music enticed all the rats into the Weser, where they were drowned, and had been contemptuously denied his stipulated reward ; whereupon he proceeds to take revenge:
• Once more he stept into the street;
And to his lips again
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Never gave the enraptured air)
cheeks and flaxen curls,
The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
My lame foot would be speedily cured, “ The music stopped and I stood still, “' And found myself outside the Hill, “ Left alone against my will, “ To go now limping as before “And never hear of that country more !”
Alas, alas for Hamelin !
There came into many a burgher's pate,
Opes to the Rich at as easy rate
Wherever it was men's lot to find him,
And bring the children behind him.
Should think their records dated duly
“ On the Twenty-second of July,
To shock with mirth a street so solemn;
They wrote the story on a column,