On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May

The sun looked over the highest hills,
And down in the vales looked he;
And sprang up blithe all things of life,
And put forth their energy;
The flowers creeped out their tender cups,
And offered their dewy fee;
And rivers and rills they shimmered along
Their winding ways to the sea;
And the little birds their morning song
Trilled forth from every tree,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

Lord Thomas he rose and donned his clothes;
For he was a sleepless man:
And ever he tried to change his thoughts,
Yet ever they one way ran
He to catch the breeze through the apple trees,
By the orchard path did stray,
Till he was aware of a lady there
Came walking adown that way:
Out gushed the song the trees among
Then soared and sank away,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

With eyes down-cast care-slow she came,
Heedless of shine or shade,
Or the dewy grass that wetted her feet,
And heavy her dress all made:
Oh trembled the song the trees among,
And all at once was stayed,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

Lord Thomas he was a truth-fast knight,
And a calm-eyed man was he.
He pledged his troth to his mother's maid
A damsel of low degree:
He spoke her fair, he spoke her true
And well to him listened she.
He gave her a kiss, she gave him twain
All beneath an apple tree:
The little birds trilled, the little birds filled
The air with their melody,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

A goodly sight it was, I ween,
This loving couple to see,
For he was a tall and a stately man,
And a queenly shape had she.
With arms each laced round other's waist,
Through the orchard paths they tread
With gliding pace, face mixed with face,
Yet never a word they said:
Oh! soared the song the birds among,
And seemed with a rapture sped,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

The dew-wet grass all through they pass,
The orchard they compass round;
Save words like sighs and swimming eyes
No utterance they found.
Upon his chest she leaned her breast,
And cast a look so sad, that shook
Him all with the meaning said:
Oh hushed was the song the trees among,
As over there sailed a gled,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

Then forth with a faltering voice there came,
"Ah would Lord Thomas for thee
That I were come of a lineage high,
And not of a low degree."
Lord Thomas her lips with his fingers touched,
And stilled her all with his ee':
"Dear Ella! Dear Ella!" he said,
"Beyond all my ancestry
In this dower of thine--that precious thing,
Dear Ella, thy purity.
Thee will I wed--lift up thy head--
All I have I give to thee--
Yes--all that is mine is also thine--
My lands and my ancestry."
The little birds sand and the orchard rang
With a heavenly melody,
On a Whit-sunday morn in the month of May.

Modern Giants.

Yes! there are Giants on the earth in these days; but it is their great bulk, and the nearness of our view, which prevents us from perceiving their grandeur. This is how it is that the glory of the present is lost upon the contemporaries of the greatest men; and, perhaps this was Swift's meaning, when he said that Gulliver could not discover exactly what it was that strode among the corn-ridges in the Brobdignagian field: thus, we lose the brightness of things of our own time in consequence of their proximity.

It is of the development of our individual perceptions, and the application thereof to a good use, that the writer humbly endeavours to treat. We will for this purpose take as an example, that which may be held to indicate the civilization of a period more than any thing else; namely, the popular perception of the essentials of Poetry; and endeavour to show that while the beauties of old writers are acknowledged, (tho' not in proportion to the attention of each individual in his works to nature alone) the modern school is contemned and unconsidered; and also that much of the active poetry of modern life is neglected by the majority of the writers themselves.

There seems to be an opinion gaining ground fast, in spite of all the shaking of conventional heads, that the Poets of the present day are equal to all others, excepting one: however this may be, it is certain we are not fair judges, because of the natural reason stated before; and there is decidedly one great fault in the moderns, that not only do they study models with which they can never become intimately acquainted, but that they neglect, or rather reject as worthless, that which they alone can carry on with perfect success: I mean the knowledge of themselves, and the characteristics of their own actual living. Thus, if a modern Poet or Artist (the latter much more culpably errs) seeks a subject exemplifying charity, he rambles into ancient Greece or Rome, awakening not one half the sympathy in the spectator, as do such incidents as may be seen in the streets every day. For instance; walking with a friend the other day, we met an old woman, exceedingly dirty, restlessly pattering along the kerb of a crowded thoroughfare, trying to cross: her eyes were always wandering here and there, and her mouth was never still; her object was evident, but for my own part, I must needs be fastidious and prefer to allow her to take the risk of being run over, to overcoming my own disgust. Not so my friend; he marched up manfully, and putting his arm over the old woman's shoulder, led her across as carefully as though she were a princess. Of course, I was ashamed: ashamed! I was frightened; I expected to see the old woman change into a tall angel and take him off to heaven, leaving me her original shape to repent in. On recovering my thoughts, I was inclined to take up my friend and carry him home in triumph, I felt so strong. Why should not this thing be as poetical as any in the life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary or any one else? for, so we look at it with a pure thought, we shall see about it the same light the Areopagite saw at Jerusalem surround the Holy Virgin, and the same angels attending and guarding it.

And there is something else we miss; there is the poetry of the things about us; our railways, factories, mines, roaring cities, steam vessels, and the endless novelties and wonders produced every day; which if they were found only in the Thousand and One Nights, or in any poem classical or romantic, would be gloried over without end; for as the majority of us know not a bit more about them, but merely their names, we keep up the same mystery, the main thing required for the surprise of the imagination.

Next to Poetry, Painting and Music have most power over the mind; and how do you apply this influence? In what direction is it forced? Why, for the last, you sit in your drawing-rooms, and listen to a quantity of tinkling of brazen marches of going to war; but you never see before your very eyes, the palpable victory of leading nature by her own power, to a conquest of blessings; and when the music is over, you turn to each other, and enthusiastically whisper, "How fine!"--You point out to others, (as if they had no eyes) the sentiment of a flowing river with the moon on it, as an emblem of the after-peace, but you see not this in the long white cloud of steam, the locomotive pours forth under the same moon, rushing on; the perfect type of the same, with the presentment of the struggle beforehand. The strong engine is never before you, sighing all night, with the white cloud above the chimney-shaft, escaping like the spirits Solomon put his seal upon, in the Arabian Tales; these mightier spirits are bound in a faster vessel; and then let forth, as of little worth, when their work is done.

The Earth shakes under you, from the footfall of the Genii man has made, and you groan about the noise. Vast roads draw together the Earth, and you say how they spoil the prospect, which you never cared a farthing about before.

You revel in Geology: but in chemistry, the modern science, possessing thousands of powers as great as any used yet, you see no glory:--the only thought is so many Acids and Alkalies. You require a metaphor for treachery, and of course you think of our puny old friend the Viper; but the Alkaline, more searching and more unknown, that may destroy you and your race, you have never heard of,--and yet this possesses more of the very quality required, namely, mystery, than any other that is in your hands.

The only ancient character you have retained in its proper force is Love; but you seem never to see any light about the results of long labour of mind, the most intense Love. Devotedness, magnanimity, generosity, you seem to think have left the Earth since the Crusades. In fact, you never go out into Life: living only in the past world, you go on repeating in new combinations the same elements for the same effect. You have taught an enlightened Public, that the province of Poetry is to reproduce the Ancients; not as Keats did, with the living heart of our own Life; but so as to cause the impression that you are not aware that they had wives and families like yourselves, and laboured and rested like us all.

The greatest, perhaps, of modern poets seeming to take refuge from this, has looked into the heart of man, and shown you its pulsations, fears, self-doubts, hates, goodness, devotedness, and noble world-love; this is not done under pretty flowers of metaphor in the lispings of a pet parson, or in the strong but uncertain fashion of the American school; still less in the dry operose quackery of professed doctors of psychology, mere chaff not studied from nature, and therefore worthless, never felt, and therefore useless; but with the firm knowing hand of the anatomist, demonstrating and making clear to others, that the knowledge may be applied to purpose. All this difficult task is achieved so that you may read till your own soul is before you, and you know it; but the enervated public complains that the work is obscure forsooth: so we are always looking for green grass--verdant meads, tall pines, vineyards, etc., as the essentials of poetry; these are all very pretty and very delicate, the dust blows not in your eyes, but Chaucer has told us all this, and while it was new, far better than any one else; why are we not to have something besides? Let us see a little of the poetry of man's own works,

"Visibly in his garden walketh God."

The great portion of the public take a morbid delight in such works as Frankenstein, that "Poor, impossible moster abhorred," who would be disgusting if he were not so extremely ludicrous: and all this search after impossible mystery, such trumpery! growing into the popular taste, is fed with garbage; doing more harm than all the preachings and poundings of optimistic Reviews will be able to remedy in an hundred years.

The study of such matters as these does other harm than merely poisoning the mind in one direction; it renders us sceptical of virtue in others, and we lose the power of pure perception. So-- reading the glorious tale of Griselda and looking about you, you say there never was such a woman; your wise men say she was a fool; are there no such fools round about you? pray look close:- -so the result of this is, you see no lesson in such things, or at least cannot apply it, and therefore the powers of the author are thrown away. Do you think God made Boccaccio and Chaucer to amuse you in your idle hours, only that you might sit listening like crowned idiots, and then debate concerning their faithfulness to truth? You never can imagine but they knew more of nature than any of us, or that they had less reverence for her.

In reference to Painting, the Public are taught to look with delight upon murky old masters, with dismally demoniac trees, and dull waters of lead, colourless and like ice; upon rocks that make geologists wonder, their angles are so impossible, their fractures are so new. Thousands are given for uncomfortable Dutch sun-lights; but if you are shown a transcript of day itself, with the purple shadow upon the mountains, and across the still lake, you know nothing of it because your fathers never bought such: so you look for nothing in it; nay, let me set you in the actual place, let the water damp your feet, stand in the chill of the shadow itself, and you will never tell me the colour on the hill, or where the last of the crows caught the sinking sunlight. Letting observation sleep, what can you know of nature? and you are a judge of landscape indeed. So it is that the world is taught to think of nature, as seen through other men's eyes, without any reference to its own original powers of perception, and much natural beauty is lost.

To the Castle Ramparts.

The Castle is erect on the hill's top,
To moulder there all day and night: it stands
With the long shadow lying at its foot.
That is a weary height which you must climb
Before you reach it; and a dizziness
Turns in your eyes when you look down from it,
So standing clearly up into the sky.

I rose one day, having a mind to see it.
'Twas on a clear Spring morning, and a blackbird
Awoke me with his warbling near my window:
My dream had fashioned this into a song
That some one with grey eyes was singing me,
And which had drawn me so into myself
That all the other shapes of sleep were gone:
And then, at last, it woke me, as I said.
The sun shone fully in on me; and brisk
Cool airs, that had been cold but for his warmth,
Blow thro' the open casement, and sweet smells
Of flowers with the dew yet fresh upon them,
Rose-buds, and showery lilacs, and what stayed
Of April wallflowers.

I set early forth,
Wishing to reach the Castle when the heat
Should weigh upon it, vertical at noon.
My path lay thro' green open fields at first,
With now and then trees rising statelily
Out of the grass; and afterwards came lanes
Closed in by hedges smelling of the may,
And overshadowed by the meeting trees.
So I walked on with none but pleasant thoughts;
The Spring was in me, not alone around me,
And smiles came rippling o'er my lips for nothing.
I reached at length,--issuing from a lane
Which wound so that it seemed about to end
Always, yet ended not for a long while,--
A space of ground thick grassed and level to
The overhanging sky and the strong sun:
Before me the brown sultry hill stood out,
Peaked by its rooted Castle, like a part
Of its own self. I laid me in the grass,
Turning from it, and looking on the sky,
And listening to the humming in the air
That hums when no sound is; because I chose
To gaze on that which I had left, not that
Which I had yet to see. As one who strives
After some knowledge known not till he sought,
Whose soul acquaints him that his step by step
Has led him to a few steps next the end,
Which he foresees already, waits a little
Before he passes onward, gathering
Together in his thoughts what he has done.

Rising after a while, the ascent began.
Broken and bare the soil was; and thin grass,
Dry and scarce green, was scattered here and there
In tufts: and, toiling up, my knees almost
Reaching my chin, one hand upon my knee,
Or grasping sometimes at the earth, I went,
With eyes fixed on the next step to be taken,
Not glancing right or left; till, at the end,
I stood straight up, and the tower stood straight up
Before my face. One tower, and nothing more;
For all the rest has gone this way and that,
And is not anywhere, saving a few
Fragments that lie about, some on the top,
Some fallen half down on either side the hill,
Uncared for, well nigh grown into the ground.
The tower is grey, and brown, and black, with green
Patches of mildew and of ivy woven
Over the sightless loopholes and the sides:
And from the ivy deaf-coiled spiders dangle,
Or scurry to catch food; and their fine webs
Touch at your face wherever you may pass.
The sun's light scorched upon it; and a fry
Of insects in one spot quivered for ever,
Out and in, in and out, with glancing wings
That caught the light, and buzzings here and there;
That little life which swarms about large death;
No one too many or too few, but each
Ordained, and being each in its own place
. The ancient door, cut deep into the wall,
And cramped with iron rusty now and rotten,
Was open half: and, when I strove to move it
That I might have free passage inwards, stood
Unmoved and creaking with old uselessness:
So, pushing it, I entered, while the dust
Was shaken down upon me from all sides.
The narrow stairs, lighted by scanty streaks
That poured in thro' the loopholes pierced high up,
Wound with the winding tower, until I gained,
Delivered from the closeness and the damp
And the dim air, the outer battlements.

There opposite, the tower's black turret-girth
Suppressed the multiplied steep chasm of fathoms,
So that immediately the fields far down
Lay to their heaving distance for the eyes,
Satisfied with one gaze unconsciously,
To pass to glory of heaven, and to know light.
Here was no need of thinking:--merely sense
Was found sufficient: the wind made me free,
Breathed, and returned by me in a hard breath:
And what at first seemed silence, being roused
By callings of the cuckoo from far off,
Resolved itself into a sound of trees
That swayed, and into chirps reciprocal
On each side, and revolving drone of flies.
Then, stepping to the brink, and looking sheer
To where the slope ceased in the level stretch
Of country, I sat down to lay my head
Backwards into a single ivy-bush
Complex of leaf. I lay there till the wind
Blew to me, from a church seen miles away,
Half the hour's chimes.

Great clouds were arched abroad
Like angels' wings; returning beneath which,
I lingered homewards. All their forms had merged
And loosened when my walk was ended; and,
While yet I saw the sun a perfect disc,
There was the moon beginning in the sky.

Pax Vobis.

'Tis of the Father Hilary.
He strove, but could not pray: so took
The darkened stair, where his feet shook
A sad blind echo. He kept up
Slowly. 'Twas a chill sway of air
That autumn noon within the stair,
Sick, dizzy, like a turning cup.
His brain perplexed him, void and thin:
He shut his eyes and felt it spin;
The obscure deafness hemmed him in.
He said: "the air is calm outside."

He leaned unto the gallery
Where the chime keeps the night and day:
It hurt his brain--he could not pray.
He had his face upon the stone:
Deep 'twixt the narrow shafts, his eye
Passed all the roofs unto the sky
Whose greyness the wind swept alone.
Close by his feet he saw it shake
With wind in pools that the rains make:
The ripple set his eyes to ache.
He said, "Calm hath its peace outside."
He stood within the mystery
Giving God's blessed Eucharist:
The organ and the chaunt had ceased:
A few words paused against his ear,
Said from the altar: drawn round him,
The silence was at rest and dim.
He could not pray. The bell shook clear
And ceased. All was great awe,--the breath
Of God in man, that warranteth
Wholly the inner things of Faith.
He said: "There is the world outside."
Ghent: Church of St. Bavon.

A Modern Idyl.

"Pride clings to age, for few and withered powers,
Which fall on youth in pleasures manifold,
Like some bright dancer with a crowd of flowers
And scented presents more than she can hold:

"Or as it were a child beneath a tree,
Who in his healthy joy holds hand and cap
Beneath the shaken boughs, and eagerly
Expects the fruit to fall into his lap."

So thought I while my cousin sat alone,
Moving with many leaves in under tone,
And, sheened as snow lit by a pale moonlight
, Her childish dress struck clearly on the sight:
That, as the lilies growing by her side
Casting their silver radiance forth with pride,
She seemed to dart an arrowy halo round,
Brightening the spring time tress, brightening the ground;
And beauty, like keen lustre from a star,
Glorified all the garden near and far.
The sunlight smote the grey and mossy wall
Where, 'mid the leaves, the peaches one and all,
Most like twin cherubim entranced above,
Leaned their soft cheeks together, pressed in love.

As the child sat, the tendrils shook round her;
And, blended tenderly in middle air,
Gleamed the long orchard through the ivied gate:
And slanting sunbeams made the heart elate,
Startling it into gladness like the sound,
Which echo childlike mimicks faintly round
Blending it with the lull of some far flood,
Of one long shout heard in a quiet wood.
A gurgling laugh far off the fountain sent,
As if the mermaid shape that in it bent
Spoke with subdued and faintest melody:
And birds sang their whole hearts spontaneously.

When from your books released, pass here your hours,
Dear child, the sweet companion of these flowers,
These poplars, scented shrubs, and blossomed boughs
Of fruit-trees, where the noisy sparrows house,
Shaking from off the leaves the beaded dew.
Now while the air is warm, the heavens blue,
Give full abandonment to all your gay
Swift childlike impulses in rompish play;
The while your sisters in shrill laughter shout,
Whirling above the leaves and round about,
Until at length it drops behind the wall,
With awkward jerks, the particoloured ball:
Winning a smile even from the stooping age
Of that old matron leaning on her page,
Who in the orchard takes a stroll or two,
Watching you closely yet unseen by you.

Then, tired of gambols, turn into the dark
Fir-skirted margins of your father's park;
And watch the moving shadows, as you pass,
Trace their dim network on the tufted grass,
And how on birch-trunks smooth and branches old,
The velvet moss bursts out in green and gold,
Like the rich lustre full and manifold
On breasts of birds that star the curtained gloom
From their glass cases in the drawing room.
Mark the spring leafage bend its tender spray
Gracefully on the sky's aerial grey;
And listen how the birds so voluble
Sing joyful paeans winding to a swell,
And how the wind, fitful and mournful, grieves
In gusty whirls among the dry red leaves;
And watch the minnows in the water cool,
And floating insects wrinkling all the pool.

So in your ramblings bend your earnest eyes.
High thoughts and feelings will come unto you,
Gladness will fall upon your heart like dew,
Because you love the earth and love the skies.

Fair pearl, the pride of all our family:
Girt with the plenitude of joys so strong,
Fashion and custom dull can do no wrong:
Nestling your young face thus on Nature's knee.

"Jesus Wept."

Mary rose up, as one in sleep might rise,
And went to meet her brother's Friend: and they
Who tarried with her said: "she goes to pray
And weep where her dead brother's body lies."
So, with their wringing of hands and with sighs,
They stood before Him in the public way.
"Had'st Thou been with him, Lord, upon that day,
He had not died," she said, drooping her eyes.
Mary and Martha with bowed faces kept
Holding His garments, one on each side.--"Where
Have ye laid him?" He asked. "Lord, come and see."
The sound of grieving voices heavily
And universally was round Him there,
A sound that smote His spirit. Jesus wept.

Sonnets for Pictures.

A Virgin and Child, by Hans Memmeling; in the Academy of Bruges.

Mystery: God, Man's Life, born into man
Of woman. There abideth on her brow
The ended pang of knowledge, the which now
Is calm assured. Since first her task began,
She hath known all. What more of anguish than
Endurance oft hath lived through, the whole space
Through night till night, passed weak upon her face
While like a heavy flood the darkness ran?
All hath been told her touching her dear Son,
And all shall be accomplished. Where he sits
Even now, a babe, he holds the symbol fruit
Perfect and chosen. Until God permits,
His soul's elect still have th absolute
Harsh nether darkness, and make painful moan.

A Marriage of St. Katharine, by the same; in the Hospital of St. John at Bruges.

Mystery: Katharine, the bride of Christ.
She kneels, and on her hand the holy Child
Setteth the ring. Her life is sad and mild,
Laid in God's knowledge--ever unenticed
From Him, and in the end thus fitly priced.
Awe, and the music that is near her, wrought
Of Angels, hath possessed her eyes in thought:
Her utter joy is her's, and hath sufficed.
There is a pause while Mary Virgin turns
The leaf, and reads. With eyes on the spread book,
That damsel at her knees reads after her.
John whom He loved and John His harbinger
Listen and watch. Whereon soe'er thou look,
The light is starred in gems, and the gold burns.

A Dance of Nymphs, by Andrea Mantegna; in the Louvre.

(_dingbat_ It is necessary to mention, that this picture would appear to have been in the artist's mind an allegory, which the modern spectator may seek vainly to interpret.)

Scarcely, I think; yet it indeed may be
The meaning reached him, when this music rang
Sharp through his brain, a distinct rapid pang,
And he beheld these rocks and that ridg'd sea.
But I believe he just leaned passively,
And felt their hair carried across his face
As each nymph passed him;
nor gave ear to trace
How many feet, nor bent assuredly
His eyes from the blind fixedness of thought
To see the dancers. It is bitter glad
Even unto tears. Its meaning filleth it,
A portion of most secret life: to wit:
Each human pulse shall keep the sense it had
With all, though the mind's labour run to nought.
A Venetian Pastoral, by Giorgione; in the Louvre.

(_dingbat_ In this picture, two cavaliers and an undraped woman are seated in the grass, with musical instruments, while another woman dips a vase into a well hard by, for water.)

Water, for anguish of the solstice,--yea,
Over the vessel's mouth still widening
Listlessly dipt to let the water in
With slow vague gurgle. Blue, and deep away,
The heat lies silent at the brink of day.
Now the hand trails upon the viol-string
That sobs; and the grown faces cease to sing,
Mournful with complete pleasure. Her eyes stray
In distance; through her lips the pipe doth creep
And leaves them pouting; the green shadowed grass
Is cool against her naked flesh. Let be:
Do not now speak unto her lest she weep,
Nor name this ever. Be it as it was:
Silence of heat, and solemn poetry.

"Angelica rescued from the Sea-monster," by Ingres; in the Luxembourg.

A remote sky, prolonged to the sea's brim:
One rock-point standing buffetted alone,
Vexed at its base with a foul beast unknown,
Hell-spurge of geomaunt and teraphim:
A knight, and a winged creature bearing him,
Reared at the rock: a woman fettered there,
Leaning into the hollow with loose hair
And throat let back and heartsick trail of limb.
The sky is harsh, and sea shrewd and salt.
Under his lord, the griffin-horse ramps blind
With rigid wings and tail. The spear's lithe stem
Thrills in the roaring of those jaws: behind,
The evil length of body chafes at fault.
She doth not hear nor see--she knows of them.

The same.

Clench thine eyes now,--'tis the last instant, girl:
Draw in thy senses, set thy knees, and take
One breath for all: thy life is keen awake,--
Thou may'st not swoon. Was that the scattered whirl
Of its foam drenched thee?--or the waves that curl
And split, bleak spray wherein thy temples ache?--
Or was it his the champion's blood to flake
Thy flesh?--Or thine own blood's anointing, girl?....
....Now, silence; for the sea's is such a sound
As irks not silence; and except the sea,
All is now still. Now the dead thing doth cease
To writhe, and drifts. He turn to her: and she
Cast from the jaws of Death, remains there, bound,
Again a woman in her nakedness.

Papers of the "M. S. Society."

No. IV.

I'm the king of the Cadaverals,
I'm spectral President;
And, all from east to occident,
There's not a man whose dermal walls
Contain so narrow intervals,
so lank a resident.

Look at me and you shall see
The ghastliest of the ghastly;
The eyes that have watched a thousand years,
The forehead lined with a thousand cares,
The seaweed-character of hairs!--
You shall see and you shall see,
Or you may hear, as I can feel,
When the winds batter, how these parchments clatter,
And the beautiful tenor that's ever ringing
When thro' the Seaweed the breeze is singing:
And you should know, I know a great deal,
When the bacchi arcanum I clutch and gripe,
I know a great deal of wind and weather
By hearing my own cheeks slap together
A-pulling up a pipe.

I believe--and I conceive
I'm an authority
In all things ghastly,
First for tenuity
For stringiness secondly,
And sallowness lastly
I say I believe a cadaverous man
Who would live as long and as lean as he can
Should live entirely on bacchi
On the bacchic ambrosia entirely feed him;
When living thus, so little lack I,
So easy am I, I'll never heed him
Who anything seeketh beyond the Leaf:
For, what with mumbling pipe-ends freely,
And snuffing the ashes now and then,
I give it as my firm belief
One might go living on genteelly
To the age of an antediluvian.
This from the king to each spectral Grim--
Mind, we address no bibbing smoker!
Tell not us 'tis as broad as it's long,
We've no breadth more than a leathern thong
Tanned--or a tarnished poker:
Ye are also lank and slim?--
Your king he comes of an ancient line
Which "length without breadth" the Gods define,
And look ye follow him!
Lanky lieges! the Gods one day
Will cut off this line, as geometers say,
Equal to any given line:--
_***_ PI,--PE--their hands divine
Do more than we can see:
They cut off every length of clay
Really in a most extraordinary way--
They fill your bowls up--Dutch C'naster,
Shag, York River
--fill 'em faster,
Fill 'em faster up, I say.
What Turkey, Oronoko, Cavendish!
There's the fuel to make a chafing dish,
A chafing dish to peel the petty
Paint that girls and boys call pretty
Peel it off from lip and cheek:
We've none such here; yet if ye seek
An infallible test for a raw beginner,
Mundungus will always discover a sinner.

Now ye are charged, we give the word
Light! and pour it thro' your noses,
And let it hover and lodge in your hair
Bird-like, bird-like--You're aware
Anacreon had a bird--
A bird! and filled his bowl with roses.
Ha ha! ye laugh in ghastlywise,
And the smoke comes through your eyes,
And you're looking very grim,
And the air is very dim,
And the casual paper flare
Taketh still a redder glare.

Now thou pretty little fellow,
Now thine eyes are turning yellow,
Thou shalt be our page to-night!
Come and sit thee next to us,
And as we may want a light
See that you be dexterous.

Now bring forth your tractates musty,
Dry, cadaverous, and dusty,
One, on the sound of mammoths' bones
In motion; one, on Druid-stones:
Show designs for pipes most ghastly,
And devils and ogres grinning nastily!
Show, show the limnings ye brought back,
Since round and round the zodiac
Ye galloped goblin horses which
Were light as smoke and plack as pitch;
And those ye made in the mouldy moon,
And Uranus, Saturn, Neptune,
And in the planet Mercury,
Where all things living and dead have an eye
Which sometimes opening suddenly
Stareth strang_e_ly

But now the night is growing better,
And every jet of smoke grows jetter,
While yet there blinks sufficient light,
Bring in those skeletons that fright
Most men into fits, but that
We relish for their want of fat.
Bring them in, the Cimabues
With all or each that horribly true is,
Francias, Giottos, Masaccios,
That tread on the tops of their bony toes,
And every one with a long sharp arrow
Cleverly shot through this spinal marrow,
With plenty of gridirons, spikes, and fires
And fiddling angels in sheets and quires.

Hold! 'tis dark! 'tis lack of light,
Or something wrong in this royal sight,
Or else our musty, dusty, and right
Well-beloved lieges all
Are standing in rank against the wall,
And ever thin and thinner, and tall
And taller grow and cadaveral!
Subjects, ye are sharp and spare,
Every nose is blue and frosty,
And your back-bone's growing bare,
And your king can count your cost_ae_,
And your bones are clattering,
And your teeth are chattering,
And ye spit out bits of pipe,
Which, shorter grown, ye faster gripe
In jaws; and weave a cloudy cloak
That wraps up all except your bones
Whose every joint is oozing smoke:
And there's a creaky music drones
Whenas your lungs distend your ribs,
A sound, that's like the grating nibs
Of pens on paper late at night;
Your shanks are yellow more than white
And very like what Holbein drew!
Avaunt! ye are a ghastly crew
Too like the Campo Santo--down!
We are your monarch, but we own
That were we not, we very well
Might take ye to be imps of hell:
But ye are glorious ghastly sprites,
What ho! our page! Sir knave--lights, lights,
The final pipes are to be lit:
Sit, gentlemen, we charge ye sit
Until the cock affrays the night
And heralds in the limping morn,
And makes the owl and raven flit;
Until the jolly moon is white,
And till the stars and moon are gone.

No. 5


The chamber is lonely and light;
Outside there is nothing but night--
And wind and a creeping rain.
And the rain clings to the pane:
And heavy and drear's
The night; and the tears
Of heaven are dropt in pain.

And the tear's of heaven are dropt in pain;
And man pains heaven and shuts the rain
Outside, and sleeps: and winds are sighing;
And turning worlds sing mass for the dying.


Christmas Eve and Easter Day: by Robert Browning.--Chapman and Hall. 1850.

There are occasions when the office of the critic becomes almost simply that of an expositor; when his duty is not to assert, but to interpret. It is his privilege to have been the first to study a subject, and become familiar with it; what remains is to state facts, and to suggest considerations; not to lay down dogmas. That which he speaks of is to him itself a dogma; he starts from conviction: his it is to convince others, and, as far as may be, by the same means as satisfied himself; to incite to the same study, doing his poor best, meanwhile, to supply the present want of it.

Thus much, indeed, is the critic's duty always; but he generally feels the right, and has it, of speaking with authority. He condemns, or gives praise; and his judgment, though merely individual and subject to revision, is judgment. Before the certainty of genius and deathless power, in the contemplation of consummate art, his position changes: and well for him if he knows, and is contented it should be so. Here he must follow, happy if he only follows and serves; and while even here he will not shelve his doubts, or blindly refuse to exercise a candid discrimination, his demur at unquestioning assent, far from betraying any arrogance, will be discreetly advanced, and on clearly stated grounds.

Of all poets, there is none more than Robert Browning, in approaching whom diffidence is necessary. The mere extent of his information cannot pass unobserved, either as a fact, or as a title to respect. No one who has read the body of his works will deny that they are replete with mental and speculative subtlety, with vivid and most diversified conception of character, with dramatic incident and feeling; with that intimate knowledge of outward nature which makes every sentence of description a living truth; replete with a most human tenderness and pathos. Common as is the accusation of "extravagance," and unhesitatingly as it is applied, in a general off-hand style, to the entire character of Browning's poems, it would require some jesuitism of self-persuasion to induce any one to affirm his belief in the existence of such extravagance in the conception of the poems, or in the sentiments expressed; of any want of concentration in thought, of national or historical keeping. far from this, indeed, a deliberate unity of purpose is strikingly apparent. Without referring for the present to what are assumed to be perverse faults of execution--a question the principles and bearing of which will shortly be considered--assuredly the mention of the names of a few among Browning's poems--of "Paracelsus," "Pippa Passes," "Luria," the "Souls's Tragedy," "King Victor and King Charles," even of the less perfect achievement," "Strafford"; or, passing to the smaller poems, of "The Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," "The Laboratory," and "The Bishop orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's";--will at once realize to the memory of all readers an abstruse ideal never lostsight of, and treated to the extreme of elaboration. As regards this point, we address all in any manner acquainted with the poet's works, certain of receiving an affirmative answer even from those who "can't read Sordello, or understand the object of writing in that style."

If so many exceptions to Browning's "system of extravagance" be admitted,--and we again refer for confirmation or refutation t all who have sincerely read him, and who, valuing written criticism at its worth, value also at its worth the criticism of individual conviction,--wherein are we to seek this extravagance? The ground work exempted, the imputation attaches, if anywhere, to the framework; to the body, if not to the soul. And we are thus left to consider the style, or mode of expression.

Style is not stationary, or, in the concrete, matter of principle: style is, firstly, national; next, chronological; and lastly, individual. To try the oriental system by the European, and pronounce either wrong by so much as it exceeds or falls short, would imply so entire a want of comprehensive appreciation as can scarcely fail to induce the conviction, that the two are distinct and independent, each to be tested on its own merits. Again, were the Elizabethan dramatists right, or are those our own day? Neither absolutely, as by comparison alone; his period speaks in each; and each must be judged by this: not whether he is true to any given type, but whether his own type be a true one for himself. And this, which holds good between nations and ages, holds good also between individuals. Very different from Shelley's are Wordsworth's nature in description, his sentiment, his love; Burn's and Keats's different from these and from each other: yet are all these, nature, and sentiment, and love.

But here it will be urged: by this process any and every style is pronounced good, so that it but find a measure of recognition in its own age and country; nay, even the author's self-approval will be sufficient. And, as a corollary, each age must and ought to reject its predecessor; and Voltaire was no less than right in dubbing Shakspere barbarian. That it is not so, however, will appear when the last element of truth in style, that with which all others combine, which includes and implies consistency with the author's self, with his age and his country, is taken into account. Appropriateness of treatment to subject it is which lies at the root of all controversy on style: that is the last and the whole test. And the fact that none other is requisite, or, more strictly, that all others are but aspects of this one, will very easily be allowed when it is reflected that the subject, to be of an earnest and sincere ideal, must be an emanation of the poet's most secret soul; and that the soul receives teaching from circumstance, which is the time when and place where.

This promised, it must next be borne in mind that the poet's conception of his subject is not identical with, and, in the majority of cases, will be unlike, his reader's. And, the question of style (manner) being necessarily subordinate to that of subject (matter), it is not for the reader to dispute with the author on his mode of rendering, provided that should be accepted as embodying (within the bounds of grammatical logic) the intention preconceived. The object of the poet in writing, why he attempts to describe an event as resulting from this cause or this, or why he assumes such as the effect; all these considerations the reader is competent to entertain: any two men may deduce from the same premises, and may probably arrive at different conclusions: but, these conclusions reached, what remains is a question of resemblance, which each must determine for himself, as best conscious of his own intention. To take an instance. Shakspere's conception of Macbeth as a man capable of uttering a pompous conceit--

("Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood--")

in a moment, to him, and to all present, of startling purport, may be a correct or an impressive conception, or it may be the reverse. That the rendering of the momentary intention is adequate here there is no reason to doubt. If so, in what respect is the reader called upon to investigate a matter of style? He must simply return to the question of whether this point of character be consistent with others imagined of the same person; this, answered affirmatively, is an approval,--negatively, a condemnation, of intention; the merit of style, in either case, being mere competence, and that admitted irrespectively of the reader's liking or disliking of the passage per se, or as part of a context. Why, in this same tragedy of Macbeth, is a drunken porter introduced between a murder and its discovery? Did Shakspere really intend him to be a sharp-witted man? These questions are pertinent and necessary. There is no room for disputing that this scene is purposely a comic scene: and, if this is certain, the style of the speech is appropriate to the scene, and of the scene, to the conception of the drama? Is that conception admirable?

We have entered thus at length on the investigation of adequacy and appropriateness of style, and of the mode by which entire classes of disputable points, usually judged under that name, may be reduced to the more essential element of conception; because it will be almost invariably found, that a mere arbitrary standard of irresponsible private predilection is then resorted to. Nor can this be well guarded against. The concrete, style, being assumed as always constituting an entity auxiliary to, but not of necessity modified by, and representing subject,--as something substantially pre-existing in the author's mind or practice, and belonging to him individually; the reader will, not without show of reason, betake himself to the trial of personality by personality, another's by his own; and will thus pronounce on poems or passages of poems not as elevated, or vigorous, or well-sustained, or the opposite, in idea, but, according to certain notions of his own, as attractive, original, or conventional writing.

Thus far as regards those parts of execution which concern human_[footnote marker]_ embodiment--the metaphysical and dramatic or epic faculties. Of style in description the reader is more nearly as competent a judge as the writer. In the one case, the poet is bound to realize an idea, which is his own, and the justness of which, and therefore of the form of its expression, can be decided only by reasoning and analogy; in the other, having for his type material ph_ae_nomena, he must reproduce the things as cognizable by all, though not hereby in any way exempt from adhering absolutely to his proper perception of them. Here, even as to ideal description or simile, the reader can assert its truth or falsehood of purpose, its sufficiency or insufficiency of means: but here again he must beware of exceeding his rights, and of substituting himself to his author. He must not dictate under what aspect nature is to be considered, stigmatizing the one chosen, because his own bent is rather towards some other. In the exercise of censure, he cannot fairly allow any personal peculiarities of view to influence him; but will have to decide from common grounds of perception, unless clearly conscious of

_[footnote marker]_In employing the word "human," we would have our intention understood to include organic spiritualism--the superhuman treated, from a human pou sto, as ideal mind, form, power, action, &c.

short-coming, or of the extreme of any corresponding peculiarity on the author's part.

In speaking of the adaptation of style to conception, we advanced that, details of character and of action being a portion of the latter, the real point to determine in reference to the former is, whether such details are completely rendered in relation to the general purpose. And here, to return to Robert Browning, we would enforce on the attention of those among his readers who assume that he spoils fine thoughts by a vicious, extravagant, and involved style, a few analytical questions, to be answered unbiassed by hearsay evidence. Concerning the dramatic works: Is the leading idea conspicuously brought forward throughout each work? Is the language of the several speakers such as does not create any impression other than warranted by the subject matter of each? If so, does it create the impression apparently intended? Is the character of speech varied according to that of the speaker? Are the passages of description and abstract reflection so introduced as to add to poetic, without detracting from dramatic, excellence? About the narrative poems, and those of a more occasional and personal quality the same questions may be asked with some obvious adaptation; and this about all: Are the versification strong, the sound sharp or soft, monotonous, hurried, in proportion to the requirement of sense; the illustrative thoughts apt and new; the humour quaint and relishing? Finally, is not in many cases that which is spoken of as something extraneous, dragged in aforethought, for the purpose of singularity, the result more truly of a most earnest and single-minded labor after the utmost rendering of idiomatic conversational truth; the rejection of all stop-gap words; about the most literal transcript of fact compatible with the ends of poetry and true feeling for Art? This a point worthy note, and not capable of contradiction._[footnote marker]_

These questions answered categorically will, we believe, be found to establish the assurance that Browning's style is copious, and certainly not other than appropriate, instance contrasted with instance--as the form of expression bestowed on the several phases of certain ever-present form of thought. We have already endeavored to show that, where style is not inadequate, its object as a means being attained, the mind must revert to its decision as to relative and collective value of intention: and we will again leave

_***_ _[footnote marker]_We may instance several scenes of "Pippa Pauses,"--the concluding one especially, where Pippa reviews her day; the whole of the "Soul's Tragedy,"--the poetic as well as the prose portion; "The Flight of the Duchess;" "Waring," &c.; and passages continually recurring in "Sordello," and in "Colombe's Birthday."

Browning's manifestations of intellectual purpose, as such, for the verdict of his reader.

To those who yet insist: "Why cannot I read Sordello?" we can only answer:--Admitted a leading idea, not only metaphysical but subtle and complicated to the highest degree; how work out this idea, unless through the finest intricacy of shades of mental development? Admitted a philosophic comprehensiveness of historical estimate and a minuteness of familiarity with details, with the added assumption, besides, of speaking with the very voice of the times; how present this position, unless by standing at an eminent point, and addressing thence a not unprepared audience? Admitted an intense arching concentration of thought; how be self-consistent, unless uttering words condensed to the limits of language?--And let us at last say: Read Sordello again. Why hold firm that you ought to be able at once to know Browning's stops, and to pluck out the heart of his mystery? Surely, if you do not understand him, the fact tells two ways. But, if you will understand him, you shall.

We have been desirous to explain and justify the state of feeling in which we enter on the consideration of a new poem by Robert Browning. Those who already feel with us will scarcely be disposed to forgive the prolixity which, for the present, has put it out of our power to come at the work itself: but, if earnestness of intention will plead our excuse, we need seek for no other.

The Evil under the Sun.

How long, oh Lord?--The voice is sounding still,
Not only heard beneath the altar stone,
Not heard of John Evangelist alone
In Patmos
. It doth cry aloud and will
Between the earth's end and earth's end, until
The day of the great reckoning, bone for bone,
And blood for righteous blood, and groan for groan:
Then shall it cease on the air with a sudden thrill;
Not slowly growing fainter if the rod
Strikes one or two amid the evil throng,
Or one oppressor's hand is stayed and numbs,--
Not till the vengeance that is coming comes:
For shall all hear the voice excepting God?
Or God not listen, hearing?--Lord, how long?

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