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mighty contemporary, Milton, with powers invigorated by the strife, and ready to gather them for the composition of an immortal poem, but rather to lament over the loss of congenial pursuits, and self-sacrifice in a thankless cause. His loyalty was rewarded by a heartless monarch's ingratitude; and one of the best of Cowley's poems is that entitled "The Complaint," composed when shades were gathering over the evening of his days:
"In a deep vision's intellectual scene,
Of the black yew's unlucky green
Mix'd with the mourning willow's careful gray
And lo! a Muse appear'd to 's closed sight
That art can never imitate.
She touch'd him with her harp and raised him from the ground.
'Art though return'd at last,' said she,
When I resolved to exalt thy anointed name
Among the spiritual lords of peaceful fame,
Thou changeling! thou, bewitch'd with noise and show,
Wouldst see the world abroad, and have a share
In all the follies and the tumults there.
Thou wouldst, forsooth, be something in a state;
'Go, renegado, cast up thy account;
And see to what amount
Thy foolish gains by quitting me :—
The fruits of thy unlearn'd apostasy.
Thou thought'st, if once the public storm were past,
Art got at last to shore.
But, whilst thy fellow-voyagers I see
All march'd up to possess the promised land,
Upon the naked beach, upon the barren sand.'
"Thus spake the Muse, and spake it with a smile
'Ah, wanton foe! dost thou upbraid
The ills which thou thyself hast made?
Thou, wicked spirit, stolest me away,
And my abuséd soul didst bear
Into thy new-found worlds, I know not where,-
And ever since I strive in vain
Which, if the earth but once, it ever, breeds;
The foolish sports I did on thee bestow
Where once such fairies dance, no grass doth ever grow."
In estimating the poetry of this period, it is very common to condemn it for the conceits it abounds with. This is a censure in which it is necessary to exercise some caution. It is true that simplicity of thought is a precious element of poetry as distinguished from complications and involutions and entanglements of thought. The fault in many of these poets was, that, not content with a thought or feeling in its first simple form, they wandered far away from it in search of all fantastic allusions; and when they bring you back to the original thought or feeling, its life is gone ;-it is dead and spiritless. These are what are called cold conceits. But it has been well said that a conceit is not necessarily cold. The mind, in certain states of passion, finds comfort in playing with occult or casual resemblances, and dallies
with the echo of a sound. What is not a conceit to those who read it in a temper different from that in which the writer composed it? The most pathetic parts of poetry to cold tempers seem and are nonsense, as divinity was to the Greeks foolishness. When Richard the Second, meditating on his own utter annihilation as to royalty, cries out,— "Oh that I were a mockery-king of snow,
Standing before the sun of Bolingbroke,
To melt myself away in water-drops!"—
If we have been going on pace for pace with the passion before, this sudden conversion of a strong-felt metaphor into something to be actually realized in nature, like that of Jeremiah,- "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears!”—is strictly and strikingly natural. But come unprepared upon it, and it is a conceit; and so is a "head" turned into "waters."
It is necessary to understand that real feeling may be compatible with a great deal of eccentricity of thought and quaintness of imagery in poetry, in order to appreciate those singular strains which, fancywrought as they are, were uttered from the very bottom of the heart of that sweet singer, George Herbert. It is poetry with many of the characteristics of the serious poetry of the seventeenth century, but with feeling, fancy, and thought blended together in proportions unlike the combination on any other pages. It is essentially devotional,-devotion, with Fancy serving it with the speed and wildness of a fairy's movements, taking any shape that poetic ingenuity could give, with the hope, that
"A verse may catch a wandering soul that flies
Profounder tracts, and, by a blest surprise,
Convert delight into a sacrifice."
What, in its way, can be more pleasing than the sweet moralizing in what are perhaps his best-known lines,- -on virtue ?—
"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky,
"Sweet rose, whose hue, angry and brave,
Thy root is ever in its grave;
And thou must die.
"Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives,
But, though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives."
His lines on "Life" have somewhat a more solemn strain, but so gentle a warning to mortality that even the young, light heart of beauty, happy with its innocent tribute of flowers, may not unwillingly receive a salutary pensiveness :
"I made a posy while the day ran by:
Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
My life within this band.
But time did beckon to the flowers, and they
"My hand was next to them, and then my heart;
Who did so sweetly death's sad taste convey,
Yet sugaring the suspicion.
"Farewell, dear flowers! sweetly your time ye spent!
And, after death, for cures ;
I follow straight, without complaints or grief,
It be as short as yours!
As a specimen of Herbert's more fantastic mood in dealing with his holy themes, I may cite the little poem entitled "Peace:"
"Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell?
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask'd if Peace were there.
A hollow wind did seem to answer, 'No;
"I did; and, going, did a rainbow note:
This is the lace of Peace's coat:
I will search out the matter.'
But, while I look'd, the clouds immediately
"Then went I to a garden, and did spy
The crown imperial. Sure,' said I,
'Peace at the root must dwell.'
But, when I digg'd, I saw a worm devour
"At length I met a reverend, good old man,
I did demand, he thus began:
'There was a prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who lived with good increase
"He sweetly lived; yet sweetness did not save
But, after death, out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat,
Which, many wondering at, got some of those
"It prosper'd strangely, and did soon disperse
For they that taste it do rehearse
That virtue lies therein,
A secret virtue, bringing peace and mirth
"Take of this grain which in my garden grows,
Make bread of it; and that repose
And peace, which everywhere
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there.'
That Herbert's poetry has many of the characteristics of the metaphysical poetry of Donne and Cowley cannot be denied, but redeemed by the fervent spirit of devotion breathing in every line. It is not the expression of a well-disciplined imagination, but is rather instinct with fancy. With all its peculiarities,—to use a kinder term than faults,— I had rather take it as it is, as one of the many tones of English poetry, than that its distinctive features should have been done away by stricter poetic discipline. It is curious to observe that Herbert has himself alluded to his participation in the over-wrought fashion of poetry, in a few lines which indicate its faults better, I think, than criticism has ever done, and close, too, with a statement of the best and universal theory of poetic art,-loyalty to nature in her own simplicity :
When first my lines of heavenly joys made mention,
Such was their lustre,-they did so excel,
That I sought out quaint words and trim invention.
My thoughts began to burnish, sprout, and swell,
Curling with metaphors a plain intention,