Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

66

we will let four pieces stand as representatives; “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” for his minor poems : for his sonnets, that on Chapman's Homer: for the odes, the one To a Nightingale," and for his more ambitious works, “ The Eve of St. Agnes.”

The first shows the ready adaptation of his mind to an idea. Hunt tells us, in his “ Indicator,” that the suggestion came from the title of a poem attributed to Chaucer, (but which was merely his translation from the French of Alain Chartier,) and that Keats had never read more of it than the heading. It is in the very spirit of the old ballad—abrupt and musical, and shows how well his mind had taken in the special beauties of the early authors. The band which penned “ La Belle Dame," might well have performed the same office for "Sir Patrick Spens,” or any one of the like stories of love or battle, had its master's fate been cast in those times. And it may be well to remark here, that our poet's love-songs, as such, are very inferior to his other poetry. They are vague, and ill-adapted to the use to which they are put, for, not till late in his life, did be see one whom he could love. And still, whether from reading or observation, the present ballad proves his ability to portray the effect on others.

To understand, again, the sonnet on Chapman's Homer, we must take several facts into consideration. Many, from reading "Endymion," or "Hyperion," conclude that the poet was also a scholar, deeply read in the mysteries of Greek and Roman lore, and profoundly sensible of all classic beauties. In the last they are quite right, but never more mistaken than in the first. Keats was no scholar. Greek was to him a sealed book-Homer, at least, certainly-and all his knowledge of the classic came from his Latin, and the few works we have already mentioned, as giving a tone to his reading. So that when his friend Clark invited him to spend an evening in company with him, reading the new translation, he felt how fitting it was that Keats should get his first impressions of the sounding lines of the blind Maeonides, from that version which so nearly resembled them. And so they sat deep into the night-Keats, every now and then, shouting aloud, as some grand passage struck his mind. Was it then strange, that he turned to his best medium of expression, and wrote this, his finest sonnet ? It was a great step to him ; a step into the sublime, as well as into the beautiful—a step up toward living fame.

That which strikes us most in the “ Ode to a Nightingale," is the music of the lines. One especially :

“With beaded bubbles winking at the brim," is as tuneful as any in his works. And Ruth as she stands “ in tears

[ocr errors]

amid the alien corn,” is a picture, which he who once reads the ode, never forgets.

But the good wine of the feast is “The Eve of St. Agnes.” It has been too often cited-too often criticised—too often read, for any new laurel to be added to it. Painted (for all Keats' poems are pictures,) in a softer shade, a more delicate tint-all of it serenely beautiful—what wonder that it is so associated with its author's name? While "Endymion,” that cluster of unstrung, unset pearls shows his fine fancy and use of words; while “Hyperion" records some of the grandest of imaginative paintings, it remains for the "Eve of St. Agnes” to combine all bis beauties and none of his more prominent defects. Jeffrey, Moir and the Reviews have quoted for you its special gems, and yet they are unanimous in the assertion that all and not part must be read.

As we see his peculiar excellencies then, they are these which follow.

A fancy of the finest and most delicate order was his, among ordinary fancies, like a humming-bird among flowers, with all the life and yet all the fitness of nature. It led him, it is true, into many faults, but they were the faults of lavish wealth, and not of poverty of ideas. Very often we can obtain a better conception of his beauties by solitary quotations, so rich are his sentences with suggested thought. Even if judgment and reason in some cases are no longer cared for, we can pardon much when we think how rapidly he was shaking off his errors, and how early in life he died.

He had, too, a singularly effective and appropriate use of words. Where he gained them from, not even his friends could tell. They were in many cases beyond his reading and could only have been caught as rare accidents in some passing stroll, and yet they were just as much bis willing and happy servants as any of the others. He had an inborn idea of association and congruity, which instantly decided the place and fate of a word. We find everywhere the best word in the best place, and we can no more take it away than take stones out of the Pelasgian walls of Hellas, and expect them to show no loss.

Then in spite of all appearances we must also yield to him the gift of a musical taste. There is a ring of the pure metal in his lines ungranted to many an eager aspirant. And yet, strange to say, nothing in his writings shows him to have studied metre except by ear. He wrote as he felt, with a freedom which was checked by no rules. All was nature and all was natural, and we must judge his song as we would that of a bird.

a

On these grounds then, we claim for John Keats the name of poet. Grant bin if you will, none of the halo which the veneration of the world casts about the brows of its revered bards—let him stand forth simply as a man, misguided and imperfect, and he is still a poet, an “inheritor of unfulfilled renown" even now.

It remains for us but to speak of one more point, which we would gladly omit, did this not do injustice to both the poet and his works, for on this ground he has been grievously maligned. It is that of Keats' religious belief.

Shelley, in that lament which is fit to stand with “Lycidas” and “In Memoriam," as the three Graces of elegiac poetry, uses this expression:

"Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,

Until death tramples it to fragments.”— It was so with bimself—it was so likewise with Keats. All his light was from below, and all he knew of a future life was through his own feelings. He was not an infidel or an atheist, and yet far from being a believer. With him it was a careless indifference to the results of life, come when they might. For eternity he had never a thought, however transient. He died as he had lived, with no stain on his moral reputation and no blemish on his upright life.

It was no Blackwood's Magazine, no Gifford, no poverty-nothing but disease and despair that killed Keats. The lady whom he loved with all the ardor of a first attachment, he felt was unattainable. He shrunk from asking her to share his humble condition in the world and so dragging her down into destitution, though he knew she would not have refused. He felt, as he lay on bis sick-bed in Rome, that works which should yield him abundant fame were uncommenced, and that he was unable to do aught but to lie still and die. This was the bitterest of the dregs, bitter indeed when we reflect how young he was, how rapidly his mind had expanded, how wealth, fame, power and her he loved were all the guerdons of the future which his strong will was to make his own. Where is the man who, without christian prin. ciple, could shoulder it all and yet hope?

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

News comes across the broad water that Elizabeth Barrett Browning is dead-of consumptionin Italy. How different from Keats! She with gathered laurels, ever freshly bestowed, wreathing her brows, passed calmly into a land where all was light, with her last words an expression of pleasure. Her grave bears the record of accomplished greatness, simply told, honestly earned.

[ocr errors]

He died gasping for breath, passing into a land of which he knew and cared but little—all darkness beyond the grave. His tomb retains the inscription proposed by himself, and graven by kindly hands:

“HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRITTEN IN WATER.” Yes, written in the tears of his friends and of all who love the gentle craft of verse, is this sad memorial :

“And he is gathered to the kings of thought,
Who waged contention with their time's decay,
And of the past are all that cannot pass away."

8. W. D.

Wm. Howitt, in his “ Homes of the Poets," has called attention to the fact that the last stanza of "Adonais” was a perfect prophecy of Shelley's death. He was drowned in a storm on the Bay of Spezia, and when his body was washed ashore, Keats' last volume of poems were found in his pocket, opened at “Lamia."

Night and Morning.

I saw a trav'ler walking far,
By light of one pale star.

And as he walked, he fearful said,
"The shadows have not fled,

“Cold, cold and feeble is the ray,-
When shall I see the day ?"

A voice replied, " New courage take,
The morn will surely break;

“The star will light thee to the dawn,
If thou but journey on.”

He said, “Dark is the dewy night,
Long wait I for the light,

“Long, too, and weary is the way,
What if there be no day ?"

· Hush, hush thy murmur, thou shalt rest,
The star glides to the west.

“The night is long, but day will come,
The day that brings thee home.”

Then walked he on, tho' chilled and sore,
Nor donbting, murmured more.

At length, Night left her dusky throne;
A golden glory shone.

It gleamed upon a cold, pale face,
That wore a smile of peace.
The star had sunk, for day had come,
The day that brought him home.

R. K. w. w.en!

62

Past Honors as Shaping National Character. In an illustrious bistory, a people possess a heritage, which is at the same time an educator of the public mind. The gathered honors, which centuries of progress in the arts of peace and war, in science, philosophy and religion, have won for the state, constitute a legacy that excites envy abroad, but at home fosters a reverent patriotism. A noble past is something more than mere material wealth, impotent in itself for good or evil. It is a living principle, an efficient organism, a profound teacher. It quickens the fancy, develops the intellect, and vitalizes the genius of a nation.

But an unsullied and brilliant history looks, for its truest outgrowth and expression, to National Character. It is here alone that we note those choice fruits of such a past which manifest themselves in the rarest type of popular life. At some of these we are now prepared, perhaps, to glance briefly.

To be natural and orderly alike, we must first notice the reverence implanted in a nation's character by the influence under consideration. The human mind, by its very nature, is necessitated to cherish what we may term an instinctive veneration for antiquity. Whatever is old and glorious has thus a double claim to reverent admiration. From this constitution of man's nature, new nations are generally derided and despised by surrounding powers. But legends and traditions strengthen and perpetuate this sentiment, wherever it has gained a foothold. So, too, the poetry or literature of a people a little more advanced in the path of civilization, recalls the popular mind

« PredošláPokračovať »