Abbildungen der Seite

loss, if a large portion of the poetical vagaries now before it in print had undergone the same fate.

Old John Locke-rather a prosaic and plain-spoken character, it is true-declared many years ago, that there are no mines of gold or silver in Parnassus. It is a pleasant air, but a barren soil; and there are very few instances of those who have added to their patrimony by any thing they have reaped from thence." Fame is the only commodity that can now be gathered on the sacred mount; and we have great fears, too, that nearly the whole of this crop has been reaped and appropriated. There are so many seekers after it, that they jostle one another, and, in almost every case, come back empty-handed. Amateur poets, especially, who dabble in rhyme only for their own amusement and the profit of the booksellers, cannot hope to glean much in a field, the resources of which are so carefully husbanded. "The mob of gentlemen who write with ease" has continued to increase in number ever since the days of Pope; too indolent and independent to seek the favor of the public on which they are not obliged to depend, all their talent passes off in a languid and washy facility of versification, which can gain no applause beyond the circle of their spinster cousins and maiden aunts. The privations, the throes, and the rewards of genius are equally unknown to them.

But it is time to look more particularly at the merits of this batch of poets. At the head of the list stands Mr. Emerson, whose mystical effusions have been for some years the delight of a large and increasing circle of young people, and the despair of the critics. He is a chartered libertine, who has long exercised his prerogative of writing enigmas both in prose and verse, sometimes with meaning in them, and sometimes without, -more frequently without. Many of his fragments in verse if verse it can be called, which puts at defiance all the laws of rhythm, metre, grammar, and common sense - were originally published in The Dial, lucus a non lucendo, a strange periodical work, which is now withdrawn from sunlight into the utter darkness that it always coveted. These fragments, with some new matter, are now first collected in a separate volume, and published, as we believe, with a sly purpose on the part of the author to quiz his own admirers. His prose essays, on their first appearance, were received with about equal admiration and amazement ;

always enigmatical and frequently absurd in doctrine and sentiment, they also contained flashes of better things. Quaint and pithy apothegms, dry and humorous satire, studied oddities of expression, which made an old thought appear almost as good as a new one, and frequent felicities of poetical and picturesque diction, were the redeeming qualities that compensated the reader for toiling through many pages filled with a mere hubbub and jumble of words. Startling and offensive opinions, drawn mostly from systems of metaphysics that were long ago exploded and forgotten, were either darkly hinted at, or baldly stated without a wordof explanation or defence. Poet and mystic, humorist and heretic, the writer seemed, on the one side, to aim at a revival of Heraclitus and Plotinus, and on the other, to be an imitator of Rabelais and Sterne. A few touches of recondite learning, obviously more fantastic than profound, added to the singularity of the compound which he presented to the public. He probably accomplished his first purpose, when his essays simply made people stare,—

"While some pronounced him wondrous wise,

And some declared him mad."

But it is only in his prose that Mr. Emerson is a poet; this volume of professed poetry contains the most prosaic and unintelligible stuff that it has ever been our fortune to encounter. The book opens, very appropriately, with a piece called The Sphinx. We are no Edipus, and cannot expound one of the riddles contained in it; but some of our readers may be more successful, and a specimen of it shall therefore be placed before them. It matters not what portion is extracted, for the poem may be read backwards quite as intelligibly as forwards, and no mortal can trace the slightest connection between the verses.

"The fiend that man harries

Is love of the Best; Yawns the pit of the Dragon, Lit by rays from the Blest. The Lethe of nature

Can't trance him again, Whose soul sees the perfect,

Which his eyes seek in vain.

"Profounder, profounder,

Man's spirit must dive;
To his aye-rolling orbit
No goal will arrive;
The heavens that now draw him
With sweetness untold,
Once found,-for new heavens

He spurneth theold."

We pause here to ask if, in the Italicized lines, the epithet "aye-rolling" is not a misprint for eye-rolling. We never heard of an ever-rolling orbit, inasmuch as the orbit usually remains still, and the object, or body, rolls in it. "The eye rolling in its orbit " is a phrase intelligible enough by itself, though it has no imaginable relation here with the conThen, again, it is not strange that "No goal will arrive "; goals do not usually arrive, but remain fixed; they are the points arrived at.


"Pride ruined the angels,

Their shame them restores; And the joy that is sweetest Lurks in stings of remorse. Have I a lover

Who is noble and free? I would he were nobler Than to love me.

"Eterne alternation,

Now follows, now flies; And under pain, pleasure,Under pleasure, pain lies. Love works at the centre, Heart-heaving alway; Forth speed the strong pulses To the borders of day.

"Dull Sphinx, Jove keep thy five wits!"

Amen! We will quote no farther here, lest we should entirely lose ours. An alternation," that "now follows, now flies," is an idea profound enough to puzzle the wits of most philosophers.

We cite one other stanza from a different page, as it shows what improvements the poem has undergone in the process of incubation.

"Uprose the merry Sphinx,

And crouched no more in stone;

She melted into purple cloud,
She silvered in the moon;

She spired into a yellow flame;

She flowered in blossoms red;

She flowed into a foaming wave;
She stood Monadnoc's head."

We have not The Dial at hand for reference; but if memory serves us aright, in the poem as first published, instead of the lines here printed in Italics, we had the following:

"She jumped into a barberry bush,

She jumped into the moon."

[ocr errors]

This original reading seems to be preferable, as it is more simple and graphic; but the poet probably struck it out,

lest he should appear indebted to the highly imaginative lines of Mother Goose,


'Hey, diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle,

The cow jumped over the moon."

The Sphinx concludes her oracles with this tempting declaration :

"Thorough a thousand voices

Spoke the universal dame:

Who telleth one of my meanings,
Is master of all I am.''

We doubt whether the fulfilment of this promise will ever be claimed by any body; certainly, not by us, for we do not even know what is meant by a "universal" old lady.

As original in his choice of subjects as in his mode of treating them, Mr. Emerson has some dainty lines addressed to the humble bee. We can quote only the two concluding stanzas, which show the minuteness and delicacy of the poet's observation of nature.

"Aught unsavory or clean
Hath my insect never seen;
But violets and bilberry bells,
Maple-sap, and daffodels,

Grass with green flag half-mast

Succory to match the sky,
Columbine with horn of honey,
Scented fern, and agrimony,
Clover, catchfly, adder's tongue,
And brier roses, dwelt among;
All beside was unknown waste,
All was picture as he passed.

"Wiser far than human seer, Yellow-breeched philosopher!

Seeing only what is fair,
Sipping only what is sweet,
Thou dost mock at fate and care,
Leave the chaff, and take the

When the fierce northwestern

Cools sea and land so far and fast,

Thou already slumberest deep; Woe and want thou canst outsleep;

Want and woe, which torture


Thy sleep makes ridiculous."

Mr. Emerson delights to build a poem on some nearly forgotten anecdote, or myth, or recorded saying of the wise and great, either in ancient times or the Middle Ages. A sort of misty reference to this theme appears here and there in the verses, and if the reader is lucky enough to remember the anecdote, he may flatter himself that he can see a

glimpse of meaning in them. But if unlearned or forgetful, no reference, no direct statement, no charitable foot-note, gives him the least hint of the writer's purpose; all is dark as Erebus. Sometimes, an uncouth Sanscrit, Greek, or German compound word stands as the title of a few verses, and answers the poet's object to puzzle his readers quite delightfully. The contrivance is ingenious, and shows how highly obscurity is prized, and that a book of poetry may almost attain the dignity of a child's book of riddles.

Thus, some lines headed Alphonso of Castile seem to be founded on the saying recorded of this king, ironically surnamed "The Wise," that if the Almighty had consulted him at the creation, he would have made a much better universe. A few lines may be quoted from this poem, as a specimen of Mr. Emerson's more familiar style. It begins in this original manner :

"I, Alphonso, live and learn,
Seeing Nature go astern.
Things deteriorate in kind;
Lemons run to leaves and rind;
Meagre crop of figs and limes;
Shorter days and harder times."

After enumerating many other evils and imperfections, equally important in character, the king proceeds to give his advice to the gods in the following choice expres

sions :

"Hear you, then, celestial fellows!

Fits not to be overzealous ;

Steads not to work on the clean jump,
Nor wine nor brains perpetual pump.

Men and gods are too extense;

Could you slacken and condense?
Your rank overgrowths reduce

Till your kinds abound with juice?"

The poet probably meant to be satirical, referring to the pragmatical and conceited tone of many foolish busybodies in the affairs of this world. The purpose was well enough we can only call attention to the neatness and elegance of the machinery contrived for this object, and to the poignancy of

his wit.

« ZurückWeiter »