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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:
Is master of all I am.' We doubt whether the fulblment 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 inode 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 Seeing only what is fair, Hath
insect never seen; Sipping only what is sweet, But violets and bilberry bells, Thou dost mock at fate and care, Maple-sap, and daffodels, Leave the chaff, and take the Grass with green flag half
mast wheat. high,
When the fierce northwestern Succory to match the sky,
blast Columbine with horn of honey, Cools sea and land so far and Scented fern, and agrimony,
fast, Clover, catchfly, adder's tongue, Thou already slumberest deep; And brier roses, dwelt among;
Woe and want thou canst out. All beside was unknown waste, sleep; All was picture as he passed. Want and woe, which torture
us, " Wiser far than human seer, Thy sleep makes ridiculous." Yellow-breeched philosopher!
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.
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 expressions :
“ Hear you, then, celestial fellows!
Fits not to be overzealous ;
you slacken and condense?
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.
Another string of rhymes, entitled Mithridates, seems to be founded on the old myth respecting that monarch, that having discovered a sure antidote, he was able to subsist entirely on the most active poisons. After babbling for a time about dogwood, hemlock, “the prussic juice,” and upas boughs, the poet breaks out into the following witty and coherent apostrophe :
“ doleful ghosts, and goblins merry !
O all you virtues, methods, mights,
But sun me in the Capitol.” We commend Mr. Emerson's intention not to be an owl, though when he utters such dismal screeches as these, one may doubt whether the transformation has not already been effected. We never before felt the whole force of Horace's exclamation, aut insanit homo, aut versus facit. Is the man sane who can deliberately commit to print this fantastic nonsense ?
Another of these effusions is called Hamatreya. The word sounds like Sanscrit ; we frankly confess our ignorance of its meaning, and have not time to hunt through lexicons and encyclopaedias, from one of which it was probably fished up, for a solution of the enigma. The reader may discover Mr. Emerson's drift, if he can, in the following introductory lines. 6 Minott, Lee, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint Possessed the land which rendered to their toil Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool, and wood. Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm, Saying, ' 'T is mine, my children's, and my name's: How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees ! How graceful climb those shadows on my hill ! I fancy these pure waters and the flags Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize ;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.'
stuff. After proceeding for a while, in a similar strain, the poet breaks out into what he calls the Earth-Song. what the earth says." " Mine and yours ;
Who shall succeed, Mine, not yours.
Shaggy with wood,
Fled like the flood's foam, “The lawyer's deed
The lawyer, and the laws,
And the kingdom, In tail,
Clean swept herefrom.” To them, and to their heirs Those who think this Earth-Song is unparalleled are mistaken ; we can produce a very similar passage in prose, which the poet possibly had in view, and endeavoured to imitate. That witty buffoon, Foote, happening to hear a person boast of the facility with which he could commit any passage to memory, undertook to write a few lines which ihe other would not be able to remember accurately, even after repeated perusal. The challenge was accepted, and Foote immediately produced the following, which we will match, for coherency of ideas, with any thing that Mr. Emerson has ever written,
“ And she went into the garden to cut a cabbage to make an apple pie ; and a she-bear, walking up the street, pops his head into the shop, — What ! No soap! and he died ; and she very imprudently married the barber, and at the wedding were the Hoblillies and the Joblillies, and the great Panjandrum, with the little button at top, and they all danced till the gunpowder ran out of the heels of their boots."
We mean to be fair with the poet. Having read attentively — horresco referens ! — the whole book, we affirm that
the specimens now laid before our readers fairly represent far the larger portion of it. Here and there, a gleam of light intrudes, and we find brief but striking indications of the talent and feeling which Mr. Emerson unquestionably possesses. But the effect is almost instantly marred by some
mystical nonsense, some silly pedantry, an intolerable hitch in rhythm or grammar, or an incredible flatness and meanness of expression. In one of the longer poems, Monadnoc, one may cull a few single lines, and occasionally a couplet, or a quatrain, of great poetic beauty. But these are like a few costly spices Aung into a tub full of dirty and greasy water; they are polluted by the medium in which they soat, and one cannot pick them out without soiling his fingers. Here is a couplet containing one of the best, and one of the worst, lines in the piece. The poet, addressing the mountain, exclaims with inimitable bathos, –
“ Ages are thy days, Thou grand expresser of the present tense ! ” The greater part of the poem is made up of such senseless jingle as this :
“ For the world was built in order,
And the atoms march in tune ;
And, though a pyramid, will bound.” We can find no nominative to “ cannot forget," there is no word to rhyme with “troop," and, in the last four lines, subject and object are mingled in inextricable confusion. Mr. Emerson is evidently one of those poets
“ Who, free from rhyme or reason, rule or check,
Break Priscian's head and Pegasus's neck.” The following pretty and graceful lines form the only tolerable entire piece in the book.
“O fair and stately maid, whose eyes
At the same torch that lighted mine ;
A sympathy divine.