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Arethuse and Mincius," neither does passion perform such simple acts of literary Art as the construction of clear sentences, the formation of lines of metre, or the invention of rhymes. Grief, in its first act, in poets as in other people, consumes itself in "Ohs and "Ahs," in sobs and agitated gestures, in dull numbed musings, incoherent verbal bursts, pacings of the chamber through the weary night. To poets, however, as soon as there is a lull of comparative tranquillity, and aiding perhaps to bring on that lull, there comes the use of those artifices of expression which are with them hardly artifices any longer, but the very habits of their souls. Then is produced the lay of the occasion, the song or longer poem, recording the grief indeed, and even renewing and deepening it, but weaving into the grief all the beauty of cognate story and meditation that it will bear. True, there will still be gradations of apparent closeness to the primary moment or remoteness from it, according either to the intensity of the original grief or to the poet's acquired habits of artistic working. Simplest of all, least remove of all from the original moment of feeling, and therefore most likely to some poets, and most natural in seeming to most readers, will be the direct lyric of sorrow in a few passionate stanzas. Burns's Highland Mary, and other songs of his, are examples. But there may be memorial poems, tributes to a recent or past personal grief, which shall be as true and natural, and yet be of more extensive design and more complex texture. These may contain trains of varied thought and phantasy which the original feeling has originated, and therefore may claim as its own; they may be speculative and occult, or figurative and mythological, as the habits of the poet's thinking shall determine; even Mincius and Arethuse need not be absent, nor rough satyrs and fauns with cloven heel. Witness Shelley's Adonais to the memory of Keats. Or witness Tennyson's In Memoriam. What is that chief of Memorial Poems in the English tongue but an aggregation of lyrics in which, though one deep and enduring personal feeling moved to them all and pervades them all, "remote allusions and obscure opinions," beyond the learning of Johnson's time, are plentifully inwoven, snatches of story occur and recur, and all the science and metaphysics of the time become relevant to one death? Now, Milton's Lycidas is not, and does not profess to be, VOL. II.
a poem of such personal sorrow, by many degrees, as In Memoriam. Nay, as Edward King was not a Keats, it is, presumably, less a poem of personal sorrow than Adonais. All the more are the traces of deliberate and conscious art which are visible in it to be regarded as consistent with the poet's actual kind and amount of feeling when he wrote it, and his true intention. There are such traces. Twice in the body of the poem, as we have seen, Milton restrains or checks himself, as having passed somewhat the strict bounds of the strain in which he had begun; and at the close there is an Epilogue in his own name, characterizing the poem as a "Doric lay," in which "the tender stops of various quills" had been touched, and also hinting that the artist is moving on to other themes, which will require a different treatment. (3) One established, and indeed all-prevalent, artifice in the poetry of Milton's day was the artifice of the pastoral form, and Johnson's criticism exhibits an utter obtuseness to the real nature, meaning, and power of this artifice. "They never drove a-field and they had no flocks to batten"! No, nor did Theocritus or Virgil ever keep sheep, or pipe on oaten flutes beneath beechtrees. Nor did the Portuguese pastoral poets do the like, nor Sannazaro and the Italians. Nor was Spenser a real Colin Clout, with Sidney, and Raleigh, and Shakespeare, and all the other poets, or other eminent Englishmen of the day, surrounding him as actual shepherds, called Astrophel, and Cuddie, and Willie, and Thomalin! What then? We know what they meant. It is one thing to hold that the pastoral form might still suit our modern times, and to wish that it were preserved; it is another to understand what the form was in the hands of those who did practise it, and to see its importance in the past history of our literature. Spenser and the other pastoralists would have smiled in scorn at the notion that the pastoral should be an exhibition of real shepherd-life, of the thoughts and manners of real shepherds. With them the pastoral form was a device—just as metre and rhyme were devices, but in some respects of larger consequence-for distancing themselves from the ordinary and the prosaic, and enabling them to live and move mentally in a more poetic air. It was themselves, with all their experiences and acquired ideas and feelings, that they flung into an imaginary Arcadian world,
to be shepherds there, and, under the guise of that imaginary life, express their own real feelings, their most intimate experiences, and their thoughts about affairs, in monologue or dialogue. Defensible or not originally, desirable or not among ourselves, as we may think this artifice of pastoralism, this device for poets of an imaginary removal of themselves to an Arcadian land in order to think under Arcadian conditions, it is gross ignorance not to know how largely it once prevailed, and what a wealth of old poetry we owe to it. From the youth of Spenser, himself the pastoralist-in-chief, on through the lives of the next generation, or from 1580 to 1640, much of the finest English poetry is in the pastoral form. During that period the word "shepherd" was an accepted synonym in England for the word "poet." They all, the finest of them all, "drove a-field" together, and "battened their flocks" in verse, though they had no flocks to batten. Well, Milton, an admirer of Spenser, and describable as the truest of the Spenserians till he taught the world a higher than the Spenserian in the Miltonic, employed the pastoral form in his Lycidas, as he had employed it already, though less decidedly, in others of his poems. He threw the story of his acquaintance with Edward King and the sad death of that youth by drowning, and all the train of thought about the state of England which that death suggested, into the form of a pastoral lament for that shepherd by himself as a surviving shepherd. And who would wish now that he had done otherwise? What would a simple narrative of the shipwreck, or a few stanzas of direct regret, have been in comparison with the poem we now read? It is better than any memorial bust with bas-reliefs, better than any memorial picture. It tells the facts with the minutest fidelity, but it gives them in the setting of one long mood of Milton's mind as he mused over them. And it is this setting that has made the facts immortal. If we now remember Edward King of Christ's College at all, or know that there was ever such a youth in the world, is it not owing to Milton's Monody?
"The diction is harsh," says Johnson in addition, "the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing." This is worse and worse. The ear of the eighteenth century, one can see, if this is to be taken as the opinion of Johnson's contemporaries, must have been
vitiated in proportion to the degradation of its notion of Poesy. For fastidious beauty of diction, and musical finish of versification, Lycidas is hardly rivalled. The art of the verse is a study in itself. The lines are mostly the common Iambics of five feet, but every now and then there is an exquisitely managed variation of a short line of three Iambi. Then the interlinking and intertwining of the rhymes, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in threes, or even fives, and at all varieties of intervals, from that of the contiguous couplet to that of an unobserved chime or stanza of some length, are positive perfection. Occasionally in the poem too there is a line that does not rhyme; and in every such case, though the rhyme is never missed by the reader's ear, in so much music is the line bedded, yet a delicate artistic reason may be detected or fancied for its formal absence. The first line of all is one instance. We shall leave the reader to find out the others.
SONNETS AND KINDRED PIECES.
In one well-known Sonnet Wordsworth has given the very essence of the history of the Sonnet down to Milton's time :
"Scorn not the Sonnet: Critic, you have frowned,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
The thing became a trumpet, whence he blew
Milton, however, is notable in the succession of chief Sonnetwriters, not only on account of the intrinsic power of the few Sonnets he did write, but also because he helped, by means of them, to establish or re-establish in England that stricter mechanism of the Sonnet which had been in favour with the Italians.
The Sonnet may be defined, generally, as a little poem of
fourteen lines, complete in itself, and containing a condensed expression of some one thought or feeling. The Italian poets, however, who had first practised the Sonnet, and from whom the Spaniards, the French, and the English had taken it, had practised it in one particular form, or rather in a certain variety of forms. Not only were the fourteen lines rhyming lines, of the norm of five Iambi each, but the rhymes interlaced each other in a peculiar manner. According to Hallam (Lit. of Europe, edit. 1860, III. 265-6), quoting as his authority the Italian critic and historian. of Poetry, Quadrio (1695-1756), the legitimate Italian Sonnet consisted of two quatrains and two tercets; i.e. it contained only four rhymes in all, the first two of them (A and B) repeated four times each, and dominating the first eight lines between them, and the other two (C and D) repeated thrice each and commanding the last six lines. Within this rule, however, there was room for variety. Thus, while the distribution of the two rhymes of the first eight lines was most frequently that of A in lines 1, 4, 5, and 8, and B in lines 2, 3, 6, and 7, there were instances of mere alternate distribution, i.e. of A in lines 1, 3, 5, and 7, and B in lines 2, 4, 6, and 8. In the last six lines the liberty of arrangement of the two rhymes was also considerable. Thus, while in many of Petrarch's sonnets the arrangement is the alternate one, or C 9, 11, 13, and D 10, 12, 14, I light upon one at this moment where it is C 9, 13, 14, and D 10, 11, 12, and upon two others where it is C 9, 11, 12, 14, and D 10, 13. This last arrangement, it will be observed, is a deviation from what Hallam specifies as the "legitimate" construction of the Sonnet, inasmuch as, though it does present only two rhymes in the last six lines, it does not present two tercets, or rhymes thrice repeated, but one of the rhymes doing duty four times and the other but twice. But it is hardly correct to say that the "legitimate" form of the Italian Sonnet required but two rhymes in the last six lines. Quite as frequent in Petrarch and other Italian poets are Sonnets with three rhymes in the last six lines, susceptible of sundry arrangements, as C 9, 12, D 10, 13, E 11, 14, or again C 9, 13, D 10, 12, E 11, 14. On the whole, the legitimate Italian Sonnet may be said to have contained either four rhymes or five rhymes altogether, of which two governed the first eight lines, and the