« ZurückWeiter »
out misrepresenting nature. He gives the sensible image with so much clearness and compression, that it becomes immediately apparent to the eye ; and the language in which he pictures it forth is instinct with imagination, even when he superadds no direct sentiment or analogy. The fault in much fine descriptive poetry is in the accommodation of the appearance, which an object presents to the eye, to the ideas which it suggests to the mind. The fancy seizes upon the material form and moulds it into new shapes, until the original and distinctive features are lost. There are some poets, who, although their perceptive faculties are not deficient in acuteness, are unable to see things as they really exist. Every object that passes into their consciousness from without undergoes a change. The powers of vision are unable to hold the sensible image in its exact shape and hue, and it is soon delivered over to passion, wit, or fancy, often to be moulded into grotesque and whimsical forms. The immaterialists and pantheists of poetry, looking at nature only for analogies, and denying her absolute existence, are apt to be too free with her forms and colors. But Dana, though intensely subjective and individual in the character of his genius, and strongly influenced by his mental habits and peculiarities in his appreciation of natural scenery, rarely fails to convey correct representations of outward realities, even when he links a sentiment to them which minds differently constituted would deem unnatural. In him we never find “ subjectivity leading objectivity in chains," as Hallam quaintly says of Malebranche. A few stanzas, taken at random from “ The Buccaneer,” will prove that exact description and high imagination are capable of being united.
“But when the light winds lie at rest,
And on the glassy, heaving sea,
Sits swinging silently,
6. 'Tis fearful, on the broad-backed waves,
To feel them shake and hear them roar ;
Around, no cheerful shore.
“ The ship works hard ; the sea runs high ;
Their white tops, flashing through the night,
A wild and shifting light.”
“ On pale, dead men, on burning cheek,
On quick, fierce eyes, brows hot and damp,
Shines the dim cabin lamp."
swung the sea with heavy beat,
Below, and hear it break
And then, come tumbling in its swollen length.” Indeed, Dana's descriptions of nature are so graphic, that the objects are perceived as if by the bodily eye. In the delineation of character, also, he is often very successful. Mat Lee, the Buccaneer, is powerfully drawn. He is one of those ideal beings, who become existences as real to the mind, as any friend or enemy of whom we have had long experience. A few lines give him a place in the soul for ever.
“ Twelve years are gone since Matthew Lee
Held in this isle unquestioned sway ;
Loud in his sport and keen for spoil,
Fierce both in mirth and toil ;
when he would, or look in fear.
And by the lightning's sharp red glare,
Dana's imagination is, perhaps, his greatest power. In the extracts we have made from 5 The Buccaneer,” in illustration of other qualities, this faculty is prominent. Whether exercised in bodying forth abstract ideas, or in creating character, or in vivifying description, or in suggesting analogies, or in assisting to give that inexpressible tone to his compositions which analysis toils after in vain, - it seems equally predominant. In the selection of his language, likewise, no one can fail to discern the influence of this faculty. His words are always embodied ideas. He often makes a single epithet perform the office of a stanza. It would be impossiple to compress his style, for the short, sharp sentences are the perfection of brevity.
It would seem from his published works, that there is a dark vein of despondency in his nature, and it sometimes breaks out in morbid manifestations, in spite of the vigor of his intellect and the fineness of his affections. His compositions have more "hearse-like airs than carols." Keenly sensible to moral distinctions, he feels intensely the sin and wretchedness of the world, and throws too sombre a coloring over his reflections upon humanity. He gazes into the awful gulfs of iniquity, which make a hell of many perverted bosoms, with the eye of conscience and religion ; and is apt to transfer to the race some of the associations which such a contemplation suggests. A tinge of melancholy, mild, delicious, and dream-like, as in the “ Little Beach Bird,” is sometimes thrown over his verse, and adds to its mystical charm ; but when this deepens into gloom, we feel that it results from the inharmonious action of his mind. Even in the latter case, however, bursts of sunshine from his imagination will occasionally streak the darkness radiantly."
A poet whose sensibility to grandeur and sublimity is deep, and whose mind has a feeling for the vague and the supernatural, is ever liable to be oppressed by dark moods, unless he has a sharp perception of wit and humor to modify the sombre tendencies of his disposition. In Dana, this melancholy never degenerates into misanthropy, and is never employed to pamper a sublimed egotism, as in Byron. It is deeper, however, and more intense, than the mournfulness we occasionally find in Wordsworth, Bryant, and other meditative poets. It seems to have its bed and procreant cradle” in habits of solitary thought and intense VOL. LVIII. No. 122.
brooding over his own consciousness. It pervades his writings like an invisible spirit.
Mr. Griswold says finely of Bryant, that “ he is the translator of the silent language of nature to the world.” The serene beauty and thoughtful tenderness, which characterize his descriptions or rather interpretations of outward objects, are paralleled only in Wordsworth. His poems are almost perfect of their kind. The fruits of meditation, rather than of passion or imagination, and rarely startling with an unexpected image or sudden outbreak of feeling, they are admirable specimens of what may be called the philosophy of the soul. . They address the finer instincts of our nature with a voice so winning and gentle, — they search out with such subtle power all in the heart which is true and good, — that their influence, though quiet, is resistless. They have consecrated to many minds things which before it was painful to contemplate. Who can say, that his feelings and fears respecting death have not received an insensible change, since reading the “ Thanatopsis” ? Indeed, we think that Bryant's poems are valuable not only for their intrinsic excellence, but for the vast influence their wide circulation is calculated to exercise on national feelings and manners.
It is impossible to read them without being morally benefited. They purify as well as please. They develope or encourage all the elevated and thoughtful tendencies of the mind. In the jar and bustle of our American lise, more favorable to quickness and acuteness of mind than to meditation, it is well that we have a poet who can bring the hues and odors of nature into the crowded mart, and, by ennobling thoughts of man and his destiny, induce the most worldly to give their eyes an occasional glance upward, and the most selfish to feel that the love of God and man is better than the love of Mammon. Metrical moralizing is generally offensive, from its triteness and pretension ; but that of Bryant is so fresh and natural, mingles so unconsciously with his musings and imaginations, and bears so marked a character of truth and feeling, that even the most commonplace axiom receives a new importance when touched by the outpourings of his heart, and colored by his imagination. To make extracts from Bryant, in illustration of the qualities of his mind, would be almost an impertinence. His writings are too well known to need quotation of particular beauties.
Mr. Griswold remarks of Percival, that "he has all the natural qualities of a great poet, but lacks the artistical skill, or declines the labor, without which few authors gain immortality. He has a brilliant imagination, remarkable command of language, and an exhaustless fountain of ideas. He writes with a facility but rarely equalled, and, when his thoughts are once committed to the page, he shrinks from the labor of revising, correcting, and condensing. He remarks, in one of his prefaces, that his verse is very far from bearing the marks of the file and the burnisher,' and that he likes to see
poetry in the full ebullition of feeling and fancy, foaming up with the spirit of life, and glowing with the rainbows of a glad inspiration."" To this critique it is necessary to add but little. The glow and sparkle of Percival's verse are often in the highest degree inspiring. The swell and sweep in his diction correspond with the turbulence and joy of soul from which much of his poetry seems to gush. The mind of the reader is hurried along the stream of his verse, and readily adopts his changing moods. "The Prevalence of Poetry," " Consumption," "Clouds," "Morning among the Hills, ""Genius Slumbering," "Genius Waking,' "The Sun," and "New England," are all excellent, and evince his artistical ability, and the range of his genius. We say artistical ability, because most of Percival's poems indicate greater capacity in the writer than is directly expressed. "New England" is a lyric known to every school-boy; and its warm patriotism and kindling energy have disturbed the mind of many a youth, while attempting to pierce into the heart of some tough problem in Euclid. May" is a little poem of exceeding beauty and sweetness, reflecting the very season it describes.
"I feel a newer life in every gale,
And with their welcome breathings fill the sail,
Tell of serener hours,
Of hours that glide unfelt away
Beneath the sky of May.
"The spirit of the gentle south-wind calls
And, when his whispering voice in music falls,