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The metaphorical language in these lines is incongruous.
"A passing shade of gall would cloud his mien."
"Soothing her bitter fetters as she can."
To the following we hardly know what epithet to apply.
Flooded, he seemed, with bright delicious pain,
As if a star had burst within his brain."
If he had written, as if a bombshell had burst, the expression would have been comparatively reasonable.
Again, what is "the starry energy of truth"? and what "Wherewith it wont to soar; are the days unruth"? wont is not now used as an imperfect tense, and to revive such an archaism is of questionable taste. "The weary creep of time" ; as there is no such noun as creep in the English language, the expression is of course false.
Is there not a strange jumble of literal and figurative expression in this couplet ?
"Watching and waiting there with lovelorn breast,
Around her young dream's rudely scattered nest."
The meaning of "starlike" in the following connexion is not very obvious:
"that mother's heart whose instinct true, Starlike, had battled down the triple gloom
Of sorrow, love, and death."
In the song of " Rosaline," a poem of much beauty, this strange couplet occurs :
"I waited with a maddened grin
To hear that voice all icy thin."
There is not the least necessity of using such a specimen of American manufacture as that which we have marked in the following line.
66 Through the everydayness of this work-day world."
We had marked many other examples of faulty expression, but it is unnecessary to copy more. They are all of that kind, which, though they mar the effect of the poems in which they occur, and should, therefore, be carefully avoided, are not inconsistent with the possession of all the essential attributes of a good poetical style. Mr. Lowell is in the right way to rid himself of them all.
We are now prepared to present our readers a few ex
tracts from these poems, wherein the genius of Mr. Lowell has done itself justice, and which, in our judgment, will give him a high rank among the poets of America.
The first poem, "A Legend of Brittany," is written with great beauty and pathos; but we prefer to leave it to be read as a whole. "Prometheus" ought to be short enough to quote entire ; but as it is not, we must give the conclusion only.
"Thou and all strength shall crumble, except Love,
By whom, and for whose glory, ye shall cease :
And, when thou art but a dim moaning heard
From out the pitiless glooms of Chaos, I
Shall be a power and a memory,
A name to fright all tyrants with, a light
Unsetting as the pole-star, a great voice
Heard in the breathless pauses of the fight
By truth and freedom ever waged with wrong,
Clear as a silver trumpet, to awake
Huge echoes that from age to age live on
In kindred spirits, giving them a sense
Of boundless power from boundless suffering wrung:
And many a glazing eye shall smile to see
The memory of my triumph, (for to meet
Wrong with endurance, and to overcome
The present with a heart that looks beyond,
Are triumph), like a prophet eagle, perch
Upon the sacred banner of the Right.
Evil springs up, and flowers, and bears no seed,
And feeds the green earth with its swift decay,
Leaving it richer for the growth of truth ;
But Good, once put in action or in thought,
Like a strong oak, doth from its boughs shed down
The ripe germs of a forest. Thou, weak god,
Shalt fade and be forgotten! but this soul,
Fresh-living still in the serene abyss,
In every heaving shall partake, that grows
From heart to heart among the sons of men,
As the ominous hum before the earthquake runs
Far through the Ægean from roused isle to isle, —
Foreboding wreck to palaces and shrines,
And mighty rents in many a cavernous error
That darkens the free light to man: - This heart,
Unscarred by thy grim vulture, as the truth
Grows but more lovely 'neath the beaks and claws
Of Harpies blind that fain would soil it, shall
In all the throbbing exultations share
That wait on freedom's triumphs, and in all
The glorious agonies of martyr-spirits, -
Sharp lightning-throes to split the jagged clouds
That veil the future, showing them the end,
Pain's thorny crown for constancy and truth,
Girding the temples like a wreath of stars.
This is a thought, that, like the fabled laurel,
Makes my faith thunder-proof; and thy dread bolts
Fall on me like the silent flakes of snow
On the hoar brows of aged Caucasus ;
But, O thought far more blissful, they can rend
This cloud of flesh, and make my soul a star!
"Unleash thy crouching thunders now, O Jove!
Free this high heart, which, a poor captive long,
Doth knock to be let forth, this heart which still,
In its invincible manhood, overtops
Thy puny godship, as this mountain doth
The pines that moss its roots. O, even now,
While from my peak of suffering I look down,
Beholding with a far-spread gush of hope
The sunrise of that Beauty, in whose face,
Shone all around with love, no man shall look
But straightway like a god he is uplift
Unto the throne long empty for his sake,
And clearly oft foreshadowed in wide dreams
By his free inward nature, which nor thou,
Nor any anarch after thee, can bind
From working its great doom,—now, now set free
This essence, not to die, but to become
Part of that awful Presence which doth haunt
The palaces of tyrants, to hunt off,
With its grim eyes and fearful whisperings
And hideous sense of utter loneliness,
All hope of safety, all desire of peace,
All but the loathed forefeeling of blank death,
Part of that spirit which doth ever brood
In patient calm on the unpilfered nest
Of man's deep heart, till mighty thoughts grow fledged
To sail with darkening shadow o'er the world,
Filling with dread such souls as dare not trust
In the unfailing energy of Good,
Until they swoop, and their pale quarry make
Of some o'erbloated wrong,
Scatters great hopes in the seed field of man,
Like acorns among grain, to grow and be
A roof for freedom in all coming time!
"But no, this cannot be; for ages yet,
In solitude unbroken, shall I hear
The angry Caspian to the Euxine shout,
And Euxine answer with a muffled roar,
On either side storming the giant walls
Of Caucasus with leagues of climbing foam,
(Less, from my height, than flakes of downy snow,)
That draw back baffled but to hurl again,
Snatched up in wrath and horrible turmoil,
Mountain on mountain, as the Titans erst,
My brethren, scaling the high seat of Jove,
Heaved Pelion upon Ossa's shoulders broad,
In vain emprise. The moon will come and go
With her monotonous vicissitude;
Once beautiful, when I was free to walk
Among my fellows, and to interchange
The influence benign of loving eyes,
But now by aged use grown wearisome;
False thought! most false ! for how could I endure
These crawling centuries of lonely woe
Unshamed by weak complaining, but for thee,
Loneliest, save me, of all created things,
Mild-eyed Astarte, my best comforter,
With thy pale smile of sad benignity?
"Year after year will pass away and seem To me, in mine eternal agony,
But as the shadows of dumb summer-clouds,
Which I have watched so often darkening o'er
The vast Sarmatian plain, league-wide at first,
But, with still swiftness, lessening on and on
Till cloud and shadow meet and mingle where
The gray horizon fades into the sky,
Far, far to northward. Yes, for ages yet
Must I lie here upon my altar huge,
A sacrifice for man. Sorrow will be,
As it hath been, his portion; endless doom,
While the immortal with the mortal linked
Dreams of its wings and pines for what it dreams,
With upward yearn unceasing Better so :
For wisdom is meek sorrow's patient child,
And empire over self, and all the deep
Strong charities that make men seem like gods;
And love, that makes them be gods, from her breasts
Sucks in the milk that makes mankind one blood.
Good never comes unmixed, or so it seems,
Having two faces, as some images
Are carved, of foolish gods; one face is ill;
But one heart lies beneath, and that is good,
As are all hearts, when we explore their depths.
Therefore, great heart, bear up! thou art but type
Of what all lofty spirits endure, that fain
Would win men back to strength and peace through love :
Each hath his lonely peak, and on each heart
Envy, or scorn, or hatred, tears lifelong
With vulture beak; yet the high soul is left;
And faith, which is but hope grown wise; and love;
And patience, which at last shall overcome."
We omit the beginning and the end of "Rhocus," but give all that properly belong to the subject.
"A youth named Rhocus, wandering in the wood, Saw an old oak just trembling to its fall,
And, feeling pity of so fair a tree,
He propped its gray trunk with admiring care,
And with a thoughtless footstep loitered on.
But, as he turned, he heard a voice behind
That murmured Rhocus!' 'T was as if the leaves,
Stirred by a passing breath, had murmured it,
And, while he paused bewildered, yet again
It murmured Rhocus!' softer than a breeze.
He started and beheld with dizzy eyes
What seemed the substance of a happy dream
Stand there before him, spreading a warm glow
Within the green glooms of the shadowy oak.
It seemed a woman's shape, yet all too fair
To be a woman, and with eyes too meek
For any that were wont to mate with gods.
All naked like a goddess stood she there,
And like a goddess all too beautiful
To feel the guilt-born earthliness of shame.
'Rhocus, I am the Dryad of this tree,'
Thus she began, dropping her low-toned words.
Serene, and full, and clear, as drops of dew,
' And with it I am doomed to live and die;