Слике страница

The poet who can honestly say this of himself deserves all possible credit as a man with an intention which may or may not be a genuine mission. But we have to appraise him-as he himself here implies--by his available poetic equipment, and not by his aspirations; and as such we must say that Mr. Lowell, in his career as a serious poet, has only occasionally risen to the level of excellence, and has mostly to be ranked among the men of elegant, high-toned, and refined thought who compose verse adequately expressive of their aims, and marked with many of the minor—that is, of the teachable or acquirable-poetic graces. His Ode (so entitled), in its third section, and in some degree his Incident in a Railroad Car, show that he would wish the typical American poet to be something beyond this—and indeed so should we.

We now turn to Mr. Lowell as a humorous poet. In this character he takes a very different and a far higher rank. His humorous poems are chiefly the Fable for Critics and the Biglow Papers, first and second series. Of these three works the most important beyond all comparison is the first series of the Biglow Papers, which fairly attains to the heroic standard in its own wildly grotesque and irresistibly laughtermoving way. It is not an exaggeration to say that no poetic work of the same kind was ever better done. Mr. Lowell's central aim in this monumental performance (for the Comic Muse may have her monuments as well as the Tragic or Epic) is, as we have seen, exceedingly serious—to deprecate and denounce an unrighteous war, and to brand the system of slavery, of which that war was a natural outcome: but in the carrying out of his purpose he divests himself of the externals of gravity, and lashes out on all sides in the most freakish, fantastic, and boisterous humour, always at the same time preserving the coolness of his head and thecertainty of his muscle. He hits the hardest of strokes ; and knows how to plant them on that part of the hide of his adversary which shall make the latter most ludicrous in the eyes of the by-standers, and shall wring from him the wryest faces and most uncouth ejaculations. Tartness and unexpectedness of phrase are among Mr. Lowell's happiest resources of detail ; but these would not tell out as they do if it were not for the essential rightness and toughness of his feeling, and his exceeding quickness of perception and of fancy. It has been said that the Biglow Papers were the first poems in which the dialect of New England-or Yankee dialect as we call it —was used for the purposes of verse. This may perhaps not be literally correct; but certain it is that these poems distance and supersede any which may have preceded them, and cast a long shadow, as from the mountain-tops of humour, over all subsequent attempts in the same line. The three chier personages of the series-Hosea Biglow, the Reverend Homer Wilbur, and Birdofredum Sawin-are all equally good in their way, and make up an unsurpassable trine for the purposes of the satirist. Many phrases in the Biglow Papers seem destined to a perennial vitality; and some of the situations are as rich and racy as the phrases. In fact, Mr Lowell has in this work performed a solid, and in its way an unequalled, service to his nation, and has, in the same act, enrolled himself among the absolutely successful humourists of the world.

Much less is to be said in praise of the second series of the Biglow Papers, relating to the American War of Secession : this, like almost all continuations or afterthoughts, appears in comparison to be a level and uninspired performance-a prepense working out of a vein which was inexhaustille only so lang as it was thoroughly spontaneous. Not indeed but that this second series is also, on its own showing, excellent. Had it stood by itself, it would not have missed achieving a true succès d'estime, and something even beyond that: but, comin where it does, we feel that it neither reaches the standard of its precursor, nor was strictly bound to put in an appearance for its own sake.

The Fable for Critics partakes of two qualities : that of the literary exercitation, and that of the humorous invention. From either point of view it is exceptionally good; and, if no Biglow Papers had succeeded the Fable, it would have availed to give its author a very distinguished place among poetical artificers of the comic. In mastery of Hudibrastic rhyme it need shrink from no comparison, whether with the older or with the more recent adepts in this form of composition; and its critical dexterity is not the less sound for being playfully expressed. We should indeed not conclude without observing that Mr Lowell has shown in the general course of his career as a critic—as traceable in his prose works--a large amount of varied and easily-applied knowledge, and a keen and solid, though certainly not in our regard an infallible, judgment.





GONE, gone from us ! and shall we see
Those sibyl-leaves of destiny,
Those calm eyes, nevermore ?
Those deep, dark eyes so warm and bright,
Wherein the fortunes of the man
Lay slumbering in prophetic light,
In characters a child might scan?
So bright, and gone forth utterly!
O stern word-Nevermore!

The stars of those two gentle eyes
Will shine no more on earth;
Quenched are the hopes that had their birth,
As we watched them slowly rise,
Stars of a mother's fate;
And she would read them o'er and o'er,
Pondering as she sate,
Over their dear astrology,
Which she had conned and conned before,
Deeming she needs must read aright
What was writ so passing bright.
And yet, alas ! she knew not why,
Her voice would falter in its song,
And tears would slide from out her eye,
Silent, as they were doing wrong.
O stern word-Nevermore!

The tongue that scarce had learned to claim
An entrance to a mother's heart
By that dear talisman, a mother's name,
Sleeps all forgetful of its art!
I loved to see the infant soul
(How mighty in the weakness
Of its untutored meekness !)
Peep timidly from out its nest,
His lips, the while,
Fluttering with half-fledged words,

[ocr errors][merged small]

Or hushing to a smile
That more than words expressed,
When his glad mother on him stole
And snatched him to her breast!
0, thoughts were brooding in those eyes,
That would have soared like strong-winged birds
Far, far, into the skies,
Gladding the earth with song,
And gushing harmonies,
Had he but tarried with us long!
O stern word-Nevermore!

How peacefully they rest,
Crossfolded there
Upon his little breast,
Those small, white hands that ne'er were still before,
But ever sported with his mother's hair,
Or the plain cross that on her breast she wore !
Her heart no more will beat
To feel the touch of that soft palm,
That ever seemed a new surprise,
Sending glad thoughts up to her eyes
To bless him with their holy calm,-
Sweet thoughts! they made her eyes as sweet.
How quiet are the hands
That wove those pleasant bands!
But that they do not rise and sink
With his calm breathing, I should think
That he were dropped asleep.
Alas ! too deep, too deep
Is this his slumber!
Time scarce can number
The years ero he will wake again.
O, may we see his eyelids open then!
Ostern word_Nevermore !

As the airy gossamere,
Floating in the sunlight clear,
Where'er it toucheth clingeth tightly,
Round glossy leaf or stump unsightly,
So from his spirit wandered out
Tendrils spreading all about,
Knitting all things to its thrall
With a perfect love of all:
O stern word-Nevermore!

He did but float a little way
Adown the stream of time,
With dreamy eyes watching the ripples play,
Or listening their fairy chime;

« ПретходнаНастави »