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Save when by reflection 'tis kindled o' nights
With a semblance of flame by the chill Northern Lights.
He may rank (Griswold says so) first bard of your nation,
(There's no doubt that he stands in supreme ice-olation,)
Your topmost Parnassus he may set his heel on,
But no warm applauses come, peal following peal on-
He's too smooth and too polished to hang any zeal on :
Unqualified merits, I'll grant, if you choose, he has 'em,
But he lacks the one merit of kindling enthusiasm;
If he stir you at all, it is just, on my soul,
Like being stirred up with the very North Pole.
*He is very nice reading in summer, but inter
Nos, we don't want extra freezing in winter;
Take him up in the depth of July, my advice is,
When you feel an Egyptian devotion to ices.
But, deduct all you can, there's enough that's right good in him,
He has a true soul for field, river, and wood in him ;
And his heart, in the midst of brick walls, or where'er it is,
Glows, softens, and thrills with the tenderest charities,-
To you mortals that delve in this trade-ridden planet ?
No, to old Berkshire's hills, with their limestone and granite.
If you're one who in loco (add foco here) desipis,
You will get of his outermost heart (as I guess) a piece;
get deeper down if you came as a precipice,
And would break the last seal of its inwardest fountain,
If you only could palm yourself off for a mountain.
Mr. Quivis, or somebody quite as discerning,
Some scholar who's hourly expecting his learning,
Calls B. the American Wordsworth; but Wordsworth
Is worth near as much as your whole tuneful herd's worth.
No, don't be absurd, he's an excellent Bryant;
But, my friends, you'll endanger the life of your client,
By attempting to stretch him up into a giant:
If you choose
to compare him, I think there are two per-
-sons fit for a parallel—Thomson and Cowper ;*
I don't mean exactly,—there's something of each,
There's T.'s love of nature, C.'s penchant to preach;
Just mix up their minds so that C.'s spice of craziness
Shall balance and neutralize T.'s turn for laziness,
And it gives you a brain cool, quite frictionless, quiet,
Whose internal police nips the buds of all riot,-
A brain like a permanent strait-jacket put on
The heart which strives vainly to burst off a button, -
A brain which, without being slow or mechanic,
Does more than a larger less drilled, more volcanic;
He's a Cowper condensed, with no craziness bitten,
And the advantage that Wordsworth before him has written.
• But, my dear little bardlings, don't prick up your ears,
Nor suppose I would rank you and Bryant as peers;
If I call him an iceberg, I don't mean to say
There is nothing in that which is grand, in its way;
He is almost the one of your poets that knows
How much grace, strength, and dignity lie in Repose;
If he sometimes fall short, he is too wise to mar
His thought's modest fulness by going too far;
'Twould be well if your authors should all make a trial
Of what virtue there is in serere self-denial,
And measure their writings by Hesiod's staff,
Which teaches that all has less value than half.'
•There is Whittier, whose swelling and vehement heart Strains the strait-breasted drab of the Quaker apart, And reveals the live Man, still supreme and erect, Underneath the bemummying wrappers of sect; There was ne'er a man born who had more of the swing Of the true lyric bard and all that kind of thing; And his failures arise, (though perhaps he don't know it,) From the very same cause that has made him a poet-A fervour of mind which knows no separation 'Twixt simple excitement and pure inspiration, As my Pythoness erst sometimes erred from not knowing If ’twere I or mere wind through her tripod was blowing; Let his mind once get head in its favourite direction And the torrent of verse bursts the dams of reflection, While, borne with the rush of the metre along, The poet may chance to go right or go wrong, Content with the whirl and delirium of song; Then his grammar's not always correct, nor his rhymes, And he's prone to repeat his own lyrics sometimes, Not his best, though, for those are struck off at white-heats When the heart in his breast like a trip-hammer beats, And can ne'er be repeated again any more Than they could have been carefully plotted before: Like old what's-his-name there at the battle of Hastings, (Who, however, gave more than mere rhythmical bastings,) Our Quaker leads off metaphorical fights For reform and whatever they call human rights, Both singing and striking in front of the war And hitting his foes with the mallet of Thor;
Anne hæc, one exclaims, on beholding his knocks,
Vestis filii tui, 0, leather-clad Fox?
Can that be thy son, in the battle's mid din,
Preaching brotherly love and then driving it in
To the brain of the tough old Goliah of sin,
With the smoothest of pebbles from Castaly's spring
Impressed on his hard moral sense with a sling?
* All honour and praise to the right-hearted bard
Who was true to The Voice when such service was hard
Who himself was so free he dared sing for the slave
When to look but a protest in silence was brave;
All honour and praise to the women and men
Who spoke out for the dumb and the down-trodden then!
I need not to name them, already for each
I see History preparing the statue and niche;
They were harsh, but shall you be so shocked at hard words
Who have beaten your pruning-hooks up into swords,
Whose rewards and hurrahs men are surer to gain
By the reaping of men and of women than grain ?
Why should you stand aghast at their fierce wordy war, if
You scalp one another for Bank or for Tariff?
Your calling them cut-throats and knaves all day long
Don't prove that the use of hard language is wrong;
While the World's heart beats quicker to think of such men
As signed Tyranny's doom with a bloody steel-pen,
While on Fourth-of-Julys beardless orators fright one
With hints at Harmodius and Aristogeiton,
You need not look shy at your sisters and brothers
Who stab with sharp words for the freedom of others,
No, a wreath, twine a wreath for the loyal and true
Who, for sake of the many, dared stand with the few,
Not of blood-spattered laurel for enemies braved,
But of broad, peaceful oak-leaves for citizens saved !
• Here comes Dana, abstractedly loitering along, Involved in a paulo-post-future of song, Who'll be going to write what'll never be written Till the Muse, ere he thinks of it, gives him the mitten,Who is so well aware of how things should be done, That his own works displease him before they're begun,Who so well all that makes up good poetry knows, That the best of poems is written in prose; All saddled and bridled stood Pegasus waiting, He was booted and spurred, but he loitered debating, In a very grave question his soul was immersed, Which foot in the stirrup he ought to put first;
And, while this point and that he judicially dwelt on,
He, somehow or other, had written Paul Felton,
Whose beauties or faults, whichsoever you see there,
You'll allow only genius could hit upon either.
That he once was the Idle Man none will deplore,
But I fear he will never be anything more;
The ocean of song heaves and glitters before him,
The depth and the vastness and longing sweep o'er him,
He knows every breaker and shoal on the chart,
He has the Coast Pilot and so on by heart,
Yet he spends his whole life, like the man in the fable,
In learning to swim on his library-table.
• There swaggers John Neal, who has wasted in Maine
The sinews and chords of his pugilist brain,
Who might have been poet, but that, in its stead, he
Preferred to believe that he was so already;
Too hasty to wait till Art's ripe fruit should drop,
He must pelt down an unripe and colicky crop;
Who took to the law, and had this sterling plea for it,
It required him to quarrel, and paid him a fee for it;
A man who's made less than he might have, because
He always has thought himself more than he was,-
Who, with very good natural gifts as a bard,
Broke the strings of his lyre out by striking too hard,
And cracked half the notes of a truly fine voice,
Because song drew less instant attention than noise.
Ah, men do not know how much strength is in poise,
That he goes the farthest who goes far enough,
And that all beyond that is just bother and stuff.
No vain man matures, he makes too much new wood;
His blooms are too thick for the fruit to be good;
'Tis the modest man ripens, 'tis he that achieves,
Just what's needed of sunshine and shade he receives ;
Grapes, to mellow, require the cool dark of their leaves;
Neal wants balance; he throws his mind always too far,
Whisking out flocks of comets, but never a star;
He has so much muscle, and loves so to show it,
That he strips himself naked to prove he's a poet,
And, to show he could leap Art's wide ditch, if he tried,
Jumps clean o'er it, and into the hedge t'other side.
He has strength, but there's nothing about him in keeping ;
One gets surelier onward by walking than leaping;
He has used his own sinews himself to distress,
And had done vastly more had he done vastly less;
In letters, too soon is as bad as too late,
Could he only have waited he might have been great,
But he plumped into Helicon up to the waist,
And muddied the stream ere he took his first taste.
• There is Hawthorne, with genius so shrinking and rare
That you hardly at first see the strength that is there;
A frame so robust, with a nature so sweet,
So earnest, so graceful, so solid, so fleet,
Is worth a descent from Olympus to meet;
'Tis as if a rough oak that for ages had stood,
With his gnarled bony branches like ribs of the wood,
Should bloom, after cycles of struggle and scathe,
With a single anemone trembly and rathe ;
His strength is so tender, his wildness so meek,
That a suitable parallel sets one to seek,-
He's a John Bunyan Fouqué, a Puritan Tieck ;
When nature was shaping him, clay was not granted
For making so full-sized a man as she wanted,
So, to fill out her model, a little she spared
From some finer-grained stuff for a woman prepared,
And she could not have hit a more excellent plan
For making him fully and perfectly man.
The success of her scheme gave her so much delight,
That she tried it again, shortly after, in Dwight:
Only, while she was kneading and shaping the clay,
She sang to her work in her sweet childish way,
And found, when she'd put the last touch to his soul,
That the music had somehow got mixed with the whole.
Here's Cooper, who's written six volumes to show He's as good as a lord: well, let's grant that he's so, If a person prefer that description of praise, Why, a coronet's certainly cheaper than bays; But he need take no pains to convince us he's not (As his enemies say) the American Scott. Choose any twelve men, and let C. read aloud That one of his novels of which he's most proud, And I'd lay any bet that, without ever quitting Their box, they'd be all, to a man, for acquitting. He has drawn you one character, though, that is new,' One wildflower he's plucked that is wet with the dew Of this fresh Western world, and, the thing not to mince, He has done naught but copy it ill ever since; His Indians, with proper respect be it said, Are just Natty Bumpo daubed over with red, And his very Long Toms are the same useful Nat, Rigged up in duck pants and a sou’-wester hat, (Though once in a Coffin, a good chance was found To have slipt the old fellow away underground.)