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verse is to be computed by the fingers, and not by melodious pulsations of sound, true to time, and touching the ear within a given space. This fine image would, indeed, resemble its prototype, as described in the sequel, and be “shorn of its beams,” if, instead of " stood like a tow-er,” we were to read, “ stood like a tow'r ;” for *s all its original brightness,” “ all its orig’nal brightness ;” but especially if we were to curtail the article, and for “ glory” substitute “light;" saying for “ the excess of glory' obscured,” “ th' excess of light obscured ;" which would be according to mere numerical metre.
Though a little out of place, as it crosses our way, I cannot refrain from pointing out a most singular prosopopoiea which occurs in this passage, but which is so eclipsed by the shaded splendour of the context, as perhaps never before to have attracted critical notice:
“ His form had not yet lost All her original brightness !"
Here the very person of the fallen Angel is personified, as though that were but an accident of his nature, not himself, and “the intellectual being” were distinct from it as the soul of man is from his body. This, indeed, is a necessary condition of presenting spirits in any mode apprehensible by the senses.
Another line of Milton's has been quoted as full to overflowing with quantity:
“ O'er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp."
Here thirteen distinct syllables occupy the time and place of ten only. But the boldest and most successful sally of the kind, in which he achieves a triumph for his mother tongue, and exalts it almost to rank with Homer's, occurs in the menace of the spectre at hell-gates to Satan, attempting to pass them. Death,
" that other shape,
thus threatens the Arch-Fiend :
“ Back to thy punishment,
The hand of a master is felt through every movement of this sentence, especially towards the close, where it seems to grapple with the throat of the reader; the hard staccato stops, that well nigh take the breath, in attempting to pronounce “or, with one stroke of this dart,” are followed by an explosion of sound in the last line, like a heavy discharge of artillery, in which, though a full syllable is interpolated even at the cesural pause, it is carried off almost without the reader perceiving the surplusage,
“ Strange horror seize thee', and pangs unfelt before.” I will not expatiate.
But these redundancies, though allowable in heroic, and commendable in dramatic, are seldom to be tolerated in lyric poetry; so that, on the whole, our verse must be modulated by accent, not by quantity, except in the free and frequent use of such words and phrases as “heaven, power, spirit," and a few others, which are feeble when employed as dissyllables, but enrich the harmony when employed as one; that is, when uttered distinctly, but in the time of one. The phrase "many a," is sanctioned by a similar licence
“ Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
GRAY. Here “ many a flower,” five syllables, absolutely stands in the place of three ; and a clear tongue will touch upon each
so delicately that a common ear must feel the beauty of their full expression, and abhor the elision of a pretended supernumerary vowel.
On the brevity of metrical lengths in modern languages, it may be added, that English lambic verse will seldom bear drawing out into more than ten syllables. Yet our elder poets composed long works in twelve, and even fourteen. Chapman's version of the Iliad is in the latter measure: “ Achilles baneful wrath, O goddess ! that imposed Infinite sorrows on the Greeks, and many brave souls
losed From breasts heroique; sent them far to that invisible
That no light comforts, and their limbs to dogs and vultures gave."
Drayton's Polyolbion - a work once famous, though now scarcely known except by its uncouth name is in twelves. It is, indeed, one of the most learned and ingenious poems in the language, and unique in literature; being a treasure-house of topographic, antiquarian, and traditional lore, which the heavy versification alone was sufficient to sink into neglect, even if public taste had not changed since the age of garrulity, which it was written to instruct and entertain. The stag-chase in the forest of Arden is a masterpiece of its kind. These are the opening lines :
66 Now when the hart doth hear The often-bellowing hounds to vent his secret leir, He, rousing, rusheth out, and through the brakes doth
drive, As though up by the roots the bushes he would rive; And through the cumbrous thicks, as fearfully he
makes, He, with his branched head, the tender saplings shakes, That, sprinkling their moist pearls, do seem to weep :When, after goes the cry, with yellings loud and deep, That all the forest rings, and every neighbouring place, And there is not a hound but falleth to the chase ; Rechating with his horn*, which then the hunter cheers, While still the lusty stag his high-palm'd head upbears, His body showing state, his unbent knees upright, Expressing, from all beasts, his courage in the fight.”
Polyolbion, song xiii.
The line of fourteen syllables has long been abandoned; but out of it sprang the easiest of all our
One of the measures in winding the horn in the chase.
lyric staves — the 66 common measure,”
as it is called, alternately of eight and six syllables, the division occurring where the cesura almost necessarily fell in the old form. The line of twelves is also become obsolete, except as occasionally interpolated with the heroic standard of ten, or employed in stanzas of unequal numbers. In the former case it was called the 6 Alexandrine," and was introduced almost exclusively in triplets at the close of long periods. Though much used by Dryden, few of his successors have deemed the precedent valid ; indeed, it is plain that he himself often used it from slovenliness, to catch the overflowings of thought, when he was in too great haste to train it through those regular channels, which no versifier had ever greater facility to command than Dryden, when he was not writing against time to his own loss, - for Time, like the tortoise in the race with the hare, has overtaken the fleet-footed bard, and avenged his own wrongs by obliterating almost all the hurried footsteps of his competitor.
The Spenserian Stanza and the Sonnet.
The twelve-syllable line, however, has lately risen again to distinction in the Spenserian stanza, which Thomson, in his Castle of Indolence - certainly not in one of his fits of indolence had ventured to revive. This, though complex and difficult in construction, has become a favourite one for long narrative, since the resurrection of genuine poetry, after its long intermediate state of suspended animation