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ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem, from the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming."
Without entering into any argument on the question, dogmatically as the law is here laid down, we may at once appeal to Spenser, Dryden, Pope, and many of our contemporaries, to exonerate rhyme from the indignity cast upon it; though we are, at the same time, willing to allow that Shakspeare, Milton, Thomson, Young, and others have established for blank verse all the high claims (except exclusiveness) asserted here. Milton himself was not happy in the management of rhyme; yet it cannot be admitted that “Comus,” “Samson Agonistes," or “ Paradise Lost,” outshine, either in sublime embellishment, or “colours dipt in heaven," the joyous images, the mournful beauty, and the rapt abstractions of “L’Allegro,” “Il Penseroso,” and “Lycidas;” though the versification (through no fault of the rhyme) in many passages of these is crabbed in construction, and, from the jolting transitions, ungrateful to the ear, as well as difficult to follow. But since two sovereign authorities, Milton and Pope, are at variance on this point, it may perhaps be best decided by saying, that he who can employ rhyme like the one, or blank verse like the other, may safely prefer that in which he himself excels.
But whatever the form, the theme, or the compass of a poem, the diction is so essential to excellence and to success, that no other merit will compensate for
meanness, extravagance, or deficiency here. Where there is grace, vigour, harmony of expression, the field is more than half won; and, presuming that it was worth winning, the victory is sure to him who has, with a fair proportion of other requisites, the arbitrary command of these. For the object of the poet is, — not merely to convey information of facts, unravel a well-tangled plot, refute error, or establish truth by argument, nor yet to move the passions and delight the fancy by pathos and imagery, — then, like the historian, the novelist, or the logician, leave the memory of the reader to retain, as it may, an abstract of the whole that has been communicated : - no; but it is the poet's purpose to identify in the reader's mind the things themselves with the very phrases, words, syllables, sounds through which they were communicated; because therein so much resides the enchantment of pure song, that a very slight alteration may quite change the character both of the ideas themselves and the impression which they are calculated to make in the original terms.
So evanescent is poetical spirit, so inconvertible poetic diction, that though the latter, undisturbed, may rival the firmament in durability, and like the firmament transmit the glories inlaid in it from generation to generation, - yet so frail and fugitive is the vehicle, that, unsettle but a word, it breaks like a bubble, and the unimprisoned spirit is gone. Let us put this to the test. Ariel, the delicate sprite, the finest creation of the finest fancy that ever peopled air, earth, and ocean with new tribes of beautiful or terrible beings; — that “bodied forth the shapes of
things” unknown, and gave “to airy nothings a local habitation and a name," — Ariel, the loveliest offspring of Shakspeare's genius, on the shore of “the Enchanted Island,” sings this grotesque air, in the hearing, but not in sight, of Ferdinand, who believes his father to have been drowned in “ the Tempest," from which the drama takes its name.
“ Full fathom five thy father lies ;
Of his bones are coral made;
Nothing in him that doth fade,
Hark! now I hear them — ding-dong, bell.” I remark not on the sea-nymphs ringing the knell of the dead, nor on the conversion of bones into coral, and eyes into pearl, - but I earnestly call attention to the three lines which so indefinitely, yet picturesquely, allude to the mysterious process by which these transmutations were effected :
Nothing in him that doth fade,
Into something rich and strange." He can have neither poetic ear nor poetic feeling who is not affected he knows not how, and cares not wherefore -- by the phrase "suffer a sea-change, ” or the collocation of epithets which follows, “ into something rich and strange." I will not attempt, by microscopic criticism, to point out the curiosity and felicity of these terms; but, by substituting for them
words which, according to dictionary authority, are perfectly synonymous, every body will perceive that the poetry has escaped, and the residuum is flat prose. I lay no stress on the metre of the original (though the slow movement has in it an undescribable pathos), it will therefore be no disparagement to my translation, that it is not given in verse, which, indeed, has been avoided, for the purpose of securing a more rigidly literal meaning.
“ There's nothing in him that decays,
But undergoes an alteration from the water
Into something valuable and uncommon.”
But doth suffer a sea-change
Tempest, Act I. Scene 2.
Here we have a perfect illustration of the difference between what is poetical and what is prosaic, in the same things. Here, also, is proof of that quality in poetic language which has power to “ change into something rich and strange,” whatever is subjected to it; for, as the sea is represented to convert relics of mortality into rare and precious substances pearls, amber and coral, which it throws upon the beach from treasures of darkness elaborated in its womb-so, from the unsounded depths of invention, the poet brings up, in new forms, old images and ideas, as different from what they were when received into his mind, as bodies, when buried in the ocean, were from what they became after they had “suffered," that
sea-change Into something rich and strange;' of which we have now heard enough.
It may be observed in this place, that the far greater difficulty of translation from a foreign tongue into a vernacular one, may be appreciated by the comparative hopelessness of attempting to translate out of our own into our own, such passages as the foregoing, how accurately soever the sense may be given in terms similar, but not the same as those wherein the poet had bound it, — as with the girdle of Florimel, which none but she for whom it was made could wear, and which, among crowds of false claimants, identified the true owner by fitting her alone. It is remarkable, also, that the simplest thoughts, in the simplest words those which translate themselves at first sight -- are the least capable of being transfused with effect into any other words than those in which the original authors arrayed them; perhaps for this reason, that the sentiments themselves would never have been expressed at all but for the felicity of phrase, which the idioms of the poet's own language, without searching, supplied ; these, indeed, may be elegantly paraphrased, but seldom literally rendered without irreparable deficiency of force. It will not be questioned that the feelings so exquisitely uttered in the following lines of Catullus, might not, with equal fervency and tenderness, be breathed forth in British verse, by a traveller long detained, and late arriving at his happy home. But an air and cast as entirely different must be given to the whole, as the atmosphere