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definition of a metrical work, than that it is divided into regular portions called verses; and though it be very true, that there are legitimate verses of various lengths and constructions, all of which are at the service of the poet, still it seems almost necessary that those of the same order should either be repeated in sequence, or interposed according to some regular system, in order to give us that perception of uniformity which seems to be the basis of the pleasure we receive from metrical harmony. If absolute uniformity, however, be thought too cloying: though Homer and Milton do not seem to have found it so, there seems no good reason why a poet may not use one measure in onc canto (or in one page, if he pleases) and another in another: But, to mix up all sorts of measures in every canto, and in every page, seems really to be defeating the very purpose of writing in verse at all; and cannot fail to perplex the reader, with a perpetual feeling of uncertainty and disappointment, The only apology that could be offered for great irregularity of measure, would be, exquisite propriety of diction. In order to keep all his lines up to one standard, a poet may sometimes be obliged to leave out an impressive word, or to insert a weak or redundant one; and if he had the power of shortening or varying his measure, so as to suit it exactly to the very best selection of expressions that the language could afford, it may be thought that we should have, on the whole, a more perfect composition, or at least a composition that more than compensated for the irregularity of its metre, by the beauty and force of its diction. Plausible, however, as such a notion may appear, we suspect that it would not be found to answer even in more scrupulous hands than those of Mr. Southey, The license which was conceded as
an encouragement to extraordinary diligence, would soon come to be employed as an instrument of mere indolence; and, instead of being used only to supply the unavoidable defects of the language, would be familiarly resorted to, when the only defect was in the author. But, however this may be in theory, we are pretty sure that even Mr. Southey’s greatest admirers will not pretend to say that, in point of fact, he is entitled to make use of this apology. Notwithstanding the unprecedented irregularity of his verse, his diction is the least compact, select, or elaborate, of any with which we are acquainted. It is, indeed, in a very remarkable degree, loose and verbose, and neglected; and the irregularities of his measure seem to be far more frequently adopted, because they enabled him to employ the first unweighed expression that occurred to him, than because they afforded the only perfect vehicle for phrases too precious to be altered.
We have another fault to Mr. Southey’s versification in this poem, besides its irregularity. He has introduced a great number of very unharmonious metres; and combined them very unharmoniously. Instead of the firm march of the Iambick and Trochaick measures, for which alone our language seems to be adapted, we have (besides the poor pedantry of Sapphicks and Dactylicks) a great variety of tottering and slovenly measures, that were either never introduced into English poetry, or have been long discarded from it, from experience of their unfitness for the service. In the very beginning of the poem, for example, we have a series of such verses as these.
“He moves—he nods his head, But the motion comes from the bearers' tread, As the body born aloft in state, Sways with the impulse of its own dead weight.”
And a little after—
“By this in the orient sky appears the gleam Of day—Lo! what is yonder in the stream 2–
There is great choice, indeed, of such passages throughout the work.
“A fire is in his heart and brain And nature hath no healing for his pain.” “As if from some tort catapult let loose, Over the forest hurled him all abroad.” “Thereat the heart of the universe stood still; The elements ceased their influences; the hours Stopt on the eternal round: Motion and breath, Time, change, and life and death.” “It soweth here with toil and care, But the harvest time of love is there.” “And hated women because they were loved.” “O silent night! how have they startled thee With the brazen trumpets' blare l’’ “Never before Had Kailyal watched it so impatiently, Never so eagerly had hoped before, As now when she believed, and said, all hope was o'er.
Beholding her, how beautiful she stood, In that wild solitude, Baly from his invisibility Had issued then, to know her cause of Wo: . But that, in the air beside her, he espied Two powers of evil.” p. 189, 190.
“And blessed be the hour that gave thee birth, Daughter of earth.”
“Where in his ancient and august abodes, There dwelt old Casyapo, the sire of gods.”
We do not know whether its versification be the worst fault of the following very affected passage; but it is extremely offensive to our ears.
“But rising over all in one acclaim
Is heard the echoed and reechoed name, From all that countless rout: Arvalan Arvalan Arvalam : Arvalan Ten times ten thousand voices in one shout Call Arvalan: The overpowering sound, From house to house repeated rings about, From tower to tower rolls round.”
“And now at once they shout
The following, we think, is equally detestable, in rythm, style, and conception:
“Dost thou tremble, O Indra, O god of
“O day of wo! above below, That blood confirms the almighty tyrant’s reign Thou tremblest, O Indra, O god of the sky, Thy thunder is vain Thou tremblest on high for thy power But where is Veeshnoo at this hour, But where is Seeva's eye * p. 74, 75.
Neither have we more toleration for such harsh and noisy bombast as the following:
“And all around, behind, before, The bridal car, is the raging rout, With frantick shout, and deafening roar, Tossing the torches' flames about. And the double double peals of the drum are there, And the startling burst of the trumpet’s blare; And the gong, that seems, with its thunders dread, To stun the living, and waken the dead. The ear-strings throb, as if they were broke,
“Wo! wo! Nealliny, The young Nealliny They strip her ornaments away; Bracelet and anklet, ring, and chain, and zone; Around her neck they leave The marriage knot alone, ... That marriage band, which when Yon waning moon was young, Around her virgin neck With bridal joy was hung. Then with white flowers, the coronal of death, Her jetty locks the crown. O sight of misery You cannot hear her cries, ... all other sound In that wild dissonance is drown'd;— But in her face you see The supplication and the agony, ... See in her swelling throat the desperate strength That . vain effort struggles yet for life; Her arms contracted now in fruitless strife, Now wildly at full length Towards the crowd in vain, for pity spread.—p. 8, 9. The following picture of morning, is also sketched with bright and transparent colours. It relates to Kailyal and her father, after he had saved her from the flood. “The boatman, sailing on his easy way, With envious eye beheld them where they lay; For every herb and flower Was fresh and fragrant with the early
dew, Sweet sung the birds in that delicious hour, And the cool gale of morning as it blew, Not yet subdued by day's increasing power, ltuffling the surface of the silvery stream, Swept o'er the moisten’d sand, and raised no shower.
Telling their tale of love, The boatman thought they lay At that lone hour, and who so blest as they !”—p. 28, 29. The evening scene is also very sweetly drawn, and with the same fidelity to eastern costume. “Evening comes on: arising from the stream, Homeward the tall flamingo wings his flight;
And where he sails athwart the setting beam, His scarlet plumage glows with deeper light. The watchman, at the wished approach - of night, Gladly forsakes the field, where he all day, To scare the winged plunderers from their pray, With shout and , sling, on yonder clay\ built height, Hath born the sultry ray. Hark! at the golden palaces, The Bramin strikes the hour. For leagues and leagues around, the brazen sound Rolls through the stillness of departing day, Like thunder far away.” p. 35, 36.
The awaking of Kailyal, too, when first born, in her swoon, to the spring of the Ganges, is very beautifully represented. The last six lines appear to us peculiarly sweet and melodious.
“The waters of the holy Spring About the hand of Kailyal play; They rise, they sparkle, and they sing, Leaping where languidly she lay, As if with that rejoicing stir The holy Spring would welcome her. The Tree of Life which o'er her spread, Benignant bowed its sacred head, And dropt its dews of healing; And her heart-blood at every breath, Recovering from the strife of death, Drew in new strength and feeling, Behold her beautiful in her repose, A life-bloom reddening now her darkbrown cheek; And lo! her eyes unclose, Dark as the depth of Ganges’ spring profound, When night hangs over it, Bright as the moon's refulgent beam, That quiver's on its clear up-sparkling stream.”—p. 54, 55.
Her first interview with the spirit of her mother, whom she had lost in infancy, is described with the same tenderness and truth of feeling. The language (and this is no light praise) is like the finest parts of Mr. Wordsworth’s. “The Maid that lovely form surveyed; Wistful she gazed, and knew her not; But nature to her heart conveyed
A sudden thrill, a startling thought, A feeling many a year forgot, Now like a dream anew recurring, As if again in every vein Her mother's milk was stirring. With straining neck and earnest eye She stretched her hands imploringly, As if she fain would have her nigh, Yet fear'd to meet the wished embrace, At once with love and awe opprest” p. 99.
The passage that follows is an imitation, almost equally successful, of the moralizing style of Walter Scott.
“They sin who tell us love can die.
There is no finer description, perhaps, in the whole poem, than that of the ancient city of Baly, showing its silent turrets above the surrounding sea.
“Their golden summits, in the noonday light, Shone othe dark green deep that rolled between; For domes, and pinnacles, and apires Were seen Peering above the sea—a mournful sight! Well might the sad beholder ween from thence What works of wonder the devouring Wave Had swallowed there, when monuments so brave Bore record of their old magnificence. And on the sandy shore, beside the verge Of ocean, here and there, a rock-hewn fane