ページの画像
PDF
ePub

DESCRIPTIVE AND REFLECTIVE

VERSE

INTRODUCTION

A GREAT many of the most interesting and, ultimately, the most valuable short poems in English literature show the poet in his function of prophet and seer. He looks out upon nature and his fellow-men and in upon his own soul, with its complex of aspiration and disappointment, and in all this bewildering circumstance he sees further than other men see; he teaches them how to meet the issues of life, or presents by his imagination, in Ruskin's phrase, “noble grounds for noble emotions.” In this conception the poet is an interpreter, actuated not only by emotion and the gift of expression but by insight and wisdom. No other function of the poet is more universally recognized. Poet and prophet were the same with the Hebrews, and no men now are more truly infidels than those who deny the wisdom of the poets.

The key to the composition of this volume is that these poems are interpretative. They are various in aspect and in temper; but in all of them the poet is making his perpetual endeavor to express the spirit of things.” The poetry, here, is not the spontaneous outburst of the poet's heart; it softens that, and adds to it a

remoter charm bestowed by contemplation. This is perhaps the very noblest function of the lyric poet, that he shall thus translate into thought the emotions of his heart.

Most of the poems here are lyrics and consequently freely varying in form. A few of the character pieces have a strong dramatic quality and some reflective verse is but poorly covered by the term lyric at the best. It is interesting to see the larger proportion, as compared with the volume of pure lyrics, of blank verse and of other linked and continued measures. As the emotional element of the verse becomes less intense, the melody becomes gentler and less obtrusive-in other words, form and content are not to be divorced.

The first section of the volume contains poems which interpret nature, the “breath and finer spirit” of things seen and heard. Contemplative geniuses, like Wordsworth, offer the typical poems. That dictum of his, finely descriptive of his own method, but not, as he supposed, of the universal mood of poetic creation, shows the prevailing temper of the descriptive poems in this volume.

Poetry,” he says, “is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, taking its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.” This translation of the heart of nature, this application of its sights and sounds to our situation in the world, is characteristic of all great nature poets. Burns sees his own fate in the daisy perishing beneath his plow. Lanier glories in Sun and Sunrise with

a feeling intense and personal. The slow-moving reverent fidelity of Wordsworth shows us that he is trying to express what nature has actually wrought upon his emotions. The descriptive method of their poems is not enumerative or topographical. By virtue of the transformation in the mind of the poet they are more strictly selective and suggestive than other poetry. The image comes back robbed of inessential features and endowed with its true significance.

The remarks just made about descriptive lyrics apply also to the second section of this volume. It is made up of a group of portraits of people. Human figures are there described in a manner analogous to that of the nature pieces mentioned above. They are not individualized but contemplated and interpreted. With Wordsworth, in The Solitary Reaper and Stepping Westward, for example, the figures seem to lose personality and become merely features of the landscape. In Longfellow and Whittier the figures often represent trades and classes. Other poems like The Lotos-Eaters, The Men of Old, and Robin Hood are finely romantic. Others, like Hood's Ruth, are idyllic. A few, like On a Bust of Dante, Memorabilia, and several poems addressed to poets and people, are personal lyrics inspired by the contemplation of other men.

The third section of the volume presents considerable contrast in temper to the first two. It is made up of character pieces of the less dramatic sort, those in which action and situation

« 前へ次へ »