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To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
And rolls through all things.”
“ Therefore let the moon
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me !" This is no more the language than these are the thoughts of men in general “in a state of excitement;" language more exquisitely elaborate, and thoughts more patiently worked out of the very marble of the mind, are rarely, indeed, to be met with either in prose or rhyme. For such tales as “ Andrew Jones, " " The Last of the Flock, Goody Blake and Harry Gill,” &c., the real language of men may be employed with pleasing effect; but when our poet would “present ordinary things in an unusual way,” he is compelled to resort to gorgeous, figurative, and amplifying terms, and avail himself of the most daring licenses of poetic diction. Thus:
“The winds, that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gather'd now, like sleeping flowers."
The holy time is quiet as a nun,
“ Flowers laugh before thee in their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads."
The winds come o'er us from the fields of sleep.' I need not insist more on the necessity of using, in poetry, a language different from, and superior to, “the real language of men,” even under the strongest excitement, since our author himself is so often compelled, nay, rather chooses voluntarily, to employ it for the expression of ideas which without it would be incommunicable. One instance of the happy use of the simplest language by Mr. Wordsworth must be given, in justice to him. The poem of the “ Old Cumberland Beggar” is, perhaps, the masterpiece of his early volumes. In this we have the description of an ancient parish pensioner, not receiving pay, but collecting doles from the friendly cottagers as well as the wealthier inhabitants in his daily rounds; welcomed everywhere, and everywhere relieved,-a harmless, helpless, quiet-paced, anů quiet-tongued old man, whose presence is a blessing to the neighbourhood, by making the humblest, as well as the highest, feel how good it is to do good.
“Man is dear to man; the poorest poor.
“Such pleasure is to one kind being known,
Dr. Darwin's Theory of Poetic Style. The late Dr. Darwin, a poet of very different cast, from Mr. Wordsworth, tells us, that the essential difference between prose and poetry consists, not solely in the melody or measure of language, because some prose has melody and eyen measure; nor in the sublimity, beauty, or novelty of the sentiments, because, as he asserts, sublime sentiments are sometimes better expressed in prose. Of this he gives an example from one of Shakspeare's historical plays :-"When Warwick is left wounded on the field after the loss of the battle, and his friend says to him, 'Oh! could you but fly!' what can be more sublime than his answer, Why then I would not fly!. No measure of verse could add dignity to this sentiment."-Withoutdisputing his position, I answer that the words are verse already. I know not how they stand in the original; but placing the interjection “Oh!” as the closing syllable of a line, and laying the natural emphasis on the verb negative, and not merely on the sign of negation, we have a perfect heroic
“Oh! Could you but fly!
Why then I would not fly!”. The doctor continues :-"In what, then, consists the essential difference between poetry and prose ? Next to the measure of the language, the principal distinction appears to be this: that poetry admits of but few words expressive of very abstracted ideas; whereas prose abounds with them. And as our ideas derived from visible objects are more distinct than those derived from the objects of our other senses, the words expressive of these ideas belonging to 'vision make up the principal part of poetic language; that is, the poet writes principally to the eye, the prose-writer uses more abstracted terms. Mr. Pope
has written a bad verse in the "Windsor For. est:'
“And Kennet swift, for silver eels renown'd.' The word renown'd' does not present a visible object to the mind, and is thence prosaic. But change the line thus :
And Kennet swift, where silver graylings play, and it becomes poetry; because the scenery is then brought before the eye.
This may be done in prose; so it is more agreeable to read in Mr. Gibbon's History, 'Germany was at that time overshadowed with extensive forests,' than that Germany was at that time full of extensive forests. But when this mode of expression occurs too frequently, the prose approaches to poetry; and in grave works, where we expect to be instructed rather than amused, it becomes tedious and impertinent."
Thus far Dr. Darwin. I reply :-this is arguing 'completely in a circle. “Why then I would not fly” is undoubtedly verse by the measure, and poetry by the sublimity of the sentiment; while, without the variation of a syllable, and simply reading it according to the prosaic accents, it is prose.
“Oh! could you but Ay !-Why then I would not fly!" It follows, that thoughts of this character are cominon alike to prose and verse, and may be expressed in either. If Dr. Darwin's criticism excludes the phrase “ for silver eels renown'd," from poetry, it proves too much, for then the poet must not give the eels at all that lie in the mud. He might, indeed, represent a fishwife stripping the skin from the writhing creature, but he could not even allude to their luxurious sloth in the slimy ooze, where they cannot be watched. This may be called quibbling; but it must be admitted, that the epithet "silver” gives an image to the eye which sufficiently vindi
cates the poetry of the line against the prosaic participle "renown'd;" while the latter conveys an idea which no object of vision whatever could imply. Is the poet, thens to be precluded from celebrating the peculiar pre-eminence of the river Kennet for its peculiar fish, because the word that designates its superiority is an abstract term ? “Germany was at that time overshadowed with extensive forests !" The doctor acknowledges that the poetic verb here used animates the prose; why then may not abstract terms (though in themselves prosaic) occasionally be employed tọ temper the ardour of verse, as snow in hot climates, sprinkled over the wine-cup, makes the draught more delicious ? The whole range of language and of thought must be conceded to writers of both kinds; and it depends upon their own taste, at their own peril, to mingle, discreetly or otherwise, with the staple of their diction, terms which are conventionally understood to belong to poetry and prose, in precisely inverse proportions.
Dr. Darwin has splendidly exemplified the effects of his own theory, which certainly includes much truth, but not the whole truth. Endued with a fancy peculiarly formed for picture-poetry, he has limited verse almost within the compass of designing and modelling with visible colours and palpable substances. Even in this poetic painting, he seldom goes beyond the brilliant minuteness of the Dutch school of artists, while his groups are the extreme reverse of theirs, being rigidly classical. His productions are undistinguished by either sentiment or pathos. He presents nothing but pageants to the eye, and leaves next to nothing to the imagination; every point and object being made out in noonday clearness, where the sun is nearly vertical, and the shadow most contracted. He never touches the heart, nor awakens social, tender, or playful emotions. His whole “Botanic Garden” might be sculptured in friezes, painted in enamel, or manu