« ZurückWeiter »
"His bloody hand
the sound, but not the abruptness of the crash, is, I imagine, better imitated than in the original, which on account of both, especially the last, was much admired by the critic of Halicarnassus. An excellent attempt in this way we have in a poem by Dyer:
"The Pilgrim oft
But the best example to be found in our language is, in my opinion, the following lines of Mr. Pope:
"What! like Sir Richard, rumbling, rough, and fierce,
Let Carolina smooth the tuneful lay,
Lull with Amelia's liquid name the nine,
And sweetly flow through all the royal line."‡
The success here is the greater, that the author appears through the whole to deride the immoderate affectation of this overrated beauty, with which some modern poetasters are so completely dazzled. On the whole, the specimens produced, though perhaps as good as any of the kind extant in our language, serve to evince rather how little than how much can be done in this way, and how great scope there is here for the fancy to influence the judgment.
But there are other subjects besides sound to which language is capable of bearing some resemblance. Time and motion, for example, or whatever can admit the epithets of quick and slow, is capable, in some degree, of being imitated by speech. In language there are long and short syllables, one of the former being equal or nearly equal to two of the latter. As these may be variously combined in a sentence, and syllables of either kind may be made more or less to predominate, the sentence may be rendered by the sound more or less expressive of celerity or tardiness. And though even here the power of speech seems to be much limited, there being but two degrees in syllables, whereas the natural degrees of quickness or slowness in motion or action may be infinitely varied, yet on this subject the imitative power of articulate sound seems to be greater and more distinctive than on
Pope's Od. In Homer thus:
“ Σὺν δὲ δύω μάρψας, ὥστε σκύλακας, ποτὶ γαλη
+ Sat. i.
any other. This appears to particular advantage in verse, when, without violating the rules of prosody, a greater or a less number of syllables is made to suit the time. Take the following example from Milton:
"When the merry bells ring round,
To many ǎ youth and inānỹ ǎ maid
In this passage the third line, though consisting of ten syllables, is, by means of two anapæsts, pronounced, without hurting the measure, in the same time with an iambic line of eight syllables, and therefore well adapted in sound to the airy diversion he is describing. At the same time, it must be owned that some languages have, in this particular, a remarkable superiority over others. In English the iambic verse, which is the commonest, admits here and there the insertion of a spondee for protracting, or of an anapæst, as in the example quoted, for quickening the expression.†
But, in my opinion, Greek and Latin have here an advantage, at least in their heroic measure, over all modern tongues. Accordingly, Homer and Virgil furnish us with some excellent specimens in this way. But that we may know what our own tongue and metre is capable of effecting, let us recur to our own poets, and first of all to the celebrated translator of the Grecian bard. I have made choice of him the rather as he was perfectly sensible of this beauty in the original which he copied, and endeavoured, as much as the materials he had to work upon would permit him, to exhibit it in his version. Let us take for an example the punishment of Sisyphus in the other world, a passage which had on this very account been much admired in Homer by all the critics both ancient and modern.
"Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone;
The huge round stone resulting with a bound,
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground."
+ Perhaps the feet employed in ancient poetry are not, in strict propriety, applicable to the measures adopted by the English prosody. It is not my business at present to enter into this curious question. It suffices that I think there is a rhythmus in our verse plainly discernible by the ear, and which, as it at least bears some analogy to the Greek and Latin feet, makes this application of their names sufficiently intelligible.
In Greek thus:
“ Λᾶαν ἄνω ὤθεσκε ποτὶ λόφον Αὖτις ἔπειτα πέδονδε κυλίνδετο λᾶας ἀναιδής.”-Od.
In Latin verse, Vida, in his Art of Poetry, hath well exemplified this beauty,
"Ille autem membris, ac mole ignavius ingens
Here not only the frequency of the spondees, but the difficulty of forming
It is remarkable that Homer (though greatly preferable to his translator in both) hath succeeded best in describing the fall of the stone, Pope in relating how it was heaved up the hill. The success of the English poet here is not to be ascribed entirely to the length of the syllables, but partly to another cause, to be explained afterward.
I own I do not approve the expedient which this admirable versifier hath used, of introducing an Alexandrine line for expressing rapidity. I entirely agree with Johnson,* that this kind of measure is rather stately than swift; yet our poet hath assigned this last quality as the reason of his choice. "I was too sensible," says he, in the margin, “of the beauty of this, not to endeavour to imitate it, though unsuccessfully. I have, therefore, thrown it into the swiftness of an Alexandrine, to make it of a more proportionable number of syllables with the Greek." Ay, but to resemble in length is one thing, and to resemble in swiftness is another. The difference lies here: in Greek, an hexameter verse, whereof all the feet save one are dactyls, though it hath several syllables more, is pronounced in the same time with an hexameter verse whereof all the feet save one are spondees, and is, therefore, a just emblem of velocity; that is, of moving a great way in a short time; whereas the Alexandrine line, as it consists of more syllables than the common English heroic, requires proportionably more time to the pronunciation. For this reason, the same author, in another work, has, I think, with better success, made choice of this very measure to exhibit slow
"A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along."†
It deserves our notice, that in this couplet he seems to give it as his opinion of the Alexandrine, that it is a dull and tardy measure. Yet, as if there were no end of his inconsistency on this subject, he introduceth a line of the same kind a little after in the same piece, to represent uncommon speed:
"Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main."‡
A most wonderful and peculiar felicity in this measure, to be alike adapted to imitate the opposite qualities of swiftness and slowness. Such contradictions would almost tempt one stead of a dactyl, greatly retard the motion. For the contrary expression of speed,
"Si se forte cava extulerit mala vipera terra,
Tolle moras, cape saxa manu, cape robora, pastor,
Here everything concurs to accelerate the motion, the number of dactyls, no elision, no diphthong, no concurrence of consonants, unless where a long syllable is necessary, and even there the consonants of easy pronunciation. * Rambler, No. 82. + Essay on Criticism. + Ibid.
to suspect that this species of resemblance is imaginary altogether. Indeed, the fitness of the Alexandrine to express, in a certain degree, the last of these qualities, may be allowed, and is easily accounted for. But no one would ever have dreamed of its fitness for the first who had not been misled by an erroneous conclusion from the effect of a very different measure, Greek and Latin hexameter. Yet Pope is not the only one of our poets who hath fallen into this error. Dryden hath preceded him in it, and even gone much farther. Not satisfied with the Alexandrine, he hath chosen a line of fourteen syllables for expressing uncommon celerity:
"Which urged, and labour'd, and forced up with pain,
Recoils, and rolls impetuous down, and smokes along the plain."* Pope seems to have thought that in this instance, though the principle on which Dryden proceeded was good, he had exceeded all reasonable bounds in applying it; for it is this very line which he hath curtailed into an Alexandrine in the passage from the Odyssey already quoted. Indeed, the impropriety here is not solely in the measure, but also in the diphthongs oi, and ow, and oa, so frequently recurring, than which nothing, not even a collision of jarring consonants, is less fitted to express speed. The only word in the line that seems adapted to the poet's view is the term impetuous, in which two short syllables, being crowded into the time of one, have an effect similar to that produced by the dactyl in Greek and Latin. Creech, without the aid of an Alexandrine, hath been equally, if not more, unsuccessful. The same line of the Latin poet he thus translates:
"And with swift force roll through the humble plain."
Here the sentiment, instead of being imitated, is contrasted by the expression. A more crawling spondaic verse our heroic measure hardly ever admits.
At the same time, in justice to English prosody, it ought to be remarked, that it compriseth one kind of metre, the anapæstic, which is very fit for expressing celerity, perhaps as much as any kind of measure, ancient or modern. But there is in it a light familiarity, which is so ill adapted to the majesty of the iambic as to render it but rarely admissible into poems written in this measure, and, consequently, either into tragedy or into epic.
Ere I conclude what may be said on the subject of motion, I shall observe farther, that there are other affections of motion besides swiftness and slowness, such as vibration, intermission, inequality, which, to a certain degree, may be imitated in the sound of the description. The expression
"Troy's turrets totter'd,"
in the translation of the Iliad, is an instance of the first, the * Lucretius, b. iii.
vibration being represented by the frequent and quick recurrence of the same letters ranged a little differently. In the line
"Tumbling all precipitate down dash'd,"
already quoted from the Ruins of Rome, there is an attempt to imitate the motion as well as the sound. The last of the four following lines from Milton contains also a tolerable imitation of both :
"Oft on a plat of rising ground
Another very natural subject of imitation is size, or whatever the terms great or little may be applied to, literally or metaphorically. Things grand may be imitated by long and well-sounding words; things bulky by long and ill-sounding words; things little by short words, The connexion here is as obvious as in either of the two former cases, but the pow er of our language is rather less. It affords so little variety in the choice of words in respect of length, that often the grandest objects in nature cannot be expressed with propriety otherwise than by a poor monosyllable. Bulkiness, accompanied with motion, will fall to be exemplified in the next article.
A fourth subject of imitation in language is difficulty and ease. There is a considerable difference in this respect in the pronunciation of different words and sentences, which, if happily accommodated in the sentiment, adds to the effect of the expression. If, for instance, what is difficultly acted be difficultly pronounced, and if, on the contrary, what is performed with facility be uttered with ease, there will result a certain degree of vivacity from this slight resemblance; for it is an invariable maxim, that the ear is grated with hearing what the organs of speech find it uneasy to articulate. Several things contribute to render pronunciation difficult. First, the collision of vowels; that is, when one syllable ends with a vowel, and the next (it matters not whether it be in the same word or not) begins with the same vowel, or with one which approaches to it in sound. Re-enter, co-operate, reenforce, re-animate though oft, the ear, the open, are examples of this. A certain effort is required to keep them, as it were, asunder, and make both be distinctly heard as belonging to different syllables. When the vowels are very unlike in sound, or the formation of the one is easily accomplished after the articulation of the other, they have not the same effect. Thus, in the words variety, coeval, the collision doth not create a perceptible difficulty. Now, as difficulty is generally