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POETRY AND POETS OF AMERICA.
ing the spice gales of the tropic, displays its ensigns of prosperity and power everywhere. The wilderness is a garden. Innumerable towns and cities crowd her plains. Her streams, and lakes, and oceans, and ports, are crowded by commerce. Her flag is on every sea.
The mountains smoke and empty out their treasure. The people have carved for themselves a name in everlasting characters, the first truly to solve the problem of political freedom ; foremost in daring enterprise, with one hand subduing the wilderness of the new world, with the other shivering the shackles of the old. It needs not the grey and solemn twilight of antiquity to give the character of greatness and grandeur to such a history, with its scenes surpassing fable.
Our English reviewers ask “ how can these recent people, who are of yesterday, in all their greenness and gristle, know anything about poetry?" Incomparable boobies! What have we been doing but making poetry ever since we came here? We have made such a poem as the world never read before, and we have written it on the floods and fields of our country and on the hearts of all men. poets could only dream, we have been and done. Read and be silent.
The truth is, all the great enterprises of this country have been conceived and carried on in the very spirit of genuine poetry, and that spirit still animates us with its own restless energy, and the real question is, whether we have not too much of it. It is the undue excitement of the imagination that makes us uneasy where we are and with what we have, and tempts us to untried and doubtsul experiment and ceaseless change. It is this that lures the American from his native village, to become an emigrant, leads him to the valley of the Mississippi, and when there, points him to the Rocky Mountains, and tells him that the happy land lies beyond. Our circumstances are only too exciting, and the controlling and chastening, rather than the awakening of the American imagination, is the chief problem.
But we pass to notice some of our countrymen, whose names and productions are entitled to consideration, in this department of literature. We wish also to regard the moral character and influence upon the highest interests of humanity as well as the literary pretensions of their labors, as they pass before us,-an item, in the estimate, of small account in the judgment of the Foreign Quarterly, though otherwise reckoned here, and likely to be by posterity.
All finite excellence is comparative, and we
cannot but remember that the period of our first poetical efforts was one of wonderful intellectual splendor in the mother country. Such a glorious firmament of brilliant genius never hung over it. Such lights as Burns, Bloomfield, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Southey, Moore, Crabbe, Wilson, Campbell, Rogers, Scott, Montgomery, Barry Cornwall, Tennyson, Talfourd, and a number more, adorned the period in which our present list of poetical writers appeared, and were read as extensively here as in England, and it is no small praise, that a respectable number among us sustain an honorable comparison with that sparkling constellation, in spite too of the unnatural and cherished prejudices of British literati, who in protecting our well-earned fame would best increase their own; and notwithstanding the inevitable hindrances to literary culture of the first years of the settlement of a great nation on a wide-spread territory. It is no vital matter, to be sure, what is thought of our literature in other countries, but it is pleasant to know, that the names of American poets, which we shall have occasion to mention presently, are honored on the continent, at the centres of literary taste and refinement, and that their well-read productions are found all over England, and by none are more highly prized than by British poets themselves. Tat there have been failures in the direction of poetical ambition we are well aware, though we are not aware that such failures are less frequent in the mother country.
The elevated moral tone of our American poetry, and its constant tendency to develope and support all the generous, gentle, and philanthropic sentiments ; its high moral, religious, and social inculcations; its sweet revealings of the beauty of nature, and its stormy, fascinating pictures of homely virtues, joys, sorrows and endearments; its passionate love of country, compatible with the warmest and most comprehensive love of man, are its unfailing characteristics. In the poetry of no country are there so few lines, which, dying, the writers need wish to blot. It presents at once a singular exception and a beautiful example to other lands of
song, in this its distinctive and national peculiarity. The high and holy task of poesy has been sadly misunderstood, even by minds most richly endowed with her intellectual gifts. The glorious Byron, upon whom every seraph did seem to set his seal, whose soul swelled, tortured with revelations from unknown worlds, which his unbaptized spirit comprehended not, and his untouched lip, quivering, left unuttered,
THE CHRISTIAN PARLOR MAGAZINE.
revelations and worship, and all the and duties of life assume an aspect chee. sacred. This, we say, is the general t tendency of the great proportion of A poetry. It would be trespassing far to at this time, to give very copious i tions of its excellence, and yet we sho injustice to our subject should we whol them.
Professor Longfellow is one of those writings take possession of our hearts i way we have described. We should lik one with any poetic taste, just after reai few pages of Byron, to take up a volui. Longfellow, and read thoughtfully his steps of Angels.
" When the hours of day are numbe:
And the voices of the night Wake the better soul that slumber's
To a holy, calm delight;
Ere the evening lamps are lighted,
And like phantoms grim and tall Shadows from the fitful firelight
Dance upon the parlor wall;
-Byron died dumb, as regarded the great end of poesy. So of Shelley, Keats, and others we forbear to name. They did not comprehend poetry as a teacher of truth through joy and through gladness, as a creatress of the faculties through a process of smoothness and delight; yielding in ethereal ministry, grace and sweetness to the rugged adversities and cankering cares of life, “ through knowledge inhaled insensibly like fragrance, through dispositions stealing into the spirit like music from unknown quarters, through hopes plucked like beautiful wild-flowers, from the tombs that border the highways of the past to make a garland for a living forehead."* The tone of poetry, its aim and influence on the heart, is everything. Says a recent critic, “in Childe Harold there is probabiy displayed more of the radiant vesture of the imagination than in any poem of the present age; yet the tone and spiritual purpose of that splendid apotheosis of misanthropy and egotism is unpoetical. Its effect is merely to stir and to sting. It leaves an impression upon the memory and the heart, disagreeable and harsh. We feel that the author's spiritual life was inharmonious, that the tone of his mind was not pure,” and that his work is a failure, the spirit and aim of poetry justly considered.
We turn with glad hearts from such an example to our own bards, in communion with whom the best affections of our nature are warmed and purified, and the soul is wrought up to high and noble purposes, and made strong to do, and patient to suffer. When we enter into fellowship with Dana, Bryant, Longfellow, and kindred minds, especially after we have laid down our Byron, a change comes over us, and over the face of all that we behold that is wonderful. It is a flood of soft and holy light, a mild radiance, an inspiration and a power, noiseless but strong.
“The viewless spirit of a living sound,
A bodiless enjoyment.” And with it come better thoughts, and holy memories, and tears, and a wholesome sadness that softens, not irritates the heart. We look out upon nature, and it seems “ specially rendered and made plain unto us, that a great worship is going on among the things of God.” We look upon man and love him better, and wish to do something for him to make him happier and take the tear out of his eye. Home becomes a sanctuary, with sacrament and altar,
* Coleridge altered.
Then the forms of the departed
Enter at the open door, The belov'd ones, the true-hearted
Come to visit me once more ;
He, the young and strong who cherish'd
Noble longings for the strife, By the road-side fell and perish'd
Weary with the march of life!
They, the holy ones and weakly,
Who the cross of suffering bore, Folded their pale hands so meekly,
Spoke with us on earth no more!
And with them the being beauteous,
Who unto my youth was given, More than all things else to love me,
And is now a saint in heaven.
With a slow and noiseless footstep,
Comes that messenger divine, Takes the vacant chair beside me,
Lays her gentle hand in mine.
And she sits and gazes at me,
With those deep and tender eyes, Like the stars so still and saint-like,
Looking downward from the skies.
Utter'd not, yet comprehended,
Is the spirit's voiceless prayer, Soft rebukes in blessings ended,
Breathing from her lips of air. Oh, though oft depress'd and lonely,
All my sears are laid aside, If I but remember only
Such as these have lived and died."
POETRY AND POETS OF AMERICA.
What sweetness and power blend in these lines, to which the heart yields itself up freely, wholly! One must have time to recover himself from its inspiration, before he can do a wicked thing or form a wicked purpose.
Let us point out another passage from the same author, and ask you to observe its bracing influence upon your mind, in one of those oft recurring seasons of languor, indecision and feeble purpose, to which most men are subject.
poets, have been given to the world through that oldest, and ablest by far of all our monthly magazines, the New York Knickerbocker-a work deservedly honored in the highest literary circles of Europe, and sustained by as brilliant a corps of writers as ever graced the pages of a periodical, under admirable editorial management and taste.
Sufler us to quote a part of his Address to the Evening Wind, to remind you of the tiowing richness of his verse, and exhibit the characteristics of his style-—“chastely elegant both in thought and expression-ornament enough, but not in profusion or display-imagery that is natural, appropriate, and peculiarly soothing -select and melodious language-harmony in the flow of the stanza-gentleness in the spirit, and deep philosophy in the conception.”
Trust no future howe'er pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead Act, act, in the glorious present,
Heart within and God o'erhead.
“ Spirit that breathest through my lattice, thou
That cool'st the twilight of the sultry day, Gratefully flows thy freshness round my brow;
Thou hast been out upon the deep at play. Riding all day the wild blue waves till now,
Roughening their crests and scattering high And swelling the white sail. I welcome thee To the scorched land, thou wanderer of the sea. Nor I alone-a thousand bosoms round
Inhale thee in the fulness of delight,
Livelier at coming of the wind at night;
Lies the vast inland stretch beyond the sight. Go forth into the gathering shade; go forth, God's blessing breath'd upon the sainting earth.
Lives of great men all remind us
We may make our lives sublime, And departing leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time.
Footprints that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main, A forlorn and shipwreck'd brother
Seeing may take heart again.”
Beautiful as are these extracts, they are selected to illustrate the quickening, sustaining spirituality of the poet, rather than the richness of his imagery, or the classic beauty of his style and diction.
Bryant is perhaps our best known poet, and well has he earned the high reputation he enjoys in England, as well as in his native land. Even the crabbed Foreign Review admits that “ Nature made Bryant a poet. He treats his subjects with religious solemnity, and brings to the contemplation of nature in her grandest rerelations, a pure and serious spirit. His poetry is reflective, but not sad; grave in its depths, but brightened in its flow by the sunshine of the imagination. His poems, addressed to rivers, woods, and winds, have the solemn grandeur of anthems. Their beauty is affecting, because it is true and full of reverence.” Many of his most exquisite pieces, as well as those of Longfellow, Street, Lowell, and most of our best
The faint old man shall lean his silver head
To feel thee; thou shalt kiss the child asleep, And dry the moistened curls that overspread His temples while his breathing grows more
deep; And they who stand about the sick man's bed,
Shall joy to listen to thy distant sweep,
The poems of Whittier, full of burning thoughts, of Sprague, of Dana, probably the most original living poet in our language, of Percival, most of the odes of Pierpont, Halleck, Drake, Willis, Street, and a number more whose names are familiar to the public ear,
deserve and will receive the honoring regard of posterity, wherever the English language is read, and true and right-toned poetry is loved. These men have done something more than jingle words; they have spoken from the heart to the heart, and drawn from the deep fountains of truth and nature thoughts that can never perish, thoughts that have entered the moral currency and circulation, endorsed by the amen of millions of hearts that have felt their power. “Theirs is that language of the heart,
In which the answering heart would speak, Thought, word, that bids the warm tear start,
Or the smile light the cheek.
lingers in our ear long after it has melted away in the heavens. The “ searching pathos and mournful beauty” of his poetry, were remarked equally by the highest critical authorities, and the common breast. The lines written by him on the death of his wife, a lady of great personal beauty, rare accomplishments, and fond heart, who fell a victim to consumption in the brightness of youth, are full of touching beauty and the tenderest feeling. “ 'Tis an autumnal eve—the low winds sighing
To wet leaves, rustling as they hasten by; The eddying gusts to tossing boughs replying,
And ebon darkness filling all the sky, The moon, pale mistress, pall'd in solemn vapor, The rack, swift wandering through the void
above, As I a mourner by my lonely taper,
Send back to faded hours the plaint of love.
And theirs that music to whose tone,
The common pulse of man keeps time, In cot or castle's mirth or moan,
In cold or sunny clime.”
There was one whom we have not yet named, whose harp lies silent by his grave, but whose memory, fresh and fragrant, blooms in many a heart,—one to whom the lines of our Halleck apply most literally
Blossoms of peace once in my pathway springing, Where have your brightness and your splendor
gone? And thou whose voice to me came sweet as
singing, What region holds thee, in the vast unknown? What star far brighter than the rest contains thee,
Beloved departed-empress of my heart? What bond of full beatitude enchains thee,
In realms unveiled by pen's or prophet's art?
“ None knew him but to love him, None named him but to praise ;''
Ah! lov'd and lost! in these autumnal hours,
When fairy colors deck the painted tree, When the vast woodlands seem a sea of Powers,
0! then my soul exulting bounds to thee! Springs, as to clasp thee yet in this existence,
Yet to behold thee at my lonely side; But the fond vision melis at once to distance,
And my sad heart gives echo, she has died.
The topic of this essay summons him here, for who that knew him would think the honored list of American poets complete, which did not include the name of Wulis GAYLORD CLARK?
Coleridge defines Genius as originality of intellectual construction; the moral accompaniment and actuating principle of which consists in the carrying on of the freshness and feelings of childhood into the powers of manhood. A more beautiful illustration Coleridge himself could not have desired, than the brief, brilliant career of CLARK: Willis we all called him, he seemed so like a child that had not yet lost his innocence and sweetness. He was the friend of our better days; our heart has seldom loved anything so well, and perhaps it is not meet that we should estimate his intel. lectual wealth. His mastery of language was perfect. Charles Lamb and Professor Longfel. low are wonderful in this respect. But I think Clark excels them both in the absoluteness of sway over our inflexible speech, constraining it to reveal the nicest shades and discriminations of thought and feeling, and utter the softest breathings of man's spiritual nature, like the piping of a bird in the upper sky, whose note
Yes, when the morning of her years was brightest,
That angel presence into dust went down, While yet with rosy dreams her rest was lightest,
Death for the olive wove the cypress crown, Sleep, which no waking knows, o'ercame her
bosom, O’ercame her large, bright, spiritual eyes; Spared in her bower connubial one fair blossom,
Then bore her spirit to the upper skies. There let me meet her, where, life's struggles over,
The pure in love and thought iheir faith renew; Where man's forgiving and redeeming Lover,
Spreads out his paradise to every view. Let the dim autumn with its leaves descending Howl on the winter's verge! yet spring will
come; So my freed soul no more 'gainst fate contending,
With all it loveth shall regain its home."
From the win
They were strains precursive of his early fate, soon to be succeeded by the muffled march of
The spring came. dows of his sick chamber we looked together at the young buds, that were never to bloom on his eye. His prayer was heard and they met.