Page images


direction may be taken as a small earnest of what may be looked for in the future; when-as Tennyson beautifully says

[ocr errors]

"wealth no more shall rest in mounded heaps,
But smit with freer light shall slowly melt
In many streams to fatten lower lands,

And light shall spread, and man be liker man
Through all the season of the golden year."


In most cases the Imagination must be cultivated, as a preliminary to the enjoyment of the highest kind of Poetry. Nothing can be more striking than the indifference of country-people to the beauties of nature. The charms of rural scenery seem to exercise no influence over them, and the delight which is felt by cultivated minds in the grandeur of mountain scenery, and the soft beauty of valleys and lakes, is a matter of astonishment with some of those who dwell among them.

In no way can the Imagination be more effectually or safely exercised, than by the constant perusal and study of our best Poets. Poetry appeals to the universal sympathies of mankind. With the contemplative writers, we can indulge our pensive and thoughtful tastes. With the describers of natural scenery, we can delight in the beauties and glories of the external universe. With the great Dramatists, we are able to study all phases of the human mind, and to take their fictitious personages as models or beacons for ourselves.

With the great creative Poets, we can go outside of all these, and find ourselves in a region of pure imagination which may be as true to our higher instincts, (perhaps more so) than the shows which surround us.

The Shield of Achilles, in Homer, (Iliad, B. 18), faintly shadows out the universality of Poetry;-"in it," says Homer, speaking through his old English translator, Chapman,—

* Poems, page 261, ed. 1851.

"In it he presented Earth; in it the Sea and Sky:

In it the never-wearied Sun; the Moon-exactly round,
And all those stars with which the brows of ample heaven
are crowned."

The Shield also contained representations of two cities, in one of which the inhabitants were celebrating nuptial feasts-the proces sions being ushered through the streets by torchlight, to the sound of music-in another compartment, a court of law was shown, in which some solemn cause was being tried. The people in the other city appeared engaged in warlike preparations.

There too were delineated, fields being ploughed, corn reaped, vintage time, pastoral pursuits, flocks of sheep, an assemblage of dancers "young and beauteous," and (enclosing all) in the outer ring of the shield was represented the mighty Ocean, "rolling evermore."

Of the Poets whose works have been made use of in this Book, perhaps SPENSER is the dearest to readers who seek for pure imagination. He was born in the year 1553, exactly three hundred years ago, and he is universally acknowledged to stand in the first rank of English Poets. Perhaps the best, because the most genial criticism upon him, is to be found in Leigh Hunt's " Imagination and Fancy;" a work which no lover of Poetry should be without. The specimens given of Spenser in the following pages will exhibit the profusion of his mind, and show how true a claim he establishes as a creator of beauty and delight. To use his own words, he makes

"a sunshine in the shady place,"

and a better refuge cannot be chosen from the storms and anxieties of life, than the scenes to which his genius introduces us. The influence of his Poetry is very discernible in Milton's Minor


Poems; and perhaps even Shakspeare's mind may have been tinged with hues reflected from his genius.

The name of Sir PHILIP SIDNEY has come down to us through the three centuries which separate his life from ours, with a lustre which is scarcely explained by any intimate knowledge of him on the part of general readers. He is perhaps remembered principally in connection with his noble conduct at the Battle of Zutphen, in preferring the necessities of a wounded soldier to his own.


On looking over the old folio which contains all that now remains of him, we find, amidst the conceits and puerilities which deface many productions of that age, some of the most poetical and beautiful images that were ever written.

Especially observable is the purity of his mind. Writing at a time when license was considered no deformity, there is nowhere to be found in his works anything which might not be put into the hands of the most innocent reader.

In this volume will be found some of his Sonnets. The commencement of one of them,

"With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climbst the skies,
How silently, and with how wan a face!"

brings to mind Milton's lines in "Il Penseroso,"

"the wandering moon,

Riding near her highest noon,

Like one that had been led astray
Through the heaven's wide pathless way."

And Shelley's exquisite fragment,


"And like a dying lady, lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapt in a gauzy veil,

Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky earth,
A white and shapeless mass."

SIDNEY'S prose romance, "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia," so called on account of his sister, to whom it was dedicated, abounds with beautiful descriptions, and as it is now very little read, two or three of them are here given.

"Her breath is more sweet than a gentle south-west wind, which comes creeping over flowery fields and shadowed waters in the extreme heat of summer."— ARCADIA, Book i.

This passage cannot fail to suggest to those familiar with Shakspeare the famous lines in "Twelfth Night:"

"If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.-
That strain again; it had a dying fall:
O it came o'er my ear like the sweet south,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour."

TWELFTH NIGHT, Act i., Scene 1.

Here is another passage, describing the country, (Arcadia,) which is very beautiful, although the balancing one part of the sentence against another gives it, to us, a quaint effect; but the picture with which it concludes is one that will never lose its charm.

"Here were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately trees; humble vallies whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers; meadows enamelled with all


sorts of eye-pleasing flowers; thickets which, being lined with most pleasant shade, are witnessed so too, by the cheerful disposition of many well tuned birds. here a shepherd's boy piping,

as though he should never be old."-ARCADIA, Book i.

Here is also a description of a fountain, which is exquisitely beautiful:



"A naked Venus, of white marble, wherein the graver had used such cunning that the natural blue veins of the marble were framed in fit places to set forth the beautiful veins of her body. At her breast she had her babe Æneas, who seemed (having begun to suck) to leave that, to look upon her fair eyes, which smiled at the babe's folly."-ARCADIA, Book i.

Sidney's "Defence of Poesy" is a noble performance, (though not equal to Shelley's "Defence of Poetry,") but space forbids giving extracts from it here, except that well-known one, where, speaking of the old ballads, he says, "I never heard the old song of Percie and Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with the sound of a trumpet."

A lady once modernised the "Arcadia;" would that some one, competent to do so, would give us a volume of the essence of this pure and noble writer. Spenser, the friend of Sidney, in an Elegy on his death, beautifully describes his personal character and appearance, in a few words:

"To hear him speak, and sweetly smile,
You were in Paradise the while.

A sweet attractive kind of grace,
A full assurance given by looks,
Continual comfort in a face,
The lineaments of Gospel books;

« PreviousContinue »