« PreviousContinue »
But, in the next place, besides the general correspondence of the current of sound with the current of thought, there may be a more particular expression attempted, of certain objects, by means of resembling sounds. This can be, sometimes, accomplished in prose composition; but there only in a more faint degree; nor is it so much expected in prose. It is in poetry that it is chiefly looked for: where attention to sound is more demanded, and where the inversions and liberties of poetical style give us a greater command of sound; assisted too by the versification, and that cantus obscurior, to which we are naturally led in reading poetry. This requires further illustration : and as the perspicuity, accuracy, and force of poetical composition, form a part of the object of this Appendix, we shall proceed to explain the subject more at large.
The sounds of words may be employed for representing, chiefly, three classes of objects: first, other sounds; secondly, motion ; and, thirdly, the emotions and passions of the mind.
First, by a proper choice of words, we may produce a resemblance of other sounds which we mean to describe ; such as, the noise of waters, the roaring of winds, or the murmuring of streams. This is the simplest instance of this sort of beauty: for the medium through which we imitate here, is a natural one; sounds represented by other sounds; and between ideas of the same sense, it is easy to form a connexion.
No very great art is required in a poet, when he is describing sweet and soft sounds, to make use of such words as have most li. quids and vowels, and glide the most softly; or, when he is describing harsh sounds, to throw together a number of harsh syllables which are of difficult pronunciation. Here the com. mon structure of language assists him; for, it will be found, that, in most languages, the names of many particular sounds are so formed, as to carry some affinity to the sound which they signify: as, with us, the whistling of winds, the buzz and hum of insects, the hiss of serpents, the crash of falling timber; and many other instances, in which the word has been evidently framed upon the sound it represents. We shall produce a re
a markable example of this beauty from Milton, taken from two passages in Paradise Lost, describing the sound made, in the one, by the opening of the gates of Hell; in the other, by the opening of those of Heaven. The contrast between the two, displays, to great advantage, the poet's art. The first is the opening of Hell's gates.
-On a sudden, open fly,
Observe, now, the smoothness of the other example.
-Heaven open'd wide
The following verse contains sounds resembling those of battle in former times.
-Arms on armour clashing, bray'd
In the succeeding verse, we hear the sound of a bow-string immediately after the arrow has been shot.
-The string let fly
The spring of the pheasant is heard in these lines :
See! from the brake the whirring pheasant springs,
The following verse gives us the sound of felling trees in a wood.
Loud sounds the axe, redoubling strokes on strokes ;
In the succeeding lines, smooth and rough verses correspond to the objects which they describe.
Soft is the strain when zephyr gently blows,
The SECOND class of objects, which the sound of words is often employed to imitate, is Motion; as it is swift or slow, violent or gentle, equable or interrupted, easy or accompanied with effort. Though there can be no natural affinity between sound, of any kind, and motion, yet, in the imagination, there is a strong one; as appears from the connexion between music and dancing. And, therefore, here it is in the poet's power, to give us a lively idea of the kind of motion he would describe, by means of sound which corresponds in our imagination, with that motion. Long syllables naturally give the impression of slow motion. A succession of short syllables presents quick motion to the mind. The following is a beautiful instance of the sound of words corresponding to motion. It is the
description of a sudden calm on the seas, in a poem entitled The Fleece.
-With easy course
In the succeeding lines, we perceive that slow motion is imitated.
When Ajax strives some rock’s vast weight to throw,
In the next example, the verse resembles swift and easy motion.
Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain,
The following verses exemplify laborious and impetuous motion.
With many a weary step, and many a groan,
The next verse is expressive of regular and slow movement.
First march the heavy mules securely slow ;
In the following lines, slow and difficult motion is imitated.
A needless Alexandrine ends the song,
The succeeding lines imitate violent and irregular motion, that of a rock torn from the brow of a mountain.
Still gath’ring force, it smokes, and urg'd amain,
Wbirls, leaps, and thunders down, impetuous to the plain. The THIRD set of objects, which the sound of words is capable of representing, consists of the passions and emotions of the mind. Sound may, at first view, appear foreign to these : but that here, also, there is some sort of connexion, is sufficiently proved by the power which music has to awaken, or to assist certain passions; and, according as its strain is varied, to introduce one train of ideas, rather than another. This, indeed, logically speaking, cannot be called a resemblance between the sense and the sound, seeing long or short syllables have no natural resemblance to any thought or passion. But if the arrangement of syllables, by their sound alone, recalls one set of ideas more readily than another, and disposes the mind for entering into that affection which the poet means to raise, such arrangement may, justly enough, be said to resemble the sense, or be similar or correspondent to it. Without much study or reflection, a poet describing pleasure, joy, and agreeable objects, from the feeling of his subject, naturally runs into smooth, liquid, and flowing numbers. Brisk and lively sensations exact quicker and more animated numbers. Melancholy and gloomy subjects naturally express themselves in slow measures, and long words.
The following verses may justly be said to resemble the pensive strain which they describe.
In those deep solitudes and awful cells,
In the succeeding lines, the sound of the verse is made to imitate reluctance of mind.
For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind ?
We have now given sufficient openings into this subject: a moderate acquaintance with good writers, will suggest many instances of the same kind. We proceed to explain the nature of Figures of Speech, the proper use of which contributes to the force and accuracy of a sentence.
OF FIGURES OF SPEECH.
See Vol. ii. Part 5. Exercises. Figures of Speech. Chap. 4.
The Fourth requisite of a perfect sentence, is a judicious use of the Figures of Speech.
As figurative language is to be met with in almost every sentence; and, when properly employed, confers beauty and strength on composition; some knowledge of it appears to be indispensable to the scholars, who are learning to form their sentences with perspicuity, accuracy, and force. We shall, therefore, enumerate the principal figures, and give them some explanation.
In general, Figures of Speech imply some departure from simplicity of expression ; the idea which we mean to convey is expressed in a particular manner, and with some circumstance added, which is designed to render the impression more strong and vivid. When I say, for instance, good man enjoys comfort in the midst of adversity ;" I just express my thoughts in the simplest manner possible: but when I say, “To the upright there ariseth light in darkness ;" the same sentiment is expressed in a figurative style ; a new circumstance is introduced; “ light,” is put in the place of “comfort,” and “darkness” is used to suggest the idea of "adversity.” In the same manner, to say, “ It is impossible, by any search we can make, to explore the Divine Nature fully," is to make a simple proposition : but when we say, “Canst thou, by searching, find out the Lord? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection ? It is high as heaven, what canst thou do? deeper than hell, what canst thou know?” this introduces a figure into style; the proposition being not only expressed, but with it admiration and astonishment.
But, though figures imply a deviation from what may be reckoned the most simple form of speech, we are not thence to conclude, that they imply any thing uncommon, or unnatural. On many occasions, they are both the most natural, and the most common method of uttering our sentiments. It would be very difficult to compose any discourse, without using them often; nay, there are few sentences of considerable length, in which there does not occur some expression that may be termed a figure. This being the case, we may