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This little volume is confidently offered to the public, as a suitable companion for the adult or the juvenile class of readers, and with the confident hope that the beautiful productions, of which it is composed, will be duly appreciated by every admirer of polite literature. Our poetry is, as yet, almost entirely lyric in its character. Barlow's Columbiad is an exception; but that work, though not contemptible, is deficient in all the properties of a great poem. No one, in these days, would think of quoting it as a production honorable to our iniant literature. The lumbering epic of Dr. Dwight, though marked with passages of beauty, is yet little better than dull prose, measured off into indifferent pentameters. An obruit oblivio is already its doom. There have been other long-winded attempts in verse, claiming the title of epics, which it is now the part of humanity to forget. Our poetical history cannot be traced back, with much credit to ourselves, beyond the last war. Since that period few of our poets have attempted to soar beyond the lyric in their efforts.
The “ Bucaneer of Dana, and the “Curiosity” of Sprague, are works which will be honorably remembered while American literature survives. Hal
leck's “Alnwick Castle" is decidedly one of the most spirited poems of the kind in the language. But our most promising poets — those who have given the most unequivocal proofs that they possess vision and the faculty divine” - seem to have contented themselves with one or two exhibitions of their strength, and to have quitted the arena after showing of what they are capable ; they seem to think it“excellent to have a giant's strength,” but manifest no disposition to “ use it like a giant.”
The fact is, that the causes of our deliciency in works of poetry, as well as in other departments of literature, are to be looked for, not in any imaginary want of the outward elements of inspiration, or of the inward sympathies that feel and appreciate them, and the genius which gives to them expression, but in the circumstances by which we are surrounded, and under which we grow up, and in the general necessity by which we are impelled to action. So inany opportunities of honorable enterprise are presented to our young men, and such are the diverting prospects held out to them, that they often lose, in the excitement of politics or the bustle of trade, those poetic aspirations, which they may at one time have cherished. In this new country, where the most lavish resources of nature and of art are daily being developed,
“ All is in busy, stirring, stormy motion,
And many a cloud drifts by, but none sojourns." We have no time to “strictly meditate the thankless muse." A new railroad may interfere with the
progress of a new poem, and the turmoil of an election may not chime with the melody of verse.
A good poet in this country often subsides into a secondrate politician; or he may turn his attention from the speculations of fancy to speculations in stocks. One of our most enchanting bards is in the “ cotton trade and sugar line ; ” another is a cashier in a bank ; and another (proh pudor !) is a partisan editor.
It would be absurd to deny that all the sources of inspiration, and all the external influences which can operate upon a poet, abound in unlimited exuberance in this country. Nature has been most lavish of her wo: rs. Our ancient and magnificent forests, in one of which, to borrow an idea from John Neal, a whole nation of Europe might lose itself – our inland oceans, where fleets might wander, and have wandered, for weeks without coming in sight of each other — our mountains bristling with dark woods — our stupendous cataracts — our immense prairies rolling their waves of verdure as the sea rolls its billows, and bounded, like the sea, on all sides by a level horizon — our princely and abounding rivers - our line of seacoast, indented with noble bays, sublime in storm and beautiful in calm — all these natural characteristics cannot be regarded as deficient in the elements of the loftiest poetry.
The collection of poems here offered to the public has no higher pretension than that of being simply a specimen of the lyrical poetry of our country. Many such volumes would not contain half of the American productions in verse, which are worthy of being embraced in such a collection.
In glancing over some of the names to the list of pieces in the index, we are impressed with the mournful consideration, that many of our poets, who gave ample promise of future excellence, have been prematurely withdrawn from among us by death. The tenderness, the pathos and beauty of some of Brainard's verse, prove that he was a poet of the finest mould. There are two or three little lyrics by Pinckney, which are remarkable for their delicacy and elegance of thought. Drake was a poet of no mean order, and we are glad to perceive that a collection of his works has recently been published. Miller and Rockwell deserve to be freshly remembered. These votaries of song passed away to “the land of silence' before they had attained their prime.
There are many, however, still left among us, who also“ in Arcadia born.” We trust that they have not wholly forsaken the pursuit, which claimed their early affections.