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{David Gray, and other Essays, chiefly on Poetry 1868}









He keeps, where there is lack of light,
The loveliness of perfect sight.
Hark! how his human heart anon
Leaps with the bliss he looks upon!—
Go forth, O perfect Heart and Eyes,
Stand in the crowd, and melodise!






WHAT then is the Poet, or Seer, as distinguished from the philosopher, the man of science, the politician, the tale-teller, and others with whom he has many points in common? He is, indeed, a student as other students are, but he is emphatically the student who sees, who feels, who sings. The Poet, briefly described, is he whose existence constitutes a new experience—who sees life newly, assimilates it emotionally, and contrives to utter it musically. His qualities, therefore, are triune. His sight must be individual, his reception of impressions must be emotional, and his utterance must be musical. Deficiency in any one of the three qualities is fatal to his claims for office.

     I. And first, as to the Glamour, the rarest 4 and most important of all gifts; so rare, indeed, and so powerful, that it occasionally creates, in very despite of nature, the other poetic qualities. Yet that individual sight may exist in a character essentially unpoetic, in a temperament purely intellectual, might be proven by reference to more than one writer—notably, to a leading novelist. That proof, however, is immaterial. The point is, how to detect this individual sight, this Glamour, how to describe it,—how, in fact, to find a criterion which will prove this or that person to be or not to be a Seer.
     The criterion is easily found and readily applied. We find it in the special intensity, the daring reiteration, the unwearisome tautology, of the utterance. The Seer is so occupied with his vision, so devoted in the contemplation of the new things which nature reserved for his special seeing, that he can only describe over and over again—in numberless ways—in infinite moods of grief, ecstasy, awe—the character of his sight. He has discovered a new link, and his business is to trace it to its uttermost consequences. He beholds the world as it has been, but under a new 5 colouring. While small men are wandering up and down the world, proclaiming a thousand discoveries, turning up countless moss-grown truths, the Seer is standing still and wrapt, gazing at the apparition, invisible to all eyes save his, holding his hand upon his heart in the exquisite trouble of perfect perception. And behold! in due time, his inspiration becomes godlike, insomuch as the invisible relation is incorporated in actual types, takes shape and being, and breathes and moves, and mingles in tangible glory into the approven culture of the world.
     For, let it be noted, Nature is greedy of her truths, and generally ordains that the perception of one link in the chain of her relations is enough to make man great and sacerdotal; only twice, in supreme moments, she creates a Plato and a Shakespeare, proving the possibility, twice in time, of a sight imperfect but demi-godlike. “Life is a stream of awful passions, yet grandeur of character is attainable if we dare the fatal fury of the torrent.” Thus said the Greek tragedians, but how variously! The hopelessness of the struggle, yet the grandeur of struggling at all, 6 is uttered by all three—each in his own fashion. In despite of madness, adultery, murder, incest,—in connection with all that is horrible,—in defiance of the very gods, Œdipus, Ajax, Medea, Orestes, Antigone, agonize divinely, and, perishing, attain the repose of antique sculpture. The same undertone pervades all this antique music, but is never so obtruded as to be wearisome. Never was the tyranny of circumstance, the inexorable penalties enforced even on the innocent when laws are broken, represented in such wondrous forms. Under such penalties the innocent may perish, but their reward is their very innocence. Even when they lament aloud, when they exclaim against the direness of their doom, these figures lose none of their nobility. In the Philoctetes, the very cries of physical pain are dignified; in the Œdipus, the bitterness of the blind sufferer is noble; in the Prometheus, the shriek of triumphant agony is sublime.
     These three dramatists uttered the truth as they beheld it; nor do they interfere in any wise with higher interpretations of the same conditions. They used the light of their generation; and the 7 value of their revelation lies in the sincerity and splendour of the contemporary utterance. The same thing is not to be said again. It was a cry heard early in time; it is an echo haunting the temple of extinct gods. But its truth to humanity is eternal. We have the same agonies to this day but we regard them differently. All that can be said on the heathen side has been said supremely.
     While the dramatist depicts the fortunes and questionings of small groups and individuals, the epic poet chronicles the history of the world. It is not every day we can have an epic; for only twice or thrice in time are there materials for an epic. Homer is the historian of the gods, and of the social life under Jove and his peers; through his page blows the fresh breeze of morning, the white tents glimmer on Troy plain, horses neigh and heroes buckle on armour,—while aloft the heavens open, showing the glittering gods on the snowy shoulder of Olympus, Iris darting on the rainbow, whose lower end reddens the grim features of Poseidon, driving his chariot through the foam of the Trojan sea. The passion of the Iliad is anger, the action, war; in the Odyssey, we have 8 the domestic side of the same life, the softer touches of superstition, the milder influences of gods and goddesses, heroes and their queens. But the life is the same in both—large, primitive, colossal—absorbing all the social and religious significance of a period.
     What Homer is to the polytheism of the early Greeks, the Old Testament is to the monotheism of the Hebrews. It is the epic of that life—the wilder, weirder, more spiritual poem of a wilder, weirder, more spiritual period. It is the utterance of many mouths, the poem of many episodes, but the theme is unique, pre-eminent—the spirit of the one God, breathing on His chosen peoples, and steadily moving on to fixed consummations foreshadowed in the prophets. We have had no such wondrous epic as this since, and can have none such again. It is the poem of the one God, when yet He was merely a voice in the thunder-cloud, a breath between the coming and going of the winds.
     Where else, in Virgil’s time, subsisted the matter for an epic? To sing of Æneas and his fortunes was certainly patriotic, but the subject, at 9 the best, was merely local—a contemporary, not an eternal, theme. The two great forms of early European life had been phrased in the two great early epics; and till Christ taught, the time for the third great poem of masses had not come. In point of fact, the third great poem has not yet been written. The New Testament, of course, is didactic, not poetic; and the Paradise Regained of Milton is purely modem and academic.
     The fourth European epic is the Divine Comedy of Dante; the fifth and last is the Paradise Lost of Milton. It is scarcely necessary to describe in detail the character of the vision in each of these cases. Dante saw Roman Catholicism as no eye ever saw it before, watched it to its uttermost results, made of it an image enduring by the very intensity of its outlines,—framed of it the epic of the early church. Milton’s perfect sight pictured, under latter lights, the wonders of the primeval world. The theme was old, but the light was new; and no man had seen angels till Milton saw them, having been first blinded, that his spiritual sight might be unimpeded.
     Thus, all these men,—Homer, the framers of 10 the biblical epos, Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Dante, Milton,—were poets by virtue of having seen some side of truth as no others saw it. If some were greater than others, their materials were perhaps greater. Not every one is so situated in time as to see the subject of a new epos, waiting to be sung. But the Seer “shines in his place, and is content.” Even Goethe had his truth to utter, and was so far a Seer. He was great in literature, by virtue of his spiritual littleness. It needed such a man to see nature in the cold light of self-worship, to betoken the futility of pure artistic striving. Yet this, at the best, was negative teaching, and so far, inferior.
     But, it may be objected, these men surely expressed more than one truth in their generation. In no wise, for each had but one point of view; there was no hovering, no doubting; their gaze was fixed as the gaze of stars. The object is eternal, it is the point of view which changes. Take Milton, for example; the peculiarity of Milton as a Seer is the angelic spirituality of his sight, its rejection of all but perfectly noble types for poetic contemplation. It would seem that, 11 from having once walked with angels, he sees even common things in a divine white light. He breathes the thin serene air of the mountain-top. He seems calm and passionless; his heart beats in great glorified throbs, with no tremor; his speech is stately and crystal clear; he is for ever referring man to his Maker; for ever comparing our stature with that of angels. Mark, further, that his spiritual creatures are profoundly intellectual creatures, strangely subtle and lofty reasoners. He holds pure intellect so divine a thing that, in spite of himself, he makes the devil his hero. “The end of man,” he says in effect, “is to contemplate God, and enjoy Him for ever.” But he says this in a way which is not final; there may be truth beyond Milton’s truth, but one does not belie the other; this blind man saw as with the eye, and spake as with the tongue, of angels.
     Utterances such as these once attained, perceptions so peculiar once welded into the culture of the world, it behoves no man to re-utter them in the reiterative spirit of their first discoverers. He who looks at life exactly as Milton, or Keats, 12 or Dante did, may be an excellent being, but he is certainly too late to be a Seer. Yet each new Seer is, of necessity, familiar with the discoveries of his predecessors; the white light of Milton’s purity chastens and solemnizes Wordsworth’s diction; while the glow of Elizabethan colour tinges the pale cheek of Keats the lover. The Seer is not the person of Goethe’s epigram,—

     Ein Quidam sagt: “Ich bin von keiner Schule;
Kein Meister lebt mit dem ich buhle;
Auch bin ich weit davon entfernt,
Dass ich von Todten was gelernt.”
Das heisst, wenn ich ihn recht verstand—
“Ich bin ein Narr auf eigne Hand!”

Nay, as each great Poet sings, we again and again catch tones struck by his predecessors—Homer, Æschylus, Dante, Job, Solomon, Milton, Goethe, and the rest,—but deeper, stronger, more permanent than all, we catch the broken voice of the man himself, saying a mystic thing that we have never heard before. The later we come down in time, the frequenter are the echoes; they are the penalty the modern pays for his privileges. Æschylus and the rest echo Homer and 13 the minstrels. The Hebrew prophets, the heathen poets, the Italian minstrels,—Homer, Moses, Tasso, Dante,—reverberate in every page of Milton; yet they only add volume to the English voice. Shakespeare catches cries from all the poetic voices of Europe,* daringly translating into his own phraseology the visions of other and smaller singers, and mellowing his blank verse by the study even of contemporaries. In Chaucer’s breezy song come odours from the Greek Ægean, and whispers from Tuscany and Provence. Aristophanes, again and again, inspires the poetically humorous twinkle in the eyes of Molière. But the plagiarism of such writers is kingly plagiarism; the poets ennoble the captives they take in conquest; refusing instruction from no voice, however humble; accepting the matter as divinely sent by nature, but never imitating the tones of the medium which transmits the matter.
     There is no better sign of unfitness for the high

—    * Note how he spiritualises still further what is already spiritual in the poetic prose of Plutarch; as an example, compare with the original passage in the Life of Antony the Speech of Enobarbus, descriptive of Cleopatra in her barge. —

14 poetic ministry than a too tricksy delight in imitating other voices, however admirable. Racine caught the Greek stateliness so well that he has scarcely an accent of his own, save, of course, the mere general accentuation of his people. In reading him, therefore, we have constantly before our mind’s eye the picture of a Frenchman on the stage of the great amphitheatre; we see the masks, the fixed lineaments expressive of single passions; and we hear the high-pitched soliloquies of Greece translated into a modern tongue. Racine, indeed, is better reading than any translator of the tragedians, but he is no Seer. On the other hand, Molière was nearly as much under influence as Racine, but the splendour of his individual vision lifted him high into the ranks of poetic teachers. He was an arrant thief, robbing the playwrights of all countries without mercy, but the roguish gleam of the thief’s eyes is never lost under the load of stolen raiment. We think of him, not of what he is stealing; the dress makes plainer, instead of hiding, the natural peculiarities of the wearer.
     There is, then, no danger in echoes, where 15 they do not drown the voice; when they are too audible, that is the case. The greatest artists utter old truths with all the force of novelty; not in philosophy only, but in poetry also, are the worn cries repeated over and over again. These cries are common to all the race of Seers, and may be described as the poetic “terminology.”
     According to the dignity of the revelation will be the rank of the Seer in the Temple. The epic poet is great, because his matter is great in the first place, and because he has not fallen below the level of his matter. The dramatist is great by his truth to individual character not his own, and his power of presenting that truth while spiritualizing into definite form and meaning some vague situation in the sphere of actual or ideal life. The lyric poet owes his might to the personal character of the emotion aroused by his vision. Then, there are ranks within ranks. Not an eye in the throng, however, but has some object of its own, and some peculiar sensitiveness to light, form, colour. To Milton, a prospect of heavenly vistas, where stately figures walk and cast no shade; but to Pope (a seer, though low down in the ranks) the 16 pattern of tea-cups, and the peeping of clocked stockings under farthingales. While the rouge on the cheek of modern love betrays itself to the languid yet keen eyes of Alfred de Musset, Robert Browning is proclaiming the depths of tender beauty underlying modern love and its rouge; each is a Seer, and each is true, only one sees a truth beyond the other’s truth. After Wordsworth has penetrated with solemn-sounding footfall into the aisle of the Temple, David Gray follows, and utters a faint cry of beautiful yearning as he dies upon the threshold.
     One word, in this place, as to the end of Art—poetic art particularly, and the mistaken ideas concerning that end. That end has been described from time immemorial as “pleasure.” Now, art is doubtless pleasant to the taste. It may be said, further, that art, even when it uses the most painful machinery, when it chronicles human agony and pictures tears and despair, does so in such a way as to cause a certain enjoyment. But the pleasure thus produced is not the aim, but an accompaniment of the aim, proportioned and regulated by qualities existing in materials 17 extracted from life itself. The aim of all life is accompanied by pleasure, includes pleasure, in the highest sense of that word. The specific aim of art, in its definite purity, is spiritualization; and pleasure results from that aim, because the spiritualization of the materials of life renders them, for subtle reasons connected with the soul, more beautifully and deliciously acceptable to the inner consciousness. Even in very low art we find spiritualization of a kind. But pleasure, as mere pleasure, is produced on every side of us by the simplest and least intricate experiences of existence itself. The woe and hopelessness of the popular creed is that it thoroughly separates art from utility. Pleasure, merely as pleasure, is worthless to beings sent down on earth to seek that euphrasy which purges the vision of the inner eye—beings to whom art was given, not a mere musical accompaniment to a dull drama, but as the toucher of the mysterious chords of inquiry which invest that drama with a grand and divine signification. Nor must we confound the purifying spirit of art with didactic sermonizing and direct moral teaching. The spirit who seizes the 18 forms of life, and passes their spiritual equivalents into the minds of men on chords of exquisite sensation, wears no academic gown, writes no formal treatises in verse. The exquisite sensation is a means, and not an end. It is a consequence of the divine system on which she works, and she produces it as much for its own sake as Nature creates a butterfly for the sake of the down on its wings.
     The lower condition of the aim of art, if I have stated that aim properly, places fresh obstacles in the way of the construction of an exact science of pleasure. What is one man’s delight is another man’s aversion. One lady enjoys the method of Miss Braddon, while her neighbour even gets beyond George Eliot. Scores of people absorb as much pleasure out of Longfellow as a solitary idealist extracts from Richter. But though pleasure emanates from all works properly called artistic, ranks are apportioned in the Temple of Worthies according to the amount of spiritualization, not according to the amount of pleasure involved. The higher the spiritualization the less the need of direct teaching; the smaller the artist, the more his need to sermonize. 19 We admit “Lear” to be great art, because it absorbs, in one perfect spiritual form, picturesque, emotional, musical, the amplest and most dramatic elements of human existence. We call the Cenci smaller art, because it spiritualizes elements in themselves horrible and narrow as representing humanity. And we call the amusing “Ingoldsby Legends” no art at all, because their direct aim is pleasure, and they spiritualize no form of life whatever.
     Contemporary critics are fond of affirming that art, so far from having any moral purpose, has nothing to do with morality. This is saying in effect that nature has nothing to do with morality. For art is the spiritual representation, the alter ego, of nature; and nothing that is true in nature is false in art. Astronomy as much as morality, concrete experiences as well as abstract ideas, have their place in nature and in art; they are a part of the whole, which has two lives, the lower and the higher, the real and the artistic. An essentially immoral form, a bestiality, a lie, an insincerity, is an outrage in life;* but it has no

—    * See après, the paper on “Literary Immortality.” We have modern instances of subjects chosen for artistic treatment, which are abominable and false in naturee.g. the Sapphic passion. —

20 permanent place in art, because spiritualization is fatal to its very perceptibility. The basest things have their spiritual significance, but their baseness has evaporated when the significance is apparent. The puddle becomes part of the rainbow.
     It is necessary to understand these points clearly; for if pleasure were the end of art, and art had nothing to do with morality, the purport of this volume would be unintelligible.

     II. The second essential peculiarity of the Poet is that of emotional assimilation of impressions. Where intellect coerces emotion, by however faint an effort, the result is criticism of life, however exquisite. Where emotion coerces intellect, the result is poetry.
     It is not enough, observe, to see vividly. Sir Walter Scott could see as vividly as Keats,—but he was incapable of such emotion. Scott, indeed, is the greatest modern writer who may unhesitatingly be described as unpoetic. He was 21 true both to human types and to society. He was able to clothe the bare outline of history with vivid form and colour. Writing at a time when individualism was at its height in England, ere Whig and Tory had merged into one vacuous nonentity, he could not fail to shadow forth those higher aspirations which are the exclusive property of individual men of genius. Yet no man ever laboured to depict trifles with a more lofty devotion to general truth. There was no finicism in the author of “Waverley.” He depicted in faithful æsthetic photography the manners and qualities of ordinary or extraordinary men and women. He was not always profound, nor always noble. But over all his works lies the brilliant radiance of the artistic sympathies, giving, to what might otherwise have been simply a colourless likeness, the marvellous beauty of an exquisite literary painting. Scott, however, was no poet. His very success in prose fiction, as well as the failure of his metrical productions, betokens his unpoetic nature. He saw, but was not moved enough to sing. For there is this marked difference between poetic and all other utterance: it 22 owes everything to concentration. Deep emotion is invariably rapid in its manifestation, as we may mark in the case of the ordinary cries of grief; and the temperament of the poet is so intense, so keen, that nought but concentrated utterance suffices him. Whereas, the true secret of novel-writing is the power of expanding.
     The apparence of pure coercive intellect varies, of course, according to the nature of the singer. In Sappho and Catullus, and all purely lyrical Seers, the intellectual note is hardly heard at all; in Ovid and Chaucer, it is heard faintly; in the subjective school of writers, such as Shelley, it is painfully audible. But even in Shelley, where he writes poetry, emotion prevails. “Queen Mab” has justly been styled a pamphlet in verse, and the “Revolt of Islam” is only occasionally poetic.
     It follows that we are, on the whole, more powerfully moved by purely lyrical utterance than by utterances of higher portent. Sappho troubles us more than Sophocles, Keats more than Wordsworth. The personal cry, so sharp, so rapid, so genuine, can never fail to find an echo in our hearts. The manly exclamation of Burns,—

23 For pity’s sake, sweet bird, nae mair,
       Or my puir heart is broken!

the fetid breath of Sappho, screaming,—

Cold shiverings o’er me pass.
     Chill sweats across me fly!
I am greener than grass,
     And breathless seem to die!

the passionate voice of Catullus,—

Cœli, Lesbia nostra, Lesbia illa.
Illa Lesbia, quam Catullus unam
Plus quam se, atque suos amavit omnes!

the tender lament of Spenser over Sidney, the scream of Shelley, the warm sigh of Keats, all move deeply in the region of melancholy and tears. But the happy calls move us deliciously, although truly “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” The lighter strains of Burns, the songs of Tannahill, some verses of Horace, others of Ovid, the lyrics of Drayton and George Wither, and many other glad poems which will occur rapidly to every student, possess the lyrical light in great intensity and sweetness.
     But not only in poems professedly lyrical is this lyrical light to be found; it is noticeable in poetry 24 of any form, wherever there is extreme emotion, and may invariably be looked for as the characteristic of the true singer. Œdipus piteously exclaiming in his blindness,—


‘Wherefore should I have sight, who could never again see aught that was pleasant to see?’]

     Dante, in the great joy of his divinely beloved one, feeling his pale studious lips and cheeks turn into rose-leaves.* Samson Agonistes groaning,—

O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrevocably dark, total eclipse,
Without all hope of day.

Macbeth’s last twilight murmur,—

1 have lived long enough; my way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have!

Cleopatra in the heyday of her bliss; the sad shepherd, chasing the footsteps of his love, and warbling in tuneful ecstasy,—

—    * Purgatory, xxx. —

25 Here she was wont to go! and here! and here!
Just where those daisies, pinks, and violets grow:
The world may find the spring by following her,
For other print her airy steps ne’er left;
Her treading would not bend a blade of grass,
Or shake the downy blow-ball from his stalk;
But like the soft west wind she shot along,
And where she went the flowers took thickest root,
As she had sow’d them with her odorous foot.

And Bernardo Cenci, in the horror and anguish of that last parting, screaming,—

                                   O life! O world!
Cover me! let me be no more! To see
That perfect mirror of pure innocence
Wherein I gazed, and grew happy and good,
Shiver’d to dust! To see thee, Beatrice,
Who made all lovely thou didst look upon—
Thee, light of life, dead, dark! While I say “sister,”
To hear I have no sister; and thou, mother,
Whose love was a bond to all our loves,—
Dead! the sweet bond broken!

These utterances, one and all, sad or glad, are essentially lyrical, only differing from the first class of lyric utterances in belonging to fictitious personages, not to the writer. Romeo and Juliet swarms with lyrics; every great play of Shakespeare is more or less full of them. They betoken 26 the true dramatic force, and are less distinct in the lesser dramatist. They are plentiful in Beaumont and Fletcher, in Ford, in Webster; less plentiful in Massinger; scarcely audible at all in Shirley and Ben Jonson. Where they should appear in the bombastic tragedies of Dryden, rhetoric and rhodomontade appear instead; and to come down to modern times, where shall we look for the lyrical light in the pretentious tentatives of Sheridan Knowles and Johanna Baillie? If these tentatives sometimes rise to dignity of movement, that is the most which can be said of them. We have powerful emotional situations, and no emotion.
     It is here that all professed “imitations” of the classics fail. They reproduce the repose so admirably, as in many cases to send the reader to sleep. But we search in vain in them for the representation of the great fires, the burning passions, of the originals.* Insensibly, as has been

—    * The “Philoctetes” of Mr. William Lancaster is to my mind a fine attempt at classic reproduction. It is very noble in parts. Mr. Swinburne’s “Atalanta” is also fine, but it seems, on the whole, less sincere. —

27 shrewdly remarked, we derive our notions of Greek art from Greek sculpture, and forget that although calm evolution was rendered necessary by the requirements of the great amphitheatre, it was no calm life, no dainty passion, no subdued woe, that was thus evolved. The lineaments of the actor’s mask were fixed, but what sort of expression did each mask wear?—the glazed hopeless stare of Œdipus, the white horror-stricken look of Agamemnon, the stony glitter of the eyes of Clytemnestra, the horridly distorted glare of the Promethean furies, the sick, suffering, and ghastly pale features of Philoctetes. Where was the calm here? The movement of the drama was simple and slow, yet there was no calm in the heart of the actors, each of whom must fit to his mask a monotone—the sneer of Ulysses, the blunted groan of Cassandra, the fierce shriek of Orestes. The passion and power have made these plays immortal; not the slow evolution, the necessity of the early stage. They are full of the lyrical light.
     But though lyrical emotion is the intensest of all written forms of emotion, and must invariably be 28 attained wherever poetry interprets the keenest human feeling and passion, there are forms of emotion wherein intellect is not coerced so strongly. Two forms may be mentioned, and briefly illustrated here—emotional meditation, and emotional ratiocination. Either of these forms is of subtler and more mixed quality than the purely lyrical form.
     We have numberless examples of emotional meditation in Wordsworth; the thought is strong, solemn, unmistakably intellectual, but it is spiritualized withal by profound feeling. Observe, as an example of this, the following portion of the “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey:”—

O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee,
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint.
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts,
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope.
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe                                        29
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led; more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For Nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by,)
To me was all in all. I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrowed from the eye. That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn, nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed, for such loss, I would believe,
Abundant recompense. For I have learned
To look on Nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts: a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,                                           30
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

     By the side of this exquisite passage, let me place another by the same great reflective writer,—

When, as becomes a man who would prepare
For such an arduous work, I through myself
Make rigorous inquisition, the report
Is often cheering; for I neither seem
To lack that first great gift, the vital soul,
Nor general truths, which are themselves a sort
Of elements and agents, under-powers,
Subordinate helpers of the living mind.
Nor am I naked of external things,
Forms, images, nor numerous other aids
Of less regard, though won perhaps with toil,
And needful to build up a poet’s praise.
Time, place, and manners do I seek, and these
Are found in plenteous store, but nowhere such
As may be singled out with steady choice;
No little band of yet remembered names
Whom I, in perfect confidence, might hope
To summon back from lonesome banishment,
And make them dwellers in the hearts of men
Now living, or to live in future years.
Sometimes the ambitious power of choice, mistaking                       31
Proud spring-tide swellings for a regular sea,
Will settle on some British theme, some old
Romantic tale by Milton left unsung;
More often turning to some gentle place
Within the groves of chivalry, I pipe
To shepherd swains, or seated, harp in hand,
Amid reposing knights, by a river side
Or fountain, listen to the grave reports
Of dire enchantments faced and overcome
By the strong mind, and tales of warlike feats,
Where spear encountered spear, and sword with sword
Fought, as if conscious of the blazonry
That the shield bore, so glorious was the strife,
Whence inspiration for a song that winds
Through ever-changing scenes of votive quest;
Wrongs to redress, harmonious tribute paid
To patient courage and unblemished truth,
To firm devotion, zeal unquenchable,
And Christian meekness hallowing faithful loves.

     There can be no mistaking the qualities of these two passages. The first is poetry, the second is the merest prose; the emotion in the first extract so breathes on the thought as to fill it with exquisite mnsic and subtle pleasure not to be coerced by meditation. Yet the mood of both is a meditative mood. In the “Prelude,” from which the above extract is taken, and in the “Excursion,” prose and 32 poetry alternate most significantly. Where the feeling is vivid and intense, the lines lose all that cumbrousness and pamphletude which have blinded so many readers to the real merits of these two compositions.
     Wordsworth, too, has passages of emotional ratiocination; so also has Milton. But I can better illustrate that mood of poetry by two extracts from Mr. Browning. The first is from the “Epistle of Karsheesh,” a poem wherein an Arab leech details his encounter, during his travels, with the case of Lazarus:—

He holds on firmly to some thread of life,
(It is the life to lead perforcedly,)
Which runs across some vast distracting orb
Of glory on either side that meagre thread
Which, conscious of, he must not enter yet,—
The spiritual life around the earthly life.
The law of that is known to him as this,
His heart and brain move there, his feet stay here.
So is the man perplext with impulses,
Sudden to start off crosswise, not straight on,
Proclaiming what is Right and Wrong across,
And not along this black thread through the blaze.
“It should be” balked by “here it cannot be,”
And oft the man’s soul springs into his face,
As if he saw again and heard again
His sage, that bade him “Rise,” and he did rise.                               33
Something, a word, a tick of the blood within
Admonishes; then back he sinks at once
To ashes, that was very fire before,
In sedulous recurrence to his trade
Whereby he earneth him the daily bread;
And studiously the humbler for that pride,
Professedly the faultier that he knows
God’s secret, while he holds the thread of life.
Indeed the especial marking of the man
Is prone submission to the Heavenly will,—
Seeing it, what is it, and why is it?
Sayeth, he will wait patient to the last,
For that same death which must restore his being
To equilibrium, body loosening soul,
Divorced even now by premature full growth.

     The second extract is from “A Death in the Desert,” in which John the Evangelist is supposed to detail his opinions of his contemporaries, and, in a spirit impossibly prophetic, to review the arguments, in the “Leben Jesu,” against miracles:—

I say that man was made to grow, not stop;
That help, he needed once, and needs no more,
Having grown up but an inch by, is withdrawn:
For he hath new needs, and new helps to these.
This imports solely, man should mount on each
New height in view; the help whereby he mounts,
The ladder rung his foot has left, may fall,
Since all things suffer change save God the Truth.
34 Man apprehends Him newly at each stage
Whereat earth’s ladder drops, its service done;
And nothing shall prove twice what once was proved.
You stick a garden plot with ordered twigs
To show inside lie germs of herbs unborn,
And check the careless step would spoil their birth;
But when herbs wave, the guardian twigs may go.
Since should ye doubt of virtues, question kinds,
It is no longer for old twigs ye look,
Which proved once underneath lay store of seed,
But to the herb’s self, by what light ye boast,
For what fruit’s signs are. This book’s fruit is plain,
Nor miracles need prove it any more.
Doth the fruit show? Then miracles bade ware
At first of root and stem, saved both till now
From trampling ox, rough boar, and wanton goat.
What? Was man made a wheel work to wind up,
And be discharged, and straight wound up anew?
No!—grown, his growth lasts; taught, he ne’er forgets:
May learn a thousand things, not twice the same.

This might be pagan hearing: now hear mine.

I say, that as the babe you feed awhile
Becomes a boy and fit to feed himself,
So minds at first must be spoon-fed with truth:
When they can eat, babe’s nurture is withdrawn.
I fed the babe whether it would or no:
I bid the boy or feed himself or starve.
I cried once, “That ye may believe in Christ,
Behold this blind man shall receive his sight!”
35 I cry now, “Urgest thou, for I am shrewd
And smile at stories how John’s word could cure—
Repeat that miracle arid take my faith?

I say, that miracle was duly wrought
When, save for it, no faith was possible.
Whether a change were wrought i’ the shows o’ the world,
Whether the change came from our minds which see
Of the shows of the world so much as and no more
Than God wills for His purpose,—(what do I
See now, suppose you, there where you see rock
Round us?)—I know not; such was the effect,
So faith grew, making void more miracles
Because too much; they would compel, not help.
I say, the acknowledgment of God in Christ
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth and out of it,
And has so far advanced thee to be wise.
Wouldst thou unprove this to reprove the proved?
In life’s mere minute, with power to use that proof,
Leave knowledge and revert to how it sprung?
Thou hast it; use it and forthwith, or die!

     Both these passages are ratiocinative; yet one is a poem, the other not even art. There is a flash of ecstasy through the strangely cautious description of Karsheesh; every syllable is weighed and thoughtful, yet everywhere the lines swell into perfect feeling. What shall be said, however, to St. John on Strauss? The violence 36 of the imaginative effort to reach St. John’s views on miracles precludes all emotion; and because there is no emotion, false notes occur in every page of the poem. The mind has forced itself into a certain attitude, instead of suffering itself to be coerced by powerful feeling.
     All these moods, indeed, are but the consequence of that first mood, wherein the Seer receives his impression. If that first mood be too purely intellectual, if the Seer be not stirred extremely in the process of assimilation, there is a certainty that, in spite of clear vision, he will produce prose,—as Milton did occasionally, as Wordsworth did very often; as Shakespeare seldom or never does, and as Keats never did.
     It is certain, then, that clear vision can exist independently of emotion; that, however, emotion is generally dependent on clear vision; and that, in short, he who sees vividly will in most cases feel deeply, but not in all cases.
     Let me mention one more notable case in point. I mean Crabbe,—the writer to whom modern writers are fondest of alluding, and whom, to judge from their blunders concerning him, 37 they appear to have been least fond of reading. A careful study of his works has revealed to me abundant knowledge of life, considerable sympathy, little or no insight, and no emotion. The poems are photographs, not pictures. There is no spiritualization, none of that fine selective instinct which invariably accompanies deep artistic feeling. There is too constant a consciousness of the “reader,” too painful an attempt to gain force by means of vivid details. Now, these are not the poetic characteristique. The poet derives his force from the vividness of the feeling awakened by his subject or by his meditation; he does not betray himself by clumsy efforts to gain attention. A thought—a touch—a gleam of colour—often suffice for him. Whereas Crabbe betrays his purely intellectual attitude at every step. He describes every cranny of a cottage, every gable, every crack in the wall, every kitchen utensil,—when his story concerns the soul of the inmate. He pieces out a churchyard like so much grocery, into so many lives and graves. There is no glamour in his eyes when he looks on death;—he is noting the bedroom furniture and the dirty 38 sheets. There is no weird music in his ears when he stands in a churchyard;—he is recording the quality of the coffin-wood, sliding off into an account of the history of the parish beadle, and observing whose sheep they are that browse inside the stone wall of the holy place.

     III. I am now led directly to the discussion of the third poetic gift,—that of music; for metrical speech is the most concentrated of all speech, and proportions itself to the quality of the poetic emotion. The most powerful form of emotion is lyrical emotion, and the sweetest music is lyrical music.
     Poetic vision culminates in sweet sound,—always inadequate, perhaps, to represent the whole of sight, but interpenetrating through the medium of emotion with the entire mystery of life. Nothing, indeed, so distinguishes the variety of Seers as their melody. It is the soul’s perfect speech. A break in the harmony not seldom betrays a dizziness of the eyes, an inactivity of the heart. A false note betrays the false maestro. A cold or forced expression indicates insincerity.
     39 This music, this last wondrous gift, carries with it its own significance and wisdom; it has a wondrous glamour of its own, like the dim light that is in falling snow. What exquisite sound is this,—where the thought and the emotion die away into a murmur like the wash of a summer sea?—

Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!
     No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
     In ancient days by emperor and clown.
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
     Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
         She stood in tears among the alien corn;
               The same that oft-times hath
     Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
         Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Or this,—so perfect in its fleeting rapture:—

                   Sound of vernal showers,
                         On the twinkling grass,
                   Rain-awakened flowers,
                         All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and sweet, thy music doth surpass.

                   Teach us, sprite or bird,
                         What sweet thoughts are thine:
                   I have never heard
                         Praise of love or wine
               That panted forth a rapture so divine!

                   40 Teach me half the gladness
                         That thy brain must know,
                   Such harmonious madness
                         From my lips would flow,—
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Or these lines from the “Willow, Willow,” of Alfred de Musset:—

Mes chers amis, quand je mourrai,
Plantez un saule au cimetière.
J’aime son feuillage éploré,
La pâleur m’en est douce et chère,
Et son ombre sera légère
A la terre où je dormirai.

     I might fill pages with such quotations.
     The examples just given are examples of purely lyrical music,—from its personal nature, the most concentrated of all music. For the sake of contrast, now, let me turn to the least concentrated form of all, as it is represented in particular writers.
     At a first view, it would seem that epic poetry is most apt to be unmelodious, on account of the diffuse character of its materials as generally conceived. But this is an error à priori. The materials are not diffuse—they are only large and 41 various; and the music is emotional and concentrated, though not to the extent noticeable in less dignified forms of writing. Like dramatic poetry, it is all-embracing, and includes in its compass all elements, from lyrical feeling to emotional meditation. The stateliness and constancy of its movement do not preclude the sharp lyrical cry or the deep meditative pause. Homer is the most various of singers. His successors are less various, precisely because they are less great. Again and again in the sharp solemn progress of Dante through Hell are we startled by bursts of wilder melody. Even in “Paradise Lost” there are some occasions when the deep organ bass changes into a scream.
     This is but saying what has been already said of lyrical emotion. In brief, lyrical emotion and lyrical music as its expression intersect all great poetry, whatever its nature; and the reason need not be further explained. Lyric music is the ideal speech of intense personal feeling; and that is why the exquisite music of Greek tragedy is not confined to the choruses.
     But just as all emotion is not markedly 42 personal, all music is not lyrical. No music is so exquisite, so profoundly interesting to men; but there are more complex kinds of expression, sounds more variegated and diffuse. Take the following passage from the “Paradise Lost” of Milton:—

For now, and since first break of dawn, the Fiend,
Mere serpent in appearance, forth was come,
And on his quest, where likeliest he might find
The only two of mankind, but in them
The whole included race, his purpos’d prey.
In bower and field he sought where any kind
Of grove or garden plot more pleasant lay,
Their tendence or plantation for delight;
By fountain or by shady rivulet
He sought them both, but wish’d his hap might find
Eve separate; he wish’d but not with hope
Of what so seldom chanc’d, when to his wish,
Beyond his hope, Eve separate he spies,
Veil’d in a cloud of fragrance, where she stood,
Half spy’d, so thick the roses blushing round
About her glow’d, oft stooping to support
Each flower of slender stalk, whose head, though gay
Carnation, purple, azure, or specked with gold,
Hung drooping, unsustain’d;
them she upstays
Gently with myrtle band, mindless the while
Herself, tho’ fairest unsupported flower,
From her best prop so far, and storm so nigh.
Nearer he drew, and many a walk travers’d
43 Of stateliest covert, cedar, pine, or palm,
Then voluble and bold, now hid, now seen
Among thick-woven arborets and flowers
Imborder’d on each bank, the hand of Eve:
Spot more delicious than those gardens feign’d,
Or of reviv’d Adonis, or renown’d
Alcinous, host of old Laertes’ son.
Or that, not mystic, where the sapient king
Held dalliance with his fair Egyptian spouse.
         *          *         *          *         *
So spake the enemy of mankind, enclos’d
In serpent, inmate bad, and toward Eve
Address’d his way, not with indented wave,
Prone on the ground, as since, but on his rear,
Circular base of rising folds, that tower’d
Fold above fold, a surging maze, his head
Crested aloft, and carbuncle his eyes;

With burnish’d neck of verdant gold, erect
Amidst his circling spires, that on the grass
Floated redundant;
pleasing was his shape
And lovely; never since of serpent kind
Lovelier, not those that in Illyria chang’d
Hermione and Cadmus, or the God
In Epidaurus; nor to which transform’d
Ammonian Jove, or Capitoline was seen
He with Olympias, this with her who bore
Scipio the height of Rome. With tract oblique
At first, as one who sought access, but fear’d
To interrupt, side-long he works his way:
As when a ship, by skilful steersman wrought
Nigh river’s mouth, or foreland, where the wind
44 Veers oft, as oft so steers and shifts her sail:
So varied he, and of his tortuous train
Curl’d many a wanton wreath in sight of Eve,
To lure her eye; she, busied, heard the sound
Of rustling leaves, but minded not, as us’d
To such disport before her through the field,
From every beast, more duteous at her call
Than at Circean call the herd disguis’d.
He bolder now, uncall’d before her stood,
But as in gaze admiring: oft he bow’d
His turret crest, and sleek enamel’d neck,
Fawning, and lick’d the ground whereon she trod.

     In these exquisite passages of pure description, the music perfectly represents the subdued emotion of the artist; there is no excitement, but vivid presentment;—and we hear the very movement of the snake in the involution and picturesqueness of the lines. I cannot do better than place by the side of the above a passage from the same great poet, which seems to me especially false and inharmonious. It is very brief:—

                                       The Most High
Eternal Father, from his secret cloud.
Amidst in thunder utter’d thus his voice:
Assembled angels, and ye powers return’d
From unsuccessful charge, be not dismay’d,
Nor troubled at these tidings from the earth,
45 Which your sincerest care could not prevent,
Foretold so lately what would come to pass,
When first this Tempter cross’d the gulf from Hell.
I told ye then he should prevail and speed
On his bad errand, man should be seduc’d
And flatter’d out of all, believing lies
Against his Maker; no decree of mine
Concurring to necessitate his fall.
Or touch with lightest moment of impulse
His free will, to her own inclining left
In even scale. But fall’n he is, and now
What rests but that the mortal sentence pass
On his transgression, death denounc’d that day?
Which he presumes already vain and void,
Because not yet inflicted, as he fear’d,
By some immediate stroke; but soon shall find
Forbearance no acquittance ere day end.
Justice shall not return as bounty scorn’d.
But whom send I to judge them? whom but thee
Vicegerent Son? to thee I have transferr’d
All judgment, whether in Heaven, or Earth, or Hell.
Easy it may be seen that I intend
Mercy colleague with justice, sending thee
Man’s friend, his mediator, his designed
Both ransome and redeemer voluntary,
And destin’d man himself to judge men fall’n.

Where is the thunder here? Where is the solemn music? Instead of awe-inspiring sound, we have bald and turgid prose, pieced out clumsily into 46 ten-syllable lines, every one of which limps like Vulcan. And why? Precisely because Milton had no spiritual glamour of the Highest, such as he had of Satan, for example,—felt no real emotion in recording His utterances, not even the cold meditative emotion which just redeems many other parts of “Paradise Lost” from sheer prose. He was forcing his mind to hear a voice, attempting to represent the utterance of a personality ungrasped by his imagination.
     Mere rhetorical music is the least poetic of all, although sometimes it has an exceeding charm, as in Virgil’s famous lines on Marcellus, and much of the poetry of rhetorical periods in England.
     Akin to such rhetorical music is the melody of the ornate school of writers, singers who mar expression by too elaborate effort. Melody, indeed, as represented in our true singers, may be divided into three kinds, just as the singers themselves may be divided into three classes,—the simple, the ornate, and the grotesque. The first kind is the sweetest and best; we find it in the great lyrists, from Sappho to Burns. Wherever Shelley sings perfectly, as in the “Ode to the Skylark,” his music 47 loses all its insincerities and affectations. Ornate and grotesque music have common faults,—the first sacrifices the emotion and meaning by thinning and straining them too carefully; the second loses in portent what it gains in mannerism; and both, therefore, betray that dangerous intellectual self-consciousness which is a barrier to the production of true poetry. A thing cannot be uttered too briefly and simply if it is to reach the soul. Music that conceals, instead of expressing, thought, music that is nothing but sweet sounds and luscious alliterations, is not poetry. We have the sweet sounds everywhere, in fact: in the wash of the sea, in the rustle of leaves, in the song of birds, in the murmur of happy living things. The world is full of them, its heart aches with them; they are mystical and they are homeless. It is the office of poetry not barely to imitate them, but to link them with the Soul, and by so doing to use them as symbols of definite form and meaning. They issue from the soul’s voice with a new wonder in their tones, and are then ready to be used as man’s perfect language and speech to God.
     48 I need delay little more on this branch of poetic power, which, indeed, contains matter for a whole volume. It is clear that there is no poetry without music, but that music varies extremely, according to the quality and intensity of the emotion. It may safely be affirmed that no subject is unfit for poetic treatment which can be spiritualized to this uttermost form of harmonious and natural numbers. So closely is melody woven in with and representative of emotion and of sight, that it has been called the characteristique of the true Seer. But let us never lose sight of the fact that music is representative, and valuable, not for the sole sake of its own sweetness, not for the sole sake of the emotion it represents, but mainly and clearly valuable for the sake of the poetic thought and vision which it brings to completion. There may be melodious sound without meaning, fine versification without thought; but the most exquisite melody and versification are those which convey the most exquisite forms of poetic vision.
     The tongue must be guided by the eye, if the heart is to be reached by the ear; a series of sighs is not a poem.
     49 Thus, then, have been briefly described the qualities of the Poet. He is cardinally the Seer, the man who beholds what others behold not, and the consequence of his vision is deep emotion finding its expression in beautiful music. None of the gifts may be dispensed with; how many a pretender, how many a laurel-wearer, must truth dethrone, because he lacks eyes. How many must be set aside because, in spite of nearly perfect sight, they are too cold and impassive. A number, too, must be rejected solely because they cannot sing. Southey and Bowles are examples of defective vision; Scott and Crabbe are examples of defective emotion; Bacon and Walt Whitman are examples of defective music.
     Nor let it be conceived that vision can exist in its highest splendour in other men than the born Seers. The vision which moves so deeply as to turn the very breath of the soul into music is equalled by no other vision: its discoveries are the most supreme, its significance the most divine. The proof of perfect sight is perfect song; other men may see clearly, but the Poets are the discoverers and watchmen of the world; they stand 50 on an eminence and see far into the happy valleys. There is, indeed, a growing tendency in modern life to separate poetry from the poet; but how much is the effect of true song enhanced by the solitary singer on the headland, his white robes blowing in the wind. On such a headland the poet should stand; his face must shine—bright, individual, beautiful—in the midst of his creations. It is not entirely by the character of the vision that we intuitively recognize a genuine “bit” by Milton, or by Dante, or by Burns; we recognize them chiefly by the temper of the emotion, as expressed in the music; and thus, through all great and genuine poetry, runs that personal note which we call the characteristique of the singer. He who is wholly sunk in his art dies with his art. Arts do die; but the true history of literature is the life of men.
     The perfectly approven Seer is a sacer vates, a priest in the great Temple of Poesy. What are his priestly functions? Is he merely a chaunter in the great choirs of nature,—an intoner of responses,—a swinger of incense before the altar. Nay; his office is white and ministerial, fulfilling daily 51 functions of divine significance. He is a justifier of the ways of God to men. Without that perfect sight of his, why should God have selected him? Had not very God selected him, how should he be so moved? Were his voice unmusical, how should men heark to his news? But once invested, once clearly persuaded that he is a vates, he finds his task become easy to him. He has only to sing aloud, and his heart is eased, and he is glad. Whether his tidings be sad or merry, he is glad; for he is serving an exquisitely beautiful Master. “It is,” says Emerson, “dislocation and detachment from God that makes things ugly.” He should have said seeming dislocation; no things are quite separated from God, and it is the poet’s office to see the faint lines of communication. Those lines detected, the ugly thing is ugly no more, but is glorified in the strange and tender sweetness issuing from God’s eyes.
     And here we have the clue to all these Proteus-tricks in which the Seers, from Shakespeare downwards, delight. Everything, everybody, illustrates the poetic discovery. What the Seer beholds as an idea he rushes to corroborate in life, 52 and so creates ideals. He is certain of his truth, but he is never tired of fresh verification. Again and again he approaches us in disguise,—now he is one man, then another man, now one woman, then another woman; but the same revelation is heard, albeit qualified by the character of the personage. By one mouth or another he is bent on reaching our souls. That is the dramatic fortitude, the vivida vis of song. But where one Seer illustrates his truth by human beings, his brother Seer seeks verification in nature, finds sermons in stones, and corroborate wisdom in all things. While Shakespeare plays Proteus, Wordsworth calls hills and woods and streams to witness. Seers there are also who gaze at one aspect of nature, so lost in looking that they can only cry, “See! see!” The light streams straight into their eyes; they will not stir, lest it die away;—they desire no verification beyond the tears on their own cheeks, the ache in their own hearts. Such an one was David Gray.
     If Hamlet and the great voices cannot reach us, cannot stir us, tongues have been given to the very hills. If the hills and great forces cannot 53 move us, there are Seers translating the voice of the running brook. If the running brook and gentle powers have no spell upon us, the cry of a departing voice shall warn us of our souls. Blessings even on the childish voices, which utter tiny truths in tender syllables, dulcet to ears not over keen to the hearing of sounds from the world of spirits.
     Let this, moreover, be said,—the Seer never lies. He is the man of truth, who cannot disturb the order and inferences of things, however much he may upset the order and inferences of idealists. He will admit no prevarications, no tawdry insincerities; he is largely sane and beautiful, and need not imitate the devices of the eyeless.
     Is it objected that there have been great Poets who have sung things which modern culture admits to be false, not true? But eternal truth is one matter, and contemporary truth is another. We may not believe now in the terror and vengefulness of the Lord God Avatar of the Hebrews, although that belief dwelt in the thunder-cloud of Ezekiel’s life, and issued from it in a lightning flash of prophecy. We may not believe in Dante’s 54 Inferno, nor in Mahomet’s Paradise, nor in the seventy angels of a Mussulman, nor in Milton’s devil,—but these are great, either as contemporary or poetic facts, true spiritually. For it is doubtless the business of the Seers to mark the great epochs in the march of man; and on each occasion of chronicling, the Seer (being not God, but the finite priest) deems in all sincerity that the mystery of things is solved, and bursts into rapturous song. The voice of Job, in eternal wail, sounds over the tracts of time, sounding the weariness of human speculation. The spirit of Æschylus darkly commemorates supematuralism at strife with intellect. Plato is an awful rumour of all that the unassisted mind of man can conceive of immortality. All these and such things were new, and true; and the intensity of the contemporary revelation, acting through the splendour of the eternal truth, has made them endure for ever. I pin my faith on the Incarnation, but I can admit the spiritual truth of other men who deny the Incarnation,—Plotinus, Proclus, Voltaire, Rousseau, and all others.
     For the Temple of Nature, where the poet 55 ministers, is a wondrous prism, in shining through which the perfect whiteness of God’s truth is merely turned into its constituent colours. None of these colours are false, and none are quite true; here, then, before the prism, all creeds may join the Poet. He may enter in, who knows any one of the thousand names of God, which are scattered for mysterious sounds up and down the earth. Within the temple no blasphemy is heard. The prismatic radiance of God strikes across the altar. A medley of strange tongues is heard on every side,—tongues of all lands, from China to Cana of Galilee, crying together


‘Father of Gods and Men!’]

One understands as much of the white light as the other understands. The fact that each can see, is stirred, and sings exquisitely, is at least a sign that their contradictions are countenanced by the oracle.
     It is in the weird pale circle of the moral law that the Seers are bound to have a definite terminology. No modem Seer, for example, can possibly despise the poor,—or sympathize with the scholastic views of Socrates’ love for Alcibiades,—or deny the equality of natural rights. 56 His predecessors have not worked for nought. Burns has at least taught that the poor are God’s creatures, full of noble qualities. Wordsworth has at least shown wherein the lowly are approven by the great combined forces of nature and the human heart. Not to carry on these illustrations, it is clear that no modern Poet dare lie against the accumulated testimony of his predecessors. He cannot without gross insincerity (which he may call “culture” if he please) write precisely as Sophocles wrote, much as he may recognize the spiritual truth of such writing; for he could not do so without first believing as Sophocles believed,—in which case he would be behind his age, and therefore unfit for priestly office at all. Nor may he write as Chaucer, or as Milton, or as Shelley wrote. We are beyond that. So far from being behind his age, he is far in advance of his age.* He is a torch-holder, peering forward into the dark To-come; he is a singer, chaunting his new discovery therein. The task, a special

—    * It might be curious to note in detail how far Browning’s orthodoxy is in advance even of our most liberal orthodoxy. —

57 task, of circulating the old truths, showing them in new lights, belong to quite another person,—to the reproducer, not to the creator.
     The class of reproducers is very large and very useful, consisting of men deficient only in one poetic quality, that of perfect individual vision. The reproducer feels acutely, sings exquisitely, but he is feeling and singing what has been discovered for him by predecessors. His delicate and sensitive eye at once appreciates the beauty pointed out to him (provided it be not contemporary or prospective beauty, which it is the nature of his vision not to see at all); his exquisite voice has been known to phrase the discovery even more charmingly than the Seer himself. The mere artist may frequently outvie the Seer in technical work. The following little poem by an American poet illustrates this point clearly:—

The morning comes, but brings no sun;
The sky with storm is overrun;
And here I sit in my room alone,
And feel, as I hear the tempest moan,
Like one who hath lost the last and best,
The dearest dweller from his breast!
For every pleasant sight and sound,
The sorrows of the sky have drowned;
58 The bell within the neighbouring tower,
Falls blurred and distant through the shower;
Look where I will, hear what I may,
All, all the world seems far away!
The dreary shutters creak and swing,
The windy willows sway and fling
A double portion of the rain
Over the weeping window pane.
But I, with gusty sorrow swayed,
Sit hidden here, like one afraid,
And would not on another throw
One drop of all this weight of woe!

All that is exquisite,—more exquisite than Wordsworth often is,—yet how instantly do we feel that the poem could never have been written save under Wordsworth’s direct influence. A volume might be filled with such examples. A notable contemporary work of reproduction is Mr. Morris’s “Life and Death of Jason,” where Homeric force and Chaucerian piteousness are mingled into truly beautiful music. This is a case of veritable reproduction, really good and notable work, as distinguished from those insincere imitations which now abound in literature.
     Let me not be understood to imply that the functions of the Seer do not include artistic and 59 reproductive functions; but in his case, the smaller quality is lost in the greater,—the artist in the maker.
     It is necessary, in conclusion, to say a few words on the training of the Seer. He must, as has been frequently insisted upon, have all the culture of his time:—no one-sided culture,—none of that elaborate intellectuality which rejects all food but what nourishes self-consciousness; but a truer culture, implying simply familiarity with what has been done by his predecessors, and absorption of the truths which they have introduced into poetic terminology. Philosophy, history, science, must all be familiar in their general bearings. Otherwise, how shall the Seer know that he is better than a tinkling cymbal, echoing what men have said in the world’s morning? Want of culture, properly so called, is at the bottom of many poetic failures. In a word, the Seer is made as well as born. He must know, as well as see. Else he will be taking every cockchafer for an unknown species, or rushing into the senate breathless with the discovery that the sun is risen.
     60 Perfect culture is perfect character,—the amplest development of natural gift and inspiration. It means life and strife, and probationary years of silence, and love of true literatures, and a creed of some sort. In these modern days, it must mean, above all,—Charity. “Though I speak with tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” With these words written in his heart, the Seer need fear no world, even if he is compelled to look at souls through the dark glass of his university.



David Gray, and other Essays, chiefly on Poetry - continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
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The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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