« ForrigeFortsæt »
Poetryart, requires fler moments of be momentar
a monthly magazine will not satisfy posterity. There can be indeed little doubt that it was the practice of supplying verses to current literature which has been hurtful to his fame as a poet. We have seen how, in an instance already referred to, the first burning lines were enlarged and lose their fire. Poetry, as Lowell himself more than once said, like every other art, requires that care should be given to its form; the amplification in cooler moments of expression which has been created by strong, though it may be momentary, feeling is quite as likely as not to lessen the force and beauty of the original lines, and in reading Lowell's verse it is impossible not to be often aware of an absence of concentration on the contrary, of the weakening of the original thought. There is a great quantity of agreeable verse— feeling for natural beauty, a perception of the undertones of life. It is as walking through delightful but not remarkable scenerywe are never displeased, but we are never deeply moved: We are inclined rather to be struck with the personality of the writer than with his poetry. Among his works not one is better known in his own country than ‘Beaver Brook'; it exemplifies very well what has just been said :
* Hushed with broad sunlight lies the hill,
And, minuting the long day's loss,
Creeps o'er its dial of grey moss.
The aspen's leaves are scarce astir ;
Its busy never-ceasing burr.
The road along the mill-pond's brink,
My footstep scares the shy chewink.
The mill's red door lets forth the din;
Flits past the square of dark within.
Sweet Beaver, child of forest still,
And gently waits the miller's will.-
Unheard, and then, with flashing bound,
And, laughing, hunts the loath drudge round.
"The miller dreams not at what cost
The quivering millstones hum and whirl,
Armfuls of diamonds and of pearl.
With drops of some celestial juice,
Forevermore each form of use. The poet tben turns to some reflections which are sufficiently summarised in the following stanza :
No more than doth the miller there,
Shut in our several cells do we
Moves every day's machinery.' Lowell always wrote lovingly and truthfully of visible Nature, for in his constant rambles in fields and woods he observed minutely; we see this trait very clearly in the • Beaver Brook.' The birch tree, lighting by its delicate frailty the sombre shade of their evergreen forests, has always had an attraction for the poets of New England. To Lowell it was a delight:
• Rippling through thy branches goes the sunshine
Among thy leaves that palpitate forever.' If, when we turn over the hundreds of lines which Lowell wrote, we are inclined to think that it would have been better for his fame if he had curbed his facility of expression, we must bear in mind that he never wanted readers. It is a remarkable characteristic of the American people that they have always welcomed poetry as part of their daily reading. Everything which Lowell wrote was read. His poems did not appear in delicate volumes, to be perused only by a few enthusiasts. They were written for the people and were read by the people. The same work was being done by others. Throughout Lowell's life, Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Whittier were each giving poetical expression to their thoughts and feelings. It would draw us into a consideration rather of the character of the American people than of their distinguished son, if we were to do more than indicate this particular intellectual trait, but in a review of Lowell's life and work it cannot be passed by; it is indicative of a national temperament unlike that of Englishmen, a temperament of which Lowell was a type and to which he ministered.
When we peruse the immense quantity of agreeable
verse in his collected works, and compare it with the comparative smallness of the · Biglow Papers,' we cannot but be struck with the superiority of these poems. Their setting, in the shape of the letters of the Rev. Mr. Wilbur, is sometimes tedious to English readers, but the poems themselves will remain Lowell's most permanent addition to American literature. They are animate with the life of a great mass of the people; they are often a passionate and yet humorous expression of contemporary thought, the writer is voicing his age, and he is in earnest. A memorable moment has come, and a strong movement of feeling impels him to expression. The subjects are serious, large. The very fact that these poems are written in a dialect, that they realise types of the people, gives them a truth which adds to their completeness and their permanence. They were begun when popular feeling ran high-at the time of the Mexican war, which was regarded by large numbers in the Eastern States as the increasing and strengthening of slavery. The second series dates from even a still more stormy period, when the best blood of the Union was being shed in its defence; they are the products of a national convulsion. One cannot but regret that Lowell did not give more of his time to the picturing of his own people, that he was not more in his general verse the poet of New England. In the political poems he caught the feeling of an inportant section of the American people, and the same feeling he could have represented apart from politics. • Despite its intense provincialism there is a truth to human 'nature in it which justifies its having been written ;' so wrote Lowell in 1859 of the first series to the late Tom Hughes. The intense provincialism of the work was in a great measure its strength. In The Courtin',' which was a kind of sequel to the introduction to the first of the second series of these Papers—and was said to have been written to fill up space, and so hastily that Lowell did not keep a copy-we perceive how well he could represent the feelings of the countrypeople of New England. It has a simplicity, a charm, and a truth which makes it of greater worth than any of his more general work. It is a picture of New England lite. We can see the snow long lying on the hills of Maine, the sparse farms, the warm parlour, the home of more than one generation of those sturdy farmers who still live prosperous and contented in this hard country.
VOL. CXCI. NO. CCCXCI.
people, that is more of mine can
• Despite in it which just the first series he work was nich
long Tyinde of New England his more genera,
God makes sech nights, all white an' still
Fur'z you can look or listen,
All silence an' all glisten.
An' peeked in thru the winder,
'ith no one nigh to hender.
With half a cord o'wood in
To bake ye to a puddin'.
Towards the pootiest, bless her,
The chiny on the dresser.
An' in amongst 'em rusted
Fetched back f'om Concord busted.
Seemed warm f'om floor to ceilin',
Ez the apples she was peelin'.
When Ma bimeby upon 'em slips,
Huldy sot pale ez ashes,
An' teary roun' the lashes.
Whose naturs never vary,
Snowhid in Jenooary.'
Here is the true metal, nothing forced and nothing weak, far removed from those poetical efforts which, though they show cultivation and quick feeling, are without character. Whittier well said that Lowell was one
Who in the language of their farm-fields spoke
The wit and wisdom of New England folk.' What the world regrets is that Lowell did not write more which could be regarded as distinctively American work.
As a critic, Lowell is what might be expected from his character and temperament. A critic is born, not made; no one can be a critic of the first rank without natural iinagination, sympathy, and quickness of perception. Lowell had these qualities in a marked degree, and they were in constant course of expansion and activity. And he possessed a judgement matured and broadened by a wide knowledge of the literature of the world and by association with men of varied characters and occupations. Without the subtlety of intellect so characteristic of Arnold and Hutton--a subtlety which sometimes causes a critic to see things in the author's mind which were never there, but which, however, is so suggestive—he is a sound and safe guide. But the impression which his criticisms leave is that Lowell never delved very deeply into the subject of them. In his letters are constantly to be found flashes of insight which illuminate quickly and for the moment the book or the writer on which his intellect is turned. His more elaborate work has the same characteristics—it is scarcely sufficiently well pondered.
A comparison of Lowell's 'Essay on Wordsworth' with that of Mr. Hutton on the Genius of Wordsworth’in his *Literary Essays' will bring out very well the character of Lowell's criticism. He is inclined to tell us what is almost obvious, just as Mr. Hutton is a little too prone to create as well as to criticise. Lowell is somewhat too objective. Thus, speaking of Wordsworth's finest lines, he writes, “They seem rather the production of Nature than of man, and have