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We might even ask, Would not one really appreciate the poem better without more knowledge than is required for a good understanding of what would otherwise be meaningless ? Compare Keats, who delighted in Milton, and yet probably did not know many things that may be found in the annotated editions, and Bentley, who probably knew all there was to know as far as knowledge is concerned, and yet could change “the secret top of Oreb” (i. 7) into “the sacred top.” Is not appreciation better than knowledge ?
We must admit that appreciation without knowledge is better than knowledge without appreciation. But appreciation without knowledge is not so fine, other things being equal, as appreciation which has made the most of knowledge. It is true that knowledge (of this sort) is an easy thing, and appreciation, for most people, is not. So knowledge of a great poem is apt to be commoner than appreciation of it, and held in less esteem. But although knowledge of a great poem is not worth very much considered in itself, yet the right knowledge may be so used as to produce something which is worth a great deal. For if it be not allowed to choke out one's appreciation, to overpower everything else, it may so saturate, so color, so invigorate one's ideas, that one's appreciation becomes a far stronger and finer thing, giving a fuller pleasure in the poem, and a greater admiration for the poet.
A. The Invocation of an Epic Poem.
The extracts following will give an idea of the epic conven. tion of an Invocation. 1 and 2 are from translations of Homer and Virgil, respectively, made not a very long time after Milton. 3 is the beginning of Spenser's Faerie Queene, written some time before. To compare these extracts with those that follow,- 4, the beginning of the Seventh Book of Paradise Lost, and 5, the invocation of Paradise Regained, is a good lesson in English Literature.
1. The Iliad in Pope's Translation, Book I. 1-14.
Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
Of woes unnumbered, heavenly goddess, sing !
That wrath which hurled to Pluto's gloomy reign
The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain ;
Whose limbs unburied on the naked shore,
Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore ;
Since great Achilles and Atrides strove.
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove.
Declare, O Muse ! in what ill-fated hour
Sprung the fierce strife, from what offended power ?
Latona's son a dire contagion spread,
And heaped the camp with mountains of the dead ;
The king of men his reverend priest defied,
And for the king's offence the people died.
2. The Åneid in Dryden's Translation, Book I. 1-18.
Arms and the man I sing, who, forced by Fate
And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
Expelled and exiled, left the Trojan shore.
Long labours, both by sea and land he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Latian realm, and built the destined town ;
His banished gods restored to rites divine,
And settled sure succession in his line,
From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
And the long glories of majestic Rome.
O Muse ! the causes and the crimes relate ;
What goddess was provoked and whence her hate ;
For what offence the queen of heaven began
To persecute so brave, so just a man ;
Involved his anxious life in endless cares,
Exposed to wants, and hurried into wars !
Can heavenly minds such high resentment show,
Or exercise their spite in human woe ?
3. The Faerie Queene. Book I. Stanzas 1-4.
Lo! I, the man whose Muse whilome did maske,
As time her taught, in lowly shepherd's weeds,
Am now enforced, a far unfitter task,
For trumpets stern to change mine oaten reeds,
And sing of knights' and ladies' gentle deeds ;
Whose praises having slept in silence long,
Me all too mean, the sacred Muse areeds
To blazon broad amongst her learned throng :
Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my song.
Help then, O holy virgin ! chief of nine,
Thy weaker novice to perform thy will ;
Lay forth out of thine everlasting scrine
The antique rolls, which there lie hidden still,
Of Faerie Knights, and fairest Tanaquill,
Whom that most noble Briton Prince so long
Sought through the world, and suffered so much ill,
That I must rue his undeserved wrong :
O help thou my weak wit, and sharpen my dull tongue !
And thou, most dreaded imp of highest Jove,
Fair Venus' son, that with thy cruel dart
At that good knight so cunningly didst rove,
That glorious fire it kindled in his heart,
Lay now thy deadly heben bow apart,
And with thy mother mild come to mine aid ;
Come, both ; and with you bring triumphant Mart,
In loves and gentle jollities arrayed,
After his murderous spoils and bloody rage allayed.
And with them eke, O Goddess heavenly bright !
Mirror of grace and majesty divine,
Great Lady of this greatest Isle, whose light
Like Phæbus’ lamp throughout the world doth shine,
Shed thy fair beams into my feeble eyne,
And raise my thoughts, too bumble and too vile,
To think of that true glorious type of thine,
The argument of mine afflicted style :
The wish to hear vouchsafe, O dearest dread awhile !
4. Paradise Lost. Book VII. 1-39.
Descend from Heaven, Urania, by that name
If rightly thou art called, whose voice divine
Following, above the Olympian hill I soar,
Above the flight of Pegasean wing!
The meaning, not the name, I call ; for thou
Nor of the Muses nine, nor on the top
Of old Olympus dwell'st; but heavenly-born,
Before the hills appeared or fountain flowed,
Thou with Eternal Wisdom didst converse,
Wisdom thy sister, and with her didst play
In presence of the Almighty Father, pleased
With thy celestial song. Up led by thee,
Into the Heaven of Heavens I have presumed,
As earthly guest, and drawn empyreal air,
Thy tempering. With like safety guided down,
Return me to my native element ;
Lest, from this flying steed unreined (as once
Bellerophon, though from a lower clime)
Dismounted, on the Aleian field I fall,
Erroneous there to wander and forlorn.
Half yet remains unsung, but narrower bound
Within the visible Diurnal Sphere.
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the pole,
More safe I sing with mortal voice, unchanged
To hoarse or mute, though fallen on evil days,
On evil days though fallen, and evil tongues,
In darkness, and with dangers compassed round,
And solitude ; yet not alone, while thou
Visit’st my slumbers nightly, or when morn
Purples the East. Still
thou my song;
Urania, and fit audience find, though few.
But drive far off the barbarous dissonance
Of Bacchus and his revellers, the race
Of that wild rout that tore the Thracian bard
In Rhodope, where woods and rocks had ears
To rapture, till the savage clamour drowned
Both harp and voice ; nor could the Muse defend
So fail not thou who thee implores ;
For thou art heavenly, she an empty dream.
Say, Goddess, what ensued when Raphael,
The affable Archangel, had forewarned
Adam, by dire example, to beware
5. Paradise Regained. "Book I. 1–17.
I, who erewhile the Happy Garden sung
By one man's disobedience lost, now sing
Recovered Paradise to all mankind,
By one man's firm obedience fully tried
Through all temptation, and the Tempter foiled
In all his wiles, defeated and repulsed,
And Eden raised in the waste wilderness.
Thou Spirit, who led'st this glorious Eremite
Into the desert, his victorious field
Against the spiritual foe, and brought'st him thence
By proof undoubted Son of God, inspire,
As thou art wont, my prompted song, else mute,
And bear through lighth or depth of Nature's bounds,
With prosperous wings full summed, to tell of deeds
Above heroic, though in secret done,
And unrecorded left through many an age :
Worthy to have not remained so long unsung.
B. Epic Similes.
The following similes are, 1 from the Iliad, in the translation of Lang, Leaf, and Myer, and 2 from Matthew Arnold's