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PHASES OF RELIGIOUS POETRY.

109

And when thou think'st of her eternity,

Think not that death against our nature is ;
Think it a birth; and when thou go'st to die,

Sing like a swan, as if thou went'st to bliss.

And if thou, like a child, didst fear before,

Being in the dark where thou didst nothing see ;
Now I have brought thee torch-light, fear no more;

Now when thou diest thou canst not hood-wink'd be.

And thou, my soul, which turn’st with curious eye

To view the beams of thine own form divine,
Know, that thou canst know nothing perfectly,

While thou art clouded with this flesh of mine.

Take heed of over-weening, and compare

Thy peacock's feet with thy gay peacock's train :
Study the best and highest things that are,

But of thyself an humble thought retain.
Cast down thyself, and only strive to raise

The story of thy Maker's sacred name :
Use all thy powers that blessed Power to praise,

Which gives the power to be, and use the same.

In looking back over our path from the point we have now reached, the first thought that suggests itself is-How much the reflective has supplanted the emotional ! I do not mean for a moment that the earliest poems were without thought, or that the latest are without emotion ; but in the former there is more of the skin, as it were—in the latter, more of the bones of worship; not that in the one the worship is but skin-deep, or that in the other the bones are dry.

To look at the change a little more closely : we find in the earliest time, feeling working on historic fact and on what was received as such, and the result

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simple aspiration after goodness. The next stage is good doctrine-I use the word, as St. Paul uses it, for instruction in righteousness-chiefly by means of allegory, all attempts at analysis being made through personification of qualities. Here the general form is frequently more poetic than the matter. After this we have a period principally of imitation, sometimes good, sometimes indifferent. Next, with the Reformation and the revival of literature together, come more of art and more of philosophy, to the detriment of the lyrical expression. People cannot think and sing: they can only feel and sing. But the philosophy goes farther in this direction, even to the putting in abeyance of that from which song takes its rise,-namely, feeling itself. As to the former, amongst the verse of the period I have given, there is hardly anything to be called song but Sir Philip Sidney's Psalms, and for them we are more indebted to King David than to Sir Philip. As to the latter, even in the case of that most mournful poem of the Countess of Pembroke, it is, to quite an unhealthy degree, occupied with the attempt to work upon her own feelings by the contemplation of them, instead of with the utterance of those aroused by the contemplation of truth. In her case the metaphysics have begun to prey upon and consume the emotions. Besides, that age was essentially a dramatic age, as even its command of language, especially as shown in the pranks it plays with it, would almost indicate; and the dramatic impulse is less favourable, though not at all opposed, to lyrical utterance. In the cases

HISTORIC WAVES OF PROGRESS.

III

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of Sir Fulk Grevill and Sir John Davies, the feeling is assuredly profound ; but in form and expression the philosophy has quite the upper hand.

We must not therefore suppose, however, that the cause of religious poetry has been a losing one. The last wave must sink that the next may rise, and the whole tide flow shorewards. The man must awake through all his soul, all his strength, all his mind, that he may worship God in unity, in the one harmonious utterance of his being : his heart must be united to fear his name. And for this final perfection of the individual the race must awake. At this season and that season,

this power or that power must be chiefly developed in her elect; and for its sake the growth of others must for a season be delayed. But the next generation will inherit all that has gone before ; and its elect, if they be themselves pure in heart, and individual, that is original, in mind, will, more or less thoroughly, embody the result, in subservience to some new development, essential in its turn to further progress. Even the fallow times, which we are so ready to call barren, must have their share in working the one needful work. They may be to the nation that which sickness so often is to the man

-a time of refreshing from the Lord. A nation's life does not lie in its utterance any more than in the things which it possesses: it lies in its action. The utterance is a result, and therefore a sign, of life ; but there may be life without any such sign. To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, is the highest life of a nation as of an individual; and when the time for speech comes, it will be such life alone that causes the speech to be strong at once and harmonious. When at last there are not ten righteous men in Sodom, Sodom can neither think, act, nor say, and her destruction is at hand.

While the wave of the dramatic was sinking, the wave of the lyric was growing in force and rising in height. Especially as regards religious poetry we are as yet only approaching the lyrical jubilee. Fact and faith, self-consciousness and metaphysics, all are needful to the lyric of love. Modesty and art find their grandest, simplest labour in rightly subordinating each of those to the others. How could we have a George Herbert without metaphysics? In those poems I have just given, the way of metaphysics was prepared for him. That which overcolours one age to the injury of its harmony, will, in the next or the next, fall into its own place in the seven-chorded rainbow of truth.

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