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For queen and country on they fought,
The stripling in his bloom.
Twice did the bugles sound "Recall,"
The soldiers thirsted for the prey,
"Fight on, fight on," they wildly cried,
But from the walls of Kandahar,
Resistance worse than vain.
Upon that battle-field, unscathed,
Safe thro' the rebel throng,
With dauntless heart, unflinching eye,
O not for him did bugles sound
"Lives must be saved," he cried aloud,
My life upon the cast."
Over that stricken field he sped,
Won by the rebel host,
And, of the deed he did that day,
Back, o'er the slippery battle-field,
Three times exhausted on the ground,
He watched the shells which burst around,
With calm unwavering eye.
O! well may Cambria sound her lyre
In praise of this her son,
One last long spring, the walls are reached,
My hero's work was done.
Drayton Rectory, Norwich.
AGNES R. HOWELL.
It would seem that, in these fast-moving, modern days, we are forgetting the meaning of that beautiful word " minstrel." Yet it is a word which rings on the ear more sweetly and lingeringly than perhaps either of those which are commonly used in its place, viz., Bard or Poet; with which its original signification was identical: the Christy Minstrels notwithstanding. In the ancient days a minstrel was an inspired being, who gave forth, from the burning spirit within him, beautiful musical language charged with precious thought; pure and lofty, glad and gay, or deep and solemn, as might be the mood which possessed him. A passionate outpouring of the wealth and exaltation of feeling, in some sort of rhythmic order and musical expression, seems to have been a gift bestowed by nature upon a few in all ages, irrespective of race or of culture, and altogether apart from any outside teaching. It was apparently spontaneous, though invariably the effect of long pondering in the heart. The spirit burned within long before the utterance came; but when it came it was superabundant, irrepressible; a sort of madness, a possession, so that men said, "Behold! he is among the prophets!" For the theme with those early poets was ever a religious one. They mostly sought to sing through nature to nature's God. And because they sought they found, inasmuch as they found the inspiration which lifted them high above the narrowness, the sordidness, and stupid blindness of their common life; they touched upon the source of all beauty, and joy, and love. No matter in what form the minstrel imaged his God; whether he sang of Hu Gadarn, of Odin, of Thor, of Balder the Beautiful, of Bhudd' the Beneficent, of Jupiter, or of Jehova, the soul had found the spirit of Deity and must sing its joy to the world.
There was another subject, however, which prompted passionate utterance; combined with the praises of Deity there were the prayers for aid in battle, the bitter dirge after defeat, and the exultant song of victory. Yet I fancy the poetry on this theme was not so rich or so varied as that which was poured forth by the religious, the priest, or devotee of all cults, and of all nations upon the earth. This is the highest and purest kind of poetry. So Miriam sang, and Moses; so, I
think, did Homer, bringing his gods down to mingle in the affairs of men. Of David's divine inspiration there is no question. The Book of Job is a grand poem, whoever wrote it. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea were all priest poets, and to come down to later times, Cadmon, our own first Anglo-Saxon singer, found himself forced to sing of the Creation. "The might of the Creator, the glory Father of men." Later still, Danté must measure his music throughout that awful journey of the weary, woe-worn soul to the movement of a final beatific vision. Milton's grandest song is of the "Paradise Lost," through which he looks beyond to the "Paradise Regained."
Shakespeare may not be classed with these, because, although we find the elements of sublimity and high spirituality in him, we also discover the whole range of poetic qualities combined, as in no other. He was heir to the greatness of the ages, which surely he assimilated into the tremendous wealth of his own native genius. Göethe, the great German world poet, expends his highest and best upon the same theme as did the writer of the Book of Job-that battle of the spirit of man with the powers of darkness and evil, and the ultimate victory of the soul.
With the earliest minstrels it was as with the artist monks of the Middle Ages, whose motto was "laborare est orare." Their work was a prayer, done in the spirit of prayer. Life was a prayer. Their songs were glory pæons and praises to the Master of all Music, the Inspirer and Sustainer of the Harmonies of the Universe. It seems to be thus with poesy in its purest and highest development; the motive is simple, but great; the expression adequate, but never surpassing in mere language the beauty of the thought: "Garring the words to mak' them chink," as Burns says, without something stronger and better than words-for these should be merely the beautiful vessel in which is contained the wine which maketh glad the heart of man; mere musical language, however rhythmical, will never give us poetry. The thought must underlie the sound, the word, or it is but empty noise and confusion. And so with those older primary poets, simplicity and greatness united. Inspired ones were few, and their influence was immense, being reverenced as the priests of the people, which in fact they
With the spread of art minstrelsy takes a somewhat lower stand; concerning itself with the affairs of our common life. Gradually there grows up a wonderful range of love lyrics. Language is more copious, as thought is infinitely varied, and the minstrels are multiplied, but the texture of their song becomes lighter, more ornate. To express this by a simile: as in the building of a great cathedral there are first the strong foundation stones, the pillars and buttresses, afterwards the beautiful ornaments and artistic tracery embellishing the whole; no less
admirable, even more attractive-the outcome and complete perfection of the mind of the architect, rich and varied, full of graceful symbolism, skilfully finished in execution. But the simple power is not in the ornament, it is beneath, in those grand pillars and massive ground-stones. So it is with poesy; simplicity and true greatness are often found at the beginning, when the spirit is nearer to the source of true inspiration, ere it has wandered from the purity, unity, and artlessness that are in nature. Again, it is not so much in the form of expression, as in the idea, the motive, that we should look for power, or for the quality which will never fail to find an echo of sympathy in the human heart-fundamental truth of feeling. For howsoever the propensities of man may be smoothed and polished in the process of civilisation, there is that in him which is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. The core of his being is not changed; it is merely modified by the social amenities which grow with the growth of a race. Thus the minstrel who sings these essential and vital passions of man, as worship, war, or love, and sings them worthily, is certain to endure and to be enshrined in human memory, until that memory is no more. This is the secret of the survival for us of so much folk-lore, as also of the mythologies of different nations.
Recall the beautiful legends which have gathered round the mystical name of Arthur, the magic of Merlin, the charm and chivalry of Launcelot, the soul-whiteness of Sir Galahad, the sweet, passionate love of Elaine, the gentle patience of the tender Enid the elements of all these are found in those ancient traditions of the Welsh bards or minstrels. All the romance and honour, the high heroism, the courtesy and stateliness were there centuries ago. Our Laureate, with the vision of a true seer, has looked backwards through the mists of the ages, and has brought all this to light again, has idealised and beautified the simple stories with the munificence of his own minstrelsy, and has sung for us the Idylls of the King, as none have ever sung before. Still let us not forget the great foundations whereon this beautiful building rests: I mean those ancient British bards who sang of Arthur and his knights.
If we consider the life of man as it is recorded in the literature or traditions of almost any country; or even consider it in its primitive state previous to the idea of a record at all : so soon as he is a man-not so long as he is an ape-is it not full of poetry? The affections, hopes, and fears, the aspirations and endeavours, the yearning after knowledge, and the innate consciousness of affinity with the infinite which is latent in the soul, ere it be crushed or contaminated by the inflow of less pure feelings, which come with the multiplying wants and woes of humanity. Of course, one would not apply this idea to the utterly savage state. There seems to be, positively, an entire
absence of "poetical atmosphere" around the life of an ape, which fact, if indeed it be a fact, may account for unpoetic peculiarities in a few specimens of our race. However that
may be, it is certain that many of the lower animals are endowed with strains of fancy and of feeling; as, for instance, the lark, the blackbird, the young lambs, and the kittens at play, all in their several degrees seem to exercise fancy with pleasure.
Few of us rightly understand what is meant by the expression "poetical atmosphere." It is simply a feeling, incommunicable, inexplicable, except to those already possessed of it. A way of seeing things according to a light from within. It is not so much brain culture that goes to the making of the true minstrel. No, it is something a little different to that. There was once a Hebrew shepherd lad wandering on the mountainside with his sheep, who ultimately sounded the heights and depths of soul music so as to win for himself the world-wide fame of the "Sweet Singer of Israel." Yet I nowhere read that he was sent to college, or received an university education; nevertheless he had a life-long education of the heart, such as is dispensed to few. And what a great, strong, tender, passionate, kingly heart it was, that could sing, "Awake, lute and harp, I myself will awake right early," and "Why art thou cast down, O my soul: why art thou disquieted within me?" Where shall we look for sweeter music than the Psalms of David? Were not the lives of the patriarchs idyllic, though themselves perhaps never uttered a song.
True, distance, and the lapse of time are very effectual to set a thing in a poetical light, yet this is not all-sufficient. In order that any event may live in the minds of posterity, there needs be a minstrel to celebrate it in power and beauty, or it dies the common death, and passes into oblivion. One may well believe that the Siege of Troy was but a puny affair, when compared with the investment of Paris by the Prussians. Troy town fell near two thousand years ago, yet we ponder those deeds still as the types of all heroic action, of manly daring and might. Where is the Homer who will sing the Siege of Delhi, the American Wars, or the Battles in the Crimea and the Soudan -each of them surely far more stupendous and big with consequences than that silly quarrel of the Greek and Trojan princes about a fair and foolish woman. Therein consists the mysterious power of the truly gifted rhapsodist or minstrel; let him concentrate his mind upon almost any subject, and in a little while he sees it in its widest, deepest, highest sense; in its consequences and effects, its beauty or its horror, and he invests it with a fascination and a meaning which none but himself could conceive. The inner vision of the minstrel transcends all reason; floods his soul with light. In short he is a seer, ofttimes a prophet.