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and appearance it holds out an expectation of something fascinating, or, at least, good, true, and helpful, so that one might think to rest awhile and study these lines so carefully laid together, but, lo! what is the impression? One is cheated. The stuff seemed to glitter, but it is not gold; and some are tempted to cry out against poetry, and ban it for the "shot rubbish" which occasionally it is. It all comes of mistaken vocation. Persons having the organ of calculation strongly developed, fancying that by a painstaking arithmetical arrangement of numbers and feet, with a few not too perfect rhymes economically placed, and above all some far away, hazy idea, which the reader is not likely to be able to define (how should he when it is scarcely vouchsafed to the writer to view the inimitable with clearness ?), imagine that this is sufficient to make a poet; with the result that much valuable time is wasted, both theirs and their readers', to say nothing of the paper and pens.
There is another thing to be said on the subject of criticism; and here poets and painters have much in common, as indeed they have in many respects. With a poem or a picture it is somewhat the same as with new wine; the full flavour comes by keeping. The part of a good critic is to know what will improve with time, what is merely fit for the hour, and what is entirely worthless. If we had a large growth of such critics it would be a blessed thing for both poets and public. Ah! yes, but that is one of the beautiful "ifs."
And now, very reverently, I would venture upon the borders of the pure Castalian stream, awed, but yet undaunted, by the splendours of the graceful Nine; to demonstrate the thesis that the power of the poet consists essentially in the strength of the mood which possesses him, as well as the ease and harmony with which he imparts that mood to his hearers. It is a subtle secret, impossible to communicate, forming part of the individuality of the minstrel, who himself could least explain how or what it is. Comparing one with another, however, we shall see that it is so. One will possess you in three or four lines with the feeling of gladness or gloom which pervades his own soul; while another may rhyme through pages of stanzas, in elegant rhythmic order too, and yet you are not impressed. His flowing lines have failed to excite any emotion save, perhaps, a weariness, or a fit of impatience. It sometimes happens that the rougher, less highly finished lines will have more of this quality of quick communication than the carefully smoothed and faultless verses of the well practised hand. This faculty is little dependent upon mere technical rules. So far as I am
able to judge it is simply a question of intensity of emotion, and truth of expression; these two, combined with a perfect sense of rhythm. However, this is not a treatise upon versifi
cation. It is poetry or minstrelsy in essence which we are considering, not the rudiments of its language. Too wide a subject, taking either view, for the limits of one short paper. Poetry is the condensed expression of the purest, highest, as well as deepest and strongest sentiments of humanity. It aims to be perfection; of thought expressed in perfection of language. In that very effort it irresistibly projects the mind forward into the future, for on earth perfection is impossible. Nevertheless, except where man has tried perversely to reason it out of him, there is an unfailing intuition in his heart which bids him look onward and upward for the satisfaction of his deepest desires. We expect perfection there!
Lo! Bards and Minstrels of all time consent,
Of speech in Heaven, attuned to airs above,
I left my home;-I left my bride ;-
I travers'd lands and oceans wide,
The months went by and brought me fame,
They hung upon my lightest breath,
"Twixt peace and war, 'twixt life and death,
One night I feasted with my peers,
I rose-but as I rose, a knell
I fled the feast and faces fair,
Last eve I reached the well-known hill
The neighbourhood of home.
I knew most surely she was dead,
I saw it in the stars that fed
The anguish of my mind.
I knew it from the grass which stirr'd,
I flung me down upon the ground!
Upon the home, where death had found
The livelong night, while sleep hath brought
I roam the heath, in fearful thought,
But long I think it cannot last;
I think the end is nigh,
A soul so burden'd by the past
A FAIRY TALE OF MODERN CAMBRIA.
It is perhaps scarcely necessary to state that William Williams, the hero of this veracious narrative, was a Welshman, or rather (to be perfectly accurate), a Welsh boy; for to the most superficial observer of Welsh nomenclature the simple unity of his name would be sufficiently clear evidence of his nationality, but it is the best to be perfectly plain, and then no mistake can be made.
William Williams then was a native of Sir Fon-meaning Anglesey--and he was the only son of a small farmer named William Jones, and Mary Hughes, his wife.
This confusion of surnames, which might appear a little puzzling to an outsider, is very simply explained by the fact that the Welsh have no real surnames, and are content to call themselves the sons of their fathers. Thus the boy William went back to his grandfather for his cognomen, and Mary Hughes was wont to declare, " Rich people might adopt their husband's name if they liked; but SHE was not proud, and her father's name was good enough for her," so she retained her maiden name.
At the time when the surprising incidents which form the subject of these pages occurred, William was just seven years old; his father, William Jones, was dead, and he lived alone with his mother on their tiny farm near the shores of the Menai Straits.
Mary Hughes was a good-natured woman of rather slatternly habits, and her cottage was generally in a state which she would have described apologetically as being "afler," but then, as she remarked consolingly, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll was not a proud place.
It could scarcely be said that William had inherited the amiability of his mother, and he had not a vestige of her good looks. He was a short, sturdy boy, with small, red brown eyes, a freckled complexion, and bristly hair of a fiery red colour, not at all an ideal Welsh type. Of an unusually dogged disposition, William's chief characteristic as a child was a too precocious
dissatisfaction with the world, and things in general; he usually bore his woes in silence and stolid sullenness, but when occasion demanded he could fly into the most violent passions, and then, as his mother said, he was worse than her red cow, Seren.
His aversion to learning was remarkable, and he almost broke the heart of the worthy schoolmaster, or school, as he was generally termed by the natives, by persisting, in the face of the Government Inspector, that Rhosllanerchrugog was the capital of Italy.
"Well, it ought to be then," muttered William in the vernacular as he sat down in his place, baffled, but unconvinced, and such was his obstinacy that he succeeded in imbuing all the other children with the unalterable conviction that Rhosllanerchrugog had more connection with the city of Rome than the mere accident of its beginning with the same letter.
One fine afternoon in the middle of summer, William Williams was slowly going home through a little fir wood, fringing the shore, when a strange event occurred which exerted a marked, though subtle, influence upon his whole future career.
He was in a discontented and angry frame of mind, for, as usual, he had been in disgrace at school, and he considered himself very hardly used. The nature of his offence was simple: the "school" had inquired in the geography class what place was the capital of England, and William, impelled by the fatal spirit of mischief, had raised his arm. He did so with an air of such intelligence that the unfortunate teacher was deluded into the belief that here was at last a fact which this unusually pig-headed boy had taken in, but when he smiled blandly upon him, and said encouragingly, "Well, my boy, and what is the capital of England?"-what was his consternation to hear William calmly announce that it was "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwlltyssiliogogogoch."
This was, in fact, nothing but the name of his native place in full, and the children giggled freely at the joke, but the "school" was an Englishman, and a new-comer, and, under the impression that William was indulging in bad language of an exceptionally objectionable and revolting character, he sent him into the corner, and condemned him to be kept in after school.
And now William was crawling homewards in the twilight, which was almost dusk in the shadow of the tall firs, and as he dragged his feet slowly over the grass and bracken, his sallow freckled face, his fiery brown eyes, and his bristly carrotty locks seemed sallower, and more fiery and bristly than usual, and anybody could have told that he was in a particularly bad temper even for him. It was plain that in brooding over his grievances he had come to the conclusion that the world was a poor place to live in.