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the patriarchal cedars; in Greece, upon the heights of Mount Olympus; or among the pine-clad hills of Italy and the august monuments of Roman power.
Poetry has been defined as the more vivid reflection of the truths of nature and of the soul. Whatsoever the perceiving sense and imagination can present to the mind, whether by words or by the forms of imitative art, is the subject of poetical expression. Heaven and earth, human life and passion, and all the range of created things, own the dominion of poetry, and are swept by her starry robe. Throughout nature, in all her variety and grandeur, a divine message seems continually borne to man, whether (to use the language of an eminent divine) she cheers him with radiance, appals him with darkness, astonishes him with magnitude, or soothes him with harmony. To the most ancient of people the grandeur and beauty of nature appeared as the visible manifestation of God's power, and all creation was represented as joining in the hymn thus celebrated in Hebrew verse:
o the sunny
To Him sing the lips of all creatures :
The wild animals tell of the greatness of God. We cannot look without emotion upon the riches and beauty that surround us in Nature : we cannot mark, unmoved, her fields and flowers, her seas and streams ; nor can light of genius fail to produce poetical images upon the showery background of the imagination as the rainbow is set in the sky." It is not in vain that the earth is perpetually renewed in verdure, that the joys of spring are scattered on our path, or the golden mantle of autumn thrown upon our fields—that we behold the vast and solemn sea, the throned majesty of the mountains, or the forest's “deep immensity of shade.” It is not in vain that the hills exert their influence on man, especially in countries where (as Ruskin observes) no veil has been drawn between them and the human soul, where no contradicting voice has confused their ministries of sound, or broken their pathos of silence, and ambition has sought no other throne than their pinnacles courtiered by the clouds. It is not in vain that all creation is suffused with the magic of colour—the far bright blue of heaven which awakens our longing, the purple radiance which warms the soul, the golden yellow which calms the spirit, the fresh green which delights the insatiate eye. But the poet's imagination is not merely
a mirror that gives back the hues Of living Nature:
natural objects are reflected with a glow from the speculum of mind: they are blended by the imaginative faculty into new combinations and creations of its own; and, fused in the fire of genius, they pass into the fairy land of truth and fancy, and assume forms no longer subject to decay.
The outward world of sense enshrines or embodies what is invisible and spiritual, and the chief aim of Poetry is to read in that world the symbolic language in which Nature everywhere speaks sublimely to the soul, and to reproduce that language, by the modifying powers of the poetic faculty, with the ideal images which the fancy supplies. And it is in human life and action no less than from natural scenery that Poetry finds her fitting province. She is not only the interpreter of Nature, but the herald of all that is virtuous and heroic in man: and the
magnanimity or the virtues which History commends to remembrance, Poetry shelters for immortality under the rich plumage of the musc's wing.
Such, then, are some of the chief sources and materials of those mental images which genius embodies in poetry or in the forms of imitative art. Written words, painted representations, or sculptured forms, are but the varied modes of poetical expression —the means by which the poet, painter, or sculptor communicates to other minds and exhibits with all the force of truth and the vividness of reality the ideal images he has derived from the characteristic features of external nature or of human life. And how wondrous is that faculty of picturesque and vivid apprehension which can give to poetry or to the creations of art as much
power over our feelings as the reality could possess, and can invest them with a vitality that time cannot destroy! How admirable is that power which can give an ideal empire throughout all ages to mortals ennobled by heroic virtue, and can represent to us the Past in its full glow of life and sunshine“ bright, strange, and novel in its far antiquity, yet as human and busy as ourselves; which can make suns shine and winds blow, build houses out of their ruins, populate old streets from forgotten graves, and make colours glow before our eyes as with the magician's power.”
I have said that the poetic muse has ever found a native home in the sacred places of religion, and she resorts to them as she resorted to the shrines of ancient worship, attaining her highest splendour when employed upon the highest themes. It was in the day-spring East that her star rose to gild and guide the world; and through the writings of inspired prophets and lawgivers sparks of the ancient poetic fire are scattered. The Book of Job has been regarded as the oldest poem in the world; and the poetry of nature was felt by the writers of other parts of the Holy Scriptures, who gave it a holier aim, employing poetic imagery in announcing their visions of the future, and in declaring the attributes of the Most High. Omnipotence being the most impressive of all God's attributes, the sublimest of descriptions are those which have for their theme the stupendous works of infinite power— beyond our planet, in the boundless immensity of space, the inconceivable number of the bright worlds beyond our system, and the unceasing velocity of those distant spheres ; or upon our globe, the manifestations of the Creator's power which we behold in the strength of the hills and the resistless dominion of the sea, in the terrific grandeur of the storm, or the silent beauty of the starry night.
Many passages of Holy Scripture might be cited in which the grandest of poetical images are connected with the descriptions given of the power of the Almighty, and in which the prophetic apostrophes are delivered with a rhythmical conformation of sentences and a poetical use of metaphor, as well as in a dignified language, which are appropriate to the majesty of the subject. A characteristic example occurs in the 60th chapter of Isaiah:
Arise! be thou enlightened, for thy Light is come,
thee shall the Lord thy Light arise,
And kings in the brightness of His rising. Poetry has likewise been for ever connected with religion by those compositions of the Royal Psalmist which afford expression to all human emotions. To this day, when the aspirations, the gratitude, or the grief of the heart seek expression before its Maker, we fly to the odes of the sweet singer of Israel. King David has been truly called the most popular of poets, and perhaps no nation is more familiar with his poetry than the people of Great Britain.
Thus has Poetry been employed in the service of the true God, and associated with the solemn grandeur of Scripture scenery and the dark mountains of Sinai. Let us now look at the office of the poetic muse when employed in the service of the deities of Mount Olympus and the oracular shrines of Greece. Amongst the Greeks -- the most intellectual of ancient nationsall knowledge was originally derived from the treasuries of the poetic muse. The myths which had been transmitted from ages as remote as the building of the Egyptian pyramids were preserved in poetic form, and perpetuated the traditions of a higher world in which deified heroes were companions of the gods, and of those fabulous times “ when a Phrygian Ceres taught Athenians the cultivation of the fields—when a Phænician Neptune or Minerva introduced navigation and the culture of the olive—when an Egyptian Cecrops laid the first foundation of civic polity--and a Theseus imported from Crete the traditions of a legislator."
In the early days of the Greek Republic, and until the age of Herodotus, the poetic muse seems to have given a voice to History. In like manner the historical traditions of the earliest nations of Europe are found to have been transmitted in the poetic form. Thus the Druids traditionally preserved amongst the eastern colonists of Gaul, of Hibernia, and of Britain, their
learning and history; and the poetic form of their earliest know ledge may be traced in the historical remains of Celtic nations as well as in the bardic triads of Wales; while in the East itself the preservation at this day of the pure and copious language of Arabia has been attributed to the vitality of the Arab poetry. So it is that by Poetry the mental treasures of early civilisation have been conveyed to following generations and to distant lands; and we therefore view a nation's poetry (to adopt a simile used by Professor Trench) as the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been preserved, and which, having arrested the lightning-flashes of genius, has sailed laden with its precious freight in safety across gulfs of time in which empires have suffered shipwreck, and in which the languages of common life have perished.
But to return to the Greeks. Poetry seems not only to have preserved the witness of History, but to have moulded even the institutes of the moralist and the legislator. The study of oratory and of music or metrical delivery were combined among the ancient Greeks under one master, and the musical notes, like oars, gave impulse to the language of the orator. The legislator was in some instances also the poet, and it may be said that poets and lawgivers resorted together to the fountains of the muse. In metrical language the wise Solon not only sang of love, but delivered his legal institutes and his patriotic exhortations.
In Greece, Poetry, like the sister arts of Sculpture and Painting, was occupied especially with man.
The Greeks even ascribed the origin of painting to woman's love: they related (as we all know) that when a certain warrior was taking farewell of his betrothed, before his departure to battle, she was struck by seeing his shadow thrown upon the wall by the light of a lamp which she held, and tracing the outline of the figure, her father, who worked in pottery, came and filled it up with coloured clays, which he afterwards hardened, and so a coloured figure of her lover remained before her eyes instead of himself. Among the Greeks, poetry did not find its chief province in the description of natural objects: indeed in the pages of the Greek poets, passages descriptive of natural beauty are scarce ; yet no one can doubt their sensibility to the beauty and grandeur of