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English Sonnets.

Ir is matter of familiar observation, that the success of literary productions is sensibly dependent on the forms in which they are presented. In the domain of English poetry, there is a section to which justice has not been done its quality is not held in very high repute, and the title to it is regarded as somewhat doubtful. I refer to that form of metrical composition which is denominated the Sonnet. To prove that it has not found favour always even in the eyes of those who have cultivated a taste for other forms of poetry, I would ask them whether, when they have met with its modest structure, they have not generally passed it carelessly by. Besides, in the minds of those who do not entirely neglect it, there may be detected a peculiar feeling, aptly to be described as unkindly; they regard it not with the look that a man



gives to his own kin and countrymen, but with that which is cast coldly and doubtingly upon a stranger or foreigner. While the sonnet is read, an un-English feeling is found to be creeping about the heart, and the fancy is filled unconsciously with thoughts of Petrarch and images of Laura and the Vaucluse. While its melody is falling on the ear, we are too often overtaken with a kind of misgiving that we are listening to the rich music of, indeed, our own mother-tongue, but tuned to a strange note; that we hear its glorious words uttered through a foreign instrument. This is not as it should be. The Muse of England should not stand a suppliant or a vassal anywhere. She holds in her own right, or she holds not at all. So far as literature is concerned, we are, by our calling, guardsmen of English rights and English merits; and, as the form of poetry in question seems to be regarded as not having yet worked out its independence, I mean to try to undertake its vindication. I proclaim at the outset that we acknowledge no allegiance-own no homage to the Italian. Our literary territory is held absolutely, or it had better be relinquished entirely. There is too much Saxon blood in our veins to bide content on a divided soil or under a feudal tenure. It may be shown that the sonnet is a form of poetry fairly introduced into the literature of England, fully sustained, and now, without reserve or qualification, by the law of letters it is our own. I propose, therefore, to say a word for our English title and our English fame in this province of poesy.

Before advancing further, the looseness in the acceptation of the term "sonnet," in consequence of its

application to several different forms of poetry, demands some attempt to ascertain its true use, or, at least, to give it some precision. The most obvious property, which is common to the sonnets of all countries, is its limitation to fourteen lines. With the exception of some of the earliest English sonnets, and those of not much merit, which extended to eighteen lines, this may be said to be universally true. It is composed of four parts, two quadrains and two terzines, which are usually indicated by the typography in the foreign sonnets, but not in the English. Rhyme is also an essential property, and it is to it that the different varieties of the sonnet have reference: the lines are of equal length and the measure iambic. The form which is considered as especially entitled to the name is that which is framed after the Italian sonnet,the Petrarcan model. In this the rhymes are repeated at certain intervals so as to produce a recurrence of the same closing sound; and it is this property which seems to suggest the origin of the name itself. The arrangement is such that, in fourteen lines, there are but five, and sometimes not more than four, several rhymes. I am a little fearful I am making myself disagreeable by the technicalities of prosody. By means of a specimen, I may accomplish my wish of conveying an idea of the general structure of this variety of the sonnet much better and certainly more agreeably. In quoting, with this view, Mr. Wordsworth's sonnet composed upon Westminster Bridge, I did not intend to be diverted from the mere consideration of its metrical character. I cannot, however, refrain from asking the reader to recall his feelings wher he has happened to pass along the

streets of a city yet in its slumbers; and, unless our own deceive us, he will find, we think, an echo to them in the following specimen of the metre of the


"Earth has not any thing to show more fair
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.

This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields and to the sky,

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep,

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep,
And all that mighty heart is lying still!"

In this form the poem is cast by those who have implicitly revered the ancient landmarks. It is the most usual form of the Spanish and Portuguese as well as the Italian sonnet. The English poets, with Shakspeare ast a leader, have, with a characteristic temper, claimed greater freedom. This appears in several different structures of the poem, in which the variety is effected in some by a different distribution of the rhymes, and in others by increasing the number of them to six and seven, but not attaching them throughout to consecutive lines. The following, selected from the same poet in order to avoid distracting attention to other points of comparison, may serve as specimens of some of these varieties :

"The shepherd, looking eastward, softly said,

'Bright is thy veil, O moon, as thou art bright!'
Forthwith that little cloud, in ether spread
And penetrated all with tender light,

She cast away, and showed her fulgent head
Uncovered, dazzling the beholder's sight,
As if to vindicate her beauty's right,-
Her beauty thoughtlessly disparaged.
Meanwhile that veil, removed or thrown aside,
Went floating from her, darkening as it went;
And a huge mass, to bury or to hide,
Approached this glory of the firmament,
Who meekly yields and is obscured,-content
With one calm triumph of a modest pride."

The following specimen may be noticed, by-the-way, as presenting a striking instance of the combined action of reflective and imaginative power:

"In my mind's eye a temple, like a cloud,
Slowly surmounting some invidious hill,

Rose out of darkness: the bright work stood still,
And might of its own beauty have been proud.
But it was fashioned and to God was vowed

By virtues that diffused, in every part,
Spirit divine through forms of human art:

Faith had her arch,-her arch, when winds blow loud,
Into the consciousness of safety thrilled;
And Love her towers of dread foundation laid
Under the grave of things; Hope had her spire
Star-high, and pointing still to something higher.
Trembling I gazed, but heard a voice: it said,
Hell-gates are powerless phantoms when we build."

The recently-published volume of poems by Mr. Wordsworth contains a number of sonnets showing his talent in unabated vigour :

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