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THE intention of this book simply is to
delight the lover of poetry. Specimens critical and chronological have their own worth ; we desire to present a jewel, aptly arranged of many stones, various in colour and value, but all precious. Nothing personal or circumstantial, nothing below a pure and loving loyalty to the Muse, has been wittingly suffered to interfere betwixt the idea and its realization. Much, it is true, is perforce omitted; but should the brotherly reader and the judicious critic haply find the little volume, per se, a good thing, they will scarcely complain that it does but its part. Do we curse the cup of refreshing handed us from the well because it is not twice as largewhen the well itself, too, remains ? Those who best know of such things will the most readily see that a collection in any sense complete or exhaustive has not been thought of here, but an arrangement of a limited number of short poems, with some eye to grouping and general effect, and to the end (as said) of delight.
But of delight-noble and fruitful. The grand word “ Poetry” has its mean associations,
organ” may suggest a solemn cathedral, or a Savoyard and monkey. True Poetry, how
not, as some suppose, a kind of verbal confectionery, with cramp fantastic laws that impose great labour to little purpose. .
If one has anything to express in words, why go thus roundabout ? asks our sternly prosaic friend. The relations of the human mind with the world are not so simple as he takes for granted. Men are not only intellectual and moral, but emotional and imaginative. Sorrow and joy are very real, yet often very illogical; and so also, and oftener, are those faint rapid shadows and gleams that pass continually over the mind, composing the multiplex hue of life. The moods of the sagest, are they never submissive to the wind in a keyhole, the crackling of the flame, a vernal odour, or the casual brightness or gloom upon a landscape ? At the least touch of any sense gates to Infinity are ready to fly open.
Such is man's nature ; and since he further finds himself urged to regulate what belongs to him, without and within, and mutually to control the one by the other, so, as he gains industrial, scientific, religious development, he also becomes an Artist—in picture, in sculpture, in architecture, in music, in verse.
Language has music in it; from this Poetry (Verse-Poetry is always meant) derives its form and quality. It is the most melodious arrangement of language. The proportionality necessary for this end excites mystically a desire for proportionality in all other respects, reaching inward to the very spirit of the thought which is to be expressed. The stimulated and thoroughly alert Imagination requires its pure insight to be shapen forth in the most perfect possible diction-judging all by a fine rapid-glancing logic, peculiar, airy, genuine. In short, Musical Proportionality is the life-principle of Poetry, and the product Poetic Beauty. As for the use of Poetry-I will tell you this accurately, when you can put me Love into a crucible, and Faith into a balance.
Such an attempt being too difficult, let us agree to abide by matter-of-fact. And matterof-fact shows us that Verse-Poetry (daughter of Language and Music, born at a time of the world whereto History stretches not backward) has been cherished and beloved amongst all the nations, ancient and modern, barbarous and civilized. Babes love the sound of it, youth passionately delights in it, age remembers it gladly; it helps memory, purifies and steadies language, guards elocution; it gives wings to thought, touches hidden verities, can soothe grief, heighten joy, beautify the common world, and blend with the divinest aspirations.
Poetry and Science (rank them as you please) are equally founded on the nature of man in mystic relation with the Universe.
How Poetry manages to evince itself in material form would be hard or impossible to explain; even if possible, still doubtless the secrets ought to be kept, like those of love. The profane, when they suppose themselves to
comprehend either, have but lost the degree of sympathetic knowledge—of instinctive and genuine feeling, which they inherited as men. It is difficult indeed to become a critic and remain a man.
Fitly, therefore, to examine even the shortest genuine Poem is the rarest success of literary judgment. Perhaps it is not venturing too far to say that a true Poem is always conceived by a sort of happy chancedescending, as it were, out of the sky; but, as a finished whole, is the fruit of a most actively attentive condition (yet with ease-not strained) of the rarest natural endowment.
Every Poet is not a great one; but, whatever his rank in the guild, he is a maker, creator in little, and his successful work fine and true of its kind, possessing (however simple and modest) a secure, determinate, dignified aspect, standing firm with good hold upon the ground, and proving its direct right to exist as much as a healthy human being when he looks into your eye. Every true Poet is such by the same peculiar and inimitable fire that so splendidly beams from the greatest; and is born capable to discover the art of poetry, had it been thitherto unknown. Some
poems have soul in a bad body, and are by nature soon for death; many things under the name are only puppets, dolls, mere wax and wood,-finer and prettier, sometimes, and, for a little, more admired than what is alive.
Our Book hopes to please best the most unsectarian worshipper of Song,—one who can equally enjoy the floating charm of Claribel,”