Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

bending over the river, as though they had grown aweary of the sun, and longed to glide into the broad full stream.

As he read the lines just quoted, he gave us time to hear the murmur, and to breathe the fragrance of those immortal trees. “Nor ever can those trees be bare,” in the text has only a semicolon after it. Yet here he paused, while three wavelets broke upon the beach, as if he could not tear himself away from contemplating the deathless verdure, and realising the prodigious edict pronounced upon it. “Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, though winning near the goal.” At the terrible decree he raised his eyes

and gazed with heavy-lidded, hopeless commiseration at this being, who, still more unhappy than Tithonus, had to immortality added perpetual youth, with passion forever strong, and denial forever final.

“Yet do not grieve.” This he uttered as one who pleads forgiveness of a corpse—merely to try to soothe a conscience sensible of an obligation that can never now be discharged. "She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, for ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!" Here the reader, with eyes fixed and rayless, seemed by voice and pose to be sunk, beyond all power of hope, in an abyss of despair. The barren immutability of the spectacle appeared to weigh upon him more intolerably than the wreck of a people. He spoke the words in a long drawn-out whisper, and, after a pause, dropped his head, and did not resume.

I recollect that when the illusion he wrought up so fully in my mind had passed away in that long pause, and when I remembered that the fancy of the poet was expending itself, not on beings whom he conceived originally as humans, but on the figures of a mere vase, I was seized with a fierce desire to get up and seek that vase through all the world until I found it, and then smash it into ten thousand atoms.

When I had written the last sentence, I took up the volume to decide where I should recommence, and I “turned the page, and turned the page.” I lived over again the days not forgotten, but laid aside in memory to be borne forth in periods of high festival. I could not bring myself back from the comrades of old, and the marvels of the great magician, to this poor street, this solitude, and this squalid company of my own thoughts—thoughts so trivial and so mean compared with the imperial visions into which I had been gazing, that I was glad for the weariness which came upon me, and grateful to gray dawn that glimmered against the blind and absolved me from further obligation for that sitting

On turning over the leaves without reading, I find Hyperion opens most readily of all, and seems to have fared worst from deliberate and unintentional comment. Much of the wear and tear and pencil marks are to be set down against myself; for when I take the book with no definite purpose I turn to Hyperion, as a blind man to the warmth of the sun. Some qualities of the poem I can feel and appreciate; but always in its presence I am weighed down by the consciousness that my deficiency in some attribute of perception debars me from undreamed-of privileges.

I recall one evening in a pine glen with one man and Hyperion. It would be difficult to match this man or me as readers. I don't think there can be ten worse employing the English language to-day. I not only do not by any inflexion of voice expound what I utter, but I am often incapable of speaking the words before me. I take in a line at a glance, see its import with my own imagination apart from the verbiage, which leaves not a shadow of an impression on my mind. When I come to the next line I grow suddenly alive to the fact that I have to speak off the former one. I am in a hurry to see what line two has

to show; so, instead of giving the poet's words for line one, I give my own description of the vision it has conjured up in my mind. This is bad enough in all conscience; but the friend of whom I speak now, behaves even worse. His plan of reading is to stop his voice in the middle of line one, and proceed to discuss the merits of line two, which he had read with his eye, but not with his lips, and of which the listener is ignorant, unless he happen to know the poem by rote.

On that evening in the glen I pulled out Keats, and turned at my friend's request, to Hyperion, and began to read aloud. He was more patient than mercy's self; but occasionally, when I did a most exceptionally bad murder on the text, he would writhe and cry out, and I would go back and correct myself, and start afresh.

He had a big burly frame, and a deep full voice that shouted easily, and some of the comments shouted as I read are indicated by pencil marks in the margin. The writing was not done then, but much later, when he and I had shaken hands, and he had gone sixteen thousand miles away. As he was about to set out on that long journey, he said, “In seven years more I'll drop in and have a pipe with you.” It had been seven years since I saw him before. The notes on the margin are only keys to what was said; for I fear the comment made was more bulky than the text, and the text and comment together would far exceed thc limits of such an essay as this. I therefore curtail greatly, and omit much.

I read down the first page without meeting any interruption; but when I came in page two on;

“She would have ta'en

Achilles by the hair and bent his neck," he cried out, “Stop! Don't read the lines following. It is bathos compared with that line and a half. It is paltry

and weak beside what you have read. “Ta'en Achilles by the hair and bent his neck. By Jove! can you not see the white muscles start out in his throat, and the look of rage, defeat and agony on the face of the Greek bruiser? But how flat falls the next line: 'Or with a finger stay'd Ixion's wheel'? Besides, a crowbar would be much better than a finger. It is a line for children, not for grown men. It exhausts the subject. It is too literal. There is no question left to ask. But the vague 'Ta'en Achilles by the hair and bent his neck' is perfect. You can see her knee in the hollow of his back, and her fingers twisted in his hair. But the image of the goddess dabbling in that river of hell after Ixion's wheel is contemptible.”

He next stopped me at

“Until at length old Saturn lifted up
His faded eyes, and saw his kingdom gone.”

“What an immeasurable vision Keats must have had of the old bankrupt Titan when he wrote the second line! Taken in the context it is simply overwhelming. Keats must have sprung up out of his chair as he saw the gigantic head upraised and the prodigious grief of the gray-haired god. But Keats was not happy in the matter of full stops. Here again what comes after weakens. We get no additional strength out of

And all the gloom and sorrow of the place

And that fair kneeling goddess. The 'gloom and sorrow' and the 'goddess' are abominably anticlimacteric."

“Yes, there must be a golden victory;

There must be gods thrown down and trumpets blown
Of triumph calm, and hymns of festival
Upon the gold clouds metropolitan,

Voices of soft proclaim, and silver stir
Of strings in hollow shells; and there shall be
Beautiful things made new, for the surprise
Of the sky-children; I will give command:
Thea! Thea! Thea! where is Saturn?

“Read that again!" cried my friend, clinging to the grass and breathing hard. “Again!” he cried, when I had finished the second time. And then, before I could proceed, he sprang to his feet, carrying out the action in the text immediately following:

"This passion lifted him upon his feet,
And made his hands to struggle in the air."

Come on, John Milton," cried my friend, excitedly sparring at the winds-“come on, and beat that, and we'll let you put all your adjectives behind your nouns, and your verblast, and your nominative nowhere! Why, man,” this being addressed to the Puritan poet—"it carried Keats himself off his legs; that's more than anything you ever wrote when you were old did for you. There's the smell of midnight oil off your later spontaneous efforts, John Milton.

“When John Milton went loafing about and didn't mind much what he was writing he could give any of them points”—(I deplore the language) “any of them, ay, Shakespeare himself points in a poem. In a poem, sir” (this to me), “Milton could give Shakespeare a hundred and one out of a hundred and lick the Bard easily. How the man who was such a fool as to write Shakespeare's poems had the good sense to write Shakespeare's plays I can never understand. The most un - Shakespearian poems in the language are Shakespeare's. I never read Cowley, but it seems to me Cowley ought to have written Shakespeare's

« VorigeDoorgaan »