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Next to Whitman, I think Edgar Poe is distinctly the foremost poet of America: and certainly no two moulds of the poetic mind and hand could be more diverse. Poe's sense of form, and exquisiteness of touch, were intense: not indeed that his taste was always impeccable, for the reverse must, I think, be admitted-but every delicate resource of which he acknowledged the need was his at command. If Whitman is an aboriginal writer, Poe is not less truly an original one: imaginative fantasy was his great gift, along with a power of expression so closely allied to the essence of his mind that, although artificial enough in some of its external aspects, it is as spontaneous in quality as brilliant in effect. Some of the subtler oscillations of the modern imagination-for Poe's mind was vividly modern, for all its romantic abstruseness of colouring-have been given by him with final and inimitable perfection. In this quality he stands perhaps next to Shelley, and at times not Shelley himself could refine upon the refinement of Edgar Poe's result. He has gifted us with gold not to be gilt, and lilies unpaintable. I would particularly refer the reader to the stanzas For Annie.
For the third place in American poetry there might, I think, be considerable competition. The two poems which I have extracted from one of the latest members of the poetic band, Joaquin Miller, give him no slight claims to so covetable a position: for poetic afflatus and power, working in the field of narrative, I certainly think he comes first, and the uncommon quality and splendid hues of his subjectmatter lend him peculiar attraction-more especially perhaps to English readers. Longfellow no doubt shows immeasurably more constructive faculty in narrative, with a
sureness of hand and cultivated literary sense which Mr. Miller does not pretend to, and perhaps does not greatly, nor even adequately, value; but, strong as are the claims of the author of Evangeline and Hiawatha, and immensely wide as has been the ratification of them by readers in both hemispheres, I cannot for my part rate his native and essential poetic gift so high as that of the Californian adventurer. Mr. Whittier is a writer more naturally comparable with Longfellow. Were it not for the consideration that he has written no poems of any great length-none drawing upon the rare and precious power of sustained narrative--I should incline to place him fully on a par with Longfellow : for, if we contrast the poems of Whittier, moderately or decidedly short, with those of his brother-poet of the same general scale or range of subject, I apprehend that it would be difficult to assign the superiority to the latter. Whittier's seem to me to be clearly freer from a certain self-conscious pretension-a certain audible and visible appeal to "the finest feelings of our nature." These are indeed the things most deserving to be appealed to: but there is a way of appealing to them which smacks not less of the assertion, “I am the man who know these feelings myself, and can rouse them in you," than of any more modest frame of mind, or simpler phase of natural emotion: and this may strike some people as too often the way in which Mr. Longfellow apostrophizes them. Mr. Whittier no doubt starts quite as definitely from resolute moral good-intention as a motive in writing but this appears to me to be less ingrained into his poetic style, which is the point just now at issue. There is evidently much beauty, as well as manliness, in his mind and character, with bright well-springs of tenderness, and
not less bright of indignation: many of his pieces come home to us with genuine force, and are the productions of a hand cunning in poetic work. His inspiration is neither monotonous nor frittered away. Along with these two distinguished writers of regulated and well-ordered verse-for neither of them is in any way tempted by his genius into the arbitrary or eccentric-may be named another of analogous powers and performances, Mr. Bryant. Several American readers, I believe, would incline to rate him the highest of the three for classic tone and execution: my acquaintance with his works would partly conduce to the same conclusion, and at any rate he may be acknowledged as in every way a worthy colleague in the trio, conferring as well as receiving honour from such an association. Then there is Emerson; whose attitude of mind and quality of work place him as a poet, I should say, distinctly next to Whitman in point of intellectual scope and incitement. The greatness of his character, his faculty, and his aims, finds no inadequate expression in his verse: and there are indeed thrilling chords of most authentic and even oracular poetry amid his strains. On the whole, however, his position among poets is somewhat that of an outsider; a lofty potency of mind breathed upon by the Poetic God, and reexhaling his breath, but not exactly permeated with his spirit, or sealed with his seal. He is as a druid who consorts with the bards, and snatches a harp now and again, and strikes the strings with almost more than bardic stress; but still with an intonation to be distinguished from theirs, and partly to be disallowed. He often approaches, and sometimes might be said to rival, Blake: yet he is not in the same positive and primary sense a poet. Last in this
company of six-"la sesta compagnia," as Dante says-I must name Lowell: a writer who, whatever varying degree of merit different minds may assign to his ideal or serious poems, has assuredly entitled himself to very eminent rank among American poets by his effusions in Yankee dialect. These exquisite monuments of the national humour and wit can hardly be too highly praised. Even an Englishman enjoys them more deeply than his vocabulary will well serve him to express; and, if this is the case with the semi-alien Englishman, an American, native and to the manner born, cannot be too grateful for the service-truly a patriotic service-thus rendered by the poet to the land of his birth.
With these few remarks I invite the reader to renew and enlarge in this volume his acquaintance with the Poetry (other than the Humorous Poetry) of America. He will find here some things really and greatly memorable, and many worthy of all cordial acceptance.