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his old preceptor, Friar John, makes answer in words that contain the whole philosophy of elegiac poetry:
“ The worse for us!
Yet such the barrenness of busy life !" It is the theme of the elegiac poet to show these virtues of sorrow, its power to strengthen, to purify, to elevate, and to give moral freedom—its strength to consume the small troubles which so often waste and weaken our best powers. For this the poet needs the genius to look into the deepest and most mysterious parts of the human soul, to sympathize with its most acute sensibilities, and to illustrate all the consolatory agencies which are vouchsafed to man. In the first place, the poetic power may do a salutary work, by restoring a just sense of the awfulness of death—a sense so apt to grow callous, especially in large cities, where the solemnities of the grave are a trivial spectacle.* The heart loses some of its most natural and purest sensibilities when it becomes indifferent to the aspect of
any of the circumstances or forms of death. An elegy on a pauper’s death-bed was made to express these truths:
“ Tread softly-bow the head,
In reverent silence bow-
Is passing now. * History tells, on more occasions than one, that one of the moral evils which follow in the path of pestilence, is that men are brutalized by the common sight of the dead and the dying. H. R.
Stranger! however great,
With lowly reverence bow:
Greater than thou.
Beneath that beggar's roof,
Lo! Death doth keep his state:
No smiling courtiers tread;
A dying head.
An infant wail alone;
The parting groan.
Burst are the prison bars-
Beyond the stars !
There lies the soulless clod:
Wakes with his God."*
There might be gathered from English poetry large and wise discipline of all the emotions with which the living render homage unto the dead; and the thoughtful student would find his recompense in it. The laments of Spenser are full of the tender sensitiveness of that gentle bard: the class of poems which Wordsworth has left under the title of Elegies abound in the “true poetic teaching of wise, strong-hearted Christian sorrow." I must, however, confine myself to three elegiac poems, the most remarkable in our language : Milton's "Lycidas,” Shelley's “Adonais," and Mr. Tennyson's "In Memoriam." These poems may well be grouped together from the similarity of the occasions, and for the high, the varied imaginative power displayed in them. Each is a lament over the death of a friend of high intellectual and moral promise, called away in early manhood. The “ Lycidas” is fashioned in a great degree by the spirit of classical elegy; the element of Christian belief present, however, in it. In Shelley's
* The Birth-day, and other Poems, by Caroline Bowles, p. 227.
's poem on the death of Keats the classical form is yet more manifest in purposed imitations of the Greek elegies.* That unhappy enthusiast, Shelley, with all his purity of character and loftiness of genius, could couple with classical imagery only the reveries of a bewildered unbelief. There is, in reading his poem, a feeling of deeper sorrow for the poet that wrote than for him that was lamented. The highest consolation, his fine imagination can reach to, is that his dead friend lives as a portion of the universe:
* My attention has been specially called to the extent of these imitations, by a list of parallel passages in the Greek elegies, prepared by two of my former pupils, who have preserved their zeal for literature, ancient and modern, amid their professional studies. H. R.
The accomplished scholars to whom my brother refers, are William Arthur Jackson and G. Hermann Robinett. Mr. Jackson has kindly placed at my disposal his notes on these parallelisms, and I regret that I have not room to print them here. Let me add, for I shall have no other chance of noting it, that my brother felt very high pride in the scholars of the University, who, having been reared by him, had not forgotten his precepts or their early studies. W. B. R.
“He is made one with nature: there is heard
Which once he made more lovely." These are at best but dreary speculations; and when the poet, in spite of himself, is carried out of them by an instinctive belief in individual life beyond the grave, instead of that absorption into nature which would be annihilation, he rises into that grand strain on the unfulfilled promise of the genius of Keats :
“ The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
Arose; and Lucan, by his death approved :
And many more whose names on earth are dark,
ang blind in unascended majesty, Silent, alone, amid a heaven of song: Assume thy winged throne, thou vesper of our throng !"
The gloom which envelopes this poem is deepened by the impressive anticipation of Shelley's own death, one of the most remarkable coincidences to be found in literature. It will be remembered that he set sail in his small boat from the coast of Genoa, was overtaken at some distance from shore by a Mediterranean thunder-storm, and ingulfed in the deep waters: they who had watched the little skiff from the shore, saw it disappear in the darkness of the storm that struck it, and when the storm cleared away, it was seen no more.
The lament over Keats—"Adonais” as Shelley styled him—written about two years before, ended with this stanza
“ The breath whose might I have invoked in song,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are." The poem, or rather series of poems, of Mr. Tennyson is, however, in all respects the most important contribution which has yet been given to this department of poetry; and I regret that I have left me but little
for a few words on the character of the book. It is no prompt and passionate poetic utterance of grief; but has a higher authority on account of the reserve of near twenty years which distinguishes it. Young Hallam, the son of the historian, to whose memory the work is a tribute, died in 1833, at a distance from home—in the poet's own words :)
“In Vienna's fatal walls God's finger touched him, and he slept;"