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We have been surprised occasionally to hear persons infer from isolated sentences, as that quotation in the preface, we learn in suffering what we teach in song,' or those lines ju the
Vision of Poets,'' Knowledge by suffering enteretli, and life is perfected by death,' that Miss Barrett thinks mental power necessarily associated with pain,—that the vocation of a poet is one of much sadness. We think this might be sufficiently disproved by her poetic art having been her selected solace through all trial, (as she herself says in the dedication to her father, 'if this art of poetry had been a less earnest object to me, it must have fallen from exhausted hands before this day'); by the self-evidence that one who can so sing must find pleasure in the song; but at least she must be believed to think nobly of her vocation, who says in her poem on The dead Pan:
• What is true, and just, and honest,
Ere Pan was dead.'
Our space will permit but few remarks on the distinguishing characteristics of Miss Barrett's poetry. We must, however, observe that it is the utterance of a devout heart. The proof of this is, not that religion is the constant theme of these volumes; on the contrary, they take an unusually wide range of topics,but that human passions, daily scenes, common interests, are viewed from a point which the religious mind alone can occupy. If, as Dr. Arnold said, the law of Christ should rule in such wide harmony in Christian souls, that no strange discrepancy should be felt in passing from a sick room to the work of every day, we may welcome another name among the writers, whose most earthly page moves no feeling discordant with those of an hour of sacred meditation. Some poets, whose writings we can hardly refuse to call beautiful, make for themselves a moral atmosphere, in which the forms traced glow with radiance and power; they claim from us unhealthy sensibilities, and disquiet the mind, as if its sense of beauty harmonised with two opposing types. We rejoice that Miss Barrett contrasts with these, and that she does not dwell exclusively on religious themes ;—there is abundant store of works for those who seek expressly religious edification. It has been well said that the mission of a Christian poet, in this age, is more to the world than to the Church, -rather to speak of earthly things in a religious spirit than to
explain sacred things to the devout; to show that godliness embraces all things rather than to mark the boundary of the inner court of the temple. Is it not part of the working of a general law, that in a day when Carlyle and others systematically speak of earthly energies by terms appertaining to powers that are not of the earth, we should have a Poet who paints the wide though passing interests of man in colours that harmonize with the light of the sanctuary? Miss Barrett's topics roam through a wide field; she treads it with a firm step, and from the height surveys an extended territory, won only by the strong-minded. But her foot-prints have a woman's delicacy of outline, however high they ascend. The union exhibited of clear and vigorous thought, of sense, which it were no compliment to call manly, with the fine feeling of beauty, the delicacy of apprehension which can pertain but to woman, we regard as one symptom among many less pleasing of this age. Having had first, in the Rosa Matilda or Della Cruscan school, the feminine fragility, and then, as if extremes evoked each other, the strong purpose without the grace of womanhood in Mary Woolstoncraft, we now behold the better parts of each united in
• Perfect' women, 'nobly planned
and are ready to say that if the wild weeds must precede 'the bright consummate fluwer,' we accept of all rather than resign the last.
The volumes before us are the habitual voice of the spiritthe breathing of the life of thought; not the result of occasional and strained imagination, -not done on a sudden call to answer a fitful purpose,—but, as their author says, 'they have her heart and life in them,'--' they are the completest expression of her being to which she could attain. Perhaps this truth, this life-like emotion, is, with their variety of theme, the cause that every class of mind finds in them something which strikes its peculiar sympathies. In hearing these poems spoken of, we have found that almost every one of the shorter ones has intelligent admirers, who think it of unrivalled excellence,others may be beautiful, but this superlative. Miss Barrett is sometimes accused of imitating Tennyson, but to our apprehension the contrast is far more striking than the resemblance. We have not time to point out instances in proof, but surely the likeness is, at most, but that of two who have studied in the same school; the tinge of colouring which, as in the case of the VOL. xx.
many dramatists of the Elizabethean age, clings, amid a thousand strongly marked differences to the writers of the same period.
We may surprise some by naming conciseness as one of Miss Barrett's distinguishing excellencies. We mean by conciseness fulness of meaning, conveyed in few and simple words: and if brevity is the soul of wit, it is no less the soul of the highest eloquence, the most touching pathos. We think, however, that the more careful is the inspection of Miss Barrett's writings, the more incontrovertible will this appear. These poems bave two elements of conciseness, each in itself a great praise. First, their language is, as it were, twin with the thought; it is evidently constructed to express thought exactly as it exists in the mind of the writer,—to mark out and define the precise thing she means, in the precise aspect it wears to her,—not giving & vague and hazy outline of her design, but painting it out clear and individually so as to mark off the finest shade which distinguishes it from the most kindred thought. This is alike a result and cause of her originality,—-'individuality is originality.'
Let any one who doubts whether Miss Barrett possesses this power, express in fewer words, leaving out no shade of meaning, the greater part of the 'Dead Pan,' Loved Once,' 'Crowned and Buried,' &c.; or let him exert his power of compression on the 'Fourfold Aspect,' any half-stanza of which might be the motto for a long discourse. Deep feeling, no less than high thought, has left its trace on these wonderful lines,-the heat and light, inseparable elements in the fire of genius. All deep things,' says Carlyle, 'are song.'
In the next place, Miss Barrett's conciseness is caused by her skill in the use of symbols,—symbolic language being often the most condensed expression of thought. The analogies which her figurative language make apparent, perpetually give us the delight of surprise in the midst of familiarity. Unthought of resemblances are constantly developed from old figures,
• New, as if come from other spheres,
Yet welcome, as if loved for years.'
It is of the similes in Coleridge's prose writings, especially the Friend,' more than of any other, that Miss Barrett's have often reminded us. En passant, we may just mention a kindred power in another writer, which lately struck us. When employing an hour with the volume of our own George Herbert, we said internally, 'What do these quaint but beautiful images recall to us ?'—and after reading the Sabbath, the Elixir, Love Unknown, &c., (to which we appeal in favour of our judgment)
we replied, 'It is certainly of something kindred in spirit, though widely unlike in form, in Miss Barrett's poems.
We must just mention this lady's excellence in sketching visible nature, and in painting human emotion. The former is perhaps the most remarkable, when we remember that for years she never put her foot on the green sward. How strongly and truly must the aspect of external nature have impressed her, to enable her to describe many of its more recondite and less noticeable graces, as she does ! We have scarcely room for an example, which we choose for its brevity :
• What a day it was, that day !
Hills and vales did openly
At the sight of the great sky:
Audibly did bud-and bud !
How we wandered, I and you-
And the gates that showed the view!
Bleatings took them from the croft.' Another of Miss Barrett's characteristics, is a spirit of generalization ;-law, in the Platonic sense, ruling in her mind, and leading her to show that the causes which originate small and daily results, are the same which work among the large phenomena of the universe-or to draw a wide moral from a slight and passing circumstance—or to symbolize universal conditions of existence, or principles of action, by minute accidents: as in the meaning of the marble silence sleeping, in ‘Lady Geraldine's Courtship;' in the Sonnets on the Seraph and Poet;' Past and Future ;' *Irreparableness ;' Tears ;'* *Perplexed Music;' 'Patience taught by Nature;' or, as when in the 'Romance of the Page,' she makes us hear in the wood, by the slaughtered page, the convent bell tolling for the dead Abbess :
• Dirge for abbess laid in shroud,
Miss Barrett's genius appears to us as incontrovertible in her slighter as in her greater productions—as the merest fragment of diamond wbich reflects a sunbeam is as truly a precious gem, as the 'sea of light' on the brow of a sultan. But if called on for our weightiest proof of her genius, we should probably select her personification of Lucifer, in the Drama of Exile; though we admit the portrayment is of somewhat unequal merit, and, -but here the fault may lie in our own apprehension,-not in perfect keeping; at least his yearning lament for his Morning Star-his grief, even to tears, for his dethronement and her desertion, seem to us not in perfect keeping with the splendid passage we quote. We should premise that the 'Drama of Exile' is the longest poem in the volumes, and represents, as its author says, 'the new and strange experience of the fallen humanity, as it went forth from Paradise into the wilderness, with a peculiar reference to Eve's allotted grief, which, considering that selfsacrifice belonged to her womanhood, and the consciousness of originating the Fall to her offence, appeared to me imperfectly apprehended hitherto, and more expressible by a woman than a man. There was room, at least, for lyrical emotion in those first steps into the wilderness—in that first sense of desolation after wrath—in that first audible gathering of the recriminating 'groan of the whole creation' in that first darkening of the hills from the recoiling feet of angels—and in that first silence of the voice of God. And I took pleasure in driving in, like a pile, stroke upon stroke, the Idea of Exile-admitting Lucifer as an extreme Adam, to represent the ultimate tendencies of sin and loss, that it might be strong to bear up the contrary idea of the heavenly love and purity. The belief of Lucifer that his original beauty is not all departed, lingering as an echo of its reality, making more visible the depth of evil which closes out all love and beauty from him, seems to us very fine; but it is useless to attempt an analysis of this personation, we leave it to the perception of our readers :
. Adam. Perhaps a fallen angel. Who shall say !
Thou! The prodigy
And why of God?