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Where the virgins are soft as the roses they twine,
The Corsair is an Oriental romance written in heroic couplets. Of this style of versification, the author says: “The stanza of Spenser is perhaps too slow and dignified for narrative, though I confess it is the measure most after my own heart. Scott, alone, of the present century, has hitherto completely triumphed over the fatal facility of the octo-syllabic verse. In blank verse, Milton, Thomson, and the dramatists are the beacons that shine along the deep, but warn us from the rough and barren rock on which they were kindled. The heroic couplet is not the most popular measure, certainly; but, as I did not deviate into the other from a wish to flatter public opinion, I shall quit it without further apology.”
Lara is, no doubt, intended as a sequel to the Corsair, the principal characters of the earlier poem reappearing with new names, or in disguise. The finest passages in both poems are those descriptive of battle-scenes, and in them is illustrated one of Byron's chief characteristics-the power of imparting his own individuality to his descriptions, and of coloring his pictures with his own feelings and peculiarities. For example, read the Corsair, II., 4-6, and Lara, II., 10–16.
M. Taine writes thus of the Corsair : "It is marred by classic elegancies; the pirate's song at the beginning is no truer than a chorus at the Italian opera; his scamps propound philosophical antitheses as balanced as those of Pope. A hundred times ambition, glory, envy, despair, and the other abstract personages whose images in the time of the First Empire the French used to set upon their drawing-room clocks, break in amidst living passions.
The noblest passages are disfigured by pedantic apostrophes, and the pretentious poetic diction sets up its threadbare frippery and conventional ornaments. Far worse, he studies effect and follows the fashion."
Throughout his poems, Byron exhibits an almost total lack of the power of characterization. His heroines are all of the same type-Oriental beauties, loving, passionate, sensual, without intellectual aspirations, without souls. His description of one hero is the description of all—a man with fiery, unbridled instincts, capable of deep emotion and the finer feelings, scorning bis fellow-men, skeptical, despairing, Byron himself. “He was himself,” says Macaulay, “the beginning, the middle, and the end of all his own poetry, the hero of every tale, the chief object in every landscape.” Byron says: “I should have been glad to have rendered my personages more perfect and amiable, if possible, inasmuch as I have been sometimes criticised, and considered no less responsible for their deeds and qualities than if all had been personal. Be it so; if I have deviated into the gloomy vanity of drawing from self, the pictures are probably like, since they are unfavorable; and, if not, those who know me are undeceived, and those who do not, I have little interest in undeceiving."*
Of Byron's shorter tales and of those less commonly read, as well as of Don Juan and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, we shall speak in future chapters. The student may find it profitable to study portions of his best works, and, in the case of his longer poems, to institute a comparison between his genius and that of his great contemporary, Sir Walter Scott.
Lalla Rookh, an Oriental romance by Thomas Moore, was published in the year 1817. It is composed of four tales in verse, strung together upon a slender thread of prose narrative. Lalla Rookh, the beautiful daughter of the Indian emperor Aurungzebe, is represented as journeying
* The Corsair. Dedication to Thomas Moore, Esq.
from Delhi to Bucharia to meet her betrothed husband, the Prince Aliris. To while away the tediousness of the journey, one Feramorz, who professes to be a young poet of Cashmere, sings to the accompaniment of his guitar the four poems of which this story is the setting. The first poem is entitled The Veiled Prophet, and relates the story of a religious impostor and fanatic who, claiming to be the heaven-appointed destroyer of Mohammedanism, succeeded in leading many credulous dupes astray, and was finally defeated in battle and slain. The second poem is called The Fire-Worshipers. Like the first, it is a love-story, and the main incidents refer to the persecution of the fireworshiping Guebres by their rulers, tlie Turks. The principal characters are Hafed, a Guebre chief, and Fatima, the daughter of the Mohammedan tyrant and persecutor. The third song, the lightest and most fanciful of all, is called Paradise and the Peri. It relates how a fairy, exiled from heaven, sought for and finally obtained a gift by which she was restored to her place in the abodes of bliss. Lastly, the poet sings of The Light of the Harem and the reconciliation of "the magnificent son of Akbar” with his favorite, the charming Nourmahal. The princess, Lalla Rookh, listening to these enchanting stories and the no less enchanting music which accompanies them, becomes enamored of the accomplished young bard, whom, when she reaches Bucharia, she recognizes as none other than her intended husband, the noble Aliris.
The prose portion of Lalla Rookh, which serves as a setting for the poetical episodes, is interesting and in the highest degree beautiful. And the poems themselves seem to reflect all the splendor and magnificence of Oriental scenery and life. But the sensuous richness of their style, the brilliancy of their imagery, and the artificial sparkle and gush of their descriptive passages, constitute their chief defects. They are, in short, overburdened with ornament. And yet their beauties are many and their merits are of a high order. The student cannot fail to derive great
pleasure from their perusal. As a writer of poctical romances, Moore has but few superiors.
The following beautiful passage is selected from the FireWorshipers :
“How sweetly,” said the trembling maid,
Were wafted off to seas unknown,
And we might live, love, die alone!
Where the bright eyes of angels only
A paradise so pure and lonely!
The passing smile her cheek put on;
His eyes met hers, that smile was gone;
I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
But 'twas the first to fade away.
To glad me with its soft black eye,
And love me, it was sure to die!
Now, too,--the joy most like divine
Of all I ever dreamt or knew,
Oh, misery! must I lose that too?
Those frightful rocks—that treacherous sea-
Though heaven, it may be death to thee.
Where'er thou goest, beloved stranger!
Than have thee near me and in danger!” We quote also a short passage from Paradise and the Peri. The Peri, after having vainly offered, as the price of her readmission to Paradise, the last drop of blood shed by a dying patriot, and the last sigh of a maiden who dies for her lover, finds at last, in the tear of a repentant sinner, “the gift that is most dear to heaven.”
But hark! the vesper-call to prayer,
As slow the orb of daylight sets,
From Syria's thousand minarets.
Kneels, with his forehead to the south,
From purity's own cherub mouth,