Page images

Where the virgins are soft as the roses they twine,
And all, save the spirit of man, is divine ?
'Tis the clime of the East; 'tis the land of the sun.
Can he smile on such deeds as his children have done ?
Oh! wild as the accents of lover's farewell
Are the hearts which they bear, and the tales which they tell.

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.

[ocr errors]

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

[ocr errors]

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,
Of her own gentle voice afraid,
So long had they in silence stood,
Looking upon that tranquil flood, -
“How sweetly does the moonbeam smile
To-night upon yon leafy isle!
Oft, in my fancy's wanderings,
I've wished that little isle had wings,
And we, within its fairy bowers,

Were wafted off to seas unknown,
Where not a pulse should beat but ours,

And we might live, love, die alone!
Far from the cruel and the cold,

Where the bright eyes of angels only
Should come around us, to behold

A paradise so pure and lonely!
Would this be world enough for thee?”
Playful she turned, that he might sce

The passing smile her cheek put on;
But when she marked how mournfully

His eyes met hers, that smile was gone;
And bursting into heartfelt tears,
“Yes, yes,” she cried," my hourly fears,
My dreams, have boded all too right-
We part-forever part-to-night!
I knew, I knew it could not last-
'Twas bright, 'twas heavenly, but 'tis past !
Oh! ever thus, from childhood's hour,

I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
I never loved a tree or flower,

But 'twas the first to fade away.
I never nursed a dear gazelle,

To glad me with its soft black eye,
But when it came to know me well,

And love me, it was sure to die!

Now, too,--the joy most like divine

Of all I ever dreamt or knew,
To see thee, hear thee, call thee mine,-

Oh, misery! must I lose that too?
Yet go-on peril's brink we meet ;-

Those frightful rocks—that treacherous sea-
No, never come again—though sweet,

Though heaven, it may be death to thee.
Farewell—and blessings on thy way,

Where'er thou goest, beloved stranger!
Better to sit and watch that ray,
And thee safe, though far away,

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,
Is rising sweetly on the air

From Syria's thousand minarets.
The boy has started from the bed
Of fowers where he had laid his head,
And down upon the fragrant sod

Kneels, with his forehead to the south,
Lisping the eternal name of God

From purity's own cherub mouth,
And looking, while his hands and eyes
Are lifted to the glowing skies,
Like a stray babe of Paradise,
Just lighted on that flowery plain,
And seeking for its home again.
Oh! 'twas a sight,--that heaven, that child, -
A scene which might have well beguiled
Even haughty Eblis of a sigh
For glories lost, and peace gone by.

« PreviousContinue »