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EXPERIENCE has convinced the author of the following pages, that children. seldom understand the poetry, which they early learn by rote, and that thus, instead of forming a poetic taste, they acquire the habit of repeating words to which they affix no distinct ideas, or of admiring melodious sounds which are to them destitute of meaning.
The pleasure that we receive from the remote allusions or metaphoric language of poetry depends, in a great degree, upon the rapidity with which we pass over a number of intermediate ideas, and seize the meaning of the author; but children find much difficulty in supplying the elisions of poetic thought and diction. It is to them a laborious
process; and even when they perform it successfully, much of the pleasure escapes during the operation. Surely it
is doing young people injustice, to force fine poetry upon them before they can. possibly taste it's excellence; for thus we rob them of present, and defraud them of future pleasure. Beside the hazard of disgusting them with poetry, there is danger of inducing servile imitation, and of habituating their minds to admire without choice or discrimination. The world of literature now abounds with copiers of copyists, who, varying merely the arrangement of the words, run the changes eternally upon the same set of ideas. Probably this want of originality of thought, and this perpetual sameness of expression, may in some measure arise from the veneration which is early impressed upon the mind for certain standards of excellence; veneration independent of reason, which disposes the young student to admire and imitate, without instructing him how to analyze or combine. Whoever attends to the observations made by children. upon poetry, will soon discover, that their admiration is usually excited by quaint and uncommon expressions, rather
than by natural sentiments, or lively pictures of reality. They hear that the sublime is veiled in obscurity, and they are inclined to venerate whatever is obscure, as if it were necessarily sublime. Not only children, but poets themselves, are inclined to this mistake. Gray says, that the language of the age is never the language of poetry; and he was so much pleased with certain obsolete expressions in Dryden, that he made a list of them for his own practice, such as museful mopings,-roundelay of love,—ireful mood,--furbished for the field,—foiled doddered oaks. Without stopping to examine whether these ornaments be truly poetic, we may safely assert that no one, merely by using them, can become a poet: lackeys do not become gentlemen by strutting in the cast clothes of their masters. Gray seems, however, to have planned with one taste, and to have executed with another. The Elegy in a Country Churchyard, and his Ode on Eton College, the most simple of his poetry, are perhaps the most generally
esteemed; and his Hymn to Adversitydoes not seem to require the aid of uncouth phraseology, to make it equal to "Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!" or the Song of Odin.
To form a poetic taste, very different means must be employed. The attention. must be early directed to those circumstances in nature, which are capable of exciting ideas either of the sublime or beautiful; and to such books as may assist in awakening the mind to observation. Perhaps the first introduction to poetry should be obtained from prose. Many short sentences of true poetry have been selected for children from the Old Testament. Many may be found in books of natural history. White of Selbourne describes the various flight of birds in the following manner :
"Swallows sweep over the surface of the ground and water, and distinguish themselves by quick evolutions; the king-fisher darts along like an arrow; sky-larks rise and fall perpendicularly as they sing; wood-larks hang poised in the air;" &c.
Compare these with Pope's epithets in Windsor Forest-" The whirring phea-sant,"" the clamorous lapwing,"-" the mounting lark," &c.-It is obvious that. the same habits of observation supplied: the prose writer with description, and. the poet with epithets.
From simple epithets and single sen.. tences we may proceed to more finished passages, such as the following, from. Mrs. Barbauld's Hymns:
"The glorious sun is set in the west; the night dew falls, and the air, which was sultry, becomes cool."
"The flowers fold up their coloured. leaves; they fold themselves up, and hang; their heads on the slender stalk" &c.
The sublime images in these hymns are happily suited to the comprehension of children; and their harmonious language charms the ear, without cheating the understanding. Many beautiful passages, proper for youth, may be found in Watts" On the Improvement of the Mind ;" and in the measured prose of Fenelon there is much eloquence, which young people can taste and com