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In certain poems, as in fact in certain of the quotations already given, it is difficult to determine how far the effects correspond to those of dramatic or of discoursive elocution. We cannot clearly distinguish in them between that which is and is not strictly imitative. One of the finest examples of this kind which we have, is furnished by Robert Browning's Holy-Cross-Day, purporting to represent the feelings of the Jews in Rome, when forced, as was formerly the custom on that day, to attend church, and listen to an annual Christian sermon. Notice the concentrated spite and scorn represented in the qualities—mainly guttural and aspirate-of most of the sounds used. Only a part of the poem can be quoted; but the rest of it is almost equally effective:
Higgledy piggledy, packed we lie,
It began when a herd of us, picked and placed,
-Holy-Cross-Day: R. Browning. In the following, too, we have similar effects, partly imitative and partly not. In the last two lines of each stanza, calling for the echo, we hear the resonant poetic orotund. Aside from these, the poem begins in the first stanza with the hush of the aspirate :
The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle ; answer echoes, dying, dying, dying. Then we have mainly the thin, clear quality of the pure tone:
O hark, O hear ! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going ;
The horns of Elfand faintly blowing !
Blow, bugle ; answer echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river ;
And grow forever and forever.
--The Bugle, from the Princess : Tennyson,
THE SACRIFICE OF SENSE TO SOUND.
Verse in which Attention to Sound prevents Representation of Thought
Violating Laws of Natural Expression or Grammatical ConstructionExcellences exaggerated, the Source of these Faults-Insertion of Words, Pleonasm, Superfluity ; Transposition of Words, Inversion, Hyperbaton, tending to Obscurity-Style of the Age of DrydenAlteration of Words in Accent; or by Aphæresis, Front-Cut; Syncope, Mid-Cut; or Apocope, End-Cut-All these often show Slovenly Workmanship.
THE theory underlying all that has been said thus far
is, that poetry is an artistic development of language; its versification, of the pauses of natural breathing; its rhythm and tune, of the accents and inflections of ordinary conversation; and the significance in its sounds, of ejaculatory and imitative methods actuating the very earliest efforts of our race at verbal expression. The inference suggested has been that these effects produced by sound are legitimate in poetry, because, like language, and as a part of it, and far more significantly than some forms of it, they represent thought. This inference necessarily carries with it another, which it seems important to emphasize before we leave this part of our subject. It is this,—that no effects produced by sound are legitimate in poetry, which fail in any degree to represent thought. If a man's first impression on entering a picture gallery comes from a suggestion of paint, he may know that he
is not in the presence of the masters. So if his first impression on beginning to read verse comes from a suggestion of jingle, of sound or of form of any kind not connected in some most intimate way with an appeal to his higher æsthetic nature, he may be sure that the lines before him do not entitle their author to a high poetic rank. As I intend to show further on, all artistic poetry must produce the effects of form, but these include impressions recognized not only by the outer ear, but also by the inner mind. It is because of the exceeding difficulty of perfectly adjusting sound to thought and thought to sound, till, like perfectly attuned strings of a perfect instrument, both strike together in all cases so as to form a single chord of a perfect harmony, that there are so few great poets. Before we pass on, therefore, let us notice a few of the more prominent ways in which writers, because of their endeavor to conform their expressions to the requirements of mere versification, fail to make them conform to the requirements of language, fail to make them represent thought.
In making this examination, we shall be compelled to take for our standard the language of ordinary intercourse. Poetic form necessitates a peculiar selection and arrangement of words and phrases. But if these violate the laws of natural expression or of grammatical construction, as exemplified in the language of prose, their meanings may be obscured entirely, or, if not so, will, at least, be conveyed through forms that seem artificial. It was for these reasons that Wordsworth argued that there should be no difference between the language of poetry and of prose. In his own practice he sometimes carried out his theory only too faithfully; but a truth underlay it, which always needs to be borne in mind. The problem in con
nection with all versification is, how to arrange words at once metrically and naturally. We all recognize that certain poets are able to do this, and that this fact tends to increase their popularity. It is one of the chief charms of the poetry of Longfellow. Notice this for instance:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
-Psalm of Life. Lines like these seem very easy to write; yet a book filled with lines like these is very difficult to write. Few poets could arrange vowels and consonants so as to produce such rhythmical and musical effects, without impairing, somewhat, the naturalness of their phraseology. Their departures from the latter, in order to satisfy the demands of the former, usually manifest themselves in one of five different ways, viz.: in the insertion, the transposition, the alteration, the omission, or the misuse of words.
All these, as we shall find, are exaggerations of tendencies, which, kept in due subordination, or used to increase the effect of the thought and not of the sound alone, are excellences. The first fault mentioned, for instance, the insertion of words not needed for the sense, termed also pleonasm, or superfluity, grows out of a legitimate endeavor to enhance the impressiveness of what is presented. In the following, the very fact that the prayer is made the chief object of observation, makes it proper, not only, but desirable, to bring in an otherwise useless he, in order to represent rightly the order of the thought: His prayer he saith, this patient holy man.
-Eve of St. Agnes : Keats. So, in these lines, the author's putting the words wind