Page images



Poetic Development of the far-fetched Simile in the Illustrating of Illustra

tions—Examples of this from several Modern Writers-Whose Representation or Illustration fails to represent or illustrate-Poetic Development of the Mixed Metaphor-Examples from Modern Poets-In what will this result-More Examples-How the Tendency leads the Poet from his Main Thought to pursue Suggestions made even by Sounds—Representing thus a Lack of Sanity or of Discipline, neither of

which is what Art should represent. OUR examination of the effects upon poetry of the

didactic tendency, in which considerations of thought overbalance those of form, have led us to trace certain phases of failure to a lack of representation. We have now to examine the effects of the ornate tendency, in which considerations of form overbalance those of thought, and in which therefore there is failure because of an excess of representation.

It is simply natural for one who has obtained facility in illustrating his ideas to overdo the matter, at times, and to carry his art so far as to re-illustrate that which has been sufficiently illustrated or is itself illustrative. The first form that we need to notice, in which this tendency shows itself, is a poetic development and extension of what rhetoricians term the "far-fetched " simile, a simile in which minor points of resemblance are sought out and dwelt upon in minute detail and at unnecessary length. Attention has been directed in another place to the way

in which the exclusively allegorical treatment in Spenser's Faerie Queene causes us to lose sight of the main subject of the poem. An allegory, as has been said, is mainly an extended simile. The poetic fault of which I am to speak is sometimes found in similes, sometimes in allegories, and sometimes in episodes filled with metaphorical language, partaking partly of the distinctive nature of both. These passages seem to be suggested as illustrations of the main subject, but they are so extended and elaborated that they really obscure it. As the reader goes on to peruse them, he either forgets altogether what the subject to be illustrated is, or he finds himself unable to separate that which belongs only to it, from that which belongs only to the illustration.

It is largely owing to passages manifesting this characteristic that Robert Browning's writings seem obscure to so many. Most persons would be obliged to read the following, for example, two or three times before understanding it, and this because of the difficulty they experience in separating the particulars of the passage that go with the main thought from those that go with the illustrating thought; in other words, the excess of representation in the form interferes with its clearness.

The man is witless of the size, the sum,
The value, in proportion of all things,

Should his child sicken unto death, --why, look
For scarce abatement of his cheerfulness,
Or pretermission of his daily craft-
While a word, gesture, glance, from that same child
At play, or in school, or laid asleep,
Will start him to an agony of fear,
Exasperation, just as like ! demand
The reason why—"'t is but a word," object-
"A gesture"-he regards thee as our lord

Who lived there in the pyramid alone,
Looked at us, dost thou mind, when being young
We both would unadvisedly recite
Some charm's beginning, from that book of his,
Able to bid the sun throb wide and burst
All into stars, as suns grown old are wont.
Thou and the child have each a veil alike
Thrown o'er your heads from under which ye both
Stretch your blind hands and trifle with a match
Over a mine of Greek fire, did ye know !
He holds on firmly to some thread of life-
(It is the life to lead perforcedly)
Which runs across some vast distracting orb
Of glory on either side that meagre thread,
Which, conscious of, he must not enter yet-
The spiritual life around the earthly life !
The law of that is known to him as this
His heart and brain move there, his feet stay here.
So is the man perplexed with impulses
Sudden to start off crosswise, not straight on,
Proclaiming what is Right and Wrong across
And not along,—this black thread through the blaze-
" It should be " balked by “here it cannot be."

-An Epistle.
It must be confessed, however, that these episodes of
Browning are often very charming to those who have
come to understand them, e.g.:

And hereupon they bade me daub away,
Thank you ! my head being crammed, their walls a blank,
Never was such prompt disemburdening.
First, every sort of monk, the black and white,
I drew them, fat and lean : then, folks at church,
From good old gossips waiting to confess
Their cribs of barrel-droppings, candle-ends,-
To the breathless fellow at the altar-foot
Fresh from his murder, safe and sitting there
With the little children round him in a row
Of admiration, half for his beard and half
For that white anger of his victim's son

Shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm,
Signing himself with the other because of Christ
(Whose sad face on the cross sees only this
After the passion of a thousand years)
Till some poor girl, her apron o'er her head,
Which the intense eyes looked through, came at eve
On tiptoe, said a word, dropped in a loaf,
Her pair of ear-rings and a bunch of flowers
The brute took growling, prayed, and then was gone.
I painted all, then cried, " 't is ask and have,
Choose, for more 's ready!"-laid the ladder flat,
And showed my covered bit of cloister wall.

-Fra Lippo Lippi.

This way of turning from the main thought of a passage, in order to amplify and illustrate the illustration, characterizes still more the poetry of a later school. Notice how, in the following from Gerald Massey, the “Oak” is used to illustrate the condition of England, and then the picture of Victory further on is used to illustrate the condition of the oak.

And England slumbered in the lap of Peace,
Beneath her grand old Oak which, hale and strong,
Rode down the storm, and wrestled with the winds,
To rise in pomp of bloom, and pæan of song,
Green with the sap of many hundred springs ;
And tossed its giant arms in wanton life,
Like Victory smiling in the sun of Glory.

-Glimpses of the War: Massey. But it is Swinburne who has developed most fully, and apparently with design, this method of catching at the illustrating thought as if it were the main thought, and going on to illustrate it, and then catching at this second illustration once more, and treating it in the same way, and so on ad infinitum. Notice this from his Evening on the Broads :

All over the gray soft shallow Hover the colors and clouds of twilight, void of a star. As a bird unfledged in the broad winged night, whose winglets are callow Yet, but soon with their plumes will she cover her brood from afar, Cover the brood of her worlds that cumber the skies with their blossom Thick as the darkness of leaf-shadowed spring is encumbered with flowers World upon world is enwound in the bountiful girth of her bosom, Warm and lustrous with life lovely to look on as ours. Still is the sunset adrift as a spirit in doubt that dissembles Still with itself, being sick of division and dimmed by dismay~ Nay, not so ; but with love and delight beyond passion it trembles, Fearful and fain of the night, lovely with love of the day : Fain and fearful of rest that is like unto death, and begotten Out of the womb of the tomb, born of the seed of the grave : Lovely with shadows of loves that are only not wholly forgotten, Only not wholly suppressed by the dark as a wreck by the wave.

The fault in this mode of illustrating, or representing, lies in the fact that it does not illustrate nor represent. The poet, in writing it, has made the form an end and not a means. His thoughts, and methods of developing them, are suggested by the representation, and not by that which it is supposed to represent, and which his readers naturally expect it to represent. Accordingly, his readers cannot distinguish the main thought from the illustrating thought, nor this again from the re-illustrating thought, and the whole passage is necessarily more or less obscure. The poet has not made his subject stand forth in clear, concrete outlines, as art should do ; but has so veneered and besmeared it with excess of ornamentation that no one can tell very decidedly just what his subject is. Besides this, there is another fundamental error in this style ; but as it underlies also the next fault that is to be mentioned, reference will be made to it after we have considered that.

The second form that we need to notice, of the tendency now under consideration, is allied to the “mixed

« PreviousContinue »