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EXAMPLES OF HIS GOOD ENGLISH POETRY.

in the vernacular dialect, and the next sixty-four lines, which are not inferior to them are in English.

The “Address to Edinburgh” of fifty-six lines, with its grand and graphic description of the Castle and of Holyrood, is English.

“The contrast,” says Lockhart, “ between his own “worldly circumstances and intellectual rank, was never

more bitterly nor loftily expressed than in some of the

stanzas of Man was made to Mourn,'” which is a dirge of eighty-eight lines, entirely English ; in which, also, are

the vigorous couplets” written at the Fall of Fyers, and at the inn at Kenmore, which the same competent critic commends as “among his best English heroics."

And also the lines on scaring waterfowl at Loch. Turit, ending

“Or, if man's superior might,

Dare invade your native right,
On the lofty ether borne,
Man with all his powers you scorn ;
Swiftly seek, on clanging wings,
Other lakes and other springs;
And the foe you cannot brave,
Scorn at least to be his slave.”

The charming song of forty lines, “Now westlin" winds and slaughtring guns,” is essentially English.

Of “The Vision,” the first nine stanzas are vernacular, of the next fourteen the greater part is English, while the whole of the Second Duan, of twenty-four stanzas, including the finest part of the poem, is English.

The last, and not least, instructive example to which I will refer, is the “Cotter's Saturday Night,” which begins in the vernacular, but at the solemn call' to. worship, the Poet throws off, indeed, his Doric mantle, but only that he may soar aloft, and, in pure English, the celestial melody is rapturously prolonged to the close.

CHAUCER AND BURNS.

71

Chaucer, the Father of English Poetry, who lived from 1328 to 1400, abounds with peculiar beauties. But his works are so voluminous, and contain so much which the refined taste of this age rejects, that we are glad to read what is pure, simple, and beautiful, in judicious abridgements of them. The quaint old dialect is his proper costume, and, with a glossary, it is about as readily understood as the Scotch of Burns, a large portion of whose poems need no glossary, but help to explain the context. Indeed, the difficulty of understanding him has been much exaggerated, and would vanish on a second or third perusal, which, with such poetry, is not a task but a delight.

The minute and accurate delineation of Chaucer is like the painting of Holbein, or the Brothers Van Eyck, and as true to nature. He loved the daisy as Burns did, and thus he describes that “wee, modest, crimson-tipped flower” in the prologue to the “Legend of Good Women.”

As I said erst, when comen in the May,

That in my bed there daweth me no day,
That I n'am up and walking in the mead,
To see this flow'r against the sunne spread,
When it upriseth early in the morrow,
That blessful sight softeneth all my sorrow.
So glad am I when that I have presence
Of it, to doen it all reverence,
As she that is of all flowres the flow'r,
Fulfilled of all virtue and honour,
And ever alike fair and fresh of hue
As well in winter as in summer new.

*

That well by reason men it call may,
The daisie, or els the eye of the day,

The emprise and flowre of flowres all.”
And here is another bright vision of early morn, from

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CHAUCER AND BURNS.

the flower and the leaf, about “the springing of the
gladsome day"-
"And to a pleasant grove I gan to pass,

Long ere the brighte sun uprisen was,
In which were oakes great, straight as a line,
Under the which the grass so fresh of hue
Was newly sprung, and an eight foot or nine
Every tree well from his fellow grew,
With branches broad, laden with leaves new,
That sprungen out against the sunne sheen,

Some very red, and some a glad, light green.” Then he minutely describes a woodland path, and the arbour to which it leads

“And to the arbour side was adjoining -
This fairest tree of which I have you told,
And at the last the bird began to sing,
When he had eaten what he eaten would,
So passing sweetly, that by many fold
It was more pleasant than I could devise,
And when his song was ended in this wise.

The nightingale with so merry a note
Answered him, that all the wood yrung
So suddenly, that as it were a sot, *
I stood astonished, and was with the song
Through ravished, that till late and long,
I newist in what place I was, nowhere,
Again methought she sung e'en by mine ear.
Wherefore I waitedt about busily
On every side, if I her might see,
An at the last I gan full well espy
Where she sat in a fresh green laurel tree,
On the farther side, even right by me,
That gave so passing a delicious smell,
According to the eglantere full well.

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CHAUCER AND BURNS.

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Whereof I had so inly great pleasure,
As methought I surely ravished was
Into Paradise, wherein my desire
Was for to be, and no farther to pass,
As for that day, and on the sote* grass
I sat me down, for as for mine intent,
The birdes song was more convenient.”

Thus Chaucer, who had studied at both the English Universities, who was a courtier of Edward the Third, and brother-in-law of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, was of kindred, by divine poesy, with the Ayrshire ploughman; and not only when describing the spring, and the grove, and its charming songsters, but also those fairest works of creation who kindled his poetic ardour, his countrywomen of every degree.

The heroine of the “Book of the Duchess" is described by Chaucer at length and with graphic touches, which produce a life-like picture of a lady of rank of the 14th century.

“I saw her dance so sweetely,

And laugh and play so womanly,
And looken so debonairly,
So goodly speak, and so friendely,
That certes I trow that evermore,
N’ as seen so blissful a treasure.
For every haire on her head,
The soth to say it was not red,
Ne neither yellow nor brown it was,
Methought most like to gold it was
And whiche eyen my lady had,
Debonaire, good, and glad, and sad.

I have no wit that can suffice To comprehend her beauty,

* Sweet,

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CANTERBURY TALES,

But this much I dare say, that she
Was white, ruddy, fresh, lively hued,
And every day her beauty newed.

So pure suffrant was her wit,
And reason gladly she understood,
It followed well she coulde good,
She used gladly to do well.
These were her manners every deal,
Therewith she loved so well right,
She wrong do woulden to no wight;
No wight, he might do her no shame,
She loved so well her owne name.”

The “Canterbury Tales” are Chaucer's masterpiece, graphic, lively, humorous, and pathetic. The following sketches were evidently taken from the life. Of the Friar he says

“Full sweetely heard he confession,
And pleasant was his absolution.
He was an easy man to give pennance
There as he wist to have a good pittance;
For unto a poor order for to give,
Is signe that a man is well yshrive,*
For if he gave he durste make avant,
He wiste that a man was repentant:
For many a man so hard is of his heart,
He may not weep, although him sore smart;
Therefore instead of weeping and prayers,
Men must give silver to the poor friars.”

The Pardoner, his bulls, wonder-working relics, and preaching are partly but vividly described in these lines

* Shriven.

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