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general remarks on the subject, intended, in some slight degree, to set forth its value and its interest.
Its mechanical part is a useful subject for the poet himself, but it is only a medium, and not a necessary one, for the conveyance of ideas, since poetry may be expressed in what is called prose; and its peculiar eloquence need not of necessity be communicated the world in accordance with the rules of versification.
"'T is not the chime and flow of words that move
But although poetry is not unavoidably dependent upon arbitrary rules, it is not to be denied, that it is verse, in its general acceptation; and it is perfectly natural that it should be : the laws which govern poetry are evidently useful in their operation ; they tend to preserve a general harmony of expression, which is itself a part of poetry; for those passages in prose works which are classed with the productions of the muse, certainly possess this melodious flow; and to the position assumed with regard to the meaning of poetry, we may add, that it is connected with harmony of expression. Here, then, we see the utility of the restrictions by which the poet chooses to be bound, and perceive that the laws of poetry facilitate its composition, and maintain its distinctiveness.
If a writer's ear be so delicate and accurate, that he can pen his sentences with the same harmony which the rules of versification tend to produce, the absence of the arbitrary divisions and accentuations would not prevent his compositions from deserving the name of poetry. But this has been seldom attempted, as there are very few who do not find the laws of metre convenient. All those most distinguished as poets, have written in verse ; and although poetry may occasionally appear, without its distinctive peculiarities, the utility of these mechanical arrangements will be seen at a glance.
is a mysterious relationship between poetry and music ; there is melody in the reading of poetry; and the feelings aroused by the breathings of music, are kindred to those which poetry excites; and when they unite their peculiar attractions, the combined spell opens a new source of enchantment, enthralling alike the senses and the soul. But poetry may well hold a higher place in our estimation than music. Unlike the latter, it can distinctly relate the facts of history, and the fancies of fiction, and can summon to our view figures and scenes, with a truth and vividness defying the skill of the limner. The faculty of composing poetry is a gift peculiar to a few; but the power of appreciating it, is open to all. We can all love and admire it, because it addresses the common feelings of humanity : its spirit is universal ; it can affect, arouse, inspire, delight, and improve us all.
However powerful the influence of education, it can never make
a poet : we may feel the want of one, and look anxiously for the appearance of some Homer, or Shakspeare, or Milton; but no means within the power of man can bring him forth, if the spirit is wanting : and perhaps, at the same time, independent of factitious aid, and ignorant of those who are willing to exert it, a poet may arise to 'wake and warm the world,' and exist in the sympathies and affections of its inhabitants, as long as that world shall last.
Poetry is emphatically a gift, but as we have already remarked, it is not for an initiated few only to receive the advantages to be derived from it. Like the source of light, it may be a wonder and a mystery, but it is made for all mankind, and sends its rays alike
'On palace couch and cottage bed.' It may rouse the admiration and the sympathy of the learned and the unlearned, the rich and the poor, and of all those who have the common feelings, passions, and desires of humanity.
It is chiefly to this universal power of poetry, that we shall call the reader's attention in this essay
a power that
Spreads undivided, operates unspent.' We know there are many who, influenced by some prejudice, or ignorant of their own capabilities of enjoyment, will think, and perhaps say, that poetry has no charms for them; and who, guided by the operation of an ill-formed opinion, studiously close their eyes to its fascinating and permanent attractions. We ask but of such, that before they finally abjure poetry, they place themselves in a situation to feel its influence : they would not fail soon to acknowledge that they had despised only because they had neglected it; they would exclaim, with a voice of exultation : We have discovered an everliving fountain of crystal waters, where angels might wash, and be purer.'
Whatever may be our situation in life, we may all be benefitted by encouraging an attachment to poetry. It opens to us new sources of pleasure and enjoyment, not such as can only be purchased by immense wealth, and severe application, but such as are available to the humblest and the poorest : it
'Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.'
* The world is full of poetry; the air
And mantled with its beauty.'
And here let us observe, that this word practical, is too often used in a limited sense, and represents only that which, at very first view, is palpably and incontrovertibly useful. Indeed, to go farther, it is sometimes an‘ignus fatuus,' and means merely an array of figures,
or a collection of facts, without any very minute reference to the demonstrative character of the figures, or the conclusive tendency of the facts. A practical man, of this latter class, to use Bulwer's language, 'hates both poets and philosophers. He has a great love for facts. If you could speak to him out of the multiplication-table, he would think you a great orator.
He does not observe how the facts are applied to the theory; he only wants the facts themselves. If you were to say to him thus : 'When abuses arise to a certain pitch, they must be remedied,' he would think you a shallow fellow, a mere theorist ; but if you were to say to him : One thousand pauper children are born in London ; in 1823, wheat was forty-nine shillings, hop grounds let from ten to twelve shillings per acre, and you must therefore confess that, when abuses arise to a certain pitch, they must be remedied;' the practical man would nod his wise head, and say of you to his next neighbor, “That's the man for my money : you see what a quantity of facts he puts into his speech.' Alas! for such practical men! They confine themselves within a narrow circle, and look upon all beyond as idleness and folly. They do not pause to view the ultimate results of things; they do not see the softening, the refining, the exalting effects of poetry ; they do not perceive its influence on national character, and its connection with morals and religion ; they only look to the facts, that it does not tell them how to keep accounts to buy, to sell, to manufacture, nor to speculate - that it is not always profitable, as a trade, and that it does not add to one's reputation on 'Change ; and thus they come to the conclusion that it is undeserving of encouragement. Such men are willing to drag all who are above them down to their own level ; to make the whole world one great arena of selfishness; to root with barbarous hand from our pathway every fruit and flower, and leave nothing but thorns and thistles' behind. There is too much intellect in the world, for the general success of such narrow views of utility; and the human mind is not always nor every where to be bound by fetters that disgrace and pollute it.
Neele, in the commencement of his Lectures on English Poetry, says : ‘In introducing poetry to your notice, I am constrained to confess, that it is a mere superfluity and ornament. With all deference, we must question the truth of the poet's remark : indeed, in the course of a few succeeding lines, he himself contradicts his previous * confession,' and observes that, there is a mental appetite, which is as necessary to satisfy, as the corporeal one.' There are maladies of the mind which are even more destructive than those of the body; and which, as the sound of the sweet harp of David drove the demon out of Saul, have been known to yield to the soothing influence of poetry. Nations the most illustrious in arts and arms, have also been the most celebrated for their cultivation of letters; and when the monuments of those arts, and the achievements of those arms, have passed away from the face of the earth, they have transmitted their fame to the remotest ages, through the medium of literature alone.
The canvass fritters into shreds, and the column moulders into ruin; the voice of music is mute, and the beautiful expression of sculpture is a blank and a gloomy void; the right hand of the mechanist forgets its cunning, and the arm of the warrior becomes powerless in the grave; but the lyre of the poet still vibrates. Ages
listen to his song and honor it; and while the pencil of Appelles, and the chisel of Phidias, and the sword of Cæsar, and the engine of Archimedes, live only in the breath of tradition, or on the page of history, or in some perishable and imperfect fragment, the pen of Homer, of Virgil, or of Shakspeare, is an instrument of power as mighty and magical, as when first the gifted finger of the poet grasped it. Is poetry then - the sweet comforter of the mind diseased
the electric chain wherewith ages past, present, and future are bound - the mighty and magical power swaying the hearts and moulding the actions of men — a 'mere superfluity and ornament ?' No, no: it is not: and the young poet who made the assertion, undervalued the gift of which he was a possessor; and we conceive that no full and correct exposition can be made of the benefits of poetry, without treating it as practical, in its final tendencies.
England is the only powerful nation with whom we have ever been at war. A little more than half a century since, we were placed in that peculiar relation toward her, which is calculated of all others to beget feelings of deadly hostility; and the people of both countries naturally fostered sentiments of aversion to each other, and magnified all attributed political vices, and national defects. Not a quarter of a century has passed away, since a war of several years' duration was waged with Great Britain, when old feelings of hatred were revived, and from the smouldering ashes of past dissensions, a new flame was kindled, that made the hearts of the American people burn with indignation, and caused them to speak with additional severity of the nation which had so recently given them fresh grounds for enmity. Other causes of dispute and discussion have arisen between the two countries, but notwithstanding all these reasons for mutual ill-feeling, we may safely say, that in the affairs of no nation do the people of the United States take a deeper or a kindlier interest, than in those of Great Britain, and that toward no people do they entertain more friendly and respectful sentiments. The impression made on the American people by the English poets, will never be effaced ! It preserved its influence in the stormiest days of the revolution; it had a 'still small voice,' even amid the din of battle ; it now aids in preserving those amicable relations between the two countries, which are a present source of satisfaction to both; and if not weakened by some new and unexpected subject of angry controversy, will continue to brighten and strengthen the bands of an honorable friendship.
Above all poets who have contributed to make this impression, Shakspeare stands prëeminent. His works are known and admired by all classes, in both countries, and his potent influence has moulded their feelings, and swayed their minds. The words of Sprague, in his fine ode to the deathless bard of Avon, are those of truth and soberness :'
Our Roman-hearted fathers broke
Thy parent empire's galling yoke;
And what her mighty Lion lost, her mightier Swan shall save.'
exhibited signs of rëanimation, and the glad tidings sent a thrill of joy to every lover of free institutions. We knew that the Greeks had degenerated ; we were acquainted with their faults and their vices; but Greece was the land of Homer; the tones of his lyre still breathed in our ears ; he had written as with a diamond the glory and the greatness of Greece upon our hearts; he had shown to us her trials and her fortitude ; he had exhibited her heroes and her statesmen; he had sung of her battles and her victories; we sympathized with her in her misfortunes — we rejoiced in her prosperity; and when degenerate and disgraced, but not despairing, Greece lifted up her hands for succor when the voice of her lamentation came mournfully over the Atlantic waves we could not find it in our hearts to resist its power, and were led to relieve the unfortunate, not only by that present misery which we saw, but also by that past greatness which her poets had revealed to us.
The enthusiasm which was excited some years since, in behalf of unfortunate and oppressed Poland, was none the less ardent for the sympathy excited by CAMPBELL. He had written of the wrongs of that injured nation, of the bravery of her people, and of the devoted courage of her favorite warrior; he had summoned before our mind's eye that last scene in which the soldier acted, when
'Hope for a season bade the world farewell,
And freedom shrieked as Kosciusko fell.' We saw the energies of Poland prostrated by the ruthless vengeance of the Autocrat; we saw
On Prague's proud arch the fires of ruin glow,
And conscious nature shuddered at the cry.' Poland became still more endeared to us by the eloquence of the poet; and when she again determined to resist the rod of the oppressor, our hearts and our prayers were with her, and we proved our good wishes in a more substantial manner than by mere expressions of sympathy.
Few attachments are so strong that they cannot be increased ; and poetry seems to make more powerful the beatings of a patriotic heart, and the aspirations of a patriotic mind. How spirit-stirring are the fine lines of Drake to our national banner ! They seem to make us regard with still more fervent affection what we thought we had already loved to the utmost. Who, on reading that beautiful production, but has responded with a quickening pulse, and a prouder feeling, to the closing exclamation :
'Forever wave that standard sheet !
Where breathes the foe but falls before us ?
And freedom's banner streaming o'er us!' This allusion to our national song, reminds us, that there is a wide field in which the American poet may employ himself, much to the increase of his own fame, and the good of his country. We want more national songs, Casual observers cannot appreciate their import