« PreviousContinue »
Here first I got a pledge of promised grace;
But ah! what serves to have been made happy so,
Sith passed pleasures double but new woe!" The next is one of Sir Philip Sidney. We transcribe it almost at random from the Astrophel and Stella.
“No more, my dear, no more these counsels try,
Oh! give my passions leave to run their race:
Let Fortune lay on me her worst disgrace,
Let folks o'ercharg'd with brain against me cry:
Let clouds bedim my face, break in mine eye,
Let me no step but of lost labour trace:
Let all the earth with scorn recount my case,
But do not will me from my love to fly.-
I do not envy Aristotle's wit,
Nor do aspire to Cæsar's bleeding fame,
Nor aught do care though some above me sit,
Nor hope nor wish another course to frame,
But that which once may win thy cruel heart:
Thou art my wit, and thou my virtue art.”
The reader may take a Sonnet, said to have been written by Sir Walter Raleigh. It is occasionally prefixed to editions of the Faërie Queen of Spenser, and is entitled a
“ Vision upon the conceipt of
The Faërie Queen.
“Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay
Within that temple, where the vestal flame
Was wont to burn, and passing by that way
To see that buried dust of living fame,
Whose tomb fair love, and fairer virtue kept.
All suddenly I saw the Faërie Queen:
At whose approach the soul of Petrarch wept ;
And from thenceforth those graces were not seen,
For they this queen attended, in whose stead
Oblivion laid him down on Laura's hearse.
Hereat the hardest stones were seen to bleed,
And groans of buried ghosts the heav'ns did pierce,
Where Homer's spright did tremble all for grief,
And curst th' access of that celestial thief."
We now come to Milton. There is a high tone of dignity
about all his writings, and it does not desert him even in the Sonnets. Be they familiar or patriotic-Do they address the nightingale, or invoke the clemency of heaven-Do they call upon Cromwell or Vane, or warn the soldier from defacing the poet's home, they are equally and severely beautiful. There is a strength, a majesty, an air about them, which no other Sonnets possess. They seem (we make one exception) consecrated to a high design, and to come up fully to the intent of the poet. There is no weakness, or quaintness, or want of purpose in them: but they are engines in the poet's hand, and seem to accomplish whatsoever he wills. We will venture to extract two the first, “When the Assault was intended the City,” is sufficient, we should think, to deter any one from profaning the home of the Muses.
Captain, or colonel, or knight in arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless doors may seize,
If deed of honour did thee ever please,
Guard theni and him within protect from harms.
He can requite thee; for he knows the charms
That call fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spread thy name o’er lands and seas,
Whatever clime the sun's bright circle warms.
Lift not thy spear against the muse's bower:
The great Emathian conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus, when temple and tower
Went to the ground : and the repeated air
Of sad Electra's poet had the power
To save the Athenian walls from ruin bare."
The second sounds like an inspiration. Milton was a religious enthusiast, as well as a grand poet. He was a partizan as well as a sectarian. His creed did not consist wholly in the milder virtues (though he had a fine resignation) nor in passive endurance, when the wound was from the hands of men. He fought with the Bible and the sword. He punished as well as convinced. In this case the wrath of the poet seems to be wide awake, and thus he utters his passionate anathema.
“On the late Massacre in Piedmont.
“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipt stocks and stones,
Forget not, in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that roll'd
Mother with infant down the rocks. The moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundred fold, who, having learn'd thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe."
The next Sonnet is from Warton. He was an elegant writer, too much praised perhaps in his own day, and too much neglected now. There is a pensive air about most of his writings, and even a fine spirit when he touches upon the “olden time,” to which he was more than ordinarily attached. He spent his life among colleges and black-letter books, and left some pleasant and useful records behind him. The following is addressed “ To the River Lodon."
“Ah! what a weary race my feet have run,
Since first I trod thy banks with alders crown'd,
And thought my way was all thro' fairy ground,
Beneath the azure sky and golden sun :
When first my muse to lisp her notes begun !
While pensive memory traces back the round
Which fills the varied interval between;
Much pleasure, more of sorrow, marks the scene,-
Sweet native stream! those skies and suns so pure
No more return to cheer my evening road !
Yet still one joy remains, that not obscure
Nor useless all my vacant days have flow'd
From youth's gay dawn to manhood's prime mature,
Nor with the Muse's laurel unbestow’d.”
We will select two more Sonnets, and then return to bid farewell to our great author The first is from the pen of Mr. Wordsworth, and is entitled, “ Venice.”
“ Once did she hold the gorgeous East in fee;
And was the safeguard of the West : the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth, .
Venice the eldest child of liberty.
She was a maiden city, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And when she took unto herself a mate,
She must espouse the everlasting sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid,
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the shade
Of that which once was great is pass'd away.”
The next is by the late Mr. Keats, and was written on the subject of his first reading Chapman's Homer. It is as follows:
“ Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been,
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told,
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene,
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold :
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise-
Silent, upon a peak in Darien." There still remain to be noticed two poems of Shakespeare : the one called, The Passionate Pilgrim, (being a collection of irregular pieces); and the other, The Lover's Complaint. From the first of these only, we shall make a couple of extracts. The first will speak for itself.
“ As it fell upon a day,
In the merry month of May,
Sitting in a pleasant shade
Which a grove of myrtles made,
Beasts did leap, and birds did sing,
Trees did grow, and plants did spring :
Every thing did banish moan,
Save the nightingale alone:
She, poor bird, as all forlorn,
Lean'd her breast up-till a thorn,
And there sung the dolefull'st ditty,
That to hear it was great pity :
Fie, fie, fie, now would she cry,
Teru, Teru, by and by :
That to hear her so complain,
Scarce I could from tears refrain ;
For her griefs, so lively shown,
Made me think upon mine own.
Ah! (thought I) thou mourn’st in vain;
None take pity on thy pain :
Senseless trees, they cannot hear thee;
Ruthless beasts, they will not cheer thee;
King Pandion, he is dead;
All thy friends are lapp'd in lead :
All thy fellow birds do sing,
Careless of thy sorrowing.
Even so, poor bird, like thee,
None alive will pity me.
Whilst as fickle fortune smil'd,
Thou and I were both beguild,
Every one that flatters thee,
Is no friend in misery.
Words are easy like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find.
Every man will be thy friend,
Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;
But if store of crowns be scant,
No man will supply thy want.
If that one be prodigal,
Bountiful they will him call ;
And with such like flattering,
• Pity but he were a king.'
If he be addict to vice,
Quickly him they will entice;
If to women he be bent,
They have him at commandement;
But if fortune once do frown,
Then farewel his great renown:
They that fawn’d on him before,
company no more.
He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need;
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep :
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear thee part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe."