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The mark of the pure lyric is not merely its emotional glow, but more specifically its song-like quality.
All true poetry is an utterance of quickened feeling. In ballad, or idyl, or epic, or drama, or reflective verse, the emotion warms and colours the thought, makes the story more graphic and intense, imbues the description with more vivid hues, gives rhythm and suggestive beauty to the language, and lends even to philosophic meditation a glow of imaginative insight and an impulse of deepened passion. But in the pure lyric the feeling seeks expression in the most direct and personal way.
It moulds the form as well as the substance of the verse to fit itself. It forgets or disregards all that is foreign to it,-avoids conflicts, neglects restraints and limitations,-and comes right from the heart of the poet in a single strain of song.
I do not mean, of course, that all lyrics are intended or fitted for audible singing. Some of them deal with an emotion so vague and delicate that it is difficult if not impossible to find the fitting melody. Others use a metre so free and irregular that the musician cannot easily make his phrases and cadences to follow it. There are many beautiful lyrics, which for one reason or another, have never been set to music. But in all of them, if I mistake not, we can feel the close and living resemblance to song, and recognize, more clearly than in any other department of poetry, the truth of Milton's phrase which describes it as more simple, sensuous and passionate” than rhetoric. A lyric is a human emotion uttered in verbal melody.
This does not exclude, as some persons seem to fancy, the presence of clear thought, of conscious recollection, of distinct imagery, or of delicate and careful art in the choice of words and metrical forms. The emotions of a thinking creature do not come to him without reason or relationship like an earthquake or a thunderstorm. They have in them an element of perception, of swift reflection, of subtle association. They are vitally connected, in some mysterious way, with an experience, an idea, a memory, a hope, a fear, a scene in nature, a personal relation, an event in life. Bare physical sensations, like cold or hunger; blind passions of anger or desire which stir within us without a reason or a definite object are not fit material for poetry. “The lyrical cry” is not an inarticulate shriek, nor an imbecile murmur. It is the self-expression of a reasonable creature under the impulse and influence of a real and personal feeling. And the emotion which it utters is a response to something perceived or imagined.
I would not ask, then, as some critics do, that a lyric should be thoughtless and careless, void of ideas, misty in utterance, and free from the restraining touch of art. I would ask only that it should have at its heart a vital and controlling emotion expressed in a song-like way; and I would measure its rank as a lyric, by the truth and beauty, the tenderness or the power, of the feeling, and by the purity of the art, (in its most perfect result hiding the traces of its own labour,) by which the poem sings us into harmony with the poet's mood.
It is thus that the pure lyrics in this volume have been chosen from the rich stores of English
They range in tone from the simplest note of joy at the coming of the spring, to the deepest note of confidence and immortal hope at the passing of human life into the unknown.
The “Songs of Nature ” are lyrical expressions of man's feeling towards the changing seasons, the living creatures who inhabit the earth with him, the light and the darkness, the sea and the stars. Some of the poems in this group border closely upon the region of Descriptive and Reflective Verse; and it would be possible, of course, to place them there; just as some of the poems which are to be included in that volume might be transferred to this. In any arrangement or classification of poetry there is always room for variation, according to the taste or the point of view of the person who is making it. To me the nature-songs which are collected here
seem to belong together because they simply take it for granted that the tie which binds our hearts to nature is real; and they express the various feelings which spring out of that tie, not philosophically, but in the form of a personal and heartfelt melody. This is as true of Wordsworth's deeper lyric To the Cuckoo, as it is of the merry little cuckoo-song from the thirteenth century with which the volume begins.
The “Love-Songs,” which form the largest group in the book, have the same personal quality. They do not reason about love: they express it. They give a musical voice to its hopes and its fears, its joy and its pain, its longing, its triumph, and its anguish.
The “Songs of Patriotism” are all too few in number. This is partly because the patriotic feeling has found a fuller expression in ballads narrating the famous deeds of heroism, and in odes dealing on a broader scale with the complex sentiments which are united in love of country. Perhaps, also the comparative rarity of patriotic lyrics of true poetic value is due, in part, to something in this emotion which naturally tends to express itself in eloquence rather than in the imaginative form proper to poetry. One very beautiful poem in this group needs a word of explanation. The “ Dark Rosaleen” is the poetic name for Ireland.
The “Songs of Life's Pilgrimage” are a group of lyrics in many keys, rising out of human experience on the way through the world. The