Page images
PDF
EPUB

extremely long discourses in bald blank verse. Take

his Jacobite

"He, with the foremost whose impatience hailed
The Stuart, landing to resume, by force

Of arms, the crown which bigotry had lost,
Aroused his clan, and fighting at their head,
With his brave sword attempted to prevent
Culloden's fatal overthrow," &c.

"Wae's me for Prince Charlie," indeed! The Jacobite gentleman is said to have been a Drummond, but certainly was not the chief, the Duke of Perth.

The poetry in the Excursion needs to be dug for, or disentangled from the abounding sermons. "It is a remarkable fact," says Wordsworth's nephewbut really it is not so very remarkable-that one thousand copies contented the public for thirteen years. Blank verse ought to be very good; Wordsworth's is not very good, and he has an uncurbed flow of pulpit eloquence which scarcely conduces to what he so finely calls

"Joy in widest commonalty spread."

"To the disinterested lover of poetry," says Mr. Arnold, "The Excursion can never be a satisfactory work." We may read it for instruction, we may find poetic oases in the desert, but a satisfactory poem, as a poem, The Excursion is not. The year of Waterloo produced The White Doe of Rylstone. Wordsworth hoped that it would be "acceptable to

the intelligent, for whom alone it is written." "It comes round to a high point of imagination, the apotheosis of the animal," the doe in question.

If the poem was meant to show the world how a feudal romance in octosyllabic rhyme should be written, it can hardly be called successful. Wordsworth was never a poet of swift action and heady conflict. His hunting knight, in Hart-Leap Well, rides "with the slow motion of a summer cloud," not "without stop or stay down the rocky way," not like the Baron of Smailholme or William of Deloraine. Hart-Leap Well, compared with the Chase, when

"The stag at eve had drunk his fill,"

shows how incapable Wordsworth must have necessarily been to appreciate a different kind of hunting poetry. Yet a very distinguished novelist calls the stag of Ben Venue, "Wordsworth's stag"! His aversion to sport did not include angling, of which he was fond; witness his sonnet to Walton and other passages.

In 1814-16, as Mr. Myers points out, Wordsworth was studying Virgil, and Virgil's influence is as perceptible in the stately calm of Laodamia (1814) as is the influence of Milton in the patriotic sonnets. In 1819 Peter Bell was published, following on a parody, which is exceedingly comic, by Keats's friend, Reynolds. Probably the parody caused the comparative popularity of Peter Bell. The remainder

of Wordsworth's life need not be dwelt on at length. His Scotch and foreign tours produced no poems of much living interest, except his sonnet on Scott and his Yarrow Revisited. His attempt to write a history of the Church of England in sonnets, inevitably reminds the scoffer of Mascarille's History of Rome in Madrigals. The Muse had gone away. Wordsworth was made Poet Laureate, in succession to Southey, in 1843. At this time he was at the height of poetical glory, in a veiled grey sunset, while the nascent fame of Tennyson showed

"Fair as a star when only one
Is shining in the sky."

He died on Shakespeare's birthday and death-day, April 23 (1850). There are poets more alluring, both in life and verse; poets with less of dross in their ore, with more of charm in their character; but none more absolutely inspired when inspiration came, none of a career more soberly honourable and brave, none with a better claim to be reckoned among pii vates et Phobo digna locuti. The grave of Scott, beside his beloved Tweed, and among the beautiful ruins of a shrine of the ancient Faith, is not a more sacred place of pilgrimage than Wordsworth's simple tomb in the shadow of his dear hills, within sound of the murmur of the Rotha.

SELECTIONS FROM

WORDSWORTH

EXTRACT

FROM THE CONCLUSION OF A POEM, COMPOSED IN
ANTICIPATION OF LEAVING SCHOOL

[graphic]

EAR native regions, I foretell,

From what I feel at this farewell,

That, wheresoe'er my steps may tend,

And whensoe'er my course shall end,

If in that hour a single tie

Survive of local sympathy,

My soul will cast the backward view,

The longing look, alone on you.

Thus, while the Sun sinks down to rest
Far in the regions of the west,

Though to the vale no parting beam
Be given, not one memorial gleam,

A lingering light he fondly throws

On the dear hills where first he rose.

1786.

WRITTEN IN VERY EARLY YOUTH

[graphic]

ALM is all nature as a resting wheel.

The kine are couched upon the

dewy grass;

The horse alone, seen dimly as I

pass,

Is cropping audibly his later meal:

Dark is the ground; a slumber seems to steal
O'er vale, and mountain, and the starless sky.
Now, in this blank of things, a harmony,
Home-felt, and home-created, comes to heal
That grief for which the senses still supply
Fresh food; for only then, when memory
Is hushed, am I at rest. My Friends! restrain
Those busy cares that would allay my pain;
Oh! leave me to myself, nor let me feel

The officious touch that makes me droop again.

« PreviousContinue »