網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

In the early poem entitled The Kraken (an imaginary sea-monster) occurs the passage :— Unnumbered and enormous polypi

Winnowed with giant arms the slumbering green, which is of interest chiefly for the well-chosen word "winnowed," a happy stroke that brings before us in a moment the characteristic motions of pelagic Hydrozoa. These have their interest; but the most beautiful detailed description of lower life-forms is that of the shell in Maud.

See what a lovely shell,

Small and pure as a pearl,

Lying close to my foot,

Frail, but a work divine,

Made so fairily well

With delicate spire and whorl,

How exquisitely minute,
A miracle of design!

What is it? A learned man

Could give it a clumsy name.

Let him name it who can,
The beauty would be the same.

The tiny cell is forlorn,

Void of the little living will

That made it stir on the shore.

Did he stand at the diamond door
Of his house in a rainbow frill?
Did he push when he was uncurl'd
A golden foot or a fairy horn
Thro' his dim water-world?

Here is scientific detail without the clumsy names. These creatures are lovelier than their names, and though some ignorant persons think that science is only a mass of cacophonous nomenclature, the beauty of the forms, the adaptation of means to ends, the indestructibility of the most delicate shapes and colours are strong in their appeal to the imaginative mind. The passage

quoted is a perfect description of some forms of Gasteropoda (clumsy name enough!). The golden foot and the fairy horn, the diamond door, the rainbow frill may all be found in zoological treatises. The same image is used in Geraint and Enid to bring home the colour of a dress.

How fresh the colours look,

How fast they hold, like colours of a shell
That keeps the wear and polish of the wave.

The reptiles and the fishes would not seem to have been the object of Tennyson's study, and yet occasional reference of a significant kind may be found to even these. He knows that serpent eggs are found in clusters, that snakes sometimes cover their prey with slime before they gorge it, that the serpent fascinates creatures by its gaze and thus facilitates their capture, and he makes felicitous application of these facts.

One in whom all evil fancies clung

Like serpent-eggs together.

And snake-like slimed his victim ere he gorged.

As birds the charming-serpent draws.

There are two striking references to fishes, both of them pictures of what is familiar enough to ordinary observers, but they are worth quoting for the fine choice of words. The first is a picture of a diseased gold-fish in a pond.

A pool of golden carp

And one was patch'd and blurr'd and lustreless

Among his burnish'd brethren of the pool.

The other is that well-known passage, suggested it would almost seem (so closely parallel are the two pictures) by a similar description in Keats, of minnows in a clear stream.

Like a shoal

Of darting fish, that on a summer morn

Adown the crystal dykes at Camelot

Come slipping o'er their shadows on the sand,

But if a man who stands upon the brink
But lift a shining hand against the sun

There is not left the twinkle of a fin

Betwixt the cressy islets white in flower.

These examples must suffice for the present. In the next chapter we hope to deal with the much larger and more generally interesting subject of bird life, in which Tennyson proves himself as great an expert as in zoology of a lower grade.

CHAPTER III

TENNYSON AS ORNITHOLOGIST

No class of living creature occupies so much of the poet's attention as the birds. They are of course songsters like himself; "he pipes but as the linnets sing". The nightingale and the lark for long monopolised poetic idolatry—a privilege they enjoyed solely on account of their pre-eminence as song-birds. Keats's Ode to a Nightingale and Shelley's Ode to a Skylark are two of the glories of English literature; but both were written by men who had no claim to special or exact knowledge of ornithology as such. When Wordsworth wrote his Ode to the Cuckoo he showed himself more of an observer, although he thought it necessary to ignore some of the more obvious and least pleasing characteristics of this peculiar bird. Even Pope once wrote a fine description, in the Popian kind, of a cock-pheasant. Here again, however, as compared with other poets, Tennyson claims the same

superiority in minuteness and accuracy of detail as he has earned in other fields. It was his good fortune to live through a period when an impetus was given to the study of feathered life, and in this as in other things he was influenced by the spirit of his age. He was not a strikingly original genius fated to make new departures; he rather owes his success and popularity to his adaptability, to the facility with which he adopted the thoughts and fell in with the habits of his time. Many persons are observers of bird life, when they observe and record nothing else zoological; having made a beginning in this department they often extend their studies in other directions. Bird life is fascinating; it is on the whole easy to observe; the plumage, the nest, the song, the flight, the migratory habit, combining to make this study one of widespread interest.

Tennyson, like the three great poets above mentioned, has devoted individual poems to certain birds-The Blackbird and The Throstle-but he knows the habits or the notes of the robin, the linnet, the ptarmigan, the partridge, the rook, the kingfisher, the owl, the heron, the kestrel and others; he has studied the migration of birds and makes many striking references to that side of their life;

« 上一頁繼續 »