ePub 版

Uplifted, he, as through an instrument,
Blew mimic hootings to the silent owls,
That they might answer him; and they would shout
Across the watery vale and shout again,
Responsive to his call, with quivering peals,
And long halloos and screams, and echoes loud
Redoubled and redoubled ; concourse wild
Of mirth and jocund din : and when it chanced
That pauses of deep silence mocked his skill,
Then sometimes, in that silence while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind,
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven, received

Into the bosom of the steady lake.” No other poet but Wordsworth that the world ever produced could have written this; you feel in reading it that the lines “a gentle shock of mild surprise has carried far into his heart the voice of mountain torrents,” had for him an exactness as well as a fullness of meaning for there is an infinite variety in the depth of his poetic imaginations; some lie near the surface; others lie deeper, but still within the sphere of less meditative minds; others spring from a depth far beyond the reach of any human soundings.

Again, the beauty of Wordsworth's little ballads is never properly understood by those who do not enter into the contemplative tone in which they are written. There is none of them that can be approached in a mood of sympathetic emotion without failing to produce its full effect. “ Lucy Gray,” for example, is a continual disappointment to those who look for an expression of the piteousness and desolation of the lost child's fate.* Wordsworth did not feel it thus; he was contemplating a pure and lonely death as the natural completion of a pure and lonely life. He calls it not “Desolation,” but “Solitude." He strikes the key-note of the poem in speaking of her in the first verse as "the solitary child," and then

No mate, no comrade Lucy knew;

She dwelt on a wide moor,
The sweetest thing that ever grew

Beside a human door." Wordsworth's purpose evidently was to paint a perfectly lovely solitary flower snapped, for its very purity, in its earliest bud, that it might remain an image of solitary beauty for ever. He intended to dissolve away all pain and pity in the loveliness of the picture. It was not the lot of Lucy Gray, but the spiritualised meaning of that lot as it lived in his imagination, that he desired to paint. Again, in the exquisite ballad “ We are seven," few discern how every touch throughout the whole is intended to heighten the contrast between the natural health and joy of life in the living child and the supernatural secret of death. It is not a mere tale of one little cottage girl, who could not conceive the full meaning of death : it is the poet's contemplative contrast between the rosy beauty and buoyant joyousness of children's life and the “incommunicable” sleep, which is the subject of the poem. The perfect art with which this is effected is seldom adequately observed. He introduces the living child with a glimpse of the inward brightness that childish health and beauty breathe around them : 6

* Such as Mr. Kingsley, for instance, has so finely given in his ballad on the girl lost on the sands of Dee.

“ She had a rustic woodland air,

And she was wildly clad ;
Her hair was fair, and very fair :

Her beauty made me glad.”
And when he has drawn the picture of her eating her supper by
the little graves of her brother and sister, that she may “sit and
sing to them,” he heightens the contrast yet more, -

" The first that died was little Jane :

In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain,

And then she went away.
So in the churchyard she was laid ;

And when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,

My brother John and I.
And when the ground was white with snow,

And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,

And he lies by her side.”
Simple as this language is, it is not the language in which a
child would have spoken. It is the language of a poet musing
on the contrast between the little silent graves, changing with
every season, freshening with the spring, and wetted by the
rain, and whitened by the winter's snow, like any other specks
of common earth, and the buoyant child's unshaken fancy that
they contain her sister and her brother still. So full she is of
overflowing life herself, that though she can “run and slide,"
the whitened mounds can still seem to her to hide a life as vivid
as her own.

The voluntary element that we have noticed in Wordsworth's genius—the power of checking obvious and natural currents of thought or feeling in order to brood over them meditatively

[ocr errors]



and bring out a result of a higher order, leads to many of his imperfections as well as beauties. He had an eminently frugal mind. He liked of all things to make the most of the smaller subject before he gave himself up to the greater. The sober, sparing, free-will with which he gathers up the crumbs, and feeds his genius on them before he will break in on any whole loaf, is eminently characteristic of him. Emotion does not hurry him into poetry, nor into any thing else. He" slackens his thoughts by choice,'"* when they grow eager; he defers his feast of nuts that he may first enjoy expectation to the full ; he will wear out the luxury of his imaginations of Yarrow before he tries on the reality; he is more willing by far to wait for the due seasons of poetry than the husbandman for the due seasons of fruit:

“ His mind was keen, Intense, and frugal; apt for all affairs,

And watchful more than ordinary men.”+ The poem on the strawberry-blossom is right from the heart of his own nature:

« That is work of waste and ruin :
Do as Charles and I are doing.
Strawberry-blossoms one and all,
We must spare them-here are many.
Look at it, the flower is small-
Small and low, but fair as any ;
Do not touch it-summers two
I am older, Anne, than you.
Hither, soon as spring as fled,
You and Charles and I will walk

Lurking berries ripe and red
Then will hang on every stalk,
Each within its leafy bower ;

And for that promise spare the flower." And so Wordsworth himself would always have saved up his strawberry-blossoms of poetry till the “lurking berries ripe and red” lay in them, had he had the quick eye to distinguish between the unripe beauty and the ripe. But this he had not. As he himself tells us, he found it almost impossible to distinguish “a timorous capacity from prudence,” “ from circumspection, infinite delay." He had not that swiftness and fusion of nature which helps a man to distinguish at once the fruit of his lower and higher moods of mind. He gathered in

" the harvest of a quiet eye,

That broods and sleeps on its own heart," with undiscriminating frugality, gathering in often both tares and wheat. The truth is, that the very voluntary character of his * Prelude, book i.

† Michael.





[ocr errors]

imaginative life, which enabled him to give so new an aspect to that on which he brooded, also rendered him unable to distinguish with any delicacy between the various moods in which he wrote. A poet who is the mere instrument, as it were, of his own impulses of genius, knows when the influence is upon him ; but a poet whose visionary mood is always half-voluntary, and a result of a gradual withdrawing of the mind into its deeper self, cannot well have the same quick vision for the boundary between commonplace and living imagination which belongs to natures of more spontaneous genius. Wordsworth seems to kindle his own poetic flame, like a blind man kindling his own fire; and often, as it were, he goes through the process of striking a light without observing that the tinder is damp and has not caught the spark; and thus, though he has left us many a beacon of pure and everlasting glory flaming from the hills, he has left us also many a monumental pile of fuel from which the poetic fire had early died away.

It is clear that Wordsworth as a poet did, as he tells us himself, “ feel the weight of too much liberty.” In his finest poem he declares

Me this unchartered freedom tires,

I feel the weight of chance desires." And no doubt he had even too complete a poetic mastery over himself, or rather perhaps he had too quiet a nature to master. He could not distinguish the arbitrary in his poetry from the conscious conquests of insight. And being, as we have seen, most frugal by nature-feeling, as he did, to the very last day of

— his poetic life, that it was the greatest of impieties to “tax high Heaven with prodigality,”* he made the most of these “ chance desires” or suggestions, and often more than the most, using them as the pedestals to thoughts in reality far too broad for them. It is the great defect of Wordsworth's poems, that where he has to deal with circumstance at all, he either gives it in all its baldness, or makes his meditations overhang it, like the projecting stories of old-fashioned houses, in which the basement is more costly than the air, and therefore is husbanded more carefully. To him the basement of circumstance was very costly, and the superinduced contemplation as abundant as the former was costly. Coleridge has criticised this tendency in Wordsworth to spread out a dome of thought over very insufficient supports of fact, in accusing him of “thoughts and images too great for their subject.” It is mistaken criticism, we think, to assert this, as Coleridge does, of any of his poems on nature. The daisy and

See the beautiful verses, “ The unremitting voice of nightly streams,” to which the date 1846 is attached.

[ocr errors]

the daffodils breathed a buoyant joy and love into Wordsworth's simple nature, which Coleridge could but half understand. The thoughts were not too great for the real influences they are capable of exerting. But to his poems on incident, Coleridge's charge is often perfectly applicable. The following criticism, for instance, contains a fair illustration of this tendency to erect a meditative dome over an insecure pedestal. We quote from Coleridge's Biographia Literaria :

"The poet having gone out for a day's tour of pleasure, meets early in the morning with a knot of gipsies, who had pitched their blankettents and straw. beds, together with their children and asses, in some field by the road-side. At the close of the day, on his return, our tourist found them in the same place. "Twelve hours,' says he,

•Twelve hours, twelve bounteous hours are gone, while I
Have been a traveller under open sky,
Much witnessing of change and cheer;

Yet as I left I find them here." Whereat the poet, without seeming to reflect that the poor tawny wanderers might probably have been tramping for weeks together through road and lane, over moor and mountain, and consequently must have been right glad to rest themselves, their children, and cattle for one whole day; and overlooking the obvious truth, that such repose might be quite as necessary for them as a walk of the same continuance was pleasing or healthful for the more fortunate poet,-expresses his indig; nation in a series of lines, the diction and imagery of which would have been rather above t'ian below the mark had they been applied to the immense empire of China, improgressive for thirty centuries :

The weary sun betook himself to rest:-
Then issued Vesper from the fulgent west,
Outshining, like a visible god,
The glorious path in which he trod.
And now, asnceding after one dark hour,
And one night's diminution of her power,
Behold the mighty Moon! This way
She looks, as if at them; but they
Regard not her:-0, better wrong and strife,
Better vain deeds or evil, than such life!
The silent heavens have goings on;

The stars have tasks;-but these have none.'" There is no structural power in Wordsworth's mind. When he has to deal with things, influences, living unities, he is usually opulent and at ease; for the natural emanations which flowers and mountains and children and simple rustic natures breathe around them are homogeneous in themselves, and only ask a poet who will open his whole spirit to them with steady contemplative eye, and draw in their atmosphere. But when much incident enters into poetry, the poet also needs high combining power; he needs the art of rapidly changing his mental attitude, and yet keeping the same tone and mood throughout; and to


« 上一頁繼續 »