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INTRODUCTION.

THOSE

HOSE who insist on the original meanings of words may perhaps find it difficult to distinguish between an ode and a lyric, except that the latter term specified the instrument which should accompany the song. But the classes of poem are in fact widely separated, and we feel, if we do not accurately discriminate, the difference between them. It would not be easy to better Mr. Gosse's definition of an ode. 'We take,' he says, as an ode any strain of enthusiastic and exalted lyrical verse, directed to a fixed purpose, and dealing progressively with one dignified theme.' A lyric, on the other hand, is a short poem dealing with one thought, essentially melodious in rhythm and structure, and, if a metaphor may be taken from the sister art, a simple air, without progression, variation, or accompaniment.

If we wish to make the essentials of a lyric still clearer to ourselves, we shall find we are compelled to do so by negatives. It must not be in blank, nor in heroic verse; save indeed where

a refrain, and a subtle repetition of the same words gives lyrical impression, as in Tennyson's Tears, idle tears,' and some of the songs in the Idylls of the King.' It is not so severe in form as the sonnet; the poet's touch is lighter, even when his subject is grave; a dirge like 'Lycidas' cannot be accounted such, nor a sustained and lofty poem as 'I have led her home' in 'Maud.'

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Some of our greatest poets have left no true lyrics, or none into which they have put their best work. Pope's only examples are a burlesque, an imitation of Horace written when he was a mere child, and a paraphrase, also from the Latin; Gray affords us none; no adequately characteristic specimen can be culled from Spenser, or more than one or two from Milton, though the former lived so near in time to Shakspere and Ben Jonson, lyrists if any were, and the latter has been fitly termed inventor of harmonies,' so keen was his sense of song.

The present collection, therefore, is in no degree representative of the poets of England in their poetic rank. He who is much here quoted is not necessarily among the greatest, he who has scant or no place may be a far more exalted artist than some who are included, but he has worked less

in the special branch of art which now concerns us: a statue of Pheidias could find no room, and if it could would be inappropriate, in a cabinet of gems. Form is always as important in the true lyric, it is sometimes more important than the thought, and just because the verse should be so flawless, it now and then happens that a false note struck in such a poem mars the whole, while it would pass unnoticed in a more sustained work. Thus, no one thinking of Lycidas' is in any degree distressed at the line

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And oh ye dolphins waft the hapless youth,

which a modern poet, master of melody, has called 'the only bad line which Milton ever wrote;' while

Then the might of England flushed
To anticipate the scene,

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is like a fly in ointment, spoiling the whole of Campbell's Battle of the Baltic,' though indeed they are not the only blemishes even in that one poem.

The aim is to present in one volume the perfection of English lyrics, by whomsoever written between the dates selected. Wyatt heads the list, not because there were not a few excellent lyrists earlier than he, but because no earlier poems than

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