網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

rapid review of the history of the world? The theme is a half-inspiration of itself. Mr. Bryant, however, looks with the eye of a philosopher on the varying phases of humanity, and although we read with an attentive pleasure, we do not feel that delight which we know the subject is so admirably calculated to afford. We miss those vigorous, golden passages, which compel us to pause, and read again out of the mere enthusiasm of admiration.

We quote a few stanzas as illustrations of the manner in which our poet treats the scenes presented to his imagination.

The first we offer is a very striking one :

“ Look on this beautiful world, and read the truth

In her fair page; see, every season brings
New change, to her, of everlasting youth:
Still the green soil, with joyous living things,
Swarms, the wide air is full of joyous wings,
And myriads, still, are happy in the sleep
Of ocean's azure gulfs, and where he flings

The restless surge. Eternal Love doth keep
In his complacent arms, the earth, the air, the deep.”

The critic will observe a very awkward “ doth keep.” A poet of Mr. Bryant's great powers of versification should not have sat down under this verbal defect, small as it is. We are more exacting from him, because he is one of the few American poets who have attained a classical polish.

The opening to the panorama of the past is admirably introduced :

“Sit at the feet of history—through the night

Of years the steps of virtue she shall trace,
And show the earlier ages, where her sight
Can pierce the eternal shadows o'er the face ;-
When, from the genial cradle of our race,
Went forth the tribes of men, their pleasant lot
To choose, where palm-groves cooled their dwelling-place,

Or freshening rivers ran; and there forgot
The truth of heaven, and kneeled to gods that heard them not.

“ Then waited not the murderer for the night,

But smote his brother down in the bright day,
And he who felt the wrong, and had the might,
His own avenger, girt himself to slay;
Beside the path the unburied carcase lay;
The shepherd, by the fountains of the glen,
Fled, while the robber swept his flock away,
· And slew his babes. The sick, untended then,
Languished in the damp shade, and died afar from men.”

The poet very felicitously alludes to the dark ages of history, where so great a gap of annals exists—when even tradition dies into silence—and oblivion would be complete were it not for the mouldering ruins of unknown cities.

“ Those ages have no memory—but they left

A record in the desert-columns strown
On the waste sands, and statues fallen and cleft,
Heaped like a host in battle overthrown;
Vast ruins, where the mountain's ribs of stone
Were hewn into a city; streets that spread
In the dark earth, where never breath has blown

Of heaven's sweet air, nor foot of man dares tread
The long and perilous ways—the Cities of the Dead :

“ And tombs of monarchs to the clouds up-piled

They perished—but the eternal tombs remain-
And the black precipice, abrupt and wild,
Pierced by long toil and hollowed to a fane;-
Huge piers and frowning forms of gods sustain
The everlasting arches, dark and wide,
Like the night-heaven, when clouds are black with rain.

But idly skill was tasked, and strength was plied,
All was the work of slaves to swell a despot's pride."

The poet's eye then rests on Greece, and in two stanzas gives his impressions.

In the apostrophe to Rome we feel the philosophical coolness of Mr. Bryant in its full force of negativing his poetry. There is too much of the abstract. More can be gathered often from a small event than from a dry balance sheet of the result. We may call these personal traits of a nation. As an instance of the two styles of treating the subject, we will compare Mr. Bryant with Byron. One, all philosopher ; the other, all poet: we 'mean, of course, so far as these views go. “And Rome-thy sterner, younger sister, she Who awed the world with her imperial frownRome drew the spirit of her race from thee, The rival of thy shame and thy renown. Yet her degenerate children sold the crown Of earth’s wide kingdoms to a line of slaves ; Guilt reigned, and woe with guilt, and plagues came down,

Till the north broke its floodgates, and the waves Whelmed the degraded race, and weltered o'er their graves.”

The generalization here materially interferes with the clearness and vividness of the effect to be produced. Let us turn to Byron, and see how he treats it.

“I see before me the Gladiator lie:
He leans upon his hand-his manly brow
Consents to death, but conquers agony,
And his drooped head sinks gradually low-
And through his side the last drops, ebbing slow
From the red gash, fall. heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder-shower; and now

The arena swims around him-he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the wretch who won.

“He heard it, but he heeded not-his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away;
He recked not of the life he lost nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
There were his young barbarians all at play,
There was their Dacian mother-he, their sire,
Butchered to make a Roman holiday-
All this rushed with his blood-Shall he expire
And unavenged ?-Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire !"

We are willing to admit that it is scarcely just to select a verse at random from the American, and compare it with one of the most successful efforts of the great English poet. We, however, only intend by this comparison to illustrate that we think Mr. Bryant has injured a fine subject by throwing over it too frigid a mantle of philosophy.

With respect to the origin of these celebrated verses to the Gladiator, it is stated that Byron was indebted for them to Shelley. It has been said by Leigh Hunt, that during

the time the “ gloomy Childe” was in daily intercourse with Shelley a very perceptible change in his poetry is visible. We throw this out as a study for the curious.

In the progress of his review of the world Mr. Bryant comes to the New World, and thus speaks : “ Late, from this western shore, that morning chased

The deep and ancient night, that threw its shroud
O’er the green land of groves, the beautiful waste,
Nurse of full streams, and lifter-up of proud
Sky-mingling mountains that o'erlook the cloud.
Erewhile, where yon gay spires their brightness rear,
Trees waved, and the brown hunter's shouts were loud

Amid the forest; and the bounding deer
Fled at the glancing plume, and the gaunt wolf yelled near.”

Having thus traced the march of civilization westward, rising in the east like the sun, to travel to the west : going down perhaps there; like the physical light, to rise again in the east; the poet finishes his history by this apostrophe to his native land:

“ But thou, my country, thou shalt never fall,

Save with thy children—thy maternal care,
Thy lavish love, thy blessings showered on all-
These are thy fetters-seas and stormy air
Are the wide barrier of thy borders, where,
Among thy gallant sons that guard thee well,
Thou laugh’st at enemies: who shall then declare

The date of thy deep-founded strength, or tell
How happy, in thy lap, the sons of men shall dwell ?"

It may be affirmed that his intention was to take a calm

« 上一頁繼續 »