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On pale dead men, on burning cheek,
On quick, fierce eyes, brows hot and damp,
Shines the dim cabin lamp!
As swung the sea with heavy beat,
All this is literal, external painting. The two last lines are powerful; for, although the word “tumbling” is not very heroic, yet it is to a certain extent appropriately used in describing the mammoth rolling of the billows; nevertheless, there is a clumsiness about the word we do not like in connexion with the mighty ocean. There is a Titan march in the sea's movements which demands a word for itself.
• A sound is in the Pyrenees !
Whirling and dark comes roaring down
Sweeping both cowl and crown:
There is a sternness about this poem, indeed about all bis poetry, which deducts materially from the delights we generally feel in reading strong bold verse. To a certain extent, Dana reminds us of Crabbe. He, however, as certainly excels the English poet in dignity of treatment, as he falls below him in those minute descriptions which so frequently give to Crabbe's poems the air of condensed prose placed in lines of equal length, the two last syllables of which are forced to rhyme.
Occasionally there are touches of great beauty and tenderness, which show that the poet can bring the tear as well as move respect.
“ Too late for thee, thou young fair bride,
The lips are cold, the brow is pale,
He cannot hear thy wail,
For he was gone who made it dear;
Away from strife and fear;
The Buccaneer persuades her to embark on board his vessel.
“ With wealth and servants she is soon aboard,
“ The sun goes down upon the sea,
The shadows gather round her home;
My home how like a tomb!
We are perpetually reminded, by every quotation, how ill-adapted for a sustained narrative is the stanza employed by Dana for this, the longest of his poems.
A similar error in judgment has been shown by Halleck in his “Fanny."
“ Sleep_sleep, thou sad one of the sea !
The wash of waters tells thee now
Thy fingers on his brow.
The ground is his, the sea must be thy grave.” The author thus violates the great rule of narrative composition, by here anticipating her fate.
The pirates'intention of murdering the helpless lady is graphically portrayed.
“ Mourn for the living; mourn our sins,
The wrath of man more fierce than thine ;
Lee makes the deadly sign;
Speak fearful meanings through the silent band.” The fate of the fair lady is told admirably. A rapid sketch, and the whole is palpably presented, as a lightning flash bares the scenery for an instant, and then all is dark again.
“ A crash! they force the door, and then
One long-long shrill and piercing scream
'Tis hers! O God, redeem
“ It ceased, with speed o' th' lightning's flash,
A loose robed form, with streaming hair,
Shoots by. A leap—a quick, short splash!
'Tis gone-and nothing there.
“ Her home of love
This poem is, however, spoilt by its improbable catastrophe. There is a mixture of the terrible and the absurd, which pro duces an equivocal result altogether destructive of the true purpose of poetry.
The drowned horse rises from the sea and seeks the buccaneers at the anniversary revel of their murderous exploit. Compelled by a supernatural power, the wretched pirate, Matthew Lee, is forced to stride the spectre horse.
“ Borne by an unseen power right on he rides,
Yet touches not the shadow beast he strides.
“ He goes with speed, he goes with dread !
And now they're on the hanging steep !
They'll make the horrid leap.
With a true poet's soul, in the midst of this human agony, Dana brings in the contradictory, yet consoling beauty of nature, to relieve the horror.
“ Thou mild-sad mother-silent moon,
Thy last, low melancholy ray,
Shines towards him : quit him not so soon!
Mother, in mercy stay!
“O! thou wast born for worlds of love;
Making more lovely in thy shine
In that soft light of thine
Thou'st going down-hast left him unforgiven !" There is a similar instance of throwing the accent from the man to the moon, if we may be allowed such an expression, in a poem of Byron's. We think it is in the “Siege of Corinth,” when the renegade is compelled to decide on a momentous question, before a thin filmy cloud has reached the moon.
“There is a light cloud by the moon,
'T is passing, and will pass full soon,” &c. Dana has shown great power in this recognition of a wretch's mute appeal to creation for sympathy and support. We were told by a man of great imagination, who had been confined in a lunatic asylum against his will, that he often gazed on the moon, and endeavored to throw his whole soul into the look he gave it, that it might produce a sympathetic effect upon his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, and who was ignorant of his durance. It has been well said by a modern writer, that physical assassinations have gone out of fashion, and that lunatic asylums have been substituted. Our experience is able to confirm this opinion. Let us turn from lunacy to poetry.