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rather an anatomical auctioneer Robins cataloguing her limbs, than a fine picture of death, sketched by the hand of a poet.
Our readers must pardon our placing in juxtaposition to this elegant elaboration, a passage from Byron. However well known these lines may be, their reiteration now will do more to show the difference between false and true poetry than a volume of critical analysis.
“ He who hath bent him o'er the dead,
Ere the first day of death is fled,
Although these vices of style pervade to a great extent
the poems of Mr. Willis, there are many occasions when he writes with force and plainness. The following opening to his poem entitled “Rizpah with her Sons,” is not open to our former objections. We dare say, however, that many will consider our former quotations the best poetry; and we fear that the poet has himself been frequently led to consult the taste of his admirers, rather than his own.
“ Bread for my mother! said the voice of one
Darkening the door of Rizpah. She looked up
It is a conclusive proof of the bad taste of over ornament that it always fails of effect when so unsparingly laid on. The mind readily welcomes the poetical and intensed lines :
“ And through the darkness of the widow's heart
Trembled a nerve of tenderness, that shook
We here feel that the metaphor is justified by the passion
of the scene ; but the besetting sin is too strong, and after a few more lines we come to these :
“ Was this the fairest of the sons of Saul ?
The violet's cup was harsh to his blue eye,
It really seems, on reading these lines, that the author had deliberately resolved to rack his fancy for the most outrageous conceits and hyperboles that he could invent.
It is pleasant to leave this strained metaphorical style, and come to such verses as these.
Oh! weary heart, thou'rt half way home!
We stand on life's meridian height,
As to the grave's forgetful night.
Look onward with a placid brow
Hope promised but to bring us here,
And reason takes the guidance now.
One silent year—for youth is past !”
These are natural, manly verses, and show how much Mr. Willis has lost by not cultivating this simpler style. The whole of this poem is so good that we shall quote it.
“Who goes with hope and passion back ?
Who comes with me and memory on?
Joy's music hushed-Hope's roses gone.
Farewell, without a sigh or tear!
To think that love may leave us here."
There is a pathos in the last line which had Mr. Willis more frequently displayed, would have rendered him one of the most charming of modern American Poets.
“ Have we no charm when youth has flown,
“ Yet stay, as 'twere a twilight star
That sends its thread across the wave,
That shows a path beyond the grave,
Comes o’er, and lights my shadowy way,
And shows the dear hand clasped in mine!
But list what those sweet voices say:
The better land's in sight,
And, by its chastening light, All love for life's midway is driven, Save her whose clasped hand will bring thee on to Heaven.”
The close of this is certainly too much in the old orthodox school, but they are almost entirely free from the faults of style we have before objected to.
There seems to us a great affinity between the poetry of Barry Cornwall and Willis; not so much the imitation of the younger one, as a natural resemblance. If Mr. Proctor excels his younger competitor in verse, Mr. Willis has the advantage over him in prose, and they will make an admirable parallel in some future poetical Plutarch.
Who would believe that the author of the tinsel tawdry verses we have presented to our readers had written the following natural poem :
“ SATURDAY AFTERNOON.
“ I love to look on a scene like this,
Of wild and careless play,
And my locks are not yet grey.
« For it stirs the blood in an old man's heart,
And makes his pulses fly,