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But for any poetic purposes, metre resembles (if the aptness of the simile may excuse its meanness) yeast, worthless or disagreeable by itself, but giving vivacity and spirit to the liquor with which it is proportionally combined.
The reference to THE CHILDREN IN THE WOOD by no means satisfies my judgment. We all willingly throw ourselves back. for awhile into the feelings of our childhood. This ballad, therefore, we read under such recollections of our own childish feelings, as would equally endear to us poems, which Mr. Words. worth himself would regard as faulty in the opposite extreme of gaudy and technical ornament. Before the invention of printing, and, in a still greater degree, before the introduction of writing, metre, especially alliterative metre (whether alliterative at the beginning of the words, as in PIERCE PLOUMAN, or at the end, as in rhymes), possessed an independent value as assisting the recollection, and, consequently, the preservation, of any series of truths or incidents. But I am not convinced, by the collation of facts, that THE CHILDREN in the Wood owes either its preservation or its popularity to its metrical form. Mr. Marshal's repository affords a number of tales in prose inferior in pathos and general merit, some of as old a date, and many as widely popular. Toм HICKATHRIFT, JACK THE GIANT-KILLER, GOODY Two-SHOES, and LITTLE RED RIDING-HOOD, are formidable rivals. And that they have continued in prose, cannot be fairly explained by the assumption, that the comparative meanness of their thoughts and images precluded even the humblest forms of metre. The scene of GOODY TWO-SHOES in the church is perfectly susceptible of metrical narration; and, among the Oavμara davpactórara, even of the present age, I do not recollect a more astonishing image than that of the "whole rookery, that flew out of the giant's beard," scared by the tremendous voice with which this monster answered the challenge of the heroic TOM HICKATHRIFT!
If from these we turn to compositions universally, and independently of all early associations, beloved and admired;
[P. 333. S. C.]
THE MARIA, THE MONK, or THE POOR MAN'S Ass of Sterne,' be read with more delight, or have a better chance of immortality, had they, without any change in the diction, been composed in rhyme, than in their present state? If I am not grossly mistaken, the general reply would be in the negative. Nay, I will confess that, in Mr. Wordsworth's own volumes, the ANECDOTE FOR FATHERS, SIMON LEE, ALICE FELL, BEGGARS, and THE SAILOR'S MOTHER," notwithstanding the beauties which are to be found in each of them where the poet interposes the music of hi own thoughts, would have been more delightful to me in pros told and managed, as by Mr. Wordsworth they would have bee in a moral essay or pedestrian tour.
Metre in itself is simply a stimulant of the attention, at I therefore excites the question-Why is the attention to be thu stimulated? Now, the question cannot be answered by the pleasure of the metre itself: for this we have shown to be conditional, and dependent on the appropriateness of the thoughts and expressions, to which the metrical form is superadded. Neither can I conceive any other answer, that can be rationally given, short of this-I write in metre, because I am about to use a language different from that of prose. Besides, where the language is not such, how interesting soever the reflections are, that are capable of being drawn by a philosophic mind from the thoughts or incidents of the poem, the metre itself must often become feeble. Take the three last stanzas of THE SAILOR'S MOTHER, for instance. If I could for a moment abstract from the effect produced on the author's feelings, as a man, by the incident at the time of its real occurrence, I would dare appeal to his own judgment, whether in the metre itself he found a suffi. cient reason for their being written metrically?
And, thus continuing, she said,.
In Denmark he was cast away;
• [Sentimental Journey and Tristram Shandy. Works, 1i., pp. 247, 394,
271, 312. S. C.]
10 [P. W., i., p. 22. v., p. 17. i., p. 13. S C.]
ii., p. 101. i., p. 182.
And I have travelled far as Hull, to see
What clothes he might have left, or other property."1
This Singing-bird hath gone with him ;
As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind.
He to a Fellow-lodger's care
Had left it, to be watched and fed,
Till he came back again; and there
I found it when my Son was dead;
And now, God help me for my little wit!
I trail it with me, Sir! he took so much delight in it."
If, disproportioning the emphasis, we read these stanzas so as to make the rhymes perceptible, even tri-syllable rhymes could scarcely produce an equal sense of oddity and strangeness, as we feel here in finding rhymes at all in sentences so exclusively colloquial. I would further ask whether, but for that visionary state, into which the figure of the woman and the susceptibility of his own genius had placed the poet's imagination-(a state which spreads its influence and coloring over all, that co-exists with the exciting cause, and in which
"The simplest, and the most familiar things
Gain a strange power of spreading awe around them,")12
"[In the edit. of 1840,
"And I have travelled weary miles to see
If aught which he had owned might still remain or me."
The last line of stanza 5 in that edit. stands thus:
"From bodings, as might be, that hung upon hi mind."
The end of stanza 6 has been altered thus:
"And pipe its song in safety ;-there
I found it when my Son-was dead;
And now, God help me for my little wit!
I bear it with me, Sir;-he took so much deligh in it." S. C
12 Altered from the description of Night-Mair in the
"Oh Heaven! 'twas frightful! Now run down and
I would ask the poet whether he would not have felt an abrupt downfall in these verses from the preceding stanza?
"The ancient spirit is not dead;
Old times, thought I, are breathing there;
Such strength, a dignity so fair:
She begged an alms, like one in poor estate;
I looked at her again, nor did my pride abate."
It must not be omitted, and is besides worthy of notice, that those stanzas furnish the only fair instance that I have been able to discover in all Mr. Wordsworth's writings, of an actual adop tion, or true imitation, of the real and very language of l low and rustic life, freed from provincialisms.
Thirdly, I deduce the position from all the causes elsewhere assigned, which render metre the proper form of poetry, and poetry imperfect and defective without metre. Metre, therefore, having been connected with poetry most often and by a peculiar fitness, whatever else is combined with metre must, though it be not itself essentially poetic, have nevertheless some property in common with poetry, as an intermedium of affinity, a sort (if I may dare borrow a well-known phrase from technical chemistry) of mordant between it and the super-added metre. Now poetry, Mr. Wordsworth truly affirms, does always imply passion; which word must be here understood in its most general sense, as an excited state of the feelings and faculties. And as every passion has its proper pulse, so will it likewise have its characteristic modes of expression. But where there exists that degree of genius and talent which entitles a writer to aim at the honors of a poet, the very act of poetic composition itself is, and is al
While every goodly or familiar form
Had a strange power of spreading terror round me !"*
N. B.-Though Shakspeare has, for his own all-justifying purposes, troduced the Night-Mare with her own foals, yet Mair means a Sister, or perhaps a Hag.
* [Coleridge's Poetical Works, ii., p. 209. Act. iv., sc. 1. Altered thus:
O sleep of horrors! Now run down and stared at
lowed to imply and to produce, an unusual state of excitement, which of course justifies and demands a correspondent difference of language, as truly, though not perhaps in as marked a degree, as the excitement of love, fear, rage, or jealousy. The vividness of the descriptions or declamations in Donne, or Dryden, is as much and as often derived from the force and fervor of the describer, as from the reflections, forms, or incidents, which constitute their subject and materials. The wheels take fire from the mere rapidity of their motion. To what extent, and under what modifications, this may be admitted to act, I shall attempt to define in an after remark on Mr. Wordsworth's reply to this objection, or rather on his objection to this reply, as already anticipated in his preface.
Fourthly, and as intimately connected with this, if not the same argument in a more general form, I adduce the high spiritual instinct of the human being impelling us to seek unity by harmonious adjustment, and thus establishing the principle, that all the parts of an organized whole must be assimilated to the more important and essential parts. This and the preceding arguments may be strengthened by the reflection, that the composition of a poem is among the imitative arts; and that imitation, as opposed to copying, consists either in the interfusion of the same throughout the radically different, or of the different throughout a base radically the same.
Lastly, I appeal to the practice of the best poets, of all countries and in all ages, as authorizing the opinion (deduced from all the foregoing) that in every import of the word essential, which would not here involve a mere truism, there may be, is, and ought to be, an essential difference between the language of prose and of metrical composition.
In Mr. Wordsworth's criticism of Gray's Sonnet, the reader's sympathy with his praise or blame of the different parts is taken for granted rather perhaps too easily. He has not, at least, attempted to win or compel it by argumentative analysis. In my conception at least, the lines rejected as of no value do, with the exception of the two first, differ as much and as little from the language of common life, as those which he has printed in italics as possessing genuine excellence. Of the five lines thus