FictionForest

Chapter 9. Poetic Diction—“Daodamia”—“Evening Ode.”

F. W. H. MyersApr 22, 2018'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

The Excursion appeared in 1814, and in the course of the next year Wordsworth republished his minor poems, so arranged as to indicate the faculty of the mind which he considered to have been predominant in the composition of each. To most readers this disposition has always seemed somewhat arbitrary; and it was once suggested to Wordsworth that a chronological arrangement would be better. The manner in which Wordsworth met this proposal indicated the limit of his absorption in himself—his real desire only to dwell on his own feelings in such a way as might make them useful to others. For he rejected the plan as too egotistical—as emphasizing the succession of moods in the poet’s mind, rather than the lessons which those moods could teach. His objection points, at any rate, to a real danger which any man’s simplicity of character incurs by dwelling too attentively on the changing phases of his own thought. But after the writer’s death the historical spirit will demand that poems, like other artistic products, should be disposed for the most part in the order of time.

In a Preface to this edition of 1815, and a Supplementary Essay, he developed the theory on poetry already set forth in a well-known preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads. Much of the matter of these essays, received at the time with contemptuous aversion, is now accepted as truth; and few compositions of equal length contain so much of vigorous criticism and sound reflection. It is only when they generalize too confidently that they are in danger of misleading us; for all expositions of the art and practice of poetry must necessarily be incomplete. Poetry, like all the arts, is essentially a “mystery.” Its charm depends upon qualities which we can neither define accurately nor reduce to rule nor create again at pleasure. Mankind, however, are unwilling to admit this; and they endeavour from time to time to persuade themselves that they have discovered the rules which will enable them to produce the desired effect. And so much of the effect can thus be reproduced, that it is often possible to believe for a time that the problem has been solved. Pope, to take the instance which was prominent in Wordsworth’s mind, was, by general admission, a poet. But his success seemed to depend on imitable peculiarities; and Pope’s imitators were so like Pope that it was hard to draw a line and say where they ceased to be poets. At last, however, this imitative school began to prove too much. If all the insipid verses which they wrote were poetry, what was the use of writing poetry at all? A reaction succeeded, which asserted that poetry depends on emotion and not on polish; that it consists precisely in those things which frigid imitators lack. Cowper, Burns, and Crabbe, (especially in his Sir Eustace Grey), had preceded Wordsworth as leaders of this reaction. But they had acted half unconsciously, or had even at times themselves attempted to copy the very style which they were superseding.

Wordsworth, too, began with a tendency to imitate Pope, but only in the school exercises which he wrote as a boy. Poetry soon became to him the expression of his own deep and simple feelings; and then he rebelled against rhetoric and unreality and found for himself a director and truer voice, “I have proposed to myself to imitate and, as far as is possible, to adopt the very language of men. . . . I have taken as much pains to avoid what is usually called poetic diction as others ordinarily take to produce it.” And he erected this practice into a general principle in the following passage:—

“I do not doubt that it may be safely affirmed that there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition. We are fond of tracing the resemblance between poetry and painting, and, accordingly, we call them sisters; but where shall we find bonds of connexion sufficiently strict to typify the affinity between metrical and prose composition? If it be affirmed that rhyme and metrical arrangement of themselves constitute a distinction which overturns what I have been saying on the strict affinity of metrical language with that of prose, and paves the way for other artificial distinctions which the mind voluntarily admits, I answer that the language of such poetry as I am recommending is, as far as is possible, a selection of the language really spoken by men; that this selection, wherever it is made with true taste and feeling, will of itself form a distinction far greater than would at first be imagined, and will entirely separate the composition from the vulgarity and meanness of ordinary life; and if metre be superadded thereto, I believe that a dissimilitude will be produced altogether sufficient for the gratification of a rational mind. What other distinction would we hare? Whence is it to come? And where is it to exist?”

There is a definiteness and simplicity about this description of poetry which may well make us wonder why this precious thing (producible, apparently, as easily as Pope’s imitators supposed, although by means different from theirs) is not offered to us by more persons, and of better quality. And it will not be hard to show that a good poetical style must possess certain characteristics, which, although something like them must exist in a good prose style, are carried in poetry to a pitch so much higher as virtually to need a specific faculty for their successful production.

To illustrate the inadequacy of Wordsworth’s theory to explain the merits of his own poetry, I select a stanza from one of his simplest and most characteristic poems—The Affliction of Margaret:—

Perhaps some dungeon hears thee groan,

Maimed, mangled by inhuman men,

Or thou upon a Desert thrown

Inheritest the lion’s Den;

Or hast been summoned to the Deep,

Thou, thou and all thy mates, to keep

An incommunicable sleep.

These lines, supposed to be uttered by “a poor widow at Penrith,” afford a fair illustration of what Wordsworth calls “the language really spoken by men,” with “metre superadded.” “What other distinction from prose,” he asks, “would we have?” We may answer that we would have what he has actually given us, viz., an appropriate and attractive music, lying both in the rhythm and in the actual sound of the words used,—a music whose complexity may be indicated here by drawing out some of its elements in detail, at the risk of appearing pedantic and technical. We observe, then (a), that the general movement of the lines is unusually slow. They contain a very large proportion of strong accents and long vowels, to suit the tone of deep and despairing sorrow. In six places only out of twenty-eight is the accent weak where it might be expected to be strong (in the second syllables, namely, of the Iambic foot), and in each of these cases the omission of a possible accent throws greater weight on the next succeeding accent—on the accents, that is to say, contained in the words inhuman, desert, lion, summoned, deep, and sleep, (b) The first four lines contain subtle alliterations of the letters d, h, m, and th. In this connexion it should be remembered that when consonants are thus repeated at the beginning of syllables, those syllables need not be at the beginning of words; and further, that repetitions scarcely more numerous than chance alone would have occasioned, may be so placed by the poet as to produce a strongly-felt effect. If any one doubts the effectiveness of the unobvious alliterations here insisted on, let him read (1) “jungle” for “desert,” (2) “maybe” for “perhaps,” (3) “tortured” for “mangled,” (4) “blown” for “thrown,” and he will become sensible of the lack of the metrical support which the existing consonants give one another. The three last lines contain one or two similar alliterations on which I need not dwell, (c) The words inheritest and summoned are by no means such as “a poor widow,” even at Penrith, would employ; they are used to intensify the imagined relation which connects the missing man with (1) the wild beasts who surround him, and (2) the invisible Power which leads; so that something mysterious and awful is added to his fate. (d) This impression is heightened by the use of the word incommunicable in an unusual sense, “incapable of being communicated with,” instead of “incapable of being communicated;” while (e) the expression “to keep an incommunicable sleep” for “to lie dead,” gives dignity to the occasion by carrying the mind back along a train of literary associations of which the well-known ατερμονα ναεγρετον υπνον of Moschus may be taken as the type.

We must not, of course, suppose that Wordsworth consciously sought these alliterations, arranged these accents, resolved to introduce an unusual word in the last line, or hunted for a classical allusion. But what the poet’s brain does not do consciously it does unconsciously; a selective action is going on in its recesses simultaneously with the overt train of thought, and on the degree of this unconscious suggestiveness the richness and melody of the poetry will depend.

So rules can secure the attainment of these effects; and the very same artifices which are delightful when used by one man seem mechanical and offensive when used by another. Nor is it by any means always the case that the man who can most delicately appreciate the melody of the poetry of others will be able to produce similar melody himself. Nay, even if he can produce it one year it by no means follows that he will be able to produce it the next. Of all qualifications for writing poetry this inventive music is the most arbitrarily distributed, and the most evanescent. But it is the more important to dwell on its necessity, inasmuch as both good and bad poets are tempted to ignore it. The good poet prefers to ascribe his success to higher qualities; to his imagination, elevation of thought, descriptive faculty. The bad poet can more easily urge that his thoughts are too advanced for mankind to appreciate than that his melody is too sweet for their ears to catch. And when the gift vanishes no poet is willing to confess that it is gone; so humiliating is it to lose power over mankind by the loss of something which seems quite independent of intellect or character. And yet so it is. For some twenty years at most (1798—1818), Wordsworth possessed this gift of melody. During those years he wrote works which profoundly influenced mankind. The gift then left him; he continued as wise and as earnest as ever, but his poems had no longer any potency, nor his existence much public importance.

Humiliating as such reflections may seem, they are in accordance with actual experience in all branches of art. The fact is that the pleasures which art gives us are complex in the extreme. We are always disposed to dwell on such of their elements as are explicable and can in some way be traced to moral or intellectual sources. But they contain also other elements which are inexplicable, non-moral, and non-intellectual, and which render most of our attempted explanations of artistic merit so incomplete as to be practically misleading. Among such incomplete explanations Wordsworth’s essays must certainly be ranked. It would not be safe for any man to believe that he had produced true poetry because he had fulfilled the conditions which Wordsworth lays down. But the essays effected what is perhaps as much as the writer on art can fairly hope to accomplish. They placed in a striking light that side of the subject which had been too long ignored; they aided in recalling an art which had become conventional and fantastic into the normal current of English thought and speech.

It may be added that both in doctrine and practice Wordsworth exhibits a progressive reaction from the extreme views with which he starts towards the common vein of good sense and sound judgment which may be traced back to Horace, Longinus, and Aristotle. His first preface is violently polemic. He attacks with reason that conception of the sublime and beautiful which is represented by Dryden’s picture of “Cortes alone in his nightgown,” remarking that “the mountains seem to nod their drowsy heads.” But the only example of true poetry which he sees fit to adduce in contrast consists in a stanza from the Babes in the Wood. In his preface of 1815 he is not less severe on false sentiment and false observation. But his views of the complexity and dignity of poetry have been much developed, and he is willing now to draw his favourable instances from Shakespeare, Milton, Virgil, and himself.

His own practice underwent a corresponding change. It is only to a few poems of his earlier years that the famous parody of the Rejected Addresses fairly applies.

My father’s walls are made of brick,

But not so tall and not so thick

As these; and goodness me!

My father’s beams are made of wood,

But never, never half so good

As those that now I see!

Lines something like these might have occurred in The Thorn or The Idiot Boy. Nothing could be more different from the style of the sonnets, or of the Ode to Duty, or of Laodamia. And yet both the simplicity of the earlier and the pomp of the later poems were almost always noble; nor is the transition from the one style to the other a perplexing or abnormal thing. For all sincere styles are congruous to one another, whether they be adorned or no, as all high natures are congruous to one another, whether in the garb of peasant or of prince. What is incongruous to both is affectation, vulgarity, egoism; and while the noble style can be interchangeably childlike or magnificent, as its theme requires, the ignoble can neither simplify itself into purity nor deck itself into grandeur.

It need not, therefore, surprise us to find the classical models becoming more and more dominant in Wordsworth’s mind, till the poet of Poor Susan and The Cuckoo spends months over the attempt to translate the Æneid,—to win the secret of that style which he placed at the head of all poetic styles, and of those verses which “wind,” as he says, “with the majesty of the Conscript Fathers entering the Senate-house in solemn procession,” and envelope in their imperial melancholy all the sorrows and the fates of man.

And, indeed, so tranquil and uniform was the life which we are now retracing, and at the same time so receptive of any noble influence which opportunity might bring, that a real epoch is marked in Wordsworth’s poetical career by the mere rereading of some Latin authors in 1814–16 with a view to preparing his eldest son for the University. Among the poets whom he thus studied was one in whom he might seem to discern his own spirit endowed with grander proportions, and meditating on sadder fates. Among the poets of the battlefield, of the study, of the boudoir, he encountered the first Priest of Nature, the first poet in Europe who had deliberately shunned the life of courts and cities for the mere joy in Nature’s presence, for “sweet Parthenope and the fields beside Vesevus’ hill.”

There are, indeed, passages in the Georgics so Wordsworthian, as we now call it, in tone, that it is hard to realize what centuries separated them from the Sonnet to Lady Beaumont or from Ruth. Such, for instance, is the picture of the Corycian old man, who had made himself independent of the seasons by his gardening skill, so that “when gloomy winter was still rending the stones with frost, still curbing with ice the rivers’ onward flow, he even then was plucking the soft hyacinth’s bloom, and chid the tardy summer and delaying airs of spring.” Such, again, is the passage where the poet breaks from the glories of successful industry into the delight of watching the great processes which nature accomplishes untutored and alone, “the joy of gazing on Cytorus waving with boxwood, and on forests of Narycian pine, on tracts that never felt the harrow, nor knew the care of man.”

Such thoughts as these the Roman and the English poet had in common;— the heritage of untarnished souls.

I asked; ’twas whispered; The device

To each and all might well belong:

It is the Spirit of Paradise

That prompts such work, a Spirit strong,

That gives to all the self-same bent

Where life is wise and innocent.

It is not only in tenderness but in dignity that the “wise and innocent” are wont to be at one. Strong in tranquillity, they can intervene amid great emotions with a master’s voice, and project on the storm of passion the clear light of their unchanging calm. And thus it was that the study of Virgil, and especially of Virgil’s solemn picture of the Underworld, prompted in Wordsworth’s mind the most majestic of his poems, his one great utterance on heroic love.

He had as yet written little on any such topic as this. At Goslar he had composed the poems on Lucy to which allusion has already been made. And after his happy marriage he had painted in one of the best known of his poems the sweet transitions of wedded love, as it moves on from the first shock and agitation of the encounter of predestined souls through all tendernesses of intimate affection into a pervading permanency and calm.

Scattered, moreover, throughout his poems are several passages in which the passion is treated with similar force and truth. The poem which begins “’Tis said that some have died for love” depicts the enduring poignancy of bereavement with an “iron pathos” that is almost too strong for art. And something of the same power of clinging attachment is shown in the sonnet where the poet is stung with the thought that “even for the least division of an hour” he has taken pleasure in the life around him, without the accustomed tacit reference to one who has passed away. There is a brighter touch of constancy in that other sonnet where, after letting his fancy play over a glad imaginary past, he turns to his wife, ashamed that even in so vague a vision he could have shaped for himself a solitary joy.

Let her be comprehended in the frame

Of these Illusions, or they please no more.

In later years the two sonnets on his wife’s picture set on that love the consecration of faithful age; and there are those who can recall his look as he gazed on the picture and tried to recognize in that aged face the Beloved who to him was ever young and fair,—a look as of one dwelling in life-long affections with the unquestioning single-heartedness of a child.

And here it might have been thought that as his experience ended his power of description would have ended too. But it was not so. Under the powerful stimulus of the sixth Æneid—allusions to which pervade Laodamia [Laodamia should be read (as it is given in Mr. Matthew Arnold’s admirable volume of selections) with the earlier conclusion: the second form is less satisfactory, and the third, with its sermonizing tone, “thus all in vain exhorted and reproved,” is worst of all.] throughout—with unusual labour, and by a strenuous effort of the imagination, Wordsworth was enabled to depict his own love in excelsis, to imagine what aspect it might have worn, if it had been its destiny to deny itself at some heroic call, and to confront with nobleness an extreme emergency, and to be victor (as Plato has it) in an Olympian contest of the soul. For, indeed, the “fervent, not ungovernable, love,” which is the ideal that Protesilaus is sent to teach, is on a great scale the same affection which we have been considering in domesticity and peace; it is love considered not as a revolution but as a consummation; as a self-abandonment not to a laxer but to a sterner law; no longer as an invasive passion, but as the deliberate habit of the soul. It is that conception of love which springs into being in the last canto of Dante’s Purgatory,—which finds in English chivalry a noble voice,—

I could not love thee, dear, so much,

Loved I not honour more.

For, indeed, (even as Plato says that Beauty is the splendour of Truth,) so such a Love as this is the splendour of Virtue; it is the unexpected spark that flashes from self-forgetful soul to soul, it is man’s standing evidence that he “must lose himself to find himself,” and that only when the veil of his personality has lifted from around him can he recognize that he is already in heaven.

In a second poem inspired by this revived study of classical antiquity Wordsworth has traced the career of Dion,—the worthy pupil of Plato, the philosophic ruler of Syracuse, who allowed himself to shed blood unjustly, though for the public good, and was haunted by a spectre symbolical of this fatal error. At last Dion was assassinated, and the words in which the poet tells his fate seem to me to breathe the very triumph of philosophy, to paint with a touch the greatness of a spirit which makes of Death himself a deliverer, and has its strength in the unseen.

So were the hopeless troubles, that involved

The soul of Dion, instantly dissolved.

I can only compare these lines to that famous passage of Sophocles where the lamentations of the dying Oedipus are interrupted by the impatient summons of an unseen accompanying god. In both places the effect is the same; to present to us with striking brevity the contrast between the visible and the invisible presences that may stand about a man’s last hour; for he may feel with the desolate Oedipus that “all I am has perished”—he may sink like Dion through inextricable sadness to a disastrous death, and then in a moment the transitory shall disappear and the essential shall be made plain, and from Dioa’s upright spirit the perplexities shall vanish away, and Oedipus, in the welcome of that unknown companionship, shall find his expiations over and his reward begun.

It is true, no doubt, that when Wordsworth wrote these poems he had lost something of the young inimitable charm which fills such pieces as the Fountain or the Solitary Reaper. His language is majestic, but it is no longer magical. And yet we cannot but feel that he has put into these poems something which he could not have put into the poems which preceded them; that they bear the impress of a soul which has added moral effort to poetic inspiration, and is mistress now of the acquired as well as of the innate virtue. For it is words like these that are the strength and stay of men; nor can their accent of lofty earnestness be simulated by the writer’s art. Literary skill may deceive the reader who seeks a literary pleasure alone; and he to whom these strong consolations are a mere imaginative luxury may be uncertain or indifferent out of what heart they come. But those who need them know; spirits that hunger after righteousness discern their proper food; there is no fear lest they confound the sentimental and superficial with those weighty utterances of moral truth which are the most precious legacy that a man can leave to mankind.

Thus far, then, I must hold that although much of grace had already vanished there was on the whole a progress and elevation in the mind of him of whom we treat. But the culminating point is here. After this—whatever ripening process may have been at work unseen—what is chiefly visible is the slow stiffening of the imaginative power, the slow withdrawal of the insight into the soul of things, and a descent—αβλαεχρος μαλα τσιος—“soft as soft can be,” to the euthanasy of a death that was like sleep.

The impression produced by Wordsworth’s reperusal of Virgil in 1814–16 was a deep and lasting one. In 1829–30 he devoted much time and labour to a translation of the first three books of the Æneid, and it is interesting to note the gradual modification of his views as to the true method of rendering poetry.

“I have long been persuaded,” he writes to Lord Lonsdale in 1829, “that Milton formed his blank verse upon the model of the Georgics and the Æneid, and I am so much struck with this resemblance, that I should, have attempted Virgil in blank verse, had I not been persuaded that no ancient author can with advantage be so rendered. Their religion, their warfare, their course of action and feeling, are too remote from modern interest to allow it. We require every possible help and attraction of sound in our language to smooth the way for the admission of things so remote from our present concerns. My own notion of translation is, that it cannot be too literal, provided these faults be avoided: baldness, in which I include all that takes from dignity; and strangeness, or uncouthness, including harshness; and lastly, attempts to convey meanings which, as they cannot be given but by languid circumlocutions, cannot in fact be said to be given at all. . . . I feel it, however, to be too probable that my translation is deficient in ornament, because I must unavoidably have lost many of Virgil’s, and have never without reluctance attempted a compensation of my own.”

The truth of this last self-criticism is very apparent from the fragments of the translation which were published in the Philological Museum; and Coleridge, to whom the whole manuscript was submitted, justly complains of finding “page after page without a single brilliant note;” and adds, “Finally, my conviction is that you undertake an impossibility, and that there is no medium between a pure version and one on the avowed principle of compensation in the widest sense, i.e. manner, genius, total effect; I confine myself to Virgil when I say this.” And it appears that Wordsworth himself came round to this view, for in reluctantly sending a specimen of his work to the Philological Museum in 1832, he says,—

“Having been displeased in modern translations with the

additions of incongruous matter, I began to translate with a

resolve to keep clear of that fault by adding nothing; but I

became convinced that a spirited translation can scarcely be

accomplished in the English language without admitting a

principle of compensation.”

There is a curious analogy between the experiences of Cowper and Wordsworth in the way of translation. Wordsworth’s translation of Virgil was prompted by the same kind of reaction against the reckless laxity of Dryden as that which inspired Cowper against the distorting artificiality of Pope. In each case the new translator cared more for his author and took a much higher view of a translator’s duty than his predecessor had done. But in each case the plain and accurate translation was a failure, while the loose and ornate one continued to be admired. We need not conclude from this that the wilful inaccuracy of Pope or Dryden would be any longer excusable in such a work. But on the other hand we may certainly feel that nothing is gained by rendering an ancient poet into verse at all unless that verse be of a quality to give a pleasure independent of the faithfulness of the translation which it conveys.

The translations and Laodamia are not the only indications of the influence which Virgil exercised over Wordsworth. Whether from mere similarity of feeling, or from more or less conscious recollection, there are frequent passages in the English which recall the Roman poet. Who can hear Wordsworth describe how a poet on the island in Grasmere

At noon

Spreads out his limbs, while, yet unshorn, the sheep,

Panting beneath the burthen of their wool

Lie round him, even as if they were a part

Of his own household:—

and not think of the stately tenderness of Virgil’s

Stant et oves circum; nostri nee poenitet illas—

and the flocks of Arcady that gather round in sympathy with the lovelorn Gallus’ woe?

So again the well-known lines—

Not seldom, clad in radiant vest,

Deceitfully goes forth the Morn;

Not seldom Evening in the west

Sinks smilingly forsworn,—

are almost a translation of Palinurus’ remonstrance with “the treachery of tranquil heaven.” And when the poet wishes for any link which could bind him closer to the Highland maiden who has flitted across his path as a being of a different world from his own:—

Thine elder Brother would I be,

Thy Father, anything to thee!—

we hear the echo of the sadder plaint—

Atque utinam e vobis unus—

when the Roman statesman longs to be made one with the simple life of shepherd or husbandman, and to know their undistracted joy.

Still more impressive is the shock of surprise with which we read in Wordsworth’s poem on Ossian the following lines:—

Musæus, stationed with his lyre

Supreme among the Elysian quire,

Is, for the dwellers upon earth,

Mute as a lark ere morning’s birth,

and perceive that he who wrote them has entered—where no commentator could conduct him—into the solemn pathos of Virgil’s Musaeum ante omnis—; where the singer whose very existence upon earth has become a legend and a mythic name is seen keeping in the underworld his old preeminence, and towering above the blessed dead.

This is a stage in Wordsworth’s career on which his biographer is tempted unduly to linger. For we have reached the Indian summer of his genius; it can still shine at moments bright as ever, and with even a new majesty and calm; but we feel, nevertheless, that the melody is dying from his song; that he is hardening into self-repetition, into rhetoric, into sermonizing common-place, and is rigid where he was once profound. The Thanksgiving Ode (1816) strikes death to the heart. The accustomed patriotic sentiments—the accustomed virtuous aspirations—these are still there; but the accent is like that of a ghost who calls to us in hollow mimicry of a voice that once we loved.

And yet Wordsworth’s poetic life was not to close without a great symbolical spectacle, a solemn farewell. Sunset among the Cumbrian hills, often of remarkable beauty, once or twice, perhaps, in a score of years, reaches a pitch of illusion and magnificence which indeed seems nothing less than the commingling of earth and heaven. Such a sight—seen from Rydal Mount in 1818—afforded once more the needed stimulus, and evoked that “Evening Ode, composed on an evening of extraordinary splendour and beauty,” which is the last considerable production of Wordsworth’s genius. In this ode we recognize the peculiar gift of reproducing with magical simplicity as it were the inmost virtue of natural phenomena.

No sound is uttered, but a deep

And solemn harmony pervades

The hollow vale from steep to steep,

And penetrates the glades.

Far distant images draw nigh,

Called forth by wondrous potency

Of beamy radiance, that imbues

Whate’er it strikes, with gem-like hues!

In vision exquisitely clear

Herds range along the mountain side;

And glistening antlers are descried,

And gilded flocks appear.

Once more the poet brings home to us that sense of belonging at once to two worlds, which gives to human life so much of mysterious solemnity.

Wings at my shoulder seem to play;

But, rooted here, I stand and gaze

On those bright steps that heavenward raise

Their practicable way.

And the poem ends—with a deep personal pathos—in an allusion, repeated from the Ode on Immortality, to the light which “lay about him in his infancy,”—the light

Full early lost, and fruitlessly deplored;

Which at this moment, on my waking sight

Appears to shine, by miracle restored!

My soul, though yet confined to earth,

Rejoices in a second birth;

—’Tis past, the visionary splendour fades;

And night approaches with her shades.

For those to whom the mission of Wordsworth appears before all things as a religious one there is something solemn in the spectacle of the seer standing at the close of his own apocalypse, with the consciousness that the stiffening brain would never permit him to drink again that overflowing sense of glory and revelation; never, till he should drink it new in the kingdom of God. He lived, in fact, through another generation of men, but the vision came to him no more.

Or if some vestige of those gleams

Survived, ’twas only in his dreams.

We look on a man’s life for the most part as forming in itself a completed drama. We love to see the interest maintained to the close, the pathos deepened at the departing hour. To die on the same day is the prayer of lovers, to vanish at Trafalgar is the ideal of heroic souls. And yet—so wide and various are the issues of life—there is a solemnity as profound in a quite different lot. For if we are moving among eternal emotions we should have time to bear witness that they are eternal. Even Love left desolate may feel with a proud triumph that it could never have rooted itself so immutably amid the joys of a visible return as it can do through the constancies of bereavement, and the lifelong memory which is a lifelong hope. And Vision, Revelation, Ecstasy,—it is not only while these are kindling our way that we should speak of them to men, but rather when they have passed from us and left us only their record in our souls, whose permanence confirms the fiery finger which wrote it long ago. For as the Greeks would end the first drama of a trilogy with a hush of concentration, and with declining notes of calm, so to us the narrowing receptivity and persistent steadfastness of age suggest not only decay but expectancy, and not death so much as sleep; or seem, as it were, the beginning of operations which are not measured by our hurrying time, nor tested by any achievement to be accomplished here.

 

Leave a Reply