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“As swung the sea with heavy beat,
Indeed, Dana's descriptions of nature are so graphic, that the objects are perceived as if by the bodily eye. In the delineation of character, also, he is often very successful. Mat Lee, the Buccaneer, is one of those ideal beings, who become existences as real to the mind as any friend or enemy of whom we have had long experience. A few lines give him a place in the soul forever.
“Twelve years are gone since Matthew Lee
“Cruel of heart and strong of arm,
Dana's imagination is, perhaps, his greatest power. In the extracts we have made from “The Buccaneer,” in illustration of other qualities, this faculty is prominent. Whether exercised in bodying forth abstract ideas, or in creating character, or in vivifying description, or in suggesting analogies, or in assisting to give that inex
pressible tone to his compositions which analysis toils after in vain, – it seems limited by nothing but his sentiments. In the selection of his language, likewise, this faculty makes all his words embodied ideas, and a single epithet often performs the office of a stanza. It would be impossible to compress his style; for the short, sharp sentences are the perfection of brevity. It would seem, from his published works, that there is a dark vein of despondency in his nature, which sometimes breaks out in morbid manifestations, in spite of the vigor of his intellect, and the fineness of his affections. His compositions have more “hearse-like airs than "carols.” Keenly sensible to moral distinctions, he feels intensely the sin and wretchedness of the world, and throws too sombre a coloring over his reflections upon humanity. He gazes into the awful gulfs of iniquity, which make a hell of many perverted bosoms, with the eye of conscience and religion; and is apt to transfer to the race some of the associations which such a contemplation suggests. A tinge of melancholy, mild, delicious, and dream-like, as in the “Little Beach Bird,” is sometimes thrown over his verse, and adds to its mystical charm; but when this deepens into gloom, we feel that it results from the inharmonious action of his mind. Even in the latter case, however, bursts of sunshine from his imagination will occasionally “streak the darkness radiantly.” A poet whose sensibility to grandeur and sublimity is deep, and whose mind has a feeling for the vague and the supernatural, is ever liable to be oppressed by dark moods, unless he has a sharp perception of wit and humor to modify the sombre tendencies of his disposition. In Dana, this melancholy never degenerates into misanthropy, and is never employed to pamper a sublimed egotism, as in Byron. It is deeper, however, and more intense, than the mournfulness we occasionally find in Wordsworth, Bryant, and other meditative poets. It seems to have its source in habits of solitary, intense, and brooding thought, and it pervades his writings like an invisible spirit. Mr. Griswold says finely of BRYANT, that “he is the translator of the silent language of nature to the world.” The serene beauty and thoughtful tenderness which characterize his descriptions, or rather interpretations of outward objects, are paralleled only in Wordsworth. His poems are almost perfect of their kind. The fruits of meditative rather than impassioned imagination, and rarely startling with an unexpected image or sudden outbreak of feeling, they are admirable specimens of what may be called the philosophy of the soul. They address the finer instincts of our nature with a voice so winning and gentle, – they search out with such subtle power all in the heart which is true and good, – that their influence, though quiet, is resistless. They have consecrated to many minds things which before it was painful to contemplate. Who can say that his feelings and fears respecting death have not received an insensible change, since reading “Thanatopsis”? Indeed, we think that Bryant's poems are valuable not only for their intrinsic excellence, but for the vast influence their wide circulation is calculated to exercise on national feelings and manners. It is impossible to read them without being morally benefited. They purify as well as please. They develop or encourage all the elevated and thoughtful tendencies of the mind. In the jar and bustle of our American life, more favorable to quickness and acuteness of mind than to meditation, it is well that we have a poet who can bring the hues and odors of nature into the crowded mart, and, by ennobling thoughts of man and his destiny, induce the most worldly to give their eyes an occasional glance upward, and the most selfish to feel that the love of God and man is better than the love of Mammon. Metrical moralizing is generally offensive, from its triteness and pretension; but that of Bryant is so fresh and natural, mingles so unconsciously with his musings and imaginations, and bears so marked a character of truth and feeling, that even the most commonplace axiom receives a new importance when touched by his heart, and colored by his imagination. To make extracts from Bryant, in illustration of the qualities of his mind, would be almost an impertinence. His writings are too well known to need quotation of particular beauties. Mr. Griswold remarks of PERCIVAL, “that he has all the natural qualities of a great poet; but lacks the artistical skill, or declines the labor, without which few authors gain immortality. He has a brilliant imagination, remarkable command of language, and an exhaustless fountain of ideas. He writes with a facility but rarely equalled, and when his thoughts are once committed to the page, he shrinks from the labor of revising, correcting, and condensing. He remarks, in one of his prefaces, that his verse is ‘very far from bearing the marks of the file and the burnisher,’ and that he likes to see ‘poetry in the full ebullition of feeling and fancy, foaming up with the spirit of life, and glowing with the rainbows of a glad inspiration.” To this critique it is necessary to add but little. The glow and sparkle of Percival's verse are often in the highest degree inspiring. The swell and sweep in his diction correspond with the turbulence and joy of soul from which much of his poetry seems to gush. The mind of the reader is hurried along the stream of his verse, and readily adopts his changing moods. “The Prevalence of Poetry,” “Consumption,” “Clouds,” “Morning among the Hills,” “Genius Slumbering,” “Genius Waking,” “The Sun,” and “New England,” are all excellent, and evince his artistical ability, and the range of his genius. We say artistical ability, because most of Percival's poems indicate greater capacity in the writer than is directly expressed. “New England” is a lyric known to every school-boy; and its warm patriotism and kindling energy have disturbed the mind of many a youth, while attempting to pierce into the heart of some tough problem in Euclid. “May” is a little poem of exceeding beauty and sweetness, reflecting the very season it describes.
“I feel a newer life in every gale, –
“The spirit of the gentle south-wind calls
“The waving verdure rolls along the plain,