Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

fiction as distinguished from supernatural ;-Fourth, that which conjures up things and events not to be found in nature; as Homer's gods, and Shakspeare's witches, enchanted horses and spears, Ariosto’s hippogriff, &c. ;-Fifth, that which, in order to illustrate or aggravate one image, introduces another; sometimes in simile, as when Homer compares Apollo descending in his wrath at noon-day to the coming of night-time: sometimes in metaphor, or simile comprised in a word, as in Milton's "motes that people the sunbeams ;” sometimes in concentrating into a word the main history of any person or thing, past or even future, as in the “starry Galileo” of Byron, and that ghastly foregone conclusion of the epithet “murdered” applied to the yet living victim in Keats's story from Boccaccio

So the two brothers and their murder'd man
Rode towards fair Florence ;

sometimes in the attribution of a certain representative quality which makes one circumstance stand for others; as in Milton's grey-fly winding its “sultry horn," which epithet contains the heat of a summer's day ;-Sixth, that which reverses this process, and makes a variety of circumstances take color from one, like nature seen with jaundiced or glad eyes, or under the influence of storm or sunshine ; as when in Lycidas, or the Greek pastoral poets, the flowers and the flocks are made to sympathize with a man's death; or, in the Italian poet, the river flowing by the sleeping Angelica seems talking of love

Parea che l' erba le fiorisse intorno,
amor ragionasse quella riva !-

Orlando Innamorato, Canto iii.

or in the voluptuous homage paid to the sleeping Imogen by the very light in the chamber and the reaction of her own beauty upon itself; or in the “witch element” of the tragedy of Macbeth and the May-day night of Faust ;-Seventh, and last, that which by a single expression, apparently of the vaguest kind, not only meets but surpasses in its effect the extremest force of the most particular description; as in that exquisite passage of Coleridge's Christabel, where the unsuspecting object of the witch's malignity is bidden to go to bed :

Quoth Christabel, So let it be !
And as the lady bade, did she.
Her gentle limbs did she undress,
And lay down in her loveliness ;-

a perfect verse surely, both for feeling and music. The very smoothness and gentleness of the limbs is in the series of the letter l’s.

I am aware of nothing of the kind surpassing the most lovely inclusion of physical beauty in moral, neither can I call to mind any instances of the imagination that turns accompaniments into accessories, superior to those I have alluded to. Of the class of comparison, one of the most touching (many a tear must it have drawn from parents and lovers) is in a stanza which has been copied into the “Friar of Orders Grey,” out of Beaumont and Fletcher:

Weep no more, lady, weep no more,

Thy sorrow is in vain;
For violets pluck'd the sweetest showers

Will ne'er make grow again.

And Shakspeare and Milton abound in the very grandest ; such as Antony's likening his changing fortunes to the cloud-rack ; Lear's appeal to the old age of the heavens; Satan's appearance in the horizon, like a fleet “hanging in the clouds ;” and the comparisons of him with the comet and the eclipse. Nor unworthy of this glorious company, for its extraordinary combination of delicacy and vastness, is that enchanting one of Shelley's in the Adonais :

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of eternity.

I multiply these particulars in order to impress upon the reader's mind the great importance of imagination in all its phases, as a constituent part of the highest poetic faculty.

The happiest instance I remember of imaginative metaphor

is Shakspeare's moonlight "sleeping" on a bank; but half his poetry may be said to be made up of it, metaphor indeed being the common coin of discourse. Of imaginary creatures, none out of the pale of mythology and the East, are equal, perhaps, in point of invention, to Shakspeare's Ariel and Caliban ; though poetry may grudge to prose the discovery of a Winged Woman, especially such as she has been described by her inventor in the story of Peter Wilkins; and in point of treatment, the Mammon and Jealousy of Spenser, some of the monsters in Dante, particularly his Nimrod, his interchangements of creatures into one another, and (if I am not presumptuous in anticipating what I think will be the verdict of posterity) the Witch in Coleridge's Christabel, may rank even with the creations of Shakspeare. It may be doubted, indeed, whether Shakspeare had bile and nightmare enough in him to have thought of such detestable hor. rors as those of the interchanging adversaries (now serpent, man), or even of the huge, half-blockish enormity of Nimrod, in Scripture, the “mighty hunter” and builder of the tower of Babel,-in Dante, a tower of a man in his own person, standing with some of his brother giants up to the middle in a pit in hell, blowing a horn to which a thunder-clap is a whisper, and hallooing after Dante and his guide in the jargon of the lost tongue ! The transformations are too odious to quote : but of the towering giant we cannot refuse ourselves the “fearful joy” of a speci

It was twilight, Dante tells us, and he and his guide Virgil were silently pacing through one of the dreariest regions of hell, when the sound of a tremendous horn made him turn all his attention to the spot from which it came. He there discovered through the dusk, what seemed to be the towers of a city. Those are no towers, said his guide ; they are giants, standing up to the middle in one of these circular pits.

men.

Come quando la nibbia si dissipa,

Lo sguardo a poco a poco raffigura

Ciò che cela l' vapor che l' aere stipa;
Così forando l' aer grossa e scura

Più e più appressando in ver la sponda,

Fuggémi errore, e giugnemi paura:
Perocchè come in su la cerchia tonda

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Rafel mai amech zabì almi

Cominciò a gridar la fiera bocca,

Cui non si convenien più dolci salmi.
E’l duca mio ver lui: anima sciocca,

Tienti col corno, e qu ti disfoga,

Quand' ira o altra passion ti tocca.
Cercati al collo, e troverai la soga

Che 'l tien legato, o anima confusa,

E vedi lui che 'l gran petto ti doga. Poi disse a me: egli stesso s'accusa :

Questí è Nembrotto, per lo cui mal coto

Pure un linguaggio nel mondo non s'usa.
Lasciamlo stare, e non parliamo a voto :

Che così è a lui ciascun linguaggio,
Come 'l suo ad altrui ch' a nullo è noto.

Inferno, Canto xxxi., ver. 34.
I look'd again; and as the eye makes out,
By little and little, what the mist conceal'd
In which, till clearing up, the sky was steep'd;
So, looming through the gross and darksome air,
As we drew nigh, those mighty bulks grew plain,
And error quitted me, and terror join'd:
For in like manner as all round its height
Montereggione crowns itself with towers,
So tower'd above the circuit of that pit,
Though but half out of it, and half within,
The horrible giants that fought Jove, and still
Are threaten'd when he thunders. As we near'd
The foremost, I discern'd his mighty face,
His shoulders, breast, and more than half his trunk,
With both the arms down hanging by the sides.
His face appear'd to me, in length and breadth,

Huge as St. Peter's pinnacle at Rome,
And of a like proportion all his bones.
He open'd, as he went, his dreadful mouth,
Fit for no sweeter psalmody; and shouted
After us, in the words of some strange tongue,
Ràfel ma-ee amech zabèe almee!-
“Dull wretch !" my leader cried, “ keep to thine horn,
And so vent better whatsoever rage
Or other passion stuff thee. Feel thy throat
And find the chain upon thee, thou confusion !
Lo! what a hoop is clench'd about thy gorge."
Then turning to myself, he said, “His howl
Is its own mockery. This is Nimrod, he
Through whose ill thought it was that humankind
Were tongue-confounded. Pass him, and say naught:
For as he speaketh language known of none,
So none can speak save jargon to himself.”

Assuredly it could not have been easy to find a fiction so uncouthly terrible as this in the hypochondria of Hamlet. Even his father had evidently seen no such ghost in the other world. All his phantoms were in the world he had left. Timon, Lear, Richard, Brutus, Prospero, Macbeth himself, none of Shakspeare's men had, in fact, any thought but of the earth they lived on, whatever supernatural fancy crossed them. The thing fancied was still a thing of this world, “in its habit as it lived," or no remoter acquaintance than a witch or a fairy. Its lowest depths (unless Dante suggested them) were the cellars under the stage.

Caliban himself is a cross-breed between a witch and a clown. No offence to Shakspeare; who was not bound to be the greatest of healthy poets, and to have every morbid inspiration besides. What he might have done, had he set his wits to compete with Dante, I know not: all I know is, that in the infernal line he did nothing like him ; and it is not to be wished he had. It is far better that, as a higher, more universal, and more beneficent variety of the genus Poet, he should have been the happier man he was, and left us the plump cheeks on his monument, instead of the carking visage of the great, but over-serious, and comparatively one-sided Florentine. Even the imagination of Spenser, whom we take to have been a “nervous gentleman” compared with Shakspeare, was visited

« ПредишнаНапред »