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deeper as the passion is intenser; the minds of the characters, under the strongest excitements of love, hope, or agony, grow bright as well as warm, and in their fervid career shed abroad sparkles of fire, which light up for an instant, the inmost sanctuaries of our nature. But few have ventured to send into the world essentially meditative poems, which none but the thoughtful can truly enjoy. Lucretius is the only writer of antiquity who has left a great work of this description; and he has unhappily lavished the boundless riches of genius on doctrines which are in direct opposition to the spirit of poetry. An apostle of a more genial faith, Wordsworth, stands pre-eminently—almost alone—a divine philosopher among the poets. It has been his singular lot, in this late age of the world, to draw little from those sources of interest which incident and situation supply—and to rest his claim "to the gratitude and admiration of the people on his majestical contemplations of man and the universe.
The philosophical poetry of Wordsworth is not more distinct from the dramatic, or the epic, than from the merely didactic and moral He has thrown into it as much of profound affection, as much of ravishing loveliness, as much of delicate fantasy, as adorn the most romantic tales, or the most passionate tragedies. If he sees all things " far as angel's ken," he regards them with human love. His imagination is never obscured amidst his reasonings, but is ever active to embody the beautiful and the pure, and to present to us the most august moralities in "clear dream and solemn vision." Instead of reaching sublime conclusions by a painful and elaborate process, he discloses them by a single touch, he fixes them on our hearts for ever. So intense are his perceptions of moral beauty, that he feels the spirit of good however deeply hidden, and opens to our view the secret springs of love and of joy, where all has appeared barren to the ungifted observer. He can trace, prolong, and renew within us, those mysterious risings of delight in the soul which " may make a chysome child to smile," and which, when half-experienced at long intervals in riper age, are to us the assurances of a better life. He follows with the nice touch of unerring sympathy all the most subtle workings of the spirit of good, as it makes its little sanctuaries in hearts unconscious of its presence, and blends its influences unheeded with ordinary thoughts, hopes, and sorrows. The old prerogatives of humanity, which long usage has made appear common, put on their own air of grandeur while he teaches us to revere them. When we first read his poetry, we look on all the mysteries of our being with a new reverence, and feel like children who, having been brought up in some deserted palace, learn for the first time the regality of their home—understand a venerableness in the faded escutcheons with which they were accustomed to play—and feel the figures on the stained windows, or on the decaying tapestry, which were only grotesque before speaking to their hearts in ancestral voices.
The consecration which Wordsworth has shed over the external world is in a great measure peculiar to his genius. In the Hebrew poetry there was no trace of particular description—but general images, such as of tall cedars, of green pastures, or of still waters, were alone permitted to aid the affections of the devout worshipper. The feeling of the vast and indistinct prevailed; for all in religion was symbolical and mysterious, and pointed to "temples not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." In the exquisite master-pieces of Grecian inspiration, free nature's grace was almost excluded by the opposite tendency to admire only the definite and the palpable. Hence, the pictures of nymphs, satyrs, and deities, were perpetually substituted for views of the magnificence of earth and heaven. In the romantic poetry of modern times, the open face of nature has again been permitted to smile on us, and its freshness to glide into our souls. Nor has there been wanting "craft of delicate spirits" to shed lovelier tinges of the imagination on all its scenes—to scatter among them classical images like Ionic temples among the fair glades and deep woods of some rich domain—to call dainty groups of fairies to hold their revellings upon the velvet turf—or afford glimpses of angel wings floating at eventide in the golden perspective. But the imagination of Wordsworth has given to the external universe a charm which has never else, extensively at least, been shed over it. He has not personified the glorious objects of creation—nor peopled them with beautiful and majestic shapes—but, without depriving them of their own reality, has imparted to them a life which makes them objects of affection and reverence. He enables us at once to enjoy the contemplation of their colours and forms, and to love them as human friends.
He consecrates earth by the mere influences of sentiment and thought, and renders its scenes as enchanted as though he had filled them with Oriental wonders. Touched by him, the hills, the rocks, the hedge-rows, and the humblest flowers shine in a magic lustre "which never was by sea or land," and which yet is strangely familiar to our hearts. These are not hallowed by him with "angel visits," nor by the presence of fair and immortal shapes, but by the remembrances of early joy, by lingering gleams of a brightness which has passed away, and dawnings of a glory to be revealed in the fulness of time. The lowliest of nature's graces have power to move and to delight him. "The clouds are touched, and in their silent faces does he read unutterable love." He listens to the voice of the cuckoo in early spring, till he " begets again the golden time of his childhood," and till the world, which is "fit home" for that mysterious bird, appears "an airy unsubstantial place." At the root of some old thorn, or beneath the branches of some time-honoured tree, he opens the sources of delicious musing, and suggests the first hints which lead through a range of human thoughts to the glories of our final destiny. When we traverse with him the "bare earth and mountains bare," we feel that " the place whereon we are standing is holy ground;" the melancholy brook can touch our souls as truly as a tragic catastrophe; the splendours of the western sky give intimation of " a joy past joy;" and the meanest flowers, and scanty blades of grass, awaken within us hopes too rapturous for smiles, and "thoughts which do often lie too deep for tears." To give all the instances of this sublime operation of the imaginative faculty in Wordsworth, would be to quote the far larger portion of his works. A few lines, however, from the poem composed on the Banks of the Wye, will give our readers a deep glimpse into the inmost heart of his poetry, and of his poetical system, on the communion of the soul of man with the spirit of the universe. In this rapturous effusion—in which, with a wise prodigality, he hints and intimates the profoundest of those feelings which vivify all he has created—he gives the following view of the progress of his sympathy with the external world:—
1 Nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days
And their glad animal movements, all gone by)
To me was all in all.—I cannot paint
What then I was. The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood.
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite: a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm
By thought supplied, or any interest
Unborrow'd from the eye. That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn, nor murmur; other gifts .
Have follow'd, for such loss I would believe
Abundant recompense. For I have learn'd
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Not harsh, nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A spirit which disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of mind:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things."
There are none of the workings of our poet's imaginative faculty more wonderful in themselves, or more productive of high thoughts and intense sympathies, than those which have for their objects the grand abstractions of humanity—Life and Death, Childhood and Old Age. Every period of our being is to him not only filled with its own peculiar endearments and joys, but dignified by its own sanctities. The common forms of life assume a new venerableness when he touches them—for he makes us feel them in their connexion "with our immortality—even as the uncouth vessels of the Jewish law appeared sublime to those who felt that they were dedicated to the immediate service of Heaven. He ever leaves us conscious that the existence on whose beginning he expatiates, will endure for ever. He traces out those of its fibres which are eternal in their essence. He discovers in every part of our earthly course manifold intimations that these our human hearts will never die. Childhood is, to him not only the season of novelty, of innocence, of joyous spirits, and of mounting hope—but of a dream-like glory which assures to us that this world is not our final home. Age to him, is not a descent into a dark valley, but a "final eminence," where the wise may sit "in awful sovereignty" as on a high peak among the mountains in placid summer, and commune with Heaven, undisturbed by the lesser noises of the tumultuous world. One season of life is bound to another by " the natural piety" which the unchanging forms of *iature preserve, and death comes at last over the deep and tranquil stream as it is about to emerge into a lovelier sunshine, as "a shadow thrown softly and lightly from a passing cloud."
The Ode in which Wordsworth particularly developes the intimations of immortality to be found in the recollections of early childhood, is, to our feelings, the noblest piece of lyric poetry in the world. It was the first poem of its author which we read, and never shall we forget the sensations which it excited within us. We had heard the cold sneers attached to his name—we had glanced over criticisms, "lighter than vanity," which represented him as an object for scorn " to point its slow unmoving finger at"—and here —in the works of this derided poet—we found a new vein of imaginative sentiment opened to us—sacred recollections brought back on our hearts with all the freshness of novelty, and all the venerableness of far-off time—the most mysterious of old sensations traced to a celestial origin—and the shadows cast over the opening of life from the realities of eternity renewed before us with a sense of their supernal causes! What a gift did we then inherit! To have the best and most imperishable of intellectual treasures—the mighty world of reminiscences of the days of infancy—set before us in a new and holier light; to find objects of deepest veneration where we had only been accustomed to love; to feel in all the touching mysteries of our past being the symbols and assurances of our immortal destiny! The poet has here spanned our mortal life as with a glorious rain-bow, terminating on one side in infancy, and on the other in the realms of blessedness beyond the grave, and shedding even upon the middle of that course tints of unearthly colouring. The following is the view he has given of the fading glory of