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BEGINNING with Chaucer, this book should have ended with Tennyson. As it could not end with Tennyson, it begins with the Beginner of English Poetry, and ends, by a piece of chronological good luck, with the one American I know who, thus far, can claim fellowship with the greater English Poets. Its object is to present a fairly representative collection of such among the purely lyrical treasures of our tongue as were amassed between Chaucer and Poe. Whether or not it achieves that object is not, of course, for me to say. But I may be pardoned for pointing out that it has two features which I believe to be novel. Acting on the principle that verse in English is, ipso facto, English verse, and realising that the English Lyric has lived in Scotland when it was moribund, or worse, in England, I have included, with the work of the aforesaid American, examples of certain old-world Scots, nameless and other : not much read, I fear, in the land which gave them birth, but, as seems to me, worth reading any. where. Again, the Authorised Version is a monument of English Prose. But the inspiration and the effect of many parts of it are absolutely lyrical; and on those parts I have drawn for such a series of achievements in lyrism as will be found, I trust, neither the least interesting nor the least persuasive group in an anthology which pretends to set forth none but the choicest among English lyrics.
It is easy to tell a lyric when you see one. It is not so easy to say what a lyric is. 'Lyrical,' says Mr. Palgrave in his Preface to the best-read anthology in the language, has been-presumably, therefore, should be held to imply that each Poem shall turn on some single thought, feeling, or situation. I would rather say that unless thought,' and 'feeling,' and 'situation' all are single, and are all present, and so present that in the final result 'feeling' shall oblige us to forget the others, or at least to consider them as chiefly essential to its triumphing expression, that result is not a lyric. In Ruth, for instance, the situation may be described (perhaps) as 'single'; but the thought' is so full of change, the 'feeling' so placid and so impersonal, that to make Ruth a lyric is to make lyrics of most of the stories in lyrical forms we have. Again, both thought' and 'situation' are 'single' in Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College ; but, though the intention of the thing is lyrical, it finds no place in this anthology, for the reason that, to me at least, it lacks that quality without which no piece of verse, whatever its appearance on the printed page, can ever be held a lyric. I mean the quality of emotion : or, as Mr. Palgrave calls it, 'feeling. It is the absence of this quality, or its presence in the smallest doses, and these extremely disguised, which makes the lyrical output of the years between Rochester and Blake so scant in quantity and so poor in kind. And this, as I believe, is rather due to a radical vice in the authors of that output than to the tyranny of any literary fashions in deference to which they may have worked. Distinction in speech, clarity of phrase, elegance of form, reserve in utterance that these Augustan ideals, all essential to good verse in any age, are compatible, however mannered and made modish and so in a sense estranged, with true lyrism is shown in the work of Collins, and is shown there for the fundamental reason that Collins had what I must call the Lyrical Temperament, and was therefore, in fact as well as in design, a Lyric Poet. Apply this temperamental test to Marvell's Horatian Ode (257), or Chaucer's Merciless Beauty (3), or Jonson's Epithalamy (161), or Herrick's To Daffodils (214), or Dunbar's Lament (4), or Keats's Belle Dame Sans Merci (400)—in fact to any number in this book, as I believe-and your result will be the same. Apply it to anything of Addison's and Prior's and Shenstone's, and to well nigh everything of Pope's and Thomson's and Gay's, and your result is different. Marvell and those others had the Lyrical Temperament, and could be Lyrists at will; Addison and those others lacked it, and could not. The nameless poet of The Twa Corbies (265) had it, and The Twa Corbies is unmatched among objective and impersonal lyrics. Southey, to take an example from the antipodes of letters-Southey had it not; and you shall search his dozen volumes in vain for so much as a trace of it. There is plenty of verse in those volumes that would fain be lyrical if it could. But it never can; for Southey was not thus gifted. And, just as there is little or nothing in all Shelley which has not at least the lyrical thrill, so there is never a lyric in all Southey.
As I think, then, the specific attribute, the saving and essential virtue, of verse that is lyrical to ear and heart as distinguished from verse that is lyrical to the eye alone, is temperamental in origin and emotional in effect. If a poet have the Lyrical Temperament, his effect will be lyrical whenever, and in whatever form,' he is moved to pass on an emotion, or a sequence of emotions, from himself to his hearers, whether present or to be, in the terms of art. The emotion thus distinguished may be grave, or gay, or anything you please. It may soar to a rapture of supplication-as in Drayton's famous quatorzain (102); of gaiety—as in Green Grow the Rashes (326); of exultant vision and anticipation-as in Spenser's Epithalamion (76). Or it may decline upon such a mood of tender human feeling, half-generous and half-playful, as Con. greve's False Though She Be (281); or on such a joyous yet desperate recognition of the fleeting excellence of life as Jordan's Careless Gallant (246) :'Let's eat, drink, and play, ere the worms do corrupt us,
For I say that Post Mortem
Nulla Voluptas !
1 The Lyrical Temperament is above form, and is largely independent of it: for the reason that its output, whatever shape it assume, is inevitably a Lyric. The complexity of Chaucer, in The Complaynt of Mars, is bewildering, but its effect is lyrical; so is that of the sumptuous and stately stanzas of Spenser's two great bridal songs, and so is that of the curious rhythmus of Montgomerie's Banks of Helicon (71). But, so too is that of what is in comparison the bellman's verse of Since First I Saw Your Face (150). Milton and Tennyson have shown, each in his own way, that the noblest lyrical effects are to be got out of new-created rhymeless rhythms and unrhyming heroic iambics. Then, Crashaw's loose-hung dithyrambs (248-50) are absolutely lyrical; but so, on the other hand, are the elegant yet simple cadences of Ben Jonson's Drink to Me Only (157) and Queen and Huntress (153); so is the magical blending of intensity with utter sweetness, music the loveliest with perfect strength, in some of Shakespeare's Sonnets (115-127). And, to pass to an extreme instance, what is more lyrical in sound and substance and spirit than the passages which I have excerpted from the English Bible (27-69) ?
But (and this is my contention) the result is ever a Lyric. The emotion projected may be touched with humour-as in so much of the true Burns's best (316, 319, 325); with the mystery and the romance of Life and Death-as in Proud Maisie (340); with modish extravagance—as in What Shall I Do (274); with drink-as in The Happy Trio (316) and in Vulcan, Contrive Me Such a Cup (284); with all the agonies and the gallantries of a mystical piety-as in Crashaw (248-50); with a right feeling for 'old unhappy far-off things'-as in Jean Elliot (297) and Dunbar (4); with wonder and terror-as in The Tiger (312); with a true man's wearinessas in We'll Go No More A-Roving (377); with a transforming sense of the picturesque in character and history—as in Bonny Dundee (347) and Donald Caird (345)—or of troubled and anxious happi. ness—as in My Dear Mistress (257); with an overpowering apprehension of the great inevitable processes of nature—as in the Ode to the West Wind (381). It may be hope, or remorse, or desire, or contemplation, or despair-any passion of which the human heart is capable. But, whatever its character and quality, there it must be, and it must be projected through a temperament.
A single emotion temperamentally expressed in the terms of poetry—that is a Lyric. And note that the Lyrical Temperament has nothing whatever to do with the capacity for feeling. They may co-exist in a Lyric Poet—as they do in Shakespeare and Byron and Keats. But it is in nowise necessary that they should. What English-speaking man was ever, so far as we know, the prey of a more desperate passion and a more poignant sense of the greater issues than Swift ? And which of us, so far as we know, was ever more careless of those issues than Herrick? Yet Herrick was an unique lyrist, and Swist was no lyrist at all; and Swift could no more have written Bid Me to Live (212), or any song of Herrick's, than Herrick could have written Gulliver or the Directions to Servants, or any line of Swift's. It is a matter of, not genius but, gift. Fifty Herricks would not have made a Swift. But Herrick had the gift, and the greater man had not; and Herrick is a master-lyrist, and Swift left never a lyric line. In the same way, we may take for granted that Johnson's capacity for feeling was certainly as great as, if not greater than, Milton's. Yet Johnson's essays in lyrical verse are frigid