« ПредишнаНапред »
I have satisfied myself of its applicability to Edmund Waller. His poems are not much in quantity. Society, with politics for a period, occupied a large part of his time. He was too careful of his reputation to be profuse or diffuse. Very many of his productions, it must be allowed, are grown cold-dead for us. It is impossible to moan with trees at Penshurst for my Lord of Leicester's absence in France; or with its deer, that they fall to another crossbow than his,
Whose arrows they would gladly stain ! 4 The allusions constantly are to drawing-room gossip, to pinpricks of fashion, rather than to perennial, universal emotions of the heart. Obviously he is commonly thinking of individuals in the accidents of their individuality. So large an amount of his work is thus earmarked for an obsolete past, that, although in no body of verse can a large part expect immortality, one is visited by a special apprehension here of an excessive disproportion between the author's net achievement and his fame.
In the remainder, however, there is matter which still fights bravely for life. The three Cromwellian poems, the Panegyric, the victory at San Lucar,5 with all its bombast, and the elegy on the Protector's death,6 are historical monuments. The first in particular is admirable for the tact with which the least invidious features in a great career are singled out for especial praise—the pacification of civil strife, the grasp of the empire of the seas, and national exaltation. It never rises into hysterical passion, and seldom sinks into bathos :
With a strong, and yet a gentle hand,
Your drooping country, torn with civil hate,
all nations greet,
But none can visit us without your leave.? The new King, according to tradition, contrasted sarcastically the inferior benediction on the Restoration with the full flood of the grand encomium on the old Dictator. Posterity is more inclined to be indignant at the fervour of the compliments—paid by the burnt child of plottings against authority—to Charles’s ‘mighty' mind, and to matchless ’ James. There can indeed be but one apology both for the extravagance and for the poverty of sycophantic ideas and topics—the royal 'shape so lovely '—the monarch's strolls in St. James's sacred groves, where he ‘resolves the fates' of neighbouring Princesand his healing tears over his deserted Queen's sick-bed. They may testify at least that the courtier had, as poet, a soul too high to be inspired by an unworthy theme.
Elsewhere he could be eloquent; and of his possession
of the gift of elegance there never was a question. The word Wit was used with a different significance in the seventeenth century from that it conveys now. I can understand its application to Waller when I read a poem like that to The Mutable Fair. His Muse was specially commissioned and equipped to play, for example, the comedy of a blasé victim's pretence of fury, but real relief, when the traitress
Again deceives him, and again ;
Is all the pleasure lovers know.8 His amatory fancy delighted to hover bird-like, without alighting at the risk of a cage; to be not more ready to drink than to be scared away; to flutter, in charmed suspense, between an
Amoret, as sweet and good
Sacharissa's beauty's wine,
Which to madness doth incline ; 9 blissfully to welcome martyrdom at the hands of Chloris tunefully slaying him with a song of his own!
That eagle's fate and mine are one,
Which, on the shaft that made him die,
Wherewith he wont to soar so high.10 Never did bard keep his inspiration more completely in hand. When Thyrsis bewails with Galatea the premature death of the beautiful Hamilton, as sweet as she was noble,
So good, so lovely, and so young, an exquisite polish, an air of the best society, tempers common grief, as a soft, tepid rain subdues a troubled sea. Very generously he warns youthful Flavia's guardians to
beware of the burning effect of a poet's breath upon a budding beauty, as upon an opening rose :
Still as I did the leaves inspire,
With such a purple light they shone,
And spreading so, would flame anon :
To the young flower, my breath has done.12 So long as the incendiarism was confined to verse, they need not have taken alarm. Consider even the celebrated lines :
That which her slender waist confin’d,
It was my heav'n's extremest sphere,
A narrow compass ! and yet there
For Waller, so perfect are the three stanzas, that, were all else of his lost, the whole essence of him would survive. But, like the rest, they are uninflammatory. Their luminousness actually by its defects stamps the piece as more ideally his. It less resembles cheerful sunlight than the dazzling reflection from Alpine snows.
His work lacks heat of its own ; it is no emanation from head and heart combined. On the other hand, precision, lucidity, completeness of harmony between a conceit and its expression, are invariable qualities. The ability to whip cream out of the thinnest milk is amazing. The slighter
the subject—a slip on wet clay, a rouged cheek, the wedding of two dwarfs, an air on the lute-the fitter. A weighty thought required too much fining down. We almost see a real idea in the act of being ground down, pared, relieved of an excess of suggestiveness and boastful intellectuality. Poor thing! in as ill case as Mary of Modena, with nothing but a Royal wig to screen off all the King's Ministers from her bed! No allowance made for a delicate germ's modesty --the operator glorying in the exhibition of his remorseless skill !
An admirable artist-exulting in his dexterity-Edmund Waller had elected to be a poet ; and is he? Well, take the Panegyric. That is a lofty, masculine declamation, abounding in rhetorical fire.
It proves its author the master he unquestionably was of strong, pure, clear English. It indicates powers of expression which might have made him a commanding prose writer; perhaps an eminent orator. I am afraid I cannot perceive in it, and in other work of a similar order, the distinctive poetic vein. The love lyrics are refined in their moral tone; strangely so for the time at which their writer was born, and, yet more, for that into which he survived. They are irreproachable in rhythm, and as perfect in form and fashion as a Paris frock. To me all, with a single exception, want the nearly indescribable something which stamps essential poetry.
Still, the exception remains, and cannot-happily, cannot—be explained away. Compare the brilliant Girdle lyric with :
Go, lovely Rose !
That now she knows,