Page images
PDF
EPUB

rime were added, if the lines were made all of the same length, if they did not melt into one another as objects do in the evening, or if the rhythm were more obvious, the charm would be gone. Is it any wonder that discerning poets were quick to imitate stanzas like these when they came upon them amid the welter of eighteenthcentury banalities?

Whose numbers, stealing thro' thy dark'ning vale,

May not unseemly with its stillness suit,

As, musing slow, I hail

Thy genial lov'd return! . . .

And hamlets brown, and dim-discover'd spires,

And hears their simple bell, and marks o'er all
Thy dewy fingers draw

The gradual dusky veil.1

It was unquestionably the Ode to Evening and not Milton's translation or anything the Wartons wrote that made the meter popular. The subjects of the later poems written in the measure make this clear, for not a few of them deal with nature and at least twelve are on morning, evening, or night. Moreover, several of them borrow phrases from Collins. Milton doubtless had some direct influence; for many who used his unrimed stanza, William Woty, Michael Bruce, Mrs. Barbauld, the Della Cruscans (Robert Merry and Mrs. Robinson), Richard Polwhele, Kirke White, Lamb's friend George Dyer, and Shelley, were affected by his other poems and almost certainly knew his translation from Horace. Besides, several of them followed Milton and the two older Wartons in not using stanza divisions. Yet, since poets seem to have been drawn to the meter primarily by their desire for new lyric forms, they are more likely to have found such a form in the Ode to Evening than in sixteen lines of a translation not divided into stanzas.

Only two or three of the later poems have any esthetic value. The Horatian measure has, like blank verse, the great drawback of being very easy to write and very hard to write well; and few of those who attempted it had sufficient metrical sensitiveness or taste to achieve success, even if they had tried harder than they did. Mrs. Barbauld's pleasing Ode to Spring (1773), which was clearly inspired by Collins, is, however, worth quoting from:

1 Each of these stanzas, it will be observed, is closely connected with the one that precedes it, a circumstance which suggests the influence of Milton and the Wartons and perhaps indicates that as originally written the Ode to Evening was not divided into stanzas. The younger Thomas Warton tells us, in his edition of Milton's minor poems, 1785, p. 368, that Collins "had a design of writing many more Odes without rhyme."

Now let me sit beneath the whitening thorn,
And mark thy spreading tints steal o'er the dale;
And watch with patient eye

Thy fair unfolding charms.

John Keble's Burial of the Dead (written in 1823) and Sara Coleridge's "O sleep, my Babe" (1837) have found places in the Oxford Book of Verse;1 but the truest poem in the meter since the Ode to Evening is by that inspired peasant, the half-starved, half-drunk, half-crazed John Clare. The thirty stanzas of his Autumn (1835) show the freshness, the deep love for nature, the keen observation, and the poetic gift that make all of Clare's best work attractive. He is far enough from the perfection and the magic of Collins; but not every writer can pen such a line as

Ploughed lands, thin travelled with half-hungry sheep,

or draw such pictures as this of the cow-boy trilling his "frequent, unpremeditated song,"

As on with plashy step, and clouted shoon,
He roves, half indolent and self-employed,
To rob the little birds

Of hips and pendant haws,

And sloes, dim covered as with dewy veils,
And rambling bramble-berries, pulpy and sweet,
Arching their prickly trails

Half o'er the narrow lane.

Milton's translation affected a number of pieces that were not written in precisely the same meter, for it gave impetus to the movement towards unrimed lyrics which goes back to the Elizabethans or even farther. Between 1698 and 1720 Samuel Say made free rimeless translations of two odes of Casimir and one of Horace, two of which (including that of Horace) resemble Milton's in employing unrimed quatrains with the last line in six syllables.3 Inasmuch as Say wrote a discriminating essay "On the Numbers of Paradise Lost," used a modification of the Nativity stanza in one of his poems, and put

1 For other poems by Keble and Miss Coleridge in the same meter, see Bibl. III c, 1823, 1827, 1837, and for one by Keble in the Nativity stanza, III D, 1827.

[ocr errors]

2 See, for example, Spenser's sonnets (in Van der Noot's Theatre, 1569) and his iambics and hexameters (in the letters to Harvey); Sidney's "If mine eyes can speake (in Arcadia, 1590, book i); Barnabe Barnes's elegy 21 and odes 18 and 20 (in Parthenophil and Parthenophe, 1593); Thomas Campion's English Sapphic, "Rose-checked Laura, come,” and “Just beguiler” (in Observations in the Art of English Poesie, 1602); "A. W. 's" sapphics, phaleuciacks, epigram, and hexameters (in Francis Davison's Poetical Rhapsody, 1602).

3 For these two, see Bibl. III C, c. 1701-20 W.

four of Horace's epistles into blank verse,1 there can be little question as to how he came to discard rime in translating lyrics.2

A number of the opponents of "jingle" were, as we have seen, in favor of banishing it from all poetry,' but between Say's day and that of the Wartons they did nothing towards executing their purpose. Nor is there any reason to believe that the Wartons, Collins, and their followers felt any hostility to rime (which they used in nearly all their poems), or that they adopted the measure of Milton's translation except as an experiment in a new meter. Richard West, reacting against the free paraphrases of Dryden, Congreve, and Cowley, and "back'd by Milton's authority," was "entirely for a close translation" of Horace's odes; but he said nothing against rime. Blake attacked it in the preface to Jerusalem, but used it in all his short pieces except the first seven of his earliest volume (1783). Nor did the movement against rime make much headway until 1790, when Frank Sayers published his Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology, a collection of short, superficial, sentimental pieces abounding in unrimed choral odes with lines of varying length. During the following year Sayers imitated the subject, meter, and contents of the Ode to Evening in his Ode to Morning and his Ode to Night; and two years later, in the course of a brief essay "Of English Metres" (a survey of earlier unrimed measures aside from blank verse), he remarked, "The measure used by Milton in his translation from Horace has been well received: it is adopted by Collins in his Ode to Evening, and by other modern poets, with success." 5

The Dramatic Sketches was "the first book" that Southey "was ever master of money enough to order at a country bookseller's." 6 The volume made a profound impression on the young bard, who at that time had no decided poetic character of his own and was unusually susceptible to the influence of others, following one poet or group of poets after another in rapid succession. The principal result of the Sketches was seen a few years later in the strange mythology 1 See above, p. 90, and below, pp. 566-7.

2 Isaac Watts's Day of Judgment "attempted in English Sapphick" (Horae Lyricae, 1706, pp. 40-42), and the Rev. Dr. Shipley's lines written in 1738, To the Memory of a Gentleman ("Dodsley's Miscellany," 1758, v. 239-40), are unrimed odes that show no influence from Milton.

3 See above, pp. 51-2.

♦ Letter to Walpole, June 1, 1736 (Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, etc., i. 79). An anonymous Ode to Virtue, "in blank lyric verse," appeared in 1767 (see Crit. Rev., xxiv. 316).

Disquisitions Metaphysical and Literary (1793), 132.

• Southey to William Taylor, Jan. 23, 1803 (J. W. Robberds, Memoir of Taylor, 1843, i. 447).

and the unrimed lines of different length which characterize Thalaba (1801); but between 1793 and 1799 Sayers's precepts and practice, strengthened by the influence of Collins,1 led to Southey's composing some sixteen lyrics without rime. Three of these are in the meter of Milton's translation, and eight others employ slight variations of it.2 Southey, therefore, made more use of the measure than did any other poet. Yet nothing that he wrote in it belongs - with Campion's "Rose-cheeked Laura," Collins's Ode to Evening, Lamb's Old Familiar Faces, Tennyson's "Tears, idle tears," the Philomela and some other pieces of Matthew Arnold, and Swinburne's Sapphics among the few successful unrimed lyrics in English.

THE NATIVITY

In sharp contrast with the vogue enjoyed by the translation from Horace is the neglect which has befallen the Nativity ode. For, splendid as this stanza is and masterly as is Milton's handling of it, the meter has made almost no impress on English verse. Perhaps our writers, who do not take kindly to elaborate stanzas that are not of their own invention, have not cared to use this one; but more probably the idea of doing so has never occurred to most of them. No doubt if some one had led the way, if Gray, for instance, had adopted the meter in his Elegy or Collins in his Ode to Evening, it would have had a wide vogue. To be sure, both Gray and Collins did employ variations of it, but not in a way that would be likely to give it popularity. For the eight lines that Gray wrote in the Nativity meter he put into the least inspired of all his pieces, the Ode for Music (1769); and Collins changed the stanza so much by omitting its last two lines that, even if his Ode to Simplicity (1746) had at

3

1 "Every one who has an ear for metre and a heart for poetry," Southey wrote in the preface to the 1837 edition of his works, “must have felt how perfectly the metre of Collins's Ode to Evening is in accordance with the imagery and the feeling." Although he thought Milton's translation "uncouth... in syntax as well as sound, and bearing no other resemblance to the Latin measure, which it was designed to imitate, than that it consists of two long and two short lines," he declared that it "presents the only example of a rhymeless stanza which can fairly be said to have become naturalized in our language" (review of Sayers's works, Quart. Rev., 1827, xxxv. 211). For this reference, and for other matters relating to Southey's obligation to Sayers, I am indebted to William Haller's Early Life of Southey (N. Y., 1917), 77–86.

* See Bibl. III c, 1793-9 w. The other five are the Battle of Pultowa, the Translation of a Greek Ode on Astronomy, The Huron's Address to the Dead, The Peruvian's Dirge over the Body of his Father, The Old Chikkasah to his Grandson. Southey also wrote one unrimed poem in dactylics and one in sapphics. Thelwall printed eleven unrimed sapphics in his Poetical Recreations.

3 Lines 27-34, which Milton speaks (see p. 459 above). Gray changed the seventh line of the Nativity stanza from tetrameter to pentameter.

tracted more attention, it would hardly have affected the vogue of Milton's poem. As might be expected, Collins handled his measure admirably, and in a poem to Simplicity he not unnaturally simplified the somewhat complex meter of the Nativity ode. An additional reason for thinking that he had the earlier poem in mind is his use of four phrases suggested by the 1645 volume, one of which occurs in the last of these lines:

By all the honey'd store

On Hybla's thymy shore,

By all her blooms, and mingled murmurs dear,

By her whose lovelorn woe

In ev'ning musings slow

Sooth'd sweetly sad Electra's poet's ear.1

In view of the close friendship between Collins and Joseph Warton that led to their exchanging copies of their odes six months before publication, there is undoubtedly a direct connection between the Ode to Simplicity and Warton's odes To Superstition and To a Gentleman upon his Travels thro' Italy. Warton used the same meter as his friend, except that his first, second, fourth, and fifth lines are tetrameter, instead of trimeter as in Collins and Milton, a change for the worse. There can be little question as to the source of this passage: So by the Magi hail'd from far,

When PHOEBUS mounts his early car,

The shrieking ghosts to their dark charnels flock;
The full-gorg'd wolves retreat, no more

The prowling lionesses roar,

But hasten with their prey to some deep-cavern'd rock.

But it was not Collins, Warton, or Gray who first made use of Milton's Christmas hymn. Robert Baron had taken several expressions from it as early as 1647;3 the laureate Nahum Tate had paraphrased ten lines to make up his two stanzas On Snow fall'n in Autumn, and dissolv'd by the Sun; and about 1730 Samuel Say had

1 Compare this with Comus, 526, and with line 13 of Milton's sonnet, "Captain, or Colonel," etc.; also compare "trailing pall... decent maid In Attic robe" (lines 9-11) with Penseroso, 97-8, 34-7, and "the meeting soul" (line 48) with Allegro, 138.

2 To Superstition, stanza v (cf. Nativity, 22–3, 176–8, 232-4). The idea of the Ode to Superstition is much the same as that of the Nativity, 173–236; and lines 13-14 mention the sacrifice of infants to Moloch (cf. Nativity, 205-12).

3 On Baron's plagiarism of Milton, see above, pp. 427-8. Bishop Thomas Ken's verses On the Nativity (Works, 1721, i. 31–7), which he wrote before 1711, may owe something to Milton's.

Nature now stript of all her Summer-Dress,

And modestly surmizing, 'twere unmeet

For each rude Eye to view her Nakedness;

Around her bare Limbs wraps this Snowy Sheet.

« PreviousContinue »