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How keen the stars, his only thought,
O, strange indifference : low and high
It is the calm and solemn night!
This fine hymn first appeared in “Blackwood's Magazine,” and was introduced by Professor Longfellow to the American public, in his beautiful collection of fugitive poetry, entitled “The Waif.” It was considered so admirable a composition that the critics paid it the compliment of considering it a production of the accomplished Editor of the little volume in question. It has accordingly gone the rounds of the press, and has been much admired. We are not surprised at many persons attributing it to the pen of the elegant author of “Evangeline,” for it possesses many characteristics of his style. It breathes a finish and simplicity which are perfectly in keeping with the subject, and the refrain at the end of each verse is striking and natural.
Some also of Domett's best poems remind us strongly of Mr. Willis' muse, and evidence a close affinity with the poetical spirit of this distinguished American Poet.
The verses entitled “The Sea Side Calm ’’ will illustrate our meaning—
- “The morning air was pure and cool,
The giant cliffs in long array
Their heads thrown back with lofty pride,
The sea, methought, did woo the earth,
The silent sky hung stooping o'er,
The herds of clouds were lying down,
Their angry bark was heard no more,
A calm ambrosial consciousness
A stillness not so stern as death,
"Twas music mute, and voiceless speech,
Repose without forgetfulness,
There is a great similarity existing between a peculiar band of poets in England, and some of the most popular of their brethren in America. They almost seem to belong to the same class; as, however, we shall enter into this question at length in the American volume, we drop the subject here. Whilst these sheets are passing through the press, our attention is called to an article in the July number of the Westminster Review, on the subject of “Earthquakes in New Zealand,” wherein Alfred Domett's name, as colonial secretary, is appended to an official letter, dated Wellington, New Zealand, December 18, 1848, certifying to the moderation of a recent Earthquake, and contradicting the exaggerated rumors current of its disastrous effects.
The author of “Philip Van Arteveldt" may truly be considered the poet of elaboration; abounding in fine passages, artificially worked up to a deceptive appearance of poetry, they remind one of false metals, or, to speak more poetically, of that beautiful waxen fruit which might almost deceive a gardener. The body is there, but the soul is wanting. It is calm, classical, and frigid. Mr. Taylor is sufficiently sagacious to know that he has no imagination, and he, therefore, to cover the defect, constantly cries that a redundancy of imagination is fatal to the great poet, as though Apollo could not bridle his own Pegasus. The palpable inference which he wishes drawn is, that he, Mr. Taylor, has a great deal of poetical fire and genius, but he is philosopher enough to subdue it to the mastery of reason.
Mr. Taylor, in his preface to Philip Van Arteveldt, enters into a minute account of his philosophy of poetry; he there largely insists upon a balance of faculties, and regards good sense as “the essential constituent of genius.” This is certainly a startling doctrine ! to deny to Marlow, Shelley, and a host of great imaginations the poetic faculty, because they had not good sense; “good” is a very vague word, it has numerous significations; in the present instance it seems to be used to mean “common sense.” That a poet with “common” or “good sense” is more perfect than a poet without that excellent quality of the mind, is undoubtedly true, for the more faculties a man has, the greater he must necessarily be; but we deny that it is essential to the poetic mind. All experience contradicts it, and let us tell Mr. Taylor very pointedly, if he means “good taste and judgment,” so far as poetical composition is concerned, we agree with him; but if he uses the words “good sense” in the common acceptation of the world, he is stating an absurdity, or else a falsehood, to cover his own want of genius. Mr. Taylor has no doubt “good sense,” or “common sense,” but he has no poetical genius, none of that “divine affiatus” which carries a man not out of logic and cold reason, but above it. Mr. Taylor will never persuade the world to believe that Shelley is no poet, because his imagination was too vivid; and that Keats and Coleridge were deficient in a great essential of the human heart, because they were not sufficiently alive to the wonderful importance of “good sense,” which Mr. Taylor declares to be “the most essential constituent of genius.” Mr. Horne observes, “There must be something peculiarly undramatic in the mind that could conceive and execute a dramatic subject in so lengthy a form as to comprise the same number of lines as six plays, each of the ordinary length. Mr. Horne has not, however, stated the whole question; he has let the “undramatic author of Philip Van Arteveldt” off too easily; he should remember that it is not the number of lines that makes a drama undramatic, it is the number of scenes / One poet may write his dialogues too fully, but the action will be there; the ballet skeleton will remain, though possibly clothed somewhat too heavily with robes; while another may with some self-important tragedian, consider the words as the necessary evil of a tragedy, infinitely preferring their own spasms, convulsions, glaring eyes, distorted scowls, drawn down mouths, and volutions; marchings about the stage, to the noblest outbursts of passionate defiance or poetical musings; they no doubt would prefer not to share the glory with the author of “As You Like It,” but, instead of speak