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Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
The lines are in themselves not perfect; for most of the words, thus artfully opposed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphorically on the other; and if there be any language which does not express intellectual
operations, by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. But so much meaning is comprised in few words ; the particulars of resemblance are so perspicaciously collected, and every mode of excellence separated from its adjacent fault by so nice a line of limitation; the different parts of the sentence are so accurately adjusted; and the flow of the last couplet is so smooth and sweet; that the passage, however celebrated, has not been praised above its merit. It has beauty peculiar to itself, and must be numbered among those felicities which cannot be produced at will by wit and labour, but must arise unexpectedly in some hour propitious to poetry.
He appears to have been one of the first that understood the necessity of emancipating translation from the drudgery of counting lines and interpreting single words. How much this servile practice obscured the clearest and deformed the most beautiful parts of the ancient authors, may be discovered by a perusal of our earlier versions ; some of them are the works of men well qualified, not only by critical knowledge, but by poetical genius, who yet, by a mistaken ambition of exactness, degraded at once their originals and themselves.
Denham saw the better way, but has not pursued it with great success.
His versions of Virgil are not pleasing; but they taught Dryden to please better. His poetical imitation of Tully on “ Old Age” has neither the clearness of prose, nor the spriteliness of poetry.
The “strength of Denham,” which Pope so emphatically mentions, is to be found in many lines and couplets, which convey much meaning in few words, and exhibit the sentiment with more weight than bulk.
On the Thames.
Though with those streams he no resemblance hold,
His wisdom such, as once it did appear
To him no author was unknown,
Horace's wit, and Virgil's state,
Their garb, but not their cloaths, did wear.
In his translation of Virgil, written when he was about twenty-one years old, may be still found the old manner of continuing the sense ungracefully from verse to verse :
Then all those
From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his followers the art of concluding their sense in couplets; which has perhaps been with rather too much constancy pursued.
This passage exhibits one of those triplets which are not unfrequent in this essay, but which it is to be supposed his maturer judgement disapproved, since in his latter works he has totally forborn them.
His rhymes are such as seem found without difficulty, by following the sense; and are for the most part as exact at least as those of other poets, though now and then the reader is shifted off with what he can get :
O how transform'd!
And again :
From thence a thousand lesser poets sprung,
Sometimes the weight of rhyme is laid upon a word too feeble to sustain it:
Troy confounded falls
He is not very careful to vary the ends of his verses; in one passage the word die rhymes three couplets in six.
Most of these petty faults are in his first pro
ductions, where he was less skilful, or at least less dexterous in the use of words; and though they had been more frequent, they could only have lessened the grace, not the strength of his composition. He is one of the writers that improved our taste, and advanced our language, and whom we ought therefore to read with gratitude, though, having done much, he left much to do.