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CHAPTER II.-LYRIC POETRY.
The epic belongs to the outward world. Its business is to tell a story. It sings the wrath of Achilles, or the wanderings of Odysseus, or the feats of Beowulf; it reports simply what has happened. Quite the contrary with the lyric: it is subjective, proceeds from one individual ; has to do, not with events, but with feelings. It belongs to a later stage of culture than the epic. “The lyric poets," says Paul Albert,1 “are the interpreters of the new society. The field that is opened to them is vast, boundless, as the needs, desires, and energies of the people.” Children, and the early world, content themselves with things about them, events, objects of nature. Growing man becomes conscious of a world within him, of desires, hopes fears. To express these is the business of lyric poetry. Consequently the test of a good lyric poem is sincerity. To show how important this is, read an artificial lyric like Rogers' Wish ("Mine be a cot beside the hill"), and compare it with the exquisite Happy Heart of Dekker. [Both lyrics are in Palgrave's Golden Treasury.] We ask, therefore, of the lyric that it be a real expression, an adequate, harmonious, and imaginative expression, of real feeling
Hegel gives a good illustration of this subjective nature of the lyric as compared with the epic objectivity. Homer, he says, is so shut out, as individual, from his
i La Poésie, Paris, 1870. He is speaking especially of Greece, from 760–400 B.C.
great epics, that his very existence is questioned ; though his heroes are safely immortal. The heroes of Pindar, on the other hand, are empty names ; while he who sang them is the immortal poet. Lyric poetry tends to exalt the poet himself, to make his personality far more to us than the events which occasion his poem. Whether it be Horace or Robin Herrick who is singing, it is the poet who interests us, not the Mæcenas or Corinna to whom he sings, nor yet the villa or the Mayday which he takes as subject.
Again, the epic moves slowly, majestically; it is a broad and quiet current. The lyric is concentrated. It is like a well-spring bursting out suddenly at one's feet.
So, too, epic and lyric differ in form. The epic has a traditional, uniform metre, such as the hexameter or the heroic couplet or blank verse. The lyric has its choice of a hundred forms, or may go further, and invent a new form. The epic was chanted; the lyric was sung.
The old minstrel had his harp; the German Minnesänger accompanied their songs on the violin (not the harp, as often stated). This suggests the origin of the word lyric, — something sung to the lyre. Thus we have three elements : instrument, voice, words. In time a separation was brought about, so that now (1) the music is everything, and the words either altogether discarded (compare the Lieder ohne Worte) or else very subordinate and often foolish, as in opera ; or (2) the words are the chief consideration and the music a possibility. When to a lyric of the second class (such as Goethe's charming songs), the music of a great master is added, we have revived the original conception of a lyric.
The Abbé Batteux says that enthusiasm is the basis
of lyric poetry, and he gives three divisions: the sublime, the sweet, and what lies between the two. But this is nothing more than what was said above, — the lyric comes from and appeals to the feelings. It stirs our emotions and purifies them,-a process to which in the case of the drama Aristotle applied the term Katharsis, a purifying or purging. Lyric poetry must therefore be divided according to the nature of the feelings aroused. But these same emotions may be (a) SIMPLE, and the poem may so become a natural expression of immediate feeling ; or they may be (6) ENTHUSIASTIC, whence arises the dithyramb or ode; or lastly, they may be (c) REFLECTIVE, where the intellectual mingles with the purely emotional.
Many writers have proposed new classifications of lyric poetry; thus Carriere divides into lyrics of feeling, of contemplation (or the symbolic, i.e., the poet traces his own sensations as manifested in the external world), and of reflection. Vischer has still another division; but the one given above seems the simplest, and needs no great array of philosophic terms to explain it.
§ 1. SACRED LYRIC. The lyric here voices religious emotion. When this occurs (a) simply, when the feelings pour out unrestrainedly, we have such a hymn as Wesley's beautiful Jesus, Lover of my Soul. The world-old hymns on which mythology and religion were based were more epic than lyric. Otherwise with the purely emotional character of the Psalms of David : cf. XLII., As the hart panteth after the water-brooks. To these, as to Wesley's hymn, may be applied a phrase which De Quincey quotes from
the Greek, “ Flight of the solitary to the Solitary.” The spirit of Christianity is an individual spirit; it appeals to the single human soul. Hence many beautiful hymns of the church.
(6) The second class of lyrics, the Ode, is where any strain of enthusiastic and exalted lyrical verse [is] directed to a fixed purpose, and [deals] progressively with one dignified theme.” (E. W. Gosse.) For purely sacred lyric, an instance of this kind would be the Ode, “God,” by Derzhavin, the Russian ; translated by Bowring. With slight epic leaning is Pope's Messiah.
(c) The reflective sacred lyric is well represented in the poems of George Herbert, where, however, the passion for 'conceits' often clogs the lyric flight. Whittier's Eternal Goodness may be mentioned among modern poems of this class.
§ 2. PATRIOTIC LYRIC. National hymns flourish in every country, and the feeling of love for one's native land has found frequent and various expression in the lyric. “Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled” (Burns); The Isles of Greece (Byron); The Marseillaise; the exquisite little “Ode,” How Sleep the Brave (Collins); Give a Rouse (R. Browning, Cavalier Tunes'); Ye Mariners of England (Campbell) - are all examples of this sort. Then there is the fine Ode by Sir W. Jones, What Constitutes a State ? the sonnet To Milton by Wordsworth ; Coleridge's Ode to France; and the masterpiece of lofty reflection joined with intense feeling flashing out in the “higher mood” of Lycidas. In patriotic lyrics are, of course, included
lyrics of war. Several have been mentioned. Poems like The Destruction of Sennacherib (Byron) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (Tennyson), though narratįve in form, are really lyric; the feeling is the main thing, not the story. They are subjective, not objective.
Lastly, we must not forget that in the best dramatic poetry there are bursts of feeling so strong as to make them lyrical, despite the chains of blank-verse and the dependence on the rest of the play. Such à patriotic outburst is the part about England in the dying speech of old John of Gaunt (Rich. II., II. I), or the famous exhortation of King Harry (Hen. V., III. I).
§ 3. LOVE-LYRICS. These are the lyrics par excellence. Our literature is wonderfully rich in this respect. We think of such a simple love-lyric as Take, O take those lips away (in Measure for Measure), or O my love's like a red, red rose, or Whistle and i'll come to you, my lad (Burns); of such an ode as Spenser's Epithalamion; of such a fine • reflective' love-lyric as She was a phantom of delight (Wordsworth), and, though we have combined most widely sundered points of view, we have by no means exhausted the “many moodes and pangs of lovers the poure fools sometimes praying, beseeching, sometime honouring, auancing, praising: an other while railing, reviling, and cursing; then sorrowing, weeping, lamenting: in the ende laughing, rejoysing and solacing the beloued againe, with a thousand delicate deuises, odes, songs, elegies, ballads, sonets and other ditties, moouing one way and another to great compas