Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

Such voluntary initiation in sorrow was needless in the case of Cowper ;-another hand had opened the wound which was to familiarize him with the deepest trials of suffering humanity.

It is time, however, that we should proceed to consider some of the claims of Cowper to the character of a poet. Large multitudes have found an almost irresistible charm in his writings. In what peculiarities does this powerful influence mainly reside?

In order to reply to this question, we would first direct the attention of our readers to the constitution of his mind.

And here we may enter on our work by observing, that almost all critics have regarded an ardent love of nature as a sinè quâ non in the constitution of a poet. And nature, surely, never had a more enthusiastic admirer than the Author of the Task. How feelingly does he write on this subject !

“I have loved the rural walk through lanes

Of grassy swarth, close cropp'd by nibbling sheep,
And skirted thick with intertexture firm
Of thorny boughs; have loved the rural walk
O'er hills, through valleys, and by river's brink,
E’er since, a truant boy, I pass'd my bounds,
Tenjoy a ramble on the banks of Thames.

When Homer describes his shepherd as contemplating the heavens and earth by the light of the moon and stars, and says, with his accustomed simplicity and grace,“ The heart of the shepherd is glad;” our Author might seem to have sat for the portrait. Although unacquainted with nature in her sublimest aspect, every point in creation appears to have a charm for him. To no lips would the strain of another poet be more appropriate.

I care not, fortune, what you me deny ;

You cannot rob me of free nature's grace;
You cannot shut the windows of the sky,
Through which Aurora shows her brightening face ;
You cannot bar my constant feet to trace
The woods and lawns by living stream at eve.

It is true, that every enthusiastic lover of nature is not a poet: but a man can scarcely rise to the dignity of that high office who has not a touch of this enthusiasm. Poetry is essentially an imitative art; and he who is no lover of nature loses all the finest subjects of imitation. On the contrary, this attachment, especially if it be of an ardent character, supplies subjects to

to the

muse

everywhere.

Winter or summer, the wilderness and the garden, the cedar of Libanus, and the hyssop on the wall; all that is dull and ineloquent to another has a voice for him, and rouses him to think, to feel, to admire, and to speak. The following lines are said to have been introduced into - The Task,” to gratify Mrs. Unwin, after the first draught of the poem was finished. But what language can exhibit a more genuine attachment to nature ?

“ And witness, dear companion of my walks,

Whose arm this twentieth winter I perceive
Fast lock'd in mine
Witness a joy that thou hast doubled long.
Thou know'st my praise of nature most sincere,
And that my raptures are not conjur'd up
To serve occasion of poetic pomp,
But genuine; and art partner of them all.”

Nor was the delight which he derived from nature confined, in the case of our poet, to one sense. “ All the sounds,he writes, “ that nature utters are delightful, at least in this country. I should not perhaps find the roarings of lions in Africa, or of bears in Russia, very pleasing ; but I know of no beast in England, whose voice I do not account musical, save and except only the braying of an ass.

The notes of all our birds and fowls please me, without one exception. I should not indeed think of keeping a goose in a cage, that I might hang him up in the parlour for the sake of his melody, but the goose upon a common, or in a farm-yard, is no bad performer. Seriously, however, it strikes me as a very observable instance of providential kindness to man, that such an exact accord has been contrived between his ear and the sounds with which, at least in a rural situation, it is almost every moment visited. The fields, the woods, the gardens, have each their concerts; and the ear of man is for ever regaled by creatures who seem only to please themselves. Even the ears that are deaf to the Gospel are continually entertained, though without knowing it, by sounds for which they are solely indebted to its

author.” *

It is interesting to compare with this the poetical expression of the same thought.

Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds

Exhilarate the spirit, and restore
The tone of languid nature

* Letter to Mr. Newton.

Nature inanimate employs sweet sounds,
But animated nature sweeter still,
To soothe or satisfy the human ear.
Ten thousand warblers cheer the day, and one
The live-long night. Nor those alone whose notes
Nice-finger'd must emulate in vain ;
But cawing rooks, and kites, that swim sublime
In still repeated circles, screaming loud ;
The jay, the pie, and e'en the boding owl,
That hails the rising moou, have charms for me."

Another poetical quality in the mind of Cowper is his ardent love of his speciesa love which led him to contemplate, with the most solicitous regard, their wants, tastes, passions; their diseases, and the appropriate remedies for them. It has been justly observed, that, if there are some who have little taste for the poetry which delineates only inanimate beings or objects, there is hardly any one who does not listen, with sympathy and delight, to that which exhibits the fortunes and feelings of man. The truth is, we suppose, that this last order of topics is most easily brought home to our own business and bosoms. Aristotle considers that the imitation or delineation of human action is one of the main objects of poetry. But if this be true, if the proper study of mankind is man," and

6

VOL. VI.

« AnteriorContinua »