legend that Keats' death was caused by certain malignant
criticisms in The Blackwood's Magazine and The Quarterly
Review appears now to be altogether exploded. Anyone
who has read the letters of Keats is brought to the
extreme point nearest to conviction that the story is
absurd. No one ever expressed more thoroughly manly
views in regard to verse criticism in the public press
than Keats, and his words have in all cases the unexcited
and sedate tone of perfect sincerity. That Byron should
have believed and put it on record is not surprising.
Byron was not a particularly honest man, not a particularly
generous one, nor a particularly decent one. He was
not unwilling to credit his brother poet—whose
earlier work he himself had abused in a manner hardly
less brutal than that of the writer in Blackwood's Magazine—with
a weakness of which he deemed himself in his god-like
superiority incapable, and, moreover, the supposed fatal
injury done to Keats furnished him with material for
a very clever stanza in Don Juan, a thing in itself
quite irresistible. It is, however, strange that Shelley,
who knew Keats well enough, one would suppose, to be
thoroughly acquainted with his disposition and even
with his attitude in regard to this very matter, should
have so confidently accepted the tale, and given it
the tragical prominence that he did in "Adonais."
This is the one fact yet remaining which tempts us to
suspect that there may have been a shade more truth
in the old story than recent writers are willing to
its wide margins, its heavy soft paper and large print,
Mr. William Morris' "Poems by the Way" is
a delightful book to read—delightful as well from
the many beautiful things it contains (Robert Brothers,
3 Somerset Street, Boston.) Some of the poems are old
favorites, such as the song from the "Life and
Death of Jason," but most of them are new. Mr.
Morris has even given us two or three socialistic poems,
full of hope for the future and denunciation of the
present. In one, "The Day is Coming," he writes:—
then laugh not but listen
To this strange
tale of mine
All folk that are in England
Shall be better
lodged than swine
a man shall work and bethink him,
in the deeds of his hand,
Nor yet come home in the even
and weary to stand.
what wealth then shall be left us
shall gather gold
To buy his friend in the market,
and pine the sold?
what save the lovely city,
And the little
house on the hill,
And the wastes and the woodland beauty
And the happy
fields we till?
the three or four poems which deal with these subjects
have not the freedom or the exquisite ease of his best
work. It is in such poems as "Mother and Son,"
"The Half of Life Gone," "The Folk-mote
by the River," where there is scope for those clear
pictures of landscape, with their gem-like tints, and
for that knowledge of the human heart, that we find
Morris at his best. Over such subjects he throws a glamor,
a penetrating simplicity, the sadness of the remembrance
of lost things.
up and light are the clouds,
the swallows flit
So high o'er the sunlit earth,
They are well
a part of it;
And so, though high over them
Are the wings
of the wandering herne,
In measureless depths above him
Doth the fair
sky quiver and burn;
The dear sun floods the land
As the morning
falls toward noon,
And a little wind is awake
In the best
of the latter June.
They are busy winning the hay,
And the life
and the picture they make,
If I were once as I was
I should deem
it made for my sake;
For here, if one need not work,
Is a place
for happy rest,
While one's thought wends over the world,
and east and west.
book abounds in pictures of life and nature, drawn with
that firmness of outline and colored with that vividness
and depth which are characteristic of Morris as a poet.
We can nowhere else find such pictures, so ample, so
full of air and light, and so tender:—
things I saw at a glance:
fire tongues leapt
Through the crackling heap of sticks
And the sweet
smoke up from it crept
And close to the very hearth
The low sun
flooded the floor,
And the cat and the kittens played
In the sun
by the open door.
is from "Mother and Son," and as an example
of his treatment of an early morning landscape I would
quote this from "The Folk-mote by the River":—
into the mowing grass we went
Ere the very last of the night was spent.
was the moon, and he was gone,
So we whet our scythes by the stars alone.
or ever the long blades felt the hay,
Afar in the east the dawn was grey.
ever we struck our earliest stroke
The thrush in the hawthorn bush awoke.
yet the bloom of the swathe was dim,
The blackbird's bill had answered him.
half the road to the river was shorn
The sunbeams smote the twisted thorn.
week I spoke of the qualities of the poetical work of
Mr. T.B. Aldrich, the distinguished American poet, and
now I will give some quotations from his poems. In the
poem to "Cloth of Gold," one of his volumes
of verse, Mr. Aldrich gives us a hint of his artistic
ideals in verse-building when he says:—
ask us if by rule or no
songs are wrought
Upon the cunning
loom of thought,
We weave our fancies so and so.
busy shuttle comes and goes
rhymes, and deftly weaves
A tissue out
of autumn leaves,
With here a thistle, there a rose.
art and patience this is made
perfect Cloth of Gold;
so, nor moth nor mould
Nor time can make its colors fade.
strong individual piece in his best vein is Destiny:—
roses, wan as moonlight and weighted down
Each with its loveliness as with a crown,
Drooped in a florist's window in a town.
second rose, as virginal and fair,
Shrunk in the tangles of a harlot's hair.
third, a widow, with new grief made wild,
Shut in the icy palm of her dead child.
of the most remarkable of his weird pieces is Identity:—
in desolate, wind-swept space—
land, in no-man's land—
Two hurrying shapes met face to face,
And bade each
who are you?" cried one agape,
in the gloaming light.
"I know not," said the second shape,
died last night!"
an Intaglio Head of Minerva" and "In an Atelier"
are too long to quote, and so is "The Flight of
the Goddess," where he describes how
man should live in a garret aloof
And have few
friends and go poorly clad,
With an old hat stopping a chink in the roof
To keep the
Goddess constant and glad.
enough was I sometimes,
harassed with vain desires;
But thicker than clover sprung the rhymes
As I dwelt
like a sparrow among the spires.
filled my slumbers with song,
my dreams by day;
Now I listen and wait and long,
But the Delphian
airs have died away.
wonder and wonder how it befel;
had friends in crowds;
I bade the housetops a long farewell,
I cried, "to the stars and clouds!"
the woman I loved was now my bride,
And the house
I wanted was now my own;
I turned to the Goddess satisfied,
But the Goddess
had somehow flown.
and I fear she will never return;
I am much
too sleek and happy for her.
Whose lovers must hunger and waste and burn,
Ere the beautiful
heathen heart will stir.
"Judith," a long and ambitious poem in blank
verse, there is some magnificent description. As in
the flight of Judith and her maid from the camp of Ashur
after the slaying of Holofernes:
fled like wraiths
Through the hushed midnight into the black woods,
Where, from gnarled roots and ancient, palsied trees,
Dread shapes upstarting, clutched at them; and once
A nameless bird in branches overhead
Screeched, and the blood grew cold about their hearts.
many fine sonnets is the one called "Sleep,"
which many critics have considered his masterpiece.
It is certainly among his best work. I have not attempted
by these short quotations to give an idea of the artistic
beauty of Mr. Aldrich's work, but hope that I may have
succeeded in introducing his exquisite genius to some
of those Canadians who have not had the good fortune
to be already acquainted with the entrancing work of
this master artist in the domain of poetry:—
to soft sleep we give ourselves away,
And in a dream, as in a fairy bark,
Drift on and on through the enchanted dark
To purple daybreak, little thought we pay
To that sweet-bitter world we know by day.
We are clean quit of it as is a lark
So high in heaven no human eye may mark
The thin, swift pinion cleaving through the grey.
Till we awake ill-fate can do no ill,
The resting heart shall not take up again
The heavy load that yet must make it bleed;
For this brief space the loud world's voice is still,
No faintest echo of it brings us pain.
How will it be when we shall sleep indeed?
number of poems which have been translated from other
languages into English with just effect is remarkably
small—smaller even than need be, notwithstanding
the great difficulty of transferring from one language
to another the inner spirit of a fine poem. This is
due of course to the fact that the work of translation
has been left in most cases by the creative poets to
writers of inferior power—people who had not sufficient
aesthetic grasp and metrical gift for the task. Those
who are unable to read originals, and even those who
are, must be eternally grateful to Browning for his
"Prometheus"; to Shelley for the "Cyclops"
of Euripides, that delicious piece of English; to Dryden
for the "Aeneid," a noble rendering despite
many faults; to old Chapman, whose Homer still towers
heavily over so many a more ambitious attempt; to Edward
Fitzgerald for the "Rubaiyat"; to Rossetti
for his one translation from Villon, and to Swinburne
for some others; to Emma Lazarus and James Thompson
for several genuine translations from Heine, particularly
those of the former, who, by a subtle affinity of genius
and perhaps of race, seems to have taken upon her tongue
to an unusual degree the distinctive tone and accent
of her original. Dante is said to be very ably translated
by Chas. Elliot Norton; and even the old translation
of Carey must convey to us something more than the bare
tissue of the Italian. We owe Coleridge a good deal
for the Wallenstein. Goethe has been translated, but
surely not adequately, and nearly all the rest of the
vast field remains unturned save in the clumsiest and
most unsightly manner. To have at our command real translations
of all the noblest poems of other tongues so that we
might be able to enter somewhat into the inner spirit
of them without undertaking the impossible toil of mastering
seven or eight different languages would be an advantage
which the wise at least would repay with the truest
kind of fame to those mightier ones in their succeeding
generations who should be self-sacrificing enough to
confer it. If each genuine poet would reproduce even
one of these masterpieces it would not be very long
before we should have a tolerably complete series.