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Spares but the cloudy border of his base
8 To the foil'd searching of mortality;
12 All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
THE FORSAKEN MERMAN.
[From The Strayed Reveller and other Poems (1849)]
Come, dear children, let us away; Down and away below! Now my brothers call from the bay, 4 Now the great winds shoreward blow, Now the salt tides seaward flow; Now the wild white horses play, Champ and chafe and toss in the spray.
8 Children dear, let us away!
This way, this way!
Call her once before you go —
Call once yet! 12 In a voice that she will know:
Children's voices should be dear
(Call once more) to a mother's ear; is Children's voices, wild with pain —
Surely she will come again!
Call her once and come away;
This way, this way! 20 'Mother dear, we cannot stay!
The wild white horses foam and fret'
Come, dear children, come away down;
24 Call no more! One last look at the white-wall'd town, And the little grey church on the
windy shore; Then come down! 28 She will not come though you call all day;
Come away, come away!
Children dear, was it yesterday We heard the sweet bells over the bay? 82 In the caverns where we lay,
Through the surf and through the swell,
The far-off sound of a silver bell? Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep, Where the winds are all asleep; 36 Where the spent lights quiver and gleam,
Where the salt weed sways in the stream,
Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round.
Feed in the ooze of their pastureground; 40
Where the sea-snakes coil and twine,
Dry their mail and bask in the brine;
Where great, whales come sailing by,
Sail and sail, with unshut eye, 44
Round the world for ever and aye?
When did music come this way?
Children dear, was it yesterday? Children dear, was it yesterday 48
(Call yet once) that she went away?
Once she sate with you and me,
On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea,
And the youngest sate on her knee.«
She comb'd its bright hair, and she tended it well,
When down swung the sound of a far-off bell.
She sigh'd, she look'd up through the clear green sea;
She said: 'I must go, for my kinsfolk pray ~ M
In the little grey church on the shore to-day.
'Twill be Easter-time in the world — ah me!
And I lose my poor soul, Merman!
here with thee.' 601 said: 'Go up, dear heart, through
the waves; Say thy prayer, and come back to
the kind sea-caves!' She smiled, she went up through the
surf in the bay. Children dear, was it yesterday? 84 Children dear, were we long alone? 'The sea grows stormy, the little ones
Long prayers,' I said, 'in the world they say;
Come!' I said; and we rose through the surf in the bay. 68 We went up the beach, by the sandy down
>. • Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the . •' white-wall'd town;
Through the narrow jjajfid streets, where all was still, To the little grey church on the windy hill. 73 From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers, But we stood without in the cold
blowing airs. We climb'd on the graves, on the stones
worn with rains, And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes. 76 She sate by the pillar; we saw her clear:
'Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here!
Dear heart,' I said, 'we are long alone; The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan.'
so But, ah, she gave me never a look, For her eyes were seal'd to the holy book!
Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door.
Come away, children, call no more! 84 Come away, come down, call no morel Down, down, down!
Down to the depths of the sea!
with its toy!
For the wheel where I spun, 93
And the blessed light of the sun!'
And so she sings her fill,
Singing most joyfully,
Till the spindle drops from her hand, %
And the whizzing wheel stands still.
She steals to the window, and looks
at the sand,
Come away, away children; ioe
But, children, at midnight, 124 When soft the winds blow, When clear falls the moonlight, When spring-tides are low; When sweet airs come seaward 128 From heaths starr'd with broom,
And high rocks throw mildly
132 Up the still, glistening beaches,
136 We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
At the white, sleeping town;
At the church on the hill-side —
And then come back down.
Singing: 'There dwells a loved one, wo
But cruel is she!
She left lonely for ever
The kings of the sea.'
[From New Poems (1867)]
The sea is calm to-night
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; — on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, I 5 Gbmmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. >
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence alow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in. iB Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the ^Egsean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
To he before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; 86 And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night
[From Essays in Oritieism, Second Series (1888)]
Wordsworth's poetry is great because of the extraordinary power with which Wordsworth feels the joy offered to us in nature, the joy of6 fered to us in the simple primary affections and duties; and because of the extraordinary power with which, in case after case, he shows us this joy, and renders it so as to make us
10 share it
The source of joy from which he thus draws is the truest and most unfailing source of joy accessible to man. It is also accessible universally.
18 Wordsworth brings us word, therefore, according to his own strong and characteristic line, he brings us word
Of joy in widest commonalty spread.
20 Here is an immense advantage for a poet Wordsworth tells of what all seek, and tells of it at its truest and best source, and yet a source where all may go and draw for it 26 Nevertheless, we are not to suppose that everything is precious which Wordsworth, standing even at this perennial and beautiful source, may give us. Wordsworthians are apt to so talk as if it must be. They will speak with the same reverence of The Sailor's Mother, for example, as of Lucy Oray. They do their master harm by such lack of disss crimination. Lucy Oray is a beautiful success; The Sailor's Mother is a failure. To give aright what he wishes to give, to interpret and render successfully, is not always within 40 Wordsworth's own command. It is within no poet's command; here is the part of the Muse, the inspiration, the God, the 'not ourselves'. In Wordsworth's case, the accident for 46 so it may almost be called, of in
spiration, is of peculiar importance. No poet, perhaps, is so evidently filled with a new and sacred energy when the inspiration is upon him; no poet, when it fails him, is so left &o 'weak as is a breaking wave'. I remember hearing him say that 'Goethe's poetry was not inevitable enough.' The remark is striking and true; no line in Goethe, as Goethe 55 said himself, but its maker knew well how it came there. Wordsworth / is right Goethe's poetry is not in- f evitahle; not inevitable enough. But Wordsworth's poetry, when he is at 60 his best, is inevitable, as inevitable as Nature herself. It might seem that Nature not only gave him the matter for his poem, but wrote his poem for him. He has no style. He was too 66 conversant with Milton not to catch at times his master's manner, and he has fine Mil tonic lines; but he has no assured poetic style of his own, like Milton. When he seeks to have 70 a style he falls into ponderosity and pomposity. In the Excursion we have his style, as an artistic product of his own creation; and although Jeffrey completely failed to recognise 75 Wordsworth's real greatness, he was yet not wrong in saying of the Excursion, as a work of poetic style: 'This will never do.' And yet magical as is that power, which Wordsworth so has not, of assured and possessed poetic style, he has something which is an equivalent for it
Every one who has any sense for these tilings feels the subtle turn, 86 the heightening, which is given to a poet's verse by his genius for style. We can feel it in the
After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well —
of Shakspere; in the so
... though fall'n on evil days, On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues —
of Milton. It is the incomparable charm of Milton's power of poetic 95 style which gives such worth to Paradise Regained, and makes a great poem of a work in which Milton's imagination does not soar high. Wordsworth has in constant pos
100 session, and at command, no style of this kind; but he had too poetic a nature, and had read the great poets too well, not to catch, as I have already remarked, something of
106 it occasionally. We find it not only in his Miltonic lines; we find it in such a phrase as this, where the manner is his own, not Milton's —
t ... the fierce confederate storm 110 , Of sorrow barricadoed evermore Within the walls of cities;
although even here, perhaps, the power of style which is undeniable, is more properly that of eloquent
lis prose than the subtle heightening and change wrought by genuine poetic style. It is style, again, and the elevation given by style, which chiefly makes the effectiveness of Laodameia.
120 Still the right sort of verse to choose from Wordsworth, if we are to seize his true and most characteristic form of expression, is a line like this from Michael —
126 And never lifted up a single stone.
There is nothing subtle in it, no heightening, no study of poetic style, strictly so called, at all; yet it is expression of the highest and most
iso truly expressive kind.
Wordsworth owed much to Burns, and a style of perfect plainness, relying for effect solely on the weight and force of that which with entire
iS6 fidelity it utters, Burns could show him.
The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow
And softer flame; uo But thoughtless follies laid him low
And stain'd his name.
Every one will be conscious of a likeness here to Wordsworth; and if Wordsworth did great things with ufi this nobly plain manner, we must remember, what indeed he himself would always have been forward to acknowledge, that Burns used it before him. uo
Still Wordsworth's use of it has something unique and unmatchable. Nature herself seems, I say, to take the pen out of his hand, and to write for him with her own bare, 165 sheer, penetrating power. This arises from two causes; from the profound sincereness with which Wordsworth feels his subject, and also from the profoundly sincere and natural char- i60 acter of his subject itself. He can and will treat such a subject with nothing but the most plain, firsthand, almost austere naturalness. His expression may often be called bald, 166 as, for instance, in the poem of Resolution and Independence; but it is bald as the bare mountain tops are bald, with a baldness which is full of grandeur. 170
Wherever we meet with the successful balance, in Wordsworth, of profound truth of subject with profound truth of execution, he is unique. His best poems are those which most ns perfectly exhibit this balance. I have a warm admiration for Laodameia and for the great Ode; but if I am to tell the very truth, I find Laodameia not wholly free from something iso artificial, and the great Ode not wholly free from something declamatory. If I had to pick out poems of a kind most perfectly to show Wordsworth's unique power, I should iss