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stedfastly into the night, while sounds of anger and voices of delight alternate vex and soothe the ear of man.” But those sands bear no footprints. The next simoom will cover up the deepest track: and the one lesson taught by the long caravans of weary humanity that have toiled along that pilgrim-way, is the one-sided, and therefore false doctrine, that for the most part the vestiges of life will disappear! But, perhaps, the poet meant to correct the falsehood? If so, his imagery is at least incongruous, and he should have placed us elsewhere than amid the desert sands. Yet we are not sure, after all, that such was the scene before him.: For, the traveller, who is “ to take heart again,” is, or appears to be, a mariner “shipwrecked” in “sailing o'er life's desert main.” Does the desert, then, mean the sea; if so, where are the footprints? Or, if we imagine him gaining the shore from his shattered bark, what will the footprints tell him? Nothing to the purpose, certainly. That the island is inhabited, it may be; or that some one else has been shipwrecked there before him, not that he himself may reach with swelling sails the port at last.
Many readers will say that it is not fair to try a figure thus strictly by prosaic rules. We reply that our purpose is simply to illustrate the adaptation of such poetry to times of reverie, when the mind is content to accept impressions vaguely, not caring to analyze the images which connect themselves with congenial truth. But part of the glory of the highest poetry is that its pictures shape themselves into a grander distinctness the longer they are pondered. Mr. Tennyson, for instance, would never leave us in doubt whether a caravan were “shipwrecked " in the sandy desert, or a merchantman were striving to make out footmarks in the sea ! Then we are not quite sure about Mr. Longfellow's teaching in this poem. We admit that “not enjoyment and not sorrow” is our true goal; but is it sufficient to make progress the aim of our being
“ So to act that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day?" Surely this is vague. The further lesson to labour and to wait is valuable; and a passage in “Hyperion,"—at the end of the first book-may be recollected, in which the thought is finely expanded. But there is something higher, nobler than this waiting; for what, after all, should the true man care to wait for ?
“ So many worlds, so much to do,
So little done, such things to be,
How know I what had need of thee,
The fame is quenched that I foresaw,
The head hath missed an early wreath.
I curse not nature, no, nor death ;
Is dim, or will be dim, with weeds:
What fame is left for human needs
And self-infolds the large results
Of force that would have forged a name." These words traverse in part the same line of thought as the “Psalm of Life,” but how far deeper, more comprehensive, more · healthy the lesson !
Of Excelsior," Mr. Longfellow's other best-known piece, we only need say that when young ladies learn Latin, or when their brothers come home from school and give them the true rendering of the classical refrain, the effect is somewhat painfully disenchanting. It is touching, perhaps, to think of the youth with a flag upon his Alpenstock, scaling steep after steep, with the cry, " Still higher;" but it is difficult to be enthusiastic about a young traveller, who at every stage ejaculates, “A taller man!" This defect, to our mind, is fatal to the poem; else, there is one thought finely suggested by it, although strangely enough often unnoticed. It is not aspiration, not success, but failure, of which the poet evidently means to speak. The climber rejects the allurements of home, scorns the thought of danger, breaks from the ties of love, stays not even at the altar of religion, that he may win his purpose. And he does not win it after all, but sinks upon the icy slope and dies ! Then “from above serene and far, a voice fell like a falling star,"* COME UP HIGHER. That is, as it has been said, “Heaven is for earth's failures." Still, the sentiment is but half a truth; and the poem as entirely fails in disclosing the true secret of life as the “Psalm” on which we have commented, or, we may add, as the “ Builders.”
It is where the poet no longer essays so wide a view, but confines himself to some transient mood of feeling, or tender reminiscence, or half-melancholy view of one phase of life's experience, that his special charm appears. What can be more delightful than his “Children's Hour,” or the poem beginning
** Come to me, O ye children "? * By-the-bye, how incongruous this metaphor! The falling star by its instant's flash symbolises swiftness, hurry: the voice of Heaven is solemn and calm! It will be seen that for the moment we allow the popular rendering of the word.
The “Gleam of Sunshine,” again, the musing on “Sand from the Desert,” in an hour-glass, “Santa Filomena," the “Prelude" to the collection entitled “The Waif,” with a score of brief lyrics on old legendary or chivalric themes, are absolutely perfect in their way. Of a yet higher strain are the “Hymn for my Brother's Ordination,” the “ Two Angels,” the “Ladder of St. Augustine,” and “God's Acre." "The Children of the Lord's Supper," of which it is not for us to say how much is really translated from the Swedish, and how much is Mr. Longfellow's own, is the only piece in the English language which to us runs melodiously in hexameters. We have met with the beautiful lines beginning
“Ah, when the infinite burden of life descendeth upon us,"
in a hymn-book; and well does the music, as well as the meaning of the words befit the hour of loftiest Christian devotion.
A secret of Mr. Longfellow's power is undoubtedly in the subtlety and grace of his analogies. Many a piece of his derives all its effect from some sudden turn of thought, bringing into view the likeness between outer things and the super-sensual reality. Often the scenery of the poem becomes a harmonious accompaniment to some train of emotion, as, for instance, the leaping spires of flame in “The Fire of Drift Wood” to the transient glimpses of memory and momentary relightings of the fire of olden affection. There is a piece of the same kind in the new collection, but hardly so felicitous :
“THE WIND OVER THE CHIMNEY."
“See, the fire is sinking low,
While above them still I cower,
Points beyond the midnight hour.
From a schoolboy at his play,
Making all their holiday.
In the midnight and the snow,
All the noisy chimneys blow!
Every quivering tongue of flame
Seems to say to me, “Aspire !'
Into darkness sinks your fire !!
Written by masters of the art,
Throb the harp-strings of the heart.
These are prophets, bards, and seers;
They control the coming years.'
These are but the flying sparks.
The dead laurels of the dead
Churchyards at some passing tread.'
And alone the night-wind drear
Dying on the hearth-stone here!'
No endeavour is in vain ;
Is the prize, the vanquished gain."
Undoubtedly these comparisons often degenerate into conceits, giving the impression of being ingeniously brought to the subject, rather than having spontaneously shaped themselves out of the thought. We feel a certain aptness, but there is no revelation. Thus, in the “Prelude," before quoted, the falling of darkness “ from the wing of night” is likened to "a feather wafted downwards from an eagle in his flight.” Very pretty, but hardly more than a conceit. May not the same too be said of the bards “ whose distant footsteps echo through the corridors of time," and notably of the last simile
“ The cares that infest the day
And as silently steal away"?
There is in the little volume now before us a notable example both of Mr. Longfellow's happy felicity of expression and of his tendency to the artificial and overstrained in fancy. The piece is entitled “The Bells of Lynn," and runs on in music to the close, when the effect of a sudden stoppage in the musical distant chime at the moment of the full moon's rising from the sea is thus expressed :
" And down the darkening coast run the tumultuous surges,
Ye cry aloud, and then are still, O bells of Lynn!” We have left ourselves no space to speak at any length of the other poems in this little book. Instead of doing so we will quote two sonnets—the former for its beautiful simile, the latter for its characteristic touch of sentiment wrought into a charming picture.
By self-devotion and by self-restraint
On unknown errands of the Paraclete,
Fail of the nimbus which the artists paint
And are in their completeness incomplete!
The lily of Florence blossoming in stone,
A vision, a delight, and a desire,
That in the night of ages bloomed alone,
My little lambs are folded like the flocks;