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MR. CHANNING'S POEMS.*
THIS little volume is a pledge that the author need not owe any advantage to the eminent name he wears, but is ready to add, to the distinction which already encircles it, the fame of poetry. It is a collection chiefly of occasional poems on domestic, private, and personal topics, with poems of sentiment and reflection, and one or two narrative pieces; all very short, but a skilful reader will readily detect in them the presence of the authentic gifts of music and of fancy. All critics know that in the multitude of writers one who can write English is rare
and much more rare is one who can master the keys of rhythm, and express himself naturally in verse. The author of these poems has achieved this mastery in the easy and novel structure of his metrical style, which, though often falling into the popular forms, as into blank verse, or into the common octosyllabic quatrains, keeps a new character in these old forms. Meantime, many of his metres are original and of singular beauty. Especially, we catch some strains of that peculiar lyric eloquence which the old dramatists, and Herrick, and even Donne drew from our rugged and hissing language, which is like an exquisite nerve communicating by thrills, and which we sometimes fear to be a lost art. Equally with his music, we enjoy the activity of the fancy in these thoughtful poems, which never keeps the beaten road, but by its beautiful invention of methods and outlets, communicates a feeling of freedom and power, which the lovers of poetry will hear as the ringing of a wind-harp.
But the samples of his thought which the author of this book has afforded us, few though they be, betray higher gifts than melody and fancy. There is a delicacy and refinement in this mind, which put the reader at once at school in the most agreeable of disciplines, as it requires much culture to apprehend them. Far from being popular verses, we should rather say that this
was poetry for poets, and would be valued in proportion to the poetic taste of its readers. It has given us to think how much sincerity is an indispensable element of high poetry that the author should give us his proper experiences, neither more nor less, and should tell us not what men may be supposed to feel in the presence of a mountain or a cataract, but how it was with him. The truth must be spoken without reference to the reader or hearer, or to anything which is not the life of the poem itself. The writing shall have no foreign reference, but shall be a vent and voidance of things the man has at heart. Poetry thus written, we shall find wholly new, the latest birth of time, the last observation which the incarnate Spirit has taken of its work. comes only by highest endowment. Men utter follies, not because they prefer them, but from want of thought. The poet is preoccupied with the facts before him, and speaks well because the fact is too strong for him, and will not allow him to babble. That gratification this poetry will afford, as it is not conventional, but is stamped with truth. This veracity makes the value of the whole book; it is made up of the simplest expressions of a gentle and thoughtful mind, its privatest knowledge and feeling. Much of it seems to be poetry of love and sentiment, fruits of a fine, light, gentle, happy intercourse with his friends; the poet obviously and consciously idealizing his portraits, because his interest is not in that which they are in the world, but in what they are to his genius. And the imagery has the same genuineness; it is not borrowed from the great poets, but, though sometimes a little whimsical or surprising, is the form which the thought clothed itself in, and which required some courage to adopt.
As we loitered among these Dorian measures, we have figured the author as a person of wayward habits, early
• Poems by William Ellery Channing. Boston: Little & Brown. 1843.
wisdom, and affectionate speech, with a tone that is tremulous with emotion like a flower in the wind; as one
-or when he contemplates the mysteries of humanity, the spiritual life, and the spectre death, with equal depth of nature to their own. He pauses at birth
"Who drew fine pictures on the swim- days as "the solemnest days of our
-as one who loves
"To see the early stars, a mild sweet train,
Come out to bury the diurnal sun;
bright lives," at the marriage festival, at the advent and the parting of human life ;
"That I was father to so fair a child, And that her mother smiled on me so long,
I think of now as passing gods' estate.
-who walks in the grove by the col- I am enraptured that such lot was mine, umns of the temple, whilst
That mine is others'. ".
"Fanned them the softly entering, sing- With a keen sympathy with nature, he now mingles his sigh with that of the melancholy autumn:
-who sees Beauty passing through the field ;
"And dances on the sward the capering light,
"Summer is going,
Tale of the autumn-the autumn so drear;
No mower is mowing,
And all the swinging herbs love her soft Seed is sown, harvest mown, time almost steps;"
--who stands in the breezy meadow as in his home;—
"The wind is feeling in each gentle bell, I and my flowers receive this music well "
-and in very deed leading the true and beautiful life of the flowers themselves :
"A life well spent is like a flower
But he has not only these strains pure and untiring as the summer-wind itself, but a sterner, autumnal, and even wintry music, when he expresses his impatience of the unmeaning conventions of cities, the lowness of our social aims, and the equal paltriness of our concealment and our display, and bids the aspirant
"Boom like the roaring, sunlit waterfall, Humming to infinite abysms; speak loud, speak free!"
Flowers are fading,
Autumn's wreath braiding,
To deck the sad burial-sad burial lone;
Gray clouds are flying,
And the babe shall be crying, And the mother be sighing, Coldly lie, coldly die, in the arms of the gale."
-now bursts into brief ejaculation of happiness, as he glances a glad eye round over the wealth of beauty which is all his, and ours, and every man's:
"A dropping shower of spray,
Filled with a beam of light,-
A summer field o'erstrown
With gay and laughing flowers, And shepherd's clocks half-blown, That tell the merry hours,The waving grain, The spring soft rain,Are these things ours ?"
Those who bear up in their so generous
The beautiful ideas of matchless forms; For were these not portrayed, our human fate,
Which is to be all high, majestical, To grow to goodness with each coming age,
Till virtue leap and sing for joy to see So noble, virtuous men,-would brief decay;
And the green, festering slime, oblivious, haunt
About our common fate. Oh honor them!
But what to all true eyes has chiefest charm,
And what to every breast where beats a heart
Framed to one beautiful emotion, to
To all the tedious walks of common life, This is fair woman,-woman, whose applause
Each poet sings,-woman, the beautiful. Not that her fairest brow, or gentlest form Charm us to tears; not that the smoothest cheek,
Where ever rosy tints have made their home,
So rivet us on her; but that she is The subtle, delicate grace,-the inward grace,
For words too excellent; the noble, true, The majesty of earth; the summer queen : In whose conceptions nothing but what's great
Has any right. And, O! her love for him, Who does but his small part in honoring
Discharging a sweet office, sweeter none, Mother and child, friend, counsel and re
Nought matches with her, nought has leave with her
To highest human praise. Farewell to
Ah! had but words the power, what could we say
Of woman! We, rude men, of violent phrase,
Harsh action, even in repose inwardly harsh;
Whose lives walk blustering on high stilts, removed
From all the purely gracious influence
Thou who in early years feelest awake
As on the common ear strike without heed,
The miser's life to this seems sweet and
fair; Better to pile the glittering coin, than seek To overtop our brothers and our loves.
Merit in this? Where lies it, though thy
Ring over distant lands, meeting the wind Even on the extremest verge of the wide world.
Merit in this? Better be hurled abroad On the vast whirling tide, than in thyself Concentred, feed upon thy own applause. Thee shall the good man yield no rever
But, while the idle, dissolute crowd areloud
In voice to send thee flattery, shall rejoice That he has 'scaped thy fatal doom, and known
How humble faith in the good soul of things O my
Provides amplest enjoyment. brother,
If the Past's counsel any honor claim From thee, go read the history of those Who a like path have trod, and see a fate Wretched with fears, changing like leaves at noon,
When the new wind sings in the white birch wood.
Learn from the simple child the rule of life, And from the movements of the uncon
They build thee tombs upon the green hill Fall off, ye garments of my misty weather, Drop from my eyes, ye scales of time's
And will not suffer thee the least neglect,
And in thy lovely gentleness sleeps wo.
Look not upon us till we chasten pride,
And not upon these few smooth hours
I come, I come, think not I turn away!
The setting of my last frail earthly day;
Ah! might I ask thee, Spirit, first to tend
And supplicate thee, that I might them
A light in their last hours, and to the ground
Consign them still,-yet think me not too weak,
Come to me now, and thou shalt find me
Then let us live in fellowship with thee,
Sinking within thy arms as sinks the sun
Especially we are struck with his bold prayer to that "unceasing river" of consciousness, "that from the soul's clear fountain swiftly pours," and the piercing music with which he seems to sound lower than plummet line those mysterious deeps, in the poem entitled "The Poet's Hope :"
"Flying, flying beyond all lower regions, Beyond the light called day, and night's repose,
Am I not godlike? meet not here together
Would I could summon from the deep, deep mine,
Glutted with shapely jewels, glittering
One echo of that splendor, call it thine,
I seek it not, I ask no rest forever,
Where the untrammelled soul, on her Motionless not, until the end is won,