Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

father's acquisition of the house at Horton, on the estate of Lord Bridgewater ; but this poem, as we have seen, could not have been written later than 1628, when Milton was in his twentieth year, and there seems to be no reason for supposing that his father had as yet gone to live at Horton.

Critics in general are agreed in acknowledging this to be a most pleasing poem. Hallam indeed qualifies his praise by saying that “the first lines are bad, and the last much worse;" and Dunster wishes that the poem had ended at the sixty-eighth verse, as “what follows

" seems only to weaken it, and the last verse is an eminent instance of the bathos.With this criticism we cannot quite agree. The first lines are a simple exposition of the subject, telling who the person celebrated was; and as to the bathos of the last verse,

No Marchioness, but now a Queen, Milton had probably in his mind those passages of Scripture in which the pious departed are spoken of as kings, and as reigning with Christ, and he therefore naturally, when the subject was a female, employed the term queen to express that degree of spiritual exaltation.

The verse is in four-foot measure. It is probably his first employment of this species of verse, which he afterwards used with so much success in L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Comus.

Respecting this verse an error seems generally to prevail among critics. Observing that it consists of lines of seven as well as of eight syllables, ex. gr.

This rich marble doth inter
The honoured wife of Winchester,

they call the former à trochaic, the latter an iambic verse. * Such however is not the case. The trochaic line was at that time unknown to English poetry, and, if we mistake not, continued to be so till Percy used it in his translations of some Spanish romances ; for though some preceding poems, such as Shenstone's Princess Elizabeth and Glover's Hosier's Ghost, appear to be trochaic, they are not such in reality,t but will, if accurately considered, be found to be iambics with the first foot monosyllabic, and the last hypermetric, as in

But hail, thou goddess sage and holy,

Hail, divinest Melancholy ! Trochaic verse was familiar to the Greeks and Romans, who seem to have transmitted it to the Provençals and Spaniards, $ from whom it was borrowed by

* We will here observe, once for all, that we use these metric terms, as applied to modern verse, because the ictus, or metric accent, is the same as in the classic verses of these names. Modern verse does not attend much to quantity.

† In these poems the lines will generally be found to commence with monosyllables, while trochaic verse usually is fond of dissyllables. The movement of genuine trochaie verse is also different from that of these poems, - more light and tripping. It is not easy, in fact, to compose genuine trochaic verse in English. # The popular verse of the Romans ran thus :-

Ec'ce Cæ'sar núnc triúmphat,
Quí subégit Gálliás.-Suet. Jul. 49;
Dísce míles militare,

Gálba est nón Getzlicus.– Id. Galba, 6: which is just the measure of the Spanish romances :

Núnca fuéra caballéro
De dámas tán bién servído
Cómo fuéra Lánzarote

Cuándo dé Bretaña víno. The Spanish verse, as we may see in the second line, admits the iamb in the first two feet.

Conde however (see Ticknor, Hist. of Span. Lit. i. 100) says, “In the versification of our Castilian ballads (romances) and seguidillas, we have received from the Arabs an exact type of their verses." We doubt the fact.


the early poets of Germany, while the poetry of Italy rejected it almost totally, till about the time when, as we have stated, it was introduced into English poetry.*

The early English poetry was regulated by ictus, or beats, not by the number of syllables ; it therefore should be measured by feet, and each foot may contain either two, or three syllables, or even only one at the beginning or after the cæsura. Thus even in our own days, in Byron's line,



the land where the cypress and myrtle, the first foot is monosyllabic, and yet it is to be counted as an anapæst. Numerous instances of the same kind will be found in Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar. In Sir Walter Scott's

March, march, Ettrick and Tevidale, the two first monosyllables are to be counted as dactyls, for the other lines are completely dactylic. So in Milton's Hymn on the Nativity, the two first lines of each stanza are of three feet, or, as is the usual expression, of six syllables

It was the winter wild,

While the heaven-born child.t Yet we afterwards meet

When such music sweet

Their hearts and ears did greet. * Dante's contemporary, Barberini, had used trochaics in his Mottetti, and a poet named Serafino Aquilano, who flourished in the fifteenth century, wrote trochaic verses in imitation of the Spanish Coplas (Lope de Vega, Prologo al Isido).

+ It will be observed that in this line born is to be pronounced as a dissyllable ; for Milton would never have placed the ictus on such a word as the. So in the third line of the present poem

A viscount's daughter, an earl's heir," for the same reason earl is dissyllabic, as also is barn in L'Allegro,

And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is.
Nor all the gods beside

Longer dare abide. It is then consonant to reason and logic to affirm that these supposed trochaics, even though whole poems have been composed exclusively in them, are in reality iambic verses of four feet, the first foot being monosyllabic. There are, as we have observed, even instances of the third foot also being such, ex. gr.

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire.

Mids. Night's Dream, ü. 1.
Follow me, as I sing
And touch the warbled string.

Arcades, 86. Sometimes swift, sometimes slow.-Dyer, Grongar Hill. Some might choose to call these Cretics, but that is a foot unknown to English poetry.

ON THE MORNING OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY. This admirable ode, which, as Hallam justly observes, is “perhaps the most beautiful in the English language,” was composed in the winter of 1629, just as the poet had completed his twenty-first year. Italy and Spain were

v. 51. This was a common practice with our old poets. Fire and hour frequently form two syllables.

Fit mother for that pearl, and before.-Fairfax, Godf. of Buil. i. 59.
In four troops, and each his several guide.—Id. ib. xvii. 14.
My oars broken and my tackling lost.—Marlow, Dido, ü. 1.
Be rushed upon ; thy trice noble cousin.-Rich. II. iii. 3.
And is not like the sire : honours thrive. All's Well, etc., ii. 3.
Crying, that's good that's gone. Our rash faults-Ib. v. 3.

already in possession of splendid lyric poetry, but England had as yet, unless we except Spenser's Hymns to Love and Beauty, and his nuptial verses, nothing of the kind to produce beyond short songs, and this remained the solitary specimen of the higher lyric poetry till Dryden arose. We offer no particular criticism on it, for it is, in effect, nearly all beauty. As such we regard even the introduction of the Heathen deities; for they add much to the picturesqueness of the imagery; and we are to recollect that in the opinion of the Rabbin and of many of the Fathers, they were real beings, namely, evil spirits which had been cast out of heaven. Johnson did not condescend even to notice this exquisite production, and Warton, having termed the nineteenth and twentysixth stanzas “the best part of the ode,” adds, “ The rest chiefly consists of a string of affected conceits, which his early youth and the fashion of the times can only ex

Becoming language indeed for the Oxford Professor of Poetry! He is however willing to allow that “there is a dignity and simplicity in the fourth stanza of the hymn, worthy the maturest years and the best times. Nor is the poetry of the stanza immediately following, an expression or two excepted, unworthy of Milton.”

In the Introduction, Milton employs the stanza he had used in his verses on A Fair Infant. For the Hymn, he uses a stanza of eight lines, also devised by himself, consisting of two lines of three feet, followed by one of five; the same repeated; and then one of four, and a final line of six feet.


UPON THE CIRCUMCISION. This short ode, consisting of two stanzas of fourteen lines each,—which we have been the first, we believe, to

« AnteriorContinuar »