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“ A violet by a mossy stone,
Half hidden to the eye.”
Of all the flowers that sweeten this fair earth, the violet is indeed the most delightful in itself—form, fragrance, and colour—nor less in the humility of its birthplace, and its haunts in the “sunshiny shade.” Therefore, 'tis a meet emblem of those sacred songs that may be said to blossom on Mount Sion.
The most imaginative poetry inspired by Nature, and dedicated to her praise, is never perfectly and consummately beautiful till it ascends into the religious; but then religion breathes from, and around, and about it, only at last when the poet has been brought, by the leading of his own aroused spirit, to the utmost pitch of his inspiration. He begins, and continues long, unblamed in mere emotions of beauty; and he often pauses unblamed, and brings his strain to a close, without having forsaken this earth, and the thoughts and feelings which belong alone to this earth. But poetry like that of the “ Christian Year" springs at once, visibly and audibly, from religion as its fount. If it, indeed, issue from one of the many springs religion opens in the human heart, no fear of its ever being dried up. Small indeed may seem the silver line, when first the rill steals forth from its sacred source! But how soon it begins to sing with a clear loud voice in the solitude ! Bank and brae-tree, shrub, and flower-grow greener at each successive waterfall—the rains no more disturb that limpid element than the dews—and never does it lose some reflection of the heavens.
In a few modest words, Mr Keble states the aim and object of his volume. He says truly, that it is the peculiar happiness of the Church of England to possess in her authorized formularies an ample and secure provision, both for a sound rule of faith and a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion. The object of his publication will be attained, if any person find assistance from it in bringing his own thoughts and feelings into more entire unison with those recommended and exemplified in the Prayer-Book. We add, that its object has been attained. In England,
In England, “ The Christian Year” is already placed in a thousand homes among household books. People are neither blind nor deaf yet. to lovely sights and sounds — and a true poet is as certain of recognition now-as at any period of our literature. In Scotland we have no prayer-book printed on paper-perhaps it would be better if we had; but the prayer-book which has inspired Mr Keble, is compiled and composed from another Book, which, we believe, is more read in Scotland than in any other country. Here the Sabbath reigns in power, that is felt to be a sovereign power over all the land. We have, it may be said, no prescribed holydays; but all the events recorded in the Bible, and which in England make certain days holy in outward as well as inward observances, are familiar to our knowledge and our feeling here ; and therefore the poetry that seeks still more to hallow them to the heart, will find every good heart recipient of its inspiration—for the Christian creed is “ wide and general as the casing air,” and felt as profoundly in the
Highland heather-glen, where no sound of psalms is heard but on the Sabbath, as in the cathedral towns and cities of England, where so often Through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,
anthem swells the note of praise." Poetry, in our age, has been made too much a thing to talk about—to show off upon-as if the writing and the reading of it were to be reckoned among what are commonly called accomplishments. Thus, poets have too often sacrificed the austere sanctity of the divine art to most unworthy purposes, of which, perhaps, the most unworthy—for it implies much voluntary self-degradation—is mere popularity. Against all such low aims he is preserved, who, with Christian meekness, approaches the muse in the sanctuaries of religion. He seeks not to force his songs on the public ear;
his heart is free from the fever of fame; his poetry is praise and prayer. It meets our ear like the sound of psalms from some unseen dwelling among the woods or hills, at which the wayfarer or wanderer stops on his journey, and feels at every pause a holier solemnity in the silence of nature. Such poetry is indeed got by heart ; and memory is then tenacious to the death, for her hold on what she loves is strengthened as much by grief as by joy; and, when even hope itself is deadif, indeed, hope ever dies—the trust is committed to despair. Words are often as unforgetable as voiceless thoughts; they become very thoughts themselves, and are what they represent. How are many of the simply, rudely, but fervently and beautifully rhymed Psalms of
David, very part and parcel of the most spiritual treasures of the Scottish peasant's being !
“ The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want.
He makes me down to lie
The quiet waters by.”
These four lines sanctify to the thoughtful shepherd on the braes every stream that glides through the solitary places—they have often given colours to the greensward beyond the brightness of all herbage and of all flowers. Thrice hallowed is that poetry which makes us mortal creatures feel the union that subsists between the Book of Nature and the Book of Life!
Poetry has endeared childhood by a thousand pictures, in which fathers and mothers behold with deeper love the faces of their own offspring. Such poetry has almost always been the production of the strongest and wisest minds. Common intellects derive no power from earliest memories; the primal morn, to them never bright, has utterly faded in the smoky day; the present has swallowed up the past, as the future will swallow up the present; each season of life seems to stand by itself as a separate existence; and when old age comes, how helpless, melancholy, and forlorn ! But he who lives in the spirit of another creed, sees far into the heart of Christianity. He hears a divine voice saying—“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven Thus it is that poetry throws back upon the New Testament the light she has borrowed from it, and that man's
mortal brother speaks in accordance with the Saviour of man. On a dead insensible flower—a lilya rose-a violet-a daisy, Poetry may pour out all its divinest power-just as the sun itself sometimes seems to look with all its light on some one especial blossom, all at once made transparently lustrous. And what if the flower be alive in all its leaves and have in it an immortal spirit? Or what if its leaves be dead, and the immortal spirit gone away to heaven ? Genius shall change death into sleep—till the grave, in itself so dark and dismal, shall seem a bed of bright and
From poetry, in words or marble —both alike still and serene as water upon grass-we turn to the New Testament, and read of the “Holy Innocents." “ They were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb.” We look down into the depths of that text-and we then turn again to Keble’s lines, which from those depths have flowed over upon the uninspired page! Yet not uninspired—if that name may be given to strains which, like the airs that had touched the flowers of Paradise,
whisper whence they stole those balmy sweets.” Revelation has shown us that “we are greater than we know;" and who may neglect the Infancy of that Being for whom Godhead died !
They who read the lines on “the Holy Innocents” in a mood of mind worthy of them, will go on, with an equal delight, through those on “ The Epiphany.” They are separated in the volume by some kindred and congenial strains; but when brought close together, they