SONGS UNSUNG.* Trim new volume, by the author of Songs
of Two Worlds, would be disappointing to us, but for the power and, we might almost say, stateliness, of one of the longest poems it contains,—" The New Creed." We do not think that the narrative poems are successful. " Clytmmnestm in Paris," a poem on the Fenayron trial of last year, does not seem to us a vivid or luminous pic- ture of the interior mind of that mean murderess. " Niobe cannot be compared with many of the delineations in "The Epic of Hades." " Saint Christopher " fails in clearness. " Odatis " is graceful, but a little wanting in that majestic setting of Oriental detail which the subject seems to need. But "The New Creed" is, in some respects, the most striking poem which Mr. Lewis Morris has ever written. He puts before us with singular simplicity and solemnity of effect the startling amount of diffusion which the belief in a mere blank, both above and beyond, has obtained even among those whom we should describe as the innocent and the happy ; he delineates the icy conviction with which this marvellous superstition of unbelief has struck them ; the insensate certainty that everything is the work of blind force, and that in blind force it must all end ; then he paints with calm distinctness, in the beautiful rhythm he has chosen, the monstrous character of the creed ; the far higher claim even of a spiritual Pantheism on the pure intellect than any which this materialism can urge ; and finally, the grand spectacle of the Universe as it appears in the light of a profound belief in God, and the upward growth of everything capable of submitting to his will. The poem is one well suited to the mind of Mr. Lewis Morris, but we are not aware that he has ever before written anything at once so impressive, so solemn, and so self-restrained. The opening stanzas, in which he narrates a girl's frigid denial of all hope beyond this earth, the denial that suggested the poem, strike us as singularly powerful, and even in their serene way penetrating and thrilling :-
"TAE NEW CREED.
" Yesterday, to a girl I said-
' I take no pity for the unworthy dead, The wicked, the unjust, the vile who die ; 'Twere better thus that they should rot and lie.
The sweet, the lovable, the just Make holy dust; Elsewhere than on the earth Shall come their second bi, th.
"Until they go each to his destined place, Whether it be to bliss'or to disgrace.
'Tis well that both shall rest, and for a while be dead.'
' There is nowhere else,' she said.
There is nowhere else.' And this was a girl's voice,.
Who, some short tale of summers gone to-day, Would carelessly rejoice, As life's blithe spriogtide passed upon its way And all youth's infinite hope and bloom Shone round her ; nor might any shadow of gloom Fall on her as she passed from flower to flower; Love sought her, with full dower Of happy wedlock and young lives to rear ; Nor shed her eyes a tear, Save for some passing pity, fancy bred.
All good things were around her—riches, love, All that the heart and mind can move, The precious things of art, the undefiled And innocent affection of a child, Oh girl, who amid sunny ways dost tread, What curse is this that blights that comely head ?
For right or wrong there is no further place than here-, No sanctities of hope, no chastening fear ?
There is nowhere else,' she said.
There is nowhere else,' and in the wintry ground
When we have laid the darlings of our love—
The little lad with eyes of blue, The little maid with curls of gold, Or the beloved aged face
On which each passing year stamps a diviner grace—
That is the end of all, the narrow bound.
Why look our eyes above
To an unreal home which mortal never knew—
Fold the hands on the breast, the clay-cold fingers fold ?
No waking comes there to the uncaring dead !
'There is nowhere else,' she said.
Strange; is it old or new, this deep distress ?
Or do the generations, as they press Onward for ever, onward still, Finding no truth to fill Their starving yearning souls, from year to year
Feign some new form of fear
To fright them, some new terror Crouched on the path of error, Some cold and desolate word which, like a blow,
• Songs Unsung. By Lewis Morris, of Penbryn. London : Kogan Paul Trench, and Co. Forbids the current of their faith.to flow,
Makes slow their pulse's eager beat, And, chilling all their wonted beat, Leaves them to darkling thoughts and dreads a prey, Uncheered by dawning shaft or setting ray ?
But you, poor child forlorn, Ah ! better were it you were never born; Better that yorr had thrown your life away On some coarse lump of clay ; Better defeat, disgrace, childlessness, all That can a solitary life befall, Than to have all things and yet be Self-bound to dark despondency, And self-tormented, beyond reach of doubt, By some cold word that puts all yearnings out."
The last two lines,— " And self-tormented, beyond reach of doubt, By some cold word that puts all yearnings oat,"
have all the happy energy of the highest poetry. It is a curious state of the world in which it is possible to speak of certain unbelievers as " self-tormented beyond reach of doubt," but it is the state of the world in which we actually live, a state in which doubt, far from expressing the deepest sort of denial, expresses comparative peace, the state from which hope is not excluded, though fear is not excluded either. And the force of the couplet goes beyond this. It is not only that the denial of some un- believers goes far beyond doubt, but that this denial is sealed, as the poet with curious force expresses it, "by some cold word that puts all yearnings out," that extinguishes not only belief, but even the desire for belief. Such, for instance, is the condition reflected in Vernon Lee's powerful dialogue, a few months ago, on The Responsibilities of Unbelief, wherein the stern unbeliever is represented not simply as denying, but as having lost all wish to affirm, either the existence of God or the prospect of a future life. The advanced guard of the negative party have found not only, if we may trust their own account, the talisman for extinguish- ing faith, but the talisman for extinguishing those universal " yearnings " from which they suppose that our religious illusions spring.
We must not quote the whole poem, but we cannot refrain from taking one more fine passage, which delineates the view of the author:— "For let the doubter babble as he can,
There is no wit in man Which can make Force rise higher still
Up to the heights of Will,—
No phase of Force which finite minds can know Can self-determined grow, And of itself elect what shall its essence be : The same to all eternity, Unchanged, unshaped, it goes upon its blinded way ; Nor can all forces nor all laws Bring ceasing to the scheme, nor any pause,
Nor shape it to the mould in which to be— Form from the winged seed the myriad-branching tree,—
Nor guide the force once sped, so that it turn To Water-floods that quench or Fires that burn, Or now to the electric current change, Or draw all things by some attraction strange.
Or in the brain of man working unseen, sublime, Transcend the narrow bounds of Space and Time.
Whence comes the innate Power which knows to guide The force deflected so from side to side, That not a barren line from whence to where It goes upon its way through the unfettered air ?
What sways the prisoned atom on its fruitful course ?
Ah, it was more than Force Which gave the Universe of things its form and face !
Force moving on its path through Time and Space Would nought enclose, but leave all barren still.
A higher Power, it was, the worlds could form and fill;
And by some pre-existent harmony
Were all things made as Fate would have them be—
Fate, the ineffable Word of an Eternal Will."
The only lines which seem to us, not, indeed, lower in poetic force, but lower in moral force than the rest, are those in which the poet expresses his willingness, if need be, to go back again to some lower form of life :-
" Content, if need, to take some lower form,
Some humbler herb or worm To be awhile, if e'er the eternal plan
Go back from higher to lower, from man to less than man."
It is true he protests at once that this is not his own view, but even the suggestion of it strikes a lower note. It is im- possible that a creature who has once risen into true adora- tion of God's will could ever again pass into the stage of purely unconscious existence, without losing all the significance of personality, all continuity of consciousness, and, therefore, all moral identity with both the actual human past and the possible human future. An interposed degradation to the condition of a vegetable, would be a final extinction of the being so degraded; while its future development into a new life of consciousness would imply a totally new personality. But this poem, as a whole, is to Mr. Morris's best poems what the organ is to poorer instruments.
There is another striking poem, of much less pretension and force, called "Confession," in which, however, there is a passage difficult to interpret. After a powerful delineation of the atti- tude of doubt, Mr. Morris goes on :-
" Oh, doubting soul, look up, behold The eternal heavens above thy head, The solid earth beneath, its mould Compacted of the unnumbered dead.
Here the eternal problems grow, And with each day are solved and done, When some spent life, like melting snow, Breathes forth its essence to the sun.
As death is, life is—without end; Wrong with right mingles, joy with pain ; Forbid two meeting streams to blend, 'Twere not more hopeless, nor more vain.
Though Death with Life, though Wrong with Right, Are bound within the scheme of things, Yet can our souls, on soaring wings, Gain to a loftier, purer height, Where death is not, nor any life, Nor right nor wrong, nor joy nor pain; But changeless Being, lacking strife, Doth through all change, unchanged remain.
Should wrong prevail o'er all the earth, 'Twere nought if only we discern The one great truth, which if we learn, All else beside is little worth.
That Right, is that which must prevail, If not here, there, if not now, then, Is the one Truth which shall not fail, For all the doubt and fears of men."
We do not see the connection between the verses in which Mr. Morris delineates something like the mental condition which Buddhists call Nirvana, the condition in which life and death are both absent, in which joy and pain are both absent, in which change is merged in immutability, and the belief in the victory of right over wrong which he goes on to paint. Surely, it is not the loss of all self-consciousness in " the unconditioned" which can ever be supposed to prepare the mind for absolute faith in the victory of Good. over Evil. We do not pretend to understand the connection between the fourth
and fifth stanzas of this last passage, and the drift of the remainder. It is not the imaginary flight of the soul into such
a state as this which will prepare it for victorious faith.
Some of Mr. Lewis Morris's " pictures " are very vigorous, and remind one of the pictures in Tennyson's "Palace of Art." But he should not scatter his pearls on the ground in this way without a string. These fragments of poems, un- combined in any whole, are hardly worth separate preserving ; they are the materials of poetry, not poems, and the materials of poetry should be kept till they can be moulded into poems.