MISS ROSSETTI'S NEW POEMS.*
Mass RossErn has never again come up to the level she reached in Goblin Market. There was a freshness, simplicity, and originality in that little goblin story which reminded us of Hans Christian
Andersen, and yet a sweet, refined current of poetical feeling which kept it far above the level of a mere child's tale. We cannot say
the same for the poem which gives the name to this little volume. The Prince's Progress is rather a common-place allegory of the delays and temptations which men allow to intervene between themselves and the beauty or truth to which they profess to dedicate their lives. And the execution does not redeem the poem itself from the charge of a certain want of drift, vigour, and raison d'être. There are much batter things in the book than the Prince's Progress, but the criticism which we passed
some years ago on Miss Rossetti's last volume, that the larger number of its pieces had a want of concentration and of distinct intellectual unity about them, is perhaps even more true of this. With few exceptions the fugitive insights and glimpses of beauty with which these poems abound have little to bind them together, and leave little mark on the mind. They are full of snatches of fancy, of floating musical notes, gleaming wings, rustling leaves, and glowing skies, such as we might bring together in a summer-day dream, but the single pieces are not penetrated by single conceptions ; they are rather fancies idly strung on a single mood of mind, without force and without effect. knd Miss Rossetti yields the rein to her fancy so completely and helplessly that sometimes it betrays her, leading her into mere caprices that have neither the form and glow of beauty about them, nor any individuality of their own to give them a claim to poetic existence independently of beauty, by mare right of the fascination they exert over the imagination. Take, for instance, the very silly poem, so we must call it, called " A Bird's Eye View," which describes, from a croaking raven's point of view, the hapless voyage of a royal bride whose ship founders at sea, and so fulfils the bad omen which the bird of ill omen predicted.
The idea of the poem is poor, and the execution is worse than the idea, capricious to the verge of imbecility, as thus :—
And the home-wind blows soft! But a Raven sits aloft, Chuckling and choking, Croaking, croaking, croaking :— Let the baacon-fire blaze higher; Bridegroom, watch ; the Bride draws nigher.
"On a sloped sandy beaoh, Which the spring-tide billows reach, Stand a watchful throng, Who have hoped and waited long :
• The Prin.'s Progress and Other Poems. By Moieties Rossetti. Louden: Mit- milieu and Co. "In a far foreign land,
Upon the wave-edged sand, Some friends gaze wistfully Across the glittering sea. 'If we could clasp our sister,' Three say, 'now we have missed her!'
'If we could kiss our daughter !' Two sigh across the water.
"Oh the ship sails fast, With silken flags at the mast, ' Fie on this ship, that tarries One monotonous note With the priceless freight it carries! Tolled from his iron throat ; The time seems long and longer : No father, no mother, 0 languid wind, was stronger !'— But I have a sable brother : He sees whore ocean flows to, " Whilst the Raven perched at ease And he knows what he knows Still croaks and does not cease, too.,
There is no doubt a certain candour in expressing a wish "to clasp our sister, now we have missed her," like that which Cole- ridge used to give utterance to about his wife. When she was at a distance, he said, he yearned for, he loved, adored her, when she was near him, he shrank from, hated, loathed her. But even this candour, which appropriately delineated might be made poetical, is poetically wasted by the very strong suspicion the lines suggest that the candour was put in for the sake of the thyme, and not the rhyme for the sake of the candour. But the some- times absurd caprices of Miss Rossetti's fancy are best illustrated in the last verse we have quoted, which is, we suppose, meant to express humorously the indecent liberties ravens will take in -commenting on human fate, and the slangy familiarity of their apophthegms. Barnaby Rudge's raven used to draw corks, and cry, " I'm a devil, I'm a devil !" which he varied with
" Polly put the ket- -tle on, we'll all have tea," and Miss Rossetti's raven is therefore comparatively modest and -conventional in limiting its sarcasm on the Princess's expedition to a panegyric on its brother's wide knowledge of marine geography, and of the cosmos in general, contained in the remark,- " He sees where ocean flows to, And he knows what he knows too."
But Miss Rossetti's raven, if a comparatively modest and conven- tional raven, at least takes us far enough from the gravity of a poem intended to be in manner a wail and lament, to make the whole grotesque, while he does not go deep enough into the heart of a raven's instincts to dramatize the raven's own thoughts, or what might be supposed to be such, on the Princess's fate and his brother's prophetic wisdom. Miss Rossetti never clearly set before herself whether she wished to paint the pity of the Princess's fate, or the quaint ideas which a raven's grotesque and (according to the popular belief) ill omened alertness suggests, and hence she .1.1SS confused the two so as to spoil both, and makes her poem
mere ridiculous doggerel, instead of either a pathetic or humorous piece.
But though the fault of the book consists in the excessive vagrancy and loose texture of the fancies which Miss Rossetti strings together, often almost with the arbitrariness of the little bits of coloured glass in a kaleidoscope, we should be very sorry not to recognize fairly the beauty,—often indeed evanescent beauty, which it is difficult to remember, and the impression of which vanishes almost with the readi g of the piece,—of many of the stanzas it contains. There is no doubt that Miss Rossetti has a genuinely poetic temperament, and that what she wants is rather original conceptions and strongly marked subjects, than variety of illustration and warmth of sentiment with which to clothe such thoughts as she has. The finest poem, we think much the finest poem, in the volume, is the one called " Light Love," which, as it is not very long, we venture to extract in full. The cruelty of the faithless lover's taunts probing to the bottom wounds he has himself inflicted, is indeed scarcely natural, or natural only to a lover of cruelty for cruelty's sake ; but granting its possibility, there is the true ring of tragedy in the verses, and a finesse in the :scornful cruelty of the traitor's language which impresses us far more powerfully than any other of these webs of brightly coloured fancy, and warm, often hectic, sentiment :—
"' Oh, sad thy lot before I came, But sadder when I go ; My presence but a flash of flame, A transitory glow Between two barren wastes like snow.
What wilt thou do when I am gone, Where wilt thou rest; my dear?
For cold thy bed to rest upon, And cold the falling year
Whose withered leaves are lost
" She hushed the baby at her breast, She rocked it on her knee ; `And I will rest my lonely rest, Warmed with the thought of thee, Rest lulled to rest by memory.' She hushed the baby with her kiss,
She hushed it with her breast : 4.1.13 death so sadder much than this—
Sure death that builds a nest For those who elsewhere cannot rest?'
" 'Oh, sad thy note, my mateless dove,
With tender nestling cold ; But haat thou ne'er another love Left from the days of old, To build thy nest of silk and gold, To warm thy paleness to a blush When I am far away—
To warm thy coldness to a flush, And turn thee back to May, And turn thy twilight back to day ?'
" She did not answer him again, But leaned her face aside, Wrung with the pang of shame and pain, And sore with wounded pride: He knew his very soul had lied. She strained his baby in her arms, His baby to her heart : 'Even let it go, the love that harms : We twain will never part ; Mine own, his own, how dear thou art!'
"'Now never tease mo, tender-eyed, Sigh-voiced,' he said, in scorn : ' For nigh at hand there blooms a bride, My bride before the morn ; Ripe-blooming she, as thou for- lorn.
Ripe-blooming she, my rose, my peach ;
She wooes me day and night: I watch her tremble in my reach ; She reddens, my delight ; She ripens, reddens in my
"'And is she like a sunlit rose ?
Am I like withered leaves ? Haste where thy spiced garden blows :
But in bare Autumn eves
Wilt thou have store of harvest sheaves ?
Thou leavest love, true love, be- hind, To seek a love as true ;
Go, seek in haste: but wilt thou find?
Change new again for new ; Pluck up, enjoy—yea, trample too.
"'Alas for her, poor faded rose, Alas for her, like me, Cast down and trampled in the snows !'
Like thee ? nay, not like thee : She leans, but from a guarded tree.
Farewell, and dream as long ago, Before we ever met : Farewell ; my swift-paced horse seems slow.'
She raised her eyes, not wet
But hard, to Heaven : Does God forget ?' "
The imagination which conceived Goblin Market and the very different kind of poem we have just extracted ought to be capable of other original efforts, and we think would be, if Miss Rossetti would only concentrate her powers more, and instead of throwing off so many slight snatches of mere prettiness, would cherish one or two subjects long in her imagination, and not attempt to write upon them till they had really taken root,—taken possession of her mind.