THREE VOLUMES OF VERSE.* THERE is something of what we
may call a" Laureate" quality about much of Mr. Holmes's verse. No man seems to be so much in request among his countrymen for the task of adorning with song the sad or joyful occasions of life, the deaths of illustrious men, anniversaries, dedications. That he is always felicitous, always tasteful, it is easy to believe; but to readers on this side of the Atlantic, the occasions themselves are not always fully appreciable. The places are unfamiliar, the names are sometimes unknown or scarcely known, and, as can hardly fail to be the case with even the best occasional verse, the whole leaves the impression of the skill of the craftsman rather than the inspiration of the poet.
The poem which gives a name to the volume, and the five
• (L) Before the Curfew, and other Poems. By Oliver Wendell Holmes. London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Bivington.—(2.) Poems. By Stoptord A. Brooke. London : Macmillan and 0o.—(3.) Glen Desserai, and other Poems. By J. Campbell Shairp. Edited by Francis T. Palgrave. London : mama= and Co. which follow it, do not, however, suffer from this drawback. They have the common theme, old, indeed, as literature itself, but full of a pathos that can never be exhausted, Tempts eclax reruia, life with narrowed horizons, failing powers, broken circle of love and friendship, yet still finding amidst loss a solace and a hope. The poet is like Ulysses in feeling that- " Every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things."
Or, as he puts it,—
" Not bed-time yet ! The night-winds blow,
The stars are out,—full well we know The nurse is on the stair, With hand of ice and cheek of snow, And frozen lips that whisper low, 'Come, children, it is time to go My peaceful couch to share.'
No years a wakeful heart can tire ; Not bed-time yet ! Come, stir the fire And warm your dear old hands ; Kind Mother Earth we love so well Has pleasant stories yet to tell Before we hear the curfew bell ; Still glow the burning brands.
Not bed-time yet ! We long to know What wonders time has yet to show, What unborn years shall bring ; What ship the Arctic pole shall reach, What lessons Science waits to teach, What sermons there are left to preach,
What poems yet to sing."
" Well, let the present do its best, We trust our Maker for the rest, As on our way we plod ;
Our souls, full dressed in fleshly suits, Love air and sunshine, flowers and fruits, The daisies better than their roots Beneath the grassy sod.
Not bed-time yet ! The full-blown flower Of all the year—this evening hour—
With friendship's flame is bright ; Life still is sweet, the heavens are fair, Though fields are brown and woods aro bare, And many a joy is left to share Before we say Good-night !
And when, our cheerful evening past, The nurse, long waiting, conies at last, Ere on her lap we lie In wearied nature's sweet repose, At peace with all her waking foes, Our lips shall murmur, ere they close,
Good-night ! and not Good-by !"
Another but kindred note is struck with rare skill in "The Broken Circle," where, standing "on Sarum's treeless plain," the poet sees in the giant stones, some prone on the ground, some leaning to their fall, sonic yet erect, a symbol of human life :—
"Ah me ! of all our goodly train
How few will find our banquet hall !
Yet why with coward lips complain .
That this must lean, and that must fall ?
Cold is the Druid's altar-stone,
Its vanished flame no more returns ; But ours no chilling damp has known,—
Unchanged, unchanging, still it burns.
So let our broken circle stand A wreck, a remnant, yet the same, While one last, loving, faithful hand Still lives to feed its altar-flame !"
"At the Saturday Club" is the poem which stands next in order to these, and there is not one of its class that is more happily executed or more full of interest. The three portraits that Mr. Holmes gives us are of Longfellow, Agassiz, and Emerson, and it is not easy to say which is the most skilfully drawn. Perhaps we should give the palm to that of Emerson. Here is the outward man :— " Why that ethereal spirit's frame describe ? You know the race-niarks of the Brahmin tribe,— The spare, slight form, the sloping shoulders' droop, The calm, scholastic mien, the clerkly stoop, The lines of thought the sharpened features wear, Carved by the edge of keen New England air."
And here the inward :—
" Where in the realm of thought, whose air is song, Does he, the Buddha of the West, belong ? He seems a winged Franklin, sweetly wise, Born to unlock the secrets of the skies; And which the nobler calling,—if 't is fair Terrestrial with celestial to compare,—
Or walk the chambers whence the lightning came, To guide the storm-cloud's elemental flame, Amidst the sources of its subtile fire, And steal their effluence for his lips and lyre ?"
Elsewhere, it must be owned, an English reader will not find himself so much at home, though, as has been said, it is always easy to recognise the supreme art of the writer. Only experts, it is to be feared, know of the astronomical fame of Dr. A. P. Gould and of his catalogue of the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, but every one must appreciate such stanzas as :—
"The souls that voyaged the azure depths before thee Watch with thy tireless vigils, all unseen,— Tycho and Kepler bend benignant o'er thee, And with his toy-like tube the Florentine,—
He at whose word the orb that bore him shivered To find her central sovereignty disowned, While the wan lips of priest and pontiff quivered, Their jargon stilled, their Baal disenthroned.
Flarasteed and Newton look with brows unclouded, Their strife forgotten with its faded scars,—
(Titans, who found the world of space too crowded To walk in peace among its myriad stars.)"
Mr. Stopford Brooke, in his principal poem, sings of lovers, and lovers of a very passionate kind. One cannot help smiling at the almost ecstatic warmth of their love-making. We would not so much as whisper a thought of ill, but sober- minded people will open their eyes when they read how, when the two are wandering abroad at a time when "the moon is bright above the glen," the lady- " Laid
Her head upon my breast and slept awhile ; And innocent dreams, like pleasant waters, flowed Through the sweet woodland of her heart, until, Waking, she smiled to find herself enfolded Close in my arms."
The plan of the poem is that a lover comes down from London after "a lingering Easter" has set him free from toil, to visit his mistress, and sings her every day a song for which he receives his guerdon of kisses. The first song incurs the lady's criticism from the way in which it brings together incongruous flowers. As she puts it :— "It is plain
Town-life has left you ignorant of flowers ; ;
The wild rose slumbers till the kiss of June, The golden daffodil died in April's arms, And the woodbine ? Well once, at the end of May, I saw with grave astonishment a plant That dared to flower."
His answer is very happy :—
" Sweet critic, then,' I said, I've dared like the woodbine; my daffodils Lived on to greet you, and my rose was born Out of due time to blossom on your breast.'"
But, curiously enough, the poet himself errs in the same way. " Sweet May had come," he says, when the visit occurs ; but as the latest Easter cannot be beyond April 25th, it could only just have come. Yet the lady invites her lover to visit a- " Hollow dell where clustered thorns Snow-clad with blossom, make the Spring more dear With images of Winter."
Nor are these thorns the blackthorn, for we are told "sweet their scent." But when is "may" to be seen in the first half of the month from which it gets its name, a name, it must be remembered, dating from the Old Style calendar?
Mr. Brooke's imagery is bold, and often effective. Sometimes, indeed, it comes perilously near to conceit, as when he speaks
of the sun,—
" Fierce-breathing like a dragon in the cave Of the o'erarching sky."
He is too fond, too, of such bastard similes as when he compares faint clouds in the evening heaven to- " Long-forgotten thoughts tinged with the rose Of sudden recollection."
But there is no mistaking the power of such a landscape as this
"We were close-curled within a grassy seat,
Among the castled rocks ; far, on our right, Spread the great ocean surface, on our left, The folded hills and vales ; and towns and towers Plunged to the waist in woods ; and villages O'er whose red roofs the Church spires, now all gold In the full sunset, rose like steady flames From the altar of the earth. Beneath our feet
The wild grass moorland fell from ridge to ridge,
And silence dwelt in it, silence that Nature Keeps in the evening hour ;—her prayer before She sleeps, at rest in God. But on this scene We scarcely looked, for o'er the tumbling sea The sun had set in wild magnificence, And left his glory among clouds that rose, Dome piled on dome, and wall on wall, and tower Succeeding tower, edged with red gold above, And all their whirling volumes underneath Purple, incensed with angry rose, whence fell Flame-flakes, and gouts of crimson on the sea— As if within their rolling spheres the blood Of great angelic battle had been spilt. But where the sun had sunk, the mountainous mass, Cloven in twain, disclosed a sea-paved gorge, Through which, as through an expanding pass, we saw The distant fields of heaven, gold and pearl, And in the upper azure, all alone The evening Star, that seemed the thought of God Which, o'er the wild waves of the world, apart, Watched from Eternal Peace and said= Be still.' " Though here, too, "the blood of the great angelic battle" is, to say the least, a doubtful ornament.
The reader may have noticed in one of our quotations a line
which it is certainly difficult to scan,—
" I've dared like the woodbine; my daffodils."
It is not singular. Thus we have,— " With mirth, and hunting the moonlight among ;" "The thin and spiritual curve of the moon and the alexandrine,— " Of the o'erarching sky, and deep in sheltering woods."
But commonly, Mr. Brooke's versification is correct and powerful. In the poems that come after that which we have been hitherto criticising, Mr. Brooke follows, though not as
an imitator, sometimes Charles Kingsley, sometimes Browning. "The Crofter's Wife" is a vigorous denunciation of the land- hungry rich who drive the poor from his home; while " Justice " and "One Year" might have been lyrics in Yeast or Alton Locke. The speakers in "Rome (A.D. 1500)," again, and "Versailles (1784)," might have found a fitting place among Men and Women.
We cannot do more than briefly mention and commend to our readers the volume in which the pious care of Mr. Palgrave has collected the poems of his predecessor in the Oxford Chair of Poetry. A reviewer, indeed, may well be content to refer his reader to so admirable a criticism as that which is to be found in Mr. Palgrave's preface. One stanza we may quote from a memorial poem, " Balliol Scholars," which some of
oar_5ead.ers may remember as having been published (in Macmillan's Magazine, we think) some fifteen years ago. It is a sketch of one who has also' now followed his friend ad plures :- "One wide-welcomed for a father's fame, Entered with free bold step that seemed to claim Fame for himself, nor on another lean.
So full of power, yet blithe and debonair, Rallying his friends with pleasant banter gay, Or half a-dream chamiting with jaunty air Great words of Goethe, catch of Wronger.
We see the banter sparkle in his prose, But knew not then the undertone that flows, So calmly sad, through all his stately lay."
Two only remain of the company,—the Bishop of London and the Chief Justice of England.