ALEXANDER Siarn's volume contains a poem in dialogue, which he entitles " A Life-Drama," some short miscellaneous poems, and a few sonnets. Most if not all of the volume has appeared within the last twelvemonth in the pages of a literary London journal, but it will probably be new to the general public. Those among this miscellaneous body who watch with interest the dawning of genius, and are able to discern in the luxuriant blossoms of the spring the golden promise of the autumn, will detect in Alexander Smith, young and undeveloped as he unquestionably is, the marks of a true poet. His senses receive from outward objects impres- sions finer and keener than those of ordinary men, and these im- pressions set him singing with enjoyment, and are reproduced in phrases and lines of singular beauty, melody, and power. Nothing is harder to predict than the course of genius, subject as it is to the accidents of fortune, physical organization, and social in- tercourse ; but, so far as comparison can guide us, it is to the earlier works of Keats and Shelley alone that we can look for a counterpart in richness of fancy and force of expression to the Life-Drama ; unless we appeal to a printed but unpublished juve- nile work of Tennyson, entitled "The Lover's Bay,"—far superior, in our opinion, to anything that actually appeared in his first volume, though even in that the "Recollections of the Arabian Nights" allayed somewhat old "crusty Christopher's" storm of ridicule.
Alexander Smith has this advantage over both Keats and Shel- ley, •that he never runs into absolute nonsense. On the other hand, he is more of a sensational poet than either of them. His sensations are so keen, so thrilling, that they seem to overpower his perceptions. He feels that something intensely beautiful is be- fore him, but he is so drunk with the beauty that he can convey no clear impression of its details to another, only that he is de- lirious with enjoyment ; and his descriptions, instead of impressing their object on the reader's imagination, expand into circling waves of simile, flashing and radiant with rapturous sensation. Nor are the objects with which he is familiar very numerous or various. In nature, the sea and sky in their broadest and most obvious appearances are his stock in trade for simile and descrip- tion, especially the starry heavens on a cloudless night. Vast- ness, freedom of movement, and purity, strike most the man who is habitually confined and choked in cities ; and the stars will on clear nights shine down even on such a hive as Glasgow, and inspire thoughts and sensations for which the poet is grateful. Still, the repetition of these things fatigues, and we expect from the poet a more novel and subtile interpretation of the nature whose priest he aspires to be. Let Alexander Smith take counsel IA the PreRaphaelites, who by a simple exercise of their own senses have given a new interest to the commonest scenes, and have taught us that Nature is not yet exhausted by the Academy, royal or otherwise. But the absence from the Life-Drama of any sense of the human beings among whom life is passed, of any de- light in any human relation except that between young men and beautiful women, is a more serious blot; and one that in an older man would in itself be a bar to his noble ambition of setting the age to music. That man has no sound and healthy heart to whom only one phase of human life has charms, and who when that is over can find nothing in the world worth living and caring for : and this tendency of our new poet will require to be overcome by thought, self-control, and experience, before he can write poems that any but mere boys will read with unmixed satisfaction. If he would instruct the world, he must be wise and loving himself, and must learn that it is not the young and the lovely alone that are capable of poetic interest. We should imagine that Keats and Shelley, and poets of that class, have been too exclusively his favourites, and should recommend him to study rather the more practical and manly English poets. He is evidently, an admirer of Tennyson, and has caught some of his beauties and mannerisms : he should take a long deep draught of the older poets, especially the drama- tists of Elizabeth and the Stuart period, nor would the sense and terseness of Pope and Dryden be a bad study ; and, like all poets, he should read the best prose writers, and learn himself to write terse and idiomatic prose. He has quite sensibility enough, quite enough impressibility to beauty, is rather too sensuous, sometimes not [quite reticent enough in the matter of sensations : let him think more, learn more facts, care more about what objects are in themselves and less about the amount of ,pleasure they are capable of giving him, and we venture to hope that he may be among England's great names.
The title of " Life-Drama " is quite misplaced. The poem is a collection of passages purely lyrical for the most part, though in the form of dialogue. It is studded with fine lines, but it is diffi- cult to find striking passages of any length. Our selection is rather at random, as one might gather a handful of pearls from a heap.
"The lark is singing in the blinding sky, Hedges are white with May. The bridegroom sea Is toying with the shore, his wedded bride, And, in the fulness of his marriagejoy, Be decorates her tawny brow with shells, Retires a space, to see how fair she looks,
Then, proud, runs up to kiss her. All is fair—
All glad, from grass to sun ! Yet more I love Than this, the shrinking day, that sometimes comes
In Winter's front, so fair 'mong its dark peers,
It seems a straggler from the files of June, Which in its wanderings had lost its wits, And half its beauty ; and, when it returned, _Finding its old companions gone away, * Poems. By Alexander Smith. Published by Bogue. It joined November's troop, then marching past And so the frail thing comes, and greets the world With a thin crazy smile, then bursts in tears, And all the while it holds within its hand A few half-withered flowers. I love and pity it!"
"My heart is beating with all things that are, My blood is wild unrest ; With what a passion pants yon eager star Upon the water's breast! Clasped in the air's soft arms the world doth sleep, Asleep its moving sees, its humming lands ; With what an hungry lip the ocean deep Lappeth for ever the white-breasted sands ! What love is in the moon's eternal eyes, Leaning unto the earth from out the midnight skies !
Th3, large dark eyes arp wide upon my brow,
Filled with as tender light As on low moon cloth fill the heavens now, This mellow autumn night!
On the late flowers I linger at thy feet. I tremble when I touch thy garment's rim, I clasp thy waist, I feel thy bosom's beat- 0 kiss me into faintness sweet and dim!
Thou leanest to me as a swelling peach, Full-juiced and mellow, leaneth to the taker's reach.
Thy hair is loosened by that kiss you gave, It floods ray shoulders o'er ; Another yet! Oh, as a weary wave
Subsides upon the shore' '
My hungry being with its hopes, its fears, My heart like moon-charmed waters, all unrest, Yet strong as is despair, as weak as tears, Doth faint upon thy breast!
I feel thy clasping aims, my cheek is wet
With thy rich tears. One kiss! Sweet, sweet, another yet!"
The next quotation is a proof that Alexander Smith has dra- matic power in the germ. The conclusion affects one with some- thing of the terrible beauty for which Ford is famous.
" Between him and the lady of his love There stood a wrinkled worldling ripe for hell. When with his golden band he plucked that flower, And would have smelt it, lo ! it paled and shrank, And withered in his grasp. And when she died The rivers of his heart ran all to waste ; They found no ocean, dry sands sucked them up.
Lady, he was a fool !—a pitiful fool.
She said she loved him, would be dead in spring— She asked him but to stand beside her grave—
She said she would be daisies—and she thought 'Twould give her joy to feel that he was near. She died like music; and, would you believe 't, He kept her foolish words within his heart As ceremonious as a chapel keeps A relic of a saint. And in the spring The doting idiot went! VIOLET.
What found he there ?
Laugh till your sides ache ! Oh, he went, poor fool! But he found nothing save red trampled clay, And a dull sobbing rain. Do you not laugh ? Amid the comfortless rain he stood and wept, Bare-headed in the mocking pelting rain. He might have known 't was ever so on earth."
The remorse of Walter, the hero, is painted with genuine if somewhat overstrained pathos. The phraseology is strong, and less encumbered with simile than in most parts of the poem. In fact, fine promise of a true dramatic excellence is indicated in the scene from which the following extract is taken, as well as in the passage quoted above.
" Good men have said That sometimes God leaves sinners to their sin,— He has left me to mine, and I am changed ; My worst part is insurgent, and my will Is weak and powerless as a trembling king When millions rise up hungry. Wo is me !
My soul breeds sins as a dead bode worms!
They swarm and feed upon me. Rear me, God! Sin met me and embraced me on my way :
Methought her cheeks were red, her lips had bloom ; I kissed her bold lips, dallied with her hair :
She sang me into slumber. I awoke—
It was a putrid corse that clung to me,
That clings to me like memory to the damned,
That rots into my being. Father ! God ! I cannot shake it off! it clings, it clings !—
I soon will grow as corrupt as itself. [A pause.
God sends me back my prayers, as a father Returns unoped the letters of a son Who has dishonoured him.
Have mercy, Fiend!
Thou Devil, thou wilt drag me down to hell!
Oh, if she had proclivity to sin Who did appear so beautuous and so pure, Nature may leer behind a gracious mask. And God himself may be—I'm giddy, blind ;
The world reels from beneath me.
[Catches hold of the parapet.
(An Outcast approaches.) Wilt pray for me ?
man (shuddering.) 'Tis a dreadful thing to pray.
Why is it so ?
East thou, like me, a spot upon thy soul, That neither tears can cleanse, nor fires dune ?
But few request my prayers.
I request them.
For ne'er did a dishevelled woman cling So earnest-pale to a stern conqueror's knees, Pleading for a dear life, as did my prayer Cling to the knees of God. He shook it off, And went upon His way. Wilt pray for me ?
Sin crusts me o'er as limpets crust the rocks. I would be thrust from every human door ; I dare not knock at Heaven's.
Poor homeless one !
There is a door stands wide for thee and me— The door of hell. Methinks we are well met.
I saw a little girl three years ago, - With eyes of azure and with cheeks of red, A crowd of sunbeams hanging down her face; Sweet laughter round her ; dancing like a breeze. I'd rather lair me with a fiend in fire Than look on such a face as hers tonight. But I can look on thee, and such as thee ! I'll call thee 'Sister'; do thou call me Brother.' A thousand years hence, when we both arc damned, We'll sit like ghosts upon the wailing shore, And read our lives by the red light of hell. Will we not, Sister ? GIRL.
0 thou strange wild man, Let me alone : what would you seek with me ?
Your ear, my Sister. I have that within Which urges me to utterance. I could accost A pensive angel, singing to himself Upon a hill in heaven, and leave his mind As dark and turbid as a trampled pool, To purify at leisure. I have none To listen to me, save a sinful woman Upon a midnight bridge.—She was so fair, God's eye could rest with pleasure on her face. Oh God, she was so happy ! Her short life As full of music as the crowded June Of an unfallen orb. What is it now ?
She gave me her young heart, full, full of love : My return—was to break it. Worse, far worse; I crept into the chambers of her soul, Like a foul toad, polluting as I went.
I pity her—not you. Man trusts in God ; He is eternal. Woman trusts in man ; And he is shifting sand.
Poor child, poor child ! We sat in dreadful silence with our sin, Looking each other wildly in the eyes : Methought I heard the gates of heaven close; She flung herself against me, burst in tears, As a wave bursts in spray. She covered me With her wild sorrow, as an April cloud With dim dishevelled tresses hides the hill On which its heart is breaking. She clung to me With piteous arms, and shook me with her sobs ; For she had lost her world, her heaven, her God, And now had nought but me and her great wrong.
She did not kill me with a single word,
But once she lifted her tear-dabbled face—
Had hell gaped at my feet I would have leapt Into its burning throat, from that pale look. Still it pursues me like a haunting fiend : It drives me out to the black moors at night, Where I am smitten by the hissing rain ; And ruffian winds, dislodging from their troops, Hustle me shrieking, then with sudden turn Go laughing to their fellows. Merciful God It comes—that face again, that white, white face, Set in a night of hair ; reproachful eyes, That make me mad. Oh, save me from those eyes !
They will torment me even iu the grave, And burn on me in Tophet.
Where are you going ?
My heart's on fire by hell, and on I drive To outer blackness, like a blazing ship. [He ?wiles away."
These extracts will induce every lover of poetry to read the volume for himself ; and we do not think that after such read- ing any one will be disposed to doubt that Alexander Smith promises to be a greater poet than any emergent genius of the last few years.