BRYANT'S FOUNTAIN AND OTHER POEMS. Tins little volume of the
celebrated American poet consists of fragments or passages from unfinished works, and of several mis- cellaneous poems. The fragments appear to have been taken from descriptiva,.. moral poems; which, if we may judge from the sections before utglvZre somewhat devoid of unity of structure, rather con- taining a number of passages relating to one general subject than a series of connected parts. The miscellaneous poems are occa- sional or personal, and though elegant, have not enough in the subject to render them remarkable, and are not treated with sufficient felicity to counterbalance their innate want of matter.
Considered as a poet, (which is something very different from a versifier,) want of originality is the defect of Mr. BRYANT, and one which is common to all his countrymen whose verses we have met with—unless DANA be an exception. And by want of originality we do not mean the discovery of a new class of subjects, or even a new style of composition ; to one or both of which merits Briton., Scorr, and WORDSWORTH may lay claim ; but an independent manner of looking at nature and treating the matter thus collected —using, in fact, one's own eyes and one's own judgment, and adapting the style to the subject treated of. For example, GOLD- warm, ROGERS, CRABBE, and CAMPBELL, (in some of his works,) may all be said to be disciples of Popx, as the manner of POPE and PRIOR is of the same school as DRYDEN'S, whilst DRYDEN'S is founded on that of DENHAM and WALLER. In the present day, LEIGH HUNT, TENNYSON, TRENCH, and probably KEATS and Baowmasc, have more or less formed their style upon the principles of WORDSWORTH; but none of the writers we have mentioned can be called imitators. Their style or their taste may be good or bad, their works may please or displease ; but such as they are they are their own, and are unlikely to be mistaken for any other writer's. This is scarcely the case with the poets of America. They may differ in mechanical matters—in metre, in theme, in mere executive skill ; and this difference may extend to their personal disposition ; some choosing grave, some tender, some melancholy topics, and so forth. But their character seems to us essentially the same; and that, is strictness, is rather rhetorical than poetical—occupied more with the forms than the qualities of things, expatiating in sound, and valuing words as it were for themselves rather than as a mere medium for conveying images or sentiments, till every subject is handled in the same spirit, and the variety of nature is limited to the sameness of a mannerist's mind.
" The harp has one unchanging theme, One strain that still comes o'er
Its languid chord."
We have much of this at home. Mrs. HEMANS was a conspicuous example—perhaps the head and founder of the school, and most poetasters belong to it : but it seems to us characteristic of all the poets of America. A similar spirit vitiates its oratorical prose, excepting some forensic or judicial oratory.
This rhetorical spirit is not without popular attraction, or even intrinsic merit of a certain kind. It is almost of necessity free, fluent, and well-sounding, and in minds intuitively inclined to it, is accompanied by an obvious and showy sort of elegance, which to the unstudied not only seems poetry but something better. To these qualities in a high cnd finished state Mr. BRYANT has added a more than common degree of skill in the mechanicals of his art, and an observation of the external forms of nature ; whilst his position in a new country has given him (though in common with his brethren) new images. Still, although at the head of the American poets, it strikes us that he is not, nor ever can be, a na- tional poet : for he displays no distinct and racy style, where the thought moulds the diction; he exhibits no national character- istic ; he deals with the forms instead of the essences of things ; and, as a consequence of all this, he neither agitates the mind nor leaves a deep impression.
An illustration of this criticism might be given from "An Even- ing Reverie "; the early part of which is merely an enumeration, in elegant language, of the general events that may occur to every man on any day of his life ; and though the close is less common- place, its moral is neither new nor newly pointed. "The Foun- tain," however, which gives its title to the book, will be a bet- ter illustration of our meaning. The subject is of course a foun- tain; but the theme is some particular fountain in the American woods, which is first described in its present material features, next in its former state, and its probable, perhaps its actual his- tory is then given,—how in a primitive time the forest-animals drank of it ; how next the Indian warrior and then the bunter visited it ; and then how the White settler came to fell its sur- rounding woods and cultivate the land ; whilst different persons, schoolboys, the wanderer, the soldier, the sage, have sported or mused beside it ; and lastly, the poet concludes with a speculation
as to the fa-titre-changes it shall witness OT wittents:—Thetegetip tions of the earlier part are somewhat minute, but the wholels weir elegant and very musical. Still it may be questioned whether tb poem is not, as ADDISON says, obvious as well as natural—whethe if any number of average poets or rhetoricians had been given thi fountain for a theme, they would not have treated it in the gam mode and the same style, however they might have fallen short c Mr. BRYANT in the graceful spirit of the execution. To how big a degree this reaches, may be shown by a few passages.
THE PRIMITIVE FOUNTAIN.
Not such thou wert of yore, ere yet the axe
Had smitten the old woods. Then hoary trunks Of oak, and plane, and hickory, o'er thee held A mighty canopy. When April winds Grew soft, the maple burst into a flush Of scarlet flowers. The tulip-tree, high up, Opened, in airs of June, her multitude Of golden chalices to humming birds. And silken-winged insects of the sky. Frail wood-plants clustered round thy edge in spring; The liverleaf put forth her sister blooms Of faintest blue. Here the quick-footed wolf, Passing to lap thy waters, crushed the flower Of Sanguinaria, from whose little stem The red drops fell like blood. The deer, too, left Her delicate foot-print in the soft moist mould, And on the fallen leaves. The slow-paced bear, In such a sultry summer noon as this, Stopped at thy stream, and drank, and leaped across.
PROGRESS OF SETTLEMENT.
I look again—a hunter's lodge is built, With poles, and boughs, beside thy crystal well,
While the meek autumn stains the woods with gold,
And sheds his golden sunshine. To the door The red man slowly drags the enormous bear Slain in the chestnut thicket, or flings down The deer from his strong shoulders. Shaggy fells Of wolf and conger hang upon the walls. And loud the black-eyed Indian maidens laugh, That gather, from the rustliug heaps of leaves, The hickory's white nuts, and the dark fruit That falls from the gray butternut's long boughs. So centuries passed by, and still the woods Blossomed in spring, and reddened when the year Grew chill, and glistened in the frozen rains Of winter; till the White man swung the axe Beside thee—si"nal of a mighty change. Then all around was heard the crash of trees, Trembling awhile and rushing to the ground, The low of ox, and shouts of men who fired The brushwood, or who tore the earth with ploughs. The grain sprang thick and tall, and hid in green The blackened hill-side; ranks of spiky maize Rose like a host embattled ; the buck-wheat Whitened broad acres, sweetening with its flowers The August wind. White cottages were seen With rose-trees at the windows; barns from which Swelled loud and shrill the cry of Chanticleer; Pastures where rolled and neighed the lordly horse, And white flocks browsed and bleated. A rich turf Of grasses brought from far o'ercrept thy bank, Spotted with the white clover. Blue-eyed girls Brought pails, and dipped them in thy crystal pool; And children, ruddy-cheeked and flaxen-haired, Gathered the glistening cowslip from thy edge.