Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

That prayer and labour should co-operate, is thus laught by Donne:

In none but us are such nix'd engines four.d,
As hands of double office : for, the ground
We till with them; and them to heaven we raise :
Who prayerless labonrs, or, without this, prays,
Doth but one balt, that's none.

By the same author, a common topic, the danger of procrastination, is thus illustrated :

That which I should have begun
In my youth's morning, now late must be done;
And I, as giddy travellers must do,
Which stray or sleep all day, and having lost

Light and strength, dark and tir’d, must then ride post. All that man has to do is to live and die; the sum of humanity is comprehended by Donne in the following imes:

Think, in how poor a prison thou didst lie;
After enabled but to suck and cry.
Think, when 'twas grown to most, 'twas a poor inn,
A province pack'd up in two yards of skin ;
And that usurp'd, or threatened, with a rage
Of sicknesses, or their true mother, age.
But think, that death hath now enfranchis'd thee;
'Thou hast thy expansion now, and liberty;
Think, that a rusty piece, discharg'd, is town
In pieces, and the bullet is his own,
And freely flies: this to thy soul allow,

Think thy shell broke, think thy soul hatch'd but now. They were sometimes indelicate and disgusting. Cowley thus apostrophises beauty :

Thou tyrant, which leav'st no man free!
Thou subtle thief, from whom nought safe can be!
Thou murderer, which hast killd; and devil, which woul·l's!

damn me!
Thus he addresses his mistress :

Thou who, in many a propriety,
So truly art the sun to me,
Add one more likeness, which I'm sure you can,
And let me and my sun beget a man. •

Thus he represents the meditations of a lover:

Though, in thy thoughts, scarce any tracts have been
So much as of original sin,
Such charms thy beauty wears, as might
Desires in dying confest saints excite.

Thou, with strange adultery,
Dost in each breast a brothel keep;

Awake, all men do lust for thee,
And some enjoy thee when they sleep.

The true taste of tears.
Hither with crystal vials, lovers, come,

And take my tears, which are love's wine,
And try your mistress' tears at home;
For all are false, that taste not just like mine.

DONNE.

1

This is yet more indelicate:

As the sweet sweat of roses in a still,
As that which from chat'd musk-cat's pores doth trill,
As the almighty balm of the early east;
Such are the sweet drops of my mistress' breast :
And on her neck her skin such lustre sets,
They seem no sweat-drops, but pearl coronets.
Rank, sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles.

DONNZ.

Their expressions sometimes raise horror, when they intend perhaps to be pathetic :

As men in hell are from diseases free,

So from all other ills am I,

Free from their known formality :
But all pains eminently lie in thee.

COWLEY.

They were not always strictly curious, whether the opinions from which they drew their illustrations were true; it was enough that they were popular. Bacon remarks, that some falsehoods are continued by tradition, because they supply commodious allusions.

It gave a piteous groan, and so it broke:
In vain it something would have spoke;

The love within too strong for't was,
Like poison put into a Venice-glass.

COWLEY,

In forming descriptions, they looked out, not for images, but for conceits. Night has been a common subject, which poets have contended to adorn. Dryden's night is well known; Donne's is as follows:

Thou seest me here at midnight, now all rest ;
Time's dead low-water ; when all minds divest
To-morrow's business ; when the labourers have
Such rest in bed, that their last church-yard grave,
Subject to change, will scarce be a type of this ;
Now, when the client, whose last hearing is
Tomorrow, sleeps ; when the condemned man,
Who, when he opes his eyes, must shut them then
Again by death, although sad watch lie keep,
Doth practise dying by a little sleep;

Thou at this midnight seest me. It must be, however, confessed of these writers, that, if they are upon common subjects often unnecessarily and unpoetically subtle, yet, where scholastic speculation can ,be properly admitted, their copiousness and acuteness may justly be admired. What Cowley has written upon hope shews an unequalled fertility of invention :

Hope, whose weak being ruin'd is,

Alike if it succeed and if it miss ;
Whom good or ill does equally confound,
And both the horns of fate's dilemma wound;

Vain shadow! which dost vanish quite,
Both at full noon and perfect night!

The stars have not a possibility

Of blessing thee:
If Usings, then, from their end we liappy call,
'Tis hope is the most hopeless thing of all.

Hope, thou bold taster of delight,
Who, whilst thou should'st but taste, devour'st it quite !
Thou bring'st us an estate, yet leav'st us poor,
By clogging it with legacies before !
The joys which we entire should wed,
Come deflower'd virgins to our bed ;

Good fortunes without gain imported be,
Such mighty custom's paid to thee:
For joy, like wine kept close, does better taste;
If it take air before, its spirits waste.

To the following comparison, of a man that travels and his wife that stays at home, with a pair of compasses,

it may be doubted whether absurdity or ingenuity has better claim:

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two;
'Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show

To move, but doth if th’ other do.
And though it in the centre sit,

Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,

And grows erect as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must

Like th' other foot obliquely run.
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

DONNE.

In all these examples it is apparent, that whatever is improper or vicious is produced by a voluntary deviation from nature in pursuit of something new and strange; and that the writers fail to give delight by their desire of exciting admiration.

Having thus endeavoured to exhibit a general represen, tation of the style and sentiments of the metaphysical poet!, it is now proper to examine particularly the works of Cowley, who was almost the last of that race, and undoubtedly the best.

His Miscellanies contain a collection of short compositions, some written as they were dictated by a mind at leie sure, and some as they were called forth by different occasions ; -with great variety of style and sentiment, from burlesque levity to awful grandeur. Such an assemblage of diversified excellence no other poet has hitherto afforded. To choose the best, among many good, is one of the most hazardous attempts of criticism. know not whether Scaliger himself has persuaded many readers to join with him in his preference of the two favourite odes, which he estimates, in his raptures, at the value of a kingdom. I will, however, venture to recommend Cowley's first piece, which ought to be inscribed To my Muse, for want of which the second couplet is without reference. When the title is added, there will still remain a defect; for every piece ought to contain in itself whatever is necessary to make it intelligible. Pope has some epitaphs without names; which

efore epitaphs to be let, occupied indeed for the present, but hardly appropriated.

The ode on wit is almost without a rival. It was about the time of Cowley that wit, which had been till then used for intellection, in contradistinction to will, took the meaning, whatever it be, which it now bears.

Of all the passages in which poets have exemplified their own precepts, none will easily be found of greater excellence than that in which Cowley condemns exuberance of wit:

are

Yet 'tis not to adorn and gild cach part;

That shews more cost than art.
Jewels at nose and lips but ill appear;
* Rather than all things wit, let none be there.
Several lights will not be seen,

If there he nothing else between.
Men doubt, because they stand so thick i'th'sky,
If those be stars which paint the galaxy.

In his verses to lord Falkland, whom every man of his time was proud to praise, there are, as there must be in all Cowley's compositions, some striking thoughts, but they are not well wrought. His elegy on sir Henry Wotton is vigorous and happy; the series of thoughts is easy and

« AnteriorContinua »