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Lyric Poetry Essay

Of all categories of literature lyric poetry is the most difficult to define sharply. It is generally a thing apart from other types, but it often merges into other types, and any in tense moment may force to the surface the lyrical element in drama or epic. The border land between the genres is hard to trace. It is perhaps for this reason that, with excellent monographs on portions of the subject, there has been till lately no satisfactory survey of the entire field. The adjective, to be sure, begs the question at issue in this notice. In May, 1912, Professor Reed’s book appeared, followed in little more than a year by the two other works enumerated above. The authors of these three studies of the English lyric differ widely in their sense of proportion. To the pre-Elizabethan period Schelling gives about 14% of his space, Reed about 25%, Rhys about 35%—more than a third. To the nineteenth century and after Rhys gives about 22%, Reed about 29%, Schelling just 50%. There can be no question but that Rhys sacrifices the modem period in order to deal more fully with medieval devel opments, and that Schelling devotes a dispro portionate amount to the nineteenth century, especially to the treatment of the lyric of our own day. Whether the work of living authors, especially of men so young and as yet so form less as Mr. Noyes, comes properly within the scope of literary history is certainly open to question. All three writers have answered it in the affirmative. It is a pity that none of the three has included within his range the devel opment of the lyric in this country; critics are coming more and more to disregard the polit ical boundary lines that must else divide the two parte of what is really one literature.

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With more space at his command, Reed is able to get something of the comparative out look that is so essential to the proper under standing of literary types. His sketch of the Provencal, French, and Latin lyric, while necessarily brief, is delightfully appreciative, and his study of Petrarch is a needed link (and one almost wholly miming in the other two booke) between the Tudor poetry and the Petrarchian school of Italy and France. To the influence of sixteenth-century France he might have with profit devoted more space. Within his small book Schelling could hardly attempt anything like a comparative point of view, though he indicates where such digres sions should occur. Judicious omissions in his last chapter would have given him some of the necessary room. Rhye has but casual and disconnected allusions to the poetry of France and Italy and attempts no real comparative study. On the other hand, he enters a field that Reed and Schelling wisely keep out of the folk-clement in early song.

Here his re marks are haphazard and unsatisfactory. With regard to the inclusion or omission of indi- vidual poets the taste and judgment of the authors are again divergent Rhys omits many names, “ not because they did not write any thing of value,” he says (p. 371), “but be cause they did not considerably affect the growth of the verec.” But such a standard con sistently adopted would have worked to the exclusion of various writers who are discussed Aphra Behn, for example, or Henry More, or Andrew Lang. On the other hand, one may rightly oomplain of the omission, among others, of John Webster, T. L. Beddoee, Emily Bronte, James Thompson II, Austin Dobson, and Fran cie Thompson. In Schelling’s book I note but two omissions of consequence. George Darlca name occurs thrice, but there ie no specific reference to hie delicate lyric talent, especially as seen in Sylvia. More remarkable ie the lack of any allusion to the poetry of Wilfrid S. Blunt. These omissions are notable only in a work so comprehensive as this, for Schelling’e faults are thoee of commission.

Not only are there paragraphs that are little more than cata logues of names, betraying anxiety lest the least poetical minnow escape the critical net, but in several instances a number of writers are tedi ously grouped together only to be dismissed with the remark that they have no place in the history of the lyric (e. д., p. 32 and p. 147). Why mention them then? Here, as in many things, Reed affords the golden mean. Hie range does not include as many living writers as docs Schelling’e; but such omissions are the result, not of neglect, but of suspended judg ment and of proper sense of proportion. I am informed that he has in preparation a separate work upon the lyric of today. In modern book-making a good bibliography and a good index have become essentials. In both these respects Schelling is admirable. Reed’s triple entry index is needlessly oompler and his bibliography is too sparse to be of much service. Rhys has no bibliography, and indeed but two or three exact references in his whole book. His index is inexact and incom plete. Francis Thompson, for example, is men tioned, but wisely without a page reference, for his name does not occur in the text Lovelace, on the contrary, whose work is discussed, has no place in the index.

In point of style, Reed is by far the moet pleasant and is not devoid of quiet humor. Schelling is, as always, business-like. Rhys is often astonishingly bad. He ie fond of pon derous dicta which, on analysis, are found to be of little real substance. Thus, of the MorUTArthur he writes (p. 73), “ There prose was allowed, it seems, to grow lyrical without grow ing ashamed of itself.” I do not know what this means. Certainly the author’s prose should  be ashamed of itself, for, generally clumsy and verbose, it is at times positively ungrammatical. For example: “ We part from him and Robert of Brunnc, however, with a distinct feeling of something added to his resources of the tongue and the congenial powers of verse” (p. 47). Or: “Enough has been drawn from this early dramatic literature to show that, like in later plays, it abounded in true lyric” (p. 67). Or read the amazing sentence, too long to quote, on p. 119, beginning “ To know all.” The two American writers are much more accurate than the Englishman.

In this respect Reed is especially notable. The few errors that I have found will be corrected, I am assured, in the revised edition of the book, now in press. Schelling’e work is done with painstaking accuracy, but a few points may be noted. Watte-Dunton’s phrase “ The Renascence of Wonder” is found, not in the Encyclopedia Britannim, as is said on p. 150, but in the in troductory essay to the third volume of Cham ber’s Cyclopedia of English Literature. On p. 172, line 3, for “ Farewell ” read “ Fare thee well.” The revival of the literary drama which Schelling (p. 190) dates from the publication of Shelley’s Ccnci in 1819, should certainly be dated (as Shelley would have acknowledged) from the presentation of Coleridge’s Remorse at Drury Lane in 1816. Poems by Two Broth ers was published in 1827, not 1826 (p. 194). The date of the accession of Alfred Austin to the laureateship is given (p. 248) as 1902, of course a misprint for 1892; but that, too, is incorrect as the appointment was not made till 1896. On p. 273 the Wessex Poems of Thomas Hardy arc called Essex Poemsa bad misprint How in 1894 Browning could have added his “ cordial appreciation ” to Patmore’s praise of Thompson I cannot see (p. 274). Schelling does scant justice to Tennyson’s vol ume of 1832, classing it with Poems chiefly Lyrical as not “ wholly undeserving of the die approval ” of reviewers. Yet surely this vol ume is. as Gosse says, a “ most astonishing reve lation of finished genius’ astonishing, too, for the immense progress made since the Juvenilia of 1830.

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In his account of the Oxford Move ment (p. 217 f.) Schelling is not only unsym pathetic but at times inaccurate. To indicate his lack of comprehension of the spiritual value of the movement would take too much space; I may remark, however, that to say that ” the Oxford Movement was dead, in 1845, with Newman’s admission into the communion of Home” (p. 218) is to invite contradiction from anyone familiar with u powerful section of Anglican thought today. See the article on “ The Future of the Oxford Movement ” by E. G. Selwyn, in The Nineteenth Century and After, March, 1912, vol. 71, p. 522 f. Nor is Schelling’s treatment of the Pre-Raphaclitca satisfactory. His statement of their principles is vague and ambiguous. It may be remarked, too, that he speaks of the “ spontaneity ” with which Rossetti’s poems were written (p. 231). This directly contradicts the poet’s own account of the travail with which he composed. See A. C. Benson’s Rossetti, p. 74. Rhys has done much less accurate work than Schelling; and his book is further disfigured by at least fifty misprints, the more important of which shall be noted.

On p. 16 it is said that “there is no true rhyme” in Anglo-Saxon verse, a misstatement which the author himself corrects on p. 19. He accepts without ques tion Professor Manly’s theory of the dual or multiple authorship of Piers the Plowman. As this is by no means established, it would have been well to give some indication of the controversy. On p. 119 he speaks of Anne Boleyn as “ a princess destined to be a queen.” He gives no indication that the sincerity of Sidney’s love for Penelope Devereux has ever been so much as questioned (p. 149). Reed and Schelling agree with him in accepting the auto biographical interpretation of Astrophel and Stella. Schelling (p. 59) refers to Sir Sidney Lee’s opposing view. But Lee’s opinion loses weight because its advocate is committed to a conventional, non-literal interpretation of the Elizabethan sonnet-eeqnences in general. Of more force and of interest as prior to Lee is the diseueeion by Courthope (TT, 226), who re jects, on what seem to me solid grounds, the autobiographical view. To this no reference is made in any of these books.To continue the summary of Rhys’s errors. On p. 220 he says that Vaughan chose “ a very bad model in Marino,” as though Marino were i a poem. This may be a printer’s error. It ie hard to put upon any poor devil of a printer the really atrocious misprint, occurring twice on p. 228, of “ Sampson ” for ” Samson.” On « p. 256 it should have been noted that Thom- son’s claim to the authorship of “ Rule, Britan- nia ” has been vindicated. To put Macphcreon, ] whose Fingal was published in 1763, “at the end of the century” (p. 270) amounts to a gross anachronism, since “ Oseian ” is to be as sociated with Walpole and other heralds of Ro manticism. I do not understand why it seems to Rhys (p. 299) “almost an impiety” to as sociate with Landor Southey, whom Landor himself described as :

no less firm or ready than the guide Of Alighieri, trustier far than he.

The date of Tennyson’s second independent volume is 1832, not 1833 (p. 326), despite the title-page. The difference of a year is here im- portant. I see no reason for Rhys’s approval (p. 328) of Coleridge’s statement that Tenny- son began “to write verses without very well understanding what metre is ” .(Table-Talk, April 24, 1833). Tennyson tried to account for this strange criticism (see the Memoir I, 50, note). The truth is that Coleridge was simply wrong. I have been through both rare little volumes without finding a line that will not scan. In discussing Browning’s metrical defects Rhys advances the ingenious theory (p. 336) that, on account of Browning’s ” extremely neat manuscript, he was misled by the sym- metry of the lines as written into believing they had organic symmetry.” Then, after a discus- sion of the Sonnets from the Portuguese, comes this sentence, ” It is curious to remember, in view of Browning’s profound admiration for these sonnets, . . . his undisguised con- tempt for the form in general as a vehicle of poetic ideas –

‘Did Shakespeare write sonnets? The worse Shakespeare he.”

Such a garbled misquotation and misinterpre tation is really disgraceful Of the printer’s many errors the following are the more serious. The lines at the bottom of p. 22 are badly punctuated. On p. 23, line 10, Caedmon has no accent; two lines below it has. On p. 109, line 9 from bottom, is the bad error of ” Dowe ” for ” Dowel,” and there is a superfluous capital in “Dobest.” By putting ” Chronicle ” in italics on p. 112, line 4, the printer has made nonsense. On p. 127, last line but one of verse, for “but” read “by.” On p. 128, line 22, for ” sometimes ” read ” sometime.” The loss of the word ” the ” in the last line of the quotation on p. 139 spoils the metre. The apostrophe in line 7 of p. 160 destroys the sense. On p. 189, line 12, for “of ” read “on.” On p. 211, line 15, for “findeth ” read ” find it.” Within four lines quoted from Paradise Lost on p. 226 there are two misprints, viz., ” which ” for ” while ” and “when” for “where.” On p. 230, line 3 of first quotation, for “far fetched” read probably ” deep fetched.” There are two errors in line 17 of p. 251. On p. 254, before line 5 of the song, add “And he that will this health deny “a line that has been entirely omitted. As it stands the stanza is meaningless. On p. 291, line 3 from bottom, we have ” Grasmere,” two lines below ” Grassmere.

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” On p. 299, line 7, read, I suppose, “poetry ” for ” poet.” On p. 303, end of second quotation, by misplacing the last words the metre has been ruined. On p. 320, line 3 from bottom, for “which in” read “in which.” These axe the chief mis- prints (I have noted down not half); individ ually of small moment; collectively an exhibi- tion of slovenly work. More serious, because more fundamental, is the illogical arrangement of much of the material, as when Piers the Plowman is discussed after the Scottish Chau-cerians. Passages are quoted sometimes in the old spelling, sometimes modernized. Titles are given in italics or quotationmarks or neither. This leads to some absurd confusion, as on p. 150 where the title Astrophel is not in italics and the woman’s name, Stella, is; or on p. 326 where part of a title is italicized and part is not. From such fault-finding, important though it be if a review is to be more than impression istic inanity, it is pleasant to turn to some notes on a few of the many topics suggested by the reading of these books. There is no space here for a discussion of the nature of lyric poetry. It may be said that in none of these books is a satisfactory conclu- sion arrived at. All three writers agree that the lyric originates in song, and they make some effort to trace this songelement down the ages and to find in its presence a criterion of lyric utterance. This accounts for Reed’s state- ment that “the genius of Wordsworth was not lyrical.

” It is well to recall Coleridge’s remark that he would rather have written ” Nature’s Lady ” than twenty ” Christabels ” and ” Kubla Khans.” The insistence upon the singing quality accounts also for Rhys’s low estimate of the sonnet as a lyric form. Here he is in direct opposition to Reed who thinks the sonnet is “the most important, as it is the most perfect, of all modern lyric -forms ” (p. 119), and to Schelling who takes ” the flourishing of the sonnet as a criterion of the presence in our English literary history of the qualities that mark the soul of poetry” (p. 131). Rhys, on the contrary, thinks that “no sonnet can be as puirely lyrical as a perfect song” (p. 163). There is much truth in this, for the sonnet has to struggle against exceptionally strait limi- tations of form, and the essential lyric spontaneity is more difficult of attainment. The question rests ultimately upon the relative worth in lyric poetry of the folk and literary elements. In this connection it may be re- marked that both Reed (p. 169) and Rhys (p. 301) quote with something like astonishment remarks by Stevens and Landor respectively indicating their slight opinion of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The passages quoted explain one a.n other, and when I add that Rogers (Table- Talk, p. 149) said that ” Blow, blow, thou winter wind ” was ” alone worth them all,” and that Byron, who was saturated. with the plays, never mentions the sonnets, it will be seen that this vagary of taste was quite general. No one would attempt to praise Pope as a lyric poet in the higher sense of the term; yet I wish that one at least of these critics had mentioned the lines “Where’er you walk, cool gales shall fan thie glade,” which, removed from their insipid context and exquisitely set to music by Handel, are full of a delicate artificial charm. And I think that sometlhing at least of the literary lyric can be found in the Eloisa and in the Unfortunate Lady. We are still too much a part of the Romantic Move- ment to appreciate fully the merits of such verse.

The same prejudice appears in most judgments of Byron. Rhys and Schelling are certainly too low in their estimate of Byron’s lyric gift. Reed is more fair. It is worth recalling that the late poet-laureate put ” The Isles of Greece” with Spenser’s Epithalamium as the supreme English lyrics (The Bridling of Pegasus, pp. 14 and 18). Both Reed and Schelling praise Beddoes. There ought to be a revival of knowledge of this most interesting poet. He is much more than a “man of a single work” (Schelling, p. 191), for the fragments of Torismond and The Second Brother are full of beauty and his best lyric is not in Death’s Jest-book. Reed perhaps exaggerates the gloom of Beddoes’s temperament. The gloom of his poetry was an intentional literary effect. His delightful let- ters are almost always cheerful and enthusias- tic. When a man speaks of “leading terror by the nose” it is difficult to associate him with a thorough-going pessimist like “B. V.”

The exquisite technique of Beddoes’s lyrics is the subject of ‘an interesting paper in F. Olivero’s recent Saggi di Letteratura Inglese (p. 223 f.). One detail about Shelley is worth mention- ing. Reed writes (p. 412), “A critic has re- marked that poets usually illustrate the spiritual by the material . . . but Shelley makes nature ghostly.” A very striking in- stance of this, not so far as I am aware re- corded, is afforded by a comparison of the opening lines of the Ode to the West Wind with the Inferno III, 112 f. Dante describes the spirits of the damned embarking upon Charon’s boat,

Come d’autunno si levan le foglie L’una appresso dell’altra.

The ghosts fall like autumn leaves; in Shelley’s imagination it is the autumn leaves that are “driven like ghosts” from the unseen presence of the wind. Finally I note that towards Swinburne both Rhys and Schelling are more just than Reed, who overemphasizes the poet’s lack of human sympathy. To this toooft repeated assertion The Pilgrims, which is the very gospel of “social service,” should be a complete reply. In sum, the value of Rhys’s book, despite occasional passages of sympathetic, if impressionistic, criticism, is slight; Schelling has made a good hand-book, a compendious satchel-guide to song; Reed’s is a work of both suggestiveness and charm. In certain moods the student may well use hisbook; he will discard all such works when, approaching poetry in another mood, he hears through the magic casement the horns of elfland blow.

 

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Lyric Poetry Essay
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Artscolumbia

Of all categories of literature lyric poetry is the most difficult to define sharply. It is generally a thing apart from other types, but it often merges into other types, and any in tense moment may force to the surface the lyrical element in drama or epic. The border land between the genres is hard to trace. It is perhaps for this reason that, with excellent monographs on portions of the subject, there has been till lately no satisfactory survey of the entire fi

2017-09-14 08:47:26
Lyric Poetry Essay
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