Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

tonal potentialities that told his emotions and made them shared by his fellows.

Such was articulate speech; but it was not articulate speech alone, as claimed by Max Muller, and other authorities whom we revere, that lifted the race from brutehood to manhood.

I have discovered that it was when man invented the expedient of metaphor to express abstract thoughts in concrete terms—it was when man possessed insensuous thought—thoughts beyond the power of the brute mind—and invented analogical speech to express them, that he parted company forever with the brute.

The poet was born with the nascence of language. The birth of the poet was coeval with the transition of brute to man.

Through language, man provided himself a most powerful instrument for concerted action which gave to co-operative friendship a new value with corresponding enlargement of the social home unit.

Later man was impelled by necessity to invent written signs for conveying thought beyond the reach of his voice, and this he did by pictures by hieroglyphics—which gradually lost their material significance and became letters, where now are stored in symbol all our accumulated learning and lore, literature and wisdom.

In order fairly to understand the formative influence that Hebraic poetry has had upon the peoples of the Occident, in giving trend and shape to thought and character, language, literature and laws, we must first reach a correct conclusion as to what constitutes poetry.

It is necessary to know that the poetry of the Bible—that great compendium of the poetry of the ancient world-was not written in the riming jingle of modern so-called poetry.

The poetry of the Bible, though in the original largely written in rhythmic measures, was not written in riming measures.

There was no rime of sound, but there was in its place a far more potential and impressive character of composition—the parallelism of thought, the rime of idea.

For example, Psalm CXIV.-
3. The sea saw it and fled; Jordan was driven back.
4. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

5. What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest! thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?

6. Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and ye little hills, like lambs?

7. Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;

8. Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Simple rimed verse becomes prose when translated, and if mere verse were poetry, the poetry would disappear in translation. The poetry of the Bible survives translation. Translated from Hebrew to Greek, Greek to English, it is still poetry, rich in its original charm and power.

There is yet another quality--a quality supremely necessary to true poetry, and necessary to its expressiveness, to its impressiveness, to its beauty, and to its power, and necessary to its immortality-its survival through translation. This is artistic trope. It is the beauty of expressive imagery in language that makes it poetic—that imagery whereby abstract thought is expressed in concrete terms, the insensuous made sensuous, the tangible clothed in tangibility, whereby thoughts lying outside experience are expressed in terms of experience.

Such is true poetry. Such was the poetry of Job and of the Proverbs. The basic principle of true poetry, even if it be not an adequate definition of poetry, is the expression of insensuous thought in sensuous terms by artistic trope. Such was the poetry of the ancient Hebrews.

There has never been another people, or another literature of a people, whose vitality has made them endure in such pristine purity through all the vicissitudes and shocks of ages.

Proud and imperious Egypt has faded into oblivion upon the far horizon of history's dawn, and it is now but an empty name except the part it holds in the story that Israel has brought down to us.

Chaldea, Phoenicia, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, rose in their turn and shook the world, and in turn went down to obliteration. We dig for scant mementoes of their greatness, their power and their literature in the sands that drift on the ruins of their cities and sepulchres of their kings.

Greece and Rome in turn bestrode the world and impressed upon it their language and their spirit, but not their religions nor their ethics, for the all-conquering Holy Writ is the foundation upon which have been builded all the better parts of the creeds of Christian and Saracen.

Poetry in every age gives expression to the highest ideals of its time. The Jews had higher ideals than had any other people of the ancient world, and, by consequence, their poetry was higher and better than that of any other race. With all their cruelties, with all their faults, the ethics of the Hebrews have in every past age been superior to the ethics of their contemporaries.

The effect of Hebrew literature on English letters has been persistent, penetrant, mighty. Caedmon himself, father of the writing art in England, yielded to the benign spell of Jewish tradition, made its themes his own. Those following in the way he pointed, felt, as had he, the poignant charm of the Old Testament's dramatic tales, the majestic beauty of the sacred poems. The lore of the Scriptures laid its thrall on every master of the pen; the body of rabbinical learning commanded his homage, the devotion of his art to its interpretation in the English tongue, enhanced by such graces as his genius might constrain. Prose and verse alike were builded from materials so anciently set forth by Hebrew bards, so jealously guarded through the ages. Again and yet again, the early authors of England sought their inspiration in the primal histories of the Jews. Anew, and many times, they strove to translate in amplified beauty the stark majesty in the Mosaic story of how God brought forth creation from out the void. The splendid epic of the warring angelic hosts was written with reverent zeal by many a poet. The Fall of Man, as well, was chosen often as a theme of supreme dignity and import. Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, set to heroic rhythm the narrative, so tersely told in the Apocrypha, of Judith, the magnificent. The appreciative prelate wrote with power of that devoted woman who scrupled not to employ the seductions of her beauty against Holofernes, chief of the thousands come to destroy her people, who lured him to dalliance, drugged him, slew him, aroused the men of Judea to new courage, incited them to final triumph over their foes.

Matthew Arnold, astute critic and earnest scholar, did not hesitate to declare often and emphatically the profound influence of Hebrew tradition upon both the life and the literature of English-speaking peoples. Inevitably, indeed, since the religion of the Old Testament was a fundamental part of Christianity, the Sacred Books have been dominant in the thoughts and the writings of the devout, as well as in the receptive souls of the poets. Out of the practical necessity of religion, when the Protestant church determined on a vernacular edition of the Scriptures, grew the St. James's version, which became, and remains, the chief literary monument of the language. In the Elizabethan period of English literature, the sway of Hebrew thought was displayed almost incessantly by poet and dramatist alike. Scriptural allusions are multitudinous in the folios of Shakespeare. To the Jewish source, Milton owed the whole inspiration for his masterpiece, “Paradise Lost”. In “Samson Agonistes”, as well, the blind poet yielded recognition of the power in the old tales of the Hebrews. In holy fervor, he set his art to interpret in English the singular charm of the original text of the Psalms, which he knew intimately and loved. *** Ah, those Psalms of David, beloved alike of Jew and of Gentile, universal voice of prayer, of despair, of penitence, of hope, of faith, of blessed assurance, of sacred peace! They have stirred to noble fervor the hearts of countless poets. Sir Philip Sydney wrought them to the English tongue; so, too, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Lord Pembroke. Royalty itself, in the persons of King James and of Queen Elizabeth took up the task of versions in their own tongue. In less extent, the Book of Proverbs drew the efforts of many to paraphrase this wisdom into English. Rhythmical versions were written of the Book of Job-aged and deathless poem !—of Lamentations, of Ecclesiastes.

The splendid songs of the Old Testament found countless votaries to essay their worth in English phrasings. The lyrics of Miriam and Deborah have been rendered repeatedly; as, too, David's mourning over Saul and Jonathan, and the Canticles of Solomon-sublime lovesong of the world!

In another field, the impress of Jewry's thought has been made manifest in the works of such writers as S. Baring-Gould, George Croly, Owen Meredith and Archbishop Trench, along with others innumerable, who have set forth in English the quaint tales of the Rabbins. Thus, the parables of the Talmud have been garnered into our English tongue. The brilliant mind of Robert Browning seized on these for the purposes of his Apologues.

The crystallized thought of the ancient Hebrews is the one thing most precious come down to us from the remote past. The vastness of this influence on successive after-ages may not be comprehended : a clue to apprehension lies in the pages of this ANTHOLOGY. To the English-speaking races Hebrew thought has served steadfastly as the incentive to achievement in the art of letters; it has been constant, indefatigable, in its grant of inspiration, in its array of splendid material at the writer's behest. How bountifully its riches have been loved, how gratefully nurtured, how graciously made fruitful, this ANTHOLOGY reveals.

HUDSON MAXIM.

:

1

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »