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ELIZABETH B. BARRETT.
AMERICAN readers have as yet seen but few of the productions of this lady, but she has already made herself a home in the hearts of the people; a proof that the popular taste does not lie altogether in the direction of singsong echoes, sickly sentiment, or empty blank verse; and a proof, too, in her own case, that the most varied acquirements of learning do not impair the subtlest delicacy of thought and feeling.
Miss BARRETT, in her earlier works and first adventurous attempts, is the poetess of angels and seraphim, breathing a rare and elevated atmosphere, too rare for habitual contemplation. In her later style, she is the sweet poetess of meditation and thought, of a deep and pure spirituality, of
Philosophy, baptized In the pure fountain of eternal love.
Compare the eloquence of her poem entitled Cowper's Grave," with what generally passes for Byronic eloquence, and mark the difference. Here is thought compact and close, enthusiasm fresh from the heart, noble domestic incident, and sorrow as gentle and as mild as ever breathed from a human bosom. Mark the pathos, the tenderness, the deep sympathy in the poem, "The Sleep."
Miss BARRETT's productions are unique in this age of lady authors. They have the "touch of nature," in common with the best; they have, too, sentiment, passion, and fancy in the highest degree, without any imitation of NORTON, HEMANS, or LANDON. Her excellence is her own; her mind is coloured by what it feeds on; the fine tissue of her flowing style comes to us from the loom of Grecian thought. She is the learned poetess of the day, familiar with HOMER and ÆSCHYLUS and SOPHOCLES; and to the musings of Tempe she has added the inspiration of Christianity, "above all Greek, all Roman fame." She has translated the Prometheus, to the delight of scholars, and has contributed a series of very valuable prose papers "On the Poetry of the Early Church," to the London "Athenæum." Her reading Greek recalls to us ROGER ASCHAM's anecdote of Lady JANE
GREY; but Lady JANE GREY has left us no such verses.
A striking characteristic of Miss BARRETT'S verse, is its prevailing seriousness, approaching to solemnity-a garb borrowed from the "sceptred pall" of her favourite Greek drama of fate. She loses much with the general reader, by a dim mysticism; but many of her later poems are entirely free from any such defect. The great writers whom she loves will teach her the plain, simple, universal language of poetry.
Her dreams and abstractions, though "caviàre to the generale," have their admirers, who will ever find in pure and elevated philosophy, expressed in the words of enthusiasm, the living presence of poetry. On Parnassus there are many groves: far from the dust of the highway, embosomed in twilight woods, that seem to symbol Reverence and Faith trusting on the unseen, we may hear, in the whispering of the trees, the wavering breath of insect life, the accompaniment of our poet's strain. Despise not dreams and reveries. With COWLEY, Miss BARRETT vindicates herself. The father of poets tells us, even dreams, too, are from God."
Miss BARRETT has published two volumes of poetry, "Prometheus Bound, and Miscellaneous Poems," in 1833, and "The Seraphim and other Poems," in 1838; and we understand that she has a forthcoming volume in the press. It will be a welcome one to all lovers of true poetry.
In our judgment, Miss Barrett is destined, in due time, to take her place at the head of the female poets of Great Britain. The noble ardour with which she writes, makes us believe that this new volume will go far toward determining the question.
Of her personal history, we know very little. She resides in London, and is one of the stars in a brilliant constellation of scholars, philosophers, and poets. She was a contributor, with WORDSWORTH, HUNT, and HORNE, to "Chaucer Modernized," and besides her prose writings in "The Athenæum,” has written for that admirable gazette some of her finest poems.
NAPOLEON! years ago, and that great word, Compact of human breath in hate and dread And exultation, skied us overhead
An atmosphere, whose lightning was the sword, Scathing the cedars of the world, drawn down In burnings, by the metal of a crown.
Napoleon! Foemen, while they cursed that name,
Napoleon! Sages with high foreheads droop'd,
And this name brake the silence of the snows
Yea! this, they shouted near the pyramidal
The world's face changed to hear it. Kingly men
Napoleon! The cavernous vastitude
And Germany was 'ware-and Italy
For, verily, though Gaul augustly rose
To wield a sword, or fit an undersized
King's crown to a great man's head! And though along
Her Paris streets, did float on frequent streams
Napoleon! 'twas a high name lifted high!
The kings crept out the people sate at home,—
Of rights divine, too scant to cover doom,-
A deep gloom center'd in the deep repose—
O wild St. Helen! very still she kept him,
Nay! not so long! France kept her old affection,
She cries, Behold, thou England, I would have The dead thou wottest of, from out that grave."
And England answers in the courtesy
Because it was not well, it was not well,
But since it was done,-in sepulchral dust,
Of a fall'n foe and exile! We return Orestes to Electra... in his urn!
A little urn-a little dust inside,
And run back in the chariot-marks of time,
Napoleon! he hath come again-borne home
There, weapon spent and warrior spent may rest
Napoleon! Once more the recover'd name
Blood fell like dew beneath his sunrise-sooth!
And if they ask'd for "rights," he made reply,
He ruled them like a tyrant-true! but none Were ruled like slaves! Each felt Napoleon!
I do not praise this man-the man was flaw'd, For Adam-much more, Christ!-his knee, unbent
His hand, unclean-his aspiration, pent [had
I think a nation's tears, pour'd thus together,
The crown'd Napoleon or his senseless dust Be worth more, I discern not-angels must.
We look'd into the pit prepared to take her,
Was no room for any work in the close clay! From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her, Crying Get up, little Alice, it is day!' If you listen by that grave in sun and shower,
With your ear down, little Alice never cries; Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her, [eyes. For the new smile which has grown within her For merry go her moments, lull'd and still'd in The shroud, by the kirk chime!
It is good when it happens," say the children, "That we die before our time!"
Alas, the young children! they are seeking
Go out, children, from the mine and from the city, Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do! Pluck your handfuls of the meadow cowslips pretty,
"All day long the wheels are droning, turning,
Are all turning all the day, and we with all!
O ye wheels (breaking off in a mad moaning,) Stop! be silent for to-day!'"
Ay, be silent let them hear each other breathing, For a moment, mouth to mouth; [wreathing Let them touch each other's hands, in a fresh Of their tender human youth;
Let them feel that this cold metallic motion
Is not all the life God giveth them to feel; Let them prove their inward souls against the notion That they live in you, or under you, O wheels! Still, all day, the iron wheels go onward,
As if fate in each were stark! [ward, And the children's souls, which God is calling sunSpin on blindly in the dark.
Now tell the weary children, O my brothers!
For the bless'd One who blesseth all the others,
Pass unhearing-at least, answer not a word; And we hear not (for the wheels in their resounding) Strangers speaking at the door.
Is it likely God with angels singing round Him, Hears our weeping any more?
Two words, indeed, of praying we remember;
* A commissioner mentions the fact of weeds being thus confounded with the idea of flowers.
The report of the commissioners present repeated instances of children, whose religious devotion is confined to the repetition of the two first words of the Lord's Prayer.