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THE fresh and joyous Spring at length is seen,
And all things breathe of bliss.
Hath burst the barriers time and tempest rear ;
Where ruthless Winter mocked her slumbers drear,
OH! I have sought thee over hill and plain,
ON PROSE MEMORANDA FOR POETICAL
LORD BYRON made frequent poetical use of his own journals and letters. He sometimes even repeated the same thought in several different prose writings, and then finally enshrined it in immortal verse. In a letter to Mr. Murray, dated Diodati, Sept. 29, 1816, he says, "We have been to the Grindelwald, and the Jungfraw, and stood on the summit of the Wengen Alp, and seen torrents of nine hundred feet in fall, and glaciers of all dimensions: we have heard shepherds' pipes and avalanches, and looked on the clouds foaming up from the valley below us, like the spray of the ocean of hell." In his journal, there is the following similar passage;—“ Heard the avalanches falling every five minutes nearly. From whence we stood, on the Wengen Alp, we had all these in view on one side; on the other, the clouds rose from the opposite valley, curling up perpendicular precipices like the foam from the ocean of hell. It was white and sulphury.” These descriptions were at last reproduced in Manfred.
I hear ye momently above, beneath
Crash with a frequent conflict.
The mists boil up around the glaciers; clouds
I will give two further specimens-"Arrived at the Grindelwald; rode to the higher glacier-like a frozen hurricane.” * *** * "Passed whole woods of withered pines, all withered; trunks stripped and barkless, branchless, lifeless; done by a single winter."
"O'er the savage sea,
The glassy ocean of the mountain ice,
We skim its rugged breakers, which put on
The aspect of a tumbling tempest's foam
Frozen in a moment."
"Like blasted pines,
Wrecks of a single winter, burkless, branchless."
Dr. Johnson, a poet very different indeed from Byron, occasionally made use of prose notes in the preparation of his verses. The following rough hint or memorandum was used in his Irene.
"MAHOMET (to IRENE). I have tried thee, and joy to find that thou deservest to be loved by Mahomet,-with a mind great as his own. Sure thou art an error of nature, and an exception to the rest of thy sex, and art immortal; for sentiments like thine were never to sink into nothing. I thought all the thoughts of the fair had been to select the graces of the day, disclose the colours of the flaunting (flowing) robe, tune the voice and roll the eye, place the gem, choose the dress, and add new roses to the fading cheek, but-sparkling."
is thus transformed into metre in the tragedy:
"Illustrious maid, new wonders fix me thine;
Thy soul completes the triumph of thy face;
To tune the tongue, to teach the eyes to roll,
And add new roses to the fading cheek."
It is said that Pope's Essay on Criticism was first written out in prose by his own hand, and that the Essay on Man was versified after the original prose sketch, furnished to the poet by his "guide, philosopher, and friend," Lord Bolingbroke. A similar practice is recommended by Vida in his Art of Poetry; and Warton tells us, that when Racine had fixed on a subject for a play, he wrote down in plain prose, not only the subject of each of the five acts, but of every speech. When he had done this to his satisfaction,
he used to say, My tragedy is finished." Moore observes that it was much the same case with Sheridan, who, whenever he undertook any subject in verse, used to write down his thoughts first in a sort of poetical prose, with here and there a rhyme or metrical line as they might occur, and afterwards reduce, with much labour, "this anomalous compound" to regular poetry. A practice of this nature, however, should not be too generally adopted in poetical composition. It may be very advisable in some particular kinds of poetry, such as the didactic, and the descriptive; but in those compositions which require quick bursts of passion, or "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," there is something uncongenial and chilling in so mechanical an operation, and in the very nature of mere prose itself. The music of verse, the beauty of those expressions usually connected with poetical associations, and the elevation or abstraction of mind which is required in the production of poetry with all its proper adjuncts, excite the imagination and preserve it in the requisite state of activity and fervour. The mere difficulties of versification, are by no means so great as is generally supposed, when the poet is in a favorable mood. Pope has confessed that he often found one couplet suggest another. We have also the authority of Milton, for saying, that there are certain " thoughts that voluntarily move harmonious numbers." In descriptive poetry, however, especially, where minute and quickly changing appearances are to be preserved, and the memory is apt to be unfaithful, the practice of taking prose notes from the book of nature is, perhaps, both justifiable and judicious. It is analogous to the practice of a sister art. Studies from Nature are thought no deduction from a painter's supposed power of imagination or facility of execution.
On! deem not that my heart is cold,
I silent sit, as if controlled
By some deep sense of wrong;
But oft upon my sunniest hour
A fitful sadness falls,
And shades prophetic round me lour,
'Till every scene appals.
I could not tell thee whence or why
Comes this o'erwhelming change,
That makes what else might charm mine eye
Seem desolate and strange.
As sometimes o'er the brightest day
The sudden shadows sail,
So dreams of darkness and dismay
I see such mystic visions now,
Oh! then, forgive my clouded brow,
My silence and my tears!