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The clearest lesson from the life and work of Keats, after all, is that a poet's place and fame do not depend so much upon just how much he wrote or what he did or how long he lived as upon the essential spirit of his literary product, and as to whether or not it had in it, much or little, the principle and potency of life. At this point Keats may be tested and be seen to abide the test. He was essentially a poet and a lyrist, glorying in his vocation and sacrificing health and leisure and life to its high behests, intent only on lifting the poetic thought of the day to clearer and wider outlook, to the vision of truth and God, and thus he muses and writes:

O for ten years, that I may overwhelm

Myself in poesy! so I may do the deed
That my own soul has to itself decreed ...
Yet there ever rolls

A vast idea before me, and I gleam
Therefrom my liberty; thence, too, I've seen
The end and aim of poesy.

That "end and aim" were the discovery and revelation of the best things. The death of Keats at twenty-six, in the midst of all these high ambitions and unfinished plans, forms one of the saddest pages in English poetry.

CHAPTER VIII

The Lyrics of Robert Browning

NE of the first features discernible by any care

ON

ful student of Mr. Browning as a poet is his marked individuality. He is as unique in British verse as Carlyle is in prose, or Matthew Arnold in literary criticism. There is no antecedent or contemporary English poet that even approximately reminds us of him; not Milton, nor Pope, nor Morris, nor Tennyson. The one who most strongly influenced him was his wife, and yet no two British authors were more unlike. His character and his poetic aims were entirely his own, independent of any authority or precedent or existing standard, confirming the general statement of a recent critic, "that in our approach to the poetry we necessarily approach the personality of the poet." It is on this basis that Browning must be judged, and insists on being judged, and herein we find one of the factors explanatory of his commanding presence in the development of modern English letters.

In dealing with the subject of meditative lyrics the question of special interest now before us is, just how and to what extent Mr. Browning, as a poet, may be justly said to have exhibited this particular type; what the elements of his merit and art were which would naturally have expressed themselves along this specific line. One of these

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elements we find in his intellectuality, the most prominent feature, perhaps, of his poetic work, being in British verse in this respect what George Eliot is in British prose fiction. He maintained that poetry was, first of all, the expression of ideas, the finest and fullest outcome of a man's mental personality. Not that he held, with Carlyle, "poetry is nothing but higher knowledge," but that such "higher knowledge" was an essential factor in it. As he himself expresses it," The poet's function is that of beholding with an understanding keenness the universe, nature, and man." Poetry, in fine, must be intelligent, sensible, the product of thinking, and not the idle daydream of an empty mind.

At this point the poetry of Browning, on its intellectual side, divides itself into two distinct classes. The one is that portion of his verse, and the larger portion, in which the intellectual feature, as such, is the controlling one, dominating his imagination, feeling, and taste, and demanding thus, on the reader's part, a high order of mind to understand and appreciate it. It is thus that his greatest poem, "The Ring and the Book," has rightly been said to be "the product of sheer intellect." It is abstract, acute, and philosophic. Hence we may, in such poems, say of him, as Brutus said of Cassius, "He thinks too much;" too much, indeed, for the primary purposes of verse, so that the final end of poetry, the æsthetic one, is made subservient to other and less important ends. When it is said

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