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And above human flight dost soar aloft
With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft:
The bird named from that Paradise you sing,
So never flags, but always keeps on wing.
Where couldst thou words of such a compass find ?
Whence furnish such a vast expanse of mind ?
Just Heaven thee, like Tiresias, to requite,
Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight.
Well mightst thou scorn thy readers to allure
With tinkling rhyme, of thy own sense secure;
While the Town-Bays writes all the while and spells,
And, like a pack-horse, tires without his bells:
Their fancies like our bushy points appear;
The poets tag them, we for fashion wear.
I too, transported by the mode, offend;
And, while I meant to praise thee, must commend :
Thy verse created, like thy theme sublime,
In number, weight, and measure, needs not rhyme.
THREE Poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn:
The first in loftiness of thought surpass'd ;
The next, in majesty; in both, the last.
The force of nature could no farther go :
To make a third, she join'd the former two.
But Milton next, with high and haughty stalks,
Unfetter'd, in majestic numbers, walks:
No vulgar hero can his Muse engage,
Nor earth’s wide scene confine his hallow'd rage.
See ! see ! he upward springs, and, towering high,
Spurns the dull province of mortality;
Shakes Heaven's eternal throne with dire alarms,
And sets the Almighty Thunderer in arms !
Whate'er his pen describes I more than see ;
Whilst every verse, array'd in majesty,
Bold and sublime, my whole attention draws,
And seems above the critic's nicer laws.
How are you struck with terror and delight,
When angel with archangel copes in fight!
When great Messiah's outspread banner shines,
How does the chariot rattle in his lines !
What sound of brazen wheels, with thunder, scare
And stun the reader with the din of war !
With fear my spirits and my blood retire,
To see the seraphs sunk in clouds of fire :
But when, with eager steps, from hence I rise,
And view the first gay scene of Paradise ;
What tongue, what words of rapture, can express
A vision so profuse of pleasantness !
For lofty sense,
Creative fancy, and inspection keen
Through the deep windings of the human heart,
Is not wild Shakspeare thine and Nature's boast ?
Is not each great, each amiable Muse
+ From an Account of the Greatest English Poets. The Seasons-"Summer."
Of classic ages in thy MILTON met?
A genius universal as his theme;
Astonishing as Chaos; as the bloom
Of blowing Eden fair; as Heaven sublime !
NOR second HE that rode sublime
Upon the seraph-wings of ecstacy;
The secrets of the abyss to spy,
He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time :
The living throne, the sapphire blaze,
Where Angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw; but, blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.
High on some cliff, to Heaven up-piled,
Of rude access, of prospect wild,
Where, tangled round the jealous steep,
Strange shades o'erbrow the valleys deep,
And holy Genii guard the rock,
Its glooms embrown, its springs unlock;
While on its rich ambitious head
An Eden, like His own, lies spread ;
I view that oak the fancied glades among,
By which, as Milton lay, his evening ear,
From many a cloud that dropp'd ethereal dew,
Nigh sphered in Heaven, its native strains could hear,
On which that ancient trump he reach'd was hung;
Thither oft his glory greeting,
From Waller's myrtle shades retreating,
With many a vow from Hope's aspiring tongue,
My trembling feet his guiding steps pursue ;
In vain : -Such bliss to one alone
Of all the sons of Soul was known;
And Heaven and Fancy, kindred Powers,
Have now o'erturn'd the inspiring bowers,
Or curtain'd close such scene from every future view.
RISE, hallow'd MILTON ! rise and say,
How, at thy gloomy close of day;
How, when “depress'd by age, beset with wrongs;”
When“ fallen on evil days and evil tongues :"
When Darkness, brooding on thy sight,
Exiled the sovereign lamp of light;
Say, what could then one cheering hope diffuse ?
What friends were thine save Memory and the Muse?
Hence the rich spoils, thy studious youth
Caught from the stores of ancient Truth ;
Hence all thy busy eye could pleased explore,
When Rapture led thee to the Latian shore;
Each scene, that Tiber's bank supplied;
Each grace, that play'd on Arno's side :
The tepid gales, through Tuscan glades that fly;
The blue serene, that spreads Hesperia's sky;
Were still thine own : thy ample mind
Each charm received, retain'd, combined.
+ Ode on the Poetical Character.
And thence “the nightly Visitant,” that came
To touch thy bosom with her sacred flame,
Recall'd the long-lost beams of grace,
That whilom shot from Nature's face
When God, in Eden, o'er her youthful breast
Spread with his own right hand Perfection’s gorgeous vest.
POET of other times ! to thee I bow
With lowliest reverence. Oft thou takest my soul,
And waft’st it by thy potent harmony
To that empyreal mansion, where thine ear
Caught the soft warblings of a seraph's harp,
What time the nightly visitant unlock'd
The gates of Heaven, and to thy mental sight
Display'd celestial scenes. She from thy lyre
With indignation tore the tinkling bells,
And turn'd it to sublimest argument.
AGES elapsed ere Homer's lamp appear'd,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard :
To carry Nature lengths unknown before,
To give a MILTON birth, ask'd ages more.
Thus genius rose and set at order'd times,
And shot a day-spring into distant climes,
Ennobling every region that he chose;
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose;
And, tedious years of gothic darkness pass’d,
Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.
Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
Then show far off their shining plumes again.
In the pure fountain of eternal love,
Has eyes indeed; and, viewing all she sees
As meant to indicate a God to man,
Gives Him his praise, and forfeits not her own.
Learning has borne such fruit in other days
On all her branches : piety has found
Friends in the friends of science, and true prayer
Has flow'd from lips wet with Castalian dews.
Such was thy wisdom, Newton, childlike sage!
Sagacious reader of the works of God,
And in his word sagacious. Such too thine,
Milton, whose genius had angelic wings,
And fed on manna.
HE, most sublime of bards, whose lay divine
Sung of the Fall of Man, was in his style
Naked and stern; and to effeminate ears
Perchance ev'n harsh; but who will dare dispute
His strength and grandeur ? what bright glories shine
Upon the towers of his gigantic pile,
Which neither storms nor Time's destruction fears,
Eternal growth of an eternal root!
How plain the words, that with essential thought,
Pure, heavenly, incorporeal,- by the skill
Of angels' tongues how marvellously wrought,
The web ethereal, where the serpent's ill
Brought woe and ruin into Paradise,
And drove the sire of man from Eden's bliss !
Nor Milton's holy genius could secure
In life his name from insult and from scorn,
And taunts of indignation; foul as fall
Upon the vilest tribe of human kind ;
Nor yet untainted could his heart endure
The calumnies his patience should have borne :
For words revengeful started at his call,
And blotted the effulgence of his mind.
But, 0, how frail the noblest soul of man !
Not o'er aggressive blame the bard arose ;
His monarch's deeds 'twas his with spleen to scan ;
And on his reign the gates of mercy close !
He had a hero's courage; but, too stern,
He could not soft submission's dictates learn! E. B.
This Book on the whole is so perfect from beginning to end, that it would be difficult to find a single superfluous passage. Milton's poetical style is more serried than any other : rhymed metre leads to empty words, involutions, and circumlocutions; but it is in the thought, still more than in the language, that this closeness is apparent. The matter, the illustrations, and the allusions, are historically, naturally, or philosophically true. The learning is of every extent and diversity; -recondite, classical, scientific, antiquarian. But the most surprising thing is how he vivifies every topic he touches by poetry: he gives life and picturesqueness to the driest catalogue of buried names, personal or geographical. They who bring no learning, yet feel themselves charmed by sounds and epithets which give a vague pleasure to the mind, and stir up the imagination into an indistinct emotion.
Notwithstanding all that has been said so copiously about poetical imagination, by critics ancient and modern, I still think that the generality of authors and readers have a very confused idea of it. It is the power, not only of conceiving, but creating embodied illustrations of abstract truths, which are sublime, or pathetic, or beautiful.
But those ideas, which Milton has embodied, no imagination would have dared to attempt but his own : none else would have risen "to the highth of this great argument.” Every one else would have fallen short of it, and degraded it.
Johnson says, that an “inconvenience of Milton's design is, that it requires the description of what cannot be described,—the agency of Spirits. He saw that immateriality supplied no images, and that he could not show angels acting but by instruments of action; he therefore invested them with form and matter. This being necessary, was therefore defensible, and he should have secured the consistency of his system by keeping immateriality out of sight, and enticing his reader to drop it from his thoughts.” Surely this was quite impossible for the reason Johnson himself has given. The imagination, by its natural tendencies, always embodies Spirit. Poetry deals in pictures, though not exclusively in pictures.
In this respect Milton's poetry is different from almost all other; that it is always founded on our belief, and a belief, which we consider a matter of duty and religion. Milton's imagination is always conscientious : and here again is his peculiarity. Almost every imaginative poet, except Milton, falls occasionally into fantasticality :—perhaps I ought to except also Shakspeare. This is the vice of poetry, where there is not the severest judgment and the most profound control;