Poems. By William W. Lord. New York: D. Appleton & Co.
Of Mr. Lord we know nothing — although we believe that he is a student at Princeton College — or perhaps a graduate, or perhaps a Professor of that Institution. Of his book, lately, we have heard a good deal — that is to say, we have heard it announced in every possible variation of phrase, as "forthcoming." For several months past, indeed, much amusement has been occasioned in the various literary coteries in New York, by the pertinacity and obviousness of an attempt made by the poet's friends to get up an anticipatory excitement in his favor. There were multitudinous dark rumors of something in posse — whispered insinuations that the sun had at length arisen or would certainly arise — that a book was really in press which would revolutionize the poetical world — that the MS. had been submitted to the inspection of a junto of critics, whose fiat was well understood to be Fate, (Mr. Charles King, if we remember aright, forming one of the junto) — that the work had by them been approved, and its successful reception and illimitable glorification assured. — Mr. Longfellow, in consequence, countermanding an order given his publishers (Redding & Co.,) to issue forthwith a new threepenny edition of "The Voices of the Night." Suggestions of this nature, busily circulated in private, were, in good time, insinuated through the press, until at length the public expectation was as much on tiptoe as public expectation, in America, can ever be expected to be about so small a matter as the issue of a volume of American poems. The climax of this whole effort, however, at forestalling the critical opinion, and by far the most injudicious portion of the procedure, was the publisher's announcement of the forthcoming book as "a very remarkable volume of poems."
The fact is, the only remarkable things about Mr. Lord's compositions, are their remarkable conceit, ignorance, impudence, platitude, stupidity and bombast: — we are sorry to say all this, but there is an old adage about the falling of the Heavens. Nor must we be misunderstood. We intend to wrong neither Mr. Lord nor our own conscience, by denying him particular merits — such as they are. His book is not altogether contemptible — although the conduct of his friends has innoculated nine-tenths of the community with the opinion that it is — but what we wish to say, is that "remarkable" is by no means the epithet to be applied, in the way of commendation, either to anything that he has yet done or to anything that he may hereafter accomplish. In a word, while he has undoubtedly given proof of a very ordinary species of talent, no man whose opinion is entitled to the slightest respect will admit in him any indication of genius.
The "particular merits" to which, in the case of Mr. Lord, we have allusion, are merely the accidental merits of particular passages. We say accidental — because poetical merit which is not simply an accident, is very sure to be found, more or less, in a state of diffusion throughout a poem. No man is entitled to the sacred name of poet, because from 160 pages of doggrel, may be culled a few sentences of worth. Nor would the case be in any respect altered, if these few sentences, or even if a few passages of length, were of an excellence even supreme. For a poet is necessarily a man of genius, and with the spirit of true genius even its veriest common-places are intertwined and inextricably intertangled. When, therefore, amid a Sahara of platitude, we discover an occasional Oasis, we must not so far forget ourselves as to fancy any latent fertility in the sands. It is our purpose, however, to do the fullest justice to Mr. Lord, and we proceed at once to cull from his book whatever, in our opinion, will put in the fairest light his poetical pretensions.
And first we extract the one brief passage which aroused in us what we recognised as the Poetical Sentiment. It occurs, at page 94, in "Saint Mary's Gift," which, although excessively unoriginal at all points, is upon the whole, the least reprehensible poem of the volume. The heroine of the story having taken a sleeping draught, after the manner of Juliet, is conveyed to a vault (still in the same manner) and (still in the same manner) awakes in the presence of her lover who comes to gaze on what he supposes her corpse:
And each unto the other was a dream;
And so they gazed without a stir or breath,
Until her head into the golden stream
Of her wide tresses, loosened from their wreath,
Sank back, as she did yield again to death
At page 3, in a composition of much general eloquence, there occur a few lines of which we should not hesitate to speak enthusiastically were we not perfectly well aware that Mr. Lord has no claim to their origination:
——— Ye winds
That in the impalpable deep caves of air,
Moving your silent plumes, in dreams of flight,
Tumultuous lie, and from your half-stretched wings
Beat the faint zephyrs that disturb the air!
At page 6, in the same poem, we meet, also, a passage of high merit, although sadly disfigured:
Thee the bright host of Heaven,
The stars adore: — a thousand altars, fed
By pure unwearied hands, like cressets blaze
In the blue depths of night; nor all unseen
In the pale sky of day, with tempered light
Burn radiant of thy praise.
The disfiguration to which we allude, lies in the making a blazing altar burn merely like a blazing cresset — a simile about as forcible as would be the likening an apple to a pear, or the sea-foam to the froth on a pitcher of Burton's ale.
At page 7, still in the same poem, we find some verses which are very quotable, and will serve to make our readers understand what we mean by the eloquence of the piece:
Great Worshipper! hast thou no thought of Him
Who gave the Sun his brightness, winged the winds,
And on the everlasting deep bestowed
Its voiceless thunder — spread its fields of blue,
And made them glorious like an inner sky
From which the islands rise like steadfast clouds,
How beautiful! who gemmed thy zone with stars,
Around thee threw his own cerulean robe, —
And bent his coronal about thy brows,
Shaped of the seven splendors of the light —
Piled up the mountains for thy throne; and thee
The image of His beauty made and power,
And gave thee to be sharer of His state,
His majesty, His glory, and His fear!
We extract this not because we like it ourselves, but because we take it for granted that there are many who will, and that Mr. Lord himself would desire us to extract it as a specimen of his power. The "Great worshipper" is Nature. We disapprove, however, the man-milliner method in which she is tricked out, item by item. The "How beautiful!" should be understood, we fancy, as an expression of admiration on the part of Mr. Lord, for the fine idea which immediately precedes — the idea which we have italicized. It is, in fact, by no means destitute of force — but we have met it before.
At page 70, there are two stanzas addressed to "My Sister." The first of these we cite as the best thing of equal length to be found in the book. Its conclusion is particularly noble.
And shall we meet in heaven, and know and love?
Do human feelings in that world above
Unchanged survive? blest thought! but ah, I fear
That thou, dear sister, in some other sphere,
Distant from mine will (wilt) find a brighter home,
Where I, unworthy found, may never come: —
Or be so high above me glorified,
That I a meaner angel, undescried,
Seeking thine eyes, such love alone shall see
As angels give to all bestowed on me;
And when my voice upon thy ear shall fall,
Hear only such reply as angels give to all.
We give the lines as they are: their grammatical construction is faulty; and the punctuation of the ninth line renders the sense equivocal.
Of that species of composition which comes most appropriately under the head, Drivel, we should have no trouble in selecting as many specimens as our readers could desire. We will afflict them with one or two:
O soft is the ringdove's eye of love
When her mate returns from a weary flight;
And brightest of all the stars above
Is the one bright star that leads the night.
But softer thine eye than the dove's by far,
When of friendship and pity thou speakest to me;
And brighter, O brighter, than eve's one star
When of love, sweet maid, I speak to thee.
Here is another
Oh, a heart it loves, it loves thee,
That never loved before
Oh, a heart it loves, it loves thee,
That heart can love no more.
As the rose was in the bud, love,
Ere it opened into sight,
As yon star in drumlie daylight
Behind the blue was bright —
So thine image in my heart, love,
As pure, as bright, as fair,
Thyself unseen, unheeded,
I saw and loved it there.
Oh, a heart it loves, it loves thee
As heart ne'er loved before;
Oh, a heart, it loves, loves, loves thee,
That heart can love no more.
In "The Widow's Complaint" we are entertained after this fashion:
And what are these children
I once thought my own,
What now do they seem
But his orphans alone?
In "The New Castalia" we have it thus:
Then a pallid beauteous maiden
Golden ghastly robes arrayed in
Such a wondrous strain displayed in,
In a wondrous song of Aidenne,
That all the gods and goddesses
Shook their golden yellow tresses,
Parnassus' self made half afraid in.
Just above this there is something about aged beldames dreaming — —
— of white throats sweetly jagged
With a ragged butch-knife dull,
And of night-mares neighing, weighing,
On a sleeper's bosom squatting.
But in mercy to our readers we forbear.
Mr. Lord is never elevated above the dead level of his habitual platitude, by even the happiest thesis in the world. That any man could, at one and the same time, fancy himself a poet and string together as many pitiable inanities as we see here, on so truly suggestive a thesis as that of "A Lady taking the Veil," is to our apprehension a miracle of miracles. The idea would seem to be, of itself, sufficient to elicit fire from ice — to breathe animation into the most stolid of stone. Mr. Lord winds up a dissertation on the subject by the patronizing advice —
Ere thou, irrevocable, to that dark creed
Art yielded, think, Oh Lady, think again!
the whole of which would read better if it were
Ere thou, irrevocable, to this d — d doggrel
Art yielded, Lord, think! Think! — ah think again.
Even with the great theme, Niagara, our poet fails in his obvious effort to work himself into a fit of inspiration. One of his poems has for title "A Hymn to Niagara" — but from beginning to end it is nothing more than a very silly "Hymn to Mr. Lord." Instead of describing the fall (as well as any Mr. Lord could be supposed to describe it) he rants about what I feel here, and about what I did not feel there — till at last the figure of little Mr. Lord, in the shape of a great capital I gets so thoroughly in between the reader and the waterfall that not a particle of the latter is to be discovered. At one point the poet directs his soul to issue a proclamation as follows:
Proclaim, my soul, proclaim it to the sky!
And tell the stars, and tell the hills whose feet
Are in the depths of earth, their peaks in heaven,
And tell the Ocean's old familiar face
Beheld by day and night, in calm and storm,
That they, nor aught beside in earth or heaven,
Like thee, tremendous torrent, have so filled
Its thoughts of beauty, and so awed with might!
The "Its" has reference to the soul of Mr. Lord, who thinks it necessary to issue a proclamation to the stars and the hills and the ocean's old familiar face — lest the stars and the hills and the ocean's old familiar face should chance to be unaware of the fact that it (the soul of Mr. Lord) admitted the waterfall to be a fine thing — but whether the cataract for the compliment, or the stars for the information, are to be considered the party chiefly obliged — that, for the life of us, we cannot tell.
From the "first impression" of the cataract, he says:
At length my soul awaked — waked not again
To be o'erpressed, o'ermastered, and engulphed,
But of itself possessed, o'er all without
Felt conscious mastery!
Retired within, and self-withdrawn, I stood
The two-fold centre and informing soul
Of one vast harmony of sights and sounds,
And from that deep abyss, that rock-built shrine,
Though mute my own frail voice, I poured a hymn
Of "praise and gratulation" like the noise
Of banded angels when they shout to wake
That so vast a personage as Mr. Lord should not be o'ermastered by the cataract, but feel "conscious mastery over all without" — and over all within, too — is certainly nothing more than reasonable and proper — but then he should have left the detail of these little facts to the cataract or to some other uninterested individual — even Cicero has been held to blame for a want of modesty — and although, to be sure, Cicero was not Mr. Lord, still Mr. Lord may be in danger of blame. He may have enemies (very little men!) who will pretend to deny that the "hymn of praise and gratulation" (if this is the hymn) bears at all points more than a partial resemblance to the "noise of banded angels when they shout to wake empyreal echoes." Not that we intend to deny it — but they will: — they are very little people and they will.
We have said that the "remarkable" feature, or at least one of the "remarkable" features of this volume is its platitude — its flatness. Whenever the reader meets anything not decidedly flat, he may take it for granted at once, that it is stolen. When the poet speaks, for example, at page 148, of
Flowers, of young poets the first words —
who can fail to remember the line in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
Fairies use flowers for their charactery?
At page 10 he says:
Great oaks their heavenward lifted arms stretch forth
The same thought will be found in "Pelham," where the author is describing the dead tree beneath which is committed the murder. The grossest plagiarisms, indeed, abound. We would have no trouble, even, in pointing out a score from our most unimportant self. At page 27 Mr. Lord says:
They, albeit with inward pain
Who though to sing thy dirge, must sing thy Paean!
In a poem called "Lenore," we have it
Avaunt! to-night my heart is light — no dirge
will I upraise,
But waft the angel on her flight with a Pæan of old days.
At page 13, Mr. Lord says of certain flowers that
Ere beheld on Earth they gardened Heaven!
We print it as printed — note of admiration and all. In a poem called "Al Aaraaf" we have it thus:
— — — — A gemmy flower,
Inmate of highest stars, where erst it shamed
All other loveliness: — 'twas dropped from Heaven
And fell on gardens of the unforgiven
At page 57 Mr. Lord says:On the old and haunted mountain,
There in dreams I dared to climb,
Where the clear Castalian fountain
(Silver fountain) ever tinkling
All the green around it sprinkling
Makes perpetual rhyme —
To my dream enchanted, golden,
Came a vision of the olden
There are no doubt many of our friends who will remember the commencement of our "Haunted Palace."
In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace
(Radiant palace) reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion
It stood there.
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow —
This — all this — was in the olden
Time, long ago.
At page 60, Mr. Lord says:
And the aged beldames napping,
Dreamed of gently rapping, rapping,
With a hammer gently tapping,
Tapping on an infant's skull.
In "The Raven" we have it:
While I pondered nearly napping,
Suddenly there came a rapping,
As of some one gently tapping,
Tapping at my chamber door.
But it is folly to pursue these thefts. As to any property of our own, Mr. Lord is very cordially welcome to whatever use he can make of it. But others may not be so pacifically disposed, and the book before us might be very materially thinned and reduced in cost, by discarding from it all that belongs to Miss Barrett, Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Proctor, Longfellow and Lowell — the very class of poets, by the way, whom Mr. William W. Lord, in his "New Castalia" the most especially effects to satirize and to contemn.
It has been rumored, we say, or rather it has been announced that Mr. Lord is a graduate or perhaps a Professor of Princeton College — but we have had much difficulty in believing anything of the kind. The pages before us are not only utterly devoid of that classicism of tone and manner — that better species of classicism which a liberal education never fails to impart — but they abound in the most outrageously vulgar violations of grammar — of prosody in its most extended sense.
Of versification, and all that appertains to it, Mr. Lord is ignorant in the extreme. We doubt if he can tell the difference between a dactyl and an anapæst. In the Heroic (Jambic) Pentameter he is continually introducing such verses as these:
A faint symphony to Heaven ascending —
No heart of love, O God, Infinite One —
Of a thought as weak an aspiration —
Who were the original priests of this —
Of grace, magnificence and power —
O'erwhelm me; this darkness that shuts out the sky —
Alexandrines, in the same metre, are encountered at every step — but it is very clear from the points at which they are met, and at which the cæsura is placed, that Mr. Lord has no idea of employing them as Alexandrines; — They are merely excessive that is to say defective Pentameters. In a word, judging by his rhythm, we might suppose that the poet could neither see, hear, nor make use of his fingers. We do not know, in America, a versifier so utterly wretched and contemptible.
His most extraordinary sins, however, are in point of English. Here is his dedication, embodied in the very first page of the book: —
"To Professor Albert B. Dod, These Poems, the offspring of an Earnest (if ineffectual) Desire towards the True and Beautiful, which were hardly my own by Paternity, when they became his by Adoption, are inscribed, with all Reverence and Affection, by the Author."
What is any body to make of all this? What is the meaning of a desire toward? — and is it the "True and Beautiful" or the "Poems" which were hardly Mr. Lord's "own by paternity before they became his [Mr. Dod's] by adoption."
At page 12, we read:
Think heedless one, or who with wanton step
Tramples the flowers.
At page 75, within the compass of eleven lines, we have three of the
Oh Thou for whom as in thyself Thou art,
And by thyself perceived, we know no name,
Nor dare not seek to express — but unto us,
Adonai! who before the heavens were built
Or Earth's foundation laid, within thyself,
Thine own most glorious habitation dwelt,
But when within the abyss,
With sudden light illuminated,
Thou, thine image to behold,
Looked down with brooding eye!
At page 79, we read:
But ah! my heart, unduteous to my will,
Breathes only sadness; like an instrument
From whose quick strings, when hands devoid of skill
Solicit joy, they murmur and lament.
At page 86, is something even grosser than this:
And still and rapt as pictured Saint might be
Like saint-like seemed as her she did adore.
At page 129, there is a similar error:
With half-closed eyes and ruffled feathers known
As them that fly not with the changing year.
At page 128 we find —
And thou didst dwell therein so truly loved,
As none have been nor shall be loved again,
And yet perceived not, etc.
At page 155, we have —
But yet it may not cannot be
That thou at length hath sunk to rest.
Invariably Mr. Lord writes didst did'st; couldst could'st, etc. The fact is he is absurdly ignorant of the commonest principles of grammar — and the only excuse we can make to our readers for annoying them with specifications in this respect is that, without the specifications, we should never have been believed.
But enough of this folly. We are heartily tired of the book, and thoroughly disgusted with the impudence of the parties who have been aiding and abetting in thrusting it before the public. To the poet himself we have only to say — from any farther specimens of your stupidity, good Lord deliver us!
[S:0 - BJ, 1845]