Last Update: Jan. 25, 2001 .Navigation:. Main Menu .. Poe's Criticisms
[Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), Review of Epes Sargent's The Light of the Light House, and Other Poems, from Graham's Magazine, June 1844, p. 295.]


[page 295, column 1, continued:]

The Light of the Light House, and Other Poems, by Epes Sargent. New York: James Mowatt & Co.

    This is the first collected edition of Mr. Sargent's poems we have seen, and we avail ourselves of the opportunity it offers to make some remarks on the character and merits of his muse. It is evident that a collection, composed of pieces produced at various periods of life, and prompted by varying impulses of feeling, must contain poems of different degrees of excellence. There are several pieces not particularly distinguished from the flood of verse now deluging the land, and therefore worthy of no particular comment. Two or three bear evidence of being manufactured "for the occasion," with the usual economy of thought and emotion. Here and there we meet with a lame line or a trite image. But, taking the collection as a whole, we think that it must be allowed to contain much fine poetry, and to place the author in a prominent station among our poets, even if he had not attained that position before its publication. Whatever we may think of his themes, or his mode of treating them, it can hardly be doubted that he describes no scenery that he has not seen, and versifies few emotions which he has not felt. He is no mere metrical trifler, playing daintily with thought and passion, and "pleased with the rattle" of his rhymes, but a man of fancy and sentiment, who has too much of the material of poetry in him to need toe affection of the poetaster.

    It is difficult to fix on one general term to describe a poet, whose heart and brain have been exercised on a variety of topics, and who varies his manner with his theme. When we have clutched an epithet which seems to cover the extent of his range, he often contrives to elude its application by displaying some quality which clashes with it. As we hunt him through lyric after lyric, he still manages to dodge our analysis; and if we run our knife into that part "where he is," we find, with the Hibernian, that "he is not there." In the present collection of Mr. Sargent's poems there is much of this variety, but there is likewise a unity of spirit in all his writings. A general healthiness of thought and sentiment animates and gives freshness to his compositions. He is no puling versifier, wailing over fictitious sorrows, and ravenous for sympathy. Without any lack of sensibility or thoughtfulness, he still does not brood over his own consciousness until he has turned his individual peculiarities into idiosyncracies. He has evidently left his mind open to outward objects, and aimed to describe them as they appear to his eye, not as they appear to his whim. He can mingle thought and emotion with description, without destroying the essential features of either. In most of his poems relating to the sea, there is much vividness of representation, combined with feeling and fancy. We look at the ocean with his [column 2:] eyes and sympathies, it is true, but we feel confident that he has not distorted the appearances of things, to meet the wants of rhyme, imagery, or eccentricity.

    We think that a few extracts will display, better than the most labored criticism, the truth to nature, the fine affluence of fancy, the force and tenderness of feeling, and the graceful facility of expression which characterize Mr. Sargent's best efforts. We begin with the Light of the Light House, a most pure and beautiful product of imagination and sentiment. We select a few stanzas:

But O! Aurora's crimson light,
... That makes the watch-fire dim,
Is not a more transporting sight
... Than Ellen is to him.
He pineth not for fields and brooks,
... Wild-flowers and singing birds,
For summer smileth in her looks
... And singeth in her words.
...................... --
The ocean's blue is in her eyes,
... Its coral in her lips,
And in her cheek the mingled dyes
... No sea-shell could eclipse!
And, as she climbs the weedy rocks,
... And with the sunshine plays,
The wind that lifts her golden locks
... Seems more to love their rays.
...................... --
When the smoothed ocean sleeps unstirred,
... And, like a silver band,
The molten waters circling gird
... The island's rim of sand,
She runs, her tiny feet to lave,
... And breaks the liquid chain,
Then laughs to feel the shivered wave
... Coil down to rest again.
...................... --
The sea-fog, like a fallen cloud,
... Rolled in and dimmed its fire;
Roared the gale louder and more loud,
... And sprang the billows higher!
Above the gale that wailed and rang,
... Above the booming swell,
With steady and sonorous clang,
... Pealed forth the light-house bell!
    "Shells and Sea-Weeds," a series of short poems recording a summer voyage to Cuba, display to much advantage Mr. Sargent's power in themes relating to the ocean. "To a Land Bird," "A Calm," "The Gale," "Tropical Weather," are characterized by that force and freshness of description which can only come from actual observation of the scenes represented. "A Life on the Ocean Wave," "A Night Storm as Sea," and "A Summer Noon at Sea," are also excellent. In the "Lampoon" there is much sharpness and energy of expression, and a flerring fearlessness of tone. "Midsummer in the City" is very fine. "Rockall" contains many noble lines, and the diction generally is lofty and majestic. We extract the commencement:
Pale ocean-rock, that like a phantom shape,
Or some mysterious spirit's tenement,
Risest amid this wilderness of waves,
Lonely and desolate -- thy spreading base
Is planted in the sea's unmeasured depths,
Where rolls the huge leviathan o'er sands
Glistening with shipwrecked treasures. The strong wind
Flings up thy sides a veil of feathery spray
With sunbeams interwoven, and the hues
Which mingle in the rainbow. From thy top
The seabirds rise and sweep with sidelong flight
Downward upon their prey; or, with poised wings,
Skim to the horizon o'er the glittering deep.
    It would not be difficult to select other specimens of Mr. Sargent's poetical powers, equally worthy of panegyric. We hope that he will redeem his promise to reprint his other productions, including the tragedy of "Velasco."

~~~ End of Text ~~~

[S:0 - GM, 1844]