Death; or Medorus' Dream. By the Author of "Ahasuerus." Harper & Brothers, New York.
It has always been sufficiently well understood that "The Author of Ahasuerus" is Mr. Robert Tyler, the son of the President; and this understanding, while it has given currency to his poems, has stood very much in the way of a fair appreciation of the poet. By the enemies of the administration, the announcement of "Ahasuerus" was the signal, we are really ashamed to say, for every variety of prospective squib, and, by its friends, we are also very much ashamed to say, for every variety of prospective puff. When published, the poem, almost as a matter of course, was extravagantly lauded by the one party, and outrageously condemned by the other; and, so far as our own knowledge extends, there was really no attempt at purely literary criticism in the case. This, the author himself could not have failed to see; and it must have been to him a source of no ordinary regret that the circumstances of his political, rendered it impossible that he should obtain, in America at least, a distinct view of his poetical, position. For ourselves, in the few words we have to say, we profess an absolute impartiality; but, as similar professions have been made, either directly or indirectly, by nearly all who have preceded us upon this topic, we can scarcely expect to be believed on the ground of the simple profession. Thus it shall be our endeavor to make our comments speak for themselves; our sole purpose being to present an intelligible view of the book -- that is to say, of "Medorus' Dream;" for the time has gone by when a criticism upon "Ahasuerus" might come with propriety, under the heading of our "Review of New Books."
"Death, or Medorus' Dream," then, is an irregular poem, chiefly iambic, and consisting of some twelve hundred lines. It is divided into three parts -- with no very ostensible reason for the division. The theme may be thus stated: -- Medorus, a misanthrope, deeply imbued with a sense of the horrors of the grave, laments the sad destiny of Man, in being subjected to Death. While thus lamenting, FANCY descends to his aid, and consoles him by opening to his view the mysteries of Knowledge and of Love. She instructs him that the Death so dreaded is but a mode of progress from lesser to greater capacities of enjoyment and of power, until the soul finally returns to its August source in the Godhead itself. Medorus, in awaking from his dream, finds that the terror of Death is dispelled.
These allegorical subjects are faulty in themselves,
and it is high time they were discarded. The best allegory is a silly conceit,
so far as the allegory itself is concerned, and is only tolerable when
so subjected to an upper current
Apart from this leading error, the chief defects of "Medorus' Dream" are to be found in an unpleasant "fatfetchedness" of versification, in confusion of metaphor, and in a too frequent introduction of epithet.
Of the general character of the versification, the lines annexed will convey an idea:
The light of Knowledge and of happy Love.These are merely iambic lines, unrhymed, and varying in length from four to six and ten syllables -- that is to say, from two to three and five feet. The effect in general has nothing beyond its oddity to recommend it. Occasionally, however, it assumes much force; as, for example, here:
The one appears like some bright dawn that pours
................... Its streaming tide
Into the realms of Darkness and arrays
................... Each cloud in gold,
While in effulgence shines each fragrant world.
The other, like those warm and rosy rays
................... That sunset leaves,
When all along you fleeting mists that wing
................... Their silent way
Through evening's twilight dome
There seems a presence of Divinity,
As though a group of angels hovered near,
................... Or God's sweet smile
Was lingering in the sky.
'T was not the wavy outline of the formNevertheless, we should have been better pleased with something in the way of rhyme; and, in fact, there is no metre which may not derive vigor from its employment. The Heroic, or Iambic Pentameter, can best dispense with it; but we know no instance, even of this stately rhythm, which would not be improved, even in its distinctive feature of stateliness, by the admission of well-managed rhyme.
As, flexible on the bosom of the air,
..... It lay instinct with grace;
'T was not the eye lit up with beams of love
..... Bright as unclouded day;
'T was not the wing that veil'd his peaceful breast,
..... White as unsullied snow;
But 't was a truth and innocence of thought,
An angel-gift of stainless purity,
..... That had our worship won.
In respect to the point of "confusion of metaphor," Mr. Tyler is far more objectionable than in his metre. For example:
If but the fire of sacred truth could touchHere we have fire touching a stagnant heart, and, in this way, melting certain chains that curb its swelling tide -- that is, the swelling tide of a stagnant heart. Observe! -- first we have the idea of fire applied to water, (conveyed by the term "stagnant") this is one incongruity; then we have chains curbing a tide, a second incongruity; then we
................... His stagnant heart,
And melt the chains that curb its swelling tide,
Then would he know, &c.
As for the third count of our indictment -- the excessive use of epithets -- the opening passage of "Medorus' Dream" will afford us a good exemplification:
How sad the wan and melancholy hour,The ill effect of these frequent adjectives is heightened, here, by the similarity of those used at the termination of the second, third, and fourth lines, where we have a [["]]darkening sky," a "gathering gale," and a "shuddering soul."
When wintry night creeps o'r the dark'ning sky,
while the dull whisper of the gathering gale
Strikes like an omen on the shuddering soul!
So Death, with his chill breath and bony hand,
Pressed on the sinking heart, from our dim sense
Shuts out the fading world, until the Tomb
With its dread shadows steals upon the scene,
Where Hope lies buried in sepulchral gloom,
And Joy shall be no more.
These, we say, are the chief defects of the poem, and they are defects of a minor kind. The merits are, first, a certain nobility and dignity of tone pervading every page, and betokening lofty aspiration and chivalry of heart in the poet; secondly, a rich and imaginative sense of the beautiful, with a capacity for its expression. Of course, it is only by a perusal of the whole poem that the reader can be made to feel the first of these merits; but, without instancing at this point, we may be permitted to say that the general philosophy of "Death," as well as of "Ahasuerus" is, if not in all cases logical, still, at all times, noble, elevated, thoughtful, and worthy of the highest respect.
We conclude this notice with an extract which will go far to exemplify our allusion to the poet's "sense of the beautiful," and his "capacity for its expression:"
Behold a fresh and oval-fashioned Dale,[This item is attributed to Poe. There seems no reason to attribute to Poe the only other item in the "Review of New Books" for this issue, a review of Samuel Rogers Poems.]
Deep bosomed in the midst of rising hills,
Through all the wide-extended landscape swelling,
While on their verdant sides a woodland screen
........ Reaches the fair horizon.
No mortal footstep yet hath ever passed
........ Its myrtle-guarded walls.
No moral hand hath ever yet profaned
........ Its many-tinted flowers.
Such as the wild enthusiast's soul hath viewed
........ In Morning's formful sleep,
Such as a poet's eager eye hath seen
........ In youth's inspiring hour,
While sitting on the smooth and pebbly beach
........ Of some sun-glowing sea,
Or gazing on the white-winged clouds of Noon
........ From some enshaded glen:
Such to Medorus' happy vision seemed
........ This star-lit vale.
The turf lay thick and green,
Close matted in its mossy woof,
........ Upon the genial soil,
Save where sweet beds of flowers
........ Gaze upward on the stars,
Whose odors rich, from where they lie,
........ With gentle arms
Enwreathed about each other's forms,
Intoxicate the sense with a delight
........ As blissful as their fragrance.
The red Rose, blushing in its virgin pride,
Hangs lightly on its green and briery stalk,
And kisses from its pale-cheeked sister's brow,
With trembling lip, the pearly tear away;
Here Violets, that spring by stealth at night,
Of rarer scents and sweeter shapes than those
Plucked by the village maiden in the vale,
Ere yet the sun hath touched their dewy leaves,
Mingle their balmiest odors and their hues
........ With the soft-nectared sighs
Of wind-flowers, pansies, hyacinths, oxlips,
........ And sun-striped tulips tall,
Until the freighted airs themselves grow faint,
And on their weary way sink down to sleep
........ Among the sleepless flowers!
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[S:0 - GM, 1843]