Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Orion,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XI: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 249-275


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[page 249, continued:]

ORION: AN EPIC POEM IN THREE BOOKS. BY R. H. HORNE. FOURTH EDITION. PUBLISHED BY J. MILLER: LONDON.(1)

[Text: Graham’ Magazine, March, 1844.]

In the January number of this magazine, the receipt of this work was mentioned, and it was hinted that, [page 250:] at some future period, it should be made the subject of review. We proceed now to fulfill that promise.

And first a word or two of gossip and personality.

Mr. R. H. Horne, the author of “Orion,” has, of late years, acquired a high and extensive home reputation, although, as yet, he is only partially known in America. He will be remembered, however, as the author of a very well-written Introduction to Black’s Translation of Schlegel’s “Lectures on

Dramatic Art and Literature,” and as a contributor with Wordsworth, Hunt, Miss Barrett, and others, to “Chaucer Modernized.” He is the author, also, of “Cosmo de Medici,” of “The Death of Marlowe,” and, especially, of “Gregory the Seventh,” a fine tragedy, prefaced with an “Essay on Tragic Influence.” “Orion” was originally advertised to be sold for a farthing; and, at this price, three large editions were actually sold. The fourth edition, (a specimen of which now lies before us) was issued at a shilling, and also sold. A fifth is promised at half a crown; this likewise, with even a sixth at a crown, may be disposed of — partly through the intrinsic merit of the work itself — but, chiefly, through the ingenious novelty of the original price.

We have been among the earliest readers of Mr. Horne among the most earnest admirers of his high genius; — for a man of high, of the highest genius, he unquestionably is. With an eager wish to do justice to his “Gregory the Seventh,” we have never yet found exactly that opportunity we desired. Meantime, we looked, with curiosity, for what the British critics would say of a work which, in the boldness of its conception, and in the fresh originality of its management, would necessarily fall beyond the routine of [page 251:] their customary verbiage. We saw nothing, however, that either could or should be understood — nothing, certainly, that was worth understanding. The tragedy itself was, unhappily, not devoid of the ruling cant of the day, and its critics (that cant incarnate) took their cue from some of its infected passages, and proceeded forthwith to rhapsody and Æsthetics, by way of giving a common-sense public an intelligible idea of the book. By the “cant of the day” we mean the disgusting practice of putting on the airs of an owl, and endeavoring to look miraculously wise; — the affectation of second sight — of a species of ecstatic prescience — of an intensely bathetic penetration into all sorts of mysteries, psychological ones in especial; — an Orphic — an ostrich affectation, which buries its head in balderdash, and, seeing nothing itself, fancies, therefore, that its preposterous carcass is not a visible object of derision for the world at large.

Of “Orion” itself, we have, as yet, seen few notices in the British periodicals, and these few are merely repetitions of the old jargon. All that has been said, for example, might be summed up in some such paragraph as this:

“ ‘Orion’ is the earnest outpouring of the oneness of the psychological Man. It has the individuality of the true Singleness. It is not to be regarded as a Poem, but as a Work — as a multiple Theogony — as a manifestation of the Works and the Days. It is a pinion in the Progress — a wheel in the Movement that moveth ever and goeth alway a mirror of Self-Inspection, held up by the Seer of the Age essential — of the Age in esse — for the Seers of the Ages possible — in posse. We hail a brother in the work.” [page 252:]

Of the mere opinions of the donkeys who bray thus — of their mere dogmas and doctrines, literary, Æsthetical, or what not — we know little, and, upon our honor, we wish to know less. Occupied, Laputically, in their great work of a progress that never progresses, we take it for granted, also, that they care as little about ours. But whatever the opinions of these people may be — however portentous the “Idea” which they have been so long threatening to “evolve” — we still think it clear that they take a very roundabout way of evolving it. The use of Language is in the promulgation of Thought. If a man — if an Orphicist — or a Seer — or whatever else he may choose to call himself, while the rest of the world calls him an ass — if this gentleman have an idea which he does not understand himself, the best thing he can do is to say nothing about it; for, of course, he can entertain no hope that what he, the Seer, cannot comprehend, should be comprehended by the mass of common humanity; but if he have an idea which is actually intelligible to himself, and if he sincerely wish to render it intelligible to others, we then hold it as indisputable that he should employ those forms of speech which are the best adapted to further his object. He should speak to the people in that people’s ordinary tongue. He should arrange words, such as are habitually employed for the several preliminary and introductory ideas to be conveyed he should arrange them in collocations such as those in which we are accustomed to see those words arranged.

But to all this the Orphicist thus replies: “I am a Seer. My Idea — the idea which by Providence I am especially commissioned to evolve — is one so vast — so novel — that ordinary words, in ordinary collocations, [page 253:] will be insufficient for its comfortable evolution.” Very true. We grant the vastness of the Idea — it is manifested in the sucking of the thumb — but, then, if ordinary language be insufficient — the ordinary language which men understand — à fortiori will be insufficient that inordinate language which no man has ever understood, and which any well-educated baboon would blush in being accused of understanding. The “Seer,” therefore, has no resource but to oblige mankind by holding his tongue, and suffering his Idea to remain quietly “unevolved,” until some Mesmeric mode of intercommunication shall be invented, whereby the antipodal brains of the Seer and of the man of Common Sense shall be brought into the necessary rapport. Meantime we earnestly ask if bread-and-butter be the vast Idea in question — if bread-and-butter be any portion of this vast Idea; for we have often observed that when a Seer has to speak of even so usual a thing as bread-and-butter, he can never be induced to mention it outright. He will, if you choose, say any thing and every thing but bread-and-butter. He will consent to hint at buckwheat cake. He may even accommodate you so far as to insinuate oatmeal porridge — but, if bread-and-butter be really the matter intended, we never yet met the Orphicist who could get out the three individual words “bread-and-butter.”

We have already said that “Gregory the Seventh” was, unhappily, infected with the customary cant of the day — the cant of the muddle-pates who dishonor a profound and ennobling philosophy by styling themselves transcendentalists. In fact, there are few highly sensitive or imaginative intellects for which the vortex of mysticism, in any shape, has not an almost irresistible [page 254:] influence, on account of the shadowy confines which separate the Unknown from the Sublime. Mr. Horne, then, is, in some measure, infected. The success of his previous works had led him to attempt, zealously, the production of a poem which should be worthy his high powers. We have no doubt that he revolved carefully in mind a variety of august conceptions, and from these thoughtfully selected what his judgment, rather than what his impulses, designated as the noblest and the best. In a word, he has weakly yielded his own poetic sentiment of the poetic — yielded it, in some degree, to the pertinacious opinion, and talk, of a certain junto by which he is surrounded — a junto of dreamers whose absolute intellect may, perhaps, compare with his own very much after the fashion of an ant-hill with the Andes. By this talk — by its continuity rather than by any other quality it possessed — he has been badgered into the attempt at commingling the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and of Truth. He has been so far blinded as to permit himself to imagine that a maudlin philosophy (granting it to be worth enforcing) could be enforced by poetic imagery, and illustrated by the jingling of rhythm; or, more unpardonably, he has been induced to believe that a poem, whose single object is the creation of Beauty — the novel collocation of old forms of the Beautiful and of the Sublime — could be advanced by the abstractions of a maudlin philosophy.

But the question is not even this. It is not whether it be not possible to introduce didacticism, with effect, into a poem, or possible to introduce poetical images and measures, with effect, into a didactic essay. To do either the one or the other, would be merely to surmount a difficulty — would be simply a feat of literary [page 255:] sleight of hand. But the true question is, whether the author who shall attempt either feat, will not be laboring at a disadvantage — will not be guilty of a fruitless and wasteful expenditure of energy. In minor poetical efforts, we may not so imperatively demand an adherence to the true poetical thesis. We permit trifling to some extent, in a work which we consider a trifle at best. Although we agree, for example, with Coleridge, that poetry and passion are discordant, yet we are willing to permit Tennyson to bring, to the intense passion which prompted his “Locksley Hall,” the aid of that terseness and pungency which are derivable from rhythm and from rhyme. The effect he produces, however, is a purely passionate, and not, unless in detached passages of this magnificent philippic, a properly poetic effect. His “Œnone,” on the other hand, exalts the soul not into passion, but into a conception of pure beauty, which in its elevation its calm and intense rapture — has in it a foreshadowing of the future and spiritual life, and as far transcends earthly passion as the holy radiance of the sun does the glimmering and feeble phosphorescence of the glow-worm. His “Morte D’Arthur” is in the same majestic vein. The “Sensitive Plant” of Shelley is in the same sublime spirit. Nor, if the passionate poems of Byron excite more intensely a greater number of readers than either the “œ none” or the “Sensitive Plant” does this indisputable fact prove any thing more than that the majority of mankind are more susceptible of the impulses of passion than of the impressions of beauty. Readers do exist, however, and always will exist, who, to hearts of maddening fervor, unite, in perfection, the sentiment of the beautiful that divine sixth sense which is yet [page 256:] so faintly understood that sense which phrenology has attempted to embody in its organ of ideality — that sense which is the basis of all Fourier’s dreams — that sense which speaks of God through his purest, if not his sole attribute — which proves, and which alone proves his existence.

To readers such as these — and only to such as these — must be left the decision of what the true Poesy is. And these with no hesitation — will decide that the origin of Poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder Beauty than Earth supplies — that Poetry itself is the imperfect effort to quench this immortal thirst by novel combinations of beautiful forms (collocations of forms) physical or spiritual, and that this thirst when even partially allayed — this sentiment when even feebly meeting response — produces emotion to which all other human emotions are vapid and insignificant.

We shall now be fully understood. If, with Coleridge, who, however erring at times, was precisely the mind fitted to decide a question such as this — if, with him, we reject passion from the true — from the pure poetry — if we reject even passion — if we discard as feeble, as unworthy the high spirituality of the theme, (which has its origin in a sense of the Godhead) if we dismiss even the nearly divine emotion of human love — that emotion which, merely to name, now causes the pen to tremble — with how much greater reason shall we dismiss all else? And yet there are men who would mingle with the august theme the merest questions of expediency — the cant topics of the day — the doggerel Æsthetics of the time — who would trammel the soul in its flight to an ideal Helusion, by the quirks and quibbles of chopped logic. There are men who do this lately there are a set of men who make [page 257:] a practice of doing this — and who defend it on the score of the advancement of what they suppose to be truth. Truth is, in its own essence, sublime — but her loftiest sublimity, as derived from man’s clouded and erratic reason, is valueless — is pulseless — is utterly ineffective when brought into comparison with the unerring sense of which we speak; yet grant this truth to be all which its seekers and worshipers pretend — they forget that it is not truth, per se, which is made their thesis, but an argumentation, often maudlin and pedantic, always shallow and unsatisfactory (as from the mere inadaptation of the vehicle it must be) by which this truth, in casual and indeterminate glimpses, is or is not — rendered manifest.

We have said that, in minor poetical efforts, we may tolerate some deflection from the true poetical thesis; but when a man of the highest powers sets himself seriously to the task of constructing what shall be most worthy those powers, we expect that he shall so choose his theme as to render it certain that he labor not at disadvantage. We regret to see any trivial or partial imperfection of detail; but we grieve deeply when we detect any radical error of conception.

In setting about “Orion,” Mr. Horne proposed to himself, (in accordance with the views of his junto) to “elaborate a morality” — he ostensibly proposed this to himself — for, in the depths of his heart, we know that he wished all juntos and all moralities in Erebus. In accordance with the notions of his set, however, he felt a species of shame-facedness in not making the enforcement of some certain dogmas or doctrines (questionable or unquestionable) about Progress, the obvious or apparent object of his poem. This shamefacedness is the cue to the concluding sentence [page 258:] of the Preface. “Mean time, the design of this poem of ‘Orion’ is far from being intended as a mere echo or reflection of the past, and is, in itself, and in other respects, a novel experiment upon the mind of a nation.” Mr. Horne conceived, in fact, that to compose a poem merely for that poem’s sake — and to acknowledge such to be his purpose — would be to subject himself to the charge of imbecility — of triviality — of deficiency in the true dignity and force; but, had he listened to the dictates of his own soul, he could not have failed to perceive, at once, that under the sun there exists no work more intrinsically noble, than this very poem written solely for the poem’s sake.

But let us regard “Orion” as it is. It has an under and an upper current of meaning; in other words, it is an allegory. But the poet’s sense of fitness (which, under no circumstances of mere conventional opinion, could be more than half subdued) has so far softened this allegory as to keep it, generally, well subject to the ostensible narrative. The purport of the moral conveyed is by no means clear — showing conclusively that the heart of the poet was not with it. It vacillates. At one time a certain set of opinions predominate — then another. We may generalize the subject, however, by calling it a homily against supineness or apathy in the cause of human progress, and in favor of energetic action for the good of the race. This is precisely the idea of the present school of canters. How feebly the case is made out in the poem — how insufficient has been all Mr. Horne’s poetical rhetoric in convincing even himself — may be gleaned from the unusual bombast, rigmarole, and mystification of the concluding paragraph, in which he has thought it necessary to say something very profound, [page 259:] by way of putting the sting to his epigram, the point to his moral. The words put us much in mind of the “nonsense verses” of Du Bartas.

And thus, in the end, each soul may to itself,

With truth before it as its polar guide,

Become both Time and Nature, whose fixt paths

Are spiral, and when lost will find new stars,

And in the universal Movement join.

The upper current of the theme is based upon the various Greek fables about Orion. The author, in his brief preface, speaks about “writing from an old Greek fable” — but his story is, more properly, a very judicious selection and modification of a great variety of Greek and Roman fables concerning Orion and other personages with whom these fables bring Orion in collision. And here we have only to object that the really magnificent abilities of Mr. Horne might have been better employed in an entirely original conception. The story he tells is beautiful indeed, — and nil tetigit, certainly, quod non ornavit — but our memories — our classic recollections are continually at war with his claims to regard, and we too often find ourselves rather speculating upon what he might have done, than admiring what he has really accomplished.

The narrative, as our poet has arranged it, runs nearly thus: Orion, hunting on foot amid the mountains of Chios, encounters Artemis (Diana) with her train. The goddess, at first indignant at the giant’s intrusion upon her grounds, becomes, in the second place, enamored. Her pure love spiritualizes the merely animal nature of Orion, but does not render him happy. He is filled with vague aspirations and desires. He buries himself in sensual pleasures. In the mad dreams of intoxication, he beholds a vision of [page 260:] Merope, the daughter of Œnopion, king of Chios. She is the type of physical beauty. She cries in his ear, “Depart from Artemis! She loves thee not — thou art too full of earth.” Awaking, he seeks the love of Merope. It is returned. Œnopion, dreading the giant and his brethren, yet scorning his pretensions, temporizes. He consents to bestow upon Orion the hand of Merope, on condition of the island being cleared, within six days, of its savage beasts and serpents. Orion, seeking the aid of his brethren, accomplishes the task. Œnopion again hesitates. Enraged, the giants make war upon him, and carry off the princess. In a remote grove Orion lives, in bliss, with his earthly love. From this delirium of happiness, he is aroused by the vengeance of Œnopion, who causes him to be surprised while asleep, and deprived of sight. The princess, being retaken, immediately forgets and deserts her lover, who, in his wretchedness, seeks, at the suggestion of a shepherd, the aid of Eos (Aurora) who, also becoming enamored of him, restores his sight. The love of Eos, less earthly than that of Merope, less cold than that of Artemis, fully satisfies his soul. He is at length happy. But the jealousy of Artemis destroys him. She pierces him with her arrows while in the very act of gratefully renovating her temple at Delos. In despair, Eos flies to Artemis, reproves her, represents to her the bareness of her jealousy and revenge, softens her, and obtains her consent to unite with herself — with Eos — in a prayer to Zeus (Jupiter) for the restoration of the giant to life. The prayer is heard. Orion is not only restored to life, but rendered immortal, and placed among the constellations, where he enjoys forever the pure affection of Eos, and becomes extinguished, each morning, in her rays. [page 261:]

In ancient mythology, the giants are meant to typify various energies of Nature. Pursuing, we suppose, this idea, Mr. Horne has made his own giants represent certain principles of human action or passion. Thus Orion himself is the Worker or Builder, and is the type of Action or Movement itself — but, in various portions of the poem, this allegorical character is left out of sight, and that of speculative philosophy takes its place; a mere consequence of the general uncertainty of purpose, which is the chief defect of the work. Sometimes we even find Orion a Destroyer in place of a Builder up — as, for example, when he destroys the grove about the temple of Artemis, at Delos. Here he usurps the proper allegorical attribute of Rhexergon, (the second of the seven giants named) who is the Breaker-down, typifying the Revolutionary Principle. Autarces, the third, represents the Mob, or, more strictly, Waywardness — Capricious Action. Harpax, the fourth, serves for Rapine — Briastor, the fifth, for Brute Force — Encolyon, the sixth, the “Chainer of the Wheel,” for Conservatism — and Akinetos, the seventh, and most elaborated, for Apathy. He is termed “The Great Unmoved,” and in his mouth is put all the “worldly wisdom,” or selfishness, of the tale. The philosophy of Akinetos is, that no merely human exertion has any appreciable effect upon the Movement; and it is amusing to perceive how this great Truth (for most sincerely do we hold it to be such) speaks out from the real heart of the poet, through his Akinetos, in spite of all endeavor to overthrow it by the example of the brighter fate of Orion.

The death of Akinetos is a singularly forcible and poetic conception, and will serve to show how the [page 262:] giants are made to perish, generally, during the story, in agreement with their allegorical natures. The “Great Unmoved” quietly seats himself in a cave after the death of all his brethren, except Orion.

Thus Akinetos sat from day to day,

Absorbed in indolent sublimity,

Reviewing thoughts and knowledge o’er and o’er;

And now he spake, now sang unto himself,

Now sank to brooding silence. From above,

While passing, Time the rock touch’d, and it oozed

Petrific drops — gently at first and slow.

Reclining lonely in his fixed repose,

The Great Unmoved unconsciously became

Attached to that he pressed; and soon a part

Of the rock. There clung th’ excrescence, till strong hands,

Descended from Orion, made large roads,

And built steep walls, squaring down rocks for use.

The italicized conclusion of this fine passage affords an instance, however, of a very blameable concision, too much affected throughout the poem.

In the deaths of Autarces, Harpax, and Encolyon, we recognize the same exceeding vigor of conception. These giants conspire against Orion, who seeks the aid of Artemis, who, in her turn, seeks the assistance of Phoibos (Phœbus.) The conspirators are in a cave, with Orion.

Now Phoibos thro’ the cave

Sent a broad ray! and lo! the solar beam

Filled the great cave with radiance equable

And not a cranny held one speck of shade.

A moony halo round Orion came,

As of some pure protecting influence,

While with intense light glared the walls and roof,

The heat increasing. The three giants stood

With glazing eyes, fixed. Terribly the light

Beat on the dazzled stone, and the cave hummed

With reddening heat, till the red hair and beard

Of Harpax showed no difference from the rest,

Which once were iron-black. The sullen walls

Then smouldered down to steady oven heat,

Like that with care attain’d when bread has ceased

Its steaming and displays an angry tan.

The appalled faces of the giants showed

Full consciousness of their immediate doom.

And soon the cave a potter’s furnace glow’d

Or kiln for largest bricks, and thus remained

The while Orion, in his halo clasped

By some invisible power, beheld the clay

Of these his early friends change. Life was gone.

Now sank the heat — the cave-walls lost their glare,

The red lights faded, and the halo pale

Around him, into chilly air expanded.

There stood the three great images, in hue

Of chalky white and red, like those strange shapes

In Egypt’s ancient tombs; but presently

Each visage and each form with cracks and flaws

Was seamed, and the lost countenance brake up,

As, with brief toppling, forward prone they fell.

The deaths of Rhexergon and Biastor seem to discard (and this we regret not) the allegorical meaning altogether, but are related with even more exquisite richness and delicacy of imagination, than even those of the other giants. Upon this occasion it is the jealousy of Artemis which destroys.

—— But with the eve

Fatigue o’ercame the giants, and they slept.

Dense were the rolling clouds, starless the glooms;

But o’er a narrow rift, once drawn apart,

Showing a field remote of violet hue,

The high Moon floated, and her downward gleam

Shone on the upturned giant faces. Rigid

Each upper feature, loose the nether jaw;

Their arms cast wide with open palms; their chests

Heaving like some large engine. Near them lay

Their bloody clubs, with dust and hair begrimed,

Their spears and girdles, and the long-noosed thongs.

Artemis vanished; all again was dark. [page 264:]

With day’s first streak Orion rose, and loudly

To his companions called. But still they slept.

Again he shouted; yet no limb they stirr’d,

Tho’ scarcely seven strides distant. He approached,

And found the spot, so sweet with clover flower

When they had cast them down, was now arrayed

With many-headed poppies, like a crowd

Of dusky Ethiops in a magic cirque

Which had sprung up beneath them in the night.

And all entranced the air.

There are several minor defects in “Orion,” and we may as well mention them here. We sometimes meet with an instance of bad taste in a revolting picture or image; for example, at page 59, of this edition:

Naught fearing, swift, brimfull of raging life,

Stiff’ning they lay in pools of jellied gore.

Sometimes — indeed very often — we encounter an altogether purposeless oddness or foreignness of speech. For example, at page 78:

As in Dodona once, ere driven thence

By Zeus for that Rhexergon burnt some oaks.

Mr. Horne will find it impossible to assign a good reason for not here using “because.”

Pure vaguenesses of speech abound. For example, page 89:

—— one central heart wherein

Time beats twin pulses with Humanity.

Now and then sentences are rendered needlessly obscure through mere involution — as at page 103:

Star-rays that first played o’er my blinded orbs,

E’en as they glance above the lids of sleep,

Who else had never known surprise, nor hope,

Nor useful action.

Here the “who” has no grammatical antecedent, and would naturally be referred to sleep; whereas it [page 265:] is intended for “me,” understood, or involved, in the pronoun “my;” as if the sentence were written thus — “rays that first played o’er the blinded orbs of me, who &c.” It is useless to dwell upon so pure an affectation.

The versification throughout is, generally, of a very remarkable excellence. At times, however, it is rough, to no purpose; as at page 44:

And ever tended to some central point

In some placenought more could I understand.

And here, at page 81:

The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream

Swift rolling toward the cataract and drinks deeply.

The above is an unintentional and false Alexandrine — including a foot too much, and that a trochee in place of an iambus. But here, at page 106, we have the utterly unjustifiable anomaly of half a foot too little:

And Eos ever rises circling

The varied regions of Mankind, &c.

All these are mere inadvertences, of course; for the general handling of the rhythm shows the profound metrical sense of the poet. He is, perhaps, somewhat too fond of “making the sound an echo to the sense.” “Orion” embodies some of the most remarkable instances of this on record; but if smoothness — if the true rhythm of a verse be sacrificed, the sacrifice is an error. The effect is only a beauty, we think, where no sacrifice is made in its behalf. It will be found possible to reconcile all the objects in view. Nothing can justify such lines as this, at page 69:

As snake-songs midst stone hollows thus has taught me. [page 266:]

We might urge, as another minor objection, that all the giants are made to speak in the same manner — with the same phraseology. Their characters are broadly distinctive, while their words are identical in spirit. There is sufficient individuality of sentiment, but little, or none, of language.

We must object, too, to the personal and political allusions — to the Corn-Law question, for example — to Wellington’s statue, &c. These things, of course, have no business in a poem.

We will conclude our fault-finding with the remark that, as a consequence of the one radical error of conception upon which we have commented at length, the reader’s attention, throughout, is painfully diverted. He is always pausing, amid poetical beauties, in the expectation of detecting among them some philosophical, allegorical moral. Of course, he does not fully, because he cannot uniquely, appreciate the beauties. The absolute necessity of re-perusing the poem, in order thoroughly to comprehend it, is also, most surely, to be regretted, and arises, likewise, from the one radical sin.

But of the beauties of this most remarkable poem, what shall we say? And here we find it a difficult task to be calm. And yet we have never been accused of enthusiastic encomium. It is our deliberate opinion that, in all that regards the loftiest and holiest attributes of the true Poetry, “Orion” has never been excelled. Indeed we feel strongly inclined to say that it has never been equaled. Its imagination — that quality which is all in all — is of the most refined — the most elevating — the most august character. And here we deeply regret that the necessary limits of this review will prevent us from entering, at length, [page 267:] into specification. In reading the poem, we marked passage after passage for extract — but, in the end, we found that we had marked nearly every passage in the book. We can now do nothing more than select a few. This, from page 3, introduces Orion himself, and we quote it, not only as an instance of refined and picturesque imagination, but as evincing the high artistical skill with which a scholar in spirit can paint an elaborate picture by a few brief touches.

The scene in front two sloping mountains’ sides

Display’d; in shadow one and one in light.

The loftiest on its summit now sustained

The sun-beams, raying like a mighty wheel

Half seen, which left the forward surface dark

In its full breadth of shade; the coming sun

Hidden as yet behind: the other mount,

Slanting transverse, swept with an eastward face

Catching the golden light. Now while the peal

Of the ascending chase told that the rout

Still midway rent the thickets, suddenly

Along the broad and sunny slope appeared

The shadow of a stag that fled across

Followed by a giant’s shadow with a spear.

These shadows are those of the coming Orion and his game. But who can fail to appreciate the intense beauty of the heralding shadows? Nor is this all. This “Hunter of shadows, he himself a shade,” is made symbolical, or suggestive, throughout the poem, of the speculative character of Orion; and occasionally, of his pursuit of visionary happiness. For example, at page 81, Orion, possessed of Merope, dwells with her in a remote and dense grove of cedars. Instead of directly describing his attained happiness — his perfected bliss — the poet, with an exalted sense of Art, for which we look utterly in vain in any other poem, merely introduces the image of the tamed or [page 268:] subdued shadow-stag, quietly browsing and drinking beneath the cedars.

There, underneath the boughs, mark where the gleam

Of sun-rise thro’ the roofing’s chasm is thrown

Upon a grassy plot below, whereon

The shadow of a stag stoops to the stream,

Swift rolling toward the cataract, and drinks.

Throughout the day unceasingly it drinks,

While ever and anon the nightingale,

Not waiting for the evening, swells his hymn —

His one sustained and heaven aspiring tone —

And when the sun hath vanished utterly,

Arm over arm the cedars spread their shade,

With arching wrist and long extended hands,

And grave-ward fingers lengthening in the moon,

Above that shadowy stag whose antlers still

Hung o’er the stream.

There is nothing more richly — more weirdly — more chastely — more sublimely imaginative — in the wide realm of poetical literature. It will be seen that we have enthusiasm but we reserve it for pictures such as this.

At page 62, Orion, his brethren dead, is engaged alone in extirpating the beasts from Chios. In the passages we quote, observe, in the beginning, the singular lucidness of detail; the arrangement of the barriers, &c., by which the hunter accomplishes his purpose, is given in a dozen lines of verse, with far more perspicuity than ordinary writers could give it in as many pages of prose. In this species of narration Mr. Horne is approached only by Moore in his “Alciphron.” In the latter portions of our extract, observe the vivid picturesqueness of the description.

Four days remain. Fresh trees he felled and wove

More barriers and fences; inaccessible

To fiercest charge of droves, and to o’erleap [page 269:]

Impossible. These walls he so arranged

That to a common centre each should force

The flight of those pursued; and from that centre

Diverged three outlets. One, the wide expanse

Which from the rocks and inland forests led;

One was the clear-skied windy gap above

A precipice; the third, a long ravine

Which through steep slopes, down to the seashore ran

Winding, and then direct into the sea.

 

Two days remain. Orion, in each hand

Waving a torch, his course at night began,

Through wildest haunts and lairs of savage beasts.

With long-drawn howl, before him trooped the wolves —

The panthers, terror-stricken, and the bears

With wonder and gruff rage; from desolate crags,

Leering hyenas, griffin, hippogrif,

Skulked, or sprang madly, as the tossing brands

Flashed through the midnight nooks and hollows cold,

Sudden as fire from flint; o’er crashing thickets,

With crouched head and curled fangs dashed the wild boar,

Gnashing forth on with reckless impulses,

While the clear-purposed fox crept closely down

Into the underwood, to let the storm,

Whate’er its cause, pass over. Through dark fens,

Marshes, green rushy swamps, and margins reedy,

Orion held his way — and rolling shapes

Of serpent and of dragon moved before him

With high-reared crests, swan-like yet terrible,

And often looking back with gem-like eyes.

 

All night Orion urged his rapid course

In the vex’d rear of the swift-droving din,

And when the dawn had peered, the monsters all

Were hemmed in barriers. These he now o’erheaped

With fuel through the day, and when again

Night darkened, and the sea a gulf-like voice

Sent forth, the barriers at all points he fired,

Mid prayers to HephÆstos and his Ocean-Sire.

Soon as the flames had eaten out a gap

In the great barrier fronting the ravine

That ran down to the sea, Orion grasped [page 270:]

Two blazing boughs; one high in air he raised,

The other, with its roaring foliage trailed

Behind him as he sped. Onward the droves

Of frantic creatures with one impulse rolled

Before this night-devouring thing of flames,

With multitudinous voice and downward sweep

Into the sea, which now first knew a tide,

And, ere they made one effort to regain

The shore, had caught them in its flowing arms,

And bore them past all hope. The living mass,

Dark heaving o’er the waves resistlessly,

At length, in distance, seemed a circle small,

Midst which one creature in the centre rose,

Conspicuous in the long, red quivering gleams

That from the dying brands streamed o’er the waves.

It was the oldest dragon of the fens,

Whose forky flag-wings and horn-crested head

O’er crags and marshes regal sway had held;

And now he rose up like an embodied curse,

From all the doomed, fast sinking — some just sunk —

Looked landward o’er the sea, and flapped his vans,

Until Poseidon drew them swirling down.

Poseidon (Neptune) is Orion’s father, and lends him his aid. The first line italized is an example of sound made echo to sense. The rest we have merely emphasized as peculiarly imaginative.

At page 9, Orion thus describes a palace built by him for HephÆstos (Vulcan.)

But, ere a shadow-hunter I became —

A dreamer of strange dreams by day and night —

For him I built a palace underground,

Of iron, black and rough as his own hands.

Deep in the groaning disemboweled earth,

The tower-broad pillars and huge stanchions,

And slant supporting wedges I set up,

Aided by the Cyclops who obeyed my voice,

Which through the metal fabric rang and pealed

In orders echoing far, like thunder-dreams.

With arches, galleries and domes all carved — [page 271:]

So that great figures started from the roof

And lofty coignes, or sat and downward gazed

On those who strode below and gazed above

I filled it; in the centre framed a hall:

Central in that, a throne; and for the light,

Forged mighty hammers that should rise and fall

On slanted rocks of granite and of flint,

Worked by a torrent, for whose passage down

A chasm I hewed. And here the god could take,

Midst showery sparks and swathes of broad gold fire

His lone repose, lulled by the sounds he loved;

Or, casting back the hammer-heads till they choked

The water’s course, enjoy, if so he wished,

Midnight tremendous, silence, and iron sleep.

The description of the Hell in “Paradise Lost” is altogether inferior in graphic effect, in originality, in expression, in the true imagination — to these magnificent — to these unparalleled passages. For this assertion there are tens of thousands who will condemn us as heretical; but there are a “chosen few” who will feel, in their inmost souls, the simple truth of the assertion. The former class would at least be silent, could they form even a remote conception of that contempt with which we hearken to their conventional jargon.

We have room for no farther extracts of length; but we refer the reader who shall be so fortunate as to procure a copy of “Orion,” to a passage at page 22, commencing

One day at noontide, when the chase was done.

It is descriptive of a group of lolling hounds, intermingled with sylvans, fawns, nymphs and oceanides. We refer him also to page 25, where Orion, enamored of the naked beauty of Artemis, is repulsed and frozen by her dignity. These lines end thus: [page 272:]

And ere the last collected shape he saw

Of Artemis, dispersing fast amid

Dense vapory clouds, the aching wintriness

Had risen to his teeth, and fixed his eyes,

Like glistening stones in the congealing air.

We refer, especially, too, to the description of Love, at page 29; to that of a Bacchanalian orgie, at page 34; to that of drought succeeded by rain, at page 70; and to that of the palace of Eos, at page 104.

Mr. Horne has a very peculiar and very delightful faculty of enforcing, or giving vitality to a picture, by some one vivid and intensely characteristic point or touch. He seizes the most salient feature of his theme, and makes this feature convey the whole. The combined n;auaiveté and picturesqueness of some of the passages thus enforced, cannot be sufficiently admired. For example:

The arches soon

With bow-arm forward thrust, on all sides twanged

Around, above, below.

Now, it is this thrusting forward of the bow-arm which is the idiosyncrasy of the action of a mass of archers. Again: Rhexergon and his friends endeavor to persuade Akinetos to be king. Observe the silent refusal of Akinetos — the peculiar passiveness of his action — if we may be permitted the paradox.

“Rise, therefore, Akinetos, thou art king.”

So saying, in his hand he placed a spear.

As though against a wall ‘t were set aslant,

Flatly the long spear fell upon the ground.

Here again: Merope departs from Chios in a ship.

And, as it sped along, she closely pressed

The rich globes of her bosom on the side

O’er which she bent with those black eyes, and gazed

Into the sea that fled beneath her face. [page 273:]

The fleeing of the sea beneath the face of one who gazes into it from a ship’s side, is the idiosyncrasy of the action of the subject. It is that which chiefly impresses the gazer.

We conclude with some brief quotations at random, which we shall not pause to classify. Their merits need no demonstration. They gleam with the purest imagination. They abound in picturesqueness — force — happily chosen epithets, each in itself a picture. They are redolent of all for which a poet will value a poem.

— her silver sandals glanced i’ the rays,

As doth a lizard playing on a hill,

And on the spot where she that instant stood

Naught but the bent and quivering grass was seen.

 

Above the Isle of Chios, night by night,

The clear moon lingered ever on her course,

Covering the forest foliage, where it swept

In its unbroken breadth along the slopes,

With placid silver; edging leaf and trunk

Where gloom clung deep around; but chiefly sought

With melancholy splendor to illume

The dark-mouthed caverns where Orion lay,

Dreaming among his kinsmen.

 

The ocean realm below, and all its caves

And bristling vegetation, plant and flower,

And forests in their dense petrific shade

Where the tides moan for sleep that never comes.

 

A fawn, who on a quiet green knoll sat

Somewhat apart, sang a melodious ode,

Made rich by harmonies of hidden strings.

 

Autarces seized a satyr, with intent,

Despite his writhing freaks and furious face,

To dash him on a gong, but that amidst

The struggling mass Encolyon thrust a pine,

Heavy and black as Charon’s ferrying pole,

O’er which they, like a bursting billow, fell. . . . [page 274:]

 

—— then round the blaze,

Their shadows brandishing afar and athwart,

Over the level space and up the hills,

Six giants held portentous dance. . . .

 

—— his safe return

To corporal sense, by shaking off these nets

Of moonbeams from his soul. . . .

 

—— old memories

Slumbrously hung above the purple line

Of distance, to the East, while odorously

Glistened the tear-drops of a new-fall’n shower. . . .

 

Sing on!

Sing on, great tempest! in the darkness sing!

Thy madness is a music that brings calm

Into my central soul; and from its waves,

That now with joy begin to heave and gush,

The burning image of all life’s desire,

Like an absorbing, fire-breathed, phantom god,

Rises and floats! here touching on the foam,

There hovering over it; ascending swift

Starward, then swooping down the hemisphere

Upon the lengthening javelins of the blast! . . .

 

Now a sound we heard,

Like to some well-known voice in prayer; and next

An iron clang that seemed to break great bonds

Beneath the earth, shook us to conscious life. . . .

 

It is Oblivion! In his hand — though naught

Knows he of this — a dusky purple flower

Droops over its tall stem. Again! ah see!

He wanders into mist and now is lost! —

Within his brain what lovely realms of death

Are pictured, and what knowledge through the doors

Of his forgetfulness of all the earth

A path may gain?

But we are positively forced to conclude. It was our design to give “Orion” a careful and methodical analysis — thus to bring clearly forth its multitudinous beauties to the eye of the American public. [page 275:] Our limits have constrained us to treat it in an imperfect and cursory manner. We have had to content ourselves chiefly with assertion, where our original purpose was to demonstrate. We have left unsaid a hundred things which a well-grounded enthusiasm would have prompted us to say. One thing, however, we must and will say, in conclusion. “Orion” will be admitted, by every man of genius, to be one of the noblest, if not the very noblest poetical work of the age. Its defects are trivial and conventional — its beauties intrinsic and supreme.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 249:]

1.  Griswold omits something from the beginning of this review. — ED.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Orion)