Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of A Chaunt of Life and Other Poems,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 193-201


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[page 193:]

A CHAUNT OF LIFE AND OTHER POEMS, WITH SKETCHES AND ESSAYS. BY REV. RALPH HOYT. IN SIX PARTS. PART II. NEW YORK: LE ROY AND HOYT.

[Broadway Journal, July 26, 1845.]

THE Publishers’ Advertisement to this beautiful volume informs us that “the first part was very kindly received by the reading public and the press, but a considerable number of elegantly bound copies being destroyed by fire, the author became embarrassed and unable to proceed” — until aided or urged to do so, we presume, by the present publishers. It would have been, indeed, a great pity to abandon an enterprise so flatteringly commenced. We shall look with interest for the completion of the series.

Part II. contains the second Canto of a very fine poem, “The Chaunt of Life.” From the first stanza we quote the three remarkably beautiful lines:

Slow droop the eyelids of the drowsy day;

All weary life and every heart oppressed,

In soothing slumber now may sink to rest.

The fourth and fifth stanzas are very noble: —

Give me to love my fellow, and in love,

If with none other grace to chaunt my strain,

Sweet key-note of soft cadences above,

Sole star of solace in life’s night of pain.

Chief gem of Eden, fractured in that fall

That ruined two fond hearts, and tarnished all! [page 194:]

Redeemer! be thy kindly spirit mine;

That pearl of Paradise to me restore,

Pure, fervent, fearless, lasting, love divine,

Profound as ocean, broad as sea and shore.

While Man I sing, free, subject, and supreme,

O! for a soul, as ample as the theme!

 

Sad prelude I have sung, by Sorrow led

Along the mournful shades that own her sway,

Where, by a strewn that weeping eyes have shed,

Low chaunted I my melancholy lay,

In pensive concord with the sootheless wail

Of sighing wanderers in that lonely vale.

Ah, chide not those whose wo seems hard to bear,

The heart must hover where its treasures sleep;

I saw the great, the wise, the gifted there,

With humbler multitudes compelled to weep;

No penury, no wealth commands relief!

No Serf, no Sovereigns in the realms of grief!

We Italicise two passages, however, for their defects, and not for their merits. We can conceive that a gem may be “fractured in a fall” and even (imperfectly) that in so falling it may “ruin two fond hearts“, but how it can “tarnish all” or anything, in so falling, does not appear. The stream of tears is in shockingly bad taste. But the stately and pensive thought and well-sustained modulation of the stanzas amply redeem these demerits.

Mr. Hoyt is occasionally halting in his metre, although rarely or ever in his rhythm. In stanza VIII. a foot is missing in the fifth line:

Rise! with heroic strength be strong.

In stanza XII. there is a superfluous foot in the second line: [page 195:]

Echatana and Babylon and Tyre remote —

although the stanza as a whole is particularly sonorous and Miltonic.

The poem entitled “Old” has so many rare and peculiar excellences, that we shall venture to copy it in full. It will forcibly remind our readers of Mr. Durand’s exquisite picture “An Old Man’s Recollections” — although between poem and painting there is nothing more than a perfectly admissible similarity. The quaintness is, in our opinion, to be defended as a legitimate effect, conferring high pleasure upon a numerous and cultivated class of minds. In his continuous and absolutely uniform repetition of the first line in the last of each stanza, he has by much exceeded the legitimate limits of the quaint, and impinged upon the simply ludicrous. The poem, nevertheless, abounds in lofty merit, and has, in especial, some exquisite passages of pathos and of imagination. We Italicise some of these.

OLD

By the way-side, on a mossy stone

Sat a hoary pilgrim sadly musing;

Oft I marked him sitting there alone,

All the landscape like a page perusing;

Poor, unknown,

By the way-side, on a mossy stone.

 

Buckled knee and shoe, and broad-rimmed hat,

Coat as ancient as the form ‘twas folding,

Silver buttons, queue, and crimped cravat,

Oaken staff, his feeble hand upholding,

There he sat!

Buckled knee and shoe, and broad-rimmed hat. [page 196:]

 

Seemed it pitiful he should sit there,

No one sympathizing, no one heeding,

None to love him for his thin grey hair,

And the furrows all so mutely pleading,

Age, and care

Seemed it pitiful he should sit there.

 

It was summer, and we went to school,

Dapper country lads and little maidens,

Taught the motto of the “Dunce’s Stool,”

Its grave import still my fancy ladens,

“HERE’S A FOOL!”

It was summer, and we went to school.

 

When the stranger seemed to mark our play,

(Some of us were joyous, some sad-hearted,

I remember well, — too well, — that day!)

Oftentimes the tears unbidden started, —

Would not stay

When the stranger seemed to mark our play.

 

One sweet spirit broke the silent spell

Ah! to me her name was always heaven!

She besought him all his grief to tell, —

(I was then thirteen, and she eleven,)

Isabel!

One sweet spirit broke the silent spell.

 

Angel, said he sadly, I am old;

Earthly hope no longer path a morrow,

Yet why I sit here thou shalt soon be told;

Then his eye betrayed a pearl of sorrow, —

Down it rolled!

Angel, said he sadly, I am old!

 

I have tottered here to look once more

On the pleasant scene where I delighted

In the careless, happy days of yore, [page 197:]

Ere the garden of my heart was blighted —

To the core!

I have tottered here to look once more!

 

All the picture now to me how dear!

Even this gray old rock where I am seated,

Is a jewel worth a journey here;

Ah, that such a scene must be completed

With a tear!

All the picture now to me how dear!

 

Old Stone School-House! — it is still the same!

There’s the very step so oft I mounted;

There’s the window — creaking in its frame,

And the notches that I cut and counted

For the game;

Old stone School-House! — it is still the same!

 

In the cottage, yonder, I was born;

Long my happy home — that humble dwelling;

There the fields of clover, wheat, and corn,

There the spring, with limpid nectar swelling;

Ah, Forlorn!

In the cottage, yonder, I was born.

 

Those two gate-way sycamores you see,

Then were planted, just so far asunder

That long well-pole from the path to free,

And the wagon to pass safely under

Ninety-three!

Those two gate-way sycamores you see

 

There’s the orchard where we used to climb

When my mates and t were boys together,

Thinking nothing of the flight of time,

Fearing nought but work and rainy weather;

Past its prime!

There’s the orchard where we used to climb! [page 198:]

 

There, the rude, three-cornered chestnut rails,

Round the pasture where the flocks were grazing,

Where so sly, I used to watch for quails

In the crops of buckwheat we were raising,

Traps and trails, —

There, the rude, three cornered chesnut rails.

 

There’s the mill that ground our yellow grain;

Pond, and river still serenely flowing;

Cot, there nestling in the shaded lane,

Where the lily of my heart was blowing, —

Mary Jane!

There’s the mill that ground our yellow grain!

 

There’s the gate on which I used to swing,

Brook and bridge, and barn, and old red stable;

But alas! the morn shall no more bring

That dear group around my father’s table;

Taken wing’

There’s the gate on which I used to swing!

 

I am fleeing! — all I loved are fled;

Yon green meadow was our place for playing;

That old tree can tell of sweet things said,

When around it Jane and I were straying; —

She is dead!

I am fleeing! — all I loved are fled!

 

Yon white spire — a pencil on the sky,

Tracing silently life’s changeful story,

So familiar to my dim old eye,

Points me to seven that are now in glory

There on high!

Yon white spire, a pencil on the sky!

 

Oft the aisle of that old church we trod,

Guided thither by an angel mother;

Now she sleeps beneath its sacred sod, — [page 199:]

Sire and sisters, and my little brother

Gone to God!

Oft the aisle of that old church we trod!

 

There I heard of Wisdom’s pleasant ways,

Bless the holy lesson! — but, ah, never

Shall I hear again those songs of praise,

Those sweet voices, — silent now forever!

Peaceful days!

There I heard of Wisdom’s pleasant ways.

 

There my Mary blest me with her hand,

When our soul drank in the nuptial blessing,

Ere she hastened to the spirit-land;

Yonder turf her gentle bosom pressing

Broken band!

There my Mary blest me with her hand.

 

I have come to see that grave once more,

And the sacred place where we delighted,

Where we worshipped in the days of yore,

Ere the garden of my heart was blighted

To the core!

I have come to see that grave once more.

 

Angel, said he, sadly, I am old!

Earthly hope no longer hath a morrow;

Now why I sit here thou hast been told;

In his eye another pearl of sorrow, —

Down it rolled!

Angel, said he, sadly, I am old!

 

By the wayside, on a mossy stone,

Sat the hoary pilgrim, sadly musing;

Still I marked him sitting there alone,

All the landscape, like a page perusing;

Poor, unknown,

By the way-side, on a mossy stone! [page 200:]

The stanza commencing “Buckled knee and shoe,” &c. puts us somewhat too forcibly in mind of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Old Man.” The exclamation “Ninety-Three!” introduced, as it is, independently of the observations which surround it, must be regarded as one of the happiest instances either of refined art or of natural pathos.

“The stanza beginning “Yon white spire” cannot be too warmly commended.

“New” is a pendant to “Old,” but its artificiality of construction is even more displeasingly apparent. We quote one or two sweet passages:

Ah, June can only charm her eyes

With flowers of paradisial dyes

And azure skies.

This, however, should read, “Ah, only June,” &c.

The glowing tranquil summertime;

The summertime;

Too listless in a maiden’s prime;

Dull melancholy pantomime

Oh for a gay autumnal clime!

Too listless in a maiden’s prime

The summertime.

 

Love nestles in that gentle breast —

That gentle breast.

Ah Love will never let it rest —

The cruel sly ungrateful guest

(A viper in a linnet’s nest)

Ah Love will never let it rest —

That gentle breast! [page 201:]

“Boemus” is the concluding poem of the volume, and is marked by the same peculiarities of metre — peculiarities, however, which, in a composition such as this, must be considered out of place. We conclude our review with the quotation of a very spirited stanza — a stanza which would do no discredit to Campbell, and is much in his vein:

O’er all the silent sky

A dark and scowling frown;

But darker scowled each eye

When all resolved to die!

When (night of dread renown!)

Three thousand stars went down

 


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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 A Chaunt of Life and Other Poems)