Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Songs of Our Land and Other Poems,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XII: Literary Criticism - part 04 (1902), pp. 254-259


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[page 254, continued:]

(1)THE SONGS OF OUR LAND AND OTHER POEMS. BY MARY L. HEWITT. BOSTON. WILLIAM D. TICKNOR & CO.

[Text: Broadway Journal, Oct. 25, 1845.]

IN point of external taste, this is the most exquisite volume of poems published in America since “The [page 255:] Spanish Student,” of Longfellow. The unusual width of the page is especially to our fancy, and the general arrangement of the matter could not be improved. The small pica type, however, is perhaps a trifle too large for the size of the page.

The volume contains fifty pieces, of course varied in excellence, but all speaking, in unmistakeable terms, of the author’s poetic fervor, classicism of taste, and keen appreciation of the morally as well as physically beautiful. No one can read the book without a desire to become acquainted with the woman.

Mrs. Hewitt has evidently a strong partiality for the sea — and this partiality has given color to some of the most forcible, although, in our opinion, by no means the most generally meritorious compositions in the volume. “The Yarn,” we believe, is a favorite with its author, and is certainly replete with vigorous thought and expression. “God Bless The Mariner,” we quote as the best of this species of poem to be found in the collection.

God’s blessing on the Mariner!

A venturous life leads he —

What reek the landsmen of their toil,

Who dwell upon the sea?

 

The landsman sits within his home,

His fireside bright and warm;

Nor asks how fares the mariner

All night amid the storm.

 

God bless the hardy Mariner!

A homely garb wears he,

And he goeth with a rolling gait,

Like a ship upon the sea. [page 256:]

 

He hath piped the loud “ay! ay sir!”

O‘er the voices of the main,

Till his deep tones have the hoarseness

Of the rising hurricane.

 

His seamed and honest visage

The sun and wind have tanned,

And hard as iron gauntlet

Is his broad and sinewy hand.

 

But oh! a spirit looketh

From out his clear blue eye,

With a truthful, childlike earnestness,

Like an angel from the sky.

 

A venturous life the sailor leads

Between the sky and sea

But when the hour of dread is past,

A merrier who, than he?

 

He knows that by the rudder bands

Stands one well skilled to save;

For a strong hand is the STEERSMAN’S

That directs him o‘er the wave.

“Alone” evinces, we think, more of the true poetic inspiration — and undoubtedly more of originality in conception than any other of Mrs. Hewitt’s poems. We copy it in full:

There lies a deep and sealed well

Within yon leafy forest hid;

Whose pent and lonely waters swell,

Its confines chill and drear amid. [page 257:]

 

It hears the birds on every spray

Trill forth melodious notes of love —

It feels the warm sun’s seldom ray

Glance on the stone its wave above —

 

And quick the gladdened waters rush

Tumultuous upward to the brink;

A seal is on their joyous gush,

And back, repressed, they coldly shrink.

 

Thus in their caverned space, apart.

Closed from the eye of day, they dwell —

So, prisoned deep within my heart,

The tides of quick affection swell.

 

Each kindly glance — each kindly tone,

To joy its swift pulsations sway;

But none may lift the veiling stone,

And give the franchised current way.

 

Smite THOU the rock, whose eye alone,

The hidden spring within may see;

And bid the flood, resistless one!

Flow forth, rejoicing, unto thee.

The pieces, however, which will prove most decidedly popular with men of taste, and which, upon the whole, convey the most pleasing impression of the author’s ability, are the three sonnets entitled Cameos. We make no apology for quoting them:

I.

With springing hoof that would the earth disdain,

Broad, swelling chest, and limb with motion rife,

From Lapithaean banquet and the strife,

Fleetly he bounds along Thessalia’s plain. [page 258:]

And on his back, in rude embrace entwined.

A captive bride he bears. Her trait‘rous veil

Reveals her brow, as Juno’s roses pale,

And floats like scarf of Iris on the wind.

And vainly struggling ‘gainst that bold caress,

Her outstretched arms essay the air to grasp;

But firm the captor holds his iron clasp,

And strives, with ruthless lip, her lip to press.

Thus vice hath power to sway the feeble soul,

And bear it on in measureless control.

II.

Reclined enervate on the couch of ease,

No more he pants for deeds of high emprise;

For pleasure holds in soft, voluptuous ties

Enthrall‘d, great Jove — descended Hercules.

The hand that bound the Erymanthian boar,

Hesperia’s dragon slew, with bold intent —

That from his quivering side in triumph rent

The skin the Clecnaean lion wore,

Holds forth the goblet-while the Lydian queen

Robed like a nymph, her brow enwreathed with vine —

Lifts high the amphora, brimmed with rosy wine,

And pours the draught the crowned cup within.

And thus the soul, abased to sensual sway,

Its worth forsakes — its might foregoes for aye.

III.

Oh! wondrous marvel of the sculptor’s art!

What cunning hand hath culled thee from the mine,

And carved thee into life, with skill divine!

How claims in thee humanity a part —

Seems from the gem the form enchained, to start,

While thus with fiery eye, and outspread wings,

The ruthless vulture to his victim clings,

With whetted beak deep in the quivering heart.

Oh! thou embodied meaning, master wrought! [page 259:]

Thus taught the sage, how, sunk in crime and sin,

The soul a prey to conscience, writhes within

Its fleshly bonds enslaved: — thus ever, THOUGHT,

The breast’s keen torturer, remorseful tears

At life, the hell whose chain the soul in anguish wears.

Of these sonnets we much prefer the “Hercules and Omphale.” It is full of a truly classic grace — both of thought and expression, and would do honor to any poet in the land. It has that common fault of American Sonnets — the fault of a termination feeble in comparison with the body of the poem — but even in this respect, it is superior to most compositions of the kind. Its general versification is worthy of all praise; we have rarely, if ever, seen it surpassed. Such lines as

The skin the Cleonean Lion wore,

have about them a directness which never fails to impart strength.

Upon the whole, we are favorably impressed with the book.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 254:]

1.  Cf. the review from Godey’s, Vol. XIII., p. 98. — 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 Songs of Our Land and Other Poems)