Page images
PDF
EPUB

With form bowed down, as if it were
In worship to the fiery air;
Who had be been from eastern climes,
From sunnier bills-in earlier times
When thus he bowed him to the sky
Had charged him with idolatry,

For when he bowed he bowed in truth:
His adoration was the thought,
And worship, that from heaven is caught

When genius blossoms in its youth.

''Twas feeling all, and generous love
The reaching of the soul above;
The intellectual homage pure,
That is sincere, and wili endure:
It was the offering of the heart,
The soul and pulse-and every part,
That's noble in our frames, or given
To throb for suns, or stars, or beaves;
The spirit that is made of flame,
For ever mounting whence it came;
The pulse that counts the march of time,
Impatient for the call sublime,
When it may spring abroad-away-
And beat the march of endless day-
The heart, that by itself is ourst,
And beaves, and swells, 'till it bath burst;
That dever yields and ne'er complains-
And dies—but to conceal its pains,

And the bright, flashing, glorious eye

For ever open on the sky,
As if in that stupendous swell
It sought a spot, where ne might dwell,

And pant for immortality.' We take leave for the present of these American bards, from all of whom we shall be glad to hear again. Let them proceedwith a just confidence in their own powers, joined with a conviction of the indispensable necessity of industry and a free application of the ‘limæ labor-indispensable to the greatest minds as well as to the least—and they cannot fail to add nobly to their own reputation and that of their country.

Art. VI.-Milton and Homer contrasted and compared. POETRY is the most antient of the fine arts. For, it preceded

statuary, architecture and eloquence. It is the best of the fine arts; for, painting illustrates its scenes; sculpture immortalises its heroes; and music is only its hand maid, although she sometimes appears more beautiful than her mistress.

Poetry is the rarest of the fine arts. Is not the art rare, which touches with propriety and power, every feeling of the soul, agitates our bosoms with fear and hope, keeps the imagination glowing, and the soul expanding? Yet this is poetry. The true poet carries in his bosom, a lyre, strung with each of the passions; which he can tune to the treble of hope or the bass of despair. Upon his harp play fancy and reason. We all carry within us this lyre, differently strung. In some it responds the sweet notes of joy; in others the dull tones of fear. But in one breast, fancy will usurp all the strings, and reason bind the fingers of fancy in another. Favoured must he be, the wildness of whose fancy is curbed by the sobriety of reason, and whose torpid reason is aided by the liveliness of fancy. Happy country, which produces one such man. Fortunate Greece, where Homer was born, and envied England, the birth place of Milton,

The lives of Milton and Homer present some points of analogy, and others of contrast. Both were poets in youth. Both were travellers, both were musicians, and both were blind. Both possessed a diamond genius, and both were men of erudition. For Homer early drank of the wells of Greece and of Egypt, and Milton exhausted the springs of the South, the East, and the North. But Homer was never enriched by the poems of Milton, while Milton could repeat the Iliad.-Milton, with difficulty sold his immortal poem, the labor of ten years, for five pounds; while Homer sung his rhapsodies, accompanied by the harp, to admiring circles, whose warm applauses afforded a sweet foretaste of future fame.

Of the productions of mind the Epic Poem stands preeminent, because it requires the union of those streams of Genius, which flow in every other channel of literature. Homer and Milton probably first formed the narration of their poems. This, critics have said, should be one, whole, great.

The narration of the Iliad is one; it sings the wrath of Achilles.

That of Paradise Lost is one; for it pictures the effects of man's disobedience.-Each fable is a whole. The one begins with the retirement of Achilles; its intermediate part relates the subsequent ill-success of the Greeks, and it concludes with the capture of Troy.--The other commences with the lapse of the angels, which draws on the middle part, Adam's fall; and this leads to the conclusion, his expulsion from Eden. The story of each poem is great. All nations, when Homer wrote, were well acquainted with the ten years' siege of Troy. _The first song of the nurse to her babe was the song of Troy. The first story told the warlike boy, was the wrath of Achilles; and the last recollections of the silvered head hovered round the plains of Ilium.

Was the narration Homer selected great? What will you call that of Paradise Lost, which relates the expulsion of one third of heaven, the ruin of earth, and the peopling of the infernal regions? Its foundations are, literally, laid in hell. Its superstructure rises through and above the earth; and, as it describes man's exaltation to a celestial paradise, its dome is in Heaven.

After the story the machinery arrests our thoughts. In the Iliad, the gods and goddesses of Elysium, the guardians of the earth, with heroes and heroines compose the personages. But how do the Dianas and Pans of the forest, the fawns and dryads of the groves, diminish and disappear before that Being, whe VOL. XIV.

29

with the majesty of darkness round,

Covers his throne.' Diomede, that war-comet, is not more portentous in counsel than he, who, rather than

Be less than God cared not to be at all.' And the dews of persuasion, distilled from Nestor's tongue, are not sweeter than the honey of eloquence, that dropped from the lips of Belial.

Over both poems, moral and religious instructions are scattered; and episodes, imagery, similes and descriptions checker them with diversity

The moral of Homer is political; that of Milton religious; the former demonstrates the folly of earthly princes; the latter the goodness of the prince of all.

The verse of each is heroic, and if the Ionic numbers of Homer are harmony, the lambic diction of Milton is melody.

In contrasting the epithets of Homer and Milton, we may observe Homer has fewer sentimental than descriptive epithets. If he speaks of Juno, you hear of her white arms; Helen is only a black-eyed damsel, and Bryseis a rosy-cheeked nymph. But Milton annexes to his substantives, a weighty adjunct. Thus you

read of darkness palpable'-' missive ruin'— damp horror-which are not only living but winged words.

Contrast their heroes' speeches. The second book of Milton, which opens with a debate, in the regions below, affords specimens of eloquence. In Moloch,

• Whose sentence was for open war,' you discover an inventive imagination and plausible reasoning.-On the other hand, Agamemnon loads with indifference a hero, or an army with irritating reproaches; and Homer suddenly checks his captains in battle, that they may pronounce orations, graced with all the beauties of style, and studded with the gems of rhetoric: while Belial, in the debate of Pandemonium,

• Than whom, a fairer spirit lost not Heaven,' interweaves philosophy and ethics in his peaceful address; and is at once so beautiful and sublime, you start to think of such eloquence in hell.

Figures are the loopholes, through which we see nature: They are the windows of a literary edifice. Both these poems are spangled with metaphors and images; but Milton does not abound with such clusters of similes as Homer. Hence the one was more the child of nature; the other of art. In Homer's personification, Chimæra is a compound monster, breathing flames of sulphur; but one of Milton's porters at Hell-gate, is a

Grisly terror, that shape had none;' an image, as Shakspeare's are, come hot from hell.' Both however seem to use comparisons and similes, with all the figures of

thought and diction, merely as machinery to throw off the exuber. ance of their genius.

In descriptions, omitting that of creation, and the garden of Eden, together with Homer's minor battles, the last grand struggle between the Greeks and Trojans may be contrasted with that of the angels on the plains of Heaven. Homer's gods leave Olympus. Jupiter himself descends to Ida. The foundations of the hills tremble—the mountains shake, Troy totters-Pluto, king of the Infernals, affrighted, leaps from his throne. But mark, how Milton,

• Heaved the ridges of grim war in Heaven'-'when
*Fell the hail of iron globes'- and when by turns were hurled
*Chained thunderbolts and mountains.'
*Down spirits fell by thousands. Shields and helms
• And helmed heads angel on archangel rolled,

. Such contest was in heaven.' Of the conspicuous characters in the poems before you, a moment's attention is requested to one of the principal, and to two of the most finished in each.—Achilles you find a brave, a cruel, a selfish hero. That he was brave, his exploits testify. His cruelty is seen in attaching Hector to his chariot wheels, and thrice dragging him around the city of lium. His destitution of patriotism appears in his withdrawing himself and his troops from the campaign, for the sake of Bryseis. Such was the hero of the Iliad. He had a lion's heart without his magnanimity. But Milton has drawn him,

Who, above the rest, in shape and gesture

Proudly eminent, stood like a towerin colours so interesting, as to excite hatred, horror and admiration. When he assumes an angel's garb to play the hypocrite, or like 'a cormorant, sits in a tree, meditating our parents' downfall; or descending at night, sits

• Squat, like a toad, close at the ear of Eve
Assaying by bis dev’lish art to reach

The organs of her fancy.'
Who does not hate him?-when he exclaims

Me miserable! which way shall I fly?
Infinite wrath and infinite despair.
Which way I fy, is hell. Myself am hell.
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear.

All good to me is lost. Evil, be thou my good.' Whose blood is not chilled with horror? But Milton's lyre responds differently, when the fallen archangel

- rears himself upright From off the billows of the fiery flood,' throwing his ponderous shield, like the moon, upon his shoulders, while his staff, to equal which the tallest pine were but a wand, supported his uneasy steps. When this string is touched, our hearts respond admiration. O! what a picture this of angelic na. ture, wrecked by the storm of ambition.

It remains only to contrast Hector and Andromache with Adam and Eve. You find Hector, a magnanimous friend; a dutiful son; à kind husband; a tender father-with the bravery of a hero uniting the feelings of a man. The beauteous Andromache is also a loving wife; an affectionate mother.-—But from these masterpieces of antiquity, permit me to turn your attention to those

'Two, of far nobler shape, erect and tall,' who inhabited Eden.

· His fair large front and eye sublime declar'd
Absolute rule.'

Grace was in all her steps: Heav'n in her eye,

In every gesture digoity and love.' When Adam led her to the bower, Milton has described inanimate nature, giving signs of gratulation.

• Fresh gales
And gentle airs whispered it to the woods,
And the evening star hasted to light his

Bridal lamp.' What lake ever returned so sweet an image to a Naiad of antiquity, as when Eve, bending down to look, saw a shape in the water, bending to look on her.

She started back. It started back. But pleas'd,

She soon returncd. Pleased, it returned as soon.' In their hymns and adorations, where both sing and call all nature to join them, Milton's verse turns, like the gates of Heaven, on hinges of gold. Oh, had the angels who ministered in Eden, sung half so sweetly as Milton has to us; could our first parents have found under the tree of knowledge a copy of Paradise Lost, surely they could never have fallen. So entertaining, impressive and sublime are his thoughts; so melodious, sweet and harmonious his numbers.

But have these immortal poets no faults? Are there no clouds in the sky? Yes, and behind them the sun illumines the world. We find in the Iliad some tedious speeches and prolix narrations. But these errors have long since been covered by the moss of antiquity.-Milton's ideas are also sometimes obscure, but it arises from the barbarous medley of language he found.-In admitting then that Milton and Homer have nodded and sometimes slept, we do injustice to neither. Their nods and their slumbers are the wakings of other men; and when they occasionally descend from their sublime flight in the clouds, it is to afford relief to our minds. But they rest, like the Eagle, only on the highest pine, or the mountain's brow; but this their rest, is lofty repose.

Upon the whole, Homer's verse is more equal than that of Mil. ton’s. Milton's is often more melodious and more prosaic than Homer's. So in sentiment, Milton very often rises higher, but Homer never sinks so low as Milton. But then Homer had no divine books, while the Bible is the cupola to Milton's edifice. It must however be remembered that Homer is usually read in a

« PreviousContinue »