1. Records of Woman: with other Poems. By FELICIA HEMANS. 2d Edition. 12mo. Pp. 323. Edinburgh, 1828.
2. The Forest Sanctuary: with other Poems. By FELICIA HEMANS. 2d Edition, with Additions. 12mo. Pp. 325. Edinburgh, 1829.
Women, we fear, cannot do every thing; nor even every thing they attempt. But what they can do, they do, for the most part, excellently — and much more frequently with an absolute and perfect success, than the aspirants of our rougher and more ambitious sex. They cannot, we think, represent naturally the fierce and sullen passions of men — nor their coarser vices — nor even scenes of actual business or contention — and the mixed motives, and strong and faulty characters, by which affairs of moment are usually conducted on the great theatre of the world. For much of this they are disqualified by the delicacy of their training and habits, and the still more disabling delicacy which pervades their conceptions and feelings; and from much they are excluded by their actual inexperience of the realities they might wish to describe — by their substantial and incurable ignorance of business — of the way in which serious affairs are actually managed — and the true nature of the agents and impulses that give movement and direction to the stronger currents of ordinary life. Perhaps they are also incapable of long moral or political investigations, where many complex and indeterminate elements are to be taken into account, and a variety of opposite probabilities to be weighed before coming to a conclusion. They are generally too impatient to get at the ultimate results, to go well through with such discussions; and either stop short at some imperfect view of the truth, or turn aside to repose in the shadow of some plausible error. This, however, we are persuaded, arises entirely from their being seldom set on such tedious tasks. Their proper and natural business is the practical regulation of private life, in all its hearings, affections, and concerns and the questions with which they have to deal in that most important department, though often of the utmost difficulty and nicety, involve, for the most part, but few elements; and may generally be better described as delicate than intricate; — requiring for their solution rather a quick tact and fine perception than a patient or laborious examination. For the same reason, they rarely succeed in long works, even on subjects the best suited to their genius; their natural training rendering them equally averse to long doubt and long labour.
For all other intellectual efforts, however, either of the understanding or the fancy, and requiring a thorough knowledge either of man's strength or his weakness, we apprehend them to be, in all respects, as well qualified as their brethren of the stronger sex; while, in their perceptions of grace, propriety, ridicule — their power of detecting artifice, hypocrisy, and affectation — the force and promptitude of their sympathy, and their capacity of noble and devoted attachment, and of the efforts and sacrifices it may require, they are, beyond all doubt, our superiors.
Their business being, as we have said, with actual or social life, and the colours it receives from the conduct and dispositions of individuals, they unconsciously acquire, at a very early age, the finest perception of character and manners, and are almost a soon instinctively schooled in the deep and dangerous learning of feeling and emotion; while the very minuteness with which they make and meditate on these interesting observations, and the finer shades and variations of sentiment which are thus treasured and recorded, trains their whole faculties to a nicety and precision of operation, which often discloses itself to advantage in their application to studies of a very different character. When women, accordingly, have turned their minds — as they have done but too seldom — to the exposition or arrangement of any branch of knowledge, they have commonly exhibited, we think, a more beautiful accuracy, and a more uniform and complete justness of thinking, than their less discriminating brethren. There is a finish and completeness about every thing they put out of their hands, which indicates not only an inherent taste for elegance and neatness, but a habit of nice observation, and singular exactness of judgment.
It has been so little the fashion, at any time, to encourage women to write for publication, that it is more difficult than it should be, to prove these truths by examples. Yet there are enough, within the reach of a very careless and superficial glance over the open field of literature, to enable us to explain, at least, and illustrate, if not entirely to verify, our assertions. No man, we will venture to say, could have written the Letters of Madame de Sevigne, or time Novels of Miss Austin, or the Hymns and Early Lessons of Mrs. Barbauld, or the Conversations of Mrs. Marcet. These performances, too, are not only essentially and intensely feminine, but they are, in our judgment, decidedly more perfect than any masculine productions with which they can be brought into comparison. They accomplish more completely all the ends at which they aim, and are worked out with a gracefulness and felicity of execution which excludes all idea of failure, and entirely satisfies the expectations they may have raised. We might easily have added to these instances. There are many parts of Miss Edgeworth's earlier stories, and of Miss Mitford's sketches and descriptions, and not a little of Mrs. Opie's, that exhibit the same fine and penetrating spirit of observation, the same softness and delicacy of hand, and unerring truth of delineation, to which we have alluded as characterising the purer specimens of female art. The same distinguishing traits of a woman's spirit are visible through the grief and the piety of Lady Russel, and the gaiety, the spite, and the venturesomeness of Lady Mary Wortley. We have not as yet much female poetry; but there is a truly feminine tenderness, purity, and elegance, in the Psyche of Mrs Tighe, and in some of the smaller pieces of Lady Craven. On some of the works of Madame de Stael — her Corinne especially — there is a still deeper stamp of the genius of her sex. Her pictures of its boundless devotedness — its depth and capacity of suffering — its high aspirations — its painful irritability, and inextinguishable thirst for emotion, are powerful specimens of that morbid anatomy of the heart, which no hand but that of a woman's was fine enough to have laid open, or skilful enough to have recommended to our sympathy and love. There is the same exquisite and inimitable delicacy, if not the same power, in many of the happier passages of Madame de Souza and Madame Cottin — to say nothing of the more lively — and yet melancholy records of Madame de Staal, during her long penance in the court of the Duchesse de Maine.
But we are preluding too largely; and must come at once to the point, to which the very heading of this article has already admonished the most careless of our readers that we are tending. We think the poetry of Mrs. Hemans a fine exemplification of Female Poetry — and we think it has much of the perfection which we have ventured to ascribe to the happier productions of female genius.
It may not be the best imaginable poetry, and may not indicate the very highest or most commanding genius; but it embraces a great deal of that which gives the very best poetry its chief power of pleasing; and would strike us, perhaps, as more impassioned and exalted, if it were not regulated and harmonized by the most beautiful taste. It is infinitely sweet, elegant, and tender — touching, perhaps, and contemplative, rather than vehement and overpowering; and not only finished throughout with an exquisite delicacy, and even serenity of execution, but informed with a purity and loftiness of feeling, and a certain sober and humble tone of indulgence and piety, which must satisfy all judgments, and allay the apprehensions of those who are most afraid of the passionate exaggerations of poetry. The diction is always beautiful, harmonious, and free — and the themes, though of infinite variety, uniformly treated with a grace, originality and judgment, which mark the same master hand. These themes she has borrowed, with the peculiar interest and imagery that belong to them, from the legends of different nations, and the most opposite states of society; and has contrived to retain much of what is interesting and peculiar in each of them, without adopting, along with it, any of the revolting or extravagant excesses which may characterise the taste or manners of the people or the age from which it has been derived. She has thus transfused into her German or Scandinavian legends the imaginative and daring tone of the originals, without the mystical exaggerations of the one, or the painful fierceness and coarseness of the other — she has preserved the clearness and elegance of the French, without their coldness or affectation — and the tenderness and simplicity of the early Italians, without their diffuseness or languor. Though occasionally expatiating, somewhat fondly and at large, amongst the sweets of her own planting, there is, on the whole, a great condensation and brevity in most of her pieces, and, almost without exception, a most judicious and vigorous conclusion. The great merit, however, of her poetry, is undoubtedly in its tenderness and its beautiful imagery. The first requires no explanation; but we must be allowed to add a word as to the peculiar charm and character of the latter.
It has always been our opinion, that the very essence of poetry, apart from the pathos, the wit, or the brilliant description which may be embodied in it, but may exist equally in prose, consists in the fine perception and vivid expression of that subtle and mysterious analogy which exists between the physical and the moral world — which makes outward things and qualities the natural types and emblems of inward gifts and emotions, and leads us to ascribe life and sentiment to every thing that interests us in the aspects of external nature. The feeling of this analogy, obscure and inexplicable as the theory of it may be, is so deep and universal in our nature, that it has stamped itself on the ordinary language of men of every kindred and speech: and that to such an extent, that one half of the epithets by which we familiarly designate moral and physical qualities, are in reality so many metaphors borrowed reciprocally, upon this analogy, from those opposite forms of existence. The very familiarity, however, of the expression, in these instances, takes away its poetical effect — and indeed, in substance, its metaphorical character. The original sense of the word is entirely forgotten in the derivative one to which it has succeeded; and it requires some etymological recollection to convince us that it was originally nothing else than a typical or analogical illustration. Thus we talk of a penetrating understanding, and a furious blast — a weighty argument, and a gentle stream — without being at all aware that we are speaking in the language of poetry, and transferring qualities from one extremity of the sphere of being to another. In these cases, accordingly, the metaphor, by ceasing to be felt, in reality ceases to exist, and the analogy being no longer intimated, of course can produce no effect. But whenever it is intimated, it does produce an effect; and that effect we think is poetry.
It has substantially two functions, and operates in two directions. In the first place, it strikes vividly out, and flashes at once on our minds, the conception of an inward feeling or emotion, which it might otherwise have been difficult to convey, by the presentment of some bodily form or quality, which is instantly felt to be its true representative, and enables us to fix and comprehend it with a force and clearness not otherwise attainable; and, in the second place, it vivifies dead and inanimate matter with the attributes of living and sentient mind, and fills the whole visible universe around us with objects of interest and sympathy, by tinging them with the hues of life, and associating them with our own passions and affections. This magical operation the poet too performs, for the most part, in one of two ways — either by the direct agency of similes and metaphors, more or less condensed or developed, or by the mere graceful presentment of such visible objects on the scene of his passionate dialogues or adventures, as partake of the character of the emotion he wishes to excite, and thus form an appropriate accompaniment or preparation for its direct indulgence or display. The former of those methods has perhaps been most frequently employed, and certainly has most attracted attention. But the latter, though less obtrusive, and perhaps less frequently resorted to of set purpose, is, we are inclined to think, the most natural and efficacious of the two; and is often adopted, we believe, unconsciously by poets of the highest order; — the predominant emotion of their minds overflowing spontaneously on all the objects which present themselves to their fancy, and calling out from them, and colouring with its own hues, those that are naturally emblematic of its character, and in accordance with its general expression. It would be easy to show how habitually this is done by Shakspeare, and Milton especially, and how much many of their finest passages are indebted both for tree and richness of effect to this general and diffusive harmony of the external character of their scenes with the passions of their living agents — this harmonizing and appropriate glow with which they kindle the whole surrounding atmosphere, and bring all that strikes the sense into unison with all that touches the heart.
But it is more to our present purpose to say, that we think the fair writer before us is eminently a mistress of this poetical secret; and, in truth, it was solely for the purpose of illustrating this great charm and excellence in her imagery, that we have ventured upon this little dissertation. Almost all her poems are rich with fine descriptions, and studded over with images of visible beauty. But these are never idle ornaments: All her pomps have a meaning; and her flowers and her gems are arranged, as they are said to be among Eastern lovers, so as to speak the language of truth and of passion. This is peculiarly remarkable in some little pieces, which seem at first sight to be purely descriptive — but are soon found to tell upon the heart, with a deep moral and pathetic impression. But it is a truth nearly as conspicuous in the greater part of her productions; where we scarcely meet with any striking sentiment that is not ushered in by some such symphony of external nature — and scarcely a lovely picture that does not serve as a foreground to some deep or lofty emotion. We may illustrate this proposition, we think, by opening either of these little volumes at random, and taking what they first present to us. — The following exquisite lines, for example, on a Palm-tree in an English garden:
It waved not thro' an Eastern sky,
Beside a fount of Araby;
It was not fann'd by southern breeze
In some green isle of Indian seas,
Nor did its graceful shadow sleep
O'er stream of Afric, lone and deep.
—But far the exiled Palm-tree grew
'Midst foliage of no kindred hue;
Thro' the laburnum's dropping gold
Rose the light shaft of orient mould,
And Europe's violets, faintly sweet,
Purpled the moss-beds at its feet.
Strange look'd it there! — the willow stream'd
Where silvery waters near it gleam'd;
The lime-bough lured the honey-bee
To murmur by the Desert's Tree,
And showers of snowy roses made
A lustre in its fan-like shade.
There came an eve of festal hours—
Rich music fill'd that garden's bowers:
Lamps, that from flowering branches hung,
On sparks of dew soft colours flung,
And bright forms glanced — a fairy show—
Under the blossoms to and fro.
But one, a lone one, 'midst the throng,
Seem'd reckless all of dance or song:
He was a youth of dusky mien,
Whereon the Indian sun had been—
Of crested brow, and long black hair—
A stranger, like the Palm-tree, there.
And slowly, sadly moved his plumes,
Glittering athwart the leafy glooms:
He pass'd the pale green olives by,
Nor won the chesnut flowers his eye;
But when to that sole Palm he came,
Then shot a rapture through his frame!
To him, to him its rustling spoke,
The silence of his soul it broke!
It whisper'd of his own bright isle,
That lit the ocean with a smile;
Aye, to his ear that native tone
Had something of the sea-wave's moan!
His mother's cabin home, that lay
Where feathery cocoas fringed the bay;
The dashing of his brethren's oar,
The conch-note heard along the shore
All thro' his wakening bosom swept:
He clasp'd his country's Tree — and wept!
Oh! scorn him not! — the strength, whereby
The patriot girds himself to die,
Th' unconquerable power, which fills
The freeman battling on his hills—
These have one fountain deep and clear,—
The same whence gush'd that child-like tear!
The following, which the author has named, "Graves of a Household," has rather less of external scenery, but serves, like the others, to show how well the graphic and pathetic may be made to set off each other:
They grew in beauty, side by side,
They fill'd one home with glee;—
Their graves are sever'd, far and wide,
By mount, and stream, and sea.
The same fond mother bent at night
O'er each fair sleeping brow;
She had each folded flower in sight,—
Where are those dreamers now?
One, midst the forests of the West,
By a dark stream is laid,—
The Indian knows his place of rest,
Far in the cedar shade.
The sea, the blue lone sea, hath one,
He lies where pearls lie deep
He was the loved of all, yet none
O'er his low bed may weep.
One sleeps where southern vines are drest
Above the noble slain:
He wrapt his colours round his breast,
On a blood-red field of Spain.
And one — o'er her the myrtle showers
Its leaves, by soft winds fann'd;
She faded 'midst Italian flowers,—
The last of that bright band.
And parted thus they rest, who play'd
Beneath the same green tree;
Whose voices mingled as they pray'd
Around one parent knee!
They that with smiles lit up the hail,
And cheer'd with song the hearth,—
Alas! for love, if thou wert all,
And nought beyond, oh earth!
We have taken these pieces chiefly on account of their shortness: But it would not be fair to Mrs. Hemans not to present our readers with one longer specimen — and to give a portion of her graceful narrative along with her pathetic descriptions. This story, of "The Lady of the Castle," is told, we think, with great force and sweetness:
Thou seest her pictured with her shining hair,
(Famed were those tresses in Provencal song,)
Half braided, half o'er cheek and bosom fair.
Let loose, and pouring sunny waves along
Her gorgeous vest. A child's right hand is roving
'Midst the rich curls, and, oh! how meekly loving
Its earnest looks are lifted to the face,
Which bends to meet its lip in laughing grace!
Yet that bright lady's eye methinks hath less
Of deep, and still, and pensive tenderness,
Than might beseem a mother's — on her brow
Something too much there sits of native scorn,
And her smile kindles with a conscious glow.
—These may be dreams — but how shall woman tell
Of woman's shame, and not with tears? — She fell!
That mother left that child! — went hurrying by
Its cradle — haply, not without a sigh;
Haply one moment o'er its rest serene
She hung — but no! it could not thus have been,
For she went on! — forsook her home, her hearth,
All pure affection, all sweet household mirth,
To live a gaudy and dishonour'd thing,
Sharing in guilt the splendours of a king.
Her lord, in very weariness of life,
Girt on his sword for scenes of distant strife;
He reck'd no more of glory: — grief and shame
Crush'd out his fiery nature, and his name
Died silently. A shadow o'er his halls
Crept year by year; the minstrel pass'd their walls;
The warder's horn hung mute: — meantime the child,
On whose first flowering thoughts no parent smiled,
A gentle girl, and yet deep-hearted, grew
Into sad youth; for well, too well, she knew
Her mother's tale! Its memory made the sky
Seem all too joyous for her shrinking eye;
Check'd on her lip the flow of song, which fain
Would there have linger'd; flush'd her cheek to pain,
If met by sudden glance; and gave a tone
Of sorrow, as for something lovely gone,
Even to the spring's glad voice. Her own was low
And plaintive! — Oh! there lie such depths of woe
In a young blighted spirit! Manhood rears
A haughty brow, and age has done with tears;
But youth bows down to misery, in amaze
At the dark cloud o'ermantling its fresh days,—
And thus it was with her. A mournful sight
In one so fair — for she indeed was fair—
Not with her mother's dazzling eyes of light.
Hers were more shadowy, full of thought and prayer;
And with long lashes o'er a white-rose cheek,
Drooping in gloom, yet tender still and meek,
Still that fond child's — and, oh! the brow above,
So pale and pure! so form'd for holy love
To gaze upon in silence! — But she felt
That love was not for her, though hearts would melt
Where'er she moved, and reverence mutely given
Went with her; and low prayers, that call'd on Heaven
To bless the young Isaure.
One sunny morn,
With alms before her castle gate she stood,
'Midst peasant-groups; when, breathless and o'erworn,
And shrouded in long robes of widowhood,
A stranger through them broke: — the orphan maid
With her sweet voice, and proffer'd hand of aid,
Turn'd to give welcome; but a wild sad look
Met hers; a gaze that all her spirit shook;
And that pale woman, suddenly subdued
By some strong passion in its gushing mood,
Knelt at her feet, and bathed them with such tears
As rain the hoarded agonies of years
From the heart's urn; and with her white lips press'd
The ground they trode; then, burying in her vest
Her brow's deep flush, sobb'd out — "Oh! undefiled!
I am thy mother — spurn me not, my child!"
Isaure had pray'd for that lost mother; wept
O'er her stain'd memory, while the happy slept
In the hush'd midnight; stood with mournful gaze
Before yon picture's smile of other days,
But never breathed in human ear the name
Which weigh'd her being to the earth with shame.
What marvel if the anguish, the surprise,
The dark remembrances, the alter'd guise,
Awhile o'erpower'd her? — from the weeper's touch
She shrank — 'twas but a moment — yet too much
For that all-humbled one; its mortal stroke
Came down like lightning, and her full heart broke
At once in silence. Heavily and prone
She sank, while, o'er her castle's threshold-stone,
Those long fair tresses — they still brightly wore
Their early pride, though bound with pearls no more—
Bursting their fillet, in sad beauty roll'd,
And swept the dust with coils of wavy gold.
Her child bent o'er her — call'd her — 'twas too late—
Dead lay the wanderer at her own proud gate!
The joy of courts, the star of knight and bard,—
How didst thou fall, O bright-hair'd Ermengarde!
The following sketch of "Joan of Arc in Rheims," is in a loftier and more ambitious vein; but sustained with equal grace, and as touching in its solemn tenderness. We can afford to extract but a part of it:
—Within, the light,
Through the rich gloom of pictured windows flowing,
Tinged with soft awfulness a stately sight,
The chivalry of France, their proud heads bowing
In martial vassalage! — while 'midst the ring,
And shadow'd by ancestral tombs, a king
Received his birthright's crown. For this, the hymn
Swell'd out like rushing waters, and the day
With the sweet censer's misty breath grew dim,
As through long aisles it floated o'er th' array
Of arms and sweeping stoles. But who, alone
And unapproach'd, beside the altar-stone,
With the white banner, forth like sunshine streaming,
And the gold helm, through clouds of fragrance gleaming,
Silent and radiant stood? — The helm was raised,
And the fair face reveal'd, that upward gazed,
Intensely worshipping; — a still, clear face,
Youthful, but brightly solemn! — Woman's cheek
And brow were there, in deep devotion meek,
Yet glorified with inspiration's trace
On its pure paleness; while, entlironed above,
The pictured Virgin, with her smile of love,
Seem'd bending o'er her votaress. — That slight form!
Was that the leader through the battle storm?
Had the soft light in that adoring eye,
Guided the warrior where the swords flash'd high?
—A triumphant strain,
A proud rich stream of warlike melodies,
Gush'd through the portals of the antique fane,
And forth she came....
The shouts that fill'd
The hollow heaven tempestuously, were still'd
One moment; and in that brief pause, the tone,
As of a breeze that o'er her home had blown,
Sank on the bright maid's heart. — "Joanne!" — Who spoke,
Like those whose childhood with her childhood grew
Under one roof? — "Joanne!" — that murmur broke
With sounds of weeping forth! — She turn'd — she knew
Beside her, mark'd from all the thousands there,
In the calm beauty of his silver hair,
The stately shepherd; and the youth, whose joy
From his dark eye flash'd proudly; and the boy,
The youngest-born, that ever loved her best:
"Father! and ye my brothers!" — On the breast
Of that grey sire she sank — and swiftly back,
Even in an instant, to their native track
Her free thoughts flow'd. — She saw the pomp no more—
The plumes, the banners: — to her cabin door,
And to the Fairy's Fountain in the glade,
Where her young sisters by her side had play'd,
And to her hamlet's chapel, where it rose
Hallowing the forest unto deep repose,
Her spirit turn'd. — The very wood-note, sung
In early spring-time by the bird, which dwelt
Where o'er her father's roof the beech-leaves hung,
Was in her heart; a music heard and felt,
Winning her back to nature. — She unbound
The helm of many battles from her head,
And, with her bright locks bow'd to sweep the ground,
Lifting her voice up, wept for joy, and said
"Bless me, my father, bless me! and with thee,
To the still cabin and the beechen-tree,
Let me return!"
There are several strains of a more passionate character; especially in the two poetical epistles from Lady Arabella Stuart and Properzia Rossi. We shall venture to give a few lines from the former. The Lady Arabella was of royal descent; and having excited the fears of our pusillanimous James by a secret union with the Lord Seymour, was detained in a cruel captivity, by that heartless monarch, till the close of her life — during which she is supposed to have indited this letter to her lover from her prison house.
My friend, my friend! where art thou? Day by day,
Gliding, like some dark mournful stream, away,
My silent youth flows from me. Spring, the while,
Comes and rains beauty on the kindling boughs
Round hall and hamlet; Summer, with her smile,
Fills the green forest; — young hearts breathe their vows;
Brothers, long parted, meet; fair children rise
Round the glad board: Hope laughs from loving eyes:
—All this is in the world! — These joys lie sown,
The dew of every path — On one alone
Their freshness may not fall — the stricken deer,
Dying of thirst with all the waters near.
Ye are from dingle and fresh glade, ye flowers!
By some kind hand to cheer my dungeon sent;
O'er you the oak shed down the summer showers,
And the lark's nest was where your bright cups bent,
Quivering to breeze and rain-drop, like the sheen
Of twilight stars. On you Heaven's eye hath been,
Through the leaves pouring its dark sultry blue
Into your glowing hearts; the bee to you
Hath murmur'd, and the rill. — My soul grows faint
With passionate yearning, as its quick dreams paint
Your haunts by deli and stream, — the green, the free,
The full of all sweet sound, — the shut from me!
There went a swift bird singing past my cell—
O Love and Freedom! ye are lovely things
With you the peasant on time hills may dwell,
And by the streams but I — the blood of kings,
A proud unmingling river, through my veins
Flows in lone brightiiess, — and its gifts are chains!
—Kings! — I had silent visions of deep bliss,
Leaving their thrones far distant, and for this
I am cast under their triumphal car,
An insect to be crush'd.
"Thou hast forsaken me! I feel, I know,
There would be rescue if this were not so.
Thou'rt at the chase, thou'rt at the festive board,
Thou'rt where the red wine free and high is pour'd,
Thou'rt where the dancers meet! — a magic glass
Is set within my soul, and proud shapes pass,
Flushing it o'er with pomp from bower and hall;—
I see one shadow, stateliest there of all,—
Thine! — What dost thou amidst the bright and fair,
Whispering light words, and mocking my despair?
It is not well of thee! — my love was more
Than fiery song may breathe, deep thought explore;
And there thou smilest while my heart is dying,
With all its blighted hopes around it lying;
Ev'n thou, on whom they hung their last green leaf—
Yet smile, smile on! too bright art thou for grief.
The following, though it has no very distinct object or moral, breathes, we think, the very spirit of poetry, in its bright and vague picturings, and is well entitled to the name it bears — "An Hour of Romance:"
There were thick leaves above me and around,
And low sweet sighs, like those of childhood's sleep,
Amidst their dimness, and a fitful sound
As of soft showers on water; — dark and deep
Lay the oak shadows o'er the turf, so still
They seem'd but pictured glooms: a hidden rill
Made music, such as haunts us in a dream,
Under the fern-tufts: and a tender gleam
Of soft green light, as by the glow-worm shed,
Came pouring thro' the woven beech-boughs down,
And steep'd the magic page wherein I read
Of royal chivalry and old renown,
A tale of Palestine. — Meanwhile the bee
Swept past me with a tone of summer hours,
A drowsy bugle, wafting thoughts of flowers,
Blue skies and amber sunshine: brightly free,
On filmy wings the purple dragon-fly
Shot glancing like a fairy javelin by;
And a sweet voice of sorrow told the dell
Where sat the lone wood-pigeon:
But ere long,
All sense of these things faded, as the spell
Breathing from that high gorgeous tale grew strong
On my chain'd soul: — 'twas not the leaves I heard—
A Syrian wind the Lion-banner stirr'd,
Thro' its proud, floating folds: — 'twas not the brook,
Singing in secret thro' its grassy glen;—
A wild shrill trumpet of the Saracen
Peal'd from the desert's lonely heart, and shook
The burning air. — Like clouds when winds are high,
O'er glittering sands flew steeds of Araby,
And tents rose up, and sudden lance and spear
Flash'd where a fountain's diamond wave lay clear,
Shadow'd by graceful palm-trees.
Then the shout Of merry England's joy swell'd freely out,
Sent thro' an Eastern heaven, whose glorious hue
Made shields dark mirrors to its depths of blue:
And harps were there; — I heard their sounding strings,
As the waste echoed to the mirth of kings.—
The bright masque faded. — Unto life's worn track,
What call'd me from its flood of glory, back?
A voice of happy childhood! — and they pass'd,
Banner, and harp, and Paynim trumpet's blast;
Yet might I scarce bewail the splendours gone,
My heart so leap'd to that sweet laughter's tone.
There is great sweetness in the following portion of a little poem on a "Girls' School:"
Oh! joyous creatures! that will sink to rest,
Lightly, when those pure orisons are done,
As birds with slumber's honey-dew opprest,
'Midst the dim folded leaves, at set of sun—
Yet in those flute-like voices, mingling low,
Is Woman's tenderness — how soon her woe!
Her look is on you — silent tears to weep,
And patient smiles to wear through suffering's hour,
And sumless riches, from affection's deep,
To pour on broken reeds — a wasted shower!
And to make idols, and to find them clay,
And to bewail that worship — therefore pray!
Her lot is on you! to be found untired,
Watching the stars out by the bed of pain,
With a pale cheek, and yet a brow inspired,
And a true heart of hope, though hope be vain
Meekly to bear with wrong, to cheer decay,
And, oh! to love through all things — therefore pray!
There is a fine and stately solemnity in these lines on "The Lost Pleiad:"
Hath the night lost a gem, the regal night?
She wears her crown of old magnificence,
Though thou art exiled thence—
No desert seems to part those urns of light,
'Midst the far depths of purple gloom intense.
They rise in joy, the starry myriads burning—
The shepherd greets them on his mountains free;
And from the silvery sea
To them the sailor's wakeful eye is turning—
Unchanged they rise, they have not mourn'd for thee.
'Couldst thou be shaken from thy radiant place,
E'en as a dew-drop from the myrtle spray,
Swept by the wind away?
Wert thou not peopled by some glorious race?
And was there power to smite them with decay?
Then who shall talk of thrones, of sceptres riven?
Bow'd be our hearts to think on what we are,
When from its height afar
A World sinks thus — and yon majestic heaven
Shines not the less for that one vanish'd star!
The following, on "The Dying Improvisatore," have a rich lyrical cadence, and glow of deep feeling:
Never, oh! never more,
On thy Rome's purple heaven mine eye shall dwell,
Or watch the bright waves melt along thy shore—
My Italy, farewell!
Alas! — thy hills among,
Had I but left a memory of my name,
Of love and grief one deep, true, fervent song,
Unto immortal fame!
But like a lute's brief tone,
Like a rose-odour on the breezes cast,
Like a swift flush of dayspring, seen and gone,
So hath my spirit pass'd!
Yet, yet remember me!
Friends! that upon its murmurs oft have hung,
When from my bosom, joyously and free,
The fiery fountain sprung.
Under the dark rich blue
Of midnight heavens, and on the star-lit sea,
And when woods kindle into spring's first hue,
Sweet friends! remember me!
And in the marble halls,
Where life's full glow the dreams of beauty wear,
And poet-thoughts embodied light the walls,
Let me be with you there!
Fain would I bind for you
My memory with all glorious things to dwell;
Fain bid all lovely sounds my name renew—
Sweet friends, bright land, farewell!
But we must stop here. There would be no end of our extracts, if we were to yield to the temptation of noting down every beautiful passage which arrests us in turning over the leaves of the volumes before us. We ought to recollect, too, that there are few to whom our pages are likely to come, who are not already familiar with their beauties; and, in fact, we have made these extracts, less with the presumptuous belief that we are introducing Mrs. Hemans for the first time to the knowledge or admiration of our readers, than from a desire of illustrating, by means of them, the singular felicity in the choice and employment of her imagery, of which we have already spoken so much at large; — that fine accord she has established between the world of sense and of soul — that delicate blending of our deep inward emotions with their splendid symbols and emblems without.
We have seen too much of the perishable nature of modern literary fame, to venture to predict to Mrs. Hemans that hers will be immortal, or even of very long duration. Since the beginning of our critical career, we have seen a vast deal of beautiful poetry pass into oblivion, in spite of our feeble efforts to recall or retain it in remembrance. The tuneful quartos of Southey are already little better than lumber: — And the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley, — and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth, — and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the fields of our vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry. Even the splendid strains of Moore are fading into distance and dimness, except where they have been married to immortal music; and the blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride. We need say nothing of Milman, and Croly, and Atherstone, and Hood, and a legion of others, who, with no ordinary gifts of taste and fancy, have not so properly survived their fame, as been excluded by some hard fatality from what seemed their just inheritance. The two who have the longest withstood this rapid withering of the laurel, and with the least marks of decay on their branches, are Rogers and Campbell; neither of them, it may be remarked, voluminous writers, and both distinguished rather for the fine taste and consummate elegance of their writings, than for that fiery passion, and disdainful vehemence, which seemed for a time to be so much more in favour with the public.
If taste and elegance, however, be titles to enduring fame, we might venture securely to promise that rich boon to the author before us; who adds to those great merits a tenderness and loftiness of feeling, and an ethereal purity of sentiment, which could only emanate from the soul of a woman. She must beware of becoming too voluminous; and must not venture again on any thing so long as the "Forest Sanctuary." But, if the next generation inherits our taste for short poems, we are persuaded it will not readily allow her to be forgotten. For we do not hesitate to say, that she is, beyond all comparison, the most touching and accomplished writer of occasional verses that our literature has yet to boast of.