1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Walter Savage Landor

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Poetry that Poets Love. Walter Savage Landor — Leigh Hunt — Percy Bysshe Shelley — John Keats" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 304-08.



To no one can the words that I have placed at the head of this paper apply more perfectly than to Mr. Landor. No poetry was ever dearer to poets than his. Nearly fifty years ago, we find Southey writing of and to the author of "Gebir," with a respectful admiration seldom felt by one young man for another; and, from that hour to the present, all whom he would himself most wish to please have showered upon him praises that can not die. The difficulty in selecting from his works is the abundance; but I prefer the Hellenics, that charming volume, because few, very few, have given such present life to classical subjects. I begin with the Preface, so full of grace and modesty.

"It is hardly to he expected that ladies and gentlemen will leave, on a sudden, their daily promenade, skirted by Turks, and shepherds, and knights, and plumes, and palfreys, of the finest Tunbridge manufacture, to look at these rude frescoes, delineated on an old wall, high up and sadly weak in coloring. As in duty bound, we can wait. The reader (if there should be one) will remember that Sculpture and Painting have never ceased to be occupied with the scenes and figures which we venture once more to introduce in poetry, it being our belief that what is becoming in two of the fine arts, is not quite unbecoming in a third, the one which, indeed, gave birth to them."

And now comes the very first story; with its conclusion that goes straight to the heart.

THRASYMEDES AND EUNOE.
Who will away to Athens with me? Who
Loves choral songs and maidens crowned with flowers
Unenvious? Mount the pinnace; hoist the sail.
I promise ye, as many as are here,
Ye shall not, while ye tarry with me, taste
From unrinsed barrel the diluted wine
Of a low vineyard, or a plant ill-pruned.
But such as anciently the Aegean isles
Poured in libation at their solemn feasts;
And the same goblets shall ye grasp, emboss'd
With no vile figures of loose languid boors,
But such as gods have lived with and have led.

The sea smiles bright before us. What white sail
Plays yonder? What pursues it? Like two hawks
Away they fly. Let us away in time
To overtake them. Are they menaces
We hear? And shall the strong repulse the weak,
Enraged at her defender? Hippias!
Art thou the man? 'Twas Hippias. He had found
His sister borne from the Cecropion port
By Thrasymedes. And reluctantly?
Ask, ask the maiden; I have no reply.

"Brother! O brother Hippias! Oh, if love,
If pity ever touched thy breast, forbear!
Strike not the brave, the gentle, the beloved,
My Thrasymedes, with his cloak alone,
Protecting his own head and mine from harm."
"Didst thou not once before," cried Hippias,
Regardless of his sister, hoarse with wrath
At Thrasymedes, "didst thou not, dog-eyed,
Dare as she walked up to the Parthenon,
On the most holy of all holy days,
In sight of all the city, dare to kiss
Her maiden cheek?"

"Ay, before all the gods,
Ay, before Pallas, before Artemis,
Ay, before Aphrodite, before Here,
I dared; and dare again. Arise, my spouse!
Arise! and let my lips quaff purity
From thy fair open brow."

The sword was up,
And yet he kissed her twice. Some god withheld
The arm of Hippias; his proud blood seethed slower
And smote his breast less angrily; he laid
His hand on the white shoulder, and spoke thus:
"Ye must return with me. A second time
Offended, will our sire Peisistratos
Pardon the affront? Thou shouldst have asked thyself
That question ere the sail first flapp'd the mast."
"Already thou hast taken life from me;
Put up thy sword," said the sad youth, his eyes
Sparkling; but whether love, or rage, or grief
They sparkled with, the gods alone could see.
Peiroeeus they re-entered, and their ship
Drove up the little waves against the quay,
Whence was thrown out a rope from one above,
And Hippias caught it. From the virgin's waist
Her lover dropped his arm, and blushed to think
He had retained it there, in sight of rude
Irreverent men; he led her forth nor spake.
Hippias walked silent too, until they reached
The mansion of Peisistratos, her sire.
Serenely in his sternness did the prince
Look on them both awhile: they saw not him,
For both had cast their eyes upon the ground.
"Are these the pirates thou hast taken, son?"
Said he. "Worse, father! worse than pirates they
Who thus abuse thy patience, thus abuse
Thy pardon, thus abuse the holy rites
Twice over."

"Well hast thou performed thy duty,"
Firmly and gravely said Peisistratos.
"Nothing, then, rash young man! could turn thy heart
From Eunoe, my daughter?"

"Nothing, sir,
Shall ever turn it. I can die but once
And love but once. O, Eunoe! farewell!"
"Nay, she shall see what thou canst bear for her."
"O father! Shut me in my chamber, shut me
In my poor mother's tomb, dead or alive,
But never let me see what he can bear;
I know how much that is when borne for me."
"Not yet: come on. And lag not thou behind,
Pirate of virgin and of princely hearts!
Before the people, and before the goddess,
Thou hadst evinced the madness of thy passion,
And now wouldst bear from home and plenteousness
To poverty and exile, this, my child."
Then shuddered Thrasymedes, and exclaimed,
"I see my crime, I saw it not before.
The daughter of Peisistratos was born
Neither for exile nor for poverty,
Ah! not for me!" He would have wept, but one
Might see him, and weep worse. The prince, unmoved,
Strode on, and said, "To-morrow shall the people
All who beheld thy trespasses, behold
The justice of Peisistratos, the love
He bears his daughter, and the reverence
In which he holds the highest law of God."
He spake; and on the morrow they were one.

Did not Mr. Landor write this scene of Orestes one fine June morning, seated on a garden-roller in the court before Mr. Keuyon's house in London? fitting home for such an inspiration! And is not that the way that such scenes are written? not sitting down with malice prepense to compose poetry, but letting it come when it will and how it will, and striking it off at a heat.

THE DEATH OF CLYTEMNESTRA.
ORESTES AND ELECTRA.
ELECTRA. Pass on, my brother! she awaits the wretch,
Dishonorer, dispoiler, murderer—
None other name shall name him — she awaits
As would a lover—
Heavenly Gods! what poison
O'erflows my lips!
Adultress! husband-slayer!
Strike her, the tigress!
Think upon our father—
Give the sword scope — think what a man was he,
How fond of her! how kind to all about,
That he might gladden and teach us — how proud
Of thee, Orestes! tossing thee above
His joyous head, and calling thee his crown.
Ah! boys remember not what melts our hearts
And marks them evermore!
Bite not thy lip,
Nor tramp, as an unsteady colt, the ground,
Nor stare against the wall, but think again
How better than all fathers was our father.
Go.
ORESTES. Loose me then! for this white hand, Electra,
Hath fastened upon mine with fiercer grasp
Than I can grasp the sword.
ELECTRA. Go, sweet Orestes,
I knew not I was holding thee — Avenge him!
(Alone.) How he sprang from me!
Sure he now hath reached
The room before the bath!
The bath-door creaks!
It hath creaked thus since he — since thou, O father!
Ever since then didst loosen its strong valves,
Either with all thy dying weight, or strength
Agonized with her stabs—
What plunge was that?
Ah! me!
What groans are those?
ORESTES (returning). They sound through hell
Rejoicing the Eumenides.
She slew
Our father: she made thee the scorn of slaves:
Me (son of him who ruled this land and more)
She made an outcast—
Would I had been so
Forever! ere such vengeance—
ELECTRA. Oh that Zeus
Had let thy arm fall sooner at thy side
Without those drops! list! they are audible—
For they are many — from the sword's point falling
And down from the mid blade!
Too rash Orestes!
Couldst thou not then have spared our wretched mother?
ORESTES. The gods could not.
ELECTRA. She was not theirs, Orestes!
ORESTES. And didst not thou—
ELECTRA. 'Twas I! 'twas I who did it!
Of our unhappy house the most unhappy!
Under this roof, by every God accurst,
There is no grief, there is no guilt, but mine.
ORESTES. Electra! no!
'Tis now my time to suffer—
Mine be, with all its pangs, the righteous deed!

What a picture is that of Agamemnon and his boy,

Tossing thee above
His joyous head and calling thee his crown!

Long may Mr. Landor conceive such pictures, and write such scenes!