1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cullen Bryant

John Neal, in "American Writers" Blackwood's Magazine 16 (September 1824) 310-11.



This gentleman's poetry has found its way, piece-meal, into England, and having met with a little of our newspaper praise, which has been repeated with great emphasis in America, is now set up among his associates for a poet of extraordinary promise, on the ground of having produced, within the course of several years, about fifty duodecimo pages of poetry, such as we shall give a specimen of. Mr. B. is not, and never will be, a great poet. He wants fire — he wants the very rashness of a poet — the prodigality and fervour of those, who are overflowing with inspiration. Mr. B., in fact, is a sensible young man, of thrifty disposition, who knows how to manage a few plain ideas in a very handsome way. It is a bad thing for a poet, or for one whom his friends believe is a poet, ever to spend a long time about the manufacture of musical prose, in imitation of anybody, — as Mr. Bryant and Mr. Percival both do of Milman, who has quite set the fashion in America for blank verse. Some lines (about fifteen or twenty) to a "WATER-FOWL," which are very beautiful, to be sure, but with no more poetry in them than there is in the Sermon on the Mount, are supposed, by his countrymen, "to be well known in Europe." The following is taken from his poem, "THE AGES."

Has Nature, in her calm majestic march,
Falter'd with age at last? does the bright sun
Grow dim in heaven? or, in their far blue arch,
Sparkle the crowd of stars, when day is done,
Less brightly? when the dew-lipp'd spring comes on,
Breathes she with airs less soft, or scents the sky
With flowers less fair than when her reign begun?
Does prodigal autumn, to our age, deny
The plenty that once swell'd beneath his sober eye?