This is unquestionably the age of antithesis. The poets of the day have ranged themselves under two distinctly opposite banners — those of quiet repose, and passionate excitement; and, according to the fluctuations of ever-varying taste and fashion, has each been alternately magnified and extolled. A few short years ago, nothing went down with the reading public but Sir Walter Scott's battle scenes — his gathering of the clans by the fiery cross — his gorgeous cavalcades, and all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war: or Lord Byron's semi-demoniacal barbarians, contrasted with woman, sublimated to almost angelic loveliness. At this period, the public appetite was stimulated to a craving for intense emotion, not unlike that of the pampered gourmand for devilled turkey: the charities of the heart were regarded as common places; and whoever peppered the highest, was surest to please. During the prevalence of this singular perversion of taste, there was a class of writers who nobly kept aloof from the contagion, preferring temporary neglect to unenviable notoriety: and at the head of these praiseworthy devotees, was the illustrious Wordsworth.
A disciple of this great master, and one imbued with a strong conviction of the sterling truth of his poetical canons, Mr. Wilson made his debut in the literary world, whilst yet a very young man, by the publication of his Isle of Palms; a work of amazing wealth in imagery — ever flowing with all that is bright, graceful, and gorgeous in conception; but somewhat deficient in that condensation of idea and of language, which is one of the characteristics of poetry of the more exalted order. It was, however, impossible not to discover, from this first exhibition of his powers, that, whatever might be his faults; poverty of intellect, and obtuseness in the perception of the beautiful and the grand, were not of the number; and that all that was required to enable him to produce a work of more permanent interest, was the application of a bridle to his singularly wild and excursive imagination. To the current productions of the era at which it appeared, the Isle of Palms furnished a remarkable contrast. The rage was then almost exclusively for romances in rhyme; and, provided the story was sufficiently bizarre and appalling, the quality of the poetry which was its vehicle was of subordinate importance. In the Isle of Palms, Mr. Wilson has Woven, on a slender thread of narrative, four long cantos of exuberant versification; and, instead of savage anger, insatiable revenge, or unnatural hatred — "Guns, trumpets, blunderbusses, drums, and thunder;" we are presented with the calm, quiet, secluded beauty of nature: green trees and dewy flowers, bright sunshine, and cerulian skies, and sinless tears, and affectionate tenderness, and pious aspirations after the bliss of a more refined state of existence: in short, with all those brighter shades of human feeling, which adorn and dignify our nature. The machinery of this beautiful and truly original poem, is extremely simple. The story is briefly this: — Two betrothed lovers are wrecked together upon a desert, but lovely island in the Indian sea; where they are discovered seven years afterwards by the crew of an English vessel. They return to England, to the great joy of the heroine's mother; who, having given her up for dead, at length determines to take up her abode in the town from the port of which her daughter originally sailed, with the remote hope of hearing some tidings of her fate. The following lines, from the first canto of the Isle of Palms, are not surpassed in beauty by any passage with which we are acquainted, in the whole range of modern poetry:
And lo! upon the murmuring waves
A glorious Shape appealing!
A broad-wing'd Vessel, through the shower
Of glimmering lustre steering
As if the beauteous ship enjoyed
The beauty of the sea,
She lifteth up her stately head
And saileth joyfully.
A lovely path before her lies,
A lovely path behind;
She sails amid the loveliness
Like a thing with heart and mind.
Fit pilgrim through a scene so fair,
Slowly she beareth on;
A glorious phantom of the deep,
Risen up to meet the Moon.
The Moon bids her tenderest radiance fall
On her wavy streamer and snow-white wings,
And the quiet voice of the rocking sea
To cheer the gliding vision sings.
Oh! ne'er did sky and water blend
In such a holy sleep,
Or bathe in brighter quietude
A roamer of the deep.
So far the peaceful soul of Heaven
Hath settled on the sea,
It seems as if this weight of calm
Were from eternity.
O World of Waters! the stedfast earth
Ne'er lay entranced like thee!
Is she a vision wild and bright,
That sails amid the still moon-light
At the dreaming soul's command?
A vessel borne by magic gales,
All rigg'd with gossamery sails,
And bound for Fairy-land?
Ah, no! — an earthly freight she bears,
Of joys and sorrows, hopes and fears;
And lonely as she seems to be,
Thus left by herself on the moonlight sea
In loneliness that rolls,
She hath a constant company,
In sleep, or waking revelry,
Five hundred human souls!
Since first she sail'd from fair England,
Three moons her path have cheer'd;
And another lights her lovelier lamp
Since the Cape hath disappear'd.
For an Indian isle she shapes her way
With constant mind both night and day:
She seems to hold her home in view,
And sails, as if the path she knew;
So calm and stately is her motion
Across the unfathom'd trackless ocean.
In the above glorious picture, our readers will recognise the germ of the various poetical descriptions of a ship, which have appeared since its publication; especially Lord Byron's well-known and justly-admired couplet—
She walks the waters like a thing of life;
And seems to dare the elements to strife.
Nor is the next quotation less powerful of its kind, although of a different stamp:
But list! a low and moaning sound
At distance heard, like a spirit's song,
And now it reigns above, around,
As if it call'd the ship along.
The Moon is sunk; and a clouded grey
Declares that her course is run,
And like a God who brings the day,
Up mounts the glorious Sun.
Soon as his light has warm'd the seas,
From the parting cloud fresh blows the breeze;
And that is the spirit whose well-known song
Makes the vessel to sail in joy along.
No fears hath she; — her giant-form
O'er wrathful surge, through blackening storm,
Majestically calm, would go
'Mid the deep darkness white as snow!
But gently now the small waves glide
Like playful lambs o'er a mountain's side.
So stately her bearing, so proud her array,
The main she will traverse for ever and aye.
Many ports will exult at the gleam of her mast!
—Hush! hush! thou vain dreamer! this hour is her last.
Five hundred souls in one instant of dread
Are hurried o'er the deck;
And fast the miserable ship
Becomes a lifeless wreck.
Her keel hath struck on a hidden rock,
Her planks are torn asunder,
And down come her masts with a reeling shock,
And a hideous crash like thunder,
Her sails are draggled in the brine
That gladdened late the skies,
And her pendant that kiss'd the fair moonshine
Down many a fathom lies.
Her beauteous sides, whose rainbow hues
Gleam'd softly from below,
And flung a warm and sunny flush
O'er the wreaths of murmuring snow,
To the coral rocks are hurrying down
To sleep amid colours as bright as their own.
Oh! many a dream was in the ship
An hour before her death;
And sights of home with sighs disturb'd
The sleepers' long-drawn breath.
Instead of the murmur of the sea
The sailor heard the humming tree
Alive through all its leaves,
The hum of the spreading sycamore
That grows before his cottage-door,
And the swallow's song in the eaves.
His arms inclosed a blooming boy,
Who listen'd with tears of sorrow and joy
To the dangers his father had pass'd;
And his wife — by turns she wept and smiled,
As she looked on the father of her child
Return'd to her heart at last.
—He wakes at the vessel's sudden roll,
And the rush of waters is in his soul.
Astounded the reeling deck he paces,
'Mid hurrying forms and ghastly faces;—
The whole ship's crew are there.
Wailings around and overhead,
Brave spirits stupified or dead,
And madness and despair.
Another sample is all that we can afford to give of this beautiful poem but it will be found no less characteristic of its author's genius than those already furnished. It is
THE RETURN TO PORT.
The pier-head, with a restless crowd,
Seems all alive; there, voices loud
Oft raise the thund'rous cheer,
While, from on board the ship of war,
The music bands both near and far,
Are playing, faint or clear.
The bells ring quick a joyous peal,
Till the very spires appear to feel
The joy that stirs throughout their tapering height:
Ten thousand flags and pendants fly
Abroad, like meteors in the sky,
So beautiful and bright.
And, while the storm of pleasure raves
Through each tumultuous street,
Still strikes the ear one darling tune,
Sung hoarse, or warbled sweet;
Well doth it suit the First of June,
"Britannia rules the waves!"
What ship is she that rises slow
Above the horizon? — White as snow,
And cover'd as she sails
By the bright sunshine, fondly woo'd
In her calm beauty, and pursued
By all the Ocean gales?
Well doth she know this glorious morn,
And by her subject waves is borne,
As in triumphal pride:
And now the gazing crowd descry,
Distinctly floating on the sky,
Her pendants long and wide.
The outward forts she now hath pass'd;
Loftier and loftier towers her mast;
You almost hear the sound
Of the billows rushing past her sides,
As giant-like she calmly glides
Through the dwindled ships around.
Saluting thunders rend the main!
Short silence! — and they roar again,
And veil her in a cloud:
Then up leap all her fearless crew,
And cheer till shore, and city too,
With echoes answer loud.
In peace and friendship doth she come,
Rejoicing to approach her home,
After absence long and far:
Yet with like calmness would she go,
Exulting to behold the foe,
And break the line of war.
Although no one was hardy enough to deny the merit of a poem abounding with passages as exquisitely beautiful as these, yet, as was to have been expected from the vitiated taste which prevailed when the Isle of Palms was first published, Mr. Wilson shared for some years the neglect, we had almost said obscurity, of his preceptor; and although fervently admired by a select and discriminating few, was on the whole little read and still less frequently purchased. Among those who paid him the well-merited tribute of their praise, at this early stage of his career, we are happy to mention Mr. Jeffrey, (although his previous abuse — his ignorant depreciation of Wordsworth, deprives his opinion of the sincerity or consistency which can alone render an opinion valuable); and the honest avowal of James Hogg, that such an impression did the perusal of the Isle of Palms make upon him, and "so completely did it carry him off his feet, that for some days afterwards he felt himself as in a land of enchantment, and could with difficulty bring down his feelings to the business of ordinary life."
At the distance of about four years from the publication of the Isle of Palms, Mr. Wilson produced his best and most popular work, The City of the Plague, — a poem of first rate excellence, amply realizing the anticipations to which his maiden effort had given birth. To the exalted merits of this production, which is of a severer order, and for the most part free from those exuberances of youthful genius which had in some measure deformed its predecessor, gratifying testimony has been borne by several of Mr. Wilson's distinguished contemporaries; and, among others, by Lord Byron and Mr. Moore, two writers whose genius is as opposite in character to that of the object of their eulogy as can well be imagined. In the preface to his Doge of Venice, Lord Byron mentions the City of the Plague, as one of the very few evidences that dramatic power is not yet extinct among us. If that poetry deserves to rank the highest, which excites the most vivid emotions in the mind of the reader, Mr. Wilson's tragedy will certainly be found amply to deserve his Lordship's generous tribute; for we know of no work, of a purely imaginative character, which is calculated to make so deep an impression upon a person of even ordinary feeling and intelligence as this. It assumes a loftier tone of inspiration than the Isle of Palms. Indeed, the two poems will scarcely admit of a comparison in any respect. One is a tale of love, beauty and repose, — the attempered glory of a summer's eve, disturbed only by one of those transitory storms which leave the face of nature more beautiful than ever; whilst the other is a narrative of alternate pity and suffering — tears and terror — imbued throughout with an energy almost supernatural — and producing upon the mind of the reader an impression which, like the recollection of a storm at sea, is never afterwards obliterated. Although dramatic in its form, there is little that is dramatic in either its plot, or the manner in which it is developed. It consists in a great measure of a series of impassioned dialogues on natural loveliness — a vernal picture of all that is serene, gentle and fascinating in human nature, here and there chastised by those "sabler tints of woe,"
Which blended, form, with artful strife,
The strength and harmony of life.
The selection of so awful a subject as the great plague in London, as a groundwork for the delineation of the abiding strength and loveliness of our best affections, affords additional evidence of the power and versatility of Mr. Wilson's genius. Yet this he has attempted; and, notwithstanding the apparently antithetical nature of the subject, has achieved most triumphantly. The following passages from his poem, we select, not less for their intrinsic beauty than that they strike us as being peculiarly characteristic of his powers.
SIGNS OF THE PLAGUE.
Why does the finger,
Yellow 'mid the sunshine, on the Minster-clock,
Point at that hour? It is most horrible,
Speaking of midnight in the face of day.
During the very dead of night it stopp'd,
Even at the moment when a hundred hearts
Paused with it suddenly, to beat no more.
Yet, wherefore should it run its idle round?
There is no need that men should count the hours
Of time, thus standing on eternity.
It is a death-like image. How can I,
When round me silent nature speaks of death,
Withstand such monitory impulses?
When yet far off I thought upon the Plague,
Sometimes my mother's image struck my soul
In unchanged meekness and serenity,
And all my fears were gone. But these green banks,
With an unwonted flush of flowers o'ergrown,
Brown, when I left them last, with frequent feet
From morn till evening hurrying to and fro,
In mournful beauty seem encompassing
A still forsaken city of the dead.
O unrejoicing Sabbath! not of yore
Did thy sweet evenings die along the Thames
Thus silently! Now every sail is furl'd,
The oar hath dropt from out the rower's hand,
And on thou flow'st in lifeless majesty,
River of a desert lately fill'd with joy!
O'er all that mighty wilderness of stone
The air is clear and cloudless, as at sea
Above the gliding ship. All fires are dead,
And not one single wreath of smoke ascends
Above the stillness of the towers and spires.
How idly hangs that arch magnificent
Across the idle river! Not a speck
Is seen to move along it. There it hangs,
Still as a rainbow in the pathless sky.
THE PLAGUE IN THE CITY.
Know ye what ye will meet with in the city?
Together will ye walk through long, long streets,
All standing silent as a midnight church.
You will hear nothing but the brown red grass
Rustling beneath your feet; the very beating
Of your own hearts will awe you; the small voice
Of that vain bauble, idly counting time,
Will speak a solemn language in the desert.
Look up to heaven, and there the sultry clouds,
Still threatening thunder, lower with grim delight.
As if the Spirit of the Plague dwelt there,
Darkening the city with the shadows of death.
Know ye that hideous hubbub? Hark, far off
A tumult like an echo! on it comes,
Weeping and wailing, shrieks and groaning prayer;
And, louder than all, outrageous blasphemy.
The passing storm hath left the silent streets.
But are these houses near you tenantless?
Over your heads from a window, suddenly
A ghastly face is thrust, and yells of death
With voice not human. Who is he that flies,
As if a demon dogg'd him on his path?
With ragged hair, white face, and bloodshot eyes,
Raving, he rushes past you; till he falls,
As if struck by lightning, down upon the stones,
Or, in blind madness, dash'd against the wall,
Sinks backward into stillness. Stand aloof,
And let the Pest's triumphal chariot
Have open way advancing to the tomb.
See how he mocks the pomp and pageantry
Of earthly kings! a miserable cart,
Heap'd up with human bodies; dragg'd along
By pale steeds, skeleton-anatomies!
And onwards urged by a wan meagre wretch,
Doom'd never to return from the foul pit,
Whither, with oaths, he drives his load of horror.
Would you look in? Grey hairs and golden tresses,
Wan shrivell'd cheeks, that have not smiled for years,
And many a rosy visage smiling still;
Bodies in the noisome weeds of beggary wrapt,
With age decrepit, and wasted to the bone;
And youthful frames, august and beautiful,
In spite of mortal pangs — there lie they all,
Embraced in ghastliness! But look not long,
For haply 'mid the faces glimmering there,
The well-known cheek of some beloved friend
Will meet thy gaze; or some small snow-white hand,
Bright with the ring that holds her lover's hair.
How beautiful is the following out-pouring of the spirit, that clings to heaven in its desolation:
Oh! let me walk the waves of this wild world
Through faith unsinking; — stretch Thy saving hand
To a lone castaway upon the sea,
Who hopes no resting-place, except in heaven.
And oh! this holy calm, — this peace profound,—
That sky so glorious in infinitude,—
That countless host of softly-burning stars,
And all that floating universe of light,
Lift up my spirit far above the grave,
And tell me that my pray'rs are heard in heaven;
I feel the Omnipotent is merciful!
How finely do these lines contrast with the following:
O! 'tis the curse of absence, that our love
Becomes too sad — too tender — too profound
Towards all our far-off friends. Home we return
And find them dead — for whom we often wept,
Needlessly wept, when they were in their joy!
Then goes the broken-hearted mariner
Back to the sea that welters, drearily
Around the homeless earth.
We will now add a specimen or two of another kind — sketches of silence and serenity:
O look upon her face! eternity
Is shadowed there! a pure immortal calm,
Whose presence makes the tumult of this world
Pass like a fleeting breeze, and through the soul
Breathes the still ether of a loftier climate....
O! might I say
Thy beauty is immortal! but a ghost,
In all the loveliness on earth it wore,
Walks through the moonlight of the cemetery,
And — I know the shadow of the mortal creature
Now weeping at my side....
She knew not
In other days, to what a lofty pitch
Her gentle soul could soar. For I have heard
She was an only child, and in the light
Of her fond parents' love was fostered,
Like a flower that blooms best sheltered in the house,
And only plac'd beneath the open air
In hours of sunshine....
How sweetly have I felt the evening calm
Come o'er the tumult of the busy day
In a great city! When the silent stars
Stole out so gladsome through the dark blue heavens,
All undisturbed by any restless noise
Sent from the domes and spires that lay beneath,
Hush'd as the clouds of night. Ev'n now 'tis so.
Didst thou e'er see a more replendent moon?
A sky more cloudless, thicker set with stars?
The night is silent — silent was the day.
But now methinks the sky's magnificence
Darkeneth the desolation on the earth!
Ev'n such the silence of a beautiful sea
Rolling o'er a thousand wrecks....
I hope thou feel'st no cruel pain?
Thy soft, white, spotless bosom, like the plumes
Of some compassionate angel, meets my heart,
And all therein is quiet as the snow
At breathless midnight.
No noise within thy brain?
A sweet mild voice is echoing far away,
In the remotest regions of my soul.
'Tis clearer now — and now again it dies,
And leaves a silence smooth as any sea,
When all the stars of heaven are on its breast.
In the volume which contains the City of the Plague, we meet with two poems which are deserving of especial remark, as being strikingly characteristic of the genius of their author; we allude to "The Convict," a dramatic fragment, in which, from a combination of natural touches, the catastrophe is wrought to the highest possible pathos: and "The Scholar's Funeral," a sketch, justly celebrated for the lofty, reposing, serene, and beautiful train of imagery and sentiment which pervade it. The story of the former poem is that of an innocent man, who has been tried, and convicted, upon strong circumstantial evidence, of a murder of which he is wholly innocent. The first scene is laid in his cottage, where his wife and a friend are waiting, in momentary expectation of hearing the result of his trial. The alternations of hope and despair are most pathetically described. The clergyman, who has passed the preceding night in prayer with the supposed criminal, visits the wretched woman, for the purpose of preparing her mind for the message, which arrives soon afterwards, announcing her husband's condemnation. Scene the second, is the Condemned Cell, a few days previous to that appointed for the execution. The first scene of the second part of the poem is the same cell, on the morning of the execution; the clergyman praying by the doomed man, and endeavouring to inspire him with fortitude to endure the horrors that await him. The second scene changes again to the prisoner's cottage, where his wife is sitting with her friend, surrounded by her little ones. The third scene is a field, in which several labourers are reposing. The following powerful description of the appalling spectacle is put into the mouth of one of the bystanders:
Methinks I see the hill-side all alive,
With silent faces gazing stedfastly
On one poor single solitary wretch,
Who views not in the darkness of his trouble
One human face among the many thousands
All staring towards the scaffold! Some are there
Who have driven their carts with his unto the market.
Have shook hands with him meeting at the fair,
Have in his very cottage been partakers
Of the homely fare which rev'rently he blessed.
Yea! who have seen his face in holier places,
And in the same seat been at worship with him,
Within the house of God. May God forgive them!
He is not guilty.
Every thing is dark.
Last in the company of the murder'd man—
Blood on his hands — a bloody knife concealed—
The coin found on him which the widow swore to—
His fears when apprehended — and the falsehoods
Which first he utter'd — all perplex my mind!
And then they say the murder'd body bled,
Soon as he touch'd it — Let us to our work,
Poor people oft must work with heavy hearts.
—Oh! doth that sunshine smile as cheerfully
Upon Lea-side as o'er my happy fields!
[The Scene changes to a little Field commanding a view of the place of Execution. Two YOUNG MEN looking towards it.]
I dare to look no longer. — What dost thou see?
There is a stirring over all the crowd.
All heads are turn'd at once. O God of heaven!
There Francis Russo! comes upon a cart,
For which a lane is open'd suddenly!
On, on it goes — and now it has arrived
At the scaffold foot.
Say! dot thou see his face?
Paler than ashes.
1st MAN, (coming forward).
Let me have one look.
O what white cheeks! see, see — his upward eyes
Even at this distance have a ghastly glare.
I fear that he is guilty. Fear has bathed
In clammy dew his long lank raven hair,
His countenance seems convulsed — it is not paleness
That dims his cheeks — but a wild yellow hue
Like that of mortal sickness or of death.
Oh! what the soul can suffer when the Devil
Sits on it, grimly laughing o'er his prey,
Like a carrion-bird beside some dying beast,
Croaking with hunger and ferocity.
[He turns away.]
He is standing on the scaffold — he looks round—
But does not speak — some one goes up to him—
He whispers in his ear — he kisses him—
He falls on his knees — now no one on the scaffold
But he and that old wretch! a rope is hanging
Right over his head — and as my Maker live
That demon as he grasps it with his fingers
Hath laughter in his face.
How look the crowd?
I saw them not — but now ten thousand faces
Are looking towards him with wide-open eyes!
Uncover'd every head — and all is silent
And motionless, as if 'twere all a dream.
Is he still praying
I can look no more,
For death and horror round his naked neck
Are gathering! Curse those lean and shrivell'd fingers
That calmly — slowly — and without a tremble—
Are binding unto agony and shame
One of God's creatures with a human soul.
—Hark! hark! a sudden shriek — a yell — a shout!
The whole crowd tosses like a stormy sea.
But oh! behold how still and motionless
That figure on the scaffold!
What can it mean?
Perhaps with one soul all the crowd rise up
To rescue him from death.
Let us away
And know what happens. Hark! another shout
That rends the silent sky. See, hats are waved!
And every face is bright — deliverance
Is in that peal of joy — he shall not die.
He is reprieved at this very critical juncture; and the real murderer confesses his guilt, and delivers himself up to justice. We are disposed to consider this fragment the most touching and powerful of all Mr. Wilson's productions.
Among the minor poems, which in the new edition of Mr. Wilson's poetical works occupy the second volume, our prime favourites are — the Scholar's Funeral — Address to a Wild Deer — To a Sleeping Child — Troutbeck Chapel — the Hearth — Peace and Solitude, and the Childrens' Dance. The pieces which are the most intrinsically characteristic of the writer's genius are — a Lay of Fairy Land — Edith and Nora — the Desolate Village — the Ass in a Storm Shower — Picture of a Blind Man — My Cottage — and Church-yard Dreams. We are compelled to curtail the following poem, in order to adapt it to our narrow limits:
ADDRESS TO A WILD DEER.
Magnificent Creature! so stately and bright!
In the pride of thy spirit pursuing thy flight;
For what hath the child of the desert to dread,
Wafting up his own mountains that far-beaming head;
Or borne like a whirlwind down on, the vale!—
—Hail King of the wild and the beautiful! — hail!
Hail! Idol divine! — whom nature hath borne
O'er a hundred bill tops since the mists of the morn.
Whom the pilgrim lone wandering on mountain and moor,
As the vision glides by him, may blameless adore;
For the joy of the happy, the strength of the free,
Are spread in a garment of glory o'er thee.
Up! up to you cliff! like a king to his throne!
O'er the black silent forest piled lofty and lone—
A throne which the eagle is glad to resign
Unto footsteps so fleet and so fearless as thine.
There the bright heather springs up in love of thy breast—
Lo! the clouds in the depth of the sky are at rest;
And the race of the wild winds is o'er on the hill!
In the hush of the mountains, ye antlers lie still!—
Though your branches now toss in the storm of delight.
Like the arms of the pine on you shelterless height,
One moment — thou bright Apparition! — delay!
Then melt o'er the crags, like the sun from the day.
Aloft on the weather-gleam, scorning the earth,
The wild Spirit hung in majestical mirth;
In dalliance with danger, he bounded in bliss,
O'er the fathomless gloom of each moaning abyss;
O'er the grim rocks careering with prosperous motion,
Like a ship by herself in full sail o'er the ocean!
Then proudly he turn'd ere he sank to the dell,
And shook from his forehead a haughty farewell,
While his horns in a crescent of radiance shone,
Like a flag burning bright when the vessel is gone.
The ship of the desert hath pass'd on the wind,
And left the dark ocean of mountains behind!
But my spirit will travel wherever she flee,
And behold her in pomp o'er the rim of the sea—
Her voyage pursue — till her anchor be cast
In some cliff-girdled haven of beauty at last.
From his eyrie the eagle hath soar'd with a scream,
And I wake on the edge of the cliff from my dream;
—Where now is the light of thy far-beaming brow?
Fleet son of the wilderness! where art thou now?
—Again o'er yon crag thou return'st to my sight,
Like the horns of the moon from a cloud of the night!
Serene on thy travel — as soul in a dream—
Thou needest no bridge o'er the rush of the stream.
With thy presence the pine-grove is fill'd as with light,
And the caves, as thou passest, one moment are bright.
Through the arch of the rainbow that lies on the rock,
'Mid the mist stealing up from the cataract's shock,
Thou fling'st th bold beauty exulting and free,
O'er a pit of grim blackness, that roars like the sea.
His voyage is o'er! — As if struck by a spell,
He motionless stands in the hush of the dell;
There softly and slowly sinks down an his breast,
In the midst of his pastime enamoured of rest.
A stream in a clear pool that endeth its race—
A dancing ray chain to one sunshiny place—
A cloud by the winds to calm solitude driven—
A hurricane dead in the silence of heaven!
Fit couch of repose for a pilgrim like thee!
Magnificent prison enclosing the free!
With rock-wall encircled — with precipice crown'd—
Which, awoke by the sun, thou can'st clear at a bound.
'Mid the fern and the heather kind nature doth keep
One bright spot of green for her favourite's sleep;
And dose to that covert, as clear as the skies
When their blue depths are cloudless, a little lake lies,
Where the creature at rest can his image behold,
Looking up through the radiance, as bright and as bold.
Yes! fierce looks thy nature, ev'n hush'd in repose—
In the depths of thy desert regardless of foes.
Thy bold antlers call on the hunter afar,
With a haughty defiance to coma to the war.
No outrage is war to a creature like thee;
The bugle-horn fills thy wild spirit with glee,
As thou bearest thy neck on the wings of the wind,
And the laggardly gaze-hound is toiling behind.
In the beams of thy forehead, that glitter with death,
In feet that draw power from the touch of the heath,—
In the wide-raging torrent that lends thee its roar,—
In the cliff that once trod must be trodden no more,—
Thy trust — 'mid the dangers that threaten thy reign:
—But what if the stag on the mountain be slain?
On the brink of the rock — lo! he standeth at bay,
Like a victor that falls at the close of the day—
While the bunter and hound in their terror retreat
From the death that is spurn'd from his furious feet:—
And his last cry of anger comes back from the skies,
As Nature's fierce son in the wilderness dies.
We quote also a part of the Address to a Sleeping Child:
Art thou a thing of mortal birth,
Whose happy home is on our earth?
Does human blood with life embue
Those wandering veins of heavenly blue,
That stray along thy forehead fair,
Lost 'mid a gleam of golden hair?
Oh! can that light and airy breath
Steal from a being doom'd to death;
Those features to the grave he sent
In sleep thus mutely eloquent;
Or, art thou, what thy form would seem,
The phantom of a blessed dream?
A human shape I feel thou art,
I feel it, at my beating heart,
Those tremors both of soul and sense
Awoke by infant innocence!
Though dear the forms by fancy wove,
We love them with a transient love;
Thoughts from the living world intrude
Even on her deepest solitude:
But, lovely child! thy magic stole
At once into my inmost soul,
With feelings as thy beauty fair,
And left no other vision there.
Oh that my spirit's eye could see
Whence burst those gleams of ecstasy
That light of dreaming soul appears
To play from thoughts above thy years.
Thou smil'st as if thy soul were soaring
To heaven, and heaven's God adoring!
And who can tell what visions high
May bless an infant's sleeping eye?
What brighter throne can brightness find
To reign on than an infant's mind,
Ere sin destroy, or error dim,
The glory of the Seraphim?
In these, and other poems which our limits will not admit of our extracting, it would be difficult to decide which we are most called upon to admire — the delicacy of sentiment, or the splendour of imagination, which pervade them. The faults of the less successful pieces in these volumes are, as we have already hinted, faults of exuberance and not of poverty; and so keen an eye does Mr. Wilson direct to the external world, that his imagination seems as it were oppressed with the crowd of imagery that is for ever rushing upon it; so that in fact, the distinctness of his pictures is sometimes marred by the profusion of metaphors by which be attempts to illustrate them. With all these stirring and active propensities, however, Mr. Wilson seems to revel much more in the calm and secluded, than in the noisier and more bustling elements of our nature. He prefers pity and love, to war, remorse and discord; the beauty of luxuriant summer, to winter's naked and howling desolation; and what is genial, gentle and kind, to that which is stern, stormy and repugnant. With all this, it can scarcely be affirmed that Mr. Wilson's pictures of human life are perfectly correct. He gives us human life to be sure — all of human life; — but he adds something of his own imagining, which is far better. In his pages, earth is the garden of Eden — man but a grade lower than the angels — and human language poetry, His finer delineations of character have an unapproachable excellence; they are invested with all that is bright or beautiful in human nature: and his pictures of moral degradation, possess always many redeeming touches of pity and pathos, which give their dramatis personae a claim upon our esteem, instead of provoking our hatred; and excite our commiseration, instead of calling for our reprehension or disgust. The truth is, that Mr. Wilson's genius is of too fine and ethereal a character for the grosser realities of earth; and he cannot submit to the delineation of the deformed and untoward, without brightening them over with the colour of his own rich fancy. Hence he has taken peculiar delight in revelling over the high and superstitious feelings which once held such paramount sway over the minds of his countrymen of the olden time — more especially, as was to have been expected, with whatever concerns that most beautiful and interesting part of the Gothic mythology, the Fairies. It is, perhaps, from what Mr. Wilson has written concerning these tiny phantoms of northern superstition, that his greatest claims to originality, as a poet, will hereafter rest.
But we must now bring this notice to a conclusion. As a moral poet, Mr. Wilson must ever rank very high. In his voluminous poetical works, there is not a single passage that conveys a sentiment even of doubtful application; at least, we have never been so unfortunate as to meet with one, and our perusals have neither been few nor inattentive. Following the Greek dramatists and Wordsworth, between whom a more striking affinity exists than has generally been suspected, Mr. Wilson has chosen simple, unadorned nature as his model, in preference to the artificial states of life; and, like his great prototypes, has amply succeeded in proving that the elements of poetry are spread every where around us, alike in the varied beauty of external nature, and the simplest workings of human passion.