Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

four-foot rhymeless trochaics.' To write a poem in the metre of the Kalevala still remains, with all its specious fluency, an impossible performance for any one not a poet. Thus Longfellow's success had a negative and restraining effect. He opened the field to whoever cared to experiment with the hexameter, but closed it, for the present at least, to any rhythmical inventions calculated however remotely to suggest the metre of his Indian edda.

IV

OUTRE-MER, HYPERION, KAVANAGH

The most popular of American poets first challenged public attention as a writer of prose. OutreMer is a group of pieces after the manner of Irving. Hyperion is a romance in the old style, and shows the influence of Jean Paul Richter. Kavanagh, published ten years after Hyperion, is a novel.

Neither of the first two books is marked by a buoyant Americanism. Outre-Mer does not, for example, suggest A Tramp Abroad, and certainly Paul Flemming is no kinsman of 'Harris. In other words, Europe was as yet too remote to be made the subject of easy jest. Men did not run over 'to the Continent. The trip cost them dear · Holmes : Pages from an Old Volume of Life.

[ocr errors]

in time and money, and was not without the element of anticipated danger. Travelling America was unsophisticated and viewed the Old World with childlike curiosity. Foreign lands were transfigured in the romantic haze through which they

were seen.

The chapters of Outre-Mer were written by a man too intoxicated with the charm of European life to be annoyed by the petty irritations that worry hardened tourists. Rouen, Paris, Auteuil, Madrid, El Pardillo, Rome in midsummer, afford the Pilgrim only delight. As in all books of the kind there are interpolated stories, and in this book interpolated literary essays. Every page betrays the student and the lover of literature, who quotes Jeremy Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne at Père la Chaise, James Howell at Venice, and Shakespeare everywhere.

Hyperion is steeped in sentiment - almost in sentimentality. Such a book could only have been written when the heart was young. It is a mistake, however, to read the volume as an autobiography; the author objected to its being so read. More important than the love story are the romantic descriptions of the Rhine and the Swiss Alps and the golden atmosphere enveloping it all. Both these books have a common object, namely, to interpret the Old World to the New.

When Outre-Mer was published an admirer said that the author of The Sketch Book must look

[ocr errors]

to his laurels. The praise implied was extravagant, but not groundless. Longfellow's prose has a measure of the sweetness and urbanity which we associate with Irving. Both writers are classic in their serenity, and if highly artificial at times never absurdly stilted. They often appear in old-fashioned dress, but they wear the costume easily and it becomes them. The modern reader, with a taste dulled by high seasoning, marvels how the grandparents could find pleasure in Hyperion. It would be to the modern reader's advantage to forswear sack for a while and get himself into a condition to enjoy what so greatly delighted the grandparents.

Besides a group of literary essays (published in his collected works under the title of Drift'wood') Longfellow wrote a novel of New England life, Kavanagh, which suffered by coming too soon after Evangeline. It seems colorless when placed beside the romantic tale of Acadie. Yet one can well afford to take time to learn of Mr. Pendexter’s griefs, and incidentally to become acquainted with Billy Wilmerdings, who was turned out of school for playing truant, and promised his

mother, if she would not whip him, he would experience religion.' Hawthorne was enthusiastic over Kavanagh; he, however, disclosed the secret of its unpopularity when he said to Longfellow: 'Nobody but yourself would dare to write so quiet a book.'

V

VOICES OF THE NIGHT, BALLADS, SPAN

ISH STUDENT, BELFRY OF BRUGES, THE SEASIDE AND THE FIRESIDE

LONGFellow served the cause of his art in two ways: first, he was an original poet, having a genius which, if not profound, or brilliant, or massive, or bewilderingly fresh and new, was eminently poetical and eminently attractive; second, he was an enthusiastic interpreter of the poetry of other lands through the medium of trustworthy and graceful translations.

In Voices of the Night, his earliest volume of verse, the translations, from Manrique, Lope de Vega, Dante, Charles d'Orléans, Klopstock, and Uhland, outnumber the original pieces almost two to one. Their characteristic is fidelity in spirit and letter. They illustrate the genius of a poet who found pleasure in giving wider audience to the work of men he loved, and who did his utmost to preserve the singular qualities of these

men.

Longfellow's second volume, Ballads and Other Poems, contains only four translations, but one of them is Tegnér's Children of the Lord's Supper, in three hundred and fifty hexameter verses. The Belfry of Bruges contains a handful of translations from the German, including a lyric of Heine's done in a way to cause regret that Longfellow did not put more of the Buch der Lieder into English. In The Seaside and the Fireside is given entire 'The Blind Girl of Castèl Cuillè' by the barberpoet Jasmin.

The translations bulk so large and are so plainly a labor of love that it would seem as if Longfellow regarded such work an important part of his poetic mission. At the present time there is no need to urge the translator to 'aggrandize his office.' He does so cheerfully. Sometimes it is done for him. Are we not told that Fitzgerald was a greater poet than Omar Khayyám? In 1840 the office had not grown so great.

This interpretative work by no means ended when Longfellow's fame as a creative poet was at its height and there was every incentive to build for himself. When compiling (with Felton's aid) the Poets and Poetry of Europe he translated many pieces for the volume. He gave years to reproducing in English the majesty of Dante's verse, counting himself fortunate if his transcript, made in all reverence and love, approached its great original. This disinterestedness in the exercise of his art is so greatly to his honor that praise becomes impertinent. Catholic in his attitude toward workers in the field of

of poesy, Longfellow recognized the truth of the line Many the songs, but song is one.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »