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spun prose of Henry Wansey's Excursion to the United States.
Turning to the volume of Orations and Addresses, the reader finds himself in another world. Bryant's memorial orations are among the best of their kind, stately, uplifting, and at times even majestic. They belong to a type of composition which lies midway between oratory and literature and unites certain characteristics of each. Written primarily to be heard, and adapted to public utterance, they are also meant to be read. They must stand the test of the ear and then that of the eye. The listener must find his account in them as they come from the lips of the orator, and he who afterward turns at leisure the
pages of the printed report must be satisfied. Bryant's speeches are markedly 'literary;' and though oratorical they are wholly free from bombast. Poet though he was, he built no cloudcapped towers of rhetoric.
Coming now to his verse, we find that his poetic flights, though lofty, were neither frequent nor long continued. Apparently he was incapable of writing much or often. This seems true even after allowance is made for his busy and exacting life as a journalist. For years together he composed but a few lines in each year.
His theory fitted his own limitations. Bryant maintained that there is no such thing as a long poem, that what are commonly called long poems are in reality a succession of short poems united
by poetical links. The paradox grows out of the vagueness attaching to the words 'length' and ' poem.’ Exactly what a poem is, we shall never know. That is a shadowy line which divides poetry from verse. And there is no term so unmeaning as length. When does a poem begin to be long is it when the poet has achieved a hundred verses or a thousand, when he has written six cantos or twelve ?
To say, as Bryant is reported to have said, that 'a long poem is no more conceivable than a long “ecstasy,' is to make all poetry dependent on an ecstatic condition. And it reduces all poetic temperaments to the same level. Why may not poetry be an outcome of the true enthusiasm that burns
Bryant showed skill in handling a variety of metrical forms; it is unsafe to say that he excelled only in blank verse. With declared partisanship for the short poem, he nevertheless did not cultivate the sonnet. Up to the time he was fifty-eight years of age he had written but twelve, and for some of these he apologized, saying, “they are rather poems 'in fourteen lines than sonnets.'
Comparing the length of his life with the slenderness of his poetical product, we are tempted to bring against this eminent man the charge of wilful unproductiveness. This reluctance, or inertia, or whatever it may be called, has helped to give the impression of a lack of spontaneity. We are aware of the effort through the very exactness with which the thing has been done. Bryant resembled certain pianists who plead as excuse for not playing, a lack of recent practice. When after repeated urgings one of the reluctant brotherhood
consents to favor us,' he plays with precision enough but rarely with abandon. The conscious and over-solicitous artist shows in every note.
If much writing has its drawbacks, it also has its value. And the poet who sings frequently cannot offer as a reason for not performing, the excuse that his lyre has not been out of the case for weeks, and that in all probability a string is broken.
THE fine stanzas entitled "The Poet' contain Bryant's theory of his art. The framing of a deathless poem is not the pastime of a drowsy summer's day.
No smooth array of phrase,
Artfully sought and ordered though it be,
Upon his page with languid industry,
The secret wouldst thou know
To touch the heart or fire the blood at will ?
Seize the great thought, ere yet its power be past,
Yet let no empty gust
Of passion find an utterance in thy lay,
Along the howling street and dies away;
Like currents journeying through the windless deep. This is flat contradiction of the idea that entirely self-conscious and self-controlled art can avail to move the reader. Bryant pleads for deepest feeling in exercise of the poetic function; it is more than important, it is indispensable. Of that striking poem 'The Tides,' he said it was writ'ten with a certain awe upon me which made me 'hope that there might be something in it. The poem proved to be one of Bryant's noblest conceptions. Yet a lady of judgment' told one of Bryant's friends, who of course told him, that she did not think there was much in it.
Nature appeals to Bryant in her broad and massive aspects. “The Prairies' is an illustration. Gazing on the encircling vastness' for the first time, the heart swells and the eye dilates in an effort to comprehend it:
Lo! they stretch,
And motionless forever. As the poet looks abroad over the vast and glowing fields, there sweeps by him a vision of the
races that have peopled these solitudes and perished to make room for races to come. It is magnificent even if it is not scientific. In the sense it gives of the spaciousness of the prairies with the myriad sounds of life projected on the mental silence, it is a true American
poem. ‘A Hymn of the Sea' is another illustration of that largeness of view characteristic of Bryant. Each thought is lofty and far-reaching. The cloud that rises from the realm of rain' shadows whole countries, the tornado wrecks a fleet, whirling the vast hulks 'like chaff upon the waves : '
These restless surges eat away the shores
He conveys the idea not only of spaciousness but of endless duration in the lines describing the coral worm laying his 'mighty reefs,'toiling from age to age' until
His bulwarks overtop the brine, and check
To break upon Japan. Certain lines in ‘A Forest Hymn' are also remarkable for the sense they give of vast reaches of time, stretching not forward but backward into eternity :
These lofty trees