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Harvard Classics Volume 28

At once the true poetical effect


Though human, thou didst not deceive me; Though woman, thou didst not forsake; Though loved, thou forborest to grieve me; Though slandered, thou never couldst shake; Though trusted, thou didst not disclaim me; Though parted, it was not to fly; Though watchful, 'twas not to defame me; Nor mute, that the world might belie.

Yet I blame not the world, nor despise it, Nor the war of the many with one-- If my soul was not fitted to prize it, 'Twas folly not sooner to shun; And if dearly that error hath cost me, And more than I once could foresee, I have found that, whatever it lost me, It could not deprive me of _thee_.

From the wreck of the past, which hath perished, Thus much I at least may recall: It hath taught me that what I most cherished Deserved to be dearest of all. In the desert a fountain is springing, In the wide waste there still is a tree, And a bird in the solitude singing, Which speaks to my spirit of _thee_.

Although the rhythm here is one of the most difficult, the versification could scarcely be improved. No nobler theme ever engaged the pen of poet. It is the soul-elevating idea, that no man can consider himself entitled to complain of Fate while, in his adversity, he still retains the unwavering love of woman.

From Alfred Tennyson--although in perfect

sincerity I regard him as the noblest poet that ever lived--I have left myself time to cite only a very brief specimen. I call him, and _think_ him, the noblest of poets, _not_ because the impressions he produces are, at _all_ times, the most profound, _not_ because the poetical excitement which he induces is, at _all_ times, the most intense, but because it _is_, at all times, the most ethereal--in other words, the most elevating and the most pure. No poet is so little of the earth, earthy. What I am about to read is from his last long poem, "The Princess":--

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, Tears from the depth of some divine despair Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, In looking on the happy autumn fields, And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail That brings our friends up from the underworld; Sad as the last which reddens over one That sinks with all we love below the verge; So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds To dying ears, when unto dying eyes The casement slowly grows a glimmering square; So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death, And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned On lips that are for others; deep as love, Deep as first love, and wild with all regret; O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

Thus, although in a very cursory and imperfect manner, I have endeavored to convey to you my conception of the Poetic Principle. It has been my purpose to suggest that, while this Principle itself is, strictly and simply, the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty, the manifestation of the Principle is always found in _an elevating excitement of the Soul_, quite independent of that passion which is the intoxication of the Heart, or of that Truth which is the satisfaction of the Reason. For, in regard to Passion, alas! its tendency is to degrade rather than elevate the Soul. Love, on the contrary--Love, the true, the divine Eros, the Uranian as distinguished from the Dionaean Venus--is unquestionably the purest and truest of all poetical themes. And in regard to Truth--if, to be sure, through the attainment of a truth we are led to perceive a harmony where none was apparent before, we experience, at once the true poetical effect; but this effect is referable to the harmony alone, and not in the least degree to the truth which merely served to render the harmony manifest.


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