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National and Poetical feeling of the Author.
it will enhance its interest to those who are familiar with Highland scenery and with the old Highland life, can scarcely be expected to awaken a corresponding enthusiasm in the hearts of more distant readers. Mr. Shairp appears to be a man not only of more fervent patriotism than the majority even of his countrymen; but he seems to attach a peculiar value to every memory and association, connected with the ancient traditions of Scotland,-even to the Gaelic names of places, and to all the turns of expression in our ancient ballads. We are sometimes inclined to think that his hearty feeling carries him too far in this direction ; but it is pleasant to meet with only the more poetical and more generous side of our national enthusiasm in this volume. He is never tempted into any ebullition of that vain boasting and silly impertinence which has more than once, in recent times, made sensible Englishmen laugh at us, and sensible Scotchmen feel ashamed. His national and local enthusiasm acts in a much worthier way. It inspires him to throw his whole soul into his subject, to vivify it with all the strength of his natural feeling, and to adorn it by the labour of his intellect. In this devotion to his task, he fulfils the first and most indispensable condition by which
“ The world is wrought
To sympathy with things it heeded not." The specially poetical gift, which we seem to recognise in this volume in a greater degree than in most of our recent poetry, is the power of feeling and drawing out the peculiar
genius” of different kinds of scenery. This power of conveying the sentiment as well as the outward features of particular aspects of nature, is exhibited in many of the smaller poems, --for instance, “ The Moor of Rannoch," “ The Last of the Forest,” “The Bush aboon Traquair,”—as well as in “Kilmahoe.” What this sentiment is, what its source and what its meaning, how far it is the result of old associations, how far it arises spontaneously out of the mysterious sympathy which the spirit of man has with the spirit of Nature, are questions constantly suggesting themselves, and very difficult to answer. Few people, however, who are capable of enjoying something of the charm both of nature and of poetry, but are sensible that certain places affect them in a way peculiar to themselves, not by their mere beauty or grandeur, but by a power which comes more home to human sympathies; and this way of looking at nature they find in some poets--in Wordsworth, for instance, and in Scott-much more than in others. Mr. Shairp appears to us to possess this kind of poetical sensibility in a very high degree ; and in him it seems to result from the union of his love of nature with his love of his own country. With every place that interests him he connects some associations, either in the past or the present, which deeply move his personal affections and sympathies. He imparts to the strange and rugged names of Highland mountains or passes, or to the more familiar names of Border hills and rivers, the hearty feelings of pride and admiration with which he regards the loyalty and gallantry of the Highland clans, or the piety and sterling worth of the old Scottish peasantry. Thus, in the poem of Kilmahoe we find not only the grandeur and beauty of nature, as displayed in our Western Highland scenery, presented to us as they are in Mr. Clough's Bothie, but we seem to feel also the personal ties by which these features of nature have bound themselves to the many generations of men who have lived within their range.
The poem has evidently been carefully planned and executed. It seems to be the result of permanent feelings and convictions, and much thought and pains appear to have been bestowed on its style and rhythm. It is written in a great variety of metres, which have been selected—in general very happily-in harmony with the feeling, whether grave or gay, which they are intended to convey. In this respect, though in no other, the poem has an outward resemblance to Maud; but notwithstanding the great variety of metres which the author handles, there are very few of them which recall the tones of any of our recent poetry. The rhythm is, on the whole, good and true: if it occasionally sounds abrupt or irregular, this obviously arises from no failure in musical ear, but from the wish to break the monotonous smoothness of a long poem composed in rhyme. The style is also very pure and good : plain and homely, where a plain and homely treatment is appropriate ; grave and dignified where it appeals to our more serious feelings. Though its notes are in many places cheerful and joyous, there is a quiet and sober undertone heard throughout. One fault we find occasionally in the style, the result of what seems to us a caprice in taste, not certainly inadequate power of expression. It arises from the author's love of everything Scotch, and especially of Scotch ballads. Thus it happens not unfrequently that the effect of long passages written in very noble English is suddenly marred by the introduction of some, perhaps not ignoble, but certainly incongruous, Scotch words. The English style in this volume is very pure and excellent; so too is the Scotch ; in fact we know of no recent poetry in which the old dialect of our best songs and ballads is used so happily and with such absolute freedom from mawkishness or vulgarity; but even Burns himself could not make a happy combination out of the high-strained diction of English poetry, and the simple pathos of his native dialect. In the Subject and Purpose of the Poem.
present day, when every educated person in Scotland both writes and speaks English, such a combination appears still more incongruous. We see no reason why the old language of Scotch poetry may not still continue to be written, as it has often been, by our poets. Mr. Shairp, however, not only claims to spread his Scotch words over the fields hitherto appropriated to them, but to allow the favourites of his flock to wander at large over fresh fields and pastures new, into which they have never sought admittance before his time.
The poem is divided into sixteen parts. The earlier cantos describe the childhood and youth of two sisters, the younger members of a family living in a simple, almost patriarchal style, on a small Highland estate. These cantos bring before us their earliest recollection and impressions of this home, and of the old laird, their father, who died in their childhood; the daily tasks and life of the household ; the occasional adventures, not without perilous incident, which left their vivid print in the memories of the children; their enjoyment in wandering over the shores and hills on beautiful spring and autumn days, when they mingled in happy and kindly intercourse with the country people, and listened to the wild traditions of older times, and lastly, as the crowning influence, subduing and harmonizing all the rest, the religious observances under which their youth was trained. The later poems trace the presence of all these impressions and influences on the life and character of one of these sisters, who marries and leaves her home, but retains through life the love of nature and romance, the kind and affectionate heart, the simple faith, the unworldliness, and the sense of duty, of which the germs were fostered by the happy and pious influences of home. The main idea which the poem seems to embody is expressed in these lines :
“Ah! simple and long
Are the faiths that they keep,
Strike more clingingly deep,
By calm mountains enfurled,
Of a feverish world." The later events in this life are rather touched upon or alluded to than described, but the whole result is summed up in the concluding stanzas, called “Ingathering," from which we extract the following fine passage, describing the last reunion of the two sisters, whose bright and happy childhood forms the subject of the earlier poems :
She, too, the earliest, as the latest friend,
The evening of her days.
Above their darkened brows.
Through every pulse and limb;
Things beyond time and change,
To every soul she met.
By any earthly sun.
Whereto they soon must go.
From the deep window nook,
And up the household field
A far and fond regard.
And old days of Kintyre.
In summer from the odorous garden walks,
Blended with hum of bees.
Of love long gone from men,
When limb and heart were young,
Till the new heavens have birth.
That dread hour did not fail.
Her spiritual kin;
In the garner-house of God."
purpose of this poem. It presents to us many pictures and incidents of a kind of life, not in itself very eventful or remarkable, yet of considerable poetical interest from its simple reality and close relation to nature; and it gives unity to these various representations by showing how they all aided in the formation of a character, very beautiful both in its human and spiritual aspects. Much of the charm and worth of the poem consists in its happy union of religious with poetical feeling. The spirit in which it is written is in some places grave and solemn; in others bright and cheerful; in others romantic and picturesque; but mingling with its gravest tones we recognise a fresh and genial enjoyment of nature ; while even in the author's poetic sympathy with the wild, half-savage men of “Old Kintyre,” we never miss the presence of a strong vein of religious meditation.