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ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE.
The whole range of English lyrical poetry contains nothing finer than this, we believe nothing so fine. JOHN KEATS, to whom the lovers of poetry are indebted for it, was one of the contemporaries of Lord Byron. He possessed a genius of the very highest order, and before he was twenty-one he published poems that have already taken their station among our national literature. A bitter attack in the Quarlerly Review is said to have so grieved him as to hasten the approach of an hereditary disease, and at the early age of twenty-four death deprived the world of one of its master spirits. Had he lived, it is probable that he would have produced works second to none in our language. The following ode was his last composition, written upon his death-bed. To feel its full beauty, the reader must have in his mind's eye the entire scene. An Italian evening—the night wind coming through the window-sill, fanning the brow of the dying poet, the young moon setting over the sea, the odour of night flowers stealing into the feverish chamber, the rich voice of the nightingale flooding the else silent world. On the bed of death lies the poet, his frame wasted, his cheeks hectic, bis eyes lighted up with all the fire of his undying soul. In such a position he breathes the following "most musical, most melancholy address to the merry songster in the garden below. It opens with a painful description of his own sad state.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
In some melodious plot
Here is a rich array of ideas clothed in the choicest words. But mark the wonderful voluptuousness of the next verse. Was ever a goblet of wine so deliciously described as this with which the poet longs to slake his fever and die in the luxury of the draught?
Oh! for a draught of vintage that hath been
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim
And purple-stained mouth!
And leaden-eyed despairs ;
But here there is no light,
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways. How exquisitely, in the next verse, he imagines the beauties of flower and field at that delightful season which he, poor dying mortal, shut up in his dark sick chamber, cannot see and may only dream of. What a multitude of pleasant country thoughts are condensed in this single verse.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild:
And Mid-May's eldest child,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves. On such a night, he thinks, how sweet to die—to end this troublous wayward life and burst into a higher and happier being. He who in sad youthful fancies had often wished to die, when death seemed something impossible, now when it is in sight remembers this. Never was a calm death described with such delicacy of touch as in the lines in italics.
Darkling I listen; and,- for many a time
In such an ecstasy!
To thy high requiem become a sod. And that remembrance leads him to compare his lot with the nightingale's. That self-same tune had been heard for ages past, and would be heard for centuries to come, while his song was poured forth in a rich strain for three or four short years, to be stified in death, and its like never more to be heard.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird !
The same that oft-times hath
In the next valley glades.
Fled is that music :-do I wake or sleep? Poor Keats! the world in thee lost a treasure. Thy foes little knew what a rare flower they were trampling to death.
It has been objected to Moore that he scatters similes too profusely; that he surfeits his readers with sweets; that his verses are gems of fancy, but wanting in imagination. Well, if they be but fancy, the play of it is very beautiful play; and if not poetry, it is so like it that the world will probably continue to accept and value it as poetry, spite of the critics. We certainly look upon the following as genuine poetry. It is from Lalla Rookh.
THERE's a beauty for ever unchangingly bright,
Į This beautiful ballad by COLERIDGE is probably familiar 10 every
reader; but familiarity will not, in this instance, perform its prover
bial function and breed contempt. The more it is read the more it ! will be loved for its simplicity, its feeling, its imagery, its completeness
as a poem. There is not a more perfect composition in our language, and it will live as long as the language in which it is breathed.
All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
And feed his sacred flame.
Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o'er again that happy hour,
Beside the ruin'd tower.
The moonshine, stealing o'er the scene,
Had blended with the lights of eve;
My own dear Genevieve!
She leant against the armed man,
The statue of the armed knight;
Amid the lingering light.
My hope ! my joy ! my Genevieve!
The songs that make her grieve.
I sang an old and moving story-
That ruin wild and hoary.
She listen'd with a flitting blush,
With downcast eyes, and modest grace ;
But gaze upon her face.