« AnteriorContinuar »
Soudain, au fond de bois, sonores basiliques,
We have not quoted these verses as the best of our author's specimens, for such they are not; we design them rather as offering as good an instance as any, showing his vein and the sort of material in which he works. To nature, in her forest and simpler aspects, and through nature up to nature's God, the eye of our Louisiana poet ranges. And there is a propriety in this, apart from the religious temper and profession of the author. It is but an additional proof of the sincerity of a song,—which is not the least merit in poetry—that it illustrates the customary objects in the walks of the minstrel. Among great woods and deep thickets, his eye opened upon the light. His earliest prospects were over vast tracts of the forest wilderness; over great heights which seemed designed to conduct to heaven; and in the presence of vast falling waters, which, like the ocean prospect, seem meant to overwhelm the soul with awe and teach reverence to the spirit of the always too presumptuous mortal. It is in subjects such as these,—in the red inhabitants of these wastes of empire—and in the early borderers who grappled with them in the mortal embrace of hate—that our author naturally feels an interest which prompts him to desire to score the record down in song. It is with such a feeling, which we may call the'patriotic instinct of every honestly born muse, that places become famous ; haunted of gods and fairy forms, and spelled by words of enchantment, which linger through a thousand generations, with a charm that seems rather to grow than to diminish with the lapse of years. We feel that M. Itouquette talks nature, when he tells us of the^manor in which he was born and nurtured. The woods are no wild to him; they are full of companions. The cataract is no mere torrent. It is a living and a glorious voice. We do not doubt the real interest which he take* and feels in the inferior notes of birds, and even in the insignificant chirpings of the insect, as it strikes the sense when the forest is sunk to silence. These, too, are voices to our poet, that speak as teachers as well as companions; and that he has been well accustomed to their language from his infancy, ought to be a sufficient reason for the possession of the capacity which he asserts, to interpret its meaning for the less fortunate. But it would be doing an injustice to such of our readers as have not yet conquered the difficulties of French verse, not to endeavour to interpret, also, those portions which wc borrow from M. Rouquette. We offer a rough translation, in English blank verse, of the passage already given. "Kentucky," it must be remembered, signifies " the Bloody Land." It was one of the great hunting, and, accordingly, battle ranges of the red men.
"Here, with its Indian tombs, the Bloody Land
Spreads out:—majestic forests, secular oaks,
Woods stretching into woods ; a witching realm,
Yet haunted with dread shadows;—a vast grave,
Where, laid together in the sleep of death,
Rest myriads of the red men and the pale.
Here, the stern forest genius, veteran Boon,
Still harbours: still he hearkens, as of yore,
To never ceasing harmonies, that blend,
At night, the murmurs of a thousand sounds,
That rise and swell capricious, change yet rise,
Borne from far wastes immense, whose mingling strains—
The forest organ's tones, the sylvan choir—
Thy breath alone, O, God! can'st animate,
Making it fruitful in the matchless space!
Thy mighty fingers pressing on its keys,
How suddenly the billowy tones roll up
From the great temples of the solemn depths,
Resounding through the immensity of wood
To the grand gushing harmonies, that speak,
For thee, alone, O, Father! As we hear
The unanimous concert of this mighty chaunt,
We bow before thee; eyes uplift to Heaven,
We pray thee, and believe. A Christian sense
Informs us, though untaught in Christian books;
Awed into worship, as we learn to know
That thou, 0, God! art in the solitude!"
Such is the vein of our author in his forest musings. The strain is an inartificial one, without complexity, and pursues only a familiar mode of poetic meditation. The aspects and varieties of nature conduct to thoughts of the. Creator, and prayer and inspiration follow, in degree wilh the emotion of reverence which the scene inspires. Let us now look to portions of our author's book where he discourses on a theme which he finds in Europe, hut which may be found in all regions. He does not so much describe, it will he seen; he depicts the emotions of one who sees, and this is the. first process by which didactic is lifted into an approach to dramatic writing. Our author is wholly didactic and contemplative. The passage which follows is meant to unfold the agonies of one who dies a stranger in a strange land. The exile is alone, and the last mortal enemy of man has him already in deadly embrace. A desolate chamber finds the victim expiring, with no other companion than the one foe with whom he can no longer contend. He cries aloud, and the cry is one to be felt, spoken in any language, and by almost any poet, however humble:
"Mourir Bans un parent pour sontenir ma tCtc I
We paraphrase these lines rather than translate them, and have selected them to exhibit some of the deficiencies as well as characteristics of the author. In our paraphrase, it will be seen that we. have made free to introduce a line, or part of a line, i': two or three instances, in order to convey more fully the author's purpose. "Je me meurs a Paris" would fail of its proper force, and might be regarded, by the too hasty reader, as a mere feebleness or crudity, unless taught to connect the idea of the gay, great, populous city in contrast with the forgotten wretch, deserted of all the world, struggling in the desolate chamber with the mortal terror, in the last, most awful conflict. We see what the writer designs, but the victim would have said more—would have spoken in bitterness of those splendours, that gaiety, that vast world by which he was surrounded and forgotten; and the reader requires that more should have been said. But we leave our paraphrase—begging that it be recognized only as such—to answer for itself. Our author will pardon us the presumption of this proceeding, particularly as we confess to himself as to the public, that we are not among the more fortunate race whom Phoebus has "blasted with poetic fire." Our corrections are those of the critic, not the poet—
"Dying! no mother to support my head!
Dying! in exile in a foreign land!
The heart sealed up! O! God be merciful!
Spare me this horrible fate! And yet I feel
Death's icy hand already on my heart.
Oh! mother, like a storm-uprooted tree.
I wither in a soil that gives, in place
Of nurture, but a grave—and far from thee!
Oh! misery! thus to die—to die in Paris,
In this great populous city to perish,
Alone, and in no desert, yet deserted!
Oh! mother, mother, in thy silent bosom
Thy heart no longer beats for him who, dying,
Feels his own beat for thee to the last moment,
And only stops in blessing! Yes, I perish,
But not without a hope, that cheers the darkness,
And teaches, that the mighty God, whose hand
Hath cast man in a mould from his own image,
Will not destroy him, like the toy of childhood,
Cutting him off forever! In the grave
Is the soul's cradle! There the man re-links
His future with the being in his past;
No more an exile! Wherefore dread the grave,
Which is the place of rest between two lives 1"
It is. perhaps, natural enough that we should prefer our author's American to his European subjects—natural, too, that he should write better on the former than the latter themes. The human characteristics of his muse are such as belong rather to the meditative than the passionate nature; and it is more grateful to him to extract a fanciful moral from his forest walks, than to delineate the attractions or the features of conventional life. Wc are pleased to think that he found pleasure in getting back from Paris to the swamp forests of Louisiana. One loves to roam, but he loves even more to return home after roaming. The roving passion, by the way, though seemingly at variance with a contemplative mood and meditative mind, is yet perfectly consistent with it, when all the facts and relations of the subject are considered. The impressions which one receives from his wanderings, become capital stock and aliment, when he broods at home. The present book of nature serves as a good commentary upon that foreign volume— which may be still a book of nature—which we have read in former days and other regions. The one may be held as a key for the proper opening of the other. It is curious, too, with what resignation the wanderer will subside into the brooder; but Providence has so arranged the distribution of its gifts, that there are constitutions, meant for special uses, in which the soul and thought utterly subject the animal nature; and there will be no loss or forfeiture to the physical man, kept unexercised, while the spiritual and mental are forever busy, toiling, travelling, making discoveries and building temples—doing all sorts of great work and glorious, while scarcely moving a finger.
But we have exhausted our space, and all pretext for lingering over a volume which, without making the author famous, will commend him favourably to many loving readers, who seek for the meditative muse and do not quarrel with contemplation because she never rages. "Les Suvane.s" is a collection which breathes the Christian spirit. This is its most certain charm, and it serves to temper our censure when we detect the author's short-comings in art. The always pious spirit which breathes throughout his lines ; the calm and grateful conviction of divine truth which infuses