Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

And with their crown their kingdom's arms they yield,
Thrice three pens sunlike in a Cynthian field;
Signed by themselves and their High Treasurer
Bartas, the Great; engrossed by Sylvester.

“Our sun did set, and yet no night ensued;
Our woeful loss so joyful gain did bring.
In tears we smile, amid our sighs we sing;
So suddenly our dying light renewed.
As when the Arabian only bird doth burn
Her aged body in sweet flames to death,
Out of her cinders a new bird hath breath,
In whom the beauties of the first return;
From spicy ashes of the sacred urn
Of our dead Phenix, dear Elizabeth,
A new true Phenix lively flourisheth,
Whom greater glories than the first adorn.
So much, O King, thy sacred worth presume-I-on,
James, thou just heir of England's joyful un-i-on.”

It is not to be denied that there is considerable skill in versification here, and also some ingenious rhetoric; but, not to notice the pervading extravagance of the sentiment, some of the best-sounding of the lines and phrases have next to no meaning; and the close of each stanza, that of the last in particular, is in the manner of a ludicrous travesty. Many of Sylvester's conceits, however, belong to the original upon which he worked, and which upon the whole may be considered as fairly represented, perhaps occasionally improved, in his translation. Some passages are very melodiously given—the following, for instance, the commencement of which may put the reader in mind of Milton’s “Hail, holy light! offspring of heaven first-born ?” All hail pure lamp, bright, sacred, and excelling; Sorrow and care, darkness and dread repelling;

Thou world's great taper, wicked men's just terror,
Mother of truth, true beauty's only mirror,

[ocr errors]

But yet, because all pleasures wax unpleasant If without pause we still possess them present, And none can right discern the sweets of peace That have not felt war's irksome bitterness, And swans seem whiter if swart crows be by (For contraries each other best descry), The All's architect alternately decreed That Night the Day, the Day should Night succeed. The Night, to temper Day's exceeding drought, Moistens our air, and makes our earth to sprout: The Night is she that all our travails eases, Buries our cares, and all our griefs appeases: The Night is she that, with her sable wing In gloomy darkness hushing every thing, Through all the world dumb silence doth distil, And wearied bones with quiet sleep doth fill. Sweet Night! without thee, without thee, alas ! Our life were loathsome, even a hell, to pass; For outward pains and inward passions still, With thousand deaths, would soul and body thrill. O Night, thou pullest the proud masque away Wherewith vain actors, in this world's great play, By day disguise them. For no difference Night makes between the peasant and the prince, The poor and rich, the prisoner and the judge, The foul and fair, the master and the drudge, The fool and wise, Barbarian and the Greek ; For Night's black mantle covers all alike. He that, condemned for some notorious vice, Seeks in the mines the baits of avarice, Or, melting at the furnace, fineth bright Our soul's dire sulphur, resteth yet at night. He that, still stooping, tugs against the tide His laden barge alongst a river's side, And, filling shores with shouts, doth melt him quite, Upon his pallet resteth yet at night. He that in summer, in extremest heat Scorched all day, in his own scalding sweat, Shaves with keen scythe the glory and delight Of motley meadows, resteth yet at night,

And in the arms of his dear pheer forgoes
All former troubles and all former woes, .
Only the learned Sisters' sacred minions,
While silent Night under her sable pinions
Folds all the world, with painless § they tread
A sacred path that to the heavens doth lead;
And higher than the heavens their readers raise
Upon the wings of their immortal lays,

CHAPMAN's HoMER.

Of the translators from the ancients in this age, by far the greatest is Chapman. George Chapman was born at Hitching Hill, in the county of Hertford, in 1557, and lived till 1634. Besides his plays, which will be afterwards noticed, he is the author of several original poetical pieces; but he is best and most favourably known by his versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. “He would have made a great epic poet,” Charles Lamb has said, in his “Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets,’ turning to these works after having characterised his dramas, “if, indeed, he has not abundantly shown himself to be one: for his Homer is not so properly a translation as the stories of Achilles and Ulysses re-written. The earnestness arid passion which he has put into every part of these poems would be incredible to a reader of mere modern translations. His almost Greek zeal for the honour of his heroes is only paralleled by that fierce spirit of Hebrew bigotry with which Milton, as if personating one of the zealots of the old law, clothed himself when he sat down to paint the acts of Samson against the uncircumcised. The great obstacle to Chapman's translations being read is their unconquerable quaintness. He pours out in the same breath the most just and natural and the most violent and forced expressions. He seems to grasp whatever words come first to hand during the impetus of inspiration, as if all other must be inadequate to the divine meaning. But passion (the all in all in poetry) is everywhere present, raising the low, dignifying the mean, and putting sense into the absurd. He makes his readers glow, weep, tremble, take any affection which he pleases, be moved by words, or in spite of them, be disgusted and overcome that disgust.” Chapman's Homer is worthy of this fine tribute. Few writers have been more copiously inspired with the genuine frenzy of poetry —with that “fine madness,” which, as Dryden has said of his lines on Marlow, “rightly should possess a poet's brain.” Indeed, in the character of his genius, out of the province of the drama, Chapman bears a considerable resemblance to Marlow, whose unfinished translation of Musaeus's Hero and Leander he completed. With more judgment and more care he might have given to his native language, in his version of the Iliad, one of the very greatest of the poetical works it possesses. But what, except the most extreme irregularity and inequality,+a rough sketch rather than a finished performance,—was to be expected from his boast of having translated half the poem—namely, the last twelve books—in fifteen weeks? Yet, rude and negligent upon the whole as it is, Chapman's is by far the most Homeric Iliad we yet possess. The enthusiasm of the translator for his original is uncompromising to a degree of the ludicrous. “Of all books,” he exclaims in his Preface, “extant in all kinds, Homer is the first and best;” and in the same spirit, in quoting a passage from Pliny’s Natural History in another portion of his preliminary matter, he proceeds first to turn it into verse, “that no prose may come near Homer.” In spite, however, of all this eccentricity, and of a hurry and impetuosity which betray him into many mistranslations, and, on the whole, have the effect perhaps of giving a somewhat too tumultuous and stormy representation of the Homeric poetry, the English into which Chapman transfuses the meaning of the mighty ancient is often singularly and delicately beautiful. He is the author of nearly all the happiest of the compound epithets which Pope has adopted, and of many others equally musical and expressive. “Far-shooting Phoebus,”—“the everliving gods,”—“the many-headed hill,”—“the ivorywristed queen,”—are a few of the felicitous combinations with which he has enriched his native tongue. Carelessly executed, indeed, as the work for the most part is, there is scarcely a page of it that is not irradiated by gleams of the truest poetic genius. Often in the midst of a long paragraph of the most chaotic versification, the fatigued and distressed ear is surprised by a few lines, or it may be sometimes only a single line,—“musical as is Apollo's lute,”—and sweet and graceful enough to compensate for ten times as much ruggedness. Such, for instance, is the following version of part of the description of the visit paid by Ulysses and his companions to the shrine of Apollo at Chrysa, in the First Book:

The youths crowned cups of wine Drank off, and filled again to all: that day was held divine, And spent in paeans to the Sun; who heard with pleased ear : When whose bright chariot stooped to sea, and twilight hid the clear, All soundly on their cables slept, even till the night was

Worn ; And when the Lady of the Light, the rosy-fingered morn,

« AnteriorContinuar »