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“O sickle cutting harvest all day long,
That the husbandman across his shoulder hangs,
Dies the next morning, struck through by the fangs !”1 -all these points and phases of passion are alike truly and nobly rendered. I have not read the poem for years, I have not the book at hand, and I cite from memory ; but I think it would be safe to swear to the accuracy of my citation. Such verses are not forgetable. They are not, indeed,—as are the “ Idylls of the King” —the work of a dexterous craftsman in full practice. ;' Little beyond dexterity, a rare eloquence, and a laborious patience of hand, has been given to the one or denied to the other. These are good gifts and great ; but it is better to want clothes than limbs.
The shortcomings of this first book are nowhere traceable in the second now lying before us. A nine
Perhaps in all this noble passage of poetry there is nothing. nobler than this bitter impulse of irony, this fiery shame and rage of repentance, which here impels Guenevere to humiliate herself through her lover, and thus consummate the agony of abasement. “False and fatal as banner, or shield, or sword, wherein is he better than a peasant's dangerous and vulgar implement, as fatal to him it may be, by carelessness or chance, as a king's weapon to the king if handled amiss ?” And yet for all this she cannot but cleave to him ; through her lover she scourges herself; it is suicide in her to slay him ; but even so his soul must needs be saved—“so as by fire.” No poet about to start on his course ever saw for himself or showed to others a thing more tragic and more true than this study of noble female passion, half selfless and half personal, half mad and half sane.
? The comparison here made is rather between book and book than between man and man. Both poets have done better elsewhere, each after his kind; and except by his best work no workman can be fairly judged. A critic who should underrate either would be condemnable on both hands.
years' space does not lie between them in vain ; enough has been learned and unlearned, rejected and attained. Here indeed there is not the stormy variety, the lyric ardour of the first book ; there is not the passion of the ballads, the change of note and diversity of power, all that fills with life and invigorates with colour the artist's earlier designs; for not all of this is here needed. Of passion and humour, of impulse and instinct, he had given noble and sufficient proof in manifold ways. But this “ Jason " is a large and coherent poem, completed as conceived ; the style throughout on a level with the invention. In direct narrative power, in clear forthright manner of procedure, not seemingly troubled to select, to pick and sift and winnow, yet never superfluous or verbose, never straggling or jarring ; in these high qualities it resembles the work of Chaucer. Even against the great master his pupil may fairly be matched for • simple sense of right, for grace and speed of step, for purity and justice of colour. In all the noble roll of our poets there has been since Chaucer no second teller of tales, no second rhapsode comparable to the first, till the advent of this one. As with the Greeks, so with us; we have had in lieu of these a lyric and a tragic school ; we have also had the subordinate schools, gnomic and idyllic, domestic and didactic. But the old story-singers, the old “Saga-men," we have no more heard of. As soon might we have looked for a fresh Odyssey from southward, a fresh Njala from northward. And yet no higher school has brought forth rarer poets than this. “ But,” it is said, “this sort of poetry is a March flower, a child of the first winds and suns of a nation; in May even, much more in August, you cannot have it except by forcing ; and forcing it will not bear. A late romance is a hothouse daffodil." And so indeed it must usually be. But so it is not here; and the proof is the poem. It could not be done, no doubt, only it has been. Here is a poem sown of itself, sprung from no alien seed, cast after no alien model ; fresh as wind, bright as light, full of the spring and the sun. It shares of course the conditions of its kind; it has no time for the subtleties and hardly room for the ardours of tragic poetry. Passion in romance is of its nature subordinate to action; the flowing stream of story hushes and lulls the noise of its gurgling and refluent eddies with a still predominance of sound. To me it seems that there has here been almost too much of this. Only by rare and brief jets does the poet let out the fire of a potent passion which not many others can kindle and direct. For the most part, the river of romance flows on at full, but keeping well to its channel, unvexed by rains and undisturbed by whirlpools. In a word, through great part of this poem there is no higher excellence attempted than that of adventurous or romantic narrative couched in the simplest and fittest forms of poetry. This abstinence is certainly not due to impotence, possibly not to intention, more probably to distaste. Mr. Morris has an English respect for temperance and reserve ; good things as drags, but not as clogs. He is not afraid to tackle a passion, but he will not move an inch from his way to tackle it. Tragedy can never be more than the episode of a romance, and romance is rather to his taste than naked tragedy. He reminds us of the knight in Chaucer cutting sharply short the monk's tragic histories as too piteous for recital, or the very monk himself breaking off the detail of Ugolino's agony with a reference to Dante for those who can en. dure it.
The descriptive and decorative beauties of this romance of “ Jason" are excellent above all in this, that numberless though they be they are always just and fit. Not a tone of colour, not a note of form, is misplaced or dispensable. The pictures are clear and chaste, sweet and lucid, as early Italian work. There are crowds and processions, battle-pieces and merry-makings, worthy of Benozzo or Carpaccio ; single figures or groups of lovers in flowery watery land, worthy of Sandro or Filippo. The sea-pieces are like the younger Lippi's; the best possible to paint from shore. They do not taste salt or sound wide; but they have all the beauty of the beach. The romance poets have never loved the sea as have the tragic poets ; Chaucer simply ignores it with a shiver; even Homer's men are glad to be well clear of it. Ulysses has no sea-king's impulse; he fights and beats it, and is glad, and there an end; necessity alone ever drives him off shore. But Æschylus loves the Oceanides; and Shakespeare, landsman though he were, rejoices in the roll and clash of breakers.
For examples of the excellences we have noted—the chastity of colour and noble justice of composition, the fruitful and faithful touches of landscape incident—almost any page of the poem might be turned up. Compare the Hesperian with the Circean garden, the nameless northern desert lands with the wood of Medea's transformation, or the seaward bent where Jason “died strangely.” No
flower of the landscape is slurred, but no flower is obtrusive; the painting is broad and minute at once, large and sure by dint of accuracy. And there are wonderful touches on it of fairy mystery ; weird lights pass over it and wafts of mystical wind; as here :
«« There comes a murmur from the shore,
And in the place two fair streams are,
All this song of a nymph to Hylas is full of the melody which involves colour and odour, but the two lines marked have in them the marvel and the music of a dream. Nor is any passage in the poem pitched in a higher and clearer key than the first hymn of Orpheus as Argo takes the sea. As noble is the song of triumph at p. 217, which should be set by the side of this, to which it is in some sort antiphonal.
But the root of the romance lies of course in the chafacter of M edea ; and here, where it was needfullest to do well, the poet has done best. At her first entrance the poem takes new life and rises out of the atmosphere of mere adventure and incident. The subdued and delicate ardour of the scene in Jason's chamber, following as it
on the ghastly beauty of that in the wood of the
Flormed, is proof enough and at once with how 2018 and soft a touch the picture will be completed.
cantations, and her flight with Jason, have no less