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A history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) online

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And sweet the silence of the shores between the ebb and flow.

Our heart in all our life is like the hand of one who steers

A bark upon an ocean rife with dangers and with fears :

The joys, the hopes, like waves or wings, bear up this life of ours —

Short as a song of all these things that make up all its hours.

2 I may be excused for referring to what has been said on Chapman
(ii. io8 sq.).

3 As in the first couplet of this splendid quatrain :

Say, shall we sing of day or night, fair land or mighty ocean,
Of any rapturous delight or any dear emotion,
Of any joy that is on earth, or hope that is above,
The holy country of our birth, or any song of love ?


in enjambment when he chooses. By these varieties, all
sedulously attuned, and kept so as to avoid any breach of
rhythm, he achieves the combined knitting and unknitting
which is the master secret of verse ; which Chaucer had
achieved in his stanza, Shakespeare and Milton in blanks,
and the best masters of the octosyllable there also,
while the defect of the commonest heroic couplet is its
absence. But he also has something more : he has
marked pulses in his feet ; and the great central quatrain
given throbs not monotonously, but with the motion of a
living heart against a living hand.^

O'Shaughnessy's gift was essentially lyrical ; and it i^ays of
did not show to the best advantage in the curious
paraphrase-embroidery of Marie which he next published
under the title of Lays of France (1872). The fact is
that the originals, which are supposed to have been
dedicated to Henry III., our Re della semplice vita (I
wonder if he read them to while away the time in
the Valley of Princes ?) are so agreeable that one does
not want them altered much. And I think that, if her
translator was determined to give them in English, the
not un-nervous blank verse used in the Epic, or the
enjambed couplet afterwards used in " Colibri," would have
done better than the octosyllable, wrought into elaborate
irregular stanzas, which he uses here. There are beautiful
things in the book, but it contrasts most unfortunately
with some not at all dissimilar parts in the slightly earlier
Earthly Paradise, and one feels that the medium is the
wrong one for narrative. Nor need we take much account of
the posthumous Songs of a Worker ( i 88 1), which were not Songs of a
published by him as a book ; while many were written either °^ ^'''
under the pressure of recent sorrow, or with " purposes" of
various kinds. The fourteeners of the opening song here
are strangely wanting in the life and colour of those of
the " Barcarolle." But the above-mentioned " Colibri " ""

^ Almost the only blot on this supremely beautiful thing is the rhyme of
"risen" and "horizon." But this is, again, Irish in its carelessness.

2 Partly in the highly enjambed couplet spoken of, partly in other
metres, especially an octosyllabic couplet reminding one rather of Darley's

VOL. Ill 2 B


is interesting, and " Growing on a Grave " is a beautifully
moulded lyric ; ^

When the Rose came I loved the Rose ^

once more recovers the undying fragrance of the seven-
teenth-century censer ; and there are many other things
that, in a special study of the poet, one would have
to notice.
Music and But the general character of his prosody is perhaps

Moonlight. \iQcx. shown in Music and Moonlight, which he published
(1874) iri rapid succession to the Epic and the Lays. It
opens with a wonderful piece of metre — octaves of three-
foot anapaests rhymed on only two sounds abababab, and
distinguished by the large number of monosyllabic feet at
the opening of the stanza, and the redundance, varied in
alternate stanzas as shown below,^ of the odd lines. That

1 Love, on your grave in the ground

Sweet flowers I planted are growing,

LiUes and violets abound,

Pansies border it round,

And cowslips, all of my sowing.

A creeper is trying to cover

Your name with a kiss like a lover.

^ When the Rose came I loved the Rose

And thought of none beside,
Forgetting all the other flowers,

And all the others died.
And morn and noon and sun and showers.

And all things, loved the Rose,
Who only half returned my love,

Blooming alike for those.

^ We are the music-makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams.
Wandering by lone sea-breakers.

And sitting by desolate streams :
World-losers and world-forsakers.

On whom the pale moon gleams ;
For we are the movers and shakers

Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities,

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire's glory ;
One man with a dream, at pleasure.

Shall go forth and conquer a crown ;
And three with a new song's measure

Can trample a kingdom down.


strongly marked beat or pulse or throb, which has been
cited as a gift of O'Shaughnessy's, reappears ; and yet
there is hardly any verse anywhere in which you would
lose more if you scanned only by beats. For the cunning
variation of monosyllable, dissyllable, and trisyllable
would disappear, and you would get mere irregular
" Catharina " or Praed- stanza without the special idio-

And this leads up an even dangerously excited expec-
tation to something fully satisfying, the long concerted
piece of " Music and Moonlight " itself Here the central
metre (as we may call it) of enjambed couplets, with
rhyme alternate and cross when it pleases, frames certain
songs of which the chief is a really exquisite thing, the
rapid spinning hum deflecting and forging itself out into
fresh harmonies in a magical fashion.^ The more com-
monplace measure of

Has summer come without the rose ?

is faultless in its kind, which is often so faulty. And
there is certainly nothing commonplace in another —

She has gone wandering, wandering away,

which I never heard set to music," but which seems to set
itself as clearly as anything well can, and which in part
is one of the few pretty distinctly dactylic things in
English, though, as usual, you can shift it to the dactyl's
ally the trochee. " May," the *' Song of Betrothal," and
others cry for notice, but cannot have it. Nor can the
special handling of general measure in the " Song of

' Once in a hundred years If thou wilt flee the bliss

Thou shalt forget thy tears, Of each dull earthly kiss,

And all thy life shall flower Then thou shalt joy like this —

Into one infinite hour. Once in a hundred years.

^ O'Shaughnessy was enthusiastically musical.

She has gone wandering, wandering away,

Very sad madness hath taken her to-day.

Would I might hold her by her hair's golden mass,

By her two feet, her girdle, her whole self in the glass

Of the years past that change not, though she change and stray.

(Even here, let it be observed, the irrepressible cuckoo-anapaest will not
be denied, but forces itself into the latter part. )

son II.


Palms," ^ and " Outcry," and the " Disease of the Soul "
— Poesque again, but independent enough. The Whit-
manian " Earth " may be left till we come to Whitman
himself, but a stanza from " Nostalgia des Cieux " must
be given.^

For this shows, though in less out-of-the-way fashion
than some others, the quality which has given O'Shaugh-
nessy what some no doubt will think his disproportionate
place here — the quality which I am trying to make out
as a historian, and which results from the immense
advantage given to the poet by the variation and freedom
of prosodic arrangement reached within, and only within,
the nineteenth century. Now, as never before, he is able
proprie conimunia dicere ; now, as never before, he can give
his own colour and his own accent to the verse.

This chapter would not be complete without some
prosodic notice of the work of that remarkable and in
James Thorn- many ways ill-starred poet, James Thomson the Second,
who was, in all things but poetic gift, almost the exact
contrary of James Thomson the First, and on whom it
would have been most interesting to try the effect of a
skilfully exhibited course of Indolence, Comfort, and con-
sequent Optimism. The various prosodic experiments in
The City of Dreadful Night itself^ are interesting, because
the inequality of their effect is exactly what might be

1 Mighty, luminous, and calm
Is the country of the palm,
Crowned with sunset and sunrise,
Under blue unbroken skies,
Waving from green zone to zone,
Over wonders of its own ;
Trackless, untraversed, unknown,
Changeless through the centuries.

2 How far away, among the hazy lands

That float beneath the rising sun's new rim,
Ere intervening seas swell to their brim —
How far away are thy enchanted sands,
Thou half-remembered country, whose sweet hands
Anointed me with splendours ! Mystic bands

Draw back my dreams to thee, till all grows dim.
And in my eyes the tears of yearning swim.

3 In book form 1880, with Other Poems; but partly printed in 1874, and
dated 1870-74 for composition.


expected from a selfelpista — a man whose education,
though regular up to a certain point, had not reached
exact scholarship, and whose enthusiastic private study-
was not assisted by that atmosphere and tradition of
cultivated breeding which smiles at mere " education."
His opening septet, with an unvarying double rhyme in
the fifth and sixth places, but none elsewhere, is not a
success ; the recurrence annoys instead of pleasing.^ The
peculiar neiivain which follows (at section iv.) is much
better,- but perhaps a little devoid of naturalness ; nor are
any of the other attempts quite successful ; while the
recurrence of the septet in the great " Melancholia " finale
is a pity. But just before that finale — in fact in part of
it, in the Battle of the Sphinx and the Angel — the poet
falls back, fortunately, on an old and well-tried metre, the
sixain with final couplet which opens the Shepherds
Kalendar, and uses it magnificently. In fact I do not
know a finer example of the form, nor one in which the
special opportunity given by it — of recoil by couplet on
quatrain — is better taken.

Nor do I know that he shows himself anywhere else
master of metre to quite the same extent ; though he
shows everywhere the remarkable experiment noted pre-

1 I ought, no doubt, to give an example, and I will give one which may
seem to rebuke me :

Because a cold rage seizes one at whiles,

To show the bitter, old, and wrinkled truth

Stripped naked of all vesture that beguiles,

False dreams, false hopes, false masks and modes of youth ;

Because it gives some sense of power and passion

In helpless impotence to try to fashion

Our woe in living words, howe'er uncouth.

A very poor creature is he who does not know that "cold rage" ; but it
does not necessitate redundance regularly.

2 (The italicised parts have been repeated several times.)

As I came throus^h the desert thus it tuas,

As I came through the desert : but once more

And I was close upon a wild seashore ;

Enormous cliffs arose on either hand,

The deep tide thundered up a league-broad strand.

White foam-belts seethed there, wan spray swept and flew,

The sky broke, moon and stars and clouds and blue :

And I strode on austere.

No hope could have no fear.


viously, and characteristic of the school to which, therefore,
he really belongs. Metre with him is, again, to some extent
in the matrix ; though not clumsy or unpolished, it never
gets quite free. In the lighter kinds especially, the constant
danger of " immersion in the black waves of lethargy " ^
seems to numb his touch. In " Sunday at Hampstead "
and " Sunday up the River " several of the pieces are close
to great metrical success. " As we rush, as we rush in
the train " needs but the last concoction to be what it
very nearly is, an anapaestic mixture of rare and novel
beauty. " Like violets pale in the spring of the year "
comes closer, but to something less rare, though charming
in itself The sevens of " The Naked Goddess " are all
right ; indeed a poet who is a poet can hardly go wrong
with that metre, since Shakespeare showed the trick of it,
for once, in an imitable manner. And his own " Castle
of Indolence " is effective, though he has evidently and
naturally taken Shelley for his model of the metre rather
than his namesake and title-giver, or Spenser himself.
So are the Browningesque octosyllables of Vane's Story?
Seldom perhaps, though he is never wanting in poetry,
does he raise his prosodic power to individuality. But
he does this in the extremely beautiful " The fire that
filled my heart of old," in the almost finer — certainly equal
— "Song of Sighing," and in the splendid "Insomnia."^
In this last, however, he resorts to the curious penultimate
couplet of double rhyme. It is rather a study to discover
why this strikes a false note ; but I think I have got the
verb conjugated in my trunk. The danger of the double
rhyme in English — a danger intensified in triple — is
that of comic suggestion ; and Thomson does not guard
against this as fully as Mr. Swinburne did.*

^ Adde quod in nigras Ietha7-gi mergitiir nndas.

(Lucr. iii. 841.)
2 Vane's Story, and other Poems {X-or\Ciox\, 1 881).
^ A Voice from the Nile, and other Poems (London, 1884).
■* He is hard to sample ; you want, as a rule, several stanzas to get his atmo-
sphere. Here are parts of two prosodic lyrics and a stanza of " Insomnia " :

The fire that filled my heart of old
Gave lustre while it burned ;


Now only ashes grey and cold,

Are in its silence urned.
Ah ! better was the furious flame,

The splendour with the smart :
I never cared for the singer's fame,

But oh ! for the singer's heart
Once more —
The burning fulgent heart !

Like violets pale i' the spring o' the year

Came my Love's sad eyes to my youth ;
Wan and dim, with many a tear.
But the sweeter for that in sooth.
Wet and dim,
Tender and true,
Violet eyes
Of the sweetest blue.

Men sigh and plain and wail how life is brief :

Ah ! yes, our bright eternities of bliss
Are transient, rare, minute beyond belief.

Mere star-dust meteors in Time's night-abyss.
Ah ! no, our black eternities intense

Of bale are lasting, dominant, immense
As Time, which is their breath.
The iftemory of the bliss is yearning sorrow,

The memory of the bale clouds every morrow,
Darkening a thousand nights and days unto the night of Death.



Restrictions — Mr. George Meredith — Comparison of Emily Bronte's
" Remembrance "; Faber's " Pilgrims of the Night ' ; and Lord
Lytton's " Astarte " — Miss Veley : " A Japanese Fan " — Lord
De Tabley — Mr. Henley — John Davidson — Francis Thompson
— Coventry Patmore — The revival of the ballade and similar
forms — Some more dead poets, and some live ones.

Restrictions This chapter, like at least one other in the present Book,
is rather a " thorn-chapter " (as Thackeray would have
said) to its author ; for, whatever he does with it, he is
sure to displease somebody. That being so, there is
nothing to do but to announce intention, and stick to it.
It is proposed to include here a few — but only a few —
examples of the prosody of the later nineteenth century
from poets other than those mentioned in the last
chapter, and, according to the plan which has been pur-
sued in all the literary histories I have written, not to
dwell, distinctly and in detail, on the work of any living
poet.^ And further, I propose, even in the instances I do
give, to dwell rather on points than on persons, rather on
specimen and characteristic metres than on bodies of
prosodic work. I think this is justified — first by the
force majeure of space, and secondly by obvious if less
dignified reasons of convenience and opportunism ; but
thirdly and chiefly, as well as most satisfactorily, by the
very full examination, which has been given in the last
chapter, of the most representative examples of the
period, and by certain considerations of a general

' In the next chapter this rule will have to be slightly infringed ; but we
shall have to deal there with professed experiment.

CHAP, n OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 377

character which will be, I hope, duly marshalled in the
Conclusion. In the first place, therefore, let us levy our
propo.sed tribute — not so haphazard as it may perhaps
look — on the dead.

It would be a needless provocation to those admirers Mr. George
of the late Mr. Meredith who will have him to be a great ^i'='"ed>th.
poet, as well as a great novelist, to omit all mention of
his prosody ; but it would be a disrespect to himself (a
matter of much more importance) to give it any more
than brief notice. In fact, z7 I'a voidu in a much more
deliberate fashion than that in which his poor namesake
" would have " something else. The " Promise in Dis-
turbance " gives a perfectly clear warning,^ which is quite
legitimately fulfilled. As a matter of fact, of course, Mr.
Meredith is often better than his word ; and we have no
reason or right to complain when he simply keeps it. I
used to think that a verse of one of the doleful ballads of
the later seventeenth century on Bothwell Brig quoted by

Scott —

The Lowdian Mallisha they

Came in their coats of blew :

Five hundred men from London came

Clad in a reddish hew,

was, even without the spelling, the ne plus ultra of
bathetic prosody, or prosodic bathos, in common measure.
But Mr. Meredith's " Archduchess Anne " excels it in this
respect, if only because it is fully rhymed :

" I am a man of many sins

Who for one virtue die,"
Count Louis said. " They play at shins

Who kick," was the reply.

Yet he meant it, of course.

I suppose that, in that curious literary -fantastic realism
of his, which must have been half begotten by, and half a
revolt from, the zozliterary-fantastic realism of Dickens, he
would always have liked to mean it, and therefore tried

' With its mention of " one false note," " a jangled strain,"

"a newly added chord
Commanding space beyond where ear has home"
"the rebel discords," etc.



of Emily
' ' Remem-
brance " ;
" Pilgrims of
the Night " ■

out-of-the-way measures like galliambics, sometimes, as in
their finale —

Ever wailful trees bemoaning him, a bruised purple cyclamen —

hardly to be distinguished from prose ; ^ or like the jumpy
little rhythms, sometimes internally jingled, of " Wood-
man and Echo," etc. But somehow or other he could not
always be meaning it ; the merciful Muse would not
always either tolerate or punish him. The blessed old
trochaic sevens assert their gentle mastery in " The Woods
of Westermain " ; there is a Rossetti-like stateliness in
" A Ballad of Past Meridian." The Arnoldian three-foot
anapaests of " The Day of the Daughter of Hades " have
a subtle music ; the octosyllabic couplets of the " Lark
Ascending " would not have been scorned by Marvell ;
and in " Love in the Valley," at least, our auto-Marsyas
leaves off trying to flay his own body and his readers'
ears, and shows himself master of the lyre of Apollo him-
self. Never was the ancestral " The Queen was in the
Parlour " measure touched to a sweeter, freer variation ; ^
never were we at greater advantage in asphodel. Else-
where you shall find the unpretentious grace of " Marian "
and the trickless grandeur of " Lucifer in Starlight " face
to face on one page-opening, in the recent two-volume
edition. But I suppose the real Meredithian (it is
necessary to do no more than glance at Wilkes) regards
these things as derogations.

An unusually interesting subject for prosodic study is
furnished by two very well-known compositions, Emily
Bronte's great " Remembrance " and Faber's famous hymn
" Pilgrims of the Night." ^ I do not know whether

^ There are, of course, many fine lines in " Phaethon."
2 It has in fact got itself a Sapphic hint and tint.

2 Cold in the earth, and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave ;
Have I forgot, my only love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave ?

Hark ! hark ! my soul ! angelic songs are swelling

O'er earth's green fields, and ocean's wave-beat shore :

CHAP. II OTHER POETS OF 1850-1900 379

Faber had " Remembrance " in his head/ but there are
some remarkable verbal resemblances, although no sort
of " plagiarism." The prosodic scheme, however, of the
two stanzas (the refrain-couplet of the hymn is, save for
a purpose to be noticed presently, purely separable) is
absolutely identical from one point of view— iambic five-
foot quatrain with redundance in the odd lines. Miss
Bronte, indeed, has perhaps disguised this from very care-
less folk by admitting a substituted trisyllabic foot in the
first line of the first and second stanzas, as well as once
or twice elsewhere. But the base-schemes are quite the
same ; and a large number of lines are undistinguishable
if separately considered. The prosodic turn given to the
two is, however, distinctly different, or rather most inter-
estingly developed in different directions ; and I do not
think that the tune which is the hymn's most familiar accom-
paniment is in the least responsible ^ for giving the idea
of this development ; though another certainly expresses
it in a manner which does credit to the setter, whoever he
was. Miss Bronte had happened, rather because of her
subject than of anything else, to make a strong caesura at
the fourth syllable ; and she repeats it often, but not in-
variably or in such a way as to impose itself on the ear.
Faber, I suppose, seeing the musical capabilities of this,
takes the hint of it, and the other hint of the strong word
and slight subsequent pause at " Cold," and makes them
the basis of his fingering of the measure ; while, to
impress it on the dullest ear, he adds the refrain with a
strong " section."

Then having compared these two, let the student ^nd Lord
proceed to compare them further with a sort of parallel " Astarte.'

How sweet the truth those blessed strains are telling
Of that new life when sin shall be no more !
Angels of Jesus ! angels of light !
Singing to welcome the Pilgrims of the Night.
' The " Poems by T/u-ee Sistcrs,^^ as we may call them, were, I have
reason to believe, well known at Oxford long before the general accepted
them. They appeared in 1846 ; " Hark ! hark ! my soul ! " in 1854.

2 In fact neither of the tunes, " Pilgrims" and " Vox Angelica," given in
the older editions of Hytnns Ancient a7id Modern, brings out the character.
I do not know the name of the more successful one.


in trochaic cadence. The thing will be found ready done
to his hand ' in the second Lord Lytton's beautiful
" Astarte " (or " Fata Morgana ") :

Should I fail to find her out by her gold tresses,

Brows and breast and lips and language of sweet strains —

I shall know her by the traces of dead kisses,

And that portion of myself which she retains.

(I cannot prevent the old Adam in me from wishing he
had written " trace of dead caresses " ; but this is wrong,
and perhaps in more ways than one.)

The almost uncanny way in which iamb and trochee
" play up " to each other by passing a syllable to and fro,
and reconstituting themselves in new likeness, while re-
taining that portion of their old selves which is congruous,
appears here. Both metres, in this form, have a curious
power of expressing saudades — love and regret mingled ;
this seems to be (though they can do other work) as
distinctly their portion in serious poetry as some other
privileges which have been pointed out elsewhere. And
once more, in studying them, one reflects on the utter loss
of all beauty — the presence of baldness and blankness
instead — the disappearance of the "excellent differences"
— that comes if one regards them merely as groups of
accents, with a few unaccented syllables chucked in any-
where to make the mixture, not slab, but sloppy.
Miss Veiey : For another example of the intimate and subtle, the

Fan ..^'^^"^^^ almost uncanny, connection between metre and meaning
— so different from that superadded charm which short-
sighted people grant, not unfrequently grudging the
grant itself — take Miss Margaret Veley's wonderful
" Japanese Fan." " Nothing could so suit the ironic

Online LibraryGeorge SaintsburyA history of English prosody from the twelfth century to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 33 of 50)