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divided into two classes ; those poems written to be sung to a
musical accompaniment and those designed to be self-sufficient
in the matter of musical quality; or, to distinguish the classes by
names the Focal Song-Lyrics and the Literary or Book-Lyrics.
The latter class, of course, contains the sonnets and the longer
lyrics of Spenser, Sidney, and Shakespeare.

Of the lyrics in the first group it may be said that they are
unrivalled: in no other age has music been so happily "married
to immortal verse." The great song-writers of the time were
shrewd enough and sufficiently gifted to perceive that there
were two methods of successfully mingling poetry and accom-
panying music. One of these was to take care that the provinces
of music and words did not overlap, either by seeing that the
kind of music suggested by the words was different from that
supplied by the accompaniment, or, though much more rarely,
by deliberately making the language rough as is the case in
Thomas Weelkes's madrigal beginning :

" Thule, the period of cosmographie,
Doth vaunt of Hecla, whose sulphurious fire," etc.

The other method was to keep the intellectual content of the
poem strictly subordinate and slight, since song has little to do
with the intellect and much to do with the emotions. In their
songs, therefore, there is little of reflection, and nothing of specula-
tion. Nor, again, are the emotions expressed in any degree complex :
in the main, though these may be sincere and intense, they are
simple. This slightness of the intellectual message, accompanied
by simplicity and poignancy of feeling, is obvious, for example,
in the following stanza from Amiens' song in As You Like It.

" Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind

As man's ingratitude ;
Thy tooth is not so keen
Because thou art not seen,

Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho ! sing, heigh-ho ! " etc.


In thus restricting the subject-matter of their songs the
Elizabethan song-writers seem to have done deliberately what
their predecessors probably could not avoid doing owing to the very
limited character of the education then available a limitation so
effectually removed in Elizabethan times by the Renascence.

There can be no question that the lyrical life which throbs
in the poetry of that age received its impulse from the literary
phase of this great movement, and it is the more singular, there-
fore, that an impulse derived from such a source did not expend
itself chiefly in widening the range of lyric themes. If such an
extension had taken place we should find it more especially
among the poems which we placed in the second group and
designated as "literary lyrics." These poems were not written for
the purpose of being sung or of having any musical accompani-
ment, but by their form and spirit, their musical rhythms and
their turns of phrase, they suggest the quality of music within
themselves : "they sing themselves in the heart" to translate
the famous sentence of M. Brunetiere. An examination, how-
ever, of these even of the sonnet-sequences and the longer
lyrical poems of Spenser and Sidney shows that the largely
predominating subject is the conventional one of love. It may
seem strange that the poets of a nation awakened by the
Renascence into the fullest and most vigorous life should have
confined themselves even in their lyric poetry to what was
practically a single theme, when such a rich and varied field of
experience lay ready to their hand. Perhaps the limitation is
more apparent than real, for the passionate feeling which they
poured into this one theme was of the most intense and personal
description. Nevertheless the fact remains that in their lyrical
poetry they made use only of this one outlet for their inspiration,
the rest of their vigorous life finding expression in the other literary
forms of that magnificent and probably unrivalled literary age.

When we remember the comparative ease with which they
could "get into print," it seems even more remarkable that they
did not yield to the temptation of elaborating the intellectual
part of their poems ; for the invention of printing had the effect
of concentrating the attention of the reader upon the matter,
rather than upon the form of a poet's work, and gave the latter
greater permanence and wider currency than could have been
the case when it was transmitted merely in manuscript. Yet


it is true to say that the major portion of the lyrical impulse of
Elizabethan times was concentrated upon the invention and
perfecting of lyric forms, as opposed to the development of lyric
themes, and it is in this respect that the Elizabethans specially
excelled, for they have left us a body of lyrical verse richly
musical and, with the possible exception of the finest work of
the Romantic and Victorian poets, unsurpassed at least as
regards form by any lyrical poetry composed before or since.

During the period of transition between the Elizabethan
and " Classical " Ages the lyric was practised by a group of
writers of whom Herrick, Wither, Lovelace, and Waller were
in many respects typical. These poets changed its character,
and in their hands it became a light, short, pleasant song, often
of exquisite daintiness, combined with courtly ease and
grace. For the most part the poems deal with trivial subjects
of only fleeting interest with the ladies and events of contem-
porary society and the court, but there is about them a certain
haunting charm of melody and style which lingers in the
memory, while some of them, and especially those of Herrick,
are quite inimitable.

The "Classical" Age which followed them was, so far as
the lyric is concerned, a period of decadence, its very strong
points being precisely those most opposed to lyric success. The
poets of the time were chiefly concerned with criticism of
society and manners, with philosophy and analysis, subjects in
their very nature fatal to the true lyrical spirit. Such an
exaltation of the intellectual side of life was made at the expense
of the emotional, and a lyric_without emotion is a poetic im-
possibility. From the poinT~of view"^of Form it ought to be
noticed that the heroic couplet at this time attained a degree
of perfection in use never reached before, but this of all metres
is perhaps least well adapted for lyrical verse, the regular rise and
fall of cadence and pause admitting of little variation, and
inclining to monotony.

We may say, then, that the nature of the subject-matter
and the undue prominence given to it were the causes of the
meagre and inferior lyrical production of this period, and it is a
curious fact that in these dark times the lyric torch was carried
most worthily by none other than Dryden who shared with
Pope the leading position in the "Classical" school and whose



two poems, the Song for St. Cecilia's Day and Alexander's Feast,
are noble specimens of genuine lyrical work.

With the advent of the Romantic and Neo- Romantic schools
the lyric entered upon the latest and in many respects the highest
stage of its career, for, though not all of the Romantic poets
possessed the lyrical gift to the same extent, in Wordsworth,
Shelley, Keats, and Tennyson to mention only the finest it
attained a most inspired height. The excellence which these
poets achieved as lyric-writers seems to have been due to two
things. In the first place they perceived, in a higher degree,
perhaps, than even the Elizabethans had done, the music latent
in words, and succeeded in producing in their poetry, by means
of happy combinations of words and rhythms, effects similar
to those produced by music itself. Keats and Tennyson, more
especially, were musical artists in words, and lines like
" Charmed magic casements opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn ! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self."

"The pillar'd dusk of sounding sycamores."

make their appeal to us as much by the lingering fascination of their
music as by the exquisiteness of their pictorial suggestion. It is
in this respect that the modern lyric surpasses the Elizabethan ; a ^
loss of some of the sunny spontaneity of the latter being balanced
by a corresponding gain in power, on the part of the former, to
express a wider range and more complex quality of emotion.

The success of the modern lyric has, in the second place,
been due to the fine appreciation, by the lyric writers, of the
delicate balance subsisting between subject and form. Never
before has such a variety of subjects found its way into English
lyrical verse and been so completely absorbed as to give a certain
intellectual value and body to the poems without in any way
detracting from their lyrical worth. Therein has lain, in large
measure, the skill of the great lyrists from Wordsworth to
Tennyson: they have been able to perceive with nicety the
degree of thought which the lyric could carry, and exactly how
this could be introduced without damage to the poem itself.
Thus, for example, in the Ode to a Grecian Urn Keats ^
enshrined the profound dictum that "Beauty is truth: truth


beauty," yet who will dare to say that the thought is unduly
obtrusive, or in any way out of keeping with the delicate reserve
of what we must regard as one of the most graceful lyrics in
the language ? It is, therefore, in their ability to perceive both
the musical possibilities of words and the subtle relationship of
matter to form that the Romantic and later lyrists are superior
even to the Elizabethans.


The limitation by the Greeks of the term "lyric," in its
application, to poetry sung by a single voice contained the germ
of another characteristic of its English descendant its subjec-
tivity. This, indeed, is considered by many competent critics
to be the ultimate test of lyrical as distinguished from epic,
ballad, or purely narrative poetry, and, whether or not it is wise
to make subjectivity the final court of appeal, its presence in all
the finest lyrical verse cannot be denied. In view of this, it
may be well at this point to make clear the distinction between
subjective and objective poetry.

In the ancient popular ballads, for example, there is a
singular absence of any hint as to the personality of the author,
a feature which has led scholars to form the theory of Com-
munal Authorship. The ballad-story is told simply and directly,
without any indications of the narrator's private feelings on the
matter, without his making any reflections or offering any
opinions of his own, without the betrayal in the slightest degree
of his mood. As Mr. Kittredge remarks, it is almost as
if the tale were telling itself. The primitive people among
whom such ballads had their origins led the simplest of lives.
Their experiences were not abstractions, but events, deeds, and
objects; and it was of these that they sang. The stimulus of j
their poetry, therefore, came from without themselves, and such
poetry we agree to call Objective.

On the other hand much of our poetry is suffused with the
individuality of the writer. Directly or indirectly he reveals
his presence in a poem; his feelings vitalise it; his mood colours
it; the ruggedness or delicacy of his character is betrayed in it;
his own thoughts, experiences, and ideals constitute its matter;
it becomes, in a way, a mirror of himself. Thus, if we were
shown three poems by Byron, Shelley, and Matthew Arnold



respectively, and were not told by whom they were composed,
we should have little difficulty in guessing their authors correctly,
so characteristically stamped with the individuality of each would ,
they be. The sources of such poetry are clearly within and it
we designate Subjective.

Now poetry of this kind is essentially a modern growth,
corresponding to the immense development of individuality in
modern times, and, as we should expect of a literary type whose
birth, at a time when self-realisation was a new and joyous
thing, may be said to have synchronised with that of modern
life, the lyric has made of it almost its own peculiar possession.
In a highly composite poetic literature like ours, it is, of course,
impossible to make the distinction between subjective and objec-
tive poetry the sole basis of classification, for personal and
impersonal elements are frequently mingled ; but, on the whole,
it is true to say that epic, ballad, and dramatic poetry belong to
the objective division, while the lyric almost monopolises the
subjective variety.

There is a special reason for this high subjectivity of
the lyric. In the composition of a man's personality
emotion bulks so largely that in any expression of his per-
sonality it is bound to play a very prominent part ; and experience x:
has demonstrated that of all poetic modes, the lyric is the best
adapted for emotional expression. It follows, then, that the
lyric is most intimately connected with emotion, and, indeed,
Mr. Henley boldly goes the whole length and defines the lyric as
"a single emotion temperamentally expressed in terms of poetry."
There is much truth, if not the whole truth, in this definition ;
for even in the case of deeply reflective poetry whose only claim
to be classed as lyrical lies in its subjectivity, the emotional
element is present, though it may be chilled and subdued by
the very nature of that which called it forth. Subjectivity im-
plies the presence of emotion of some kind and in some degree ;
and the converse of this is true; so that both the one and the
other are necessary parts of the lyric.


Another distinguishing mark of a lyric is its unity: it is
self-contained, and everything within it is directly related to one
central idea. The definition we quoted in the preceding section



expresses this in the word, "single," and Mr. Palgrave in his
Preface to the Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics also
holds "lyrical" to "imply that each poem shall turn on some
single thought, feeling, or situation." The important thing to
remember is that this one idea or situation is expressed in lyrical
poetry through the medium of an emotion : the poem issues
from the poet's mind by means of an emotion, and by the same
means it enters ours. Bearing this in mind we are enabled to
perceive not only that the lyric is unified by the emotion, but
also that the latter often defines the boundaries of the poem
which in many cases is limited strictly by the duration of the
emotional excitement. Edgar Allan Poe, himself the finest
lyrist that America has produced, and a critic well qualified to
speak on such a matter, says in his Essay on the Poetic Principle,
"I hold that a long poem does not exist. That degree of
excitement, which would entitle a poem to be so called at all,
cannot be sustained through a composition of any great length.
After the lapse of half an hour at the very utmost, it flags... and
then the poem... is no longer such." Many lyric poets, like
Poe and Shelley, or even like Byron who "tossed off" his verses
u after banquets and balls at two in the morning," have com-
posed at a white heat of emotion and have drawn off at least
the first sketch with great rapidity. In the case of poetry pro-
duced in such a manner Poe's remark holds good, and as soon
as the emotion has subsided the poem must cease. It follows,
therefore, that lyrics of this description are ordinarily short
poems, since the stimulating emotion seldom lasts even as long
as the half-hour allowed by Poe. It ought to be noted, how-
ever, that, for other poets like Wordsworth, the condition of
lyrical composition has been rather that of "emotion recollected
in tranquillity" a condition which, as in the Ode on the
Intimations of Immortality, sometimes admits of a more
lengthy treatment. Such a method does not materially affect
the facts of the case as regards the part played by emotion in
the lyric: the latter still originates in and is unified by an
emotion, the only difference being that the emotion, in this
case, is a "recollected" one.




In the pages which follow, it will be seen that the lyrics
have been divided into five different groups: the song-lyric, the
sonnet, the ode, the idyll, and the elegy, most of which have
more or less distinct structural marks. It is not of these
special forms that we wish to speak at present, but of a structural
scheme which, though it can by no means be described as
general, is yet met with in a sufficiently large number of lyrics
of all types to make it worthy of notice in a book professing
like the present to deal with lyrical poetry mainly from the point
of view of form. Such a structural scheme, when present at all,
occurs most frequently in lyrics of the kind referred to in the
last section as spontaneously produced, and may therefore, for
convenience, be termed the Natural structure of a lyric. This
may be described as a record of the stages through which a mind,
disturbed by an emotion, passes before it resumes its normal
condition. To take a simple illustration, let us suppose that
someone has committed an offence which arouses our anger.
Our feeling against the offender rises and disturbs both our
body and our thoughts: the latter are not those which we
should think under ordinary conditions, for we partially lose
control over them. The disturbance reaches its height, declines,
and we at length resolve to forgive the offender, or, perhaps,
conclude that we are powerless to obtain any redress. As soon
as we reach the stage at which we make such a resolution or
conclusion, our anger has passed, our thoughts are again under our
control, and our mind has once more resumed its ordinary state.
Such is the normal path of an emotion, and since, as we have
seen, the lyric is often coterminous with the emotion which
animates it, it follows that we may sometimes expect to see
reproduced in the poem the stages we have noted in the course
of the emotion.

That which arouses the emotion the offence in our illus-
tration we shall call the Motive-, and the poet, in order to
make us experience the same "wave" of feeling which he,



himself, has felt and desires to express, consciously or uncon-
sciously first presents to us that which aroused the emotion
within himself. This reproduction of the motive as a rule
constitutes the first part of a well-constructed lyric. Thus, for
example, the feeling of pleasure and gaiety which we share
with Wordsworth in his poem, Daffodils, is engendered in
the picture of the daffodils which Wordsworth makes it his
firs' business to present. The motive may be anything in
human experience, as, for example, an object of art a Grecian
urn or a picture (Nos. 139, 179); a natural phenomenon such
as the wind (Nos. 137, 143), or a rainbow (No. 54), or one of
the seasons (Nos. 95, 138); a living creature, such as the sky-
lark (Nos. 52, 136), or the fly (No. 48) anything in fact, from
a cricket-ball (No. 92) to the moon (No. 17). Sometimes it is
a whole situation, as in No. 89 ; or, again, it may occasionally
be a thought as in Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of
Immortality (No. 134), where the poet's feelings are moved by
the thought of the contrast between what used to be and
what is.

The second part of a lyric consists of the thoughts arising
from the action of the motive, and corresponds to the develop-
ment and decline of the emotion. Such thoughts are really
registers of the emotional disturbance, and to this fact must
frequently be attributed their unusual and poetic character. In
the examples quoted below as illustrative of lyrical structure,
they may be found, properly distinguished.

The third division of a lyric is that in which is expressed
the final attitude of the poet's mind, when the emotion has
subsided : it is, therefore, the intellectual part of the poem, and
with it the latter must close. As was the case in the incident
we mentioned in the early part of this section, it generally
takes the form of some conclusion, reflection, resolution, or

To illustrate what we have said, let us analyse Herrick's
song, To Blossoms, in which the three parts may be distin-
guished j the blossoms forming the motive, and the intellectual
conclusion slight, as is proper in a song occupying the last
stanza :



2. Thoughts suggested
by the motive,
and expressing

i. Motive Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,

Why do ye fall so fast?

Your date is not so past,

But you may stay yet here awhile,

To blush and gently smile,

And go at last.

What, were ye born to be

An hour or half's delight

And so to bid good-night ?

'Twas pity Nature brought ye forth

Merely to show your worth,

And lose you quite.

But you are lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne'er so brave ;
And after they have shown their pride
Like you, awhile, they glide
Into the grave.


Considerations of space prohibit the multiplication of
examples, but it is hoped that the following dissected sonnet
may make this matter of "natural'* structure quite clear :

3 . Intellectual


z. Thoughts

arising from
the motive

3 . Intellectual

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide,
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep

A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain's side
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.

So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul ;
And inspirations that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.



"And this shall be for music when no one else is near,
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!"


MUCH of what has already been said in the General
Introduction is specially applicable to the subject dealt with
in this section the Song. In particular the affinity of music
for words which we noted as characteristic of all lyrical poetry
is most strongly marked in the case of this, the most popular of
all lyrical forms in English. Indeed, so close is the connection
between the two elements that the same word, Song, is applied
both to a particular species of poetical composition and to a
purely musical form, the melody or air ; while in its more
general acceptation the term implies a union of these two ideas,
the most effective song being the product of music and words
acting in concert. For all practical purposes a song may be
defined as a short poem adapted for singing and sometimes
actually set to music, or a metrical composition musical in
itself, though neither fitted nor specially designed for singing
otherwise than " in the heart " alternatives corresponding to
the two classes already referred to as Vocal and Literary Song-
Lyrics. It may seem almost a paradox to speak of a song as
" adapted for singing," but so many lyrics unsuitable for this
purpose have been entitled songs that the distinction is both a
real and a necessary one. In arranging the examples in this
section no attempt has been made to separate the two classes,
but as this will constitute an excellent exercise in classification,
sufficient guidance will, it is hoped, be given in this introduction
to render the task not too difficult for the pupil.


From what has been said, it would appear that the best
kind of vocal song is that in which music and words are most
successfully blended and unified. It has often happened, as in
the cases of Sidney, Milton, Dibdin, Moore, and, to judge
from his frequent references to music, Shakespeare himself,
that a song-poet has also been a musician ; and to this happy
combination of talents we undoubtedly owe many of our finest
songs. Both Herrick and Waller, even if they were not
musical themselves (and there is no reason to suppose that this
was the case), collaborated with Henry Lawes, the famous
melodist celebrated by Waller in one of his poems, and their
songs produced in this manner are eminently singable and
dainty. Again, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries, many fine old melodies which were in danger of
disappearing because of their rude and inferior words had these
replaced by others more worthy of them, and have thus been

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Online LibraryNorman Harold HeppleLyrical forms in English; → online text (page 2 of 17)