Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

contemporary life. During the war for the Union he published a second series of the Biglow Papers, in which with the wit and fun of the earlier series there was mingled a deeper strain of feeling and a larger tone of patriotism. The limitations of his style in these satires forbade the fullest expression of his thought and emotion, but afterward in a succession of poems, occasioned by the honors paid to student-soldiers in Cambridge, the death of Agassiz, and the celebration of national anniversaries during the years 1875 and 1876, he sang in loftier, more ardent strains. The interest which readers have in Lowell is still divided between his rich, abundant prose, and his thoughtful, often passionate verse. The sentiment of his early poetry, always humane, has been enriched by larger experience, so that the themes which he has lately chosen demand and receive a broad treatment, full of sympathy with the most generous instincts of the present, and built upon historic foundations. In 1877 he went to Spain as Minister Plenipotentiary.

I.

THE VISION OF SIR LAUNFAL.

[Author's NotE. — According to the mythol ogy of the Romancers, the San Greal, or Holy Grail, was the cup out of which Jesus Christ partook of the last supper with his disciples. It was brought into England by Joseph of Arimathea, and remained there, an object of pilgrimage and adoration, for many years in the keeping of his lineal descendants. It was incumbent upon those who had charge of it to be chaste in thought, word, and deed ; but one of the keepers, having broken this condition, the Holy Grail disappeared. From that time it was a favorite enterprise of the Knights of Arthur's court to go in search of it. Sir Galahad was at last successful in finding it, as may be read in the seventeenth book of the Romance of King Arthur. Tennyson has made Sir Galahad the subject of one of the most exquisite of his poems. The plot (if I may give that name to anything

Ι 60 slight) of the following poem is my own, and, to serve its purposes, I have enlarged the circle of competition in search of the miraculous cup in such a manner as to include not only other persons than the heroes of the Round Table, but also a period of time subsequent to the date of King Arthur's reign.]

PRELUDE TO PART FIRST.
Over his keys the musing organist,

Beginning doubtfully and far away,
First lets his fingers wander as they list,

And builds a bridge from Dreamland for his lay; s Then, as the touch of his loved instrument

Gives hope and fervor, nearer draws his theme, First guessed by faint auroral flushes sent

Along the wavering vista of his dream.

[ocr errors]

Not only around our infancy

Doth heaven with all its splendors lie;
Daily, with souls that cringe and plot,
We Sinais climb and know it not.

Over our manhood bend the skies;

Against our fallen and traitor lives 15 The great winds utter prophecies;

With our faint hearts the mountain strives;
Its arms outstretched, the druid wood

Waits with its benedicite;
And to our age's drowsy blood

Still shouts the inspiring sea.

20

Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us ;

The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,

We bargain for the graves we sie in;

9. In allusion to Wordsworth's

“ Heaven lies about us in our infancy," In his ode, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

25 At the Devil's booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold

For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we buy with a whole soul's tasking

'Tis heaven alone that is given away, 30 ’T is only God may be had for the asking;

No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days;
35 Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,

And over it softly her warm ear lays:
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;

Every clod feels a stir of might, 40

An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,

Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen

Thrilling back over bills and valleys ; 45 The cowslip startles in meadows green,

The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean

To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
50 Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun

With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,

27. In the Middle Ages kings and noblemen had in their wurts jesters to make sport for the company; as every one then wore a dress indicating his rank or occupation, so the jester wore a cap hung with bells. The fool of Shakspere's playı us the king's jester at his best.

And the heart in her dumb breast Autters and

sings; 55 He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,

In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best ?

Now is the high-tide of the year,

And whatever of life hath ebbed away Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer, 60 Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;

Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,

'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green; 65 We sit in the warm shade and feel right well

How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing ;

The breeze comes whispering in our ear, 70 That dandelions are blossoming near, That maize has sprouted, that streams are flow

ing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;

And if the breeze kept the good news back, 75 For other couriers we should not lack;

We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing, -
And hark! how clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!

80 Joy comes, grief goes, we know how;
Everything is happy now,

Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue, -

'T is the natural way of living:

85

« PreviousContinue »