« PreviousContinue »
not contain, was probably added by Walter Map, Archdeacon of Oxford, near the end of the twelfth century. About this time Chrestien de Troyes and other French romancers also enriched the Saga by many tales gathered from the bards of Brittany, and it is thus hard to tell whether Map or the French romancers wrote the original tale, or whether both copied from a common original.
What makes the Saga peculiarly an English possession is the collection of all this material by Sir Thomas Malory in the book called Morte Darthur, completed about 1469. The book of this good knight might never have been so famous but for the then recent invention of printing. The first English printer, William Caxton, issued the Morte Darthur in 1485, with a preface of his own. It is from this charming book of romances that Tennyson has drawn most of the material for the Idylls of the King.
SUGGESTIONS FOR STUDY.
THE best use which we may make of a great poem is to enter as far as possible into the mood of the poet; to see, think, and feel what he experienced when he conceived his song. "For poetry is not knowledge to to be apprehended," says Professor Katharine Lee
Bates, "it is passion to be felt, passion for the truth revealed in beauty, and for the hinted truth too beautiful to be revealed."
From its very nature a poem cannot be taught. The conscientious teacher may bring his pupils into sympathetic contact with the singer and his song, but he should then pause to let the poet speak. It is far better that no criticism of the poem itself come between the pupil and his first impressions of a work of art. Let him read the whole poem and gain what grasp he may be able of its unity and beauty before studying it in detail. For "it is the poet himself who can best impart to the young intellect the truth he has to tell, can alone inspire in the young heart a sympathy for that truth." With the simpler forms of lyric poetry little more is needful. Tennyson's Break, Break, Break, or the Bugle Song, Wordsworth's Cuckoo, or the Solitary Reaper, appeal, with little stimulus from without, to the imagination of any susceptible child. But such poems as Milton's lyrics and the Vision of Sir Launfal, pupils untrained in literary appreciation will need to study. These poems are so rich in literary allusion and imagery drawn from the varying aspects of nature, that without careful attention to details they cannot be fully apprehended and enjoyed.
In The Vision of Sir Launfal the reader must know something of the medieval legend which gave Lowell his subject, in order to grasp the full import of the truth which he would reveal. But to understand the poet's message is one thing, to feel its truth and beauty as it appeals to us through poetic language is another. To this end let the teacher lead the pupil to see that poetry is a more effective language than prose; that, especially by the use of imagery, it conveys its meaning more vividly and forcibly and in a more penetrating and enduring manner, while it adds a subtle charm through the beauty and suggestiveness of figurative expression, and the rhythm and melody of the verse.
In order that pupils may appreciate this vividness and power, they should be trained as far as possible to think and feel in the idealized language of the higher poetry. Hence it is well to avoid loosening so to speak the poetic texture of the language by too frequent paraphrase, and to guard against "lowering the temperature of their minds and feelings by chilling commonplace."
Again, a poem so rich in pictures of nature yields its full meaning and charm only to those who have the habit of close and sympathetic observation of the changing scenes and beauties which the seasons bring.
It is well to note in detail the faithfulness of these pictures and the poet's sensitiveness to the subtle harmony between nature and the "deep heart of man."
Perhaps the teacher may best stimulate and test the pupils' attention to these points by a running fire of searching and suggestive questions. The first object of these is a clear understanding of the poet's meaning. But he should aim at the same time to quicken the perceptions and feelings to the beauty and suggestiveness of picture and allusion, to awaken the imagination to see the vision that dazzled the mind's eye of the poet as he wrote.
While encouraging the pupil to express his enjoyment of a poem, and his conceptions of its message, the thoughtful teacher will avoid forcing him to crystallize his immature impression into a barren judgment. His early spiritual and artistic impressions should be left to grow naturally through a long and careful reading of an author's work before they are formulated into a definite criticism. Above all, the pupil should be led to feel that a poem is a life-long friend, ready to yield new beauty and truth with every sympathetic reading, fitting itself into the moods and needs of daily life.
As it is desirable that the poet make the first impression upon the reader's mind, it is equally impor
tant that he make the final one. When, then, analysis and question have done what is possible to quicken apprehension and appreciation, let the poem be read or recited by some pupil who has caught its spirit and can express it in a musical, sympathetic voice. Thus the impression left upon the pupil's mind will be one of unity and synthetic beauty, and the teacher may hope to discern in the faces of his class that quickening of the sensibilities to poetic sympathy and spiritual insight, which is the true aim of literary study.
F. H. Underwood. James Russell Lowell: A Biographical Sketch, 1882. (Same, Harper's Magazine, January, 1881.)
E. C. Stedman. Poets of America.
E. P. Whipple. Outlooks on Society, Literature, and Politics, 1888. "Lowell as a Prose Writer."
F. B. Sanborn. Homes and Haunts of Our Elder Poets [ edited by R. H. Stoddard ]. 1881.
E. E. Brown. Life of Lowell.
G. E. Woodberry. Authors at Home, edited by J. L. and J. B. Gilder. [1888.]
G. W. Curtis. James Russell Lowell: An Address.
F. H. Underwood. Lowell, the Poet and Man. 1893. B. Wendell. Stelligeri and Other Essays Concerning America. 1893. "Mr. Lowell as a Teacher." (Same, Scribner's Magazine, November, 1891.)