« PreviousContinue »
Proser. Speak out, Cyane!
Pluto. But, above all, in my heart shall you reign
Of bloom and beauty, the good spirits walk:
Proser. Away, away, away,
Nothing but force shall ever.-Oh, away.
Pluto. No, by this kiss, and this:
I am your own, my love; and you are mine
[Forces off Proserpine.
They are gone-Afar, afar,
Cyane is gradually transformed.)
With heavy heart and weeping eye,
To sing songs to her memory?
Oh! then, farewell! and now with hearts that mourn
But ever on this day we will return,
ON SONGS AND SONG WRITERS.
MR EDITOR, EVERY one who has dabbled in verse, must have found the difficulty of writing a tolerably satisfactory song,-I mean, satisfactory even to the author himself. Most people also, whether writers of verses or not, have some remembrance of being frequently disappointed in songs which seemed good, or pleased, against their judgment, with songs which seemed bad, before they were sung. These apparent contradictions, though a little puzzling at first sight, appear to me to be perfectly susceptible of explanation. Nor is that explanation difficult, if the assumption of certain premises be allowed. Hypothesis, however, has generally more or less to do with the illustration of mysterious or contradictory phenomena; and in attempting to elucidate those I have described, I shall be under the necessity of involving some degree of reference to Remarks on the Nature of Musical Expression, and on the Progress of Poetical Style, which have had the good fortune to appear in former numbers of your Miscellany. It will first be necessary to enumerate the difficulties and requisites of song writing. Having done this, I shall indulge myself in a few observations on well known songs, in their different classes, and on the obstacles to correct judgment on lyrical composition.
A good song may be defined to be a short piece of average metrical and poetical merit, adapted to an expressive air. It ought to possess poetical merit equal to that which other approved metrical compositions of the same length usually comprehend: it ought also to be truly lyrical, that is to say, its fitness for being vocally performed should be evident in the fact of the poetical effect of the song being heightened, rather than otherwise, by its being sung. These conditions certainly comprehend, in their performance, considerable difficulties. The song writer will be found to be limited by laws much more severe than those which are imposed upon the writer of other poetical effusions of equal length, whether apparently lyrical or confessedly not so. The expression, apparently lyrical," I use as descriptive of poetical pieces, lyrical
in their measure, but which are not intended to be sung, and which cannot be sung without manifest injury to the effect of the composition. This phrase, however, will probably be better understood, after considering the laws to the observance of which the lyrical author is bound.
The greatest difficulty, perhaps, in the composition of a song which is intended to be sung to an expressive air, arises from the necessity that every stanza, being sung to the same air, shall embody precisely the train of sentiment or passion which the air musically expresses.
This necessity is evident, in as much as if it does not do so, a discordance between the air and the words necessarily occurs; the air conveying one description or degree of feeling, and the words another, which is destructive of lyrical effect. For perfect effect, indeed, it is necessary that the greatest strength of poetical expression in the song should be so introduced as to correspond with those bars of the music in which the musical expression is strongest. When this is not done, although no actual discordance may be evident, the song loses considerably in performance. The expression of the air in some parts is necessarily too strong for the words, and in others too weak, and vice versa.
As all lyrical music, which is expressive at all, expresses some passion or powerful feeling, by supposition inherent in and exciting the singer, lyrical music may properly be said to be essentially dramatic. A song, when performed, is a passionate "discourse" in "most eloquent music." Its language must be exclusively that of the feelings; and being so, must, if it is true that simplicity is necessary to the pathetic, be also comparatively free from every appearance of the artificial. This is a severe restriction upon the song writer, who is constantly driven by it towards common-place. This is an unfortunate dilemma. It seems to be almost undeniable, that poetical originality is becoming every day more and more dependant upon far-sought and artificial combinations of thought. Now this directly tends to render more and more difficult the original exhibition of the pure pathetic, in poetical
composition, passion being only to be conveyed by strong and natural expression, which poetry has always found it impracticable to render susceptible of adventitious ornament. In short, to the lyric poet is allotted the almost impossible task of giving, with out the aids which novelty of situation or of preparation affords the dramatic author, a natural and striking, as well as original expression of feeling, whilst he is at the same time subjected to lyrical difficulties and limitations from which the other is free. Such are the difficulties of this species of poetical composition; and it is from a noncompliance with some one or other of the requisites which have been described, that those disappointments which so often attend the lyrical efforts of the greatest poetical talents arise. Sometimes the structure of the thought embodied in each stanza is too artificial-sometimes the description of sentiment in one stanza differs from that in another, to which the same air is consequently inapplicable-sometimes the train of thought is throughout unsuitable to the air. Hence springs that apparent inconsistency which causes us to reject, when sung, stanzas of undoubted poetical merit, and to prefer lines of little original desert, of which, however, the sentiment is similar to, and continuous with the air to which they are joined.
The songs of the earlier poets, Shakspeare, Fletcher, and others, were probably written with little reference to the music which was to be appended to them. The crude and half barbarous science, which at once formalized and complicated the music of the age, would afford little encouragement to lyrics.
Milton indeed appears to have admired the rather more modern " Ayres" of "Master Henry Lawes," but if the crabbed passages and awkward modulation of Queen Elizabeth's lessons for the virginals are to be taken as samples of the taste of her times, musical inspiration, in any shape, must, I think, have been of rare occurrence. Whether or not any of the popular airs of that period have come down to us, I do not know. It seems, however, sufficiently evident, that England has never perfected a national style of music, and to this may be in part attributed the scarcity of good lyrics in English poetry.
Shakspeare's songs are very unequal; his most fanciful are perhaps his best. "Blow, blow, thou winter wind," powerful as is its language, is yet a little too didactic to be perfectly lyrical; "but that's not much."" Five fathom deep thy father lies," is a beautiful disappointment. The conclusion does not answer the commencement. The "ding dong bell," in particular, I must venture to protest against; even the name of Shakspeare cannot sanctify the absurd burthens, the "heigh-hos!" and "hey nonny nonnies," which the fashion of his time has probably led him to affix to many of his songs. The formal quaintness of Harrington is directly at variance with lyrical effect, nor can I help thinking, that the lyrical parts of Fletcher's Faithful shepherdess have been over-praised. The well-known, "take, oh take those lips away," is, after all, to me, the finest song of the time. A little later, Ben Jonson's, "drink to me only with thine eyes," is much and deservedly celebrated. Those witty and elegant verses which are called the songs of Charles the Second's time, are nearly worthless as Lyrics. Let every one, however, read them, but let them only be read; they are pretty songs as they stand, and singing only spoils them.
At what period the description of lyrics, called "Hunting songs," became general, I cannot certainly say. They are less satisfactory to me than even drinking songs, of which last we have, considering all things, marvellously few good specimens. Yet the joyous and social spirit which is the spring of conviviality, would seem to be well adapted for lyrical and musical expression.
If we except a few excellent songs, which are certainly to be found scattered throughout the pages of English poetry, and the admirable specimens which are preserved amongst the early Scottish ballads, Robert Burns may be styled the first good song writer that has appeared. Not that Allan Ramsay is to be forgotten, many of whose songs, as for instance, "Woes my heart that we should sunder," and others in "the Gentle Shepherd," are of considerable poetical, as well as lyrical merit.-But Burns, besides his genius as a poet, seems to have hit, almost by a sort of instinct, upon the true principles of this department of writing. From these he has rarely
Were death to part us, I could rest
Nor let it dwell with thee-nor pine
The following touching Verses are taken from a Newcastle Newspaper, the "Tyne
A WINTER MORNING.
It was upon a wint'ry morn,-
He asked not aid-he looked for one
At length his fears his silence broke,
"Come, mother, come! nor tarry longer,
But soon that wretched mother came,
"My boy!-my boy!-have you seen my
Not another thought does her mind employ-
Newcastle, Dec. 2.
THE SNOW STORM.
“ "Tis only from the belief of the goodness and wisdom of a Supreme Being, that our calamities can be borne in that manner which becomes a man."-HENRY MACKENZIE. that modify or constitute the existence of the poor.
IN Summer there is beauty in the wildest moors of Scotland, and the wayfaring man who sits down for an hour's rest beside some little spring that flows unheard through the brightened moss and water-cresses, feels his weary heart revived by the silent, serene, and solitary prospect. On every side sweet sunny spots of verdure smile towards him from among the melancholy heather-unexpectedly in the solitude a stray sheep, it may be with its lambs, starts halfalarmed at his motionless figure-insects large, bright, and beautiful come careering by him through the desert air-nor does the Wild want its own songsters, the grey linnet, fond of the blooming furze, and now and then the lark mounting up to heaven above the summits of the green pastoral hills. During such a sunshiny hour, the lonely cottage on the waste seems to stand in a paradise; and as he rises to pursue his journey, the traveller looks back and blesses it with a mingled emotion of delight and envy. There, thinks he, abide the children of Innocence and Contentment, the two most benign spirits that watch over human life.
But other thoughts arise in the mind of him who may chance to journey through the same scene in the desolation of Winter. The cold bleak sky girdles the moor as with a belt of ice-life is frozen in air and on earth. The silence is not of repose but extinction and should a solitary human dwelling catch his eye half-buried in the snow, he is sad for the sake of them whose destiny it is to abide far from the cheerful haunts of men, shrouded up in melancholy, by poverty held in thrall, or pining away in unvisited and untended disease.
But, in good truth, the heart of human life is but imperfectly discovered from its countenance; and before we can know what the summer, or what the winter yields for enjoyment or trial to our country's peasantry, we must have conversed with them in their fields and by their firesides; and made ourselves acquainted with the powerful ministry of the Seasons, not over those objects alone that feed the eye and the imagination, but over all the incidents, occupations, and events
I have a short and simple story to tell of the winter-life of the moorland cottager-a story but of one evening
with few events and no signal catastrophe-but which may haply please those hearts whose delight it is to think on the humble under-plots that are carrying on in the great Drama of Life.
Two cottagers, husband and wife, were sitting by their cheerful peatfire one winter evening, in a small lonely hut on the edge of a wide moor, at some miles distance from any other habitation. There had been, at one time, several huts of the same kind erected close together, and inhabited by families of the poorest class of daylabourers who found work among the distant farms, and at night returned to dwellings which were rent-free, with their little gardens won from the waste. But one family after another had dwindled away, and the turf-built huts had all fallen into ruins, except one that had always stood in the centre of this little solitary village, with its summer-walls covered with the richest honeysuckles, and in the midst of the brightest of all the gardens. It alone now sent up its smoke into the clear winter sky-and its little endwindow, now lighted up, was the only ground star that shone towards the belated traveller, if any such ventured to cross, on a winter night, a scene so dreary and desolate. The affairs of the small household were all arranged for the night. The little rough poney that had drawn in a sledge, from the heart of the Black-Moss, the fuel by whose blaze the cotters were now sitting cheerily, and the little Highland cow, whose milk enabled them to live, were standing amicably together, under cover of a rude shed, of which one side was formed by the peat-stack, and which was at once byre, and stable, and hen-roost. Within, the clock ticked cheerfully as the fire-light reached its old oak-wood case across the yellow-sanded floor-and a small round table stood between, covered with a snow-white cloth, on which were milk and oat-cakes, the morning, mid-day, and evening incal of these frugal and contented cotters.