Page images
PDF
EPUB

i jeg rock and rugged cleft is fringed thence a never-failing supply of the purest wa era of green tracery, and every poetical enjoyment.

Y estan reflects again, in its stainless buru, uze variety and the magnificence of Le terrounding groves ? Yet what are

word vowell of the perfection of nature, the Igories that lie scattered even in our daily

THE POETRY OF ANIMALS. pesia? And what are we, that we should pursue the sordid avocations of life without While flowers, and trees, and plants in paling to admire ?

general afford an immense fund of interest In order that the harmony of sweet sounds to the contemplative beholder, the animal may be distinctly perceived and accommo- | kingdom, yet scarcely touched upon in these dated to the taste, there must be a peculiar pages, is, perhaps, equally fertile in poetical formation of the human ear; nor is it possi- associations. From the reflections of the ble for the poetry of any object, even the melancholy Jacques upon the wounded most beautitul in nature, to be felt or under- deer, down to the pretty nursery fable of etood without an answering chord in the “ The Babes in the Wood," the same natuhuman heart. There are many rational ral desire to associate with our own the beings, worthy and estimable in their way, habits and feelings of the more sensitive and altogether insensible to the unseen or spirit- amiable of the inferior animals is observaual charm which lies in almost every subject ble, as well in the productions of the subliof intellectual contemplation ; who gaze mest, as the simplest poet. upon the ivy-mantled ruin, and behold no Burns' “ Address to a Mouse," proves to thing more than gray walls with a partial us with how much genuine pathos a familiar covering of green, like the man 60 aptly and ordinary subject may be invested. No described by Wordsworth, when he says

mind which had never bathed in the fountain

of poetry itself-whose remotest attributes The primrose by the water's brim,

had not been imbued with this ethereal prinA yellow prinrose was to him,

ciple as with a living fire, could have venAnd it was nothing more."

tured upon such a theme. In common hands, But there are others, whether happier in a moral drawn from a mouse, and clothed in this state of being it might not be easy to the language of verse, would have been prove, but certainly more capable of intense little better than a burlesque, or a baby's and refined enjoyment, who, accustomed to song at best; but in these beautiful and live in a world of thought, and to derive touching lines, so perfect is the adaptation their happiness from remote and impalpable of the language to the subject-so evident, Essences of things, rather than from things without ostentation, the deep feeling of the themselves, cannot look on nature, nor be- bard himself, that the moral flows in with hold any object with which poetical associa a natural simplicity which cannot fail to tion holds the most distant connexion, but charm the most fastidious reader. immediately a wpark in the train of imagina The lines in which Cowper describes him. ton is kindle, and consciousness, memory, self as a “stricken deer," are also affecting in and anticipation, heap tiel on the living tire, the extreme; but as my object is not to which glous through the expansive soul. quote instances, but to examine why certain

It is, still to speak tiguratively, by the things are pre-eminently poetical, we will light of this fire, that they men what is im- proceed to the considerations of a few indipercepuble to other eyes. They can disco-vidual subjects; first premising, that aniver types and emblems in all crented things; mals obtain the character of being so in a and having received in their own ininds greater degree in preportion as we inagine deep and indelible impressions of beauty them to possess such qualities as are most and har nony, majesty and awe, can recur clevated or refined in ourselves, and in a less to those impresious through the clinnnels degree as we become familiarized with their which external things afford, and draw from 1 bodily functions: because the majority of

our ideas, in connexion with thein, must then acuteness of sensation ; but they are sufferbe of a gross material character, just as we ings still, borne with a meekness that looks 60 may speak in poetry, of the “ wild boar of much like the Christian virtue, resignation, the wilderness," while the tame hog of the that, in conteniplating the hard condition of sty is a thing wholly forbidden.

this ciegraded animal, he heart is softened The elephant is allowed to be the most with feelings of sorrow and compassion, and sagacious of the brute creation; but his we long to rescue it from the yoke of the sagacity is celebrated chiefly in anecdotes

oppressor. of trick and cunning, which qualities being I have often thought there was something the very reverse of what is elevated or no- peculiarly affectmg in the character of the ble in human nature, he possesses, in spite young ass-something almost saddening to of his curious formation and majestic power, the soul, in its sudden starts of short-lived little claim to poetical interest.

frolic. In its appearance there is a strange The dog very properly stands next in the unnatural mixture of infant glee, with a scale of intellect; and so far as faithful at- mournful and almost venerable gravity. Its tachment is a rare and beautiful trait in the long melancholy ears are in perfect contrast character both of man and brute, the dog with its innocent and happy face. It scems may be said to be poetical; but we are too to have heard, what is seldom heard in exfamiliar with this animal to regard him with treme youth, the sad forebodings of its latter the reverence which his good qualities might days; and when it crops the thistle, and seem to demand. We feed him on crusts sports among the briers, it appears to be and garbage; or we see him hungered until with the vain hope of carrying the spirit of he becomes greedy, and neglected until he joy along with it

, through the after vicissibecomes servile, and spurned until he threat- iudes of its hard and bitter lot. ens a vengeance which he dares not execute.

The cow is poctical, not from any quality The claims of the horse to the general inherent, or even imagined to be inherent in admiration of mankind are too well under- | itself, but from its invariable association stood to need our notice here, especially as with rich pastures and verdant meadows, they have already been examined in a for- and as an almost indispensable ornament to mer chapter. To the horse belong no as- pictures of quiet rural scenery. Time was sociations with ideas of what is gross or when the cow was poetical from her associmean. His most striking attribute is power; ation with rosy maidens tripping over the and the ardour with which he enters into the dewy lawn, and village swains tuning the excitement of the chase, or the battle, gives rustic reed; but since the high magnifier of him a character so nearly approaching to modern investigation has been applied to what is most admired in the human species, pastoral subjects, milkmaids have been prothat the ancients delighted to represent this nounced to be too homely for the poet's noble animal, not as he is, but with distend-theme; village swains have been detected in ed nostrils, indicating a courage almost fustian garments; and both, with their flocks, more than animal, with eyes animated with and their herds, and with pastoral poetry mental as well as physical energy, and with altogether, have been dismissed from the the broad ictellectual forehead of a man. theatre of intellectual entertainment.

The ass is certainly less poetical than pic Nothing, however, that has yet been effectturesque; but, still, it is poetical in its pa- ed by the various changes to which taste is tient endurance of suffering, in its associa- liable, has destroyed the poetical character ton with the wandering outcasts from society of the deer. Our associations with the deer whose tents are in the wilderness, and whose are far removed from every thing gross or "lodging is on the cold ground,” in its hum- familiar; we think of it only as a free denible appetites, and in its unrepining submis zen of the woods, swift in its movements, sion to the most abject degradation. Let us gracesul in its elastic step, delicate in all its hope that the patience of the ass arises from perceptions, and tremblingly alive to the its own insensibility, and that its sufferings, dangers which threaten it on every hand. though frequent, are attended with little We imagine it retiring from the broad clear

[ocr errors]

li rht of day, into the seclusion of the moun- appended to them the entire wings of a bird. tain glen; stooping in silence and solitu le Whether, from this association, we have to drink of the pure waters in their oubbling learned to consider birds as less material and melodious flow; gazing on through the than other animals, or whether, from the rocky defile, or in amongst the weedy hol-acrial light of birds, the artist and the poet lows on he banks of the stream, with its have learned to represent angelic beings as clear calm eye, that looks too full of love borne along the fields of air ou frathery and tenderness to be betrayed, yet ever wings, it is certain that the capacity of flight watchful, from an instinctive sense of the loses none of its poetical sublimity and grace, multiplied calamities which assail the inno- by being connected in our notions with the i cent and helpless; listening to the slightest only means of which we have any hrowsound of earth or air, the rustling of the ledce. spray that springs back from the foot of the Birds, in their partiality for the haunts of

fairy songster, or the fall of the leaf that man, offer a striking appeal to the sensitive l' fickers from bough to bough; and then—as and benevolent mind." Why should they

the zephyr sweils, and the gathering breeze cast themselves into the path of the destroycomes like a voice through the leafy depths er, or expose their frail liabitations to the " of ur: forest-bounding over the moesy turf, grasp of his unsparing hand ? Is it that and away along the sides of the mountain, they feel some "inly touch of love" for their away to join the browsing her, and give imperious n'aster, or that they seek from them intelligence of an approaching, but his power what his mercy too often denies ? uoseen foe. Or, when the chase is ended, or would they ask, in the day of their dis-, and the wounded deer returns to rant away tress, for the sparings of his plenty, and pay its parting breath in the same glen where it him back with the rich melody of their sum-. gambolled upon the dewy grass, a careless mer songs? Whatever may be the cause, and sportive fawn, he comes back with wea- they flock around him, as if the manly priry fuoi and bleeding bosom, to slake his vilege of destruction had never been everburning thirst in the same fountain where so cised upon their defenceless community. I often he has bathed his vigorous and elastic Yet, mark how well they know the nature linds. The woods are still peaceful, the of creation's lord. They tremble at his birds sing on, regardless of his groans, the corning, they flutter in his grasp, they look stream receives the life-blood from his wound, askance upon him from the bough, they re- 1. his brethren of the faithless herd arrain are gard him with perpetual suspicion, and.! browsing on the distant hills, and alone in above all, some of their species will forsake . his mortal a pony he weeps and dies. their beloved and carefully constructed hab

But of all the animal creation, birds have itations, if he has but profaned them with ever been the poet's favourite theme. In his touch. It can be no want of parental the beauty of their form and plumage, in aifection which drives them to this unnatural their soaring flight, in their sensitiveness alternative, for how diligently have they and timidity, and in the lightness and vivid- toiled, with what exquisite ingenuity have ness of their movements, there is something they constructed their children's home, how to our conceptions so intimately connected faithfully have they watched, how patiently with spirituality, that we can readily sym- have they waited for the fulfilment of their pathize with the propensity of the imagina- hopes! Yet, in one fatal inoment, the silktive, to imbody, in these gentle and ethereal en cord that strung together 'heir secret beings, the sou.s of their departed friends; joys is broken. Another spring may renew and of the superstitious, to regard them as their labours and their loves, but they know winged messengers laden with the irrevoca- it not. Their all was centred in that narrow ble decrees of an oracular sate.

point, and to them the hopes and the labours It is a curious fact, that, in our ideal per- of a whole life are lost. The delicacy of personifications of angelic forms, we do not perception which enables them to detect the ceive that they lose any thing of their intel- slightest intrusion upon the sacred mysteries lectual or celestial character, by having of their nest, gives them a character of

acuteness and sensibility far beyond that as we ourselves had glimpses of in early of other animals; and it is a wonderful and life, when the animal excitement of childhood, mysterious instinct which makes them resign mingling with the first bright dawnings of all they have loved and cherished, even reason, lifted us high into the regions of when no change is perceptible to other eyes, thought, and taught us to spurn at the harsh and when it is certain that no injury has discipline of real life. From flights such as been sustained. It is a refinement upon these we have so often fallen prone upon the feeling, which strikes the imagination with a earth, that they have ceased to tempt our strong resemblance to some of those mal-full-fledged powers, and even if the brillianoccurrences in human life, which divert the cy of thought remained to lure us on, the inner channel of the thoughts and affections, animal stimulus would be wanting, and we without the superficial observer taing should be conscious of our utter inability on aware of any change-those lamentable en- the first attempt to soar again. But the croachments upon the sacredness of domes- memory of this ecstatic feeling still remains, tic confidence, which, by a word-a look-a and when we think of the aspirations of putouch, may at once destroy the blessedness rified and happy spirits, we compare them of that union, which is nothing better than to the upward flight of the lark, or to the a degrading bond after the spell of its secret boundings of that innocent joy which we ourcharm is broken.

selves have felt, but feel no more. And then The nightingale, whose charmed lays there is the glad voice of the lark, that have a two-fold glory in their native melody, spring of perpetual freshness, pouring forth and in the poet's song, claims unquestion- its untiring and inexhaustible melody. ably the first place in our consideration;

* Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun." though I own I am much disposed to think that this bird owes half its celebrity to the Who ever listened to this voice on a clear circumstance of its singing in the night, spring morning, when nature was first rising when the visionary, wrapped in the mantle from her wintry bed, when the furze was of deep thought, wanders forth to gaze upon in bloom, and the lambs at play, and the the stars, and to court the refreshment of primrose and the violet scented the desilence and solitude. It is then that the licious south wind that came with the glad voice of the nightingale thrills upon his ear, tidings of renovated life--who ever listened and he feels that a kindred spirit is awake, to the song of the lark on such a morning, perhaps, like him, to sweet remembrances, while the dew was upon the grass, and the to sorrows too deep for tears, and joys for sun was smiling through a cloudless sky, which music alone can find a voice. He without feeling that the spirit of joy was still listens, and the ever-varying melody rises alive within, around, and above him, and and falls upon the wandering wind-he that those wild and happy strains, floating pines for some spiritual communion with in softened melody upon the scented air, this unseen being-he longs to ask why were the outpourings of a gratitude too rapsleep is banished from a breast so tuned to turous for words? harmony-joy, and joy alone, it cannot be, Nor is it the vocal power of birds which which inspires that solitary lay; no, there gives us the highest idea of their intellectual are tones of tenderness too much like grief, capacity. Their periodical visitations of parand is not grief the bond of fellowship by licular regions of the glove, and the punctuwhich impassioned souls are held together? ality with which they go forth on their mys. Thus, the nightingale pours upon the heart | terious passage at particular seasons of the of the poet, strains which thrill with those year, form, perhaps, the most wonderful prosensations that have given pathos to his pensity in their nature. It is true that ininuse, and he pays her back by celebrating stinct is the spring of their actions, and it is her midnight minstrelsy in song.

possible that they are themselves unconThe skylark is, of all the feathered tribe, scious of any motive or reason for the impormost invariably associated with ideas of rap- tant change which instinct induces them to turous, pure, and elevated enjoyment; such | make; but in speaking of the poetry of birds,

1

I wish to be understood to refer to the ideas ocean with that strange, deep wonder with i which their habits naturally excite, not to which we regard the manifestations of a De laats which they elicit. We know that mysterious, but concentrated and individual

birds are by no means distinguished, above power—to feel that he stretches his unfath11

other animals by their intellectual capacity, omable expanse from pole to pole--that he

but so wonderful, so far beyond our compre- ruffles nis foaming mane and rushes bellowhension, is the instinct exhibited in their ing upon the circling shore-or that he lies transient lives, that instead of having al- slumbering in his silent glory, beneath the ways in mind the providential scheme which blaze of our meridian sun, and through the provides for the wants and wishes even of still midnight of the island gardens that gem the meanest insect, we are apt to indulge the South Pacific; it is not less in unison our imaginations by attaching to the winged with poetic feeling, nor less productive of wanderers of the air, vague yet poetical ecstatic thought, to personify the trees, and ideas of their own mental endowments, and the flowers, and the rippling streams, and to hall believe them to be actuated by a delica- welcome with gratitude the fairy forms and cy of sense and feeling, in many cases supe- glad voices that come to tell us of returning rior to our own.

Whether this belief, with spring. which the minds of children are so strongly

Who that has tasted the delights of poetry, imbued, and which lingers about us long would be deprived of this power of the inafter we have become acquainted with its agination to people the air and animate the fallacy, be any bar to the progress of philo- whole creation ? Let the critic emile-let sophical knowledge, I am not prepared to the tradesman count his pence, and reckon say; but certainly it is the very essence of up how little imagination has ever added to poetical feeling; and for one visionary who his store-let the modern philosopher examwould scruple to kill a bird for dissection ine the leaf, and the flower, and the bird's because it had been the companion of his wing, and pronounce them equally material woodland walks, there will remain to be a and devoid of mind let the good man say thousand practical men who would care lit. that poetry is a vain pursuit, and that these tle what strains had issued from that throat, things are not worthy of our regard; I mainif they could but ascertain how the throat tain that these notions, visionary as they are, itself was constructed. It is precisely the tend to innocent enjoyment, and that innosaimne principle which inspires us with the cent enjoyment is not a vain pursuit, because sublimest ideas of the majesty of the uni- it may, and ought to inspire us with love verse, by imbodying in the stars, the moun and gratitude towards Him who has not tains, the ocean, or the pealing thunder, only given us a glorious creation to enjoy, bome unseen, but powerful intelligence, that but faculties to enjoy it with, and imaginaoflers for our enjoyment a never-ending com tion to make the most of it. panionship in the woods and wilds, through With the swallow we associate the everan ideal personification of every thing sweet cheering idea of returning summer. We and fair. It is this principle which makes watch for its coming, and rejoice to hear the us hail the periodical return of certain birds, merry twittering voice, that seems to tell of as if they had been thinking of us, and of a life of innocent and careless glee--an exour fields and gardens, in that far distant istence unruffled by a storm. As the sumland, of which they tell no tidings; and, mer advances, and we seek shelter from the taking into consideration the changes of the noon-day heat in the deep shade of the leafy seasons, had consulted upon the best means boughs that wave around the margin of the of escaping the dangers of the threatening glassy stream, it is here that the swallow is storm: as if they had spread their feeble not unfrequently our sole companion ; and wings to bear them over the wide waste of ever as we call to remembrance its swift yet inhospitable waters from the energy of their graceful flight, we picture it darting from own hearts, and had come back to us from the pendent branches of the willow, stooping their own unchangeable and fervent love. to cool its arrowy wing upon the surface of

If it be poetry to gaze upon the mighty | Die glancing waters, and then away, switter

« PreviousContinue »