THE WAIF: A COLLECTION OF POEMS.
Upon your seas, he claimed as property:
And yet nor his, nor his in equity,
But yours the waif by high prerogative.’The Faerie Queene.
Cambridge: Published by John Owen, 1845.
The nature of this book is intimated by its motto, and fully explained by the graceful “Proem” of Mr. Longfellow who has collected and arranged the poems. We must copy this
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in its flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me,
That my soul cannot resist;
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heart-felt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of time,
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of Care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice;
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
We cannot but feel some surprise that a writer of so cultivated taste and judgment as Mr. Longfellow should not perceive the inadequacy of the image in the first verse to express his meaning. He is seduced by the pretty picture of the fall of a feather from the black eagle, pretty in itself, but neither by the nature of the motion, nor in any other way, giving the same impression as the fall of night.
We regret this one fault, as every other image, throughout the poem, is as apt as it is beautiful. Just so in that called “The Gleam of Sunshine” in “The Gift” of this year which attracted us more, from its grace and tenderness, than almost any thing of Mr. Longfellow’s ever did. There is one failure of the same kind:
Beneath Time’s floating tide,
Like footprints, hidden by a brook,
But seen on either side.’
Here, again, a charming picture is presented to the fancy, but one which does not fulfil the purpose of representing the mental fact. For the present is not a path already trodden on the other side of the brook whose bridge we are crossing.
This is the best selection of poems we have seen. All are good, many excellent, and amid the variety there is an unity of purpose and feeling, such as makes us enjoy a private picture gallery, belonging to a man of refined judgment, more than the treasures of the most splendid public temple of Art. We extremely regret that the volume did not make its appearance here earlier; it would have been a more valuable present from friend to friend than any we have seen provided for the season.
Almost all the poems are familiar to ourself, but we meet them again with great pleasure; and we presume that, to many, who have not had the same convenient access to books, most of those from the older writers, and several from contemporaries, will be new. To all such of a pure native feeling acquaintance with those here given from Marvell, Crashaw, Lovelace, Quarles and Herrick, will be a treasure.
We will mention, as among the most beautiful of these, “The Drop of Dew” by Marvel, “The Grasshopper” by Lovelace, “Primroses” by Herrick, and “Sweet Phospher bring the Day” by Quarles. The following was a new delight to us:
They are all gone into a world of light,
And I alone sit lingering here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beams in which the hill is dressed,
And the sun’s remove,
I see them walking in an air of glory,
Whose light doth trample on my days,
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary,
Mere glimmerings and decays.
O holy hope, and high humility,
High as the heavens above!
These are your walks, and ye have showed them me,
To kindle my cold love.
Dear, beauteous Death! the jewel of the just!
Shining no where but in the dark:
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust,
Could man outlook that mark!
He that hath found some fledged bird’s nest may know,
At first sight if the bird be flown;
But what fair field or grove he sings in now,
That is to him unknown.
And yet, as angels, in some brighter dreams,
Call to the soul, when man doth sleep,
So some strange thoughts transcend our wonted themes,
And into glory peep.
Among the modern poems, we especially like “The Song of the Forge,” “Kulnasatz,” (this however is only modern as a translation,) “The Awakening of Endymion,” the exquisite “Lily of Nithsdale,” “Night among the Alps,” and Hood’s two poems. We wish several others from Hood had been added, which are little known, such as “The Peasant Lover.” One of the two we will give as possessing the same force and justness of feeling and touch that have made others, lately written by Hood, so popular.
One more unfortunate,
Weary of breath,
Gone to her death!
Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashioned so slenderly
Young and so fair.
Look at her garments
Clinging like cerements,
Whilst the wave constantly
Drips from her clothing;
Take her up instantly,
Loving, not loathing.
Touch her not scornfully;
Think of her mournfully,
Gently, and humanly;
Not of the stains of her;
All that remains of her
Now, is pure womanly.
Make no deep scrutiny
Into her mutiny,
Rash and undutiful;
Past all dishonor,
Death has left on her
Only the beautiful.
Still, for all slips of hers,
One of Eve’s family,
Wipe those poor lips of hers,
Dozing so clammily.
Look on her tresses,
Escaped from the comb,
Her fair auburn tresses;
Whilst wonderment guesses,
Where was her home.
Who was her father?
Who was her mother?
Had she a sister?
Had she a brother?
Or, was there a dearer one
Still, and a nearer one
Yet, than all other?
Alas, for the rarity
Of Christian charity
Under the sun!
O, it was pitiful!
Near a whole city full,
Home she had none.
Feelings had changed:
Love, by harsh evidence,
Thrown from its eminence;
Even God’s providence
Where the lamps quiver
So far in the river,
With many a light,
From windows and casement,
From garret to basement,
She stood, with amazement,
Houseless, by night.
The bleak wind of March
Made her tremble and shiver;
But not the dark arch,
Or the black flowing river.
Mad from life’s history,
Glad to death’s mystery
Swift to be hurled;
Any where—any where,
Out of the world!
In she plunged boldly,
No matter how coldly
The rough river ran;
Over the brink of it,
Picture it, think of it,
Lave in it, drink of it,
Then, if you can!
Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care:
Fashioned so slenderly,
Young, and so fair!
Ere her limbs frigidly
Stiffen too rigidly,
Smooth and compose them;
And her eyes, close them,
Staring so blindly!
Through muddy impurity,
As when with the daring
Last look of despairing
Fixed on futurity.
Spurned by contumely,
Into her rest!
Cross her hands humbly,
As if praying dumbly,
Over her breast.
Owning her weakness,
Her evil behavior;
And leaving, with meekness,
Her sins to her Savior!
Shall we be told by the critic that every expression in this poem is the plainest, most trenchant prose? We answer, it is not the less a poem, admirable in its way. It is a street ballad, a sob from the heart of the people: ask them if it is not as good poetry as what you cull with care from your Eddas or other collections of the ancient time.
Near a whole city full.
If you were a child and heard some old beggar woman croaking out such rhymes, they would draw tears from your eyes. If you have any of the poet-heart of the child in you, they will do so now.
The whole picture reminds so forcibly of the finding the body of Eily O’Connor as represented in “The Collegians,” that we think Hood must have had that fine tragedy in his mind, as he wrote.
After quoting poems from the shadow side, we must add one in the spirit of a noble joy, for the sake of the distant reader:
“TO HIS NOBLE FRIEND, MR. CHARLES COTTON.”
O thou, that awing’st upon the waving hair
Of some well-filled oaten beard,
Drunk ever night with a delicious tear
Dropped thee from heaven, where now thou’rt reared!
The joys of earth and air are thine entire
That with thy feet and wings dost hop and fly,
And when they poppy works, thou dost retire
To thy carved acorn-bed to lie.
Up with the day, the sun thou welcom’st then—
Sport’st in the gilt-plats of his beams,
And all these merry days mak’st merry men,
Thyself, and melancholy streams.
But ah, the sickle! golden ears are cropped;
Ceres and Bacchus bid good night;
Sharp, frosty fingers all your flowers have topped,
And what scythes spared, winds shave off quite.
Poor, verdant fool! and now, green ice! thy joys
Large and as lasting as thy perch of grass,
Bid us lay in ’gainst winter rains, and poise
Their floods with an o’erflowing glass.
Thou best of men and friends, we will create
A genuine summer in each other’s breast;
And, spite of this cold time and frozen fate,
Thaw us a warm seat to our rest.
Our sacred hearths shall burn eternally
As vestal flames; the north-wind, he
Shall strike his frost-stretched wings, dissolve, and fly
This Ætna in epitome.
Dropping December shall come creeping in,
Bewail th’ usurping of his reign;
But when in showers of old Greek we begin,
Shall cry, he hath his crown again!
Night, as clear Hesper, shall our tapers whip
From the light casements where we play,
And the dark hag from her black mantle strip,
And stick there everlasting clay.
Thus, richer than untempted kings are we,
That asking nothing, nothing need:
Though lord of all that seas embrace, yet he
That wants himself is poor indeed.
It is a beneficent office to gather and bring to us the asphodel from distant fields of poesy. As a clear, intelligent note is said to be heard above and beyond a great deal of noise, so will this delicate perfume overcome, and even dispel, the strong scent of the gaudy weeds which spring up on every side. It is a gentle and worthy office to put into a new light and procure fresh audience for the inspiration of other minds. He who takes delight in introducing others to their due share of homage deserves to have the memory of his own best hours cherished in turn.—We value this book, because we see that it is made up, not for show or sale merely, but because the collector’s own pleasure in the poems made him desirous to impart like pleasure to congenial minds.*
“Review.” New-York Daily Tribune, 16 January 1845, p. 1.