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Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 491 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

Burns can, therefore, claim kinship with the Elizabethans because of his love songs, which in depth of feeling and beauty of natural utterance show something of Shakespeare’s magic.  In addition to this, the poetry of Burns voices the democratic spirit of the Revolution.

Treatment of Nature.—­In his verses, the autumn winds blow over yellow corn; the fogs melt in limpid air; the birches extend their fragrant arms dressed in woodbine; the lovers are coming through the rye; the daisy spreads her snowy bosom to the sun; the “westlin” winds blow fragrant with dewy flowers and musical with the melody of birds; the brook flows past the lover’s Eden, where summer first unfolds her robes and tarries longest, because of the rarest bewitching enchantment of the poet’s tale told there.

In his poetry those conventional birds,—­the lark and the nightingale,—­do not hold the chief place.  His verses show that the source of his knowledge of birds is not to be sought in books.  We catch glimpses of grouse cropping heather buds, of whirring flocks of partridges, of the sooty coot and the speckled teal, of the fisher herons, of the green-crested lapwing, of clamoring craiks among fields of flowering clover, of robins cheering the pensive autumn, of lintwhites chanting among the buds, of the mavis singing drowsy day to rest.

It is true that on the poetic stage of Burns, man always stands in the foreground.  Nature is employed in order to give human emotion a proper background.  Burns chose those aspects of nature which harmonized with his present mood, but the natural objects in his pages are none the less enjoyable for that reason.  Sometimes his songs complain if nature seems gay when he is sad, but this contrast is employed to throw a stronger light on his woes.

General Characteristics.—­More people often visit the birthplace of Burns near Ayr than of Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon.  What qualities in Burns account for such popularity?  The fact that the Scotch are an unusually patriotic people and make many pilgrimages to the land of Burns is only a partial answer to this question.  The complete answer is to be found in a study of Burns’s characteristics.  In the first place, with his “spark o’ Nature’s fire,” he has touched the hearts of more of the rank and file of humanity than even Shakespeare himself.  The songs of Burns minister in the simplest and most direct way to every one of the common feelings of the human heart.  Shakespeare surpasses all others in painting universal human nature, but he is not always simple.  Sometimes his audience consists of only the cultured few.

Especially enjoyable is the humor of Burns, which usually displays a kindly and intuitive sympathy with human weakness. Tam o’ Shanter, his greatest poem, keeps the reader smiling or laughing from beginning to end.  When the Scottish Muse proudly placed on his brow the holly wreath, she happily emphasized two of his conspicuous qualities,—­his love and mirth, when she said:—­

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