Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 226 pages of information about Old and New Masters.
out of which the aesthetic sort of art and literature has been born, is essentially a boy’s love.  Poets who are sick with this passion must either die young, like Keats, or survive merely to echo their younger selves, like Swinburne.  They are splendid in youth, like Aucassin, whose swooning passion for Nicolette is symbolical of their almost painful desire of beauty.  In Hand and Soul, Rossetti tells us of Chiaro dell Erma that “he would feel faint in sunsets and at the sight of stately persons.”  Keats’s Odes express the same ecstasy of faintness, and Rossetti himself was obviously a close nineteenth-century counterpart of Chiaro.  Even when he troubles about the soul—­and he constantly troubles about it—­he never seems to be able altogether to escape out of what may be called the higher sensationalism into genuine mysticism.  His work is earth-born:  it is rich in earthly desire.  His symbols were not wings to enable the soul to escape into a divine world of beauty.  They were the playthings of a grown man, loved for their owft beauty more than for any beauty they could help the spirit to reach.  Rossetti belongs to the ornamental school of poetry.  He writes more like a man who has gone into a library than like one who has gone out to Nature, and ornamentalism in poetry is simply the result of seeing life, not directly, but through the coloured glass of literature and the other arts.  Rossetti was the forerunner of all those artists and authors of recent times, who, in greater or less degree, looked on art as a weaving of patterns, an arrangement of wonderful words and sounds and colours.  Pater in his early writings, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, and all those others who dreamed that it was the artist’s province to enrich the world with beautiful furniture—­for conduct itself seemed, in the philosophy of these writers, to aspire after the quality of tapestry—­are implicit in The Blessed Damozel and Troy Town. It is not that Rossetti could command words like Pater or Wilde.  His phrasing, if personal, is curiously empty of the graces.  He often does achieve graces of phrase; but some of his most haunting poems owe their power over us to their general pattern, and not to any persistent fine workmanship.  How beautiful Troy Town is, for instance, and yet how lacking in beautiful verses!  The poet was easily content in his choice of words who could leave a verse like:—­

Venus looked on Helen’s gift;
(O Troy Town!)
Looked and smiled with subtle drift,
Saw the work of her heart’s desire:—­
“There thou kneel’st for Love to lift!”
(O Troy’s down,
Tall Troy’s on fire!)

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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