“Good-by, proud world,”
recalls Spenser and Raleigh. “The Humble-Bee” is strongly marked by the manner and thought of Marvell. Marvell’s
“Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade,”
may well have suggested Emerson’s
“The green silence dost displace
With thy mellow, breezy bass.”
“The Snow-Storm” naturally enough brings to mind the descriptions of Thomson and of Cowper, and fragment as it is, it will not suffer by comparison with either.
“Woodnotes,” one of his best poems, has passages that might have been found in Milton’s “Comus;” this, for instance:—
“All constellations of the sky
Shed their virtue through his eye.
Him Nature giveth for defence
His formidable innocence.”
Of course his Persian and Indian models betray themselves in many of his poems, some of which, called translations, sound as if they were original.
So we follow him from page to page and find him passing through many moods, but with one pervading spirit:—
“Melting matter into dreams,
Panoramas which I saw,
And whatever glows or seems
Into substance, into Law.”
We think in reading his “Poems” of these words of Sainte-Beuve:—
“The greatest poet is not he who has done the best; it is he who suggests the most; he, not all of whose meaning is at first obvious, and who leaves you much to desire, to explain, to study; much to complete in your turn.”
Just what he shows himself in his prose, Emerson shows himself in his verse. Only when he gets into rhythm and rhyme he lets us see more of his personality, he ventures upon more audacious imagery, his flight is higher and swifter, his brief crystalline sentences have dissolved and pour in continuous streams. Where they came from, or whither they flow to empty themselves, we cannot always say,—it is enough to enjoy them as they flow by us.
Incompleteness—want of beginning, middle, and end,—is their too common fault. His pages are too much like those artists’ studios all hung round with sketches and “bits” of scenery. “The Snow-Storm” and “Sea-Shore” are “bits” out of a landscape that was never painted, admirable, so far as they go, but forcing us to ask, “Where is the painting for which these scraps are studies?” or “Out of what great picture have these pieces been cut?”
We do not want his fragments to be made wholes,—if we did, what hand could be found equal to the task? We do not want his rhythms and rhymes smoothed and made more melodious. They are as honest as Chaucer’s, and we like them as they are, not modernized or manipulated by any versifying drill-sergeant,—if we wanted them reshaped whom could we trust to meddle with them?
His poetry is elemental; it has the rock beneath it in the eternal laws on which it rests; the roll of deep waters in its grander harmonies; its air is full of Aeolian strains that waken and die away as the breeze wanders over them; and through it shines the white starlight, and from time to time flashes a meteor that startles us with its sudden brilliancy.