Lectures on the English Poets eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Lectures on the English Poets.

the truth of human passion and the preternatural ending are equally striking.—­It is not fair to compare Spenser with Shakspeare, in point of interest.  A fairer comparison would be with Comus; and the result would not be unfavourable to Spenser.  There is only one work of the same allegorical kind, which has more interest than Spenser (with scarcely less imagination):  and that is the Pilgrim’s Progress.  The three first books of the Faery Queen are very superior to the three last.  One would think that Pope, who used to ask if any one had ever read the Faery Queen through, had only dipped into these last.  The only things in them equal to the former, are the account of Talus, the Iron Man, and the delightful episode of Pastorella.

The language of Spenser is full, and copious, to overflowing; it is less pure and idiomatic than Chaucer’s, and is enriched and adorned with phrases borrowed from the different languages of Europe, both ancient and modern.  He was, probably, seduced into a certain license of expression by the difficulty of filling up the moulds of his complicated rhymed stanza from the limited resources of his native language.  This stanza, with alternate and repeatedly recurring rhymes, is borrowed from the Italians.  It was peculiarly fitted to their language, which abounds in similar vowel terminations, and is as little adapted to ours, from the stubborn, unaccommodating resistance which the consonant endings of the northern languages make to this sort of endless sing-song.—­Not that I would, on that account, part with the stanza of Spenser.  We are, perhaps, indebted to this very necessity of finding out new forms of expression, and to the occasional faults to which it led, for a poetical language rich and varied and magnificent beyond all former, and almost all later example.  His versification is, at once, the most smooth and the most sounding in the language.  It is a labyrinth of sweet sounds, “in many a winding bout of linked sweetness long drawn out”—­that would cloy by their very sweetness, but that the ear is constantly relieved and enchanted by their continued variety of modulation—­ dwelling on the pauses of the action, or flowing on in a fuller tide of harmony with the movement of the sentiment.  It has not the bold dramatic transitions of Shakspeare’s blank verse, nor the high-raised tone of Milton’s; but it is the perfection of melting harmony, dissolving the soul in pleasure, or holding it captive in the chains of suspense.  Spenser was the poet of our waking dreams; and he has invented not only a language, but a music of his own for them.  The undulations are infinite, like those of the waves of the sea:  but the effect is still the same, lulling the senses into a deep oblivion of the jarring noises of the world, from which we have no wish to be ever recalled.


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Lectures on the English Poets from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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