BLTC Press Titles

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Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Coleridge, Shelley, Goethe: biographic aesthetic studies

by George Henry Calvert



Whobver would write becomingly about Coleridge must admire him, and admire him with earnest thankfulness. Sympathy, — so essential to the biographer, aye, and to the full critic, — even a several-sided sympathy, were not enough. The warmth of admiration will enkindle to its tenderest our charity, and admiration and charity, with their united glow, will dissolve into vapor any thoughts on the weaknesses and failures of this remarkable man ; so that, if we think of them at all, we think of them only with a plaintive murmur, because through them we have been bereft of some of the harvest we had a right to expect from the healthful growth of such diverse and peerless powers. And even mildest murmur will be hushed, through sympathy with the sufferings his weaknesses caused to the author and man, our splendent gracious benefactor.

Were there left of Coleridge nothing but Kubla Khan, from this gem one might almost reconstruct, in full brightness, its great author's poetic work, just as the expert zoologist reconstructs the extinct megatherium from a single fossil bone. Of this masterpiece, the chief beauty is not the noted music of the versification, but the range and quality of the imaginings embodied in this music. Were there in these no unearthly breathings, no mysterious grandeur, the verse could not have been made to pulsate so rhythmically. The essence of the melody is in the fineness of the conception, in the poetic imaginations. In this case, as in all cases, the spirit not only controls but creates the body. Metrical talent must be there to handle the molten words as they flow from the furnace of genius, shaping and placing them while still swollen with genial warmth. Genius, the master, cannot do without talent, the servant.

" Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean : "

To present of a sudden to the mind a signal thought, which springs unexpectedly but appropriately out of another, the meeting of the two striking a light that flashes a new and brilliant ray upon the attention, — to do this is to perform a high poetic feat. The sacred river running through wood and dale, then gliding into the earth through caverns measureless to man, to sink " in tumult to a lifeless ocean : " this mysterious picture sets the mind a brooding, awakens its poetic sensibility. Suppose the passage had stopped here. Regaled by such a fresh, impressive presentation, the mind would have grasped it as an inward boon, to be held tightly hold of by the susceptible reader, awakening in him, through quick affinities, thoughts of human fate and woe. But the passage does not stop here ; in the poet's mind, as in the capable reader's, are generated associations with human destiny: and so, instead of a full stop at " ocean," there is only a colon, the poet's thought springing forward into the two wonderful lines, —

" And mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war."

And the passage, instead of leaving on the reader an impression of calm, strange beauty, kindles into a startling splendor. The physical tumult passes into human tumult; the vague, hoarse swell of a torrent grows articulate, the " caverns measureless to man " deepen into the abode of former kings, who, from the subterranean darkness to which their warriorambition has doomed them, throw upon the ear of their Sardanapalean descendant doleful, menacing predictions. All this, and more, is in those two lines, so laden with meaning and music, whereby the physical picture is magnified, deepened, vivified, through psychical participation. The poetical is ever an appeal to the deepest in the human mind, and a great burst of poetic light like this lays bare, for the imagination to roam in, a vast indefinite domain.

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