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year we pass by degrees into the sober after-thought of the Victorian era. Where the romantic revival was marked by an enthusiasm for rebellion against established conventions, a liberalism in art, a love for the simple and natural, the quieter and calmer Victorian age is characterized by introspection and by moral purpose. The new age fostered prose rather than poetry. A large and most important body of prose criticism appeared, showing how the new age needed time and thought to assimilate the inspired lessons of the romanticists. The novel, essay, and history made greater strides than the poem. And both in prose and verse a strong underlying moral purpose is evident, a probing into reasons for social, civil, and religious ills and an attempt to cure them.
Matthew Arnold remains one of the prominent poets of the period. He was a highly educated man, preaching the crusade of culture against philistinism with a passionate zeal and sincerity. The prose essays in criticism have established for him a higher reputation, perhaps, than has his poetry, and yet he was professor of poetry at Oxford and the small body of poetry he has left ranks high.
In his poetry Arnold reflects a certain hesitation and doubt on fundamental religious conceptions. He inherited from his home environment a positive belief in accepted dogma, but his own intellectual desire for more and exact knowledge brought continual questioning and uncertainty. In his poems are recurrent notes of sadness and regret, perhaps inspired by his inward struggle between faith and skepticism. His poetry is intellectual rather than emotional. He found his true expression in his critical writings.
Much more completely than Arnold did Tennyson reflect the temper of his time, for where Arnold's
's range was narrow, Tennyson's was broad. Tennyson not only revealed contemporary doubts and fears, but also contemporary ambitions, hopes, enthusiasms, ideals. Arnold was critic as well as poet, and inspector of schools and professor at Oxford as well as critic and poet: Tennyson was only a poet. All his life long, Tennyson's whole devotion was to poetry. He occupied a unique place, for he was not a poet, but the poet of his country.
Not until 1842 was his position established; after the publication of his Poems in that year, containing such treasures as Ulysses and Morte d'Arthur, his supremacy was never questioned. In 1850 he succeeded Wordsworth as poet laureate and published In Memoriam, on which he had worked at intervals during the previous sixteen years. The last of the Idylls of the King appeared in 1885, the first having been written (not then with a definite idea of an epic cycle) more than forty years before. He wrote steadily until the year of his death, his later works retaining much of the beauty and inspiration of his earlier.
It is difficult now to place Tennyson with certainty in his relative rank among English poets, for we are still so near him that the glamour of his life and contemporary fame blind us. It is doubtful whether he is to be considered as a great original genius, the introducer of new ideas into the world of men. He seems not so much the leader of men as their representative man. He incorporates contemporary ideas in verse: he does not add to the sum of human knowledge. He is the result of his age rather than the creator of his age.
As a poet Tennyson's work is the union of the best qualities of his predecessors: he had the visionary sweetness of Spenser, the simplicity of the ballads as revived in the style of Words worth, the majestic power of Milton, the beauty of Keats. It must be admitted, however, that with the union of these qualities, each quality loses a little of its special perfection. Perhaps we feel in Tennyson art rather than inspiration, the sane and worthy poet rather than the seer whose fire is direct from heaven.
Tennyson represented the emotions and ideals of his age: his great contemporary, Robert Browning, strove to pierce deeper into the individual soul in search of the ultimate spiritual
secrets. Browning's degree of success may win for him, in the final judgment of men in years to come, a higher rank than Tennyson. His admirers even now place him second only to Shakespeare.
Browning's ideals in poetry were of the highest. Were we to judge him by these he would indeed rank, not below, but with, Shakespeare, for he sought to find the springs of human thought, feeling, and action, and reveal them to men. He had the insight of a true poet, the vision of a seer and a prophet. With this he combined a rare mental breadth and freedom from bias. He hated cant and hypocrisy and any evidence of these. He impresses us at times as fain to accept unquestioningly the essential rightness of things in this perplexing world of involved sin, suffering, virtue, and happiness; but the man who could write the Ring and the Book can scarcely be accused of narrowness.
If Browning had this poetic insight and breadth of view, why cannot he rank indisputably with our greatest? The difficulty lies in his expression. His idioms, his constructions, his language have from his first publications proved a stumbling-block to the wide popular appreciation of his genius. His imaginative creations, wonderfully true and beautiful in their conception, are too often misshapen and warped in their material embodiment. Where a reader's mental effort is distracted continually from the idea to the knotty involved phrases and ejaculations by which the idea is cast forth, that reader is likely to cease the effort. The formation of a Browning society in Browning's lifetime was not a compliment to the poet, but a confession of weakness: it has actually done him more harm than good in stamping him as the poet of a clique rather than the poet of mankind. Shakespeare needed no Shakespearean society in his lifetime to interpret his plays to those who thronged daily to the Globe.
As time goes on, however, the ill-fame of Sordello and the ill-advised eulogies of the Browning clique are losing their effect, and among an ever-widening class of cultivated readers Browning is being recognized as worthy to stand among the great poetic creators in our literature. More and more people are braving the difficulties of style to grasp the imaginative vision beneath. He emerges greater as he is more popularly understood.
Browning is the last of the giants. With him who died but a generation ago this outline can fitly close. Much poetry has been written since he died, but none that bears the stamp of lasting greatness. What figures are on the horizon we can but dimly guess. Of one thing, however, we can feel sure: the age of poetry is not gone and will never go. So soon as an inspired poet speaks to men, then will the souls of men respond as they have in the past. A love of poetry is the essence of great thought and great living.
What maketh this world to be so vari.
Tempest thee noght al croked to redresse,
Trouthe is put doun, resoun is holden fable;
LENVOY TO KING RICHARD
Therfore, thou vache, leve thyn old wrecch- O prince, desyre to be honourable, ednesse
Cherish thy folk and hate extorcioun ! Unto the worlde; leve now to be thral; Suffre no thing, that may be reprevable Crye bim mercy, that of his hy goodnesse To thyn estat, don in thy regioun. Made thee of noght, and in especial Shew forth thy swerd of castigacioun, Draw unto him, and pray in general Dred God, do law, love trouthe and worthiFor thee, and eek for other, hevenlich mede;
nesse, And trouthe shal delivere, hit is no drede. And wed thy folk agein to stedfastnesse. Explicit Le bon counseill de G. Chaucer
Explicit 1 The text adopted in these extracts is that of the Skeat edition. – ED.
THE PROLOGUE Here biginneth the Book of the Tales of
Caunterbury Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote The droghte of Marche hath perced to the
rote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the night with open yë, (So priketh hem nature in hir corages): Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages (And palmers for to seken straunge
strondes) To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes; And specially, from every shires ende Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende, The holy blisful martir for to seke, Tbat hem bath holpen, whan that they were
seke. Bifel that, in that seson on a day, In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage To Caunterbury with ful devout corage, At night was come in-to that hostelrye Wel nyne and twenty in a companye, Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle In felawshipe, and pilgrims were they alle, That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde; The chambres and the stables weren wyde, And wel we weren esed atte beste. And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste, 30 So hadde I spoken with hem everichon, That I was of hir felawshipe anon, And made forward erly for to ryse, To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.
But natheles, whyl I have tyme and space, Er that I ferther in this tale pace, Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun, To telle yow al the condicionn Of ech of hem, so as it semed me, And whiche they weren, and of what de
gree; And eek in what array that they were inne: And at a knight than wol I first biginne.
A Knight ther was, and that a worthy
man, That fro the tyme that he first bigan To ryden out, he loved chivalrye, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye. Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre, And therto hadde he riden (no man ferre) As wel in Cristendom as hethenesse, And ever honoured for his worthinesse. So
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne; Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce. In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce, No Cristen man so ofte of his degree. In Gernade at the sege eek hadde he be Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye. At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye, Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete
See At many a noble aryve hadde he be. At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene, And foughten for our feith at Tramissene In listes thryes, and ay slayn his foo. This ilke worthy knight had been also Somtyme with the lord of Palatye, Ageyn another hethen in Turkye: And evermore he hadde a sovereyn prys. And though that he were worthy, he was wys, And of his port as meke as is a mayde. He never yet no vileinye ne sayde In al his lyf, un-to no maner wight. He was a verray parfit gentil knight. But for to tellen yow of his array, His hors were gode, but he was nat gay. Of fustian he wered a gipoun Al bismotered with his habergeoun; For he was late y-come from his viage, And wente for to doon his pilgrimage. With him ther was his sone, a yong
SQUYER, A lovyere, and a lusty bacheler, With lokkes crulle, as they were leyd in
presse. Of twenty yeer