Essay: Symbolism and Meaning in Donne's "The Canonization"
Symbolism and Meaning in John Donne's “The Canonization”
Starting in the late 16th Century and lasting throughout the 17th Century, was a form of poetry that has come to be known as Metaphysical. Though not a poetic movement in the sense of having a manifesto (as did the Romantics), these poets explored similar themes such as love and religion, approaching them in a practical yet transcendent manner. One of the greatest of these Metaphysical Poets was John Donne (1572-1631). Writing in a time of political, social and religious upheaval, his poetry is largely concerned with the enigmatic relationship between a person’s sexuality and spirituality. This question is raised in his poem “The Canonization”, in which the social stigma surrounding an overt love affair is compared to the martyrdom of saints. Many poetic techniques, characteristic of Metaphysical poetry, are used to develop this theme, as love is established as an alternative religion to Orthodox Christianity and the societal conventions it propagates.
The structure of “The Canonization” is an example of a love Lyric, and operating within considerable structural constraints. The poem consists of 5 stanzas, each of 9 lines, with a Rhyme scheme of ABBACCCAA. This could be described as an alternative Quatrain followed by a tercet and a rhyming couplet, thereby highlighting the epigrammatical origins of Metaphysical poetry, however none of these sections are separated by voltars to make this analysis explicit. This strict format can be understood as showing social constraints within which the persona must operate, and to whom the persona’s love is held accountable. The metre of the lines varies within individual stanzas, alternating between iambic Pentameter, tetrameter, and trimeter, often changing Foot as well. These various meters are, however, to some extent consistent between stanzas. This is a reflection of the Metaphysical attempts at a more conversational Rhythm, so as to be more accessible in meaning. This strict structure also allows for distinct stages in the development in the persona’s argument, however jumbled these stages may be in comparison to convention. The first Stanza describes the viewpoint of society (however briefly) and passes judgement on that viewpoint. The second stanza presents the case of the persona’s argument. A decision is therefore already made before the reader has heard all cases, forcing them to accept the message of the text, and allowing the following stanzas to operate on that assumption of agreement. The structure has thereby played a major role in the persuasion of readers, and manipulation of their reader position.
The first impressions of the meaning of any poem are given by the poem’s title. The title “The Canonization” has direct religious connotations; however, Donne manipulates reader preconceptions in order to generate meaning. Readers may think of canonization in terms of idyllic saints, given devotion by the Roman Catholic Church in particular. Donne, though originally a Roman Catholic himself, wrote much polemic poetry against Catholicism (following his switch to Protestantism), and is therefore critical of this romanticised view of saints. Instead, he contrasts these reader preconceptions with the actual struggle and torture of martyrdom that created these saints. The poem deals with this later view of canonization. In this title, Donne gives readers a potentially false sense of prior understanding of the poem’s message, a sense which is used to create a Paradox between readers’ understanding and the text’s message, a paradox used throughout the poem to persuade readers into Donne’s point of view.
The first stanza deals with the reaction of society to the persona’s love. No explanation is given of the details of the love affair, nor if there are any particular moral questions of which society could be critical. Instead, the persona lists society’s General complaints against the obsession of love. The poem begins in true Metaphysical form with:
For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love,
This has a sense of immediacy and converstionalism, with the reference to a listener’s “…tongue…” creating an awareness of prior words in the conversation. Metaphysical poets strove for this more realistic representation of language (realistic in comparison to their contemporary poet’s, though perhaps not compared to modern standards) in order to affect the poem’s accessibility and high level of reader engagement. Immediately the reader is addressed and given the proposition to “…let me (the speaker) love…”. The opening line also establishes the dialectic of God (the conventions of religion and social decorousness) in contrast to love (more specifically a love affair, with some sexual aspect). The tension between these two powers is discussed throughout the poem. This line is followed by a listing of reasons against the overt love of the persona. These are almost given in the manner of an inverted blazon, with the listing of physical defects of the persona (“…palsie…gout…gray haires…”). Though no link is explicitly made, such catalogues of the problems of age were common in carpe diem poems, extolling the need to ‘make love while we may’. Reader’s at the time of the poem’s composition would have recognised this and possibly anticipated that genre of poetry to follow. However, again Donne challenges the preconceptions of readers by refusing to conform. Reference is next made to the Elizabethan belief in fate/fortune, emphasised by the alliteration “…ruined fortune flout…”. The reasons for not loving are that the persona is too old and that it will ruin his fortunes for the future. It should be noted that no mention is made of the persona’s love interest. The love remains a singular activity until the end of the second stanza. In the second half of the first stanza, the persona dismisses the criticisms of society, addressing the critics and prescribing for them a course of action. The treasures of wealth, education, destiny and rank are given to society, if the persona is allowed to love in return. The search for these commodities was expanding dramatically at the time of Donne, especially with the exploration of the New World and the precarious position of the British monarchy; however, here they are regarded as worthless in comparison to love. The tone in discussing them verges on mockery, it certainly demeans the value given to them by the era. In return for love, society is also given leave to honour an ambiguous ‘him’, either the monarchy, the King, or perhaps Christ. This section may possibly have biblical connotations to the questioning of Christ over taxes paid to Caesar (Christ pointing to the face of Caesar on the coins as warranting that they are given as tax). However, again the story is inverted, as God and the social conventions supported by religion take the role of Caesar, in contrast to love playing the role of God. In this extended judgement of a society critical of love, Donne confronts any readership in sympathy with that opinion, either antagonising such readers or persuading them into a less resistant reading of the poem.
In contrast to conventions of Rhetoric, judgement is passed on those in disagreement with the persona in stanza one, before the persona defends his case in stanza two. This is carried out through successive rhetorical questions:
Alas, alas, who’s injur’d by my love?
What merchants ships have my sighs drown’d?
Implicit descriptions of the tortures intrinsic to love (as opposed to being imposed by society) are made with reference to “…sighs…teares…colds…heats…”. These are linked with successive natural disasters, which may also be seen as acts of God, such as floods and diseases. With this interpretation, Donne can be viewed as verging on apostasy, as he discretely criticises God by pointing out that love has no hand in causing the disasters for which God can be viewed as responsible. Whereas God causes ten plagues of Egypt in the Bible, and strikes many people dead:
When did the heats which my veines fill
Adde one man to the plaguie Bill?
Love is thereby established as an alternative religion to Orthodox understandings of Christianity. The reference to soldiers and lawyers, towards the stanza’s conclusion, is again symptomatic of Metaphysical poetry. The Metaphysical poets often compared metaphysical themes such as love to more practical aspects of life, such as law and war. Though here the legal and military aspects do not play an active role in the poem’s imagery, their inclusion challenges readers. Readers are encouraged to acknowledge the practical applications of the poem’s message, as well as provided with an illustration of the harmless nature of love (whereas conventional religion often attacks the offices of war and law as sinful). The stanza is really concerned with proving that love in no way hurts the operations of society, and that there is therefore no need for society to hurt the operations of love. In the final lines of the stanza, a second lover enters the poem, a voiceless female figure. Gender studies of “The Canonization” and Metaphysical poetry in general, would argue that this is representative of a depersonalised and objectified view of women, that they are merely objects of love, rather than being active participants in the love affair. This is supported by the fact that in leading up to the introduction of the female, the love is owned by the male. This is not only in the fact that he provides the discourse about love, but that it is often referred to as “…my love…” and he as the only lover that needs release from the taunts of society. When the lady does enter, it is not as an equal to the male persona, but either separated from him (“…she and I do love…”) or spoken for by him. Love is a male dominated issue, which is revealed through the gaps and silences of the poem.
The third stanza focuses on the essence of the love itself. Though the male voice retains command of the discourse, the female is joined to him as an “…us…”. Little regard is given in this stanza, to the criticisms of society. The real issue is now the saintly nature of love, with criticisms of love becoming a side-point. The persona declares:
Call us what you will, wee’are made such by love;
confirming that it is their censure within society that makes them martyrs, effecting their canonisation. The two figures become meaningless as themselves (“…mee another flye…”) as the poem’s focus shifts to an intense view of their love as an entity. The condensed conceit:
We’are Tapers too, and at our own cost die,
again reflects the lovers’ martyrdom to the religion of love. Conventional symbols of the “…Eagle and the Dove…” are used to describe the relationship within the love affair. The eagle, as a conventional image of male strength, and the dove, representing female gentleness, juxta posed together, reveal the inequality between the partners (evidence of the Patriarchal system contemporary to the poet). These two binary opposites brought together can also be viewed as part of the Neoplatonic understanding, that the entire world is present within the two lovers, all the opposing forces (represented by the eagle and dove) brought together within them. The mythological Phoenix is next alluded to, bringing with it the religious connotations of resurrection awaiting the lovers. However, these spiritual understandings are called into question by sexual images that follow:
By us, we two being one, are it,
So, to one neutrall thing both sexes fit.
Wee dye and rise the same,…
It is again almost blasphemous the combination of such copulative images with the religious connotations of resurrection (“…dye and rise…). The final line of the stanza refers to the love as “…Mysterious…”. This has further religious overtones, with the understanding that the term ‘sacrament’ is derived from the Latin for ‘mystery’. The sexual act is transformed into a Sacrament, celebrated by two saints, in worship of the religion of love. By now the poem is not concerned with whether society should censure the persona’s love, but is instead occupied with evangelising in the name of the religion of love. Readers are moved through this change in issue of the poem, and are thereby prevented from forming any resistance to the original premise of the poem.
The fourth stanza begins with the proposition that love is intrinsic to life:
Wee can dye by it, if not live by love,
followed by a reflection on the fate of the lovers once their martyrdom is effected, that is, after their deaths. It is not debated whether the lovers will be remembered (the fact that both persona and reader agree over the lovers’ status as “…legend(s)…” is assumed by the text), instead the issue is in what form that memory will be recorded. The Historical form of “…Chronicle…” is juxta posed with the beautiful “…sonnets…”, transformed by Metaphor into religious “…hymnes…”. In this way, the lovers’ sexual understanding is enshrined in both secular and religious memory, a union of the spiritual and sexual which has been the aim of the poem. This remembrance is alluded to as a creation of Heaven, as “…pretty roomes…” may refer to Christ’s ‘many rooms in my father’s house’. The second half of the stanza employs conceits to further expound on the fate of the lovers’ “…legend…”. The lovers are compared to “…The greatest ashes…” and the poem which immortalises them “…a well wrought urn…”. The form of “…Chronicle…” is compared to “…half-acre tombes…” which wouldn’t suit the encasement of ashes. The specific compact conceit of “…ashes…” for the lovers is particularly appropriate, considering that burning at the stake was a common form of martyrdom. The image thereby provides a link with the stanza’s concluding line and the title of the poem, “…Canoniz’d for Love…”. At this stage, the argument is proven that the lovers are saints, and readings of the text have been limited so that no other empathy can be felt for any other viewpoint besides that of the persona. This has been achieved by the systematic expulsion of other voices from the text, first the female and by now the opinion of society. Readers are not provided any opportunity to see the issues from another light; therefore, their position on the issues of the text has been manipulated in compliance with the views of the persona and subsequently Donne.
With an argument already resolved and a readership in total sympathy for the persona, the final stanza opens instructing readers to “…thus invoke us…” (an instruction emphasised by assonance or in-rhyme). It is confirmed that the lovers are canonized martyrs, worthy of devotion. Ironically, this devotion would come from conventional religious, the very society that martyred the lovers in the poem’s beginning. The fifth stanza relies heavily on the Neoplatonic understanding that quintessence of the world can be found wholly within the two lovers. They are “…one anothers hermitage…” a message ironic within the poem’s historical context of world exploration and deeper understanding of the heavens (with Galileo giving credibility to Copernican theories of the solar system). This philosophical understanding is then applied to the intermingling of sexual and spiritual love:
You, to whom love was peace (religious, conventional), that now is rage (passionate, sexual);
This quintessential love is further explored with the scientific conceit, comparing lovemaking to the experiment in alchemy, extracting essences in “…glasses…”. Again, the practical scientific analogy combined with the metaphysical theme of love, acts as a persuasive tool in the ensuring of reader sympathy. The final statement in the poem:
…Beg from above
A patterne of your love!
though an unsatisfying rhyming couplet (as in its use in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, it fails to summarise the thematic journey of the poem), does reveal the ultimate transformation of love. Love is not to be ridiculed, as in the poem’s opening; it is now a religion, martyrdom, a canonisation, and a grace to be evoked from above.
“The Canonization” by John Donne is a complex piece of rhetoric, which uses persuasive and poetic techniques to manipulate readers through different understandings of the place of love within society. Beginning with the condemnation of over love by society, the persona establishes an argument by which means love challenges conventional religion, before taking its place as religion, martyrdom, canonisation and grace. Different techniques are used to effect this transformation, including the metaphysical conceit, Irony, paradox, structure and sound devices. These are all performed within the metaphysical style, recognisable in its attempts at conversationalism, accessibility, refusal of convention, and witticisms. By creating this intricate forum of expression, John Donne has, to considerable extent, been able to link the enigmatic opposites of human sexuality and spirituality within the religion of love.
Source: Purwarno Hadinata
Essay: Volpone as Dark Comedy
Volpone as Dark Comedy
As Sorell explains Volpone Jonsons greatest and most intense comedy.It was first performed in 1605 or 1606 at the Globe Theatre and remains one of the most biting satires on the more dishonoruable aspect of human nature.(79)
Sorell also explains that Jonsons play is a masterpiece of types and cynical commentary on the greed and vanity that formed the large part of society it criticises.(83)
In Volpone all of the characters are equally greedy.So the audience does not get angry for volpones victimising them.They deserve their end.This play ends with punishment not just ridicule and this ending makes it dark comedy.
In fact comedy should have a happy endihg but in this play we see that people are punished at the end of the play, thus it doesnt have a satisfactory ending for a comedy so we can say that it is a dark comedy because Ben Jonson was the great comic and satiric writer of the English Renaissance.He also protested in Volpone the inhumanity of greedy people such as greedy lawyers.In Volpone Ben Jonson celebrates the joy of a good trick.He emphasizes the fun and the humour of deceit but he does not overlook its nastiess, and in the end he punishes the deceivers.
According to Wittenburg there are 4 types of love in the play :
• Sexual love (between volpone and Lady Would Be)
• Self Love (mosca and the others loving themselves)
• Love of money
• True Love (Between Bonoria and Celia)
People are weak about money and they can do everything for it.The love of money is shown as the root of all evil.The reputation of venice as awordly, commercial and cosmopolitan place darken the comedy.(123)
According to Watson with Volpone or the fox Johson turned to his satirical talent and developed his own species of satiric comedy.Volpone is the first and the greatest of a series of comedies which show Jonsons characteristic mixture ;
• of savagery and humour
• of moral feeling of the monstrous absurdities of human nature (128)Volpone cunningly mixes a number of genres and ideas well known to Renaissance audience : Volpone can be read as :
• a moral example
• a best fable: It is a shorttale in which the principle actors are of animals, as their names reveal.
• a satiric play (there is satire on English life is general)
• a humour play However, unlike in the conventional comedy, good does not necessarity triumph at the end, for even the state itself is shown to be easily carrupted. Volpones avarice seems to be epidemic and good characters like Celia and Bonaria stand at the mercy of evil. As Watson explains the play is optimistic.A principal theme is the way that greed can make people gullible.In playing their trick, which focuses on exposing the greed of others, volpone and mosca also expose their own selfishness and greed (which is greater than that of victims) The setting is Renaissance Italy, accepted by the English imagination of the time as the proper home of vice.
Poem: Kubla Khan by S. T. Coleridge
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This is about the poem. For the emperor, see Kublai Khan.
Kubla Khan is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which takes its title from the Mongol/Chinese emperor Kublai Khan, of the Yuan dynasty. Coleridge claimed that it was written in the autumn of 1797 at a farmhouse near Exmoor, but it may have been composed on one of a number of other visits to the farm. It may also have been revised a number of times before it was first published in 1816.
Coleridge claimed that the poem was inspired by an opium-induced dream (implicit in the poem's subtitle A Vision in a Dream), but that the composition was interrupted by the person from Porlock. This claim seems unlikely, as most opium users have tremendous difficulty recalling dreams when opium was ingested just prior to sleeping. Some have speculated that the vivid imagery of the poem stems from a waking hallucination, albeit most likely opium-induced.
There is widespread speculation on the poem's meaning, some suggesting the author merely is portraying his vision while others insist on a theme or purpose. Some critics see it as a metaphor for sexual intercourse. Others believe it is a poem stressing the beauty of creation.
The full text is reproduced here, along with the famous note with which it was accompanied when first published, as well as a marginal note on an original manuscript copy in Coleridge's own hand, and a quote from William Bartram which is believed to have been a source of the poem.
Kubla Khan inspired the creators of the Xanadu House in the 1980s to name it Xanadu.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
OR, A VISION IN A DREAM.
Coleridge's published note and another note on its composition
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
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 :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
Autumn of 1797 or (more likely) spring of 1798, published 1816, 1828, 1829, 1834
(proofed against E. H. Coleridge's 1927 edition of STC's poems and a ca. 1898 edition of STC's Poetical Works, ``reprinted from the early editions'')
Notes on Kubla Khan
Kubla Khan, Coleridge's note, published with the poem
The following fragment is here published at the request of a poet of great and deserved celebrity [Lord Byron], and, as far as the Author's own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity, than on the ground of any supposed poetic merits.
In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in Purchas's Pilgrimage: ``Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.'' The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter!
Then all the charm
Is broken--all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes--
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo, he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror.
Yet from the still surviving recollections in his mind, the Author has frequently purposed to finish for himself what had been originally, as it were, given to him. : but the to-morrow is yet to come.
As a contrast to this vision, I have annexed a fragment of a very different character, describing with equal fidelity the dream of pain and disease.
Kubla Khan, STC's note on a manuscript copy
This fragment with a good deal more, not recoverable, composed, in a sort of Reverie brought on by two grains of Opium taken to check a dysentery, at a Farm House between Porlock & Linton, a quarter of a mile from Culbone Church, in the fall of the year, 1797.
Kubla Khan, One of STC's sources
From William Bartram (1739-1823) record of his travels to America, Travels, published 1792:
... in front, just under my feet, was the enchanting and amazing crystal fountain which incessantly threw up from dark rocky caverns below, tons of water every minute, forming a basin, capacious enough for large shallops to ride in, and a creek of four or five feet depth of water and near twenty yards over, which meanders six miles through green meadows, ... directly opposite to the mouth or outlet of the creek, is a continual and amazing ebullition where the waters are thrown up in such abundance and amazing force, as to jet and swell up two or three feet above the common surface: white sand and small particles of shells are thrown up with the waters near to the top, ... The ebullition is astonishing and continual, though its greatest force of fury intermits, regularly, for the space of thiry seconds of time: ...
Kubla Khan, Marj's note
This transition reminds me of Ravel's Bolero, where the orchestra screams and grunts and plunks itself down into a new, sweeter, key, and then builds in intensity again.
Later note - I listened again to a recording of Bolero, and of course that's not how Bolero really goes--merely how it goes in my head when I read Kubla.
Essay: P. B. Shelley "A Defence of Poetry"
A Defence of Poetry
By Percy Bysshe ShelleySelected by Jack Lynch
An observation of the regular mode of the occurrence of this harmony, in the language of poetical minds, together with its relation to music, produced metre, or a certain system of traditional forms of harmony and language. Yet it is by no means essential that a poet should accomodate his language to this traditional form, so that the harmony which is its spirit, be observed. The practise is indeed convenient and popular and to be preferred, especially in such composition as includes much action: but every great poet must inevitably innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the exact structure of his peculiar versification. The distinction between poets and prose-writers is a vulgar error. The distinction between philosophers and poets has been anticipated.
Plato was essentially a poet — the truth and splendour of his imagery and the melody of his language is the most intense that it is possible to conceive. He rejected the measure of the epic, dramatic and lyrical forms, because he sought to kindle a harmony in thoughts divested of shape and action, and he forebore to invent any regular plan of rhythm which would include under determinate forms, the varied pauses of his style. Cicero sought to imitate the cadence of his periods but with little success. Lord Bacon was a poet. His language has a sweet and majestic rhythm which satisfies the sense no less than the almost superhuman wisdom of his philosophy satisfies the intellect; it is a strain which distends, and then bursts the circumference of the readers' mind and pours itself forth together with it into the universal element with which it has perpetual sympathy. — All the Authors of revolutions in opinion are not only necessarily poets as they are inventors, nor even as their words unveil the permanent analogy of things by images which participate in the life of truth; but as their periods are harmonious and rhythmical and contain in themselves the elements of verse; being the echo of the eternal music. Nor are those supreme poets, who have employed traditional forms of rhythm on account of the form and action of their subjects, less incapable of perceiving and teaching the truth of things, than those who have omitted that form. Shakespear, Dante and Milton (to confine ourselves to modern writers.) are philosophers of the very loftiest powers.
But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama sympathizes with that decay. Tragedy becomes a cold imitation of the form of the great master-pieces of antiquity, divested of all harmonious accompaniment of the kindred arts; and often the very form misunderstood: or a weak attempt to teach certain doctrines, which the writer considers as moral truths; and which are usually no more than specious flatteries of some gross vice or weakness with which the author in common with his auditors are infected. Hence what has been called the classical and the domestic drama. Addison's Cato is a specimen of the one, and would it were not superfluous to cite examples of the other! To such purposes Poetry cannot be made subservient. Poetry is a sword of lightning ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it. And thus we observe that all dramatic writings of this nature are unimaginative in a singular degree; they affect sentiment and passion: which divested of imagination are other names for caprice and appetite. The period in our own history of the greatest degradation of the drama is the reign of Charles II when all forms in which poetry had been accustomed to be expressed become hymns to the triumph of kingly power over liberty and virtue. Milton stood alone illuminating an age unworthy of him. At such periods the calculating principle pervades all the forms of dramatic exhibition, and poetry ceases to be expressed upon them. Comedy loses its ideal universality: wit succeeds to humour; we laugh from self complacency and triumph instead of pleasure; malignity, sarcasm & contempt succeeds to sympathetic merriment; we hardly laugh, but we smile. Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, becomes, from the very veil which it assumes, more active if less disgusting: it is a monster for which the corruption of society for ever brings forth new food; which it devours in secret.
The poetry of Dante may be considered as the bridge thrown over the stream of time which unites the modern and the antient world. The distorted notions of invisible things which Dante and his rival Milton have idealised, are merely the mask and the mantle in which these great poets walk through eternity enveloped and disguised. It is a difficult question to determine how far they were conscious of the distinction which must have subsisted in their minds between their own creeds and that of the people. Dante at least appears to wish to mark the full extent of it by placing Riphæus whom Virgil calls justissimus unus in Paradise, and observing a most heretical caprice in his distribution of rewards and punishments. And Milton's poem contains within itself a philosophical refutation of that system of which, by a strange and natural antithesis, it has been a chief popular support. Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character as expressed in Paradise Lost. It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning, and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the extremest anguish on an enemy, these things are evil; and although venial in a slave are not to be forgiven in a tyrant; although redeemed by much that ennobles his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that dishonours his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy — not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alledged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments. Milton has so far violated the popular creed (if this shall be judged to be a violation) as to have alledged no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil. And this bold neglect of a direct moral purpose is the most decisive proof of the supremacy of Milton's genius. He mingled as it were the elements of human nature, as colours upon a single pallet, and arranged them into the composition of his great picture according to the laws of epic truth; that is, according to the laws of that principle by which a series of actions of the external universe, and of intelligent and ethical beings is calculated to excite the sympathy of succeeding generations of mankind. The Divina Comedia, and Paradise Lost have conferred upon modern mythology a systematic form; and when change and time shall have added one more superstition to the mass of those which have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators will be learnedly employed in elucidating the religion of ancestral Europe, only not utterly forgotten because it will have been stamped with the eternity of genius.