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But for a crowning specimen of variety of pause and accent, apart from emotion, nothing can surpass the account, in Paradise Lost, of the Devil's search for an accomplice;
There was a place,
If the reader cast his eye again over this passage, he will not find a verse in it which is not varied and harmonized in the most remarkable manner. Let him notice in particular that curious balancing of the lines in the sixth and tenth verses :
In with the river sunk, &c.,
Up beyond the river Ob.
It might, indeed, be objected to the versification of Milton, that it exhibits too constant a perfection of this kind. It sometimes forces upon us too great a sense of consciousness on the part of the composer. We miss the first sprightly runnings of verse,—the ease and sweetness of spontaneity. Milton, I think, also too often condenses weight into heaviness. Thus much concerning the chief of our two most popular
The other, called octosyllabic, or the measure of eight syllables, offered such facilities for namby-pamby, that it had become a jest as early as the time of Shakspeare, who makes Touchstone call it the “butterwoman's rate to market," and the “very false gallop of verses.” It has been advocated, in opposition to the heroic measure, upon the ground that ten syllables lead a man into epithets and other superfluities, while eight syllables compress him into a sensible and pithy gentleBut the heroic measure laughs at it.
So far from compressing, it converts one line into twó, and sacrifices everything to the quick and importunate return of the rhyme. With Dry. den, compare Gay, even in the strength of Gay,
The wind was high-the window shakes;
(A miser never “ walks")
“ stalks ;' but a rhyme was desired for
Looks back, and trembles as he walks :
(“Hoard” and “treasure stor’d” are just made for one another)
But now, with sudden qualms possess’d,
And so he denounces his gold, as miser never denounced it ; and sighs, because
Virtue resides on earth no more !
Coleridge saw the mistake which had been made with regard to this measure, and restored it to the beautiful freedom of which it was capable, by calling to mind the liberties allowed its old musical professors the minstrels, and dividing it by time instead of syllables ;—by the beat of four into which you might get as many syllables as you could, instead of allotting eight syllables to the poor time, whatever it might have to say. He varied it further with alternate rhymes and stanzas, with rests and omissions precisely analogous to those in music, and rendered it altogether worthy to utter the manifold thoughts and feelings of himself and his lady Christabel. He even ventures, with an exquisite sense of solemn strangeness and license (for there is witchcraft going forward), to introduce a couplet of blank verse, itself as mystically and beautifully modulated as anything in the music of Glück or Weber.
'Tis the middle of night by the castle clock,
(These are not superfluities, but mysterious returns of im. portunate feeling)
'Tis a month before the month of May,
She had dreams all yesternight
She stole along, she nothing spoke,
The lady sprang up suddenly,
The night is chill, the forest bare ;
(This “ bleak moaning" is a witch's)
There is not wind enough in the air
Hush, beating heart of Christabel !
What sees she there?
There she sees a damsel bright,
I guess 'twas frightful there to see
The principle of Variety in Uniformity is here worked out in a style “beyond the reach of art." Every thing is diversified according to the demand of the moment, of the sounds, the sights, the emotions; the very uniformity of the outline is gently varied; and yet we feel that the whole is one and of the same character, the single and sweet unconsciousness of the heroine making all the rest seem more conscious, and ghastly, and expectant. It is thus that versification itself becomes part of the sentiment of a poem, and vindicates the pains that have been taken to show its importance. I know of no very fine versification unaccompanied with fine poetry; no poetry of a mean order accompanied with verse of the highest.
As to Rhyme, which might be thought too insignificant to mention, it is not at all so. The universal consent of modern Europe, and of the East in all ages, has made it one of the musical beauties of verse for all poetry but epic and dramatic, and even for the former with Southern Europe,--a sustainment for the enthusiasm, and a demand to enjoy. The mastery of it consists in never writing it for its own sake, or at least never appearing to do so; in knowing how to vary it, to give it novelty, to render it more or less strong, to divide it (when not in couplets) at the proper intervals, to repeat it many times where luxury or animal spirits demand it (see an instance in Titania's speech to the Fairies), to impress an affecting or startling remark with it, and to make it, in comic poetry, a new and surprising addition to the jest.
Large was his bounty and his soul sincere,
Heav'n did a recompense as largely send;
The fops are proud of scandal ; for they cry
Dryden's Prologue to the Pilgrim.