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Title: Seaward - An Elegy on the Death of Thomas William Parsons
Author: Hovey, Richard, 1864-1900
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  SEAWARD

  _AN ELEGY ON THE DEATH OF
  THOMAS WILLIAM PARSONS_

  BY
  RICHARD HOVEY

  BOSTON
  D. LOTHROP COMPANY
  1893

  COPYRIGHT, 1893,
  BY
  RICHARD HOVEY.

  _All rights reserved._


  "_Il tremolar della marina._"--DANTE.



  _Looking seaward well assured
  That the word the vessel brings
  Is the word they wish to hear._

                                --EMERSON.


  _There is a city builded by no hand,
    And unapproachable by any shore,
  And unassailable by any band
    Of storming soldiery forevermore._

                                --PARSONS.


[Illustration: SEAWARD]



SEAWARD


                     I.

  The tide is in the marshes. Far away
    In Nova Scotia's woods they follow me,
  Marshes of distant Massachusetts Bay,
    Dear marshes, where the dead once loved to be!
  I see them lying yellow in the sun,
    And hear the mighty tremor of the sea
  Beyond the dunes where blue cloud-shadows run.


                    II.

  I know that there the tide is coming in,
    Secret and slow, for in my heart I feel
  The silent swelling of a stress akin;
    And in my vision, lo! blue glimpses steal
  Across the yellow marsh-grass, where the flood,
    Filling the empty channels, lifts the keel
  Of one lone cat-boat bedded in the mud.


                    III.

  The tide is in the marshes. Kingscroft fades;
    It is not Minas there across the lea;
  But I am standing under pilgrim shades
    Far off where Scituate lapses to the sea.
  And he, my elder brother in the muse,
    The poet of the Charles and Italy,
  Stands by my side, Song's gentle, shy recluse.


                    IV.

  The hermit thrush of singers, few might draw
    So near his ambush in the solitude
  As to be witness of the holy awe
    And passionate sweetness of his singing mood.
  Not oft he sang, and then in ways apart,
    Where foppish ignorance might not intrude
  To mar the joy of his sufficing art.


                    V.

  Only for love of song he sang, unbid
    And unexpectant of responsive praise;
  But they that loved and sought him where he hid,
    Forbearing to profane his templed ways,
  Went marveling if that clear voice they heard
    Pass thrilling through the hushed religious maze,
  Were of a spirit singing or a bird.


                   VI.

  Alas! he is not here, he will not sing;
    The air is empty of him evermore.
  Alone I watch the slow kelp-gatherers bring
    Their dories full of sea-moss to the shore.
  No gentle eyes look out to sea with mine,
    No gentle lips are uttering quaint lore,
  No hand is on my shoulder for a sign.


                  VII.

  Far, far, so far, the crying of the surf!
    Still, still, so still, the water in the grass!
  Here on the knoll the crickets in the turf
    And one bold squirrel barking, seek, alas!
  To bring the swarming summer back to me.
    In vain; my heart is on the salt morass
  Below, that stretches to the sunlit sea.


                 VIII.

  Interminable, not to be divined,
    The ocean's solemn distances recede;
  A gospel of glad color to the mind,
    But for the soul a voice of sterner creed.
  The sadness of unfathomable things
    Calls from the waste and makes the heart give heed
  With answering dirges, as a seashell sings.


                   IX.

  Mother of infinite loss! Mother bereft!
    Thou of the shaken hair! Far-questing Sea!
  Sea of the lapsing wail of waves! O left
    Of many lovers! Lone, lamenting Sea!
  Desolate, prone, disheveled, lost, sublime!
    Unquelled and reckless! Mad, despairing Sea!
  Wail, for I wait--wail, ancient dirge of Time!


                  X.

  No more, no more that brow to greet, no more!
    Mourn, bitter heart! mourn, fool of Fate! Again
  Thy lover leaves thee; from thy pleading shore
    Swept far beyond the caverns of the rain,
  No phantom of him lingers on the air.
    Thy foamy fingers reach for his--in vain!
  In vain thy salt breath searches for his hair!


                    XI.

  Mourn gently, tranquil marshes, mourn with me!
    Mourn, if acceptance so serene can mourn!
  Grieve, marshes, though your noonday melody
    Of color thrill through sorrow like a horn
  Blown far in Elfland! Mourn, free-wandering dunes!
    For he has left you of his voice forlorn,
  Who sang your slopes full of an hundred Junes.


                   XII.

  O Viking Death, what hast thou done with him?
    Sea-wolf of Fate, marauder of the shore!
  Storm-reveler, to what carousal grim
    Hast thou compelled him? Hark! through the Sea's roar
  Heroic laughter mocking us afar!
    There will no answer come forevermore,
  Though for his sake Song beacon to a star.


                    XIII.

  Mourn, Muse beyond the sea! Ausonian Muse!
    Mourn, where thy vinelands watch the day depart!
  Mourn for him, where thy sunsets interfuse,
    Who loved thy beauty with no alien heart,
  And sang it in his not all alien line!
    Muse of the passionate thought and austere art!
  O Dante's Muse! lament his son and thine.


                   XIV.

  And thou, divine one of this western beach!
    A double loss has left thee desolate;
  Two rooms are vacant in thy House of Speech,
    Two ghosts have vanished through the open gate,
  The Attic spirit, epicure of light,
    The Doric heart, strong, simple, passionate,
  Thy priest of Beauty, and thy priest of Right.


                   XV.

  Last of the elder choir save one whose smile
    Is gentler for its memories, they rest.
  Mourn, goddess, come apart and mourn awhile.
    Come with thy sons, lithe Song-Queen of the West--
  The poet Friend of Poets, the great throng
    Of seekers on the long elusive quest,
  And the lone voice of Arizonian song.


                     XVI.

  Nor absent they, thy latest-born, O Muse,
    My young companions in Art's wildwood ways;
  She whose swift verse speaks words that smite and bruise
    With scarlet suddenness of flaming phrase,
  Virginia's hawk of Song; and he who sings
    Alike his people's homely rustic lays
  And his fine spirit's high imaginings.


                   XVII.

  Far-stretching Indiana's melodist,
    Quaint, humorous, full of quirks and wanton whims,
  Full-throated, with imagination kissed;
    With these, two pilgrims from auroral streams,
  The Greek revealer of Canadian skies
    And thy close darling, voyager of dreams,
  Carman, the sweetest, strangest voice that cries.


                  XVIII.

  And thou, friend of my heart, in fireside bonds
    Near to the dead, not with the poet's bay
  Brow-bound but eminent with kindred fronds,
    Paint us some picture of the summer day
  For his memorial--the distant dune,
    The marshes stretching palpitant away
  And blue sea fervid with the stress of noon.


                  XIX.

  For we were of the few who knew his face,
    Nor only heard the rumor of his fame;
  This house beside the sea the sacred place
    Where first with thee to clasp his hand I came--
  Art's knight of courtesy, well-pleased to commend
    Who to my youth accorded the dear name
  Of poet, and the dearer name of friend.


                 XX.

  Ah, that last bottle of old Gascon wine
    We drank together! I remember too
  How carefully he placed it where the shine
    Of the warm sun might pierce it through and through--
  Wise in all gentle, hospitable arts--
    And there was sunshine in it when we drew
  The cork and drank, and sunshine in our hearts.


                    XXI.

  O mourners by the sea, who loved him most!
    I watch you where you move, I see you all;
  Unmarked I glide among you like a ghost,
    And on the portico, in room and hall,
  Lay visionary fingers on your hair.
    You do not feel their unsubstantial fall
  Nor hear my silent tread, but I am there.


                   XXII.

  I would my thought had but the weakest throat,
    To set the air a-vibrate with a word.
  Alas! dumb, ineffectual, remote,
    I murmur, but my solace is not heard;
  Nor, could I reach you, would your grief abate.
    What sorrow ever was with speech deterred?
  What power has Song against the hand of Fate?...


                  XXIII.

  Not all in vain! For with the will to serve,
    Myself am served, at least. A secure calm
  Soars in my soul with wings that will not swerve,
    And on my brow I feel a ministering palm.
  Even in the effort for another's peace
    I have achieved mine own. I hear a psalm
  Of angels, and the grim forebodings cease.


                    XXIV.

  I see things as they are, nor longer yield
    To truce and parley with the doubts of sense.
  My certainty of vision goes a-field,
    Wide-ranging, fearless, into the immense;
  And finds no terror there, no ghost nor ghoul,
    Not to be dazzled back to impotence,
  Confronted with the indomitable soul.


                   XXV.

  What goblin frights us? Are we children, then,
    To start at shadows? Things fantastic slay
  The imperishable spirit in whose ken
    Their only birth is? Blaze one solar ray
  Across the grisly darkness that appals,
    And where the gloom was murkiest, the bright Day
  Laughs with a light of blosmy coronals.


                     XXVI.

  Stretch wide, O marshes, in your golden joy!
    Stretch ample, marshes, in serene delight!
  Proclaiming faith past tempest to destroy,
    With silent confidence of conscious might!
  Glad of the blue sky, knowing nor wind nor rain
    Can do your large indifference despite,
  Nor lightning mar your tolerant disdain!


                   XXVII.

  The fanfare of the trumpets of the sea
    Assaults the air with jubilant foray;
  The intolerable exigence of glee
    Shouts to the sun and leaps in radiant spray;
  The laughter of the breakers on the shore
    Shakes like the mirth of Titans heard at play,
  With thunders of tumultuous uproar.


                  XXVIII.

  Playmate of terrors! Intimate of Doom!
    Fellow of Fate and Death! Exultant Sea!
  Thou strong companion of the Sun, make room!
    Let me make one with you, rough comrade Sea!
  Sea of the boisterous sport of wind and spray!
    Sea of the lion mirth! Sonorous Sea!
  I hear thy shout, I know what thou wouldst say.


                   XXIX.

  Dauntless, triumphant, reckless of alarms,
    O Queen that laughest Time and Fear to scorn,
  Death, like a bridegroom, tosses in thine arms.
    The rapture of your fellowship is borne
  Like music on the wind. I hear the blare,
    The calling of the undesisting horn,
  And tremors as of trumpets on the air.


                  XXX.

  Sea-captain of whose keels the Sea is fain,
    Death, Master of a thousand ships, each prow
  That sets against the thunders of the main
    Is lyric with thy mirth. I know thee now,
  O Death, I shout back to thy hearty hail,
    Thou of the great heart and the cavernous brow,
  Strong Seaman at whose look the north winds quail.


                  XXXI.

  Poet, thou hast adventured in the roar
    Of mighty seas with one that never failed
  To make the havens of the further shore.
    Beyond that vaster Ocean thou hast sailed
  What old immortal world of beauty lies!
    What land where light for matter has prevailed!
  What strange Atlantid dream of Paradise!


                  XXXII.

  Down what dim bank of violets did he come,
    The mild historian of the Sudbury Inn,
  Welcoming thee to that long-wished-for home?
    What talk of comrades old didst thou begin?
  What dear inquiry lingered on his tongue
    Of the Sicilian, ere he led thee in
  To the eternal company of Song?


                XXXIII.

  There thy co-laborers and high compeers
    Hailed thee as courtly hosts some noble guest--
  Poe, disengloomed with the celestial years,
    Calm Bryant, Emerson of the antique zest
  And modern vision, Lowell all a-bloom
    At last, unwintered of his mind's unrest,
  And Walt, old Walt, with the old superb aplomb.


                  XXXIV.

  Not far from these Lanier, deplored so oft
    From Georgian live-oaks to Acadian firs,
  Walks with his friend as once at Cedarcroft.
    And many more I see of speech diverse;
  From whom a band aloof and separate,
    Landor and Meleager in converse,
  And lonely Collins, for thy greeting wait.


                  XXXV.

  But who is this that from the mightier shades
    Emerges, seeing whose sacred laureate hair
  Thou startest forward trembling through the glades,
    Advancing upturned palms of filial prayer?
  Long hast thou served him; now, of lineament
    Not stern but strenuous still, thy pious care
  He comes to guerdon. Art thou not content?


                 XXXVI.

  Forbear, O Muse, to sing his deeper bliss,
    What tenderer meetings, what more secret joys!
  Lift not the veil of heavenly privacies!
    Suffice it that nought unfulfilled alloys
  The pure gold of the rapture of his rest,
    Save that some linger where the jarring noise
  Of earth afflicts, whom living he caressed.


                   XXXVII.

  His feet are in thy courts, O Lord; his ways
    Are in the City of the Living God.
  Beside the eternal sources of the days
    He dwells, his thoughts with timeless lightnings shod;
  His hours are exaltations and desires,
    The soul itself its only period,
  And life unmeasured save as it aspires.


                  XXXVIII.

  Time, like a wind, blows through the lyric leaves
    Above his head, and from the shaken boughs
  Æonian music falls; but he receives
    Its endless changes in alert repose,
  Nor drifts unconscious as a dead leaf blown
    On with the wind and senseless that it blows,
  But hears the chords like armies marching on.


                  XXXIX.

  About his paths the tall swift angels are,
    Whose motion is like music but more sweet;
  The centuries for him their gates unbar;
    He hears the stars their _Glorias_ repeat;
  And in high moments when the fervid soul
    Burns white with love, lo! on his gaze replete
  The Vision of the Godhead shall unroll--


                   XL.

  Trine within trine, inextricably One,
    Distinct, innumerable, inseparate,
  And never ending what was ne'er begun,
    Within Himself his Freedom and his Fate,
  All dreams, all harmonies, all Forms of light
    In his Infinity intrinsecate--
  Until the soul no more can bear the sight.


                     XLI.

  O secret taciturn disdainful Death!
    Knowing all this, why hast thou held thy peace?
  Master of Silence, thou wilt waste no breath
    On weaklings, nor to stiffen nerveless knees
  Deny strong men the conquest of one qualm--
    And they, thy dauntless comrades, are at ease,
  And need no speech, and greet thee calm for calm.


                    XLII.

  Cast them adrift in wastes of ageless Night,
    Or bid them follow into Hell, they dare;
  So are they worthy of their thrones of light.
    O that great tranquil rapture they shall share!
  That life compact of adamantine fire!
    My soul goes out across the eastern air
  To that far country with a wild desire!...


                  XLIII.

  But still the marshes haunt me; still my thought
    Returns upon their silence, there to brood
  Till the significance of earth is brought
    Back to my heart, and in a sturdier mood
  I turn my eyes toward the distance dim,
    And in the purple far infinitude
  Watch the white ships sink under the sea-rim;


                   XLIV.

  Some bound for Flemish ports or Genovese,
    Some for Bermuda bound, or Baltimore;
  Others, perchance, for further Orient seas,
    Sumatra and the straits of Singapore,
  Or antique cities of remote Cathay,
    Or past Gibraltar and the Libyan shore,
  Through Bab-el-mandeb eastward to Bombay;


                 XLV.

  And one shall signal flaming Teneriffe,
    And the Great Captive's ocean-prison speak,
  Then on beyond the demon-haunted cliff,
    By Madagascar's palms and Mozambique,
  Till in some sudden tropic dawn afar
    The Sultan sees the colors at her peak
  Salute the minarets of Zanzibar.



                                 NOTES



                                 NOTES.

                        THOMAS WILLIAM PARSONS.


The subject of this elegy was born at Boston in 1819, and educated at
the Boston Latin School. While yet a young man he visited England and
Italy, with which latter country and its literature his life was to be
so largely occupied. From early youth he was a devoted student of Dante,
to the translation of whose "Divine Comedy" he chiefly applied his
scholarship and poetic genius. In 1854 he published a volume of original
poems, among which were the famous verses, "On a Bust of Dante," which
found their way at once into all the anthologies. Several other volumes
were privately printed, and in 1892 he published "Circum Præcordia,"
which contained, besides a versification of the collects of the Church
as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer, about a dozen original poems
of a religious nature. The translation of the first ten cantos of the
"Inferno" was published in 1843, and the complete "Inferno" in 1867. The
opening cantos of the "Purgatorio" were issued in 1876, and the
remaining cantos were afterward completed and are now in process of
publication. In 1870 Mr. Parsons was made a Corresponding Fellow of the
Reale Accademia de' Fisiocritici in Siena. He died at Scituate, Mass.,
September 3, 1892.

     "Dr. Parsons holds a place of his own. He is one of those rare
     poets whose infrequent work is so beautiful as to make us wish for
     more. In quality, at least, it is of a kind with Landor's; his
     touch is sure, and has at command the choicer modes of lyrical
     art--those which, although fashion may overslaugh them, return
     again, and enable a true poet to be quite as original as when
     hunting devices previously unessayed. His independence on the other
     hand, is exhibited in his free renderings of Dante....

     "Parsons's briefer poems often are models, but occasionally show a
     trace of that stiffness which too little employment gives even the
     hand of daintier sense. 'Lines on a Bust of Dante,' in structure,
     diction, loftiness of thought, is the peer of any modern lyric in
     our tongue. Inversion, the vice of stilted poets, becomes with him
     an excellence, and old forms and accents are rehandled and charged
     with life anew. It is to be regretted that Dr. Parsons has not used
     his gift more freely. He has been a poet for poets, rather than for
     the people; but many types are required to fill out the hemicycle
     of a nation's literature."

                                       --_Stedman's Poets of America._


     "The study of a great man is an education. Dr. Parsons has been an
     unwearied student of Dante for thirty years [1869], and has reaped
     commensurate benefits from the familiarity. His lines to the
     immortal Florentine, by common consent, are ranked with the very
     noblest efforts of the American Muse. Among the other traits in the
     matchless style of Dante, are his unique conciseness and precision.
     His descriptions are coined rather than painted; his metaphors are
     not pictures, but medallions. This artistic horror of slovenly
     work, this conscientious finish of severe simplicity and force, the
     apt pupil shares with the great master."
                                                     --W. R. ALGER.


     "He occupies some such place in American poetry as Gray or Collins
     does in English poetry, not having written much, but extremely
     well. The poet is not living in the country who could have written
     a stronger, grander poem than that on the 'Bust of Dante,'
     beginning:

          'See, from this counterfeit of him
            Whom Arno shall remember long,
          How stern of lineament, how grim,
            The father was of Tuscan song.'"

                                  --WM. HAYES WARD.

       *       *       *       *       *


                               STANZA I.

                    "_In Nova Scotia's woods._"

This poem was written in Windsor, Nova Scotia, at Kingscroft, the
residence of Mr. Charles G. D. Roberts, where the author was staying
when the news of the poet's death reached him. Kingscroft is situated on
the edge of a beautiful wood of great fir-trees on an elevation
overlooking the Avon River and the Basin of Minas.


                              STANZA III.

           "_Far off where Scituate lapses to the sea._"

Scituate, where the poet died, is a village lying midway between Boston
and Plymouth on that part of the coast of Massachusetts which is known
as the South Shore. The country is of a gently undulating character, and
the view seaward is across salt marshes broken here and there with low
hillocks of a sandy formation.


                              STANZA XIV.

                        "_A double loss._"

The poet WHITTIER died but a few days after the death of Parsons.


                               STANZA XV.

                       ... "_save one whose smile
                     Is gentler for its memories,_"

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.

                     "_The poet Friend of Poets,_"

EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN.


Whittier, in dedicating one of his volumes to Stedman, called him "Poet,
and Friend of Poets."

               "_And the lone voice of Arizonian song,_"

JOAQUIN MILLER.


                              STANZA XVI.

                   "_She whose swift verse_," _etc._,

AMELIE RIVES CHANLER.


                              STANZA XVII.

                 "_Far-stretching Indiana's melodist,_"

JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY.

                "_The Greek revealer of Canadian skies,_"

CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS.


                             STANZA XVIII.

                        ... "_in fireside bonds
                      Near to the dead,_"

THOMAS BUFORD METEYARD, the painter, a relation of Dr. PARSONS.


                             STANZA XXXII.

               "_The mild historian of the Sudbury Inn,_"

LONGFELLOW. The old tavern at Sudbury was the scene of "The Tales of a
Wayside Inn." Parsons was the original of the Poet in that volume, and
his brother-in-law, Luigi Monti, of the Sicilian, to whom allusion is
also made in this stanza.


                             STANZA XXXIV.

                     ... "_as once at Cedarcroft._"

The home of Bayard Taylor, between whom and Lanier an intimate bond of
friendship existed.


                              STANZA XXXV.

            "_But who is this, that from the mightier shades
             Emerges,_"

DANTE.

            ... "_now, of lineament
            Not stern but strenuous still,_"

refers to Parsons's lines;

            "How stern of lineament, how grim
             The father was of Tuscan song."


                            STANZA XXXVIII.

     "_Time, like a wind, blows through the lyric leaves
     Above his head, and from the shaken boughs
     Æonian music falls;_"

     ἀμφὶ δὲ ψῦχρον κελάδει δι' ὔσδων
     μαλίνων, αἰθυσσομένων δὲ φύλλων
                  κῶμα καταρρεῖ.

SAPPHO.


                              STANZA XLV.

                    ... "_the demon-haunted cliff._"

The Cape of Good Hope, originally called the Cape of Tempests. It is
here that the spectral ship of Vanderdecken is supposed to be seen in
stormy weather, still battling against the insuperable wind.
Vanderdecken, the "Flying Dutchman," tried to double the cape in spite
of a heavy gale. Baffled again and again, he swore that he would carry
out his purpose in spite of God or the Devil, though he had to sail till
the Day of Judgment. For this blasphemy he was doomed to be taken at his
word, and became a sort of Ahasuerus of the sea. This cape is also the
scene of that tremendous passage in the "Lusiad," where the giant,
Adamastor, appears in cloud and storm to the adventurous Portuguese
sailors, and warns them back from their enterprise:

  "Não acabava, quando uma figura
  Se nos mostra no ar, robusta e válida,
  De disforme e grandissima estatura,
  O rosto carregado, a barba esquálida:
  Os olhos encovados, e a postura
  Medonha e má, e a côr terrena e pállida;
  Cheios de terra, e crespos os cabellos,
  A bocca negra, os dentes amarellos.

  "Tam grande era de membros, que bem posso
  Certificar-te, que este era o segundo
  De Rhodes estranhissimo colosso,
  Que um dos sete milagres foi do mundo:
  C' um tom de voz nos falla horrendo e grosso,
  Que pareceu sair do mar profundo:
  Arripiam-se as carnes, e o cabello
  A mi, e a todos, so de ouvil-o, e vello.

       *       *       *       *       *

  "Mais ía per diante o monstro horrendo
  Dizendo nossos fados, quando alçado
  Lhe disse eu: 'Quem es tu? que esse estupendo
  Corpo, certo me tem maravilhado."
  A bocca, e os olhos negros retorcendo,
  E dando um espantoso e grande brado,
  Me respondeu com voz pesada e amara,
  Como quem da pergunta lhe pezara:

  "'Eu son aquelle occulto e grande cabo,
  A quem chamais vós outros Tormentorio;
  Que nunca a Tolomeu, Pomponio, Estrabo,
  Plinio, e quantos passaram, fui notorio:
  Aqui toda a africana costa acabo
  N' este meu nunca visto promontorio,
  Que pera o pólo antárctico se estende,
  A quem vossa ousadia tanto offende.

  "Fui dos filhos aspérrimos da terra,
  Qual Encélado, Egeu, e o Centimano;
  Chamei-me Adamastor; e fui na guerra
  Contra o que vibra os raios de Vulcano:
  Não que puzesse serra sòbra serra;
  Mas conquistando as ondas do Oceano,
  Fui capitão do mar, per onde andava
  A armada de Neptuno, que eu buscava.'"

                                --CAMOENS.



                                A STUDY



                        THOMAS WILLIAM PARSONS.


The greatest achievements in poetry have been made by men who lived
close to their times, and who responded easily to their environment. Not
that Taine was altogether right in his climatic theory. The individual
counts for much, and his output is really the result of the combined
action of two influences, his personality and his surroundings--a sort
of intellectual parallelogram of forces. Nor is great poetic
accomplishment necessarily a sympathetic expression of contemporary
tendencies. On the contrary, it may often antagonize them. But whether
it antagonize or approve, it is apt to be vitally related to them. No
man ever set his face more strenuously against the trend of his age than
Dante, nor denounced its manners and morals more severely; yet Dante was
directly concerned in the practical affairs of his day, and his epoch is
epitomized in his poems. Of course, great poetry bases itself below the
shifting surfaces of eras and nationalities upon the immovable bed-rock
of our common humanity; and so the greatest poets, the poets who express
life most fundamentally, come to have a certain likeness to one another,
even though they be as widely separated in time and space as Homer and
Shakspere. But the poet must learn his human lesson at first hand; he
must find the essential realities of life where he can see them with his
own eyes, under the transitory garments which they wear in his day; and
to do this he must be interested in his day.

There have been now and again, however, certain poets who seem to have
been born out of due time. They have not been opposed to their age so
much as apart from it. The Hamlets of verse, for them the time has been
out of joint, and they have not had the intensity or the resolution to
strive to set it right. Thrown back upon themselves by an environment
which was distasteful to them, but which they lacked either the force or
the inclination to wrestle with and overcome, they have necessarily had
little to say. But on that very account they have frequently given more
thought to the purely artistic side of their work than more copious
writers. Such men were Collins and Gray, and afterward Landor; men whom
we admire more for the classic beauty of their style and for other
technical qualities than for the scope of their imagination or the
penetration of their insight. Of this class of poets, and with no mean
rank among them, was Thomas William Parsons.

Beginning to write contemporaneously with the earliest American poets,
at a time when only the veriest doggerel had yet been perpetrated in
this country, he felt keenly the sense of isolation which it was the lot
of men of letters in those days to experience--an isolation the reality
of which the younger generation finds it difficult to appreciate. This
is the excuse, though it is certainly not a justification, for the
deprecatory and provincial tone which characterizes what are probably
the earliest of his poems that have been preserved, the "Letters" which
stand at the beginning of his first volume. Not Dickens himself was more
flippantly scornful of America and the Americans than is Parsons in
these "Letters;" and though in the preface to them he attributes the
sentiments they contain to an imaginary "wandering Englishman," thus
disclaiming them as personal, he shows even in doing so something more
than a dramatic sympathy with the attitude they portray. This
provincialism Parsons soon outgrew, but he never came to be in perfect
touch with his country, nor to have that sense of easy security with
regard to her which should mark the citizen of a nationality fully
mature.

Yet even in these presumably juvenile verses there is much vigorous
writing and some genuine humor. This on Boston, for example:

   "This town, in olden times of stake and flame,
   A famous nest of Puritans became:
   Sad, rigid souls, who hated as they ought
   The carnal arms wherewith the devil fought;
   Dancing and dicing, music, and whate'er
   Spreads for humanity the pleasing snare.
   Stage-plays, especially, their hearts abhorred,
   Holding the muses hateful to the Lord,
   Save when old Sternhold and his brother bard
   Oped their hoarse throats, and strained an anthem hard.
   From that angelic race of perfect men
   (Sure, seraphs never trod the world till then!)
   Descends the race to whom the sway is given
   Of the world's morals by confiding Heaven."

There was always a strain of true religious feeling in Parsons, which
deepened at the last into something rapt and intense; but Puritanism
never ceased to be hateful to him, and this antagonism contributed to
make him feel that his footsteps were on alien soil. An artist first of
all, he was drawn more toward the services of the ancient Church, for
whose adornment art has so bountifully poured out its treasures, than to
any balder form of worship. To him the world was a problem in beauty and
emotion. He was not incommoded with a message, as so many of his
contemporaries were. This has been, perhaps, to the detriment of his
reputation in the past; it may be to its advantage in the future. The
man who speaks too consciously a message to his own time is apt to have
none for any other. Parsons wrought from first to last in the true
artistic spirit, and it is not unlikely that his chief claims to the
recognition of the future will be found in qualities of form and style.

Not the least among these qualities will be that sturdy literary
independence which, amid the widespread æsthetic revival of this
century, achieved a success of a purely æsthetic nature on lines
entirely unaffected by the contemporary fashion. In a time of metrical
experiment, and of the new and strange harmonies of Rossetti and
Swinburne, he alone of the artistic school of poets, uninfluenced even
by Coleridge or Shelley, worked in the severe methods of an earlier day.
Dryden and Pope seem to have been his earliest masters, but not for
long. The versification of Dryden, which Keats learned to appreciate at
its true value, remained always to some extent a factor in Parsons's
art, but he soon threw over the jingle of Pope's measure for the fuller,
statelier, and in truth simpler manner of Collins and Gray. Yet his
matured style is neither that of Collins, with whom he had close
resemblances, personal and poetical, nor that of Gray, though
unquestionably akin to both. Parsons had, besides, a certain bent for
plain words and homely images that sometimes became Dantesque. Indeed,
the lifelong study which he gave to Dante could not be without its
influence on his own expression--an influence potent for strength and
directness.

Parsons was probably Gray's inferior in point of taste, for otherwise we
can hardly understand how he could put forth in the same volume, and
sometimes in the same poem, such inequalities as he permitted himself.
Yet it must be said, as an offset to this, that he seldom made himself
responsible for a poem by publishing it. He occasionally had verses in
the magazines, and even, if the whim took him, in the newspapers; but
only twice in his life did he bring the question of his critical
judgment fairly within the scope of comment by issuing a volume to the
public. The first of these volumes, which contains the famous "Lines on
a Bust of Dante," may perhaps rely upon the youth of its author as an
explanation of its unevenness. The other, "Circum Præcordia," published
in the year of his death, and consisting of a versification of the
collects of the Church together with a few original poems of a religious
character, is of even and sustained excellence, though rising to the
level of his best work only in its concluding poem, "Paradisi Gloria."
Mrs. Parsons had several other volumes printed for private circulation
only, but of these the author frequently knew nothing until the bound
copies were placed in his hands. What he would himself now select to
give to the world no one can tell; possibly as carefully edited a volume
as even that of Gray.

Such a volume would, I believe, be one of the treasures of American
verse--a book that lovers of poetry would carry with them as they would
similar thin volumes of Herrick, Marvell, Collins or Landor. The lyrics
addressed to Francesca are true Herrick for grace and daintiness, and
there is nothing in Landor finer than such passages as this:

  "His heart was written o'er, like some stray page
   Tom out from Plutarch, with majestic names;"

or these, from "Francesca di Rimini:"

  "Be it some comfort, in that hateful hell,
   You had a lover of your love to tell."

  "But he whose numbers gave you unto fame,
   Lord of the lay--I need not speak his name--
   Was one who felt; whose life was love or hate.
   Born for extremes, he scorned the middle state,
   And well he knew that, since the world began,
   The heart was master in the world of man."

I have referred to the "Paradisi Gloria." This poem, with one unwisely
altered line restored to its original reading, is one of the few
faultless lyrics in the language; and the following stanza, with which
it begins, is, I submit, as felicitous as anything Gray ever wrote, and
more imaginative;


  "There is a city builded by no hand,
    And unapproachable by sea or shore,
   And unassailable by any band
    Of storming soldiery forevermore."

Less fine, perhaps, but still very beautiful is the touching "Dirge:"

  "What shall we do now, Mary being dead?
   Or say or write, that shall express the half?
  What can we do but pillow that fair head,
   And let the springtime write her epitaph?"

Each of these poems is marked by that simple and straightforward style
which was the glory of Parsons at his best. But he could also handle
more involved periods and a more complex cæsural music with equal skill;
witness the opening lines of "La Pineta Distrutta:

  "Farewell Ravenna's forest! and farewell
  For aye through coming centuries to the sound,
  Over blue Adria of the lyric pines
  And Chiassi's bird-song keeping burden sweet
  To their low moan as once to Dante's lines,
  Which when my step first felt Italian ground
  I strove to follow, carried by the spell
  Of that sad Florentine whose native street
  (At morn and midnight) where he used to dwell
  My Father bade me pace with reverent feet."

From poems like these to "The Feud of the Flute-Players" is a far cry,
but it argues well for the humanity of our poet that he could be merry
when he would. The line,

      "In a tap-room by the Tiber, at the sign of Tarquin's Head,"

is as jolly a bit of Bohemianism as any I know, and the entire story is
told with much spirit and humor. "St. Peray," another bacchanalian
lyric, has found its way, like the "Lines on a Bust on Dante," into the
anthologies, and may be passed by here with a mere reference.

"Count Ernst von Mansfeldt, the Protestant," if three rather weak and
quite unnecessary stanzas could be removed from it, would be, perhaps,
the strongest poem Parsons ever wrote. It is certainly the most
objective, and one of the most manly and vigorous.

    "The dicer Death has flung for me;
      His greedy eyes are on me;
    My chance is not one throw in three;
      Ere night he will have won me.

    "Summon my kin!--come steed--come coach--
      Let me not stay, commanding;
    If the last enemy approach,
      They shall see me armed and standing.

    "Buckle me well and belt me strong!
    For I will fall in iron."

This, with the stirring "Martial Ode," which begins,

    "Ancient of days! Thy prophets old
      Declared Thee also Lord of war;
    And sacred chroniclers have told
      Of kings whom Thou didst battle for,"

proves that Parsons knew how to put into practice that strenuous
counsel of his own:

    "But something rough and resolute and sour
      Should with the sweetness of the soul combine;
    For although gentleness be part of power,
      'Tis only strength makes gentleness divine."

With the masterly technical power and equipment that Parsons undoubtedly
had, why did he not do more? Why is his permanent original contribution
to English literature limited to a few lyrics? For this I can find no
better reason than that which I have already suggested, that, being out
of sympathy with his time, he found no theme for his song. The
achievements of this age he admired, when at all, as an outsider, and
frequently his attitude was the reverse of admiration. Homers must have
their Agamemnons as well as Agamemnons their Homers; and to-day was not
heroic to Parsons. To him the railway suggested nothing but

                "The dead sleepers of the vulgar track,"

and commercial greatness smacked ever of the Philistine. He would
probably have been as uncomfortable in Athens as in Boston; and while he
could love Venice dead, Venice living (where, as so often in history,
Trade and Art went out hand in hand, conquering and to conquer) would
have been as distasteful as Chicago. It is true that the traders of
Athens and the Adriatic braved great personal dangers, and brought back
from their voyages strange and gorgeous fabrics, "barbaric pearl and
gold," and tales of incredible adventure in the unknown world. Our
modern conquests, in commerce as in science, with some notable
exceptions, are of a more impalpable kind, and make no such sensuous
appeal to the imagination. And so, for some, the circumnavigation of the
globe has ended all romance, even though the unknown be still as
mysteriously present in New York as in the "shining vales of Har."

The risk and the imagination involved in modern achievement are
enormous, and even the element of personal danger is by no means
eliminated; and if there were vulgar things in the conquest of
California, I doubt not there were also vulgar things, more nearly of
the same kind than we are apt to think, in the conquest of Gaul. But
anybody can see the vulgarity. It is the poet's function to show that
this is a mere accident, and that the essential reality still throbs as
ever with a lyric rapture; that

                     "in the mud and scum of things
                  There's something ever, ever sings."

Few poets, indeed, have been completely catholic of insight, nor do they
necessarily lose their title of interpreters because they are not
universal interpreters, and limit themselves to the field or fields for
which they have a spontaneous sympathy. Parsons, even when he rationally
approved, had no spontaneous sympathy for the present, its attitude or
its tendencies. To sing of it, or to sing of the past with the voice of
the present, his æsthetic instinct felt would be but a _tour de force_,
and seldom and reluctantly was he persuaded to attempt it. Occasionally
he poured his fine rhetoric into denunciation, written from the heart;
but here, too, his artistic feeling stepped in and restrained him to
brief utterance, for he knew well that scolding is not great nor
dignified.

One thing there was that he saw clearly his way to do--to reproduce for
this age the voice of the age which he did love, and of the poet for
whom, even from boyhood, he cherished a devotion almost personal. In
making this choice and following his instinct, I believe he was right,
and that we have obtained a greater poem than we should have done had he
forced himself into attempting a sustained work of his own. Nor is this
a derogation in any way from Parsons's unquestioned poetic power, as any
one who knows anything about the almost insuperable difficulties of
translation is well aware. In fact, it may be said with perfect truth
that a good translation is rarer than a good original poem. The
successful transfer of even the briefest lyric from one language to
another is an achievement so unusual as to demand the most unreserved
commendation, while even the partly successful renderings of the great
masters, in all languages, are so few that their names may be spoken in
one breath.

Parsons's translation of the "Divine Comedy" is far from being a
paraphrase of the original, but yet it makes no pretense to absolute
literalness. Indeed, a truly literal translation is a linguistic
impossibility. Over and above the merely metrical difficulties of such
an undertaking, there must always be two classes of phenomena in which
the two poems, the original and the version, will differ, and often very
materially, from each other. The metrical scheme may be preserved, but
the rhythmical filling in of this scheme must necessarily vary; for the
syllables of the corresponding words in different languages will almost
certainly have different time values. In one they may have many
consonants, and be perforce slow in articulation; in the other they may
consist entirely of short vowels and tripping liquids. The predominance
of short syllables in Italian enabled Dante to use feet of three or more
syllables in an iambic measure with much greater frequency than would be
possible in English, and this fact alters wholly the character of a
measure of which the metrical scheme is the same in both languages. It
is, of course, so evident as hardly to warrant allusion that the sounds
themselves cannot be the same; and yet their expression as mere sounds
is a very vital factor in their poetic force.

The other class of phenomena in which an original and its translation
must always differ is not acoustic, but linguistic. As I have had
occasion to say elsewhere, "words differ in what, for lack of a better
word, we must call color. With the possible exception of Volapük, in
which, for this very reason, no one but a statistician would ever think
of writing poetry, there is no language in existence in which the words
are merely conventional symbols of the ideas for which they stand. Every
word we speak has a pedigree that goes back to Adam. It has been
developing into what it now is, through uncounted accretions and
curtailments and transformations, ever since man was, and, since
Professor Garner's experiments with monkeys, we may suspect even a
little longer; and in the course of that long, eventful history it has
gathered to itself a multitude of little associations which, without
presenting themselves directly to the understanding, modify, enrich and
color the effect of the primary meaning, like the overtones of a musical
note. Without this colorific value of words, we could express little
more by speech than by the symbols of algebra. This is the chief
difficulty of the translator, and one that he can never surmount."

Prose translations of what in the original was verse vary, of course,
from that original in even more respects, since they deliberately
sacrifice an entire group of expressional devices which formed an
important part of the poet's intention. An argument may be made for the
use of prose in translating the poetry of the ancients, for their
versification differed from ours in a radical manner. But there can be
no excuse for an English prose version of a poem written in any modern
European language, if it be intended for more than an assistance in the
study of the original. Admirable as the workmanship in some of our prose
versions of Dante has been, I cannot but think that, except for some
such scholarly purpose, the labor and the skill expended upon them have
been misapplied.

At the opposite extreme from the prose versions are those that have
been made into _terza rima_. It cannot be denied that the use of Dante's
own arrangement of rhymes is an advantage, nor that Dante himself laid
much stress upon it. But he had mystical reasons for doing so that are
not of great consequence to us now, and Parsons's translation, while
preserving, in common with the versions in _terza rima_ and with those
in blank verse, the meter of the original (the iambic pentameter), loses
but little of the effect of the rhyme structure. His quatrains, by the
liberal use of run-on lines and the occasional introduction of a third
rhyme, achieve that effect of continuity which is the most
distinguishing characteristic of the original. I venture to think that
almost no one, even among poets, would be able to tell whether the
complex rhyme system of the _terza rima_ were exactly carried out in any
poem to the reading aloud of which he should listen for pure enjoyment,
and without special effort to observe that particular phenomenon. Still,
however slight the advantage be, it is nevertheless an advantage to have
preserved the _terza rima_; but this gain is more than overcome by the
Dantesque quality of the style in Parsons's version. The manner of the
others often suggests the contemporaries of Dante, rather than Dante
himself.

There remain for consideration and comparison the two renderings into
blank verse. These are the most widely known of the various
translations, and one of them, Cary's, is the form in which Dante is
most generally read by English-speaking readers. Longfellow's version,
though occasionally it transfers a line more successfully than any of
the others, is in the main perfunctory, and its literalness is carried
so far that it frequently degenerates into a "crib" pure and simple.
There is a story that Longfellow used to translate eighty lines every
morning before breakfast. I do not know how true this may be, but the
internal evidence seems to support it. The product of his labor is a
_caput mortuum_; the categorical statements are all there, but somehow
the poetry has evaporated. The result is tedious and uninteresting. Now,
the one quality Dante never had is dullness, and that is also the one
quality the public will never forgive.

Cary's translation has the merit of being tolerably readable. But in it
the great Italian poet suffers a strange transformation. The words are
the words of Dante, but the voice is the voice of Milton; or rather of a
weaker-lunged man trying to mouth the mighty periods and cæsuras of
Milton, and getting somewhat cracked of voice and broken of wind in the
effort. Nevertheless, it is, on the whole, a creditable performance;
only it is not Dante.

Each of the translators has his felicitous moments, and succeeds in
rendering certain passages with more skill than his competitors. But the
relative merit of the translations must be estimated, not by passages,
but by the general impression of the whole work. Parsons is inferior to
some of the other translators in certain obvious verbal and prosodical
accuracies. But his poem probably gives a more correct impression of
Dante in his entirety than any of the others. His versification has the
continuity of Dante's, and something of its music. His diction, like
Dante's, has that supreme refinement that knows no disdain for homely
words and phrases. His style, with more inversions than Dante's, has
much of the master's severity and swiftness, though it falls short of
the masterfulness and supple power of the Italian. Altogether there is
more Dante in it than in any translation that has yet been made.

It has been difficult for me to write critically of a man for whom I had
a warm affection, and who honored me with his friendship and esteem. If
I have erred on the side of severity, it has been from a fear lest my
personal regard for the man should unduly influence my judgment of the
poet; and if I have erred in his praise, it will be easily forgiven. But
I do not think that I mistake in assigning to him, as a translator a
station with the highest, and as an original poet a niche with Collins
in the temple of English song.

                                                  RICHARD HOVEY.
                                                  _In Atlantic Monthly._



Transcriber's Note


Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

This text has been preserved as in the original, including archaic and
inconsistent spelling, punctuation and grammar, except that obvious
printer's errors have been silently corrected.

"Sea-captain of whose keels the the Sea is fain," (page 24)--deleted
second "the".

"... it it is apt to be vitally related to them." (page 44)--deleted
second "it".

The spelling of "Shakspere" was maintained consistent with the original
work.





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