Essays and Reviews
by Terry Whalen
Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or make quick-coming death a little thing,
Or bring again the pleasures of past years,
Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears,
Or hope again for aught that I can say,
The idle singer of an empty day.
rather, when aweary of your mirth,
From full hearts still unsatisfied ye sigh,
And feeling kindly unto all the earth,
Grudge every minute as it passes by,
Made the more mindful that the sweet days die-
-Remember me a little then, I pray,
The idle singer of an empty day.
. . .
of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
Telling a tale not too importunate
To those who in the sleepy region stay,
Lulled by the singer of an empty day.
verses are from the introduction to Mr. Morris'
and give an exact account
of the charm and compass not only of that work
but of all the author's poetry. As we read them
we almost begin to doubt whether he "cannot
ease the burden of our fears," and as we
go on we feel that here is a musical voice, singing
for us such sweet songs, telling for us such wonderful
tales as the world has not known since all these
legends took shape in the fair land of Greece,
that home of beauty and thought; thought, which
once spoke in the most beautiful language, preserved
to us now in the most beautiful poetry; beauty,
which moulded our fairest statues and wrought
out a civilization such as we are only now attaining
to-full of culture, of delicacy and of restraint.
stories of Greece are known to every scholar,
and the uninitiated may read them in all their
life and interest in Mr. Morris' verse, rippling
on from incident to incident, unweary and unwearying,
full of delight and repose. To reproduce the effect
of the old conditions of life of the Greeks, the
spirit of their literature is above all things
necessary. There may be accuracy in events, minuteness
of description, elaborate detail, endless scenery
painting, but without the master touches, so powerful
in their grace, so delicate in their wide compass,
the long past ages of Greece may remain almost
dead and dusty to all but the students of her
language and literature. For myself, I would rather
have my present knowledge of the first book of
Homer than the best translation of the Iliad;
nor could any translation take the place of the
graceful poetry of Horace.
if you do not know Homer, and want to breathe
the air of Greece, and see the world in its first
flush of beauty across the blue Aegean, if you
would turn in weariness from all the trouble and
doubt which half a thousand years have laid upon
our poetry,-from useless questionings back to
the simple enjoyment of shadowy lands of the sunlit
sea,-from the feverish haste and hurry, that work
the slavish body to death, back to the cool pure
springs of life, where the heart had rest and
spurned not the good gifts of the gods; then you
will do well to read the story of "THE LIFE
AND DEATH OF JASON."
is a poet who stands aside from strife and vain
metaphysical inquiry; who seems quite happy telling
to us the old stories anew. He belongs to a school,
with Swinburne and Rosetti, yet in one way he
is apart from all the poets of our century; "born
out of his due time"; a "dreamer of
dreams" in a world of wakeful men; one loving,
and beloved by, the early morning, living in the
scorching heat of noon day; where all are so busy
looking through and under the earth that they
think not of the fresh dewy dawn of their day,
or the tarrying repose of the grateful night.
Like Virgil, he belongs to an age not strong in
faith or in beauty of life, when his race has
ripened with the fulness of time and the next
breath of Autumn may bring the fruit to the ground,
there to lie and decay until it enrich the soil
and pass up the sapling stems once more and blossom
out with the full fragrance of spring, when all
the wealth of the harvest shall have been forgotten,
and the golden Autumn have drifted away into the
cloud-land of the Age of Gold. But, unlike Virgil,
there is no shadow of sadness in his eager face
and full bright eyes; his heart is not heavy with
the satiety of his age.
much of his matter; in form Mr. Morris is thoroughly
English; his poems are almost written in dialect,
so careful is he to use only the purest Saxon
words. Though partly, of course, this is the result
of the kind of work he does, which requires only
the simplest diction. And it is natural that one,
who is full of a love of all these old scenes
and tales, should seek a master-singer among our
early poets. Such he has found in Chaucer.
story now my tongue must tell,
And tremble in the telling. Would that I
Had but some portion of that mastery
That from the rose-hung lances of woody Kent
Through these five hundred years such songs have
To us, who, meshed within the smoky net
Of unrejoicing labour love them yet.
And thou, O Master!-Yea, my Master still.
. . .
Master, pardon me, if yet in vain
Thou art my Master and I fail to bring
Before men's eyes the image of the thing
My heart is filled with: thou whose dreamy eyes,"
story of Jason is told with absorbing interest.
Not to be read, in the sense that one reads Paradise
Lost or Pilgram's Progress: it is the very book
for a long Summer holiday under the trees, with
a cool brook murmuring at our feet, and the bobolinks
echoing it from the corner of an old rail fence
hard by. Then we could easily slip away to the
oak groves and blue sky of Thessaly, and lose
there many lovely hours, to return at length rested
and well content with our own clear sky and shadowy
Thessaly, beside the trembling sea,
Once dwelt a folk, men called the Minyae;"
is told how Jason was brought up by a Centaur,
and in early manhood undertook his great expedition
in search of the Golden Fleece. All the herds
assemble to help him. Wonderful Argo is built-the
sacrifice offered-the cable cut.
seaward straight did Argo reel,
Set free, and smitten by the western breeze,
And raised herself against the ridgy seas."
. . .
Neptune, joyful of the sacrifice
Beside the sea, and all the gifts of price
That Jason gave him, sent them wind at will,
And swiftly Argo climbed each changing hill,
And ran through rippling valleys of the sea,
Nor toiled the heroes unmelodiously,
For by the mast sat great Oager's son,
And through the harp-strings let his fingers run
Nigh soundless, and with closed lips for a while;
But soon across his face there came a smile,
And his glad voice broke into such a song
That swiftlier swept the eager ships along.
bitter sea, tumultuous sea,
Full many an ill wrought
. . .
whatso thou wilt do with us,
Our end shall not be piteous,
Because our memories shall
When folk forget the way
The black knee through
the heaped-up sea,
And half dried up thy
shouted all the heroes and they drove
The good ship forth, so that the birds above,
With long white wings, scarce flew so fast as
their journey towards Colchis, they land in the
kingdom of Phineus, a man blind and old, who must
have envied them their strength and sight as he
blessed be the way
That led thee to me, happiest of all
Who from the poop see the prow rise and fall
And the sail bellying, and the glittering oars;"
they have gained their prize and are making out
to sea with the Fleece and Medea on board, they
see her brother waiting to stop them-
swift beneath the oar-strokes Argo flew,
While the sun rose behind them, and they drew
Unto the river's mouth, nor failed to see
Absystus' galley waiting watchfully
Betwixt them and the white-topped turbid bar.
Therefore they gat them ready now for war,
With joyful hearts, for
sharp they sniffed the sea
And saw the great waves tumbling green and free,
Outside the bar upon the way to Greece,
The rough green way to glory and to peace."
perfect power of description! Through the poem
are scattered many songs of Orpheus, like the
one I have quoted from. Here is part of that he
sang to overcome the Sirens:
little more, a little more,
O carriers of the
A little labor with the oar,
Before we reach
the land of Greece.
now perchance faint rumours reach
Men's ears of this
And draw men down unto the beach
To gaze across the
. . .
once again, ah, once again,
The black prow plunges
through the sea,
Nor yet shall all your toil be vain,
Nor ye forget, O Minyae."
there is no end of quoting, until-
they offered to the Deity
Who shakes the hard earth with the rolling sea.
And now is all that ancient story told
Of him who won the guarded Fleece of Gold."
Morris," University Monthly, Apr.