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His quarter-staff-which he could ne'er forsake,
By chance conducted-or by thirst constrain'd,
And on the margent of the fount was laid—
Like Dian and her nymphs-when, tir'd with sport,
The dame herself-the goddess well express'd
Her bosom to the view-was only bare;
The fanning wind upon her bosom blows
To meet the fanning wind-the bosom rose;
The fanning wind—and purling stream-continue her repose.
For a further variety take, from the same author's Theodore and Honoria, a passage in which the couplets are run one into the other, and all of it modulated, like the former, according to the feeling demanded by the occasion;
Whilst listening to the murmuring leaves he stood-
A sudden horror seiz'd his giddy head-
Nature was in alarm.-Some danger nigh
Seem'd threaten'd-though unseen to mortal eye.
Unus'd to fear-he summon'd all his soul,
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 plàce,
Now not-though Sin-not Tìme-first wroùght the change,
Into a gùlf-shot under ground-till pàrt
In with the river sunk—and with it ròse
Where to lie hìd.—Sèa he had search'd-and land
Downward as fàr antàrctic;-and in length
At Dariën-thènce to the land whère flows
Mòst opportune mìght sèrve his wìles-and found
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 some times 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 measures. 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 gentleman. But the heroic measure laughs at it. So far from compressing, it converts one line into two, and sacrifices everything to the quick and importunate return of the rhyme. With Dryden, compare Gay, even in the strength of Gay,
The wind was high-the window shakes;
With sudden start the miser wakes;
Along the silent room he stalks,
(A miser never "stalks;" but a rhyme was desired for "walks")
Looks back, and trembles as he walks:
In every creek and corner pries.
Then opes the chest with treasure stor'd,
("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,
And hark, again! the crowing cock,
How drowsily he crew.
Sir Leoline, the baron rich,
Hath a toothless mastiff bitch;
From her kennel beneath the rock
She maketh answer to the clock
Four for the quarters ănd twèlve for the hour,
Is the night chilly and dark!
The night is chilly, the cloud is grey;
(These are not superfluities, but mysterious returns of importunate feeling)
Tis a month before the month of May,
And the spring comes slowly up this way.
The lovely lady, Christabel,
Whom her father loves so well,
What makes her in the wood so late,
A furlong from the castle-gate?
She had dreams all yesternight
And shè in the midnight wood will pray
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 !
She folded her arms beneath her cloak,
There she sees a damsel bright,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone: