Page:Shelley, a poem, with other writings (Thomson, Debell).djvu/142

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
124
THE POEMS OF WILLIAM BLAKE.

native tongue into the dialect poor and barbarous of his hearers. He (while doing also very different work of his own) carries on the work begun by Blake, sinking its foundations into a deeper past, and uplifting its towers into a loftier future. Both Shelley and Keats are still so far beyond the range of our English criticism that they would not have been mentioned thus cursorily here had it been possible to omit them.[1]

Tennyson has no more of this simplicity than had

  1. Perhaps the astonishing difference in kind between these glorious poets and their contemporaries can best be put in clear light by thus considering them young Greeks of the race of the Gods, born three thousand years after their time, in Christian England. Shelley has been called The Eternal Child, and Keats, The Real Adonis; and Novalis says well, "Children are ancients, and youth is antique" (Die Kinder sind Antiken, Auch die Jugend ist antik: Vol. 3, p. 190). The ideas and sentiments of the race among whom they were reared were naturally strange and in many respects repugnant to them both. Keats simply ignoring the Bumbleism and Christianity, except in so far as the Bumbleism obstructed his poetic career, unperturbed save by the first throes of creative art, developed himself in the regions from which he sprang; Pagan and Hellenic in his themes, his ideas, his perceptions, his objects. Shelley, on the other hand, started from the time and place of his birth to reach the old dominions of his ancestry. In this enterprise he had to conquer and destroy the terrible armies of fanaticism, asceticism, cant, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, lording it over England; and at the same time, the spirituality of the new religion, the liberty and equality and fraternity of the new political systems, all things lovely and true and holy of the modern life he would bear with him for the re-inspiration of the antique. He aspired not to a new Jerusalem in the heavens, but to a new Hellenic Metropolis on Earth: he looked for redemption and victory, not to Christ on Calvary, but to Prometheus on Caucasus. These young Greeks could not live to old age. The gloom and chill of our English clime, physical and moral and intellectual, could not but be fatal to these children of the sun. England and France are so proudly in the van of civilisation that it is impossible for a great poet to live greatly to old age in either of them.