HotFreeBooks.com
Books and Habits from the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn
by Lafcadio Hearn
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Nevertheless, we shall soon perceive that this explanation will not cover all the facts. You will naturally ask how it happens that, if the question be a question of animal souls, birds, horses, dogs, cats, and many other animals have been made the subject of Western poems from ancient times. The silence is only upon the subject of insects. And, again, Christianity has one saint—the most beautiful character in all Christian hagiography—who thought of all nature in a manner that, at first sight, strangely resembles Buddhism. This saint was Francis of Assisi, born in the latter part of the twelfth century, so that he may be said to belong to the very heart of the Middle Ages,—the most superstitious epoch of Christianity. Now this saint used to talk to trees and stones as if they were animated beings. He addressed the sun as "my brother sun"; and he spoke of the moon as his sister. He preached not only to human beings, but also to the birds and the fishes; and he made a great many poems on these subjects, full of a strange and childish beauty. For example, his sermon to the doves, beginning, "My little sisters, the doves," in which he reminds them that their form is the emblem or symbol of the Holy Ghost, is a beautiful poem; and has been, with many others, translated into nearly all modern languages. But observe that neither St. Francis nor any other saint has anything to say on the subject of insects.

Perhaps we must go back further than Christianity to guess the meaning of these distinctions. Among the ancient races of Asia, where the Jewish faith arose, there were strange and sinister beliefs about insects—old Assyrian superstitions, old Babylonian beliefs. Insects seemed to those early peoples very mysterious creatures (which they really are); and it appears to have been thought that they had a close relation to the world of demons and evil spirits. I suppose you know that the name of one of their gods, Beelzebub, signifies the Lord of Flies. The Jews, as is shown by their Talmudic literature, inherited some of these ideas; and it is quite probable that they were passed on to the days of Christianity. Again, in the early times of Christianity in Northern Africa the Church had to fight against superstitions of an equally strange sort derived from old Egyptian beliefs. Among the Egyptians, certain insects were sacred and became symbols of divinity,—such as the beetle. Now I imagine that for these reasons the subject of insects became at an early time a subject which Christianity thought dangerous, and that thereafter a kind of hostile opinion prevailed regarding any literature upon this topic.

However, to-day things are very different. With the development of scientific studies—especially of microscopic study—it has been found that insects, far from being the lowliest of creatures, are the most highly organized of all beings; that their special senses are incomparably superior to our own; and that in natural history, from the evolutional standpoint, they have to be given first place. This of course renders it impossible any longer to consider the insect as a trifling subject. Moreover, the new philosophy is teaching the thinking classes in all Western countries the great truth of the unity of life. With the recognition of such unity, an insect must interest the philosophers—even the man of ordinary culture—quite as much as the bird or any other animal.

Nearly all the poems which I have quoted to you have been poems of very modern date—from which we may infer that interest in the subject of insects has been developing of late years only. In this connection it is interesting to note that a very religious poet, Whittier, gave us in the last days of his life a poem upon ants. This would have seemed strange enough in a former age; it does not seem strange to-day, and it is beautiful. The subject is taken from old Jewish literature.

KING SOLOMON AND THE ANTS

Out from Jerusalem The King rode with his great War chiefs and lords of state, And Sheba's queen with them;

Comely, but black withal, To whom, perchance, belongs That wondrous Song of Songs, Sensuous and mystical,

Whereto devout souls turn In fond, ecstatic dream, And through its earth-born theme The Love of Loves discern.

Proud in the Syrian sun, In gold and purple sheen, The dusky Ethiop queen Smiled on King Solomon.

Wisest of men, he knew The languages of all The creatures great or small That trod the earth or flew.

Across an ant-hill led The king's path, and he heard Its small folk, and their word He thus interpreted:

"Here comes the king men greet As wise and good and just, To crush us in the dust Under his heedless feet."

The king, understanding the language of insects, turns to the queen and explains to her what the ants have just said. She advises him to pay no attention to the sarcasm of the ants—how dare such vile creatures speak thus about a king! But Solomon thinks otherwise:

"Nay," Solomon replied, "The wise and strong should seek The welfare of the weak," And turned his horse aside.

His train, with quick alarm, Curved with their leader round The ant-hill's peopled mound, And left it free from harm.

The jewelled head bent low; "Oh, king!" she said, "henceforth The secret of thy worth And wisdom well I know.

"Happy must be the State Whose ruler heedeth more The murmurs of the poor Than flatteries of the great."

The reference to the Song of Songs—also the Song of Solomon and Canticle of Canticles—may require a little explanation. The line "Comely but black withal," is borrowed from a verse of this song—"I am black but beautiful, oh, ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon." In another part of the song the reason of this blackness is given: "I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me." From which we can see that the word black only means dark, brown, tanned by the sun. Perhaps you do not know that as late as the middle of the eighteenth century it was still the custom in England to speak of a person with black hair and eyes as "a black man"—a custom which Charles Lamb had reason to complain of even at a later day. The tents referred to in the text were probably tents made of camel-skin, such as the Arabs still make, and the colour of these is not black but brown. Whether Solomon wrote the so-called song or not we do not know; but the poet refers to a legend that it was written in praise of the beauty of the dark queen who came from Sheba to visit the wisest man of the world. Such is not, however, the opinion of modern scholars. The composition is really dramatic, although thrown into lyrical form, and as arranged by Renan and others it becomes a beautiful little play, of which each act is a monologue. "Sensuous" the poet correctly calls it; for it is a form of praise of woman's beauty in all its details, as appears in such famous verses as these: "How beautiful are thy feet in shoes, O prince's daughter; the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins which feed among the lilies." But Christianity, instead of dismissing this part of the Bible, interpreted the song mystically—insisting that the woman described meant the Church, and the lover, Christ. Of course only very pious people continue to believe this; even the good Whittier preferred the legend that it was written about the Queen of Sheba.

I suppose that I ought to end this lecture upon insect poetry by some quotation to which a moral or philosophical meaning can be attached. I shall end it therefore with a quotation from the poet Gray. The poetry of insects may be said to have first appeared in English literature during the second half of the eighteenth century, so that it is only, at the most, one hundred and fifty years old. But the first really fine poem of the eighteenth century relating to the subject is quite as good as anything since composed by Englishmen upon insect life in general. Perhaps Gray referred especially to what we call May-flies—those delicate ghostly insects which hover above water surfaces in fine weather, but which die on the same day that they are born. He does not specify May-flies, however, and we may consider the moral of the poem quite apart from any particular kind of insect. You will find this reference in the piece entitled "Ode on the Spring," in the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas.

Still is the toiling hand of care: The panting herds repose: Yet hark, how through the peopled air The busy murmur glows! The insect youth are on the wing, Eager to taste the honied spring, And float amid the liquid noon: Some lightly o'er the current skim, Some show their gaily-gilded trim Quick-glancing to the sun.

To Contemplation's sober eye Such is the race of man: And they that creep, and they that fly, Shall end where they began. Alike the Busy and the Gay But flutter through life's little day, In fortune's varying colours dressed: Brushed by the hand of rough Mischance, Or chilled by Age, their airy dance They leave, in dust to rest.

Methinks I hear in accents low The sportive kind reply: Poor moralist! and what art thou? A solitary fly! Thy joys no glittering female meets, No hive hast thou of hoarded sweets, No painted plumage to display: On hasty wings thy youth is flown; Thy sun is set; thy spring is gone— We frolic, while 'tis May.

The poet Gray was never married, and the last stanza which I have quoted refers jocosely to himself. It is an artistic device to set off the moral by a little mockery, so that it may not appear too melancholy.



CHAPTER XI

SOME FRENCH POEMS ABOUT INSECTS

Last year I gave a lecture on the subject of English poems about insects, with some reference to the old Greek poems on the same subject. But I did not then have an opportunity to make any reference to French poems upon the same subject, and I think that it would be a pity not to give you a few examples.

Just as in the case of English poems about insects, nearly all the French literature upon this subject is new. Insect poetry belongs to the newer and larger age of thought, to the age that begins to perceive the great truth of the unity of life. We no longer find, even in natural histories, the insect treated as a mere machine and unthinking organism; on the contrary its habits, its customs and its manifestation both of intelligence and instinct are being very carefully studied in these times, and a certain sympathy, as well as a certain feeling of respect or admiration, may be found in the scientific treatises of the greatest men who write about insect life. So, naturally, Europe is slowly returning to the poetical standpoint of the old Greeks in this respect. It is not improbable that keeping caged insects as pets may again become a Western custom, as it was in Greek times, when cages were made of rushes or straw for the little creatures. I suppose you have heard that the Japanese custom is very likely to become a fashion in America. If that should really happen, the fact would certainly have an effect upon poetry. I think that it is very likely to happen.

The French poets who have written pretty things about insects are nearly all poets of our own times. Some of them treat the subject from the old Greek standpoint—indeed the beautiful poem of Heredia upon the tomb of a grasshopper is perfectly Greek, and reads almost like a translation from the Greek. Other poets try to express the romance of insects in the form of a monologue, full of the thought of our own age. Others again touch the subject of insects only in connection with the subject of love. I will give one example of each method, keeping the best piece for the last, and beginning with a pretty fancy about a dragonfly.

MA LIBELLULE

En te voyant, toute mignonne, Blanche dans ta robe d'azure, Je pensais a quelque madone Drapee en un pen de ciel pur.

Je songeais a ces belles saintes Que l'on voyait au temps jadis Sourire sur les vitres peintes, Montrant d'un doigt le paradis:

Et j'aurais voulu, loin du monde Qui passait frivole entre nous, Dans quelque retraite profonde T'adorer seul a deux genoux.

This first part of the poem is addressed of course to a beautiful child, some girl between the age of childhood and womanhood:

"Beholding thee, Oh darling one, all white in thy azure dress, I thought of some figure of the Madonna robed in a shred of pure blue sky.

"I dreamed of those beautiful figures of saints whom one used to see in olden times smiling in the stained glass of church windows, and pointing upward to Paradise.

"And I could have wished to adore you alone upon my bended knees in some far hidden retreat, away from the frivolous world that passed between us."

This little bit of ecstasy over the beauty and purity of a child is pretty, but not particularly original. However, it is only an introduction. Now comes the pretty part of the poem:

Soudain un caprice bizarre Change la scene et le decor, Et mon esprit au loin s'egare Sur des grands pres d'azure et d'or

Ou, pres de ruisseaux muscules Gazouillants comme des oiseaux, Se poursuivent les libellules, Ces fleurs vivantes des roseaux.

Enfant, n'es tu pas l'une d'elles Qui me poursuit pour consoler? Vainement tu caches tes ailes; Tu marches, mais tu sais voler.

Petite fee au bleu corsage, Que j'ai connu des mon berceau, En revoyant ton doux visage, Je pense aux joncs de mon ruisseau!

Veux-tu qu'en amoureux fideles Nous revenions dans ces pres verts? Libellule, reprends tes ailes; Moi, je brulerai tous mes vers!

Et nous irons, sous la lumiere, D'un ciel plus frais et plus leger Chacun dans sa forme premiere, Moi courir, et toi voltiger.

"Suddenly a strange fancy changes for me the scene and the scenery; and my mind wanders far away over great meadows of azure and gold.

"Where, hard by tiny streams that murmur with a sound like voices of little birds, the dragon-flies, those living flowers of the reeds, chase each other at play.

"Child, art thou not one of those dragon-flies, following after me to console me? Ah, it is in vain that thou tryest to hide thy wings; thou dost walk, indeed, but well thou knowest how to fly!

"O little fairy with the blue corsage whom I knew even from the time I was a baby in the cradle; seeing again thy sweet face, I think of the rushes that border the little stream of my native village!

"Dost thou not wish that even now as faithful lovers we return to those green fields? O dragon-fly, take thy wings again, and I—I will burn all my poetry,

"And we shall go back, under the light of the sky more fresh and pure than this, each of us in the original form—I to run about, and thou to hover in the air as of yore."

The sight of a child's face has revived for the poet very suddenly and vividly, the recollection of the village home, the green fields of childhood, the little stream where he used to play with the same little girl, sometimes running after the dragon-fly. And now the queer fancy comes to him that she herself is so like a dragon-fly—so light, graceful, spiritual! Perhaps really she is a dragon-fly following him into the great city, where he struggles to live as a poet, just in order to console him. She hides her wings, but that is only to prevent other people knowing. Why not return once more to the home of childhood, back to the green fields and the sun? "Little dragon-fly," he says to her, "let us go back! do you return to your beautiful summer shape, be a dragon-fly again, expand your wings of gauze; and I shall stop trying to write poetry. I shall burn my verses; I shall go back to the streams where we played as children; I shall run about again with the joy of a child, and with you beautifully flitting hither and thither as a dragon-fly."

Victor Hugo also has a little poem about a dragon-fly, symbolic only, but quite pretty. It is entitled "La Demoiselle"; and the other poem was entitled, as you remember, "Ma Libellule." Both words mean a dragon-fly, but not the same kind of dragon-fly. The French word "demoiselle," which might be adequately rendered into Japanese by the term ojosan, refers only to those exquisitely slender, graceful, slow-flitting dragon-flies known to the scientist by the name of Calopteryx. Of course you know the difference by sight, and the reason of the French name will be poetically apparent to you.

Quand la demoiselle doree S'envole au depart des hivers, Souvent sa robe diapree, Souvent son aile est dechiree Aux mille dards des buissons verts.

Ainsi, jeunesse vive et frele, Qui, t'egarant de tous cotes, Voles ou ton instinct t'appele, Souvent tu dechires ton aile Aux epines des voluptes.

"When, at the departure of winter, the gilded dragon-fly begins to soar, often her many-coloured robe, often her wing, is torn by the thousand thorns of the verdant shrubs.

"Even so, O frail and joyous Youth, who, wandering hither and thither, in every direction, flyest wherever thy instinct calls thee—even so thou dost often tear thy wings upon the thorns of pleasure."

You must understand that pleasure is compared to a rose-bush, whose beautiful and fragrant flowers attract the insects, but whose thorns are dangerous to the visitors. However, Victor Hugo does not use the word for rose-bush, for obvious reasons; nor does he qualify the plants which are said to tear the wings of the dragon-fly. I need hardly tell you that the comparison would not hold good in reference to the attraction of flowers, because dragon-flies do not care in the least about flowers, and if they happen to tear their wings among thorn bushes, it is much more likely to be in their attempt to capture and devour other insects. The merit of the poem is chiefly in its music and colour; as natural history it would not bear criticism. The most beautiful modern French poem about insects, beautiful because of its classical perfection, is I think a sonnet by Heredia, entitled "Epigramme Funeraire"—that is to say, "Inscription for a Tombstone." This is an exact imitation of Greek sentiment and expression, carefully studied after the poets of the anthology. Several such Greek poems are extant, recounting how children mourned for pet insects which had died in spite of all their care. The most celebrated one among these I quoted in a former lecture—the poem about the little Greek girl Myro who made a tomb for her grasshopper and cried over it. Heredia has very well copied the Greek feeling in this fine sonnet:

Ici git, Etranger, la verte sauterelle Que durant deux saisons nourrit la jeune Helle, Et dont l'aile vibrant sous le pied dentele. Bruissait dans le pin, le cytise, ou l'airelle.

Elle s'est tue, helas! la lyre naturelle, La muse des guerets, des sillons et du ble; De peur que son leger sommeil ne soit trouble, Ah, passe vite, ami, ne pese point sur elle.

C'est la. Blanche, au milieu d'une touffe de thym, Sa pierre funeraire est fraichement posee. Que d'hommes n'ont pas eu ce supreme destin!

Des larmes d'un enfant la tombe est arrosee, Et l'Aurore pieuse y fait chaque matin Une libation de gouttes de rosee.

"Stranger, here reposes the green grasshopper that the young girl Helle cared for during two seasons,—the grasshopper whose wings, vibrating under the strokes of its serrated feet, used to resound in the pine, the trefoil and the whortleberry.

"She is silent now, alas! that natural lyre, muse of the unsown fields, of the furrows, and of the wheat. Lest her light sleep should be disturbed, ah! pass quickly, friend! do not be heavy upon her.

"It is there. All white, in the midst of a tuft of thyme, her funeral monument is placed, in cool shadow; how many men have not been able to have this supremely happy end!

"By the tears of a child the insect's tomb is watered; and the pious goddess of dawn each morning there makes a libation of drops of dew."

This reads very imperfectly in a hasty translation; the original charm is due to the perfect art of the form. But the whole thing, as I have said before, is really Greek, and based upon a close study of several little Greek poems on the same kind of subject. Little Greek girls thousands of years ago used to keep singing insects as pets, every day feeding them with slices of leek and with fresh water, putting in their little cages sprigs of the plants which they liked. The sorrow of the child for the inevitable death of her insect pets at the approach of winter, seems to have inspired many Greek poets. With all tenderness, the child would make a small grave for the insect, bury it solemnly, and put a little white stone above the place to imitate a grave-stone. But of course she would want an inscription for this tombstone—perhaps would ask some of her grown-up friends to compose one for her. Sometimes the grown-up friend might be a poet, in which case he would compose an epitaph for all time.

I suppose you perceive that the solemnity of this imitation of the Greek poems on the subject is only a tender mockery, a playful sympathy with the real grief of the child. The expression, "pass, friend," is often found in Greek funeral inscriptions together with the injunction to tread lightly upon the dust of the dead. There is one French word to which I will call attention,—the word "guerets." We have no English equivalent for this term, said to be a corruption of the Latin word "veractum," and meaning fields which have been ploughed but not sown.

Not to dwell longer upon the phase of art indicated by this poem, I may turn to the subject of crickets. There are many French poems about crickets. One by Lamartine is known to almost every French child.

Grillon solitaire, Ici comme moi, Voix qui sors de terre, Ah! reveille-toi! J'attise la flamme, C'est pour t'egayer; Mais il manque une ame, Une ame au foyer.

Grillon solitaire, Voix qui sors de terre, Ah! reveille-toi Pour moi.

Quand j'etais petite Comme ce berceau, Et que Marguerite Filait son fuseau, Quand le vent d'automne Faisait tout gemir, Ton cri monotone M'aidait a dormir.

Grillon solitaire, Voix qui sors de terre, Ah! reveille-toi Pour moi.

Seize fois l'annee A compte mes jours; Dans la cheminee Tu niches toujours. Je t'ecoute encore Aux froides saisons. Souvenir sonore Des vieilles maisons.

Grillon solitaire, Voix qui sors de terre, Ah! reveille-toi Pour moi.

It is a young girl who thus addresses the cricket of the hearth, the house cricket. It is very common in country houses in Europe. This is what she says:

"Little solitary cricket, all alone here just like myself, little voice that comes up out of the ground, ah, awake for my sake! I am stirring up the fires, that is just to make you comfortable; but there lacks a presence by the hearth; a soul to keep me company.

"When I was a very little girl, as little as that cradle in the corner of the room, then, while Margaret our servant sat there spinning, and while the autumn wind made everything moan outside, your monotonous cry used to help me to fall asleep.

"Solitary cricket, voice that issues from the ground, awaken, for my sake.

"Now I am sixteen years of age and you are still nestling in the chimneys as of old. I can hear you still in the cold season,—like a sound—memory,—a sonorous memory of old houses.

"Solitary cricket, voice that issues from the ground, awaken, O awaken for my sake."

I do not think this pretty little song needs any explanation; I would only call your attention to the natural truth of the fancy and the feeling. Sitting alone by the fire in the night, the maiden wants to hear the cricket sing, because it makes her think of her childhood, and she finds happiness in remembering it.

So far as mere art goes, the poem of Gautier on the cricket is very much finer than the poem of Lamartine, though not so natural and pleasing. But as Gautier was the greatest master of French verse in the nineteenth century, not excepting Victor Hugo, I think that one example of his poetry on insects may be of interest. He was very poor, compared with Victor Hugo; and he had to make his living by writing for newspapers, so that he had no time to become the great poet that nature intended him to be. However, he did find time to produce one volume of highly finished poetry, which is probably the most perfect verse of the nineteenth century, if not the most perfect verse ever made by a French poet; I mean the "Emaux et Camees." But the little poem which I am going to read to you is not from the "Emaux et Camees."

Souffle, bise! Tombe a flots, pluie! Dans mon palais tout noir de suie, Je ris de la pluie et du vent; En attendant que l'hiver fuie, Je reste au coin du feu, revant.

C'est moi qui suis l'esprit de l'atre! Le gaz, de sa langue bleuatre, Leche plus doucement le bois; La fumee en filet d'albatre, Monte et se contourne a ma voix.

La bouilloire rit et babille; La flamme aux pieds d'argent sautille En accompagnant ma chanson; La buche de duvet s'habille; La seve bout dans le tison.

* * * * *

Pendant la nuit et la journee Je chante sous la cheminee; Dans mon langage de grillon J'ai, des rebuts de son ainee, Souvent console Cendrillon.

* * * * *

Quel plaisir? Prolonger sa veille, Regarder la flamme vermeille Prenant a deux bras le tison, A tous les bruits preter l'oreille, Entendre vivre la maison.

Tapi dans sa niche bien chaude, Sentir l'hiver qui pleure et rode, Tout bleme, et le nez violet, Tachant de s'introduire en fraude Par quelque fente du volet!

This poem is especially picturesque, and is intended to give us the comfortable sensations of a winter night by the fire, and the amusement of watching the wood burn and of hearing the kettle boiling. You will find that the French has a particular quality of lucid expression; it is full of clearness and colour.

"Blow on, cold wind! pour down, O rain. I, in my soot-black palace, laugh at both rain and wind; and while waiting for winter to pass I remain in my corner by the fire dreaming.

"It is I that am really the spirit of the hearth! The gaseous flame licks the wood more softly with its bluish tongue when it hears me; and the smoke rises up like an alabaster thread, and curls itself about (or twists) at the sound of my voice.

"The kettle chuckles and chatters; the golden-footed flame leaps, dancing to the accompaniment of my song (or in accompaniment to my song); the great log covers itself with down, the sap boils in the wooden embers ("duvet," meaning "down," refers to the soft fluffy white ash that forms upon the surface of burning wood).

"All night and all day I sing below the chimney. Often in my cricket-language, I have consoled Cinderella for the snubs of her elder sister.

"Ah, what pleasure to sit up at night, and watch the crimson flames embracing the wood (or hugging the wood) with both arms at once, and to listen to all the sounds and to hear the life of the house!

"Nestling in one's good warm nook, how pleasant to hear Winter, who weeps and prowls round about the house outside, all wan and blue-nosed with cold, trying to smuggle itself inside some chink in the shutter!"

Of course this does not give us much about the insect itself, which remains invisible in the poem, just as it really remains invisible in the house where the voice is heard. Rather does the poem express the feelings of the person who hears the cricket.

When we come to the subject of grasshoppers, I think that the French poets have done much better than the English. There are many poems on the field grasshopper; I scarcely know which to quote first. But I think you would be pleased with a little composition by the celebrated French painter, Jules Breton. Like Rossetti he was both painter and poet; and in both arts he took for his subjects by preference things from country life. This little poem is entitled "Les Cigales." The word "cigales," though really identical with our word "cicala," seldom means the same thing. Indeed the French word may mean several different kinds of insects, and it is only by studying the text that we can feel quite sure what sort of insect is meant.

Lorsque dans l'herbe mure ancun epi ne bouge, Qu'a l'ardeur des rayons crepite le frement, Que le coquelicot tombe languissament Sous le faible fardeau de sa corolle rouge,

Tous les oiseaux de l'air out fait taire leur chants; Les ramiers paresseux, au plus noir des ramures, Somnolents, dans les bois, out cesse leurs murmures Loin du soleil muet incendiant les champs.

Dans le ble, cependant, d'intrepides cigales Jetant leurs mille bruits, fanfare de l'ete, Out frenetiquement et sans treve agite Leurs ailes sur l'airaine de leurs folles cymbales.

Tremoussantes, deboutes sur les longs epis d'or, Virtuoses qui vont s'eteindre avant l'automne, Elles poussent au del leur hymne monotone Que dans I'ombre des nuits retentisse encore.

Et rien n'arretera leurs cris intarissables; Quand on les chassera de l'avoine et des bles. Elles emigreront sur les buissons brules Qui se meurent de soif dans les deserts de sable.

Sur l'arbuste effeuille, sur les chardons fletris Qui laissent s'envoler leur blanche chevelure, On reverra l'insecte a la forte encolure, Pleine d'ivresse, toujours s'exalter dans ses cris.

Jusqu'a ce qu'ouvrant l'aile en lambeaux arrachee, Exaspere, brulant d'un feu toujours plus pur, Son oeil de bronze fixe et tendu vers l'azur, II expire en chantant sur la tige sechee.

For the word "encolure" we have no English equivalent; it means the line of the neck and shoulder—sometimes the general appearance of shape of the body.

"When in the ripening grain field not a single ear of wheat moves; when in the beaming heat the corn seems to crackle; when the poppy languishes and bends down under the feeble burden of its scarlet corolla,

"Then all the birds of the air have hushed their songs; even the indolent doves, seeking the darkest part of the foliage in the tree, have become drowsy in the woods, and have ceased their cooing, far from the fields, which the silent sun is burning.

"Nevertheless, in the wheat, the brave grasshoppers uttering their thousand sounds, a trumpet flourish of summer, have continued furiously and unceasingly to smite their wings upon the brass of their wild cymbal.

"Quivering as they stand upon the long gold ears of the grain, master musicians who must die before the coming of Fall, they sound to heaven their monotonous hymn, which re-echoes even in the darkness of the night.

"And nothing will check their inexhaustible shrilling. When chased away from the oats and from the wheat, they will migrate to the scorched bushes which die of thirst in the wastes of sand.

"Upon the leafless shrubs, upon the dried up thistles, which let their white hair fall and float away, there the sturdily-built insect can be seen again, filled with enthusiasm, even more and more excited as he cries,

"Until, at last, opening his wings, now rent into shreds, exasperated, burning more and more fiercely in the frenzy of his excitement, and with his eyes of bronze always fixed motionlessly upon the azure sky, he dies in his song upon the withered grain."

This is difficult to translate at all satisfactorily, owing to the multitude of images compressed together. But the idea expressed is a fine one—the courage of the insect challenging the sun, and only chanting more and more as the heat and the thirst increase. The poem has, if you like, the fault of exaggeration, but the colour and music are very fine; and even the exaggeration itself has the merit of making the images more vivid.

It will not be necessary to quote another text; we shall scarcely have the time; but I want to translate to you something of another poem upon the same insect by the modern French poet Jean Aicard. In this poem, as in the little poem by Gautier, which I quoted to you, the writer puts his thought in the mouth of the insect, so to say—that is, makes the insect tell its own story.

"I am the impassive and noble insect that sings in the summer solstice from the dazzling dawn all the day long in the fragrant pine-wood. And my song is always the same, regular as the equal course of the season and of the sun. I am the speech of the hot and beaming sun, and when the reapers, weary of heaping the sheaves together, lie down in the lukewarm shade, and sleep and pant in the ardour of noonday—then more than at any other time do I utter freely and joyously that double-echoing strophe with which my whole body vibrates. And when nothing else moves in all the land round about, I palpitate and loudly sound my little drum. Otherwise the sunlight triumphs; and in the whole landscape nothing is heard but my cry,—like the joy of the light itself.

"Like a butterfly I take up from the hearts of the flowers that pure water which the night lets fall into them like tears. I am inspired only by the almighty sun. Socrates listened to me; Virgil made mention of me. I am the insect especially beloved by the poets and by the bards. The ardent sun reflects himself in the globes of my eyes. My ruddy bed, which seems to be powdered like the surface of fine ripe fruit, resembles some exquisite key-board of silver and gold, all quivering with music. My four wings, with their delicate net-work of nerves, allow the bright down upon my black back to be seen through their transparency. And like a star upon the forehead of some divinely inspired poet, three exquisitely mounted rubies glitter upon my head."

These are fair examples of the French manner of treating the interesting subject of insects in poetry. If you should ask me whether the French poets are better than the English, I should answer, "In point of feeling, no." The real value of such examples to the student should be emotional, not descriptive. I think that the Japanese poems on insects, though not comparable in point of mere form with some of the foreign poems which I have quoted, are better in another way—they come nearer to the true essence of poetry. For the Japanese poets have taken the subject of insects chiefly for the purpose of suggesting human emotion; and that is certainly the way in which such a subject should be used. Remember that this is an age in which we are beginning to learn things about insects which could not have been even imagined fifty years ago, and the more that we learn about these miraculous creatures, the more difficult does it become for us to write poetically about their lives, or about their possible ways of thinking and feeling. Probably no mortal man will ever be able to imagine how insects think or feel or hear or even see. Not only are their senses totally different from those of animals, but they appear to have a variety of special senses about which we can not know anything at all. As for their existence, it is full of facts so atrocious and so horrible as to realize most of the imaginations of old about the torments of hell. Now, for these reasons to make an insect speak in poetry—to put one's thoughts, so to speak, into the mouth of an insect—is no longer consistent with poetical good judgment. No; we must think of insects either in relation to the mystery of their marvellous lives, or in relation to the emotion which their sweet and melancholy music makes within our minds. The impressions produced by hearing the shrilling of crickets at night or by hearing the storm of cicadae in summer woods—those impressions indeed are admirable subjects for poetry, and will continue to be for all time.

When I lectured to you long ago about Greek and English poems on insects, I told you that nearly all the English poems on the subject were quite modern. I still believe that I was right in this statement, as a general assertion; but I have found one quaint poem about a grasshopper, which must have been written about the middle of the seventeenth century or, perhaps, a little earlier. The date of the author's birth and death are respectively 1618 and 1658. His name, I think, you are familiar with—Richard Lovelace, author of many amatory poems, and of one especially famous song, "To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars"—containing the celebrated stanza—

Yet this inconstancy is such As you too shall adore; I could not love thee, Dear, so much, Loved I not honour more.

Well, as I said, this man wrote one pretty little poem on a grasshopper, which antedates most of the English poems on insects, if not all of them.

THE GRASSHOPPER

O Thou that swing'st upon the waving ear Of some well-filled oaten beard, Drunk every night with a delicious tear Dropt thee from heaven, where now th'art rear'd!

The joys of earth and air are thine entire, That with thy feet and wings dost hop and fly; And when thy poppy works, thou dost retire To thy carved acorn-bed to lie.

Up with the day, the Sun thou welcom'st then, Sport'st in the gilt plaits of his beams, And all these merry days mak'st merry men Thyself, and melancholy streams.

A little artificial, this poem written at least two hundred and fifty years ago; but it is pretty in spite of its artifice. Some of the conceits are so quaint that they must be explained. By the term "oaten beard," the poet means an ear of oats; and you know that the grain of this plant is furnished with very long hair, so that many poets have spoken of the bearded oats. You may remember in this connection Tennyson's phrase "the bearded barley" in the "Lady of Shalott," and Longfellow's term "bearded grain" in his famous poem about the Reaper Death. When a person's beard is very thick, we say in England to-day "a full beard," but in the time of Shakespeare they used to say "a well filled beard"—hence the phrase in the second line of the first stanza.

In the third line the term "delicious tear" means dew,—which the Greeks called the tears of the night, and sometimes the tears of the dawn; and the phrase "drunk with dew" is quite Greek—so we may suspect that the author of this poem had been reading the Greek Anthology. In the third line of the second stanza the word "poppy" is used for sleep—a very common simile in Elizabethan times, because from the poppy flower was extracted the opiate which enables sick persons to sleep. The Greek authors spoke of poppy sleep. "And when thy poppy works," means, when the essence of sleep begins to operate upon you, or more simply, when you sleep. Perhaps the phrase about the "carved acorn-bed" may puzzle you; it is borrowed from the fairy-lore of Shakespeare's time, when fairies were said to sleep in little beds carved out of acorn shells; the simile is used only by way of calling the insect a fairy creature. In the second line of the third stanza you may notice the curious expression about the "gilt plaits" of the sun's beams. It was the custom in those days, as it still is in these, for young girls to plait their long hair; and the expression "gilt plaits" only means braided or plaited golden hair. This is perhaps a Greek conceit; for classic poets spoke of the golden hair of the Sun God as illuminating the world. I have said that the poem is a little artificial, but I think you will find it pretty, and even the whimsical similes are "precious" in the best sense.



CHAPTER XII

NOTE ON THE INFLUENCE OF FINNISH POETRY IN ENGLISH LITERATURE

The subject of Finnish poetry ought to have a special interest for the Japanese student, if only for the reason that Finnish poetry comes more closely in many respects to Japanese poetry than any other form of Western poetry. Indeed it is supposed that the Finnish race is more akin to the Tartar races, and therefore probably to the Japanese, than the races of Europe proper. Again, through Longfellow, the value of Finnish poetry to English poetry was first suggested, and I think you know that Longfellow's Indian epic, "The Song of Hiawatha," was modelled entirely upon the Finnish "Kalevala."

But a word about the "Kalevala," which has a very interesting history. I believe you know that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the "Kalevala" was not known to exist. During the first half of the century, Finnish scholars in the University of Helsingfors (where there is now a great and flourishing university) began to take literary interest in the popular songs of Finland. For years the people had been singing extraordinary songs full of a strange beauty and weirdness quite unlike any other popular songs of Europe; and for centuries professional singers had been wandering about the country teaching these songs to the accompaniment of a kind of biwa called Kantela. The scholars of the University began to collect these songs from the mouths of the peasants and musicians—at first with great difficulty, afterwards with much success. The difficulty was a very curious one. In Finland the ancient pagan religion had really never died; the songs of the peasants were full of allusions to the old faith and the old gods, and the orthodox church had often attempted in vain to prevent the singing of these songs, because they were not Christian. So the peasants at first thought that the scholars who wanted to copy the songs were government spies or church spies who wanted evidence to justify punishments. When the fears of the people had been removed and when they came to understand that the questioners were only scholars interested in literary beauty, all the secret stores of songs were generously opened, and an immense collection of oral literature was amassed in the University at Helsingfors.

The greatest of the scholars engaged in the subsequent work of arranging and classifying was Doctor Loennrot. While examining the manuscript of these poems he was struck by the fact that, put together in a particular order, they naturally made one great continuous story or epic. Was it possible that the Finnish people had had during all these centuries an epic unknown to the world of literature? Many persons would have ridiculed the idea. But Loennrot followed up that idea, and after some years' study he disengaged from all that mass of song something in the shape of a wonderful epic, the epic of the "Kalevala." Loennrot was probably, almost certainly, the only one who had even understood the idea of an epic of this kind. The peasants did not know. They only had the fragments of the whole; parts of the poem existed in one province, parts in another; no Finnish musician had ever known the whole. The whole may have been made first by Loennrot. At all events he was the Homer of the "Kalevala," and it was fortunate for Finland that he happened to be himself both a scholar and a poet—qualifications seldom united in the same person.

What is the "Kalevala" as we now possess it? It is an epic, but not like any other epic in the world, for the subject of it is Magic. We might call it the Epic of Magic. It is the story of how the world and the heaven and the sun and the moon and the stars, the elements and the races of living creatures and all other things were created by magic; also how the first inhabitants of the world lived, and loved, and fought. But there is another thing to be said in a general was about this magic. The magic of "Kalevala" is not like anything else known by that name in European literature. The magic of "Kalevala" is entirely the magic of words. These ancient people believed in the existence of words, by the utterance of which anything might be accomplished. Instead of buying wood and hiring carpenters, you might build a house by uttering certain magical words. If you had no horse and wanted to travel rapidly, you could make a horse for yourself out of bits of bark and old sticks by uttering over them certain magical words. But this was not all. Beings of intellect, men and women, whole armies of men, in fact, might be created in a moment by the utterance of these mystical words. There is the real subject of the "Kalevala."

I told you that the epic is not like anything else in European literature and not like anything else in the world as to the subject. But this is not the case as regards the verse. The verse is not like Japanese verse, indeed, but it comes nearer to it than any other European verse does. Of course even in Finnish verse, accents mean a great deal, and accent means nothing at all in Japanese verse. But I imagine something very much like Finnish verse might be written in Japanese, provided that in reciting it a slight stress is thrown on certain syllables. Of course you know something about Longfellow's "Hiawatha"—such lines as these:

And the evening sun descending Set the clouds on fire with redness, Burned the broad sky like a prairie, Left upon the level water One long track and trail of splendour, Down whose stream, as down a river, Westward, westward Hiawatha Sailed into the fiery sunset, Sailed into the purple vapours, Sailed into the dusk of evening.

You will observe this is verse of eight syllables with four trochees to a line. Now it is perhaps as near to Finnish verse as English verse can be made. But the Finnish verse is more musical, and it is much more flexible, and the rules of it can be better carried out than in English. There is much more to be thought about than the placing of four trochaic feet to a line. Not only must the verse be trochaic, it must also be alliterative, and it must also be, to some extent, rhymed verse—a matter which Longfellow did not take into consideration. That would have doubled his difficulty. To make verse trochaic, alliterative and rhymed, is very difficult indeed—that is, to do it well. Only one liberty is allowed; it is not necessary that the rhyme shall be regular and constant; it is necessary only that it should be occasional. But the interest of Finnish verse does not end here. I have not yet mentioned the most important law of Finnish poetry—the law of parallelism or repetition. Parallelism is the better word. It means the repetition of a thought in a slightly modified way. It is parallelism especially that makes so splendid the English translation of the Bible, and the majesty of such passages in the Book of Common Prayer as the Funeral Service. So that Finnish poetry is anything but very simple. We may now sum it up thus—trochaic verse of eight syllables, with alliteration and rhyme, a caesura in the same part of every line, and every line reiterated in parallelism.

A little above I mentioned the English of the Bible. Long ago I explained why that English is so beautiful and so strong. But remember that much of the best of the Bible, in the original Hebrew, was not prose but verse, and that the fine effects have been produced by translating the verse into musical prose. The very effect can be produced by translating the "Kalevala" into prose. Occasionally the passages are of surprising beauty, and they are always of surprising strangeness.

It is in parallelism especially that Finnish poetry offers a contrast to Japanese, but there is no reason whatever why, in the longer poems of Japanese poetry, parallelism could not be used. All things have value according to place and time, and this has value—provided that it has a special effect on a special occasion. All through the "Kalevala," all through five hundred pages, large pages, the parallelism is carried on, and yet one never gets tired. It is not monotonous. But that is because the subject is so well adapted to this form of poetry. See how the poem opens, when the poet begins to talk about what he is going to sing:

"Anciently my father sang me these words in hewing the handle of his ax; anciently my mother taught me these words as she turned her spindle. In that time I was only a child, a little child at the breast,—a useless little being creeping upon the floor at the feet of its nurse, its cheek bedaubed with milk. And there are other words which I drew from the spring of knowledge, which I found by the wayside, which I snatched from the heart of the thickets, which I detached from the branches of the trees, which I gathered at the edges of the pastures—when, In my infancy, I used to go to guard the flocks, in the midst of the honey-streaming meadows, upon the gold-shining hills, behind the black Murikki, behind the spotted Kimmo, my favourite cows.

"Also the cold sang the songs, the rain sang me verses, the winds of heaven, the waves of the sea made me hear their poems, the birds instructed me with their melodies, the long-haired trees invited me to their concerts. And all the songs I gathered together, I rolled them up in a skin, I carried them away in my beautiful little holiday sledge, I deposited them in the bottom of a chest of brass, upon the highest shelf of my treasure house."

Now when a poem opens that way we may be sure that there are great things in it; and some of these great things we shall read about presently. The "Kalevala" is full of wonderful stories, But in the above quotation, I want you to see how multiple it is, and yet it is beautiful. Now there is a very interesting thing yet to tell you about this parallelism. Such poems as those of the "Kalevala" have always to be sung not by one singer but by two. The two singers straddle a bench facing each other and hold each other's hands. Then they sing alternately, each chanting one line, rocking back and forward, pulling each other to and fro as they sing—so that it is like the motion of rowing. One chants a line and pulls backward, then the other chants the next line and pulls in the opposite direction. Not to be able to answer at once would be considered a great disgrace; and every singer has to be able to improvise as well as to sing. And that is the signification of the following verse:

"Put thy hand to my hand—place thy fingers between my fingers—that we may sing of the things which are."

The most beautiful story in this wonderful book is the story of Kullervo. It was after reading this story that Longfellow imagined his story of the Strong Man Kwasind. Kullervo is born so strong that as an infant he breaks his cradle to pieces, and as a boy he can not do any work, for all the tools and instruments break in his grasp. Therefore he gives a great deal of trouble at home and has to go out into the world to seek his fortune. In the world, of course, he has just the same trouble; for nobody will employ him very long. However, the story of Kullervo's feats of strength, though interesting, need not now concern us. The great charm of this composition is in the description of a mother's love which it contains. Kullervo brought misfortune everywhere simply by his strength and by his great passions—at last committing a terrible crime, causing the death of his own sister, whom he does not recognize. He goes back home in desperation and remorse; and there everybody regards him with horror, except only his mother. She alone tries to console him; she alone tells him that repentance may bring him rest. He then proposes to go away and amend his wrong-doing in solitude. But first he bids them all goodbye, and the episode is characteristic.

Kullervo, the son of Kalervo, gets him ready to depart; he goes to his old father and says: "Farewell now, O my dear father. Wilt thou regret me bitterly, when thou shalt learn that I am dead?—that I have disappeared from among the multitude of the living?—that I no longer am one of the members of thy family?" The father answered: "No, certainly I will not regret thee when I shall hear that thou art dead. Another son perchance will be born to me—a son who will grow up better and wiser than thou."

Kullervo, son of Kalervo, answered: "And I also will not be sorry if I hear that thou art dead. Without any trouble I can find me such a father as thou—a stone-hearted father, a clay-mouthed father, a berry-eyed father, a straw-bearded father, a father whose feet are made of the roots of the willow tree, a father whose flesh is decaying wood." Why does Kullervo use these extraordinary terms? It is a reference to magic—out of stone and clay and straw, a phantom man can be made, and Kullervo means to say that his father is no more to him than a phantom father, an unreal father, a father who has no fatherly feeling. His brothers and sisters all questioned in turn if they will be sorry to hear that he is dead, make the same cruel answer; and he replies to them with the same angry words. But it is very different when he speaks to his mother.

For to his mother he said—"Oh my sweet mother, my beautiful nurse, my loved protectress, wilt thou regret me bitterly when thou shalt learn that I am dead, that I have disappeared from the multitude of the living, that I am no longer one of the members of thy family?"

The mother made answer: "Thou does not comprehend the soul of the mother—thou canst not understand the heart of the mother. Assuredly will I regret thee most bitterly when I shall learn that thou art dead, that thou hast disappeared, from among the multitude of the living, that thou hast ceased to be one of the members of my family. Floods of tears shall I weep in my chamber. The waves of tears will overflow on the floor. And upon the stairway lamentably shall I weep; and in the stable loudly shall I sorrow. Upon the icy ways the snow shall melt under my tears—under my tears the earth of the roads shall melt away; under my tears new meadow grass shall grow up, green sprouting, and through that grass little streams shall murmur away." To this mother, naturally, Kullervo says no unkind words. He goes away, able at least to feel that there is one person in the world who loves him and one person in the world whom he loves. But how much his mother really loves him he does not yet know; he will know that later—it forms the most beautiful part of the poem.

"Kullervo directed his steps once more to the home of his fathers. Desolate he found it, desolate and deserted; no person advanced to salute him, no person came to press his hand, to give him welcome.

"He drew near to the hearth: the embers were extinguished. By that he knew that his mother had ceased to be.

"He drew near to the fire-place, and the stones of the fire-place were cold. By that he knew that his father had ceased to be.

"He turned his eyes upon the floor of his home; the planks of the floor were covered with dirt and rubbish. By that he knew that his sister had ceased to be.

"To the shore of the sea he went; the boat that used to be there was there no longer. By that he knew that his brother had ceased to be.

"Then he began to weep. For a whole day he wept, for two whole days he wept; then he cried aloud: 'O my mother, O my sweet mother, what didst thou leave thy son yet in the world? Alas! now thou canst hear me no longer; and it is in vain that I stand above thy tomb, that I sob over the place of thine eyebrows, over the place of thy temples; it is in vain that I cry out my grief above thy dead forehead.'

"The mother of Kullervo awakened in her tomb, and out of the depth of the dust she spake to him: 'I have left the dog Mastif, in order that thou mayst go with him to the chase. Take therefore the faithful dog, and go with him into the wild forest, into the dark wilderness, even to the dwelling place, far away, of the blue-robed Virgins of the wood, and there thou wilt seek thy nourishment, thou wilt ask for the game that is necessary to thy existence.'"

It was believed that there was a particular forest god, who protected the trees and the wild things of the wood. The hunter could be successful in the chase only upon condition of obtaining his favour and permission to hunt. This explains the reference to the abode of the forest god. But Kullervo can not go far; his remorse takes him by the throat.

"Kullervo, son of Kalervo, took his faithful dog, and directed his steps toward the wild forest, toward the dark wilderness. But when he had gone only a little way he found himself at the very place where he had outraged the young girl, where he had dishonoured the child of his mother. And all things there mourned for her—all things; the soft grass and the tender foliage, and the little plants, and the sorrowful briars. The grass was no longer green, the briars no longer blossomed, the leaves and the plants hung withered and dry about the spot where the virgin had been dishonoured, where the brother had dishonoured his sister.

"Kullervo drew forth his sword, his sharpedged sword; a long time he looked at it, turning it in his hand, and asking it whether it would feel no pleasure in eating the flesh of the man thus loaded with infamy, in drinking the blood of the man thus covered with crime.

"And the sword knew the heart of the man: it understood the question of the hero. And it made answer to him saying: 'Why indeed should I not gladly devour the flesh of the man who is loaded with infamy? Why indeed should I not drink with pleasure the blood of the man who is burdened with crime? For well I devoured even the flesh of the innocent man, well can I drink even the blood of the man who is free from crime.'

"Then Kullervo fixed his sword in the earth, with the handle downwards and the point upwards, and he threw himself upon the point, and the point passed through all the depth of his breast.

"This was the end of all, this was the cruel destiny of Kullervo, the irrevocable end of the son of the heroes—the death of the 'Man of Misfortune.'"

You can see how very much unlike other Western poetry this poetry is. The imagination indeed is of another race and another time than those to whose literary productions we have become accustomed. But there is beauty here; and the strangeness of it indicates a possible literary value by which any literature may be more or less enriched. Many are the particular episodes which rival the beauty and strangeness of the episode of Kullervo; and I wish that we could have time to quote them. But I can only refer to them. There is, for example, the legend of the invention of music, when the hero Wainamoinen (supposed to represent the Spirit of the Wind, and the sound of the name indicates the wailing of the wind) invents the first musical instrument. In no other literature is there anything quite like this except in the Greek story of Orpheus. Even as the trees bent down their heads to listen to the song of Orpheus, and as the wild beasts became tamed at the sound, and as the very stones of the road followed to the steps of the musician, so is it in the "Kalevala." But the Finnish Orpheus is the greater magician. To hear him, the sun and moon come nearer to the earth, the waves of the sea stop short, bending their heads; the cataracts of the rivers hang motionless and silent; the fish raise their heads above the water. And when he plays a sad melody, all nature weeps with him, even the trees and the stones and the little plants by the wayside. And his own tears in falling become splendid pearls for the crowns of kings.

Then very wonderful too is the story of the eternal smith, Ilmarinen, who forged the foundations of the world, forged the mountains, forged the blue sky, so well forging them that nowhere can be seen the marks of the pincer, the marks of the hammer, the heads of the nails. Working in his smithy we see him all grime and black; upon his head there is one yard deep of iron firing, upon his shoulders there is one fathom deep of soot—the soot of the forge; for he seldom has time to bathe himself. But when the notion takes him to get married, for the first time he bathes himself, and dresses himself handsomely, then he becomes the most beautiful of men. In order to win his wife he is obliged to perform miracles of work; yet after he wins her she is killed by wild beasts. Then he sets to work to forge himself a wife, a wife of silver, a bride of gold. Very beautiful she is, but she has no heart, and she is always cold, and there is no comfort in her; even all the magic of the world-maker can not give her a warm heart. But the work is so beautiful that he does not like to destroy it. So he takes the wife of silver, the bride of gold, to the wisest of heroes, Wainamoinen, and offers her to him as a gift. But the hero will have no such gift, "Throw her back into your forged fire, O Ilmarinen," the hero makes answer—"What greater folly, what greater sorrow can come upon man than to love a wife of silver, a bride of gold?"

This pretty story needs no explanation; the moral is simply "Never marry for money."

Then there is the story of Lemminkainen (this personality suggested the Pau-puk-keewis of Longfellow)—the joyous, reckless, handsome, mischievous pleasure-lover,—always falling into trouble, because he will not follow his mother's advice, but always loved by her in spite of his follies. The mother of Lemminkainen is a more wonderful person than the mother of Kullervo. Her son has been murdered, thrown into a river—the deepest of all rivers, the river of the dead, the river of hell. And his mother goes out to find him. She asks the trees in the forest to tell her where her son is, and she obliges them to answer. But they do not know. She asks the grass, the plants, the animals, the birds; she obliges even the road upon which he walked to talk to her, she talks to the stars and the moon and the sun. Only the sun knows, because he sees everything and he answers, "Your son is dead, torn to pieces; he has been thrown into the river of Tuoni, the river of hell, the river of the dead." But the mother does not despair. Umarinen, the eternal smith, must make for her a rake of brass with teeth long enough to reach into the world of the dead, into the bottom of the abyss; and out of the abyss she brings up the parts of the torn body of her son; she puts them together; she sings over them a magic song; she brings her son to life again, and takes him home. But for a long time he is not able to remember, because he has been dead. After a long time he gets back his memory—only to get into new mischief out of which his mother must help him afresh.

The names of the three heroes quoted to you represent also the names of three great stories, out of the many stories contained in the epics. But in this epic, as in the Indian epics (I mean the Sanskrit epic), there is much more than stories. There are also chapters of moral instruction of a very curious kind—chapters about conduct, the conduct of the parents, the conduct of the children, the conduct of the husband, the conduct of the bride. The instructions to the bride are contained in the twenty-third Rune; there are altogether fifty Runes in the book. This appears to me likely to interest you, for it is written in relation to a family system not at all like the family system of the rest of Europe. I think you will find in it not a little that may remind you of Chinese teaching on the same subject—the conduct of the daughter-in-law. But there are of course many differences, and the most pleasing difference is the tone of great tenderness in which the instructions are given. Let us quote some of them:

"O young bride, O my young sister, O my well beloved and beautiful young flower, listen to the words which I am going to speak to you, harken to the lesson which I am going to teach you. You are going now very far away from us, O beautiful flower!—you are going to take a long journey, O my wild-strawberry fruit! you are about to fly away from us, O most delicate down! you are about to leave us forever, O velvet tissue—far away from this habitation you must go, far away from this beautiful house, to enter another house, to enter into a strange family. And in that strange house your position will be very different. There you will have to walk about with care, to conduct yourself with prudence, to conduct yourself with thoughtfulness. There you will not be able, as in the house of your father, as in the dwelling of your mother, to run about where you please, to run singing through the valleys, to warhle out your songs upon the roadway.

"New habits you must now learn, and forget all the old. You must abandon the love of your father and content yourself with the love of your father-in-law; you must bow very low, you must learn to be generous in the use of courteous words. You must give up old habits and form new ones; you must resign the love of your mother and content yourself with the love of your step-mother: lower must you bow, and you must learn to be lavish in the use of kindly words.

"New habits you must learn and forget the old: you must leave behind you the friendship of your brother, and content yourself with the friendship of your brother-in-law; you must bow lower than you do now; you must learn to be lavish of kindly words.

"New habits you must acquire and forget the old ones; you must leave behind you the friendship of your sister, and be satisfied with the friendship of your sister-in-law; you must learn to make humble reverence, to bow low, to be generous in kindly words.

"If the old man in the corner be to you even like a wolf, if the old woman in her corner be to you even as a she-bear in the house, if the brother-in-law be to you even as a serpent upon the threshold, if the sister-in-law be to you even as a sharp nail, none the less you must show them each and all exactly the same respect and the same obedience that you have been accustomed to display to your father, to display to your mother, under the roof of your childhood home."

Then follows a really terrible list of the duties that she must perform every day from early morning until late at night; to mention them all would take too long. I quote only a few, enough to show that the position of a Finnish wife was by no means an easy one.

"So soon as the cock crows in the morning you must be quick to rise; you must keep your ears awake to hear the cry of the cock. And if there be no cock, or the cock does not crow, then let the moon be as a cock for you, let the constellation of the great Bear tell you when it is time to rise. Then you must quickly make the fire, skilfully removing the ashes, without sprinkling them upon the floor. Then quickly go to the stable, clean the stable, take food to the cattle, feed all the animals on the farm. For already the cow of your mother-in-law will be lowing for food; the horse of your father-in-law will be whinnying; the milch cow of your sister-in-law will be straining at her tether; the calf of your brother-in-law will be bleating; for all will be waiting for her whose duty it is to give them hay, whose duty it is to give them food."

Like instructions are given about feeding the younger animals and the fowls and the little pigs. But she must not forget the children of the house at the same time:

"When you have fed the animals and cleaned the stables come back quickly, quickly as a snow-storm. For in the chamber the little child has awakened and has begun to cry in his cradle. He cannot speak, poor little one; he cannot tell you, if he be hungry or if he be cold, or if anything extraordinary has happened to him, before someone that he knows has come to care for him, before he hears the voice of his own mother."

After enumerating and inculcating in the same manner all the duties of the day, the conduct to be observed toward every member of the family—father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister, and brother-in-law, and the children of them—we find a very minute code of conduct set forth in regard to neighbours and acquaintances. The young wife is especially warned against gossip, against listening to any stories about what happens in other people's houses, and against telling anybody what goes on within her own. One piece of advice is memorable. If the young wife is asked whether she is well fed, she should reply always that she has the best of everything which a house can afford, this even if she should have been left without any proper nourishment for several days. Evidently the condition of submission to which Finnish women were reduced by custom was something much less merciful than has ever been known in Eastern countries. Only a very generous nature could bear such discipline; and we have many glimpses in the poem of charming natures of this kind.

You have seen that merely as a collection of wonderful stories the Kalevala is of extraordinary interest, that it is also of interest as describing the social ethics of a little known people—finally that it is of interest, of very remarkable interest, merely as natural poetry—poetry treating of wild nature, especially rivers and forests and mountains, of the life of the fisher and hunter and wood-cutter. Indeed, so far as this kind of poetry is concerned, the "Kalevala" stands alone among the older productions of European poetry. You do not find this love of nature in Scandinavian poetry, nor in Anglo-Saxon poetry, nor in old German poetry, much less in the earlier form of French, Italian, or Spanish poetry. The old Northern poetry comes nearest to it; for in Anglo-Saxon composition we can find at least wonderful descriptions of the sea, of stones, of the hard life of sailors. But the dominant tone in Northern poetry is war; it is in descriptions of battle, or in accounts of the death of heroes, that the ancient English or ancient Scandinavian poets excelled In Finnish poetry, on the other hand, there is little or nothing about war. These peaceful people never had any warlike history; their life was agricultural for the most part, with little or no violence except such as the excitement of hunting and fishing could produce. Therefore they had plenty of time to think about nature, to love nature and to describe it as no other people of the same period described it. Striking comparisons have been made between the Anglo-Saxon Runes, or charm songs, and Finnish songs of the same kind, which fully illustrate this difference. Like the Finns, the early English had magical songs to the gods of nature—songs for the healing of wounds and the banishing of sickness. But these are very commonplace. Not one of them can compare as poetry with the verses of the Finnish on the same subject. Here are examples in evidence. The first is a prayer said when offering food to the Spirit of the forest, that he might aid the hunter in his hunting.

"Look, O Kuntar, a fat cake, a cake with honey, that I may propitiate the forest, that I may propitiate the forest, that I may entice the thick forest for the day of my hunting, when I go in search of prey. Accept my salt, O wood, accept my porridge, O Tapio, dear king of the wood with the hat of leaves, with the beard of moss."

And here is a little prayer to the goddess of water repeated by a sick man taking water as a medicine.

"O pure water, O Lady of the Water, now do thou make me whole, lovely as before! for this beg thee dearly, and in offering I give thee blood to appease thee, salt to propitiate thee!"

Or this:

"Goddess of the Sea, mistress of waters, Queen of a hundred caves, arouse the scaly flocks, urge on the fishy-crowds forth from their hiding places, forth from the muddy shrine, forth from the net-hauling, to the nets of a hundred fishers! Take now thy beauteous shield, shake the golden water, with which thou frightenest the fish, and direct them toward the net beneath the dark level, above the borders black."

Yet another:

"O vigorous mistress of the wild beasts, sweet lady of the earth, come with me, be with me, where I go. Come thou and good luck bring me, to happy fortune help me. Make thou to move the foliage, the fruit tree to be shaken, and the wild beasts drive thither, the largest and the smallest, with their snouts of every kind, with their paws of fur of all kinds!"

Now when you look at these little prayers, when you read them over and observe how pretty they are, you will also observe that they make little pictures in the mind. Can not you see the fish gliding over the black border under the dark level of the water, to the net of a hundred fishers? Can you not see the "dear king of the wood," with his hat of leaves and his beard of moss? Can you not also see in imagination the wild creatures of the forest with their snouts of many shapes, with their fur of all kinds? But in Anglo-Saxon poetry you will not find anything like that. Anglo-Saxon Rune songs create no images. It is this picturesqueness, this actuality of imagery that is distinctive in Finnish poetry.

In the foregoing part of the lecture I have chiefly tried to interest you in the "Kalevala." But aside from interesting you in the book itself as a story, as a poem, I hope to direct your attention to a particular feature in Finnish poetry which is most remote from Japanese poetry. I have spoken of resemblances as to structure and method; but it is just in that part of the method most opposed to Japanese tradition that the greatest interest lies. I do not mean only the use of natural imagery; I mean much more the use of parallelism to reinforce that imagery. That is the thing especially worthy of literary study. Indeed, I think that such study might greatly help towards a new development, a totally new departure in Japanese verse. In another lecture I spoke as sincerely as I could of the very high merit in the epigrammatic forms of Japanese poetry. These brief forms of poetry have been developed in Japan to perfection not equalled elsewhere in modern poetry, perhaps not surpassed, in some respects, even by Greek poetry of the same kind. But there can be no doubt of this fact, that a national literature requires many other forms of expression than the epigrammatic form. Nothing that is good should ever be despised or cast aside; but because of its excellences, we should not be blind to the possibility of other excellences. Now Japanese literature has other forms of poetry—forms in which it is possible to produce poems of immense length, but the spirit of epigrammatic poetry has really been controlling even these to a great degree.

I mean that so far as I am able to understand the subject, the tendency of all Japanese poetry is to terse expression. Were it not well therefore to consider at least the possible result of a totally opposite tendency,—expansion of fancy, luxuriance of expression? Terseness of expression, pithiness, condensation, are of vast importance in prose, but poetry has other methods, and the "Kalevala" is one of the best possible object lessons in the study of such methods, because of the very simplicity and naturalness with which they are followed.

Of course there was parallelism in Western poetry, and all arts of repetition, before anybody knew anything about the "Kalevala." The most poetical part of Bible English, as I said, whether in the Bible itself or in the Book of Common Prayer, depends almost entirely for its literary effect upon parallelism, because the old Hebrews, like the old Finns, practised this art of expression. Loosely and vaguely it was practised also by many poets almost unconsciously, who had been particularly influenced by the splendour of the scriptural translation. It had figured in prose-poetry as early as the time of Sir Thomas Browne. It had established quite a new idea of poetry even in America, where the great American poet Poe introduced it into his compositions before Longfellow studied the "Kalevala." I told you that the work of Poe, small as it is, had influenced almost every poet of the great epoch, including Tennyson and the Victorian masters. But the work even of Poe was rather instinctive than the result of any systematic idea. The systematic idea was best illustrated when the study of the "Kalevala" began.

Let us see how Longfellow used the suggestion; but remember that he was only a beginner, dealing with something entirely new—that he did not have the strength of Tennyson nor the magical genius of Swinburne to help him. He worked very simply, and probably very rapidly. There is a good deal of his song of "Hiawatha" that is scarcely worthy of praise, and it is difficult to quote effectively from it, because the charm of the thing depends chiefly upon its reading as a whole. Nevertheless there are parts which so well show or imitate the Finnish spirit, that I must try to quote them. Take for instance the teaching of the little Indian child by his grandmother—such verses as these, where she talks to the little boy about the milky way in the sky:

Many things Nokomis taught him Of the stars that shine in heaven; Showed him Ishkoodah, the comet, Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses; Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits, Warriors with their plumes and war-clubs, Flaring far away to northward In the frosty nights of Winter; Showed the broad, white road in heaven, Pathway of the ghosts, the shadows, Running straight across the heavens, Crowded with the ghosts, the shadows.

Or take again the story of the origin of the flower commonly called "Dandelion":

In his life he had one shadow, In his heart one sorrow had he. Once, as he was gazing northward, Far away upon a prairie He beheld a maiden standing, Saw a tall and slender maiden All alone upon a prairie; Brightest green were all her garments And her hair was like the sunshine. Day by day he gazed upon her, Day by day he sighed with passion, Day by day his heart within him Grew more hot with love and longing For the maid with yellow tresses.

Observe how the repetition served to represent the growing of the lover's admiration. The same repetition can be used much more effectively in describing weariness and pain, as In the lines about the winter famine:

Oh, the long and dreary Winter! Oh, the cold and cruel Winter! Ever thicker, thicker, thicker Froze the ice on lake and river, Ever deeper, deeper, deeper Fell the snow o'er all the landscape, Fell the covering snow, and drifted Through the forest, round the village. Hardly from his buried wigwam Could the hunter force a passage; With his mittens and his snow-shoes Vainly walked he through the forest, Sought for bird or beast and found none, Saw no track of deer or rabbit, In the snow beheld no footprints, In the ghastly, gleaming forest Fell, and could not rise from weakness, Perished there from cold and hunger. Oh, the famine and the fever! Oh, the wasting of the famine! Oh, the blasting of the fever! Oh, the wailing of the children! Oh, the anguish of the women! All the earth was sick and famished; Hungry was the air around them, Hungry was the sky above them, And the hungry stars in heaven Like the eyes of wolves glared at them!

This is strong, emotionally strong, though it is not great poetry; but it makes the emotional effect of great poetry by the use of the same means which the Finnish poets used. The best part of the poem is the famine chapter, and the next best is the part entitled "The Ghosts." However, the charm of a composition can be fully felt only by those who understand something of the American Indian's life and the wild northwestern country described. That is not the immediate matter to be considered, notwithstanding. The matter to be considered is whether this method of using parallelism and repetition and alliteration can give new and great results. I believe that it can, and that a greater Longfellow would have brought such results into existence long ago. Of course, the form is primitive; it does not follow that an English poet or a Japanese poet should attempt only a return to primitive methods of poetry in detail. The detail is of small moment; the spirit is everything. Parallelism means simply the wish to present the same idea under a variety of aspects, instead of attempting to put it forward in one aspect only. Everything great in the way of thought, everything beautiful in the way of idea, has many sides. It is merely the superficial which we can see from the front only; the solid can be perceived from every possible direction, and changes shape according to the direction looked at.

The great master of English verse, Swinburne is also a poet much given to parallelism; for he has found it of incomparable use to him in managing new forms of verse. He uses it in an immense variety of ways—ways impossible to Japanese poets or to Finnish poets; and the splendour of the results can not be imitated in another language. But his case is interesting. The most primitive methods of Finnish poetry, and of ancient poetry in general, coming into his hands, are reproduced into music. I propose to make a few quotations, in illustration. Here are some lines from "Atalanta in Calydon"; they are only parallelisms, but how magnificent they are!

When thou dravest the men Of the chosen of Thrace, None turned him again, Nor endured he thy face Close round with the blush of the battle, with light from a terrible place.

Look again at the following lines from "A Song in Time of Revolution":

There is none of them all that is whole; their lips gape open for breath; They are clothed with sickness of soul, and the shape of the shadow of death.

The wind is thwart in their feet; it is full of the shouting of mirth; As one shaketh the sides of a sheet, so it shaketh the ends of the earth.

The sword, the sword is made keen; the iron has opened its mouth; The corn is red that was green; it is bound for the sheaves of the south.

The sound of a word was shed, the sound of the wind as a breath, In the ears of the souls that were dead, in the dust of the deepness of death.

Where the face of the moon is taken, the ways of the stars undone, The light of the whole sky shaken, the light of the face of the sun.

* * * * *

Where the sword was covered and hidden, and dust had grown in its side, A word came forth which was bidden, the crying of one that cried:

The sides of the two-edged sword shall be bare, and its mouth shall be red, For the breath of the face of the Lord that is felt in the bones of the dead.

All this is indeed very grand compared with anything in the "Kalevala" or in Longfellow's rendering; but do you not see that the grandeur is also the grandeur of parallelism? Here is proof of what a master can do with a method older than Western civilization. But what is the inference? Is it not that the old primitive poetry contains something of eternal value, a value ranging from the lowest even to the highest, a value that can lend beauty equally to the song of a little child or to the thunder of the grandest epic verse?



CHAPTER XIII

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROMANCE OF THE MIDDLE AGES

The value of romantic literature, which has been, so far as the Middle Ages are concerned, unjustly depreciated, does not depend upon beauty of words or beauty of fact. To-day the immense debt of modern literature to the literature of the Middle Ages is better understood; and we are generally beginning to recognize what we owe to the imagination of the Middle Ages, in spite of the ignorance, the superstition and the cruelty of that time. If the evils of the Middle Ages had really been universal, those ages could not have imparted to us lessons of beauty and lessons of nobility having nothing to do with literary form in themselves, yet profoundly affecting modern poetry of the highest class. No; there was very much of moral goodness as well as of moral badness in the Middle Ages; and what was good happened to be very good indeed. Commonly it used to be said (though I do not think any good critic would say it now) that the fervid faith of the time made the moral beauty. Unless we modify this statement a great deal, we can not now accept it at all. There was indeed a religious beauty, particularly mediaeval, but it was not that which created the romance of the period. Indeed, that romantic literature was something of a reaction against the religious restraint upon imagination. But if we mean by mediaeval faith only that which is very much older than any European civilization, and which does not belong to the West any more than to the East—the profound belief in human moral experience—then I think that the statement is true enough. At no time in European history were men more sincere believers in the value of certain virtues than during the Middle Ages—and the very best of the romances are just those romances which illustrate that belief, though not written for a merely ethical purpose.

But I can not better illustrate what I mean than by telling a story, which has nothing to do with Europe, or the Middle Ages, or any particular form of religious belief. It is not a Christian story at all; and it could not be told you exactly as written, for there are some very curious pages in it. But it is a good example of the worth that may lie in a mere product of imagination.

There was a king once, in Persia or Arabia, who, at the time of his accession to power, discovered a wonderful subterranean hall under the garden of his palace. In one chamber of that hall stood six marvellous statues of young girls, each statue being made out of a single diamond. The beauty as well as the cost of the work was beyond imagination. But in the midst of the statues, which stood in a circle, there was an empty pedestal, and on that pedestal was a precious casket containing a letter from the dead father of the king. The letter said:

"O my son, though these statues of girls are indeed beyond all praise, there is yet a seventh statue incomparably more precious and beautiful which I could not obtain before I died. It is now your duty, O my son, to obtain that statue, that it may be placed upon the seventh pedestal. Go, therefore, and ask my favourite slave, who is still alive, how you are to obtain it." Then the young king went in all haste to that old slave, who had been his father's confidant, and showed him the letter. And the old man said, "Even now, O master, I will go with you to find that statue. But it is in one of the three islands in which the genii dwell; and it is necessary, above all things, that you do not fear, and that you obey my instructions in all things. Also, remember that if you make a promise to the Spirits of that land, the promise must be kept."

And they proceeded upon their journey through a great wilderness, in which "nothing existed but grass and the presence of God." I can not try now to tell you about the wonderful things that happened to them, nor about the marvellous boat, rowed by a boatman having upon his shoulders the head of an elephant. Suffice it to say that at last they reached the palace of the king of the Spirits; and the king came to meet them in the form of a beautiful old man with a long white beard. And he said to the young king, "My son, I will gladly help you, as I helped your father; and I will give you that seventh statue of diamond which you desire. But I must ask for a gift in return. You must bring to me here a young girl of about sixteen years old; and she must be very intelligent; and she must be a true maiden, not only as to her body, but as to her soul, and heart, and all her thoughts." The young king thought that was a very easy thing to find, but the king of the Spirits assured him that it was not, and further told him this, "My son, no mortal man is wise enough to know by his own wisdom the purity that is in the heart of a young girl. Only by the help of this magical mirror, which I now lend you, will you be able to know. Look at the reflection of any maiden in this mirror, and then, if her heart is perfectly good and pure, the mirror will remain bright. But if there be any fault in her, the mirror will grow dim. Go now, and do my bidding."

You can imagine, of course, what happened next. Returning to his kingdom, the young king had brought before him many beautiful girls, the daughters of the noblest and highest in all the cities of the land. But in no case did the mirror remain perfectly clear when the ghostly test was applied. For three years in vain the king sought; then in despair he for the first time turned his attention to the common people. And there came before him on the very first day a rude man of the desert, who said, "I know of just such a girl as you want." Then he went forth and presently returned with a simple girl from the desert, who had been brought up in the care of her father only, and had lived with no other companion than the members of her own family and the camels and horses of the encampment. And as she stood in her poor dress before the king, he saw that she was much more beautiful than any one whom he had seen before; and he questioned her, only to find that she was very intelligent; and she was not at all afraid or ashamed of standing before the king, but looked about her with large wondering eyes, like the eyes of a child; and whoever met that innocent gaze, felt a great joy in his heart, and could not tell why. And when the king had the mirror brought, and the reflection of the girl was thrown upon it, the mirror became much brighter than before, and shone like a great moon.

There was the maid whom the Spirit-king wished for. The king easily obtained her from her parents; but he did not tell her what he intended to do with her. Now it was his duty to give her to the Spirits; but there was a condition he found very hard to fulfil. By the terms of his promise he was not allowed to kiss her, to caress her, or even to see her, except veiled after the manner of the country. Only by the mirror had he been able to know how fair she was. And the voyage was long; and on the way, the girl, who thought she was going to be this king's bride, became sincerely attached to him, after the manner of a child with a brother; and he also in his heart became much attached to her. But it was his duty to give her up. At last they reached the palace of the Spirit-king; and the figure of the old man came forth and said, "My son, you have done well and kept your promise. This maiden is all that I could have wished for; and I accept her. Now when you go back to your palace, you will find on the seventh pedestal the statue of the diamond which your father desired you to obtain." And, with these words, the Spirit-king vanished, taking with him the girl, who uttered a great and piercing cry to heaven at having been thus deceived. Very sorrowfully the young king then began his journey home. All along the way he kept regretting that girl, and regretting the cruelty which he had practised in deceiving her and her parents. And he began to say to himself, "Accursed be the gift of the king of the Spirits! Of what worth to me is a woman of diamond any more than a woman of stone? What is there in all the world half so beautiful or half so precious as a living girl such as I discovered? Fool that I was to give her up for the sake of a statue!" But he tried to console himself by remembering that he had obeyed his dead father's wish.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse