Standing alone, a study in itself,
How Shakespeare’s volume glorifies my shelf!
For thence his spirit forth on mine has shined,
Like a great morning on the hills of mind.
Sphered in the light of his creative powers,
A wonder-world, inorbing this of ours,
Gathers around us, like the peopled haze
That wraps some roamer in a dream’s wild ways.
Lean fatal hags ride in the troubled air,
And wing’d immortals meet us everywhere;
These of a silken loveliness that shows
Like the dim beauty of a moonlit rose;
Lined rigidly as sculptured iron those.
Lo! Now futurity uplifts her veil,
And pours her phantom kings before the tyrant pale.
Now in the moon’s quick glimpses gleaming cold,
A mail-clad monarch’s spectral form behold;
Whilst, like to echoes from oblivion’s coast,
Comes the dread speech of the unquiet ghost!
Turn we a page—oh! For some charm to save
That meek mad maiden from her early grave!
“Sweets to the sweet,” with the sad queen we groan;
As o’er her shroud the votive flowers are thrown,
We see how wild a death the best may die,
And dash the sacred teardrops from our eye.
But seek we surer matter,—knowledge hard
With ethics such as time-schooled minds regard;
Or such as, breathing the soul’s fervour, primes
Our piety, or our moral faith sublimes;
How many a noble page is shared between
Wit, fancy, prudence in her sagest mien,
And that high wisdom which informs us still
Heaven “shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will;”
And shows, though vain and erring, human nature
Is yet a pile of half-angelic stature:
Material, yet ethereal, both, though each;—
Soul quickening matter as thought quickens speech—
A body built of clay—a mind of godlike reach!
And constantly some vital moral shines,
Like sunlight, in the current of his lines.
Ambition’s worshipper, in Casear’s death,
May see how mortal is mere glory’s breath,
And learn from Richard’s spectre-haunted hour
To loathe the ghastliness of godless power.
The princely spendthrift, seeing Timon’s end,
May grow to doubt the too too flattering friend;
And if he hate, when he with anger starts,
The heartlessness of fashionable hearts,
Hence let him learn to be, though rich, the sure
And generous helper of the struggling poor.
Even Shylock’s bond must show how, soon or late,
Contempt imperils, in begetting hate;
The sire may learn to curb that rival scorn,
Whose blasting rage let Juliet die forlorn:
The child be chastened by the filial tear
Shed for the wrongs that maddened royal Lear,
When in the scenic agony we find
Distempered matter and distempered mind,
Nature’s wild roar, and the yet wilder speech
Of mightiest human woe, each storming into each.
But if, to loftier teaching disinclined,
We would (as sometimes) mirth in all things find,
Let Falstaff then be our companion fit,
And wrap us in the mad delight of wit;
Or let Malvolio, cross-gartered, show
To what strange lengths man’s vanity may go;
Or learn we once for all in Touchstone’s school,
How shrewd that knave is who can play the fool.
Or does our mirth was scornful? Pistol then
Shall prove what scarecrows often rank as men,
By dint of a big martialness of tone,
Loud, like a drum s, from hollowness alone!
Is our mood fierce? Another leaf shall yield
Meet matter, storying some old battle-field;
With all its wrack of passion let at large,
The gathering huddle, the close thundering charge,
The death-shrieks drowning in the exultant shout
Of victory, flooding like a deluge out!
But, hating scenes of violence and crime,
Would we to Innocence devote the time?
Behold how spotless from this world of guile
Is she who waves us to yon magic isle,—
Miranda, lovely e’en to Caliban,
That hag-born, lump-faced, mockery of man!
With injured virtue would we mingle tears?
Lo! Katherine, or Hermione, appears.
Would we condole with lonely Love? O then,
Behold that mortal angel, Imogen!
With joyous goodness thirst we to rejoice?
Belmont is vocal with its Portia’s voice!
Would we be spiced with lady-wit? One kiss,
In fancy, from the bee-like Beatrice,
Stingingly sweet, have we the grace to snatch it,
Shall make us Benedicts, and lo! We catch it.
In woody Arden let us wander wild,
With buoyant Rosalind and Celia mild;
Or, with the melancholy Jaques, ’plain
How blind is fortune, yet how worthless gain,—
Gain or of gold or glory, both a jest,
Merely a solemn mockery at best.
Then roam we on, in thought to join afar
Those princely revellers in green Navarre;
Taking, for joy’s completeness, in our round
The shepherd-feast that glads Bohemian ground,
To talk with Perdita of flowers,—from whose
Soft-dropping words, as from a shower of dews,
They borrow fresher scents, and still diviner hues!
Would we be solaced with a song? Sweet lays
That breathe the innocence of olden days,
Like drops of liquid gold, all through and through
the glorious volume sparkle into view!
How oft, in Austral woods, the parting day
Has gone through western golden gates away
While “sweetest Shakespeare, fancy’s darling child,
Warbled for me his native woodnotes wild.”