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deur of the naked figure; they convey to us the ideas of sculpture. As an instance, take the following:
Saw within ken a glorious angel stand,
The same whom John saw also in the sun:
Circled his head, nor less his locks behind
Illustrious on his shoulders fledge with wings
Glad was the Spirit impure, as now in hope
In curls on either cheek played, wings he wore
The figures introduced here have all the elegance and precision of a Greek statue, ― glossy and empurpled, tinged with golden light, and musical as the strings of Memnon's harp.
Again, nothing can be more magnificent than the portrait of Beelzebub,
'With Atlantean shoulders fit to bear
The weight of mightiest monarchies.'
Or the comparison of Satan, as he lay floating many a rood,' to 'that sea-beast,
'Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim th' ocean-stream!'
What a force of imagination is there in this last expression! What an idea it conveys of the size of that hugest of created beings, as if it shrunk up the ocean to a stream, and took up the sea in its nostrils as a very little thing! Force of style is one of Milton's greatest excellences. Hence, perhaps, he stimulates us more in the reading, and less afterwards. The way to defend Milton against all impugners is to take down the book and read it.
Milton's blank verse is the only blank verse in the language (except Shakspeare's) that deserves the name of verse. Dr. Johnson, who had modelled his ideas of versification on the regular sing-song of Pope, condemns the Paradise Lost as harsh and unequal. I shall not pretend to say that this is not sometimes the case; for where a degree of excellence beyond
the mechanical rules of art is attempted, the poet must sometimes fail. But I imagine that there are more perfect examples in Milton of musical expression, or of an adaptation of the sound and movement of the verse to the meaning of the passage, than in all our other writers, whether of rhyme or blank verse, put together (with the exception already mentioned). Spenser is the most harmonious of our stanza-writers, as Dryden is the most sounding and varied of our rhymists. But in neither is there anything like the same ear for music, the same power of approximating the varieties of poetical to those of musical rhythm, as there is in our great epic poet. The sound of his lines is moulded into the expression of the sentiment, almost of the very image. They rise or fall, pause or hurry rapidly on, with exquisite art, but without the least trick or affectation, as the occasion seems to require.
The following are some of the finest instances:
'His hand was known
In Heaven by many a towred structure high..
Nor was his name unheard or unador'd
In ancient Greece; and in Ausonian land
Men called himn Mulciber; and how he fell
From Heaven, they fabled, thrown by angry Jove
To noon he fell, from noon to dewy eve,
On Lemnos, th' Ægean isle: thus they relate,
'But chief the spacious hall
Thick swarmed, both on the ground and in the air,
Or dreams he sees, while overhead the moon
Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth
Wheels her pale course; they on their mirth and dance
Intent, with jocund music charm his ear;
At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds.'
I can only give another instance, though I have some difficulty in leaving off:
'Round he surveys, and well might, where he stood
Of night's extended shade; from eastern point
Beyond th' horizon; then from pole to pole
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemed other worlds,
The verse, in this exquisitely modulated passage, floats up and down as if it had itself wings. Milton has himself given us the theory of his versification,
'Such as the meeting soul may pierce,
Dr. Johnson and Pope would have converted his vaulting Pegasus into a rocking-horse. Read any other blank verse but Milton's, Thomson's, Young's, Cowper's, Wordsworth's, - and it will be found, from the want of the same insight into the hidden soul of harmony,' to be mere lumbering prose.
To proceed to a consideration of the merits of Paradise Lost, in the most essential point