« AnteriorContinuar »
formed from the impressions made by external objects on the senses; and of these, the clearest and most vivid are those which are perceived by the eye. Hence poetry abounds most in those images which are furnished by the senses, and chiefly those of the sight, in order to depict the obscure by the more manifest, the subtile by the more substantial; and, as far as simplicity is its object, it pursues those ideas which are most familiar and most evident; of which there is such an abundance, that they serve as well the purpose of ornament and variety, as that of illustration. - Those images or pictures of external objects which like lights adorn and distinguish the poetic diction, are indeed infinite in number. In an immensity of matter, however, that we may be enabled to pursue some kind of order, and not wander in uncertainty and doubt, we may venture to fix upon
four sources of these ideas, whither all that occur may be commodiously referred. Thus, poetical imagery may be derived, first, from natural objects; secondly, from the manners, arts, and circumstances of common life; thirdly, from things sacred; and, lastly, from the more remarkable facts recorded in sacred history. From each of these topics a few cases will be selected, and illustrated by examples, which, though chiefly of the metaphorical kind, will yet be in a great measure applicable to the other figures which have been specified. These we shall afterwards take an opportunity to explain, when not only the figures themselves will be noticed, but also the different forms and rules for their introduction and embellishment.
OF POETIC IMAGERY FROM THE OBJECTS OF NATURE.
The frequent use of the Metaphor renders a style magnificent, but often obscure: the Hebrew poets have accomplished the sublime without losing perspicuity — Three causes assigned for this singular fact: first, the imagery which they introduce is in general derived from familiar objects: again, in the use and accommodation of it they pursue a certain custom and analogy: lastly, they make the most free use of that which is most familiar, and the nature and extent of which is most generally known. These observations confirmed by examples (1.) from natural objects: such as are common to mankind in general; such as are more familiar to the Hebrews than to others; and such as are peculiar to them.
6 The great excellence of the poetic dialect,” as Aristotle most judiciously remarks, “ consists in perspicuity without meanness. Familiar terms and words in common use form a clear and perspicuous, but frequently a low-style; unusual or foreign expressions give it an air of grandeur, but frequently render it obscure.”* Of those which he calls foreign, the principal force lies in the metaphor; but “ as the temperate and reasonable use of this figure enlivens a composition, so the frequent introduction of metaphors obscures it, and if they very commonly occur, it will be little better than an enigma.”+ If the Hebrew poets be examined by the rules and precepts of this great philosopher and critic, it will readily be allowed that they have assiduously attended to the sublimity of their compositions by the abundance and splendour of their figures, though it may be doubted whether they might not have been more temperate in the use of them.
• Poet. c. 22. Modern writers are hardly aware of the ill consequence of what is called far-fetched imagery, or that which is taken from objects not generally known. This was the great error of Cowley, and the metaphysical poets of the last century; an error for which no beauties can compensate, which always gives a harshness, often a prosaic appearance, to poetry, and never fails to be attended with some degree of obscurity.-T.
+ Ib. and Quint. viii. 6.
For in those poems, at least, in which something of uncommon grandeur and sublimity is aimed at, there predominates a perpetual, I had almost said a continued use of the metaphor, sometimes daringly introduced, sometimes rushing in with imminent hazard of propriety. A metaphor thus licentiously intruded, is frequently continued to an immoderate extent. The orientals are attached to this style of composition; and many flights which our ears, too fastidious perhaps in these respects, will scarcely bear, must be allowed to the general freedom and boldness of these writers. But if we examine the sacred poems, and consider at the same time that a great degree of obscurity must result from the total oblivion in which many sources of their imagery must be involved; of which many examples are to be found in the Song of Solomon, as well as in other parts of the sacred writings; we shall I think find cause to wonder, that in writings of so great antiquity, and in such an unlimited use of figurative
expression, there should yet appear so much purity and perspicuity, both in sentiment and language. In order to explore the real cause of this remarkable fact, and to explain more accurately the genius of the parabolic style, I shall premise a few observations concerning the use of the metaphor in the Hebrew poetry; which I trust will be sufficiently clear to those who peruse them with attention, and which I think in general are founded in truth.
In the first place, the Hebrew poets frequently make use of imagery borrowed from common life, and from objects well known and familiar. On this the perspicuity of figurative language will be found in a great measure to depend; for a principal use of metaphors is to illustrate the subject by a tacit comparison : but if, instead of familiar ideas, we introduce such as are new, and not perfectly understood; if we endeavour to demonstrate what is plain by what is occult, instead of making a subject clearer, we render it more perplexed and difficult. To obviate this inconvenience, we must take care, not only to avoid the violent and too frequent use of metaphors, but also not to introduce such as are obscure and but slightly related. From these causes, and especially from the latter, arises the difficulty of the Latin satirist Persius; and but for the uncommon accuracy of the sacred poets in this respect, we should now be scarcely able to comprehend a single word of their
In the next place, the Hebrews not only deduce their metaphors from familiar or well-known objects, but preserve one constant track and manner in the use and accommodation of them to their subject. The parabolic may indeed be accounted a peculiar style, in which things moral, political, and divine, are marked and represented by comparisons implied or expressed, and adopted from sensible objects. As in common and plain language, therefore, certain words serve for signs of certain ideas, so, for the most part, in the parabolic style, certain natural images serve to illustrate certain ideas more abstruse and refined. This assertion, indeed, is not to be understood absolutely without exception; but thus far at least we may affirm, that the sacred poets, in illustrating the same subject, make a much more constant use of the same imagery than other poets are accustomed to: and this practice has a surprising effect in preserving perspicuity.
I must observe in the last place, that the Hebrews employ more freely and more daringly that imagery in particular which is borrowed from the most obvious and familiar objects, and the figurative effect of which is established and defined by general and constant use. This, as it renders a composition clear and luminous, even where there is the greatest danger of obscurity; so it shelters effectually the sacred poets from the imputation of exuberançe, harshness, or bombast.*
In order to confirm and illustrate by examples what has been briefly set forth in the preceding remarks, I shall proceed to consider a few instances of metaphors derived from natural objects, f and such as are most in use : this I shall
* It is very observable in our own as well as other languages, how much metaphors lose of the figurative sense by repetition; and it is curious to remark how metaphors are in this manner derived from one another. From the resemblance of a narrow bed of metal running in the earth, to the situation of a vein in the human body, it has taken that name; and hence I apprehend are derived the expressions, a vein of poetry, a vein of humour, &c.—T.
+ The frequent recurrence for metaphorical expressions to natural objects, and particularly to plants and to trees, is so characteristic of the Hebrew poetry, that it might be almost called the botanical poetry. This circuinstance, however, is not at all extraordinary, if we consider that the greater part of that people were occupied with tilling the earth, and keeping their flocks; and further, that the cultivation of poetry, instead of being confined to the learned, was so generally diffused, that every valley re-echoed the songs of the shepherds. Hence, in the very few remains of the Hebrew writings which are come down to us, I mean the Scriptures, there are upwards of 250 botanical
do in such a manner, that whatever observations occur upon one or two of them, may be applied to many other instances.
The images of light and darkness are commonly made use of in all languages to imply or denote prosperity and ad
versity, agreeably to the common sense and perception which | all men have of the objects themselves. But the Hebrews
employ those metaphors more frequently, and with less variation, than other people : indeed they seldom refrain from them
whenever the subject requires, or will even admit of their introduction. These expressions, therefore, may be accounted
those forms of speech which in the parabolic style are established and defined; since they exhibit the most noted and familiar images, and the application of them on this occasion is justified by an acknowledged analogy, and approved by constant and unvarying custom. In the use of images, so conspicuous and so familiar among the Hebrews, a degree of boldness is excusable. The Latins introduce them more sparingly, and therefore are more cautious in the application of them
terms, which none use so frequently as the poets: and this circumstance, I think, gives an air of pastoral elegance to their poetry, which any modern writer will emulate in vain.
It is however extraordinary, that the stars should be so seldom mentioned in the Hebrew poetry, for the names of not more than three or four occur in the whole Bible. It has been said, that the patriarchal shepherds applied very much to the study of astronomy; but if so, whence is it that we meet with such frequent allusions to botanical subjects, and so few to the heavenly luminaries? A comet is, however, I think spoken of in Numb. xxiv. 17. and in allusion to David; but it is by Balaam, who, residing on the borders of the Euphrates, it is reasonable to suppose was not altogether unacquainted with the Babylonish sciences.-M.
There appears but little foundation for this last remark of the learned Professor. For, in reality, so little are the heavenly bodies subjects of poetic allusion, that we find them but seldom introduced into any poetry either ancient or modern. Our Annotator seems to forget that poetry is no more than painting in language, and has not respect to names but appearances. The appearance of every star is nearly the same, and consequently they can furnish no great variety of imagery, and that can only relate to their general qualities, their splendour, &c.; whereas the nature and visible qualities of plants are infinitely diversified, and therefore admit of a much greater variety of allusion. Indeed a poem, the principal imagery of which consisted of the names of stars, would be a very strange and a very dull production. We cannot, therefore, argue from the silence of the Hebrew poetry, that Moses or the writers of the Scriptures were ignorant of astronomy; neither is it fair to suppose that a nation of shepherds, in the serene country of the East, were unacquainted with the host of heaven, which in truth, from these causes, were the objects of adoration, and even of worship in those parts, as appears from the Preface to Mr Wood's Account of the Ruins of Balbec. -T.