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THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW

Vol. LXXXVIII

B
OSTON, 1859.


Legends and Lyrics.  A Book of verses.  By ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER.  New York:  D. Appleton & Co.  1858.  pp. 264.

    OF the poems in this little volume, many had been previously published in English Magazines.  Their author, the daughter of Barry Cornwall, inherits much of the poetical talent of her father, and her productions are marked with the same inequality perceptible in his.  Many of her pieces, especially the shorter and more impulsive, are full of pathos and sweetness, original in idea and graceful in execution; and linger in the memory long after we have turned over the leaf.  Others are dull, and fail to invite a second perusal.  This is a fault, however, almost inevitable in a studied collection of minor poems, since many are doubtless allowed place for the purpose of swelling the volume to the requisite size, and perhaps stand even lower in the estimation of the author than in that of the reader.  The number of Miss Procter's poems, however, which attain to a positive degree of merit, is quite large enough to give to her book a pleasant tone, and to render it an agreeable addition to the stock of modern poetry.

_________________



The Examiner.

1858.


Legends and Lyrics. A Book of Verses. By Adelaide Anne Procter. Bell and Daldy.

    THIS modest "book of verses" by a poet's daughter is remarkable for its simplicity and truth.  There is no strain after showy thoughts or admirable phrases visible in any line of it, there is desire to attain and success in attaining the purity and grace of speech without which verse is an impertinence but we never can conceive Miss Procter saying to herself, when she has written any couplet, "there the reader of taste will make a pencil mark and think to himself, Fine!"  The singer has in her own heart a little creed to dwell upon, it is in some form the burden of all her pleasant stories and her songs:—We come into the world with work to do, and Now is the right time for working, and the way to work is with warm faith in God and in each other.  Kind little words are of the same blood as great and holy deeds.  Pain is true blessing upon those who recognize its source.  Each incompleteness bids us labour upward, above all, what is wanting to the perfectness of human love points to the divine end of all our labours.  Learn, she says,

"Learn the mystery of Progression duly:
 Do not call each glorious change Decay;
 But know we only hold our treasures truly,
 When it seems as if they passed away.

"Nor dare to blame God's gifts for incomplete-
           ness;
 In that want their beauty lies: they roll
 Towards some infinite depth of love and sweetness ,
 Bearing onward man's reluctant soul."

    The singer warns against the false genius who can bid us

                       "dwell apart
Tending some ideal smart
In a sick and coward heart."

    Every day's duties must he done.

"One by one the sands are flowing,
    One by one the moments fall;
Some are coming, some are going;
    Do not strive to grasp them all.

"One by one thy duties wait thee,
    Let thy whole strength go to each,
Let no future dreams elate thee,
    Learn thou first what these ran teach.

"One by one (bright gifts from Heaven)
    Joys are sent thee hero below;
Take them readily when given,
    Ready, too, to let them go.

One by one thy griefs shall meet thee,
    Do not fear an armčd band;
One will fade as others greet thee,
    Shadows passing through the land,

"Do not look at life;'s long, sorrow;
    See how small each moment's pain;
God will help thee for to-morrow,
    So each day begin again.

"Every hour that fleets so slowly
    Has its task to do or bear;
Luminous the crown, and holy,
    If thou set each gem with care."

    Simple and pure teaching of old truths that must lie told and told again for centuries to come!  And seldom can they be told more effectually than in the sincere and unaffected language that comes out of a good woman's heart.  There is an old truth here too:

JUDGE not; the workings of his brain
    And of his heart thou canst not see;
What looks to thy dim eyes a stain,
    In God's pure light may only be
A scar, brought from some well-won field,
Where thou wouldst only faint and yield.

The look, the air, that frets thy sight,
    May be a token, that below
The soul has closed in deadly fight
    With some infernal fiery foe,
Whose glance would scorch thy smiling grace,
And cast thee shuddering on thy face!

The fall thou darest to despise—
    May be the angel's slackened hand
Has suffered it, that he may rise
    And take a firmer, surer stand;
Or, trusting less to earthly things,
May henceforth learn to use his wings.

And judge none lost; but wait, and see,
    With hopeful pity, not disdain;
The depth of the abyss may be
    The measure of the height of pain
And love and glory that may raise
This soul to God in after days!

    A few of the poems in this volume have appeared in Household Words, and it is no slight evidence of their power that they will recur as familiar strains to those who lighted on them among miscellaneous reading many months ago.  Such tales as the Angel's Story, the Sailor Boy, the Tomb in Ghent, are very touching, and derive their power not so much from artistic treatment—verbal and technical objections may be raised, perhaps, a score of times in the course of the volume—but because of the unstudied earnestness with which Miss Procter knows how to express warm feelings and thoughts both delicate and true.

    In the last volume, page 320, we copied from Household Words "A Woman's Question,"' which it now appears is by Miss Procter.  There was a sense of incompleteness about the poem, and in a review in the Athenćum we find an additional verse which satisfies the want:

Nay, answer not—I dare not hear,
    The words would come too late;
Yet I would spare thee all remorse,
    So, comfort thee, my Fate—
Whatever on my heart may fall—remember
        I would risk it all!

    We copy two more extracts:

ALL yesterday I was spinning,
    Sitting alone in the sun;
And the dream that I spun was so lengthy,
    It lasted till day was done.

I heeded not cloud or shadow
    That flitted over the hill,
Or the humming-bees, or the swallows,
    Or the trickling of the rill.

I took the threads for my spinning,
    All of blue summer air,
And a flickering ray of sunlight
    Was woven in here and there.

The shadows grew longer and longer,
    The evening wind passed by,
And the purple splendour of sunset
    Was flooding the western sky.

But I could not leave my spinning,
    For so fair my dream had grown.
I heeded not, hour by hour,
    How the silent day had flown.

At last the grey shadows fell round me,
    And the night came dark and chill,
And I rose and ran down the valley,
    And left it all on the hill.

I went up the hill this morning
    To the place where my spinning lay—
There was nothing but glistening dewdrops
    Remained of my dream to-day.

 

HUSH.

"I can scarcely hear," she murmured,
    "For my heart beats loud and fast,
But surely, in the far, far distance,
    I can hear a sound at last."
        "It is only the reapers singing,
            As they carry home their sheaves,
        And the evening breeze has risen,
            And rustles the dying leaves."

"Listen! there are voices talking."
    Calmly still she strove to speak,
Yet her voice grew faint and trembling,
    And the red flushed in her cheek.
        "It is only the children playing
            Below, now their work is done,
        And they laugh that their eyes are dazzled
            By the rays of the setting sun."

Fainter grew her voice, and weaker
    As with anxious eyes she cried,
"Down the avenue of chestnuts,
    I can hear a horseman ride."
        "It was only the deer that were feeding
            In a herd on the clover grass,
        They were startled, and fled to the thicket,
            As they saw the reapers pass."

Now the night arose in silence,
    Birds lay in their leafy nest,
And the deer couched in the forest,
    And the children were at rest:
        There was only a sound of weeping
            From watchers around a bed,
        But Rest to the weary spirit,
            Peace to the quiet Dead!

 



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