Henry Sweet: 1871 & 1888

1871, in T.Warton's History of English Poetry I.17

1888, in Collected Papers of Henry Sweet; arranged by H.C.Wyld; OUP 1913.


Henry Sweet 1871:

He cares not for harp, or gifts of gold; his joy is not in woman, nor are his thoughts of the world, or of aught else except the rolling waves; but he yearns ever to venture on the sea. The groves resume their flowers, the hills grow fair, the heath brightens, the world shakes off sloth. All this only reminds him to start on his journey, eager to depart on the distant tracts of ocean. The cuckoo also reminds him with his sad voice, when the guardian of summer sings, and bodes bitter heart-sorrow. The man who lives in luxury knows not what they endure who wander far in exile! Therefore now my mind wanders out of my breast over the sea-floods, where the whale dwells, returns again to me, fierce and eager, screams in its solitary flight, impels me irresistibly on the path of death over the ocean waters.

("The cuckoo's song is here taken in the double sense of a bad omen and harbinger of summer" --- Rieger).

Henry Sweet 1888:

From article entitled Shelley's Nature Poetry; read to the Shelley Society, 9 May 1888; printed for private circulation London 1901. p.235

Inferior as the Old English literature is to the Celtic in vivid colouring and richness of detail, it surpasses it in many of the higher flights of imagination: it soars into regions inaccessible to the quick-witted, but more superficial Celt. The moral force and earnestness, the restless enterprise of the Old Teutons stamped itself indelibly on their literature. In the Seafarer --- that most startlingly modern of all the Old English poems --- the approach of spring, when the earth's bosom becomes fair again, and the groves resume their flowers, inspires the youth with no tranquil joy or dreamy voluptuousness, but with a longing to venture on the sea, and, like Shelley's Alastor, "to meet lone Death on the drear ocean's waste". The song of the cuckoo is to him even as the voice of the ill-omened raven: it bodes bitter heart-sorrow. It is interesting to compare the Seafarer with Alastor. Alastor braves death in despair of otherwise attaining his ideal of love and beauty; he lives in an atmosphere of sublime but unhealthy sentiment. His gentleness, his beauty, have something feminine about them. The Seafarer, on the other hand, is all manliness and energy. He casts back many a longing glance at the joys of the earth; but neither the love of woman nor the sweet sound of the harp, nor the joyous revelry of his beloved kinsmen avail aught against the mighty impulse within him: "My mind departs out of my breast like a sea-bird, screams in its lonely flight, returns to me, fierce and eager, impels me irresistibly over the wide wastes of waters, over the whale's path".

(Compare Shelley Laon & Cythna ii 29)



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