« НазадПродовжити »
it in ballad form, and immediately after writes to his father: “I have been hard at work, — for the most part wrapped up in my own dreams. Have written a translation of a German ballad, and prepared for the press another original ballad, which has been lying by me some time. It is called The Skeleton in Armor, and is connected with the old Round Tower at Newport. This skeleton in armor really exists. It was dug up near Fall River, where I saw it some two years ago. pose
it to be the remains of one of the old Northern sea-rovers, who came to this country in the tenth century. Of course I make the tradition myself ; and I think I have succeeded in giving the whole a Northern air. You shall judge soon, as it will probably be in the next Knickerbocker ; and it is altogether too long to copy in a letter. I hope it may be successful, though I fear that those
I who only glance at it will not fully comprehend it; and I must say to the benevolent reader, as Rudbeck says in the preface of his Atlantica (a work of only 2500 folio pages), “if thou hast not leisure to study it through ten times, then do not read it once, - especially if thou wilt utter thy censure thereof.' A modest request !”
A week later he writes to his father: “ The Skeleton in Armor will appear in the January number of the Knickerbocker. My friend Ward, to whom I sent it, is very enthusiastic about it; which I am not, though I am very well satisfied with it. You will be amused to see how my friend's heart and head take fire and blaze away together. He writes : I could not forbear reading it to Halleck (the poet) this morning. His bright eyes glistened like diamonds, and he read it through aloud himself with delight. He thanked me warmly for the pleasure it had afforded him ; said it placed you extremely high, and was superior to any of your previous efforts. It will spread like wildfire over the country and richly reward you.
Halleck remarked there was nothing like it in the language !' In order not to be led away by this, you ought to know the glowing and sanguine temperament of my friend. You must not expect to find the poem so fine as he does. He has associations with Newport which make him invest it with a charm which it will not have in the eyes of others. I think, however, that it is striking, and in its conception, perhaps, unique, - at least in our country. It is a national ballad, as The Wreck of the Hesperus is.”
The ballad was published in the Knickerbocker for January, 1841, with marginal notes after the manner of Coleridge's The Ancient Mariner, but in reprinting it in his volume the poet wisely discarded an apparatus, which, unlike Coleridge's, was merely a running index to the poem. In the notes to this volume the reader will find the ballad printed as in the magazine.
Although he placed The Skeleton in Armor first in the volume, as being the longer and more important poem, Mr. Longfellow evidently was chiefly conscious of a new departure in his art when he wrote the second ballad in the collection. “I have broken ground in a new field,” he writes to Mr. Greene; “ namely, ballads ; beginning with the
Wreck of the Schooner Hesperus, on the reef of Norman's Woe, in the great storm of a fortnight ago.
I shall send it to some newspaper. I think I shall write more. The national ballad is a virgin soil here in New England ; and there are great materials. Besides, I have a great notion of working upon the people's feelings. I am going to have it printed on a sheet, with a coarse picture on it. I desire a new sensation and a new set of critics. Nat. Hawthorne is tickled with the idea. Felton laughs and says, “I would n't.'” Nor did he, in spite of Hawthorne's assurance that he would distribute the ballads to every skipper of every craft he boarded in his custom-house duties, so as to hear their criticisms. Instead, he sent it to Park Benjamin's mammoth sheet, The New World, where it appeared, January 14, 1840. Of the actual composition of the ballad he writes as follows in his diary, under date of December 30, 1839:
“I wrote last evening a notice of Allston's poems. After which I sat till twelve o'clock by my fire, smoking, when suddenly it came into my mind to write the Ballad of the Schooner Hesperus; which I accordingly did. Then I went to bed, but could not sleep. New thoughts were running in my mind, and I got up to add them to the ballad. It was three by the clock. I then went to bed and fell asleep. I feel pleased with the ballad. It hardly cost me an effort. It did not come into my mind by lines but by stanzas.”
The foot-note readings are those of the first edition of Ballads and other Poems.
BALLADS AND OTHER POEMS
THE SKELETON IN ARMOR.
“SPEAK ! speak! thou fearful guest !
Who, with thy hollow breast
Comest to daunt me!
Why dost thou haunt me ? '
Then, from those cavernous eyes
Gleam in December;
From the heart's chamber.
“I was a Viking old !
My deeds, though manifold,
No Saga taught thee!
For this I sought thee.
“Far in the Northern Land,
Tamed the gerfalcon ;
Trembled to walk on.
66 Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
Fled like a shadow;
Sang from the meadow.
Joining a corsair's crew,
With the marauders.
By our stern orders.
Many a wassail-bout
Set the cocks crowing,