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ew poets were ever less realistic than Milton: few at least ever depended less on accuracy of transcription from the simple truth and modesty of nature for the accomplishment of their highest and most abiding aims: and yet the place of Wordsworth, whose own professed aim was to study and to reproduce in the effects of his verse the effects of nature in their most actual simplicity, is rather with Milton or with Pindar than with Cowper or with Burns. He wants indeed the constancy of impulse, the certitude of achievement, the steadfastness of inspiration, by which Pindar and Milton are exalted and sustained through the whole course of their spiritual flight from summit to summit of majestic imagination and moral ardour; their sovereign sway and masterdom lay hardly within reach of his less imperial spirit: the ethics of Wordsworth are scarcely so solid and profound as theirs, so deeply based on righteousness and reality, on principles of truth and manhood invariable and independent of custom or theology, of tradition and of time. . . . [129]

Is there anything in modern poetry so Pindaric — in other words, is there anything at once so exalted and so composed, so ardent and serene, so full of steadfast light and the flameless fire of imaginative thought, as the hymn which assigns to the guardianship of Duty or everlasting law the fragrance of the flowers on earth and the splendour of the stars in heaven? Here at least his conception of duty, of righteousness, and of truth is one with the ideal of Æschylus, of Alighieri, and of Hugo: no less positive and pure, no more conventional or accidental than is theirs. And in a lesser lyric than this we find the same spontaneous and sublime perfection of inspired workmanship. None but a poet of the first order could have written the eight lines in which the unforeseeing security of a charmed and confident happiness is opposed to the desolate certitude of unforeseen bereavement by a single touch of contrast, a single note of comparison, as profound in its simplicity as the deepest wellspring of human emotion or remembrance itself. No elaboration of elegiac lament could possibly convey that sense of absolute and actual truth, of a sorrow set to music of its own making, — a sorrow hardly yet wakened out of wonder into sense of its own reality, — which is impressed at once and for ever on the spirit of any reader, at any age, by those eight faultless and incomparable verses. [129-30]


Swinburne, Algernon Charles. “Wordsworth and Byron.” Miscellanies. London: Chatto & Windus, 1886. 63-156. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of Toronto Library, Web. 5 April 2020.

Last modified 7 April 2020