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1  of 1832 in the same year, with a brief criticism by way of dedication to Samuel Rogers, whose reading of the contents was the delight of that old Maecenas and Petronius Arbiter. It has, however, apparently not been observed that the entire contents of the volume of 1821 were reprinted, indeed in the same order, in Specimens of the American poets (London, 1822) with a noteworthy comment1 on the lines Thanatopsis that “there are few pieces, in the works of even the very first of our living poets, which exceed them in sublimity and compass of poetical thought.” And Bryant was spared from the beginning furor and contempt: he was never laurelled like Byron, never foolscapped like Keats by critics or public; his repute was always, like himself, dignified, quiet, secure. And so the critical problem is initially simplified, in two ways: there is no story of struggle for recognition, and the effects of that struggle on the workman; there is no story of evolution of inner forces. Thus the poetry of Bryant admits of treatment as one performance, one perception and one account of the world, in a more restricted sense than is generally applicable to poetic performance, where the unity is the unity of psychological succession in a changing temporal order: Don Juan is, perhaps, implied in the English Bards and Childe Harold, paradise lost in the Nativity, Hamlet in Romeo and Juliet; but, in a humbler sphere, Among the trees and The flood of years are less implied than actually present in A Forest Hymn and Thanatopsis. If Bryant's poems need sometimes the reference of date, it is for external occasion and impulse, not for artistic registration. Three periods have been discovered for Chaucer, and four for Shakespeare; our modest American was without “periods.”The critical problem is simple, though not necessarily trivial or easy, in another way: this one performance was itself of a relatively simple character. Bryant's poems stress perpetually a certain few ideas, grow perpetually out of a certain few emotional responses, and report in a few noble imaginative modes a certain few aspects of man and nature, with ever recurring habits of observation, architectonics, and style. This absence of complexity is, again, emphasized by the elemental clarity and simplicity of those same few ideas, emotions, modes, methods. Within his range he is complete, harmonious, and,
2 P. 190.
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