The lyric, therefore, is a poet’s fullest outpouring of himself. More than any other form of poetry it is toned to his mood, and breathes the intensity of his emotion. But it is capable also of a burden of thought, provided only that the thought take wing and rise from the shell of abstraction into the full-embodied life of warm and colored image. In its simplest import the lyric is a cry. A sudden fresh vision of beauty releases the deep sources of joy, and the emotion, gathering about the image that has quickened it, wells forth in rhythmic pulse, into surgent, glowing words.

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

n profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher

From the earth thou springest

Like a cloud of fire;

The blue deep thou wingest,

And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning

Of the sunken sun

O’er which clouds are brightening,

Thou dost float and run,

Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.〖Shelley. H.C., xli, 829.〗

The song of a skylark, playing across the strings of the poet’s interpreting and transfiguring temperament, is etherealized into a rarer music. It floats us back the bird’s song; but it is the very spirit of poetry.

Another poet thus describes this instant experience of beauty in its full immediacy: The sounding cataract Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock, The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood, Their colours and their forms, were then to me An appetite; a feeling and a love, That had no need of a remoter charm, By thought supplied, nor any interest Unborrowed from the eye.〖Wordsworth. H.C., xli, 635ff.〗

But fresh, immediate vision may be attended by insight; the poet sees deeper, feels more, and into the precious vessel of his verse he pours a richer meaning: I have learned To look on nature, not as in the hour Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes The still, sad music of humanity, Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power To chasten and subdue. And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts: a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man: A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.〖Wordsworth. H.C., xli, 635ff.〗

As poetry, these verses in themselves have not quite the lyric impetus. They move to a stately music suited to the calm elevation of mind, in which “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” is now “recollected in tranquillity.” They describe, however, rather than illustrate, the lyric temper. They are still charged with emotion which heightens and intensifies the actual material stuff out of which they are woven, and so they are true poetry. But the burden of thought tends to impede that upward spring of feeling which is the essence of the lyric mood.

The range of lyric poetry is limited only by the capacities of the human spirit; it is coextensive with the height and depth of man’s mind and heart. A lyric is some one poet’s interpretation of the beauty, the wonder, the profound mystery, of life as he perceives and feels it, by the magic of word-image made visible to the inward eye, by the weaving of tone and measured beat made vocal in the soul. In swift, vivid phrase it may picture a butterfly or a world; in richly-freighted word it may seem, for an illumined moment, to unlock the vast secret of life, discovering truth. The lyric may be an iridescent jet of song, piercing the silence; it may be a mighty hymn, resolving discords and voicing the praise of things. No mood is denied it; joy and sorrow, hope and regret, tears and laughter, lie within its compass. Its characteristic note is intense personality. But the true poet transfigures the beauty he has seen in his little corner of the earth into cosmic vistas, opening to infinity, and transmutes his private joys and griefs into the great passionate fountains of universal happiness and suffering accessible to all men.

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