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W H O rides so late through a night so wild?
It is a father holding his child; He tenderly clasps him with his arm, To hold him safe and to keep him warm. “My boy, why thus dost thou hide thine eye ?" “See’st thou not, father, the Erl-King nigh, The Erl-King with his crown and his train ?” “My son, it is only the mist from the rain.”
“Come, lovely boy, come, go with me,
“My father, my father, and do you not hear,
“O lovely boy, wilt thou come and go?
“My father, my father, and see you not there
“I love thee; thy form has charmed me so,
Translated from Goethe.
VOCAL EXPRESSION AND THE STUDY OF
THERE are three stages in the mastery of a foreign language :
we may be able to read it; when more familiar, we may be able to speak it; but we have truly mastered a language only when we are able to think in it.
In his inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews, John Stuart Mill gave as a reason why we should study another language, - because “ it prevents us from mistaking words for things.”
There is here a very important principle that applies not only to the study of language, but to the painter, to the sculptor, and to the musician. The painter who merely paints is apt to cease to be an artist. He ceases to realize the importance of feeling; his art is apt to become a mere reproduction of nature. The musician who merely performs is apt never to rise higher than a position in an orchestra. A man can become an artist only by being able to express himself in more than one way.
The principle, however, applies especially to the relation of thought to words. Very frequently, however, languages are studied so mechanically and artificially that this benefit is not realized. The student often develops a mere verbal memory; he studies the language merely by grammatical rules. He aims to understand only its meaning.
Repeated efforts have been made to correct the evils of abstract and mechanical methods in the study of languages. One of the most important of these, though it has not been discussed publicly or in print so far as I know, is that of reciting the best passages in the literature of the language we are studying.
Recitation compels a student really to think in another language. He cannot stop with a mere understanding of the words. Being compelled to recite the poem, if he has any true conception of expression, he meditates over the passage which he is to recite; he
endeavors to create imaginatively its conceptions and to assimilate sympathetically its spirit. He must also more completely master the words; he must be able to use them as agents in the expression of his own thought and feeling. He is compelled to make the thought his own; he must identify himself with another point of view. It thus develops what is called the altruistic instinct. For the reader must sympathetically realize the point of view of another race. A poem thus learned will be continually hummed over until the French or German melody will be assimilated and mastered. This is the most difficult to acquire of all elements in a foreign language. Every nation has a peculiar genius which expresses itself in a peculiarity of melody. This does not consist in pronunciation of individual sounds or words. It manifests more the peculiar process of thought which lies back of the words.
It has been well said that all great poetry implies utterance. It is the lack of true Vocal Expression, without doubt, that causes the roughness in all modern poetry and makes the differences between modern and ancient verse. The great poets have always bewailed the separation. The lines of Milton are well known in which he speaks of “The Heaven-born sisters, – Voice and Verse.” Most of the great poets have hummed over and recited their own poetry. Tennyson's recitation of his own poems is no doubt one of the chief causes of the smoothness of his verse. I am a lover of Browning, but at times I wish he had hummed over his lines. They would certainly have been smoother.
If this is true of the poetry of our own language, it is also true of the poetry of a foreign tongue. We can hardly feel the quantity and rhythmic movement without Vocal Expression. The pronunciation of a foreign language is one of the highest charms and attainments. Practice in the recitation of the masterpieces in other languages will bring us more immediately into contact with the true spirit of poetry and the true genius of the language.
Besides, this “ melody,” as Beethoven said to Bettina, “gives sensuous existence to poetry; for does not the meaning of a poem
become embodied in melody?” George Henry Lewes in his Life of Goethe has some very valuable suggestions upon the inadequacy of all translations of poetry ; “words in poetry,” he says, “ are not as words in prose, simple representatives of objects and ideas: they are part of an organic whole; they are tones in the harmony. Substitute other parts and the result is a monstrosity, as if an arm were substituted for a wing ; substitute other tones, and you produce a discord. . . . Words are not only symbols of objects, but centres of associations; and their suggestiveness depends partly on their sound.” If all this is true, Vocal Expression is necessary to the adequate comprehension or feeling of any poem, and especially when that poem is in a foreign language.
There is also a great help to Vocal Expression in such study. The poem must be studied more carefully; the words demand more work, so that the mind is compelled to dwell longer upon the situation of the poem. Hence, when the words are once mastered, the thought and feeling have been more deeply assimilated. Thus the recitation of poems and masterpieces of other languages develops flexibility and true dramatic instinct. It brings into exercise a greater number of faculties with greater intensity than the recitation of one's own language. It makes the reader more careful, more selfpossessed. It gives him also exercise of the organs of articulation, and tends to improve his utterance of his own language.
Not only should students study a poem in its native language and recite it with true feeling and the spirit of that language, but it is also well to make translations and to recite these also. This will enable the reader to bring the results of the work he has done in another language into his own mother-tongue. The hard work of translating, as well as the thorough study of the poem so as to be able to recite it in a foreign language, will furnish a deeper realization of the nature of poetic expression. Besides, the struggle to give expression to a poem by reciting it in its native form and language will give more adequately the true spirit of the metre and rhythm, and will
poetry are inadequate, Vocal Expression will make us realize the inadequacy of any given translation, and also furnish assistance to the exercise of translation.
To illustrate this, I have endeavored to translate anew the “ Erlkönig” of Goethe. It is a most dramatic lyric, or ballad, and well suited for recitation; the variety of emotions, the subjectivity and objectivity, the intensity of feeling, all should be given. It is also a most difficult poem to translate. The translation is here given merely as an illustration of the method, and placed opposite the original (see pp. 44, 45). The same is true, also, of the translation of the little poem (p. 37) from the French of Du Maurier.
Some men are so anxious to be natural that they confound naturalness with tameness. Naturalness means strength, means potency, means vigor of soul, means all-sided manifestation of power. Besides, all art must be truthful; but as art is interpretative, it must accentuate the truthfulness, — it must enlarge subtleties. The size of a portrait does not determine its fidelity; a very large picture may be as faithful a portrait as a smaller one. Naturalness means a true balance, a true proportion, a true, harmonious blending of the fundamental elements of nature.
SCIENCE comes from a word meaning “to know," and shows man's understanding of the laws of nature. Art goes farther, and implies an assimilation and enjoyment of the life of nature, — a participation in her creative energy. It means a sharing in the processes of great creating nature. It means doing, not in the dry sense of duty, but in the sense of an exuberance of life, –a universal, playing into an individual embodiment. Art and religion are founded in the power of man, not only to know and understand, but to enjoy, to do, and to become.
The Greeks expressed more beauty in a jug than we do in our public monuments.