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Nature And The Poets
by [?]

I HAVE said on a former occasion that “the true poet knows more about Nature than the naturalist, because he carries her open secrets in his heart. Eckermann could instruct Goethe in ornithology, but could not Goethe instruct Eckermann in the meaning and mystery of the bird?” But the poets sometimes rely too confidently upon their supposed intuitive knowledge of nature, and grow careless about the accuracy of the details of their pictures. I am not aware that this was ever the case with Goethe; I think it was not, for as a rule, the greater the poet, the more correct and truthful will be his specifications. It is the lesser poets who trip most over their facts. Thus a New England poet speaks of “plucking the apple from the pine,” as if the pineapple grew upon the pine-tree. A Western poet sings of the bluebird in a strain in which every feature and characteristic of the bird is lost; not one trait of the bird is faithfully set down. When the robin and the swallow come, he says, the bluebird hies him to some mossy old wood, where, amid the deep seclusion, he pours out his song.

In a poem by a well-known author in one of the popular journals, a hummingbird’s nest is shown the reader, and it has BLUE eggs in it. A more cautious poet would have turned to Audubon or Wilson before venturing upon such a statement. But then it was necessary to have a word to rhyme with “view,” and what could be easier than to make a white egg “blue”? Again, one of our later poets has evidently confounded the hummingbird with that curious parody upon it, the hawk or sphinx moth, as in his poem upon the subject he has hit off exactly the habits of the moth, or, rather, his creature seems a cross between the moth and the bird, as it has the habits of the one and the plumage of the other. The time to see the hummingbird, he says, is after sunset in the summer gloaming; then it steals forth and hovers over the flowers. Now, the hummingbird is eminently a creature of the sun and of the broad open day, and I have never seen it after sundown, while the moth is rarely seen except at twilight. It is much smaller and less brilliant than the hummingbird; but its flight and motions are so nearly the same that a poet, with his eye in a fine frenzy rolling, might easily mistake one for the other. It is but a small slip in such a poet as poor George Arnold, when he makes the sweet-scented honeysuckle bloom for the bee, for surely the name suggests the bee, though in fact she does not work upon it; but what shall we say of the Kansas poet, who, in his published volume, claims both the yew and the nightingale for his native State? Or of a Massachusetts poet, who finds the snowdrop and the early primrose blooming along his native streams, with the orchis and the yellow violet, and makes the blackbird conspicuous among New England songsters? Our ordinary yew is not a tree at all, but a low spreading evergreen shrub that one may step over; and as for the nightingale, if they have the mockingbird in Kansas, they can very well do without him. We have several varieties of blackbirds, it is true; but when an American poet speaks in a general way of the blackbird piping or singing in a tree, as he would speak of a robin or a sparrow, the suggestion or reminiscence awakened is always that of the blackbird of English poetry.

“In days when daisies deck the ground,
And blackbirds whistle clear,
With honest joy our hearts will bound
To see the coming year”–