Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ON KEAN'S HAMLET, by WASHINGTON ALLSTON



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ON KEAN'S HAMLET, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O thou who standest 'mid the bards of old
Last Line: Or kean or hamlet, -- what I see is real!
Subject(s): Kean, Edmund (1787-1833}; Shakespeare - Hamlet


O thou who standest 'mid the bards of old,
Like Chimborazo, when the setting sun
Has left his hundred mountains dark and dun,
Sole object visible, the imperial One,
In purple robe, and diadem of gold, --
Immortal Shakspeare! who can hope to tell,
With tongue less gifted, of the pleasing sadness
Wrought in thy deepest scenes of woe and madness?
Who hope by words to paint the ecstatic gladness
Of spirits leaping 'mid thy merry spell?
When I have gazed upon thy wondrous page,
And seen, as in some necromantic glass,
Thy visionary forms before me pass,
Like breathing things of every living class,
Goblin and Hero, Villain, Fool, and Sage,

It seemed a task not Buonarroti's e'en,
Nor Raffael's hand could master by their art, --
To give the semblance of the meanest part
Of all thy vast creation, or the heart
Touch as thou touchest with a kindred scene.
And vainer still, methought, by mimic tone,
And feigned look, and attitude, and air,
The Actor's toil; for self will have its share
With nicest mimicry, and, though it spare
To others largely, gives not all its own.
So did I deem, till, living to my view,
Scorning his country while he sought her good,
In Kemble forth the unbending Roman stood;
Till, snuffing at the scent of human blood,
In Cooke strode forth the unrelenting Jew.
But these were beings tangible in vice,
Their purpose searchable, their every thought
Indexed in living men; yet only sought,
Plain as they seem, by genius, -- only bought
By genius even with laborious price.
But who, methought, in confidence so brave,

Doffing himself, shall dare that form assume
So strangely mixed of wisdom, wit, and gloom, --
Playful in misery even at the tomb, --
Of hope, distrust, of faith and doubt, the slave?
That being strange, that only in the brain
Perchance has lived, yet still so rarely knit
In all its parts, -- its wisdom to its wit,
And doubt to faith, loathing to love, so fit, --
It seems like one that lived, and lives again!
Who, then, dare wear the princely Denmark's form?
What starts before me? -- Ha! 't is he I've seen
Oft in a day-dream, when my youth was green, --
The Dane himself, -- the Dane! Who says 't is Kean?
Yet sure it moves, -- as if its blood were warm.
If this be Kean, then Hamlet lived indeed!
Look! how his purpose hurries him apace,
Seeking a fitful rest from place to place!
And yet his trouble fits him with a grace,
As if his heart did love what makes it bleed.
He seems to move as in a world ideal,
A world of thought, where wishes have their end
In wishing merely, where resolves but spend
Themselves resolving, -- as his will did lend
Not counsel e'en his body to defend.
Or Kean or Hamlet, -- what I see is real!






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