The Supernatural in Poetry, page 4

which excite forlorn, melancholy, and solemn feelings, and dispose us to welcome, with trembling curiosity, the awful being that draws near; and to indulge in that strange mixture of horror, pity, and indignation, produced by the tale it reveals. Every minute circumstance of the scene between those watching on the platform, and of that between them and Horatio, preceding the entrance of the apparition, contributes to excite some feeling of dreariness, or melancholy, or solemnity, or expectation, in unison with, and leading on toward that high curiosity and thrilling awe with which we witness the conclusion of the scene. So the first question of Bernardo, and the words in reply, ‘Stand and unfold yourself.' But there is not a single circumstance in either dialogue, not even in this short one, with which the play opens, that does not take its secret effect upon the imagination. It ends with Bernardo desiring his brother-officer, after having asked whether he has had ‘quiet watch,' to hasten the guard, if he should chance to meet them; and we immediately feel ourselves alone on this dreary ground.

            When Horatio enters, the challenge–the dignified answers, ‘Friends to this ground, and liegemen to the Dane,'–the question of Horatio to Bernardo, touching the apparition–the unfolding of the reason why ‘Horatio has consented to watch with them the minutes of this night'–the sitting down together, while Bernardo relates the particulars of what they had seen for two nights; and, above all, the few lines with which he begins his story, ‘Last night of all,' and the distinguishing, by the situation of ‘yon same star,' the very point of time when the spirit had appeared–the abruptness with which he breaks off, ‘the bell then beating one'–the instant appearance of the ghost, as though ratifying the story for the very truth itself–all these are circumstances which the deepest sensibility only could have suggested, and which, if you read them a thousand times, still continue to affect you almost as much as at first. I thrill with delightful awe, even while I recollect and mention them, as instances of the exquisite art of the poet."

            "Certainly you must be very superstitious," said Mr. S––, "or such things could not interest you thus."

            "There are few people less so than I am," replied W––, "or I understand myself and the meaning of superstition very ill."

            "That is quite paradoxical."

            "It appears so, but so it is not. If I cannot explain this, take it as a mystery of the human mind."

            "If it were possible for me to believe the appearance of ghosts at all," replied Mr. S––, "it would certainly be the ghost of Hamlet; but I never can suppose such things ; they are out of all reason and probability."

            "You would believe the immortality of the soul," said W––, with solemnity, "even without the aid of revelation; yet our confined faculties cannot comprehend how the soul may exist after separation from the body. I do not absolutely know that spirits are permitted to become visible to us on earth; yet that they may be permitted to appear for very rare and important purposes, such as could scarcely have been accomplished without an equal suspension, or a momentary change, of the laws prescribed to what we call Nature–that is, without one more exercise of the same Creative Power of which we must acknowledge so many millions of existing instances, and by which alone we ourselves at this moment breathe, think, or disquisite at all, cannot be impossible,


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