George Darley’s best poetry is the work of a man seeking escape from the world. The sorrows of his life—his poverty and his lack of recognition—are for the most part not present in his poetry. Many of his poems are about love, beautiful women, and the death of innocent women. This preoccupation suggests one of the more common Romantic motifs: the separation between a desirable realm of creativity and fertility and the sterile existence of the poet’s life. In Darley’s love poems, there is a continuing search for perfection—the perfect woman, the perfect love. These poems show the influence of the Cavalier poet Thomas Carew, and it might be noted that one of Darley’s most successful poems (“It Is Not Beauty I Demand”) was published in the London Magazine with the name Carew appended to it. The fraud was not discovered until much later, after Francis Palgrave had included the poem in The Golden Treasury.
The women in Darley’s poems are not the sentimental idols of so much nineteenth century love poetry, yet these lyrics are marred by Darley’s frequent use of Elizabethan clichés: lips as red as roses, breasts as white as snow, hair as golden as the sun. In setting and theme as well, Darley’s love poems are excessively conventional.
In his nature poetry, Darley was able to achieve a more authentic style and tone. His early years in the Irish countryside had given him an almost pantheistic appreciation of nature as the ultimate source of comfort; many of his nature poems border on a kind of religious veneration. It is nature that comforts humanity, not the Church; it is nature that speaks with an “unerring voice” and will, if attended to, provide humans with the lessons in morality that they require.
“A Country Sunday,” one of Darley’s finest nature poems, illustrates this idea of God-in-nature. The poem, given its reference to Sunday, is curiously barren of any directly religious references. It is the sun that gives joy and the wind that serves as the vehicle of prayer. Nature serves as the great link between humanity’s sordid existence and heaven.
“It Is Not Beauty I Demand”
In several of the lyric poems the themes of nature and love are fused. “It Is Not Beauty I Demand”—Darley’s one assuredly great poem—illustrates the blending of nature and love, though the intent of the poet is to raise human love to a level beyond...
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