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Title: Studies of Contemporary Poets
Author: Sturgeon, Mary C.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's note:

      In the original text, a row of spaced periods was used to
      separate extracts where lines of the poems were omitted.
      In this version these are represented as "....."

      Greek text has been transliterated and enclosed by equal
      signs (example: =eithe genoimên=).




Author of "Women of the Classics" etc.


New York
Dodd, Mead & Company

Printed at
The Ballantyne Press
London, England





The author begs to offer warm thanks to the following poets and their
publishers, for the use of the quotations given in these studies:

Mr Masefield and "John Presland"; Mr John Lane for the work of Mr
Abercrombie and Mrs Woods; Messrs Sidgwick and Jackson for the work of
Miss Macaulay and Rupert Brooke; Mr A. C. Fifield and Mr Elkin Mathews
for the work of Mr W. H. Davies; Messrs Constable for the work of Mr de
la Mare; Mr Elkin Mathews, _New Numbers_, and the Samurai Press for the
work of Mr W. W. Gibson; the Poetry Bookshop for the work of Mr Hodgson;
Messrs Max Goschen Ltd. for the work of Mr Ford Madox Hueffer; Messrs
Maunsel and Co Ltd for the work of the members of "An Irish Group" and
of Mr Stephens; the Samurai Press and the Poetry Bookshop for the work
of Mr Monro; and Mr William Heinemann for the work of Mrs Naidu.



  LASCELLES ABERCROMBIE                                              11

  RUPERT BROOKE                                                      36

  WILLIAM H. DAVIES                                                  53

  WALTER DE LA MARE                                                  72

  WILFRID WILSON GIBSON                                              87

  RALPH HODGSON                                                     108

  FORD MADOX HUEFFER                                                122

  AN IRISH GROUP                                                    137

  ROSE MACAULAY                                                     181

  JOHN MASEFIELD                                                    197

  HAROLD MONRO                                                      217

  SAROJINI NAIDU                                                    235

  "JOHN PRESLAND"                                                   248

  JAMES STEPHENS                                                    282

  MARGARET L. WOODS                                                 301

  BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                      327

Lascelles Abercrombie

In the sweet chorus of modern poetry one may hear a strange new harmony.
It is the life of our time, evoking its own music: constraining the
poetic spirit to utter its own message. The peculiar beauty of
contemporary poetry, with all its fresh and varied charm, grows from
that; and in that, too, its vitality is assured. Its art has the deep
sanction of loyalty: its loyalty draws inspiration from the living

There is a fair company of these new singers; and it would seem that
there should be large hope for a generation, whether in its life or
letters, which can find such expression. Listening carefully, however,
some notes ring clearer, stronger, or more significant than others; and
of these the voice of Mr Abercrombie appears to carry the fullest
utterance. It is therefore a happy chance that the name which stands
first here, under a quite arbitrary arrangement, has also a natural
right to be put at the head of such a group of moderns.

But that is not an implicit denial to those others of fidelity to their
time. It is a question of degree and of range. Every poet in this band
will be found to represent some aspect of our complex life--its awakened
social conscience or its frank joy in the world of sense: its mysticism
or its repudiation of dogma, in art as in religion: its mistrust of
materialism or keen perception of reality: its worship of the future, or
assimilation of the heritage of the past to its own ideals: its lyrical
delight in life or dramatic re-creation of it: its insistence upon the
essential poetry of common things, or its discovery of rare new values
in experience and expression.

This poetry frequently catches one or another of those elements, and
crystallizes it out of a mere welter into definite form and recognizable
beauty. But the claim for Mr Abercrombie is that he has drawn upon them
more largely: that he has made a wider synthesis: that his work has a
unity more comprehensive and complete. It is in virtue of this that he
may be said to represent his age so fully; but that is neither to accuse
him of shouting with the crowd, nor to lay on the man in the street the
burden of the poet's idealism. He is, indeed, in a deeper sense than
politics could make him, a democrat: perhaps that inheres in the poetic
temperament. But intellectuality like his, vision so brilliant, a spirit
so keen and a sensuous equipment so delicate and bountiful are not to be
leashed to the common pace. That is a truism, of course: so often it
seems to be the destiny of the poet to be at once with the people and
above them. But it needs repetition here, because it applies with
unusual force. This is a poet whose instinct binds him inescapably to
his kind, while all the time his genius is soaring where the average
mind may sometimes find it hard to follow.

One is right, perhaps, in believing that this particular affinity with
his time is instinctive, for it reveals itself in many ways, subtler or
more obvious, through all his work. As forthright avowal it naturally
occurs most in his earlier poems. There is, for example, the
humanitarianism of the fine "Indignation" ode in his first volume,
called _Interludes and Poems_. This is an invocation of righteous anger
against the deplorable conditions of the workers' lives. A fierce
impulse drives through the ode, in music that is sometimes troubled by
its own vehemence.

    Wilt thou not come again, thou godly sword,
      Into the Spirit's hands?


      Against our ugly wickedness,
    Against our wanton dealing of distress,
    The forced defilement of humanity,


    And shall there be no end to life's expense
    In mills and yards and factories,
      With no more recompense
    Than sleep in warrens and low styes,
      And undelighted food?
    Shall still our ravenous and unhandsome mood
    Make men poor and keep them poor?--

In the same volume there is a passage which may be said to present the
obverse of this idea. It occurs in an interlude called "An Escape," and
is only incidental to the main theme, which is much more abstract than
that of the ode. A young poet, Idwal, has withdrawn from the society of
his friends, to meditate about life among the hills. All the winter long
he has kept in solitude, his spirit seeking for mastery over material
things. As the spring dawns he is on the verge of triumph, and the soul
is about to put off for ever its veil of sense, when news reaches him
from the outer world. His little house, from which he has been absent so
long, has been broken into, and robbed, by a tramp. The friend who comes
to tell about it ends his tale by a word of sympathy--"I'm sorry for
you"--and Idwal replies:

    It's sorry I am for that perverted tramp,
    As having gone from being the earth's friend,
    Whom she would have at all her private treats.
    Now with the foolery called possession he
    Has dirtied his own freedom, cozen'd all
    His hearing with the lies of ownership.
    The earth may call to him in vain henceforth,
    He's got a step-dame now, his Goods....

Evidence less direct but equally strong is visible in the later work. It
lies at the very root of the tragedy of _Deborah_, a heroine drawn from
fisher-folk, who in the extremity of fear for her lover's life cries:

    O but my heart is dying in me, waiting:


    For us, with lives so hazardous, to love
    Is like a poor girl's game of being a queen.

And it is found again, gathering materials for the play called _The End
of the World_ out of the lives of poor and simple people. Here the
impulse is clear enough, but sometimes it takes a subtler form, and then
it occasionally betrays the poet into a solecism. For his sense of the
unity of the race is so strong that natural distinctions sometimes go
the way of artificial ones. He has so completely identified himself with
humanity, and for preference with the lowly in mind and estate, that he
has not seldom endowed a humble personality with his own large gifts.
Thus you find Deborah using this magnificent plea for her sweetheart's

    ... there's something sacred about lovers.


    For there is wondrous more than the joy of life
    In lovers; there's in them God Himself
    Taking great joy to love the life He made:
    We are God's desires more than our own, we lovers,
    You dare not injure God!

Thus, too, a working wainwright suddenly startled into consciousness of
the purpose of the life-force muses:

    Why was I like a man sworn to a thing
    Working to have my wains in every curve,
    Ay, every tenon, right and as they should be?
    Not for myself, not even for those wains:
    But to keep in me living at its best
    The skill that must go forward and shape the world,
    Helping it on to make some masterpiece.

And with the same largesse a fiddling vagabond, old and blind, thief,
liar, and seducer, is made to utter a lyric ecstasy on the words which
are the poet's instrument:

    Words: they are messengers from out God's heart,
    Intimate with him; through his deed they go,
    This passion of him called the world, approving
    All of fierce gladness in it, bidding leap
    To a yet higher rapture ere it sink.
                             ... There be
    Who hold words made of thought. But as stars slide
    Through air, so words, bright aliens, slide through thought,
    Leaving a kindled way.

Now, since Synge has shown us that the poetry in the peasant heart does
utter itself spontaneously, in fitting language, we must be careful how
we deny, even to these peasants who are not Celts, a natural power of
poetic expression. But there is a difference. That spontaneous poetry of
simple folk which is caught for us in _The Playboy of the Western World
or The Well of the Saints_, is generally a lyric utterance springing
directly out of emotion. It is not, as here, the result of a mental
process, operating amongst ideas and based on knowledge which the
peasant is unlikely to possess. One may be justified, therefore, in a
show of protest at the incongruity; we feel that such people do not talk
like that. The poet has transferred to them too much of his own
intellectuality. Yet it will probably be a feeble protest, proportionate
to the degree that we are disturbed by it, which is practically not at
all. For as these people speak, we are convinced of their reality: they
live and move before us. And when we consider their complete and robust
individuality, it would appear that the poet's method is vindicated by
the dramatic force of the presentment. It needs no other vindication,
and is no doubt a reasoned process. For Mr Abercrombie makes no line of
separation between thought and emotion; and having entered by
imagination into the hearts of his people, he might claim to be merely
interpreting them--making conscious and vocal that which was already in
existence there, however obscurely. There is a hint of this at a point
in _The End of the World_ where one of the men says that he had _felt_ a
certain thought go through his mind--"though 'twas a thing of such a
flight I could not read its colour." And in this way Deborah, being a
human soul of full stature, sound of mind and body and all her being
flooded with emotion, would be capable of feeling the complex thought
attributed to her, even if no single strand of its texture had ever been
clear in her mind. While as to the fiddling lyrist, rogue and poet, one
sees no reason why the whole argument should not be closed by a gesture
in the direction of Heine or Villon.

We turn now to the content of thought in Mr Abercrombie's poetry--an
aspect of his genius to be approached with diffidence by a writer
conscious of limitations. For though we believed we saw that his
affinity with the democratic spirit of his age is instinctive, deeply
rooted and persistent, his genius is by no means ruled by instinct. It
is intellectual to an extreme degree, moving easily in abstract thought
and apparently trained in philosophic speculation. Indeed, his
speculative tendency had gone as far as appeared to be legitimate in
poetry, when he wisely chose another medium for it in the volume of
prose _Dialogues_ published in 1913.

It must not be gathered from this, however, that the philosophic pieces
are dull or difficult reading. On the contrary, they are frequently cast
into the form of a story with a dramatic basis; and although the torrent
of thought sometimes keeps the mind astretch to follow it, it would be
hard to discover a single obscure line. An astonishing combination of
qualities has gone to produce this result: subtlety with vigour,
delicacy with strength, and loftiness with simplicity. Things elusive
and immaterial are caught and fixed in vivid imagery; and often charged
with poignant human interest. No other modern poet expresses thought so
abstract with such force, or describes the adventures of the voyaging
soul with such clarity. It suggests high harmony in the development of
sense and spirit: it explains the apparent incompatibility between his
rapture of delight in the physical world and his spiritual exaltation:
while it hints a reason for his preoccupation with the duality in human
life, and his vision of an ultimate union of the rival powers.

We may note in passing how this reacts upon the form of his work. It has
created a unique vocabulary (enriched from many sources but derived from
no single one), which is nervous, flexible, vigorous, impassioned:
assimilating to its grave beauty words homely, colloquial or quaint,
until the range of it seems all but infinite.

Again, rather curiously, the thought has tended toward the dramatic
form. At first glance that form would seem to be unsuitable for the
expression of reflectiveness so deep as this. Yet here is a poet whose
dominant theme might be defined, tritely, as the development of the
soul; and he hardly ever writes in any other way.

The fact sends us back to the contrast with the Victorians. The
representative poet then, musing about life and death and the evolution
of the soul, felt himself impelled to the elegiac form, or the idyll.
But the nature of the thought itself has changed. The representative
poet now does not stand and lament, however exquisitely, because reality
has shattered dogma: neither does he try to create an epic out of the
incredible theme of a perfect soul. He accepts reality; and then he
perceives that the perfect soul _is_ incredible, besides being poor
material for his art. But on the other hand, while he takes care to
seize and hold fast truth: while it does not occur to him to mourn that
she is implacable: he resolutely denies to phenomena, the appearance of
things, the whole of truth. That is to say, he has transcended at once
the despair of the Victorians and their materialism. He has banished
their lyric grief for a dead past, along with their scientific and
religious dogmas. That was a bit of iconoclasm imperatively demanded of
him by his own soul; but from the fact that he is a poet, it is denied
to him to find final satisfaction in the region of sense and

Thus there arises a duality, and a sense of conflict, which would
account for the manner of his expression, without the need to refer it
to the general tendency of modern poetry towards the dramatic form.
Doubtless, however, that also has been an influence, for the virility of
his genius and the positive strain in his philosophy would lead that

One can hardly say that there are perceptible stages in Mr Abercrombie's
thought. He is one of the few poets with no crudities to repent, either
artistic or philosophic. Yet there is a poem in his first volume, a
morality called "The New God"; and there is another piece called "The
Sale of St Thomas," first published in 1911, which are relatively
simple. Here he is content to take material that is traditional, both to
poetry and religion, and infuse into it so much of modern significance
as it will carry. The first re-tells the mediæval legend of a girl
changed by God into his own likeness in order to save her from violence.
There is, apt to our present study, but too long to give in full, at
least one passage that is magnificent in conception and imagery alike.
It is the voice of God, answering the girl's prayer that she may be
saved by the destruction of her beauty. The voice declares that the
petition is sweet and shall be granted, that he will quit the business
of the universe, that he will "put off the nature of the world," and

    God, when all the multitudinous flow
    Of Being sets backward to Him; God, when He
    Is only glory....

The "Sale of St Thomas" also treats a legend, with originality and
power. This remarkable poem is already well known: but one may at least
call attention to the fitness and dignity with which the poet has placed
the modern gospel upon the lips of the Christ. Thomas has been
intercepted by his master, as he is about to run away for the second
time from his mission to India.

    Now, Thomas, know thy sin. It was not fear;
    Easily may a man crouch down for fear,
    And yet rise up on firmer knees, and face
    The hailing storm of the world with graver courage.
    But prudence, prudence is the deadly sin,
    And one that groweth deep into a life,
    With hardening roots that clutch about the breast.
    For this refuses faith in the unknown powers
    Within man's nature; shrewdly bringeth all
    Their inspiration of strange eagerness
    To a judgment bought by safe experience;
    Narrows desire into the scope of thought.
    But it is written in the heart of man,
    Thou shalt no larger be than thy desire.
    Thou must not therefore stoop thy spirit's sight
    To pore only within the candle-gleam
    Of conscious wit and reasonable brain;


    But send desire often forth to scan
    The immense night which is thy greater soul;
    Knowing the possible, see thou try beyond it
    Into impossible things, unlikely ends;
    And thou shalt find thy knowledgeable desire
    Grow large as all the regions of thy soul,
    Whose firmament doth cover the whole of Being,
    And of created purpose reach the ends.

Perhaps the thought here is not so simple as the pellucid expression
makes it to appear: yet the conventional material on which the poet is
working restrains it to at least relative simplicity. When, however,
his inspiration is moving quite freely, unhampered by tradition either
of technique or of theme, the result is more complex and more

The tragedy called "Blind", in his first volume, is an example. The plot
of this dramatic piece is probably unique. If one gave the bald outline
of it, it might seem to be merely a story of crude revenge. It is
concerned with rude and outlawed people: it springs out of elemental
passions--fierce love turned to long implacable hatred, and then
reverting to tenderness and pity and overwhelming remorse. And yet there
are probably no subtler studies in poetry than the three persons of this
little drama--the woman who has reared her idiot son to be the weapon to
avenge her wrongs upon the father he has never known: the blind son
himself; and his father, the same fiddling tramp whom we have already
noted. There are points in the delineation of all three which are very
brilliantly imagined: the change in the woman when she meets at last the
human wreck who had once been her handsome lover: the idiot youth
hungering to express the beauty which is revealed to him, through touch,
in a child's golden hair, the warmth of fire, the mysterious presence of
the dark:

    ... like a wing's shelter bending down.
    I've often thought, if I were tall enough
    And reacht my hand up, I should touch the soft
    Spread feathers of the resting flight of him
    Who covers us with night, so near he seems
    Stooping and holding shadow over us,
    Roofing the air with wings. It's plain to feel
    Some large thing's near, and being good to us.

But, above all, there is the character of the fiddler. At first glance,
the phenomenon looks common enough and all its meaning obvious. "A
wastrel" one would say, glibly defining the phenomenon; and add "a
_drunken_ wastrel," believing that we had explained it. But the poet
sees further, apprehends more and understands better. Drunken indeed,
but an intoxication older and more divine than that of brandy began the
business; and much brandy had not quenched the elder fire. It flamed in
him still, mostly a sinister glow, fed from his bad and sorrowful past,
but leaping on occasion to fair radiance, as in the talk with his
unknown son, when some magnetic influence drew the two blind men
together and made them friends before they had any knowledge of
relationship. Of the many finer touches in this poem, none is more
delicate and none more moving than the suggestion of unconscious
affinity between these two: the idiot, with his half-awake mind,
groping amidst shadows of ideas which to the older man are quick with

    SON. What are words?

    TRAMP. God's love! Here's a man after my own heart;
    We must be brothers, lad.

But besides his dramatic and psychological interest, the fiddler is
important because he seems to represent the poet's philosophy in its
brief iconoclastic phase. For we find placed in his lips a destructive
satire of the old theological doctrine of Good and Evil. The passage is
too long to quote, and it would be unfair to mutilate it. Incidentally
we may note, however, the keen salt humour of it, and how that quality
establishes the breadth and sanity of the poet's outlook. The point of
peculiar interest at the moment is that this phase passes with the
particular poem--an early one; and thenceforward it is replaced by more
constructive thought. We come to "The Fool's Adventure," for instance,
and find the "Seeker" travelling through all the regions of mind and
spirit to find God, and the nature and cause of sin. His quest brings
him first to the Self of the World, and he believes that this is God.
But the Sage corrects him:

                                 ... Poor fool,
    And didst thou think this present sensible world
    Was God?...


    It is a name, ...
    The name Lord God chooses to go by, made
    In languages of stars and heavens and life.

And when, finally, he has won through to a certain palace at the "verge
of things," he cries his question to the unseen king within.

    SEEKER. Then thou art God?

    WITHIN. Ay, many call me so.
    And yet, though words were never large enough
    To take me made, I have a better name.

    SEEKER. Then truly, who art thou?

    WITHIN. I am Thy Self.

Another aspect of the same idea, caught in a more lyrical mood, will be
found in the poem called "The Trance." The poet is standing upon a
hill-side alone at night, watching the "continual stars" and overawed by
the vastness and "fixt law" of the universe. Then, in a sudden
revelation of perhaps a fraction of a minute:

    I was exalted above surety
    And out of time did fall.
    As from a slander that did long distress,
    A sudden justice vindicated me
    From the customary wrong of Great and Small.
    I stood outside the burning rims of place,
    Outside that corner, consciousness.
    Then was I not in the midst of thee
    Lord God?


That, however, is the triumphant ecstasy of a moment. More often he is
preoccupied with the duality in human nature, and in "An Escape" there
is a fine simile of the struggle:

    Desire of infinite things, desire of finite.
    ... 'tis the wrestle of the twain makes man.
    --As two young winds, schooled 'mong the slopes and caves
    Of rival hills that each to other look
    Across a sunken tarn, on a still day
    Run forth from their sundered nurseries, and meet
    In the middle air....
    And when they close, their struggle is called Man,
    Distressing with his strife and flurry the bland
    Pool of existence, that lay quiet before
    Holding the calm watch of Eternity.

The incidence of finite and infinite is felt with equal force: sense is
as powerful as spirit, and therein of course lives the keenness of the
strife. In "Soul and Body" there is a passage--only one of many,
however--in which the rapture of sensuous beauty is expressed. The
spirit is imagined to be just ready to put off sense, to be for ever
caught out of "that corner, consciousness." And the body reminds it:

    Thou wilt miss the wonder I have made for thee
    Of this dear world with my fashioning senses,
    The blue, the fragrance, the singing, and the green.


    Great spaces of grassy land, and all the air
    One quiet, the sun taking golden ease
    Upon an afternoon:
    Tall hills that stand in weather-blinded trances
    As if they heard, drawn upward and held there,
    Some god's eternal tune;

We may take our last illustration of this subject from a passage at the
end of the volume called _Emblems of Love_. It is from a poem so rich in
beauty and so closely wrought, that to quote from it is almost
inevitably to do the author an injustice. But the same may be said about
the whole book: while single poems from it will disclose high individual
value, both as art and philosophy, their whole effect and meaning can
only be completely seized by reading them as a sequence, and in the
light of the conception to which they all contribute.

The book is designed to show, in three great movements representing
birth, growth, and perfection, the evolution of the human spirit in the
world. The spirit, which is here synonymous with love, is traced from
the instant which is chosen to mark its birth (the awakening sense of
beauty in primitive man), through its manifold states of excess and
defect, up to a transcendent union which draws the dual powers into a
single ecstasy. The greatness of the central theme is matched by the
dignity of its presentment, while the dramatic form in which it is
embodied saves it from mere abstraction. We see the dawn of the soul in
the wolf-hunter, suddenly perceiving beauty in nature and in women: the
vindication of the soul by Vashti, magnificently daring to prove that it
is no mere vassal to beauty: and the perfecting of the soul in the
terrible paradox of Judith's virginity. But it is in one of the closing
pieces, called fittingly "The Eternal Wedding," that the poet attains
the summit of his thought along these lines; prefiguring the ultimate
union of the conflicting powers of life in one perfect rapture.

                           ... I have
    Golden within me the whole fate of man:
    That every flesh and soul belongs to one
    Continual joyward ravishment ...
    That life hath highest gone which hath most joy.
    For like great wings forcefully smiting air
    And driving it along in rushing rivers,
    Desire of joy beats mightily pulsing forward
    The world's one nature....
                             ... so we are driven
    Onward and upward in a wind of beauty,
    Until man's race be wielded by its joy
    Into some high incomparable day,
    Where perfectly delight may know itself,--
    No longer need a strife to know itself,
    Only by its prevailing over pain.

That is the topmost peak that his philosophy has gained--for just so
long as to give assurance that it exists. But no one supposes that he
will dwell there: it is altogether too high: the atmosphere is too rare.
It was reached only by the concentration of certain poetical powers,
chiefly speculative imagination, which carried him safely over the
chasms of a lower altitude. But when other powers are in the ascendant,
as for instance in _The End of the World_: when he is recalled to
actuality by that keen eye for fact which is so rare a gift to genius of
this type, the terror of those lower chasms is revealed. Here is one of
the characters reflecting on the thought of the end of the world, which
he believes to be imminent from an approaching comet:

    Life, the mother who lets her children play
    So seriously busy, trade and craft,--
    Life with her skill of a million years' perfection
    To make her heart's delighted glorying
    Of sunlight, and of clouds about the moon,
    Spring lighting her daffodils, and corn
    Ripening gold to ruddy, and giant seas,
    And mountains sitting in their purple clothes--
    O life I am thinking of, life the wonder,
    All blotcht out by a brutal thrust of fire
    Like a midge that a clumsy thumb squashes and smears.

That passage will serve to point the single comment on technique with
which this study must close. It has not been selected for the purpose,
and therefore is not the finest example that could be chosen. It is,
however, typical of the blank-verse form which largely prevails in this
poetry, and which, in its very texture, reveals the same extraordinary
combination of qualities which we have observed in the poet's genius.

We have already seen that spiritual vision is here united with
intellectuality as lucid as it is powerful: that the mystic is also the
humanitarian: that imagination is balanced by a good grip on reality;
and that the sense-impressions are fine as well as exuberant. We have
seen, too, that this diversity and apparent contrast, although resulting
in an art of complex beauty, do not tend towards confusion or obscurity.
There has been a complete fusion of the elements, and the molten stream
that is poured for us is of glowing clarity.

Exactly the same feature is discernible in the style of this verse. Look
at the last passage for a moment and consider its effect. It is
impossible to define in a single word, because of its complexity. The
mind, lingering delightedly over the metaphor of life the mother, is
suddenly awed by the magnitude of the idea which succeeds it. The
æsthetic sense is taken by the light and colour of the middle lines, and
then, as if the breath were caught on a half-sob, a wave of emotion
follows, pensive at first, but rising abruptly to a note that is as
rough as a curse. There are more shades of thought, lightly reflective
or glooming with prescience; and there are more degrees of emotion, from
tenderness to wrath, than we have time to analyze. The point for the
moment is the manner in which they are conveyed, and the adequacy of the
instrument to convey them.

The texture of the verse itself will provide evidence of this. Here are
barely a dozen lines of our English heroic verse; and they will be found
to contain the maximum of metrical variety. Probably only two, or at
most three of them (it depends upon scansion, of course) are of the
regular iambic pentameter: that is to say, built up strictly from the
iamb, which is the unit of this form. All the others are varied by the
insertion at some point in the line, and frequently at two or three
points, of a different verse-unit, dactyl, anapæst, trochee or spondee;
and no two lines are varied in exactly the same way.

But, besides the range of the instrument, there is the exquisite harmony
of it with mood or idea. The strong down-beat of the trochee summons the
intellect to consider a thought: the dactyl will follow with the quick
perception of a simile: the iamb will punctuate rhythm: anacrusis will
suggest the half-caught breath of rising emotion, and turbulent feeling
will pour through spondee, dactyl, and anapæst. And so with the diction.
Just as we find a measure which is both vigorous and light, precise and
flexible, easily bending law to beauty; so in the language there is a
corresponding union of strength and grace, homeliness and dignity. Could
a great conception be stated in a simpler phrase than that of the two
first lines?

    Life, the mother who lets her children play
    So seriously busy, trade and craft--

and yet this phrase, simple and lucid as it is, conveys a sense of
boundless tenderness and pity, playing over the surface of a deeper
irony. Doubtless its strength and clarity come from the fact that each
word is of the common coin of daily life; but its atmosphere, an almost
infinite suggestiveness of familiar things brooded over in a wistful
mood, comes partly at least through the colloquial touch.

Mr. Abercrombie has no fear to be colloquial, when that is the proper
garment of his thought, the outer symbol of the inner reality. Nor is he
the least afraid of fierce and ugly words, when they are apt. The last
line of our passage illustrates this. Taken out of its setting, and
considering merely the words, one would count a poet rash indeed who
would venture such a harsh collocation. But repeat the line aloud, and
its metrical felicity will appear at once: put it back in its setting,
as the culmination of a wave of feeling that has been gathering strength
throughout: remember the idea (of beauty annihilated by senseless law
and blind force), which has kindled that emotion; and then we shall
marvel at the art which makes the line a growl of impotent rage.

All of which is merely to say that the spirit of this poetry has evolved
for itself a living body, wearing its beauty delightedly, rejoicing in
its own vitality, and unashamed either of its elemental impulse or its
transcendent vision.

Rupert Brooke

_Born at Rugby on August 3, 1887;
Died at Lemnos an April 23, 1915_

Probably most English people who love their country and their country's
greatest poet have at some time taken joy to identify the spirit of the
two. England and Shakespeare: the names have leapt together and flamed
into union before the eyes of many a youngster who was much too dazzled
by the glory to see how and whence it came. But returning from a
festival performance on some soft April midnight, or leaning out of the
bedroom window to share with the stars and the wind the exaltation which
the play had evoked, the revelation suddenly shone. And thenceforward
April 23 was by something more than a coincidence the day both of
Shakespeare and St George.

Reason might come back with the daylight to rule over fancy; and the
cool lapse of time might remove the moment far enough to betray the
humour of it. But the glow never quite faded; or if it did it only gave
place to the steadier and clearer light of conviction. One came to see
how the poet, by reason of his complete humanity, stood for mankind;
and how, from certain sharp characteristics of our race, he stood
pre-eminently for English folk. And coming thence to the narrower but
firmer ground of historical fact, one saw how shiningly he represented
the Elizabethan Age, with its eager, inquisitive, and adventurous
spirit; its craving to fulfil to the uttermost a gift of glorious and
abundant life.

Now precisely in that way, though not of course in the same superlative
degree, one may see Rupert Brooke standing for the England of his time.
And when this poet died at Lemnos on April 23, 1915, those who knew and
loved his work must have felt the tragic fitness of the date with the
event. If the gods of war had decreed his death, they had at least
granted that he might pass on England's day. In him indeed was
manifested the poetic spirit of the race, warm with human passion and
sane with laughter: soaring on wings of fire but nesting always on the
good earth. And though one does not claim to find in him the highest
point or the extremest advance to which the thought of his day had gone,
he stands pre-eminently for that day in the steel-clear light of his
gallant spirit.

The title of Rupert Brooke's posthumous book--_1914_--signifies that
moment of English history which is reflected in his work. He is the
symbol of that year in a double sense. He represents the calamitous
political event of it in his voluntary service to the State, and the
manner of his death. Thus by the accident of circumstance which made him
eminent and vocal, he serves to speak for the silent millions of English
men and women who splendidly sprang to duty. But in his poetry there is
a closer and deeper relation to that tragic year. Incomplete as it may
be: youthful and prankish as some of it is, the thought and manner of
the time are imaged there. A certain level of humane culture had been
reached, a certain philosophy of life had been evolved, and a definite
attitude to reality taken. Lightly but clearly, these things which
reflect the colour of our civilization at August 1914 are crystallized
in Rupert Brooke's poetry to that date. But at that point the image,
like the whole order of which it was the reflection, was shattered by
the crash of arms; and the few poems which he wrote subsequently are
preoccupied with the spiritual crisis which the war precipitated.

Most of the admirers of this poet have seen only in his last pieces the
singular identity of his spirit with the spirit of his country. And that
is so noble a concord that it cannot be missed. For when England plunged
into the greatest war of history, she flung off in the act several
centuries of her age. Priceless things, slowly and patiently acquired,
went overboard as mere impedimenta; but in the relapse, the slipping
backward to an earlier time and consequent recovery of youth, with its
ardour and passion, its recklessness and generosity and courage, the
optimist saw a reward for all that was lost. So with the poetry of
Rupert Brooke. Those few last sonnets, as it were the soul of
rejuvenated England, seem to the same hopeful eye a complete
compensation, not only for the wasted individual life, but for the
beauty and significance of the age for which he stood, now irrevocably

    Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
      There's none of these so lonely and poor of old,
      But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
    These laid the world away; poured out the red
    Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
      Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
      That men call age; and those who would have been,
    Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

    Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
      Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
    Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
      And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
    And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
      And we have come into our heritage.

Before that renunciation one can only stand with bowed head, realizing
perhaps more clearly than the giver did, the splendour of the gift. But
he too, this representative of his age, knew the value of the life that
he was casting away. It was indeed to him a "red sweet wine," precious
for the "work and joy" it promised, and the sacred seed of immortality.
It is this, above all, that his poetry signifies: a rich and exuberant
life, keenly conscious of itself, and fully aware of the realities by
which it is surrounded. Its nature grows from that--sensuous and
_spirituelle_, passionate and intellectual, ingenuous and ironic, tragic
and gay. Never before--no, not even in Donne, as some one has
suggested--was such intensity of feeling coupled with such merciless
clarity of sight: mental honesty so absolute, piercing so fierce a flame
of ardour.

From the fusion of those two powers comes the distinctive character of
this poetry: the peculiar beauty of its gallant spirit. They are
constant features of it from first to last, but they are not always
perfectly fused nor equally present. In the earlier poems, to find which
you must go back to the volume of 1911 and begin at the end of the book,
they enter as separate and distinct components. One would expect that,
of course, at this stage; and we shall not be surprised, either, if we
discover that there is here a shade of excess in both qualities: a
touch of self-consciousness and relative crudity. The point of interest
is that they are so clearly the principal elements from which the subtle
and complex beauty of the later work was evolved. Thus, facing one
another on pages 84 and 85, are two apt examples. In "The Call" sheer
passion is expressed. The poet's great love of life, taking shape for
the moment as love of his lady, is here predominant.

    Out of the nothingness of sleep,
      The slow dreams of Eternity,
    There was a thunder on the deep:
      I came, because you called to me.

    I broke the Night's primeval bars,
      I dared the old abysmal curse,
    And flashed through ranks of frightened stars
      Suddenly on the universe!


    I'll break and forge the stars anew,
      Shatter the heavens with a song;
    Immortal in my love for you,
      Because I love you, very strong.

But on the opposite page, the sonnet called "Dawn" swings to the
extremest point from the magniloquence of that. It is realistic in a
literal sense: a bit of wilful ugliness. Yet it springs, however
distortedly, from the root of mental clarity and courage which was to
produce such gracious blossoming thereafter. It is engaged with an
exasperated account of a night journey in an Italian train: all the
discomfort and weary irritation of it venting itself upon two
unfortunate Teutons.


    One of them wakes, and spits, and sleeps again.
      The darkness shivers. A wan light through the rain
    Strikes on our faces, drawn and white. Somewhere
      A new day sprawls; and, inside, the foul air
    Is chill, and damp, and fouler than before....
    Opposite me two Germans sweat and snore.

It is not long, however, before we find that the two elements are
beginning to combine; and we soon meet, astonishingly, with the third
great quality of the poet's genius. It is strange that imagination
always has this power to surprise us. No matter if we have taught
ourselves that poetry cannot begin to exist without it: no matter how
watchful and alert we think we are, it will spring upon us unaware,
taking possession of the mind with amazing exhilaration. That is
especially true of the quality as it is found in Rupert Brooke's poetry.
For, however you have schooled yourself, you do not expect imaginative
power of the first degree to co-exist with sensuous joy so keen, and so
acute an intelligence. Yet in a piece called "In Examination" the
miracle is wrought. This, too, is an early poem, which may be the reason
why one can disengage the threads so easily; whilst a notable fact is
that the delicate fabric of it is woven directly out of a commonplace
bit of human experience. The poet is engaged with a scene that is
decidedly unpromising for poetical treatment--all the stupidity of
examination, with its dull, unhappy, "scribbling fools."

    Lo! from quiet skies
    In through the window my Lord the Sun!
    And my eyes
    Were dazzled and drunk with the misty gold,


    And a full tumultuous murmur of wings
    Grew through the hall;
    And I knew the white undying Fire,
    And, through open portals,
    Gyre on gyre,
    Archangels and angels, adoring, bowing,
    And a Face unshaded ...
    Till the light faded;
    And they were but fools again, fools unknowing,
    Still scribbling, blear-eyed and stolid immortals.

There are at least two poems, "The Fish" and "Dining-Room Tea," in which
imaginative power prevails over every other element; and if imagination
be the supreme poetic quality, these are Rupert Brooke's finest
achievement. They are, indeed, very remarkable and significant examples
of modern poetry, both in conception and in treatment. In both pieces
the subjects are of an extremely difficult character. One, that of "The
Fish," is beyond the range of human experience altogether; and the other
is only just within it, and known, one supposes, to comparatively few.
The imaginative flight is therefore bold: it is also lofty, rapid, and
well sustained. In "The Fish" we see it creating a new material world,
giving substance and credibility to a strange new order of sensation:

    In a cool curving world he lies
    And ripples with dark ecstasies.
    The kind luxurious lapse and steal
    Shapes all his universe to feel
    And know and be; the clinging stream
    Closes his memory, glooms his dream,
    Who lips the roots o' the shore, and glides
    Superb on unreturning tides.


    But there the night is close, and there
    Darkness is cold and strange and bare;
    And the secret deeps are whisperless;
    And rhythm is all deliciousness;
    And joy is in the throbbing tide,
    Whose intricate fingers beat and glide
    In felt bewildering harmonies
    Of trembling touch; and music is
    The exquisite knocking of the blood.
    Space is no more, under the mud;
    His bliss is older than the sun.
    Silent and straight the waters run.
    The lights, the cries, the willows dim,
    And the dark tide are one with him.

We see, all through this poem (and the more convincingly as the whole of
it is studied) the "fundamental brain-stuff": the patient constructive
force of intellect keeping pace with fancy every step of the way. So,
too, with "Dining-Room Tea." Imagination here is busy with an idea that
is wild, elusive, intangible: on the bare edge, in fact, of sanity and
consciousness. It is that momentary revelation, which comes once in a
lifetime perhaps, of the reality within appearance. It comes suddenly,
unheralded and unaccountable: it is gone again with the swiftness and
terror of a lightning-flash. But in the fraction of a second that it
endures, æons seem to pass and things unutterable to be revealed. Only a
poet of undoubted genius could re-create such a moment, for on any lower
plane either imagination would flag or intellect would be baffled, with
results merely chaotic. And only to one whose quick and warm humanity
held life's common things so dear could the vision shine out of such a
homely scene. But therein Rupert Brooke shows so clearly as the poet of
his day: that through the familiar joys of comradeship and laughter:
through the simple concrete things of a material world--the "pouring tea
and cup and cloth," Reality gleams eternal.

    When you were there, and you, and you,
    Happiness crowned the night; I too,
    Laughing and looking, one of all,
    I watched the quivering lamplight fall


    Flung all the dancing moments by
    With jest and glitter....

    Till suddenly, and otherwhence,
    I looked upon your innocence.
    For lifted clear and still and strange
    From the dark woven flow of change
    Under a vast and starless sky
    I saw the immortal moment lie.
    One instant I, an instant, knew
    As God knows all. And it and you
    I, above Time, oh, blind! could see
    In witless immortality.

But the precise characteristic of this poetry is not one or other of
these individual gifts. It is an intimate and subtle blending of them
all, shot through and through with a gallant spirit which resolutely
and gaily faces truth. From this brave and clear mentality comes a sense
of fact which finds its artistic response in realism. Sometimes it will
be found operating externally, on technique; but more often, with truer
art, it will wed truth of idea and form, in grace as well as candour.
From its detachment and quick perception of incongruity comes a rare
humour which can laugh, thoughtfully or derisively, even at itself. It
will stand aside, watching its own exuberance with an ironic smile, as
in "The One Before the Last." It will turn a penetrating glance on
passion till the gaudy thing wilts and dies. It will pause at the height
of life's keenest rapture to call to death an undaunted greeting:

    Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
      Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
      You said, "Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
    Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
    When we are old, are old...." "And when we die
      All's over that is ours; and life burns on
    Through other lovers, other lips," said I,
    --"Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!"

    "We are Earth's best, that learnt her lesson here.
      Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!" we said;
      "We shall go down with unreluctant tread
    Rose-crowned into the darkness!" ... Proud we were,
    And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
    --And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.

Perception so keen and fearless, piercing readily through the
half-truths of life and art, has its own temptation to mere cleverness.
Thence come the conceits of the sonnet called "He Wonders Whether to
Praise or Blame Her," a bit of the deftest juggling with ideas and
words. Thence, too, the allegorical brilliance of the "Funeral of
Youth"; and the merry mockery of the piece called "Heaven." This is an
excellent example of the poet's wit, as distinct from his richer, more
pervasive, humour. It is very finely pointed and closely aimed in its
satire of the Victorian religious attitude. And if we put aside an
austerity which sees a shade of ungraciousness in it, we shall find it a
richly entertaining bit of philosophy:

    Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
    But is there anything Beyond?
    This life cannot be All, they swear,
    For how unpleasant, if it were!
    One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
    Shall come of Water and of Mud;
    And, sure, the reverent eye must see
    A Purpose in Liquidity.
    We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
    The future is not Wholly Dry.
    Mud unto Mud!--Death eddies near--
    Not here the appointed End, not here!
    But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
    Is wetter water, slimier slime!


    And in that Heaven of all their wish,
    There shall be no more land, say fish.

But, on the whole, one loves this work best when its genius is not shorn
by the sterile spirit of derision. Its charm is greatest when the
creative energy of it is outpoured through what is called personality.
Never was a poet more lavish in the giving of himself, yielding up a
rich and complex individuality with engaging candour. And poems will be
found in which all its qualities are blended in a soft and intricate
harmony. Passion is subdued to tenderness: imagination stoops to
fantasy: thought, in so far as it is not content merely to shape the
form of the work, is bent upon ideas that are wistful, or sad or ironic.
Humour, standing aloof and quietly chuckling, will play mischievous
pranks with people and things. A satirical imp will dart into a line and
out again before you realize that he is there; and all the time a
clear-eyed, observing spirit will be watching and taking note with
careful accuracy.

Of such is "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester," in which the poet is
longing for his home in Cambridgeshire as he sits outside a café in
Berlin. The poem is therefore a cry of homesickness, a modern "Oh, to be
in England!" But there is much more in it than that; it is not merely a
wail of emotion. The lyrical reverie which recalls all the sweet natural
beauty that he is aching to return to is closely woven with other
strands. So that one may catch half a dozen incidental impressions which
pique the mind with contrasting effects and yet contribute to the
prevailing sense of intolerable desire for home. Thus, when the poet has
swung off into a sunny dream of the old house and garden, the watching
sense of fact suddenly jogs him into consciousness that he is not there
at all, but in a very different place. And that wakens the satiric
spirit, so that an amusing interlude follows, summing up by implication
much of the contrast between the English and German minds:

                       ... _there_ the dews
    Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
    Here tulips bloom as they are told;
    Unkempt about those hedges blows
    An English unofficial rose;
    And there the unregulated sun
    Slopes down to rest when day is done,
    And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
    A slippered Hesper; and there are
    Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
    Where _das Betreten's_ not _verboten_.


    =eithe genoimên= ... would I were
    In Grantchester, in Grantchester!--

He slips back again into the softer mood of memory, not of the immediate
home scenes only, but of their associations, historical and academic.
Always, however, that keen helmsman steers to the windward of
sentimentality: better risk rough weather, it seems to say, than
shipwreck on some lotus-island. And every time the boat would appear to
be making fairly for an exquisite idyllic haven, she is headed into the
breeze again. But though she gets a buffeting, and even threatens to
capsize at one moment in boisterous jest, she comes serenely into port
at last.

    Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
    Still guardians of that holy land?
    The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
    The yet unacademic stream?
    Is dawn a secret shy and cold
    Anadyomene, silver-gold?
    And sunset still a golden sea
    From Haslingfield to Madingley?
    And after, ere the night is born,
    Do hares come out about the corn?
    Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
    Gentle and brown, above the pool?
    And laughs the immortal river still
    Under the mill, under the mill?
    Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
    And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
    Deep meadows yet, for to forget
    The lies, and truths, and pain?... oh! yet
    Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
    And is there honey still for tea?

_William H. Davies_

I should think that the work of Mr Davies is the nearest approach that
the poetic genius could make to absolute simplicity. It is a wonderful
thing, too, in its independence, its almost complete isolation from
literary tradition and influence. People talk of Herrick in connexion
with this poet; and if they mean no more than to wonder at a resemblance
which is a marvellous accident, one would run to join them in their
happy amazement. But there is no evidence of direct influence, any more
than by another token we could associate his realism with that of
Crabbe. No, this is verse which has "growed," autochthonic if poetry
ever were, unliterary, and spontaneous in the many senses of that word.

From that one fact alone, these seven small volumes of verse are a
singular phenomenon. But they teem with interest of other kinds too.
First and foremost there is, of course, the preciousness of many of the
pieces they contain, as pure poetry, undimmed by any other consideration
whatsoever. That applies to a fair proportion of this work; and it is a
delightsomeness which, from its very independence of time and
circumstance, one looks quite soberly to last the centuries through; and
if it lapse at all from favour, to be rediscovered two or three hundred
years hence as we have rediscovered the poets of the seventeenth

It has, however, inherent interest apart from this æsthetic joy,
something which catches and holds the mind, startling it with an
apparent paradox. For this poetry, with its solitariness and absence of
any affiliation ancient or modern, with its bird-note bubbling into song
at some sweet impulse and seemingly careless of everything but the
impelling rapture, is at the same time one of the grimmest pages out of
contemporary life. In saying that, one pauses for a moment sternly to
interrogate one's own impression. How much of this apparent paradox is
due to knowledge derived from the author's astounding autobiography?
Turn painfully back for a moment to the thoughts and feelings aroused by
that book: recall the rage against the stupidity of life which brings
genius to birth so carelessly, endowing it with appetites too strong for
the will to tame and senses too acute for the mind to leash until the
soul had been buffeted and the body maimed. And admit at once that such
a tale, all the more for its quiet veracity, could not fail to influence
one's attitude to this poetry. No doubt it is that which gives
assurance, certainty, the proof of actual data, to the human record
adumbrated in the poems. But the record is no less present _in_ the
poems. It often exists, implicit or explicit, in that part of the verse
which sings because it must and for sheer love of itself. And in that
other part of the work where the lyric note is not so clear: in the
narrative poems and queer character-studies and little dramatic pieces,
the record lives vivid and almost complete. Perhaps it is the nature of
the record itself which denies full inspiration to those pieces: perhaps
Mr Davies' lyric gift cannot find its most fitting expression in themes
so grim: in any case it is clear that these personal pieces are not
equal to the lighter songs.

Now if one's conscience were supple enough to accept those lighter songs
as Mr Davies' complete work: if we could conveniently forget the
autobiography, and when visualizing his output, call up some charming
collected edition of the poems with the unsatisfactory ones carefully
deleted, we could go on with our study easily and gaily. We might pause
a moment to marvel at this 'isolated phenomenon': we might even remark
upon his detachment, not only from literature, but almost as completely
from the ordinary concerns of life. That done, however, we should at
once take a header into the delicious refreshment of the lyrics. Such a
study would be very fascinating; and from the standpoint of Art as Art,
it might not be inadequate. But it would totally lack significance. Even
from the point of view of pure poetry, the loss would be profound--not
to realize that behind the blithest of these trills of song is a
background as stormy as any winter sky behind a robin on a bare bough.
There is this one, for example, from the volume called _Foliage_:

    If I were gusty April now,
      How I would blow at laughing Rose;
    I'd make her ribbons slip their knots,
      And all her hair come loose.

    If I were merry April now,
      How I would pelt her cheeks with showers;
    I'd make carnations rich and warm,
      Of her vermilion flowers.

    Since she will laugh in April's face,
      No matter how he rains or blows--
    Then O that I wild April were,
      To play with laughing Rose.

The gaiety of that, considered simply in its lightness of heart, its
verbal and metrical felicity, is a delightful thing. And it recurs so
frequently as to make Mr Davies quite the jolliest of modern poets. So
if we are content to stop there, if we are not teased by an instinct to
relate things, and see all round them, we may make holiday pleasantly
enough with this part of the poet's work. The method is not really
satisfying, however, and the inclusion of the more personal pieces adds
a deeper value to the study. Not merely because the facts of a poet's
life are interesting in themselves, but because here especially they are
illuminating, explanatory, suggestive: connecting and unifying the
philosophical interest of the work, and supplying a background,
curiously impressive, for its art.

For that reason one would refuse to pass over in silence Mr Davies'
first book of poems, _The Soul's Destroyer_, published in 1907. Not that
it is perfect poetry: indeed, I doubt whether one really satisfying
piece could be chosen from the whole fourteen. But it has deep human
interest. The book is slim, sombre, almost insignificant in its paper
wrappers. But its looks belie it. It is, in fact, nothing less than a
flame of courage, a shining triumph of the spirit of humanity. Mr Shaw
has made play with the facts of this poet's life, partly because 'it is
his nature so to do,' and partly, one suspects, to hide a deeper
feeling. But play as you will with the willing vagabondage, the happy
irresponsibility, the weakness and excess and error of a wild youth, you
will only film the surface of the tragedy. Underneath will remain those
sullen questions--what is life about, what are our systems and our laws
about, that a human creature and one with the miraculous spark of genius
in him, is chased hungry and homeless up and down his own country,
tossed from continent to continent and thrown up at last, broken and all
but helpless, to be persecuted by some contemptible agent of charity and
to wander from one crowded lodging-house to another, seeking vainly for
a quiet corner in which to make his songs. The verses in _The Soul's
Destroyer_ were written under those conditions; and by virtue of that it
would seem that the drab little volume attains to spiritual

The themes in this book and those of _New Poems_, published in the same
year, are of that personal kind of which we have already spoken. But you
will be quite wrong if you suppose that they are therefore gloomy. On
the contrary, though there is an occasional didactic piece, like that
which gives its title to the first volume, there is more often a vein of
humour. Thus we have the astonishing catalogue of lodging-house humanity
in "Saints and Lodgers" with the satirical flavour of its invocation:

    Ye saints, that sing in rooms above,
    Do ye want souls to consecrate?

And there is "The Jolly Tramp," a scrap of autobiography, perhaps the
least bit coloured:

    I am a jolly tramp: I whine to you,
    Then whistles till I meet another fool.
    I call the labourer sir, the boy young man,
    The maid young lady, and the mother I
    Will flatter through the youngest child that walks.

In "Wondering Brown" there is surely something unique in poetry: not
alone in theme, and the extraordinary set of circumstances which enabled
such a bit of life to be observed, by a poet, from the inside; but in
the rare quality of it, its sympathetic satire, the genial incisiveness
of its criticism of life:

    There came a man to sell his shirt,
      A drunken man, in life low down;
    When Riley, who was sitting near,
      Made use of these strange words to Brown.

    "Yon fallen man, that's just gone past,
      I knew in better days than these;
    Three shillings he could make a day,
      As an adept at picking peas."


    "You'd scarcely credit it, I knew
      A man in this same house, low down,
    Who owns a fish-shop now--believe
      Me, or believe me not," said Brown.

    "He was a civil sort of cove,
      But did queer things, for one low down:
    Oft have I watched him clean his teeth--
      As true as Heaven's above!" cried Brown.

This humorous quality is the most marked form of an attitude of
detachment which may be observed in most of the personal pieces. So
complete is this detachment sometimes, as in "Strange People" or "Scotty
Bill" or "Facts," that one is tempted to a heresy. Is it possible, in
view of this lightness of touch, this untroubled pace and coolness of
word and phrase, that the poet did not see the implications of what he
was recording, or seeing them, was not greatly moved by them? Now there
are certain passages which prove that that doubt is a heresy: that the
poet did perceive and feel the complete significance of the facts he was
handling. Otherwise, of course, he were no poet. There is evidence of
this in such a poem as "A Blind Child," from which I quote a couple of

    We're in the garden, where are bees
      And flowers, and birds, and butterflies;
      There is one greedy fledgling cries
    For all the food his parent sees!

    I see them all: flowers of all kind,
      The sheep and cattle on the leas;
      The houses up the hills, and trees--
    But I am dumb, for she is blind.

There is, too, the last stanza of "Facts," a narrative piece which
relates the infamous treatment by workhouse officials of an old and
dying man:

    Since Jesus came with mercy and love,
      'Tis nineteen hundred years and five:
    They made that dying man break stones,
      In faith that Christ is still alive.

A hideous scrap of notoriety for A.D. 1905!--and proof enough to
convince us of our author's humanity. At the same time, however, it is
the fact that there is little sign of intense emotion in this work. One
comes near it, perhaps, in a passage in "The Forsaken Dead," where the
poet is musing in the burial-place of a deserted settlement, and breaks
into wrath at the tyranny which drove the people out:

    Had they no dreamer who might have remained
    To sing for them these desolated scenes?
    One who might on a starvèd body take
    Strong flights beyond the fiery larks in song,
    With awful music, passionate with hate?

But that is a rare example. Deep emotion is not a feature of Mr Davies'
poetry: neither in the poems of life, which might be supposed to awaken
it directly; nor, stranger still, in the infrequent love poems; nor in
the lyrics of nature. It would be interesting to speculate on this, if
there were any use in it--whether it is after all just a sign of
excessive feeling, masked by restraint; whether it may be in some way a
reaction from a life of too much sensation; or whether it simply means
that emotion is nicely balanced by objective power. Perhaps an analysis
would determine the question in the direction of a balance of power; but
the fact remains that though sensibility has a wide range, though it is
quick, acute and tender, it is not intense.

It would be unfair, however, to suggest that these earlier volumes are
only interesting on the personal side. The pure lyric note is uttered
first here: once or twice in a small perfect song, as "The Likeness" and
"Parted"; but oftener in a snatch or a broken trill, as

    He who loves Nature truly, hath
    His wealth in her kind hands; and it
    Is in safe trust until his death,
    Increasing as he uses it.

Or a passage from "Music," invoking the memory of childhood:

    O happy days of childhood, when
    We taught shy Echo in the glen
    Words she had never used before--
    Ere Age lost heart to summon her.
    Life's river, with its early rush,
    Falls into a mysterious hush
    When nearing the eternal sea:
    Yet we would not forgetful be,
    In these deep, silent days so wise,
    Of shallows making mighty noise
    When we were young, when we were gay,
    And never thought Death lived--that day.

Or a fragment from "The Calm," when the poet has been thinking of his
"tempestuous past," and contrasts it with his present well-being, and
the country joys which he fears will be snatched away again:

    But are these pleasant days to keep?
    Where shall I be when Summer comes?
    When, with a bee's mouth closed, she hums
    Sounds not to wake, but soft and deep,
    To make her pretty charges sleep?

The love of Nature which supplies the theme here is a characteristic
that persists throughout the subsequent volumes. It recurs more and more
frequently, until the autobiographical element is almost eliminated; and
just as it is the main motive of the later poetry, so it is its happiest
inspiration. It is rather a pagan feeling, taking great joy in the
beauty of the material world, revelling in the impressions of sight and
scent, sound and taste and touch. It is humane enough to embrace the
whole world of animal life; but it seeks no spirit behind the phenomena
of Nature, and cares precisely nothing about its more scientific aspect.
Its gay lightsomeness is a charming thing to watch, an amazing thing to
think about:

    For Lord, how merry now am I!
    Tickling with straw the butterfly,
    Where she doth in her clean, white dress,
    Sit on a green leaf, motionless,
    To hear Bees hum away the hours.

Or again, from "Leisure," in _Songs of Joy_:

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.


    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night.


    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare.

And a "Greeting," from the volume called _Foliage_:

    Good morning, Life--and all
    Things glad and beautiful.
    My pockets nothing hold,
    But he that owns the gold,
    The Sun, is my great friend--
    His spending has no end.
    Hail to the morning sky,
    Which bright clouds measure high;
    Hail to you birds whose throats
    Would number leaves by notes;
    Hail to you shady bowers,
    And you green fields of flowers.

The poet does not claim to be learned in nature lore: indeed he declares
in one place that he does not know 'the barley from the oats.' But he
has a gift of fancy which often plays about his observation with
delightful effect. One could hardly call it by so big a name as
imagination: that suggests a height and power of vision which this work
does not possess, and which one would not look for in this type of
genius. It is a lighter quality, occasionally childlike in its naïveté,
fantastical, graceful, even quaint. It is seen in simile sometimes, as
this from _The Soul's Destroyer_, describing the sky:

    It was a day of rest in heaven, which seemed
    A blue grass field thick dotted with white tents
    Which Life slept late in, though 'twere holiday.

Or this account of the origin of the Kingfisher, from "Farewell to

    It was the Rainbow gave thee birth,
      And left thee all her lovely hues;
    And, as her mother's name was Tears,
      So runs it in thy blood to choose
    For haunts the lonely pools, and keep
    In company with trees that weep.

Or a fancy about the sound of rain from _Nature Poems_:

    I hear leaves drinking rain;
      I hear rich leaves on top
    Giving the poor beneath
      Drop after drop;
    'Tis a sweet noise to hear
    Those green leaves drinking near.

It plays an important part too in the poems upon other favourite themes,
on a woman's hair, on her voice, on music. Such are "Sweet Music" and "A
Maiden and her Hair" in _Nature Poems_: as well as "The Flood," from
which I quote. It will be found in _Songs of Joy_:

    I thought my true love slept;
    Behind her chair I crept
      And pulled out a long pin;
    The golden flood came out,
    She shook it all about,
      With both our faces in.

    Ah! little wren I know
    Your mossy, small nest now
      A windy, cold place is:
    No eye can see my face,
    Howe'er it watch the place
      Where I half drown in bliss.

A development of technique in the later work lends ease and precision to
the poet's use of his instrument. Little faults of metre and of rhyme
are corrected: banalities of phrase and crudities of thought almost
disappear, so that the verse acquires a new grace. It gains, too, from a
wider variety of form: for the verses may be as short as one foot, or as
long as five: and there may be stanzas of only two lines, or anything up
to eight. There are even pieces written in the closed couplet and in
blank verse. But Mr Davies is by no means an innovator in his art, as so
many of his contemporaries are. The variety we have noted is, after all,
only a modification of traditional form and not a departure from it; and
always as its basis, the almost constant unit is the iamb. Very rarely
is any other measure adopted; and so well does the iamb suit the simple
and direct nature of this work in thought, word and phrase, that one
would not often alter it. One of the perfect examples of its fitness is
in "The Battle," from _Nature Poems_:

    There was a battle in her face,
      Between a Lily and a Rose:
    My Love would have the Lily win
      And I the Lily lose.

    I saw with joy that strife, first one,
      And then the other uppermost;
    Until the Rose roused all its blood,
      And then the Lily lost.

    When she's alone, the Lily rules,
      By her consent, without mistake:
    But when I come that red Rose leaps
      To battle for my sake.

Occasionally, however, and especially in the longer poems, the regular
recurrence of the iamb is a little monotonous. Then a wish just peeps
out that Mr Davies were more venturous: that he had some slight
experimental turn, or that he did not stand quite so far aloof from the
influences which, within his sight and hearing, are shaping a new kind
of poetic expression. But the regret may be put aside. The fresh forms
which those others are evolving are valid for them--for life as they
conceive it--for the wider range and the more complex nature of the
experience out of which they are distilling the poetic essence. For him,
however, the lyric mood burns clear and untroubled, kindling directly to
the beauty of simple and common things. And instinctively he seeks to
embody it in cadence and measure which are sweetly familiar. When some
exhilarating touch quickens and lightens his verse with a more tripping
measure, as in "The Laughers" (from _Nature Poems_) its gay charm is

    Mary and Maud have met at the door,
      Oh, now for a din; I told you so:
    They're laughing at once with sweet, round mouths,
      Laughing for what? does anyone know?

    Is it known to the bird in the cage,
      That shrieketh for joy his high top notes,
    After a silence so long and grave--
      What started at once those two sweet throats?

    Is it known to the Wind that takes
      Advantage at once and comes right in?
    Is it known to the cock in the yard,
      That crows--the cause of that merry din?

    Is it known to the babe that he shouts?
      Is it known to the old, purring cat?
    Is it known to the dog, that he barks
      For joy--what Mary and Maud laugh at?

    Is it known to themselves? It is not,
      But beware of their great shining eyes;
    For Mary and Maud will soon, I swear,
      Find cause to make far merrier cries.

It is hard to close even a slight study of Mr Davies' work without
another glance at his originality. One hesitates to use that word,
strained and tortured as it often is to express a dozen different
meanings. It might be applied, in one sense or another, to nearly all
our contemporary poets, with whom it seems to be an article of artistic
faith to avoid like the plague any sign of being derivative. So,
although their minds may be steeped in older poetry, they deliberately
turn away from its influence, seeking inspiration in life itself. There
is no doubt that they are building up a new kind of poetry, with values
that sound strange perhaps to the unfamiliar ear, but which bid fair to
enlarge the field for the poetic genius and enrich it permanently. But
the crux of the question for us at this moment is the fact of effort,
the deliberate endeavour which is made by those poets to escape from
tradition. No sign of such an effort is visible in Mr Davies' work, and
yet it is the most original of them all--the newest, freshest, and most

The reason lies, of course, in the qualities we have already noted. It
is not entirely an external matter, as the influence of his career might
lead us to believe. That has naturally played its part, making the
substance of some of his verse almost unique; and, more important still,
guarding him from bookishness and leaving his mind free to receive and
convey impressions at first hand. From this come the bracing freshness
of his poetry, its naïveté of language, its apparent artlessness and
unconscious charm. But the root of the matter lies deeper than that,
mainly I think in the sincerity and simplicity which are the chief
qualities of his genius. Both qualities are fundamental and constant,
vitalizing the work and having a visible influence upon its form. For,
on the one hand, we see that simplicity reflected not only in the
thought, and themes, but in the language and the technique of this
poetry; while on the other hand there is a loyalty which is absolutely
faithful to its own experience and the laws of its own nature.

_Walter De La Mare_

There is one sense in which this poet has never grown up, and we may, if
we please, recapture our own childhood as we wander with him through his
enchanted garden. And if it be true, as John Masefield says, that "the
days that make us happy make us wise," it is blessed wisdom that should
be ours at the end of our ramble. For see what a delightful place it is!
Not one of your opulent, gorgeous gardens, with insolently well-groomed
lawns and beds that teem with precious nurselings; but a much homelier
region, and one of more elusive and delicate charm. Boundaries there
are, for order and safe going, but they are hidden away in dancing
foliage: and there are leafy paths which seem to wind into infinity, and
corners where mystery lurks.

    Some one is always sitting there,
                  In the little green orchard;


    When you are most alone,
    All but the silence gone ...
    Some one is waiting and watching there,
                  In the little green orchard.

Flowers grow in the sunny spaces, and all the wild things that children
love--primrose and pimpernel, darnel and thorn;

    Teasle and tansy, meadowsweet,
    Campion, toadflax, and rough hawksbit;
    Brown bee orchis, and Peals of Bells;
    Clover, burnet, and thyme....

It is mostly a shadowy place however, not chill and gloomy, but arched
with slender trees, through whose thin leafage slant the warm fingers of
the sun, picking out clear, quickly-moving patterns upon the grass. The
air is soft, the light is as mellow as a harvest moon, and the sounds of
the outer world are subdued almost to silence. Nothing loud or strenuous
disturbs the tranquility: only the remote voices of happy children and
friendly beasts and kind old people. Wonder lives here, but not fear;
smiles but not laughter; tenderness but not passion. And the presiding
genius of the spot is the poet's "Sleeping Cupid," sitting in the shade
with his bare feet deep in the grass and the dew slowly gathering upon
his curls: a cool and lovesome elf, softly dreaming of beauty in a quiet

So one might try to catch into tangible shape the spirit of this poetry,
only to realize the impossibility of doing anything of the kind. But
mere analysis would be equally futile; for the essence of it is as
subtle as air and as fluid as light; and one is finally compelled, in
the hope of conveying some impression of the nature of it, to fall back
upon comparison. It is a clumsy method however, frequently doing
violence to one or both of the poets compared; and even when used
discreetly, it often serves only to indicate a more or less obvious
point of resemblance. But we must take the risk of that for the moment,
and call out of memory the magical effect that is produced upon the mind
by the reading of "Kubla Khan," or "Christabel" or "The Ancient
Mariner." Very similar to that is the effect of Mr. de la Mare's poetry.
There is a difference, and its implications are important; but the chief
fact is that here, amongst this modern poetry of so different an order,
you find work which seems like a lovely survival from the age of

That is why one has the feeling that this poet has never grown up.
Partly from a natural inclination, and partly from a deliberate plan
(like that of Coleridge) to produce a certain kind of art, he has
created a faëry, twilight world, a world of wonder and fantasy, which is
the home of perpetual youth. He has never really lost that time when, as
a little boy, he says that he listened to Martha telling her stories in
the hazel glen. Martha, of 'the clear grey eyes' and the 'grave, small,
lovely head' is surely a veritable handmaid of romance:

    'Once ... once upon a time ...'
      Like a dream you dream in the night,
    Fairies and gnomes stole out
      In the leaf-green light.

    And her beauty far away
      Would fade, as her voice ran on,
    Till hazel and summer sun
      And all were gone:--

    All fordone and forgot;
      And like clouds in the height of the sky,
    Our hearts stood still in the hush
      Of an age gone by.

That hush, invoking a sense of remoteness in space and time, lies over
all his work. It is as though, walking in the garden of this verse, a
child flitted lightly before us with a finger raised in a gesture of
silence. And it is not for nothing that his principal book is called
_The Listeners_. Footfalls are light, and voices soft, and the wind is
gentle: the noise of life is filtered to a whisper or a rustle or a
sleepy murmur. It is a device, of course, as we quickly see if we peer
too curiously at it: just a contrivance of the romantic artist to create
'atmosphere.' But it is so cunningly done that you never suspect the
contriving; and if you would gauge the skill of the poet in this
direction, you should note that he is able to produce the desired effect
in the broad light of day as well as in shadow and twilight. It is a
more difficult achievement, and much rarer. Evening is the time that the
poets generally choose to work this particular spell: though moonlight
or starlight, dawn, sunset, and almost any degree of darkness will serve
them. Sunlight alone, wide-eyed, penetrating and inquisitive, is
inimical to their purpose. Yet Mr de la Mare, in a poem called "The
Sleeper," succeeds in spinning this hush of wondering awe out of the
full light of a summer day. A little girl (Ann, a charming and familiar
figure in this poetry: at once a symbol of childhood and a very human
child) runs into the house to her mother, and finds her asleep in her
chair. That is all the 'plot'; and it would be hard to find an incident
slighter, simpler and more commonplace. But out of this homespun
material the poet has somehow conjured an eerie, brooding, impalpable
presence which steals upon us as it does upon the child in the quiet
house until, like her, we want to creep quickly out again.

A sense of the supernatural, that constant component of the romantic
temperament, is of the essence of this poetry. The manifestation of it
is something more than a trick of technique, for it has its origin in
the very nature of the poet's genius. In its simpler and more direct
expression, it seems to spring out of the fearful joy which this type of
mind experiences in contact with the strange and weird. Again, as in
"The Witch," it may take the form of a bit of pure fantasy, transmitting
the fascination which has already seized the poet with a lurking smile
at its own absurdity. The opening stanzas tell of a tired old witch who
sits down to rest by a churchyard wall; and who, in jerking off her pack
of charms, breaks the cord and spills them all out on the ground:

    And out the dead came stumbling,
    From every rift and crack,
    Silent as moss, and plundered
    The gaping pack.

    They wish them, three times over,
    Away they skip full soon:
    Bat and Mole and Leveret,
    Under the rising moon.

    Owl and Newt and Nightjar:
    They take their shapes and creep,
    Silent as churchyard lichen,
    While she squats asleep.


    Names may be writ; and mounds rise;
    Purporting, Here be bones:
    But empty is that churchyard
    Of all save stones.

    Owl and Newt and Nightjar,
    Leveret, Bat and Mole
    Haunt and call in the twilight,
    Where she slept, poor soul.

But in its subtler forms the supernatural element of this poetry is more
complex and more potent. And it would seem to have a definite relation
to the poet's philosophy. Not that it is possible to trace an outline of
systematic thought in work like this, where every constituent is milled
and sifted to exquisite fineness and fused to perfect unity. But if we
follow up a hint here and there, and correlate them with the author's
prose fiction, we shall not be able to escape the suggestion of a
mystical basis to the elusive witchery of so many of his poems. We shall
see it to be rooted in an extreme sensitiveness to what are called
'psychic' influences: a sensitiveness through which he becomes, at one
end of the scale, acutely aware of the presence of a surrounding spirit
world; and at the other, deeply sympathetic and tender to subhuman

No crude claim is made on behalf of any mystical creed; and still less
would one violate the fragile and mysterious charm of a poem like "The
Listeners" by so-called interpretation. But placed beside "The Witch,"
it is clearly seen to treat the supernatural on a higher plane: it is,
indeed, a piece of rare and delicate symbolism. There is no recourse to
the ready appeal of the grotesque and the marvellous; and although we
find here all the 'machinery' of a sensational poem in the older
romantic manner--the great empty house standing lonely in the forest,
moonlight and silence, and a traveller knocking unheeded at the door--it
is a very subtle blending of those elements which has gone to produce
the peculiar effect of this piece. Twice the traveller knocks, crying:
"Is there anybody there?" but no answer comes:

    ... only a host of phantom listeners
      That dwelt in the lone house then
    Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
      To that voice from the world of men:
    Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
      That goes down to the empty hall,
    Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
      By the lonely Traveller's call.
    And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
      Their stillness answering his cry,
    While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
      'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
    For he suddenly smote on the door, even
      Louder, and lifted his head:--
      'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
        That I kept my word,' he said.

Running through the piece--and more clearly perceived when the whole
poem is read--is the thread of melancholy which is inseparably woven
into all the poet's work of this kind. And it, too, was a gift of his
fairy-godmother when he was born, light in texture as a gossamer and
spun out of the softest silk. Melancholy is almost too big a word to fit
the thing it is, for there is no gloom in it. It is like the silvery,
transparent cloud of thoughtfulness which passes for a moment over a
happy face; and it has something of the youthful trick of playing with
the idea of sadness. Hence come the early studies of "Imogen" and
"Ophelia," where the poet is so much in love with mournfulness that he
revels in making perfect phrases about it.

    Can death haunt silence with a silver sound?
    Can death, that hushes all music to a close,
    Pluck one sweet wire scarce-audible that trembles,
    As if a little child, called Purity,
    Sang heedlessly on of his dear Imogen?

But even when this verse approaches a degree nearer to the reality of
pain it is still, as it were, a reflected emotion; and there is no
poignance in it. It is a winning echo of sorrowfulness, caught by one
who has the habit of turning back to listen and look. Thus the studies
of old age which we sometimes find here are drawn in the true romantic
manner, with a sunset halo about them, and lightly shadowed by
wistfulness and faint regret. And the thought of death, when it is
allowed to enter, comes as caressingly as sleep. The little poem called
"All That's Past," where the poet is thinking of how far down the roots
of all things go, is only one example of many where melancholy is toned
to the faintest strain of pensive sweetness:

    Very old are the woods;
      And the buds that break
    Out of the briar's boughs,
      When March winds wake,
    So old with their beauty are--
      Oh, no man knows
    Through what wild centuries
      Roves back the rose.


    Very old are we men;
      Our dreams are tales
    Told in dim Eden
      By Eve's nightingales;
    We walk and whisper awhile,
      But, the day gone by,
    Silence and sleep like fields
      Of amaranth lie.

So we might continue to cull passages which represent one aspect or
another of the specific quality of Mr de la Mare's poetry. The choice is
embarrassingly rich, for there is remarkable unity of tone and technical
perfection here. But there is a danger in the process, especially with
work of so fine a grain; and one feels bound to repeat the warning that
it is impossible to dissect its ultimate essence in this way. We can
only come back to our comparison, and recalling the magical music of
poems like "Arabia," "Queen Djenira," or "Voices"--in which all the
characteristics noted are so intimately blended that it is impossible to
disengage them--reiterate the fact that they possess the same
inexplicable charm as the romantic work of Coleridge.

But that reminds us of the difference, and all that it implies. For,
after all, this poet is a romanticist of the twentieth century, and not
of the late eighteenth. It is true that his genius has surprisingly kept
its youth (even more, that is to say, than the poet usually does); but
it is a nonage which is clearly of this time and no other. The signs of
this are clear enough. First and foremost, there is his humanity--in
which perhaps all the others are included, and with which are certainly
associated the simplicity and sincerity of his diction. It is as though
the two famous principles on which the _Lyrical Ballads_ were planned
had in the fulness of time become united in the creative impulse of a
single mind. That is not to charge Mr de la Mare with the combined
weight of those two earlier giants, of course, but simply to observe the
truth which Rupert Brooke expressed so finely when he said that the
poetic spirit was coming back "to its wider home, the human heart." So
that even a born romanticist like this cannot escape; and into the
chilly enchantment of an older manner warm sunlight streams and fresh
airs blow.

Obvious links with the life-movement of his time are not lacking, though
as mere external evidence they are relatively unimportant. Of such are
the synthesis of poetry and science in "The Happy Encounter"; and the
detachment suggested in "Keep Innocency," where the poet reveals a full
consciousness of the gulf between romance and reality. But the influence
goes deeper than that. It is because he is a child of his age that he
has observed children so lovingly, and has wrought child-psychology into
his verse with such wonderful accuracy. That also is why he calls so
gently out of 'thin-strewn memory' such a homely figure as the shy old
maid in her old-fashioned parlour; and thence, too, comes the sympathy
with toiling folk--considering them characteristically in the serene
mood when their work is done--which underlies such pieces as "Old
Susan" and "Old Ben":

    Sad is old Ben Thistlewaite,
      Now his day is done,
    And all his children
      Far away are gone.

    He sits beneath his jasmined porch,
      His stick between his knees,
    His eyes fixed vacant
      On his moss-grown trees.


    But as in pale high autumn skies
      The swallows float and play,
    His restless thoughts pass to and fro,
      But nowhere stay.

    Soft, on the morrow, they are gone;
      His garden then will be
    Denser and shadier and greener,
      Greener the moss-grown tree.

From the same humane temper come the poet's kindly feeling for animals
and his affectionate understanding of them. Over and over again its
positive aspect finds expression, either quaint, comical or tender. And
twice at least the negative side of it appears, coming as near to rage
at the wanton destruction of animal life as so mellow and balanced a
nature would ever get. It is a significant fact that at such moments he
takes refuge in his humour--that humour, at once rich and delicate,
which is perhaps the most precious quality of this poetry, and which,
growing from a free and sympathetic contact with life, holds the scale
counterpoised to a nicety against the glamorous romantic sense. Thus we
have this scrap of verse, lightly throwing off a mood of disgust in
whimsical idiom:

    I can't abear a Butcher,
      I can't abide his meat,
    The ugliest shop of all is his,
      The ugliest in the street;
    Bakers' are warm, cobblers' dark,
      Chemists' burn watery lights;
    But oh, the sawdust butcher's shop,
      That ugliest of sights!

And thus in "Tit for Tat" we find this apostrophe to a certain Tom
Noddy, just returning from a day of 'sport' with his gun over his

    Wonder I very much do, Tom Noddy,
      If ever, when you are a-roam,
    An Ogre from space will stoop a lean face,
      And lug you home:

    Lug you home over his fence, Tom Noddy,
      Of thorn-stocks nine yards high,
    With your bent knees strung round his old iron gun
      And your head dan-dangling by:

    And hang you up stiff on a hook, Tom Noddy,
      From a stone-cold pantry shelf,
    Whence your eyes will glare in an empty stare,
      Till you are cooked yourself!

The humour there, corresponding in degree to the indignation for which
it is a veil, is relatively broad. There are many subtler forms of it,
however, and one will be found in a charming piece which is apt to our
present point. It is called "Nicholas Nye," and tells about an old
donkey in an orchard. He is an unprepossessing creature, lame and
worn-out: just a bit of animal jettison, thrown away here to end his
days in peace. And the poet had a great friendship with him:

    But a wonderful gumption was under his skin,
      And a clear calm light in his eye,
    And once in a while: he'd smile:--
      Would Nicholas Nye.

    Seem to be smiling at me, he would,
      From his bush in the corner, of may,--
    Bony and ownerless, widowed and worn,
      Knobble-kneed, lonely and grey;
    And over the grass would seem to pass
      'Neath the deep dark blue of the sky,
    Something much better than words between me
      And Nicholas Nye.

_Wilfrid Wilson Gibson_

There are a dozen books by this author, the work of about a dozen years.
They began to appear in 1902; and they end, so far as the present survey
is concerned, with poems that were published in the first half of 1914.
They make a good pile, a considerable achievement in bulk alone; and
when they are read in sequence, they are found to represent a growing
period in the poet's mind and art which corresponds to, and epitomises,
the transition stage out of which English poetry is just passing. That
is to say, in addition to the growth that one would expect--the ripening
and development which would seem to be a normal process--there has
occurred an unexpected thing: a complete change of ideal, with steady
and rapid progress in the new direction. So that if Mr. Gibson's later
books were compared directly with the early ones, they might appear to
be by an entirely different hand. Place _Urlyn the Harper_--which was
first published--beside a late play called _Womenkind_ or a still more
recent dramatic piece called _Bloodybush Edge_; and the contrast will be
complete. On the one hand there is all the charm of romance, in material
and in manner--but very little else. On the other hand there is nothing
to which the word charm will strictly apply; an almost complete
artistic austerity: but a profound and powerful study of human nature.
On the one hand there is a dainty lyrical form appropriate to the theme:
there are songs like this one, about the hopeless love of the minstrel
for the young queen who is mated with an old harsh king:

    I sang of lovers, and she praised my song,
    The while the King looked on her with cold eyes,
    And 'twixt them on the throne sat mailèd wrong.

    I sang of Launcelot and Guenevere,
    While in her face I saw old sorrows rise,
    And throned between them cowered naked Fear.

    I sang of Tristram and La Belle Isoud,
    And how they fled the anger of King Mark
    To live and love, deep sheltered in a wood.

    Then bending low, she spake sad voiced and sweet,
    The while grey terror crouched between them stark,
    "Sing now of Aucassin and Nicolete."

The later work cannot be so readily illustrated: it is at once subtler
and stronger, and depends more upon the effect of the whole than upon
any single part. But for the sake of the contrast we may wrest a short
passage out of its setting in _Bloodybush Edge_. A couple of tramps have
met at night on the Scottish border; one is a cockney Londoner, a bad
lot with something sinister about him and a touch of mystery. He has
just stumbled out of the heather on to the road, cursing the darkness
and the loneliness of the moor. The other, a Border man to whom night is
beautiful and the wild landscape a familiar friend, protests that it is
not dark, that the sky is 'all alive with little stars':

    TRAMP. ... Stars!
    Give me the lamps along the Old Kent Road;
    And I'm content to leave the stars to you.
    They're well enough; but hung a trifle high
    For walking with clean boots. Now a lamp or so....

    DICK. If it's so fine and brave, the Old Kent Road,
    How is it you came to leave it?

    TRAMP. ... I'd my reasons ...
    But I was scared: the loneliness and all;
    The quietness, and the queer creepy noises;
    And something that I couldn't put a name to,
    A kind of feeling in my marrow-bones,
    As though the great black hills against the sky
    Had come alive about me in the night,
    And they were watching me; as though I stood
    Naked, in a big room, with blind men sitting,
    Unseen, all round me, in the quiet darkness,
    That was not dark to them. And all the stars
    Were eyeing me; and whisperings in the heather
    Were like cold water trickling down my spine:

Putting an early and a late book side by side in this way, the contrast
is astonishing. And it is not an unfair method of comparison, because
when the new ideal appears it strikes suddenly into the work, and
sharply differentiates it at once from all that had been written before.
Like the larger movement which it so aptly illustrates, the change is
conscious, deliberate, and full of significance; and it is the cardinal
fact in this author's poetical career. It marks the stage at which he
came to grips with reality: when he brought his art into relation with
life: when the making of poetic beauty as an end in itself could no
longer content him; and the social conscience, already prompting
contemporary thought, quickened in him too.

Humanity was the new ideal: humanity at bay and splendidly fighting. It
appeared first in the two volumes of 1907 as dramatic studies from the
lives of shepherd-folk. Four books had preceded these, in which the
texture of the verse was woven of old romance and legend. Another book
was yet to come, _The Web of Life_, in which the prettiness of that kind
of romanticism would blossom into absolute beauty. But the new impulse
grew from the date of _Stonefolds_; and when the first part of _Daily
Bread_ appeared, the impulse had become a reasoned principle. In the
poem which prefaces that volume it comes alive, realizing itself and
finding utterance in terms which express much more than an individual
experience. I quote it for that reason. The immediate thought has
dignity and the personal note is engaging. There is, too, peculiar
interest in the clarity and precision with which it speaks, albeit
unconsciously, for the changing spirit in English poetry. But the final
measure of the poem is the touch of universality that is latent within
it. For here we have the expression of not only a law of development by
which the poet must be bound, and not only a poetical synthesis of the
most important intellectual movement of this generation, but an
experience through which every soul must pass, if and when it claims its
birthright in the human family.

    As one, at midnight, wakened by the call
    Of golden-plovers in their seaward flight,
    Who lies and listens, as the clear notes fall
    Through tingling silence of the frosty night--
    Who lies and listens, till the last note fails,
    And then, in fancy, faring with the flock
    Far over slumbering hills and dreaming dales,
    Soon hears the surges break on reef and rock;
    And, hearkening, till all sense of self is drowned
    Within the mightier music of the deep,
    No more remembers the sweet piping sound
    That startled him from dull, undreaming sleep:
    So I, first waking from oblivion, heard,
    With heart that kindled to the call of song,
    The voice of young life, fluting like a bird,
    And echoed that light lilting; till, ere long,
    Lured onward by that happy, singing-flight,
    I caught the stormy summons of the sea,
    And dared the restless deeps that, day and night,
    Surge with the life-song of humanity.

Being wise after the event, one can discover auguries of that change in
the very early work. There is, for example, a group of little poems
called _Faring South_, studied directly from peasant life in the south
of France. They indicate that even at that time an awakening sympathy
with toiling folk had begun to guide his observation; and they are in
any case a very different record of European travel from that of the
mere poetaster. There are studies of a stonebreaker, a thresher, a
ploughman; there is a veracious little picture of a housemother,
returning home at the end of market-day laden, tired and dusty; but
happy to be under her own vine-porch once more. And most interesting of
all the group, there is a shepherd, the forerunner of robuster shepherds
in later books, and evidently a figure which has for this author a
special attraction.

    With folded arms, against his staff he stands,
    Sun-soaking, rapt, within the August blaze
    The while his sheep with moving rustle graze
    The lean, parched undergrowth of stubble lands.

    Indifferent 'neath the low blue-laden sky
    He gazes fearless in the eyes of noon;
    And earth, because he craves of her no boon,
    Yields him deep-breasted, sun-steeped destiny.

But these characters are not living people, they are types rather than
individuals, and idealized a little. They are, as it were, seen from a
distance, in passing, and in a golden light. Years were to pass before
knowledge and insight could envisage them completely and a dramatic
sense could endow them with life. Meantime the more characteristic
qualities of this early work were to develop independently. The lyrical
power of it, in particular, was to enjoy its flowering time, revelling
in the sweet melancholy of old unhappy love stories, in courts and
rose-gardens, kings and queens, knights and ladies and lute-players.
Perhaps the most charming examples in this kind are "The Songs of Queen
Averlaine." Here are a couple of stanzas from one of them, in which the
queen is brooding sadly over the thought of her lost love and lost

    Spring comes no more for me: though young March blow
    To flame the larches, and from tree to tree
    The green fire leap, till all the woodland, glow--
    Though every runnel, filled to overflow,
    Bear sea-ward, loud and brown with melted snow,
    Spring comes no more for me!


    Spring comes no more for me: though May will shake
    White flame of hawthorn over all the lea,
    Till every thick-set hedge and tangled brake
    Puts on fresh flower of beauty for her sake;
    Though all the world from winter-sleep awake,
    Spring comes no more for me!

They are graceful songs, and their glamour will not fail so long as
there remain lovers to read them. The critic is disarmed by their
ingenuousness: he is constrained to take them as they stand, with their
warmth and colour, their sweet music and the occasional flashes of
observed truth (like the March runnels of this poem) which redeem them
from total unreality. The reward lies close ahead. For even on this
theme of love, and still in the lyric mood, sanity soon triumphs. It
heralds its victory with a laugh, and the air is lightened at once from
the scented gloom of romanticism. "Sing no more songs of lovers dead,"
it cries, sound and strong enough now to make fun of itself.

    We are no lovers, pale with dreams,
    Who languish by Lethean streams.
    Upon our bodies warm day gleams;
    And love that tingles warm and red
    From sole of foot to crown of head
    Is lord of all pale lovers dead!

The volume from which that stanza is taken, _The Web of Life_, contains
this poet's finest lyrics. From the standpoint of art nothing that he
has done--and he is always a scrupulous artist--can surpass it; and the
seeker whose single quest is beauty, need go no further down the list of
Mr Gibson's works. There are some perfect things in the book: poems like
"Song," "The Mushroom Gatherers" and "The Silence," in which the early
grace and felicity survive; and where the lyric ecstasy is deepened by
thought and winged by emotion. In one sense, therefore, although this
volume is only midway through the period we are concerned with, it has
attained finality. We ought to pause on it. We see that it culminates
and closes the 'happy singing-flight' with which this career began. We
realize, too, that it has absolute value, as poetry, by virtue of which
many a good judge might rank it higher than its remarkable successors.
And, indeed, it is hard to break away from its spell. But when we judge
_The Web of Life_ relatively, when we place it back in the proper niche
amongst its kindred volumes, its importance seems suddenly to dwindle.
Beside the later books, it grows almost commonplace; we perceive its
charm to be of the conventional kind of the whole order of regular
English poetry to which it belongs. That is to say, though there is no
sign that the work has been directly modelled upon the accredited poets
of an earlier generation, it has characteristics which relate it to them
and secure a place in the line of descent. There are pieces which remind
us of Keats or the younger Tennyson. Here is a stanza from the poem
called "Beauty" which might have been the inspiration of the whole book:

    With her alone is immortality;
    For still men reverently
    Adore within her shrine:
    The sole immortal time has not cast down,
    She wields a power yet more divine
    Than when of old she rose from out the sea
    Of night, with starry crown.
    Though all things perish, Beauty never dies.

Or there are poems in which passion trembles under a fine restraint, as
in "Friends":

                Yet, are we friends: the gods have granted this.
                Withholding wine, they brimmed for us the cup
                With cool, sweet waters, ever welling up,
                That we might drink, and, drinking, dream of bliss.


                O gods, in your cold mercy, merciless,
                Heed lest time raze your thrones; and at the sign,
                The cool, sweet-welling waters turn to wine;
                The spark to day, and dearth to bounteousness.

And there is the group of classical pieces at the end of the book, in
which one regretfully passes over the flexible blank-verse of "Helen in
Rhodos" and "The Mariners," to choose a still more characteristic
passage from "A Lament for Helen":

    Helen has fallen: she for whom Troy fell
    Has fallen, even as the fallen towers.
    O wanderers in dim fields of asphodel,
    Who spilt for her the wine of earthly hours,
    With you for evermore
    By Lethe's darkling shore
    Your souls' desire shall dwell.


    But we who sojourn yet in earthly ways;
    How shall we sing, now Helen lieth dead?
    Break every lyre and burn the withered bays,
    For song's sweet solace is with Helen fled.
    Let sorrow's silence be
    The only threnody
    O'er beauty's fallen head.

But this book, which is so good an example of poetic art in the older
English manner, is not Mr Gibson's distinguishing achievement. That
came immediately afterwards, and was the outcome of the changed ideal
which we have already noted. _The Web of Life_ may be said to belong to
a definite school--though to be sure its relation to that school is in
affinity rather than actual resemblance. The books which follow have no
such relation: they stand alone and refuse to be classified, either in
subject or in form. And while the earlier work would seem to claim its
author for the nineteenth century, in _Daily Bread_ he is new-born a
twentieth-century poet of full stature.

The most striking evidence of the change is in the subject-matter.
_Daily Bread_, like _Fires_, is in three parts, and each of them
contains six or seven pieces. There is thus a total of about forty
poems, every one of which is created out of an episode from the lives of
the working poor. Thus we find a young countryman, workless and
destitute in a London garret, joined by his village sweetheart who
refuses to leave him to starve alone. A farm labourer and his wife are
rising wearily in the cold dawn to earn bread for the six sleeping
children. There are miners and quarrymen in some of the many dangers of
their calling, and their womenfolk enduring privation, suspense and
bereavement with tireless courage. There is a stoker, dying from burns
that he has sustained at the furnace, whose young wife retorts with
passionate bitterness to a hint of compensation:

    Money ... woman ... money!
    I want naught with their money.
    I want my husband,
    And my children's father.
    Let them pitch all their money in the furnace
    Where he ...
    I wouldn't touch a penny;
    'Twould burn my fingers.
    Money ...
    For him!

There are fishermen in peril of the sea; the printer, the watchman, the
stonebreaker, the lighthousekeeper, the riveter, the sailor, the
shopkeeper; there are school-children and factory girls; outcasts,
tramps and gipsies; and a splendid company of women--mothers in
childbirth and child-death, sisters, wives and sweethearts--more heroic
in their obscure suffering and toil than the noblest figure of ancient
tragedy. With deliberate intention, therefore, the poet has set himself
to represent contemporary industrial life: the strata at the base of our
civilization. He has, as it were, won free at a leap from illusion, from
a dominant idealism, and the jealous, tyrannical instinct for mere
beauty. Life is the inspiration now, and truth the objective. The facts
of the workers' lives are carefully observed, realized in all their
significance and faithfully recorded. Sympathy and penetration go hand
in hand. Personal faults and follies, superstitions and vices, play
their part in these little dramas, no less than the social wrongs under
which the people labour. And the conception, in its balance and
comprehensiveness, is really great; for while on the one hand there is
an humiliating indictment of our civilization (implicit, of course, but
none the less complete) on the other hand there is a proud vindication
of the invincible human spirit.

Viewed steadily thus, by a poetic genius which has subdued the
conventions of its art, such themes are shown to possess a latent but
inalienable power to exalt the mind. They are therefore of the genuine
stuff of art, needing only the formative touch of the poet to evoke
beauty. And thus we find that although the normal process seems to have
been reversed here: although the poet has sought truth first--in event,
in character and in environment--beauty has been nevertheless attained;
and of a type more vital and complete than that evoked by the statelier
themes of tradition.

As might have been expected the new material and method have directly
influenced form; and hence arises another distinction of these later
works. The three parts of _Daily Bread_ and the play called _Womenkind_
are the extreme example; and their verse is probably unique in English
poetry. It has been evolved out of the actual substance on which the
poet is working; directly moulded by the nature of the life that he has
chosen to present. The poems here are dramatic; and whether the element
of dialogue or of narrative prevail, the language is always the living
idiom of the persons who are speaking. It is nervous, supple, incisive:
not, of course, with much variety or colour, since the vocabulary of
such people could not be large and its colour might often be too crude
for an artist's use. Selection has played its part, in words as in
incidents; but although anything in the nature of dialect has been
avoided, we are convinced as we read that this is indeed the speech of
labouring folk. We can even recognize, in a light touch such as an
occasional vocative, that they are the sturdy folk of the North country.
There is a dialogue called "On the Road" which illustrates that, as well
as more important things. Just under the surface of it lies the problem
of unemployment: a young couple forced to go on tramp, with their infant
child, because the husband has lost his job. That, however, inheres in
the episode: it is not emphasized, nor even formulated, as a problem.
The appeal of the poem is in its fine delineation of character, the
interplay of emotion, the rapid and telling dialogue--the pervasive
humanitarian spirit; and, once again, an exact and full perception of
the woman's point of view. Mr Gibson is a poet of his time in this as
well--in his large comprehension and generous acknowledgment of the
feminine part in the scheme of things. I do not quote to illustrate
that, because it is an almost constant factor in his work. But I give a
passage in which the Northern flavour is distinctly perceptible, in
addition to qualities which are limited to no locality--the kindliness
of the poor to each other and their native courtesy. An old stonebreaker
has just passed the starving couple by the roadside and, divining the
extremity they are at, he turns back to them:

    Fine morning, mate and mistress!
    Might you be looking for a job, my lad?
    Well ... there's a heap of stones to break, down yonder.
    I was just on my way ...
    But I am old;
    And, maybe, a bit idle;
    And you look young,
    And not afraid of work,
    Or I'm an ill judge of a workman's hands.
    And when the job's done, lad,
    There'll be a shilling.


    Nay, but there's naught to thank me for.
    I'm old;
    And I've no wife and children,
    And so, don't need the shilling.


    Well, the heap's down yonder--
    There, at the turning.
    Ah, the bonnie babe!
    We had no children, mistress.
    And what can any old man do with shillings,
    With no one but himself to spend them on--
    An idle, good-for-nothing, lone old man?

The curious structure of the verse is apparent at a glance--the
irregular pattern, the extreme variation in the length of the line, the
absence of rhyme and the strange metrical effects. It is a new poetical
instrument, having little outward resemblance to the grace and dignity
of regular forms. Its unfamiliarity may displease the eye and the ear at
first, but it is not long before we perceive the design which controls
its apparent waywardness, and recognize its fitness to express the life
that the poet has chosen to depict. For it suggests, as no rhyme or
regular measure could, the ruggedness of this existence and the
characteristic utterance of its people. No symmetrical verse, with its
sense of something complete, precise and clear, could convey such an
impression as this--of speech struggling against natural reticence to
express the turmoil of thought and emotion in an untrained mind. Mr
Gibson has invented a metrical form which admirably produces that
effect, without condescending to a crude realism. He has made the worker
articulate, supplying just the coherence and lucidity which art demands,
but preserving, in this irregular outline, in the plain diction and
simple phrasing, an acute sense of reality. Here is a fragment of
conversation, one of many similar, in which this verse is found to be a
perfect medium of the idea. A wife has been struck by her husband in a
fit of passion: she has been trying to hide from her mother the cause of
the blow, but she is still weak from the effects of it and has not lied
skilfully. Her mother gently protests that she is trying to screen her

    Nay! There's naught to screen.
    'Twas I that ... Nay!
    And, if he's hot, at times,
    You know he's much to try him;
    The racket that he works in, all day long,
    Would wear the best of tempers.
    Why, mother, who should know as well as you
    How soon a riveter is done?
    The hammers break a man, before his time;
    And father was a shattered man at forty;
    And Philip's thirty-five;
    And if he's failed a bit ...
    And, sometimes, over-hasty,
    Well, I am hasty, too;
    You know my temper; no one knows it better.

Occasionally, it is true, the principle on which the verse is built is
too strictly applied: the phraseology is abrupt beyond the required
effect; and the lines, instead of following a rule which seems to
measure their length by a natural pause, are broken arbitrarily.
Speaking broadly, however, it is beautifully fitted to the themes of
_Daily Bread_, though one is not so sure about it in a poem like "Akra
the Slave." This is a delightful narrative, akin in subject to the
earlier work, and belonging to that period much more than to the date at
which it was published, 1910. One cannot linger upon it, nor even upon
the more important work which followed, and is happily still
continuing--more important because it indicates development and marked
progress along the new lines. The three parts of _Fires_ carry forward
the conception of _Daily Bread_, but now in narrative style, permitting
therefore a relaxation of the austere dramatic truth of the dialogue
form. The verse is modified accordingly, as will be seen in this passage
from "The Shop": A workman has entered his favourite shop--the little
general-store of a poor neighbourhood--to buy his evening paper. But he
is not attended to immediately; and a sickly little girl who has come
for a fraction of a loaf and a screw of tea, is also waiting. The
shopkeeper is engrossed with a parcel from the country--from a little
convalescent son who has gone for the first time to his father's native

    Next night, as I went in, I caught
    A strange, fresh smell. The postman had just brought
    A precious box from Cornwall, and the shop
    Was lit with primroses, that lay atop
    A Cornish pasty, and a pot of cream:
    And as, with gentle hands, the father lifted
    The flowers his little son had plucked for him,
    He stood a moment in a far-off dream,
    As though in glad remembrances he drifted
    On Western seas: and, as his eyes grew dim,
    He stooped, and buried them in deep, sweet bloom:
    Till, hearing, once again, the poor child's cough,
    He served her hurriedly, and sent her off,
    Quite happily, with thin hands filled with flowers.
    And, as I followed to the street, the gloom
    Was starred with primroses; and many hours
    The strange, shy flickering surprise
    Of that child's keen, enchanted eyes
    Lit up my heart, and brightened my dull room.

Music has come in again, in frequent and sometimes intricate rhyme; in
metrical lightness and variety; in a fuller and more harmonious
language. The spirit of this later work remains humanitarian, but it is
not concentrated now solely upon the tragic aspects of the workers'
lives. A wider range is taken, and comedy enters, with an accession of
urbanity from which characterization gains a mellower note. The world of
nature, too, banished for a time in the exclusive study of humanity,
returns to enrich this later poetry with a store of loving observation,
an intimate knowledge of wild creatures, and the refreshing sense of a
healthful open-air life in which, over a deep consciousness of sterner
things, plays a jolly comradeship with wind and weather.

_Ralph Hodgson_

The format of Mr Hodgson's published work is almost as interesting as
the poetry itself--and that is saying a good deal. For all of his poetry
that matters (there is an earlier, experimental volume which is not
notable) has been issued during the past two or three years in the form
of chapbook and broadside.

It was a new publishing venture, quietly launched _At the Sign of Flying
Fame_, and piloted now through the rapids of a larger success by the
Poetry Bookshop. In a sense, of course, it is not a new thing at all,
but a revival of the means by which ballad and romance were conveyed
into the hands of the people a couple of centuries ago. Yet it is no
imitation of a quaint style for the sake of its picturesqueness, nor the
haphazard choice of a vehicle unsuited either to the author or his
public, nor a mere bid for popular favour.

The peculiar interest of the revival lies in the fact that it is part of
the larger movement, the renascent spirit of poetry which has been
visibly stirring the face of the waters in these past few years. The
reappearance of the chapbook synchronized with that, and is closely
related with it. For it is found to be as well fitted to the form and
the content of the newest poetry as it is suited to the need of the
newest audience. On the one hand it brings to the freshly awakened
public a book which is cheap enough to acquire and small enough readily
to become a familiar possession of the mind. On the other hand, it is
suited perfectly to the simple themes and metrical effects of the work
hitherto published in this form; and is designed only to include small
poems of unquestioned excellence. Here may be perceived the more
important factors which go to the formation of literary taste; and while
one would estimate that the educational value of these little books is
therefore high, aptly meeting the need of the novice in poetry, it is
clear that the discriminating mind also is likely to find them

Mr Hodgson's work, then, will be found in four chapbooks and a thin
sheaf of broadsides. The chapbooks are small and slim, and could all be
picked up between the thumb and finger of one hand. They are wrapped in
cheery yellow and decorated with impressionistic sketches which, nine
times out of ten, perhaps, really help the illusion that the poet is
creating. The broadsides--there are about a dozen of them--are long
loose sheets, each containing a single poem similarly decorated.

The sum of the work is thus quite small. Perhaps there are not more than
five-and-twenty pieces altogether, none very long, and amongst them an
occasional miniature of a single stanza. Probably the format in which
the author has chosen to appear has had an effect in restricting his
production. That would be a possible result of the vigorous selection
exercised and the limits imposed in space and style. But there are signs
that he would not have been in any case a ready writer--the sense these
lyrics convey of having waited on inspiration until the veritable moment
shone, finding thought and feeling, imagination and technique, ripe to
express it. And by those very signs watchers knew and acclaimed this
author for a poet, despite the slender bulk of his accomplishment, long
before the Royal Society of Literature had awarded to his work the
_Polignac_ prize.

The two poems which gained the prize are "The Bull" and "The Song of
Honour." Each occupies a whole chapbook to itself, and therefore must be
accounted, for this poet, of considerable length. They are, indeed, the
most important of his poems. And if one does not immediately add that
they are also the most beautiful and the most charming, the reason is
something more than an aversion from dogma and the superlative mood.
For the artistic level of all this work is high, and it would be
difficult, on a critical method, to single out the finest piece. The
decision would be susceptible, even more than poetical judgments usually
are, to mood and individual bias. One person, inclining to the smaller,
gem-like forms of verse, will find pieces by Mr Hodgson to flatter his
fancy. This poet has, indeed, a gift of concentrated expression, before
which one is compelled to pause. There are tiny lyrics here which
comprise immensities. The facile imp that lurks round every corner for
the poor trader in words whispers 'epigram' as we read "Stupidity
Street" or "The Mystery" or "Reason has Moons." But is the specific
quality of these delicate creations really epigrammatic? No, it would
appear to be something more gracious and more subtly blent with emotion;
having implications that lead beyond the region of stark thought, and an
impulse far other than to sharpen a sting. "Stupidity Street" is an

    I saw with open eyes
    Singing birds sweet
    Sold in the shops
    For the people to eat,
    Sold in the shops of
    Stupidity Street.
    I saw in vision
    The worm in the wheat,
    And in the shops nothing
    For people to eat;
    Nothing for sale in
    Stupidity Street.

Analysis of that will discover an anatomy complete enough to those who
enjoy that kind of dissection. There are bones of logic and organic heat
sufficient of themselves for wonder how the thing can be done in so
small a compass. And the strong simple words, which articulate the idea
so exactly, confirm the impression of something rounded and complete; as
though final expression had been reached and nothing remained behind.
But as a fact there is much behind. One sees this perhaps a little more
clearly in "The Mystery":

    He came and took me by the hand
      Up to a red rose tree,
    He kept His meaning to Himself
      But gave a rose to me.

    I did not pray Him to lay bare
      The mystery to me,
    Enough the rose was Heaven to smell,
      And His own face to see.

Again the idea has been crystallized so cleanly out of the poetic matrix
that one sees at first only its sharp, bright outline. Perhaps to the
analyst it would yield nothing more. But the simpler mind will surely
feel, no matter how dimly, the presence of all the imaginings out of
which it sprang, a small synthesis of the universe.

Here we touch the main feature of this poet's gift--his power to
visualize, to make almost tangible, a poetic conception. So consummate
is this power that it dominates other qualities and might almost cheat
us into thinking that they did not exist. Thus we might not suspect this
transparent verse of reflective depths; and of course, it is not
intellectual poetry, specifically so-called. Yet reflection is implied
everywhere; and occasionally it is a pure abstraction which gets itself
embodied. The poem called "Time" illustrates this. In its opening
line--"Time, you old Gipsy-man"--the idea swings into life in a figure
which gains energy with every line. One positively sees this restless
old man who has driven his caravan from end to end of the world and who
cannot be persuaded to stay for bribe or entreaty. And it would be
possible quite to forget the underlying thought did not the gravity of
it peep between the incisive strokes of the third stanza.

    Last week in Babylon,
    Last night in Rome,
    Morning, and in the crush
    Under Paul's dome;
    Under Paul's dial
    You tighten your rein--
    Only a moment,
    And off once again;
    Off to some city
    Now blind in the womb,
    Off to another
    Ere that's in the tomb.

So it is too with this poet's imagination. It deals perpetually with
concrete imagery--as for instance when it pictures Eve:

    Picking a dish of sweet
    Berries and plums to eat,

or presents her, when the serpent is softly calling her name, as

    Wondering, listening,
    Listening, wondering,
    Eve with a berry
    Half-way to her lips.

Moreover, the poet does not in the least mind winging his fancy in a
homely phrase. He is not afraid of an idiomatic touch, nor of pithy,
vigorous words. His conception is vivid enough to bear rigorous
treatment; and in the same poem, "Eve," the serpent is found plotting
the fall of humanity in these terms:

    Now to get even and
    Humble proud heaven and
    Now was the moment or
    Never at all.

And when his wiles have been successful, Eve's feathered comrades,
Titmouse and Jenny Wren, make an indignant 'clatter':

    How the birds rated him,
    How they all hated him!
    How they all pitied
    Poor motherless Eve!

That is the nearest approach to fantasy which will be found in this
poetry. There is nothing subtle or whimsical here: no half-lights or
neutral tones or hints of meaning. This genius cannot fulfil itself in
an 'airy nothing.' The imaginative power is too firmly controlled by a
sense of fact to admit the bizarre and incredible; yet there can be no
doubt of its creative force when one turns for a moment to either of the
prize poems, and particularly to "The Bull." It would be hard to name a
finer specimen of verse in which imagination, high and sustained, is
seen to be operating through a purely sensuous medium. That is to say,
moving in a region of fact, accurately observing and recording the
phenomena of a real world, there is yet achieved an imaginative creation
of great power--a bit of all-but-perfect art. Quotation will not serve
to illustrate this, since the poem is an organic whole and a principal
element of its perfection is its unity. One could, however, demonstrate
over again from almost any line the poet's instinct for reality: as for
example in the truth, quiet but unflinching, of his presentment of the
cruelty inherent in his theme. The passages are almost too painful taken
out of their context; and there may be some for whom they will rob the
poem of complete beauty. But the same instinct may be observed
visualizing, in strong light and rich colour and incisive movement, the
teeming tropical world in which the old bull stands, sick, unkinged and
left to die.

    Cranes and gaudy parrots go
    Up and down the burning sky;
    Tree-top cats purr drowsily
    In the dim-day green below;
    And troops of monkeys, nutting, some,
    All disputing, go and come;


    And a dotted serpent curled
    Round and round and round a tree,
    Yellowing its greenery,
    Keeps a watch on all the world,
    All the world and this old bull
    In the forest beautiful.

This poem is indeed very characteristic of its author's method. One
perceives the thought behind (apart, of course, from the mental process
of actual composition); and one realizes the magnitude of it. But again
it is implicit only, and reflection on 'the flesh that dies,' on
greatness fallen and worth contemned, hardly wins a couple of lines of
direct expression.

In "The Song of Honour" it would seem for the moment as if all that were
reversed. This poem is the re-creation of a spiritual experience, a hymn
of adoration. It is entirely subjective in conception, and is strangely
different therefore from the cool objectivity of "The Bull" or "Eve" or
"Time." In them the poet is working so detachedly that there is even
room for the play of gentle humour now and then. He is working with
delight, indeed, and emotion warm enough, but with a joy that is wholly
artistic, caring much more for the thing that he is making than for any
single element of it. But in "The Song of Honour" it is evident that he
cares immensely for his theme; and hence arise an ardour and intensity
which are not present in the other poems. Moreover, the work is the
interpretation of a vision, which would seem to imply a mystical quality
only latent hitherto; and there is a rapture of utterance which is not
found elsewhere.

The apparent contrast has no reality however. It is possible to catch,
though in subtle inflexions it is true, an undertone which runs below
even the simplest and clearest of these lyrics. No doubt it is as quiet,
as subdued, as it well could be--this soft, complex harmony flowing
beneath the ringing measure. But one can distinguish a note here and a
phrase there which point directly to the dominant theme of "The Song of
Honour." There is a hint of it, for example, in "The Mystery," where the
soul is imagined as standing, reverent but without fear, within the
closed circle of the unknown, and joyfully content to accept as the
pledge and symbol of that which it is unable to comprehend, the beauty
of the material world. One may see in that a familiar attitude of the
modern mind; the perception that there _is_ a mystery, which somehow
perpetually eludes the creeds and philosophies, but which seems to be
attaining to gradual revelation and fulfilment in actual existence. A
vision of the unity of that existence was the inspiration of this
greater poem: a realization, momentary but dazzling, of the magnificence
of being: of its joy, of its continuity, of the progression of life
through countless forms of that which we call matter to an ultimate goal
of supreme glory.

I do not say that any thesis, in those or kindred terms, was the origin
of this Song. I feel quite sure that it had no basis so abstract. It was
born in a mood of exaltation, kindled perhaps by such an instant of
flaming super-consciousness as may be observed in the spiritual
experience of other contemporary poets. The moment of its inception is
recorded in the opening of the poem:

    I climbed a hill as light fell short,
    And rooks came home in scramble sort,
    And filled the trees and flapped and fought
    And sang themselves to sleep;

Silence fell upon the landscape as darkness came and the stars shone

    I heard no more of bird or bell,
    The mastiff in a slumber fell,
    I stared into the sky,
    As wondering men have always done
    Since beauty and the stars were one,
    Though none so hard as I.

    It seemed, so still the valleys were,
    As if the whole world knelt at prayer,
    Save me and me alone;

So true is the poet to his impulse towards clarity and the concrete, so
unerringly does he select the strong, familiar word with all its meaning
clear on the face of it, that it is possible to regard the Song simply
as a religious poem--a hymn of adoration to a Supreme Being:

    I heard the universal choir,
    The Sons of Light exalt their Sire
    With universal song,
    Earth's lowliest and loudest notes,
    Her million times ten million throats
    Exalt Him loud and long,

Pure religion the poem is, but its implications are broader than any
creed. And, define it as we may, it remains suggestive of the most vital
current of modern thought. For it takes its stand upon the solid earth,
embraces reality and perceives in the material world itself that which
is urging joyfully toward some manifestation of spiritual splendour.
Thus the poet hears the Song rising from the very stocks and stones:

    The everlasting pipe and flute
    Of wind and sea and bird and brute,
    And lips deaf men imagine mute
    In wood and stone and clay,

The pæan is audible to him, too, from lowly creatures in whom life has
not yet grown conscious, from the tiniest forms of being, from the most
transient of physical phenomena.

    The music of a lion strong
    That shakes a hill a whole night long,
    A hill as loud as he,
    The twitter of a mouse among
    Melodious greenery,
    The ruby's and the rainbow's song,
    The nightingale's--all three,
    The song of life that wells and flows
    From every leopard, lark and rose
    And everything that gleams or goes
    Lack-lustre in the sea.

But it is in humanity that the Song attains its fullest and noblest
harmony. Out of the stuff of actual human life the spiritual essence is
distilled, making the wraiths of a mystical imagination poor and pale by

    I heard the hymn of being sound
    From every well of honour found
    In human sense and soul:
    The song of poets when they write
    The testament of Beautysprite
    Upon a flying scroll,
    The song of painters when they take
    A burning brush for Beauty's sake
    And limn her features whole--


    The song of beggars when they throw
    The crust of pity all men owe
    To hungry sparrows in the snow,
    Old beggars hungry too--
    The song of kings of kingdoms when
    They rise above their fortune men,
    And crown themselves anew,--

_Ford Madox Hueffer_

There is a collected edition of Mr Hueffer's poetry published in that
year of dreadful memory nineteen hundred and fourteen. It is a valuable
possession. Its verse-content may not--of course it cannot--appeal in
the same degree to all lovers of poetry. For reasons that we shall see,
it is more liable than most poetic art to certain objections from those
whose taste is already formed and who therefore, wittingly or
unwittingly, have adopted a pet convention. They may boggle at a word or
a phrase in terminology which is avowedly idiomatic. They may wince
occasionally at a free rhyme or grow a little restive at the
irregularities of a rhyme-scheme, or resent an abrupt change of rhythm
in the middle of a stanza just as they believed they had begun to scan
it correctly. If they are the least bit sentimental (and it is not many
who have cast out, root and branch, the Anglo-Saxon vice) they will be
chilled here and there by an ironic touch, repelled by an apparent
levity, or irritated at the contiguity of subjects and ideas which seem
inept and unrelated. The classicist will grumble that the unities are
broken; the idealist will shudder at a bit of actuality; the formalist
will eye certain new patterns with disfavour; and even the realist,
with so much after his own heart, will be graceless enough to be
impatient at recurrent signs of a romantic temperament.

So, in perhaps a dozen different ways, the literary person of as many
different types may find that he is just hindered from complete
enjoyment of what he nevertheless perceives to be beautiful work. If he
be honest, however, and master of his moods, he will be ready to admit
that it _is_ beautiful, and that none of these objections invalidate the
essential poetry of the book. That has its own winning and haunting
qualities, quite strong enough to justify the claim that the volume is a
valuable possession. That is to say, there is absolute beauty in it,
considered simply as a work of art and judged only from the point of
view of the conventional lover of poetry. There are other values
however, immediate or potential. There is, for example, to the believer
in Mr Hueffer's theory, promise of the power which his method would have
upon all the good, kind, jolly, intelligent, but unliterary people,
could they be induced to read poetry at all. As a mere corollary from
the literary quibbles already named, one would expect such people to
find this volume delightful--an expectation by no means daunted by the
declared fate of earlier productions. One sees that the evident
sincerity of the work, the attitude of that particular individuality to
life, the free hand and the right instinct in the selection of incident,
and the use of language that is homely and picturesque, ought to be
potent attractions to the reader who frequently finds the older poetry
stilted and artificial.

Moreover, so successful has the author's method been in many cases that
even the _littérateur_ must pause and think. He will observe how well
the new artistry suits the new material; he will note the exhilaration
of the final effect; and when, returning to his beloved poets of the
last generation, he finds that some of their virtue seems to have fled
meantime, he will ask himself whether the life of our time may not
_demand_ poetic presentation in some such form as this. Which is to say
that he will probably be a convert to Mr Hueffer's impressionism.

That point is debatable, of course; but what will hardly be questioned,
apart from the joy we frequently experience here in seeing a thing
consummately done, is the importance of this work as an experiment. That
is obviously another kind of value, with a touch of scientific interest
added to the æsthetics. And the importance of the experiment is
enhanced, or at any rate we realize it more fully, from the fact that
the poet has been generous enough to elaborate his theory in a preface.
That is no euphemism, as other prefaces and theories of exasperating
memory might seem to suggest. It is real generosity to give away the
fundamentals of your art, to show as clearly as is done here the
principles upon which you work and the exact means which are taken to
give effect to them. It is courageous too, particularly when confessions
are made which supply a key to personality. For the hostile critic is
thus doubly armed. But the 'gentle reader' is armed too; and Mr Hueffer
would seem to have been wise, even from the point of view of mere
prudence, to take the risk.

The reader of this book then will find the poems doubly interesting in
the light that the preface throws upon them. He may, of course, read and
enjoy them without a single reference to it--that is the measure of
their poetic value. Or, on the other hand, he may read the preface, brim
full of stimulating ideas, without reference to the poetry. But the full
significance of either can only be appreciated when they are taken in
conjunction. For instance, we light upon this phrase indicating the
material of the poet's art: "Modern life, so extraordinary, so hazy; so
tenuous, with still such definite and concrete spots in it." It is a
charming phrase, and from its own suggestiveness gently constrains one
to think. But if we turn at once to the most considerable poem of the
collection, "To All the Dead," we shall see our poet in the very act of
recording the life that he visualizes in this way; and we shall see how
remarkably the texture of the poem fits the description in the passage
just quoted: "life hazy and tenuous, with such definite and concrete

To tell the truth, haze is the first thing we see when observing the
effect of this poem. It is pervasive too, and for a time nothing more is
visible save two or three islets of concrete experience, projecting
above it and appearing to float about in it, unstable and unrelated.
This first effect is rather like that of a landscape in a light autumn
ground-mist, which floats along the valley-meadows leaving tree-tops and
hillsides clear. Or it is like trying to recollect what happened to you
on a certain memorable day. The mood comes back readily enough, golden
or sombre; but the events which induced it, or held it in check, or gave
it so sudden a reverse only return reluctantly, one by one, and not even
in their proper order; so that we have to puzzle them out and rearrange
and fit them together before the right sequence appears.

Such is the main impression of "To All the Dead." Only the artist has
been at work here selecting his incidents with a keen eye and sensitive
touch, brooding over them with a temperament of complex charm, and for
all their apparent disjunction, relating and unifying them, as in life,
with the subtlest and frailest of links. As a consequence, at a second
glance the haze begins to lift, while at a third the whole landscape is
visible, a prospect very rich and fair despite the ugly spots which the
artist has not deigned to eliminate, and which, as a fact, he has
deliberately retained.

But there is no doubt the first glance is puzzling. If one were not
caught by the interest of those concrete spots it might even be
tiresome, and one would probably not trouble to take the second glance.
But they are so curious in themselves, and so boldly sketched, that we
are arrested; and the next moment the general design emerges. First the
picture of the ancient Chinese queen--a Mongolian Helen--

    With slanting eyes you would say were blind--
    In a dead white face.

That, with its quaint strange setting and its suggestion of a guilty
love story, is a thing to linger over for its own sake, apart from its
apparent isolation. Nor do we fully realize till later (although
something subtler than intelligence has already perceived it), that in
this opening passage the theme has been stated, and that the key-note
was struck in the line

    She should have been dead nine thousand year....

But we pass abruptly, in the second movement, to our own time and to the
very heart of our own civilization. We are paying a call on a garrulous
friend in the rue de la Paix. He is an American and therefore a
philosopher; but as he descants on the 'nature of things,' doubtless in
the beautiful English of the gentle American, we let our attention
wander to things that touch us more sharply, to sights and sounds
outside the window, each vividly perceived and clearly picked out, but
all resolving themselves into a symbol, vaguely impressive, of the
complicated whirl of life. And this passage again, with its satiric
flavour and dexterity of execution, we are content to enjoy in its
apparent detachment, until we glimpse the link which unites it to the
larger interest of the whole.

The link with that ancient queen is in a flash of contrast--a couple of
Chinese chiropodists, grinning from their lofty window at a _mannequin_
on the opposite side of the street. And as the theme is developed,
episodes which seem irrelevant at first, are soon found to have their
relation with the thought--of death and tragic passion--on which the
poet is brooding. At a chance word dropped by the American host the
confused and perplexing sights and sounds of the outer world vanish; and
the philosophical lecture, droning hitherto just on the edge of
consciousness, fades even out of hearing--

                                 ... I lost them
    At the word "Sandusky." A landscape crossed them;
    A scene no more nor less than a vision,
    All clear and grey in the rue de la Paix.

He is seven years back in time and many hundreds of miles away, pushing
up a North American river in a screaming, smoky steamer, between high
banks crowned with forests of fir:

    And suddenly we saw a beach--

    A grey old beach and some old grey mounds
    That seemed to silence the steamer's sounds;
    So still and old and grey and ragged.
    For there they lay, the tumuli, barrows,
    The Indian graves....

So, rather obliquely perhaps as to method, but with certainty of effect,
we are prepared for the culmination in the third movement. The poet has
fled from civilization and 'Modern Movements' to the upland heather of a
high old mound above the town of Trêves. And here, on a late autumn
evening, he lingers to think. He remembers that it is the eve of All
Souls' Day; and remembers too that the mound on which he is seated is an
old burying-place of great antiquity. In the cold and dark of his eerie
perch, certain impressions of the last few days return to him, just
those which have been subtly galling a secret wound and impelling him to
flee--the tragedy of the Chinese queen, the vision of the old tumuli at
Sandusky Bay, the unheeded platitudes of his friend--

                                 ... "_From good to good,
    And good to better you say we go._"
    (There's an owl overhead.) "_You say that's so?_"
    My American friend of the rue de la Paix?
    "_Grow better and better from day to day._"
    Well, well I had a friend that's not a friend to-day;
    Well, well, I had a love who's resting in the clay
    Of a suburban cemetery.

One has felt all through that something weird is impending; but I am
sure that no ghost-scene so curiously impressive as that which follows
has ever been written before. It could not have been done, waiting as it
was for the conjuncture of time and temperament and circumstance. But
here it is, a thing essentially of our day; with its ironic mood, its
new lore, its air of detachment, its glint of grim humour now and then,
and its intense passion, both of love and of despair, which the
fugitive show of nonchalance does but serve to accentuate. Passion is
the dominant note as the myriad wraiths of long-dead lovers crowd past
the brooding figure in the darkness.

    And so beside the woodland in the sheen
    And shimmer of the dewlight, crescent moon
    And dew wet leaves I heard the cry "Your lips!
    Your lips! Your lips." It shook me where I sat,
    It shook me like a trembling, fearful reed,
    The call of the dead. A multitudinous
    And shadowy host glimmered and gleamed,
    Face to face, eye to eye, heads thrown back, and lips
    Drinking, drinking from lips, drinking from bosoms
    The coldness of the dew--and all a gleam
    Translucent, moonstruck as of moving glasses,
    Gleams on dead hair, gleams on the white dead shoulders
    Upon the backgrounds of black purple woods....

That poem naturally comes first in a little study, because it is the
most considerable in the collection, and again because it is the most
characteristic. It is very convenient, too, for illustrating those
theories of the preface, as for example, that the business of the poet
is "the right appreciation of such facets of our own day as God will let
us perceive ... the putting of certain realities in certain aspects ...
the juxtaposition of varied and contrasting things ... the genuine love
and the faithful rendering of the received impression." But on æsthetic
grounds one is not so sure of "To All the Dead" for the first place.
Perhaps it tries to include too many facets of life--or death; perhaps
we get a slight impression as regards technique that the poet is
_consciously_ experimenting; and there is a shade of morbidity haunting
it. In many of the shorter pieces there is a nearer approach to
perfection. "The Portrait," for instance, a symbolical picture of life,
has only one flaw; a slight excess of a trick of repetition which is a
weakness of our author. It is mere carping, however, to find fault with
a piece which is so noble in idea and gracious in expression; and it
seems a crime to spoil the lovely thing by mutilating it. But with a
resemblance of theme, the poem is so strongly contrasted in manner with
"To All the Dead" that one cannot resist quoting from it at this point.
The idea, although great, is relatively simple: life, symbolized in the
figure of a woman, seated upon a tomb in a sequestered graveyard. The
mood is one of serene melancholy, not rising to passion or dropping to
satire; and the gentle unity of thought and feeling leaves the mind free
to receive the impression of beauty.

    She sits upon a tombstone in the shade;


    Being life amid piled up remembrances
    Of the tranquil dead.
                     ... So she sits and waits.
    And she rejoices us who pass her by,
    And she rejoices those who here lie still,
    And she makes glad the little wandering airs,
    And doth make glad the shaken beams of light
    That fall upon her forehead: all the world
    Moves round her, sitting on forgotten tombs
    And lighting in to-morrow.

That was written earlier than "To All the Dead," but, like the two songs
which come immediately after it in this volume, and like the "Suabian
Legend," it is amongst Mr Hueffer's best things. One precious quality is
the temperament which pervades it--and the principal artistic
significance of all this work is to have expressed so strikingly an
exuberant and complex personality. Sensibility rules, perhaps; but
reflective power is visibly present, with a vein of irony running below
it, precipitated out of its own particular share of the bitterness that
nobody escapes. In one aspect after another this individuality is
revealed, and the changing moods are matched by changing forms. It
follows that there are many varied measures here; and most of them have
some new feature. A few are very irregular, and all are, of course,
modelled to suit the author's impressionistic theory. And the fact that
these forms are in the main so well adapted to their themes: that they
are so successful in conveying the desired impression, is as much as to
say that the poet has evolved a technique which perfectly suits his own
genius. It may or it may not carry much further than that; and the
extent to which the new instrument would respond to other hands may be
problematical. One would suppose that some of its qualities at least
would be a permanent gain, particularly the larger range which brings
within its compass so many fresh aspects of life on the one hand and on
the other a richer idiom. But whether or no these are qualities which
will pass into the substance of future poetry, there can be no question
that life seen through this particular temperament is interpreted
vividly by this method.

Thus we have the fulmination of "Süssmund's Address to an Unknown God";
violent, bitter, and unreasoned, the mere rage of weary mind and body
against the goads of modern existence. Thus, in the "Canzone _à la_
Sonata" as in "The Portrait" a single serious thought is rendered in
grave unrhymed stanzas which have all the dignity of blank verse with
something more than its usual vivacity; and thus, too, in "From Inland,"
one of the exquisite pieces of the volume, the whole of a tragedy is
suggested by the rapid sketching of two or three brief scenes. Again the
verse is perfectly fitted to the theme; the sober rhythm matching the
quietness of retrospect; memory tenderly grieving in simple rhymes which
vary their occurrence as emotion rises and falls.

                        "... We two," I said,
    "Have still the best to come." But you
    Bowed down your brooding, silent head,
    Patient and sad and still....

                                 ... Dear!
    What would I give to climb our down,
    Where the wind hisses in each stalk
    And, from the high brown crest to see,
    Beyond the ancient, sea-grey town,
    The sky-line of our foam-flecked sea;
    And, looking out to sea, to hear,
    Ah! Dear, once more your pleasant talk;
    And to go home as twilight falls
    Along the old sea-walls!
    The best to come! The best! The best!
    One says the wildest things at times,
    Merely for comfort. But--_The best!_

Again, in "Grey Matter" and "Thanks Whilst Unharnessing," the colloquial
touch is right and sure. In the latter poem, the almost halting time of
the opening lines clearly suggests the tired horse as he draws to a
standstill in the early darkness of a winter evening: there is a quicker
movement as the robin's note rings out; the farmer's song is broken at
intervals as he moves about the business of unharnessing, and when he
stands at the open stable door, peering through the darkness at the
robin on the thorn, the impression of relief from toil, of gratitude for
home and rest, of simple kindliness and humanity, is complete--

    Small brother, flit in here, since all around
    The frost hath gripped the ground;
    And oh! I would not like to have you die.
    We's help each other,
    Little Brother Beady-eye.

One might continue to cite examples: the rapid unrhymed dialogue of
"Grey Matter," which continues so long as there is a touch of
controversy in the talk of husband and wife, and changes to a lyric
measure as emotion rises; the real childlikeness of the "Children's
Song"; or the mingled pain and sweetness of "To Christina at Nightfall,"
epitomising life in its philosophy and reflecting it in its art. But it
is unnecessary to go further; and this last little poem (I will not do
it violence by extracting any part of it) is perhaps the most complete
vindication of our poet's theories. Never surely were impressions so
vivid conveyed with a touch at once so firm and tender; never were
thought and feeling so intense rendered with such gracious homeliness.

_An Irish Group_

The spirit of poetry is native to Ireland. It awakened there in the
early dawn, and has hardly slumbered in two thousand years. Probably
before the Christian era it had become vocal; and as long as twelve
hundred years ago it had woven for the garment of its thought an
intricate and subtle prosody. You would think it had grown old in so
great a time. You would almost expect to find, in these latter days, a
pale and mournful wraith of poetry in the green isle. You would look for
the symbol of it in the figure of some poor old woman, like the
legendary Kathleen ni Houlihan, who is supposed to incarnate the spirit
of the country. But even while you are looking it will happen with you
as it happened before the eyes of the lad in the play by Mr Yeats. The
bent form will straighten and the old limbs become lithe and free, the
eyes will sparkle and the cheeks flush and the head be proudly lifted.
And when you are asked, "Did you see an old woman?" you will answer with
the boy in the play:

    I did not; but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen.

So it is with the later poetry of Ireland. One would not guess, in the
more recent lyrics, that these singers are the heirs of a great
antiquity. Their songs are as fresh as a blade of grass: they are as new
as a spring morning, as young and sweet as field flowers in May. They
partake of youth in their essence; and they would seem to proceed from
that strain in the Irish nature which has always adored the young and
beautiful, and which dreamed, many centuries ago, a pagan paradise of
immortal youth which has never lost its glamour:

    Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
    Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
    Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.

Doubtless we owe this air of newness largely to the rebirth of
literature in the Isle. When we say that poetry has never slumbered
there, we get as near to the truth as is possible; it seems always to
have been quick, eager and spontaneous, and never to have drowsed or
faded. But there was a black age when it was smitten so hard by external
misfortune that it nearly died. It was early in the nineteenth century
when, as Dr Hyde tells, "The old literary life of Ireland may be said to
come to a close amidst the horrors of famine, fever and emigration." All
that Dr Hyde and Lady Gregory have done to build up the new literary
life of their land cannot be fully realized yet. But out of their
labours has surely sprung the movement which we call the Irish Literary
Renaissance--a movement in which, disregarding cross currents, the
detached observer would include the whole revival, whether popular or
æsthetic. By fostering the Gaelic they have awakened in the people
themselves a sense of the dignity of their own language and literature.
By the translation of saga and romance, the patient gathering of
folk-tale and fairy-lore, the search for and interpretation of old
manuscripts, they have given to native poets a mass of material which is
peculiarly suited to their genius. And since approximately the year 1890
they have seen their reward in the work of a band of brilliant writers.
Romance is reborn in the novel; the poetry of the old saga blooms again
in the lyric; and a healthy new development has given to Ireland what
she never before possessed--a native drama.

Now it is true that the larger figures of the movement have receded a
little; the one in whom the flame of genius burned most fiercely has
passed into silence. And Synge being gone, there is no hand like his,
cunning to modulate upon every string of the harp. There is no voice of
so full a compass, booming out of tragic depths or shrilling satiric
laughter or sweet with heroic romance; breathing essential poetry and
yet rich with the comedy of life. It is a fact to make us grieve the
more for that untimely end, but it is not a cause for despair. For there
are many legatees of the genius of Synge. They are slighter
figures--naturally so, at this stage of their career--but they belong,
as he did, to the new birth of the nation's genius and they draw their
inspiration directly from their own land.

Here we touch a constant feature of Irish poetry. Dr. Hyde tells that
from the earliest times the bards were imbued with the spirit of
nationality: that their themes were always of native gods and heroes,
and that they were, in a sense, the guardians of national existence. The
singers of a later day curiously resemble them in this. Sometimes it is
a matter of outward likeness only, the new poets having drawn directly
upon the stories which have been placed in their hands from the old
saga. But much more often it is a rooted affinity--a thing of blood and
nerve and mental fibre. Then, although the gods may bear another name
and the heroes be of a newer breed and the national ideal may be
enlarged, it is still with these things that the poets are preoccupied.

This has become to the scoffer a matter of jest, and to the grumbler a
cause of complaint--that the Irish poet is obsessed by race. They say
that they can guess beforehand what will be the mood, the manner and the
subject of nine Irish poems out of ten. They are very clever people, so
they probably could get somewhere near the mark. And they would
naturally find themselves cramped in these narrow bounds. Religion and
history and national ideals would give them no scope. But when they
maintain that this is a radical defect, I am not at all convinced. I
remember that many of the world's great books proceeded from an intense
national self-consciousness; and I ask myself whether it may not be a
law in the literary evolution of a people, as well as in their political
development, that they proceed by way of a strong, free and proud spirit
of nationality to something wider. The reply may be that that is a
relatively early stage through which, in a normal literary progress,
Ireland should have passed long since. True, but normal growth and
advance have never been possible to her; and recalling the events of her
history, it is something of a marvel that the literary genius should
have survived at all.

In contrast with modern English poetry, impatient as it is to escape
from tradition, these traits which mark a line of descent so clearly are
the more striking. One may even smile a little at them--whimsically, as
we do when we see a youth or a young girl reproducing the very looks and
tones and gestures of an older generation. There is something comical in
the unconscious exactitude of it. But the laugh comes out of the deeper
sources of comedy. There lies below it, subconsciously perhaps, a
profound sense of those things in life which are most precious and most

One of the gayer features of this family likeness is the persistence of
a certain kind of satire. We know from Dr Hyde's _Literary History of
Ireland_ that an important function of the ancient bards was to satirize
the rivals and enemies of their chieftain. They had, of course, to sing
his victories, to inspire and encourage his warriors and to weave into
verse the hundreds of romances which had come down to them from times
older still. But their equipment was not complete unless it included a
good stinging power of ridicule; and the _ollamh_, or chief bard, was
commonly required to castigate in this way the king of some other
province who happened to have given offence. But it is not to be
supposed that the rival _ollamh_ would remain silent under the
punishment inflicted on his lord; and one can imagine the battle of wits
which would follow. Or, if we need any assurance as to the caustic power
of the bard, it may be found in one quaint incident. The hero Cuchulain
was ranged against Queen Maeve of Connacht in her famous raid into
Ulster about the year 100 B.C. Maeve was astute as well as warlike, and
when she had failed several times to induce Cuchulain to engage singly
with one of her warriors, she sent to him a threat that her bards "would
criticize, satirize and blemish him so that they would raise three
blisters on his face" ... and Cuchulain instantly consented to her wish.

I cannot guess how many blisters have been raised by Irish satirists
since that date, but I know the art has not died out. There are modern
practitioners of it. Synge made the national susceptibility smart; and
yet his satire, to the mere onlooker, would seem sympathetic enough. So,
too, with Miss Susan Mitchell. She pokes fun at her compatriots with
perfect good humour and we cannot believe that they would be annoyed by
it. But you never can tell. Perhaps the witty philosophy of "The Second
Battle of the Boyne" would not appeal to an Ulster Volunteer; and it is
conceivable that even a Nationalist might resent the sly shaft at the
national pugnacity. The opening stanza tells about an old man, whose
name of portent is Edward Carson MacIntyre. His little grandchild runs
in to him from the field carrying a dark round thing that she has
found, and she trundles it along the floor to the old man's feet.

    Now Edward Carson MacIntyre
      Was old, his eyes were dim,
    But when he heard the crackling sound,
      New life returned to him.
    "Some tax-collector's skull," he swore,
    "We used to crack them by the score."

    "Why did you crack them, grandpapa?"
    Said wee Victoria May;
    "It surely was a wicked thing
    These hapless men to slay."
    "The cause I have forgot," said Mac,
    "All I remember is the crack."


    "And some men said the Government
    Were very much to blame;
    And I myself," says MacIntyre,
    "Got my own share of fame.
    I don't know why we fought," says he,
    "But 'twas the devil of a spree."

Again it is possible (though hardly probable one would think) that Mr
George Moore does not really enjoy the fun so cleverly poked at him in
the stanzas, "George Moore Comes to Ireland." Safe in our own
detachment, the criticism seems delicious, brightly hitting off the
personality which has grown so familiar in Mr Moore's work, and
especially in "Hail and Farewell": the delightful garrulity, the
disconcerting candour, the intimacy and naïve egoism, and the perfectly
transparent what-a-terror-I-was-in-my-youth air. The speaker in the poem
is, of course, Mr Moore himself; and it will be seen how cunningly the
author has caught his attitude, particularly to the work of Mr W. B.

    I haven't tried potato cake or Irish stew as yet;
    I've lived on eggs and bacon, and striven to forget
    A naughty past of ortolan and frothy omelette.


    But W. B. was the boy for me--he of the dim, wan clothes;
    And--don't let on I said it--not above a bit of pose;
    And they call his writing literature, as everybody knows.

    If you like a stir, or want a stage, or would admirèd be,
    Prepare with care a naughty past, and then repent like me.
    My past, alas! was blameless, but this the world won't see.

When Miss Mitchell's satire is engaged on personalities in this way, it
has a piquancy which may obscure the subtler flavour of it. But the
truth is that it is often literary in a double sense, both in subject
and in treatment. So we may find a theme of considerable general
interest in the world of literature, treated in the allusive literary
manner which has so much charm for the booklover. And to that is added a
racy and vigorous satirical touch. Thus, for instance, is the question
of Synge's _Playboy_ handled. Ridicule is thrown on the stupid rage with
which it was received, and on the folly which generalized so hotly from
the play to the nation, deducing wild nonsense against a whole people
and its literature because the man who killed his father in the story is
befriended by peasants. Here is a snatch of it:

      I can't love Plato any more
    Because a man called Sophocles,
      Who lived in distant Attica,
    Wrote a great drama _Oedipus_,
      About a Greek who killed his da.
    I know now Plato was a sham,
      And Socrates I brush aside,
    For Phidias I don't care a damn,
      For every Greek's a parricide.

So, too, comes the burlesque touch in the "Ode to the British Empire":

    God of the Irish Protestant,
      Lord of our proud Ascendancy,
    Soon there'll be none of us extant,
      We want a few plain words with thee.
      Thou know'st our hearts are always set
      On what we get, on what we get.

The genial temper of this work pervades even the political pieces. Miss
Mitchell is no respecter of persons or institutions: she finds food for
derision in friend as well as foe. But her laughter is not
bitter--unless, perhaps, a tinge comes in when she touches that old
source of bitterness, the gulf between the Saxon and the Celt--

    We are a pleasant people, the laugh upon our lip
    Gives answer back to your laugh in gay good fellowship;
    We dance unto your piping, we weep when you want tears;
    Wear a clown's dress to please you, and to your friendly jeers
    Turn up a broad fool's face and wave a flag of green--
    But the naked heart of Ireland, who, who has ever seen?

There is, however, a more important strain of heredity in the new Irish
poetry; and it comes directly through the renaissance of which we have
already spoken. There are two lines of development which begin in that
rebirth; but they proceed almost at right angles from each other. One,
the clearer and more direct, is towards work of a specifically literary
order. The other is tending to a simple and direct rendering of life. On
the one hand we find poetry which is romantic in manner and heroic in
theme. This is largely of narrative form, and seems to hold within it
the promise of epic growth. On the other hand, there is a lyric form of
less pretension and wilder grace; music so fresh and apparently artless
as to mock the idea of derivation. Yet it, too, owes its vitality to the
same impulse, and is, perhaps, its healthiest blossoming.

The treasury of Irish romance has been eagerly drawn upon by the
literary poet; and splendid stories they are for his purpose. Every one
by this time knows the incomparable Deirdre legend, in one or other of
the fine versions by Mr Yeats, Mr Trench or Synge. Deirdre, as a heroine
of the ancient world, positively shines beside a Helen or a Cleopatra.
In her is crystallized the Celtic conception of womanhood, with her
free, clean, brave, generous soul; magnificently choosing her true mate
rather than wed the High King Conchubar; and with her lover
magnificently paying the penalty of death.

We have become almost as familiar, too, with the Hosting of Maeve, the
prowess of Cuchulain, and the mythological figures of Dagda and Dana,
who are the Zeus and Hera of early Irish religion. Here is a fragment of
a poem by Mr James Cousins called "The Marriage of Lir and Niav." The
personages of the story belong to very early myth. To find Lir you must
go back past the heroes and the demigods: further still, past the gods
themselves, to their ancestors. For Lir was the father of Mananan the
sea-god; and he was the Lord of the Seven Isles. Niav (or Niamh) is
described as the Aphrodite of Irish myth; which probably accounts for
the symbolism in the passage where Lir first sees her--

    But, as upon the breathless hour of eve,
    The gentle moon, smiling amid the wreck
    And splendid remnant of the flaming feast
    Wherewith Day's lord had sated half the world,
    Sets a cool hand on the tumultuous waves,
    And soothes them into peace, and takes the throne,
    And beams white love that wakens soft desire
    In waiting hearts; so in that throbbing pause
    Came Niav, daughter of the King whose name
    May not be named till First and Last are one.
                               ... And He who stood
    Unseen, apart, marked how about Her form,
    Clothed white as foam, Her sea-green girdle hung
    Like mermaid weed, and how within her wake
    There came the sound and odour of the sea,
    The swift and silent stroke of unseen wings,
    And little happy cries of mating birds;

This poem appeared in one of Mr. Cousins' earlier books, _The Quest_,
published in 1904; and it is interesting to observe in it the little
signs which indicate the nearness of the poet at that time to the source
of his inspiration. The stories from the three great national cycles of
romance had been made accessible in the years just preceding; and the
poetic imagination seems to have been charmed by their quaint manner as
well as stimulated by their vigour. Hence we find in this poem one or
two familiar epic devices which have apparently been adopted as a means
to catch the tone of the old story, and to convey a sense of its
antiquity. There is, for instance, the trick of repetition that we know
so well, a whole phrase recurring, either word for word or varied very
slightly, at certain intervals through the poem. Thus we have the phrase
which appears in the passage quoted above, and which is several times
repeated in other places--

                      --the King whose name
    May not be named till First and Last are one.

Thus, too, we find the frequent use of simile of an involved and
elaborate order. Mr Cousins reveals himself as poet and artist in this
device alone. Imagination and mastery of technique are alike implied in
fancies so beautifully wrought. The opening lines of the passage we have
given supply an example, and another may be taken from "Etain the
Beloved." It is simpler than most, but it illustrates very aptly the
grace of idea and expression which is characteristic of this poet. The
scene is an assembly of the people before King Eochaidh; and the chief
bard is presenting their urgent petition to him--

    He ceased, and all the faces of the crowd
    Shone with the light that kindles when the boon
    Of speech has eased the heart; as when a cloud
    Falls from the labouring shoulder of the moon,
    And all the world stands smiling silver-browed.

In the same poem of Etain we may note the free use of description and
the rich colour and profuse detail which mark romantic work of this
kind. The story of Etain has a mythological association. She was the
beloved wife of Mider, one of the ancient gods; but she seems to have
been driven out of the hierarchy and to have become incarnate in the
form of a young girl of great beauty. King Eochaidh, not knowing of her
divine origin, wooed her and made her queen. But Mider followed her to
earth and won her back from her human lover. There is an exquisite
stanza in which the King sends to seek for his bride, and tells how they
will find her--

    "She shall be found in some most quiet place
    Where Beauty sits all day beside her knee
    And looks with happy envy on her face;
    Where Virtue blushes, her own guilt to see,
    And Grace learns new, sweet meanings from her grace;
    Where all that ever was or will be wise
    Pales at the burning wisdom of her eyes."

News is brought to the King that Etain is found, and he goes to the
remote and lonely place that his messengers have told him of. He comes
upon her unaware--

    There by the sea, Etain his destined bride
    Sat unabashed, unwitting of the sight
    Of him who gazed upon her gleaming side,
    Fair as the snowfall of a single night;
    Her arms like foam upon the flowing tide;
    Her curd-white limbs in all their beauty bare,
    Straight as the rule of Dagda's carpenter.

There is, too, in this poetry of Mr Cousins, a very tender feeling for
Nature. Perhaps it does not quite accord with the spirit of the wild
time out of which the stories came; but that opens up a larger question
into which we are not bound to enter. For if we are going to quarrel
with the treatment of epic material in any but the vigorous, 'primitive'
manner, we shall make ourselves the poorer by rejecting much beautiful
poetry. We may even find ourselves robbed of Virgilian sweetness. But
most of us will be wise enough to take good things wherever we find
them; and may, therefore, rejoice in stanzas like these, which describe
the stirring of wild creatures at dawn:

    Somewhere the snipe now taps his tiny drum;
    The moth goes fluttering upward from the heath;
    And where no lightest foot unmarked may come,
    The rabbit, tiptoe, plies his shiny teeth
    On luscious herbage; and with strident hum
    The yellow bees, blustering from flower to flower,
    Scatter from dew-filled cups a sparkling shower.

    The meadowsweet shakes out its feathery mass;
    And rumorous winds, that stir the silent eaves,
    Bearing abroad faint perfumes as they pass,
    Thrill with some wondrous tale the fluttering leaves,
    And whisper secretly along the grass
    Where gossamers, for day's triumphal march,
    Hang out from blade to blade their diamond arch.

There is, however, a very different manner in which these early legends
are being treated by some of the Irish poets. One may call it 'Celtic,'
in the hope of conveying some impression of it in a single word. But if
you would get nearer than that, you may take one or two fragments from
Mr Yeats' _The Celtic Twilight_--such as "the voice of Celtic sadness
and of Celtic longing for infinite things ... the vast and vague
extravagance that lies at the bottom of the Celtic heart." And to
phrases like that, which adumbrate the spirit of the work, you must add
a style which is allusive, mystic, and symbolical: in fact, a mode of
expression rather like Mr Yeats' own early poetry. But the crux of the
matter lies there. For the production of really good work of this kind
demands just the equipment which Mr Yeats happens to possess: the right
temperament and the right degree (a high one) of poetic craftsmanship.
It is a rare combination--unique, of course, in so far as the element
of individuality enters. And attempts which have been made to gain the
same effects with a different natural endowment have failed in
proportion as temperament was unsuited or 'the capacity for taking
pains' was less. Hence 'Celtic' poetry, in the specific sense, has
fallen into some disfavour. Yet when mood and material and craft 'have
met and kissed each other,' it is clear that authentic beauty is
created; and that of a kind which cannot be made in any other way. Thus
we might choose, from the romantic work of Miss Eva Gore Booth, passages
where all the desirable qualities seem to meet. There is, for instance,
the poem which prefaces her _Triumph of Maeve_, from which I take the
last two stanzas. Here is finely caught that unrest of soul which we
have been taught to believe essentially Celtic; though it probably
haunts every imaginative mind, of whatever race.

    There is no rest for the soul that has seen the wild eyes of Maeve;
    No rest for the heart once caught in the net of her yellow hair--
    No quiet for the fallen wind, no peace for the broken wave;
    Rising and falling, falling and rising with soft sounds everywhere,
    There is no rest for the soul that has seen the wild eyes of Maeve.
    I have seen Maeve of the Battles wandering over the hill
    And I know that the deed that is in my heart is her deed;
    And my soul is blown about by the wild winds of her will,
    For always the living must follow whither the dead would lead--
    I have seen Maeve of the Battles wandering over the hill.

From the same romance we may select a speech by Fionavar, Queen Maeve's
beautiful young daughter. The sense of the supernatural enters here, for
the occasion is Samhain, the pagan All Souls' Eve. It is a night when
gods and fairies are abroad, and Fionavar has seen things strange and

    As I came down the valley after dark,
    The little golden dagger at my breast
    Flashed into fire lit by a sudden spark;
    I saw the lights flame on the haunted hill,
    My soul was blown about by a strange wind.
    Though the green fir trees rose up stark and still
    Against the sky, yet in my haunted mind
    They bent and swayed before a magic storm:
    A wave of darkness thundered through the sky,
    And drowned the world....

In _Nera's Song_, again, as in the whole romance, we find the element
of dreams which is supposed to be an indubitable sign of the Celtic
temperament. Nera, who is the Queen's bard, has just returned after an
absence of one whole year in the Land of Faëry; and though it is autumn,
his arms are full of primroses, the fairies' magical flower:

    I bring you all my dreams, O golden Maeve,
    There are no dreams in all the world like these
    The dreams of Spring, the golden fronds that wave
    In faery land beneath dark forest-trees,--
              I bring you all my dreams.

    I bring you all my dreams, Fionavar,
    From that dim land where every dream is sweet,
    I have brought you a little shining star,
    I strew my primroses beneath your feet,
              I bring you all my dreams.

There is yet another style in which the heroic tales are occasionally
treated, and it is directly contrasted with either of those which we
have just considered. Examples of it may be found in Miss Alice
Milligan's book of _Hero Lays_, where it will be seen that the poet's
chief concern is with the story itself, rather than with the manner of
telling. In such a piece as "Brian of Banba," for instance, the action
is clear and moves rapidly. There is a sense of morning air and light in
the poem which is very refreshing after the atmosphere of golden
afternoon, or evening twilight, in which we have been wandering. It
comes partly from the blithe swing of the rhythm: partly from the vigour
and clear strength of diction. And a true dramatic sense imparts the
life and movement of quickly changing emotion.

Banba is one of the many beautiful old names for Ireland; and Brian was
perhaps her greatest king. He lived about the time of our English Alfred
and, like him, Brian fought continually against the invading Dane. He,
too, when a young man, lived for a long time the life of an
outlaw--outcast even from his own clan because he would not suffer the
Danish yoke. The poem relates an incident of Brian's appearance at the
palace of his brother, King Mahon, after a long absence. He strides into
the gay assembly alone, his body worn thin by privation and his garments

    "Brian, my brother," said the King, in a tone of scornful wonder,
    "Why dost thou come in beggar-guise our palace portals under?
    Where hast thou wandered since yester year, on what venture of love
        hast thou tarried?
    Tell us the count of thy prey of deer, and what cattleherds thou
        hast harried."


    "I have hunted no deer since yester year, I have harried no
        neighbour's cattle,
    I have wooed no love, I have joined no game, save the kingly game of
    The Danes were my prey by night and day, in their forts of hill and
    And I come from the desert-lands alone, since none are alive to
    Some were slain on the plundered plain, and some in the midnight
    Some were lost in the winter floods, and some by the fever parching;
    Some have perished by wounds of spears, and some by the shafts of
    And some by hunger and some by thirst, and all are dead; but they
        slaughtered first
            Their tenfold more of their foemen."

The King impulsively offers him gifts for a reward, but Brian declines

    "I want no cattle from out your herds, no share of your shining
    But grant me now"--and he turned to look on the listening warriors'
    "A hundred more of the clan Dal Cas, to follow me over plain and
    To die, as fitteth the brave Dal Cas, at war with the Outland

It must not be supposed, however, that these poets are working solely
upon romantic themes, more or less in the epic manner. On the contrary,
direct treatment of the saga is declining, even with the poets who, like
those we have named, were formerly preoccupied with it. Mr Cousins'
volume of 1915 is sharply symptomatic of the change. Subjects of more
social and more immediate interest are engaging attention, and legendary
material is passing into a phase of allusion and symbol. Concurrently,
there is a development of the pure lyric which gives great promise,
being sound and sweet and vigorous. It has all the signs of vitality,
drawing its inspiration directly from life, keeping close to the earth,
as it were, and often dealing with the large and simple things of

One may not make too precise a claim here for affiliation with the
literary revival; but observing the movement broadly, it would appear
that this is its more popular manifestation, springing out of the
devotion to the old language of the country, its folklore and the life
of its people. That current of the stream would touch actual existence
much more closely than æsthetic or academic study; and while one might
regard Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats as the pioneers of the movement on the
specifically literary side, on the other hand there are Dr Hyde, A. E.,
and others, whose influence must have counted largely in these new
lyrics of life.

There are about half a dozen poets who are making these sweet, fresh
songs. They have not published very much, but that follows from the
nature of the medium in which they are working. Lyrical rapture is
brief, and the form of its expression correspondingly small. Very seldom
can it be sustained so long and so keenly as, for example, in Mr
Stephens' "Prelude and a Song," for the wise poet accepts the natural
limits of inspiration and technique. But this little group does not, of
course, include all the Irish lyrists. The poets whom we may describe as
literary--who have, at any rate, the more obvious connexion with the
revival--have made beautiful lyrics too. But they are sharply contrasted
in subject or style, or both, with those others. Thus we may take a
"Spring Rondel" by Mr Cousins, which is supposed to be sung by a

    I clink my castanet,
      And beat my little drum;
      For spring at last has come,
    And on my parapet
    Of chestnut, gummy-wet,
      Where bees begin to hum,
    I clink my castanet,
                And beat my little drum.
    "Spring goes," you say, "suns set."
      So be it! Why be glum?
      Enough, the spring has come;
    And without fear or fret
    I clink my castanet,
      And beat my little drum.

The lyrical virtues of that need no emphasis: the quick, true reflection
of a mood: the lightness of touch and grace of expression. It is,
however, mainly by qualities of form that one is delighted here--the
art's the thing. To make a rondel at all seems an achievement; and to
make it so daintily, with playful fancy and feeling caught to the nicest
shade, almost compels wonder. But that is characteristic of the kind of
verse of which I am speaking, another aspect of which may be seen in a
captivating fragment which has been translated by this poet from the
Irish of some period before the tenth century. It is called "The
Student"; and to find the like of it, with its combined love of nature
and of learning, one must seek a certain 'Clerk of Oxenford' and endow
him with the spirit of his own springtime poet--

    High on my hedge of bush and tree
    A blackbird sings his song to me,
    And far above my linèd book
    I hear the voice of wren and rook.
    From the bush-top, in garb of grey,
    The cuckoo calls the hours of day.
    Right well do I--God send me good!--
    Set down my thoughts within the wood.

It is not often that these poets are occupied with "Modern Movements,"
wherein they differ from their English contemporaries. For that reason,
it is the more significant that one public question has moved them
deeply. Thus we find Miss Mitchell writing of womanhood:

    Oh, what to us your little slights and scorns,
    You who dethrone us with a careless breath.
    God made us awful queens of birth and death,
    And set upon our brows His crown of thorns.

And Miss Gore-Booth, thinking of the sheltered ignorance of many women
who oppose the suffrage for their sex, makes a little parable:

    The princess in her world-old tower pined
    A prisoner, brazen-caged, without a gleam
    Of sunlight, or a windowful of wind;
    She lived but in a long lamp-lighted dream.

    They brought her forth at last when she was old;
    The sunlight on her blanchèd hair was shed
    Too late to turn its silver into gold.
    "Ah, shield me from this brazen glare!" she said.

Mr Cousins, too, has several noble sonnets on the theme, from which we
may select part of the one called "To the Suffragettes":

    Who sets her shoulder to the Cross of Christ,
    Lo! she shall wear sharp scorn upon her brow;
    And she whose hand is put to Freedom's plough
    May not with sleek Expediency make tryst:


    O fateful heralds, charged with Time's decree,
    Whose feet with doom have compassed Error's wall;
    Whose lips have blown the trump of Destiny
    Till ancient thrones are shaking toward their fall;
    Shout! for the Lord hath given to you the free
    New age that comes with great new hope to all.

The main point of contrast, in turning to the more 'popular' lyrics, is
their simplicity. It is a difference of manner as well as of material.
You will not find in this verse either an elaborate metrical form, or
the treatment of questions such as that which we have just noted. Those
things belong to a more complex condition, both of life and of letters,
than that which is reflected here. And if such a contrast always implied
separation in time, we could believe ourselves to be in a different
epoch--a younger and more ingenuous age. But that, of course, by no
means follows. Even if we regard it as figured by a kind of separation
in space, with town and university on the one hand and the broad land
and toiling people on the other, it is still too arbitrary and,
moreover, it is incomplete. No room is found for the wanderers in
neutral territory.

The contrast is rather like that between the newer English poetry and
the old. It is indicative of a current of thought which is running
throughout Europe, and which may be observed in England, stimulating the
more vital work of contemporary poets. That, crudely stated, is a
perception of the value of life--of the whole of life, sense and spirit,
heart and brain and soul. As the poet is seized by it, he is carried
into a larger and more vivid world, one of manifold significance and
beauty which he had never before perceived. He grasps eagerly at _all_
the stuff of existence, persistently seeks his inspiration in life
instead of in literature, and having rejected the artifice of
conventional terminology, begins to create a new kind of poetry.

Now that undercurrent is not visible in a superficial glance at this
poetry. Even native critics seem to have missed it, or tend to refer it
to anything rather than to the whole movement of the national mind
towards reality. But that is not surprising, indeed. For the limpidity
of these lyrics is quite untroubled; they are innocent of ulterior
purpose, and free from the least chill of philosophical questioning into
origins or ends. The impulse out of which they came is instinctive:
their very art, at least in the selection of themes, is spontaneous. An
excellent example is the whole volume by Mr Joseph Campbell called _The
Mountainy Singer_. He has another, _Irishry_, but although that is very
interesting in its studies of Irish life, it is not so good as poetry,
nor is it so apt to our present purpose, because a tinge of
self-consciousness has crept into it. Let us take, however, the piece
which gives its name to the first of these two books:

    I am the mountainy singer--
    The voice of the peasant's dream,
    The cry of the wind on the wooded hill,
    The leap of the fish in the stream.

    Quiet and love I sing--
    The carn on the mountain crest,
    The cailin in her lover's arms,
    The child at its mother's breast.


    Sorrow and death I sing--
    The canker come on the corn,
    The fisher lost in the mountain loch,
    The cry at the mouth of morn.

    No other life I sing,
    For I am sprung of the stock
    That broke the hilly land for bread,
    And built the nest in the rock!

That comes directly out of life, and the confidence and sincerity of it
are a result. The poet, become aware of the prompting of genius, loyally
follows its leading through the common and familiar things of human
experience. And partly because of his loyalty to himself; partly because
he happens to be in touch with the land--quite literally the oldest and
commonest thing of all, except the sea--there comes into his poetry a
sense of natural dignity and strength. His themes are simple and touched
with universal significance. Thus there is the song of ploughing:

    I will go with my father a-ploughing
    To the green field by the sea,
    And the rooks and the crows and the seagulls
    Will come flocking after me.
    I will sing to the patient horses
    With the lark in the white of the air,
    And my father will sing the plough-song
    That blesses the cleaving share.

One finds, too, a song of reaping, and one of winter, and one of night.

There is a love-song, pretty and tender, and fresh with the suggestion
of breezes and blue skies, which begins like this:

    My little dark love is a wineberry,
    As swarth and as sweet, I hold;
    But as the dew on the wineberry
    Her heart is a-cold.

There is a piece, in _Irishry_, which tells of the wonder of childhood,
and another in the same book which reverently touches the thought of
motherhood and old age:

    As a white candle
    In a holy place,
    So is the beauty
    Of an agèd face.

    As the spent radiance
    Of the winter sun,
    So is a woman
    When her travail done.

    Her brood gone from her,
    And her thoughts as still
    As the waters
    Under a ruined mill.

So we might turn from one to another of these old and ever-new themes:
not alone in this poet's work, but also in that of Mr Padraic Colum,
whom he resembles. We shall notice in their music a characteristic
harmony. It is a blending of three diverse elements: the individual, the
national, and the universal. One would expect a discord sometimes; but
the measure of the success of this verse is that it contrives to be, at
one and the same time, specifically lyrical (and therefore a reflection
of personality), definitely Irish, and completely human. Most of the
poems will illustrate this, but for an obvious example take this one by
Mr Campbell:

    I met a walking-man;
    His head was old and grey.
    I gave him what I had
    To crutch him on his way.
    The man was Mary's Son, I'll swear;
    A glory trembled in his hair!

    And since that blessed day
    I've never known the pinch:
    I plough a broad townland,
    And dig a river-inch;
    And on my hearth the fire is bright
    For all that walk by day or night.

If one found that on a bit of torn paper in the wilds of Africa, one
would know it for unquestionable Irish. There are half a dozen signs,
but the spirit of the last two lines is enough. The element of
personality is there, too; clearly visible in tone and choice of words
to those who know the poet's work a little. But stronger than all is
the human note, with all that it implies of man's need of religion, his
incorrigible habit of making God in his own image, and the half comical,
half pathetic materialism of his faith.

There are, of course, some occasions when the blending is unequal: when
one or other of the three elements, usually that of national feeling,
weighs down the balance. But, on the other hand, there are many pieces
in which it is very intimate and subtle. Then it follows that the poet
is at his best, for he has forgotten the immediacy of self and country
and the world of men and things in the joy of singing. Of such is this
"Cradle Song" by Mr Colum:

    O, men from the fields!
    Come softly within.
    Tread softly, softly,
    O! men coming in.

    Mavourneen is going
    From me and from you,
    To Mary, the Mother,
    Whose mantle is blue!

    From reek of the smoke
    And cold of the floor,
    And the peering of things
    Across the half-door.

    O, men from the fields!
    Soft, softly come thro'.
    Mary puts round him
    Her mantle of blue.

Such also is Mr Colum's "Ballad Maker," from which I quote the first and
last stanzas:

    Once I loved a maiden fair,
      _Over the hills and far away_.
    Lands she had and lovers to spare,
      _Over the hills and far away_.
    And I was stooped and troubled sore,
    And my face was pale, and the coat I wore
    Was thin as my supper the night before.
      _Over the hills and far away_.


    To-morrow, Mavourneen a sleeveen weds,
      _Over the hills and far away_;
    With corn in haggard and cattle in shed,
      _Over the hills and far away_.
    And I who have lost her--the dear, the rare,
    Well, I got me this ballad to sing at the fair,
    'Twill bring enough money to drown my care,
      _Over the hills and far away_.

It is an arresting fact, however, that the spirit of nationality is
strong in the work of these poets. True, one may distinguish between a
national sense, keen and directly expressed, and the almost
subconscious influence of race. The first is a theme deliberately chosen
by the poet and variously treated by him. It is a conscious and direct
expression--of aspiration or regret. Racial influence is something
deeper and more constant: something, too, which quite confounds the
sceptic on this particular subject. Whether from inheritance or
environment, it has 'bred true' in these poets; and it will be found to
pervade their work like an atmosphere. It belongs inalienably to
themselves: it is of the essence of their genius, and it is revealed
everywhere, in little things as in great, in cadency and idiom as well
as in an attitude to life and a certain range of ideas.

But though we may make the distinction, it will hardly do to disengage
the strands, because they are so closely bound together. We may only
note the predominance of one or the other, with an occasional complete
and perfect combination. Perhaps the work in which they are least
obvious is the slim volume of Miss Ella Young. But, even here, and
choosing two poems where the artistic instinct has completely subdued
its material, we shall find some of the signs that we are looking for;
and not altogether _because_ we are looking for them. Thus a sonnet,
called "The Virgin Mother," suggests its origin in its very title and,
moreover, it is occupied with a thought of death and a sense of
blissful quietude which are familiar in Irish poetry.

    Now Day's worn out, and Dusk has claimed a share
    Of earth and sky and all the things that be,
    I lay my tired head against your knee,
    And feel your fingers smooth my tangled hair.
    I loved you once, when I had heart to dare,
    And sought you over many a land and sea;
    Yet all the while you waited here for me
    In a sweet stillness shut away from care.
    I have no longing now, no dreams of bliss.
    But drowsed in peace through the soft gloom I wait
    Until the stars be kindled by God's breath;
    For then you'll bend above me with the kiss
    Earth's children long for when the hour grows late,
    Mother of Consolation, Sovereign Death.

In the blank-verse piece called "Twilight" it is again the title which
conveys the direct sign of affinity, but it will also be found to lurk
in every line:

    The sky is silver-pale with just one star,
    One lonely wanderer from the shining host
    Of Night's companions. Through the drowsy woods
    The shadows creep and touch with quietness
    The curling fern-heads and the ancient trees.
    The sea is all a-glimmer with faint lights
    That change and move as if the unseen prow
    Of Niamh's galley cleft its waveless floor,
    And Niamh stood there with the magic token,
    The apple-branch with silver singing leaves.
    The wind has stolen away as though it feared
    To stir the fringes of her faery mantle
    Dream-woven in the Land of Heart's Desire,
    And all the world is hushed as though she called
    Ossian again, and no one answered her.

Now that, in inspiration and imagery, is very clearly derived from
native legendary sources. But no one would expect to find in such work a
direct expression of national feeling. The backward-looking poet, the
one who is drawn instinctively to old themes and times, has not usually
the temper for politics, even on the higher plane. Or if he have, he
will make a rigid separation in style and treatment between his poetry
in the two kinds. Thus Miss Milligan sharply differentiates her lays on
heroic subjects from her lyrics. The lays try to catch the spirit of the
age out of which the stories came. The lyrics, as lyrics should, reflect
no other spirit than the poet's own. The lays are somewhat strict in
form: they are in a brisk narrative style, with a swinging rhythm and
plenty of vigour. The songs, depending on varying sense impressions and
fluctuating emotion, are more irregular as to form and, at the same
time, stronger in their appeal to human sympathy. It is in them that
the poet is able to express the passionate love of country which,
superimposed on a deep sense of Ireland's melancholy history and an
intense longing for freedom, is the birthright of so many Irish poets.
One would like to quote entire the lovely "Song of Freedom," in which
the poet hears in wind and wave and brook a joyous prophecy. But here is
the last stanza:

    To Ara of Connacht's isles,
    As I went sailing o'er the sea,
    The wind's word, the brook's word,
    The wave's word, was plain to me----
    "_As we are, though she is not
    As we are, shall Banba be----
    There is no King can rule the wind
    There is no fetter for the sea._"

More beautiful and significant, perhaps, is a fragment from "There Were
Trees in Tir-Conal":

    Fallen in Erin are all those leafy forests;
    The oaks lie buried under bogland mould;
    Only in legends dim are they remembered,
    Only in ancient books their fame is told.
    But seers, who dream of times to come, have promised
    Forests shall rise again where perished these;
    And of this desolate land it shall be spoken,
    "In Tir-Conal of the territories there are trees."

The prophetic figure there, of course, is symbolical; but thinking of
the basis it has in fact--of the schemes which are afoot in the Isle
for afforestation--one cannot help wondering whether it was consciously
suggested by them. Not that there need be the slightest relation, of
course. The poetical soul will often take a leap in the dark and reach a
shining summit long before the careful people who travel by daylight
along beaten tracks are half way up the hill. Still, there is proof that
this group of writers is keenly interested in the question of the land
and the organized effort to reclaim it. It is the more practical form of
their patriotism, and the sign by which one knows it for something more
than a sentiment. It is a deeply rooted and reasoned sense that the
well-being of a nation, and therefore its strength and greatness, come
ultimately from the soil and depend upon the close and faithful relation
of the people to it. That surely is the conviction which underlies the
work of a poet like Mr Padraic Colum, and particularly such a piece as
his "Plougher":

    Sunset and silence! A man: around him earth savage, earth broken;
    Beside him two horses--a plough!

    Earth savage, earth broken, the brutes, the dawn-man there in the
    And the Plough that is twin to the Sword, that is founder of cities!


    Slowly the darkness falls, the broken lands blend with the savage;
    The brute-tamer stands by the brutes, a head's breadth only above
    A head's breadth? Ay, but therein is hell's depth, and the height up
        to heaven,
    And the thrones of the gods and their halls, their chariots, purples
        and splendours.

In closing this study we must take a glance at two recent volumes, one
containing the poetry of Mr Seumas O'Sullivan and the other Mr Cousins'
latest work. Mr O'Sullivan's book is curiously interesting, inasmuch as
it unites certain contrasted qualities which are found separately in the
other poets we have been considering. Thus, this poet is 'literary' in
the sense of knowing and loving good books, in his familiarity with the
old literature of his country, and in the fact that those things have
had a palpable influence upon him. Temperamentally he is an artist, with
the artistic instinct to subordinate everything to the beauty of his
work. But he is also like the more 'popular' poets in his lyrical gift
and in the range and depth of his sympathies; so that his collected
poems of 1912 may be regarded in some degree as an epitome of modern
Irish poetry. There you will find work which indicates that its author
might have lived very happily in a visionary world of æsthetic delight.
He might have chosen always to sing about gods and heroes and fair
ladies with "white hands, foam-frail." But, just as clearly, you will
see that he has been aroused from dreams. Vanishing remnants of them are
perceptible in such a piece as "The Twilight People"; and when they are
gone, in that serene moment before complete awakening, when the light is
growing and the birds call and a fresh air blows, you get a piece like

    Dear, they are praising your beauty,
    The grass and the sky:
    The sky in a silence of wonder,
    The grass in a sigh.

    I too would sing for your praising,
    Dearest, had I
    Speech as the whispering grass,
    Or the silent sky.

    These have an art for the praising
    Beauty so high.
    Sweet, you are praised in a silence,
    Sung in a sigh.

Then comes the awakening, sudden and sharp, with an impulse to spring
out and away from those old dreams of myth and romance:

    Bundle the gods away:
    Richer than Danaan gold,
    The whisper of leaves in the rain,
    The secrets the wet hills hold.

A spiritual adventure seems to be implied in the poem from which this
fragment is taken, similar to that which Mr Cousins has recorded in
"Straight and Crooked." It is the call of reality: the impulse which is
drawing the poetic spirit closer and closer to life, and bidding it seek
inspiration in common human experience. Thus when we find Mr O'Sullivan
invoking the vision of earth we soon discover that 'earth' means
something more to him than 'countryside'--the beauty of Nature and of
pastoral existence. It comprises also towns and crowded streets and busy
people; and it seems to mean ultimately any aspect of human existence
which has the power to induce poetic ecstasy. An infinitely wider range
is thus open to the poet, and though this little volume does not pretend
to cover any large part of it, there are pieces which suggest its almost
boundless possibility. Let us put two of them together. The first, "A
Piper," describes a little street scene:

    A Piper in the streets to-day
    Set up, and tuned, and started to play,
    And away, away, away on the tide
    Of his music we started; on every side
    Doors and windows were opened wide,
    And men left down their work and came,
    And women with petticoats coloured like flame
    And little bare feet that were blue with cold,
    Went dancing back to the age of gold,
    And all the world went gay, went gay,
    For half an hour in the street to-day.

That expresses the rapture which is evoked directly by the touch of the
actual. The next piece, a fragment from "A Madonna," is equally
characteristic; but its inspiration came through another art, a picture
by Beatrice Elvery:

    Draw nigh, O foolish worshippers who mock
    With pious woe of sainted imagery
    The kingly-human presence of your God.
    Draw near, and with new reverence gaze on her.
    See you, these hands have toiled, these feet have trod
    In all a woman's business; bend the knee.
    For this of very certainty is she
    Ordained of heavenly hierarchies to rock
    The cradle of the infant carpenter.

Under the diverse sources from which such poems immediately spring,
there flows the current which is fertilizing, in greater or less degree,
all modern poetry. It has been running strongly in England for some
years, but hitherto the Irish poet has hardly seemed conscious of it,
though it was visibly moving him. Its presence has been mainly felt in
the silence of Mr Yeats, whose lovely romanticism fell dumb at its
touch. But, significantly, the latest poetic utterance of Ireland is a
cry of complete realization. It has remained for Mr Cousins, more
sensitive and complex than his compatriots, to hear the call of his age
more consciously than they; and it is left to him, in grace and courage,
to declare it:

    ... From a sleep I emerge. I am clothed again with this woven
        vesture of laws;
    But I am not, and never again shall be the man that I was.
    At the zenith of life I am born again, I begin.
    Know ye, I am awake, outside and within.
    I have heard, I have seen, I have known; I feel the bite of this
        shackle of place and name,
    And nothing can be the same.


    I have sent three shouts of freedom along the wind.
    I have struck one hand of kinship in the hands of Gods, and one in
        the hands of women and men.
    I am awake. I shall never sleep again.

_Rose Macaulay_

There is one small volume of poems by Miss Macaulay, called _The Two
Blind Countries_. It is curiously interesting, since it may be regarded
as the testament of mysticism for the year of its appearance, nineteen
hundred and fourteen. That is, indeed, the most important fact about it;
though no one need begin to fear that he is to be fobbed off with
inferior poetry on that account. For the truth is that the artistic
value of this work is almost, if not quite, equal to the exceptional
power of abstraction that it evinces. Poetry has really been achieved
here, extremely individual in manner and in matter, and of a high order
of beauty.

One is compelled, however, though one may a little regret the
compulsion, to start from the fact of the poet's mystical tendency. Not
that she would mind, presumably; the title of her book is an avowal,
clear enough at a second glance, of its point of view. But the reader
has an instinct, in which the mere interpreter but follows him, to
accept a poem first as art rather than thought; and if he examine it at
all, to begin with what may be called its concrete beauty. I will not
say that the order is reversed in the case of Miss Macaulay's poetry,
since that would be to accuse her of an artistic crime of which she is
emphatically not guilty. But it is significant that the greater number
of pieces in this book impress the mind with the idea they convey,
simultaneously with the sounds in which it is expressed. And as the idea
is generally adventurous, and sometimes fantastic, it is that which
arrests the reader and on which he lingers, at any rate long enough to
discover its originality.

But though the mystical element of the work is suggested in its very
title, one discovers almost as early that it is mysticism of a new kind.
It belongs inalienably to this poet and is unmistakably of this age. The
world of matter, this jolly place of light and air and colour and human
faces, is vividly apprehended; but it is seen by the poet to be ringed
round by another realm which, though unsubstantial, is no less real.
Indeed, so strong is her consciousness of that other realm, and its
presence so insistently felt, that sometimes she is not sure to which of
the two she really belongs. In the first poem of the book, using the
fictive 'he' as its subject, she indicates her attitude to that region
beyond sense. In the physical world, this 'blind land' of 'shadows and
droll shapes,' the soul is an alien wanderer. Constantly it hears a
'clamorous whisper' from the other side of the door of sense, coming
from the

           ... muffled speech
    Of a world of folk.

But no cry can reach those others: no clear sight can be had of them,
and no intelligible word of theirs can come back.

    Only through a crack in the door's blind face
      He would reach a thieving hand,
    To draw some clue to his own strange place
          From the other land.

    But his closed hand came back emptily,
      As a dream drops from him who wakes;
    And naught might he know but how a muffled sea
          In whispers breaks.


    On either side of a gray barrier
      The two blind countries lie;
    But he knew not which held him prisoner,
          Nor yet know I.

This poem may be said to state the theme of the whole book. It would
appear, however, that in the difficult feat of giving form to thought so
intangible, the poet has attained here a detachment which is almost
cold. But it would be unfair to judge her manner of expression from one
poem; and it happens that there is another piece, built upon a similar
theme, which is much more characteristic. It is called "Foregrounds,"
and here again the two countries are conceived as bordering upon each
other, inter-penetrating, but sharply contrasted as night from day. The
contrast favours a more vivid setting, and the subjective treatment,
admitting deeper emotion, infuses a warmth that "The Alien" lacked.
Moreover, the psychic region is here called simply the _dream-country_;
and, presented in the delicate suggestion of a moonlit night, it hints
only at the lure of the mystery, and nothing of its terror. Throughout
the poem, too, runs exuberant joy in common earthly things, in the
beauty of nature and in human feeling; and this is followed, in the
closing lines of each stanza, by an afterthought and a touch of
melancholy: reflection coming, in the most natural way, close upon the
heels of emotion. Thus the first lines revel in the glory of spring; and
then, almost audibly, the tone drops to the lower level of one who
perceives that glory as the veil of something beyond it.

    The pleasant ditch is a milky way,
      So alight with stars it is,
    And over it breaks, like pale sea-spray,
    The laughing cataract of the may
      In luminous harmonies.
        (Cloak with a flower-wrought veil
    The face of the dream-country.
        The fields of the moon are kind, are pale,
        And quiet is she.)

Thus, too, in the third stanza, the recurrent idea of an alien spirit is
caught into imagery which glows with light and colour: imagery so simple
and sensuous as almost to mock abstraction and quite to disguise it; but
bearing at its heart the essence of a philosophy. Again the soul is
imagined as standing at the barrier of the two countries, when reality
has melted to an apparition and the sense of that other realm has grown
acute. Bereft of the comfortable earth, but powerless still to enter the
dream-country: standing lonely and fearful at the cold verge of the
mystic region, the spirit will seek to draw about it the garment of

    I will weave, of the clear clean shapes of things,
      A curtain to shelter me;
    I will paint it with kingcups and sunrisings,
    And glints of blue for the swallow's wings,
      And green for the apple-tree.
        (Oh, a whisper has pierced the veil
        Out of the dream-country,
    As a wind moans in the straining sail
        Of a ship lost at sea.)

In reading this poem, and in others too, one is struck by the hold
which the real world has upon our poet. It is a surprising fact in one
of so speculative a turn, and is the clearest sign by which we recognize
her work as of our time and no other. Her thought may be projected very
far, but her feet are generally upon solid ground. Perhaps I ought
rather to say that they are always there; for it is more than probable
that bed-rock may exist in two or three poems where I have been unable
to get down to it. It is in any case safe to say that a sense of
reality--shown in human sympathy and tenderness for lowly creatures, in
love of nature and perception of beauty, in truth to fact, in a touch of
shrewd insight and a sense of humour bred of the habit of detachment--is
very strong. I do not suggest that these qualities are everywhere
apparent. By their nature they are such as could not often enter into
the framework of poems so subtly wrought. But they are woven into the
texture of the poet's mentality, and have even directed its method. So
that, remote as may be the idea upon which she is working, it is
generally brought within the range of sight; and, intangible though it
may seem, it is given definite and charming shape. And if there were not
one obvious proof of this steady anchorage, we might have happy
assurance of it in the clarity and precision of her thought. But
fortunately there _is_ obvious proof. There is, for instance, this
delicious passage in the poem from which I have just quoted, surely
proving a kinship with our own 'blind country' as close as with that
other and something dearer:

    The jolly donkeys that love me well
      Nuzzle with thistly lips;
    The harebell is song made visible,
    The dandelion's lamp a miracle,
      When the day's lamp dips and dips.

There are, too, a sonnet called "Cards" and the very beautiful longer
poem, "Summons," in which the glow of human love makes of the
supernatural a mere shadow. In "Cards" the scene is a 'dim
lily-illumined garden,' and four people are playing there by candle
light. But out of the darkness which rings the circle of flickering
light sinister things creep, menacing the frail life of one of the

    But, like swords clashing, my love on their hate
    Struck sharp, and drove, and pushed.... Grimly round you
    Fought we that fight, they pressing passionate
    Into the lit circle which called and drew
    Shadows and moths of night.... I held the gate.
    You said, "Our game," more truly than you knew.

Again we perceive this sense of reality in the humour of a poem like
"St Mark's Day" or "Three." It is a quality hearty and cheery in the way
of one who knows all the facts, but has reckoned with them and can
afford to laugh. It has a depth of tone unexpected in an artist whose
natural impulse seems to be towards delicate line and neutral tint; and
there is a tang of salt in it which one suspects of having been added of
intent--as a quite superfluous preservative against sentimentality. "St
Mark's Day" is very illuminating in this respect, and in the bracing
sanity under which mere superstition wilts. The village girl, teased by
neighbours into believing that her spectre was seen the night before and
that therefore she must die within the year, is a genuine bit of rustic
humanity. No portrait of her is given; but in two or three strong
touches she stands before us, plump, rosy and rather stupid; hale enough
to live her fourscore years, but sobbing in foolish fright as her sturdy
arms peg the wet linen upon the line.

    I laughed at her over the sticky larch fence,
      And said, "Who's down-hearted, Dolly?"

    And Dolly sobbed at me, "They saw you, too!"
      (And so the liars said they had,
    Though I've not wasted paper nor rhymes telling you),
      And, "Well," said I, "_I'm_ not sad."
    "But since you and me must die within the year,
      What if we went together
    To make cowslip balls in the fields, and hear
      The blackbirds whistling to the weather?"

    So in the water-fields till blue mists rose
      We loitered, Dolly and I,
    And pulled wet kingcups where the cold brook goes,
      And when we've done living, we'll die.

The realism of that goes deeper than its technique, and is a notable
weapon in the hands of such an idealist. But in "Three," another
humorous poem, something even more surprising has been accomplished. "St
Mark's Day" is a bit of pure comedy, and might have been written by a
poet for whom _one_ 'blind country' was the beginning and end of all
experience. That is to say, it is interesting as proof of a healthy
grasp on the real world; but the distinctive feature of this poetry
hardly appears in it. Abstraction is absent, inevitably, of course; and
with it that ideal realm which largely preoccupies the poet's thought.
But in "Three," with reality no less strong, with art matching it in
bold and vigorous strokes, and touches here and there positively comic;
with the scene laid out-of-doors in a sunny noonday of August, there is
achieved an almost startling sense of the supernatural. More than that,
it is the supernatural under two different aspects, or on two separate
planes (whichever may be the correct way to state that sort of thing):
the consciousness of a ghostly presence, in the accepted sense of the
spirit of one dead; and that obscure but disturbing awareness of a
hidden life close at hand which most people have experienced at some
time or other. But while the poet has sketched these two of her "Three"
with an equally light hand, smiling amusedly, as it were, at her own
fantasy, she has differentiated them quite clearly. For the true ghost,
conjured out of the stuff of memory, association and the influence of
locality, is a creature of pure imagination. He is not so much described
as suggested, and only dimly felt. There is a stanza devoted to the
Cambridge landscape in the hot noon, and then--

    In the long grass and tall nettles
      I lay abed,
    With hawthorn and bryony
      Tangled o'erhead.
    And I was alone with Hobson,
      Two centuries dead.

    Hidden by sprawling brambles
      The Nine Waters were;
    From a chalky bed they bubbled up,
      Clean, green, and fair.
    And I was alone with Hobson,
      Whose ghost walks there.

But it seems that the poet is not alone with the pleasant ghost of the
old university carrier. There is a third presence near, hidden and
silent, but malign; and the stanzas in which this secret presence grows
to a realization that is acute and almost terrifying, are remarkably
done. They illustrate this poet's ability to create illusion out of mere
scraps of material, and those of the most commonplace kind; and they
rely for their verbal effect upon the homeliest words. Yet the
impression of an intangible something that is evil and uncanny is so
strong, that when the very real head of the tramp appears the contrast
provokes a sudden laugh at its absurdity.

    And something yawned, and from the grass
      A head upreared;
    And I was not alone with Hobson,
      For at me leered
    A great, gaunt, greasy tramp
      With a golden beard.

    He had a beard like a dandelion,
      And I had none;
    He had tea in a beer-bottle,
      Warm with the sun;
    He had pie in a paper bag,
      Not yet begun.

The vigorous handling of that passage, and its comical actuality, makes
an excellent foil to the subtler method of presenting the two spirits,
living and dead. And the poem as a whole may be said to reflect the dual
elements which are everywhere present in this work. It is true that in a
more characteristic piece the ideal will prevail over the real. And
consequently, imagination will there be found to weave finer strands,
while thought goes much further afield. Thus, in "Crying for the Moon"
and in "The Thief," one may follow the idea very far; and in both poems
we move in the pale light and dim shadow where mystery is evoked at a
hint. Never, I think, was there such an eerie dawn as that in "The
Thief"; yet never was orchard-joy more keenly realized--

    He stood at the world's secret heart
      In the haze-wrapt mystery;
    And fat pears, mellow on the lip,
      He supped like a honey-bee;
    But the apples he crunched with sharp white teeth
      Were pungent, like the sea.

Probably it is in work like this, where both blind countries find
expression, that Miss Macaulay is most successful. But when she gives
imagination licence to wander alone in the ideal region, it occasionally
seems to go out of sight and sound of the good earth. That happens in
"Completion," a poem which is frankly mystical in theme, symbolism, and
terminology. There is not a touch of reality in it; and neither its fine
strange music, nor glowing colour, nor certain perfect phrases, nor the
language, at once rich and tender and strong, can make it more than the
opalescent wraith of a poem. But perhaps that is just what the author
intended it to be!

In any case "Completion" does correspond to, and daintily express, the
mystical strain which is dominant in this work. It is, however, the
extreme example of it. It stands at the opposite pole from "St Mark's
Day," and antithetical to that, it might have been written by a mystic
for whom the material world was virtually nothing. Moreover, it might
belong to almost any time, or not to time at all; whereas the mysticism
of the book as a whole is peculiarly that of its own author and its own
day. It is individual--a thing of this poet's personality and no
other--in the evidence of a finely sensitive spirit, of a gift of vision
abnormally acute, imaginative power that ranges far and free, and a fine
capacity for abstract thought. But all these qualities, though pervasive
and dominant, are sweetly controlled by a humane temper that has been
nurtured on realities.

Hence comes a duality in which it is, perhaps, not too fanciful to see
a feature of contemporary thought--intensely interested in the region of
ideas, but frankly claiming the material world as the basis and
starting-point of all its speculation. One might put it colloquially
(though without the implied reproach) as making the best of both worlds:
humanity recognizing an honourable kinship with matter, but reaching out
continually after the larger existence which it confidently believes to
be latent in the physical world itself.

A voice may be raised to protest that that is too vaguely generalized;
and if so, the protestant may turn for more precise evidence to such
poems as "Trinity Sunday" and "The Devourers." There he will perceive,
after a moment's reflection, the store of modern knowledge--of actual
data--which has been assimilated to the mystical element here. Let him
consider, for example, the first two stanzas of "The Devourers," and
other similar passages:

    Cambridge town is a beleaguered city;
      For south and north, like a sea,
    There beat on its gates, without haste or pity,
      The downs and the fen country.

    Cambridge towers, so old, so wise,
      They were builded but yesterday,
    Watched by sleepy gray secret eyes
      That smiled as at children's play.

It is clear that the knowledge really has been assimilated--it is not a
fragmentary or external thing. It is absorbed into the essence of the
work and will not be found to mar its poetic values. But by a hint, a
word, a turn of expression or a mental gesture, one can see that
learning both scientific and humane (a significant union) has gone into
the poetic crucible. There are signs which point to a whole system of
philosophy: there is an historical sense, imaginatively handling the
data of cosmic history; and there are traces which lead down to a basis
in geology and anthropology. Yet these elements are, as I said,
perfectly fused: it would be difficult to disengage them. And inimical
as they may seem to the very nature of mysticism, they are constrained
by this poet to contribute to her vision of a world beyond sense.

From this point of view "Trinity Sunday" is the most important poem in
the book. It records an experience which the mystic of another age would
have called a revelation, and which he would have apprehended through
the medium of religious emotion. But this poet attains to her ultimate
vision through the phenomena of the real world, apprehended in terms of
the ideal. The warm breath of Spring, rich with scent and sound of the
teeming earth, stirs it to awakening. But though she is walking in
familiar Cambridge with, characteristically, the scene and time exactly
placed: though friendly faces pass and cordial voices give a greeting,
all that suddenly shrivels at the touch of the wild earth spirit. Space
and time curl away in fold after fold; and with them pass successive
forms of strange life immensely remote. But even while reality thus
terribly unfolds, it is perceived to be the _stuff of the world's live
brain_; to have existence only in idea.

    And the fens were not. (For fens are dreams
      Dreamt by a race long dead;
    And the earth is naught, and the sun but seems:
      And so those who know have said.)

Thus the facts of science have gone to the making of this poem, as well
as the theories of an idealist philosophy. It is through them both that
imagination takes the forward leap. But neither the one nor the other
can avail to utter the revelation; and even the poet's remarkable gift
of expression can only suffice to suggest the awfulness of it.

    So veil beyond veil illimitably lifted:
      And I saw the world's naked face,
    Before, reeling and baffled and blind, I drifted
      Back within the bounds of space.

_John Masefield_

There is one sense at least in which Mr Masefield is the most important
figure amongst contemporary poets. For he has won the popular ear, he
has cast the poetic spell further than any of his compeers, and it has
been given to him to lure the multitudinous reader of magazines--that
wary host which is usually stampeded by the sight of a page of verse.

Now I know that there are cultured persons to whom this fact of
uncritical appreciation is an offence, and to them a writer bent upon
purely scientific criticism would be compelled to yield certain points.
But they would be mainly on finicking questions, as an occasional lapse
from fineness in thought or form, an incidental banality of word or
phrase; or a lack of delicate effects of rhyme and metre. And the whole
business would amount in the end to little more than a petulant
complaint; an impertinent grumble that Mr Masefield happens to be
himself and not, let us say, Mr Robert Bridges; that his individual
genius has carved its own channels and that, in effect, the music of the
sea or the mountain torrent does not happen to be the same thing as the
plash of a fountain in a valley.

But having no quarrel with this offending popularity: rejoicing in it
rather, and the new army of poetry-readers which it has created; and
believing it to be an authentic sign of the poetic spirit of our day,
one is tempted to seek for the cause of it. Luckily, there is a poem
called "Biography" which gives a clue and something more. It is a pæan
of zest for life, of the intense joy in actual living which seems to be
the dynamic of Mr Masefield's genius. There is, most conspicuous and
significant, delight in beauty; a swift, keen, accurate response of
sense to the external world, to sea and sky and hill, to field and
flower. But there is fierce delight, too, in toil and danger, in
strenuous action, in desperate struggle with wind and wave, in the
supreme effort of physical power, in health and strength and skill and
freedom and jollity; and above all, first, last and always, in ships.
But there is delight no less in communion with humanity, in comradeship,
in happy memories of kindred, in still happier mental kinships and
intellectual affinities, in books, in 'glittering moments' of spiritual
perception, in the brooding sense of man's long history.

These are the 'golden instants and bright days' which correctly spell
his life, as this poet is careful to emphasize; and we perceive that the
rapture which they inspire in him, the ardour with which he takes this
sea of life, is of the essence of his poetry. It is seen most clearly
in the lyrics; and that is natural, since these are amongst his early
work, and youth is the heyday of joy. It is found in nearly all of them,
of course in varying degree, colouring substance and shaping form,
evoking often a strong rhythm like a hearty voice that sings as it goes.

    So hey for the road, the west road, by mill and forge and fold,
    Scent of the fern and song of the lark by brook, and field, and

Or again, in "Tewkesbury Road,"

    O, to feel the beat of the rain, and the homely smell of the earth,
    Is a tune for the blood to jig to, a joy past power of words;
    And the blessed green comely meadows are all a-ripple with mirth
    At the noise of the lambs at play and the dear wild cry of the

And it rings in many songs of the sea, telling of its beauty or terror,
its magic and mystery and hardship, its stately ships and tough
sailor-men and strange harbourages, its breath of romance sharply
tingling with reality, its lure from which there is no escape--

    I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
    Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
    And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
    And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

Under the wistfulness of that throbs the same zest as that which finds
expression in "Laugh and be Merry"; but the mood has become more

    Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
    Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
    Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
    Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Sometimes a minor key is struck, as in "Prayer;" but even here the joy
is present, revealing itself in sharp regret for the beloved things of
earth. It manifests itself in many ways, subtler or more obvious; but
mainly I think in a questing, venturous spirit which must always be
daring and seeking something beyond. Whether in the material world or
the spiritual, it is always the same--whether it be sea-longing, or
hunger for the City of God, or a vague faring to an unknown bourne, or
the eternal quest for beauty. The poem called "The Seekers" is
beautifully apt in this regard. Simply, clearly, directly, it expresses
the alpha and omega of this genius: the zest which is its driving force
and the aspiration, the tireless and ceaseless pursuit of an ideal,
which is its objective.

    Not for us are content, and quiet, and peace of mind,
    For we go seeking a city that we shall never find.

    There is no solace on earth for us--for such as we--
    Who search for a hidden city that we shall never see.

There is the spirit of adventure, the eternal allure of romance, as old
and as potent as poetry itself. And surely nothing is more engaging,
nothing quicker and stronger and more universal in its appeal, than zest
for life finding expression in this way. In these early lyrics its
spontaneous and simple utterance is very winning; but in the later
narrative poems it is none the less present because, having grown a
little older, it is a little more complex and not so obvious in its
manifestation. Under these longer poems too runs the stream of joy,
somewhat quieter now, perhaps, subdued by contemplation, brought to the
test of actuality, shaping a different form through the conflict of
human will, but still deep and strong, and, as in the earlier work,
expressing its ultimate meaning through the spirit of high adventure.

Thus "The Widow in the Bye Street," which was the first written of these
four narrative poems, is the adventure of motherhood. "Oh!" will protest
some member of the dainty legion which lives in terror of appearances,
"it is a story of lust and murder!" But no; fundamentally, triumphantly,
it is a tale of mother-love, venturing all for the child. Only
superficially is it a tragedy of ungoverned desire and rage, made out of
the incidence of character which we call destiny. The mother's spirit
prevails over all that, and remains unconquerable. In "Daffodil Fields"
there is the adventure of romantic passion. The "Everlasting Mercy," so
obviously as hardly to need the comment, is the high adventure of the
soul; and "Dauber," less clearly perhaps, though quite as certainly, is
that too. But while in the first of these two poems the spirit's spark
is struck into 'absolute human clay,' in "Dauber" it is burning already
in the brain of an artist. Saul Kane, when his soul comes to birth at
the touch of religion, puts off bestiality and rises to a joyful
perception of the meaning of life. The Dauber, with that precious
knowledge already shining within him, but twinned with another, the
supreme and immortal glory of art, with his last breath cries holy
defiance to the elements that snatch his life--_It will go on_.

But there is another reason for the popularity of this poet's work; and
it also is deducible from the poem called "Biography." I mean the
complete and robust humanity which is evinced there. One sees, of
course, that this has a close relation with the zest that we have
already noted; that it is indeed the root of that fine flower. But the
balance of this personality--with power of action and of thought about
equally poised, with the mystic and the humanitarian meeting half-way,
with the ideal and the real twining and intertwining constantly, with
sensuous and spiritual perception almost matched--determines the quality
by which Mr Masefield's poems make so wide and direct an appeal. If
reflectiveness were predominant, if the subjective element outran the
keen dramatic sense, if the ideal were capable of easy victory over the
material (it does conquer, but of that later), this would be poetry of a
very different type. Whether it would be of a finer type it is idle to
speculate, the point for the moment being that it would not command so
large an audience. By just so far as specialization operated, the range
would be made narrower.

It is this sense of humanity which wins; not only explicit, as, for
example, in the deliberate choice of subject avowed once for all in the
early poem called "Consecration"--

    The men of the tattered battalion which fights till it dies,
    Dazed with the dust of the battle, the din and the cries,


    The sailor, the stoker of steamers, the man with the clout,
    The chantyman bent at the halliards putting a tune to the shout,


    Of the maimed, of the halt and the blind in the rain and the cold--
    Of these shall my songs be fashioned, my tales be told.

There the poet is responding consciously to the time-spirit: the
awakening social sense which, moving pitifully amongst bitter and ugly
experience, was to evoke the outer realism of his art. That, of course,
being passionately sincere, is a powerful influence. But stronger still
is the unconscious force of personality, this completeness of nature
which in "Biography" is seen as a rare union of powers that are
nevertheless the common heritage of humanity; and which is implicit
everywhere in his work, imbuing it with the compelling attraction of
large human sympathy.

Out of this arise the curiously contrasted elements of Mr Masefield's
poetry. For, as in life itself, and particularly in life that is full
and sound, there is here a perpetual conflict between opposing forces.
It is, perhaps, the most prominent characteristic of this work. It
pervades it throughout, belongs to its very essence and has moulded its
form. It is, of course, most readily apparent in the poet's art. Here
the battling forces of his genius, transferred to the creatures whom he
has created, have made these narrative poems largely dramatic in form.
Here, too, we come upon a clash of realism with romance and idyllic
sweetness. That bald external realism has found much disfavour with
those who do not or will not see its relation to the underlying reality.
And one observes that the critic who professes most to dislike it
hastens to quote the gaudiest example, practically ignoring the many
serene and gracious passages.

But, putting aside the prejudice which has been fostered by a
conventional poetic language, this realistic method does seem to
conflict with certain other characteristics of the work--with the
essential romance of the spirit of adventure, for instance. There does
at first glance appear to be a disturbing lack of unity between that
ardent, wistful and elusive spirit, and the grim actuality here, of
incident and diction; or, on the other hand, between the raw material of
this verse and its elaborate metrical form, or its frequent passages of
rare and delicate beauty. But is it more than an appearance? I think
not. I believe that the incongruity exists only in a canon of poetical
taste which is false to the extent that it is based too narrowly. That
canon has appropriated romance to a certain order of themes and, almost
as exclusively, to a certain manner of expression. Most of our
contemporary poets have cheerfully repudiated the convention so far as
it governed language; building up, each for himself, a fresh, rich,
expressive idiom in which the magic of romance is often vividly
recreated. Some of them, and Mr Masefield pre-eminently, have gone
further. They have perceived the potential romance of all life, and have
broken down the old limit which prescribed to the poet only graceful
figures and pseudo-heroic themes. They have set themselves to express
the wonder and mystery, the ecstasy and exaltation which inhere, however
obscurely, in the lowliest human existence.

Thus we have Saul Kane, the village wastrel of "The Everlasting Mercy,"
glimpsing his heritage, for a moment, in a lucid interval of a drunken
orgy. Suddenly, for a marvellous instant, he is made aware of beauty,
smitten into consciousness of himself and a fugitive apprehension of

    I opened window wide and leaned
    Out of that pigstye of the fiend
    And felt a cool wind go like grace
    About the sleeping market-place.
    The clock struck three, and sweetly, slowly,
    The bells chimed Holy, Holy, Holy;


    And summat made me think of things.
    How long those ticking clocks had gone
    From church and chapel, on and on,
    Ticking the time out, ticking slow
    To men and girls who'd come and go,


    And how a change had come. And then
    I thought, "You tick to different men."
    What with the fight and what with drinking
    And being awake alone there thinking,
    My mind began to carp and tetter,
    "If this life's all, the beasts are better."

The elements of that passage, and cumulatively to its end, are genuinely
romantic: the heightened mood, the night setting of darkness and
solemnity, the wondering and regretful gaze into the past, and the sense
of eternal mystery. So, too, though from a very different aspect, is the
amazing power of the mad scene in this poem. The fierce zest of it
courses along a flaming pathway and is as exhilarating in its speed and
vigour as any romantic masterpiece in the older manner. It is difficult
to quote, in justice to the author, from so closely woven a texture; but
there is a short passage which illustrates over again the physical
development that we have already noted balancing mental and spiritual
qualities in this genius. It is the exultation of Kane in his
swiftness, as he rages through the streets with a crowd toiling after

    The men who don't know to the root
    The joy of being swift of foot,
    Have never known divine and fresh
    The glory of the gift of flesh,
    Nor felt the feet exult, nor gone
    Along a dim road, on and on,
    Knowing again the bursting glows,
    The mating hare in April knows,
    Who tingles to the pads with mirth
    At being the swiftest thing on earth.
    O, if you want to know delight,
    Run naked in an autumn night,
    And laugh, as I laughed then....

The sensuous ecstasy of that is as strongly contrasted with the
pensiveness of the previous scene at the window as it is with the gentle
rhapsody which follows the drunkard's conversion. Of that rhapsody what
can one say? It is a piece about which words seem inadequate, or totally
futile. Perhaps one comment may be made, however. Reading it for the
twentieth time, and marvelling once more at the religious emotion which,
in its naïve sweetness and intensity is so strange an apparition in our
day, my mind flew, with a sudden sense of enlightenment, back to
Chaucer. At first, reflection made the transition seem abrupt to
absurdity; but the connexion had no doubt been helped subconsciously by
the apt fragment from Lydgate on the fly-leaf of this poem. Thence it
was but a step to the large humanity, the sympathy and tolerance and
generosity, the wide understanding bred of practical knowledge of men
and affairs, of the father of poets. An actual likeness gleamed which
was at the same time piquant and satisfying. For, first, it stimulated
curiosity regarding the use by this poet of the Chaucerian rhyme-royal
in three of these long poems. That evinces a leaning on traditional form
rather curious in so independent an artist. And then it teased the mind
with suggestions that led out of range--about mental affinities, and the
different manifestations of the same type of genius, born into ages so
far apart.

It is not, of course, a question of exact or direct comparison between,
let us say, the _Canterbury Tales_ and these narrative poems of the
twentieth century. It is rather a matter of the spirit of the whole
work, of the personality and its reaction to life, which satisfy one
individual at least of a resemblance. Of course it is not easily
susceptible of proof; but there are passages from the two poets which in
thought, feeling, and even manner of expression, will almost form a
parallel. Consider this stanza from a minor poem of Chaucer, a prayer
to the Virgin in the quaint form of an "A. B. C."

    Xristus, thy sone, that in this world alighte,
    Up-on the cros to suffre his passioun,
    And eek, that Longius his herte pighte,
    And made his herte blood to renne adoun;
    And al was this for my salvacioun;
    And I to him am fals and eek unkinde,
    And yit he wol not my dampnacioun--
    This thanke I you, socour of al mankinde.

The childlike faith of that, the quiet rapture of adoration, the abandon
and simple confidence, are curiously matched by the following passage
from "The Everlasting Mercy." Saul Kane has found his soul in the
mystical rebirth of Christianity, and dawn coming across the fields
lightens all his world with new significance.

    O Christ who holds the open gate,
    O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
    O Christ, the plough, O Christ, the laughter
    Of holy white birds flying after,
    Lo, all my heart's field red and torn,
    And Thou wilt bring the young green corn,
    The young green corn divinely springing,
    The young green corn for ever singing;
    And when the field is fresh and fair
    Thy blessèd feet shall glitter there.
    And we will walk the weeded field,
    And tell the golden harvest's yield,
    The corn that makes the holy bread
    By which the soul of man is fed,
    The holy bread, the food unpriced,
    Thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

So one might go on to contrast the several characteristics of this
poetry, and to trace them back to the combination of qualities in the
author's genius. This elemental religious emotion, dramatically fitted
as it is to the character, could only have found such expression by a
mind which deeply felt the primary human need of religion, and which was
relatively untroubled by abstract philosophy. But set over against that
is the almost pagan joy in the senses, the vigour and love of action
which make so strong a physical basis to this work; whilst, on the other
hand, there stands the astonishing contrast between the lyrical
intensity of the idyllic passages of these poems; and the dramatic power
(at once identified with humanity and detached from it) which has
created characters of ardent vitality.

There is, of course, a corresponding technical contrast; but the fact
that it does 'correspond' is an answer to the critics who object to the
violence of certain scenes or to a literal rendering here and there of
thought or word. Granted that this poet is not much concerned to polish
or refine his verse, it remains true that the same sense of fitness
which closes three of these tragedies in exquisite serenity, governs
elsewhere an occasional crudity of expression or a touch of banality. It
is largely--though not always--a question of dramatic truth. The medium
is related to the material of this poetry and ruled by its moods. Hence
its realism is not an external or arbitrary thing. It is something more
than a trick of style or the adoption of a literary mode, being indeed a
living form evolved by the reality which the poet has designed to

The root of the matter lies in a stanza of "Dauber." The young
artist-seaman, who is the protagonist here, has for long been patiently
toiling at his art at the prompting of instinct--the æsthetic impulse to
capture and make permanent the beauty of the material world. But the
pressure of reality upon him, the unimaginable hardships of a sailor's
existence, have threatened to crush his spirit. A crisis of physical
fear and depression has supervened; terror of the storms that the ship
must soon encounter, of the frightful peril of his work aloft, and of
the brutality of his shipmates, has shaken him to the soul. For a
moment, even his art is obscured, shrouded and almost lost in the whirl
of these overmastering realities. But when it emerges from the chaos it
brings revelation to the painter of its own inviolable relation with
those same realities.

                           ... a thought occurred
    Within the painter's brain like a bright bird:

    That this, and so much like it, of man's toil,
    Compassed by naked manhood in strange places,
    Was all heroic, but outside the coil
    Within which modern art gleams or grimaces;
    That if he drew that line of sailors' faces
    Sweating the sail, their passionate play and change,
    It would be new, and wonderful, and strange.

    That that was what his work meant; it would be
    A training in new vision....

One might almost accept that as Mr Masefield's own confession of
artistic faith; it only needs the substitution of the word 'poet' for
the word 'painter' in the second line. But it is not quite complete as
it stands; and an important article of it will be discovered by reading
this poem through and noting the triumph of the ideal over the real,
which is the essential meaning of the work. It is not the most obvious
interpretation, perhaps. The idealist broken by the elements, wasted and
thrown aside, is hardly a victorious figure on the face of things. But,
in spite of that, the poem is a song of victory--of spirit over matter,
of the ideal over reality, of art over life.

The fact is all the more remarkable when we turn for a moment to note
the poet's grip on facts. We have just seen that profound sense of
reality lying at the base of his technical realism; and it has been won,
through a comprehensive experience, by virtue of the balance of his
equipment. There is no bias here, of mind or spirit, which would have
changed the clear humanity of the poet into the philosopher or the
mystic. The naïveté and simple concrete imagery in the expression of
religious feeling are far removed from mysticism. And, on the other
hand, one cannot conceive of Mr Masefield formally ranged with the
abstractions of either the materialist or the idealist school. Yet it is
true that "Dauber" raises the practical issue between the two; and
because the poet has realized life profoundly and dares to tell the
truth about it, the triumph of the ideal is the more complete. He shows
his hero scourged by the elements until all sense is lost but that of
physical torture--

                                         ... below
    He caught one giddy glimpsing of the deck
    Filled with white water, as though heaped with snow.
                                 ... all was an icy blast.

    Roaring from nether hell and filled with ice,
    Roaring and crashing on the jerking stage,
    An utter bridle given to utter vice,
    Limitless power mad with endless rage
    Withering the soul;

With greater daring still we are shown the spirit itself, cowering in
temporary defeat before material force--

    "This is the end," he muttered, "come at last!
    I've got to go aloft, facing this cold.
    I can't. I can't. I'll never keep my hold.
                       ... I'm a failure. All
    My life has been a failure. They were right.


    I'll never paint. Best let it end to-night.
    I'll slip over the side. I've tried and failed."

And then, finally, the poet does not shrink from the last and grimmest
reality. He seems to say--Let material force do its utmost against this
man. Admit the most dreadful possibility; shatter the life, with its
fine promise, its aspiration and toil and precious perception of beauty,
and fling it to the elements which claim it. Nevertheless the spirit
will conquer, as it has won in the long fight hitherto and will continue
to win. When the Dauber had been goaded almost beyond endurance by the
cruelty of his shipmates, and when their taunts had availed at last to
conjure in him a sickening doubt of his vocation, the poet represents
him as turning instinctively to his easel, and healed in a moment of all
the abasement and derision--

    He dipped his brush and tried to fix a line,
    And then came peace, and gentle beauty came,
    Turning his spirit's water into wine,
    Lightening his darkness with a touch of flame:

So, too, when the horror of the storm and the immense danger of his work
aloft had shaken his manhood for a moment: when he saw his life as one
'long defeat of doing nothing well' and death seemed an easy escape from
it, a rallying cry from the spirit sent him to face his duty:

    And then he bit his lips, clenching his mind,
    And staggered out to muster, beating back
    The coward frozen self of him that whined.

And in the last extremity, when he lay upon the deck broken by his fall
and rapidly slipping back into the eternal silence, the ideal gleamed
before him still. _It will go on!_ he cried; and the four small words,
considered in their setting, with the weight of the story behind them,
have deep significance. For they bring a challenge to reality from a
poet who has very clearly apprehended it; and in their triumphant
idealism they put the corner-stone upon his philosophy and his art.

_Harold Monro_

The poetry of Mr Monro--that which counts most, the later work--is of so
fine a texture and so subtle a perfume that its charm may elude the
average reader. It is, moreover, very individual in its form; and the
unusual element in it, which is yet not sufficiently bizarre to snatch
attention, may tend to repel even the poetry lover. That person, as we
know, still prefers to take his poetry in the traditional manner; and
hence the audience for work like this, delicately sensitive and quietly
thoughtful, is likely to be small. It will be fully appreciative,
however, gladly exchanging stormy raptures for a serene and satisfying
beauty; and it will be of a temper which will delight to trace in this
work, subdued almost to a murmur, the same influences which are urging
some of his contemporaries to louder, more emphatic, and more copious

A particular interest of this poetry is precisely the way in which those
influences have been subdued. It is that which gives the individual
stamp to its art; but, curiously, it is also that which marks its
heredity, and defines its place in the succession of English poetry.
There is independence here, but not isolation; nor is there violent
conflict with an older poetic ideal. On the contrary, a reconciliation
has been made; balance has been attained; and revolutionary principles,
whether in the region of technique or ideas, have been harnessed and
controlled. So that this work, while fairly representing the new poetry,
is clearly related in the direct line to the old. A little "Impression,"
one of a group at the end of the volume called _Before Dawn_, will
illustrate this:

    She was young and blithe and fair,
    Firm of purpose, sweet and strong,
    Perfect was her crown of hair,
    Perfect most of all her song.

    Yesterday beneath an oak,
    She was chanting in the wood:
    Wandering harmonies awoke;
    Sleeping echoes understood.

    To-day without a song, without a word,
    She seems to drag one piteous fallen wing
    Along the ground, and, like a wounded bird,
    Move silent, having lost the heart to sing.

    She was young and blithe and fair,
    Firm of purpose, sweet and strong,
    Perfect was her crown of hair,
    Perfect most of all her song.

One may cite a piece like that, breaking away, in the third stanza, to a
freer and more fitting rhythm, as an example of the normal development
of English prosody. And that is, perhaps, the final significance of Mr
Monro's work. With less temptation to waywardness than a more exuberant
genius, he has achieved a completer harmony. But it was not so easy a
task as the quiet manner would cheat one into supposing; and, of course,
it has not always been so successfully done. There are many
pieces--beautiful nevertheless--where external influences have not been
completely subdued. From them one may measure the strength with which
contemporary thought claims this poet. For it appears that he, too,
cannot be at ease in Zion; that he is troubled and ashamed by reason of
a social conscience; that he is haunted by an unappeasable questioning
spirit; that he is perpetually seeking after the spiritual element in
existence. Indeed, so clear and persistent is this last motive, that if
one were aiming epithets it would be possible to fit the word
'religious' to the essential nature of Mr Monro's poetry. Of course, no
poet, be he great or small, can be packed into the compass of a single
word. His work will mean much more, and sometimes greatly different from
that. And the word religious in this connexion is more than usually
hazardous, for almost all the connotations are against it. It is true
that the common meaning, bandied on the lips of happy irresponsibles,
has no application here. On the contrary, it seems sometimes completely
reversed; and the good unthinking folk would find themselves nonplussed
by such a piece as that called "The Poets are Waiting," in the chapbook
which Mr Munro published at the end of 1914. Yet it is of the essence of
religion; and it most faithfully presents the spiritual crisis which was
precipitated by the Great War for many who had clung to a last vague
hope of some intelligent providence--

    To what God
    Shall we chant
    Our songs of Battle?

    Hefty barbarians,
    Roaring for war,
    Are breaking upon us;
    Clouds of their cavalry,
    Waves of their infantry,
    Mountains of guns.
    Winged they are coming,
    Plated and mailed,
    Snorting their jargon.
    Oh to whom shall a song of battle be chanted?

    Not to our lord of the hosts on his ancient throne,
    Drowsing the ages out in Heaven alone.
    The celestial choirs are mute, the angels have fled:
    Word is gone forth abroad that our lord is dead.

    To what God
    Shall we chant
    Our songs of Battle?

I do not wish, to stress unduly the spiritual element in this work, but
it compels attention for two reasons. It is a dominant impulse,
supplying themes which occur early and late and often; and the manner of
its expression reveals a link with the past generation which is
analogous to the technical connexion that we have already noted.

The signs of descent from the Victorians are naturally to be found in
the early poems. There is, for example, the inevitable classic theme
treated in the (also inevitable) romantic manner, and making a charming
combination, despite the grumblings of the realist and the pedant. That,
however, is a very obvious and external mark of descent. A more
interesting sign is in the spirit of "A Song at Dawn," a wail to the
Power of Powers which the author probably wishes to forget. So I will
not quote it. The point about it is the celerity with which it sends
thought flying back to Matthew Arnold and "Dover Beach." Yet there is an
important difference. For whilst the Victorian muses upon the decay of
faith with exquisite mournfulness, the 'Georgian' takes an attitude of
greater detachment. Instead of grieving for a dead or dying system of
theology, he seeks to question the reality which lies behind it.

In the volume of 1911, called _Before Dawn_, there are several poems
which pursue the same quest. Sometimes the method is one of provocative
directness, as in the dramatic piece called "God"; and at other times it
is by way of symbol or suggestion, as in "Moon-worshippers" or "Two
Visions." From the nature of things, however, the pieces in which the
argumentative attitude is taken are the less satisfying, as poetry. Thus
the colloquy in "God" just fails, from the polemical theme, of being
truly dramatic; while, on the other hand, its form prevents it from
rising into such lovely lyrism as that of "The Last Abbot." In the
former poem we are to imagine all sorts and conditions of people coming
in and out of an old English tavern on market day; and all of them ready
and willing to enlighten a travel-stained pilgrim there as to "Who and
what is God?" One sees the allegory, of course; but, somehow, that is
less convincing than the touches of satirical portraiture which we find
in passing, and which point to this poet's gift of objectivity. The
judge and the priest, the soldier and sailor and farmer, the beggar,
thief and merchant, are presented mainly as types: that, of course,
being demanded by the allegory. And when a poet arrives to solve the
problem, he also speaks 'in character'--though we recognize the voice
for one more modern than his reputed age.

               ... God is a spirit, not a creed;
    He is an inner outward-moving power:


    He is that one Desire, that life, that breath,
    That Soul which, with infinity of pain,
    Passes through revelation and through death
    Onward and upward to itself again.

    Out of the lives of heroes and their deeds,
    Out of the miracle of human thought,
    Out of the songs of singers, God proceeds;
    And of the soul of them his Soul is wrought.

There follows a quick clatter of disputation, broken by the entrance of
the philosopher; and the pilgrim's question being put to him, he

    God? God! There is no GOD.

Thus 'the spirit that denies' abruptly shatters the poetic vision; and
the artistic effect is, correspondingly, to break the music of the
previous stanzas with a sudden discord. The design of the work required
that the philosopher should be heard, and dramatic fitness suggested
that his most effective entrance would be here, rending the fair new
synthesis with denial. And the resulting dissonance is inherent in the
very scheme of the poem.

That defect does not appear in "The Last Abbot," which is also engaged
upon the thought of the universal soul. Here an old monk, knowing that
he is drawing near the end of life, quietly talks to the brethren of his
order about life and death and after-death. There is no argument, no
discussion even. No other voice is raised to interrupt the meditative
flow of the old man's message, which is, in fact, a recantation. And, as
a consequence, the poem has a unity of serene reflectiveness, rising at
times to lyrical ecstasy. He is thinking of his approaching death--

    Oh, I, with light and airy change,
    Across the azure sky shall range,
    When I am dead.


    I shall be one
    Of all the misty, fresh and healing powers.
    Dew I shall be, and fragrance of the morn,
    And quietly shall lie dreaming all the noon,
    Or oft shall sparkle underneath the moon,
    A million times shall die and be reborn,
    Because the sun again and yet again
    Shall snatch me softly from the earth away:
    I shall be rain;
    I shall be spray;
    At night shall oft among the misty shades
    Pass dreamily across the open lea;
    And I shall live in the loud cascades,
    Pouring their waters into the sea.
    ... Nought can die:
    All belongs to the living Soul,
    Makes, and partakes, and is the whole,
    All--and therefore, I.

So much then for the poet's cosmic theory, presented more or less
directly. This explicit treatment may, as we see, give individual
passages where thought and feeling are completely fused, and the idea
gets itself born into a shape sufficiently concrete for the breath of
poetry to live in it. But the final effect of such poems is apt to be
dimmed by the shadow of controversy. A subtler method is used, however,
justified in a finer type of art. In "Don Juan in Hell," for instance,
there is a symbolical presentment of the theme: a conception of life
which is a corollary from the poet's theory of the universe. Don Juan is
here an incarnation of the vital forces of the world, of the positive
value and power of life which is in eternal conflict with a religion of
negation. And, a newcomer among the shades in Hell, he turns his scorn
upon them for the lascivious passion which found it necessary to invent

    Light, light your fires,
    That they may purify your own desires!
    They will not injure me.
    This fire of mine
    Was kindled from the torch that will outshine


    Proud, you disclaim
    That fair desire from which all came;
    Unworthy of your lofty human birth,
    Despise the earth.
    O crowd funereal,
    Lifting your anxious brows because of sin,
    There is no Heaven such as you would win,
    Nor any other Paradise at all,
    Save in fulfilling some superb desire
    With all the spirit's fire.

The same idea is woven into "Moon-worshippers," with delicate grace. It
constitutes a precise charge, in the poem "To Tolstoi," that the great
idealist has forsworn the 'holy way of life'; and, recurring in many
forms more or less explicit, culminates in the charming allegory called
"Children of Love." This is a later poem, mature in thought and masterly
in form. The theme is by this time a familiar one to the poet: he has
considered it deeply and often. And having gone through the crucible so
many times, it is now of a fineness and plasticity to be handled with
ease. It runs into the symbolism here so lightly as hardly to awaken an
echo of afterthought, and shapes to an allegory much too winning to
provoke controversy. The first two stanzas of the poem imagine the boy
Jesus walking dreamily under the olives in the cool of the evening:

    Suddenly came
    Running along to him naked, with curly hair,
    That rogue of the lovely world,
    That other beautiful child whom the virgin Venus bare.

    The holy boy
    Gazed with those sad blue eyes that all men know.
    Impudent Cupid stood
    Panting, holding an arrow and pointing his bow.

    (Will you not play?
    Jesus, run to him, run to him, swift for our joy.
    Is he not holy, like you?
    Are you afraid of his arrows, O beautiful dreaming boy?)


    Marvellous dream!
    Cupid has offered his arrows for Jesus to try;
    He has offered his bow for the game.
    But Jesus went weeping away, and left him there
    wondering why.

That may be taken as Mr Monro's most representative poem. On our theory,
therefore (of this work as a link with the older school), the piece
might serve to indicate the point which contemporary poetry has reached,
advancing in technique and in thought straight from the previous
generation. Not that it is the most 'advanced' piece (in the specific
sense of the word) which one could cite from modern poets. Many and
strange have been the theories evolved on independent lines, just as
numerous weird technical effects have been gained by breaking altogether
with the tradition of native prosody. But Mr Monro's poetry continues
the tradition; and whether it be in content or in form, it has pushed
forward, in the normal manner of healthy growth, from the stage
immediately preceding.

The new technical features are clear enough, and all owe their origin to
a determination to gain the greatest possible freedom within the laws of
English versification. Rhyme is no longer a merely decorative figure,
gorgeous but tyrannical. It is an instrument of potential range and
power, to be used with restraint by an austere artist. In "Children of
Love" it occurs just often enough to convey the gentle sadness of the
emotional atmosphere. But very beautiful effects are gained without it,
as, for instance, in another of these later poems, called "Great

    When I returned at sunset,
    The serving-maid was singing softly
    Under the dark stairs, and in the house
    Twilight had entered like a moonray.
    Time was so dead I could not understand
    The meaning of midday or of midnight,
    But like falling waters, falling, hissing, falling,
    Silence seemed an everlasting sound.

The verse is not now commonly marked by an exact number of syllables or
feet, nor the stanza divided into a regular number of verses, except
where the subject requires precision of effect. An order of recurrence
does exist, however, giving the definite form essential to poetry. But
it is determined by factors which make for greater naturalness and
flexibility than the hard-and-fast division into ten-or eight-foot lines
and stanzas of a precise pattern. The ruling influences now are
various--the thought which is to be expressed, and the phases through
which it passes: the nature and strength of the emotion, the ebb and
flow of the poetic impulse.

Thus, while metrical rhythm is retained, it has been freed from its
former monotonous regularity, and has become almost infinitely varied.
The dissyllable, dominant hitherto, has taken a much humbler place.
Every metre into which English words will run is now adopted, and fresh
combinations are constantly being made; while upon the poetic rhythm
itself is superimposed the natural rhythm of speech. In most of these
devices Mr Monro, and others, are presumably following the precept and
example of the Laureate; but in any case there can be no doubt of the
richness, suppleness, and variety of the metrical effects attained. Most
of the pieces in this little chapbook illustrate at some point the
influence of untrammelled speech-rhythm; and in one, called
"Hearthstone," it is rather accentuated. I quote from the poem for that
reason: the slight excess will enable the device to be observed more
readily, but will not obscure other characteristic qualities which are
clearly marked here--of tenderness, quiet tone, and delicate colouring.

    I want nothing but your fireside now.


    Your book has dropped unnoticed: you have read
    So long you cannot send your brain to bed.
    The low quiet room and all its things are caught
    And linger in the meshes of your thought.
    (Some people think they know time cannot pause.)
    Your eyes are closing now though not because
    Of sleep. You are searching something with your brain;
    You have let the old dog's paw drop down again ...
    Now suddenly you hum a little catch,
    And pick up the book. The wind rattles the latch;
    There's a patter of light cool rain and the curtain shakes;
    The silly dog growls, moves, and almost wakes.
    The kettle near the fire one moment hums.
    Then a long peace upon the whole room comes.
    So the sweet evening will draw to its bedtime end.
    I want nothing now but your fireside, friend.

Thus the technique of modern poetry would seem to be moving towards a
more exact rendering of the music and the meaning of our language. That
is to say, there is, in prosody itself, an impulse towards truth of
expression, which may be found to correspond to the heightened sense of
external fact in contemporary poetic genius, as well as to its closer
hold upon reality. Thence comes the realism of much good poetry now
being written: triune, as all genuine realism must be, since it proceeds
out of a spiritual conviction, a mental process and actual
craftsmanship. That Mr Monro's work is also trending in this direction,
almost every piece in his last little book will testify. And if it seem
a surprising fact, that is only because one has found it necessary to
quote from the more subjective of his early lyrics. It would have been
possible, out of the narrative called "Judas," or the "Impressions" at
the end of _Before Dawn_, to indicate this poet's objective power. He
has a gift of detachment; of cool and exact observation; and to this is
joined a dexterity of satiric touch which serves indignation well. Hence
the portraits of the epicure at the Carlton and the city swindler in the
rôle of county gentleman. Hence, too, poems like "The Virgin" or "A
Suicide": though here it is unfortunate that imagination has been
allowed to play upon abnormal subjects. The result may be an acute
psychological study; and interesting on that account. But if it is to be
a choice between two extremes, most people will prefer work in which
fantasy has gone off to a region in the opposite direction. There is one
poem in which this bizarre sprite has taken holiday; and thence comes
the piece of glimmering unreality called "Overheard on a Saltmarsh."

    Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
    Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
    Give them me.
    Give them me. Give them me.
    Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
    Lie in the mud and howl for them.

    Goblin, why do you love them so?
    They are better than stars or water,
    Better than voices of winds that sing,
    Better than any man's fair daughter,
    Your green glass beads on a silver ring.

    Hush I stole them out of the moon.

    Give me your beads, I desire them.
    I will howl in a deep lagoon
    For your green glass beads, I love them so.
    Give them me. Give them.

But in his more representative work, the intellectual realism which
comes from an acute sense of fact is clearly operative. We have seen,
too, from the earliest published verse of this poet, the continual
struggle of what one may call a religion of reality--belief in the
sanctity and beauty and value of the real world--for spiritual mastery.
In the later poems the two elements become deepened and are more closely
combined: they are, too, seeking expression through a technique which is
directed to the same realistic purpose. And as a result we get such a
piece of quiet fidelity as "London Interior"; or a tragedy like
"Carrion," in which the logic of life and death, controlling emotion
with beautiful gravity, is suddenly broken by a sob. It is the last of
four war-poems; a series representing the call of battle to the
soldier, his departure, a fighting retreat, and finally, in "Carrion,"
his death--

    It is plain now what you are. Your head has dropped
    Into a furrow. And the lovely curve
    Of your strong leg has wasted and is propped
    Against a ridge of the ploughed land's watery swerve.


    You are fuel for a coming spring if they leave you here;
    The crop that will rise from your bones is healthy bread.
    You died--we know you--without a word of fear,
    And as they loved you living I love you dead.

    No girl would kiss you. But then
    No girls would ever kiss the earth
    In the manner they hug the lips of men:
    You are not known to them in this, your second birth.


    Hush, I hear the guns. Are you still asleep?
    Surely I saw you a little heave to reply.
    I can hardly think you will not turn over and creep
    Along the furrows trenchward as if to die.

_Sarojini Naidu_

Mrs Naidu is one of the two Indian poets who within the last few years
have produced remarkable English poetry. The second of the two is, of
course, Rabindranath Tagore, whose work has come to us a little later,
who has published more, and whose recent visit to this country has
brought him more closely under the public eye. Mrs Naidu is not so well
known; but she deserves to be, for although the bulk of her work is not
so large, its quality, so far as it can be compared with that of her
compatriot, will easily bear the test. It is, however, so different in
kind, and reveals a genius so contrasting, that one is piqued by an
apparent problem. How is it that two children of what we are pleased to
call the changeless East, under conditions nearly identical, should have
produced results which are so different?

Both of these poets are lyrists born; both come of an old and
distinguished Bengali ancestry; in both the culture of East and West are
happily met; and both are working in the same artistic medium. Yet the
poetry of Rabindranath Tagore is mystical, philosophic, and
contemplative, remaining oriental therefore to that degree; and
permitting a doubt of the _Quarterly_ reviewer's dictum that
"Gitanjali" is a synthesis of western and oriental elements. The
complete synthesis would seem to rest with Mrs Naidu, whose poetry,
though truly native to her motherland, is more sensuous than mystical,
human and passionate rather than spiritual, and reveals a mentality more
active than contemplative. Her affiliation with the Occident is so much
the more complete; but her Eastern origin is never in doubt.

The themes of her verse and their setting are derived from her own
country. But her thought, with something of the energy of the strenuous
West and something of its 'divine discontent,' plays upon the surface of
an older and deeper calm which is her birthright. So, in her "Salutation
to the Eternal Peace," she sings

    What care I for the world's loud weariness,
    Who dream in twilight granaries Thou dost bless
    With delicate sheaves of mellow silences?

Two distinguished poet-friends of Mrs Naidu--Mr Edmund Gosse and Mr
Arthur Symons--have introduced her two principal volumes of verse with
interesting biographical notes. The facts thus put in our possession
convey a picture to the mind which is instantly recognizable in the
poems. A gracious and glowing personality appears, quick and warm with
human feeling, exquisitely sensitive to beauty and receptive of ideas,
wearing its culture, old and new, scientific and humane, with
simplicity; but, as Mr Symons says, "a spirit of too much fire in too
frail a body," and one moreover who has suffered and fought to the limit
of human endurance.

We hear of birth and childhood in Hyderabad; of early scientific
training by a father whose great learning was matched by his public
spirit: of a first poem at the age of eleven, written in an impulse of
reaction when a sum in algebra '_would not_ come right': of coming to
England at the age of sixteen with a scholarship from the Nizam college;
and of three years spent here, studying at King's College, London, and
at Girton, with glorious intervals of holiday in Italy.

We hear, too, of a love-story that would make an idyll; of passion so
strong and a will so resolute as almost to be incredible in such a
delicate creature; of a marriage in defiance of caste, a few years of
brilliant happiness and then a tragedy. And all through, as a dark
background to the adventurous romance of her life, there is the shadow
of weakness and ill-health. That shadow creeps into her poems,
impressively, now and then. Indeed, if it were lacking, the bright
oriental colouring would be almost too vivid. So, apart from its
psychological and human interest, we may be thankful for such a poem as
"To the God of Pain." It softens and deepens the final impression of the

    For thy dark altars, balm nor milk nor rice,
    But mine own soul thou'st ta'en for sacrifice.

The poem is purely subjective, of course, as is the still more moving
piece, "The Poet to Death," in the same volume.

    Tarry a while, till I am satisfied
    Of love and grief, of earth and altering sky;
    Till all my human hungers are fulfilled,
    O Death, I cannot die!

We know that that is a cry out of actual and repeated experience; and
from that point of view alone it has poignant interest. But what are we
to say about the spirit of it--the philosophy which is implicit in it?
Here is an added value of a higher kind, evidence of a mind which has
taken its own stand upon reality, and which has no easy consolations
when confronting the facts of existence. For this mind, neither the
religions of East nor West are allowed to veil the truth; neither the
hope of Nirvana nor the promise of Paradise may drug her sense of the
value of life nor darken her perception of the beauty of phenomena.
Resignation and renunciation are alike impossible to this ardent being
who loves the earth so passionately; but the 'sternly scientific'
nature of that early training--the description is her own--has made
futile regret impossible, too. She has entered into full possession of
the thought of our time; and strongly individual as she is, she has
evolved for herself, to use her own words, a "subtle philosophy of
living from moment to moment." That is no shallow epicureanism, however,
for as she sings in a poem contrasting our changeful life with the
immutable peace of the Buddha on his lotus-throne--

    Nought shall conquer or control
    The heavenward hunger of our soul.

It is as though, realizing that the present is the only moment of which
we are certain, she had determined to crowd that moment to the utmost
limit of living.

From such a philosophy, materialism of a nobler kind, one would expect a
love of the concrete and tangible, a delight in sense impressions, and
quick and strong emotion. Those are, in fact, the characteristics of
much of the poetry in these two volumes, _The Golden Threshold_ and _The
Bird of Time_. The beauty of the material world, of line and especially
of colour, is caught and recorded joyously. Life is regarded mainly from
the outside, in action, or as a pageant; as an interesting event or a
picturesque group. It is not often brooded over, and reflection is
generally evident in but the lightest touches. The proportion of
strictly subjective verse is small, and is not, on the whole, the finest
work technically.

The introspective note seems unfavourable to Mrs Naidu's art: naturally
so, one would conclude, from the buoyant temperament that is revealed.
The love-songs are perhaps an exception, for one or two, which (as we
know) treat fragments of the poet's own story, are fine in idea and in
technique alike. There is, for example, "An Indian Love Song," in the
first stanza of which the lover begs for his lady's love. But she
reminds him of the barriers of caste between them; she is afraid to
profane the laws of her father's creed; and her lover's kinsmen, in
times past, have broken the altars of her people and slaughtered their
sacred kine. The lover replies:

    What are the sins of my race, Beloved, what are my people to thee?
    And what are thy shrine, and kine and kindred, what are thy gods to
    Love recks not of feuds and bitter follies, of stranger, comrade or
    Alike in his ear sound the temple bells and the cry of the

There is also in the second volume the "Dirge," in which the poet mourns
the death of the husband whom she had dared to marry against the laws
of caste; and which almost unconsciously reveals the influence of
centuries of Suttee upon the mind of Indian womanhood.

    Shatter her shining bracelets, break the string
    Threading the mystic marriage-beads that cling
    Loth to desert a sobbing throat so sweet,
    Unbind the golden anklets on her feet,
    Divest her of her azure veils and cloud
    Her living beauty in a living shroud.

Even here, however, the effect is gained by colour and movement; by the
grouping of images rather than by the development of an idea; and that
will be found to be Mrs Naidu's method in the many delightful lyrics of
these volumes where she is most successful. The "Folk Songs" of her
first book are an example. One assumes that they are early work, partly
because they are the first group in the earlier of the two volumes; but
more particularly because they adopt so literally the advice which Mr
Edmund Gosse gave her at the beginning of her career. When she came as a
girl to England and was a student of London University at King's
College, she submitted to Mr Gosse a bundle of manuscript poems. He
describes them as accurate and careful work, but too derivative;
modelled too palpably on the great poets of the previous generation.
His advice, therefore, was that they should be destroyed, and that the
author should start afresh upon native themes and in her own manner. The
counsel was exactly followed: the manuscript went into the wastepaper
basket, and the poet set to work on what we cannot doubt is this first
group of songs made out of the lives of her own people.

There is all the hemisphere between these lyrics and those of
late-Victorian England. Here we find a "Village Song" of a mother to the
little bride who is still all but a baby; and to whom the fairies call
so insistently that she will not stay "for bridal songs and bridal cakes
and sandal-scented leisure." In the song of the "Palanquin Bearers" we
positively see the lithe and rhythmic movements which bear some Indian
beauty along, lightly "as a pearl on a string." And there is a song
written to one of the tunes of those native minstrels who wander, free
and wild as the wind, singing of

    The sword of old battles, the crown of old kings,
    And happy and simple and sorrowful things.

The "Harvest Hymn" raises thanksgiving for strange bounties to gods of
unfamiliar names; and the "Cradle Song" evokes a tropical night, heavy
with scent and drenched with dew--

      Sweet, shut your eyes,
      The wild fire-flies
    Dance through the fairy _neem_;
      From the poppy-bole,
      For you I stole
    A little, lovely dream.

In its lightness and grace, this poem is one of the exquisite things in
our language: one of the little lyric flights, like William Watson's
"April," which in their clear sweetness and apparent spontaneity are
like some small bird's song. Mrs Naidu has said of herself--"I sing just
as the birds do"; and as regards her loveliest lyrics (there are a fair
proportion of them) she speaks a larger truth than she meant. Their
simplicity and abandonment to the sheer joy of singing are infinitely
refreshing; and fragile though they seem, one suspects them of great
vitality. In the later volume there is another called "Golden
Cassia"--the bright blooms that her people call mere 'woodland flowers.'
The poet has other fancies about them; sometimes they seem to her like
fragments of a fallen star--

    Or golden lamps for a fairy shrine,
    Or golden pitchers for fairy wine.

    Perchance you are, O frail and sweet!
    Bright anklet-bells from the wild spring's feet,

    Or the gleaming tears that some fair bride shed
    Remembering her lost maidenhead.

The tenderness and delicacy of verse like that might mislead us. We
might suppose that the qualities of Mrs Naidu's work were only those
which are arbitrarily known as feminine. But this poet, like Mrs
Browning, is faithful to her own sensuous and passionate temperament.
She has not timidly sheltered behind a convention which, because some
women-poets have been austere, prescribes austerity, neutral tones, and
a pale light for the woman-artist in this sphere. And, as a result, we
have all the evidence of a richly-dowered sensibility responding frankly
to the vivid light and colour, the liberal contours and rich scents and
great spaces of the world she loves; and responding no less warmly and
freely to human instincts. Occasionally her verse achieves the
expression of sheer sensuous ecstasy. It does that, perhaps, in the two
Dance poems--from the very reason that her art is so true and free. The
theme requires exactly that treatment; and in "Indian Dancers" there is
besides a curiously successful union between the measure that is
employed and the subject of the poem--

    Their glittering garments of purple are burning like tremulous dawns
        in the quivering air,
    And exquisite, subtle and slow are the tinkle and tread of their
        rhythmical, slumber-soft feet.

The love-songs, though in many moods, are always the frank expression of
emotion that is deep and strong. One that is especially beautiful is the
utterance of a young girl who, while her sisters prepare the rites for a
religious festival, stands aside with folded hands dreaming of her
lover. She is secretly asking herself what need has she to supplicate
the gods, being blessed by love; and again, in the couple of stanzas
called "Ecstasy," the rapture has passed, by its very intensity, into

    Shelter my soul, O my love!
      My soul is bent low with the pain
    And the burden of love, like the grace
      Of a flower that is smitten with rain:
    O shelter my soul from thy face!

But, when all is said, it is the life of her people which inspires this
poet most perfectly. In the lighter lyrics one sees the fineness of her
touch; and in the love-poems the depth of her passion. But, in the
folk-songs, all the qualities of her genius have contributed. Grace and
tenderness have been reinforced by an observant eye, broad sympathy and
a capacity for thought which reveals itself not so much as a systematic
process as an atmosphere, suffusing the poems with gentle pensiveness.
And always the artistic method is that of picking out the theme in
bright sharp lines, and presenting the idea concretely, through the
grouping of picturesque facts. There is a poem called "Street Cries"
which is a vivid bit of the life of an Eastern city. First we have early
morning, when the workers hurry out, fasting, to their toil; and the cry
'Buy bread, Buy bread' rings down the eager street; then midday, hot and
thirsty, when the cry is 'Buy fruit, Buy fruit'; and finally, evening.

    When twinkling twilight o'er the gay bazaars,
    Unfurls a sudden canopy of stars,
    When lutes are strung and fragrant torches lit
    On white roof-terraces where lovers sit
    Drinking together of life's poignant sweet,
    _Buy flowers, buy flowers_, floats down the singing street.

Another of these shining pictures will be found in "Nightfall in the
City of Hyderabad," Mrs Naidu's own city; and again in the song called
"In a Latticed Balcony." But there are several others in which, added to
the suggestion of an old civilization and strange customs, there is a
haunting sense of things older and stranger still. Of such is this one,
called "Indian Weavers."

    Weavers, weaving at break of day,
    Why do you weave a garment so gay?...
    Blue as the wing of a halcyon wild,
    We weave the robes of a new-born child.


    Weavers, weaving solemn and still,
    Why do you weave in the moonlight chill?...
    White as a feather and white as a cloud,
    We weave a dead man's funeral shroud.

"_John Presland_"

The work of "John Presland" reminds one of the trend of contemporary
poetry towards the dramatic form. Out of eight volumes published by this
poet, five are fully-wrought plays, and one is a tragic love-story told
in duologue. That, of course, is a larger proportion of actual drama
than most of these poets give; but if an analysis were made, it would
probably be found that the dramatic impulse is strong in the work of
nearly all of them.

There are very few of those who are making genuine poetry, who are
content simply to sing. Indeed, it hardly seems to be a matter of
choice, but an urgency, secret and compelling as a natural instinct, by
means of which life is commanding expression in literary art. This is
not to suggest, however, that no lyrics are being composed. Current
poetry often reveals a true lyrical gift, especially in early work; and
so long as poets continue to be born young, we shall not lack for songs.
We may find, too, a rare singer like W. H. Davies, for whom genius,
temperament and circumstance have effected a happy isolation from the
complexity of modern existence. Owing allegiance chiefly to nature, he
is free as the air in body and soul. Unspoilt by books, and saving his
spirit humane and merry and sweet from the petty constraints of
civilization, he carols as lightly as a robin or a thrush. But he is
almost a solitary exception, and may serve to prove the rule that the
pure lyric--some intimate emotion bubbling over into music--cannot say
all that demands to be said when the poetic spirit is completely in
touch with life.

Now, in all the most vital of this modern verse, poetry has come so
close to life as to claim its very identity. It has left the twilight of
unreality and stepped into clear day. It has broken down the
exclusiveness which penned it within a prescribed circle of theme and of
language; and it has taken hold upon the world, real and entire.
Moreover, the life upon which it seizes in this way is wider, more
complex, more meaningful and varied than ever before. Political and
social changes have made humanity a larger thing--whether regarded in
the actual numbers which democracy thus brings within the poetic ken, or
in their manifold significance. Horizons, both mental and material, have
been extended. Science presses on in quiet confidence, the dogmatic
phase being over; and its methods as well as its data pass readily into
the collective mind. Religion, no longer synonymous with a single creed
or form of worship, can find room within itself for all the spiritual
activity of mankind everywhere; and in the juster proportion thus
attained, nobler syntheses are shaping. A constructive social sense
replaces the old negative commands with a positive duty of service.
Values are changing; new ideals quicken, struggle and fructify; fresh
aspects of life, and visions of human destiny, are opened up; while in
every sphere the spirit of inquiry and the experimental method generate
an energy of conflict which the timid and the sleepy loathe, but which
is nevertheless the dynamic of progress.

The poetry of to-day is the very spirit of that multiform life, giving
shape and permanence to whatever is finest in it; and for that reason
its manner of expression is almost infinitely varied, and often very
different from the poetic forms of other ages. That, indeed, is one sign
of its vitality: the fact that it is a living organism, capable of
adaptation, growth and development. Old forms are modified and new ones
created to embody the new ideas. All the resources of prosody are drawn
upon--when they will serve--and used with the utmost freedom. And when,
as frequently happens, they will not serve; when the established rules
of English verse seem inadequate to the present task, they are
challenged and thrown aside. Thus there arises, in the technique of
poetry itself, a corresponding conflict to that in the world of ideas,
indicating a similar vigour and equally prophetic of advance.

In all this variety, however, the dramatic element is a fairly constant
feature; and it seems to be growing stronger. It is present in many
poems which do not look like drama at all, as for instance in the
narratives of Mr Masefield. Here we may find vividly dramatic scenes,
astonishingly evolved in the form of an elaborate stanza, or the rhymed
couplet; just as the tragedies in _Daily Bread_ by Mr Gibson are wrought
out in a quite original unrhymed verse of extreme austerity. Again, much
of Mr Abercrombie's work is dramatic in essence, apart from his plays in
regular form; and Mrs Woods has completed a third poetical drama, having
already published two tragedies in her collected edition.

But there is one fact to be noted in coming from those poets to the
drama of "John Presland." With them the dramatic impulse is often
subconscious, and it has to fight its way, obscurely sometimes, against
a twin impulse towards lyricism. It is strong but not yet dominant;
vital, but not yet aware of its own potentiality. It throbs below the
surface of alien forms, but it rarely breaks away to an independent
existence. And even when it achieves consciousness, as it does most
completely perhaps in the work of Mrs Woods, traces of the struggle
cling about it still--in a lyrical _motif_, or a fragment of song
embedded in the structure of a play, or in a lyric intensity of feeling.
With "John Presland," however, the general tendency is reversed. The
dramatic impulse has become a definite and prevailing purpose, with the
lyrical element subordinated to it; and, as a consequence, we have here
a drama of full stature, a complete, organic, and acutely conscious

This work reveals in its author an endowment of those qualities which
most insistently urge towards the dramatic form: imagination, both
creative and constructive, and a gift of almost absolute objectivity. In
all the five plays these qualities are conspicuous. Indeed, they are so
strong that they effectually screen the poet's personality; and, if he
had written nothing but the plays, it is little that one might hope to
discover of the individual mind behind them. That is naturally a very
desirable result from the dramatist's point of view, and one test of his
art. But it pricks mere human curiosity, and provokes unregenerate glee
in the fact that the poet has published lyrics too, three volumes of
them; and that they, from their more subjective nature, yield up the
outlines of a definite individuality.

But, indeed, one's delight is not pure mischief. It is partly at least
in seeing the artistic virtue of this largesse in the lyric--the
spontaneity which is equally a merit with the reticence of drama. One is
glad, too, of the light thus thrown upon the poet's own philosophy, his
affiliations, his outlook, his attitude to life. Judging by the plays
alone, we might be cheated into a belief in the complete detachment of
our author. The use of historical themes and the rigour of his art
create an effect of isolation. He would seem to stand outside the stress
of his own time and aloof from the influences which commonly shape the
artist. The lyrics show that impression to be false and help to correct
it. For while they do not relate the poet, in any narrow sense, to what
are specifically called 'modern movements,' they prove that he has an
eager interest in his world, and that, being in that world and of it, he
is yet 'on the side of the angels.' There is, for example, a splendid
fire of reproach in the poem "To Italy," proving a capacity for noble
indignation at the same time as a close hold upon current affairs. The
poem is dated September 29, 1911, and is a protest at the action of
Italy against Tripoli:

    Hearken to your dead heroes, Italy;
    Hearken to those who made your history
    A bright and splendid thing ...
                           ... What Mazzini said
    Have you so soon forgotten? You, who bled
    With Garibaldi, and the thousand more?
    He spoke, and your young men to battle bore
    His gospel with them, of men's brotherhood,
    Of Justice, that before the tyrant, stood
    Accusing, and of truth and charity.
    His dust to-day lies with you, Italy;
    Where lie his words? That sword is in your hand
    To seize unrighteously another's land--
    Your fleet in foreign waters. By what right
    Dare you act so, save arrogance of might,
    Such cruel force as ground the Austrian heel
    Upon your Lombard cities, ringed with steel
    Unhappy Naples and despairing Rome,
    That exiled Garibaldi from his home,
    That served itself with sycophants and knaves,
    That filled the prisons and the nameless graves,
    Till, like a sunrise o'er a stormy sea,
    Flashed out the spirit of free Italy?

Like all Mr Presland's work, this poem is closely woven: quotation does
not serve it well, but this passage will at least indicate its theme and
temper, and thus light up personality. There is, in the same volume,
_Songs of Changing Skies_, a bit of spiritual autobiography called "To
Robert Browning." It destroys at once any fiction of literary isolation;
although to be sure there are cute critics who will declare that the
resemblance to Browning in some of these lyrics is too obvious to need
the discipular confession. It may be that these clever people are right.
Yes, perhaps one would recognize certain signs in poems like "A Present
from Luther" and "An Error of Luther's." But the whole question of
influence is nearly always made too much of, especially in its mere
outward marks. Granting the love of Browning and the debt to his
teaching, which are honourably admitted here, some effect upon thought
and style would be inevitable. But a deeper and more potent cause of the
resemblance lies in a real affinity of mind, in buoyancy and breadth and
tenacious belief in good; and in a similar poetic equipment. One must
not launch upon a comparison, but it may be observed that he has
profited by his master's faults, artistic and philosophical, at least as
much as by his merits. For, probably warned by example, this poet works
with patient care to express his thought simply; and he has attained a
style of perfect clearness. While his philosophy, though full of brave
hope, has escaped the unreason of that optimism which declares that
'All's well.' True, he makes Joan say, in the last words of his "Joan of

                     ... so near eternity
    The evil dwindles, good alone remains,
    And good triumphant--God is merciful.

But that is dramatically appropriate--the logic of Joan's character. And
it seems to me that a more intimate and sincere expression is to be
found in the chastened mood of a sonnet called "To April":

    There will be other days as fair as these
    Which I shall never see; for other eyes
    The lyric loveliness of cherry trees
    Shall bloom milk-white against the windy skies
    And I not praise them; where upon the stream
    The faëry tracery of willows lies
    I shall not see the sunlight's flying gleam,
    Nor watch the swallows sudden dip and rise.

    Most mutable the forms of beauty are,
    Yet Beauty most eternal and unchanged,
    Perfect for us, and for posterity
    Still perfect; yearly is the pageant ranged.
    And dare we wish that our poor dust should mar
    The wonder of such immortality?

The wistfulness of that wins by its grace where a more strenuous
optimism provokes a challenge; just as the tentative 'perhaps' in the
last line of "Sophocles' Antigone" softly woos the sceptic:

    There are fair flowers that never came to fruit;
    Cut by sharp winds, or eaten by late frost,
    Barrenly in forgetfulness, they're lost
    To little-heedful Nature; so, in suit,
    Beneath the footsteps of calamity
    Young lives and lovely innocently come
    To total up old evil's deadly sum--
    Do the gods pity dead Antigone?
    We look too close, we look too close on earth
    At good and evil; blind are Nature's laws
    That kill, or make alive, and so are done.
    Not in the circle of this death and birth
    May we perceive a justifying cause,
    Beyond, perhaps, for God and good are one.

One must not pause to gather up the threads of personality in these
three volumes of lyrics; and, with the more important work in drama
still ahead, it is only possible just to glance at their specific
values. All the pieces are not equally good, of course, but there is a
proportion of exquisite poetry in each volume, and--a healthy sign--the
proportion is greatest in the last of the three, _Songs of Changing
Skies_, published in 1913. Of this best work there are at least three
kinds. There is that which one may call the lyric proper, small in size,
simple in design, light in texture, the free expression of a single
mood. Such is "From a Window," in which the peculiar charm of the poet's
verse in this kind is well seen. It is not a showy attractiveness: it
does not storm the senses nor clamour for approval. It enters the mind
quietly, and perhaps with some hesitancy; but having entered, it takes
absolute possession.

    To-night I hear the soft Spring rain that falls
    Across the gardens, in the falling dusk,
    The Spring dusk, very slow;
    And that clear, single-noted bird that calls
    Insistently, from somewhere in the gloom
    Of wet Spring leafage, or the scattering bloom
    Of one tall pear-tree.
    On, on, on, they go,
    Those single, sweet, reiterated sounds,
    Having no passion, similarly free
    Of laughter, and of memory, and of tears,
    Poignantly sweet, across the falling rain,
    They fall upon my ears.

The delicate rapture of that will fairly represent most of the nature
poetry in these volumes; and it may stand alike for its music and the
technical means by which that music is conveyed. It will be seen that
there is a close relation between means and end; that the simple
language, natural phrasing and controlled freedom of movement, directly
subserve the final effect of clear sweetness. A similar adaptation will
be found in verse which is written in a sharply contrasted manner. In
"Atlantic Rollers," for instance, we have a bigger theme, demanding by
its nature a swifter and stronger treatment. And surely the wild energy
and sound, the dazzling light and colour of stormy breakers have been
almost brought within sight and sound, in the speed and vigour of this
poem. There is the opening rush, secretly obedient to a metrical scheme;
there is a choice of words which are themselves dynamic; the rapid,
cumulative pressure of the verse, with epithets only to help the rising
movement until the crest is reached, at say the tenth or twelfth line;
and then a slight diminution of speed and force, as a richer style
describes the breaking wave.

    Do you dare face the wind now? Such a wind,
    Bending the hardy cliff-grass all one way,
    Hurling the breakers in huge battle-play
    On these old rocks, whose age leaves Time behind,
    --The whorls and rockets of the fiery mass
    Ere earth was earth--shoots over them the spray
    In furious beauty, then is twisted, wreathed,
    Dispersed, flung inland, beaten in our face,
    Until we pant as if we hardly breathed
    The common air. See how the billows race
    Landward in white-maned squadrons that are shot
    With sparks of sunshine.
                                Where they leap in sight
    First, on the clear horizon, they fleck white
    The blue profundity; then, as clouds shift,
    Are grey, and umber, and pale amethyst;
    Then, great green ramparts in the bay uplift,
    Perfect a moment, ere they break and fall
    In fierce white smother on the rocky wall.

The third kind of lyric is perhaps the most interesting, for it points
directly to the poet's dramatic gift. It appears quite early in this
work; and indeed, a striking example of it is the duologue which gives
its name to the author's first book, _The Marionettes_, published in
1907. It is described in the sub-title as _A Puppet Show_, and a
definition of its form would probably be a dramatic lyric. Yet, although
the tragic story is sharply outlined and is told by the voices of
husband and wife alternately, the poem is not so dramatic in essence as
other pieces which are more strictly lyrical in form, notably "Outside
Canossa," in the last book. In _The Marionettes_ we see the events of
the story as they are reflected in the minds of the interlocutors; as
the mood or the thought which they have given rise to. They do not live
and move before us in visible action: which is to say, the lyric element
predominates. "Outside Canossa," on the other hand, is frankly narrative
in form, and has an historical theme. It relates the famous episode of
the humiliation of the Emperor Henry IV by Hildebrand, and is
necessarily concerned with material that is static in its nature. It
must define and describe the scene, announce the antecedents of the
story, and throw light upon character. In spite of this, however, the
conception of the poem is dramatic; and certain vivid situations have
been created. As we read we actually live in this snow-clothed, silent
forest world; we stand inside the king's tent as he returns each evening
from his bare-foot, bare-headed penance outside Hildebrand's castle
gate; and we tremble, with the waiting courtiers, at the fury of
outraged pride in his eyes.

    Speech leapt from out the King, as leaps
    A sword-blade, dazzling in the sun
    From out its scabbard; as there leaps
    Fire from the mountain, ere it run
    Destruction-dealing, far and wide.
    "Rather as Satan damned, I say,
    Falling through pride, yet keeping pride,
    Than buy salvation at this price...."

To the enraged King the Queen enters softly, carrying her little son;
and though her husband has threatened death to any who should approach
him, though he sits with his unsheathed dagger ready to strike, she
walks steadily to his side, places the child upon his knee, and goes
slowly out without a word.

                              Through the door
    The King has hurled the dagger, holds
    His son against his breast, and pain
    Contorts him, like a smitten oak;
    Then sets the child upon the floor,
    And rises, and undoes the clasp
    Of his great mantle (like a stain
    Of blood it lies about his feet).
    Next from his head he takes the crown,
    Holds it arm's-length, and drops it down
    Suddenly, from his loosened grasp,
    And for the third time goes he forth,
    Bare-footed as a penitent,
    Humble, and excommunicate,
    To stand all day in falling snow
    Outside Canossa's guarded gate,
    Till Hildebrand shall mercy show.

The dramatic sense is clearly operative there. Here is an instinct which
perceives the kinetic values of things; which seizes unerringly upon the
stuff of drama, and, contemplating a character, an event or a situation,
feels it start into life under the touch and sees it move forward and
rush to a crisis before the eyes. In the lyrics this quality is often
merely latent; but in the plays it has come to full power and has found
expression through its own proper medium. It is, of course, the
originating impulse of drama as well as the force that shapes it; and if
we would take some measure of this creative energy in our poet, we have
only to observe that all of his five plays were published in five years,
one play to each year. The first, _Joan of Arc_, appeared in 1909; the
last, _Belisarius_, came out in 1913; the other three, _Mary Queen of
Scots_, _Manin_, and _Marcus Aurelius_, belong respectively to the three
intervening years. And there is another ready, representing 1914!
Moreover, they are all fully developed and of rather elaborate
structure. Being poetic and historical drama, perhaps it is natural that
they should follow the Shakespearean model, though their dependence on
tradition is a curious fact at this time of day. _Joan of Arc_ and _Mary
Queen of Scots_ are both of five-act length, and the rest are of four
acts. Numerous characters are introduced and a great deal of material is
handled: incident is plentiful, situations vary and scenes change with
some frequency; while underplot and crossaction bring in interests which
are additional to, though subserving, the main theme.

Looking at the work thus, and noting its mass and general character, one
is impelled to pay a first tribute to the fertility of the genius from
which it springs, and to the strength and staying power of the dramatic
impulse which directs it. But we soon find that this is reinforced by
other qualities which are almost as remarkable. There is what one may
call a comprehensive intelligence, ranging over wide areas and gathering
material in many places, but keeping it all strictly under control and
constantly striving to relate and unify so much diversity. There is a
constructive gift patiently building up, fitting together, organizing
and articulating the form of the work. Selection acts persistently;
proportion is generally--though not always--true and fine; a noble
spirit and a manner at once gracious and dignified give the work

However, all that is little more than to say--here is a genuine artist
working conscientiously in a given medium. It does not go far towards a
relative estimate of the work as pure drama. Only a detailed critical
analysis could do that adequately; though one may perhaps try to
indicate two or three of the prominent features of the plays. Thus in
_Joan of Arc_ we meet at once certain qualities which become in the
later plays definitely characteristic. There is, for example, a
conception of the theme which stresses the element of spiritual
conflict, and draws upon it, as well as upon its human values, for
dramatic inspiration. That is a primary fact in all this work; and in
four of the five plays it is implied in the very name of the
protagonist. _Joan_, _Manin_, _Marcus Aurelius_ and _Belisarius_ are
synonyms for the purest spirituality of which human nature is capable.
They suggest, before a page of this poetry has been turned, that the
conflict out of which drama always springs is in this case largely a
matter of invisible forces--of principles and ideas. And they point to
a type of dramatic art which, trending to fine issues, inevitably deals
in quiet effects.

There is, in fact, in the extreme grandeur of these four characters, a
possible source of weakness to the plays, as actual drama. There is a
danger that Joan may be too good a Christian, Marcus Aurelius too
austere a stoic, Manin or Belisarius too absolute an idealist, to put up
a strenuous fight against destiny. In the final impression of the plays,
indeed, one is aware of a vague touch of regret on that very account;
and although that may arise from one's own pugnacity, one suspects the
existence of a good many other imperfect humans who will share it; from
which it may be inferred that the weakness inherent in the subject has
not been entirely overcome. I doubt whether it would be possible to
overcome it altogether; and by the same token I salute the power which
has evoked profoundly moving and stimulating drama out of themes like

Again, in _Joan of Arc_, one may see how the poet uses the human
elements of a story to make the stirring scenes through which the
spiritual crisis is reached. Thus Joan, in the fundamental struggle of
her soul for the soul of France, is brought into external conflict which
rounds out the plot with incident. It belongs, of course, to the
historical setting of her life, that that conflict is one of actual
warfare; but we are bound to admire the art which has placed her as the
central figure of those warring factions--the invading English, the army
of the Duke of Burgundy, the Church, and Charles the Dauphin. Out of
that come the events through which the action proceeds and the
incomparable beauty of her character is revealed.

It is the struggle of Joan's enthusiasm with the apathy and indolence of
Charles which gives rise to one of the finest scenes in the play. It
occurs in Act I, the whole of which is skilfully designed to set the
action moving, while indicating so much of the political situation as
ought to be known, and the weakness in Charles' character which is the
ultimate cause of Joan's downfall. A premonitory note is struck in the
opening dialogue. A little story is told by la Tremoille, who is Joan's
chief enemy, of how he had just whipped a ragged prophet in the street
and caused him to be stoned. It has a double purpose--to introduce Joan,
the prophetess of Domrémy, as a subject of conversation; and, by
reminding us of her own end, to awaken the sense of tragic irony through
which we shall view the subsequent action. The talk turns to Joan, who
is awaiting audience; and la Tremoille proposes the trick of the
disguise. Charles agrees to it, and goes out to put on the dress of a
courtier, while his absence is filled out by a lively dialogue which
glances lightly from point to point of court life. When Charles and his
train re-enter and Joan is brought in, the scene rises strongly to its
climax. Joan recognizes the Dauphin through his disguise and announces
her divine mission--

                            I do declare to you
    That I, no other,--neither duke, nor prince,
    Nor captain,--no, nor learned gentlemen,
    But I alone, a girl of Domrémy,--
    Am sent to save you.

By means of a flexible blank-verse, plain diction, and free and nervous
phrasing, dialogue runs with an easy vigour. It is fired by strong and
quickly changing emotion--the incredulity of Charles, the base hostility
of la Tremoille, the indignation of Joan's friends, or the amazement and
curiosity of the courtiers. But for the most part it remains strictly
dramatic poetry; that is to say, raised by several degrees above the
level of prose, yet closely fitted to personality. When, however, Joan
begins to tell about her life, her quiet country home, and the divine
command which bade her save her country, the note deepens. The verse
becomes lyrical, burning with the mystical passion which possesses
her--a flame, like the grand simplicity of her own nature, white and
intensely clear.

    JOAN. Sire, it was in the spring; one afternoon
    When I was in a meadow all alone,
    Lying among the grasses (over head
    The scurrying clouds were like a flock of sheep,
    Chased by a sheep-dog); then, all suddenly,
    I heard a voice--nay, heard I cannot say,
    There _was_ a voice took hold upon my sense,
    As if it swallowed up all other sounds
    In all the world; the birds, the sheep, the bees,
    The sound of children calling far away,
    The rustling of the rushes in the stream,
    Were only like the cloth, whereon appears
    The gold embroidery, the voice of God.

    ARCHBISHOP. Did you see aught?

    JOAN. Yea, see! Our earthly words
    Cannot express divinity, but like
    Small vessels over-filled with generous wine,
    They leave the surplus wasted. If I say,
    I saw, or heard, that seems to leave untouched
    The other senses; but indeed, my lords,
    All of my body seemed transformed to soul.
    So I should say I _saw_ the voice of God,
    And _heard_ the light effulgent all around,
    Nay, heard, and saw, and felt through all of me
    The radiance of the message of the Lord.

Passages like that bring home to us the poetical character of this
drama. True, they may remind us that in such a form of the art action
is likely to lag: that its movement may be impeded, as toward the end of
_Joan of Arc_, by long speeches. On the other hand, they emphasize the
peculiar virtue of this kind of drama; the twofold nature of its appeal,
and the fact that the two elements are often found concentrated at their
highest degree in single scenes of great power. With genius of this type
(if genius may be classified in types!), when the dramatic imagination
is most vividly alight, it will inevitably kindle poetry of the finest

Thus, in the last act of _Marcus Aurelius_, we get the force of the
whole drama, and all the incidence of the directly preceding scene
moving behind and through the Emperor's speech from which I shall quote.
The play has shown the complicity of Faustina in the plot to depose her
husband: we know that she is a wanton and a traitress. But Marcus is
ignorant of the truth, and generously unsuspecting. After the death of
Cassius, the chief conspirator, Marcus orders an officer to bring all
the dead man's papers to him. It is necessary to examine them for the
names of accomplices. They are brought in while he is chatting with
Faustina; and she knows that they contain certain incriminating letters
that she had written. Exposure is imminent--disgrace and probable death
for her await the opening of the letters. She tries every ruse that a
bold and cunning mentality can suggest to prevent her husband from
reading them. She seems about to succeed, but her insistence faintly
warning Marcus, she fails after all. He takes up the package and goes
away to open it quietly in his tent, and Faustina, believing that in a
few minutes he will know all her treachery, drinks poison and dies.
Unconscious of this catastrophe, the Emperor is sitting alone in his
tent, with the package of letters on a table before him.

               ... Here, beneath my hand,
    Are laid the hidden hearts of many men.
    What shall I read therein? Ingratitude,
    Lies, envy, spite, the barbed and venomous word
    Of those that called me Emperor, I called friend;
                     ... Break the seal, and read
    Which of our subjects, of our intimates,
    Our friends of many years, are netted here.
    How thickly fall the shadows in the tent!
    Almost I fancied, with my tired eyes,
    I saw Faustina there ... Faustina, you!


                                        If I should find
    _Her_ name among the friends of Cassius?
    Ah no, Faustina, not such perfidy!
    The gods must blush at it! Am I grown grey
    And learnt no wisdom? Though it should be so--
    Though yet it cannot be--what's that to me?
    Am _I_ wronged by it? Yet it cannot be,
    With that frank brow. I've loved you faithfully;
    It could not be so....
                     ... I will not know
    More than I must of unprofitable things,
    Lest they should, in the garden of my soul,
    Nourish rank weeds of hate and bitterness;
    I will not hate that which I cannot change.

(_He drops the papers into a tripod._)

    Burn! Go into oblivion! The gods
    Permit themselves to pity good and bad,
    Giving to each the sunshine and sweet rain,
    And hiding all things in the mist of years.
    May I not do as gods do? Burn away,
    Consume all hate and evil into smoke!
    I will not know of them; assuredly
    For me such ills exist not----

(_The body of Faustina is brought in._)

The same combination of dramatic elements will be found in the crucial
scenes of _Manin_ and _Belisarius_. In _Manin_ it is especially notable,
because of the curious nature of the crisis. This would seem, on the
face of it, almost calculated to inhibit the dramatic impulse: to tend
to negative the dynamic properties of character and circumstance. Manin,
the defender of Venice, has held his city against the Austrian enemy by
sheer force of character. His courage and confidence and determination
have heartened the Venetians to continue their resistance; and his
statesmanship has been diligent in trying to secure the intervention of
France or England, or military aid from Kossuth. But help is refused
from every quarter; the garrison is small and weak; the people are
starving, and ravaged by disease. Nevertheless, inspired by their
leader, they are willing and eager to resist to the end, although they
know that this must bring on them the hideous penalties with which the
Austrians notoriously punished that kind of patriotism.

The crux of the drama lies in the problem thus presented to Manin. It is
essentially a spiritual struggle: between wisdom on the one hand and
patriotic ardour on the other; between foresight and courage; between
the long, weary, unattractive processes that make for life and the blind
impetuosity that makes for death; between, in his personal career, a
prospect of humiliation in exile and the glory of a hero's end. Given
the character of Manin, victory in the conflict was bound to lie with
reason against passion, with sagacity against recklessness; but the
victory in this case meant defeat--physical and apparently moral. It
would mean to the world, and even to his own people, that, with the
surrender of the town, he yielded up the very principles for which he
stood. Therein, of course, lies the unusual nature of this crisis. The
dramatic instinct has somehow to vitalize a dead weight of failure. To
see how that is done--and it _is_ done, finely--one must turn to the
scene in Act III, which is the core of the play. There the poet creates
an external conflict between Manin and the people which embodies, as it
were, the spiritual struggle; and, translating it into action, visibly
reveals Manin as a conqueror. Quotations hardly do justice to the poet
here, but there are two speeches, one before and one after Manin has won
the people to the proposed surrender, which indicate the skill of the
art at this point.

The first expresses the agony of failure in Manin's mind, resulting from
his decision to yield to the enemy. It is in answer to his faithful
friend and secretary, Pezzato, who has been trying to comfort him with a
prediction that the freedom of their city and their land is only
deferred, that it must ultimately come. Manin replies:

                        I shall not see it.
    I shall be blind beneath my coffin lid
    There in a foreign land; I shall not see
    The glory and the splendour of St. Mark's
    When our Italian flag salutes the sun;
    I shall be deaf, and never hear the peal
    Of our triumphant bells, and volleying guns;
    I shall be dumb, I shall be dumb that day,
    And never say "My people, for this hour
    I saved you when I sacrificed you most."

The second passage burns with the fire of triumph, tragical but
prophetic, which has been kindled in Manin by his struggle with the
opposing will of the people and his victory over it:

    Of this one thing be sure. A little time,
    A little hour, in the span of years
    That history devours, we submit
    To bow before the flail of tyranny;
    Ay, it may strike us down, and we may die
    With Europe passive round our Calvary;
    Yet that for which we stand, for liberty,
    For equal justice, and the right of laws
    Purely administered, can never die,
    Being of the nature of eternity;
    Nor all the blood that Austria has shed
    Mar the indelibility of truth;
    Nor all the graves that Austria has dug
    Bury it deep enough; nor all the lies
    That coward hearts have bandied to and fro,
    And coward hearts received to trick themselves,
    Smother the face of it.

There remains to be particularly noted the poet's gift of realizing
character. It is seen at its best in _Mary Queen of Scots_, where the
unfortunate Queen is very strikingly recreated. Out of the diverse and
stormy elements of her nature she is made to live again with a clear
unity and completeness which are amazing. That is largely the reason why
this play is the most powerful of the five, from the point of view of
pure drama. Its theme is unerringly chosen, for drama inheres in Mary's
being. The seeds of tragedy lurk in her contrasted weakness and
strength, excess and defect, nobility and baseness. And, because she has
been so brilliantly studied, this play moves at every step to the
majestic truth that character is destiny.

The broad lines of Mary's personality are established in the first act,
revealing at once the springs of action. The sensuous basis of her
nature, her strong will and quick temper, may be seen to set in motion
the forces which will presently overwhelm her. Her widowed state is
irksome--therefore she will marry. She hates authority--therefore she
will make her own choice in the matter of a husband. And finer threads
already begin to complicate the issues. She is really fond of Darnley,
the weak youth whom she is determined to marry; but that motive is
intricately mixed with the satisfaction of insulting Elizabeth through
him; while her ready wit gives a spice to her malice which, in dialogue
at least, is very refreshing. When she enters the audience-chamber she
calls Darnley to her side and, with a gesture towards the gloomy faces
of the disaffected nobles, says in merry mockery:

                         ... look you there
    On these good gentlemen, all friends of ours,
    The earls of Morton, Ruthven, and Argyll:
    For friends they are--upon their countenance
    We see it written.

She turns to the English ambassador:

                         ... Here's Sir Nicholas.
    What news of our dear cousin? Has she come
    At last to give that virgin heart away
    Into another's keeping, that brave Archduke,
    Who'd bite your hand, they say, as soon as kiss it--
    Such manners are in Austria--or Charles,
    My dear French brother, who is well enough,
    And only fourteen years her junior?
    Not yet the happy moment? Patience, then,
    Another day you'll have that news for us.

Sir Nicholas states formally Elizabeth's objections to Darnley, who

                                By my beard!

    MARY. No! No!
    Not by your beard, dear Henry, or your oath
    Is emptier than a prince's promises--
    Some princes we have heard of, we would say,
    Though cannot think it truth. Nay, let me hear
    What is it that my sister Princess wills
    Out of the largeness of her heart for me?

The complexity of Mary's character is well brought out. There is, for
instance, the little scene with Mary Beaton at the beginning of Act II.
Here the Queen, discovering Darnley's infidelity, passes rapidly through
half a dozen moods--from satirical bitterness to a fury of pride, and
then to tears in which humiliation, gratitude, and tenderness are
mingled. Mary Beaton has just said that the people pity their Queen:

    MARY. ... On my life,
    I'll not be pitied: pity is a chafe
    On open wounds of pride. To pity me
    Makes me a beggar--dare you pity me?

    BEATON. Sweet lady, I would not, but must perforce!

    MARY. Nay, would you have me weep? What thing am I
    That three soft words should drive the tear drops forth
    Like floods in winter? Nay, nay, good my girl,
    This is my body's weakness, not my soul's.

The gentleness of that gives place at the entrance of Darnley to intense
scorn, changing to indignation when he compels her to answer him, and to
provocative coquetry at his insult to Rizzio. In the second scene of
this act a new aspect of her mentality develops. The action here,
dramatically splendid in its speed and emotion, grows out of Mary's
recklessness, and proceeds directly, through the jealousy of Darnley,
to Rizzio's murder and Mary's secret plot to avenge him. It would seem,
in the astonishing duplexity of her nature, that there could be nothing
more to reveal; yet the profounder forces of it only begin to be
operative from this point. Bothwell, as she designs the scheme, is to be
merely the tool of her shrewd intelligence. But she is betrayed by the
force of her own passion, which transforms Bothwell into the means of
her destruction. The finest achievement of this portrayal is that which
shows the Queen conscious of her infatuation, and perceiving the tragedy
which it is preparing, but incapable of stemming the flood that is
carrying her away. Intelligence remains acute: reason holds as clear a
light to consequence as ever it did, but both are ineffectual against
the storm of instinct. Here is a passage from the end of Act III in
which Bothwell after a rebuff has protested his love for the Queen:

    MARY. Nay, swear not; nay, I know you what you are--
    Hotter than flame in your desires; false--
    Falser than water.

    BOTHWELL (_embracing her_). Be a salamander,
    To live for ever in the midst of fire.

    MARY. Oh, Bothwell! Oh, my love! I am bewitched
    To love you so. You are a deadly poison
    That's crept through all my veins; you are the North,
    And I the needle; I must turn to you
    From every quarter of the hemispheres.
                         ... I am yours
    Utterly, wholly; when I walk abroad,
    Jewelled and brocaded, I feel all men's eyes
    Can see me naked, and, from head to foot,
    Branded in red-hot letters with your name.

    BOTHWELL. This is indeed love!

    MARY. You may call it so!
    It is not that which most men mean by love--
    A moment's idle fancy. No, this love
    Is like a dragon, laying waste the land
    Of all my life; it is a deadly sickness,
    Of which we both shall die; it is a sin,
    Of which we both are damned, the saints of God
    Not finding mercy; there's no pleasure in it,
    But dust in the mouth and saltness in the eyes.

One would like to indicate further the truth with which the character is
studied through the last two acts, providing the material as it does for
scenes of great power and range of effect. Particularly one would wish
to convey some idea of the scene of the final tragedy, broadly conceived
against a background of the angry Edinburgh populace, and throbbing with
the defiance of the Queen. Psychological imagination here is no less
than brilliant, and one could cull perhaps half a dozen passages to
illustrate it. But a single extract must suffice; and that is chosen for
the additional reason that its closing sentences contain the very root
of the tragedy. It is from Act IV, and the scene, following upon Mary's
marriage to Bothwell, is designed to show her last desperate struggle
against him and against herself. Already she is remorseful,
disillusioned, and bitter; she knows the marriage to be hateful to her
people, and she has found Bothwell cruel and treacherous. Before the
nobles, who are assembled to receive them, she taunts Bothwell that he
is not royal; flouts him for Arthur Erskine; declares that she will
never wear jewels again; and at last provokes from Bothwell angry abuse
and threats of violence. The nobles interpose to protect her, and beg
her to let them save her from him. It needs but one word of assent to be
rid of him for ever. She is almost won; she takes a few steps towards
them, and actually gives her hand to one of them. Then she hesitates,
turns, and looks at her husband:--

    MARY. I am yours, Bothwell.

    BOTHWELL.                  Will you go with me?

    MARY. Ay, to the world's end, in my petticoat.

    BOTHWELL. Let go her hands, my lord.

    MORTON.                       Ay, let them go,
    And let _her_ go, for naught can save her now.
    Not ours the fault.

    MARY.    Not yours, nor his, nor mine.
    'Tis not the fault of floods to drown, nor fire
    To burn and shrivel--no, nor beasts to bite,
    Nor frosts to kill the flowers--not the fault,
    Only the property. There's something here
    That's stronger than our wishes and our wills.
    There is no going back; our course is laid,
    And we must keep it, though it lead to death.
    Good-bye, my lords. My husband, let us go.

_James Stephens_

One does not put a poet like Mr Stephens into a group--it cannot be
done. If you try to do it, weakly yielding a wise instinct to mere
intelligence, one of two things will happen. You will return to your
careful group the moment after you thought you had made it, to find
either that Mr Stephens has vanished or that the others have. Either he
has broken away from the ridiculous frail links which bound him, and is
already disappearing on the horizon with a gleeful shout, or his
unfortunate companions have vanished before so much exuberance.

That is why this poet was not included in the Irish chapter where, if
the thing were possible at all, one would have hoped to catch him. There
are many fine racial strands out of which you would think a net could be
woven. They appear to enmesh an Irishman and an Irish poet. We think we
recognize that eye, critical and appreciative, for a woman--or a horse.
We believe we know that wit, with a touch of satire and another touch of
merry malice. We are surely not mistaken in that adoration of beauty and
its converse hatred of ugliness; while we have no doubt whatever about
that passion for liberty.

But the true poet will transcend his nation, as he does his manhood, at
times of purest inspiration; and Mr Stephens has those happy
seasons--happy, surely, for those to whom he sings, though, doubtless,
each with its own agony to him. In many of the slighter poems, however,
all of them good and most of them quite beautiful, the signs of
nationality are obvious. They are comically clear, in fact, proceeding
as they do directly from the quick, keen perception of the Comic Spirit
itself. Only a blessed simpleton whose name was Patsy, could see the
angel who walks along the sky sowing the poppyseed. The word 'Sootherer'
sounds like English; and indeed individuals of the species are not
unknown in this country. But they, like the word, are native to the land
of the born lover. Has anybody heard of a Saxon who could fit names like
these to his sweetheart--Little Joy, Sweet Laughter, Shy Little Gay
Sprite? or who could woo her with such a ripple of flattery--

    ... You are more sweetly new
    Than a May moon: you are my store,
    My secret and my treasure and the pulse
    Of my heart's core.

But, on the other hand, no mere English boy could hope to match the glib
rage of spite in this disappointed youth--

    You'll go--then listen, you are just a pig,
    A little wrinkled pig out of a sty;
    Your legs are crooked and your nose is big,
    You've got no calves, you have a silly eye,
    I don't know why I stopped to talk to you,
    I hope you'll die.

Again, no Jack Robinson, though the dull smother that he would call his
imagination were fired by plentiful beer, could ever have conceived of
"What Tomas an Buile Said in a Pub"; or could have accompanied Mac Dhoul
on his impish adventure into heaven, to be twitched off God's throne by
a hand as large as a sky, and sent spinning through the planets--

    Scraping old moons and twisting heels and head
    A chuckle in the void....

These outward marks are unmistakable; and so, too, are certain qualities
in the essence and texture of the work. His lyric moods may be as tender
and fanciful, though always more spontaneous, than those of Mr Yeats.
And one may find the arrowy truth, the rich earthiness and the profound
sense of tragedy of a Synge. But the filmy threads which seem to stretch
between Mr Stephens and his compatriots have no strength to bind him.
They are, indeed, only visible when he is ranging at some altitude that
is lower than his highest reach. When he soars to the zenith, as in
"The Lonely God" and "A Prelude and a Song," their tenuity snaps. He has
gone beyond what is merely national and simply human; and has become
just a Voice for the Spirit of Poetry.

Nevertheless the affinities of this poet with what is best in modern
Irish literature would make a fascinating study. Foremost, of course,
there is imagination. You will find in him the true Hibernian blend of
grotesquerie and grandeur, pure fantasy and shining vision. But each of
these things is here raised to a power which makes it notable in itself,
while all of them may sometimes be found in astonishing combination in a
single poem. In the book called _Insurrections_, which is dated 1909,
and appears to represent Mr Stephens' earliest efforts in verse, there
is the piece which I have already named, "What Tomas an Buile Said in a
Pub." Already we may see this complex quality at work. Tomas is
protesting that he saw God; and that God was angry with the world.

    His beard swung on a wind far out of sight
    Behind the world's curve, and there was light
    Most fearful from His forehead ...


    He lifted up His hand--
      I say He heaved a dreadful hand
    Over the spinning Earth, then I said "Stay,
    You must not strike it, God; I'm in the way;
    And I will never move from where I stand."
    He said "Dear child, I feared that you were dead,"
      And stayed His hand.

You will see--a significant fact--that there is no nonsense about a
dream or a transcendent waking apparition. In the opening lines Tomas
says, with anxious emphasis, that he saw the 'Almighty Man'--and that is
symbolical. It has its relation to the mellow tenderness with which the
poem closes; but apart from that it is a sign of the way in which the
creative energy always works in this poetry. It seizes upon concrete
stuff; and that is fused, hammered and moulded into shapes so sharp and
clear that we feel we could actually touch them as they spring up in our
mental vision. This is not peculiar to Mr Stephens, of course. It would
seem to be common to every poet--though to be sure they are not many--in
whom sheer imagination, the first and last poetic gift, is preeminent.
Mr Stephens has many other qualities, which give his work depth, variety
and significance; but fine as they are, they take a secondary place
beside this ardent, plastic power.

We quickly see, even in the early poem from which I have quoted, the
mixed elements of this gift. Now the grotesquerie which seems to lie in
the fact that Tomas tells about the majesty and familiar kindliness of
God 'in a pub,' may be apparent only. It probably arises from one's own
sophistication and painful respectability. We have lost the simplicity
which would make it possible to talk about such a subject at all; and as
for doing it in a pub...!

Yet there is something truly grotesque in this work. That is to say,
there is a juxtaposition of ideas so violently contrasted that they
would provoke instant mirth if it were not for the grave intensity of
vision. Sometimes, indeed, they are frankly absurd. We are meant to
laugh at them, as we do at Mac Dhoul, squirming with merriment on God's
throne with the angels frozen in astonishment round him. But generally
these extraordinary images are presented seriously, and often they are
winged straight from the heart of the poet's philosophy. Then, the
driving power of emotion and a passion of sincerity carry us safely over
what seems to be their amazing irreverence. There is, for instance, in
the piece called "The Fulness of Time," a complete philosophic
conception of good and evil, boldly caught into sacred symbolism. The
poet tells here how he found Satan, old and haggard, sitting on a rusty
throne in a distant star. All his work was done; and God came to call
him to Paradise.

    Gabriel without a frown,
    Uriel without a spear,
    Raphael came singing down
    Welcoming their ancient peer,
    And they seated him beside
    One who had been crucified.

It is not irreverence, of course, but the audacity of poetic innocence.
Only an imagination pure of convention and ceremonial would dare so
greatly. And the remarkable thing is that this naîveté is intimately
blended with a grandeur which sometimes rises to the sublime. The
noblest and most complete expression of that is in "The Lonely God."
That is probably the reason why this poem is the finest thing that Mr
Stephens has done--that, and the magnitude of its central idea. There
is, indeed, the closest relation here between the thought and the
imagery in which it is made visible. But, keeping our curious,
impertinent gaze fixed for the moment on the changing form of the
imaginative essence of the work, let us take first the opening lines of
the poem:

    So Eden was deserted, and at eve
    Into the quiet place God came to grieve.
    His face was sad, His hands hung slackly down
    Along his robe ...
                   ... All the birds had gone
    Out to the world, and singing was not one
    To cheer the lonely God out of His grief--

There follow several stanzas of exquisite reverie as the majestic figure
paces sadly in Adam's silent garden and pauses before the little hut

    Chaste and remote, so tiny and so shy,
    So new withal, so lost to any eye,
    So pac't of memories all innocent....

Then, reminiscent of the dear friendliness of those banished human
souls, desolation comes upon the solitary Being. He remembers that he is
eternal and ringed round with Infinity. He sends thought flying back
through endless centuries, but cannot find the beginning of Time. He
ranges North and South, but cannot find the bounds of Space. He is most
utterly alone--save for his silly singing angels--in the monotonous
glory of his heaven.

                         ... Many days I sped
    Hard to the west, a thousand years I fled
    Eastwards in fury, but I could not find
    The fringes of the Infinite....
                                  --till at last
    Dizzied with distance, thrilling to a pain
    Unnameable, I turned to Heaven again.
    And there My angels were prepared to fling
    The cloudy incense, there prepared to sing
    My praise and glory--O, in fury I
    Then roared them senseless, then threw down the sky
    And stamped upon it, buffeted a star
    With My great fist, and flung the sun afar:
    Shouted My anger till the mighty sound
    Rung to the width, frighting the furthest bound
    And scope of hearing: tumult vaster still,
    Thronging the echo, dinned my ears, until
    I fled in silence, seeking out a place
    To hide Me from the very thought of Space.

There was once a reviewer who compared the genius of this poet to that
of Homer and Æschylus. Now comparisons like that are apt to tease the
mind of the discriminating, to whom there instantly appear all the gulfs
of difference. But, indeed, this poet does share in some measure, with
Æschylus and our own Milton and the unknown author of the Book of Job, a
sublimity of vision. His conceptions have a grandeur of simplicity; and
he makes us realize immensities--Eternity and Space and Force--by images
which are almost primitive. Like those other poets too, whose
philosophical conceptions were as different from his as their ages are
remote, he also has made God in the image of man. But the comparison
does not touch what we may call the human side of this newer genius;
and it only serves to throw into bolder relief its perception of life's
comedy, its waywardness, and its mischievous humour. This aspect,
strongly contrasted as it is with the poet's imaginative power, is at
least equally interesting. It is apparent, in the earlier work, in the
realism of such pieces as "The Dancer" or "The Street." There is a touch
of harshness in these poems which would amount to crudity if their
realism were an outward thing only. But it is not a mere trick of style:
it proceeds from indignation, from an outraged æsthetic sense, and from
a mental courage which attains its height, rash but splendid, in

    Let ye be still, ye tortured ones, nor strive
    Where striving's futile. Ye can ne'er attain
    To lay your burdens down.

This poet is not a realist at all, of course--far from it. But he loves
life and earth and homely words, he is very candid and revealing, and he
has a sense of real values. His humanity, too, is deep and strong, and
often supplies his verse with the material of actual existence, totally
lacking factitious glamour. Thus we have "To the Four Courts, Please,"
in which the first stanza describes the deplorable state of an ancient
cab-horse and his driver. Then--

    God help the horse and the driver too,
    And the people and beasts who have never a friend,
    For the driver easily might have been you,
    And the horse be me by a different end.

This humane temper is the more remarkable from being braced by a shrewd
faculty of insight. There is no sentimentality in it; and that the poet
has no illusions about human frailty may be seen in such a poem as "Said
The Old-Old Man." It is ballasted with humour, too; and has a charming
whimsicality. Hence the lightness of touch in "Windy Corner"--

    O, I can tell and I can know
      What the wind rehearses:
    "A poet loved a lady so,
    Loved her well, and let her go
      While he wrote his verses."


    That's the tale the winds relate
      Soon as night is shady.
    If it's true, I'll simply state
    A poet is a fool to rate
      His art above his lady.

Returning, however, to the larger implications of this poetry, one may
find a passion for liberty in it, and a courageous faith in the future
of the race. Here we have, in fact, a pure idealist, one of the
invincible few who have brought their ideals into touch with reality.
One does not suspect it at first--or at least we do not see how far it
goes--largely for the reason that it is so deeply grounded. The poet's
hold on life, on the actual, on the very data of experience, is
unyielding: his perception of truth is keen and his intellectual honesty
complete. And then the way in which his imagination moulds things in the
round, as it were, leaves no room to guess that there is a limitless
something behind or within. True, we have felt all along what we can
only call the spiritual touch in this poetry. It is always there,
lighter or more commanding, and sometimes it will come home very sweetly
in a comic piece, as for instance when "The Merry Policeman," appointed
guardian of the Tree, calls reassuringly to the scared thief:

                     ... "Be at rest,
    The best to him who wants the best."

We have observed, too, a faculty of seeing the spirit of things--a habit
of looking right through facts to something beyond them. But still we
did not quite understand what these signs meant; and if we tried to
account for them in any way, we probably offered ourselves the
all-too-easy explanation that this was the playful, fanciful, Celtic
way of looking at the world. Well, so it may be; but that charming
manner is, in all gravity, just the outward sign of an inward grace. And
if anyone should doubt that it points in this case to a clear idealism,
he may be invited to consider this little poem which prefaces the poet's
second volume, called "The Hill of Vision":

    Everything that I can spy
    Through the circle of my eye,
    Everything that I can see
    Has been woven out of me;
    I have sown the stars, and threw
    Clouds of morning and of eve
    Up into the vacant blue;
    Everything that I perceive,
    Sun and sea and mountain high,
    All are moulded by my eye:
    Closing it, what shall I find?
    --Darkness, and a little wind.

Now it must not be inferred that Mr Stephens is an austere person who
propounds ideals to himself as themes for his poetry. We should detect
his secret much more readily if he did--and it may be that we should not
like him quite so well. Hardly ever do you catch him, as it were, saying
to his Muse: "Come, let us make a song about liberty, or the future."
The very process of his thought, as well as the order of his verse,
seems often to be by way of an object to an idea. He takes some bit of
the actual world--a bird, a tree, or a human creature; and tuning his
instrument to that, he is presently off and away into the blue.

Once, however, he did sing directly on this subject of liberty, and
about the external, physical side of it. It was, of course, in that
early book; and there may also be found two studies of the idea of
liberty in its more abstract nature. They both treat of the woman giving
up her life into the hands of the man whom she marries. And in both
there is brought out with ringing clarity the inalienable freedom of the
human soul. Thus "The Red-haired Man's Wife," musing upon the
inexplicable changes that marriage has wrought for her--on her
dependence, and on the apparent loss of her very identity, wins through
to the light--

    I am separate still,
      I am I and not you:
    And my mind and my will,
      As in secret they grew,
    Still are secret, unreached and untouched and not subject to you.

Thus, too, "The Rebel" finds an answer to an importunate lover--

    You sob you love me--What,
    Must I desert my soul
    Because you wish to kiss my lips,


    I must be I, not you,
    That says the thing in brief.
    I grew to this without your aid,
    Can face the future unafraid,
    Nor pine away with grief
    Because I'm lonely....

It is, however, in "A Prelude and a Song" that this ardour of freedom
finds purest expression. Not that the poem was designed to that end. I
believe that it was made for nothing on this earth but the sheer joy of
singing. How can one describe this poem? It is the lyrical soul of
poetry; it is the heart of poetic rapture; it is the musical spirit of
the wind and of birds' cries; it is a passion of movement, swaying to
the dancing grace of leaves and flowers and grass, to the majesty of
sailing clouds; it is the sweet, shrill, palpitating ecstasy of the
lark, singing up and up until he is out of sight, sustaining his song at
the very door of heaven, and singing into sight again, to drop suddenly
down to the green earth, exhausted.--And I have not yet begun to say
what the poem really is: I have a doubt whether prose is equal to a
definition. In some degree at any rate it is a pæan of freedom:
delighted liberty lives in it. But we cannot apply our little
distinctions here, saying that it is this or that or the other kind of
freedom which is extolled; because we are now in a region where thought
and feeling are one; in a golden age where good and evil are lost in
innocency; in a blessed state where body and soul have forgotten their
old feud in glad reunion.

One hesitates to quote from the poem. It is long, and as the title
implies, it is in two movements. But though every stanza has a lightsome
grace which makes it lovely in itself--though the whole chain, if broken
up, would yield as many gems as there are stanzas, irregular in size and
shape indeed, but each shining and complete--the great beauty of the
poem is its beauty as a whole. It would seem a reproach to imperil that.
Yet there is a culminating passage of extreme significance to which we
must come directly for the crowning word of the poet's philosophy. From
that we may take a fragment now, if only to observe the reach of its
imagination and to win some sense which the poem conveys of limitless
spiritual range.

    Reach up my wings!
    Now broaden into space and carry me
    Beyond where any lark that sings
    Can get:
    Into the utmost sharp tenuity,
    The breathing-point, the start, the scarcely-stirred
    High slenderness where never any bird
    Has winged to yet!
    The moon peace and the star peace and the peace
    Of chilly sunlight: to the void of space,
    The emptiness, the giant curve, the great
    Wide-stretching arms wherein the gods embrace
    And stars are born and suns....

There follows hard upon that what is in effect a confession of faith. It
is not explicitly so, of course. Subjective this poet may be--is it not
a virtue in the lyricist?--but he does not confide his religion to us in
so many words. He has an artistic conscience. But the avowal, though it
is by way of allegory and grows up out of the imagery of the poem as
naturally as a blossom from its stem, is clear enough. And is supported
elsewhere, implicitly, or by a mental attitude, or outlined now and then
in figurative brilliance. There can be no reason to doubt its strength
and its sincerity--and there is every reason to rejoice in it--for it
reveals Mr Stephens as a poet of the future.

One pauses there, realizing that the term may mean very much--or nothing
at all. It may even suggest a certain technical vogue which, however
admirable in the theory of its originators, apparently is not yet
justified in the creation of manifest beauty. Our poet has no
association with that, of course, except in that he shares the general
impulse of the poetic spirit of his generation. That is, quite clearly,
to escape from the tyranny of the past in thought and word and metrical
form; and therein he is at one with most of the poets in this book. We
may grant that it is an important exception: that the movement which is
indicated here may be the sober British version of its more daring
Italian counterpart. Yet there remains still a difference wide enough
and deep enough to disclaim any technical relationship.

The root of the matter lies there, however. In Mr Stephens what we may
call the poetic instinct of the age works not merely to escape from the
past, but to advance into the future--and it has become a conscious,
reasoned hope in human destiny. It does not with him so much influence
the form of the work as it directs the spirit of it. And that spirit is
an absolute and impassioned belief in the future of mankind. Therein he
stands contrasted with many of the younger English poets, and with his
own compatriots. With many of his compeers the escape has been into
their own time, and the noblest thing evolved from that is a grave and
tender social conscience. Some, of course, have not escaped at all, and
have no wish to do so. Their work has its own soft evening loveliness.
But whilst Mr Yeats lives delicately in a romantic past, whilst poor
Synge lived tragically in a sardonic present, this poet stands on his
hill of vision and cries to the world the good tidings of a promised
land. Here it is, from the closing passage of "A Prelude and a Song":

    There the flower springs,
    Therein does grow
    The bud of hope, the miracle to come
    For whose dear advent we are striving dumb
    And joyless: Garden of Delight
    That God has sowed!
    In thee the flower of flowers,
    The apple of our tree,
    The banner of our towers,
    The recompense for every misery,
    The angel-man, the purity, the light
    Whom we are working to has his abode;
    Until our back and forth, our life and death
    And life again, our going and return
    Prepare the way: until our latest breath,
    Deep-drawn and agonized, for him shall burn
    A path: for him prepare
    Laughter and love and singing everywhere;
    A morning and a sunrise and a day!

_Margaret L. Woods_

About one half of the poetry in Mrs Woods' collected edition is dramatic
in character. There are two plays in regular form, tragedies both. One,
_Wild Justice,_ is in six scenes which carry the action rapidly forward
almost without a break. The other, called _The Princess of Hanover_, is
in three acts, which move with a wider sweep through the rise,
culmination, and crisis of a tragic story. These two dramas, which are
powerfully imagined and skilfully wrought, are placed in a separate
section at the end of the book--quite the best wine thus being left to
finish the feast.

Fine as they are, however, the plays do not completely represent the
poet's dramatic gift. And when we note the comic elements of two or
three pieces which are tucked away in the middle of the volume, we may
admit a hope that Mrs Wood may be impelled on some fair day to attempt
regular comedy. There is, for instance, the fun of the delightful medley
called "Marlborough Fair." Here are broad humour and vigorous, hearty
life which smells of the soil; little studies of country-folk,
incomplete but vivid; scraps of racy dialogue, and the prattle of a
child, all interwoven with the grotesquer fancies of a fertile
imagination, endowing even the beasts and inanimate objects of the show
with consciousness and speech. Hints there are in plenty (though to be
sure they are in some cases no more than hints) that the poet's dramatic
sense would handle the common stuff of life as surely and as freely as
it deals with tragedy. In this particular poem, of course, the touches
are of the nature of low comedy; the awkward sweethearting of a pair of
rustic lovers; the showman, alternating between bluster and enticement;
the rough banter of a group of farm lads about the cokernut-shy, and the
matron who presides there--

    Swarthy and handsome and broad of face
    'Twixt the banded brown of her glossy hair.
      In her ears are shining silver rings,
    Her head and massive throat are bare,
    She needs good length in her apron strings
    And has a jolly voice and loud
    To cry her wares and draw the crowd.

      --Fine Coker-nuts! My lads, we're giving
    Clean away! Who wants to win 'em?
    Fresh Coker-nuts! The milk's yet in 'em.
    Come boys! Only a penny a shot,
    Three nuts if you hit and the fun if not.

The effects are broad and strong, the tone cheery. But in another piece
where the dramatic element enters, "The May Morning and the Old Man,"
the note is deeper. There is, indeed, in the talk of the two old men on
the downland road, a much graver tone of the Comic Spirit. One of them
has come slowly up the hill and greets another who is working in a field
by the roadside with a question. He wants to know how far it is to
Chillingbourne; he is going back to his old home there and must reach it
before nightfall.

    FIRST OLD MAN.   It bean't for j'y I taäk the roäd.
      But, Mester, I be getten awld.
      Do seem as though in all the e'th
        There bean't no plaäce,
      No room on e'th for awld volk.

    SECOND OLD MAN.      The e'th do lie
      Yonder, so wide as Heaven a'most,
        And God as made un
      Made room, I warr'nt, for all Christian souls.

It is, however, through the medium of tragedy that the genius of Mrs
Woods has found most powerful expression. Not her charming lyrics, not
even the contemplative beauty of her elegiac poems, can stand beside the
creative energy of the two plays to which we must come directly. But the
best of the lyrics are notable, nevertheless; and two or three have
already passed into the common store of great English poetry. Of such is
the splendid hymn, "To the Forgotten Dead," with its exulting pride of
race chastened by the thought of death.

                          To the forgotten dead,
    Come, let us drink in silence ere we part.
    To every fervent yet resolved heart
    That brought its tameless passion and its tears,
    Renunciation and laborious years,
    To lay the deep foundations of our race,
    To rear its mighty ramparts overhead
    And light its pinnacles with golden grace.
                          To the unhonoured dead.

                          To the forgotten dead,
    Whose dauntless hands were stretched to grasp the rein
    Of Fate and hurl into the void again
    Her thunder-hoofed horses, rushing blind
    Earthward along the courses of the wind.
    Among the stars along the wind in vain
    Their souls were scattered and their blood was shed,
    And nothing, nothing of them doth remain.
                          To the thrice-perished dead.

It will be seen that the lyric gift of the poet moves at the prompting
of an imaginative passion. It is nearly always so in this poetry. Very
seldom does the impulse appear to come from intimate personal emotion or
individual experience; and the volume may therefore help to refute the
dogma that the poetry of a woman is bound to be subjective, from the
laws of her own nature. Occasionally, of course, a direct cry will seem
to make itself heard--the most reticent human creature will pay so much
toll to its humanity. And it is true that in such a spontaneous
utterance the voice will be distinctively feminine--life as the woman
knows it will find its interpreter. Thus we see austerity breaking down
in the poem "On the Death of an Infant," mournfully sweet with a
mother's sorrow. Hence, too, in "Under the Lamp" comes the loathing for
"the vile hidden commerce of the city"; and equally there comes a touch
of that feminine bias (yielding in these late days perhaps to fuller
knowledge and consequent sympathy) which inclines to regard the evil
from the point of view of the degradation of the man rather than that of
the hideous wrong to the woman. Or again, there is "The Changeling,"
perhaps the tenderest of the few poems which may perhaps, in some sense,
be called subjective. Through the thin veil of allegory one catches a
glimpse of the enduring mystery of maternal love. The mother is brooding
over the change in her child: she has not been watchful enough, she
thinks; and while she was unheeding, some evil thing had entered into
her baby and driven out the fair soul with which he began.

    Perhaps he called me and I was dumb.
    Unconcerned I sat and heard
              Little things,
      Ivy tendrils, a bird's wings,
              A frightened bird--
    Or faint hands at the window-pane?
    And now he will never come again,
    The little soul. He is quite lost.

She tries to woo him back, with prayer and incantations; but he will not
come; and when at last she is worn out with waiting, she seeks an old
wizard and begs him to give her forgetfulness. But it is a hard thing
that she is asking: it needs a mighty spell to make a woman forget her
son; and the mother has to go without the boon. She has not wealth
enough in the world to pay the Wise Man's fee. But afterwards she is
glad that she was too poor to pay the price:

    Because if I did not remember him,
    My little child--Ah! what should we have,
    He and I? Not even a grave
    With a name of his own by the river's brim.
    Because if among the poppies gay
    On the hill-side, now my eyes are dim,
    I could not fancy a child at play,
    And if I should pass by the pool in the quarry
    And never see him, a darling ghost,
    Sailing a boat there, I should be sorry--
    If in the firelit, lone December
    I never heard him come scampering post
    Haste down the stair--if the soul that is lost
    Came back, and I did not remember.

Such poetry reveals the woman in the poet, and is precious for that
reason: it brings its own new light to the book of humanity. But it is
not especially characteristic of Mrs Woods' work, for much more often it
is the poet in the woman who is revealed there. Powers which are
independent of sex--of imagination, of sensibility, and of thought, have
gone to the making of that which is finest in her verse; and surely
these are gifts which, in varying degree, distinguish the poetic soul
under any guise. They are not equally present here, of course.
Imagination overtops them, darting with the lightness of a bird, or
soaring majestically, or sweeping, strong and rapid, through a
storm-cloud, or putting a swift girdle round the earth. Thought is a
degree less powerful, perhaps. It is brooding, museful, tinged with a
melancholy that may be wistful or passionate; and though it commonly
revolves the larger issues of life within the canons of authority, it is
keen and clear enough to see beyond them, and even, upon occasion, to
pierce a way through. But it is not always sufficiently strong to
control completely so fertile an imagination; and there is no acute
sense of fact to reinforce it with truth of detail. Instead of watching,
recording, analyzing, after the method of so many contemporary poets,
this is a mentality which contemplates and reflects. It leans lovingly
toward the past, and has a sense, partly instinctive and partly
scholarly, of historic values: while, for its artistic method, it passes
all the treasure that fancy has gathered, and even passion itself,
through the alembic of memory. So is created a softer grace, a serener
atmosphere, and a richer dignity than the realist can achieve--and we
will not be churlish enough to complain if, at the same time, the salt
of reality is missing.

I should think that "The Builders, A Nocturne in Westminster Abbey,"
most fully represents this poet's lyrical gift. Individual qualities of
it may perhaps be observed more clearly elsewhere; but here they combine
to produce an effect of meditative sweetness and stately, elegiac grace
which are very characteristic. The poem is in ten movements, of very
unequal length and irregular form. It is unrhymed, and stanzas may vary
almost indefinitely in length, as the verse may pass from a dimeter,
light or resonant, up through the intervening measures to the roll of
the hexameter. But this originality of technique, leaving room for so
many shades of thought and feeling, was certainly inspired; and below
the changeful form runs perfect unity of tone. The creative impulse is
subdued to the contemplative mood induced in the mind of the poet as she
stands in the Abbey at night and broods upon its history. Her thought
goes far back, to the early builders of the fabric whose pale phantoms
seem to float in the shades of the 'grey ascending arches.'

    When the stars are muffled and under them all the earth
    Is a fiery fog and the sinister roar of London,
    They lament for the toil of their hands, their souls' travail--
                "Ah, the beautiful work!"
    It was set to shine in the sun, to companion the stars
    To endure as the hills, the ancient hills, endure,
                Lo, like a brand
    It lies, a brand consumed and blackened of fire,
                In the fierce heart of London.

Or, like Dante, this poet will follow the old ghosts to a more dreadful
region, and bring them news of home--

                        Fain would my spirit,
    My living soul beat up the wind of death
    To the inaccessible shore and with warm voice
    Deep-resonant of the earth, salute the dead:


                        I also would bring
    To the old unheeded spirits news of Earth;
    Of England, their own country, choose to tell them,
    And how above St. Edward's bones the Minister
    Gloriously stands, how it no more beholds
    The silver Thames broadening among green meadows
    And gardens green, nor sudden shimmer of streams
          And the clear mild blue hills.
    Rather so high it stands the whole earth under
    Spreads boundless and the illimitable sea.

The steps of the sentry, pacing over the stones which cover the great
dead below, remind her of those other builders who lie there, makers of

    Over what dust the atom footfall passes!
    Out of what distant lands, by what adventures
          Superbly gathered
    To lie so still in the unquiet heart of London!
    Is not the balm of Africa yet clinging
    About the bones of Livingstone? Consider
    The long life-wandering, the strange last journey
    Of this, the heroic lion-branded corpse,
          Still urging to the sea!
    And here the eventual far-off deep repose.

This poem is characteristic, both in the way it blends imagination and
profound feeling with pensive thought, and in its literary flavour. One
may note the opulent language, enriched from older sources, the
historical lore and the allusive touch so fascinating to those who love
literature for its own sake. But the poet can work at times in a very
different manner. There is, for instance, another piece of unrhymed
verse, "March Thoughts From England," which is a riot of light and
colour, rich scent and lovely shape and bewitching sound--the sensuous
rapture evoked by a Provençal scene 'recollected in tranquillity.' Or
there is "April," with the keen joy of an English spring, also a glad
response to the direct impressions of sense. Imagination is subordinated
here; but if we turn in another direction we are likely to find it
paramount. It may be manifested in such various degrees and through such
different media that sharp contrasts will present themselves. Thus we
might turn at once from the playful fancy of "The Child Alone" (where a
little maid has escaped from mother and nurse into the wonderful,
enchanted, adventurous world just outside the garden) to the
thrice-heated fire of "Again I Saw Another Angel." Here imagination has
fanned thought to its own fierce heat; and in the sudden flame serenity
is shrivelled up and gives place to passionate despair. In a vision the
poet sees the awful messenger of the Lord leap into the heavens with a
great cry--

    Then suddenly the earth was white
    With faces turned towards his light.
    The nations' pale expectancy
    Sobbed far beneath him like the sea,
    But men exulted in their dread,
    And drunken with an awful glee
    Beat at the portals of the dead.

    I saw this monstrous grave the earth
    Shake with a spasm as though of birth,
    And shudder with a sullen sound,
    As though the dead stirred in the ground.
    And that great angel girt with flame
    Cried till the heavens were rent around,
    "Come forth ye dead!"--Yet no man came.

But from the intensity of that we may pass to the dainty grace of the
Songs, where the poet is weaving in a gossamer texture. Or we may
consider a love-lyric like "Passing," a fragile thing, lightly evoked
out of a touch of fantasy and a breath of sweet pain.

    With thoughts too lovely to be true,
      With thousand, thousand dreams I strew
    The path that you must come. And you
            Will find but dew.

    I break my heart here, love, to dower
      With all its inmost sweet your bower.
    What scent will greet you in an hour?
            The gorse in flower.

In the plays there are lyrics, too, delicately stressing their character
of poetic drama, and giving full compass to the author's powers in each
work. Indeed, the combination of lyric and dramatic elements is very
skilfully and effectively managed. There is a ballad which serves in
each case to state the _motif_ at the opening of the play: not in so
many words, of course, but suggested in the tragical events of some old
story. And snatches of the ballad recur throughout, crooned by one of
the persons of the drama, or played by a lutist at a gay court festival.
But always the dramatic scheme is subserved by the lyrical fragments.
Sometimes it will fill a short interval with a note of foreboding, or
make a running accompaniment to the action, or induce an ironic tone,
or, by interpreting emotion, it will relieve tension which had grown
almost too acute. But, fittingly, when the crisis approaches and action
must move freely to the end, the lyric element disappears.

"The Ballad of the Mother," which precedes "Wild Justice," creates the
atmosphere in which the play moves from beginning to end. It prefigures
the plot, too, in its story of the dead mother who hears her children
weeping from her grave in the churchyard; and, after vainly imploring
both angel and sexton to let her go and comfort them, makes a compact
with the devil to release her.

    "Then help me out, devil, O help me, good devil!"
    "A price must be paid to a spirit of evil.
    Will you pay me the price?" said the spirit from Hell.
    "The price shall be paid, the bargain is made."


                Boom! boom! boom!
    From the tower in the silence there sounds the great bell.
    "I am fixing the price," said the devil from Hell.

The mother in the play is Mrs Gwyllim, wife of a vicious tyrant. For
twenty-one years she had borne cruelty and humiliation at his hands. She
had even been patient under the wrongs which he had inflicted on her
children: the violence which had maimed her eldest son, Owain, in his
infancy; which had hounded another boy away to sea and had driven a
daughter into a madhouse. But at the opening of the play a sterner
spirit is growing in her: meekness and submission are beginning to break
down under the consciousness of a larger duty to her children. We find
that she has been making appeals for help, first to their only
accessible relation; and that failing, to the Vicar of their parish. But
neither of these men had dared to move against the tyrant. They live on
a lonely little island off the coast of Wales, where Gwyllim practically
has the small population in his power. He had built a lighthouse on the
coast; and at the time of the action, which is early in the nineteenth
century, he is empowered to own it and to take toll from passing
vessels. Thus he controls the means of existence of the working people;
and the rest are deterred, by reasons of policy or family interest, from
putting any check upon him.

In the first scene the mother announces to her daughter Nelto and her
favourite son Shonnin the result of her appeal to the Vicar. His only
reply had been to affront her with a counsel of patience, though
Gwyllim's misconduct is as notorious as his wife's long-suffering. We
are thus made to realize the isolation and helplessness of the family
before we proceed to the second scene, with its culmination of Gwyllim's
villainy and the first hint of rebellion. He comes into the house,
furious at the discovery of what he calls his wife's treachery. Owain,
the crippled son, is present during part of the scene; and Nelto passes
and repasses before the open door of an inner room, hushing the baby
with stanzas of the ballad which opens the play. In the presence of
their children, Gwyllim raves at his wife, taunts her with her
helplessness, boasts of his own infidelity, and flings a base charge at
her, of which he says he has already informed the parson; while Nelto

    The angels are fled, and the sexton is sleeping,
    And I am a devil, a devil from Hell.

The mother does not answer; but Owain is goaded to protest. This only
excites Gwyllim further, and he strikes Owain as he sits in his invalid
chair; while Shonnin, coming in from the adjoining room, brings the
scene to a climax by asking of his father the money that he needs to go
away to school. Gwyllim replies, taking off his coat meanwhile, that
there is a certain rule in his family. When a son of his is man enough
to knock him down he shall have money to go out into the world; but not
before. He invites Shonnin to try his strength:

      GWYLLIM. ... Come on. Why don't you come on? I'm making no

      SHONNIN. Mother?

      GWYLLIM. Leave her alone. Strike me, boy. I bid you do it.

      SHONNIN. Then I will; with all my might, and may God
    increase it!

      OWAIN. There is no God.

Shonnin strikes three times; and is then felled by a blow from his
father, who goes out, shouting orders to wife as he retreats. The scene
closes in a final horror. Nelto, a pretty, high-spirited girl, has
hitherto taken little part in the action. Her character, however, has
been clearly indicated in one or two strong touches. We realize that she
is young, impulsive, warm-hearted; keenly sensitive to beauty, wilful
and bright; thrilling to her fingertips with life that craves its
birthright of liberty and joy. But we see, too, that with all her ardour
she is as proud and cold in her attitude to love as a very Artemis. And
when she declares that she also has reached the point of desperation,
and that sooner than remain longer in the gloom and terror of her home
she will fling herself into a shameful career, we feel that the climax
has indeed been reached.

In the third scene the plan of wild justice is formulated. It had
originated in the mind of Owain, who had fed his brooding temper on old
stories of revenge. To him the dreadful logic of the scheme seemed
unanswerable. No power on earth or heaven could help them; either they
must save themselves, or be destroyed, body and soul. He puts his plan
before Shonnin--to lure their father by a light wrongly placed, as he
rows home at night, on to the quicksands at the other side of the
island. But Shonnin, if he has less strength of will than Owain, is more
thoughtful and more sensitive. He is appalled at the proposal. Owain
reminds him of their wrongs; asks him what this monster has done that he
should live to be their ruin. And Shonnin, seeing the issues more
clearly, replies

                       ... Nothing;
    But then I have done nothing to deserve
    To be made a parricide.

But Nelto has been listening, and hers is a nature of a very different
mettle. Besides, as she has put the alternative to herself, it means but
a choice between two evils; and this plan of Owain's seems at least a
cleaner thing than the existence she had contemplated. She declares that
she will be the instrument of the revenge.

The rest of the play is occupied with the execution of the plan. Scene
IV shows us Nelto going on her way down to the sea at night with the
lantern that is to lead Gwyllim on to the sands. She is trying not to
think; but the very face of nature seems to reflect the horror that is
in her soul--

                             ... Down slips the moon.
    NELTO. Broken and tarnished too? Now she hangs motionless
    As 'twere amazed, in a silver strait of sky
    Between the long black cloud and the long black sea;
    The sea crawls like a snake.

The figure of a woman suddenly appears in the path. It is her mother;
she has overheard their plans, and for a moment Nelto is afraid that she
has come to frustrate them. But Mrs Gwyllim has a very different
purpose: she intends to take upon herself the crime that her children
are about to commit--

            All's fallen from me now
    But naked motherhood. What! Shall a hare
    Turn on the red-jawed dogs, being a mother,
    The unpitying lioness suckle her whelps
    Smeared with her heart's blood, this one law be stamped
    For ever on the imperishable stuff
    Of our mortality, and I, I only,
    Forbidden to obey it?

But Nelto sees that she is too frail and weak for the task; and entreats
her mother to return to the house. Time is slipping, and her father is
waiting for the boat.

    MRS. GWYLLIM. Ellen, you are too young;
    You should be innocent--

    NELTO. Never again
    After this night. Come, mother, I am yours;
    Make me a wanton or an avenger.

    MRS. GWYLLIM. Powers
    That set my spirit to swing on such a thread
    Over mere blackness, teach me now to guide it!

    NELTO. Mother, the moon dips.

    MRS. GWYLLIM. Go, my daughter, go!
    And let these hands, these miserable hands,
    Too weak to avenge my children, let them be
    Yet strong enough to pull upon my head
    God's everlasting judgment! All that weight
    Fall on me only!

We see what follows in the closing scenes as a fulfilment of that
prayer. Nelto takes the boat to meet Gwyllim, intending to row him over
to the false light that she herself has placed. When he has stepped
ashore she is to push off instantly, and leave him either to stride
forward into the quicksand, or to be drowned by the tide. Owain and his
mother peer from their window through the darkness, trying to follow
Nelto's movements by the light on her boat. They have locked Shonnin in
his room that he may not know what they are doing and interfere. But he
manages to awaken a sleeping child in the next room, and is released in
time to discover what is afoot. He seizes another lantern and rushes
down to the bay to signal a warning to his father. Meantime Mrs Gwyllim
and Owain search the opposite shore with a telescope; they see the light
on the boat approach it, stop for just so long as a man would need to
clamber out, and then move away. For a few seconds they distinguish the
swaying light that Gwyllim carries, and then it disappears. To their
strained imagination it seems that they hear his terrible cry as he
reaches the quicksand; and at the same time they are horrified to see
that Nelto's boat is returning to him. She also has heard the cry, and
has gone back to try to save her father. The light moves forward, slowly
at first and then more quickly, as Nelto seems to spring ashore. A
moment afterwards it too goes out.

No other sign comes to the watchers, for when they turn their glasses to
the nearer shore Shonnin also has disappeared. They keep their dreadful
vigil till dawn; and then the mother, pitifully hoping against hope,
goes out to seek her children.--She returns with Nelto's shawl.

    MRS. GWYLLIM. Where are my children, if they are not there?
    They cannot both be--Owain, where are they?

    OWAIN _[Makes a gesture towards the sea]_. Mother,
    May God have mercy on us!

    MRS. GWYLLIM. No, not both,
    Not both! She's somewhere in the house. Come, Ellen!
    She is afraid to come. Come, Nelto, Nelto!
    Shonnin, my heart's adored, Shonnin, my love,
    Do not be angry with me, answer, Shonnin,
    Shonnin! Not dead--not dead!

    OWAIN. O hush--hush--hush!

In a summary of this kind it is impossible to indicate all the dramatic
values of the work. One cannot show, for instance, how the characters
come to life, and by touches bold or subtle, develop an individuality
out of which the conflict of the drama springs. Even the conflict itself
can hardly be suggested, for an outline of the story gives only the
physical action; whilst there is a spiritual struggle in the minds of at
least two of the characters which is infinitely more tragical. And
neither can one hope to convey any sense of the force with which the
play takes possession of the mind. That is of course, its chief artistic
excellence; and on a moment's consideration it is seen to be a
remarkable achievement. For although the poet is working towards a
catastrophe very remote from ordinary experience, and in a poetic medium
deeply stamped with the marks of an earlier age, she has succeeded in
evoking a powerful illusion of reality. Here and there, indeed, are
signs that the handicap she has imposed upon herself is almost too
great. There is, perhaps, a shade of excess in the portraiture of
Gwyllim; or, to put it in another way, the author has not taken an
opportunity to balance what is extraordinary in this character with the
relief which would have suggested a complete personality. And now and
then there is a hint of incongruity in the use of a rich Elizabethan
diction, even for Owain, who is supposed to be steeped in the literature
of that age.

Those are not radical defects, however, for they do not interrupt the
enjoyment of the drama: they only emerge as an afterthought. If the
incompleteness of Gwyllim disturbed our conviction of his villainy, the
whole plot would be weakened. Whereas we are profoundly convinced that
the wrongs of his family are intolerable, and the revolt a natural
consequence. Similarly, if the exuberant Elizabethan language were
really unfitted to the spirit of the work, I imagine that it would be
barely possible to read the drama through, so irritating would be its
ineptitude. But, as a fact, the language wins upon us somehow as the
right expression for these people. We are probably satisfied,
subconsciously, that human creatures who have been thrust back to an
almost elemental stage of passion and thought, might talk in some such
way. In any case the emotional force of that old style, with its vivid
imagery and metaphor and its copious flow, does somehow suit the
intensity and gloomy grandeur of this play.

I am not sure that it suits _The Princess of Hanover_ quite so
well--which is curious, considering that we have, in the royal theme of
this drama, a subject which might be supposed to require an ornate
style. But in treating the tragic love-story of Sophia of Zell the poet
was bound to reproduce something of the atmosphere of the Hanoverian
Court, with its intrigues and indecencies and absurd conventionality.
And at such points poetry lends too large a dignity. In those scenes,
however, where as in "Wild Justice," the author comes to deal with naked
passion and with turbulent thought that is driving some person of the
drama to disaster, the instrument is admirably fitted to its purpose.
Thus, in the second half of the play, when the unfortunate Princess at
last yields to her lover, Königsmarck, and plots with him to escape from
her sottish husband, there are moments when it seems that no other
medium would serve. There is, for example, the crucial scene in the
second act when the endurance of the Princess finally gives way. The
action turns here directly towards its tragic culmination; for the
Princess, who had hitherto saved her honour at the cost of her love,
suddenly breaks down at an insult from the old Electress. The revulsion
of feeling as she flings restraint away carries her to an ecstatic sense
of liberty. As the Electress goes out and she is left alone with her
lady-in-waiting, she laughs bitterly and declares that she is now free
for ever from the House of Hanover.

    LEONORA. Weeping, dear lady,
    Will balm our misery better than laughter.

    PRINCESS. Misery? I am mad with all the joy
    Of all my years, my youth-consuming years'
        Hoarded, unspent delight.
        Say, Leonora,
    Where are my wings? Do they not shoot up radiant,
    A splendour of snowy vans, swimming the air
    Just ere the rush of rapture?

One might quote a dozen such passages, in which a rush of emotion seems
to overflow most naturally into poetical extravagance. There is the
rhapsody of the Electress--significantly, upon the theme of Queen
Elizabeth. There are the love-scenes, passionate or tender, between
Königsmarck and the Princess; and the fierce moods--of sheer avidity or
hatred or remorse--of the courtesan who contrives their downfall. But
the only other illustration which need be given is taken from the last
scene of the play; and has a further importance which must be noted. I
mean the tragic irony which underlies it, and, running throughout the
scene, closes the play on a note of appalling mockery.

The scene is in the Electoral Palace at night, or rather very early
morning, when the grey light is slowly coming. The Princess and Leonora
have come into the outer hall of their apartments to burn certain papers
in the fireplace there. Their plans are all made for flight with
Königsmarck on the following day; and as they kindle the fire they talk,
the Princess eagerly and Leonora with more caution, about their chances
of escape. But on the very spot where they stand, Königsmarck had been
secretly assassinated less than an hour before. And at this moment,
while they are talking, his body is being hastily bricked into a disused
staircase leading out of the hall. Faint sounds of the work reach the
ears of the ladies as they begin their task; but though Leonora is
disquieted, the Princess will not listen to her fears. She is on the
crest of a mood of exaltation--

    PRINCESS. The night is almost over,
    Soon will the topmost towers discern the day.
    The day! The day! O last of all the days
    I have spent in extreme penury of joy,
    In garish misery, unhelped wrong,
    And in unpardonable dishonour....


                Up lingering dawn!
    Why dost thou creep so pale, like one afraid?
    I want the sun! I want to-morrow!

    LEONORA. Madam,
    There was a hand on the door. What can these builders
    Be doing here at this hour?

    PRINCESS. Why, they're building.
    What does it matter? Let them build all night,
    I warrant they'll not build a wall so high
    Love cannot overleap it.



     _Interludes and Poems._ John Lane. 1908.

     _The Sale of St Thomas._ Published by the Author. (Out of Print.)

     _Emblems of Love._ John Lane. 1912.

     _Deborah._ John Lane. 1913.

     Contributions to _New Numbers_, February, April, August, December,
     1914. (Out of Print.)


     _The Three Resurrections and The Triumph of Maeve._ Longmans. 1905.

     _The Agate Lamp._ Longmans. 1912.

     _The Sorrowful Princess._ Longmans. 1907.


     _Poems._ Sidgwick & Jackson. 1911.

     _1914 and Other Poems._ Sidgwick & Jackson. 1915.

     Contributions to _New Numbers_. (See ABERCROMBIE.)


     _The Mountainy Singer._ Maunsel. 1909.

     _Irishry._ Maunsel. 1913.


     _Wild Earth._ (Out of Print.) 1907.


     _The Quest._ Maunsel. 1906.

     _Etain the Beloved._ Maunsel. 1912.

     _Straight and Crooked._ Grant Richards. 1915.


     _The Soul's Destroyer._ Alston Rivers. 1906.

     _New Poems._ Elkin Mathews. 1907.

     _Nature Poems._ A. C. Fifield. 1908.

     _Farewell to Poesy._ A. C. Fifield. 1910.

     _Songs of Joy._ A. C. Fifield. 1911.

     _Foliage._ Elkin Mathews. 1913.

     _The Bird of Paradise._ Methuen. 1914.


     _Songs of Childhood._ Longmans. (Out of Print.) 1902.

     _Poems._ Murray. 1906.

     _The Listeners._ Constable. 1912.

     _A Child's Day._ Constable. 1912.

     _Peacock Pie._ Constable. 1913.


     _Urlyn the Harper_ and _The Queen's Vigil_. Elkin Mathews (Vigo
     Cabinet Series). 1900.

     _On the Threshold._ Samurai Press. 1907.

     _The Stonefolds._ Samurai Press. 1907.

     _The Web of Life._ (Out of Print.) 1908.

     _Akra the Slave._ Elkin Mathews. 1910.

     _Daily Bread._ Elkin Mathews. 1910.

     _Womenkind._ David Nutt (Pilgrim Players Series). 1911.

     _Fires._ Elkin Mathews. 1912.

     _Borderlands._ Elkin Mathews. 1914.

     _Thoroughfares._ Elkin Mathews. 1914.

     _Battle._ Elkin Mathews. 1915.


     _Eve._ "At the Sign of Flying Fame." (Out of Print.) 1913.

     _The Bull._ "At the Sign of Flying Fame." 1913.

     _The Mystery._ "At the Sign of Flying Fame." 1913.

     _The Song of Honour._ (Out of Print.)

     _All the above re-issued by_ The Poetry Bookshop.


     _Collected Poems._ Max Goschen. 1914.


     _The Two Blind Countries._ Sidgwick & Jackson. 1914.


     _Salt Water Ballads._ Grant Richards. 1902. (Out of Print.)
     (Reprinted by Elkin Mathews.) 1913.

     _Ballads._ Elkin Mathews. (Out of Print.) 1903.

     _Ballads and Poems._ Elkin Mathews. 1910.

     _The Everlasting Mercy._ Sidgwick & Jackson. 1911.

     _The Widow in the Bye-Street._ Sidgwick & Jackson. 1912.

     _Dauber._ Wm. Heinemann. 1913.

     _Daffodil Fields._ Wm. Heinemann. 1913.

     _Philip the King._ Wm. Heinemann. 1914.

     _The Faithful._ Wm. Heinemann. 1915.


     _Hero Lays._ Maunsel. 1908.


     _The Living Chalice._ Maunsel. 1913.

     _Aids to the Immortality of Certain Persons in Ireland._ Maunsel.


     _Judas._ Sampson Low. 1908.

     _Before Dawn._ Constable. 1911.

     _Children of Love._ Poetry Bookshop. 1914.

     _Trees._ Poetry Bookshop. 1915.

     =Sarojini Naidu=

     _The Golden Threshold._ Wm. Heinemann. 1905.

     _The Bird of Time._ Wm. Heinemann. 1912.


     _Poems._ Maunsel. 1912.

     _An Epilogue._ Maunsel. 1914.


     _The Marionettes._ T. Fisher Unwin. 1907.

     _Joan of Arc._ Simpkin Marshall. 1909.

     _Mary Queen of Scots._ Chatto & Windus. 1910.

     _The Deluge._ Chatto & Windus. 1911.

     _Manin._ Chatto & Windus. 1911.

     _Marcus Aurelius._ Chatto & Windus. 1912.

     _Songs of Changing Skies._ Chatto & Windus. 1913.

     _Belisarius._ Chatto & Windus. 1913.

     James Stephens

     _Insurrections._ Maunsel. (Out of Print.) 1909.

     _The Hill of Vision._ Maunsel. 1912.

     _Songs from the Clay._ Macmillan. 1915.


     _Collected Poems._ John Lane. 1914.


     _Poems._ Tower Press Booklets. 1906.

NOTE.--The lists do not, in every case, include all the author's works;
the principal object being to give the books mentioned in the Studies.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note:

Obvious spelling and typographical errors in the prose were
corrected. Only egregious errors were corrected in the poetry.

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