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Title: The Advance of English Poetry in the Twentieth Century
Author: Phelps, William Lyon
Language: English
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THE ADVANCE OF ENGLISH POETRY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

BY

WILLIAM LYON PHELPS

Lampson Professor of English Literature at Yale

Member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters


  _O! 't is an easy thing
         To write and sing;
  But to write true, unfeigned verse
  Is very hard!_

  --HENRY VAUGHAN, _1655_



TO
MY FRIEND FOR FORTY YEARS

FRANK W. HUBBARD



ACKNOWLEDGMENT


The publishers of the works of the poets from whom illustrative
passages are cited in this volume, have courteously and generously
given permission, and I take this opportunity of expressing my thanks
to The Macmillan Company, who publish the poems of Thomas Hardy,
William Watson, John Masefield, W. W. Gibson, Ralph Hodgson, W. B.
Yeats, "A. E.," James Stephens, E. A. Robinson, Vachel Lindsay, Amy
Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Sara Teasdale, J. C. Underwood, Fannie
Stearns Davis; to Henry Holt and Company, who publish the poems of
Walter De La Mare, Edward Thomas, Padraic Colum, Robert Frost, Louis
Untermeyer, Sarah N. Cleghorn, Margaret Widdemer, Carl Sandburg, and
the two poems by Henry A. Beers quoted in this book, which appeared in
_The Ways of Yale_; to Charles Scribner's Sons, publishers of the
poems of George Santayana, Henry Van Dyke, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson,
Alan Seeger; to Houghton, Mifflin and Company, publishers of the poems
of Josephine Peabody, Anna Hempstead Branch, and W. A. Bradley's
_Old Christmas_; to The John Lane Company, publishers of the
poems of Stephen Phillips, Rupert Brooke, Benjamin R. C. Low; to the
Frederick A. Stokes Company, publishers of the poems of Alfred Noyes,
Robert Nichols, Thomas MacDonagh, Witter Bynner; to the Yale
University Press, publishers of the poems of W. A. Percy, Brian
Hooker, W. E. Benét, C. M. Lewis, E. B. Reed, F. E. Pierce, R. B.
Glaenzer, L. W. Dodd; to the Oxford University Press, publishers of
the poems of Robert Bridges; to Alfred A. Knopf, publisher of the
poems of W. H. Davies; to John W. Luce and Company, publishers of the
poems of John M. Synge; to Harper and Brothers, publishers of William
Watson's _The Man Who Saw_; to Longmans, Green and Company,
publishers of the poems of Willoughby Weaving; to Doubleday, Page and
Company, publishers of the poems of James Elroy Flecker; to the
Bobbs-Merrill Company, publishers of the poems of W. D. Foulke; to
Thomas B. Mosher, publisher of the poems of W. A. Bradley, W. E.
Henley; to James T. White and Company, publishers of William
Griffiths; Francis Thompson's _In No Strange Land_ appeared in
the _Athenaeum_ and _Lilium Regis_ in the _Dublin
Review_; the poem by Scudder Middleton appeared in _Contemporary
Verse_, that by Allan Updegraff in the _Forum_, and that by D.
H. Lawrence in _Georgian Poetry_ 1913-15, published by The Poetry
Bookshop, London.

The titles of the several volumes of poems with dates of publication
are given in my text.

I am grateful to the Yale University Librarians for help on
bibliographical matters, and to Professor Charles Bennett and Byrne
Hackett, Esquire, for giving some facts about the Irish poets.

W. L. P.



PREFACE


The material in this volume originally appeared in _The Bookman_,
1917-1918. It is now published with much addition and revision.

The Great War has had a stimulating effect on the production of
poetry. Professional poets have been spokesmen for the inarticulate,
and a host of hitherto unknown writers have acquired reputation. An
immense amount of verse has been written by soldiers in active
service. The Allies are fighting for human liberty, and this Idea is
an inspiration. It is comforting to know that some who have made the
supreme sacrifice will be remembered through their printed poems, and
it is a pleasure to aid in giving them public recognition.

Furthermore, the war, undertaken by Germany to dominate the world by
crushing the power of Great Britain, has united all English-speaking
people as nothing else could have done. In this book, all poetry
written in the English language is considered as belonging to English
literature.

It should be apparent that I am not a sectarian in art, but am
thankful for poetry wherever I find it. I have endeavored to make
clear the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual significance of many
of our contemporary English-writing poets. The difficulties of such an
undertaking are obvious; but there are two standards of measure. One
is the literature of the past, the other is the life of today. I judge
every new poet by these.



CONTENTS


I SOME CONTRASTS--HENLEY, THOMPSON, HARDY, KIPLING

II PHILLIPS, WATSON, NOYES, HOUSMAN

III JOHN MASEFIELD

IV GIBSON AND HODGSON

V BROOKE, FLECKER, DE LA MARE, AND OTHERS

VI THE IRISH POETS

VII AMERICAN VETERANS AND FORERUNNERS

VIII VACHEL LINDSAY AND ROBERT FROST

IX AMY LOWELL, ANNA BRANCH, EDGAR LEE MASTERS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER

X SARA TEASDALE, ALAN SEEGER, AND OTHERS

XI A GROUP OF YALE POETS

APPENDIX

INDEX



THE ADVANCE OF ENGLISH POETRY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY



CHAPTER I

SOME CONTRASTS--HENLEY, THOMPSON, HARDY, KIPLING


  Meaning of the word "advance"--the present widespread interest
  in poetry--the spiritual warfare--Henley and Thompson--Thomas
  Hardy a prophet in literature--_The Dynasts_--his
  atheism--his lyrical power--Kipling the Victorian--his future
  possibilities--Robert Bridges--Robert W. Service.

Although English poetry of the twentieth century seems inferior to the
poetry of the Victorian epoch, for in England there is no one equal to
Tennyson or Browning, and in America no one equal to Poe, Emerson, or
Whitman, still it may fairly be said that we can discern an advance in
English poetry not wholly to be measured either by the calendar and
the clock, or by sheer beauty of expression. I should not like to say
that Joseph Conrad is a greater writer than Walter Scott; and yet in
_The Nigger of the Narcissus_ there is an intellectual sincerity,
a profound psychological analysis, a resolute intention to discover
and to reveal the final truth concerning the children of the sea, that
one would hardly expect to find in the works of the wonderful Wizard.
Shakespeare was surely a greater poet than Wordsworth; but the man of
the Lakes, with the rich inheritance of two centuries, had a capital
of thought unpossessed by the great dramatist, which, invested by his
own genius, enabled him to draw returns from nature undreamed of by
his mighty predecessor. Wordsworth was not great enough to have
written _King Lear_; and Shakespeare was not late enough to have
written _Tintern Abbey_. Every poet lives in his own time, has a
share in its scientific and philosophical advance, and his
individuality is coloured by his experience. Even if he take a Greek
myth for a subject, he will regard it and treat it in the light of the
day when he sits down at his desk, and addresses himself to the task
of composition. It is absurd to call the Victorians old-fashioned or
out of date; they were as intensely modern as we, only their modernity
is naturally not ours.

A great work of art is never old-fashioned; because it expresses in
final form some truth about human nature, and human nature never
changes--in comparison with its primal elements, the mountains are
ephemeral. A drama dealing with the impalpable human soul is more
likely to stay true than a treatise on geology. This is the notable
advantage that works of art have over works of science, the advantage
of being and remaining true. No matter how important the contribution
of scientific books, they are alloyed with inevitable error, and after
the death of their authors must be constantly revised by lesser men,
improved by smaller minds; whereas the masterpieces of poetry, drama
and fiction cannot be revised, because they are always true. The
latest edition of a work of science is the most valuable; of
literature, the earliest.

Apart from the natural and inevitable advance in poetry that every
year witnesses, we are living in an age characterized both in England
and in America by a remarkable advance in poetry as a vital influence.
Earth's oldest inhabitants probably cannot remember a time when there
were so many poets in activity, when so many books of poems were not
only read, but bought and sold, when poets were held in such high
esteem, when so much was written and published about poetry, when the
mere forms of verse were the theme of such hot debate. There are
thousands of minor poets, but poetry has ceased to be a minor subject.
Any one mentally alive cannot escape it. Poetry is in the air, and
everybody is catching it. Some American magazines are exclusively
devoted to the printing of contemporary poems; anthologies are
multiplying, not "Keepsakes" and "Books of Gems," but thick volumes
representing the bumper crop of the year. Many poets are reciting
their poems to big, eager, enthusiastic audiences, and the atmosphere
is charged with the melodies of ubiquitous minstrelsy.

The time is ripe for the appearance of a great poet. A vast audience
is gazing expectantly at a stage crowded with subordinate actors,
waiting or the Master to appear. The Greek dramatists were sure of
their public; so were the Russian novelists; so were the German
musicians. The "conditions" for poetry are intensified by reason of
the Great War. We have got everything except the Genius. And the
paradox is that although the Genius may arise out of right conditions,
he may not; he may come like a thief in the night. The contrast
between public interest in poetry in 1918 and in 1830, for an
illustration, is unescapable. At that time the critics and the
magazine writers assured the world that "poetry is dead." Ambitious
young authors were gravely advised not to attempt anything in
verse--as though youth ever listened to advice! Many critics went so
far as to insist that the temper of the age was not "adapted" to
poetry, that not only was there no interest in it, but that even if
the Man should appear, he would find it impossible to sing in such a
time and to such a coldly indifferent audience. And yet at that
precise moment, Tennyson launched his "chiefly lyrical" volume, and
Browning was speedily to follow.

Man is ever made humble by the facts of life; and even literary
critics cannot altogether ignore them. Let us not then make the
mistake of being too sure of the immediate future; nor the mistake of
overestimating our contemporary poets; nor the mistake of despising
the giant Victorians. Let us devoutly thank God that poetry has come
into its own; that the modern poet, in public estimation, is a Hero;
that no one has to apologize either for reading or for writing verse.
An age that loves poetry with the passion characteristic of the
twentieth century is not a flat or materialistic age. We are not
disobedient unto the heavenly vision.

In the world of thought and spirit this is essentially a fighting age.
The old battle between the body and the soul, between Paganism and
Christianity, was never so hot as now, and those who take refuge in
neutrality receive contempt. Pan and Jesus Christ have never had so
many enthusiastic followers. We Christians believe our Leader rose
from the dead, and the followers of Pan say their god never died at
all. It is significant that at the beginning of the twentieth century
two English poets wrote side by side, each of whom unconsciously waged
an irreconcilable conflict with the other, and each of whom speaks
from the grave today to a concourse of followers. These two poets did
not "flourish" in the twentieth century, because the disciple of the
bodily Pan was a cripple, and the disciple of the spiritual Christ was
a gutter-snipe; but they both lived, lived abundantly, and wrote real
poetry. I refer to William Ernest Henley, who died in 1903, and to
Francis Thompson, who died in 1907.

Both Henley and Thompson loved the crowded streets of London, but they
saw different visions there. Henley felt in the dust and din of the
city the irresistible urge of spring, the invasion of the smell of
distant meadows; the hurly-burly bearing witness to the annual
conquest of Pan.

  Here in this radiant and immortal street
  Lavishly and omnipotently as ever
  In the open hills, the undissembling dales,
  The laughing-places of the juvenile earth.
  For lo! the wills of man and woman meet,
  Meet and are moved, each unto each endeared
  As once in Eden's prodigal bowers befel,
  To share his shameless, elemental mirth
  In one great act of faith, while deep and strong,
  Incomparably nerved and cheered,
  The enormous heart of London joys to beat
  To the measures of his rough, majestic song:
  The lewd, perennial, overmastering spell
  That keeps the rolling universe ensphered
  And life and all for which life lives to long
  Wanton and wondrous and for ever well.

The _London Voluntaries_ of Henley, from which the above is a
fair example, may have suggested something to Vachel Lindsay both in
their irregular singing quality and in the direction, borrowed from
notation, which accompanies each one, _Andante con moto, Scherzando,
Largo e mesto, Allegro maestoso._ Henley's Pagan resistance to
Puritan morality and convention, constantly exhibited positively in
his verse, and negatively in his defiant Introduction to the Works of
Burns and in the famous paper on R. L. S., is the main characteristic
of his mind and temperament. He was by nature a rebel--a rebel against
the Anglican God and against English social conventions. He loved all
fighting rebels, and one of his most spirited poems deals
affectionately with our Southern Confederate soldiers, in the last
days of their hopeless struggle. His most famous lyric is an assertion
of the indomitable human will in the presence of adverse destiny. This
trumpet blast has awakened sympathetic echoes from all sorts and
conditions of men, although that creedless Christian, James Whitcomb
Riley, regarded it with genial contempt, thinking that the philosophy
it represented was not only futile, but dangerous, in that it ignored
the deepest facts of human life. He once asked to have the poem read
aloud to him, as he had forgotten its exact words, and when the reader
finished impressively

  I am the Master of my fate:
  I am the Captain of my soul--

"The _hell_ you are," said Riley with a laugh.

Henley is, of course, interesting not merely because of his paganism,
and robust worldliness; he had the poet's imagination and gift of
expression. He loved to take a familiar idea fixed in a familiar
phrase, and write a lovely musical variation on the theme. I do not
think he ever wrote anything more beautiful than his setting of the
phrase "Over the hills and far away," which appealed to his memory
much as the three words "Far-far-away" affected Tennyson. No one can
read this little masterpiece without that wonderful sense of melody
lingering in the mind after the voice of the singer is silent.

  Where forlorn sunsets flare and fade
    On desolate sea and lonely sand,
  Out of the silence and the shade
    What is the voice of strange command
  Calling you still, as friend calls friend
    With love that cannot brook delay,
  To rise and follow the ways that wend
    Over the hills and far away?

  Hark in the city, street on street
    A roaring reach of death and life,
  Of vortices that clash and fleet
    And ruin in appointed strife,
  Hark to it calling, calling clear,
    Calling until you cannot stay
  From dearer things than your own most dear
    Over the hills and far away.

  Out of the sound of ebb and flow,
    Out of the sight of lamp and star,
  It calls you where the good winds blow,
    And the unchanging meadows are:
  From faded hopes and hopes agleam,
    It calls you, calls you night and day
  Beyond the dark into the dream
    Over the hills and far away.

In temperament Henley was an Elizabethan. Ben Jonson might have
irritated him, but he would have got along very well with Kit Marlowe.
He was an Elizabethan in the spaciousness of his mind, in his robust
salt-water breeziness, in his hearty, spontaneous singing, and in his
deification of the human will. The English novelist, Miss Willcocks, a
child of the twentieth century, has remarked, "It is by their will
that we recognize the Elizabethans, by the will that drove them over
the seas of passion, as well as over the seas that ebb and flow with
the salt tides.... For, from a sensitive correspondence with
environment our race has passed into another stage; it is marked now
by a passionate desire for the mastery of life--a desire,
spiritualized in the highest lives, materialized in the lowest, so to
mould environment that the lives to come may be shaped to our will. It
is this which accounts for the curious likeness in our today with that
of the Elizabethans."

As Henley was an Elizabethan, so his brilliant contemporary, Francis
Thompson, was a "metaphysical," a man of the seventeenth century. Like
Emerson, he is closer in both form and spirit to the mystical poets
that followed the age of Shakespeare than he is to any other group or
school. One has only to read Donne, Crashaw, and Vaughan to recognize
the kinship. Like these three men of genius, Thompson was not only
profoundly spiritual--he was aflame with religious passion. He was
exalted in a mystical ecstasy, all a wonder and a wild desire. He was
an inspired poet, careless of method, careless of form, careless of
thought-sequences. The zeal for God's house had eaten him up. His
poetry is like the burning bush, revealing God in the fire. His
strange figures of speech, the molten metal of his language, the
sincerity of his faith, have given to his poems a persuasive influence
which is beginning to be felt far and wide, and which, I believe, will
never die. One critic complains that the young men of Oxford and
Cambridge have forsaken Tennyson, and now read only Francis Thompson.
He need not be alarmed; these young men will all come back to
Tennyson, for sooner or later, everybody comes back to Tennyson. It is
rather a matter of joy that Thompson's religious poetry can make the
hearts of young men burn within them. Young men are right in hating
conventional, empty phrases, words that have lost all hitting power,
hollow forms and bloodless ceremonies. Thompson's lips were touched
with a live coal from the altar.

Francis Thompson walked with God. Instead of seeking God, as so many
high-minded folk have done in vain, Thompson had the real and
overpowering sensation that God was seeking him. The Hound of Heaven
was everlastingly after him, pursuing him with the certainty of
capture. In trying to escape, he found torment; in surrender, the
peace that passes all understanding. That extraordinary poem, which
thrillingly describes the eager, searching love of God, like a father
looking for a lost child and determined to find him, might be taken as
a modern version of the one hundred and thirty-ninth psalm, perhaps
the most marvellous of all religious masterpieces.

  Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with
    all my ways.
  Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
  Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy
    presence?
  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell,
    behold, thou art there.
  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts
    of the sea;
  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

The highest spiritual poetry is not that which portrays soul-hunger,
the bitterness of the weary search for God; it is that which reveals
an intense consciousness of the all-enveloping Divine Presence.
Children do not seek the love of their parents; they can not escape
its searching, eager, protecting power. We know how Dr. Johnson was
affected by the lines

  Quaerens me sedisti lassus
  Redemisti crucem passus
  Tantus labor non sit passus.

Francis Thompson's long walks by day and by night had magnificent
company. In the country, in the streets of London, he was attended by
seraphim and cherubim. The heavenly visions were more real to him than
London Bridge. Just as when we travel far from those we love, we are
brightly aware of their presence, and know that their affection is a
greater reality than the scenery from the train window, so Thompson
would have it that the angels were all about us. They do not live in
some distant Paradise, the only gate to which is death--they are here
now, and their element is the familiar atmosphere of earth.

Shortly after he died, there was found among

His papers a bit of manuscript verse, called "In No Strange Land." Whether
it was a first draft which he meant to revise, or whether he intended
it for publication, we cannot tell; but despite the roughnesses of
rhythm--which take us back to some of Donne's shaggy and splendid
verse--the thought is complete. It is one of the great poems of the
twentieth century, and expresses the essence of Thompson's religion.

  "IN NO STRANGE LAND"

  O world invisible, we view thee:
    O world intangible, we touch thee:
  O world unknowable, we know thee:
    Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

  Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
    The eagle plunge to find the air,
  That we ask of the stars in motion
    If they have rumour of thee there?

  Not where the wheeling systems darken,
    And our benumbed conceiving soars:
  The drift of pinions, would we harken,
    Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

  The angels keep their ancient places--
    Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
  'Tis ye, 'tis your estrangèd faces
    That miss the many-splendoured thing.

  But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
    Cry; and upon thy so sore loss
  Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
    Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

  Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
    Cry, clinging heaven by the hems:
  And lo, Christ walking on the water,
    Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

Thompson planned a series of Ecclesiastical Ballads, of which he
completed only two--_Lilium Regis_ and _The Veteran of
Heaven_. These were found among his papers, and were published in
the January-April 1910 number of the _Dublin Review._ Both are
great poems; but _Lilium Regis_ is made doubly impressive by the
present war. With the clairvoyance of approaching death, Thompson
foresaw the world-struggle, the temporary eclipse of the Christian
Church, and its ultimate triumph. The Lily of the King is Christ's
Holy Church. I do not see how any one can read this poem without a
thrill.

  LILIUM REGIS

  O Lily of the King! low lies thy silver wing,
  And long has been the hour of thine unqueening;
  And thy scent of Paradise on the night-wind spills its sighs,
  Nor any take the secrets of its meaning.
  O Lily of the King! I speak a heavy thing,
  O patience, most sorrowful of daughters!
  Lo, the hour is at hand for the troubling of the land,
  And red shall be the breaking of the waters.

  Sit fast upon thy stalk, when the blast shall with thee talk,
  With the mercies of the king for thine awning;
  And the just understand that thine hour is at hand,
  Thine hour at hand with power in the dawning.
  When the nations lie in blood, and their kings a broken brood,
  Look up, O most sorrowful of daughters!
  Lift up thy head and hark what sounds are in the dark,
  For His feet are coming to thee on the waters!

  O Lily of the King!  I shall not see, that sing,
  I shall not see the hour of thy queening!
  But my song shall see, and wake, like a flower that dawn-winds shake,
  And sigh with joy the odours of its meaning.
  O Lily of the King, remember then the thing
  That this dead mouth sang; and thy daughters,
  As they dance before His way, sing there on the Day,
  What I sang when the Night was on the waters!

There is a man of genius living in England today who has been writing
verse for sixty years, but who received no public recognition as a
poet until the twentieth century. This man is Thomas Hardy. He has the
double distinction of being one of the great Victorian novelists, and
one of the most notable poets of the twentieth century. At nearly
eighty years of age, he is in full intellectual vigour, enjoys a
creative power in verse that we more often associate with youth, and
writes poetry that in matter and manner belongs distinctly to our
time. He could not possibly be omitted from any survey of contemporary
production.

As is so commonly the case with distinguished novelists, Thomas Hardy
practised verse before prose. From 1860 to 1870 he wrote many poems,
some of which appear among the Love Lyrics in _Time's
Laughingstocks,_ 1909. Then he began a career in prose fiction
which has left him today without a living rival in the world. In 1898,
with the volume called _Wessex Poems,_ embellished with
illustrations from his own hand, he challenged criticism as a
professional poet. The moderate but definite success of this
collection emboldened him to produce in 1901, _Poems of the Past and
Present._ In 1904, 1906, 1908, were issued successively the three
parts of _The Dynasts,_ a thoroughly original and greatly-planned
epical drama of the Napoleonic wars. This was followed by three books
of verse, _Time's Laughingstocks_ in 1909, _Satires of
Circumstance,_ 1914, and _Moments of Vision,_ 1917; and he is
a familiar and welcome guest in contemporary magazines.

Is it possible that when, at the close of the nineteenth century,
Thomas Hardy formally abandoned prose for verse, he was either
consciously or subconsciously aware of the coming renaissance of
poetry? Certainly his change in expression had more significance than
an individual caprice. It is a notable fact that the present poetic
revival, wherein are enlisted so many enthusiastic youthful
volunteers, should have had as one of its prophets and leaders a
veteran of such power and fame. Perhaps Mr. Hardy would regard his own
personal choice as no factor; the Immanent and Unconscious Will had
been busy in his mind, for reasons unknown to him, unknown to man,
least of all known to Itself. Leslie Stephen once remarked, "The
deepest thinker is not really--though we often use the phrase--in
advance of his day so much as in the line along which advance takes
place."

Looking backward from the year 1918, we may see some new meaning in
the spectacle of two modern leaders in fiction, Hardy and Meredith,
each preferring as a means of expression poetry to prose, each
thinking his own verse better than his novels, and each writing verse
that in substance and manner belongs more to the twentieth than to the
nineteenth century. Meredith always said that fiction was his kitchen
wench; poetry was his Muse.

The publication of poems written when he was about twenty-five is
interesting to students of Mr. Hardy's temperament, for they show that
he was then as complete, though perhaps not so philosophical a
pessimist, as he is now. The present world-war may seem to him a
vindication of his despair, and therefore proof of the blind folly of
those who pray to Our Father in Heaven. He is, though I think not
avowedly so, an adherent of the philosophy of Schopenhauer and von
Hartmann. The primal force, from which all things proceed, is the
Immanent Will. The Will is unconscious and omnipotent. It is
superhuman only in power, lacking intelligence, foresight, and any
sense of ethical values. In _The Dynasts,_ Mr. Hardy has written
an epic illustration of the doctrines of pessimism.

Supernatural machinery and celestial inspiration have always been more
or less conventional in the Epic. Ancient writers invoked the Muse.
When Milton began his great task, he wished to produce something
classic in form and Christian in spirit. He found an admirable
solution of his problem in a double invocation--first of the Heavenly
Muse of Mount Sinai, second, of the Holy Spirit. In the composition of
_In Memoriam_, Tennyson knew that an invocation of the Muse would
give an intolerable air of artificiality to the poem; he therefore, in
the introductory stanzas, offered up a prayer to the Son of God. Now
it was impossible for Mr. Hardy to make use of Greek Deities, or of
Jehovah, or of any revelation of God in Christ; to his mind all three
equally belonged to the lumber-room of discredited and discarded myth.
He believes that any conception of the Primal Force as a Personality
is not only obsolete among thinking men and women, but that it is
unworthy of modern thought. It is perhaps easy to mistake our own
world of thought for the thought of the world.

In his Preface, written with assurance and dignity, Mr. Hardy says:
"The wide prevalence of the Monistic theory of the Universe forbade,
in this twentieth century, the importation of Divine personages from
any antique Mythology as ready-made sources or channels of Causation,
even in verse, and excluded the celestial machinery of, say,
_Paradise Lost_, as peremptorily as that of the _Iliad_ or
the _Eddas_. And the abandonment of the Masculine pronoun in
allusions to the First or Fundamental Energy seemed a necessary and
logical consequence of the long abandonment by thinkers of the
anthropomorphic conception of the same."  Accordingly he arranged a
group of Phantom Intelligences that supply adequately a Chorus and a
philosophical basis for his world-drama.

Like Browning in the original preface to _Paracelsus_, our author
expressly disclaims any intention of writing a play for the stage. It
is "intended simply for mental performance," and "Whether mental
performance alone may not eventually be the fate of all drama other
than that of contemporary or frivolous life, is a kindred question not
without interest."  The question has been since answered in another
way than that implied, not merely by the success of community drama,
but by the actual production of _The Dynasts_ on the London stage
under the direction of the brilliant and audacious Granville Barker. I
would give much to have witnessed this experiment, which Mr. Barker
insists was successful.

"Whether _The Dynasts_ will finally take a place among the
world's masterpieces of literature or not, must of course be left to
future generations to decide. Two things are clear. The publication of
the second and third parts distinctly raised public opinion of the
work as a whole, and now that it is ten years old, we know that no man
on earth except Mr. Hardy could have written it." To produce this
particular epic required a poet, a prose master, a dramatist, a
philosopher, and an architect. Mr. Hardy is each and all of the five,
and by no means least an architect. The plan of the whole thing, in
one hundred and thirty scenes, which seemed at first confused, now
appears in retrospect orderly; and the projection of the various
geographical scenes is thoroughly architectonic.

If the work fails to survive, it will be because of its low elevation
on the purely literary side. In spite of occasional powerful phrases,
as

  What corpse is curious on the longitude
  And situation of his cemetery!

the verse as a whole wants beauty of tone and felicity of diction. It
is more like a map than a painting. One has only to recall the
extraordinary charm of the Elizabethans to understand why so many
pages in _The Dynasts_ arouse only an intellectual interest. But
no one can read the whole drama without an immense respect for the
range and the grasp of the author's mind. Furthermore, every one of
its former admirers ought to reread it in 1918. The present world-war
gives to this Napoleonic epic an acute and prophetic interest nothing
short of astounding.

A considerable number of Mr. Hardy's poems are concerned with the idea
of God, apparently never far from the author's mind. I suppose he
thinks of God every day. Yet his faith is the opposite of that
expressed in the _Hound of Heaven_--in few words, it seems to be,
"Resist the Lord, and He will flee from you." Mr. Hardy is not content
with banishing God from the realm of modern thought; he is not content
merely with killing Him; he means to give Him a decent burial, with
fitting obsequies. And there is a long procession of mourners, some of
whom are both worthy and distinguished. In the interesting poem,
_God's Funeral_, written in 1908-1910, which begins

    I saw a slowly stepping train--
  Lined on the brows, scoop-eyed and bent and hoar--
  Following in files across a twilit plain
  A strange and mystic form the foremost bore

the development of the conception of God through human history is
presented with skill in concision. He was man-like at first, then an
amorphous cloud, then endowed with mighty wings, then jealous, fierce,
yet long-suffering and full of mercy.

    And, tricked by our own early dream
  And need of solace, we grew self-deceived,
  Our making soon our maker did we dream,
  And what we had imagined we believed.

    Till, in Time's stayless stealthy swing,
  Uncompromising rude reality
  Mangled the Monarch of our fashioning,
  Who quavered, sank; and now has ceased to be.

Among the mourners is no less a person than the poet himself, for in
former years--perhaps as a boy--he, too, had worshipped, and therefore
he has no touch of contempt for those who still believe.

    I could not prop their faith: and yet
  Many I had known: with all I sympathized;
  And though struck speechless, I did not forget
  That what was mourned for, I, too, once had prized.

In the next stanza, the poet's oft-expressed belief in the wholesome,
antiseptic power of pessimism is reiterated, together with a hint,
that when we have once and for all put God in His grave, some better
way of bearing life's burden will be found, because the new way will
be based upon hard fact.

    Still, how to bear such loss I deemed
  The insistent question for each animate mind,
  And gazing, to my growing sight there seemed
  A pale yet positive gleam low down behind,

    Whereof, to lift the general night,
  A certain few who stood aloof had said,
  "See you upon the horizon that small light--
  Swelling somewhat?" Each mourner shook his head.

    And they composed a crowd of whom
  Some were right good, and many nigh the best....
  Thus dazed and puzzled 'twixt the gleam and gloom
  Mechanically I followed with the rest.

This pale gleam takes on a more vivid hue in a poem written shortly
after _God's Funeral_, called _A Plaint to Man_, where God
remonstrates with man for having created Him at all, since His life
was to be so short and so futile:

  And tomorrow the whole of me disappears,
  The truth should be told, and the fact he faced
  That had best been faced in earlier years:

  The fact of life with dependence placed
  On the human heart's resource alone,
  In brotherhood bonded close and graced

  With loving-kindness fully blown,
  And visioned help unsought, unknown.

Other poems that express what is and what ought to be the attitude of
man toward God are _New Year's Eve, To Sincerity_, and the
beautiful lyric, _Let Me Enjoy_, where Mr. Hardy has been more
than usually successful in fashioning both language and rhythm into a
garment worthy of the thought. No one can read _The Impercipient_
without recognizing that Mr. Hardy's atheism is as honest and as
sincere as the religious faith of others, and that no one regrets the
blankness of his universe more than he. He would believe if he could.

Pessimism is the basis of all his verse, as it is of his prose. It is
expressed not merely philosophically in poems of ideas, but over and
over again concretely in poems of incident. He is a pessimist both in
fancy and in fact, and after reading some of our sugary "glad" books,
I find his bitter taste rather refreshing. The titles of his recent
collections, _Time's Laughingstocks_ and _Satires of
Circumstance_, sufficiently indicate the ill fortune awaiting his
personages. At his best, his lyrics written in the minor key have a
noble, solemn adagio movement. At his worst--for like all poets, he
is sometimes at his worst--the truth of life seems rather obstinately
warped. Why should legitimate love necessarily bring misery, and
illegitimate passion produce permanent happiness? And in the piece,
"Ah, are you digging on my grave?" pessimism approaches a _reductio
ad absurdum._

Dramatic power, which is one of its author's greatest gifts, is
frequently finely revealed. After reading _A Tramp-woman's
Tragedy,_ one unhesitatingly accords Mr. Hardy a place among the
English writers of ballads. For this is a genuine ballad, in story, in
diction, and in vigour.

Yet as a whole, and in spite of Mr. Hardy's love of the dance and of
dance music, his poetry lacks grace and movement. His war poem, _Men
Who March Away,_ is singularly halting and awkward. His complete
poetical works are interesting because they proceed from an
interesting mind. His range of thought, both in reminiscence and in
speculation, is immensely wide; his power of concentration recalls
that of Browning.

  I have thought sometimes, and thought long and hard.
  I have stood before, gone round a serious thing,
  Tasked my whole mind to touch and clasp it close,
  As I stretch forth my arm to touch this bar.
  God and man, and what duty I owe both,--
  I dare to say I have confronted these
  In thought: but no such faculty helped here.

No such faculty alone could help Mr. Hardy to the highest peaks of
poetry, any more than it served Caponsacchi in his spiritual crisis.
He thinks interesting thoughts, because he has an original mind. It is
possible to be a great poet without possessing much intellectual
wealth; just as it is possible to be a great singer, and yet be both
shallow and dull. The divine gift of poetry seems sometimes as
accidental as the formation of the throat. I do not believe that
Tennyson was either shallow or dull; but I do not think he had so rich
a mind as Thomas Hardy's, a mind so quaint, so humorous, so sharp. Yet
Tennyson was incomparably a greater poet.

The greatest poetry always transports us, and although I read and
reread the Wessex poet with never-lagging attention--I find even the
drawings in _Wessex Poems_ so fascinating that I wish he had
illustrated all his books--I am always conscious of the time and the
place. I never get the unmistakable spinal chill. He has too thorough
a command of his thoughts; they never possess him, and they never soar
away with him. Prose may be controlled, but poetry is a possession.
Mr. Hardy is too keenly aware of what he is about. In spite of the
fact that he has written verse all his life, he seldom writes
unwrinkled song. He is, in the last analysis, a master of prose who
has learned the technique of verse, and who now chooses to express his
thoughts and his observations in rime and rhythm.

The title of Mr. Hardy's latest volume of poems, _Moments of
Vision_, leads one to expect rifts in the clouds--and one is not
disappointed. It is perhaps characteristic of the independence of our
author, that steadily preaching pessimism when the world was peaceful,
he should now not be perhaps quite so sure of his creed when a larger
proportion of the world's inhabitants are in pain than ever before.
One of the fallacies of pessimism consists in the fact that its
advocates often call a witness to the stand whose testimony counts
against them. Nobody really loves life, loves this world, like your
pessimist; nobody is more reluctant to leave it. He therefore, to
support his argument that life is evil, calls up evidence which proves
that it is brief and transitory. But if life is evil, one of its few
redeeming features should be its brevity; the pessimist should look
forward to death as a man in prison looks toward the day of his
release. Yet this attitude toward death is almost never taken by the
atheists or the pessimists, while it is the burden of many of the
triumphant hymns of the Christian Church. Now, as our spokesman for
pessimism approaches the end--which I fervently hope may be afar
off--life seems sweet.

  "FOR LIFE I HAD NEVER CARED GREATLY"

            For Life I had never eared greatly,
              As worth a man's while;
              Peradventures unsought,
            Peradventures that finished in nought,
  Had kept me from youth and through manhood till lately
              Unwon by its style.

            In earliest years--why I know not--
              I viewed it askance;
              Conditions of doubt,
            Conditions that slowly leaked out,
  May haply have bent me to stand and to show not
              Much zest for its dance.

            With symphonies soft and sweet colour
              It courted me then,
              Till evasions seemed wrong,
            Till evasions gave in to its song,
  And I warmed, till living aloofly loomed duller
              Than life among men.

            Anew I found nought to set eyes on,
              When, lifting its hand,
              It uncloaked a star,
            Uncloaked it from fog-damps afar,
  And showed its beams burning from pole to horizon
              As bright as a brand.

            And so, the rough highway forgetting,
              I pace hill and dale,
              Regarding the sky,
            Regarding the vision on high,
  And thus re-illumed have no humour for letting
              My pilgrimage fail.

No one of course can judge of another's happiness; but it is difficult
to imagine any man on earth who has had a happier life than Mr. Hardy.
He has had his own genius for company all his days; he has been
successful in literary art beyond the wildest dreams of his youth; his
acute perception has made the beauty of nature a million times more
beautiful to him than to most of the children of men; his eye is not
dim, nor his natural force abated. He has that which should accompany
old age--honour, love, obedience, troops of friends.

The last poem in _Moments of Vision_ blesses rather than curses
life.

  AFTERWARDS

  When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay
    And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
  Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the people say
    "He was a man who used to notice such things"?

  If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid's soundless blink,
    The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
  Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, will a gazer think,
    "To him this must have been a familiar sight"?

  If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
    When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
  Will they say, "He strove that such innocent creatures should come to
        no harm,
    But he could do little for them; and now he is gone"?

  If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the
        door,
    Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
  Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
    "He was one who had an eye for such mysteries"?

  And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
    And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
  Till they rise again, as they were a new bell's boom,
    "He hears it not now, but he used to notice such things"?

Should Mr. Hardy ever resort to prayer--which I suppose is
unlikely--his prayers ought to be the best in the world. According to
Coleridge, he prayeth well who loveth well both man and bird and
beast; a beautiful characteristic of our great writer is his
tenderness for every living thing. He will be missed by men, women,
children, and by the humblest animals; and if trees have any
self-consciousness, they will miss him too.

Rudyard Kipling is a Victorian poet, as Thomas Hardy is a Victorian
novelist. When Tennyson died in 1892, the world, with approximate
unanimity, chose the young man from the East as his successor, and for
twenty-five years he has been the Laureate of the British Empire in
everything but the title. In the eighteenth century, when Gray
regarded the offer of the Laureateship as an insult, Mr. Alfred Austin
might properly have been appointed; but after the fame of Southey, and
the mighty genius of Wordsworth and of Tennyson, it was cruel to put
Alfred the Little in the chair of Alfred the Great. It was not an
insult to Austin, but an insult to Poetry. With the elevation of the
learned and amiable Dr. Bridges in 1913, the public ceased to care who
holds the office. This eminently respectable appointment silenced both
opposition and applause. We can only echo the language of Gray's
letter to Mason, 19 December, 1757: "I interest myself a little in the
history of it, and rather wish somebody may accept it that will
retrieve the credit of the thing, if it be retrievable, or ever had
any credit.... The office itself has always humbled the professor
hitherto (even in an age when kings were somebody), if he were a poor
writer by making him more conspicuous, and if he were a good one by
setting him at war with the little fry of his own profession, for
there are poets little enough to envy even a poet-laureat." Mason was
willing.

Rudyard Kipling had the double qualification of poetic genius and of
convinced Imperialism. He had received a formal accolade from the aged
Tennyson, and could have carried on the tradition of British verse and
British arms. Nor has any Laureate, in the history of the office,
risen more magnificently to an occasion than did Mr. Kipling at the
sixtieth anniversary of the reign of the Queen. Each poet made his
little speech in verse, and then at the close of the ceremony, came
the thrilling _Recessional_, which received as instant applause
from the world as if it had been spoken to an audience. In its
scriptural phraseology, in its combination of haughty pride and deep
contrition, in its "holy hope and high humility," it expressed with
austere majesty the genius of the English race. The soul of a great
poet entered immediately into the hearts of men, there to abide for
ever.

It is interesting to reflect that not the author of the
_Recessional_, but the author of _Regina Cara_ was duly
chosen for the Laureateship. This poem by Robert Bridges appeared on
the same occasion as that immortalized by Kipling, and was
subsequently included in the volume of the writer's poetical works,
published in 1912. It shows irreproachable reverence for Queen
Victoria. Apparently its poetical quality was satisfactory to those
who appoint Laureates.

  REGINA CARA

  Jubilee-Song, for music, 1897

  Hark! the world is full of thy praise,
  England's Queen of many days;
  Who, knowing how to rule the free,
  Hast given a crown to monarchy.

  Honour, Truth, and growing Peace
  Follow Britannia's wide increase,
  And Nature yield her strength unknown
  To the wisdom born beneath thy throne!

  In wisdom and love firm is thy fame:
  Enemies bow to revere thy name:
  The world shall never tire to tell
  Praise of the queen that reignèd well.

    O Felix anima, Domina pracclara,
      Amore semper coronabere
        Regina Cara

Rudyard Kipling's poetry is as familiar to us as the air we breathe.
He is the spokesman for the Anglo-Saxon breed. His gospel of orderly
energy is the inspiration of thousands of business offices; his
sententious maxims are parts of current speech: the victrola has
carried his singing lyrics even farther than the banjo penetrates, of
which latter democratic instrument his wonderful poem is the
apotheosis. And we have the word of a distinguished British
major-general to prove that Mr. Kipling has wrought a miracle of
transformation with Tommy Atkins. General Sir George Younghusband, in
a recent book, _A Soldier's Memories_, says, "I had never heard
the words or expressions that Rudyard Kipling's soldiers used. Many a
time did I ask my brother officers whether they had ever heard them.
No, never. But, sure enough, a few years after the soldiers thought,
and talked, and expressed themselves exactly as Rudyard Kipling had
taught them in his stories. Rudyard Kipling made the modern soldier.
Other writers have gone on with the good work, and they have between
them manufactured the cheery, devil-may-care, lovable person enshrined
in our hearts as Thomas Atkins. Before he had learned from reading
stories about himself that he, as an individual, also possessed the
above attributes, he was mostly ignorant of the fact. My early
recollections of the British soldier are of a bluff, rather surly
person, never the least jocose or light-hearted except perhaps when he
had too much beer."

This is extraordinary testimony to the power of literature--from a
first-class fighting man. It is as though John Sargent should paint an
inaccurate but idealized portrait, and the original should make it
accurate by imitation. The soldiers were transformed by the renewing
of their minds. Beholding with open face as in a glass a certain
image, they were changed into the same image, by the spirit of the
poet. This is certainly a greater achievement than correct reporting.
It is quite possible, too, that the _officers_' attitude toward
Tommy Atkins had been altered by the _Barrack-Room Ballads_, and
this new attitude produced results in character.

I give General Younghusband's testimony for what it is worth. It is
important if true. But it is only fair to add that it has been
contradicted by another military officer, who affirms that Kipling
reported the soldier as he was. Readers may take their choice. At all
events the transformation of character by discipline, cleanliness,
hard work, and danger is the ever-present moral in Mr. Kipling's
verse. He loves to take the raw recruit or the boyish, self-conscious,
awkward subaltern, and show how he may become an efficient man, happy
in the happiness that accompanies success. It is a Philistine goal,
but one that has the advantage of being attainable. The reach of this
particular poet seldom exceeds his grasp. And although thus far in his
career--he is only fifty-two, and we may hope as well as remember--his
best poetry belongs to the nineteenth century rather than the
twentieth, so universally popular a homily as _If_ indicates that
he has by no means lost the power of preaching in verse. With the
exception of some sad lapses, his latter poems have come nearer the
earlier level of production than his stories. For that matter, from
the beginning I have thought that the genius of Rudyard Kipling had
more authentic expression in poetry than in prose. I therefore hope
that after the war he will become one of the leaders in the advance of
English poetry in the twentieth century, as he will remain one of the
imperishable monuments of Victorian literature. The verse published in
his latest volume of stories, _A Diversity of Creatures_, 1917,
has the stamp of his original mind, and _Macdonough's Song_ is
impressive. And in a poem which does not appear in this collection,
but which was written at the outbreak of hostilities, Mr. Kipling was,
I believe, the first to use the name _Hun_--an appellation of
considerable adhesive power. Do roses stick like burrs?

His influence on other poets has of course been powerful. As Eden
Phillpotts is to Thomas Hardy, so is Robert Service to Rudyard
Kipling. Like Bret Harte in California, Mr. Service found gold in the
Klondike. But it is not merely in his interpretation of the life of a
distant country that the new poet reminds one of his prototype; both
in matter and in manner he may justly be called the Kipling of the
North. His verse has an extraordinary popularity among American
college undergraduates, the reasons for which are evident. They read,
discuss him, and quote him with joy, and he might well be proud of the
adoration of so many of our eager, adventurous, high-hearted youth.
Yet, while Mr. Service is undoubtedly a real poet, his work as a whole
seems a clear echo, rather than a new song. It is good, but it is
reminiscent of his reading, not merely of Mr. Kipling, but of poetry
in general. In _The Land God Forgot_, a fine poem, beginning

  The lonely sunsets flare forlorn
      Down valleys dreadly desolate;
  The lordly mountains soar in scorn
    As still as death, as stern as fate,

the opening line infallibly brings to mind Henley's

  Where forlorn sunsets flare and fade.

The poetry of Mr. Service has the merits and the faults of the "red
blood" school in fiction, illustrated by the late Jack London and the
lively Rex Beach. It is not the highest form of art. It insists on
being heard, but it smells of mortality. You cannot give permanence to
a book by printing it in italic type.

It is indeed difficult to express in pure artistic form great
primitive experiences, even with long years of intimate first-hand
knowledge. No one doubts Mr. Service's accuracy or sincerity. But many
men have had abundance of material, rich and new, only to find it
unmanageable. Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling succeeded where
thousands have failed. Think of the possibilities of Australia! And
from that vast region only one great artist has spoken--Percy
Grainger.



CHAPTER II

PHILLIPS, WATSON, NOYES, HOUSMAN


  Stephen Phillips--his immediate success--influence of
  Stratford-on-Avon--his plays--a traditional poet--his
  realism--William Watson--his unpromising start--his lament on
  the coldness of the age toward poetry--his
  Epigrams--_Wordsworth's Grave_--his eminence as a critic
  in verse--his anti-imperialism--his Song of Hate--his Byronic
  wit--his contempt for the "new" poetry--Alfred Noyes--both
  literary and rhetorical--an orthodox poet--a singer--his
  democracy--his childlike imagination--his
  sea-poems--_Drake_--his optimism--his religious faith--A.
  E. Housman--his paganism and pessimism--his modernity--his
  originality--his lyrical power--war poems--Ludlow.

The genius of Stephen Phillips was immediately recognized by London
critics. When the thin volume, _Poems_, containing _Marpessa,
Christ in Hades_, and some lyrical pieces, appeared in 1897, it was
greeted by a loud chorus of approval, ceremoniously ratified by the
bestowal of the First Prize from the British Academy. Some of the more
distinguished among his admirers asserted that the nobility,
splendour, and beauty of his verse merited the adjective Miltonic. I
remember that we Americans thought that the English critics had lost
their heads, and we queried what they would say if we praised a new
poet in the United States in any such fashion. But that was before we
had seen the book; when we had once read it for ourselves, we felt no
alarm for the safety of Milton, but we knew that English Literature
had been enriched. Stephen Phillips is among the English poets.

His career extended over the space of twenty-five years, from the
first publication of _Marpessa_ in 1890 to his death on the ninth
of December, 1915. He was born near the city of Oxford, on the
twenty-eighth of July, 1868. His father, the Rev. Dr. Stephen
Phillips, still living, is Precentor of Peterborough Cathedral; his
mother was related to Wordsworth. He was exposed to poetry germs at
the age of eight, for in 1876 his father became Chaplain and Sub-Vicar
at Stratford-on-Avon, and the boy attended the Grammar School. Later
he spent a year at Queens' College, Cambridge, enough to give him the
right to be enrolled in the long list of Cambridge poets. He went on
the stage as a member of Frank Benson's company, and in his time
played many parts, receiving on one occasion a curtain call as the
Ghost in _Hamlet_. This experience--with the early Stratford
inspiration--probably fired his ambition to become a dramatist. The
late Sir George Alexander produced _Paolo and Francesca_;
_Herod_ was acted in London by Beerbohm Tree, and in America by
William Faversham. Neither of these plays was a failure, but it is
regrettable that he wrote for the stage at all. His genius was not
adapted for drama, and the quality of his verse was not improved by
the experiment, although all of his half-dozen pieces have occasional
passages of rare loveliness. His best play, _Paolo and
Francesca_, suffers when compared either with Boker's or
D'Annunzio's treatment of the old story. It lacks the stage-craft of
the former, and the virility of the latter.

Phillips was no pioneer: he followed the great tradition of English
poetry, and must be counted among the legitimate heirs. At his best,
he resembles Keats most of all; and none but a real poet could ever
make us think of Keats. If he be condemned for not breaking new paths,
we may remember the words of a wise man--"It is easier to differ from
the great poets than it is to resemble them." He loved to employ the
standard five-foot measure that has done so much of the best work of
English poetry. In _The Woman with the Dead Soul_, he showed once
more the musical possibilities latent in the heroic couplet, which
Pope had used with such monotonous brilliance. In _Marpessa_, he
gave us blank verse of noble artistry. But he was far more than a mere
technician. He fairly meets the test set by John Davidson. "In the
poet the whole assembly of his being is harmonious; no organ is
master; a diapason extends throughout the entire scale; his whole
body, his whole soul is rapt into the making of his poetry.... Poetry
is the product of originality, of a first-hand experience and
observation of life, of a direct communion with men and women, with
the seasons of the year, with day and night. The critic will therefore
be well-advised, if he have the good fortune to find something that
seems to him poetry, to lay it out in the daylight and the moonlight,
to take it into the street and the fields, to set against it his own
experience and observation of life."

One of the most severe tests of poetry that I know of is to read it
aloud on the shore of an angry sea. Homer, Shakespeare, Milton gain in
splendour with this accompaniment.

With the words of John Davidson in mind, let us take two passages from
_Marpessa_, and measure one against the atmosphere of day and
night, and the other against homely human experience. Although Mr.
Davidson was not thinking of Phillips, I believe he would have
admitted the validity of this verse.

                       From the dark
  The floating smell of flowers invisible,
  The mystic yearning of the garden wet,
  The moonless-passing night--into his brain
  Wandered, until he rose and outward leaned
  In the dim summer; 'twas the moment deep
  When we are conscious of the secret dawn,
  Amid the darkness that we feel is green....
  When the long day that glideth without cloud,
  The summer day, was at her deep blue hour
  Of lilies musical with busy bliss,
  Whose very light trembled as with excess,
  And heat was frail, and every bush and flower
  Was drooping in the glory overcome;

Any poet knows how to speak in authentic tones of the wild passion of
insurgent hearts; but not every poet possesses the rarer gift of
setting the mellower years to harmonious music, as in the following
gracious words:

  But if I live with Idas, then we two
  On the low earth shall prosper hand in hand
  In odours of the open field, and live
  In peaceful noises of the farm, and watch
  The pastoral fields burned by the setting sun....
  And though the first sweet sting of love be past,
  The sweet that almost venom is; though youth,
  With tender and extravagant delight,
  The first and secret kiss by twilight hedge,
  The insane farewell repeated o'er and o'er,
  Pass off; there shall succeed a faithful peace;
  Beautiful friendship tried by sun and wind,
  Durable from the daily dust of life.
  And though with sadder, still with kinder eyes,
  We shall behold all frailties, we shall haste
  To pardon, and with mellowing minds to bless.
  Then though we must grow old, we shall grow old
  Together, and he shall not greatly miss
  My bloom faded, and waning light of eyes,
  Too deeply gazed in ever to seem dim;
  Nor shall we murmur at, nor much regret
  The years that gently bend us to the ground,
  And gradually incline our face; that we
  Leisurely stooping, and with each slow step,
  May curiously inspect our lasting home.
  But we shall sit with luminous holy smiles,
  Endeared by many griefs, by many a jest,
  And custom sweet of living side by side;
  And full of memories not unkindly glance
  Upon each other. Last, we shall descend
  Into the natural ground--not without tears--
  One must go first, ah God! one must go first;
  After so long one blow for both were good;
  Still like old friends, glad to have met, and leave
  Behind a wholesome memory on the earth.

Although _Marpessa_ and _Christ in Hades_ are subjects
naturally adapted for poetic treatment, Phillips did not hesitate to
try his art on material less malleable. In some of his poems we find a
realism as honest and clear-sighted as that of Crabbe or Masefield. In
_The Woman with the Dead Soul_ and _The Wife_ we have
naturalism elevated into poetry. He could make a London night as
mystical as a moonlit meadow. And in a brief couplet he has given to
one of the most familiar of metropolitan spectacles a pretty touch of
imagination. The traffic policeman becomes a musician.

  The constable with lifted hand
  Conducting the orchestral Strand.

Stephen Phillips's second volume of collected verse, _New Poems_
(1907), came ten years after the first, and was to me an agreeable
surprise. His devotion to the drama made me fear that he had burned
himself out in the _Poems_ of 1897; but the later book is as
unmistakably the work of a poet as was the earlier. The mystical
communion with nature is expressed with authority in such poems as
_After Rain_, _Thoughts at Sunrise_, _Thoughts at
Noon_. Indeed the first-named distinctly harks back to that
transcendental mystic of the seventeenth century, Henry Vaughan. The
greatest triumph in the whole volume comes where we should least
expect it, in the eulogy on Gladstone. Even the most sure-footed bards
often miss their path in the Dark Valley. Yet in these seven stanzas
on the Old Parliamentary Hand there is not a single weak line, not a
single false note; word placed on word grows steadily into a column of
majestic beauty.

This poem is all the more refreshing because admiration for Gladstone
had become unfashionable; his work was belittled, his motives
befouled, his clear mentality discounted by thousands of pygmy
politicians and journalistic gnats. The poet, with a poet's love for
mountains, turns the powerful light of his genius on the old giant;
the mists disappear; and we see again a form venerable and august.

  The saint and poet dwell apart; but thou
  Wast holy in the furious press of men,
  And choral in the central rush of life.
  Yet didst thou love old branches and a book,
  And Roman verses on an English lawn....

  Yet not for all thy breathing charm remote,
  Nor breach tremendous in the forts of Hell,
  Not for these things we praise thee, though these things
  Are much; but more, because thou didst discern
  In temporal policy the eternal will;

  Thou gav'st to party strife the epic note,
  And to debate the thunder of the Lord;
  To meanest issues fire of the Most High.

William Watson, a Yorkshireman by birth and ancestry, was born on the
second of August, 1858. His first volume, _The Prince's Quest_,
appeared in 1880. Seldom has a true poet made a more unpromising
start, or given so little indication, not only of the flame of genius,
but of the power of thought. No twentieth century English poet has a
stronger personality than William Watson. There is not the slightest
tang of it in _The Prince's Quest_. This long, rambling romance,
in ten sections, is as devoid of flavour as a five-finger exercise. It
is more than objective; it is somnambulistic. It contains hardly any
notable lines, and hardly any bad lines. Although quite dull, it never
deviates into prose--it is always somehow poetical without ever
becoming poetry. It is written in the heroic couplet, written with a
fatal fluency; not good enough and not bad enough to be interesting.
It is like the student's theme, which was returned to him without
corrections, yet with a low mark; and in reply to the student's
resentful question, "Why did you not correct my faults, if you thought
meanly of my work?" the teacher replied wearily, "Your theme has no
faults; it is distinguished by a lack of merit."

In _The Prince's Quest_ Mr. Watson exhibited a rather remarkable
command of a barren technique. He had neither thoughts that breathe,
nor words that burn. He had one or two unusual words--his only
indication of immaturity in style--like "wox" and "himseemed." (Why is
it that when "herseemed" as used by Rossetti, is so beautiful,
"himseemed" should be so irritating!) But aside from a few specimens,
the poem is as free from affectations as it is from passion. When we
remember the faults and the splendours of _Pauline,_ it seems
incredible that a young poet could write so many pages without
stumbling and without soaring; that he could produce a finished work
of mediocrity. I suppose that those who read the poem in 1880 felt
quite sure that its author would never scale the heights; and they
were wrong; because William Watson really has the divine gift, and is
one of the most deservedly eminent among living poets.

It is only fair to add, that in the edition of his works in 1898,
_The Prince's Quest_ did not appear; he was persuaded, however,
to include it in the two-volume edition of 1905, where it enjoys
considerable revision, "wox" becoming normal, and "himseemed" becoming
dissyllabic. For my part, I am glad that it has now been definitely
retained. It is important in the study of a poet's development. It
would seem that the William Watson of the last twenty-five years, a
fiery, eager, sensitive man, with a burning passion to express himself
on moral and political ideas, learned the mastery of his art before he
had anything to say.

Perhaps, being a thoroughly honest craftsman, he felt that he ought to
keep his thoughts to himself, until he knew how to express them. After
proving it on an impersonal romance, he was then ready to speak his
mind. No poet has spoken his mind more plainly.

In an interesting address, delivered in various cities in the United
States, and published in 1913, called _The Poet's Place in the
Scheme of Life,_ Mr. Watson said, "Since my arrival on these shores
I have been told that here also the public interest in poetry is
visibly on the wane." Now whoever told him that was mistaken. The
public interest in poetry and in poets has visibly _wox_, to use
Mr. Watson's word. It is always true that an original genius, like
Browning, like Ibsen, like Wagner, must wait some time for public
recognition, although these three all lived long enough to receive not
only appreciation, but idolatry; but the "reading public" has no
difficulty in recognizing immediately first-rate work, when it is
produced in the familiar forms of art. In the Preface that preceded
his printed lecture, Mr. Watson complained with some natural
resentment, though with no petulance, that his poem, _King
Alfred_, starred as it was from the old armories of literature,
received scarcely any critical comment, and attracted no attention.
But the reason is plain enough--_King Alfred_, as a whole, is a
dull poem, and is therefore not provocative of eager discussion. The
critics and the public rose in reverence before _Wordsworth's
Grave_, because it is a noble work of art. Its author did not have
to tell us of its beauty--it was as clear as a cathedral.

I do not agree with Mr. Watson or with Mr. Mackaye, that real poets
are speaking to deaf ears, or that they should be stimulated by forced
attention. I once heard Percy Mackaye make an eloquent and high-minded
address, where, if my memory serves me rightly, he advocated something
like a stipend for young poets. A distinguished old man in the
audience, now with God, whispered audibly, "What most of them need is
hanging!" I do not think they should be rewarded either by cash or the
gallows. Let them make their way, and if they have genius, the public
will find it out. If all they have is talent, and no means to support
it, poetry had better become their avocation.

Mr. Watson has expressly disclaimed that in his lecture he was
lamenting merely "the insufficient praise bestowed upon living poets."
It is certainly true that most poets cannot live by the sale of their
works. Is this especially the fault of our age? is it the fault of our
poets? is it a fault in human nature? Mr. Watson said, "Yet I am bound
to admit that this need for the poet is felt by but few persons in our
day. With one exception there is not a single living English poet, the
sales of whose poems would not have been thought contemptible by Scott
and Byron. The exception is, of course, that apostle of British
imperialism--that vehement and voluble glorifier of Britannic ideals,
whom I dare say you will readily identify from my brief, and, I hope,
not disparaging description of him. With that one brilliant and
salient exception, England's living singers succeed in reaching only a
pitifully small audience." In commenting on this passage, we ought to
remember that Scott and Byron were colossal figures, so big that no
eye could miss them; and that the reason why Kipling has enjoyed
substantial rewards is not because of his political views, nor because
of his glorification of the British Empire, but simply because of his
literary genius. He is a brilliant and salient exception to the common
run of poets, not merely in royalties, but in creative power.
Furthermore, shortly after this lecture was delivered, Alfred Noyes
and then John Masefield passed from city to city in America in a march
of triumph. Mr. Gibson and Mr. De La Mare received homage everywhere;
"Riley day" is now a legal holiday in Indiana; Rupert Brooke has been
canonized.

Mr. Watson is surely mistaken when he offers "his poetical
contemporaries in England" his "most sincere condolences on the hard
fate which condemned them to be born there at all in the latter part
of the nineteenth century." But he is not mistaken in wishing that
more people everywhere were appreciative of true poetry. I wish this
with all my heart, not so much for the poet's sake, as for that of the
people. But the chosen spirits are not rarer in our time than
formerly. The fault is in human nature. Material blessings are
instantly appreciated by every man, woman, and child, and by all the
animals. For one person who knows the joys of listening to music, or
looking at pictures, or reading poetry, there are a hundred thousand
who know only the joys of food, clothing, shelter. Spiritual delights
are not so immediately apparent as the gratification of physical
desires. Perhaps if they were, man's growth would stop. As Browning
says,

  While were it so with the soul,--this gift of truth
  Once grasped, were this our soul's gain safe, and sure
  To prosper as the body's gain is wont,--
  Why, man's probation would conclude, his earth
  Crumble; for he both reasons and decides,
  Weighs first, then chooses: will he give up fire
  For gold or purple once he knows its worth?
  Could he give Christ up were his worth as plain?
  Therefore, I say, to test man, the proofs shift,
  Nor may he grasp that fact like other fact,
  And straightway in his life acknowledge it,
  As, say, the indubitable bliss of fire.

One of the functions of the poet is to awaken men and women to the
knowledge of the delights of the mind, to give them life instead of
existence. As Mr. Watson nobly expresses it, the aim of the poet "is
to keep fresh within us our often flagging sense of life's greatness
and grandeur." We can exist on food; but we cannot live without our
poets, who lift us to higher planes of thought and feeling. The poetry
of William Watson has done this service for us again and again.

In 1884 appeared _Epigrams of Art, Life, and Nature_. I do not
think these have been sufficiently admired. As an epigrammatist Mr.
Watson has no rival in Victorian or in contemporary verse. The epigram
is a quite definite form of art, especially cultivated by the poets in
the first half of the seventeenth century. Their formula the terse
expression of obscene thoughts. Mr. Watson excels the best of them in
wit, concision, and grace; it is needless to say he makes no attempt
to rival them as a garbage-collector. Of the large number of epigrams
that he has contributed to English literature, I find the majority not
only interesting, but richly stimulating. This one ought to please Mr.
H. G. Wells:

  When whelmed are altar, priest, and creed;
    When all the faiths have passed;
  Perhaps, from darkening incense freed,
    God may emerge at last.

This one, despite its subject, is far above doggerel:

  His friends he loved. His direst earthly foes--
    Cats--believe he did but feign to hate.
  My hand will miss the insinuated nose,
    Mine eyes the tail that wagg'd contempt at fate.

But his best epigrams are on purely literary themes:

  Your Marlowe's page I close, my Shakespeare's ope.
    How welcome--after gong and cymbal's din--
  The continuity, the long slow slope
    And vast curves of the gradual violin!

With the publication in 1890 of his masterpiece, _Wordsworth's
Grave_, William Watson came into his own. This is worthy of the man
it honours, and what higher praise could be given? It is superior,
both in penetration and in beauty, to Matthew Arnold's famous
_Memorial Verses_. Indeed, in the art of writing subtle literary
criticism in rhythmical language that is itself high and pure poetry,
Mr. Watson is unapproachable by any of his contemporaries, and I do
not know of any poet in English literature who has surpassed him. This
is his specialty, this is his clearest title to permanent fame. And
although his criticism is so valuable, when employed on a sympathetic
theme, that he must be ranked among our modern interpreters of
literature, his style in expressing it could not possibly be
translated into prose, sure test of its poetical greatness. In his
_Apologia_, he says

                           I have full oft
  In singers' selves found me a theme of song,
  Holding these also to be very part
  Of Nature's greatness, and accounting not
  Their descants least heroical of deeds.

The poem _Wordsworth's Grave_ not only expresses, as no one else
has expressed, the quality of Wordsworth's genius, but in single lines
assigned to each, the same service is done for Milton, Shakespeare,
Shelley, Coleridge, and Byron. This is a matchless illustration of the
kind of criticism that is in itself genius; for we may quarrel with
Mr. Spingarn as much as we please on his general dogmatic principle of
the identity of genius and taste; here we have so admirable an example
of what he means by creative criticism, that it is a pity he did not
think of it himself. "For it still remains true," says Mr. Spingarn,
"that the aesthetic critic, in his moments of highest power, rises to
heights where he is at one with, the creator whom he is interpreting.
At that moment criticism and 'creation' are one."

All great poets have the power of noble indignation, a divine wrath
against wickedness in high places. The poets, like the prophets of
old, pour out their irrepressible fury against what they believe to be
cruelty and oppression. Milton's magnificent Piedmont sonnet is a
glorious roar of righteous rage; and since his time the poets have
ever been the spokesmen for the insulted and injured. Robert Burns,
more than most statesmen, helped to make the world safe for democracy.
I do not know what humanity would do without its poets--they are the
champions of the individual against the tyranny of power, the cruel
selfishness of kings, and the artificial conventions of society. We
may or may not agree with Mr. Watson's anti-imperialistic sentiments
as expressed in the early days of our century, he himself, like most
of us, has changed his mind on many subjects since the outbreak of the
world-war, and unless he ceases to develop, will probably change it
many times in the future. But whatever our opinions, we cannot help
admiring lines like these, published in 1897:

  HOW WEARY IS OUR HEART

  Of kings and courts; of kingly, courtly ways
  In which the life of man is bought and sold;
  How weary is our heart these many days!

  Of ceremonious embassies that hold
  Parley with Hell in fine and silken phrase,
  How weary is our heart these many days!

  Of wavering counsellors neither hot nor cold,
  Whom from His mouth God speweth, be it told
  How weary is our heart these many days!

  Yea, for the ravelled night is round the lands,
  And sick are we of all the imperial story.
  The tramp of Power, and its long trail of pain;
  The mighty brows in meanest arts grown hoary;
  The mighty hands,
  That in the dear, affronted name of Peace
  Bind down a people to be racked and slain;
  The emulous armies waxing without cease,
  All-puissant all in vain;
  The pacts and leagues to murder by delays,
  And the dumb throngs that on the deaf thrones gaze;
  The common loveless lust of territory;
  The lips that only babble of their mart,
  While to the night the shrieking hamlets blaze;
  The bought allegiance, and the purchased praise,
  False honour, and shameful glory;--
  Of all the evil whereof this is part,
  How weary is our heart,
  How weary is our heart these many days!

Another poem I cite in full, not for its power and beauty, but as a
curiosity. I do not think it has been remembered that in the _New
Poems_ of 1909 Mr. Watson published a poem of Hate some years
before the Teutonic hymn became famous. It is worth reading again,
because it so exactly expresses the cold reserve of the Anglo-Saxon,
in contrast with the sentimentality of the German. There is, of
course, no indication that its author had Germany in mind.

  HATE

  (To certain foreign detractors)

  Sirs, if the truth must needs be told,
  We love not you that rail and scold;
  And, yet, my masters, you may wait
  Till the Greek Calends for our hate.

  No spendthrifts of our hate are we;
  Our hate is used with husbandry.
  We hold our hate too choice a thing
  For light and careless lavishing.

  We cannot, dare not, make it cheap!
  For holy uses will we keep.
  A thing so pure, a thing so great
  As Heaven's benignant gift of hate.

  Is there no ancient, sceptred Wrong?
  No torturing Power, endured too long?
  Yea; and for these our hatred shall
  Be cloistered and kept virginal.

He found occasion to draw from his cold storage of hate much sooner
than he had anticipated. Being a convinced anti-imperialist, and
having not a spark of antagonism to Germany, the early days of August,
1914, shocked no one in the world more than him. But after the first
maze of bewilderment and horror, he drew his pen against the Kaiser in
holy wrath. Most of his war poems have been collected in the little
volume _The Man Who Saw,_ published in the summer of 1917. He has
now at all events one satisfaction, that of being in absolute harmony
with the national sentiment. In his Preface, after commenting on the
pain he had suffered in times past at finding himself in opposition to
the majority of his countrymen, he manfully says, "During the present
war, with all its agonies and horrors, he has had at any rate the one
private satisfaction of feeling not even the most momentary doubt or
misgiving as to the perfect righteousness of his country's cause.
There is nothing on earth of which he is more certain than that this
Empire, throughout this supreme ordeal, has shaped her course by the
light of purest duty." The volume opens with a fine tribute to Mr.
Lloyd George, "the man who saw," and _The Kaiser's Dirge_ is a
savage malediction. The poems in this book--of decidedly unequal
merit--have the fire of indignation if not always the flame of
inspiration. Taken as a whole, they are more interesting
psychologically than as a contribution to English verse. I sympathize
with the author's feelings, and admire his sincerity; but his
reputation as a poet is not heightened overmuch. Perhaps the best poem
in the collection is _The Yellow Pansy_, accompanied with
Shakespeare's line, "There's pansies--that's for thoughts."

  Winter had swooped, a lean and hungry hawk;
    It seemed an age since summer was entombed;
  Yet in our garden, on its frozen stalk,
    A yellow pansy bloomed.

  'Twas Nature saying by trope and metaphor:
    "Behold, when empire against empire strives,
   Though all else perish, ground 'neath iron war,
     The golden thought survives."

Although, with the exception of his marriage and travels in America,
Mr. Watson's verse tells us little of the facts of his life, few poets
have ever revealed more of the history of their mind. What manner of
man he is we know without waiting for the publication of his intimate
correspondence. It is fortunate for his temperament that, combined
with an almost morbid sensitiveness, he has something of Byron's power
of hitting back. His numerous volumes contain many verses scoring off
adverse critics, upon whom he exercises a sword of satire not always
to be found among a poet's weapons; which exercise seems to give him
both relief and delight. Apart from these thrusts edged with personal
bitterness, William Watson possesses a rarely used vein of ironical
wit that immediately recalls Byron, who might himself have written
some of the stanzas in _The Eloping Angels_. Faust requests
Mephisto to procure for them both admission into heaven for
half-an-hour:

  To whom Mephisto: "Ah, you underrate
    The hazards and the dangers, my good Sir.
  Peter is stony as his name; the gate,
    Excepting to invited guests, won't stir.
  'Tis long since he and I were intimate;
    We differed;--but to bygones why refer?
  Still, there are windows; if a peep through these
  Would serve your turn, we'll start whene'er you please...."

  So Faust and his companion entered, by
    The window, the abodes where seraphs dwell.
  "Already morning quickens in the sky,
    And soon will sound the heavenly matin bell;
  Our time is short," Mephisto said, "for I
    Have an appointment about noon in hell.
  Dear, dear! why, heaven has hardly changed one bit
  Since the old days before the historic split."

The excellent conventional technique displayed in _The Prince's
Quest_ has characterized nearly every page of Mr. Watson's works.
He is not only content to walk in the ways of traditional poesy, he
glories in it. He has a contempt for heretics and experimenters, which
he has expressed frequently not only in prose, but in verse. It is
natural that he should worship Tennyson; natural (and unfortunate for
him) that he can see little in Browning. And if he is blind to
Browning, what he thinks of contemporary "new" poets may easily be
imagined. With or without inspiration, he believes that hard work is
necessary, and that good workmanship ought to be rated more highly.
This idea has become an obsession; Mr. Watson writes too much about
the sweat of his brow, and vents his spleen on "modern" poets too
often. In his latest volume, _Retrogression_, published in 1917,
thirty-two of the fifty-two poems are devoted to the defence of
standards of poetic art and of purity of speech. They are all
interesting and contain some truth; but if the "new" poetry and the
"new" criticism are really balderdash, they should not require so much
attention from one of the most eminent of contemporary writers. I
think Mr. Watson is rather stiff-necked and obstinate, like an honest,
hearty country squire, in his sturdy following of tradition. Smooth
technique is a fine thing in art; but I do not care whether a poem is
written in conventional metre or in free verse, so long as it is
unmistakably poetry. And no garments yet invented or the lack of them
can conceal true poetry. Perhaps the Traditionalist might reply that
uninspired verse gracefully written is better than uninspired verse
abominably written. So it is; but why bother about either? He might
once more insist that inspired poetry gracefully written is better
than inspired poetry ungracefully written. And I should reply that it
depended altogether on the subject. I should not like to see Whitman's
_Spirit that formed this Scene_ turned into a Spenserian stanza.
I cannot forget that David Mallet tried to smoothen Hamlet's soliloquy
by jamming it into the heroic couplet. Mr. Watson thinks that the
great John Donne is dead. On the contrary, he is audibly alive; and
the only time he really approached dissolution was when Pope
"versified" him.

Stephen Phillips, William Watson, Alfred Noyes--each published his
first volume of poems at the age of twenty-two, additional evidence of
the old truth that poets are born, not made. Alfred Noyes is a
Staffordshire man, though his report of the county differs from that
of Arnold Bennett as poetry differs from prose. They did not see the
same things in Staffordshire, and if they had, they would not have
been the same things, anyhow. Mr. Noyes was born on the sixteenth of
September, 1880, and made his first departure from the traditions of
English poetry in going to Oxford. There he was an excellent
illustration of _mens sana in corpore sano_, writing verses and
rowing on his college crew. He is married to an American wife, is a
professor at Princeton, and understands the spirit of America better
than most visitors who write clever books about us. He has the
wholesome, modest, cheerful temperament of the American college
undergraduate, and the Princeton students are fortunate, not only in
hearing his lectures, but in the opportunity of fellowship with such a
man.

Mr. Noyes is one of the few poets who can read his own verses
effectively, the reason being that his mind is by nature both literary
and rhetorical--a rare union. The purely literary temperament is
usually marked by a certain shyness which unfits its owner for the
public platform. I have heard poets read passionate poetry in a
muffled sing-song, something like a child learning to "recite." The
works of Alfred Noyes gain distinctly by his oral interpretation of
them.

He is prolific. Although still a young man, he has a long list of
books to his credit; and it is rather surprising that in such a
profusion of literary experiments, the general level should be so
high. He writes blank verse, octosyllabics, terza-rima, sonnets, and
is particularly fond of long rolling lines that have in them the music
of the sea. His ideas require no enlargement of the orchestra, and he
generally avoids by-paths, or unbeaten tracks, content to go lustily
singing along the highway. Perhaps it shows more courage to compete
with standard poets in standard measures, than to elude dangerous
comparisons by making or adopting a new fashion. Mr. Noyes openly
challenges the masters on their own field and with their own weapons.
Yet he shows nothing of the schoolmasterish contempt for the "new"
poetry so characteristic of Mr. Watson. He actually admires Blake, who
was in spirit a twentieth century poet, and he has written a fine poem
_On the Death of Francis Thompson_, though he has nothing of
Thompson in him except religious faith.

In the time-worn but useful classification of versemakers under the
labels _Vates_ and _Poeta_, Alfred Noyes belongs clearly to
the latter group. He is not without ideas, but he is primarily an
artist, a singer. He is one of the most melodious of modern writers,
with a witchery in words that at its best is irresistible. He has an
extraordinary command of the resources of language and rhythm. Were
this all he possessed, he would be nothing but a graceful musician.
But he has the imagination of the inspired poet, giving him creative
power to reveal anew the majesty of the untamed sea, and the mystery
of the stars. With this clairvoyance--essential in poetry--he has a
hearty, charming, incondescending sympathy with "common" people,
common flowers, common music. One of his most original and most
captivating poems is _The Tramp Transfigured, an Episode in the Life
of a Corn-flower Millionaire_. This contains a character worthy of
Dickens, a faery touch of fantasy, a rippling, singing melody, with
delightful audacities of rime.

  _Tick, tack, tick, tack_, I couldn't wait no longer!
  Up I gets and bows polite and pleasant as a toff--
  "Arternoon," I says, "I'm glad your boots are going stronger;
  Only thing I'm dreading is your feet 'ull both come off."
  _Tick, tack, tick, tack_, she didn't stop to answer,
  "Arternoon," she says, and sort o' chokes a little cough,
  "I must get to Piddinghoe tomorrow if I can, sir!"
  "Demme, my good woman! Haw! Don't think I mean to loff,"
  Says I, like a toff,
  "Where d'you mean to sleep tonight? God made this grass for go'ff."

His masterpiece, _The Barrel-Organ_, has something of Kipling's
rollicking music, with less noise and more refinement. Out of the
mechanical grinding of the hand organ, with the accompaniment of city
omnibuses, we get the very breath of spring in almost intolerable
sweetness. This poem affects the head, the heart, and the feet. I defy
any man or woman to read it without surrendering to the magic of the
lilacs, the magic of old memories, the magic of the poet. Nor has one
ever read this poem without going immediately back to the first line,
and reading it all over again, so susceptible are we to the romantic
pleasure of melancholy.

  Mon coeur est un luth suspendu:
  Sitôt qu'on le touche, il résonne.

Alfred Noyes understands the heart of the child; as is proved by his
_Flower of Old Japan_, and _Forest of Wild Thyme_, a kind of
singing Alice-in-Wonderland. These are the veritable stuff of
dreams--wholly apart from the law of causation--one vision fading into
another. It is our fault, and not that of the poet, that Mr. Noyes had
to explain them: "It is no new wisdom to regard these things through
the eyes of little children; and I know--however insignificant they
may be to others--these two tales contain as deep and true things as
I, personally, have the power to express. I hope, therefore, that I
may be pardoned, in these hurried days, for pointing out that the two
poems are not to be taken merely as fairy-tales, but as an attempt to
follow the careless and happy feet of children back into the kingdom
of those dreams which, as we said above, are the sole reality worth
living and dying for; those beautiful dreams, or those fantastic
jests--if any care to call them so--for which mankind has endured so
many triumphant martyrdoms that even amidst the rush and roar of
modern materialism they cannot be quite forgotten." Mr. William J.
Locke says he would rather give up clean linen and tobacco than give
up his dreams.

Nearly all English poetry smells of the sea; the waves rule Britannia.
Alfred Noyes loves the ocean, and loves the old sea-dogs of
Devonshire. He is not a literary poet, like William Watson, and has
seldom given indication of possessing the insight or the
interpretative power of his contemporary in dealing with pure
literature. He has the blessed gift of admiration, and his poems on
Swinburne, Meredith, and other masters show a high reverence; but they
are without subtlety, and lack the discriminating phrase. He is,
however, deeply read in Elizabethan verse and prose, as his _Tales
of the Mermaid Tavern_, one of his longest, most painstaking, and
least successful works, proves; and of all the Elizabethan men of
action, Drake is his hero. The English lovers of the sea, and the
German lovers of efficiency, have both done honour to Drake. I
remember years ago, being in the town of Offenburg in Germany, and
seeing at a distance a colossal statue, feeling some surprise when I
discovered that the monument was erected to Sir Francis Drake, "in
recognition of his having introduced the potato into Europe." Here was
where eulogy became almost too specific, and I felt that their Drake
was not my Drake.

Mr. Noyes called _Drake_, published in 1908, an English Epic. It
is not really an epic--it is a historical romance in verse, as
_Aurora Leigh_ is a novel. It is interesting from beginning to
end, more interesting as narrative than as poetry. It is big rather
than great, rhetorical rather than literary, declamatory rather than
passionate. And while many descriptive passages are fine, the pictures
of the terrible storm near Cape Horn are surely less vivid than those
in _Dauber_. Had Mr. Noyes written _Drake_ without the
songs, and written nothing else, I should not feel certain that he was
a poet; I should regard him as an extremely fluent versifier, with
remarkable skill in telling a rattling good story. But the
_Songs_, especially the one beginning, "Now the purple night is
past," could have been written only by a poet. In _Forty Singing
Seamen_ there is displayed an imagination quite superior to
anything in _Drake_; and I would not trade _The Admiral's
Ghost_ for the whole "epic."

As a specific illustration of his lyrical power, the following poem
may be cited.

  THE MAY-TREE

  The May-tree on the hill
    Stands in the night
  So fragrant and so still,
    So dusky white.

  That, stealing from the wood,
    In that sweet air,
  You'd think Diana stood
    Before you there.

  If it be so, her bloom
    Trembles with bliss.
  She waits across the gloom
    Her shepherd's kiss.

  Touch her. A bird will start
    From those pure snows,--
  The dark and fluttering heart
    Endymion knows.

Alfred Noyes is "among the English poets." His position is secure. But
because he has never identified himself with the "new" poetry--either
in choice of material or in free verse and polyphonic prose--it would
he a mistake to suppose that he is afraid to make metrical
experiments. The fact of the matter is, that after he had mastered the
technique of conventional rime and rhythm, as shown in many of his
lyrical pieces, he began playing new tunes on the old instrument. In
_The Tramp Transfigured_, to which I find myself always returning
in a consideration of his work, because it displays some of the
highest qualities of pure poetry, there are new metrical effects. The
same is true of the Prelude to the _Forest of Wild Thyme_, and of
_The Burial of a Queen_; there are new metres used in _Rank and
File_ and in _Mount Ida_. The poem _Astrid_, included in
the volume _The Lord of Misrule_ (1915), is an experiment in
_initial_ rhymes. Try reading it aloud.

  White-armed Astrid,--ah, but she was beautiful!--
  Nightly wandered weeping thro' the ferns in the moon,
  Slowly, weaving her strange garland in the forest,
  Crowned with white violets,
  Gowned in green.
  Holy was that glen where she glided,
  Making her wild garland as Merlin had bidden her,
  Breaking off the milk-white horns of the honeysuckle,
  Sweetly dripped the new upon her small white
  Feet.

The English national poetry of Mr. Noyes worthily expresses the spirit
of the British people, and indeed of the Anglo-Saxon race. We are no
lovers of war; military ambition or the glory of conquest is not
sufficient motive to call either Great Britain or America to arms; but
if the gun-drunken Germans really believed that the English and
Americans would not fight to save the world from an unspeakable
despotism, they made the mistake of their lives. There must be a
Cause, there must be an Idea, to draw out the full fighting strength
of the Anglo-Saxons. Alfred Noyes made a correct diagnosis and a
correct prophecy in 1911, when he published _The Sword of
England_.

  She sheds no blood to that vain god of strife
    Whom tyrants call "renown";
  She knows that only they who reverence life
    Can nobly lay it down;

  And these will ride from child and home and love,
    Through death and hell that day;
  But O, her faith, her flag, must burn above,
    Her soul must lead the way!

I think none the worse of the mental force exhibited in the poetry of
Alfred Noyes because he is an optimist. It is a common error to
suppose that cheerfulness is a sign of a superficial mind, and
melancholy the mark of deep thinking. Pessimism in itself is no proof
of intellectual greatness. Every honest man must report the world as
he sees it, both in its external manifestations and in the equally
salient fact of human emotion. Mr. Noyes has always loved life, and
rejoiced in it; he loves the beauty of the world and believes that
history proves progress. In an unashamed testimony to the happiness of
living he is simply telling truths of his own experience. Happiness is
not necessarily thoughtlessness; many men and women have gone through
pessimism and come out on serener heights.

Alfred Noyes proves, as Browning proved, that it is possible to be an
inspired poet and in every other respect to remain normal. He is
healthy-minded, without a trace of affectation or decadence. He
follows the Tennysonian tradition in seeing that "Beauty, Good, and
Knowledge are three sisters." He is religious. A clear-headed,
pure-hearted Englishman is Alfred Noyes.

Although _A Shropshire Lad_ was published in 1896, there is
nothing of the nineteenth century in it except the date, and nothing
Victorian except the allusions to the Queen. A double puzzle confronts
the reader: how could a University Professor of Latin write this kind
of poetry, and how, after having published it, could he refrain from
writing more? Since the date of its appearance, he has published an
edition of _Manilius_, Book I, followed nine years later by Book
II; also an edition of _Juvenal_, and many papers representing
the result of original research. Possibly

  Chill Pedantry repressed his noble rage,
  And froze the genial current of his soul.

Alfred Edward Housman was born on the twenty-sixth of March, 1859, was
graduated from Oxford, was Professor of Latin at University College,
London, from 1892 to 1911, and since then has been Professor of Latin
at Cambridge. Few poets have made a deeper impression on the
literature of the time than he; and the sixty-three short lyrics in
one small volume form a slender wedge for so powerful an impact. This
poetry, except in finished workmanship, follows no English tradition;
it is as unorthodox as Samuel Butler; it is thoroughly "modern" in
tone, in temper, and in emphasis. Although entirely original, it
reminds one in many ways of the verse of Thomas Hardy. It has his
paganism, his pessimism, his human sympathy, his austere pride in the
tragedy of frustration, his curt refusal to pipe a merry tune, to make
one of a holiday crowd.

  Therefore, since the world has still
  Much good, but much less good than ill,
  And while the sun and moon endure
  Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
  I'd face it as a wise man would,
  And train for ill and not for good.
  'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
  Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
  Out of a stem that scored the hand
  I wrung it in a weary land.
  But take it: if the smack is sour,
  The better for the embittered hour;
  It should do good to heart and head
  When your soul is in my soul's stead;
  And I will friend you, if I may,
  In the dark and cloudy day.

Those lines might have been written by Thomas Hardy. They express not
merely his view of life, but his faith in the healing power of the
bitter herb of pessimism. But we should remember that _A Shropshire
Lad_ was published before the first volume of Mr. Hardy's verse
appeared, and that the lyrical element displayed is natural rather
than acquired.

Though at the time of its publication the author was thirty-six years
old, many of the poems must have been written in the twenties. The
style is mature, but the constant dwelling on death and the grave is a
mark of youth. Young poets love to write about death, because its
contrast to their present condition forms a romantic tragedy, sharply
dramatic and yet instinctively felt to be remote. Tennyson's first
volume is full of the details of dissolution, the falling jaw, the
eye-balls fixing, the sharp-headed worm. Aged poets do not usually
write in this manner, because death seems more realistic than
romantic. It is a fact rather than an idea. When a young poet is
obsessed with the idea of death, it is a sign, not of morbidity, but
of normality.

The originality in this book consists not in the contrast between love
and the grave, but in the acute self-consciousness of youth, in the
pagan determination to enjoy nature without waiting till life's summer
is past.

  Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
  Is hung with bloom along the bough,
  And stands about the woodland ride
  Wearing white for Eastertide.

  Now, of my threescore years and ten,
  Twenty will not come again,
  And take from seventy springs a score,
  It only leaves me fifty more.

  And since to look at things in bloom
  Fifty springs are little room,
  About the woodlands I will go
  To see the cherry hung with snow.

The death of the body is not the greatest tragedy in this volume, for
suicide, a thought that youth loves to play with, is twice glorified.
The death of love is often treated with an ironical bitterness that
makes one think of _Time's Laughingstocks_.

  Is my friend hearty,
    Now I am thin and pine,
  And has he found to sleep in
    A better bed than mine?

  Yes, lad, I lie easy,
    I lie as lads would choose;
  I cheer a dead man's sweetheart,
    Never ask me whose.

The point of view expressed in _The Carpenter's Son_ is
singularly detached not only from conventional religious belief, but
from conventional reverence. But the originality in _A Shropshire
Lad_, while more strikingly displayed in some poems than in others,
leaves its mark on them all. It is the originality of a man who thinks
his own thoughts with shy obstinacy, makes up his mind in secret
meditation, quite unaffected by current opinion. It is not the poetry
of a rebel; it is the poetry of an independent man, too indifferent to
the crowd even to fight them. And now and then we find a lyric of
flawless beauty, that lingers in the mind like the glow of a sunset.

  Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
  What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?

  That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
  The happy highways where I went,
    And cannot come again.

Mr. Housman's poems are nearer to the twentieth century in spirit than
the work of the late Victorians, and many of them are curiously
prophetic of the dark days of the present war. What strange vision
made him write such poems as _The Recruit_, _The Street Sounds
to the Soldiers' Tread_, _The Day of Battle_, and _On the
Idle Hill of Summer_? Change the colour of the uniforms, and these
four poems would fit today's tragedy accurately. They are indeed
superior to most of the war poems written by the professional poets
since 1914.

Ludlow, for ever associated with. Milton's _Comus_, is now and
will be for many years to come also significant in the minds of men as
the home of a Shropshire lad.



CHAPTER III

JOHN MASEFIELD


  John Masefield--new wine in old bottles--back to Chaucer--the
  self-conscious adventurer--early education and
  experiences--_Dauber_--Mr. Masefleld's remarks on
  Wordsworth--Wordsworth's famous Preface and its application to
  the poetry of Mr. Masefield--_The Everlasting
  Mercy_--_The Widow in the Bye Street_ and its
  Chaucerian manner--his masterpiece--_The Daffodil
  Fields_--similarities to Wordsworth--the part played by the
  flowers--comparison of _The Daffodil Fields_ with
  _Enoch Arden_--the war poem, _August 1914_--the
  lyrics--the sonnets--the novels--his object in writing--his
  contribution to the advance of poetry.

Poets are the Great Exceptions. Poets are for ever performing the
impossible. "No man putteth new wine into old bottles ... new wine
must be put into new bottles." But putting new wine into old bottles
has been the steady professional occupation of John Masefield. While
many of our contemporary vers librists and other experimentalists have
been on the hunt for new bottles, sometimes, perhaps, more interested
in the bottle than in the wine, John Masefield has been constantly
pouring his heady drink into receptacles five hundred years old. In
subject-matter and in language he is not in the least "traditional,"
not at all Victorian; he is wholly modern, new, contemporary. Yet
while he draws his themes and his heroes from his own experience, his
inspiration as a poet comes directly from Chaucer, who died in 1400.
He is, indeed, the Chaucer of today; the most closely akin to
Chaucer--not only in temperament, but in literary manner--of all the
writers of the twentieth century. The beautiful metrical form that
Chaucer invented--rime royal--ideally adapted for narrative poetry, as
shown in _Troilus and Criseyde_, is the metre chosen by John
Masefield for _The Widow in the Bye Street_ and for
_Dauber_; the only divergence in _The Daffodil Fields_
consisting in the lengthening of the seventh line of the stanza, for
which he had plenty of precedents. Mr. Masefield owes more to Chaucer
than to any other poet.

Various are the roads to poetic achievement. Browning became a great
poet at the age of twenty, with practically no experience of life
outside of books. He had never travelled, he had never "seen the
world," but was brought up in a library; and was so deeply read in the
Greek poets and dramatists that a sunrise on the Aegean Sea was more
real to him than a London fog. He never saw Greece with his natural
eyes. In the last year of his life, being asked by an American if he
had been much in Athens, he replied contritely, "Thou stick'st a
dagger in me." He belied Goethe's famous dictum.

John Masefield was born at Ledbury, in western England, in 1874. He
ran away from home, shipped as cabin boy on a sailing vessel, spent
some years before the mast, tramped on foot through various countries,
turned up in New York, worked in the old Columbia Hotel in Greenwich
Avenue, and had plenty of opportunity to study human nature in the
bar-room. Then he entered a carpet factory in the Bronx. But he was
the last man in the world to become a carpet knight. He bought a copy
of Chaucer's poems, stayed up till dawn reading it, and for the first
time was sure of his future occupation.

John Masefield is the real man-of-war-bird imagined by Walt Whitman.
He is the bird self-conscious, the wild bird plus the soul of the
poet.

  To cope with heaven and earth and sea and hurricane,
  Thou ship of air that never furl'st thy sails,
  Days, even weeks untired and onward, through spaces, realms gyrating,
  At dusk that look'st on Senegal, at morn America,
  That sport'st amid the lightning-flash and thunder-cloud,
  In them, in thy experiences, had'st thou my soul,
  What joys! what joys were thine!

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great
waters, these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.
They do indeed; they see them as the bird sees them, with no spiritual
vision, with no self-consciousness, with no power to refer or to
interpret. It is sad that so many of those who have marvellous
experiences have nothing else; while those who are sensitive and
imaginative live circumscribed. What does the middle watch mean to an
average seaman? But occasionally the sailor is a Joseph Conrad or a
John Masefield. Then the visions of splendour and the glorious voices
of nature are seen and heard not only by the eye and the ear, but by
the spirit.

Although Chaucer took Mr. Masefield out of the carpet factory even as
Spenser released Keats it would be a mistake to suppose (as many do)
that the Ledbury boy was an uncouth vagabond, who, without reading,
without education, and without training, suddenly became a poet. He
had a good school education before going to sea; and from earliest
childhood he longed to write. Even as a little boy he felt the impulse
to put his dreams on paper; he read everything he could lay his hands
on, and during all the years of bodily toil, afloat and ashore, he had
the mind and the aspiration of a man of letters. Never, I suppose, was
there a greater contrast between an individual's outer and inner life.
He mingled with rough, brutal, decivilized creatures; his ears were
assaulted by obscene language, spoken as to an equal; he saw the
ugliest side of humanity, and the blackest phases of savagery. Yet
through it all, sharing these experiences with no trace of
condescension, his soul was like a lily.

He descended into hell again and again, coming out with his inmost
spirit unblurred and shining, even as the rough diver brings from the
depths the perfect pearl. For every poem that he has written reveals
two things: a knowledge of the harshness of life, with a nature of
extraordinary purity, delicacy, and grace. To find a parallel to this,
we must recall the figure of Dostoevski in the Siberian prison.

Many men of natural good taste and good breeding have succumbed to a
coarse environment. What saved our poet, and made his experiences
actually minister to his spiritual flame, rather than burn him up? It
was perhaps that final miracle of humanity, acute self-consciousness,
stronger in some men than in others, strongest of all in the creative
artist. Even at the age of twenty, Browning felt it more than he felt
anything else, and his words would apply to John Masefield, and
explain in some measure his thirst for sensation and his control of
it.

  I am made up of an intensest life,
  Of a most clear idea of consciousness
  Of self, distinct from all its qualities,
  From all affections, passions, feelings, powers;
  And thus far it exists, if tracked, in all:
  But linked, in me, to self-supremacy,
  Existing as a centre to all things,
  Most potent to create and rule and call
  Upon all things to minister to it;
  And to a principle of restlessness
  Which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel, all--
  This is myself.

Although the poem _Dauber_ is a true story--for there was such a
man, who suffered both horrible fear within and brutal ridicule
without, who finally conquered both, and who, in the first sweets of
victory, as he was about to enter upon his true career, lost his life
by falling from the yardarm--cannot help thinking that Mr. Masefield
put a good deal of himself into this strange hero. The adoration of
beauty, which is the lodestar of the poet, lifted Dauber into a
different world from the life of the ship. He had an ungovernable
desire to paint the constantly changing phases of beauty in the action
of the vessel and in the wonders of the sea and sky. In this passion
his shy, sensitive nature was stronger than all the brute strength
enjoyed by his shipmates; they could destroy his paintings, they could
hurt his body, they could torture his heart. But they could not
prevent him from following his ideal. Dauber died, and his pictures
are lost. But in the poem describing his aims and his sufferings, Mr.
Masefield has accomplished with his pen what Dauber failed to do with
his brush; the beauty of the ship, the beauty of dawn and of midnight,
the majesty of the storm are revealed to us in a series of
unforgettable pictures. And one of Edison's ambitions is here
realized. At the same moment we _see_ the frightful white-capped
ocean mountains, and we _hear_ the roar of the gale.

  Water and sky were devils' brews which boiled,
  Boiled, shrieked, and glowered; but the ship was saved.
  Snugged safely down, though fourteen sails were split.
  Out of the dark a fiercer fury raved.
  The grey-backs died and mounted, each crest lit
  With a white toppling gleam that hissed from it
  And slid, or leaped, or ran with whirls of cloud,
  Mad with inhuman life that shrieked aloud.

Mr. Masefield is a better poet than critic. In the New York
_Tribune_ for 23 January 1916, he spoke with modesty and candour
of his own work and his own aims, and no one can read what he said
without an increased admiration for him. But it is difficult to
forgive him for talking as he did about Wordsworth, who "wrote six
poems and then fell asleep." And among the six are not _Tintern
Abbey_ or the _Intimations of Immortality_. Meditative poetry
is not Mr. Masefield's strongest claim to fame, and we do not go to
poets for illuminating literary criticism. Swinburne was so violent in
his "appreciations" that his essays in criticism are adjectival
volcanoes. Every man with him was God or Devil. It is rare that a
creative poet has the power of interpretation of literature possessed
by William Watson. Mr. Masefield does not denounce Wordsworth, as
Swinburne denounced Byron; he is simply blind to the finest qualities
of the Lake poet. Yet, although he carries Wordsworth's famous theory
of poetry to an extreme that would have shocked the author of it--if
Mr. Masefield does not like _Tintern Abbey_, we can only imagine
Wordsworth's horror at _The Everlasting Mercy_--the philosophy of
poetry underlying both _The Everlasting Mercy_, _The Widow in
the Bye Street_, and other works is essentially that of William
Wordsworth. Keeping _The Everlasting Mercy_ steadily in mind, it
is interesting, instructive, and even amusing to read an extract from
Wordsworth's famous Preface of 1800. "The principal object, then,
proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from
common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was
possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the
same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination,
whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual
aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and
situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not
ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature; chiefly, as far as
regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of
excitement. Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in
that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil
in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and
speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition
of life our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater
simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated,
and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life
germinate from those elementary feelings, and, from the necessary
character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are
more durable; and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of
men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of
nature."

When Wordsworth wrote these dicta, he followed them up with some
explicit reservations, and made many more implicit ones. Mr.
Masefield, in the true manner of the twentieth century, makes none at
all. Taking the language of Wordsworth exactly as it stands in the
passage quoted above, it applies with precision to the method employed
by Mr. Masefield in the poems that have given him widest recognition.
And in carrying this theory of poetry to its farthest extreme in
_The Everlasting Mercy_, not only did its author break with
tradition, the tradition of nineteenth-century poetry, as Wordsworth
broke with that of the eighteenth, he succeeded in shocking some of
his contemporaries, who refused to grant him a place among English
poets. It was in the _English Review_ for October, 1911, that
_The Everlasting Mercy_ first appeared. It made a sensation. In
1912 the Academic Committee of the Royal Society of Literature awarded
him the Edmond de Polignac prize of five hundred dollars. This aroused
the wrath of the orthodox poet Stephen Phillips, who publicly
protested, not with any animosity toward the recipient, but with the
conviction that true standards of literature were endangered.

It is unfortunate for an artist or critic to belong to any "school"
whatsoever. Belonging to a school circumscribes a man's sympathies. It
shuts him away from outside sources of enjoyment, and makes him
incapable of appreciating many new works of art, because he has
prejudged them even before they were written. Poetry is greater than
any definition of it. There is no doubt that _Marpessa_ is a real
poem; and there is no doubt that the same description is true of
_The Everlasting Mercy_.

In _The Everlasting Mercy_, the prize-fight, given in detail, by
rounds, is followed by an orgy of drunkenness rising to a scale almost
Homeric. The man, crazy with alcohol, runs amuck, and things begin to
happen. The village is turned upside down. Two powerful contrasts are
dramatically introduced, one as an interlude between violent phases of
the debauch, the other as a conclusion. The first is the contrast
between the insane buffoon and the calm splendour of the night.

  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 in a second's pause there fell
  The cold note of the chapel bell,
  And then a cock crew, flapping wings,
  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.

These thoughts suddenly become intolerable. A second fit of madness,
wilder than the first, drives the man about the town like a tornado.
Finally and impressively comes the contrast between the drunkard's
horrible mirth and the sudden calm in his mind when the tall pale
Quakeress hypnotizes him with conviction of sin. She drives out the
devils from his breast with quiet authority, and the peace of God
enters into his soul.

From the first word of the poem to the last the man's own attitude
toward fighting, drink, and religion is logically sustained. It is
perfect drama, with never a false note. The hero is one of the
"twice-born men," and the work may fairly be taken as one more
footnote to the varieties of religious experience.

I have been told on good authority that of all his writings Mr.
Masefield prefers _Nan_, _The Widow in the Bye Street_, and
_The Everlasting Mercy_. I think he is right. In these
productions he has no real competitors. They are his most original,
most vivid, most powerful pieces. He is at his best when he has a
story to tell, and can tell it freely in his own unhampered way, a
combination of drama and narrative. In _The Everlasting Mercy_,
written in octosyllabics, the metre of _Christmas Eve_, he is
unflinchingly realistic, as Browning was in describing the chapel. The
_Athenaeum_ thought Browning ought not to write about the
mysteries of the Christian faith in doggerel. But _Christmas Eve_
is not doggerel. It is simply the application of the rules of realism
to a discussion of religion. It may lack the dignity of the _Essay
on Man_, but it is more interesting because it is more definite,
more concrete, more real. In _The Everlasting Mercy_ we have
beautiful passages of description, sharply exciting narration, while
the dramatic element is furnished by conversation--and what
conversation! It differs from ordinary poetry as the sermons of an
evangelist differ from the sermons of Bishops. Mr. Masefield is a
natural-born dramatist. He is never content to describe his
characters; he makes them talk, and talk their own language, and you
will never go far in his longer poems without seeing the characters
rise from the page, spring into life, and immediately you hear their
voices raised in angry altercation. It is as though he felt the
reality of his men and women so keenly that he cannot keep them down.
They refuse to remain quiet. They insist on taking the poem into their
own hands, and running away with it.

When we are reading _The Widow in the Bye Street_ we realize that
Mr. Masefield has studied with some profit the art of narrative verse
as displayed by Chaucer. The story begins directly, and many necessary
facts are revealed in the first stanza, in a manner so simple that for
the moment we forget that this apparent simplicity is artistic
excellence. The _Nun's Priest's Tale_ is a model of attack.

  A poure wydwe, somdel stope in age,
  Was whilom dwellynge in a narwe cottage,
  Beside a grove, stondynge in a dale.
  This wydwe, of which I telle yow my tale,
  Syn thilke day that she was last a wyf,
  In pacience ladde a ful symple lyf,
  For litel was hir catel and hir rente.

Now if I could have only one of Mr. Masefield's books, I would take
_The Widow in the Bye Street._ Its opening lines have the
much-in-little so characteristic of Chaucer.

  Down Bye Street, in a little Shropshire town,
  There lived a widow with her only son:
  She had no wealth nor title to renown,
  Nor any joyous hours, never one.
  She rose from ragged mattress before sun
  And stitched all day until her eyes were red,
  And had to stitch, because her man was dead.

This is one of the best narrative poems in modern literature. It rises
from calm to the fiercest and most tumultuous passions that usurp the
throne of reason. Love, jealousy, hate, revenge, murder, succeed in
cumulative force. Then the calm of unmitigated and hopeless woe
returns, and we leave the widow in a solitude peopled only with
memories. It is melodrama elevated into poetry. The mastery of the
artist is shown in the skill with which he avoids the quagmire of
sentimentality. We can easily imagine what form this story would take
under the treatment of many popular writers. But although constantly
approaching the verge, Mr. Masefield never falls in. He has known so
much sentimentality, not merely in books and plays, but in human
beings, that he understands how to avoid it. Furthermore, he is
steadied by seeing so plainly the weaknesses of his characters, just
as a great nervous specialist gains in poise by observing his
patients. And perhaps our author feels the sorrows of the widow too
deeply to talk about them with any conventional affectation.

I should like to find some one who, without much familiarity with the
fixed stars in English literature, had read _The Daffodil
Fields_, and then ask him to guess who wrote the following stanzas:

  A gentle answer did the old Man make,
  In courteous speech which forth he slowly drew;
  And him with further words I thus bespake,
  "What occupation do you there pursue?
  This is a lonesome place for one like you."
  Ere he replied, a flash of mild surprise
  Broke from the sable orbs of his yet-vivid eyes.

  "This will break Michael's heart," he said at length.
  "Poor Michael," she replied; "they wasted hours.
  He loved his father so. God give him strength.
  This is a cruel thing this life of ours."
  The windy woodland glimmered with shut flowers,
  White wood anemones that the wind blew down.
  The valley opened wide beyond the starry town.

And I think he would reply with some confidence, "John Masefield." He
would he right concerning the second stanza; but the first is, as
every one ought to know and does not, from _Resolution and
Independence_, by William Wordsworth. It is significant that this
is one of the six poems excepted by Mr. Masefield from the mass of
Wordsworthian mediocrity. It is, of course, a great poem, although
when it was published (1807, written in 1802), it seemed by
conventional standards no poem at all. Shortly after its appearance,
some one read it aloud to an intelligent woman; she sobbed
unrestrainedly; then, recovering herself, said shamefacedly, "After
all, it isn't poetry." The reason, I suppose, why she thought it could
not be poetry was because it was so much nearer life than "art." The
simplicity of the scene; the naturalness of the dialogue; the
homeliness of the old leech-gatherer; these all seemed to be outside
the realm of the heroic, the elevated, the sublime,--the particular
business of poetry, as she mistakenly thought. The reason why John
Masefield admires this poem is because of its vitality, its
naturalness, its easy dialogue--main characteristics of his own work.
In writing _The Daffodil Fields_, he consciously or unconsciously
selected the same metre, introduced plenty of conversation, as he
loves to do in all his narrative poetry, and set his tragedy on a
rural stage.

It is important here to repeat the last few phrases already quoted
from Wordsworth's famous Preface: "The manners of rural life germinate
from those elementary feelings, and, from the necessary character of
rural occupations, are more easily comprehended, and are more durable;
and, lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are
incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature." If Mr.
Masefield had written this preface for _The Daffodil Fields_, he
could not have more accurately expressed both the artistic aim of his
poem and its natural atmosphere. "The passions of men are incorporated
with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature." In this work, each
one of the seven sections ends with the daffodils; so that no matter
how base and truculent are the revealed passions of man, the final
impression at the close of each stage is the unchanging loveliness of
the delicate golden flowers. Indeed, the daffodils not only fill the
whole poem with their fluttering beauty, they play the part of the old
Greek chorus. At the end of each act in this steadily growing tragedy,
they comment in their own incomparable way on the sorrows of man.

  So the night passed; the noisy wind went down;
  The half-burnt moon her starry trackway rode.
  Then the first Are was lighted in the town,
  And the first carter stacked his early load.
  Upon the farm's drawn blinds the morning glowed;
  And down the valley, with little clucks and rills,
  The dancing waters danced by dancing daffodils.

But if, consciously or unconsciously, Mr. Masefield in the composition
of _The Daffodil Fields_ followed the metre and the manner of
Wordsworth in _Resolution and Independence_, in the story itself
he challenges Tennyson's _Enoch Arden_. Whether he meant to
challenge it, I do not know; but the comparison is unescapable.
Tennyson did not invent the story, and any poet has the right to use
the material in his own fashion. Knowing Mr. Masefield from _The
Everlasting Mercy_ and _The Widow in the Bye Street_, it would
have been safe to prophesy in advance that his own Enoch would not
show the self-restraint practised by the Tennysonian hero. Reserve and
restraint were the trump cards of the Typical Victorian, just as the
annihilation of all reserve is a characteristic of the
twentieth-century artist. In the _Idylls of the King_, the
parting of Guinevere and Arthur was what interested Tennyson; the
poets of today would of course centre attention on the parting of
Guinevere and Lancelot, and like so many "advances," they would in
truth be only going back to old Malory.

"Neither in the design nor in the telling did, or could, _Enoch
Arden_ come near the artistic truth of _The Daffodil Fields_,"
says Professor Quiller-Couch, of Cambridge. I am not entirely sure of
the truth of this very positive statement. Each is a rural poem; the
characters are simple; the poetic accompaniment supplied by the
daffodils in one poem is supplied in the other by the sea. And yet,
despite this latter fact, if one reads _Enoch Arden_ immediately
after _The Daffodil Fields_, it seems to be without salt. It
lacks flavour, and is almost tasteless compared with the biting
condiments of the other poem, prepared as it was for the sharper
demands of twentieth-century palates. We like, as Browning thought
Macready would like "stabbing, drabbing, _et autres
gentillesses_," and Mr. Masefield knows how to supply them. Yet I
am not sure that the self-denial of Enoch and the timid patience of
Philip do not both indicate a certain strength absent in Mr.
Masefield's wildly exciting tale. Of course Tennyson's trio are all
"good" people, and he meant to make them so. In the other work Michael
is a selfish scoundrel, Lion is a murderer, and Mary an adulteress;
and we are meant to sympathize with all three, as Mr. Galsworthy
wishes us to sympathize with those who follow their instincts rather
than their consciences. One poem celebrates the strength of character,
the other the strength of passion. But there can be no doubt that
Enoch (and perhaps Philip) loved Annie more than either Michael or
Lion loved Mary--which is perhaps creditable; for Mary is more
attractive.

One should remember also that in these two poems--so interesting to
compare in so many different ways--Tennyson tried to elevate a homely
theme into "poetry"; whereas Mr. Masefield finds the truest poetry in
the bare facts of life and feeling. Tennyson is at his best outside of
drama, wherever he has an opportunity to adorn and embellish; Mr.
Masefield is at his best in the fierce conflict of human wills. Thus
_Enoch Arden_ is not one of Tennyson's best poems, and the best
parts of it are the purely descriptive passages; whereas in _The
Daffodil Fields_ Mr. Masefield has a subject made to his hand, and
can let himself go with impressive power. In the introduction of
conversation into a poem--a special gift with Mr. Masefield--Tennyson
is usually weak, which ought to have taught him never to venture into
drama. Nothing is worse in _Enoch Arden_ than passages like
these:

  "Annie, this voyage by the grace of God
  Will bring fair weather yet to all of us.
  Keep a clean hearth and a clear fire for me,
  For I'll be back, my girl, before you know it."
  Then lightly rocking baby's cradle, "and he,
  This pretty, puny, weakly little one,--
  Nay--for I love him all the better for it--
  God bless him, he shall sit upon my knees
  And I will tell him tales of foreign parts,
  And make him merry, when I come home again.
  Come, Annie, come, cheer up before I go."

One of the reasons why twentieth-century readers are so impatient with
_Enoch Arden,_ is because Tennyson refused to satisfy the all but
universal love of a fight. The conditions for a terrific "mix-up" were
all there, and just when the spectator is looking for an explosion of
wrath and blood, the poet turns away into the more heroic but less
thrilling scene of self-conquest. Mr. Masefield may be trusted never
to disappoint his readers in such fashion. It might be urged that
whereas Tennyson gave a picture of man as he ought to be, Mr.
Masefield painted him as he really is.

But _The Daffodil Fields_ is not melodrama. It is a poem of
extraordinary beauty. Every time I read it I see in it some "stray
beauty-beam" that I missed before. It would be impossible to translate
it into prose; it would lose half its interest, and all of its charm.
It would be easier to translate Tennyson's _Dora_ into prose than
_The Daffodil Fields._ In fact, I have often thought that if the
story of _Dora_ were told in concise prose, in the manner of Guy
de Maupassant, it would distinctly gain in force.

No poet, with any claim to the name, can be accurately labelled by an
adjective or a phrase. You may think you know his "manner," and he
suddenly develops a different one; this you call his "later" manner,
and he disconcerts you by harking back to the "earlier," or trying
something, that if you must have labels, you are forced to call his
"latest," knowing now that it is subject to change without notice. Mr.
Masefield published _The Everlasting Mercy_ in 1911; _The Widow
in the Bye Street_ in 1912; _Dauber_ in 1912; _The Daffodil
Fields_ in 1913. We had him classified. He was a writer of
sustained narrative, unscrupulous in the use of language, bursting
with vitality, sacrificing anything and everything that stood in the
way of his effect. This was "red blood" verse raised to poetry by
sheer inspiration, backed by remarkable skill in the use of rime. We
looked for more of the same thing from him, knowing that in this
particular field he had no rival.

Then came the war. As every soldier drew his sword, every poet drew
his pen. And of all the poems published in the early days of the
struggle, none equalled in high excellence _August 1914,_ by John
Masefield. And its tone was precisely the opposite of what his most
famous efforts had led us to expect. It was not a lurid picture of
wholesale murder, nor a bottle of vitriol thrown in the face of the
Kaiser. After the thunder and the lightning, came the still small
voice. It is a poem in the metre and manner of Gray, with the same
silver tones of twilit peace--heartrending by contrast with the
Continental scene.

  How still this quiet cornfield is to-night;
    By an intenser glow the evening falls,
  Bringing, not darkness, but a deeper light;
    Among the stocks a partridge covey calls.

  The windows glitter on the distant hill;
    Beyond the hedge the sheep-bells in the fold
  Stumble on sudden music and are still;
    The forlorn pinewoods droop above the wold.

  An endless quiet valley reaches out
    Past the blue hills into the evening sky;
  Over the stubble, cawing, goes a rout
    Of rooks from harvest, flagging as they fly.

  So beautiful it is I never saw
    So great a beauty on these English fields
  Touched, by the twilight's coming, into awe,
    Ripe to the soul and rich with summer's yields.

The fields are inhabited with the ghosts of ploughmen of old who gave
themselves for England, even as the faithful farmers now leave scenes
inexpressibly dear. For the aim of our poet is to magnify the lives of
the humble and the obscure, whether on land or sea. In the beautiful
_Consecration_ that he prefixed to _Salt-Water Ballads,_ he
expressly turns his back on Commanders, on Rulers, on Princes and
Prelates, in order to sing of the stokers and chantymen, yes, even of
the dust and scum of the earth. They work, and others get the praise.
They are inarticulate, but have found a spokesman and a champion in
the poet. His sea-poems in this respect resemble Conrad's sea-novels.
This is perhaps one of the chief functions of the man of letters,
whether he be poet, novelist or dramatist--never to let us forget the
anonymous army of toilers. For, as Clyde Fitch used to say, the great
things do not happen to the great writers; the great things happen to
the little people they describe.

Although Mr. Masefield's reputation depends mainly on his narrative
poems, he has earned a high place among lyrical poets. These poems, at
least many of them, are as purely subjective as _The Everlasting
Mercy_ was purely objective. Rarely does a poem unfurl with more
loveliness than this:

  I have seen dawn and sunset on moors and windy hills
  Coming in solemn beauty like slow old tunes of Spain;
  I have seen the lady April bringing the daffodils,
  Bringing the springing grass and the soft warm April rain.

In _Tewkesbury Road_ and in _Sea Fever_ the poet expresses
the urge of his own heart. In _Biography_ he quite properly
adopts a style exactly the opposite of the biographical dictionary.
Dates and events are excluded. But the various moments when life was
most intense in actual experience, sights of mountains on sea and
land, long walks and talks with an intimate friend, the frantically
fierce endeavour in the racing cutter, quiet scenes of beauty in the
peaceful countryside. "The days that make us happy make us wise."

As Mr. Masefield's narratives take us back to Chaucer, so his
_Sonnets_ (1916) take us back to the great Elizabethan sequences.
Whether or not Shakespeare unlocked his heart in his sonnets is
impossible to determine. Wordsworth thought he did, Browning thought
quite otherwise. But these sonnets of our poet are undoubtedly
subjective; no one without the necessary information would guess them
to come from the author of _The Everlasting Mercy._ They reveal
what has always been--through moving accidents by flood and field--the
master passion of his mind and heart, the worship of Beauty. The
entire series illustrates a tribute to Beauty expressed in the first
one--"Delight in her made trouble in my mind." This mental disturbance
is here the spur to composition. They are experiments in relative,
meditative, speculative poetry; and while they contain some memorable
lines, and heighten one's respect for the dignity and sincerity of
their author's temperament, they are surely not so successful as his
other work. They are not clearly articulate. Instead of the perfect
expression of perfect thoughts--a gift enjoyed only by
Shakespeare--they reveal the extreme difficulty of metrically voicing
his "trouble." It is in a way like the music of the _Liebestod_.
He is struggling to say what is in his mind, he approaches it, falls
away comes near again, only to be finally baffled.

In 1918 Mr. Masefield returned to battle, murder and sudden death in
the romantic poem _Rosas_. This is an exciting tale told in over
a hundred stanzas, and it is safe to say that any one who reads the
first six lines will read to the end without moving in his chair.
Although this is the latest in publication of our poet's works, it
sounds as if it were written years ago, before he had attained the
mastery so evident in _The Widow in the Bye Street_. It will add
little to the author's reputation.

I do not think Mr. Masefield has received sufficient credit for his
prose fiction. In 1905 he published _A Mainsail Haul_, which
contained a number of short stories and sketches, many of which had
appeared in the Manchester _Guardian_. It is interesting to
recall his connection with that famous journal. These are the results
partly of his experiences, partly of his reading. It is plain that he
has turned over hundreds of old volumes of buccaneer lore. And humour
is as abundant here as it is absent from his best novels, _Captain
Margaret_ and _Multitude and Solitude_. These two books,
recently republished in America, met with a chilling reception from
the critics. For my part, I not only enjoyed reading them, I think
every student of Mr. Masefield's poetry might read them with
profitable pleasure. They are romances that only a poet could have
written. It would be easier to turn them into verse than it would be
to turn his verse-narratives into prose, and less would be lost in the
transfer. In _Multitude and Solitude_, the author has given us
more of the results of his own thinking than can be found in most of
the poems. Whole pages are filled with the pith of meditative thought.
In _Captain Margaret_, we have a remarkable combination of the
love of romance and the romance of love.

In response to a question asked him by the _Tribune_ interviewer,
as to the guiding motive in his writing, Mr. Masefield replied: "I
desire to interpret life both by reflecting it as it appears and by
portraying its outcome. Great art must contain these two attributes.
Examine any of the dramas of Shakespeare, and you will find that their
action is the result of a destruction of balance in the beginning. It
is like a cartful of apples which is overturned. All the apples are
spilled in the street. But you will notice that Shakespeare piles them
up again in his incomparable manner, many bruised, broken, and maybe a
few lost." This is certainly an interesting way of putting the
doctrine of analysis and synthesis as applied to art.

What has Mr. Masefield done then for the advance of poetry? One of his
notable services is to have made it so interesting that thousands look
forward to a new poem from him as readers look for a new story by a
great novelist. He has helped to take away poetry from its
conventional "elevation" and bring it everywhere poignantly in contact
with throbbing life. Thus he is emphatically apart from so-called
traditional poets who brilliantly follow the Tennysonian tradition,
and give us another kind of enjoyment. But although Mr. Masefield is a
twentieth century poet, it would be a mistake to suppose that he has
_originated_ the doctrine that the poet should speak in a natural
voice about natural things, and not cultivate a "diction." Browning
spent his whole life fighting for that doctrine, and went to his grave
covered with honourable scars. Wordsworth successfully rebelled
against the conventional garments of the Muse. Chaucer, Shakespeare,
and Browning are the poets who took human nature as they found it; who
thought life itself was more interesting than any theory about it; who
made language appropriate to the time, the place, and the man,
regardless of the opinion of those who thought the Muse ought to wear
a uniform. The aim of our best twentieth century poets is not really
to write something new and strange, it is to get back to those poets
who lived up to their conviction that the business of poetry is to
chronicle the stages of all life. This is not the only kind of poetry,
but it is the kind high in favour during these present years. The
fountain-head of poetry is human nature, and our poets are trying to
get back to it, just as many of the so-called advances in religious
thought are really attempts to get back to the Founder of
Christianity, before the theologians built their stockade around Him.
Mr. Masefield is a mighty force in the renewal of poetry; in the art
of dramatic narrative he goes back to the sincerity and catholicity of
Chaucer. For his language, he has carried Wordsworth's idea of
"naturalness" to its extreme limits. For his material, he finds
nothing common or unclean. But all his virility, candour, and
sympathy, backed by all his astonishing range of experience, would not
have made him a poet, had he not possessed imagination, and the power
to express his vision of life, the power, as he puts it, of getting
the apples back into the cart.



CHAPTER IV

GIBSON AND HODGSON


  Two Northumberland poets--Wilfrid Wilson Gibson--his early
  failures--his studies of low life--his collected poems--his
  short dramas of pastoral experiences--_Daily Bread_--lack
  of melody--uncanny imagination--whimsies--poems of the Great
  War--their contrast to conventional sentimental ditties--the
  accusation--his contribution to the advance of poetry.--Ralph
  Hodgson--his shyness--his slender output--his fastidious
  self-criticism--his quiet facing of the known facts in nature
  and in humanity--his love of books--his humour--his respect
  for wild and tame animals--the high percentage of artistic
  excellence in his work.--Lascelles Abercrombie.

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson--a horrible mouthful--was born in Hexham,
Northumberland, in 1878. Like Walt Whitman's, his early poetry was
orthodox, well groomed, and uninteresting. It produced no effect on
the public, but it produced upon its author a mental condition of
acute discontent--the necessary conviction of sin preceding
regeneration. Whether he could ever succeed in bringing his verse down
to earth, he did not then know; but so far as he was concerned, he not
only got down to earth, but got under it. He made subterranean
expeditions with the miners, he followed his nose into slums, he
talked long hours with the unclassed, and listened sympathetically to
the lamentations of sea-made widows. His nature--extraordinarily
delicate and sensitive--received deep wounds, the scars of which
appeared in his subsequent poetry. Now he lives where John Masefield
was born, and like him, speaks for the inarticulate poor.

In 1917 Mr. Gibson collected his poems in one thick volume of some
five hundred and fifty pages. This is convenient for reference, but
desperately hard to read, on account of the soggy weight of the book.
Here we have, however, everything that he has thus far written which
he thinks worth preserving. The first piece, _Akra the Slave_
(1904), is a romantic monologue in free verse. Although rather short,
it is much too long, and few persons will have the courage to read it
through. It is incoherent, spineless, consistent only in dulness.
Possibly it is worth keeping as a curiosity. Then comes
_Stonefolds_ (1906), a series of bitter bucolics. This is
pastoral poetry of a new and refreshing kind--as unlike to the
conventional shepherd-shepherdess mincing, intolerable dialogue as
could well be imagined. For, among all the groups of verse, in which,
for sacred order's sake, we arrange English literature, pastoral
poetry easily takes first place in empty, tinkling artificiality. In
_Stonefolds_, we have six tiny plays, never containing more than
four characters, and usually less, which represent, in a rasping
style, the unending daily struggle of generation after generation with
the relentless forces of nature. It is surprising to see how, in four
or five pages, the author gives a clear view of the monotonous life of
seventy years; in this particular art, Strindberg himself has done no
better. The experience of age is contrasted with the hope of youth.
Perhaps the most impressive of them all is _The Bridal_ where, in
the presence of the newly wedded pair, the man's old, bed-ridden
mother speaks of the chronic misery of her married life, intimates
that the son is just like his dead father, and that therefore the
bride has nothing ahead of her but tragedy. Then comes the conclusion,
which reminds one somewhat of the close of Ibsen's _Lady from the
Sea_. The young husband throws wide the door, and addresses his
wife as follows:

  The door is open; you are free to go.
  Why do you tarry? Are you not afraid?
  Go, ere I hate you. I'll not hinder you.
  I would not have you bound to me by fear.
  Don't fear to leave me; rather fear to bide
  With me who am my father's very son.
  Go, lass, while yet I love you!

    ESTHER (closing the door). I shall bide.
  I have heard all; and yet, I would not go.
  Nor would I have a single word unsaid.
  I loved you, husband; yet, I did not know you
  Until your mother spoke. I know you now;
  And I am not afraid.

The first piece in _Stonefolds_ represents the tragic
helplessness of those newly born and those very old, a favourite theme
with Maeterlinck. A lamb and a child are born on the same night, and
both die before dawn. The lamb is a poetic symbol of babyhood.
Nicholas, the aged shepherd, who longs to go out into the night and do
his share of the work that must be done, but who is unable even to
move, thus addresses the dying lamb:

  Poor, bleating beast! We two are much alike,
  At either end of life, though scarce an hour
  You've been in this rough world, and I so long
  That death already has me by the heels;
  For neither of us can stir to help himself,
  But both must bleat for others' aid. This world
  Is rough and bitter to the newly born,
  But far more bitter to the nearly dead.

In _Daily Bread_ (1908-09), there are eighteen brief plays,
written not in orthodox blank verse, like _Stonefolds_, but in
irregular, brittle, breathless metres. Here is where art takes the
short cut to life, sacrificing every grace to gain reality; the
typical goal and method of twentieth-century poetry. So long as a
vivid impression of character and circumstance is produced, the writer
apparently cares nothing about style. I say "apparently," because the
styleless style is perhaps the one best adapted to produce the
sought-for effect. There is ever one difference between life and
"art"--between drama and theatre--that Mr. Gibson has, I suppose,
tried to cancel in these poems of daily bread. In art, the bigger the
drama, the bigger the stage; one could not mount
_Götterdämmerung_ in a village schoolhouse. But Life does not fit
the splendour of the setting to the grandeur of the struggle. In bleak
farm cottages, in dull dwellings in city blocks, in slum tenements,
the greatest of life's tragedies and comedies are enacted--love, hate,
avarice, jealousy, revenge, birth, death--the most terrific passions
known to human nature are fully presented, without the slightest care
for appropriate scenery from the Master of the show. Thus our poet
leads us by the hand into sea-girt huts, into hovels at the mouths of
mines, into garrets of noisy cities, and makes us silent witnesses of
elemental woe. Here Labour, man's greatest blessing, takes on the
aspect of the primal curse, since so many tragedies spring from the
simple root of poverty. The love of money may be the root of all evil,
but the lack of it is the cause of much pain.

It was a happy inspiration that made Mr. Gibson call these scenes
_Daily Bread_; for it is the struggle, not for comfort, but for
existence, that drives these men from mother, wife, and child into the
thick of the fight. Many novels and plays are written nowadays against
"big business," where, among other real and imagined evils, the
Business itself is represented as the villain in the home, alienating
the husband's affections from wife and children. Whatever may be the
case with the private soldiers, the Captain of Industry does not, and
by the nature of things cannot, confine his labours to an eight-hour
day--when he finally comes home, he brings the business with him,
forming a more well-founded cause of jealousy than the one usually
selected for conventional drama. Mr. Gibson, however, is not
interested in the tragic few, but in the tragic many, and in his poems
the man of the house leaves early and returns late. The industrial war
caused by social conditions takes him from home as surely and as
perilously as though he were drafted into an expeditionary force. The
daily parting is poignant, for every member of the family knows he may
not come back. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this
corroding worry is seen in _The Night-Shift_, where four women
with a newly-born baby spend a night of agonized waiting, only to have
their fears confirmed in the dawn.

The wife, weak from childbirth, sits up in bed, and speaks:

  Will no one stop that tapping?
  I cannot sleep for it.
  I think that someone is shut in somewhere,
  And trying to get out.
  Will no one let them out,
  And stop the tapping?
  It keeps on tapping, tapping....
  Tap ... tap ... tap ... tap....
  And I can scarcely breathe,
  The darkness is so thick.
  It stifles me,
  And weighs so heavily upon me,
  And drips, and drips....
  My hair is wet already;
  There's water all about my knees....
  As though great rocks were hanging overhead!
  And dripping, dripping....
  I cannot lift my feet,
  The water holds them,
  It's creeping ... creeping ... creeping....
  My wet hair drags me down.
  Ah, God!
  Will no one stop that tapping....
  I cannot sleep....
  And I would sleep
  Till he comes home....
  Tap ... tap ... tap ... tap....

These poems were, of course, composed before the war. In the greater
tragedy, some of the lesser ones disappear. For example, Mr. Gibson
represents young, able-bodied, healthy and temperate men as unable to
find work of any kind; their wives and children starve because of the
absence of employment. Surely, since August, 1914, this particular
cause of suffering has been removed.

In _Womenkind_ (1909), dedicated to Rabbi and Mrs. Wise, we have
a real play, not only dramatic in character and situation, but fitted
for stage representation without the change of a word. The theme is
just the opposite of Middleton's old drama, _Women Beware Women_.
Here the two young women, one the mistress-mother, and one the bride,
join forces against the man, and walk out of his house on the
wedding-day. They feel that the tie between them is stronger than the
tie which had united them severally to the man, and depart to live
together. The play closes on a note of irony, for Jim, his blind
father, and his weary mother repeat in turn--but with quite different
emphasis--the accusation that women are a faithless lot.

The long series of poems called _Fires_ (1910-11) differ in
matter and manner from the earlier works. The form of drama is
abandoned, and in its place we have vivid rimed narrative, mingled
with glowing pictures of natural scenery, taken at all hours of the
day and night. Each of his poems must be taken as a whole, for each
poem strives for a single effect. This effect is often gained by
taking some object, animate or inanimate, as a symbol. Thus, in _The
Hare_, the hunted animal is the symbol of woman. _The Flute_,
_The Lighthouse_, and _The Money_ mean more than their
definition. Mr. Gibson is somewhat kinder to his readers in this
collection, for the monotony of woe, that hangs over his work like a
cloud, is rifted here and there by a ray of happiness. In _The
Shop_, the little boy actually recovers from pneumonia, and our
share in the father's delight is heightened by surprise, for whenever
any of our poet's characters falls into a sickness, we have learned to
expect the worst. Still, the darker side of life remains the author's
chosen field of exploration. Two pieces are so uncanny that one might
almost think they proceeded from a disordered imagination. The blind
boy, who every day has rowed his father back and forth from the
fishing-grounds, while the man steered, one day rows cheerfully toward
home, unaware that his father is dead. The boy wonders at his father's
silence, and laughingly asserts that he has heard him snoring. Then
his mirth changes to fear, and fear to horror.

  Though none has ever known
  How he rowed in, alone,
  And never touched a reef.
  Some say they saw the dead man steer--
  The dead man steer the blind man home--
  Though, when they found him dead,
  His hand was cold as lead.

Another strange poem describes how a cripple sits in his room, with a
mother eternally stitching for bread, and watches out of the window
the giant crane swinging vast weights through the sky. One night,
while he is half-dead with fear, the great crane swoops down upon him,
clutches his bed, and swings him, bed and all, above the sleeping
city, among the blazing stars.

Following Mr. Gibson's development as a poet, year by year, we come to
_Thoroughfares_ (1908-14). These are short poems more
conventional in form than their predecessors, but just as stark and
grim as chronicles of life. Every one remembers the torture inflicted
on women in the good-old-times, when they were strapped to posts on
the flats at low tide, and allowed to watch the cruel slowness of
approaching death. The same theme, with an even more terrible
termination, is selected by Mr. Gibson in _Solway Ford_, where
the carter is pinned by the heavy, overturned wagon on the sands;
while the tide gradually brings the water toward his helpless body. He
dies a thousand deaths in imagination, but is rescued just as the
waves are lapping the wheels. Now he lies in bed, an incurable idiot,
smiling as he sees gold and sapphire fishes swimming in the water over
his head.... That rarest of all English metres--which Browning chose
for _One Word More_--is employed by Mr. Gibson in a compound of
tragedy-irony called _The Vindictive Staircase_. Unfortunately
the rhythm is so closely associated with Browning's love-poem, that
these lines sound like a parody:

  Mrs. Murphy, timidest of spectres,
  You who were the cheeriest of charers,
  With the heart of innocence and only
  Torn between a zest for priest and porter,
  Mrs. Murphy of the ample bosom,--
  Suckler of a score or so of children.

It seems best to leave this measure in the undisturbed possession of
the poet who used it supremely well. Yet some of the verses in
_Thoroughfares_ are an advance on Mr. Gibson's previous work. No
reader will ever forget _Wheels_.

Passing over _Borderlands_ (1912-14) which, with the exception of
_Akra_, is the least successful of Mr. Gibson's works, we come to
his most original contribution to modern poetry, the short poems
included under the heading _Battle_ (1914-15). These verses
afford one more bit of evidence that in order to write unconventional
thoughts, it is not necessary to use unconventional forms. The ideas
expressed here can be found in no other war-poet; they are
idiosyncratic to the highest degree; yet the verse-forms in which they
are written are stanzaic, as traditional as the most conservative
critic could desire. There is, of course, no reason why any poet
should not compose in new and strange rhythms if he prefers to do so;
but I have never believed that originality in thought
_necessarily_ demands metrical measures other than those found in
the history of English literature.

These lyrical poems are dramatic monologues. Each one is the testimony
of some soldier in the thick of the fight as to what he has seen or
heard, or as to what memories are strongest in his mind as he lies in
the filth of the trenches. Conventional emotions of enthusiasm, glory,
sacrifice, courage, are omitted, not because they do not exist, but
simply because they are taken for granted; these boys are aflame with
such feelings at the proper time. But Mr. Gibson is more interested in
the strange, fantastic thoughts, waifs of memory, that wander across
the surface of the mind in the midst of scenes of horror. And we feel
that the more fantastic these thoughts are, the more do they reflect
the deep truths of experience. Home naturally looms large, and some of
the recollections of home take on a grim humour, strangely in contrast
with the present environment of the soldier.

  HIS FATHER

  I quite forgot to put the spigot in.
    It's just come over me.... And it is queer
  To think he'll not care if we lose or win.
    And yet be jumping-mad about that beer.

  I left it running full. He must have said
    A thing or two. I'd give my stripes to hear
  What he will say if I'm reported dead
    Before he gets me told about that beer!

It would appear that the world has grown up, or at all events, grown
much older, during the last forty years. It has grown older at a high
rate of speed. The love of country is the same as ever, because that
is a primal human passion, that will never change, any more than the
love of the sexes; but the expression of battle-poems seems more
mature, more sophisticated, if you like, in this war than in any
preceding conflict. Most of the verses written in England and in
America are as different as may be from "Just before the battle,
mother," which was so popular during our Civil War. Never before has
the psychology of the soldier been so acutely studied by national
poets. And instead of representing the soldier as a man swayed by a
few elemental passions and lush sentiment, he is presented as an
extraordinarily complex individual, with every part of his brain
abnormally alert. Modern poetry, in this respect, has, I think,
followed the lead of the realistic prose novel. Such books as
Tolstoi's _Sevastopol_, and Zola's _La Débâcle_, have had a
powerful effect in making war poetry more analytical; while that
original story, _The Red Badge of Courage_, written by an
inspired young American, Stephen Crane, has left its mark on many a
volume of verse that has been produced since August, 1914. The
unabashed realism of the trenches, together with the psychology of the
soldier, is clearly and significantly reflected in _From the
Front_ (1918), a book of poems written by men in service, edited by
Lieut. C. E. Andrews.

What is going to become of us all if the obsession of
self-consciousness grows ever stronger?

There is not a trace of cheap sentiment in _Battle_. Even the
poems that come nearest to the emotional surface are saved by some
specific touch, like the sense of smell, which, as every one knows, is
a sharper spur to the memory than any other sensation.

  Tonight they're sitting by the peat
    Talking of me, I know--
  Grandfather in the ingle-seat,
    Mother and Meg and Joe.

  I feel a sudden puff of heat
    That sets my ears aglow,
  And smell the reek of burning peat
    Across the Belgian snow.

Browning wrote of Shelley, who had been dead eleven years,

    _The air seems bright with thy past presence yet._

A similar effect of brightness in life and afterglow in death, seems
to have been made on every one who knew him by Rupert Brooke. No young
poet of the twentieth century has left such a flaming glory as he. The
prefatory poem to Mr. Gibson's _Friends_ (1915-16), beautifully
expresses the common feeling:

  He's gone.
  I do not understand.
  I only know
  That as he turned to go
  And waved his hand
  In his young eyes a sudden glory shone:
  And I was dazzled by a sunset glow,
  And he was gone.

The fine sonnets that follow strengthen the strong colour, and are
among the most authentic claims to poetry that their author has set
forth. The second one, contrasting the pale glimmer of the London
garret with the brilliant apparition of Brooke at the open door, "like
sudden April," is poignant in its beauty. The verses in this volume
are richer in melody than is customary with Mr. Gibson, yet _The
Pessimist_ and _The Ice-Cart_ show that he is as whimsical as
ever. He has no end of fun with his fancy.

_Livelihood_ (1914-16) takes us back to the bitter pessimism of
_Stonefolds_ and _Daily Bread_; only instead of being
dialogues, these stories are given in descriptive form, and for the
most part in regular pentameter rime. The best of them is _In the
Orchestra_, where the poor fiddler in the band at the cheap
music-hall plays mechanically every night for his daily bread, while
his heart is torn by the vulture of memory. This poem shows a firm
grasp of the material; every word adds something to the total
impression.

Mr. Gibson's constantly repeated pictures of the grinding,
soul-crushing labour of the poor seem to say _J'accuse_! Yet he
nowhere says it explicitly. He never interrupts his narrative with "My
Lords and Gentlemen," nor does he comment, like Hood in _The Song of
the Shirt_.

Yet the effect of his work is an indictment. Only, whom does he
accuse? Is it the government; is it society; is it God?

Mr. Gibson's latest book of poems, _Hill-Tracks_ (1918), differs
from his previous works in two respects. It is full of pictures of the
open fields of Northumberland, the county where he was born; and
nearly every piece is an attempt at a singing lyric, something seldom
found in his _Collected Poems_. I say an "attempt" with
deliberation, for song is not the most natural expression of this
realistic writer, and not more than half of the fifty lyrics in this
handsome volume are successfully melodious. Some are trivial, and
hardly deserve such beauty of type and paper; others, however, will be
gladly welcomed by all students of Mr. Gibson's work, because they
exhibit the powers of the author in an unusual and charming manner. I
should think that those familiar with the topography and with the
colloquialisms constantly appearing in this book, would read it with a
veritable delight of reminiscence.

  NORTHUMBERLAND

  Heatherland and bent-land--
  Black land and white,
  God bring me to Northumberland,
  The land of my delight.

  Land of singing waters,
  And winds from off the sea,
  God bring me to Northumberland,
  The land where I would be.

  Heatherland and bent-land,
  And valleys rich with corn,
  God bring me to Northumberland,
  The land where I was born.

The shadow of the war darkens nearly every page of this volume, and
the last poem expresses not the local but the universal sentiment of
us who remain in our homes.

  We who are left, how shall we look again
  Happily on the sun, or feel the rain,
  Without remembering how they who went
  Ungrudgingly, and spent
  Their all for us, loved, too, the sun and rain?

  A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings--
  But we, how shall we turn to little things
  And listen to the birds and winds and streams
  Made holy by their dreams,
  Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?

An interesting feature of the _Collected Poems_ is a striking
unfinished portrait of the author by Mrs. Wise; but I think it was an
error to publish all these verses in one volume. They produce an
impression of grey monotony which is hardly fair to the poet. The
individuals change their names, but they pass through the same typical
woe of childbirth, desertion, loveless old age, incipient insanity,
with eternal joyless toil. One will form a higher opinion if one reads
the separate volumes as they appeared, and not too much at a time.

His contribution to the advance of English poetry is seen mainly in
his grim realism, in his direct, unadorned presentation of what he
believes to be the truth, whether it be the facts of environment, or
the facts of thought. Conventional war-poetry, excellently represented
by Tennyson's _Charge of the Light Brigade_, which itself harks
back to Drayton's stirring _Ballad of Agincourt_, has not the
slightest echo in these volumes; and ordinary songs of labour are
equally remote. Face to face with Life--that is where the poet leads
us, and where he leaves us. He is far indeed from possessing the
splendid lyrical gift of John Masefield; he has nothing of the
literary quality of William Watson. He writes neither of romantic
buccaneers nor of golden old books. But he is close to the grimy
millions. He writes the short and simple annals of the poor. He is a
poet of the people, and seems to have taken a vow that we shall not
forget them.



Ralph Hodgson was born somewhere in Northumberland about forty years
ago, and successfully eluded the notice of the world until the year
1907. He is by nature such a recluse that I feel certain he would
prefer to attract no attention whatever were it not for the fact that
it is as necessary for a poet to print his songs as it is for a bird
to sing them. His favourite companions are Shelley, Wordsworth, and a
bull terrier, and he is said to play billiards with "grim
earnestness." In 1907 he published a tiny volume called _The Last
Blackbird_, and in 1917 another and tinier one called _Poems_.
During this decade he printed in a few paper booklets, which some day
will be valuable curiosities, separate pieces such as _Eve_,
_The Bull_, _The Mystery_. These are now permanently
preserved in the 1917 book. This thin volume, weighing only two or
three ounces, is a real addition to the English poetry of the
twentieth century.

It is impossible to read the verse of Ralph Hodgson without admiration
for the clarity of his art and respect for the vigour of his mind.
Although many of his works are as aloof from his own opinions as a
well-executed statue, the strength of his personality is an immanent
force. He writes much and publishes little; he is an intellectual
aristocrat. He has the fastidiousness which was the main
characteristic of the temperament of Thomas Gray; and he has as well
Gray's hatred of publicity and much of Gray's lambent humour, more
salty than satiric. His work is decidedly caviare to the general, not
because it is obscure, which it is not, but because it presupposes
much background. Lovers of nature and lovers of books will love these
verses, and reread them many times; but they are not for all markets.
No contemporary poet is more truly original than he; but his
originality is seen in his mental attitude rather than in newness of
form or strangeness of language. The standard metres are good enough
for him, and so are the words in common use. His subjects are the
world-old subjects of poetry--birds, flowers, men and women. Religion
is as conspicuously absent as it is in the works of Keats; its place
is taken by sympathy for humanity and an extraordinary sympathy for
animals. He is as far from the religious passion of Francis Thompson
as he is from the sociological inquisitiveness of Mr. Gibson. To him
each bird, each flower appears as a form of worship. Men and women
appeal to him not because they are poor or downtrodden, but simply
because they are men and women. He is neither an optimist nor a
pessimist; the world is full of objects both interesting and
beautiful, which will pay a rich return to those who observe them
accurately. This is as near as he has thus far come to any philosophy
or any theology:

  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.

It is the absolute object that interests this poet, rather than vague
or futile speculation about it. The flower in the crannied wall he
would leave there. He would never pluck it out, root and all,
wondering about the mystery of the life principle. No poet is more
clean-eyed. His eyes are achromatic. He has lost his illusions gladly;
every time he has lost an illusion he has gained a new idea. The world
as it is seems to him more beautiful, more interesting than any
false-coloured picture of it or any longing to remould it nearer to
the heart's desire. He faces life with steady composure. But it is not
the composure either of stoicism or of despair. He finds it so
wonderful just as it is that he is thankful that he has eyes to see
its beauty, ears to hear its melodies--enough for his present mortal
state.

  AFTER

  "How fared you when you mortal were?
     What did you see on my peopled star?"
  "Oh, well enough," I answered her,
     "It went for me where mortals are!

  "I saw blue flowers and the merlin's flight
     And the rime on the wintry tree,
  Blue doves I saw and summer light
    On the wings of the cinnamon bee."

There is in all this a kind of reverent worship
without any trace of mysticism. And still less of
that modern attitude more popular and surely
more fruitless than mysticism--defiance.

There is a quite different side to the poetry of
Mr. Hodgson, which one would hardly suspect
after reading his outdoor verse. The lamplit
silence of the library is as charming to him as
the fragrant silence of the woods. He is as much
of a recluse among books as he is among flowers.
No poet of today seems more self-sufficient. Although
a lover of humanity, he seems to require
no companionship. He is no more lonely than a
cat, and has as many resources as Tabby herself.
Now when he talks about books, his poetry becomes
intimate, and forsakes all objectivity.
His humour, a purely intellectual quality with him,
rises unrestrainedly.

  MY BOOKS

  When the folks have gone to bed,
    And the lamp is burning low,
  And the fire burns not so red
    As it burned an hour ago,

  Then I turn about my chair
    So that I can dimly see
  Into the dark corners where
    Lies my modest library.

  Volumes gay and volumes grave,
    Many volumes have I got;
  Many volumes though I have,
    Many volumes have I not.

  I have not the rare Lucasta,
    London, 1649;
  I'm a lean-pursed poetaster,
    Or the book had long been mine....

  Near the "Wit's Interpreter"
    (Like an antique Whitaker,
  Full of strange etcetera),
    "Areopagitiea,"

  And the muse of Lycidas,
    Lost in meditation deep,
  Give the cut to Hudibras,
    Unaware the knave's asleep....

  There lies Coleridge, bound in green,
    Sleepily still wond'ring what
  He meant Kubla Khan to mean,
    In that early Wordsworth, Mat.

  Arnold knows a faithful prop,--
    Still to subject-matter leans,
  Murmurs of the loved hill-top,
    Fyfield tree and Cumnor scenes.

The poem closes with a high tribute to Shelley, "more than all the
others mine."

The following trifle is excellent fooling:

  THE GREAT AUK'S GHOST

  The Great Auk's ghost rose on one leg,
    Sighed thrice and three times winkt,
  And turned and poached a phantom egg,
    And muttered, "I'm extinct."

But it is in the love of unextinct animals that Mr. Hodgson's poetic
powers find their most effective display. His masterpiece on the old
unhappy Bull is surprisingly impressive; surprisingly, because we
almost resent being made to feel such ardent sympathy for the poor old
Bull, when there are so many other and more important objects to be
sorry for. Yet the poet draws us away for the moment from all the
other tragedies in God's universe, and absolutely compels our pity for
the Bull. The stanzas in this poem swarm with life.

From a certain point of view, poets are justified in calling attention
to the sufferings of our animal brothers. For it is the sufferings of
animals, even more than the sorrows of man, that check our faith
either in the providence or in the love of God. Human suffering may
possibly be balanced against the spiritual gain it (sometimes) brings;
and at all events, we know that there is no road to greatness of
character except through pain. But what can compensate the dumb
animals for their physical anguish? It is certainly difficult to see
their reward, unless they have immortal souls. That this is no slight
obstacle in the way of those who earnestly desire to believe in an
ethical universe, may be seen from the fact that it was the sight of a
snake swallowing a toad that destroyed once for all the religious
beliefs of Turgenev; and I know a man of science in America who became
an agnostic simply from observation of a particular Texas fly that
bites the cattle. The Founder of Christianity recognized this problem,
as He did every other painful fact in life, when He made the remark
about the sparrow.

Yet even the pessimists ought not to be quite so sure that God is
morally inferior to man. Even their God may be no more amused by human
anguish then men are amused by the grotesque floppings of a dying
fish.

The villains in the world are those who have no respect for the
personality of birds and beasts. And their cruelty to animals is not
deliberate or vindictive--it arises from crass stupidity.

  STUPIDITY STREET

  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.

The poet's attitude toward the lion in the jungle, the bull in the
field, the cat in the yard, the bird on the tree is not one of
affectionate petting, for love and sympathy are often
mingled--consciously or unconsciously--with condescension. There is no
trace of condescension in the way Mr. Hodgson writes of animals. He
treats them with respect, and not only hates to see them hurt, he
hates to see their dignity outraged.

  THE BELLS OF HEAVEN

  'Twould ring the bells of Heaven
  The wildest peal for years,
  If Parson lost his senses
  And people came to theirs,
  And he and they together
  Knelt down with angry prayers
  For tamed and shabby tigers
  And dancing dogs and bears,
  And wretched, blind pit ponies,
  And little hunted hares.

I confess that I have often felt a sense of shame for humanity when I
have observed men and women staring through the bars at the splendid
African cats in cages, and have also observed that their foolish stare
is returned by the lion or tiger with a dull look of infinite boredom.
Nor is it pleasant to see small boys pushing sticks through the safe
bars, in an endeavour to irritate the royal captives. One remembers
Browning's superb lion in _The Glove_, whom the knight was able
to approach in safety, because the regal beast was completely lost in
thought--he was homesick for the desert, oblivious of the little
man-king and his duodecimo court.

Although the total production of Ralph Hodgson is slight in quantity,
the percentage of excellence is remarkably high. The reason for this
is clear. Instead of printing everything he writes, and leaving the
employment of the cream-separator to his readers, he gives to the
public only what has passed his own severe scrutiny. He is a true
poet, with an original mind.

As for the work of Lascelles Abercrombie, which has been much praised
in certain circles, I should prefer to leave the criticism of that to
those who enjoy reading it. If I should attempt to "do justice" to his
poetry, I should seem to his friends to be doing just the
opposite--the opposite of just.



CHAPTER V

BROOKE, FLECKER, DE LA MARE, AND OTHERS


  Rupert Brooke--a personality--the spirit of youth--his horror
  at old age--Henry James's tribute--his education--a
  genius--his poems of death--his affected cynicism--his nature
  poems--war sonnets--his supreme sacrifice--his charming
  humour--his masterpiece, _Grantchester_.--James Elroy
  Flecker--the editorial work of Mr. Squire--no posthumous
  puffery--the case of Crashaw--life of Flecker--his fondness
  for revision--his friendship with Rupert Brooke--his skill as
  a translator--his austerity--art for art's sake--his
  "brightness"--love of Greek mythology--steady mental
  development--his definition of the aim of poetry.--Walter De
  La Mare--the poet of shadow--Hawthorne's tales--his
  persistence--his reflective mood--his descriptive style--his
  Shakespeare characters--his sketches from life.--D. H.
  Lawrence--his lack of discipline--his subjectivity--absence of
  reserve--a master of colour--his glaring excesses.--John
  Drinkwater--the west of England--his healthy spirit.--W. H.
  Davies--the tramp poet.--Edward Thomas--his death--originality
  of his work.--Robert Nichols--Willoughby Weaving.--The young
  Oxford poets.

Rupert Brooke left the world in a chariot of fire. He was something
more than either a man or a poet; he was and is a Personality. It was
as a Personality that he dazzled his friends. He was overflowing with
tremendous, contagious vitality. He was the incarnation of the spirit
of youth, wearing the glamour and glory of youth like a shining
garment. Despite our loss, it almost seems fitting that he did not
live to that old age which he never understood, for which he had such
little sympathy, and which he seems to have hated more than death. For
he had the splendid insolence of youth. Youth commonly feels
high-spirited in an unconscious, instinctive fashion, like a kitten or
a puppy; but Rupert Brooke was as self-consciously young as a decrepit
pensioner is self-consciously old. He rejoiced in the strength of his
youth, and rolled it as a sweet morsel under his tongue. He was so
glad to be young, and to know every morning on rising from sleep that
he was still young! His passionate love of beauty made him see in old
age only ugliness; he could not foresee the joys of the mellow years.
All he saw consisted of grey hairs, wrinkles, double chins, paunches.
To him all old people were Struldbrugs. We smile at the insolence of
youth, because we know it will pass with the beauty and strength that
support it. Ogniben says, "Youth, with its beauty and grace, would
seem bestowed on us for some such reason as to make us partly
endurable till we have time for really becoming so of ourselves,
without their aid; when they leave us ... little by little, he sees fit
to forego claim after claim on the world, puts up with a less and less
share of its good as his proper portion; and when the octogenarian
asks barely a sup of gruel and a fire of dry sticks, and thanks you as
for his full allowance and right in the common good of life,--hoping
nobody may murder him,--he who began by asking and expecting the whole
of us to bow down in worship to him,--why, I say he is advanced."

Henry James--whose affectionate tribute in the preface to Brooke's
_Letters_ is impressive testimony--saw in the brilliant youth,
besides the accident of genius, a perfect illustration of the highest
type of Englishman, bred in the best English way, in the best
traditions of English scholarship, and adorned with the good sense,
fine temper, and healthy humour of the ideal Anglo-Saxon. He indeed
enjoyed every possible advantage; like Milton and Browning, had he
been intended for a poet from the cradle, his bringing-up could not
have been better adapted to the purpose. He was born at Rugby, on the
third of August, 1887, where his father was one of the masters in the
famous school. He won a poetry prize there in 1905. The next year he
entered King's College, Cambridge; his influence as an undergraduate
was notable. He took honours in classics, went abroad to study in
Munich, and returned to Grantchester, which he was later to celebrate
in his best poem. He had travelled somewhat extensively on the
Continent, and in 1913 went on a journey through the United States and
Canada to the South Seas. I am glad he saw the Hawaiian Islands, for
no one should die before beholding that paradise. At the outbreak of
war, he enlisted, went to Antwerp, and later embarked on the
expedition to the Dardanelles. He was bitten by a fly, and died of
bloodpoisoning on a French hospital ship, the day being Shakespeare's,
the twenty-third of April, 1915. He was buried on a Greek island.

Rupert Brooke lived to be nearly twenty-eight years old, a short life
to show ability in most of the ways of the world, but long enough to
test the quality of a poet, not merely in promise, but in performance.
There is no doubt that he had the indefinable but unmistakable touch
of genius. Only a portion of his slender production is of high rank,
but it is enough to preserve his name. His _Letters_, which have
been underestimated, prove that he had mental as well as poetical
powers. Had he lived to middle age, it seems certain that his poetry
would have been tightly packed with thought. He had an alert and
inquisitive mind.

Many have seemed to think that the frequent allusions to death in his
poetry are vaguely prophetic. They are, of course--with the exception
of the war-poems--nothing of the kind, being merely symptomatic of
youth. They form the most conventional side of his work. His cynicism
toward the love of the sexes was a youthful affectation, strengthened
by his reading. He was deeply read in the seventeenth-century poets,
who delighted in imagining themselves passing from one woman to
another--swearing "by love's sweetest part, variety." At all events,
these poems, of which there are comparatively many, exhibit his least
attractive side. The poem addressed to _The One Before the Last_,
ends

  Oh! bitter thoughts I had in plenty,
     But here's the worst of it--
   I shall forget, in Nineteen-twenty,
     You ever hurt a bit!

He was perhaps, too young to understand two real truths--that real
love can exist in the midst of wild passion, and that the best part of
it can and often does survive the early flames. Such poems as
_Menelaus and Helen_, _Jealousy_, and others, profess a
profound knowledge of life that is really a profound ignorance.

His pictures of nature, while often beautiful, lack the penetrative
quality seen so constantly in Wordsworth and Browning; these greater
poets saw nature not only with their eyes, but with their minds. Their
representations glow with enduring beauty, but they leave in the
spectator something even greater than beauty, something that is food
for reflection and imagination, the source of quick-coming fancies.
Compare the picture of the pines in Brooke's poem _Pine-Trees and
the Sky: Evening_, with Browning's treatment of an identical theme
in _Paracelsus_, remembering that Browning's lines were written
when he was twenty-two years old. Brooke writes,

  Then from the sad west turning wearily,
    I saw the pines against the white north sky,
  Very beautiful, and still, and bending over
    Their sharp black heads against a quiet sky.

Browning writes,

  The herded pines commune, and have deep thoughts,
  A secret they assemble to discuss,
  When the sun drops behind their trunks which glare
  Like grates of hell.

Both in painting and in imagination the second passage is instantly
seen to be superior.

The war sonnets of 1914 receive so much additional poignancy by the
death of the author that it is difficult, and perhaps undesirable, to
judge them as objective works of art. They are essentially noble and
sincere, speaking from the depths of high-hearted self-sacrifice. He
poured out his young life freely and generously, knowing what it meant
to say good-bye to his fancy. There is always something eternally
sublime--something that we rightly call divine--in the spendthrift
giving of one's life-blood for a great cause. And Rupert Brooke was
intensely aware of the value of what he unhesitatingly gave.

The two "fish" poems exhibit a playful, charming side to Brooke's
imagination; but if I could have only one of his pieces, I should
assuredly choose Grantchester. Nostalgia is the mother of much fine
poetry; but seldom has the expression of it been mingled more
exquisitely with humour and longing. By the rivers of Babylon he sat
down and laughed when he remembered Zion. And his laughter at Babylon
is so different from his laughter at Grantchester. A few felicitous
adjectives sum up the significant difference between Germany and
England. Writing in a Berlin café, he says:

  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 toward Haslingfleld and Coton
  Where _das Betreten'_s not _verboten_....
  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?

When Hamlet died, he bequeathed his reputation to Horatio, the
official custodian of his good name. He could not have made a better
choice. Would that all poets who die young were equally fortunate in
their posthumous editors! For there are some friends who conceive it
to be their duty to print every scrap of written paper the bard left
behind him, even if they have to act as scavengers to find the
"remains"; and there are others who think affection and admiration for
the dead are best shown by adopting the methods and the language of
the press-agent. To my mind, the pious memoir of Tennyson is injured
by the inclusion of a long list of "testimonials," which assure us
that Alfred Tennyson was a remarkable poet. Mr. J. C. Squire, under
whose auspices the works of Flecker appear in one handsome volume, is
an admirable editor. His introduction is a model of its kind, giving
the necessary biographical information, explaining the chronology, the
origin, the background of the poems, and showing how the poet revised
his earlier work; the last paragraph ought to serve as an example to
those who may be entrusted with a task of similar delicacy in the
future. "My only object in writing this necessarily rather disjointed
Introduction is to give some information that may interest the reader
and be useful to the critic; and if a few personal opinions have
slipped in they may conveniently be ignored. A vehement 'puff
preliminary' is an insolence in a volume of this kind; it might
pardonably be supposed to imply either doubts about the author or
distrust of his readers."

As a contrast to the above, it is interesting to recall the preface
that an anonymous friend contributed to a volume of Crashaw's verse in
the seventeenth century, which, in his own words, "I have impartially
writ of this Learned young Gent." Fearing that readers might not
appreciate his poetry at its true value, the friend writes, "It were
prophane but to mention here in the Preface those under-headed Poets,
Retainers to seven shares and a halfe; Madrigall fellowes, whose onely
business in verse, is to rime a poore six-penny soule a Suburb sinner
into hell;--May such arrogant pretenders to Poetry vanish, with their
prodigious issue of tumorous heats, and flashes of their adulterate
braines, and for ever after, may this our Poet fill up the better
roome of man. Oh! when the generall arraignment of Poets shall be, to
give an accompt of their higher soules, with what a triumphant brow
shall our divine Poet sit above, and looke downe upon poore Homer,
Virgil, Horace, Claudian; &c. who had amongst them the ill lucke to
talke out a great part of their gallant Genius, upon Bees, Dung,
froggs, and Gnats, &c. and not as himself here, upon Scriptures,
divine Graces, Martyrs and Angels." Our prefatory friend set a pace
that it is hopeless for modern champions to follow, and they might as
well abandon the attempt.

James Elroy Flecker, the eldest child of the Rev. Dr. Flecker, who is
Head Master of an English school, was born on the fifth of November,
1884, in London. He spent five years at Trinity College, Oxford, and
later studied Oriental languages at Caius College, Cambridge. He went
to Constantinople in 1910. In that same year signs of tuberculosis
appeared, but after some months at an English sanatorium, he seemed to
be absolutely well. In 1911 he was in Constantinople, Smyrna, and
finally in Athens, where he was married to Miss Skiadaressi, a Greek.
In March the dreaded illness returned, and the rest of his short life
was spent in the vain endeavour to recover his health. He died in
Switzerland, on the third of January, 1915, at the age of thirty. "I
cannot help remembering," says Mr. Squire, "that I first heard the
news over the telephone, and that the voice which spoke was Rupert
Brooke's."

He had published four books of verse and four books of prose, leaving
many poems, essays, short stories, and two plays, in manuscript. All
his best poetry is now included in the _Collected Poems_ (1916).

Flecker had the Tennysonian habit of continually revising; and in this
volume we are permitted to see some of the interesting results of the
process. I must say, however, that of the two versions of _Tenebris
Interlucentem_, although the second is called a "drastic
improvement," I prefer the earlier. Any poet might be proud of either.

Flecker liked the work of Mr. Yeats, of Mr. Housman, of Mr. De La
Mare; and Rupert Brooke was an intimate friend, for the two young men
were together at Cambridge. He wrote a sonnet on Francis Thompson,
though he was never affected by Thompson's literary manner. Indeed, he
is singularly free from the influence of any of the modern poets. His
ideas and his style are his own; he thought deeply on the art of
writing, and was given to eager and passionate discussion of it with
those who had his confidence. His originality is the more remarkable
when we remember his fondness for translating verse from a variety of
foreign languages, ancient and modern. He was an excellent translator.
His skill in this art can only be inferred where we know nothing at
first hand of the originals; but his version of Goethe's immortal
lyric is proof of his powers. The only blemish--an unavoidable one--is
"far" and "father" in the last two lines.

  Knowest thou the land where bloom the lemon trees?
  And darkly gleam the golden oranges?
  A gentle wind blows down from that blue sky;
  Calm stands the myrtle and the laurel high.
  Knowest thou the land? So far and fair!
  Thou, whom I love, and I will wander there.

  Knowest thou the house with all its rooms aglow,
  And shining hall and columned portico?
  The marble statues stand and look at me.
  Alas, poor child, what have they done to thee?
  Knowest thou the land? So far and fair.
  My Guardian, thou and I will wander there.

  Knowest thou the mountain with its bridge of cloud?
  The mule plods warily: the white mists crowd.
  Coiled in their caves the brood of dragons sleep;
  The torrent hurls the rock from steep to steep.
  Knowest thou the land? So far and fair.
  Father, away! Our road is over there!

Fletcher was more French than English in his dislike of romanticism,
sentimentalism, intimate, and confessional poetry; and of course he
was strenuously opposed to contemporary standards in so far as they
put correct psychology above beauty. Much contemporary verse reads and
sounds like undisciplined thinking out loud, where each poet feels it
imperative to tell the reader in detail not only all his adventures,
and passions, but even the most minute whimsies and caprices. When the
result of this bosom-cleansing is real poetry, it justifies itself;
but the method is the exact opposite of Flecker's. His master was
Keats, and in his own words, he wrote "with the single intention of
creating beauty." Austerity and objectivity were his ideals.

Strangely enough, he was able to state in a new and more convincing
way the doctrine of art for art's sake. "However few poets have
written with a clear theory of art for art's sake, it is by that
theory alone that their work has been, or can be, judged;--and rightly
so if we remember that art embraces all life and all humanity, and
sees in the temporary and fleeting doctrines of conservative or
revolutionary only the human grandeur or passion that inspires them."

Perhaps the best noun that describes Flecker's verse is
_brightness_. He had a consumptive's longing for sunshine, and
his sojourns on the Mediterranean shores illuminate his pages. The
following poem is decidedly characteristic:

  IN PHAEACIA

  Had I that haze of streaming blue,
    That sea below, the summer faced,
  I'd work and weave a dress for you
    And kneel to clasp it round your waist,
  And broider with those burning bright
    Threads of the Sun across the sea,
  And bind it with the silver light
    That wavers in the olive tree.

  Had I the gold that like a river
    Pours through our garden, eve by eve,
  Our garden that goes on for ever
    Out of the world, as we believe;
  Had I that glory on the vine,
    That splendour soft on tower and town,
  I'd forge a crown of that sunshine,
    And break before your feet the crown.

  Through the great pinewood I have been
    An hour before the lustre dies,
  Nor have such forest-colours seen
    As those that glimmer in your eyes.
  Ah, misty woodland, down whose deep
    And twilight paths I love to stroll
  To meadows quieter than sleep
    And pools more secret than the soul!

  Could I but steal that awful throne
    Ablaze with dreams and songs and stars
  Where sits Night, a man of stone,
    On the frozen mountain spars
  I'd cast him down, for he is old,
    And set my Lady there to rule,
  Gowned with silver, crowned with gold,
    And in her eyes the forest pool.

It seems to me improbable that Flecker will be forgotten; he was a
real poet. But a remark made of Tennyson is still more applicable to
Flecker. "He was an artist before he was a poet." Even as a small boy,
he had astonishing facility, but naturally wrote little worth
preserval. The _Collected Poems_ show an extraordinary command of
his instrument. He had the orthodox virtues of the orthodox poet--rime
and rhythm, cunning in words, skill in nature-painting, imagination.
The richness of his colouring and the loveliness of his melodies make
his verses a delight to the senses. His mind was plentifully stored
with classical authors, and he saw nature alive with old gods and
fairies. In one of his most charming poems, _Oak and Olive_, he
declares,

  When I go down the Gloucester lanes
    My friends are deaf and blind:
  Fast as they turn their foolish eyes
    The Maenads leap behind,
  And when I hear the fire-winged feet,
    They only hear the wind.

  Have I not chased the fluting Pan,
    Through Cranham's sober trees?
  Have I not sat on Painswick Hill
    With a nymph upon my knees,
  And she as rosy as the dawn,
    And naked as the breeze?

His poetry is composed of sensations rather than thoughts. What it
lacks is intellectual content. A richly packed memory is not the same
thing as original thinking, even when the memories are glorified by
the artist's own imagination. Yet the death of this young man was a
cruel loss to English literature, for his mental development would
eventually have kept pace with his gift of song. His cheerful Paganism
would, I think, have given place to something deeper and more
fruitful. Before he went to Constantinople, he had, as it is a fashion
for some modern Occidentals to have, a great admiration for
Mohammedanism. A friend reports a rather naïve remark of his, "this
intercourse with Mohammedans had led him to find more good in
Christianity than he had previously suspected." I have sometimes
wondered whether a prolonged residence among Mohammedans might not
temper the enthusiasm of those who so loudly insist on the superiority
of that faith to Christianity. Mr. Santayana speaks somewhere of "the
unconquerable mind of the East." Well, my guess is that this
unconquerable mind will some day be conquered by the Man of Nazareth,
just as I think He will eventually--some centuries ahead--conquer even
us.

Flecker died so soon after the opening of the Great War that it is
vain to surmise what the effect of that struggle would have been upon
his soul. That it would have shaken him to the depths--and perhaps
given him the spiritual experience necessary for his further
advance--seems not improbable. One of his letters on the subject
contains the significant remark, "What a race of deep-eyed and
thoughtful men we shall have in Europe--now that all those millions
have been baptized in fire!"

The last stanza of his poem _A Sacred Dialogue_ reads as follows:

  Then the black cannons of the Lord
    Shall wake crusading ghosts
  And the Milky Way shall swing like a sword
    When Jerusalem vomits its horde
  On the Christmas Day preferred of the Lord,
    The Christmas Day of the Hosts!

He appended a footnote in December, 1914, when he was dying:
"Originally written for Christmas, 1912, and referring to the first
Balkan War, this poem contains in the last speech of Christ words that
ring like a prophecy of events that may occur very soon." As I am
copying his Note, December, 1917, the English army is entering
Jerusalem.

Flecker was essentially noble-minded; and without any trace of
conceit, felt the responsibility of his talents. There is not an
unworthy page in the _Collected Poems_. In a memorable passage,
he stated the goal of poetry. "It is not the poet's business to save
man's soul, but to make it worth saving."

Walter De La Mare, a close personal friend of Rupert Brooke, came of
Huguenot, English and Scotch ancestry, and was born at Charlton, Kent,
on the twenty-fifth of April, 1873. He was educated at St. Paul's
Cathedral Choir School. Although known today exclusively as a poet, he
has written much miscellaneous prose--critical articles for
periodicals, short stories, and a few plays. His first poetry-book,
_Songs of Childhood_, appeared in 1902; in 1906, _Poems_; in
1910, _The Return_, which won the Edmond de Polignac prize;
_The Listeners_, which gave him a wide reputation, appeared in
1912; _Peacock Pie_, in 1917, and _Motley and Other Poems_
in 1918. When, in November, 1916, the Howland Memorial Prize at Yale
University was formally awarded to the work of Rupert Brooke, it was
officially received in New Haven by Walter De La Mare, who came from
England for the purpose.

If Flecker's poems were written in a glare of light, Mr. De La Mare's
shy Muse seems to live in shadow. It is not at all the shadow of
grief, still less of bitterness, but rather the cool, grateful shade
of retirement. I can find no words anywhere that so perfectly express
to my mind the atmosphere of these poems as the language used by
Hawthorne to explain the lack of excitement that readers would be sure
to notice in his tales. "They have the pale tint of flowers that
blossom in too retired a shade,--the coolness of a meditative habit,
which diffuses itself through the feeling and observation of every
sketch. Instead of passion there is sentiment; and, even in what
purport to be pictures of actual life, we have allegory, not always so
warmly dressed in its habiliments of flesh and blood as to be taken
into the reader's mind without a shiver. Whether from lack of power,
or an uncontrollable reserve, the author's touches have often an
effect of tameness.... The book, if you would see anything in it,
requires to be read in the clear, brown, twilight atmosphere in which
it was written; if opened in the sunshine, it is apt to look
exceedingly like a volume of blank pages."

Hawthorne is naturally not popular today with readers whose sole
acquaintance with the art of the short story is gleaned from magazines
that adorn the stalls at railway-stations; and to those whose taste in
poetry begins and ends with melodrama, who prefer the hoarse cry of
animal passion to the still, sad music of humanity, it would not be
advisable to recommend a poem like _The Listeners_, where the
people are ghosts and the sounds only echoes. Yet there are times when
it would seem that every one must weary of strident voices, of persons
shouting to attract attention, of poets who capitalize both their
moral and literary vices, of hawking advertisers of the latest
verse-novelties; then a poem like _The Listeners_ reminds us of
Lindsay's bird, whose simple melody is not defeated by the blatant
horns.

Decidedly a poet must have both courage and faith to hold himself so
steadily aloof from the competition of the market-place; to work with
such easy cheerfulness in his quiet corner; to remain so manifestly
unaffected by the swift currents of contemporary verse. For fifteen
years he has gone on producing his own favourite kind of poetry,
dealing with children, with flowers, with autumn and winter, with
ghosts of memory, with figures in literature, and has finally obtained
a respectable audience without once raising his voice. He has written
surprisingly little love poetry; the notes of passion, as we are
accustomed to hear them, seldom sound from his lute; nor do we hear
the agonizing cries of doubt, remorse, or despair. There is nothing
turbulent and nothing truculent; he has made no contribution to the
literature of revolt. Yet many of his poems make an irresistible
appeal to our more reflective moods; and once or twice, his fancy,
always winsome and wistful, rises to a height of pure imagination, as
in _The Listeners_--which I find myself returning to muse over
again and again.

His studies of humanity--both from observation and from books--are
descriptive rather than dramatic. I do not know a contemporary poet
whose published works contain so few quotation marks. The dramatic
monologue, which Emerson back in the 'forties prophesied would be the
highest class of poetry in the immediate future (which prophecy was
fulfilled), does not interest Mr. De La Mare; maybe he feels that it
has been done so well that he prefers to let it alone. His remarkable
thirteen poems dealing with Shakespearean characters--where he
attempts with considerable success to pluck out the heart of the
mystery--are all descriptive. Perhaps the most original and beautiful
of these is

  MERCUTIO

  Along an avenue of almond-trees
  Came three girls chattering of their sweethearts three.
  And lo! Mercutio, with Byronic ease,
  Out of his philosophic eye cast all
  A mere flow'r'd twig of thought, whereat ...
  Three hearts fell still as when an air dies out
  And Venus falters lonely o'er the sea.

  But when within the further mist of bloom
  His step and form were hid, the smooth child Ann
  Said, "La, and what eyes he had!" and Lucy said,
  "How sad a gentleman!" and Katharine,
  "I wonder, now, what mischief he was at."
  And these three also April hid away,
  Leaving the spring faint with Mercutio.

There are immense tracts of Shakespeare which Walter De La Mare never
could even have remotely imitated; but I know of no poet today who
could approach the wonderful Queen Mab speech more successfully than
he.

The same method of interpretative description that he employs in
dealing with Shakespearean characters he uses repeatedly in making
portraits from life. One of the most vivid and delightful of these is

  OLD SUSAN

  When Susan's work was done she'd sit,
  With one fat guttering candle lit,
  And window opened wide to win
  The sweet night air to enter in;
  There, with a thumb to keep her place
  She'd read, with stern and wrinkled face,
  Her mild eyes gliding very slow
  Across the letters to and fro,
  While wagged the guttering candle flame
  In the wind that through the window came.
  And sometimes in the silence she
  Would mumble a sentence audibly,
  Or shake her head as if to say,
  "You silly souls, to act this way!"
  And never a sound from night I'd hear,
  Unless some far-off cock crowed clear;
  Or her old shuffling thumb should turn
  Another page; and rapt and stern,
  Through her great glasses bent on me
  She'd glance into reality;
  And shake her round old silvery head,
  With--"You!--I thought you was in bed!"--
  Only to tilt her book again,
  And rooted in Romance remain.

I am afraid that Rupert Brooke could not have written a poem like
_Old Susan_; he would have made her ridiculous and contemptible;
he would have accentuated physical defects so that she would have been
a repugnant, even an offensive, figure. But Mr. De La Mare has the
power--possessed in the supreme degree by J. M. Barrie--of taking just
such a person as Old Susan, living in a world of romance, and making
us smile with no trace of contempt and with no descent to pity. One
who can do this loves his fellow-men.

Poems like _Old Susan_ prepare us for one of the most happy
exhibitions of Mr. De La Mare's talent--his verses written for and
about children. Every household ought to have that delightful quarto,
delightfully and abundantly illustrated, called _Peacock Pie: A Book
of Rhymes. With Illustrations by W. Heath Robinson_. There is a
picture for each poem, and the combination demands and will obtain an
unconditional surrender.

If the poetry of James Flecker and Walter De La Mare live after them,
it will not be because of sensational qualities, in matter or in
manner. Fancy is bred either in the heart or in the head--and the best
poetry should touch either one or the other or both. Mr. De La Mare
owes his present eminence simply to merit--his endeavour has been to
write just as well as he possibly could. His limit has been downward,
not upward. He may occasionally strike over the heads of his audience,
for his aim is never low.

The poetry of D. H. Lawrence (born 1885) erupts from the terrible
twenties. In spite of his school experience, he has never sent his
mind to school; he hates discipline. He has an undeniable literary
gift, which has met--as it ought to--with glad recognition. He has
strength, he has fervour, he has passion. But while his strength is
sometimes the happy and graceful play of rippling muscles, it is often
contortion. If Mr. De La Mare may seem too delicate, too restrained,
Mr. Lawrence cares comparatively little for delicacy; and the word
restraint is not in his bright lexicon. In other words, he is
aggressively "modern." He is one of the most skilful manipulators of
free verse--he can drive four horses abreast, and somehow or other
reach the goal.

He sees his own turbulent heart reflected stormily in every natural
spectacle. He observes flowers in an anti-Wordsworthian way. He
mentions with appreciation roses, lilies, snapdragons, but to him they
are all passion-flowers. And yet--if he only knew it--his finest work
is in a subdued mood. He is a master of colouring--and I like his
quieter work as a painter better than his feverish, hectic cries of
desire. Despite his dialect poems, he is more successful at
description than at drama. I imagine Miss Harriet Monroe may think so
too; it seems to me she has done well in selecting his verses, to give
three out of the five from his colour-pieces, of which perhaps the
best is

  SERVICE OF ALL THE DEAD

  Between the avenue of cypresses,
  All in their scarlet capes and surplices
  Of linen, go the chaunting choristers,
  The priests in gold and black, the villagers.

  And all along the path to the cemetery
  The round dark heads of men crowd silently;
  And black-scarfed faces of women-folk wistfully
  Watch at the banner of death, and the mystery.

  And at the foot of a grave a father stands
  With sunken head and forgotten, folded hands;
  And at the foot of a grave a mother kneels
  With pale shut face, nor neither hears nor feels.

  The coming of the chaunting choristers
  Between the avenue of cypresses,
  The silence of the many villagers,
  The candle-flames beside the surplices.

(Remember the English pronunciation of "cemetery" is not the common
American one.) He is surely better as a looker-on at life than when he
tries to present the surging passions of an actor-in-chief. Then his
art is full of sound and fury, and instead of being thrilled, we are,
as Stevenson said of Whitman's poorer poems, somewhat indecorously
amused. All poets, I suppose, are thrilled by their own work; they
read it to themselves with shudders of rapture; but it is only when
this _frisson_ is felt by others than blood-relatives that they
may feel some reasonable assurance of success. The London _Times_
quite properly refuses to surrender to lines like these:

  And if I never see her again?
  I think, if they told me so,
  I could convulse the heavens with my horror.
  I think I could alter the frame of things in my agony.
  I think I could break the System with my heart.
  I think, in my convulsion, the skies would break.

He should change his gear from high to low; he will never climb
Parnassus on this speed, not even with his muffler so manifestly open.

The _Times_ also quotes without appreciation from the same volume
the following passage, where the woman, looking back, stirs a biblical
reminiscence.

  I have seen it, felt it in my mouth, my throat, my chest, my
      belly,
  Burning of powerful salt, burning, eating through my defenceless
      nakedness,
  I have been thrust into white sharp crystals,
  Writhing, twisting, superpenetrated,
  Ah, Lot's wife, Lot's wife!
  The pillar of salt, the whirling, horrible column of salt, like
      a waterspout
  That has enveloped me!

Most readers may not need a whole pillar, but they will surely take
the above professions _cum grano salis_. It is all in King
Cambyses' vein; and I would that we had Pistol to deliver it. I cite
it here, not for the graceless task of showing Mr. Lawrence at his
worst, but because such stuff symptomatic of many of the very "new"
poets, who wander, as Turgenev expressed it, "aimless but declamatory,
over the face of our long-suffering mother earth."

John Drinkwater, born on the first of June, 1882, has had varied
experiences both in business and in literature, and is at present
connected with the management of the Birmingham Repertory theatre.
Actively engaged in commercial life, he has found time to publish a
number of volumes of poems, plays in verse, critical works in prose,
and a long string of magazine articles. He has wisely collected in one
volume--though I regret the omission of _Malvern Lyrics_--the
best of his poems that had previously appeared in four separate works,
containing the cream of his production from 1908 to 1914. His preface
to this little book, published in 1917, is excellent in its manly
modesty. "Apart from the Cromwell poem itself, the present selection
contains all that I am anxious to preserve from those volumes, and
there is nothing before 1908 which I should wish to be reprinted now
or at any time." One of the earlier books had been dedicated to John
Masefield, to whom in the present preface the author pays an
affectionate compliment--"John Masefield, who has given a poet's
praise to work that I hope he likes half as well as I like his."

The first poem, _Symbols_, prepares the reader for what is to
follow, though it is somewhat lacking in the technique that is
characteristic of most of Mr. Drinkwater's verse.

  I saw history in a poet's song,
    In a river-reach and a gallows-hill,
  In a bridal bed, and a secret wrong,
    In a crown of thorns: in a daffodil.

  I imagined measureless time in a day,
    And starry space in a wagon-road,
  And the treasure of all good harvests lay
    In the single seed that the sower sowed.

  My garden-wind had driven and havened again
    All ships that ever had gone to sea,
  And I saw the glory of all dead men
    In the shadow that went by the side of me.

The West of England looms large in contemporary poetry. A. E. Housman,
John Masefield, W. W. Gibson, J. E. Flecker have done their best to
celebrate its quiet beauty; and some of the finest work of Mr.
Drinkwater is lovingly devoted to these rural scenes. We know how
Professor Housman and John Masefield regard Bredon Hill--another
tribute to this "calm acclivity, salubrious spot" is paid in Mr.
Drinkwater's cheerful song, _At Grafton_. The spirit of his work
in general is the spirit of health--take life as it is, and enjoy it.
It is the open-air verse of broad, windswept English counties. Its
surest claim to distinction lies in its excellent, finished--he is a
sound craftsman. But he has not yet shown either sufficient
originality or sufficient inspiration to rise from the better class of
minor poets. His verse-drama, _The Storm_, which was produced in
Birmingham in 1915, shows strong resemblances to the one-act plays of
Mr. Gibson and is not otherwise impressive.

William Henry Davies, the Welsh poet, exhibits in his half-dozen
miniature volumes an extraordinary variety of subjects. Everything is
grist. He was born of Welsh parentage in Monmouthshire on the
twentieth of April, 1870. He became an American tramp, and practised
this interesting profession six years; he made eight or nine trips to
England on cattle-ships, working his passage; he walked about England
selling pins and needles. He remarks that "he sometimes varied this
life by singing hymns in the street." At the age of thirty-four he
became a poet, and he insists--not without reason--that he has been
one ever since. Readers may be at times reminded of the manner of John
Davidson, but after all, Mr. Davies is as independent in his poetry as
he used to be on the road.

Sometimes his verse is banal--as in the advice _To a Working
Man_. But oftener his imagination plays on familiar scenes in town
and country with a lambent flame, illuminating and glorifying common
objects. He has the heart of the child, and tries to see life from a
child's clear eyes.

  THE TWO FLOCKS

  Where are you going to now, white sheep,
    Walking the green hill-side;
  To join that whiter flock on top,
    And share their pride?

  Stay where you are, you silly sheep:
    When you arrive up there,
  You'll find that whiter flock on top
    Clouds in the air!

Yet much of his poetry springs from his wide knowledge and experience
of life. An original defence of the solitary existence is seen in
_Death's Game_, although possibly the grapes are sour.

  Death can but play one game with me--
    If I do live alone;
  He cannot strike me a foul blow
    Through a belovèd one.

  Today he takes my neighbour's wife,
    And leaves a little child
  To lie upon his breast and cry
    Like the Night-wind, so wild.

  And every hour its voice is heard--
    Tell me where is she gone!
  Death cannot play that game with me--
    If I do live alone.

The feather-weight pocket-volumes of verse that this poet puts forth,
each containing a crop of tiny poems--have an excellent virtue--they
are interesting, good companions for a day in the country. There is
always sufficient momentum in page 28 to carry you on to page
29--something that cannot be said of all books.

English literature suffered a loss in the death of Edward Thomas, who
was killed in France on the ninth of April, 1917. He was born on the
third of March, 1878, and had published a long list of literary
critiques, biographies, interpretations of nature, and introspective
essays. He took many solitary journeys afoot; his books _The South
Country_, _The Heart of England_, and others, show both
observation and reflection. Although English by birth and education,
he had in his veins Welsh and Spanish blood.

In 1917 a tiny volume of his poems appeared. These are unlike any
other verse of the past or present. They cannot be called great
poetry, but they are original, imaginative, whimsical, and reveal a
rich personality. Indeed we feel in reading these rimes that the
author was greater than anything he wrote or could write. The
difficulty in articulation comes apparently from a mind so full that
it cannot run freely off the end of a pen.

Shyness was undoubtedly characteristic of the man, as it often is of
minute observers of nature. I am not at all surprised to learn from
one who knew him of his "temperamental melancholy." He was austere and
aloof; but exactly the type of mind that would give all he had to
those who possessed his confidence. It must have been a privilege to
know him intimately. I have said that his poems resemble the work of
no other poet; this is true; but there is a certain kinship between
him and Robert Frost, indicated not only in the verses, but in the
fact that his book is dedicated to the American.

His death accentuates the range of the dragnet of war. This
intellectual, quiet, introspective, slightly ironical temperament
would seem almost ideally unfitted for the trenches. Yet, although no
soldier by instinct, and having a family dependent upon his writings
for support, he gave himself freely to the Great Cause. He never
speaks in his verses of his own sacrifice, and indeed says little
about the war; but the first poem in the volume expresses the
universal call.

  Rise up, rise up,
  And, as the trumpet blowing
  Chases the dreams of men,
  As the dawn glowing
  The stars that left unlit
  The land and water,
  Rise up and scatter
  The dew that covers
  The print of last night's lovers--
  Scatter it, scatter it!

  While you are listening
  To the clear horn,
  Forget, men, everything
  On this earth newborn,
  Except that it is lovelier
  Than any mysteries.
  Open your eyes to the air
  That has washed the eyes of the stars
  Through all the dewy night:
  Up with the light,
  To the old wars;
  Arise, arise!

In reading Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Alan
Seeger, we recognize how much greater were the
things they sacrificed than the creature comforts
ordinarily emphasized in the departure from home
to the trenches; these men gave up their imagination.

A thoroughly representative poem by Edward
Thomas is _Cock-Crow_; beauty of conception
mingled with the inevitable touch of homeliness
at the end.

  Out of the wood of thoughts that grows by night
  To be cut down by the sharp axe of light,--
  Out of the night, two cocks together crow,
  Cleaving the darkness with a silver blow:
  And bright before my eyes twin trumpeters stand,
  Heralds of splendour, one at either hand,
  Each facing each as in a coat of arms;
  The milkers lace their boots up at the farms.

This is his favourite combination, seen on every page of his
work,--fancy and fact.

Another poet in khaki who writes powerful and original verse is Robert
Nichols (born 1893), an Oxford man who has already produced two
volumes--_Invocation_, and, in 1918, _Ardours and
Endurances_. Accompanying the second is a portrait made in 1915,
exhibiting the face of a dreamy-looking boy. No one who reads the
pages of this book can doubt the author's gift. In his trench-poetry
he somehow manages to combine the realism of Barbusse with an almost
holy touch of imagination; and some of the most beautiful pieces are
manly laments for friends killed in battle. He was himself severely
wounded. His poems of strenuous action are mostly too long to quote;
occasionally he writes in a more quiet mood of contemplation.

  THE FULL HEART

  Alone on the shore in the pause of the nighttime
  I stand and I hear the long wind blow light;
  I view the constellations quietly, quietly burning;
  I hear the wave fall in the hush of the night.

  Long after I am dead, ended this bitter journey,
  Many another whose heart holds no light
  Shall your solemn sweetness hush, awe, and comfort,
  O my companions, Wind, Waters, Stars, and Night.

Other Oxford poets from the front are Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves
and Willoughby Weaving, whose two volumes _The Star Fields_ and
_The Bubble_ are as original in their way as the work of Mr.
Nichols, though inferior in beauty of expression. Mr. Weaving was
invalided home in 1915, and his first book has an introduction by
Robert Bridges. In _The Bubble_ (1917) there are many poems so
deeply meditative that their full force does not reach one until after
repeated readings. He has also a particular talent for the last line.

  TO ----

  (Winter 1916)

  Thou lover of fire, how cold is it in the grave?
  Would I could bring thee fuel and light thee a fire as of old!
  Alas! how I think of thee there, shivering out in the cold,
  Till my own bright fire lacketh the heat which it gave!

  Oh, would I could see thee again, as in days gone by,
  Sitting hands over the fire, or poking it to a bright blaze
  And clearing the cloggy ash from the bars in thy careful ways!
  Oh, art thou the more cold or here by the fire am I?

B. H. Blackwell, the Oxford publisher, seems to have made a good many
"finds"; besides producing some of the work of Mr. Nichols and Mr.
Weaving--both poets now have American publishers as well--the four
volumes _Oxford Verse_, running from 1910 to 1917, contain many
excellent things. And in addition to these, there are original
adventures in the art of poetry, sometimes merely bizarre, but
interesting as experiments, exhibited in the two volumes _Wheels
1916_, and _Wheels 1917_, and also in the books called
_Initiates: a Series of Poetry by Proved Hands_.



CHAPTER VI

THE IRISH POETS


  Irish poetry a part of English Literature--common-sense the
  basis of romanticism--misapprehension of the poetic
  temperament--William Butler Yeats--his education--his devotion
  to art--his theories--his love poetry--resemblance to
  Maeterlinck--the lyrical element paramount--the psaltery--pure
  rather than applied poetry--John M. Synge--his mentality--his
  versatility--a terrible personality--his capacity for
  hatred--his subjectivity--his interesting Preface--brooding on
  death--A. E.--The Master of the island--his sincerity and
  influence--disembodied spirits--his
  mysticism--homesickness--true optimism--James Stephens--poet
  and novelist--realism and fantasy--Padraic Colum--Francis
  Ledwidge--Susan Mitchell--Thomas MacDonagh--Joseph
  Campbell--Seumas O'Sullivan--Herbert Trench--Maurice Francis
  Egan--Norreys Jephson O'Conor--F. Carlin--The advance in
  Ireland.

In what I have to say of the work of the Irish poets, I am thinking of
it solely as a part of English literature. I have in mind no political
bias whatever, though I confess I have small admiration for
extremists. During the last forty years Irishmen have written mainly
in the English language, which assures to what is good in their
compositions an influence bounded only by the dimensions of the earth.
Great creative writers are such an immense and continuous blessing to
the world that the locality of their birth pales in comparison with
the glory of it, a glory in which we all profit. We need original
writers in America; but I had rather have a star of the first
magnitude appear in London than a star of lesser power appear in Los
Angeles. Every one who writes good English contributes something to
English literature and is a benefactor to English-speaking people. An
Irish or American literary aspirant will be rated not according to his
local flavour or fervour, but according to his ability to write the
English language. The language belongs to Ireland and to America as
much as it belongs to England; excellence in its command is the only
test by which Irish, American, Canadian, South African, Hawaiian and
Australian poets and novelists will be judged. The more difficult the
test, the stronger the appeal to national pride.

In a recent work, called _The Celtic Dawn_, I found this passage:
"The thesis of their contention is that modern English, the English of
contemporary literature, is essentially an impoverished language
incapable of directly expressing thought." I am greatly unimpressed by
such a statement. The chief reason why there is really a Celtic Dawn,
or a Celtic Renaissance, is because Irishmen like Synge, Yeats,
Russell and others have succeeded in writing English so well that they
have attracted the attention of the world.

Ireland has never contributed to English literature a poet of the
first class. By a poet of the first class I mean one of the same grade
with the leading half-dozen British poets of the nineteenth century.
This dearth of great Irish poets is the more noticeable when we think
of Ireland's contributions to English prose and to English drama.
Possibly, if one had prophecy rather than history to settle the
question, one might predict that Irishmen would naturally write more
and better poetry than Englishmen; for the common supposition is that
the poetic temperament is romantic, sentimental, volatile, reckless.
If this were true, then the lovable, careless, impulsive Irish would
completely outclass in original poetry the sensible, steady-headed,
cautious Englishman. What are the facts about the so-called poetic
temperament?

Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Gray, Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson,
Browning, Arnold, were in character, disposition, and temperament
precisely the opposite of what is superficially supposed to be
"poetic." Some of them were deeply erudite; all of them were deeply
thoughtful. They were clear-headed, sensible men--in fact, common
sense was the basis of their mental life. And no one can read the
letters of Byron without seeing how well supplied he was with the
shrewd common sense of the Englishman. He was more selfish than any
one of the men enumerated above--but he was no fool. There is nothing
inconsistent in his being at once the greatest romantic poet and the
greatest satirist of his age. His masterpiece, _Don Juan_, is the
expression of a nature at the farthest possible remove from
sentimentality. And the author of _Faust_ was remarkable among
all the children of men for his poise, balance, calm--in other words,
for common sense.

It is by no accident that the British--whom foreigners delight to call
stodgy and slow-witted,--have produced more high-class poetry than any
other nation in the history of the world. English literature is
instinctively romantic, as French literature is instinctively classic.
The glory of French literature is prose; the glory of English
literature is poetry.

As the tallest tree must have the deepest roots, so it would seem that
the loftiest edifices of verse must have the deepest foundations.
Certainly one of the many reasons why American poetry is so inferior
to British is because our roots do not go down sufficiently deep.
Great poetry does not spring from natures too volatile, too
susceptible, too easily swept by gusts of emotion. Landor was one of
the most violent men we have on record; he was a prey to
uncontrollable outbursts of rage, caused by trivial vexations; but his
poetry aimed at cold, classical correctness. In comparison with
Landor, Tennyson's reserve was almost glacial--yet out of it bloomed
many a gorgeous garden of romance. Splendid imaginative masterpieces
seem to require more often than not a creative mind marked by sober
reason, logical processes, orderly thinking.

John Morley, who found the management of Ireland more than a handful,
though he loved Ireland and the Irish with an affection greater than
that felt by any other Englishman of his time, has, in his
_Recollections_, placed on opposite pages--all the more striking
to me because unintentional--illuminating testimony to the difference
between the Irish and the British temperament. And this testimony
supports the point I am trying to make--that the "typical" logicless,
inconsequential Irish mind, so winsome and so exasperating, is not the
kind of brain to produce permanent poetry.

  A peasant was in the dock for a violent assault. The clerk
  read the indictment with all its legal jargon. The prisoner to
  the warder: "What's all that he says?" _Warder:_ "He says
  ye hit Pat Curry with yer spade on the side of his head."
  _Prisoner:_ "Bedad an' I did." _Warder:_ "Then plade
  not guilty." This dialogue, loud and in the full hearing of
  the court.

  Read Wordsworth's two poems on Burns; kind, merciful,
  steady, glowing, manly they are, with some strong phrases,
  good lines, and human feeling all through, winding up in two
  stanzas at the close. These are among the pieces that make
  Wordsworth a poet to live with; he repairs the daily wear
  and tear, puts back what the fret of the day has rubbed thin
  or rubbed off, sends us forth in the morning _whole_.

Robert Browning, whose normality in appearance and conversation
pleased sensible folk and shocked idolaters, summed up in two stanzas
the difference between the popular conception of a poet and the real
truth. One might almost take the first stanza as representing the
Irish and the second the English temperament.

  "Touch him ne'er so lightly, into song he broke:
  Soil so quick-receptive,--not one feather-seed,
  Not one flower-dust fell but straight its fall awoke
  Vitalising virtue: song would song succeed
  Sudden as spontaneous--prove a poet-soul!"

                                                Indeed?
  Rock's the song-soil rather, surface hard and bare:
  Sun and dew their mildness, storm and frost their rage
  Vainly both expend,--few flowers awaken there:
  Quiet in its cleft broods--what the after age
  Knows and names a pine, a nation's heritage.

People who never grow up may have a certain kind of fascination, but
they will not write great poetry. It is exactly the other way with
creative artists; they grow up faster than the average. The maturity
of Keats is astonishing.... Mr. Yeats's wonderful lamentation,
_September 1913_, that sounds like the wailing of the wind,
actually gives us a reason why Irishmen are getting the attention of
the world in poetry, as well as in fiction and drama.

  What need you, being come to sense,
  But fumble in a greasy till
  And add the halfpence to the pence
  And prayer to shivering prayer, until
  You have dried the marrow from the bone;
  For men were born to pray and save,
  Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
  It's with O'Leary in the grave.

  Yet they were of a different kind.
  The names that stilled your childish play
  They have gone about the world like wind,
  But little time had they to pray
  For whom the hangman's rope was spun,
  And what, God help us, could they save;
  Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
  It's with O'Leary in the grave.

  Was it for this the wild geese spread
  The grey wing upon every tide;
  For this that all that blood was shed,
  For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
  And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
  All that delirium of the brave;
  Romantic Ireland's dead and gone,
  It's with O'Leary in the grave.

  Yet could we turn the years again,
  And call those exiles as they were,
  In all their loneliness and pain
  You'd cry "some woman's yellow hair
  Has maddened every mother's son:"
  They weighed so lightly what they gave,
  But let them be, they're dead and gone,
  They're with O'Leary in the grave.

William Butler Yeats has done more for English poetry than any other
Irishman, for he is the greatest poet in the English language that
Ireland has ever produced. He is a notable figure in contemporary
literature, having made additions to verse, prose and stage-plays. He
has by no means obliterated Clarence Mangan, but he has surpassed him.

Mr. Yeats was born at Dublin, on the thirteenth of June, 1865. His
father was an honour man at Trinity College, taking the highest
distinction in Political Economy. After practising law, he became a
painter, which profession he still adorns. The future poet studied art
for three years, but when twenty-one years old definitely devoted
himself to literature. In addition to his original work, one of his
foremost services to humanity was his advice to that strange genius,
John Synge--for it was partly owing to the influence of his friend
that Synge became a creative writer, and he had, alas! little time to
lose.

Mr. Yeats published his first poem in 1886. Since that date, despite
his preoccupation with the management of the Abbey Theatre, he has
produced a long list of works in verse and prose, decidedly unequal in
merit, but shining with the light of a luminous mind.

From the first, Mr. Yeats has seemed to realize that he could serve
Ireland best by making beautiful and enduring works of art, rather
than by any form of political agitation. This is well; for despite the
fact that a total ineptitude for statesmanship seldom prevents the
enthusiast from issuing and spreading dogmatic propaganda, a merely
elementary conception of the principle of division of labour should
make us all rejoice when the artist confines himself to art. True
artists are scarce and precious; and although practical men of
business often regard them as superfluous luxuries, the truth is that
we cannot live without them. As poet and dramatist, Mr. Yeats has done
more for his country than he could have accomplished in any other way.

Never was there more exclusively an artist. He writes pure, not
applied poetry. I care little for his theories of symbolism, magic and
what not. Poets are judged not by their theories, not by the "schools"
to which they give passionate adherence, but simply and solely by the
quality of their work. No amount of theory, no correctness of method,
no setting up of new or defence of old standards, no elevated ideals
can make a poet if he have not the divine gift. Theories have hardly
more effect on the actual value of his poetry than the colour of the
ink in which he writes. The reason why it is interesting to read what
Mr. Yeats says about his love of magic and of symbols is not because
there is any truth or falsehood in these will-o'-the-wisps, but
because he is such an artist that even when he writes in prose, his
style is so beautiful, so harmonious that one is forced to listen.
Literary art has enormous power in propelling a projectile of thought.
I do not doubt that the chief reason for the immense effect of such a
philosophy as that of Schopenhauer or that of Nietzsche is because
each man was a literary artist--indeed I think both were greater
writers than thinkers. A good thing this is for their fame, for art
lasts longer than thought. The fashion of a man's thought may pass
away; his knowledge and his ideas may lose their stamp, either because
they prove to be false or because they become universally current.
Everybody believes Copernicus, but nobody reads him. Yet when a book,
no matter how obsolete in thought, is marked by great beauty of style,
it lives forever. Consider the case of Sir Thomas Browne. Art is the
great preservative.

Mr. Yeats has a genius for names and titles. His names, like those of
Rossetti's, are sweet symphonies. _The Wind Among the Reeds_,
_The Shadowy Waters_, _The Secret Rose_, _The Land of
Heart's Desire_, _The Island of Statues_ are poems in
themselves, and give separate pleasure like an overture without the
opera. Perhaps it is not too fanciful to observe that _The Wind
Among the Reeds_ suggests better than any other arrangement of
words the lovely minor melodies of our poet, while _The Shadowy
Waters_ gives exactly the picture that comes into one's mind in
thinking of his poems. There is an extraordinary fluidity in his
verse, like running water under the shade of overhanging branches. One
feels that Mr. Yeats loves these titles, and chooses them with
affectionate solicitude, like a father naming beautiful children.

The love poetry of Mr. Yeats, like the love poetry of Poe, is swept
with passion, but the passion is mingled with unutterable reverence.
It is unlike much modern love poetry in its spiritual exaltation. Just
as manners have become more free, and intimacies that once took months
to develop, now need only minutes, so much contemporary verse-tribute
to women is so detailed, so bold, so cock-sure, that the elaborate
compliments only half-conceal a sneer. In all such work love is born
of desire--its sole foundation--and hence is equally short-lived and
fleeting. In the poems of Mr. Yeats, desire seems to follow rather
than to precede love. Love thus takes on, as it ought to, something of
the beauty of holiness.

  Fasten your hair with a golden pin,
  And bind up every wandering tress;
  I bade my heart build these poor rhymes:
  It worked at them, day out, day in,
  Building a sorrowful loveliness
  Out of the battles of old times.

  You need but lift a pearl-pale hand,
  And bind up your long hair and sigh;
  And all men's hearts must burn and beat;
  And candle-like foam on the dim sand,
  And stars climbing the dew-dropping sky,
  Live but to light your passing feet.

A still more characteristic love-poem is the one which gleams with the
symbols of the cloths of heaven.

  Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
  Enwrought with golden and silver light,
  The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
  Of night and light and the halflight,
  I would spread the cloths under your feet;
  But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
  I have spread my dreams under your feet;
  Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

In mysticism, in symbolism, and in the quality of his imagination, Mr.
Yeats of course reminds us of Maeterlinck. He has the same twilit
atmosphere, peopled with elusive dream-footed figures, that make no
more noise than the wings of an owl. He is of imagination all compact.
He is neither a teacher nor a prophet; he seems to turn away from the
real sorrows of life, yes, even from its real joys, to dwell in a
world of his own creation. He invites us thither, if we care to go;
and if we go not, we cannot understand either his art or his ideas.
But if we wander with him in the shadowy darkness, like the lonely man
in Titanic alleys accompanied only by Psyche, we shall see strange
visions. We may be led to the door of a legended tomb; we may be led
along the border of dim waters; but we shall live for a time in the
realm of Beauty, and be the better for the experience, even though it
resemble nothing in the town and country that we know.

Mr. Yeats, like Browning, writes both lyrical poems and dramas; but he
is at the opposite remove from Browning in everything except the gift
of song. Browning was so devoted to the dramatic aspect of art, that
he carried the drama even into its seemingly contradictory form, the
lyric. Every lyric is a little one-act play, and he called them
dramatic lyrics. Mr. Yeats, on the other hand, is so essentially a
lyric poet, that instead of writing dramatic lyrics, he writes lyric
dramas. Even his stage-plays are primarily lyrical.

Those who are interested in Mr. Yeats's theory of speaking, reciting,
or chanting poetry to the psaltery should read his book, _Ideas of
Good and Evil_, which contains some of his most significant
articles of faith, written in shining prose. Mr. Yeats cannot write on
any subject without illuminating it by the light of his own
imagination; and I find his essays in criticism full of original
thought--the result of years of brooding reflection. In these short
pieces his genius is as clear as it is in his poems.

He is, in fact, a master of English. His latest work, with its musical
title, _Per Amica Silentia Lunae_(1918), has both in spirit and
form something of the ecstasy and quaint beauty of Sir Thomas Browne.
I had supposed that such a style as that displayed in
_Urn-Burial_ was a lost art; but Mr. Yeats comes near to
possessing its secret. This book is like a deep pool in its limpidity
and mystery; no man without genius could have written it. I mean to
read it many times, for there are pages that I am not sure that I
understand. One looks into its depths of suggestion as one looks into
a clear but very deep lake; one can see far down, but not to the
bottom of it, which remains mysterious. He invites his own soul, but
there is no loafing. Indeed his mind seems preternaturally active, as
in a combination of dream and cerebration.

  We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of
  the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. Unlike the rhetoricians,
  who get a confident voice from remembering the crowd they
  have won or may win, we sing amid our uncertainty; and,
  smitten even in the presence of the most high beauty by the
  knowledge of our solitude, our rhythm shudders. I think,
  too, that no fine poet, no matter how disordered his life, has
  ever, even in his mere life, had pleasure for his end.... The
  other self, the anti-self or antithetical self, as one may
  choose to name it, comes but to those who are no longer
  deceived, whose passion is reality. The sentimentalists are
  practical men who believe in money, in position, in a marriage
  bell, and whose understanding of happiness is to be so busy
  whether at work or at play, that all is forgotten but the
  momentary aim. They will find their pleasure in a cup that is
  filled from Lethe's wharf, and for the awakening, for the
  vision, for the revelation of reality, tradition offers us a
  different word--ecstasy.... We must not make a false faith by
  hiding from our thoughts the causes of doubt, for faith is the
  highest achievement of the human intellect, the only gift man
  can make to God, and therefore it must be offered in
  sincerity. Neither must we create, by hiding ugliness, a false
  beauty as our offering to the world. He only can create the
  greatest imaginable beauty who has endured all imaginable
  pangs, for only when we have seen and foreseen what we dread
  shall we be rewarded by that dazzling unforeseen wing-footed
  wanderer.

I admire his devotion to the art of poetry. He will not turn Pegasus
into a dray-horse, and make him haul cart-loads of political or moral
propaganda. In his fine apologia, _The Cutting of an Agate_, he
states and restates his creed: "Literature decays when it no longer
makes more beautiful, or more vivid, the language which unites it to
all life, and when one finds the criticism of the student, and the
purpose of the reformer, and the logic of the man of science, where
there should have been the reveries of the common heart, ennobled into
some raving Lear or unabashed Don Quixote.... I have been reading
through a bundle of German plays, and have found everywhere a desire
not to express hopes and alarms common to every man that ever came
into the world, but politics or social passion, a veiled or open
propaganda.... If Homer were alive today, he would only resist, after
a deliberate struggle, the temptation to find his subject not in
Helen's beauty, that every man has desired, nor in the wisdom and
endurance of Odysseus that has been the desire of every woman that has
come into the world, but in what somebody would describe, perhaps, as
'the inevitable contest,' arising out of economic causes, between the
country-places and small towns on the one hand, and, upon the other,
the great city of Troy, representing one knows not what 'tendency to
centralization.'"

In other words, if I understand him correctly, Mr. Yeats believes that
in writing pure rather than applied poetry, he is not turning his back
on great issues to do filigree work, but is merely turning aside from
questions of temporary import to that which is fixed and eternal, life
itself.

John Millington Synge was born near Dublin on the sixteenth of April,
1871, and died in Dublin on the twenty-fourth of March, 1909. It is a
curious thing that the three great Irishmen of the Celtic
renaissance--the only men who were truly inspired by
genius--originally studied another form of art than literature. Mr.
Yeats studied painting for years; A. E. is a painter of distinction;
Synge an accomplished musician before he became a of letters. There is
not the slightest doubt the effect of these sister arts upon the
literary work of the Great Three is pervasive and powerful. The books
of Mr. Yeats and Mr. Russell are full of word-pictures; and the rhythm
of Synge's strange prose, which Mr. Ernest Boyd ingeniously compares
with Dr. Hyde's translations, is full of harmonies.

Dr. Hyde has not only witnessed a new and wonderful literary revival
in his country, but he has the satisfaction of knowing that he is
vitally connected with its birth and bloom.

Synge had the greatest mental endowment of all the Irish writers of
his time. He had an amazingly powerful mind. At Trinity College he
took prizes in Hebrew and in Irish, and at the same time gained a
scholarship in harmony and counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of
Music. As a boy, "he knew the note and plumage of every bird, and when
and where they were to be found." As a man, he could easily have
mastered the note of every human being, as in addition to his
knowledge of ancient languages, he seems to have become proficient in
German, French, and Italian with singular speed and ease. He was an
excellent performer on the piano, flute, and violin, did conjuring
tricks, and delighted the natives of the Aran Islands with his penny
whistle. He must have had a positive genius for concentration,
obtaining a command over anything to which he cared to devote his
attention. Mr. Yeats found him in that ramshackle old Hotel Corneille
in the Latin Quarter, busily writing literary criticism in French and
English, and told him as an inspired messenger to go to the primitive
folk in Ireland and become a creative artist. He went; and in a few
years reached the summit of dramatic achievement.

Synge was a terrible person, as terrible in his way as Swift. When
Carlyle saw Daniel Webster, he said, "I should hate to be that man's
nigger." I do not envy any of the men or women who, for whatever
reason, incurred the wrath of Synge. He was never noisy or explosive,
like a dog whose barks are discounted, to whom one soon ceases to pay
any attention; we all know the futile and petty irascibility of the
shallow-minded. Synge was like a mastiff who bites without warning.
Irony was the common chord in his composition. He studied life and
hated death; hated the gossip of the world, which seemed to him the
gabble of fools. Physically he was a sick man, and felt his tether. He
thought it frightful that he should have to die, while so many idiots
lived long. He never forgave men and women for their folly, and the
only reason why he did not forgive God was because he was not sure of
His existence. The lady addressed in the following "poem" must have
read it with queasy emotion, and have unwillingly learned it by heart.
A photograph of her face immediately after its perusal would look like
futurist art; but who knows the expression on the face of the poet
while preparing this poison?

  THE CURSE

  _To a sister of an enemy of the author's who disapproved of
  "The Playboy."_

  Lord, confound this surly sister,
  Blight her brow with blotch and blister,
  Cramp her larynx, lung, and liver,
  In her guts a galling give her.

  Let her live to earn her dinners
  In Mountjoy with seedy sinners:
  Lord, this judgment quickly bring,
  And I'm your servant, John M. Synge.

(Mountjoy is a prison.)

Irish exaggeration is as often seen in plenary curses as in plenary
blessings; both have the quality of humour. The curses are partly
compounded of robust delight, like the joy of London cabmen in
repartee; and the blessings are doubtless commingled with irony. But
Synge had a savage heart. He was essentially a wild man, and a friend
of mine had a vision of him that seems not without significance. He
was walking in a desolate part of Ireland in a bleak storm of rain;
when suddenly over the hills came the solitary figure of Synge,
dressed in black, with a broad hat pulled over his brows.

As a stranger and sojourner he walked this earth. In the midst of
Dublin he never mentioned politics, read no newspapers, and little
contemporary literature, not even the books of his few intimate
friends. Every one who knew him had such immense respect for the
quality of his intellect that it is almost laughable to think how
eagerly they must have awaited criticism of the books they gave
him--criticism that never came. Yet he never seems to have given the
impression of surliness; he was not surly, he was silent. He must have
been the despair of diagnosticians; even in his last illness, it was
impossible for the doctors and nurses to discover how he felt, for he
would not tell. I think his burning mind consumed his bodily frame.

Synge wrote few poems, and they came at intervals during a period of
sixteen or seventeen years. Objectively, they are unimportant; his
contributions to English literature are his dramas and his prose
sketches. But as revelations of his personality they have a deep and
melancholy interest; and every word of his short Preface, written in
December, 1908, a few months before his death, is valuable. He knew he
was a dying man, and not only wished to collect these fugitive bits of
verse, but wished to leave behind him his theory of poetry. With
characteristic bluntness, he says that the poems which follow the
Preface were mostly written "before the views just stated, with which
they have little to do, had come into my head."

No discussion of modern verse should omit consideration of this
remarkable Preface--for while it has had no effect on either Mr. Yeats
or Mr. Russell--it has influenced other Irish poets, and many that are
not Irish. Indeed much aggressively "modern" work is trying, more or
less successfully, to fit this theory. In the advance, Synge was more
prophet than poet.

  Many of the older poets, such as Villon and Herrick and
  Burns, used the whole of their personal life as their
  material, and the verse written in this way was read by strong
  men, and thieves, and deacons, not by little cliques only.
  Then, in the town writing of the eighteenth century, ordinary
  life was put into verse that was not poetry, and when poetry
  came back with Coleridge and Shelley, it went into verse that
  was not always human. [This last clause shows the difference
  between Synge and his friends, Yeats and Russell.]

  In these days poetry is usually a flower of evil or good; but
  it is the timbre of poetry that wears most surely, and there
  is no timbre that has not strong roots among the clay and
  worms.

  Even if we grant that exalted poetry can be kept successful
  by itself, the strong things in life are needed in poetry
  also, to show that what is exalted or tender is not made by
  feeble blood. It may almost be said that before verse can be
  human again it must learn to be brutal.

Like Herrick, he wrote verse about himself, for he knew that much
biography and criticism would follow his funeral.

  ON AN ANNIVERSARY

  _After reading the dates in a book of Lyrics._

  With Fifteen-ninety or Sixteen-sixteen
  We end Cervantes, Marot, Nashe or Green:
  Then Sixteen-thirteen till two score and nine,
  Is Crashaw's niche, that honey-lipped divine.
  And so when all my little work is done
  They'll say I came in Eighteen-seventy-one,
  And died in Dublin.... What year will they write
  For my poor passage to the stall of night?

  A QUESTION

  I asked if I got sick and died, would you
  With my black funeral go walking too,
  If you'd stand close to hear them talk or pray
  While I'm let down in that steep bank of clay.

  And, No, you said, for if you saw a crew
  Of living idiots pressing round that new
  Oak coffin--they alive, I dead beneath
  That board--you'd rave and rend them with your teeth.

The love of brutal strength in Synge's work may have been partly the
projection of his sickness, just as the invalid Stevenson delighted in
the creation of powerful ruffians; but the brooding on his own death
is quite modern, and is, I think, part of the egoism that is so
distinguishing a feature in contemporary poetry. So many have
abandoned all hope of a life beyond the grave, that they cling to
bodily existence with almost gluttonous passion, and are filled with
self-pity at the thought of their own death and burial. To my mind,
there is something unworthy, something childish, in all this. When a
child has been rebuked or punished by its father or mother, it plays a
trump card--"You'll be sorry when I am dead!" It is better for men and
women to attack the daily task with what cheerful energy they can
command, and let the interruption of death come when it must. If life
is short, it seems unwise to spend so much of our time in rehearsals
of a tragedy that can have only one performance.

In the modern Tempest of Ireland, Yeats is Ariel and A. E. is
Prospero. He is the Master of the island. As a literary artist, he is
not the equal of either of the two men whose work we have considered;
but he is by all odds the greatest Personality. He holds over his
contemporaries a spiritual sway that many a monarch might envy.
Perhaps the final tribute to him is seen in the fact that even George
Moore treats him with respect.

One reason for this predominance is the man's sincerity. All those who
know him regard him with reverence; and to us who know him only
through his books and his friends, his sincerity is equally clear and
compelling. He has done more than any other man to make Dublin a
centre of intellectual life. At one time his house was kept open every
Sunday evening, and any friend, stranger, or foreigner had the right
to walk in without knocking, and take a part in the conversation. A.
E. used to subscribe to every literary journal, no matter how obscure,
that was printed in Ireland; every week he would scan the pages,
hoping to discover a man of promise. It was in this way he "found"
James Stephens, and not only found him, but founded him. Many a
struggling painter or poet has reason to bless the gracious assistance
of George W. Russell.

It is a singular thing that the three great men of modern Ireland seem
more like disembodied spirits than carnal persons. Synge always seems
to those who read his books like some ghost, waking the echoes with
ironical laughter; I cannot imagine A. E. putting on coat and
trousers; and although I once had the honour--which I gratefully
remember--of a long talk with W. B. Yeats, I never felt that I was
listening to a man of flesh and blood. It is fitting that these men
had their earthly dwelling in a sea-girt isle, where every foot of
ground has its own superstition, and where the constant mists are
peopled with unearthly figures.

I do not really know what mysticism is; but I know that Mr. Yeats and
Mr. Russell are both mystics and of a quite different stamp. Mr. Yeats
is not insincere, but his mysticism is a part of his art rather than a
part of his mind. He is artistically, rather than intellectually,
sincere. The mysticism of Mr. Russell is fully as intellectual as it
is emotional; it is more than his creed; it is his life. His poetry
and his prose are not shadowed by his mysticism, they emanate from it.
He does not have to live in another world when he writes verse, and
then come back to earth when the dinner or the door bell rings; he
lives in the other world all the time. Or rather, the earth and common
objects are themselves part of the Universal Spirit, reflecting its
constant activities.

  DUST

  I heard them in their sadness say
    "The earth rebukes the thought of God;
  We are but embers wrapped in clay,
    A little nobler than the sod."

  But I have touched the lips of clay,
    Mother, thy rudest sod to me
  Is thrilled with fire of hidden day,
    And haunted by all mystery.

The above poem, taken from the author's first volume, _Homeward:
Songs by the Way_, does not reflect that homesickness of which A.
E. speaks in his Preface. Homesickness is longing, yearning; and there
is little of any such quality in the work of A. E. Or, if he is really
homesick, he is homesick not like one who has just left home, but more
like one who is certain of his speedy return thither. This
homesickness has more anticipation than regret; it is like healthy
hunger when one is assured of the next meal. For assurance is the
prime thing in A. E.'s temperament and in his work; it partly accounts
for his strong influence. Many writers today are like sheep having no
shepherd; A. E. is a shepherd. To turn from the wailing so
characteristic of the poets, to the books of this high-hearted,
resolute, candid, cheerful man, is like coming into harbour after a
mad voyage. He moves among his contemporaries like a calm, able
surgeon in a hospital. I suspect he has been the recipient of many
strange confessions. His poetry has healing in its wings.

Has any human voice ever expressed more wisely or more tenderly the
reason why Our Lord was a man of sorrows? Why He spake to humanity in
the language of pain, rather than in the language of delight? Was it
not simply because, in talking to us, He who could speak all
languages, used our own, rather than that of His home country?

  A LEADER

  Though your eyes with tears were blind,
    Pain upon the path you trod:
  Well we knew, the hosts behind,
    Voice and shining of a god.

  For your darkness was our day,
    Signal fires, your pains untold,
  Lit us on our wandering way
    To the mystic heart of gold.

  Naught we knew of the high land,
    Beauty burning in its spheres;
  Sorrow we could understand
    And the mystery told in tears.

Something of the secret of his quiet strength is seen in the following
two stanzas, which close his poem _Apocalyptic_ (1916):

  It shall be better to be bold
    Than clothed in purple in that hour;
  The will of steel be more than gold;
    For only what we are is power.
  Who through the starry gate would win
  Must be like those who walk therein.

  You, who have made of earth your star,
    Cry out, indeed, for hopes made vain:
  For only those can laugh who are
    The strong Initiates of Pain,
  Who know that mighty god to be
  Sculptor of immortality.

It is a wonderful thing--a man living in a house in Dublin, living a
life of intense, ceaseless, and extraordinarily diversified activity,
travelling on life's common way in cheerful godliness, and shedding
abroad to the remotest corners of the earth a masculine serenity of
soul.

James Stephens was not widely known until the year 1912, when he
published a novel called _The Crock of Gold;_ this excited many
readers in Great Britain and in America, an excitement considerably
heightened by the appearance of another work of prose fiction, _The
Demi-Gods,_ in 1914; and general curiosity about the author became
rampant. It was speedily discovered that he was a poet as well as a
novelist; that three years before his reputation he had issued a slim
book of verse, boldly named _Insurrections,_ the title being the
boldest thing in it. By 1915 this neglected work had passed through
four editions, and during the last six years he has presented to an
admiring public five more volumes of poems, _The Hill of Vision,_
1912; _Songs from the Clay,_ 1915; _The Adventures of Seumas
Beg,_ 1915; _Green Branches,_ 1916, and _Reincarnations,_
1918.

A. E. believed in him from the start; and it was owing to the
influence of A. E. that _Insurrections_ took the form of a book,
gratefully dedicated to its own begetter. Both patron and protégé must
have been surprised by its lack of impact, and still more surprised by
the immense success of _The Crock of Gold._ The poems are mainly
realistic, pictures of slimy city streets with slimy creatures
crawling on the pavements. It is an interesting fact that they
appeared the same year of Synge's _Poems_ with Synge's famous
Preface counselling brutality, counselling anything to bring poetry
away from the iridescent dreams of W. B. Yeats down to the stark
realities of life and nature. They bear testimony to the catholic
breadth of A. E.'s sympathetic appreciation, for they are as different
as may be imagined from the spirit of mysticism. It must also be
confessed that their absolute merit as poetry is not particularly
remarkable; all the more credit to the discernment of A. E., who
described behind them an original and powerful personality.

The influence of Synge is strong in the second book of verses, called
_The Hill of Vision_, particularly noticeable in such a poem as
_The Brute_. Curiously enough, _Songs from the Clay_ is more
exalted in tone than _The Hill of Vision_. The air is clearer and
purer. But the author of _The Crock of Gold_ and _The
Demi-Gods_ appears again in _The Adventures of Seumas Beg_. In
these charming poems we have that triple combination of realism,
humour, and fantasy that gave so original a flavour to the novels.
They make a valuable addition to child-poetry; for men, women, angels,
fairies, God and the Devil are treated with easy familiarity, in
practical, definite, conversational language. These are the best
fruits of his imagination in rime.

  THE DEVIL'S BAG

  I saw the Devil walking down the lane
  Behind our house.--There was a heavy bag
  Strapped tightly on his shoulders, and the rain
  Sizzled when it hit him. He picked a rag
  Up from the ground and put it in his sack,
  And grinned and rubbed his hands. There was a thing
  Moving inside the bag upon his back--
  It must have been a soul! I saw it fling
  And twist about inside, and not a hole
  Or cranny for escape. Oh, it was sad.
  I cried, and shouted out, "_Let out that soul!_"
  But he turned round, and, sure, his face went mad,
  And twisted up and down, and he said "_Hell!_"
  And ran away.... Oh, mammy! I'm not well.

In 1916 Mr. Stephens published a threnody, _Green Branches_,
which illustrates still another side of his literary powers. There is
organ-like music in these noble lines. The sting of bitterness is
drawn from death, and sorrow changes into a solemn rapture.

In commenting on Synge's poem, _The Curse_, I spoke of the
delight the Irish have in hyperbolic curses; an excellent illustration
of this may be found in Mr. Stephens' latest volume,
_Reincarnations_. There is no doubt that the poet as well as his
imaginary imprecator found real pleasure in the production of the
following ejaculations:

  RIGHTEOUS ANGER

  The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
  Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer;
  May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair,
  And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.

  That parboiled imp, with the hardest jaw you will see
  On virtue's path, and a voice that would rasp the dead,
  Came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me,
  And threw me out of the house on the back of my head!

  If I asked her master he'd give me a cask a day;
  But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
  May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may
  The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.

Padraic Colum has followed the suggestion of Synge, and made deep
excavations for the foundations of his poetry. It grows up out of the
soil like a hardy plant; and while it cannot be called major work, it
has a wholesome, healthy earthiness. It is realistic in a different
way from the town eclogues of James Stephens; it is not merely in the
country, it is agricultural. His most important book is _Wild
Earth_, published in Dublin in 1901, republished with additions in
New York in 1916. The smell of the earth is pungent in such poems as
_The Plougher_ and _The Drover_; while his masterpiece,
_An Old Woman of the Roads_, voices the primeval and universal
longing for the safe shelter of a home. I wonder what those who
believe in the abolition of private property are going to do with this
natural, human passion? Private property is not the result of an
artificial social code--it is the result of an instinct. The first
three stanzas of this poem indicate its quality, expressing the all
but inexpressible love of women for each stick of furniture and every
household article.

  O, to have a little house!
  To own the hearth and stool and all!
  The heaped up sods upon the fire,
  The pile of turf against the wall!

  To have a clock with weights and chains
  And pendulum swinging up and down!
  A dresser filled with shining delft,
  Speckled and white and blue and brown!

  I could be busy all the day
  Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
  And fixing on their shelf again
  My white and blue and speckled store!

Lord Dunsany brought to public attention a new poet, Francis Ledwidge,
whose one volume, _Songs of the Fields_, is full of promise. In
October, 1914, he enlisted in Kitchener's first army, and was killed
on the thirty-first of August, 1917. Ledwidge's poetry is more
conventional than that of most of his Irish contemporaries, and he is
at his best in describing natural objects. Such poems as _A Rainy
Day in April_, and _A Twilight in Middle March_ are most
characteristic. But occasionally he arrests the ear with a deeper
note. The first four lines of the following passage, taken from _An
Old Pain_, might fittingly apply to a personality like that of
Synge:

  I hold the mind is the imprisoned soul,
  And all our aspirations are its own
  Struggles and strivings for a golden goal,
  That wear us out like snow men at the thaw.
  And we shall make our Heaven where we have sown
  Our purple longings. Oh! can the loved dead draw
  Anear us when we moan, or watching wait
  Our coming in the woods where first we met,
  The dead leaves falling in their wild hair wet,
  Their hands upon the fastenings of the gate?

A direct result of the spiritual influence of A. E. is seen in the
poetry of Susan Mitchell. She is not an imitator of his manner, but
she reflects the mystical faith. Her little volume, _The Living
Chalice,_ is full of the beauty that rises from suffering. It is
not the spirit of acquiescence or of resignation, but rather dauntless
triumphant affirmation. Her poems of the Christ-child have something
of the exaltation of Christina Rossetti; for to her mind the road to
victory lies through the gate of Humility. Here is a typical
illustration:

  THE HEART'S LOW DOOR

  O Earth, I will have none of thee.
    Alien to me the lonely plain,
  And the rough passion of the sea
    Storms my unheeding heart in vain.

  The petulance of rain and wind,
    The haughty mountains' superb scorn,
  Are but slight things I've flung behind,
    Old garments that I have out-worn.

  Bare of the grudging grass, and bare
    Of the tall forest's careless shade,
  Deserter from thee, Earth, I dare
    See all thy phantom brightness fade.

  And, darkening to the sun, I go
    To enter by the heart's low door,
  And find where Love's red embers glow
    A home, who ne'er had home before.

Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916) was, like so many of the young Irish
writers of the twentieth century, both scholar and poet. In 1916 he
published a prose critical work, _Literature in Ireland,_ in which
his two passions, love of art and love of country, are clearly
displayed. His books of original verse include _The Golden Joy,_
1906; _Songs of Myself,_ 1910, and others. He was a worshipper of
Beauty, his devotion being even more religious than aesthetic. The
poems addressed to Beauty--of which there are comparatively
many--exhibit the familiar yet melancholy disparity between the vision
in the poet's soul and the printed image of it. This disparity is not
owing to faulty technique, for his management of metrical effects shows
ease and grace; it is simply the lack of sufficient poetic vitality.
Although his ambition as an artist appears to have been to write great
odes and hymns to Beauty, his simple poems of Irish life are full of
charm. The _Wishes to My Son_ has a poignant tenderness. One can
hardly read it without tears. And the love of a wife for "her man" is
truly revealed in the last two stanzas of _John-John._

  The neighbours' shame of me began
    When first I brought you in;
  To wed and keep a tinker man
    They thought a kind of sin;
  But now this three years since you're gone
    'Tis pity me they do,
  And that I'd rather have, John-John,
    Than that they'd pity you.
  Pity for me and you, John-John,
    I could not bear.

  Oh, you're my husband right enough,
    But what's the good of that?
  You know you never were the stuff
    To be the cottage cat,
  To watch the fire and hear me lock
    The door and put out Shep--
  But there now, it is six o'clock
    And time for you to step.
  God bless and keep you far, John-John!
    And that's my prayer.

Joseph Campbell, most of whose work has been published under the Irish
name Seosamh Maccathmhaoil, writes both regular and free verse. He is
close to the soil, and speaks the thoughts of the peasants,
articulating their pleasures, their pains, and their superstitions. No
deadness of conventionality dulls the edge of his art--he is an
original man. His fancy is bold, and he makes no attempt to repress
it. Perhaps his most striking poem is _I am the Gilly of
Christ_--strange that its reverence has been mistaken for
sacrilege! And in the little song, _Go, Ploughman, Plough_, one
tastes the joy of muscle, the revelation of the upturned earth, and
the promise of beauty in fruition.

  Go, ploughman, plough
  The mearing lands,
  The meadow lands:
  The mountain lands:
  All life is bare
  Beneath your share,
  All love is in your lusty hands.

  Up, horses, now!
  And straight and true
  Let every broken furrow run:
  The strength you sweat
  Shall blossom yet
  In golden glory to the sun.

In 1917 Mr. Campbell published a beautiful volume, signed with his
English name, embellished with his own drawings--one for each
poem--called _Earth of Cualann_. Cualann is the old name for the
County of Wicklow, but it includes also a stretch to the northwest,
reaching close to Dublin. Mr. Campbell's description of it in his
preface makes a musical overture to the verses that follow. "Wild and
unspoilt, a country of cairn-crowned hills and dark, watered valleys,
it bears even to this day something of the freshness of the heroic
dawn."

The work of Seumas O'Sullivan, born in 1878, has often been likened to
that of W. B. Yeats, but I can see little similarity either in spirit
or in manner. The younger poet has the secret of melody and his verses
show a high degree of technical excellence; but in these respects he
no more resembles his famous countryman than many another master. His
best poems are collected in a volume published in 1912, and the most
interesting of these give pictures of various city streets, _Mercer
Street_ (three), _Nelson Street, Cuffe Street_, and so on. In
other words, the most original part of this poet's production is
founded on reality. This does not mean that he lacks imagination; for
it is only by imagination that a writer can portray and interpret
familiar scenes. The more widely and easily their veracity can be
verified by readers, the greater is the challenge to the art of the
poet.

Although the work of Herbert Trench is not particularly identified
with Ireland, he was born in County Cork, in 1865, and his first
volume of poems (1901) was called _Deirdre Wedded._ He completed
his formal education at Oxford, taking a first class in the Final
Honour Schools, and becoming a Fellow of All Souls. His poetical
reputation, which began with the appearance of _Apollo and the
Seaman,_ in 1907, has been perceptibly heightened by the
publication in 1918 of his collected works in two volumes, _Poems,
with Fables in Prose,_ saluted rapturously by a London critic under
the heading "Unforgettable Phrases." No one can now tell whether they
are unforgettable or not; but his poems are certainly memorable for
individual lines rather than for complete architectural beauty. In the
midst of commonplace composition single phrases stand out in a manner
that almost startles the reader.

We may properly add to our list the names of three Irish poets who are
Americans. Maurice Francis Egan, full of years and honours, a scholar
and statesman, giving notable service to America as our Minister to
Denmark, has written poetry marked by tenderness of feeling and
delicacy of art. His little book, _Songs and Sonnets,_ published
in 1892, exhibits the range of his work as well as anything that he
has written. It is founded on a deep and pure religious faith....
Norreys Jephson O'Conor is a young Irish-American, a graduate of
Harvard, and has already published three volumes of verse, _Celtic
Memories,_ which appeared in England in 1913, _Beside the
Blackwater,_ 1915, and _Songs of the Celtic Past,_ 1918; in
1916 he published a poetic play, _The Fairy Bride,_ which was
produced for the benefit of Irish troops at the front. American by
birth and residence, of Irish ancestry, he draws his inspiration
almost wholly from Celtic lore and Celtic scenes. He is a natural
singer, whose art is steadily increasing in authority.

In 1918 immediate attention was aroused by a volume of poems called
_My Ireland,_ from Francis Carlin. This is the work of a young
Irishman, a New York business man, who, outside of the shop, has
dreamed dreams. Many of these verses are full of beauty and charm.

It will be seen from our review of the chief figures among
contemporary Irish poets that the jolly, jigging Irishman of stage
history is quite conspicuous by his absence. He still gives his song
and dance, and those who prefer musical-comedy to orchestral
compositions can find him in the numerous anthologies of Anglo-Irish
verse; but the tone of modern Irish poetry is spiritual rather than
hearty.

Whatever may be thought of the appropriateness of the term "Advance of
English Poetry" for my survey of the modern field as a whole, there is
no doubt that it applies fittingly to Ireland. The last twenty-five
years have seen an awakening of poetic activity in that island unlike
anything known there before; and Dublin has become one of the literary
centres of the world. When a new movement produces three men of
genius, and a long list of poets of distinction, it should be
recognized with respect for its achievement, and with faith in its
future.



CHAPTER VII

AMERICAN VETERANS AND FORERUNNERS


  American Poetry in the eighteen-nineties--William Vaughn
  Moody--his early death a serious loss to literature--George
  Santayana--a master of the sonnet--Robert Underwood
  Johnson--his moral idealism--Richard Burton--his healthy
  optimism--his growth--Edwin Markham and his famous poem--Ella
  Wheeler Wilcox--her additions to our language--Edmund Vance
  Cooke--Edith M. Thomas--Henry van Dyke--George E.
  Woodberry--his spiritual and ethereal quality--William Dudley
  Foulke--translator of Petrarch--the late H. K. Vielé--his
  whimsicality--Cale Young Rice--his prolific production--his
  versatility--Josephine P. Peabody--_Sursum Corda_--her
  child poems--Edwin Arlington Robinson--a forerunner of the
  modern advance--his manliness and common sense--intellectual
  qualities.

To compel public recognition by a fresh volume of poems is becoming
increasingly difficult. The country fields and the city streets are
full of singing birds; and after a few more springs have awakened the
earth, it may become as impossible to distinguish the note of a new
imagist as the note of an individual robin. When the publishers
advertise the initial appearance of a poet, we simply say
_Another!_ The versifiers and their friends who study them
through a magnifying glass may ultimately force us to classify the
songsters into wild poets, gamy poets, barnyard poets, poets that hunt
and are hunted.

But in the last decade of the last century, poets other than
migratory, poets who were winter residents, were sufficiently
uncommon. Indeed the courage required to call oneself a poet was
considerable.

Of the old leaders, Whitman, Whittier, and Holmes lived into the
eighteen-nineties; and when, in 1894, the last leaf left the tree, we
could not help wondering what the next Maytime would bring forth. Had
William Vaughn Moody lived longer, it is probable that America would
have had another major poet. He wrote verse to please himself, and
plays in order that he might write more verse; but at the dawning of a
great career, the veto of death ended both. As it is, much of his work
will abide.

Indiana has the honour of his birth. He was born at Spencer, on the
eighth of July, 1869. He was graduated at Harvard, and after teaching
there, he became a member of the English Department of the University
of Chicago. He died at Colorado Springs, on the seventeenth of
October, 1910.

The quality of high seriousness, so dear to Matthew Arnold, was
characteristic of everything that Mr. Moody gave to the public. At his
best, there is a noble dignity, a pure serenity in his work, which
make for immortality. This dignity is never assumed; it is not worn
like an academic robe; it is an integral part of the poetry. _An Ode
in Time of Hesitation_ has already become a classic, both for its
depth of moral feeling and for its sculptured style. Like so many
other poets, Mr. Moody was an artist with pencil and brush as well as
with the pen; his study of form shows in his language.

George Santayana was born at Madrid, on the sixteenth of December,
1863. His father was a Spaniard, and his mother an American. He was
graduated from Harvard in 1886, and later became Professor of
Philosophy, which position he resigned in 1912, because academic life
had grown less and less congenial, although his resignation was a
matter of sincere regret on the part of both his colleagues and his
pupils. Latterly he has lived in France.

He is a professional philosopher but primarily a man of letters. His
philosophy is interesting chiefly because the books that contain it
are exquisitely written. He is an artist in prose and verse, and it
seems unfortunate that his professorial activity--as in the case of A.
E. Housman--choked his Muse. For art has this eternal advantage over
learning. Nobody knows whether or not philosophical truth is really
true; but Beauty is really beautiful.

In 1894 Mr. Santayana produced--in a tiny volume limited to four
hundred and fifty copies on small paper--_Sonnets and Other
Poems;_ and in 1899 a less important book, _Lucifer: a
Theological Tragedy._ No living American has written finer sonnets
than our philosopher. In sincerity of feeling, in living language, and
in melody they reach distinction.

  A wall, a wall around my garden rear,
  And hedge me in from the disconsolate hills;
  Give me but one of all the mountain rills,
  Enough of ocean in its voice I hear.
  Come no profane insatiate mortal near
  With the contagion of his passionate ills;
  The smoke of battle all the valley fills,
  Let the eternal sunlight greet me here.
  This spot is sacred to the deeper soul
  And to the piety that mocks no more.
  In nature's inmost heart is no uproar,
  None in this shrine; in peace the heavens roll,
  In peace the slow tides pulse from shore to shore,
  And ancient quiet broods from pole to pole.

  O world, thou choosest not the better part!
  It is not wisdom to be only wise,
  And on the inward vision close the eyes,
  But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
  Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
  Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
  To trust the soul's invincible surmise
  Was all his science and his only art.
  Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
  That lights the pathway but one step ahead
  Across a void of mystery and dread.
  Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
  By which alone the mortal heart is led
  Unto the thinking of the thought divine.

  ON A VOLUME OF SCHOLASTIC
  PHILOSOPHY

  What chilly cloister or what lattice dim
  Cast painted light upon this careful page?
  What thought compulsive held the patient sage
  Till sound of matin bell or evening hymn?
  Did visions of the Heavenly Lover swim
  Before his eyes in youth, or did stern rage
  Against rash heresy keep green his age?
  Had he seen God, to write so much of Him?
  Gone is that irrecoverable mind
  With all its phantoms, senseless to mankind
  As a dream's trouble or the speech of birds.
  The breath that stirred his lips he soon resigned
  To windy chaos, and we only find
  The garnered husks of his disused words.

Robert Underwood Johnson was born at Washington, on the twelfth of
January, 1853, and took his bachelor's degree at Earlham College, in
Indiana, at the age of eighteen. When twenty years old, he became a
member of the editorial staff of the _Century Magazine,_ and
remained there exactly forty years. His first volume of poems, _The
Winter Hour,_ was published in 1891, since which time he has
produced many others. Now he is his own publisher, and two attractive
books "published by the author" appeared in 1917--_Poems of War and
Peace_ and _Italian Rhapsody._

Mr. Johnson is a conservative, by which he would mean that as editor,
publicist, and poet, he has tried to maintain the highest standards in
art, politics, morality, and religion. Certainly his services to his
country have been important; and many good causes that he advocated
are now realities. There is no love lost between him and the "new"
school in poetry, and possibly each fails to appreciate what is good
in the other.

Moral idealism is the foundation of much of Mr. Johnson's verse; he
has written many occasional poems, poems supporting good men and good
works, and poems attacking the omnipresent and well-organized forces
of evil. I am quite aware that in the eyes of many critics such praise
as that damns him beyond hope of redemption; but the interesting fact
is, that although he has toiled for righteousness all his life, he is
a poet.

His poem, _The Voice of Webster,_ although written years ago, is
not only in harmony with contemporary historical judgment (1918) but
has a Doric dignity worthy of the subject. There are not a few
memorable lines:

  Forgetful of the father in the son,
  Men praised in Lincoln what they blamed in him.

Always the friend of small and oppressed nations, whose fate arouses
in him an unquenchable indignation, he published in 1908 paraphrases
from the leading poet of Servia. In view of what has happened during
the last four years, the first sentence of the preface to these
verses, written by Nikola Tesla, has a reinforced emphasis--"Hardly is
there a nation which has met with a sadder fate than the Servian." How
curious today seems the individual or national pessimism that was so
common _before_ 1914! Why did we not realize how (comparatively)
happy we were then? Hell then seems like paradise now. It is as though
an athletic pessimist should lose both legs. Shall we learn anything
from Edgar's wisdom?

  O gods! Who is't can say "I am at the worst"?
  I am worse than e'er I was.

Another poet, who has had a long and honourable career, is Richard
Burton. He was born at Hartford, Connecticut, on the fourteenth of
March, 1859, and was educated at Trinity and at Johns Hopkins, where
he took the doctor's degree in Anglo-Saxon. For the last twenty years
he has been Professor of English Literature at the University of
Minnesota, and is one of the best teachers and lecturers in the
country. He paradoxically found his voice in a volume of original
poems called _Dumb in June,_ which appeared in 1895. Since then
he has published many books of verse and prose--plays, stories,
essays, and lyrics.

He has shown steady development as a poet--_Poems of Earth's
Meaning_ (he has the habit of bad titles), which came out in 1917,
is his high-water mark. I am glad that he reprinted in this volume the
elegy on the death of Arthur Upson, written in 1910; there is not a
false note in it.

The personality of Richard Burton shines clearly through his work;
cheerful manliness and cheerful godliness. He knows more about human
nature than many pretentious diagnosticians; and his gladness in
living communicates itself to the reader. Occasionally, as in
_Spring Fantasies,_ there is a subtlety easy to miss on a first
of careless reading. On the edge of sixty, this poet is doing his best
singing and best thinking.

Sometimes an author who has been writing all his life will, under the
flashlight of inspiration, reveal deep places by a few words formed
into some phrase that burns its way into literature. This is the case
with Edwin Markham (born 1852) who has produced many books, but seems
destined to be remembered for _The Man With the Hoe_ (1899). His
other works are by no means negligible, but that one poem made the
whole world kin. To a certain extent, the same may be said of Ella
Wheeler Wilcox (born 1855). In spite of an excess of sentimentality,
which is her besetting sin, she has written much excellent verse. Two
sayings, however, will be remembered long after many of her
contemporaries are forgotten:

  Laugh and the world laughs with you,
    Weep, and you weep alone.

Furthermore, in these days of world-tragedy, we all owe her a debt of
gratitude for being the author of the phrase written many years ago:

  No question is ever settled
    Until it is settled right.

The legitimate successor to James Whitcomb Riley is Edmund Vance Cooke
(born 1866). He has the same philosophy of cheerful kindliness,
founded on a shrewd knowledge of human nature. Verse is his mother
tongue; and occasionally he rises above fluency and ingenuity into the
pure air of imagination.

Among America's living veterans should be named with respect Edith M.
Thomas, who has been bravely singing for over thirty years. She was
born in Ohio on the twelfth of August, 1854 and her first book of
poems appeared in 1885. She is an excellent illustration of just how
far talent can go unaccompanied by the divine breath of inspiration.
She has perhaps almost too much facility; she has dignity, good taste,
an excellent command of a wide variety of metrical effects; she has
read ancient and modern authors, she is a keen observer, she is as
alert and inquisitive now, as in the days of her youth; and loves to
use her abilities in cultivating the fruits of the spirit. I suspect
that with the modesty that so frequently accompanies good taste, she
understands her own limitations better than any critic could do.

Her long faithfulness to the Muse ought to be remembered, now that
poetry has come into its kingdom.

Among our veteran poets should be numbered also Henry Van Dyke (born
1852). His versatility is so remarkable that it has somewhat obscured
his particular merit. His lyric _Reliance_ is spiritually as well
as artistically true:

      Not to the swift, the race:
      Not to the strong, the fight:
  Not to the righteous, perfect grace:
      Not to the wise, the light.

      But often faltering feet
      Come surest to the goal;
  And they who walk in darkness meet
      The sunrise of the soul.

      A thousand times by night
      The Syrian hosts have died;
  A thousand times the vanquished right
      Hath risen, glorified.

      The truth by wise men sought
      Was spoken by a child;
  The alabaster box was brought
      In trembling hands defiled.

        Not from the torch, the gleam,
        But from the stars above:
  Not from my heart, life's crystal stream,
        But from the depths of love.

George E. Woodberry (born 1855), graduate of Harvard, a scholar,
literary biographer, and critic of high standing, has been eminent
among contemporary American poets since the year 1890, when appeared
his book of verse, _The North Shore Watch._ In 1917 an
interesting and valuable _Study_ of his poetry appeared, written
by Louis V. Ledoux, and accompanied by a carefully minute
bibliography. I do not mean to say anything unpleasant about Mr.
Woodberry or the public, when I say that his poetry is too fine for
popularity. It is not the raw material of poetry, like that of Carl
Sandburg, yet it is not exactly the finished product that passes by
the common name. It is rather the essence of poetry, the spirit of
poetry, a clear flame--almost impalpable. "You may not be worthy to
smoke the Arcadia mixture," well--we may not be worthy to read all
that Mr. Woodberry Writes. And I am convinced that it is not his
fault. His poems of nature and his poems of love speak out of the
spirit. He not only never "writes down" to the public, it seems almost
as if he intended his verse to be read by some race superior to the
present stage of human development.

  But in his motion like an angel sings,
  Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
  Such harmony is in immortal souls;
  But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
  Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

William Dudley Foulke may fairly be classed with the Indiana group. He
was born at New York in 1848, but has lived in Indiana since 1876. He
has been conspicuous in much political and social service, but the
soul of the man is found in his books of verse, most of which have
been first printed in England. He is a lifelong student of Petrarch,
and has made many excellent translations. His best independent work
may be found in a group of poems properly called _Ad Patriam._ I
think such a sonnet as _The City's Crown_ is fairly
representative:

  What makes a city great? Huge piles of stone
    Heaped heavenward? Vast multitudes who dwell
  Within wide circling walls? Palace and throne
    And riches past the count of man to tell,

  And wide domain? Nay, these the empty husk!
    True glory dwells where glorious deeds are done,
  Where great men rise whose names athwart the dusk
    Of misty centuries gleam like the sun!

  In Athens, Sparta, Florence, 'twas the soul
    That was the city's bright, immortal part,
  The splendour of the spirit was their goal,
    Their jewel, the unconquerable heart!

  So may the city that I love be great
  Till every stone shall he articulate.

The early death of Herman Knickerbocker Vielé robbed America not only
of one of her most brilliant novelists, but of a poet of fine flavour.
In 1903 he published a tall, thin book, _Random Verse,_ that has
something of the charm and beauty of _The Inn of the Silver
Moon._ In everything that he wrote, Mr. Vielé revealed a winsome
whimsicality, and a lightness of touch impossible except to true
artists. It should also be remembered to his credit that he loved
France with an ardour not so frequently expressed then as now. Indeed,
he loved her so much that the last four years of agony might have come
near to breaking his heart. He was one of the finest spirits of the
twentieth century.

Cale Young Rice was born in Kentucky, on the seventh of December,
1872. He is a graduate of Cumberland University and of Harvard, and
his wife is the famous creator of Mrs. Wiggs. He has been a prolific
poet, having produced many dramas and lyrics, which were collected in
two stout volumes in 1915. In 1917 appeared two new works, _Trails
Sunward_ and _Wraiths and Realities,_ with interesting
prefaces, in which the anthologies of the "new" poetry, their makers,
editors, and defenders, are heartily cudgelled. Mr. Rice is a
conservative in art, and writes in the orthodox manner; although he is
not afraid to make metrical experiments.

I like his lyrical pieces better than his dramas. His verse-plays are
good, but not supremely good; and I find it difficult to read either
blank verse or rimed drama, unless it is in the first class, where
assuredly Mr. Rice's meritorious efforts do not belong.

His songs are spontaneous, not manufactured. He is a natural singer
with such facility that it is rather surprising that the average of
his work is so good. A man who writes so much ought, one would think,
to be more often than not, commonplace; but the fact is that most of
his poems could not be turned into prose without losing their life. He
has limitations instead of faults; within his range he may be counted
on to give a satisfactory performance. By range I mean of course
height rather than breadth. He is at home all over the earth, and his
subjects are as varied as his style.

Josephine Preston Peabody (Mrs. Marks) was born at New York, and took
her degree at Radcliffe in 1894. For two years she was a member of the
English department of Wellesley (two syllables only). Her drama
_Marlowe_ (1901) gave her something like fame, though I have
always thought it was overrated; it is certainly inferior to _The
Death of Marlowe_ (1837), by Richard Hengist Horne. In 1910 her
play _The Piper_ won the Stratford-on-Avon prize, and
subsequently proved to be one of the most successful plays seen on the
American stage in the twentieth century. It was produced by the New
Theatre, the finest stock company ever known in America.

Josephine Peabody has written other dramas, and has an enviable
reputation as a lyric poet. The burden of her poetry is _Sursum
Corda!_ As I read modern verse, I am forced to the conclusion that
men and women require a vast deal of comforting. The years preceding
the war seem in the retrospect happy, almost a golden age;
homesickness for the England, France, Italy, America that existed
before 1914 is almost a universal sentiment; yet when we read the
verse composed during those days of prosperous tranquillity, when
youth seemed comic rather than tragic, we find that half the poets
spent their time in lamentation, and the other half in first aid. An
enormous number of lyrics speak as though despondency were the normal
condition of men and women; are we really all sad when alone, engaged
in reading or writing? "Every man is grave alone," said Emerson. I
wonder.

So many poets seem to tell us that we ought not absolutely to abandon
all hope. The case for living is admittedly a bad one; but the poets
beseech us to stick it. Does every man really go down to business in
the morning with his jaw set? Does every woman begin the day with
compressed lips, determined somehow to pull through till afternoon?
Even the nature poets are always telling us to look at the birds and
flowers and cheer up. Is that all botany and zoology are good for?
Have we nothing to learn from nature but--buck up?

I do not mean that Josephine Peabody's poems resemble glad Polyanna,
but I was driven to these divagations by the number of cheery lyrics
that she has felt it necessary to write. Now I find it almost as
depressing to be told that there _is_ hope as to be told that
there isn't.

  I met Poor Sorrow on the way
   As I came down the years;
  I gave him everything I had
   And looked at him through tears.

  "But, Sorrow, give me here again
   Some little sign to show;
  For I have given all I own;
   Yet have I far to go."

  Then Sorrow charmed my eyes for me
   And hallowed them thus far;
  "Look deep enough in every dark,
   And you shall see the star."

The first two poems in _The Harvest Moon_ (1916) are very fine;
but sometimes I think her best work is found in a field where it is
difficult to excel--I mean child poetry. Her _Cradle Song_ is as
good as anything of hers I know, though I could wish she had omitted
the parenthetical refrain. I hope readers will forgive me--though I
know they won't--for saying that _Dormi, dormi tu_ sounds a
triumphant exclamation at the sixteenth hole.

An American poet who won twenty-two years ago a reputation with a
small volume, who ten years later seemed almost forgotten, and who now
deservedly stands higher than ever before is Edwin Arlington Robinson.
He was born in Maine, on the twenty-second of December, 1869, and
studied at Harvard University. In 1896 he published two poems, _The
Torrent_ and _The Night Before;_ these were included the next
year in a volume called _The Children of the Night._ His
successive books of verse are _Captain Craig,_ 1902; _The Town
Down the River,_ 1910; _The Man Against the Sky,_ 1916;
_Merlin,_ 1917; and he has printed two plays, of which _Van
Zorn_ (1914) despite its chilling reception, is exceedingly good.

Mr. Robinson is not only one of our best known American contemporary
poets, but is a leader and recognized as such. Many write verses today
because the climate is so favourable to the Muse's somewhat delicate
health. But if Mr. Robinson is not a germinal writer, he is at all
events a precursor of the modern advance. The year 1896 was not
opportune for a venture in verse, but the Gardiner poet has never
cared to be in the rearward of a fashion. The two poems that he
produced that year he has since surpassed, but they clearly
demonstrated his right to live and to be heard.

The prologue to the 1897 volume contained his platform, which, so far
as I know, he has never seen cause to change. Despite the title, he is
not an infant crying in the night; he is a full-grown man, whose voice
of resonant hope and faith is heard in the darkness. His chief reason
for believing in God is that it is more sensible to believe in Him
than not to believe. His religion, like his art, is founded on common
sense. Everything that he writes, whether in drama, in lyrics, or in
prose criticism, is eminently rational.

  There is one creed, and only one,
  That glorifies God's excellence;
  So cherish, that His will be done,
  The common creed of common sense.

  It is the crimson, not the grey,
  That charms the twilight of all time;
  It is the promise of the day
  That makes the starry sky sublime.

  It is the faith within the fear
  That holds us to the life we curse;--
  So let us in ourselves revere
  The Self which is the Universe!

  Let us, the Children of the Night,
  Put off the cloak that hides the scar!
  Let us be Children of the Light,
  And tell the ages what we are!

This creed is repeated in the sonnet _Credo_, later in the same
volume, which also contains those rather striking portraits of
individuals, of which the most impressive is _Richard Cory_. More
than one critic has observed that these dry sketches are in a way
forerunners of the _Spoon River Anthology_.

The next book, _Captain Craig_, rather disappointed the eager
expectations of the poet's admirers; like Carlyle's Frederick, the man
finally turns out to be not anywhere near worth the intellectual
energy expended on him. Yet this volume contained what is on the
whole, Mr. Robinson's masterpiece--_Isaac and Archibald_. We are
given a striking picture of these old men, and I suppose one reason
why we recognize the merit of this poem so much more clearly than we
did sixteen years ago, is because this particular kind of
character-analysis was not in demand at that time.

The figure of the man against the sky, which gives the name to the
work published in 1916, does not appear, strictly speaking, till the
end of the book. Yet in reality the first poem, _Flammonde_, is
the man against the sky-line, who looms up biggest of all in his town
as we look back. This fable teaches us to appreciate the
unappreciated.

Mr. Robinson's latest volume, _Merlin_, may safely be neglected
by students of his work. It adds nothing to his reputation, and seems
uncharacteristic. I can find little in it except diluted Tennyson, and
it won't do to dilute Tennyson. One might almost as well try to polish
him. It is of course possible that Mr. Robinson wished to try
something in a romantic vein; but it is not his vein. He excels in the
clear presentment of character; in pith; in sharp outline; in solid,
masculine effort; his voice is baritone rather than tenor.

To me his poetry is valuable for its moral stimulus; for its unadorned
honesty and sincerity; for its clear rather than warm singing. He is
an excellent draughtsman; everything that he has done has beauty of
line; anything pretentious is to him abhorrent. He is more map-maker
than painter. He is of course more than a maker of maps. He has drawn
many an intricate and accurate chart of the deeps and shallows of the
human soul.



CHAPTER VIII

VACHEL LINDSAY AND ROBERT FROST


  Lindsay the Cymbalist--first impression--Harriet Monroe's
  Magazine--training in art--the long vagabond tramps--correct
  order of his works--his drawings--the "Poem Game"--_The
  Congo_--_General William Booth_--wide sweep of his
  imagination--sudden contrasts in sound--his prose works--his
  interest in moving pictures--an apostle of democracy--a
  wandering minstrel--his vitality--a primary man--art plus
  morality--his geniality--a poet and a missionary--his
  fearlessness--Robert Frost--the poet of New England--his
  paradoxical birth--his education--his career in England--his
  experiences on a farm--his theory of the spoken word--an
  out-door poet--not a singer--lack of range--interpreter as
  well as observer--pure realism--rural tragedies--centrifugal
  force--men and women--suspense--the building of a poem--the
  pleasure of recognition--his sincerity--his truthfulness.

  "But you--you can help so much more. You can help spiritually.
  You can help to shape things, give form and thought and
  poignancy to the most matter-of-fact existence; show people
  how to think and live and appreciate beauty. What does it
  matter if some of them jeer at you, or trample on your
  work? What matters is that those for whom your message is
  intended will know you by your work."

  --STACY AUMONIER, _Just Outside_.

Of all living Americans who have contributed to the advance of English
poetry in the twentieth century, no one has given more both as prophet
and priest than Vachel Lindsay. His poems are notable for originality,
pictorial beauty, and thrilling music. He belongs to no modern school,
but is doing his best to found one; and when I think of his love of a
loud noise, I call him a Cymbalist.

Yet when I use the word _noise_ to describe his verse, I use it
not only in its present, but in its earlier meaning, as when Edmund
Waller saluted Chloris with

  While I listen to thy voice,
   Chloris! I feel my life decay;
  That powerful noise
   Calls my flitting soul away.

This use of the word, meaning an agreeable, harmonious sound, was
current from Chaucer to Coleridge.

My first acquaintance with Mr. Lindsay's poetry began with a
masterpiece, _General William Booth Enters into Heaven_. Early in
the year 1913, before I had become a subscriber to Harriet Monroe's
_Poetry_, I found among the clippings in the back of a copy of
the _Independent_ this extraordinary burst of music. I carried it
in my pocket for a year. Nothing since Francis Thompson's _In No
Strange Land_ had given me such a spinal chill. Later I learned
that it had appeared for the first time in the issue of _Poetry_
for January, 1913. All lovers of verse owe a debt of gratitude to Miss
Monroe for bringing the new poet to the attention of the public; and
all students of contemporary movements in metre ought to subscribe to
her monthly magazine; the numbers naturally vary in value, but almost
any one may contain a "find"; as I discovered to my pleasure in
reading _Niagara_ in the summer of 1917.

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay--Vachel rimes with Rachel--was born at
Springfield, Illinois--which rimes with boy--on the tenth of November,
1879. His pen name omits the Nicholas. For three years he was a
student at Hiram College in Ohio, and for five years an art student,
first at Chicago, and then at New York. This brings us to the year
1905. From that year until 1910 he drew strange pictures, lectured on
various subjects, and wrote defiant and peculiar "bulletins." At the
same time he became a tramp, making long pilgrimages afoot in 1906
through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and in 1908 he invaded in a
like manner some of the Northern and Eastern States. These wanderings
are described with vigour, vivacity, and contagious good humour in his
book called _A Handy Guide for Beggars_. His wallet contained
nothing but printed leaflets--his poems--which he exchanged for bed
and board. He was the Evangelist of Beauty, preaching his gospel
everywhere by reciting his verses. In the summer of 1912 he walked
from Illinois to New Mexico.

To understand his development, one should read his books not according
to the dates of formal publication, but in the following order: _A
Handy Guide for Beggars_, _Adventures While Preaching the Gospel
of Beauty_, _The Art of the Moving Picture_--these three being
mainly in prose. Then one is ready for the three volumes of poetry,
_General William Booth Enters into Heaven_ (1913), _The
Congo_ (1914), and _The Chinese Nightingale_ (1917). Another
prose work is well under way, _The Golden Book of Springfield_,
concerning which Mr. Lindsay tells me, "The actual Golden Book is a
secular testament about Springfield, to be given to the city in 2018,
from a mysterious source. My volume is a hypothetical forecast of the
times of 2018, as well as of the Golden Book. Frankly the Lindsay the
reviewers know came nearer to existing twelve years ago than today, my
manuscripts are so far behind my notes. And a thing that has helped in
this is that through changing publishers, etc., my first prose book is
called my latest. If you want my ideas in order, assume the writer of
the _Handy Guide for Beggars_ is just out of college, of
_Adventures While Preaching_ beginning in the thirties, and
_the Art of the Moving Picture_ half-way through the thirties.
The Moving Picture book in the last half embodies my main social ideas
of two years ago. In mood and method, you will find _The Golden Book
of Springfield_ a direct descendant of the general social and
religious philosophy which I crowded into the photoplay book whether
it belonged there or not. I hope you will do me the favour and honour
to set my work in this order in your mind, for many of my small public
still think _A Handy Guide for Beggars_ the keynote of my present
work. But it was really my first wild dash."

The above letter was written 8 August, 1917.

Like many creative writers, Mr. Lindsay is an artist not only with the
pen, but with the pencil. He has made drawings since childhood;
drawing and writing still divide his time and energy. The first
impression one receives from the pictures is like that produced by the
poems--strangeness. The best have that Baconian element of strangeness
in the proportion which gives the final touch to beauty; the worst are
merely bizarre. He says, "My claim for them is that while laboured and
struggling in execution, they represent a study of Egyptian
hieroglyphics and Japanese art, two most orthodox origins for art, and
have no relation whatever to cubism, post-impressionism, or
futurism.... I have been very fond of Swinburne all my life, and I
should say my drawing is nearer to his ornate mood than any of my
writing has been. But that is a matter for your judgment." I find his
pictures so interesting that I earnestly hope he will some day publish
a large collection of them in a separate volume.

One of his latest developments is the idea of the _Poem Game_,
which is elaborated with interesting poetic illustrations in the
volume called _The Chinese Nightingale_. In giving his directions
and suggestions in the latter part of this book, he remarks, "The
present rhymer has no ambitions as a stage manager. The Poem Game
idea, in its rhythmic picnic stage, is recommended to amateurs, its
further development to be on their own initiative. Informal parties
might divide into groups of dancers and groups of chanters. The whole
might be worked out in the spirit in which children play King William
was King James's Son, London Bridge.... The main revolution necessary
for dancing improvisers, who would go a longer way with the Poem Game
idea is to shake off the Isadora Duncan and the Russian precedents for
a while, and abolish the orchestra and piano, replacing all these with
the natural meaning and cadences of English speech. The work would
come closer to acting than dancing is now conceived."

Here is a good opportunity for house parties, in the intervals of Red
Cross activities; and at the University of Chicago, 15 February, 1918,
_The Chinese Nightingale_ was given with a full chorus of twelve
girls, selected for their speaking voices. From the testimony of one
of the professors at the university, it is clear that the performance
was a success, realizing something of Mr. Lindsay's idea of the union
of the arts, with Poetry at the centre.

Among the games given in verse by the author in the latter part of
_The Chinese Nightingale_ volume is one called _The Potatoes'
Dance_, which appears to me to approach most closely to the
original purpose. It is certainly a jolly poem. But whether these
games are played by laughing choruses of youth or only by the
firelight in the fancy of a solitary reader, the validity of Vachel
Lindsay's claim to the title of Poet may be settled at once by
witnessing the transformation of a filthy rumhole into a sunlit
forest. As Edmond Rostand looked at a dunghill, and saw the vision Of
Chantecler, so Vachel Lindsay looked at some drunken niggers and saw
the vision of the Congo.

  Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room,
  Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,
  Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
  Pounded on the table,
  Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,
  Hard as they were able,
  Boom, boom, BOOM,
  With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
  Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
  THEN I had religion, THEN I had a vision,
  I could not turn from their revel in derision.
  THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
  CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
  Then along that river bank
  A thousand miles
  Tattooed cannibals danced in flies;
  Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
  And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong....
  A negro fairyland swung into view,
  A minstrel river
  Where dreams come true.
  The ebony palace soared on high
  Through the blossoming trees to the evening sky.
  The inlaid porches and casements shone
  With gold and ivory and elephant-bone....
  Just then from the doorway, as fat as shotes,
  Came the cake-walk princes in their long red coats,
  Canes with a brilliant lacquer shine,
  And tall silk hats that were red as wine.
  And they pranced with their butterfly partners there,
  Coal-black maidens with pearls in their hair,
  Knee-skirts trimmed with the jassamine sweet,
  And bells on their ankles and little black-feet.

There are those who call this nonsense and its author a mountebank. I
call it poetry and its author a poet. You never heard anything like it
before; but do not be afraid of your own enjoyment. Read it aloud a
dozen times, and you, too will hear roaring, epic music, and you will
see the mighty, golden river cutting through the forest.

I do not know how many towns I have visited where I have heard "What
do you think of Vachel Lindsay? He was here last month and recited his
verses. Most of his audience were puzzled." Yet they remembered him.
What would have happened if I had asked them to give me a brief
synopsis of the lecture they heard yesterday on "The Message of John
Ruskin"? Fear not, little flock. Vachel Lindsay is an authentic
wandering minstrel. The fine phrases you heard yesterday were like
snow upon the desert's dusty face, lighting a little hour or two, is
gone.

_General William Booth Enters into Heaven_--with the accompanying
instruments, which blare out from the printed page--is a sublime
interpretation of one of the varieties of religious experience. Two
works of genius have been written about the Salvation Army--_Major
Barbara_ and _General William Booth Enters into Heaven_. But
_Major Barbara_, with its almost appalling cleverness--Granville
Barker says the second act is the finest thing Shaw ever composed--is
written, after all, from the seat of the scornful, like a metropolitan
reporter at a Gospel tent; Mr. Lindsay's poem is written from the
inside, from the very heart of the mystery. It is interpretation, not
description. "Booth was blind," says Mr. Lindsay; "all reformers are
blind." One must in turn be blind to many obvious things, blind to
ridicule, blind to criticism, blind to the wisdom of this world, if
one would understand a phenomenon like General Booth.

  Booth led boldly with his big bass drum--
  (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
  The Saints smiled gravely and they said: "He's come."
  (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)....
  Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,
  Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,
  Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale--
  Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail:--
  Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
  Unwashed legions with the ways of Death--
  (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)....
  And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer
  He saw his Master thro' the flag-filled air.
  Christ came gently with a robe and crown
  For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.
  He saw King Jesus. They were face to face,
  And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
  (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

Dante and Milton were more successful in making pictures of hell than
of heaven--no one has ever made a common conception of heaven more
permanently vivid than in this poem. See how amid the welter of crowds
and the deafening crash of drums and banjos the individual faces stand
out in the golden light.

  Big-voiced lassies made their banjos bang,
  Tranced, fanatical they shrieked and sang....
  Bull-necked convicts with that land make free...
  The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled
  And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world....
  Gone was the weasel-head, the snout, the jowl!
  Sages and sibyls now, and athletes clean,
  Rulers of empires, and of forests green!

It is a pictorial, musical, and spiritual masterpiece. I am not afraid
to call it a spiritual masterpiece; for to any one who reads it as we
should read all true poetry, with an unconditional surrender to its
magic, General William Booth and his horde will not be the only
persons present who will enter into heaven.

Vachel Lindsay needs plenty of room for his imagination--the more
space he has in which to disport himself, the more impressive he
becomes. His strange poem, _How I Walked Alone in the Jungles of
Heaven_, has the vasty sweep congenial to his powers. _Simon
Legree_ is as accurate an interpretation of the negro's conception
of the devil and of hell as _General William Booth_ is of the
Salvation Army's conception of heaven, though it is not so fine a
poem. When he rises from hell or descends from heaven, he loves big,
boundless things on the face of the earth, like the Western Plains and
the glory of Niagara. The contrast between the bustling pettiness of
the artificial city of Buffalo and the eternal fresh beauty of Niagara
is like Bunyan's vision of the man busy with the muck-rake while over
his head stood an angel with a golden crown.

  Within the town of Buffalo
  Are prosy men with leaden eyes.
  Like ants they worry to and fro,
  (Important men, in Buffalo).
  But only twenty miles away
  A deathless glory is at play:
  Niagara, Niagara....

  Above the town a tiny bird,
  A shining speck at sleepy dawn,
  Forgets the ant-hill so absurd,
  This self-important Buffalo.
  Descending twenty miles away
  He bathes his wings at break of day--
  Niagara, Niagara.

True poet that he is, Vachel Lindsay loves to show the contrast
between transient noises that tear the atmosphere to shreds and the
eternal beauty of unpretentious melody. After the thunder and the
lightning comes the still, small voice. Who ever before thought of
comparing the roar of the swiftly passing motor-cars with the sweet
singing of the stationary bird? Was there ever in a musical
composition a more startling change from fortissimo to pianissimo?

  Listen to the iron-horns, ripping, racking,
  Listen to the quack-horns, slack and clacking.
  Way down the road, trilling like a toad,
  Here comes the _dice_-horn, here comes the _vice_-horn,
  Here comes the _snarl_-horn, _brawl_-horn, _lewd_-horn,

  Followed by the _prude_-horn, bleak and squeaking:--
  (Some of them from Kansas, some of them from Kansas)
  Here comes the _hod_-horn, _plod_-horn, _sod_-horn,
  Nevermore-to-_roam_-horn, _loam_-horn, _home_-horn,
  (Some of them from Kansas, some of them from Kansas)

            Far away the Rachel-Jane
            Not defeated by the horns,
            Sings amid a hedge of thorns:--
            "Love and life,
            Eternal youth--
            Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet,
            Dew and glory,
            Love and truth,
            Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet."

Of Mr. Lindsay's prose works the one first written, _A Handy Guide
for Beggars_, is by all odds the best. Even if it did not contain
musical cadenzas, any reader would know that the author was a poet. It
is full of the spirit of joyous young manhood and reckless adventure,
and laughs its way into our hearts. There is no reason why Mr. Lindsay
should ever apologize for this book, even if it does not represent his
present attitude; it is as individual as a diary, and as universal as
youth. His later prose is more careful, possibly more thoughtful, more
full of information; but this has a touch of genius. Its successor,
_Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty_, does not quite
recapture the first fine careless rapture. Yet both must be read by
students of Mr. Lindsay's verse, not only because they display his
personality, but because the original data of many poems can be found
among these experiences of the road. For example, _The Broncho That
Would not Be Broken_, which first appeared in 1917, is the rimed
version of an incident that happened in July, 1912. It made an
indelible impression on the amateur farmer, and the poem has a
poignant beauty that nothing will ever erase from the reader's mind. I
feel certain that I shall have a vivid recollection of this poem to
the last day of my life, assuming that on that last day I can remember
anything at all.

A more ambitious prose work than either of the tramp books is _The
Art of the Moving Picture_. It is rather singular that Mr. Lindsay,
whose poetry primarily appeals to the ear, should be so profoundly
interested in an art whose only appeal is to the eye. The reason,
perhaps, is twofold. He is professionally a maker of pictures as well
as of chants, and he is an apostle of democracy. The moving picture is
the most democratic form of art that the world has ever seen. Maude
Adams reaches thousands; Mary Pickford reaches millions. It is clear
that Mr. Lindsay wishes that the limitless influence of the moving
picture may be used to elevate and ennoble America; for here is the
greatest force ever known through which his gospel may be
preached--the gospel of beauty.

Like so many other original artists, Mr. Lindsay's poetry really goes
back to the origins of the art. As John Masefield is the twentieth
century Chaucer, so Vachel Lindsay is the twentieth century minstrel.
On the one occasion when he met W. B. Yeats, the Irishman asked him
point-blank, "What are we going to do to restore the primitive singing
of poetry?" and would not stay for an answer. Fortunately the question
was put to a man who answered it by accomplishment; the best answer to
any question is not an elaborate theory, but a demonstration. As it is
sometimes supposed that Mr. Lindsay's poetry owes its inspiration to
Mr. Yeats, it may be well to state here positively that our American
owes nothing to the Irishman; his poetry developed quite independently
of the other's influence, and would have been much the same had Mr.
Yeats never risen above the horizon. When I say that he owes nothing,
I mean he owes nothing in the manner and fashion of his art; he has a
consuming admiration for Mr. Yeats's genius; for Mr. Lindsay considers
him of all living men the author of the most beautiful poetry.

Chants are only about one-tenth of Vachel Lindsay's work. However
radical in subject, they are conservative in form, following the
precedents of the ode from its origin. It is necessary to insist that
while the material is new, the method is consciously old. He is no
innovator in rime or rhythm. But the chants, while few in number, are
the most individual part of his production; and up to the year
1918--the most impressive.

For in _The Congo_ we have real minstrelsy. The shoulder-notes,
giving detailed directions for singing, reciting, intoning, are as
charming in their way as the stage-directions of J. M. Barrie. They
not only show the aim of the poet; they admit the reader immediately
into an inner communion with the spirit of the poem.

Every one who reads _The Congo_ or who hears it read cannot help
enjoying it; which is one reason why so many are afraid to call it a
great poem. For a similar reason, some critics are afraid to call
Percy Grainger a great composer, because of his numerous and
delightful audacities. Yet _The Congo_ is a great poem,
possessing as it does many of the high qualities of true poetry. It
shows a splendid power of imagination, as fresh as the forests it
describes; it blazes with glorious colours; its music transports the
listener with climax after climax; it interprets truthfully the spirit
of the negro race.

I should not think of attempting to determine the relative position of
Percy Grainger in music and of Vachel Lindsay in poetry; but it is
clear that both men possess an amazing vitality. Is it not the lack of
vital force which prevents so many accomplished artists from ever
rising above the crowd? I suppose we have all read reams on reams of
magazine verse exhibiting technical correctness, exactitude in
language, and pretty fancy; and after a momentary unspoken tribute the
writer's skill, we straightway forget. But a poem like _Danny
Deever_ appears, it is to call it a music-hall ballad, or to
pretend it is not high art; the fact is that the worst memory in the
world will retain it. Such a poem comes like a breeze into a close
chamber; it is charged with vitality. We are in contact with a new
force--a force emanating from that mysterious and inexhaustible stream
whence comes every manifestation of genius. To have this
super-vitality is to have genius; and although one may have with it
many distressing faults of expression and an unlimited supply of bad
taste, all other qualities combined cannot atone for the absence of
this one primal element. Indeed the excess of wealth in energy is
bound to produce shocking excrescences; our Springfield poet is
sometimes absurd when he means to be sublime, bizarre when he means to
be picturesque. The same is true of Walt Whitman--it is true of all
creative writers whom John Burroughs calls _primary_ men, in
distinction from excellent artists who remain in the secondary class.
Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Walt Whitman, John Masefield, Vachel
Lindsay are primary men.

I have often wondered who would write a poem worthy of the Grand
Canyon of the Colorado. Vachel Lindsay is the only living American who
could do it, and I hope he will accept this challenge. Its awful
majesty can be revealed only in verse; for it is one of the very few
wonders of the world which no photograph and no painting can ever
reproduce. Who ever saw a picture that gave him any conception of this
incomparable spectacle?

In order to understand the primary impulse that drove Mr. Lindsay into
writing verse and making pictures, one ought to read first of all his
poem _The Tree of Laughing Bells, or The Wings Of the Morning_.
The first half of the title exhibits his love of resounding harmonies;
the second gives an idea of the range of his imagination. His finest
work always combines these two elements, melody and elevation, "and
singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest." I hope that the
picture he drew for _The Tree of Laughing Bells_ may some time be
made available for all students of his work, as it was his first
serious design.

Vachel Lindsay is essentially honest, for he tries to become himself
exactly what he hopes the future American will be. He is a Puritan
with a passion for Beauty; he is a zealous reformer filled with
Falstaffian mirth; he goes along the highway, singing and dancing,
distributing tracts. "Apollo's first, at last the true God's priest."

We know that two mighty streams, the Renaissance and the Reformation,
which flowed side by side without mingling, suddenly and completely
merged in Spenser's _Faery Queene_. That immortal song is a
combination of ravishing sweetness and moral austerity. Later the
Puritan became the Man on Horseback, and rode roughshod over every
bloom of beauty that lifted its delicate head. Despite the genius of
Milton, supreme artist plus supreme moralist, the Puritans managed
somehow to force into the common mind an antagonism between Beauty and
Morality which persists even unto this day. There is no reason why
those two contemporaries, Oscar Wilde and the Rev. Charles H.
Spurgeon, should stand before the London public as the champions of
contending armies; for Beauty is an end in itself, not a means, and so
is Conduct.

In the best work of Vachel Lindsay, we find these two qualities
happily married, the zest for beauty and the hunger and thirst after
righteousness. He made a soap-box tour for the Anti-Saloon League,
preaching at the same time the Gospel of Beauty. As a rule, reformers
are lacking in the two things most sedulously cultivated by commercial
travellers and life-insurance agents, tact and humour. If these
interesting orders of the Knights of the Road were as lacking in
geniality as the typical reformer, they would lose their jobs. And yet
fishers of men, for that is what all reformers are, try to fish
without bait, at the same time making much loud and offensive speech.
Then they are amazed at the callous indifference of humanity to "great
moral issues."

Vachel Lindsay is irresistibly genial. Nor is any of this geniality
made up of the professionally ingratiating smile; it is the foundation
of his temperament. What has this got to do with his poetry? It has
everything to do with it. It gives him the key to the hearts of
children; to the basic savagery of a primitive black or a poor white;
to peripatetic harvesters; to futurists, imagists, blue-stockings,
pedants of all kinds; to evangelists, college professors, drunken
sailors, tramps whose robes are lined with vermin. He is the great
American democrat, not because that is his political theory, but
simply because he cannot help it.

His attitude toward other schools of art, even when he has nothing in
common with them, is positively affectionate. Could there be two poets
more unlike in temperament and in style than Mr. Lindsay and Mr.
Masters? Yet in the volume, _The Chinese Nightingale_, we have a
poem dedicated "to Edgar Lee Masters, with great respect." He speaks
of "the able and distinguished Amy Lowell," and of his own poems
"parodied by my good friend, Louis Untermeyer." He says, "I admire the
work of the Imagist Poets. We exchange fraternal greetings.... But
neither my few heterodox pieces nor my many struggling orthodox pieces
conform to their patterns.... The Imagists emphasize pictorial
effects, while the Higher Vaudeville exaggerates musical effects.
Imagists are apt to omit rhyme, while in my Higher Vaudeville I often
put five rhymes on a line."

Impossible to quarrel with Vachel Lindsay. His stock of genial
tolerance is inexhaustible, and makes him regard not only hostile
humans, but even destructive insects, with inquisitive affection.

  I want live things in their pride to remain.
  I will not kill one grasshopper vain
  Though he eats a hole in my shirt like a door.
  I let him out, give him one chance more.
  Perhaps, while he gnaws my hat in his whim,
  Grasshopper lyrics occur to him.

During his tramps, the parents who unwillingly received him
discovered, when he began to recite stories to their children, that
they had entertained an angel unawares; and I have not the slightest
doubt that on the frequent occasions when his application for food and
lodging was received with a volley of curses, he honestly admired the
noble fluency of his enemy. When he was harvesting, the singing
stacker became increasingly and distressingly pornographic; instead of
rebuking him for foulness, which would only have bewildered the
stacker, Mr. Lindsay taught him the first stanza of Swinburne's
chorus. "The next morning when my friend climbed into our barge to
ride to the field he began:

  When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,
  The mother of months, in meadow or plain,
  Fills the shadows--

'Dammit, what's the rest of it? I've been trying to recite that piece
all night.' Now he has the first four stanzas. And last evening he
left for Dodge City to stay overnight and Sunday. He was resolved to
purchase _Atalanta in Calydon_ and find in the Public Library
_The Lady of Shalott_ and _The Blessed Damozel_, besides
paying the usual visit to his wife and children."

If a man cannot understand music, painting, and poetry without loving
these arts, neither can a man understand men and women and children
without loving them. This is one reason why even the cleverest
cynicism is never more than half the truth, and usually less.

Mr. Lindsay is a poet, and a missionary. As a missionary, he wishes
all Americans to be as good judges of poetry as they are, let us say,
of baseball. One of the numerous joys of being a professional
ball-player must be the knowledge that you are exhibiting your art to
a prodigious assembly of qualified critics. John Sargent knows that
the majority of persons who gaze at his picture of President Wilson
are incompetent to express any opinion; his subtlety is lost or quite
misunderstood; but Tyrus Raymond Cobb knows that the thousands who
daily watch him during the summer months appreciate his consummate
mastery of the game. Vachel Lindsay, I suppose, wants millions not
merely to love, but to detect the finer shades of the poetic art.

If he set out to accomplish this dream by lowering the standards of
poetry, then he would debase the public and be a traitor to his guild.
But his method is uncompromising--he taught the harvester not Mrs.
Hemans, but Swinburne. He calls his own verse the higher vaudeville.
But _The Congo_ is the higher vaudeville as _Macbeth_ is the
higher melodrama. And there is neither melodrama nor vaudeville in
_Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight_--a poem of stern and solemn
majesty.

Mr. Lindsay is true to the oldest traditions of poetry in his
successful attempts to make his verses ring and sing. He is both
antique and antic. But he is absolutely contemporary, "modern," "new,"
in his fearlessness. He has this in common with the practicers of free
verse, with the imagists, with the futurists; he is not in the least
afraid of seeming ridiculous. There can be no progress in art until
artists overcome wholly this blighting fear. It is the lone
individual, with his name stamped all over him, charging into the
safely anonymous mass; but that way lies the Advance.

When Thomas Carlyle took up the study of Oliver Cromwell, he found
that all previous historians had tried to answer this question: What
is the mask that Oliver wore? And suddenly the true answer came to him
in the form of another question: What if it should prove to be no mask
at all, but just the man's own face? So there are an increasingly
large number of readers who are discerning in the dauntless gambols of
Vachel Lindsay, not the mask of buffoonery, worn to attract attention,
but a real poet, dancing gaily with bronchos, children, field-mice and
potatoes.

Such unquenchable vitality, such bubbling exuberance, cannot always be
graceful, cannot always be impressive. But the blunders of an original
man are sometimes more fruitful than the correctness of a copyist.
Furthermore, blunders sometimes make for wisdom and truth. Let us not
forget Vachel Lindsay's poem on Columbus:

  Would that we had the fortunes of Columbus,
  Sailing his caravels a trackless way,
  He found a Universe--he sought Cathay.
  God give such dawns as when, his venture o'er,
  The Sailor looked upon San Salvador.
  God lead us past the setting of the sun
  To wizard islands, of august surprise;
  God make our blunders wise.

  COLD PASTORAL!

The difference between Vachel Lindsay and Robert Frost is the
difference between a drum-major and a botanist. The former marches
gaily at the head of his big band, looking up and around at the crowd;
the latter finds it sweet

                  with unuplifted eyes
  To pace the ground, if path be there or none.

Robert Frost, the poet of New England, was born at San Francisco, and
published his first volume in London. Midway between these two cities
lies the enchanted ground of his verse; for he belongs to New England
as wholly as Whittier, as truly as Mr. Lindsay belongs to Illinois. He
showed his originality so early as the twenty-sixth of March, 1875, by
being born at San Francisco; for although I have known hundreds of
happy Californians, men and women whose love for their great State is
a religion, Robert Frost is the only person I ever met who was born
there. That beautiful country is frequently used as a springboard to
heaven; and that I can understand, for the transition is less violent
than from some other points of departure. But why so few natives?

Shamelessly I lift the following biographical facts from Miss Amy
Lowell's admirable essay on our poet. At the age of ten, the boy was
moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He went to school, and disliked the
experience. He tried Dartmouth and later Harvard, staying a few months
at the first and two years at the second. Between these academic
experiences he was married. In 1900 he began farming in New Hampshire.
In 1911 he taught school, and in 1912 went to England. His first book
of poems, _A Boy's Will,_ was published at London in 1913. The
review in _The Academy_ was ecstatic. In 1914 he went to live at
Ledbury, where John Masefield was born, and where in the neighbourhood
dwelt W.W. Gibson. His second volume, _North of Boston,_ was
published at London in 1914. Miss Lowell quotes a sentence, full of
insight, from the review in the _Times._ "Poetry burns up out of
it, as when a faint wind breathes upon smouldering embers." In March,
1915, Mr. Frost returned to America, bringing his reputation with him.
He bought a farm in New Hampshire among the mountains, and in 1916
appeared his third volume, _Mountain Interval._

Was there ever a better illustration of the uncritical association of
names than the popular coupling of Robert Frost with Edgar Lee
Masters? They are similar in one respect; they are both poets. But in
the glorious army of poets, it would be difficult to find two
contemporaries more wholly unlike both in the spirit and in the form
of their work than Mr. Frost and Mr. Masters. Mr. Frost is as far from
free verse as he can stretch, as far as Longfellow; and while he
sometimes writes in an ironical mood, he never indulges himself in
cynicism. As a matter of fact, Mr. Frost is nearer in his art to Mr.
Lindsay than to Mr. Masters; for his theory of poetry, which I confess
I cannot understand, requires the poet to choose words entirely with
reference to their spoken value.

His poetry is more interesting and clearer than his theories about it.
I once heard him give a combination reading-lecture, and after he had
read some of his poems, all of which are free from obscurity, he began
to explain his ideas on how poetry should be written. He did this with
charming modesty, but his "explanations" were opaque. After he had
continued in this vein for some time, he asked the audience which they
would prefer to him do next--read some more of his poems, go on
talking about poetry? He obtained from his hearers an immediate
response, picked up his book, and read in admirable fashion his
excellent verse. We judge poets by their poems, not by their theories.

Robert Frost is an out-door poet. Even when he gives a picture of an
interior, the people are always looking out of the windows at
something or other. In his poems we follow the procession of the
seasons, with the emphasis on autumn and winter. One might be
surprised at the infrequency of his poems on spring, were it not for
the fact that his knowledge of the country is so precise and definite.
Spring is more beautiful in the city than in the country; it comes
with less alloy. No one has ever drawn a better picture of a country
road in the pouring rain, where "the hoof-prints vanish away."

In spite of his preoccupation with the exact value of oral words, he
is not a singing lyrist. There is not much _bel canto_ in his
volumes. Nor do any of his poems seem spontaneous. He is a thoughtful
man, given to meditation; the meanest flower or a storm-bedraggled
bird will lend him material for poetry. But the expression of his
poems does not seem naturally fluid. I suspect he has blotted many a
line. He is as deliberate as Thomas Hardy, and cultivates the lapidary
style. Even in the conversations frequently introduced into his
pieces, he is as economical with words as his characters are with
cash. This gives to his work a hardness of outline in keeping with the
New England temperament and the New Hampshire climate. There is no
doubt that much of his peculiarly effective dramatic power is gained
by his extremely careful expenditure of language.

It is, of course, impossible to prescribe boundary lines for a poet,
although there are critics who seem to enjoy staking out a poet's
claim. While I have no intention of building futile walls around Mr.
Frost's garden, nor erecting a sign with the presumptuous prohibition
of trespassing beyond them, it is clear that he has himself chosen to
excel in quality of produce rather than in variety and range. In the
first poem of the first volume, he concludes as follows:

  They would not find me changed from him they knew--
  Only more sure of all I thought was true.

This is certainly a precise statement of the impression made on the
reader who studies his three books in chronological order. _A Boy's
Will,_ as befits a youth who has lived more in himself than in the
world, is more introspective than either _North of Boston_ or
_Mountain Interval;_ but this habit of introspection gave him
both the method and the insight necessary for the accurate study of
nature and neighbours. He discovered what other people were like,
simply by looking into his own heart. And in _A Boy's Will_ we
find that same penetrating examination of rural scenes and common
objects that gives to the two succeeding the final stamp of veracity.
I do not remember ever having seen a phrase like the following, though
the phrase instantly makes the familiar picture leap into that empty
space ever before the reader's eye--that space, which like bare
wall-paper, seems to demand a picture on its surface.

_Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand._

It is fortunate that the law of diminishing returns--which every
farmer is forced to heed--does not apply to pastoral poets. Out of the
same soil Robert Frost has successfully raised three crops of the same
produce. He might reply that in the intervals he has let the ground
lie fallow--but my impression is that he is really working it all the
time.

The sharp eye of the farmer sees nothing missed by our poet, but the
poet has interpretation as well as vision. He not only sees things but
sees things in their relations; and he knows that not only is
everything related to every other thing, but that all things are
related to the eternal mystery, their source and their goal. This is
why the yellow primrose is so infinitely more than a yellow primrose.
This also explains why the poems of Mr. Frost, after stirring us to
glad recognition of their fidelity, leave us in a revery.

His studies of human nature are the purest realism. They are
conversations rather than arias, for he uses the speaking, not the
singing voice. Poets are always amazing us, and some day Robert Frost
may astonish me by writing a romantic ballad. It would surely be a
surprise, for with his lack of operatic  accomplishment, and his
fondness for heroes in homespun, he would seem almost ideally unfitted
for the task. This feeling I find strengthened by his poem called
_An Equal Sacrifice_, the only one of his pieces where anything
like a ballad is attempted, and the only one in all three books which
seems to be an undeviating failure. It is as flat as a pancake, and
ends with flat moralizing. Mr. Frost is particularly unsuccessful at
preaching.

No, apart from his nature poems, his studies of men and women are most
impressive when they follow the lines of Doric simplicity in the
manner of the powerful stage-plays written by Susan Glaspell. The
rigidity of the mould seems all the better fitted for the suppressed
passion it contains, just as liquid fire is poured into a vessel with
unyielding sides. His two most successful poems of this kind are
_Home Burial_, in _North of Boston_, and _Snow_, in
_Mountain Interval_. The former is not so much a tragedy as the
concentrated essence of tragedy. There is enough pain in it to furnish
forth a dozen funerals. It has that centrifugal force which Mr.
Calderon so brilliantly suggests as the main characteristic of the
dramas of Chekhov. English plays are centripetal; they draw the
attention of the audience to the group of characters on the stage; but
Chekhov's, says Mr. Calderon, are centrifugal; they throw our regard
off from the actors to the whole class of humanity they represent.
Just such a remark applies to _Home Burial_; it makes the reader
think of the thousands of farmhouses darkened by similar tragedies.
Nor is it possible to quote a single separate passage from this poem
for each line is so necessary to the total effect that one must read
every word of it to feel its significance. It is a masterpiece of
tragedy. And it is curious, as one continues to think about it, as one
so often does on finishing a poem by Robert Frost, that we are led
first to contemplate the number of such tragedies, and finally to
contemplate a stretch of life of far wider range--the broad, profound
difference between a man and a woman. Are there any two creatures on
God's earth more unlike? In this poem the man is true to himself, and
for that very reason cannot in his honest, simple heart comprehend why
he should appear to his own wife as if he were some frightful monster.
He is perplexed, amazed, and finally enraged at the look of loathing
in the wide eyes of his own mate. It was a little thing--his innocent
remark about a birch fence--that revealed to her that she was living
with a stranger. Grief never possesses a man as it does a woman,
except when the grief is exclusively concerned with his own bodily
business, as when he discovers that he has cancer or toothache. To the
last day of human life on earth, it will seem incomprehensible to a
woman that a man, on the occasion of a death in the family, can sit
down and eat with gusto a hearty meal. For bodily appetite, which is
the first thing to leave a woman, is the last to leave a man; and when
it has left every other part of his frame, it sometimes has a
repulsive survival in his eyes. The only bridge that can really cross
this fathomless chasm between man and woman is the bridge of love.

The dramatic quality of _Snow_ is suspense. The object through
which the suspense is conveyed to the reader is the telephone,
employed with such tragic effect at the Grand Guignol. Mr. Frost's art
in colloquial speech has never appeared to better advantage than here,
and what a wave of relief when the voice of Meserve is heard! It is
like a resurrection.

In order fully to appreciate a poem like _Mending Wall_, one
should hear Mr. Frost read it. He reads it with such interpretative
skill, with subtle hesitations and pauses for apparent reflection,
that the poem grows before the audience even as the wall itself. He
hesitates as though he had a word in his hands, and was thinking what
would be exactly the best place to deposit it--even as the farmer
holds a stone before adding it to the structure. For this poem is not
written, it is built. It is built of separate words, and like the wall
it describes, it takes two to build it, the author and the reader.
When the last line is reached, the poem is finished.

Nearly every page in the poetry of Robert Frost gives us the pleasure
of recognition. He is not only sincere, he is truthful--by which I
mean that he not only wishes to tell the truth, but succeeds in doing
so. This is the fundamental element in his work, and will, I believe,
give it permanence.

  GOOD HOURS

  I had for my winter evening walk--
  No one at all with whom to talk,
  But I had the cottages in a row
  Up to their shining eyes in snow.

  And I thought I had the folk within:
  I had the sound of a violin;
  I had a glimpse through curtain laces
  Of youthful forms and youthful faces.

  I had such company outward bound.
  I went till there were no cottages found.
  I turned and repented, but coming back
  I saw no window but that was black.

  Over the snow my creaking feet
  Disturbed the slumbering village street
  Like profanation, by your leave,
  At ten o'clock of a winter eve.

A poem like that gives not only the pleasure of recognition; it has an
indescribable charm. It is the charm when joy fades, not into sorrow,
but into a deep, abiding peace.



CHAPTER IX

AMY LOWELL, ANNA BRANCH, EDGAR LEE MASTERS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER


  Amy Lowell--a patrician--a radical--her education--her years
  of preparation--vigour and versatility--definitions of free
  verse and of poetry--Whitman's influence--the
  imagists--_Patterns_--her first book--her rapid
  improvement--sword blades--her gift in narrative--polyphonic
  prose--Anna Hempstead Branch--her dramatic power--domestic
  poems--tranquil meditation--an orthodox poet--Edgar Lee
  Masters--his education--Greek inspiration--a
  lawyer--_Reedy's Mirror_--the _Anthology_--power of
  the past--mental vigour--similarity and variety--irony and
  sarcasm--passion for truth--accentuation of
  ugliness--analysis--a masterpiece of cynicism--an ideal
  side--the dramatic monologue--defects and limitations--Louis
  Untermeyer--his youth--the question of beauty--three
  characteristics--a gust of life--_Still Life_--old
  maids--burlesques and parodies--the newspaper humourists--F.
  P. A.--his two books--his influence on English composition.

Among the many American women who are writing verse in the twentieth
century, two stand out--Amy Lowell and Anna Branch. And indeed I can
think of no woman in the history of our poetry who has surpassed them.
Both are bone-bred New Englanders. No other resemblance occurs to me.

It is interesting that a cosmopolitan radical like Amy Lowell should
belong ancestrally so exclusively to Massachusetts, and to so
distinguished a family. She is a born patrician, and a reborn Liberal.
James Russell Lowell was a cousin of Miss Lowell's grandfather, and
her maternal grandfather, Abbott Lawrence, was also Minister to
England. Her eldest brother, nineteen years older than she, was the
late Percival Lowell, a scientific astronomer with a poetic
imagination; he was one of the most interesting and charming
personalities I ever knew. His constant encouragement and example were
powerful formative influences in his sister's development. Another
brother is the President of Harvard, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, through
whose dignified, penetrating, sensible, authoritative speeches and
writings breathes the old Massachusetts love of liberty.

Courage is a salient characteristic in Amy Lowell. She is afraid of
nothing, not even of her birthday. She was born at Brookline, on the
ninth of February, 1874. "Like all young poets, I was influenced by
everybody in turn, but I think the person who affected me most
profoundly was Keats, although my later work resembles his so little.
I am a collector of Keats manuscripts, and have spent much time in
studying his erasures and corrections, and they taught me most of what
I know about poetry; they, and a very interesting book which is seldom
read today--Leigh Hunt's _Imagination and Fancy._ I discovered
the existence of Keats through that volume, as my family read very
little of what was considered in those days 'modern poetry'; and,
although my father Keats in his library, Shelley was barred, on
account of his being an atheist. I ran across this volume of Leigh
Hunt's when I was about fifteen and it turned me definitely to
poetry." (_Letter of March, 1918._)

When she was a child, her family took her on a long European tour; in
later years she passed one winter on the Nile, another on a fruit
ranch in California, another in visiting Greece and Turkey. In 1902
she decided to devote her life to writing poetry, and spent eight
years in faithful study, effort, and practice without publishing a
word. In the _Atlantic Monthly_ for August, 1910, appeared her
first printed verse; and in 1912 came her first volume of poems, _A
Dome of Many-Coloured Glass,_ the title being a quotation from the
forbidden Shelley. Since that year she has been a notable figure in
contemporary literature. Her reputation was immensely heightened and
widened by the publication of her second book, _Sword Blades and
Poppy Seed,_ in 1914. In 1916 came the third volume, _Men, Women,
and Ghosts._

She has been a valiant fighter for poetic theory, writing many
articles on Free Verse, Imagism, and kindred themes; and she is the
author of two works in prose criticism, _Six French Poets,_ in
1915, and _Tendencies in Modern American Poetry,_ in 1917, of
which the former is the more valuable and important. In five years,
then, from 1912 to 1917, she produced three books of original verse,
two tall volumes of literary criticism, and a large number of magazine
poems and essays--a remarkable record both in quantity and quality.

Vigour and versatility are the words that rise in one's mind when
thinking of the poetry of Amy Lowell. It is absurd to class her as a
disciple of free verse, or of imagism, or of polyphonic prose; she
delights in trying her hand at all three of these styles of
composition, for she is an experimentalist; but much of her work is in
the strictest orthodox forms, and when she has what the Methodists
used to call _liberty,_ no form or its absence can prevent her
from writing poetry.

I can see no reason for either attacking or defending free verse, and
if I had any influence with Miss Lowell, I should advise her to waste
no more time in the defence of any school or theory, because the
ablest defence she or any one else can make is actually to write
poetry in the manner in which some crystallized critics say it cannot
be done. True poetry is recognizable in any garment; and ridicule of
the clothes can no more affect the identity of the article than the
attitude of Penelope's suitors toward the rags of Ulysses affected his
kingship. Let the journalistic wits have their fling; it is even
permissible to enjoy their wit, when it is as cleverly expressed as in
the following epigram, which I believe appeared in the Chicago
_Tribune:_ "Free verse is a form of theme unworthy of pure prose
embodiment developed by a person incapable of pure poetic expression."
Not at all bad; but as some one said of G. K. Chesterton, it would be
unfair to apply to wit the test of truth. It is better to remember
Coleridge's remark on poetry: "The opposite of poetry is not prose but
science; the opposite of prose is not poetry but verse." Perhaps we
could say of the polyphonic people that they are well versed in prose.

The amazing growth of free verse during the last ten years has
surprised no one more than me, and it has convinced me of my lack of
prophetic clairvoyance. Never an idolater of Walt Whitman, I have also
never been blind to his genius; as he recedes in time his figure grows
bigger and bigger, like a man in the moving pictures leaving the
screen. But I used to insist rather emphatically that although he was
said to be both the poet of democracy and the poet of the future, he
was in fact admired mostly by literary aristocrats; and that the poets
who came after him were careful to write in strict composition. In the
'nineties I looked around me and behold, Kipling, Phillips, Watson and
Riley were in their work at the opposite extreme from Walt Whitman; he
had not a single disciple of unquestioned poetic standing. Now, in the
year of grace 1918, though he is not yet read by the common people--a
thousand of whom read Longfellow to one who reads Whitman--he has a
tribe of followers and imitators, many of whom do their utmost to
reach his results by his methods, and some of whom enjoy eminence.

Those who are interested in the growth of imagist poetry in English
should read the three slender anthologies published respectively in
1915, 1916, and 1917, called _Some Imagist Poets,_ each
containing poems nowhere previously printed. The short prefaces to the
first two volumes are models of modesty and good sense, whether one
likes imagist poetry or hates it. According to this group of poets,
which is not a coterie or a mutual admiration society, but a few
individuals engaged in amicable rivalry at the same game, the
principles of imagism are mainly six, of which only the second is a
departure from the principles that have governed the production of
poetry in the past. First, to use the exact word: second, to create
new rhythms: third, to allow absolute freedom in the choice of
subject; fourth, to present an image: fifth, to produce poetry that is
hard and clear: sixth, to study concentration.

There are six poets adequately represented in each volume; but the
best poem of all is _Patterns,_ by Amy Lowell. In spite of having
to carry six rules in her head while writing it--for if one is
determined to be "free" one must sufficiently indicate the fact--she
has written a real poem. It strictly conforms to all six requirements,
and is at the same time simple, sensuous, passionate. I like it for
many reasons--because it is real, intimate, confidential; because it
narrates a tragic experience that is all too common in actual life;
because its tragedy is enhanced by dramatic contrasts, the splendour
of the bright, breezy, sunlit garden contrasting with the road of
ashen spiritual desolation the soul must take; the splendour of the
gorgeous stiff brocade and the futility of the blank, soft, imprisoned
flesh; the obstreperous heart, beating in joyous harmony with the
rhythm of the swaying flowers, changed by one written word into a
desert of silence. It is the sudden annihilation of purpose and
significance in a body and mind vital with it; so that as we close the
poem we seem to see for ever moving up and down the garden path a
stiff, brocaded gown, moving with no volition. The days will pass: the
daffodils will change to roses, to asters, to snow; but the unbroken
pattern of desolation will change not.

Publication is as essential to a poet as an audience to a playwright;
Keats realized this truth when he printed _Endymion._ He knew it
was full of faults and that he could not revise it. But he also knew
that its publication would set him free, and make it possible for him
immediately to write something better. This seems to have been the
case with Amy Lowell. Her first book, _A Dome of Many-Coloured
Glass,_ does not compare for a moment with _Sword Blades and
Poppy Seed._ It seems a harsh judgment, but I find under the dome
hardly one poem of unusual merit, and some of them are positively bad.
Could anything be flatter the first line of the sonnet _To John
Keats?_

  Great master! Boyish, sympathetic man!

The second volume, _Sword Blades and Poppy Seed,_ which came two
years later, showed a remarkable advance, and gave its author an
enviable position in American literature. An admirable preface reveals
three characteristics--reverence for the art of poetry, determination
not to be confined to any school, and a refreshingly honest confession
of hard labour in learning how to make poems. As old Quarles put it in
the plain-spoken seventeenth century,

  I see no virtues where I smell no sweat.

The first poem, which gives its name to the volume, is written in the
lively octosyllabics made famous by _Christmas Eve._ The
sharpness of her drawings, one of her greatest gifts, is evident in
the opening lines:

  A drifting, April, twilight sky,
  A wind which blew the puddles dry,
  And slapped the river into waves
  That ran and hid among the staves
  Of an old wharf. A watery light
  Touched bleak the granite bridge, and white
  Without the slightest tinge of gold,
  The city shivered in the cold.

Soon the traveller meets a man who takes him to an old room, full of
the symbols of poetry-edged weapons, curiously and elegantly wrought
together with seeds of poppy. Poems may be divided into two classes,
stimulants and sedatives.

  All books are either dreams, or swords,
  You can cut, or you can drug, with words.

Tennyson's poetry is mainly soothing, which is what lazy and tired
people look for in any form of art, and are disappointed when they do
not find it; the poetry of Donne, Browning, Emerson is the sword of
the spirit; it is the opposite of an anaesthetic. Hence when readers
first meet it, the effect is one of disturbance rather than repose,
and they think it cannot be poetry. Yet in this piece of symbolism,
which itself is full of beauty, Amy Lowell seems to say that both
reveillé and taps are wrought by music--one is as much the legitimate
office of poetry as the other. But although she classifies her poems
in this volume according to the opening pair of symbols, and although
she gives twice as much space to poppies as to swords, her poetry is
always more stimulating than soothing. Her poppy seeds won't work;
there is not a soporific page in the whole book.

One of the reasons why her books are so interesting is because she
knows how to tell a story in verse. In her romances style waits on
matter, like an attentive and thoroughly trained handmaid. Both poetry
and incident are sustained from beginning to end; and the reader would
stop more often to admire the flowers along the path if he were not so
eager to know the event. In this particular kind of verse-composition,
she has shown a steady development. The first real illustration of her
powers is seen in _The Great Adventure of Max Brueck,_ in
_Poppy Seed,_ though why so stirring a poem is thus classified is
to me quite mysterious; yet when we compare this "effort" with later
poems like _Pickthorn Manor_ and _The Cremona_ Violin we see
an advance both in vigour and in technique which is so remarkable that
she makes her earlier narrative seem almost immature. A poet is indeed
fortunate who can defeat that most formidable of all rivals--her
younger self. In _The Cremona Violin_ we have an extraordinary
combination of the varied abilities possessed by the author. It is an
absorbing tale full of drama, incident, realism, romanticism, imagism,
symbolism and pure lyrical singing. There is everything in fact except
polyphonic prose, and although I am afraid she loves her experiments
in that form, they are the portion of her complete works that I could
most willingly let die.

Her sensitiveness to colours and to sounds is clearly betrayed all
through the romantic narrative of the _Cremona Violin,_ where the
instrument is a symbol of the human heart. Those who, in the old days
before the Germans began their career of wholesale robbery and murder,
used to hear Mozart's operas in the little rococo
_Residenz-Theater_ in Munich, will enjoy reminiscently these
stanzas.

  The _Residenz-Theater_ sparkled and hummed
  With lights and people. Gebnitz was to sing,
  That rare soprano. All the fiddles strummed
  With tuning up; the wood-winds made a ring
  Of reedy bubbling noises, and the sting
  Of sharp, red brass pierced every eardrum; patting
  From muffled tympani made a dark slatting

  Across the silver shimmering of flutes;
  A bassoon grunted, and an oboe wailed;
  The 'celli pizzicato-ed like great lutes,
  And mutterings of double basses trailed
  Away to silence, while loud harp-strings hailed
  Their thin, bright colours down in such a scatter
  They lost themselves amid the general clatter.

  Frau Altgelt, in the gallery, alone,
  Felt lifted up into another world.
  Before her eyes a thousand candles shone
  In the great chandeliers. A maze of curled
  And powdered periwigs past her eyes swirled.
  She smelt the smoke of candles guttering,
  And caught the scent of jewelled fans fluttering.

Her most ambitious attempt in polyphonic prose is _Guns as Keys: and
the Great Gate Swings,_ whereof the title is like a trumpet
fanfare. The thing itself is a combination of a moving picture and a
calliope. Written with immense gusto, full of comedy and tragedy, it
certainly is not lacking in vitality; but judged as poetry, I regard
it as inferior to her verse romances and lyrics.

Rhythmical prose is as old as the Old Testament; the best modern
rhythmical prose that I have seen is found in the earlier plays of
Maurice Maeterlinck, written a quarter of a century ago. It is
unnecessary to enquire whether those dramas are poetry or not; for
although nearly all his work is in the printed form of prose, the
author is almost invariably spoken of as "the poet Maeterlinck."

The versatility of Amy Lowell is so notable that it would be vain to
predict the nature of her future production, or to attempt to set a
limit to her range. In her latest and best book, _Men Women, and
Ghosts,_ besides the two admirable long narratives, we have poems
of patriotism, outdoor lyrics, town eclogues, pictures of still life
tragic pastorals in the manner of Susan Glaspell, and one delightful
_revenant, Nightmare,_ which takes us back to Dickens, for it is
a verse comment on a picture by George Cruikshank. Her robust vitality
is veined with humour; she watches a roof-shingler with active
delight, discovering poetry in cheerful manual toil. One day life
seems to her depressing; another day, beautiful; another, inspiring;
another, downright funny.

In spite of her assured position in contemporary literature, one feels
that her career has not reached its zenith.



Some twelve years ago, I was engaged in earnest conversation with
James Whitcomb Riley concerning the outlook for American poetry. The
chronic optimist for once was filled with woe. "There is not a single
person among the younger writers," said he, "who shows any promise of
greatness, except"--and then his face recovered its habitual
cheerfulness--"Anna Hempstead Branch. She is a poet."

In justification of his gloom, it should be remembered that the
present advance in American poetry began some time after he uttered
these words; and although he was a true poet and wrote poems that will
live for many years to come, he was, in everything that had to do with
the art of poetry, the most conservative man I ever knew.

Anna Branch was born at Hempstead House, New London, Connecticut, and
was graduated from Smith College in 1897. In 1898 she won a first
prize for the best poem awarded by the _Century Magazine_ in a
competition open to college graduates. Since then she has published
three volumes of verse, _The Heart of the Road,_ 1901, _The
Shoes That Danced,_ 1905, _Rose of the Wind,_ 1910. I fear
that her ambition to be a dramatist may have prevented her from
writing lyrical poetry (her real gift) during these last eight years.
If it is true, 'tis pity; for a good poem is a better thing than a
successful play and will live longer.

Like many poets who cannot write plays, she is surcharged with
dramatic energy. But, to use a familiar phrase, it is action in
character rather than character in action which marks her work most
impressively, and the latter is the essential element for the
footlights. Shakespeare, Rostand, and Barrie have both, and are
naturally therefore great dramatists. Two of the most of Miss Branch's
poems are _Lazarus_ _Ora Pro Nobis._ These are fruitful
subjects for poetry, the man who came back from the grave and the
passionate woman buried alive. In the short piece _Lazarus,_ cast
into the form of dialogue Lazarus answers the question put to him by
Tennyson in _In Memoriam._

  Where wert thou, brother, those four days?

Various members of the group, astounded at his resurrection, try in
vain to have their curiosity satisfied. What do the dead do? Are they
happy? _Has my baby grown?_ What overpowering motive brought you
back from peace to live once more in sorrow?

This last question Lazarus answers in a positive but unexpected way.

  A great desire led me out alone
  From those assured abodes of perfect bliss....
  And by the way I went came seeking earth,
  Seeing before my eyes one only thing--
             _The Crowd_
  What was it, Lazarus? Let us share that thing!
  What was it, brother, thou didst see?
              _Lazarus_
                                A cross.

Another dynamic poem, glowing with passion, is _Ora Pro Nobis._
It is difficult to select passages from it, for it is sustained in
power and beauty from the first line to the last; yet some idea of it:
form and colour may be obtained by citation. A little girl was put
into a convent with only two ways of passing the time; stitching and
praying. She has never seen her face--she never will see for no mirror
is permitted; but she sees one day the reflection of its beauty in the
hungry eyes of a priest.

  Long years I dwelt in that dark hall,
  There was no mirror on the wall,
  I never saw my face at all,
              (Hail Mary.)
  In a great peace they kept me there,
  A straight white robe they had me wear,
  And the white bands about my hair.
  I did not know that I was fair.
             (Hail Mary.)...
  The sweet chill fragrance of the snow,
  More fine than lilies all aglow
  Breathed around--he saw me so,
  In garments spun of fire and snow.
      (Holy Mother, pray for us.)
  His hands were on my face and hair,
  His high, stern eyes that would forswear
  All earthly beauty, saw me there.
  Oh, then I knew that I was fair!
      (Mary, intercede for us.)...
  Then I raised up to God my prayer,
  I swept its strong and circling air,
  Betwixt me and the great despair.
      (Sweet Mary, pray for us.)
  But when before the sacred shrine
  I knelt to kiss the cross benign,
  Mary, I thought his lips touched mine.
      (Ave Maria, Ora Pro Nobis.)

Although some of her poems have an intensity almost terrible, Anna
Branch has written household lyrics as beautiful in their uncrowded
simplicity as an eighteenth century room. The _Songs for My
Mother,_ celebrating her clothes, her her words, her stories
breathe the unrivalled perfume of tender memories. And if
_Lazarus_ is a sword, two of her most original pieces are
poppy-seeds, _To Nature_ and

  THE SILENCE OF THE POETS

  I better like that shadowed side of things
  In which the Poets wrote not; when they went
  Unto the fullness of their great content
  Like moths into the grass with folded wings.
  The silence of the Poets with it brings
  The other side of moons, and it is spent
  In love, in sorrow, or in wonderment.
  After the silence, maybe a bird sings.
  I have heard call, as Summer calls the swallow,
  A leisure, bidding unto ways serene
  To be a child of winds and the blue hazes.
  "Dream"--quoth the Dreamer--and 'tis sweet to follow!
  So Keats watched stars rise from his meadows green,
  And Chaucer spent his hours among the daisies.

This productive leisure has borne much fruit in the poetry of Anna
Branch; her work often has the quiet beauty rising from tranquil
meditation. She is an orthodox poet. She uses the old material--God,
Nature, Man--and writes songs with the familiar notation. She has
attracted attention not by the strangeness of her ideas, or by the
audacity of her method, but simply by the sincerity of her thought and
the superior quality of her singing voice. There is no difficulty in
distinguishing her among the members of the choir, and she does not
have to make a discord to be noticed.

There are almost as many kinds of poets as there are varieties of
human beings; it is a far cry from Anna Branch to Edgar Lee Masters. I
do not know whether either reads the other; it may be a mutual
admiration exists; it may be that each would be ashamed to have
written the other's books; even if that were true, there is no reason
why an American critic--with proper reservations--should not be proud
of both. For if there is one thing certain about the advance of poetry
in America, it is that the advance is a general one along the whole
line of composition from free verse and polyphonic prose on the
extreme left to sonnets and quatrains on the extreme right.

Edgar Lee Masters was born in Kansas, on the twenty-third of August,
1869. The family moved to Illinois the next year. His father was a
lawyer, and the child had access to plenty of good books, which he
read eagerly. In spite of his preoccupation with the seamy side of
human nature, he is in reality a bookish poet, and most of his
work--though not the best part of it--smells of the lamp. Fortunately
for him he was brought up on the Bible, for even those who attack the
Old Book are glad to be able to tip their weapons with biblical
language. Ibsen used to say that his chief reading, even in mature
years, was always the Bible; "it is so strong and mighty."

Everything connected with books and literary work fascinated the
youth; like so many boys of his time--before wireless came in--he had
his own printing-press. I wonder if it was a "self-inker"? In my day,
the boy who owned a "self-inker" and "club-skates" was regarded with
envy. The three generations in this family illustrate the play
_Milestones;_ the grandfather vainly tried to make his son a
farmer, but the boy elected to be a lawyer and carried his point; he
in turn was determined to twist his son into a lawyer, whereas Edgar
wanted to be a writer. As this latter profession is usually without
emolument, he was forced into the law, where the virile energy of his
mind rewarded his zestless efforts with success. However, at the age
of twenty-one, he persuaded his father to allow him to study at Knox
College for a year, a highly important period in his development; for
he resumed the interrupted study of Latin, and began Greek. Greek is
the chief inspiration of his life, and of his art. He has read Homer
every year since his college days.

Later he went to Chicago, and stayed there, busying himself not only
at his profession, but taking part in political activities, as any one
might guess from reading his poems. The primal impulse to write was
not frustrated; he has written verse all his life; and in fact has
published a considerable number of volumes during the last twenty
years, no one of which attracted any attention until 1915, when
_Spoon River Anthology_ made everybody sit up.

Mr. Masters was nearly fifty when this book appeared; it is a long
time to wait for a reputation, especially if one is constantly trying
to obtain a hearing. It speaks powerfully for his courage, tenacity,
and faith that he should never have quit--and his triumph will
encourage some good and many bad writers to persevere. Emboldened by
the immense success of _Spoon River_, he produced three more
volumes in rapid succession; _Songs and Satires_ in 1916, _The
Great Valley_ in the same year, and _Toward the Gulf_ in 1918.
It is fortunate for him that these works followed rather than preceded
the _Anthology_; for although they are not destitute of merit,
they seem to require a famous name to ensure a sale. It is the brand,
and not the goods, that gives a circulation to these books.

The pieces in _Spoon River Anthology_ originally appeared in
William Marion Reedy's periodical, called _Reedy's Mirror_, the
first one being printed in the issue for 29 May, 1914, and the others
following week after week. A grateful acknowledgment is made in a
brief preface to the volume, and the full debt is handsomely paid in a
dedicatory preface of _Toward the Gulf_, which every one
interested in Mr. Masters--and who is not?--should read with
attention. The poet manfully lets us know that it was Mr. Reedy who,
in 1909, made him read the Greek Anthology, without which _Spoon
River_ would never have been written. Criticism is forestalled in
this preface, because Mr. Masters takes a prose translation of
Meleager, "with, its sad revealment and touch of irony"--exactly the
characteristics of _Spoon River_--and turns it into free verse:

  The holy night and thou,
  O Lamp,
  We took as witness of our vows;
  And before thee we swore,
  He that [he] would love me always
  And I that I would never leave him.
  We swore,
  And thou wert witness of our double promise.
  But now he says that our vows were written on the running
      waters.
  And thou, O Lamp,
  Thou seest him in the arms of another.

What Mr. Masters did was to transfer the method and the tone of the
Greek Anthology to a twentieth century village in the Middle West, or
as he expresses it, to make "an epic rendition of modern life."

Even if it were desirable, how impossible it is to escape from the
past! we are ruled by the dead as truly in the fields of art as in the
domain of morality and religion. The most radical innovator can no
more break loose from tradition than a tree can run away from its
roots. John Masefield takes us back to Chaucer; Vachel Lindsay is a
reincarnation of the ancient minstrels; Edgar Lee Masters owes both
the idea and the form of his masterpiece to Greek literature. Art is
as continuous as life.

This does not mean that he lacks originality. It was a daring
stroke--body-snatching in 1914. To produce a work like _Spoon River
Anthology_ required years of accumulated experience; a mordant
power of analysis; a gift of shrewd speech, a command of hard words
that will cut like a diamond; a mental vigour analogous to, though
naturally not so powerful, as that displayed by Browning in _The
Ring and the Book_. It is still a debatable proposition whether or
not this is high-class poetry; but it is mixed with brains. Imagine
the range of knowledge and power necessary to create two hundred and
forty-six distinct characters, with a revealing epitaph for each one!
The miracle of personal identity has always seemed to me perhaps the
greatest miracle among all those that make up the universe; but to
take up a pen and clearly display the marks that separate one
individual from the mass, and repeat the feat nearly two hundred and
fifty times, this needs creative genius.

The task that confronted Mr. Masters was this: to exhibit a long list
of individuals with sufficient basal similarity for each one to be
unmistakably human, and then to show the particular traits that
distinguish each man and woman from the others, giving each a right to
a name instead of a number. For instinctively we are all alike; it is
the Way in which we manage our instincts that shows divergence; just
as men and women are alike in possessing fingers, whereas no two
finger-prints are ever the same.

Mr. Masters has the double power of irony and sarcasm. The irony of
life gives the tone to the whole book; particular phases of life like
religious hypocrisy and political trimming are treated with vitriolic
scorn. The following selection exhibits as well as any the author's
poetic power of making pictures, together with the grinning irony of
fate.

  BERT KESSLER

  I winged my bird,
  Though he flew toward the setting sun;
  But just as the shot rang out, he soared
  Up and up through the splinters of golden light,
  Till he turned right over, feathers ruffled,
  With some of the down of him floating near,
  And fell like a plummet into the grass.
  I tramped about, parting the tangles,
  Till I saw a splash of blood on a stump,
  And the quail lying close to the rotten roots.
  I reached my hand, but saw no brier,
  But something pricked and stunned and numbed it.
  And then, in a second, I spied the rattler--
  The shutters wide in his yellow eyes,
  The head of him arched, sunk back in the rings of him,
  A circle of filth, the color of ashes,
  Or oak leaves bleached under layers of leaves,
  I stood like a stone as he shrank and uncoiled
  And started to crawl beneath the stump,
  When I fell limp in the grass.

This poem, with its unforgettable pictures and its terrible climax,
can stand easily enough by itself; it needs no interpretation; and
yet, if we like, the rattler may be taken as a symbol--a symbol of the
generation of vipers of which the population of Spoon River is mainly
composed.

In the _Anthology_, the driving motive is an almost perverted
passion for truth. Conventional epitaphs are marked by two
characteristics; artistically, when in verse, they are the worst
specimens of poetry known to man; even good poets seldom write good
epitaphs, and among all the sins against art perpetrated by the
uninspired, the most flagrant are found here; to a bad poet, for some
reason or other, the temptation to write them is irresistible. In many
small communities, one has to get up very early in the morning to die
before the village laureate has his poem prepared. This depth of
artistic infamy is equalled only by the low percentage of truth; so if
one wishes to discover literary illustrations where falsehood is
united with crudity, epitaphs would be the field of literature toward
which one would instinctively turn.

Like Jonathan Swift, Mr. Masters is consumed with hatred for
insincerity in art and insincerity in life; in the laudable desire to
force the truth upon his readers, he emphasizes the ugly, the brutal,
the treacherous elements which exist, not only in Spoon River, but in
every man born of woman. The result, viewed calmly, is that we have an
impressive collection of vices--which, although inspired by a
sincerity fundamentally noble--is as far from being a truthful picture
of the village as a conventional panegyric. The ordinary photographer,
who irons out the warts and the wrinkles, gives his subject a smooth
lying mask instead of a face; but a photograph that should make the
defects more prominent than the eyes, nose, and mouth would not be a
portrait.

A large part of a lawyer's business is analysis; and the analytical
power displayed by Mr. Masters is nothing less than remarkable. Each
character in Spoon River is subjected to a remorseless autopsy, in
which the various vicious elements existing in all men and women are
laid bare. But the business of the artist, after preparatory and
necessary analysing, is really synthesis. It is to make a complete
artistic whole; to produce some form of art.

This is why the _Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard_, by
Thomas Gray, is so superior as a poem to _Spoon River Anthology_.
The rich were buried in the church; the poor in the yard; we are
therefore given the short and simple annals of the poor. The curious
thing is that these humble, rustic, unlettered folk were presented to
the world sympathetically by a man who was almost an intellectual
snob. One of the most exact scholars of his day, one of the most
fastidious of mortals, one of the shyest men that ever lived, a born
mental aristocrat, his literary genius enabled him to write an
immortal masterpiece, not about the Cambridge hierarchy, but about
illiterate tillers of the soil. The _Elegy_ is the genius of
synthesis; without submitting each man in the ground to a ruthless
cross-examination, Gray managed to express in impeccable beauty of
language the common thoughts and feelings that have ever animated the
human soul. His poem will live as long as any book, because it is
fundamentally true.

I therefore regard _Spoon River Anthology_ not as a brilliant
revelation of human nature, but as a masterpiece of cynicism. It took
a genius to write the fourth book of _Gulliver's Travels_; but
after all, Yahoos are not men and women, and horses are not superior
to humanity. The reason why, in reading the _Anthology_, we
experience the constant pricking of recognition is because we
recognize the baser elements in these characters, not only in other
persons, but in ourselves. The reason why the Yahoos fill us with such
terror is because they are true incarnations of our worst instincts.
There, but for the grace of God, go you and I.

The chief element in the creative work of Mr. Masters being the power
of analysis, he is at his best in this collection of short poems. When
he attempts a longer flight, his limitations appear. It is distinctly
unfortunate that _The Spooniad_ and _The Epilogue_ were
added at the end of this wonderful Rogues' Gallery. They are witless.

Even the greatest cynic has his ideal side. It is the figure of
Abraham Lincoln that arouses all the romanticism of our poet, as was
the case with Walt Whitman, who, to be sure, was no cynic at all. The
short poem _Anne Rutledge_ is one of the few that strictly
conform to the etymological meaning of the title of the book; for
"Anthology" is a union of two Greek words, signifying a collection of
flowers.

Like Browning, Mr. Masters forsook the drama for the dramatic
monologue. His best work is in this form, where he takes one person
and permits him to reveal himself either in a soliloquy or in a
conversation. And it must be confessed that the monologues spoken by
contemporaries or by those Americans who talk from the graveyard of
Spoon River, are superior to the attempts at interpreting great
historical figures. The Shakespeare poem _Tomorrow Is My
Birthday_ is not only one of the worst effusions of Mr. Masters'
pen, it is almost sacrilege. Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear!

Outside of the monologues and the epitaphs, the work of Mr. Masters is
mainly unimpressive. Yet I admire his ambition to write on various
subjects and in various metres. Occasionally he produces a short story
in verse, characterized by dramatic power and by austere beauty of
style. The poem _Boyhood Friends_, recently published in the
_Yale Review_, and quite properly included by Mr. Braithwaite in
his interesting and valuable Anthology for 1917, shows such a command
of blank verse that I look for still finer things in the future. With
all his twisted cynicism and perversities of expression, Mr. Masters
is a true poet. He has achieved one sinister masterpiece, which has
cleansed his bosom of much perilous Stuff. Tomorrow to fresh woods and
pastures new.



Louis Untermeyer was born at New York, on the first of October, 1885.
He produced a volume of original poems at the age of twenty-five. This
was followed by three other books, and in addition, he has written
many verse-translations, a long list of prose articles in literary
criticism, whilst not neglecting his professional work as a designer
of jewelry. There is no doubt that this form of art has been a
fascinating occupation and an inspiration to poetry. He not only makes
sermons in stones, but can manufacture jewels five words long. Should
any one be dissatisfied with his designs for the jewel-factory, he can
"point with pride" to his books, saying, _Haec sunt mea
ornamenta_.

Somewhere or other I read a review of the latest volume of verse from
Mr. Untermeyer, and the critic began as follows: "One is grateful to
Mr. Untermeyer for doing what almost none of his contemporaries on
this side of the water thinks of doing." This sentence stimulated my
curiosity, for I wondered what particularly distinguishing feature of
his work I had failed to see. "For about the last thing that poets and
theorizers about poetry in these days think of is beauty. In
discussion and practice beauty is almost entirely left out of
consideration. Frequently they do not concern themselves with it at
all."

Such criticism as that starts with a preconceived definition of
beauty, misses every form of beauty outside of the definition, and
gives to Mr. Untermeyer credit for originality in precisely that
feature of his work where he most resembles contemporary and past
poets. I believe that beauty is now as it always has been the main aim
of the majority of American poets; but instead of legendary beauty,
instead of traditional beauty, they wish us to see beauty in modern
life. For example, it is interesting to observe how completely public
opinion has changed concerning the New York sky-scrapers. I can
remember when they were regarded as monstrosities of commercialism, an
offence to the eye and a torment to the aesthetic sense. But I recall
through my reading of history that mountains were also once regarded
as hideous deformities--they were hook-shouldered giants, impressive
in size--anything you like except beautiful. All the mountain had to
do was to go on staying there, confident in its supreme excellence,
knowing that some day it would be appreciated:

                       Somebody remarks:
  Morello's outline there is wrongly traced,
  His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
  Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?
  Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?

We know better today; we know that the New York sky-scrapers are
beautiful; just as we know that New York harbour in the night has
something of the glory of fairyland.

No, it will not do to say that Mr. Untermeyer is original in his
preoccupation with beauty; it Would be almost as true to say that the
chief feature in his work is the English language.

What is notable in him is the combination of three things; an immense
love of life, a romantic interpretation of material things, and a
remarkable talent for parody and burlesque.

Sex and Death--the obsessions of so many young poets--are not
particularly conspicuous in the poetry of this healthy, happy young
man. He writes about swimming, climbing the palisades, willow-trees,
children playing in the street. Familiar objects become mysterious and
thought-provoking in the light of his fancy. His imagination provides
him with no end of fun; he needs no melancholy solitary pilgrimage in
the gloaming to give him a pair of rimes; a country farm or a city
slum is quite enough. I like his affectionate salutation to the
willow; I like his interpretation of a side street. His greatest
_tour de force_ is his poem, _Still Life_. Of all painted
pictures, with the one exception of dead fish, the conventional
overturned basket of fruit is to me the most barren of meaning, the
least inspiring, in suggestion a blank. Yet somehow Mr. Untermeyer,
looking at a bowl of fruit, sees something I certainly never saw and
do not ever expect to see except on this printed page, something that
a bowl of fruit has for me in the same proportion as the stump of a
cigar--_something dynamic_.

I do not understand why so many Americans plaster the walls of their
dining-rooms with pictures of overset fruit-baskets and of dead fish
with their ugly mouths open; but in "still life" this paradoxical poet
sees something full of demoniacal energy. O Death, where is thy sting?

  Never have I beheld such fierce contempt,
  Nor heard a voice so full of vehement life
  As this that shouted from a bowl of fruit,
  High-pitched, malignant, lusty and perverse--
  Brutal with a triumphant restlessness.

But the fruit in the basket is dead. The energy, the fierce vehemence
and the lusty shout are not in the bowl, but in the soul. Subjectivity
can no further go.

It is rather curious, that when our poet can behold such passion in a
willow-tree or in a mess of plucked fruit, he should be so blind to it
in the heart of an old maid; though to be honest, the heroine of his
poem is meant for an individual rather than a type. If there is one
object on earth that a healthy young man cannot understand, it is an
old maid. Who can forget that terrible outburst of the aunt in _Une
Vie_? "Nobody ever cared to ask if my feet were wet!" Mr.
Untermeyer will live and learn. He is not contemptuous; he is full of
pity, but it is the pity of ignorance.

  Great joys or sorrows never came
    To set her placid soul astir;
  Youth's leaping torch, Love's sudden flame
    Were never even lit for her.

_Don't you believe it, Mr. Untermeyer!_

Even in his "serious" volumes of verse, there is much satire and
saline humour; so that his delightful book of parodies, called _----
and Other Poets_ is as spontaneous a product of his Muse as his
utterances _ex cathedra_. The twenty-seven poems, called _The
Banquet of the Bards_, with which the book begins, are excellent
fooling and genuine criticism. He wrote these things for his own
amusement, one reason why they amuse us. A roll-call of twenty-seven
contemporary poets, where each one comes forward and "speaks his
piece," is decidedly worth having. John Masefield "tells the true
story of Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son"; William Butler Yeats "gives a
Keltic version of Three Wise Men in Gotham"; Robert Frost "relates the
Death of the Tired Man," and so on. I had rather possess this volume
than any other by the author; it is almost worthy to rank with the
immortal _Fly Leaves_. Furthermore, in his serious work Mr.
Untermeyer has only begun to fight.

And while we are considering poems "in lighter vein," let us not
forget the three famous initials signed to a column in the Chicago
_Tribune_, Don Marquis of the _Evening Sun_, who can be
either grave or gay but cannot be ungraceful, and the universally
beloved Captain Franklin P. Adams, whose _Conning Tower_
increased the circulation of the New York _Tribune_ and the blood
of its readers. Brightest and best of the sons of the Colyumnists, his
classic Muse made the _Evening Mail_ an evening blessing, sending
the suburbanites home to their wives "always in good humour"; then,
like Jupiter and Venus, he charged from evening star to morning star,
and gave many thousands a new zest for the day's work. Skilful indeed
was his appropriation of the methods of Tom Sawyer; as Tom got his
fence whitewashed by arousing an eager competition among the boys to
do his work for him, each toiler firmly persuaded that he was the
recipient rather than the bestower of a favour, so F. P. A. incited
hundreds of well-paid literary artists to compete with one another for
the privilege of writing his column without money and without price.

His two books of verse, _By and Large_ and _Weights and
Measures_, have fairly earned a place in contemporary American
literature; and the influence of his column toward precision and
dignity in the use of the English language has made him one of the
best teachers of English composition in the country.



CHAPTER X

SARA TEASDALE, ALAN SEEGER, AND OTHERS


  Sara Teasdale--her poems of love--her youth--her finished
  art--Fannie Stearns Davis--her thoughtful verse--Theodosia
  Garrison--her war poem--war poetry of Mary Carolyn
  Davies--Harriet Monroe--her services--her original work--Alice
  Corbin--her philosophy--Sarah Cleghorn--poet of the country
  village--Jessie B. Rittenhouse--critic and poet--Margaret
  Widdemer--poet of the factories--Carl Sandburg--poet of
  Chicago--his career--his defects--J. C. Underwood--poet of
  city noises--T. S. Eliot--J. G. Neihardt--love poems--C. W.
  Stork--_Contemporary Verse_--M. L. Fisher--_The
  Sonnet_--S. Middleton--J. P. Bishop--W. A. Bradley--nature
  poems--W. Griffith--_City Pastorals_--John Erskine--W. E.
  Leonard--W. T. Whitsett--Helen Hay Whitney--Corinne Roosevelt
  Robinson--M. Nicholson--his left hand--Witter Bynner--a
  country poet--H. Hagedorn--Percy Mackaye--his theories--his
  possibilities--J. G. Fletcher--monotony of free verse--Conrad
  Aiken--his gift of melody--W. A. Percy--the best American poem
  of 1917--Alan Seeger--an Elizabethan--an inspired poet.

Sara Teasdale (Mrs. Filsinger) was born at St. Louis (pronounced
Lewis), on the eighth of August, 1884. Her first book appeared when
she was twenty-three, and made an impression. In 1911 she published
_Helen of Troy, and Other Poems_; in 1915 a volume of original
lyrics called _Rivers to the Sea_; some of these were reprinted,
together with new material, in _Love Poems_ (1917), which also
contained _Songs out of Sorrow_--verses that won the prize
offered by the Poetry Society of America for the best unpublished work
read at the meetings in 1916; and in 1918 she received the Columbia
University Poetry Prize of five hundred dollars, for the best book
produced by an American in 1917.

In spite of her youth and the slender amount of her production, Sara
Teasdale has won her way to the front rank of living American poets.
She is among the happy few who not only know what they wish to
accomplish, but who succeed in the attempt. How many manuscripts she
burns, I know not; but the comparatively small number of pages that
reach the world are nearly fleckless. Her career is beginning, but her
work shows a combination of strength and grace that many a master
might envy. It would be an insult to call her poems "promising," for
most of them exhibit a consummate control of the art of lyrical
expression. Give her more years, more experience, wider range, richer
content, her architecture may become as massive as it is fine. She
thoroughly understands the manipulation of the material of poetry. It
would be difficult to suggest any improvement upon

  TWILIGHT

  The stately tragedy of dusk
    Drew to its perfect close,
  The virginal white evening star
    Sank, and the red moon rose.

Although she gives us many beautiful pictures of nature, she is
primarily a poet of love. White-hot passion without a trace of
anything common or unclean; absolute surrender; whole-hearted devotion
expressed in pure singing. Nothing is finer than this--to realize that
the primal impulse is as strong as in the breast of a cave-woman, yet
illumined by clear, high intelligence, and pouring out its feeling in
a voice of gracious charm.

  PITY

  They never saw my lover's face,
    They only know our love was brief,
  Wearing awhile a windy grace
    And passing like an autumn leaf.

  They wonder why I do not weep,
    They think it strange that I can sing,
  They say, "Her love was scarcely deep
    Since it has left so slight a sting."

  They never saw my love nor knew
    That in my heart's most secret place
  I pity them as angels do
    Men who have never seen God's face.

  A PRAYER

  Until I lose my soul and lie
    Blind to the beauty of the earth,
  Deaf tho' a lyric wind goes by,
    Dumb in a storm of mirth;

  Until my heart is quenched at length
    And I have left the land of men,
  Oh, let me love with all my strength
    Careless if I am loved again.

If the two pieces just cited are not poetry, then I have no idea what
poetry may be.

Another young woman poet is Fannie Stearns Davis (Mrs. Grifford). The
quality of her mind as displayed in her two books indicates
possibilities of high development. She was born at Cleveland, on the
sixth of March, 1884, is a graduate of Smith College, was a teacher in
Wisconsin, and has made many contributions to various magazines. Her
first book of poems, _Myself and I_, appeared in 1913; two years
later came the volume called _Crack o' Dawn_. She is not much
given to metrical adventure, although one of her most original poems,
_As I Drank Tea Today_, has an irregular rime-scheme. For the
most part, she follows both in subject and style the poetic tradition.
She has the gift of song--not indeed in the superlative degree--but
nevertheless unmistakable; and she has a full mind. She is neither
optimist nor pessimist; I should call her a sympathetic observer. The
following poem sums up fairly well her accumulated wisdom:

    I have looked into all men's hearts.
  Like houses at night unshuttered they stand,
  And I walk in the street, in the dark, and on either hand
    There are hollow houses, men's hearts.

    They think that the curtains are drawn,
  Yet I see their shadows suddenly kneel
  To pray, or laughing and reckless as drunkards reel
    Into dead sleep till dawn.

    And I see an immortal child
  With its quaint high dreams and wondering eyes
  Sleeping beneath the hard worn body that lies
    Like a mummy-case defiled.

    And I hear an immortal cry
  Of splendour strain through the sodden words,
  Like a flight of brave-winged heaven-desirous birds
    From a swamp where poisons lie.

    --I have looked into all men's hearts.
  Oh, secret terrible houses of beauty and pain!
  And I cannot be gay, but I cannot be bitter again,
    Since I looked into all men's hearts.

There is one commandment that all poets under the first class, and
perhaps some of those favoured ones, frequently break: the tenth. One
cannot blame them, for they know what poetry is, and they love it.
They not only know what it is, but their own limited experience has
taught them what rapture it must be to write lines of flawless beauty.
This unconquerable covetousness is admirably and artistically
expressed in Fannie Davis's poem, _After Copying Goodly Poetry_.
It is an honest confession; but its author is fortunate in being able
to express vain desire so beautifully that many lesser poets will
covet her covetousness.

Theodosia Garrison was born at Newark, New Jersey, on the twenty-sixth
of November, 1874. She has published three volumes of verse, of which
perhaps the best known is _The Joy of Life_ (1909). At present
she is engaged in war work, where her high faith, serene womanliness,
and overflowing humour ought to make her, in the finest sense of the
word, efficient. Her short poem on the war is a good answer to
detractors of America.

  APRIL 2nd

  We have been patient--and they named us weak;
  We have been silent--and they judged us meek,
  Now, in the much-abused, high name of God
      We speak.

  Oh, not with faltering or uncertain tone--
  With chosen words we make our meaning known,
  That like a great wind from the West shall shake
      The double throne.

  Our colours flame upon the topmost mast,--
  We lift the glove so arrogantly cast,
  And in the much-abused, high name of God
      We speak at last.

Another war alchemist is Mary Carolyn Davies, poet of Oregon and
Brooklyn. She knows both coasts of America, she understands the
American spirit of idealism and self-sacrifice, and her verses have a
direct hitting power that will break open the hardest heart. In her
book, _The Drums in Our Street_ (1918), the glory and the tragedy
of the world-struggle are expressed in terms of individual feeling.
There is decided inequality in this volume, but the best pieces are so
carefully distributed among the commonplace that one must read the
whole work.

Harriet Monroe was born in Chicago and went to school in Georgetown,
D. C. In connection with the World's Exposition in Chicago she
received the honour of being formally invited to write a poem for the
dedication. Accordingly at the ceremony commemorating the four
hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, 21 October, 1892,
her _Columbian Ode_ was given with music.

Harriet Monroe's chief services to the art of poetry are seen not so
much in her creative work as in her founding and editing of the
magazine called _Poetry_, of which I made mention in my remarks
on Vachel Lindsay. In addition to this monthly stimulation--which has
proved of distinct value both in awakening general interest and in
giving new poets an opportunity to be heard, Miss Monroe, with the
assistance of Alice Corbin Henderson, published in 1917 an anthology
of the new varieties of verse. Certain poets are somewhat arbitrarily
excluded, although their names are mentioned in the Preface; the title
of the book is _The New Poetry_; the authors are fairly
represented, and with some sins of commission the selections from each
are made with critical judgment. Every student of contemporary verse
should own a copy of this work.

In 1914 Miss Monroe produced a volume of her original poems, called
_You and I_. There are over two hundred pages, and those who look
in them for something strange and startling will be disappointed.
Knowing the author's sympathy with radicalism in art, and with all
modern extremists, the form of these verses is surprisingly
conservative. To be sure, the first one, _The Hotel_, is in a
kind of polyphonic prose, but it is not at all a fair sample of the
contents. Now whether the reading of many manuscripts has dulled Miss
Monroe's creative power or not, who can say? The fact is that most of
these poems are in no way remarkable either for feeling or expression
and many of them fail to rise above the level of the commonplace.
There is happily no straining for effect; but unhappily in most
instances there is no effect.

Alice Corbin (Mrs. Henderson) is a native of Virginia and a resident
of Chicago. She is co-editor with Miss Monroe of _The New Poetry_
anthology, wherein her own poems are represented. These indicate skill
in the manipulation of different metrical forms; and they reveal as
well a shrewd, healthy acceptance of life as it is. This feeling
communicates itself in a charming way to the reader; it is too
vigorous for acquiescence, too wise for blind optimism, but nearer
optimism than pessimism. It seems perhaps in certain aspects to
resemble the philosophy of Ralph Hodgson, although his command of the
art of poetry is beyond her range.

Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn was born at Norfolk, Virginia, on the fourth
of February, 1876, but since childhood has lived in Vermont. She
studied at Radcliffe College, and has written much verse and prose. In
1915 a number of her lyrics were printed between the short stories in
a volume by her friend, Dorothy Canfield, called _Hillsboro
People_. In 1917 she published a book of verses, _Portraits and
Protests_, where the portraits are better than the protests. No one
has more truly or more sympathetically expressed the spirit of George
Herbert's poetry than Miss Cleghorn has given it with a handful of
words, in the lyric _In Bemerton Church_. But she is above all a
country mouse and a country muse; she knows her Vermont neighbours to
the skin and bone, and brings out artistically the austere sweetness
of their daily lives. I think I like best of all her work the poem

  A SAINT'S HOURS

                  In the still cold before the sun,
  _Her matins_ Her brothers and her sisters small
                  She woke, and washed and dressed each one.

                  And through the morning hours all
  _Prime_      Singing above her broom she stood
                  And swept the house from hall to hall.

                  Then out she ran with tidings good,
  _Tierce_     Across the field and down the lane,
                  To share them with the neighbourhood.

                  Four miles she walked, and home again,
  _Sexts_      To sit through half the afternoon
                  And hear a feeble crone complain.

                  But when she saw the frosty moon
  _Nones_      And lakes of shadow on the hill,
                  Her maiden dreams grew bright as noon.

                  She threw her pitying apron frill
  _Vespers_    Over a little trembling mouse
                  When the sleek cat yawned on the sill

                  In the late hours and drowsy house.
  _Evensong_   At last, too tired, beside her bed
                  She fell asleep--her prayers half said.

Is not this one of the high functions of poetry, to interpret the life
the poet knows best, and to interpret it always in terms of the
eleventh and twelfth commandments? Observe she loves the
sister-mother, and she loves the mouse as well as the cat. There is no
reason why those who love birds should not love cats as well; is a cat
the only animal who eats birds? It is a diverting spectacle, a man
with his mouth full of squab, insisting that cats should be
exterminated.

A woman who has done much for the advance of English poetry in America
by her influence on public critical opinion, is Jessie B. Rittenhouse.
She is a graduate of Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, New York,
taught Latin and English in Illinois and in Michigan, and for five
years was busily engaged in journalism. In 1904 she published a volume
of criticism on contemporary verse, and for the last fourteen years
has printed many essays of interpretation, dealing with the new poets.
I dare say no one in America is more familiar with the English poetry
of the twentieth century than she. She has been so occupied with this
important and fruitful work that she has had little time to compose
original verse; but any one who will read through her volume, _The
Door of Dreams_, will find it impossible not to admire her lyrical
gift. She has not yet shown enough sustained power to give her a place
with Anna Hempstead Branch or with Sara Teasdale; but she has the
capacity of putting much feeling into very few words.

Margaret Widdemer, the daughter of a clergyman, was born at
Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and was graduated from Drexel Institute
Library School in 1909. She has written verse and prose from early
childhood, but was not widely known until the appearance of her poem
_Factories_. In 1915 this was published in a book with other
pieces, and a revised, enlarged edition was printed in 1917, called by
the name of the now-famous song, and containing in addition nearly a
hundred lyrics. Although her soul is aflame at the omnipresence of
injustice in the world, her work covers a wide range of thought and
feeling. Her heart is swollen with pity for the sufferings of women;
but she is no sentimentalist. There is an intellectual independence, a
clear-headed womanly self-reliance about her way of thinking and
writing that is both refreshing and stimulating. In hope and in
despair she speaks for the many thousands of women, who first found
their voice in Ibsen's _Doll's House_; her poem, _The Modern
Woman to Her Lover_ has a cleanly honesty without any strained
pose. And although _Factories_ is doubtless her masterpiece in
its eloquent _Inasmuch as ye did it not_, she can portray a more
quiet and more lonely tragedy as well. Her poem called _The Two
Dyings_ might have been named _The Heart Knoweth its own
Bitterness_.

  I can remember once, ere I was dead,
    The sorrow and the prayer and bitter cry
  When they who loved me stood around the bed,
    Watching till I should die:

  They need not so have grieved their souls for me,
    Grouped statue-like to count my failing breath--
  Only one thought strove faintly, bitterly
    With the kind drug of Death:

  How once upon a time, unwept, unknown,
    Unhelped by pitying sigh or murmured prayer,
  My youth died in slow agony alone
    With none to watch or care.

Never in any period of the world's history was the table of life so
richly spread as in the years 1900-1914; women were just beginning to
realize that places ought to be reserved for them as well as for men,
when the war came, and there was no place for any one except a place
to fight the Black Plague of Kaiserism; now when the war is over,
suppose the women insist? What then? Before the French Revolution,
only a few were invited to sit down and eat, while the majority were
permitted to kneel and watch from a distance. A Frenchman once
remarked, "The great appear to us great because we are kneeling--let
us rise." They rose, and out of the turmoil came an enormous
enlargement of the dining-hall.

Carl Sandburg sings of Chicago with husky-haughty lips. I like Chicago
and I like poetry; but I do not much care for the combination as
illustrated in Mr. Sandburg's volume, _Chicago Poems_. I think it
has been overrated. It is pretentious rather than important. It is the
raw material of poetry, rather than the finished product. Mere passion
and imagination are not enough to make a poet, even when accompanied
by indignation. If feeling and appreciation could produce poetry, then
we should all be poets. But it is also necessary to know how to write.

Carl Sandburg was born at Galesburg, Illinois, on the sixth of
January, 1878. He has "worked his own way" through life with courage
and ambition, performing any kind of respectable indoor and outdoor
toil that would keep him alive. In the Spanish war, he immediately
enlisted, and belonged to the first military company that went to
Porto Rico. In 1898 he entered Lombard College; after his Freshman
year, he tried to enter West Point, succeeding in every test--physical
and mental--except that of arithmetic; there he has my hearty
sympathy, for in arithmetic I was always slow but not sure. He
returned to Lombard, and took the regular course for the next three
years, paying his way by hard work. His literary ambition had already
been awakened, and he attained distinction among his mates. Since
graduation he has had constant and varied experience in journalism.
For a group of poems, of which the first was _Chicago_, he was
awarded the Levinson prize as the best poem by an American that had
appeared in _Poetry_ during the year October 1913-October 1914.
In 1916 appeared a substantial volume from his pen, called _Chicago
Poems_.

His work gives one the impression of being chaotic in form and
content. Miss Lowell quotes him as saying, "I don't know where I'm
going, but I'm on my way." According to G. K. Chesterton, this
attitude was characteristic of modern life in general before the war.
We don't know where we're going,--but let's put on more speed. Perhaps
the other extreme, so characteristic of our southern African friends,
is no better, yet it has a charm absent in the strenuosity of mere
eagerness. A Southern negro, being asked whither he was going, replied
"I aint goin' nowhar: Ise been done gone whar I was goin'!" It would
appear that there is sufficient room between these extremes for
individual and social progress.

In manner Mr. Sandburg is closer to Walt Whitman than almost any other
of our contemporary poets. I do not call him an imitator, and
certainly he is no plagiarist; but I like that part of his work which
is farthest removed from the manner of the man of Camden. Walt Whitman
was a genius; and whilst it is quite possible and at times desirable
to imitate his freedom in composition, it is not possible to catch the
secret of his power. It would be an ungracious task to quote Mr.
Sandburg at his worst; we are all pretty bad at our worst, whether we
are poets or not; I prefer to cite one of his poems which proves to me
that he is not only an original writer, but that he possesses a
perceptive power of beauty that transforms the commonplace into
something of poignant charm, like the song of the nightingale:

  Desolate and lone
  All night long on the lake
  Where fog trails and mist creeps,
  The whistle of a boat
  Calls and cries unendingly,
  Like some lost child
  In tears and trouble
  Hunting the harbour's breast
  And the harbour's eyes.

He has a notable gift for effective poetic figures of speech; in his
_Nocturne in a Deserted Brickyard_, an old pond in the moonlight
is a "wide dreaming pansy." This and other pieces show true power of
poetic interpretation; which makes me believe that the author ought to
and will greatly surpass the average excellence exhibited in
_Chicago Poems_.

John Curtis Underwood is not only a dynamic, but an insurgent poet and
critic. He has published four volumes of poems, _The Iron Muse_
(1910), _Americans_ (1912), _Processionals_ (1915), and
_War Flames_ (1917). The roar of city streets and the deafening
pounding of machinery resound through his pages; yet he somehow or
other makes a singing voice heard amid the din. In fact he uses the
din as an accompaniment; he is a kind of vocal Tubal Cain. He writes
about strap-hangers, chorus girls, moving pictures, convicts,
hospitals, bridge-builders and construction gangs--a symphony of
noise, where everybody plays some instrument. He is no pessimist and
he is not sour; there are a good many "damns" and "hells" in his
verse, because, whatever he lacks, he does not lack emphasis. His
philosophy seems to be similar to that of the last two stanzas of
_In Memoriam_, though Mr. Underwood expresses it somewhat more
concretely.

  Leading the long procession through the midnight,
  Man that was ether, fire, sea, germ and ape,
  Out of the aeons blind of slime emerging,
  Out of the aeons black where ill went groping,
  Finding the fire, was fused to human shape.

  Heading the dreary marches through dark ages;
  Where the rest perished that the rest might be,
  Out of the aeons raw and red of bloodshed,
  Man that was caveman, found the stars. Forever
  Man to the stars goes marching from the sea.

His poem _Central_, in which the telephone girl's work is
interpreted, is as typical as any of Mr. Underwood's style; and no
one, I think, can fail to see the merit in his method.

  Though men may build their bridges high and plant their piers
    below the sea,
  And drive their trains across the sky; a higher task is left to
    me.
  I bridge the void 'twixt soul and soul; I bring the longing
    lovers near.
  I draw you to your spirit's goal. I serve the ends of fraud
    and fear.

  The older fates sat in the sun. The cords they spun were
    short and slight.
  I set my stitches one by one, where life electric fetters night,
  Till it outstrips the planet's speed, and out of darkness leaps
    to day;
  And men in Maine shall hear and heed a voice from San
    Francisco Bay.

There is such a display of cynical cleverness in the verse of T. S.
Eliot that I think he might be able to write almost anything except
poetry. He has an aggressive champion in the distinguished novelist,
May Sinclair, who says his best work is equal to the best of Robert
Browning.

John G. Neihardt was born in Illinois on the eighth of January, 1881.
From 1901 to 1907 he lived among the Nebraska Indians, studying their
folklore and characteristics. He has published a number of books, of
which the best is perhaps _A Bundle of Myrrh_, 1907. In 1915 he
produced an epic of the American Fur Trade, preparing himself for the
task as follows: "I descended the Missouri in an open boat, and also
ascended the Yellowstone for a considerable distance. On the upper
river the country was practically unchanged; and for one familiar with
what had taken place there, it was no difficult feat of the
imagination to revive the details of that time--the men, the trails,
the boats, the trading posts where veritable satraps once ruled under
the sway of the American Fur Company."

I heartily envy him these experiences; to me every river is an
adventure, even the quiet, serious old Connecticut.

Yet the poem that resulted from these visions is not remarkable.
Nothing, I suppose, is more difficult than to write a good long poem.
Poe disapproved of the undertaking in itself; and only men of
undoubted genius have succeeded, whereas writers of hardly more than
ordinary talent have occasionally turned off something combining
brevity and excellence. I feel sure that Mr. Neihardt talks about this
journey more impressively than he writes about it. His love lyrics, in
_A Bundle of Myrrh_, are much better. The tendency to eroticism
is redeemed by sincerity of feeling.

Charles Wharton Stork was born at Philadelphia, on the twelfth of
February, 1881, and studied at Haverford, Harvard, and the University
of Pennsylvania. He is a scholar, a member of the English Faculty of
the University of Pennsylvania, and has made many translations of
Scandinavian poems. Always interested in modern developments of
poetry, both in America and Europe, he is at present the editor of
_Contemporary Verse_, a monthly magazine exclusively made up of
original poems. This periodical has been of considerable assistance to
students of contemporary poetry, for it has given an opportunity to
hitherto unknown writers, and often it contains some notable
contribution from men of established reputation. Thus the number for
April, 1918, may some day have bibliographical value, since it leads
off with a remarkable poem by Vachel Lindsay, _The Eyes of Queen
Esther_. I advise collectors to secure this, and to subscribe to
the magazine. Mr. Stork has written much verse himself, of which
_Flying Fish: an Ode_, may be taken as illustrative of his
originality and imagination.

Another excellent magazine of contemporary poetry is _The
Sonnet_, edited and published by Mahlon Leonard Fisher, at
Williamsport, Pennsylvania, of which the first number bears the date
February, 1917. This appears bimonthly; and while the attempt to
publish any magazine whatever displays courage, Mr. Fisher is
apparently on the side of the conservatives in art. "We have attempted
no propagandism, and acknowledged no revolution," is the sentence that
forms the signature to his periodical. Furthermore, we are informed
that "the sole aim of _The Sonnet_ is to publish poetry so well
thought of by its makers that they were willing to place it within
strict confines. The magazine will have nothing to say in defence of
its name. It will neither attack nor respond to attacks." It has
certainly printed some good sonnets, among which are many by the
editor. In 1917 appeared a beautiful little volume, limited to two
hundred copies, and published by the author--_Sonnets: a First
Series_. Fifty specimens are included, all written by Mr. Fisher.
More than a few have grace and truth.

A new aspirant appeared in 1917 with his first volume, _Streets and
Faces_. This is Scudder Middleton, brother of George Middleton, the
dramatist. He was born at New York, on the ninth of September, 1888,
and studied at Columbia. His little book of poetry contains nothing
profound, yet there is evidence of undoubted talent which gives me
hope. The best poem of his that I have seen was published in
_Contemporary Verse_ in 1917, and makes a fine recessional to Mr.
Braithwaite's Anthology.

  THE POETS

  We need you now, strong guardians of our hearts,
    Now, when a darkness lies on sea and land,
  When we of weakening faith forget our parts
    And bow before the falling of the sand.
  Be with us now or we betray our trust
    And say, "There is no wisdom but in death"--
  Remembering lovely eyes now closed with dust--
    "There is no beauty that outlasts the breath."
  For we are growing blind and cannot see,
    Beyond the clouds that stand like prison bars,
  The changeless regions of our empery,
    Where once we moved in friendship with the stars.
  O children of the light, now in our grief
  Give us again the solace of belief.

A young Princeton student, John Peale Bishop, First Lieutenant of
Infantry in the Officers Reserve Corps, who studied the art of verse
under the instruction of Alfred Noyes, published in 1917 a little book
of original poems, with the modest title, _Green Fruit_. These
were mostly written during his last undergraduate year at college, and
would not perhaps have been printed now had he not entered the
service. The subjects range from the Princeton Inn to Italy. Mr.
Bishop is a clear-voiced singer, and there are original songs here,
which owe nothing to other poets. Such a poem as _Mushrooms_ is
convincing proof of ability; and there is an excellent spirit in him.

William Aspenwall Bradley was born at Hartford, Connecticut, on the
eighth of February, 1878. He was a special student at Harvard, and
took his bachelor's and master's degrees at Columbia. He is now in the
Government War Service. He wrote an admirable _Life of Bryant_ in
the English Men of Letters series, and has made many scholarly
contributions to the literature of criticism. He has issued two
volumes of original verse, of which perhaps the better known is _Old
Christmas_, 1917. This is composed of tales of the Cumberland
region in Kentucky. These poem-stories are not only full of dramatic
power, comic and tragic, but they contain striking portraits. I think,
however, that I like best Mr. Bradley's nature-pictures. The pleasure
of recognition will be felt by everyone who reads the first few lines
of

  AUTUMN

  Now shorter grow November days,
  And leaden ponds begin to glaze
  With their first ice, while every night
  The hoarfrost leaves the meadows white
  Like wimples spread upon the lawn
  By maidens who are up at dawn,
  And sparkling diamonds may be seen
  Strewing the close-clipped golfing green.
  But the slow sun dispels at noon
  The season's work begun too soon,
  Bidding faint filmy mists arise
  And fold in softest draperies
  The distant woodlands bleak and bare,
  Until they seem to melt in air.

William Griffiths was born at Memphis, Missouri, on the fifteenth of
February 1876, and received his education at the public schools. He
has been a "newspaper man" and magazine editor, and has produced a
number of books in verse and prose, of which the best example is
_City Pastorals_, originally published in 1915, revised and
reissued in 1918. The title of this book appears to be a paradox; but
its significance is clear enough after one has read a few pages. It is
an original and interesting way of bringing the breath of the country
into the town. The scene is a New York Club on a side street; the year
is 1914; the three speakers are Brown, Gray, Green; the four divisions
are Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. The style is for the most part
rimed stanzas in short metre, which go trippingly on the tongue. Grace
and delicacy characterize the pictures of the country that the men
bring back to the smoky city from their travels.

  Occultly through a riven cloud
    The ancient river shines again,
  Still wandering like a silver road
    Among the cities in the plain.

  On far horizons softly lean
    The hills against the coming night;
  And mantled with a russet green,
    The orchards gather into sight.

  Through apples hanging high and low,
    In ruddy colours, deeply spread
  From core to rind, the sun melts slow,
    With gold upcaught against the red.

  And here and there, with sighs and calls,
    Among the hills an echo rings
  Remotely as the water falls
    And down the meadow softly sings.

  A wind goes by; the air is stirred
    With secret whispers far and near;
  Another token--just a word
    Had made the rose's meaning clear.

  I see the fields; I catch the scent
    Of pine cones and the fresh split wood,
  Where bearded moss and stains are blent
    With autumn rains--and all is good.

  An air, arising, turns and lifts
    The fallen leaves where they had lain
  Beneath the trees, then weakly shifts
    And slowly settles back again.

  While with far shouts, now homeward bound,
    Across the fields the reapers go;
  And, with the darkness closing round,
    The lilies of the twilight blow.

Many of the other poems in this volume, that follow the _City
Pastorals_, are interpretations of various individuals and of
various nationalities. Mr. Griffith has a gift for the making of
epigrams; and indeed he has studied concision in all his work. It may
be that this is a result of his long years of training in journalism;
he must have silently implored the writers of manuscripts he was forced
to read to leave their damnable faces and begin. Certain it is, that
although he can write smoothly flowing music, there is hardly a page in
his whole book that does not contain some idea worth thinking about.
His wine of Cyprus has both body and bouquet.

Three professional teachers of youth who write poetry as an avocation
are John Erskine, professor at Columbia, whose poems bear the impress
of an original and powerful personality, William Ellery Leonard,
professor in the University of Wisconsin, the author of a number of
volumes of poems, some of which show originality in conception and
style, and William Thornton Whitsett, of Whitsett Institute, Whitsett,
North Carolina, whose book _Saber and Song_ (1917), exhibits such
variations in merit that if one read only a few pages one might be
completely deceived as to the author's actual ability. His besetting
sin as an artist is moralizing. Fully half the contents of the volume
are uninspired, commonplace, flat. But when he forgets to preach, he
can write true poetry. He has the lyrical gift to a high degree, and
has a rather remarkable command of the technique of the art. _An Ode
to Expression, The Soul of the Sea_, and some of the _Sonnets_,
fully justify their publication. The author is rather too fond of the
old "poetic diction"; he might do well to study simplicity.

A poet who differs from the two last mentioned in her ability to
maintain a certain level of excellence is Helen Hay Whitney. She
perhaps inherited her almost infallible good taste and literary tact
from her distinguished father, that wholly admirable person, John Hay.
His greatness as an international statesman was matched by the
extraordinary charm of his character, which expressed itself in
everything he wrote, and in numberless acts of kindness. He was the
ideal American gentleman. One feels in reading the poems of Mrs.
Whitney that each one is written both creatively and critically. I
mean that she has the primal impulse to write, but that in writing, and
more especially in revising, every line is submitted to her own severe
scrutiny. I am not sure that she has not destroyed some of her best
work, though this is of course only conjecture. At all events, while
she makes no mistakes, I sometimes feel that there is too much
repression. She is one of our best American sonnet-writers. Such a poem
as _After Rain_ is a work of art.

Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (Mrs. Douglas Robinson, sister of Theodore
Roosevelt) has published two volumes of poems, _The Call of
Brotherhood_, 1912, and _One Woman to Another_, 1914. I hope
that she will speedily collect in a third book the fugitive pieces
printed in various magazines since 1914. Mrs. Robinson's poetry comes
from a full mind and a full heart. There is the knowledge born of
experience combined with spiritual revelation. She is an excellent
illustration of the possibility of living to the uttermost in the
crowded avenues of the world without any loss of religious or moral
values. It must take a strong nature to absorb so much of the strenuous
activities of metropolitan society while keeping the heart's sources as
clear as a mountain spring. It is the exact opposite of asceticism, yet
seems not to lose anything important gained by the ascetic vocation. She
does not serve God and Mammon: she serves God, and makes Mammon serve
her. This complete roundness and richness of development could not have
been accomplished except through pain. She expresses grief's
contribution in the following sonnet:

  Beloved, from the hour that you were born
  I loved you with the love whose birth is pain;
  And now, that I have lost you, I must mourn
  With mortal anguish, born of love again;
  And so I know that Love and Pain are one,
  Yet not one single joy would I forego.--
  The very radiance of the tropic sun
  Makes the dark night but darker here below.
  Mine is no coward soul to count the cost;
  The coin of love with lavish hand I spend,
  And though the sunlight of my life is lost
  And I must walk in shadow to the end,--
  I gladly press the cross against my heart--
  And welcome Pain, that is Love's counterpart!

Meredith Nicholson, the American novelist, like Mr. Galsworthy, Mr.
Phillpotts and many other novelists in England, has published a volume
of original verse, _Poems_, 1906. It is possibly a sign of the
growing interest in poetry that so many who have won distinction in
prose should in these latter days strive for the laurel crown. Mr.
Nicholson's poems are a kind of riming journal of his heart. It is
clear that he is not a born poet, for the flame of inspiration is not
in these pages, nor do we find the perfect phrase or ravishing music;
what we do have is well worth preservation in print--the manly,
dignified, imaginative speculations of a clear and honest mind.
Furthermore, although he writes verse with his left hand, there is
displayed in many of these pieces a mastery of the exact meaning of
words, attained possibly by his long years of training in the other
harmony of prose.

Witter Bynner--the spelling of whose name I defy any one to remember,
and envelopes addressed to him must be a collection of
curiosities--was born at Brooklyn on the tenth of August, 1881. He was
graduated from Harvard in 1902, and addressed his _Alma Mater_ in
an _Ode To Harvard_, published in book form in 1907. In 1917 he
collected in one attractive volume, _Grenstone Poems_, the best
of his production--exclusive of his plays and prose--up to that date.
One who knew Mr. Bynner only by the terrific white slave drama
_Tiger_, would be quite unprepared for the sylvan sweetness of
the Grenstone poems. Their environment, mainly rural, does not
localize the sentiment overmuch; for the poet's mind is a kingdom,
even though he is bounded in a nutshell. The environment, however, may
be partly responsible for the spirit of healthy cheerfulness that
animates these verses; whatever they lack, they certainly do not lack
purity and charm. Far from the madding crowd the singer finds
contentment, which is the keynote of these songs; happiness built on
firm indestructible foundations. Some of the divisional titles
indicate the range of subjects: _Neighbors and the Countryside,
Children and Death, Wisdom and Unwisdom, Celia, Away from
Grenstone_, where homesickness is expressed while travelling in the
Far East. And the tone is clearly sounded in

  A GRACE BEFORE THE POEMS

  "Is there such a place as Grenstone?"
    Celia, hear them ask!
  Tell me, shall we share it with them?--
    Shall we let them breathe and bask

  On the windy, sunny pasture,
    Where the hill-top turns its face
  Toward the valley of the mountain,
    Our beloved place?

  Shall we show them through our churchyard,
    With its crumbling wall
  Set between the dead and living?
    Shall our willowed waterfall,

  Huckleberries, pines and bluebirds
    Be a secret we shall share?--
  If they make but little of it,
    Celia, shall we care?

It will be seen that the independence of Mr. Bynner is quite different
from the independence of Mr. Underwood; but they both have the secret
of self-sufficiency.

Another loyal Harvard poet is Herman Hagedorn, who was born at New
York in 1882, and took his degree at college in 1907. For some time he
was on the English Faculty at Harvard, and has a scholar's knowledge
of English literature. He has published plays and books of verse, of
which the best known are _A Troop of the Guard_ (1909) and
_Poems and Ballads_, which appeared the same year. He has a good
command of lyrical expression, which ought to enable him in the years
to come to produce work of richer content than his verses have thus
far shown.

The best known of the Harvard poets of the twentieth century is Percy
Mackaye, who is still better known as a playwright and maker of
pageants. He was born at New York, on the sixteenth of March, 1875,
and was graduated from Harvard in 1897. He has travelled much in
Europe, and has given many lectures on dramatic art in America. His
poetry may be collectively studied in one volume of appalling
avoirdupois, published in 1916. It takes a strong wrist to hold it,
but it is worth the effort.

The chief difficulty with Mr. Mackaye is his inability to escape from
his opinions. He is far too self-conscious, much too much preoccupied
with theory, both in drama and in poetry. He can write nothing without
explaining his motive, without trying to show himself and others the
aim of poetry and drama. However morally noble all this may be--and it
surely is that--it hampers the author. I wish he could for once
completely forget all artistic propaganda, completely forget himself,
and give his Muse a chance. "She needs no introduction to this
audience."

There is no doubt that he has something of the divine gift. His
_Centenary Ode on Lincoln_, published separately in 1909, was the
best out of all the immense number of effusions I read that year. He
rose to a great occasion.

One of his most original pieces is the dog-vivisection poem, called
_The Heart in the Jar_. There is a tumultuous passion in it
almost overpowering; and no one but a true poet could ever have
thought of or have employed such symbolism. Mr. Mackaye's mind is so
alert, so inquisitive, so volcanic, that he seems to me always just
about to produce something that shall surpass his previous efforts. I
have certainly not lost faith in his future.

John Gould Fletcher was born at Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1886. He
studied at Andover and at Harvard, and has lived much in London. He
has become identified with the Imagists. Personally I wish that Mr.
Fletcher would use his remarkable power to create gorgeous imagery in
the production of orthodox forms of verse. Free verse ought to be less
monotonous than constantly repeated sonnets, quatrains, and
stanza-forms; but the fact is just the other way. A volume made up
entirely of free verse, unless written by a man of genius, has a
capacity to bore the reader that at times seems almost criminal.

Conrad Aiken was born at Savannah, Georgia, on the fifth of August,
1889, is a graduate of Harvard and lives in Boston. He has published
several volumes of poems, among which _Earth Triumphant_ (1914)
is representative of his ability and philosophy. It certainly
represents his ability more fairly than _The Jig of Forslin_
(1916), which is both pretentious and dull. I suspect few persons have
read every page of it. I have.

Not yet thirty, Mr. Aiken is widely known; but the duration of his
fame will depend upon his future work. He has thus far shown the power
to write melodious music, to paint nature pictures in warm colours; he
is ever on the quest of Beauty. His sensible preface to _Earth
Triumphant_ calls attention to certain similarities between his
style in verse-narrative and that of John Masefield. But he is not a
copier, and his work is his own. Some poets are on the earth; some are
in the air; some, like Shelley, are in the aether. Conrad Aiken is
firmly, gladly on the earth. He believes that our only paradise is
here and now.

He surely has the gift of singing speech, but his poetry lacks
intellectual content. In the volume _Nocturne of Remembered
Spring_ (1917), there is a dreamy charm, like the hesitating notes
of Chopin.

Although his contribution to the advance of poetry is not important,
he has the equipment of a poet. When he has more to say, he will have
no difficulty in making us listen; for he understands the magic of
words. Thus far his poems are something like librettos; they don't
mean much without the music. Let him remember the bitter cry of old
Henry Vaughan: every artist, racked by labour-pains, will understand
what Vaughan meant by calling this piece _Anguish_:

      O! 'tis an easy thing
          To write and sing;
  But to write true, unfeigned verse
  Is very hard! O God, disperse
  These weights, and give my spirit leave
  To act as well as to conceive

Among our young American poets there are few who have inherited in
richer or purer measure than William Alexander Percy.  He was born at
Greenville, Mississippi, on the fourth of May, 1885, and studied at
the University of the South and at the Harvard Law School.  He is now
in military service.  In 1915, his volume of poems, _Sappho in
Leukas_, attracted immediately the attention of discriminating
critics.  The prologue shows that noble devotion to art, that high
faith in it, entirely beyond the understanding of the Philistine, but
which awakens an instant and accurate vibration in the heart of every
lover of poetry.

  O singing heart, think not of aught save song;
        Beauty can do no wrong.
    Let but th' inviolable music shake
        Golden on golden flake,
        Down to the human throng,
  And one, one surely, will look up, and hear and wake.

  Weigh not the rapture; measure not nor sift
        God's dark, delirious gift;
    But deaf to immortality or gain,
        Give as the shining rain,
        Thy music pure and swift,
  And here or there, sometime, somewhere, 'twill reach the grain.

There is a wide range of subjects in this volume, Greek, mediaeval,
and modern--inspiration from, books and inspiration from outdoors.
But there is not a single poem that could be called crude or flat.
Mr. Percy is a poet and an artist; he can be ornate and he can be
severe; but in both phases there is a dignity not always
characteristic of contemporary verse. I do not prophesy--but I feel
certain of this man.

One day in 1917, I clipped a nameless poem from a daily newspaper, and
carried it in my pocketbook for months.  Later I discovered that it
was written by Mr. Percy, and had first appeared in _The
Bellman_. I know of no poem by any American published in the year
1917 that for combined beauty of thought and beauty of expression is
superior to this little masterpiece.

  OVERTONES

  I heard a bird at break of day
    Sing from the autumn trees
  A song so mystical and calm,
    So full of certainties,
  No man, I think, could listen long
    Except upon his knees.
  Yet this was but a simple bird,
    Alone, among dead trees.

Alan Seeger--whose heroic death glorified his youth--was born at New
York on the twenty-second of June, 1888. He studied at Harvard; then
lived in Paris, and no one has ever loved Paris more than he. He
enlisted in the Foreign Legion of France at the outbreak of the war in
1914, and fell on the fourth of July, 1916. His letters show his mind
and heart clearly.

He knew his poetry was good, and that it would not die with his body.
In the last letter he wrote, we find these words: "I will write you
soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for
my poems. Add the ode I sent you and the three sonnets to my last
volume and you will have _opera omnia quae existant_."

He wrote his autobiography in one of his last sonnets, paying poetic
tribute to Philip Sidney--lover of woman, lover of battle, lover of
art.

  Sidney, in whom the heydey of romance
  Came to its precious and most perfect flower,
  Whether you tourneyed with victorious lance
  Or brought sweet roundelays to Stella's bower,
  I give myself some credit for the way
  I have kept clean of what enslaves and lowers,
  Shunned the ideals of our present day
  And studied those that were esteemed in yours;
  For, turning from the mob that buys Success
  By sacrificing all life's better part,
  Down the free roads of human happiness
  I frolicked, poor of purse but light of heart,
  And lived in strict devotion all along
  To my three idols--Love and Arms and Song.

His most famous poem, _I Have a Rendezvous with Death_, is almost
intolerably painful in its tragic beauty, in its contrast between the
darkness of the unchanging shadow and the apple-blossoms of the sunny
air--above all, because we read it after both Youth and Death have
kept their word, and met at the place appointed.

He was an inspired poet. Poetry came from him as naturally as rain
from clouds. His magnificent _Ode in Memory of the American
Volunteers Fallen in France_ has a nobility of phrase that matches
the elevation of thought. Work like this cannot be forgotten.

Alan Seeger was an Elizabethan. He had a consuming passion for
beauty--his only religion. He loved women and he loved war, like the
gallant, picturesque old soldiers of fortune. There was no pose in all
this; his was a brave, uncalculating, forthright nature, that gave
everything he had and was, without a shade of fear or a shade of
regret. He is one of the most fiery spirits of our time, and like
Rupert Brooke, he will be thought of as immortally young.



CHAPTER XI

A GROUP OF YALE POETS


  Henry A. Beers--the fine quality of his literary style in
  prose and verse--force and grace--finished art--his humour--C.
  M. Lewis--his war poem--E. B. Reed--_Lyra Yalensis_--F.
  E. Pierce--his farm lyrics--Brian Hooker--his strong
  sonnets--his _Turns_--R. C. Rogers--_The
  Rosary_--Rupert Hughes--novelist, playwright, musician,
  poet--Robert Hunger--his singing--R. B. Glaenzer--his
  fancies--Benjamin R. C. Low--his growth--William R. Benét--his
  vitality and optimism--Arthur Colton--his Chaucer poem--Allan
  Updegraff--_The Time and the Place_--Lee Wilson Dodd--his
  development--a list of other Yale Poets--Stephen V. Benét.

During the twentieth century there has been flowing a fountain of
verse from the faculty, young alumni, and undergraduates of Yale
University; and I reserve this space at the end of my hook for a
consideration of the Yale group of poets, some of whom are already
widely known and some of whom seem destined to be. I am not thinking
of magazine verse or of fugitive pieces, but only of independent
volumes of original poems. Yale has always been close to the national
life of America; and the recent outburst of poetry from her sons is
simply additional evidence of the renaissance all over the United
States. Anyhow, the fact is worth recording.

Professor Henry A. Beers was born at Buffalo on the second of July,
1847. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1870, but in 1871 became
an Instructor in English Literature at Yale, teaching continuously for
forty-five years, when he retired. He has written--at too rare
intervals--all his life. His book of short stories, containing _A
Suburban Pastoral_ and _Split Zephyr_, the last-named being,
according to Meredith Nicholson, the best story of college life ever
printed, would possibly have attracted more general attention were it
not for its prevailing tone of quiet, unobtrusive pessimism, an
unwelcome note in America. I am as sure of the high quality of _A
Suburban Pastoral_ as I am sure of anything; and have never found a
critic who, after reading the tale, disagreed with me. In 1885
Professor Beers published a little volume of poems, _The Thankless
Muse_; and in 1917 he collected in a thin book _The Two
Twilights_, the best of his youthful and mature poetic production.
The variety of expression is so great that no two poems are in the
same mood. In _Love, Death, and Life_ we have one of the most
passionate love-poems in American literature; in _The Pasture
Bars_ the valediction has the soft, pure tone of a silver bell.

Professor Beers has both vigour and grace. His fastidious taste
permits him to write little, and to print only a small part of what he
writes. But the force of his poetic language is so extraordinary that
it has sometimes led to a complete and unfortunate misinterpretation
of his work. In _The Dying Pantheist to the Priest_, he wrote a
poem as purely dramatic, as non-personal, as the monologues of
Browning; he quite successfully represented the attitude of an
(imaginary) defiant, unrepentant pagan to an (imaginary) priest who
wished to save him in his last moments. The speeches put into the
mouth of the pantheist no more represent Mr. Beers's own sentiments
than Browning's poem _Confessions_ represented Browning's
attitude toward death and religion; yet it is perhaps a tribute to the
fervour of the lyric that many readers have taken it as a violent
attack on Christian theology.

Just as I am certain of the finished art of _A Suburban
Pastoral,_ I am equally certain of the beauty and nobility of the
poetry in _The Two Twilights._ This volume gives its author an
earned place in the front rank of living American poets.

To me one of the most original and charming of the songs is the
valediction to New York--and the homage to New Haven.

  NUNC DIMITTIS

  Highlands of Navesink,
  By the blue ocean's brink,
  Let your grey bases drink
      Deep of the sea.
  Tide that comes flooding up,
  Fill me a stirrup cup,
  Pledge me a parting sup,
      Now I go free.

  Wall of the Palisades,
  I know where greener glades,
  Deeper glens, darker shades,
      Hemlock and pine,
  Far toward the morning lie
  Under a bluer sky,
  Lifted by cliffs as high,
      Haunts that are mine.

  Marshes of Hackensack,
  See, I am going back
  Where the Quinnipiac
      Winds to the bay,
  Down its long meadow track,
  Piled in the myriad stack,
  Where in wide bivouac
      Camps the salt hay.

  Spire of old Trinity,
  Never again to be
  Seamark and goal to me
      As I walk down;
  Chimes on the upper air,
  Calling in vain to prayer,
  Squandering your music where
      Roars the black town:

  Bless me once ere I ride
  Off to God's countryside,
  Where in the treetops hide
      Belfry and bell;
  Tongues of the steeple towers,
  Telling the slow-paced hours--
  Hail, thou still town of ours--
      Bedlam, farewell!

Those who are familiar with Professor Beers's humour, as expressed in
_The Ways of Yale,_ will wish that he had preserved also in this
later book some of his whimsicalities, as in the poem _A Fish
Story,_ which begins:

  A whale of great porosity,
    And small specific gravity,
  Dived down with much velocity
    Beneath the sea's concavity.

  But soon the weight of water
    Squeezed in his fat immensity,
  Which varied--as it ought to--
    Inversely as his density.

Professor Charlton M. Lewis was born at Brooklyn on the fourth of
March, 1866. He took his B.A. at Yale in 1886, and an LL.B at Columbia
in 1889. For some years he was a practising lawyer in New York; in
1895 he became a member of the Yale Faculty. In 1903 he published
_Gawayne and the Green Knight_, a long poem, in which humour and
imagination are delightfully mingled. His lyric _Pro Patria_
(1937) is a good illustration of his poetic powers; it is indeed one
of America's finest literary contributions to the war.

  PRO PATRIA

  Remember, as the flaming car
    Of ruin nearer rolls,
  That of our country's substance are
    Our bodies and our souls.

  Her dust we are, and to her dust
    Our ashes shall descend:
  Who craves a lineage more august
    Or a diviner end?

  By blessing of her fruitful dews,
    Her suns and winds and rains,
  We have her granite in our thews,
    Her iron in our veins.

  And, sleeping in her sacred earth,
    The ever-living dead
  On the dark miracle of birth
    Their holy influence shed....

  So, in the faith our fathers kept,
    We live, and long to die;
  To sleep forever, as they have slept,
    Under a sunlit sky;

  Close-folded to our mother's heart
    To find our souls' release--
  A secret coeternal part
    Of her eternal peace;--

  Where Hood, Saint Helen's and Rainier,
    In vestal raiment, keep
  Inviolate through the varying year
    Their immemorial sleep;

  Or where the meadow-lark, in coy
    But calm profusion, pours
  The liquid fragments of his joy
    On old colonial shores.

Professor Edward B. Reed, B.A. 1894, published in 1913 a tiny volume
of academic verse, called _Lyra Yalensis_. This contains happily
humorous comment on college life and college customs, and as the
entire edition was almost immediately sold, the book has already
become something of a rarity. In 1917, he collected the best of his
more ambitious work in _Sea Moods_, of which one of the most
impressive is

  THE DAWN

  He shook his head as he turned away--
  "Is it life or death?" "We shall know by day."
  Out from the wards where the sick folk lie,
  Out neath the black and bitter sky.
  Past one o'clock and the wind is chill,
  The snow-clad streets are ghostly still;
  No friendly noise, no cheering light,
  So calm the city sleeps to-night,
  I think its soul has taken flight.

  Back to the empty home--a thrill,
  A shudder at its darkened sill,
  For the clock chimes as on that morn,
  That happy day when she was born.
  And now, inexorably slow,
  To life or death the hours go.
  Time's wings are clipped; he scarce doth creep.
  Tonight no drug could bring you sleep;
  Watch at the window for the day;
  'Tis all that's left--to watch and pray.
  But I think the prayer of an anguished heart
  Must pierce that bleak sky like a dart,
  And tear that pall of clouds apart.

  The poplars, edging the frozen lawn,
  Shudder and whisper: "Wait till dawn."

  Two spirits stand beside her bed
  Softly stroking her curly head.
  Death whispers, "Come"--Life whispers, "Stay."
  Child, little child, go not away.
  Life pleads, "Remember"--and Death, "Forget."
  Little child, little child, go not yet.
  By all your mother's love and pain,
  Child of our heart, child of our brain,
  Stay with us; go not till you see
  The Fairyland that life can be.
   .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
  The poplars, edging the frozen lawn,
  Are dancing and singing. "Thank God--the Dawn!"

Professor Frederick E. Pierce, B.A. 1904, has produced three volumes
of poems, of which _The World that God Destroyed_ exhibits an
epic sweep of the imagination. He imagines a world far off in space,
where every form of life has perished save rank vegetation. One day in
their wanderings over the universe, Lucifer and Michael meet on this
dead ball. A truce is declared and each expresses some of the wisdom
bought by experience.

    The upas dripped its poison on the ground
  Harmless; the silvery veil of fog went up
  From mouldering fen and cold, malarial pool,
  But brought no taint and threatened ill to none.
  Far off adown the mountain's craggy side
  From time to time the avalanche thundered, sounding
  Like sport of giant children, and the rocks
  Whereon it smote re-echoed innocently.
  Then in a pause of silence Lucifer
  Struck music from the harp again and sang.

     "I am the shadow that the sunbeams bring,
      I am the thorn from which the roses spring;
      Without the thorn would be no blossoming,
        Nor were there shadow if there were no gleam.
      I am a leaf before a wind that blows,
      I am the foam that down the current goes;
      I work a work on earth that no man knows,
        And God Works too,--I am not what I seem.

     "There comes a purer morn whose stainless glow
      Shall cast no shadow on the ground below,
      And fairer flowers without the thorn shall blow,
        And earth at last fulfil her parent's dream.
      Oh race of men who sin and know not why,
      I am as you and you are even as I;
      We all shall die at length and gladly die;
        Yet even our deaths shall be not what they seem."

Then Michael raised the golden lyre, and struck A note more solemn
soft, and made reply.

   "There dwelt a doubt within my mind of yore;
    I sought to end that doubt and laboured sore;
    But now I search its mystery no more,
      But leave it safe within the Eternal's hand.
    The tiger hunts the lamb and yearns to kill,
    Himself by famine hunted, fiercer still;
    And much there is that seems unmingled ill;
      But God is wise, and God can understand.

   "All things on earth in endless balance sway;
    Day follows night and night succeeds the day;
    And so the powers of good and evil may
      Work out the purpose that his wisdom planned.
    Eternal day would parch the dewy mould,
    Eternal night would freeze the lands with cold;
    But wise was God who planned the world of old;
    I rest in Him for He can understand.

   "Yet good and evil still their wills oppose;
    And serving both, we still must serve as foes
    On yon far globe that teems with human woes;
      And sin thou art, though God work through thy hand.
    But here the race of man is now no more;
    The task is done, the long day's work is o'er;
    One hour I'll dream thee what thou wert of yore,
        Though changed thou art, too changed to understand."

    All day sat Michael there with Lucifer
  Talking of things unknown to men, old tales
  And memories dating back beyond all time.
  And all night long beneath the lonely stars,
  That watched no more the sins of man, they lay,
  The angel's lofty face at rest against
  The dark cheek scarred with thunder.
                                       Morning came,
  And each departed on his separate way;
  But each looked back and lingered as he passed.

Some of his best work, however, appears in short pieces that might
best be described as lyrics of the farm, or, to use a title discarded
by Tennyson, _Idylls of the Hearth_. Mr. Pierce knows the lonely
farm-houses of New England, both by inheritance and habitation, and is
a true interpreter of the spirit of rural life.

One of the best-known of the group of Yale poets is Brian Hooker, who
was graduated from Yale in 1902, and for some years was a member of
the Faculty. His _Poems_ (1915) are an important addition to
contemporary literature. He is a master of the sonnet-form, as any one
may see for himself in reading

  GHOSTS

  The dead return to us continually;
    Not at the void of night, as fables feign,
    In some lone spot where murdered bones have lain
  Wailing for vengeance to the passer-by;
  But in the merry clamour and full cry
    Of the brave noon, our dead whom we have slain
    And in forgotten graves hidden in vain,
  Rise up and stand beside us terribly.

  Sick with the beauty of their dear decay
    We conjure them with laughters onerous
    And drunkenness of labour; yet not thus
  May we absolve ourselves of yesterday--
  We cannot put those clinging arms away,
    Nor those glad faces yearning over us.

Mr. Hooker also includes in this volume a number of _Turns_,
which he describes as "a new fixed form: Seven lines, in any rhythm,
isometric and of not more than four feet; Rhyming AbacbcA, the first
line and the last a Refrain; the Idea (as the name suggests) to Turn
upon the recurrence of the Refrain at the end with a different sense
from that which it bears at the beginning." For example:

  MISERERE

  Ah, God, my strength again!--
    Not power, nor joy, but these:
  The waking without pain,
    The ardour for the task,
  And in the evening, peace.
    Is it so much to ask?
  Ah, God, my strength again!

American literature suffered a loss in the death of Robert Cameron
Rogers, of the class of 1883. His book of poems, called _The
Rosary_, appeared in 1906, containing the song by which naturally
he is best known. Set to music by the late Ethelbert Nevin, it had a
prodigious vogue, and inspired a sentimental British novel, whose
sales ran over a million copies. The success of this ditty ought not
to prejudice readers against the author of it; for he was more than a
sentimentalist, as his other pieces prove.

Rupert Hughes is an all around literary athlete. He was born in
Missouri, on the thirty-first of January, 1872, studied at Western
Reserve and later at Yale, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1899.
He is of course best known as a novelist and playwright; his novel
_The Thirteenth Commandment_ (1916) and his play _Excuse Me_
(1911) are among his most successful productions. His works in prose
fiction are conscientiously realistic and the finest of them are
accurate chronicles of metropolitan life; while his short stories,
_In a Little Town_ (1917) are, like those of William Allen White,
truthful both in their representation of village manners in the West,
and in their recognition of spiritual values. In view of the
"up-to-dateness" of Mr. Hughes's novels, it is rather curious that his
one long poem _Gyges' Ring_ (1901), which was written during his
student days at Yale, should be founded on Greek legend. Yet Mr.
Hughes has been a student of Greek all his life, and has made many
translations from the original. I do not care much for _Gyges'
Ring_; it is hammered out rather than created. But some of the
author's short poems, to which he has often composed his own musical
accompaniment, I find full of charm. Best of all, I think, is the
imaginative and delightful.

  WITH A FIRST READER

  Dear little child, this little book
    Is less a primer than a key
  To sunder gates where wonder waits
    Your "Open Sesame!"

  These tiny syllables look large;
    They'll fret your wide, bewildered eyes;
  But "Is the cat upon the mat?"
    Is passport to the skies.

  For, yet awhile, and you shall turn
    From Mother Goose to Avon's swan;
  From Mary's lamb to grim Khayyam,
    And Mancha's mad-wise Don.

  You'll writhe at Jean Valjean's disgrace;
    And D'Artagnan and Ivanhoe
  Shall steal your sleep; and you shall weep
    At Sidney Carton's woe.

  You'll find old Chaucer young once more,
    Beaumont and Fletcher fierce with fire;
  At your demand, John Milton's hand
    Shall wake his ivory lyre.

  And learning other tongues, you'll learn
    All times are one; all men, one race;
  Hear Homer speak, as Greek to Greek;
    See Dante, face to face.

  _Arma virumque_ shall resound;
    And Horace wreathe his rhymes afresh;
  You'll rediscover Laura's lover;
    Meet Gretchen in the flesh.

  Oh, could I find for the first time
    The _Churchyard Elegy_ again!
  Retaste the sweets of new-found Keats;
    Read Byron now as then!

  Make haste to wander these old roads,
    O envied little parvenue;
  For all things trite shall leap alight
    And bloom again for you!

Robert Munger, B.A., 1897, published in 1912 a volume called _The
Land of Lost Music_. He is a lyric poet. Melody seems as natural to
him as speech.

  There is a land uncharted of meadows and shimmering mountains,
  Stiller than moonlight silence brooding and wan,
  The land of long-wandering music and dead unmelodious fountains
  Of singing that rose in the dreams of them that are gone.

  That rose in the dreams of the dead and that rise in the
    dreams of the living,
  Fleeting, bodiless songs that passed in the night,
  Winging away on the moment of wonder their cadence was giving
  Into the deeps of the valleys of stifled delight.

Richard Butler Glaenzer, B.A. 1898, whose verses have frequently been
seen in various periodicals, collected them in _Beggar and King_,
1917. His poems cover a wide range of thought and feeling, but I like
him best when he is most whimsical, as in

  COMPARISONS

  Jupiter, lost to Vega's realm,
  Lights his lamp from the sun-ship's helm:
  Big as a thousand earths, and yet
  Dimmed by the glow of a cigarette!

Mr. Glaenzer has published a number of verse criticisms of
contemporary writers, which he calls _Snapshots_. These display
considerable penetration; perhaps the following is fairly
illustrative.

  CABLE

  To read your tales
  Is like opening a cedar-box
  Of ante-bellum days,
  A box holding the crinoline and fan

  And the tortoise-shell diary
  With flowers pressed between the leaves
  Belonging to some languid _grande dame_
  Of Creole New Orleans.

Benjamin R. C. Low, B.A. 1902, a practising lawyer, has published four
or five volumes of poems, including _The Sailor who has Sailed_
(1911), _A Wand and Strings_ (1913) and _The House that Was_
(1915). He is seen at his best in _These United States_,
dedicated to Alan Seeger, which appeared in the _Boston
Transcript_, 7 February, 1917. This is an original, vigorous work,
full of the unexpected, and yet seen to be true as soon as expressed.
His verses show a constantly increasing grasp of material, and I look
for finer things from his pen.

Although Mr. Low seems to be instinctively a romantic poet, he is fond
of letting his imaginative sympathy play on common scenes in city
streets; as in _The Sandwich Man_.

  The lights of town are pallid yet
         With winter afternoon;
  The sullied streets are dank and wet,
  The halted motors fume and fret,
      The world turns homeward soon.

  There is no kindle in the sky,
      No cheering sunset flame;
  I have no help from passers-by,--
  They part, and give good-night; but I....
      Walk with another's name.

  I have no kith, nor kin, nor home
      Wherein to turn to sleep;
  No star-lamp sifts me through the gloam,
  I am the driven, wastrel foam
      On a subsiding deep.

  I do not toil for love, or fame,
      Or hope of high reward;
  My path too low for praise or blame,
  I struggle on, each day the same,
      My panoply--a board.

  Who gave me life I do not know,
      Nor what that life should be,
  Or why I live at all; I go,
  A dead leaf shivering with snow,
      Under a worn-out tree.

  The lights of town are blurred with mist,
      And pale with afternoon,--
  Of gold they are, and amethyst:
  Dull pain is creeping at my wrist....
      The world turns homeward soon.

A poet of national reputation is William Rose Benét, who was graduated
in 1907. Mr. Benét came to Yale from Augusta, Georgia, and since his
graduation has been connected with the editorial staff of the
_Century Magazine_. At present he is away in service in France,
where his adventurous spirit is at home. He may have taken some of his
reputation with him, for he is sure to be a favourite over there; but
the fame he left behind him is steadily growing. The very splendour of
romance glows in his spacious poetry; he loves to let his imagination
run riot, as might be guessed merely by reading the names on his
books. To every one who has ever been touched by the love of a quest,
his title-pages will appeal: _The Great White Wall_, a tale of
"magic adventure, of war and death"; _Merchants from Cathay_
(1913), _The Falconer of God_ (1914), _The Burglar of the
Zodiac_ (1917). His verses surge with vitality, as in _The Boast
of the Tides_. He is at his best in long, swinging, passionate
rhythms. Unfortunately in the same measures he is also at his worst.
His most potent temptation is the love of noise, which makes some of
his less artistic verse sound like organized cheering.

But when he gets the right tune for the right words, he is
irresistible. There is no space here to quote such a rattling
ballad--like a frenzy of snare-drums--as _Merchants from Cathay_,
but it is not mere sound and fury, it is not swollen rhetoric, it is
an inspired poem. No one can read or hear it without being violently
aroused. Mr. Benét is a happy-hearted poet, singing with gusto of the
joy of life.

  ON EDWARD WEBBE, ENGLISH GUNNER

  He met the Danske pirates off Tuttee;
  Saw the Chrim burn "Musko"; speaks with bated breath
  Of his sale to the great Turk, when peril of death
  Chained him to oar their galleys on the sea
  Until, as gunner, in Persia they set him free
  To fight their foes. Of Prester John he saith
  Astounding things. But Queen Elizabeth
  He worships, and his dear Lord on Calvary.
  Quaint is the phrase, ingenuous the wit
  Of this great childish seaman in Palestine,
  Mocked home through Italy after his release
  With threats of the Armada; and all of it
  Warms me like firelight jewelling old wine
  In some ghost inn hung with the golden fleece!

Arthur Colton, B.A. 1890, is as quiet and reflective as Mr. Benét is
strenuous. Has any one ever better expressed the heart of Chaucer's
_Troilus and Criseyde_ than in these few words?

  A smile, of flowers, and fresh May, across
  The dreamy, drifting face of old Romance;
  The same reiterate tale of love and loss
  And joy that trembles in the hands of chance;
  And midst his rippling lines old Geoffrey stands,
  Saying, "Pray for me when the tale is done,
  Who see no more the flowers, nor the sun."

Mr. Colton collected many of his poems in 1907, under the title
_Harps Hung Up in Babylon_. He had moved from New Haven to New
York.

Allan Updegraff, who left college before taking his degree, a member
of the class of 1907, recently turned from verse to prose, and wrote
an admirable novel, _Second Youth_. He is, however, a true poet,
and any one might be proud to be the author of

  THE TIME AND THE PLACE

  Will you not come? The pines are gold with evening
    And breathe their old-time fragrance by the sea;
    You loved so well their spicy exhalation,--
  So smiled to smell it and old ocean's piquancy;
    And those weird tales of winds and waves' relation--
    Could you forget? Will you not come to me?

  See, 'tis the time: the last long gleams are going,
    The pine-spires darken, mists rise waveringly;
    The gloaming brings the old familiar longing
  To be re-crooned by twilight voices of the sea.
    And just such tinted wavelets shoreward thronging--
    Could you forget things once so dear--and me?

  Whatever of the waves is ceaseless longing,
    And of the twilight immortality:
    The urge of some wild, inchoate aspiration
  Akin to afterglow and stars and winds and sea:
    This hour makes full and pours out in libation,--
    Could you forget? Will you not come to me?

  What golden galleons sailed into the sunset
    Not to come home unto eternity:
    What souls went outward hopeful of returning,
  This time and tide might well call back across the sea.
    Did we not dream so while old Wests were burning?
    Could you forget such once-dear things--and me?

  From the dimmed sky and long grey waste of waters,
    Lo, one lone sail on all the lonely sea
    A moment blooms to whiteness like a lily,
  As sudden fades, is gone, yet half-seems still to be;
    And you,--though that last time so strange and stilly,--
    Though you are dead, will you not come to me?

Lee Wilson Dodd, at present in service in France, was graduated in
1899, and for some years was engaged in the practice of the law. This
occupation he abandoned for literature in 1907. He is the author of
several successful plays, and has published two volumes of verse,
_The Modern Alchemist_ (1906) and _The Middle Miles_ (1915).
His growth in the intervening years will be apparent to any one who
compares the two books; there is in his best work a combination of
fancy and humour. He loves to write about New England gardens and
discovers beauty by the very simple process of opening his eyes at
home. The following poem is characteristically sincere:

  TO A NEO-PAGAN

  Your praise of Nero leaves me cold:
  Poems of porphyry and of gold,
  Palatial poems, chill my heart.
  I gaze--I wonder--I depart.
  Not to Byzantium would I roam
  In quest of beauty, nor Babylon;
  Nor do I seek Sahara's sun
  To blind me to the hills of home.
  Here am I native; here the skies
  Burn not, the sea I know is grey;
  Wanly the winter sunset dies.
  Wanly comes day.
  Yet on these hills and near this sea
  Beauty has lifted eyes to me,
  Unlustful eyes, clear eyes and kind;
  While a clear voice chanted--
                              _"They who find
  "Me not beside their doorsteps, know
  "Me never, know me never, though
  "Seeking, seeking me, high and low,
  "Forth on the far four winds they go!"

  Therefore your basalt, jade, and gems,
  Your Saracenic silver, your
  Nilotic gods, your diadems
  To bind the brows of Queens, impure,
  Perfidious, passionate, perfumed--these
  Your petted, pagan stage-properties,
  Seem but as toys of trifling worth.
  For I have marked the naked earth
  Beside my doorstep yield to the print
  Of a long light foot, and flash with the glint
  Of crocus-gold--
  Crocus-gold!
  Crocus-gold no mill may mint
  Save the Mill of God--
  The Mill of God!
  The Mill of God with His angels in't!

Other Yale poets are W. B. Arvine, 1903, whose book _Hang Up
Philosophy_ (1911), particularly excels in the interpretation of
natural scenery; Frederick M. Clapp, 1901, whose volume _On the
Overland_ (since republished in America) was in process of printing
in Bruges in 1914, when the Germans entered the old town, and smashed
among other things, the St. Catherine Press. Just fifteen copies of
Mr. Clapp's book had been struck off, of which I own one; Donald
Jacobus, 1908, whose _Poems_ (1914) are richly meditative; James
H. Wallis, 1906, who has joined the ranks of poets with _The
Testament of William Windune_ and _Other Poems_ (1917);
Leonard Bacon, 1909, who modestly called his book, published in the
year of his graduation, _The Scrannel Pipe_; Kenneth Band, 1914,
who produced two volumes of original verse while an undergraduate;
Archibald Mac Leish, 1915, whose _Tower of Ivory_, a collection
of lyrics, appeared in 1917; Elliot Griffis, a student in the School
of Music, who published in 1918 under an assumed name a volume called
_Rain in May_; and I may close this roll-call by remarking that
those who have seen his work have a staunch faith in the future of
Stephen Vincent Benét. He is a younger brother of William, and is at
present a Yale undergraduate. Mr. Benét was born at Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, on the twenty-second of July, 1898. His home is at
Augusta, Georgia. Before entering college, and when he was seventeen,
he published his first volume of poems, _Five Men and Pompey_
(1915). This was followed in 1917 by another book, _The Drug
Shop_. His best single production is the Cook prize poem, _The
Hemp_.



APPENDIX


_I Have a Rendezvous with Death_

The remarkably impressive and beautiful poem by Alan Seeger which
bears the above title naturally attracted universal attention. I had
supposed the idea originated with Stephen Crane, who, in his novel
_The Red Badge of Courage_, Chapter IX, has the following
paragraph:

  At last they saw him stop and stand motionless. Hastening up,
  they perceived that his face wore an expression telling that
  he had at last found the place for which he had struggled. His
  spare figure was erect; his bloody hands were quietly at his
  side. He was waiting with patience for something that he had
  come to meet. He was at the rendezvous. They paused and
  stood, expectant.

But I am informed both by Professor F. N. Robinson of Harvard and by
Mr. Norreys Jephson O'Conor that the probable source of the title of
the poem is Irish. Professor Robinson writes me, "The Irish poem that
probably suggested to Seeger the title of his _Rendezvous_ is the
_Reicne Fothaid Canainne_ (Song of Fothad Canainne), published by
Kuno Meyer in his _Fianaigecht_ (Dublin, 1910), pp. 1-21. Seeger
read the piece at one of my Celtic Conferences, and was much impressed
by it. He got from it only his title and the fundamental figure of a
_rendezvous_ with Death, the Irish poem being wholly different
from his in general purport. Fothad Canainne makes a tryst with the
wife of Ailill Flann, but is slain in battle by Ailill on the day
before the night set for the meeting. Then the spirit of Fothad (or,
according to one version, his severed head) sings the _reicne_ to
the woman and declares (st. 3): 'It is blindness for one who makes a
tryst to set aside the tryst with death.'"

Miss Amy Lowell, however, believes that Seeger got the idea from a
French poet. Wherever he got it, I believe that he made it his own,
for he used it supremely well, and it will always be associated with
him.

At Harvard, Alan Seeger took the small and special course in Irish,
and showed enthusiasm for this branch of study. Wishing to find out
something about his undergraduate career, I wrote to a member of the
Faculty, and received the following reply: "Many persons found him
almost morbidly indifferent and unresponsive, and he seldom showed the
full measure of his powers.... I grew to have a strong liking for him
personally as well as a respect for his intellectual power. But I
should never have expected him to show the robustness of either mind
or body which we now know him to have possessed. He was frail and
sickly in appearance, and seemed to have a temperament in keeping with
his physique. It took a strong impulse to bring him out and disclose
his real capacity."

There is no doubt that the war gave him this impulse, and that the
poem _I Have a Rendezvous with Death_ must be classed among the
literature directly produced by the great struggle. After four years,
I should put at the head of all the immense number of verses inspired
by the war John Masefield's _August 1914_, Alan Seeger's _I
Have a Rendezvous with Death_, and Rupert Brooke's _The
Soldier_; and of all the poems written by men actually fighting, I
should put Alan Seeger's first.

While reading these proofs, the news comes of the death of a promising
young American poet, Joyce Kilmer, a sergeant in our army, who fell in
France, August, 1918. He was born 6 December, 1866, was a graduate of
Rutgers and Columbia, and had published a number of poems. His supreme
sacrifice nobly closed a life filled with beauty in word and deed.



INDEX


[Only important references are given; the mere mention of names is
omitted.]


Abercrombie, D.,
Adams, F. P.,
"A. E." (G. W. Russell),
  personality,
  a sincere mystic,
  assurance,
  discovery of Stephens,
  influence on Susan Mitchell,
Aiken, C.,
Andrews, C. E., _From the Front_,
Arnold, M., poem on Wordsworth compared to Watson's,
Arvine, W. B.,
Aumonier, S., quotation from,
Austin, A.,

Bacon, L.,
Barker, G., production of _Dynasts_,
  remark on Shaw,
Beers, H, A.,
Benét, S. V.,
Benét, W. R.,
Bishop, J. P.,
Blackwell, B. H., a publisher,
Bradley, W. A.,
Braithwaite, W. S., his anthology,
Branch, A. H., a leader,
  poems,
  education,
  passion,
  contrasted with Masters,
Bridges, R., poet-laureate,
  his verse,
Brooke, R., canonized,
  Gibson on,
  poems,
  letters,
  Howland prize,
  compared to De La Mare,
  _The Soldier_,
Browne, T., compared to Yeats,
Browning, R., concentration,
  _Pauline_,
  on spiritual blessings,
  lack of experience,
  self-consciousness,
  _Christmas Eve_,
  natural poetry,
  metre of _One Word More_,
  _The Glove_,
  Ogniben's remark,
  compared to Brooke,
  temperament,
  contrasted with Yeats,
  Masters compared to,
  _Confessions_,
Burns, R., influence on democracy,
Burton, R.,
Bynner, W.,
Byron, Lord, sales of his poems,
  wit compared to Watson's,
  common sense,

Calderon, G., remark on Chekhov,
Campbell, J.,
Carlin, F.,
Carlyle, T.,
  remark on Cromwell,
Chaucer, G.,
  effect on Masefield,
Chekhov, A.,
  centrifugal force,
Clapp, F. M.,
Cleghorn, S. N.,
Coleridge, S. T.,
  remark on poetry,
Colton, A.,
Colum, P.,
Conrad, J.,
  compared to Scott,
Cooke, E. V.,
Corbin, A.,
Crane, S.,
  _Red Badge of Courage_,
Crashaw, R.,
  his editor,

Davidson, J.,
  test of poetry,
Davies, M. C.,
Davies, W. H.,
Davis, F. S.,
De La Mare, W.,
  homage to,
  poems,
  compared to Hawthorne,
  retirement,
  _Listeners_,
  Shakespeare portraits,
  _Old Susan_,
  _Peacock Pie_,
Dodd, L. W.,
Donne, J.,
  reputation,
  stimulant,

Drake, F.,
  German statue to,
  poem by Noyes,
Drinkwater, J.,

Egan, M. F.,
Eliot, T. S.,
Emerson, R. W.,
  prophecy on poetry,
Erskine, J.,

Flecker, J. E.,
  posthumous editor of,
  translations,
  aims,
  _Oak and Olive_,
  religion,
  _Jerusalem_,
Fletcher, J. G.,
Foulke, W. D.,
Frost, R.,
  dedication by Thomas,
  poems,
  theories,
  outdoor poet,
  realism,
  tragedy,
   pleasure of recognition,

Garrison, T.,
Gibson, W. W.,
  homage to,
  poems,
  _Stonefolds_,
  _Daily Bread_,
  _Fires_,
  _Thoroughfares_,
  war poems,
  _Livelihood_,
  latest work,
  his contribution,
Gladstone, W. E.,
  eulogy by Phillips,
Glaenzer, R. B.,
Goethe, J. W.,
  Flecker's translation of,
  poise,
Grainger, P.,
  great artist,
  audacities,
Graves, R.,
Gray, T.,
  on laureateship,
  compared to Hodgson,
  compared to Masters,
Griffis, E.,
Griffiths, W.,

Hagedorn, H.,
Hardy, T.,
  a forerunner,
  _Dynasts_,
  idea of God,
  pessimism,
  thought and music,
  _Moments of Vision_,
  Housman's likeness to,
Hawthorne, N., compared to De La Mare.
Henley, W. E.;
  compared to Thompson;
  paganism;
  lyrical power.
Hodgson, R.;
  a recluse;
  love of animals;
  humour;
  compared to Alice Corbin.
Hooker, B.
Housman, A. E.;
  modernity;
  scholarship;
  likeness to Hardy;
  paganism and pessimism;
  lyrical power.
Hughes, R.
Hyde, D., influence.

Ibsen, H., student of the Bible.

Jacobus, D.
James, H., tribute to Brooke.
Johnson, R. U.

Keats, J., Phillips compared to;
  influence on Amy Lowell;
  Endymion;
  Amy Lowell's sonnet on.
Kilmer, J.
Kipling, R.;
  imperial laureate;
  _Recessional_;
  popularity;
  influence on soldiers;
  Watson's allusion to;
  _Danny Deever_.

Landor, W. S., his violence.
Lawrence, D. H.
Ledwidge, F.
Leonard, W. E.
Lewis, C. M.
Lindsay, N. V.;
  Harriet Monroe's magazine;
  _Booth_;
  development;
  drawings;
  "games";
  _Congo,_
  _Niagara_;
  prose;
  chants;
  geniality;
  _Esther_.
Locke, W. J., his dreams.
Low, B. R. C.
Lowell, A. L., love of liberty.
Lowell, Amy, essay on Frost;
  poems;
  training;
  free verse;
  imagism;
  _Sword Blades_;
  narrative skill;
  polyphonic prose;
  versatility;
  remark on Seeger.
Lowell, P., influence on Amy.

MacDonagh, T.
Mackaye, P.;
  stipend for poets;
  poems.
MacLeish, A.
Macterlinck, M., compared to Yeats;
  rhythmical prose.
Markham, E.
Marquis, D.
Masefield, J., homage to;
  poems;
  the modern Chaucer;
  education;
  _Dauber_;
  critical power;
  relation to Wordsworth;
  _Everlasting Mercy_;
  _Widow in the Bye Street_;
  _Daffodil Fields_;
  compared to Tennyson;
  _August, 1914_;
  lyrics;
  sonnets;
  _Rosas_;
  novels;
  general contribution;
  Drinkwater's dedication;
  Aiken's relation to.
Masters, E. L.;
  education;
  _Spoon River_;
  irony;
  love of truth;
  analysis;
  cynicism;
  idealism.
Meredith, G., his poems.
Middleton, S.
Milton, J., his invocation;
  Piedmont sonnet.
Mitchell, S.
Monroe, H., her magazine;
  her anthology;
  poems.
Moody, W. V.
Morley, J., remarks on Irishmen
  and Wordsworth.
Munger, R.

Neihardt, J. G.
Nichols, R.
Nicholson, M., poems;
  remark on college stories.
Noyes, A., homage to;
  poems;
  education;
  singing power;
  _Tramp Transfigured_;
  his masterpiece;
  child imagination;
  sea poetry;
  _Drake_;
  _May-Tree_;
  new effects;
  war poems;
  optimism.

O'Conor, N. J., poems;
  remark on Seeger.
O'Sullivan, S.

Peabody, J. P.
Percy, W. A.
Phillips, S.;
  sudden fame;
  education;
  _Marpessa_;
  realism;
  _Gladstone_;
  protest against Masefleld.
Pierce, F. E.

Quarles, F., quoted.
Quiller-Couch, A., remark on
  the _Daffodil Fields_.

Rand, K.
Reedy, W. M., relation to Masters.
Rice, C. Y.
Riley, J. W., remark on Henley;
  "Riley Day";
  remark on Anna Branch;
  a conservative.
Rittenhouse, J. B.
Robinson, C. R.
Robinson, E. A.
Robinson, F. N., remark on Seeger.
Rogers, R. C.

Sandburg, C.
Santayana, G.
Sassoon, S.
Scott, W., compared to Conrad;
  sales of his poems.
Seeger, A.;
  Low's dedication;
  source of his poem.
Service, R. W., likeness to Kipling.
Shakespeare, W., compared to Wordsworth;
  compared to Masefleld;
  portraits by De La Mare;
  poem on by Masters.
Shaw, G. B., _Major Barbara_.
Spingarn, J., creative criticism.
Squire, J. C., introduction to
  Flecker
Stephens, J.,
  novels;
  discovered by A. E.;
  realism;
  child-poetry;
  power of cursing.
Stevenson, R. L.,
  remark on Whitman.
Stork, C. W.
Swinburne, A. C.,
  critical violence,
  Lindsay's likeness to;
  Lindsay's use of.
Synge, J. M.,
  advice from Yeats;
  works;
  versatility;
  bitterness;
  theory of poetry;
  autobiographical poems;
  thoughts on death;
  influence on Stephens.

Teasdale, S.
Tennyson, A.,
  continued popularity of;
  his invocation;
  compared to Hardy;
  early poems on death;
  compared to Masefield,;
  his memoirs;
  his reserve;
  quality of his poetry.
Thomas, E.
Thomas, E. M.
Thompson, F.,
  compared to Henley;
  religious passion;
 _In No Strange Land_;
 _Lilium Regis_;
  Noyes's ode to;
  Flecker's poem on.
Trench, H.

Underwood, J. C.
Untermeyer, L.
Updegraff, A.

Van Dyke, H.
Vaughan, H., quoted.
Vielé, H. K.

Wallis, J. H.
Watson, W.
  poor start;
  address in America;
  _King Alfred_;
  _Wordsworth's Grave_;
  epigrams;
  _How Weary is Our Heart_;
  hymn of hate;
  war poems,
  _Yellow Pansy_;
  Byronic wit;
  _Eloping Angels_;
  dislike of new poetry.
Weaving, W.
Wells, H. G.
  religious position.
Whitman, W.
  natural style;
  _Man of War Bird_;
  early conventionality;
  Stevenson's remark on;
  growth of reputation;
  Sandburg's relation.
Whitney, H. H.
Whitsett, W. T.
Widdemer, M.
Wilcox, E. W.
Willcocks, M. P.
  remark on will.
Woodberry, G. E.
Wordsworth, W.
  compared to Shakespeare;
  Watson's poem on;
  Masefield's relations to.

Yeats, W. B.
  education;
  devotion to art;
  his names;
  love poetry;
  dramas;
  prose;
  mysticism;
  relation to Lindsay.

Younghusband, G.
  remark on Kipling





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