THE ADVANCE OF ENGLISH POETRY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
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
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. Bent, 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.
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.
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
THE ADVANCE OF ENGLISH POETRY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
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 estrangd 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.
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.
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.
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 reignd 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.
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.
(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: Sitt qu'on le touche, il rsonne.
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 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;