« PoprzedniaDalej »
conveyance is great expression; and if he has said a thing greatly, that saying has made it great. Divide soul and body and you have no longer a living man, but a corpse and a ghost. The most concrete evil of this spurious disception is that it teaches the bourgeoning artist to neglect the study of his tools. It has become common to speak depreciatively of the stylist; which is to advise the singer to avoid cultivating his voice lest he sing the worse for having learned how to sing. Fra Lippo Lippi's remarks on this subject are both sensible and satisfying.
Mr. Arthur E. J. Legge, whose volume The Pilgrim Jester1 is the fruit of a meditation broad and perhaps deep, a sensitive and kindly observation, and a style not without a certain crude vividness, displays nevertheless both symptoms of the modern disease. His subject is contemporary society, the fermenting must of modern circumstance. He does not believe in time-mellowed materials.
Better to be an ink-stained buccaneer,
And plunder the fat merchant-fleet that goes
Take some well-laden prize in tow, and steer
To this Mr. Legge's whole poem is a sufficient answer. The Pilgrim Jester, a symbolic blend of Socrates and The Beloved Vagabond, walks through modernity wisely smiling, contemplating all forms of creeds. To the sand-spinning multitude, the blind mouths of Law, Church, and State, to the Philosopher, the Demi-mondaine, the Poet, the Frustrate Woman, the Laborer, he holds up in turn amid appropriate surroundings the mirror of a gently sympathetic scepticism. Yet he is no destructive critic of life. He shadows forth a philosophy not unlike the clearer teachings of Stevenson, of Browning, of Whitman: that living is worth life, and only fear is evil. This faith is presented slantwise, in a misty iridescence of new lights. The scope of the poem is its first weakness; for the universe is no more visible globed in a drop of dew than at life-size. Again, Mr. Legge is of those who exalt substance over style. He therefore mingles art and philosophy in an unwelcome union which injures both. His episodes are not scenes, but phantasmata lacking concreteness, nebulous with analysis and commentary. For all its casual beauties his book remains a breathless body, his idea a disincarnate ghost; great in conception, perhaps but unexpressed for want of artistry in the expression.
'The Pilgrim Jester. By Arthur E. J. Legge. New York: John Lane.
Oh that my voice may reach
A few young ardent hearts, and summon them
To reinforce the stalwart company,
So few-who work the ship and strive to learn
The secrets of the sea.
To quote these lines is to criticise them; and they represent fairly the style of the whole poem.
No result of latter-day introspection is more dangerous to art than the tendency to explore the utmost limits of form, where chaos riots but a little farther on. Especially to the lesser artist is this extremity of unrestraint mischievous. For the little artist cannot see that such men are great by what they are, not by what they fail or disdain to be. Browning is not more but less a poet for his mannerism and cacophony; Whitman's glory is not in being unmetrical but in being rhythmical. Liberty is not a yearning for anarchy. A diamond uncut is precious; certain of us infer that therefore they do well to forbear polishing their glass or shaping their amorphous clay. Witness much abominable vers-libre in the magazines. Of this Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie's Interludes and Poems1 is typical. Nothing which attains to the full clarity of a thought is discernible in the mass of crude intellection which blurs dimly through its needless licenses of style. It is Sordello uninspired; full of wanton tortuosities of syntax, vain gleaning of rare and obsolescent words, and a versification which congratulates itself upon flouting scansion. The book leaves an impression of Buddhistic philosophy, seeming to preach the dissolution of self-mannerism hymning Nirvana.
The hope of American poetry never suffered a loss harder to bear than that of Richard Hovey. His name suggests to us only the small though lovely lyrics of Vagabondia; and the later, greater work in which his power and his artistry were truly revealed was left unfinished and unfamiliar. Even the portion of it which he lived to complete and to 'Interludes and Poems. By Lascelles Abercrombie. New York: John Lane.
publish had proved a poetry of thought and an intimate skill in form full of larger promise. And now the publication of the notes and fragments1 for the remainder of the poem brings home our loss even more keenly. Launcelot and Guenevere is, and would have been, a noble illustration of that true relation of old or ageless symbols with new ideation which is truly poetry. Mr. Bliss Carman, in his introduction to the posthumous volume, says:
It was not his aim to reproduce a distant fabulous age for the mere sake of its glamour and romance. It was the inward significance of the old tale, so apt and familiar a case in point, that formed its supreme value in his consideration. . . . He wished to get away from the modern setting for his drama, so that the exposition of his ideas might not be confused by the baffling counter interest of contemporary realism. He was not attempting a comedy of manners, but a harmonody of ethics. The farther away from the nineteenth century his scenes could be laid, the more easily could our attention be concentrated on the interplay of characters, the outcome of acts, and the final elucidation of a human problem.
For the Drama, the Novel-for all other literature-this is no precept; the poetry of all times declares that for poetry it is law.
It has become fashionable to say of Mr. Stephen Phillips that he is a stylist without substance; and latterly, that having said one thing he has had nothing further to say. But Mr. Phillips began by expressing marvellously a great human something never before so poignantly expressed. When that mystic lily of his first opened under the moon, men gasped with intimacy of delight; not because the elusive glamour of old beauty was made manifest, not because one had achieved a new witchery of words and a new blank verse worthy to inherit Tennyson, but because these were one deed, one living embodiment. Since then, Mr. Phillips has been writing to order poetic dramas, each steadily and bitterly paler than the last. And now, his new volume of poems2 reads like a book of studies. Any one, wanting the facts, would, I think, place the new volume from internal evidence five or ten years earlier than Marpessa and Christ in Hades.
It is not that Mr. Phillips has run dry of ideas. He has indeed iterated his first great saying time after time with inevitably weakening expression. But through the New Poems run the wraiths of many
The Holy Graal, and Other Fragments. By Richard Hovey. New York: Duffield and Company.
"New Poems. By Stephen Phillips. New York: John Lane.
thoughts as worthy, which equal artistry might have made as great. It is that to these creatures clamorous to be born he has given only weak or even crippled bodies. A man who in his artistic adolescence wrote the blank verse of Marpessa can and must learn to handle other forms as well, and that one better. The style of New Poems approaches that of the earlier volume only in a few scattered lines; and there is in form a languid and purposeless experimenting with easy vers-libre and a pedestrian array of bad heroic couplets. If this were the author's first volume, one would call it promising; from a proved craftsman it is merely slovenly.
And yet we must remember the distorted proportions of present time. Tennyson was silent for more years than Mr. Phillips has spoken faintlier; and while he still lives and writes, the tone of The Lost Leader is neither seemly criticism nor just. Easily the best poem in the new volume is A Poet's Prayer for strength to pass over the waste, uninspired seasons. We cannot but take this reverently, as both personal and sincere; and wait, without invective, in the hope that this debility of Mr. Phillips's muse may be only a passing, not a mortal illness.
A first acquaintance with the work of Mr. Alfred Noyes1 irresistibly suggests Stevenson's sentence upon Mr. Kipling: "The fairy godmothers were all drunk at his christening." Mr. Noyes is twenty-seven; he has published five volumes of more than merely pleasant verse; he has begun an English Epic, the temerity of which title has not aroused critical laughter. He has tried a bewildering variety of subjects without failure and with occasional splendid success; and he has managed a dizzy variety of rhythms with fresh grace and often with original mastery. He writes with a sort of divine garrulity-a poetic prodigal, shaking a sunlit mane and singing loudly and sweetly across the morning. For all his volubility he thinks deeplier and sanelier, feels with a fresher ardor, and versifies with a more catholic skill than many of the worthies did at his years. He has not, indeed, learned blank verse; but he has already come near to it. And in the rapid, triple measures, his lines have the lithe facility of Mr. Swinburne, with a variety and guarded sweetness above the elder poet's achievement.
Cloud upon cloud, the purple pine-woods clung to the rich Arcadian mountains,
'The Golden Hynde. By Alfred Noyes. New York: The Macmillan Company.
White as a shining marble Dryad, supple and sweet as a rose in blossom,
Down to the valley she came, and the sound of her feet was the bursting of flowers in May.
The debt to Mr. Swinburne is here quite evident; yet this is clearly no imitation, but a legitimate inheritance of the mantle; and a fine ear will detect the subtle superiorities of the younger metrist. Here and otherwhere the kinship of the two poets shows no less in feeling than in form. But the passion of Mr. Noyes's love-poetry is the healthy ecstasy of glorious youth; there is no fever in its fire, no shriek in its hymnody of possession. And this difference is typical of a general comparison. The ode on Mr. Swinburne's seventieth birthday is not greater but nobler than anything of the master's own.
Orpheus and Eurydice, from which I have just quoted, is one of many poems in the volume upon Emerson's theme, "When Half-Gods Go, the Gods Arrive." And in this case Mr. Noyes has, I think, read the old myth truly, and said the supreme thing of the relation between the man's joy and the artist's sorrow. Some of the songs upon the same theme are unconvincingly intellectual. And through much of the new volume runs a vein of didacticism and dogma much less pervasive of Mr. Noyes's earlier work. Now, the poet renounces his birthright when he puts off the prophet to assume the priest. If he would urge upon us the horror of war, his own and only way is the way of Verestchagin, by showing us its horror; not by declaiming against it, however earnestly, in the manner of the pulpit.
Mr. Noyes's luxuriant fecundity and his beautiful health of sight are at once his promise and his danger. There is the fear that he may diffuse or squander upon the present that power which he will surely need one day for greater work yet undreamed of. And there is the danger that in maturity he may lose the naked vision of that Beauty whom, veiled in moralism, we know by her earthlier name of Truth.
G. S. LAYARD'S "SUPPRESSED PLATES"
BEYOND the mere bibliophile, in whose eyes the value of a first edition is vastly enhanced by the misprint of a proper name or an error in pagination, and who will hug with almost unholy delight Barker's
'Suppressed Plates. By George Somes Layard. London: Adam and