Even the greatest cynic has his ideal side. It is the figure of Abraham Lincoln that arouses all the romanticism of our poet, as was the case with Walt Whitman, who, to be sure, was no cynic at all. The short poem Anne Rutledge is one of the few that strictly conform to the etymological meaning of the title of the book; for "Anthology" is a union of two Greek words, signifying a collection of flowers.
Like Browning, Mr. Masters forsook the drama for the dramatic monologue. His best work is in this form, where he takes one person and permits him to reveal himself either in a soliloquy or in a conversation. And it must be confessed that the monologues spoken by contemporaries or by those Americans who talk from the graveyard of Spoon River, are superior to the attempts at interpreting great historical figures. The Shakespeare poem Tomorrow Is My Birthday is not only one of the worst effusions of Mr. Masters' pen, it is almost sacrilege. Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear!
Outside of the monologues and the epitaphs, the work of Mr. Masters is mainly unimpressive. Yet I admire his ambition to write on various subjects and in various metres. Occasionally he produces a short story in verse, characterized by dramatic power and by austere beauty of style. The poem Boyhood Friends, recently published in the Yale Review, and quite properly included by Mr. Braithwaite in his interesting and valuable Anthology for 1917, shows such a command of blank verse that I look for still finer things in the future. With all his twisted cynicism and perversities of expression, Mr. Masters is a true poet. He has achieved one sinister masterpiece, which has cleansed his bosom of much perilous Stuff. Tomorrow to fresh woods and pastures new.
Louis Untermeyer was born at New York, on the first of October, 1885. He produced a volume of original poems at the age of twenty-five. This was followed by three other books, and in addition, he has written many verse-translations, a long list of prose articles in literary criticism, whilst not neglecting his professional work as a designer of jewelry. There is no doubt that this form of art has been a fascinating occupation and an inspiration to poetry. He not only makes sermons in stones, but can manufacture jewels five words long. Should any one be dissatisfied with his designs for the jewel-factory, he can "point with pride" to his books, saying, Haec sunt mea ornamenta.
Somewhere or other I read a review of the latest volume of verse from Mr. Untermeyer, and the critic began as follows: "One is grateful to Mr. Untermeyer for doing what almost none of his contemporaries on this side of the water thinks of doing." This sentence stimulated my curiosity, for I wondered what particularly distinguishing feature of his work I had failed to see. "For about the last thing that poets and theorizers about poetry in these days think of is beauty. In discussion and practice beauty is almost entirely left out of consideration. Frequently they do not concern themselves with it at all."
Such criticism as that starts with a preconceived definition of beauty, misses every form of beauty outside of the definition, and gives to Mr. Untermeyer credit for originality in precisely that feature of his work where he most resembles contemporary and past poets. I believe that beauty is now as it always has been the main aim of the majority of American poets; but instead of legendary beauty, instead of traditional beauty, they wish us to see beauty in modern life. For example, it is interesting to observe how completely public opinion has changed concerning the New York sky-scrapers. I can remember when they were regarded as monstrosities of commercialism, an offence to the eye and a torment to the aesthetic sense. But I recall through my reading of history that mountains were also once regarded as hideous deformities—they were hook-shouldered giants, impressive in size—anything you like except beautiful. All the mountain had to do was to go on staying there, confident in its supreme excellence, knowing that some day it would be appreciated:
Somebody remarks: Morello's outline there is wrongly traced, His hue mistaken; what of that? or else, Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that? Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
We know better today; we know that the New York sky-scrapers are beautiful; just as we know that New York harbour in the night has something of the glory of fairyland.
No, it will not do to say that Mr. Untermeyer is original in his preoccupation with beauty; it Would be almost as true to say that the chief feature in his work is the English language.
What is notable in him is the combination of three things; an immense love of life, a romantic interpretation of material things, and a remarkable talent for parody and burlesque.
Sex and Death—the obsessions of so many young poets—are not particularly conspicuous in the poetry of this healthy, happy young man. He writes about swimming, climbing the palisades, willow-trees, children playing in the street. Familiar objects become mysterious and thought-provoking in the light of his fancy. His imagination provides him with no end of fun; he needs no melancholy solitary pilgrimage in the gloaming to give him a pair of rimes; a country farm or a city slum is quite enough. I like his affectionate salutation to the willow; I like his interpretation of a side street. His greatest tour de force is his poem, Still Life. Of all painted pictures, with the one exception of dead fish, the conventional overturned basket of fruit is to me the most barren of meaning, the least inspiring, in suggestion a blank. Yet somehow Mr. Untermeyer, looking at a bowl of fruit, sees something I certainly never saw and do not ever expect to see except on this printed page, something that a bowl of fruit has for me in the same proportion as the stump of a cigar—something dynamic.
I do not understand why so many Americans plaster the walls of their dining-rooms with pictures of overset fruit-baskets and of dead fish with their ugly mouths open; but in "still life" this paradoxical poet sees something full of demoniacal energy. O Death, where is thy sting?
Never have I beheld such fierce contempt, Nor heard a voice so full of vehement life As this that shouted from a bowl of fruit, High-pitched, malignant, lusty and perverse— Brutal with a triumphant restlessness.
But the fruit in the basket is dead. The energy, the fierce vehemence and the lusty shout are not in the bowl, but in the soul. Subjectivity can no further go.
It is rather curious, that when our poet can behold such passion in a willow-tree or in a mess of plucked fruit, he should be so blind to it in the heart of an old maid; though to be honest, the heroine of his poem is meant for an individual rather than a type. If there is one object on earth that a healthy young man cannot understand, it is an old maid. Who can forget that terrible outburst of the aunt in Une Vie? "Nobody ever cared to ask if my feet were wet!" Mr. Untermeyer will live and learn. He is not contemptuous; he is full of pity, but it is the pity of ignorance.
Great joys or sorrows never came To set her placid soul astir; Youth's leaping torch, Love's sudden flame Were never even lit for her.
Don't you believe it, Mr. Untermeyer!
Even in his "serious" volumes of verse, there is much satire and saline humour; so that his delightful book of parodies, called —— and Other Poets is as spontaneous a product of his Muse as his utterances ex cathedra. The twenty-seven poems, called The Banquet of the Bards, with which the book begins, are excellent fooling and genuine criticism. He wrote these things for his own amusement, one reason why they amuse us. A roll-call of twenty-seven contemporary poets, where each one comes forward and "speaks his piece," is decidedly worth having. John Masefield "tells the true story of Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son"; William Butler Yeats "gives a Keltic version of Three Wise Men in Gotham"; Robert Frost "relates the Death of the Tired Man," and so on. I had rather possess this volume than any other by the author; it is almost worthy to rank with the immortal Fly Leaves. Furthermore, in his serious work Mr. Untermeyer has only begun to fight.
And while we are considering poems "in lighter vein," let us not forget the three famous initials signed to a column in the Chicago Tribune, Don Marquis of the Evening Sun, who can be either grave or gay but cannot be ungraceful, and the universally beloved Captain Franklin P. Adams, whose Conning Tower increased the circulation of the New York Tribune and the blood of its readers. Brightest and best of the sons of the Colyumnists, his classic Muse made the Evening Mail an evening blessing, sending the suburbanites home to their wives "always in good humour"; then, like Jupiter and Venus, he charged from evening star to morning star, and gave many thousands a new zest for the day's work. Skilful indeed was his appropriation of the methods of Tom Sawyer; as Tom got his fence whitewashed by arousing an eager competition among the boys to do his work for him, each toiler firmly persuaded that he was the recipient rather than the bestower of a favour, so F. P. A. incited hundreds of well-paid literary artists to compete with one another for the privilege of writing his column without money and without price.
His two books of verse, By and Large and Weights and Measures, have fairly earned a place in contemporary American literature; and the influence of his column toward precision and dignity in the use of the English language has made him one of the best teachers of English composition in the country.
SARA TEASDALE, ALAN SEEGER, AND OTHERS
Sara Teasdale—her poems of love—her youth—her finished art—Fannie Stearns Davis—her thoughtful verse—Theodosia Garrison—her war poem—war poetry of Mary Carolyn Davies—Harriet Monroe—her services—her original work—Alice Corbin—her philosophy—Sarah Cleghorn—poet of the country village—Jessie B. Rittenhouse—critic and poet—Margaret Widdemer—poet of the factories—Carl Sandburg—poet of Chicago—his career—his defects—J. C. Underwood—poet of city noises—T. S. Eliot—J. G. Neihardt—love poems—C. W. Stork—Contemporary Verse—M. L. Fisher—The Sonnet—S. Middleton—J. P. Bishop—W. A. Bradley—nature poems—W. Griffith—City Pastorals—John Erskine—W. E. Leonard—W. T. Whitsett—Helen Hay Whitney—Corinne Roosevelt Robinson—M. Nicholson—his left hand—Witter Bynner—a country poet—H. Hagedorn—Percy Mackaye—his theories—his possibilities—J. G. Fletcher—monotony of free verse—Conrad Aiken—his gift of melody—W. A. Percy—the best American poem of 1917—Alan Seeger—an Elizabethan—an inspired poet.
Sara Teasdale (Mrs. Filsinger) was born at St. Louis (pronounced Lewis), on the eighth of August, 1884. Her first book appeared when she was twenty-three, and made an impression. In 1911 she published Helen of Troy, and Other Poems; in 1915 a volume of original lyrics called Rivers to the Sea; some of these were reprinted, together with new material, in Love Poems (1917), which also contained Songs out of Sorrow—verses that won the prize offered by the Poetry Society of America for the best unpublished work read at the meetings in 1916; and in 1918 she received the Columbia University Poetry Prize of five hundred dollars, for the best book produced by an American in 1917.
In spite of her youth and the slender amount of her production, Sara Teasdale has won her way to the front rank of living American poets. She is among the happy few who not only know what they wish to accomplish, but who succeed in the attempt. How many manuscripts she burns, I know not; but the comparatively small number of pages that reach the world are nearly fleckless. Her career is beginning, but her work shows a combination of strength and grace that many a master might envy. It would be an insult to call her poems "promising," for most of them exhibit a consummate control of the art of lyrical expression. Give her more years, more experience, wider range, richer content, her architecture may become as massive as it is fine. She thoroughly understands the manipulation of the material of poetry. It would be difficult to suggest any improvement upon
The stately tragedy of dusk Drew to its perfect close, The virginal white evening star Sank, and the red moon rose.
Although she gives us many beautiful pictures of nature, she is primarily a poet of love. White-hot passion without a trace of anything common or unclean; absolute surrender; whole-hearted devotion expressed in pure singing. Nothing is finer than this—to realize that the primal impulse is as strong as in the breast of a cave-woman, yet illumined by clear, high intelligence, and pouring out its feeling in a voice of gracious charm.
They never saw my lover's face, They only know our love was brief, Wearing awhile a windy grace And passing like an autumn leaf.
They wonder why I do not weep, They think it strange that I can sing, They say, "Her love was scarcely deep Since it has left so slight a sting."
They never saw my love nor knew That in my heart's most secret place I pity them as angels do Men who have never seen God's face.
Until I lose my soul and lie Blind to the beauty of the earth, Deaf tho' a lyric wind goes by, Dumb in a storm of mirth;
Until my heart is quenched at length And I have left the land of men, Oh, let me love with all my strength Careless if I am loved again.
If the two pieces just cited are not poetry, then I have no idea what poetry may be.
Another young woman poet is Fannie Stearns Davis (Mrs. Grifford). The quality of her mind as displayed in her two books indicates possibilities of high development. She was born at Cleveland, on the sixth of March, 1884, is a graduate of Smith College, was a teacher in Wisconsin, and has made many contributions to various magazines. Her first book of poems, Myself and I, appeared in 1913; two years later came the volume called Crack o' Dawn. She is not much given to metrical adventure, although one of her most original poems, As I Drank Tea Today, has an irregular rime-scheme. For the most part, she follows both in subject and style the poetic tradition. She has the gift of song—not indeed in the superlative degree—but nevertheless unmistakable; and she has a full mind. She is neither optimist nor pessimist; I should call her a sympathetic observer. The following poem sums up fairly well her accumulated wisdom:
I have looked into all men's hearts. Like houses at night unshuttered they stand, And I walk in the street, in the dark, and on either hand There are hollow houses, men's hearts.
They think that the curtains are drawn, Yet I see their shadows suddenly kneel To pray, or laughing and reckless as drunkards reel Into dead sleep till dawn.
And I see an immortal child With its quaint high dreams and wondering eyes Sleeping beneath the hard worn body that lies Like a mummy-case defiled.
And I hear an immortal cry Of splendour strain through the sodden words, Like a flight of brave-winged heaven-desirous birds From a swamp where poisons lie.
—I have looked into all men's hearts. Oh, secret terrible houses of beauty and pain! And I cannot be gay, but I cannot be bitter again, Since I looked into all men's hearts.
There is one commandment that all poets under the first class, and perhaps some of those favoured ones, frequently break: the tenth. One cannot blame them, for they know what poetry is, and they love it. They not only know what it is, but their own limited experience has taught them what rapture it must be to write lines of flawless beauty. This unconquerable covetousness is admirably and artistically expressed in Fannie Davis's poem, After Copying Goodly Poetry. It is an honest confession; but its author is fortunate in being able to express vain desire so beautifully that many lesser poets will covet her covetousness.
Theodosia Garrison was born at Newark, New Jersey, on the twenty-sixth of November, 1874. She has published three volumes of verse, of which perhaps the best known is The Joy of Life (1909). At present she is engaged in war work, where her high faith, serene womanliness, and overflowing humour ought to make her, in the finest sense of the word, efficient. Her short poem on the war is a good answer to detractors of America.
We have been patient—and they named us weak; We have been silent—and they judged us meek, Now, in the much-abused, high name of God We speak.
Oh, not with faltering or uncertain tone— With chosen words we make our meaning known, That like a great wind from the West shall shake The double throne.
Our colours flame upon the topmost mast,— We lift the glove so arrogantly cast, And in the much-abused, high name of God We speak at last.
Another war alchemist is Mary Carolyn Davies, poet of Oregon and Brooklyn. She knows both coasts of America, she understands the American spirit of idealism and self-sacrifice, and her verses have a direct hitting power that will break open the hardest heart. In her book, The Drums in Our Street (1918), the glory and the tragedy of the world-struggle are expressed in terms of individual feeling. There is decided inequality in this volume, but the best pieces are so carefully distributed among the commonplace that one must read the whole work.
Harriet Monroe was born in Chicago and went to school in Georgetown, D. C. In connection with the World's Exposition in Chicago she received the honour of being formally invited to write a poem for the dedication. Accordingly at the ceremony commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America, 21 October, 1892, her Columbian Ode was given with music.
Harriet Monroe's chief services to the art of poetry are seen not so much in her creative work as in her founding and editing of the magazine called Poetry, of which I made mention in my remarks on Vachel Lindsay. In addition to this monthly stimulation—which has proved of distinct value both in awakening general interest and in giving new poets an opportunity to be heard, Miss Monroe, with the assistance of Alice Corbin Henderson, published in 1917 an anthology of the new varieties of verse. Certain poets are somewhat arbitrarily excluded, although their names are mentioned in the Preface; the title of the book is The New Poetry; the authors are fairly represented, and with some sins of commission the selections from each are made with critical judgment. Every student of contemporary verse should own a copy of this work.
In 1914 Miss Monroe produced a volume of her original poems, called You and I. There are over two hundred pages, and those who look in them for something strange and startling will be disappointed. Knowing the author's sympathy with radicalism in art, and with all modern extremists, the form of these verses is surprisingly conservative. To be sure, the first one, The Hotel, is in a kind of polyphonic prose, but it is not at all a fair sample of the contents. Now whether the reading of many manuscripts has dulled Miss Monroe's creative power or not, who can say? The fact is that most of these poems are in no way remarkable either for feeling or expression and many of them fail to rise above the level of the commonplace. There is happily no straining for effect; but unhappily in most instances there is no effect.
Alice Corbin (Mrs. Henderson) is a native of Virginia and a resident of Chicago. She is co-editor with Miss Monroe of The New Poetry anthology, wherein her own poems are represented. These indicate skill in the manipulation of different metrical forms; and they reveal as well a shrewd, healthy acceptance of life as it is. This feeling communicates itself in a charming way to the reader; it is too vigorous for acquiescence, too wise for blind optimism, but nearer optimism than pessimism. It seems perhaps in certain aspects to resemble the philosophy of Ralph Hodgson, although his command of the art of poetry is beyond her range.
Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn was born at Norfolk, Virginia, on the fourth of February, 1876, but since childhood has lived in Vermont. She studied at Radcliffe College, and has written much verse and prose. In 1915 a number of her lyrics were printed between the short stories in a volume by her friend, Dorothy Canfield, called Hillsboro People. In 1917 she published a book of verses, Portraits and Protests, where the portraits are better than the protests. No one has more truly or more sympathetically expressed the spirit of George Herbert's poetry than Miss Cleghorn has given it with a handful of words, in the lyric In Bemerton Church. But she is above all a country mouse and a country muse; she knows her Vermont neighbours to the skin and bone, and brings out artistically the austere sweetness of their daily lives. I think I like best of all her work the poem
A SAINT'S HOURS
In the still cold before the sun, Her matins Her brothers and her sisters small She woke, and washed and dressed each one.
And through the morning hours all Prime Singing above her broom she stood And swept the house from hall to hall.
Then out she ran with tidings good, Tierce Across the field and down the lane, To share them with the neighbourhood.
Four miles she walked, and home again, Sexts To sit through half the afternoon And hear a feeble crone complain.
But when she saw the frosty moon Nones And lakes of shadow on the hill, Her maiden dreams grew bright as noon.
She threw her pitying apron frill Vespers Over a little trembling mouse When the sleek cat yawned on the sill
In the late hours and drowsy house. Evensong At last, too tired, beside her bed She fell asleep—her prayers half said.
Is not this one of the high functions of poetry, to interpret the life the poet knows best, and to interpret it always in terms of the eleventh and twelfth commandments? Observe she loves the sister-mother, and she loves the mouse as well as the cat. There is no reason why those who love birds should not love cats as well; is a cat the only animal who eats birds? It is a diverting spectacle, a man with his mouth full of squab, insisting that cats should be exterminated.
A woman who has done much for the advance of English poetry in America by her influence on public critical opinion, is Jessie B. Rittenhouse. She is a graduate of Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, New York, taught Latin and English in Illinois and in Michigan, and for five years was busily engaged in journalism. In 1904 she published a volume of criticism on contemporary verse, and for the last fourteen years has printed many essays of interpretation, dealing with the new poets. I dare say no one in America is more familiar with the English poetry of the twentieth century than she. She has been so occupied with this important and fruitful work that she has had little time to compose original verse; but any one who will read through her volume, The Door of Dreams, will find it impossible not to admire her lyrical gift. She has not yet shown enough sustained power to give her a place with Anna Hempstead Branch or with Sara Teasdale; but she has the capacity of putting much feeling into very few words.
Margaret Widdemer, the daughter of a clergyman, was born at Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and was graduated from Drexel Institute Library School in 1909. She has written verse and prose from early childhood, but was not widely known until the appearance of her poem Factories. In 1915 this was published in a book with other pieces, and a revised, enlarged edition was printed in 1917, called by the name of the now-famous song, and containing in addition nearly a hundred lyrics. Although her soul is aflame at the omnipresence of injustice in the world, her work covers a wide range of thought and feeling. Her heart is swollen with pity for the sufferings of women; but she is no sentimentalist. There is an intellectual independence, a clear-headed womanly self-reliance about her way of thinking and writing that is both refreshing and stimulating. In hope and in despair she speaks for the many thousands of women, who first found their voice in Ibsen's Doll's House; her poem, The Modern Woman to Her Lover has a cleanly honesty without any strained pose. And although Factories is doubtless her masterpiece in its eloquent Inasmuch as ye did it not, she can portray a more quiet and more lonely tragedy as well. Her poem called The Two Dyings might have been named The Heart Knoweth its own Bitterness.
I can remember once, ere I was dead, The sorrow and the prayer and bitter cry When they who loved me stood around the bed, Watching till I should die:
They need not so have grieved their souls for me, Grouped statue-like to count my failing breath— Only one thought strove faintly, bitterly With the kind drug of Death:
How once upon a time, unwept, unknown, Unhelped by pitying sigh or murmured prayer, My youth died in slow agony alone With none to watch or care.
Never in any period of the world's history was the table of life so richly spread as in the years 1900-1914; women were just beginning to realize that places ought to be reserved for them as well as for men, when the war came, and there was no place for any one except a place to fight the Black Plague of Kaiserism; now when the war is over, suppose the women insist? What then? Before the French Revolution, only a few were invited to sit down and eat, while the majority were permitted to kneel and watch from a distance. A Frenchman once remarked, "The great appear to us great because we are kneeling—let us rise." They rose, and out of the turmoil came an enormous enlargement of the dining-hall.
Carl Sandburg sings of Chicago with husky-haughty lips. I like Chicago and I like poetry; but I do not much care for the combination as illustrated in Mr. Sandburg's volume, Chicago Poems. I think it has been overrated. It is pretentious rather than important. It is the raw material of poetry, rather than the finished product. Mere passion and imagination are not enough to make a poet, even when accompanied by indignation. If feeling and appreciation could produce poetry, then we should all be poets. But it is also necessary to know how to write.
Carl Sandburg was born at Galesburg, Illinois, on the sixth of January, 1878. He has "worked his own way" through life with courage and ambition, performing any kind of respectable indoor and outdoor toil that would keep him alive. In the Spanish war, he immediately enlisted, and belonged to the first military company that went to Porto Rico. In 1898 he entered Lombard College; after his Freshman year, he tried to enter West Point, succeeding in every test—physical and mental—except that of arithmetic; there he has my hearty sympathy, for in arithmetic I was always slow but not sure. He returned to Lombard, and took the regular course for the next three years, paying his way by hard work. His literary ambition had already been awakened, and he attained distinction among his mates. Since graduation he has had constant and varied experience in journalism. For a group of poems, of which the first was Chicago, he was awarded the Levinson prize as the best poem by an American that had appeared in Poetry during the year October 1913-October 1914. In 1916 appeared a substantial volume from his pen, called Chicago Poems.
His work gives one the impression of being chaotic in form and content. Miss Lowell quotes him as saying, "I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way." According to G. K. Chesterton, this attitude was characteristic of modern life in general before the war. We don't know where we're going,—but let's put on more speed. Perhaps the other extreme, so characteristic of our southern African friends, is no better, yet it has a charm absent in the strenuosity of mere eagerness. A Southern negro, being asked whither he was going, replied "I aint goin' nowhar: Ise been done gone whar I was goin'!" It would appear that there is sufficient room between these extremes for individual and social progress.
In manner Mr. Sandburg is closer to Walt Whitman than almost any other of our contemporary poets. I do not call him an imitator, and certainly he is no plagiarist; but I like that part of his work which is farthest removed from the manner of the man of Camden. Walt Whitman was a genius; and whilst it is quite possible and at times desirable to imitate his freedom in composition, it is not possible to catch the secret of his power. It would be an ungracious task to quote Mr. Sandburg at his worst; we are all pretty bad at our worst, whether we are poets or not; I prefer to cite one of his poems which proves to me that he is not only an original writer, but that he possesses a perceptive power of beauty that transforms the commonplace into something of poignant charm, like the song of the nightingale:
Desolate and lone All night long on the lake Where fog trails and mist creeps, The whistle of a boat Calls and cries unendingly, Like some lost child In tears and trouble Hunting the harbour's breast And the harbour's eyes.
He has a notable gift for effective poetic figures of speech; in his Nocturne in a Deserted Brickyard, an old pond in the moonlight is a "wide dreaming pansy." This and other pieces show true power of poetic interpretation; which makes me believe that the author ought to and will greatly surpass the average excellence exhibited in Chicago Poems.
John Curtis Underwood is not only a dynamic, but an insurgent poet and critic. He has published four volumes of poems, The Iron Muse (1910), Americans (1912), Processionals (1915), and War Flames (1917). The roar of city streets and the deafening pounding of machinery resound through his pages; yet he somehow or other makes a singing voice heard amid the din. In fact he uses the din as an accompaniment; he is a kind of vocal Tubal Cain. He writes about strap-hangers, chorus girls, moving pictures, convicts, hospitals, bridge-builders and construction gangs—a symphony of noise, where everybody plays some instrument. He is no pessimist and he is not sour; there are a good many "damns" and "hells" in his verse, because, whatever he lacks, he does not lack emphasis. His philosophy seems to be similar to that of the last two stanzas of In Memoriam, though Mr. Underwood expresses it somewhat more concretely.
Leading the long procession through the midnight, Man that was ether, fire, sea, germ and ape, Out of the aeons blind of slime emerging, Out of the aeons black where ill went groping, Finding the fire, was fused to human shape.
Heading the dreary marches through dark ages; Where the rest perished that the rest might be, Out of the aeons raw and red of bloodshed, Man that was caveman, found the stars. Forever Man to the stars goes marching from the sea.
His poem Central, in which the telephone girl's work is interpreted, is as typical as any of Mr. Underwood's style; and no one, I think, can fail to see the merit in his method.
Though men may build their bridges high and plant their piers below the sea, And drive their trains across the sky; a higher task is left to me. I bridge the void 'twixt soul and soul; I bring the longing lovers near. I draw you to your spirit's goal. I serve the ends of fraud and fear.
The older fates sat in the sun. The cords they spun were short and slight. I set my stitches one by one, where life electric fetters night, Till it outstrips the planet's speed, and out of darkness leaps to day; And men in Maine shall hear and heed a voice from San Francisco Bay.
There is such a display of cynical cleverness in the verse of T. S. Eliot that I think he might be able to write almost anything except poetry. He has an aggressive champion in the distinguished novelist, May Sinclair, who says his best work is equal to the best of Robert Browning.
John G. Neihardt was born in Illinois on the eighth of January, 1881. From 1901 to 1907 he lived among the Nebraska Indians, studying their folklore and characteristics. He has published a number of books, of which the best is perhaps A Bundle of Myrrh, 1907. In 1915 he produced an epic of the American Fur Trade, preparing himself for the task as follows: "I descended the Missouri in an open boat, and also ascended the Yellowstone for a considerable distance. On the upper river the country was practically unchanged; and for one familiar with what had taken place there, it was no difficult feat of the imagination to revive the details of that time—the men, the trails, the boats, the trading posts where veritable satraps once ruled under the sway of the American Fur Company."
I heartily envy him these experiences; to me every river is an adventure, even the quiet, serious old Connecticut.
Yet the poem that resulted from these visions is not remarkable. Nothing, I suppose, is more difficult than to write a good long poem. Poe disapproved of the undertaking in itself; and only men of undoubted genius have succeeded, whereas writers of hardly more than ordinary talent have occasionally turned off something combining brevity and excellence. I feel sure that Mr. Neihardt talks about this journey more impressively than he writes about it. His love lyrics, in A Bundle of Myrrh, are much better. The tendency to eroticism is redeemed by sincerity of feeling.
Charles Wharton Stork was born at Philadelphia, on the twelfth of February, 1881, and studied at Haverford, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania. He is a scholar, a member of the English Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, and has made many translations of Scandinavian poems. Always interested in modern developments of poetry, both in America and Europe, he is at present the editor of Contemporary Verse, a monthly magazine exclusively made up of original poems. This periodical has been of considerable assistance to students of contemporary poetry, for it has given an opportunity to hitherto unknown writers, and often it contains some notable contribution from men of established reputation. Thus the number for April, 1918, may some day have bibliographical value, since it leads off with a remarkable poem by Vachel Lindsay, The Eyes of Queen Esther. I advise collectors to secure this, and to subscribe to the magazine. Mr. Stork has written much verse himself, of which Flying Fish: an Ode, may be taken as illustrative of his originality and imagination.
Another excellent magazine of contemporary poetry is The Sonnet, edited and published by Mahlon Leonard Fisher, at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, of which the first number bears the date February, 1917. This appears bimonthly; and while the attempt to publish any magazine whatever displays courage, Mr. Fisher is apparently on the side of the conservatives in art. "We have attempted no propagandism, and acknowledged no revolution," is the sentence that forms the signature to his periodical. Furthermore, we are informed that "the sole aim of The Sonnet is to publish poetry so well thought of by its makers that they were willing to place it within strict confines. The magazine will have nothing to say in defence of its name. It will neither attack nor respond to attacks." It has certainly printed some good sonnets, among which are many by the editor. In 1917 appeared a beautiful little volume, limited to two hundred copies, and published by the author—Sonnets: a First Series. Fifty specimens are included, all written by Mr. Fisher. More than a few have grace and truth.
A new aspirant appeared in 1917 with his first volume, Streets and Faces. This is Scudder Middleton, brother of George Middleton, the dramatist. He was born at New York, on the ninth of September, 1888, and studied at Columbia. His little book of poetry contains nothing profound, yet there is evidence of undoubted talent which gives me hope. The best poem of his that I have seen was published in Contemporary Verse in 1917, and makes a fine recessional to Mr. Braithwaite's Anthology.
We need you now, strong guardians of our hearts, Now, when a darkness lies on sea and land, When we of weakening faith forget our parts And bow before the falling of the sand. Be with us now or we betray our trust And say, "There is no wisdom but in death"— Remembering lovely eyes now closed with dust— "There is no beauty that outlasts the breath." For we are growing blind and cannot see, Beyond the clouds that stand like prison bars, The changeless regions of our empery, Where once we moved in friendship with the stars. O children of the light, now in our grief Give us again the solace of belief.
A young Princeton student, John Peale Bishop, First Lieutenant of Infantry in the Officers Reserve Corps, who studied the art of verse under the instruction of Alfred Noyes, published in 1917 a little book of original poems, with the modest title, Green Fruit. These were mostly written during his last undergraduate year at college, and would not perhaps have been printed now had he not entered the service. The subjects range from the Princeton Inn to Italy. Mr. Bishop is a clear-voiced singer, and there are original songs here, which owe nothing to other poets. Such a poem as Mushrooms is convincing proof of ability; and there is an excellent spirit in him.
William Aspenwall Bradley was born at Hartford, Connecticut, on the eighth of February, 1878. He was a special student at Harvard, and took his bachelor's and master's degrees at Columbia. He is now in the Government War Service. He wrote an admirable Life of Bryant in the English Men of Letters series, and has made many scholarly contributions to the literature of criticism. He has issued two volumes of original verse, of which perhaps the better known is Old Christmas, 1917. This is composed of tales of the Cumberland region in Kentucky. These poem-stories are not only full of dramatic power, comic and tragic, but they contain striking portraits. I think, however, that I like best Mr. Bradley's nature-pictures. The pleasure of recognition will be felt by everyone who reads the first few lines of
Now shorter grow November days, And leaden ponds begin to glaze With their first ice, while every night The hoarfrost leaves the meadows white Like wimples spread upon the lawn By maidens who are up at dawn, And sparkling diamonds may be seen Strewing the close-clipped golfing green. But the slow sun dispels at noon The season's work begun too soon, Bidding faint filmy mists arise And fold in softest draperies The distant woodlands bleak and bare, Until they seem to melt in air.
William Griffiths was born at Memphis, Missouri, on the fifteenth of February 1876, and received his education at the public schools. He has been a "newspaper man" and magazine editor, and has produced a number of books in verse and prose, of which the best example is City Pastorals, originally published in 1915, revised and reissued in 1918. The title of this book appears to be a paradox; but its significance is clear enough after one has read a few pages. It is an original and interesting way of bringing the breath of the country into the town. The scene is a New York Club on a side street; the year is 1914; the three speakers are Brown, Gray, Green; the four divisions are Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. The style is for the most part rimed stanzas in short metre, which go trippingly on the tongue. Grace and delicacy characterize the pictures of the country that the men bring back to the smoky city from their travels.
Occultly through a riven cloud The ancient river shines again, Still wandering like a silver road Among the cities in the plain.
On far horizons softly lean The hills against the coming night; And mantled with a russet green, The orchards gather into sight.
Through apples hanging high and low, In ruddy colours, deeply spread From core to rind, the sun melts slow, With gold upcaught against the red.
And here and there, with sighs and calls, Among the hills an echo rings Remotely as the water falls And down the meadow softly sings.
A wind goes by; the air is stirred With secret whispers far and near; Another token—just a word Had made the rose's meaning clear.
I see the fields; I catch the scent Of pine cones and the fresh split wood, Where bearded moss and stains are blent With autumn rains—and all is good.
An air, arising, turns and lifts The fallen leaves where they had lain Beneath the trees, then weakly shifts And slowly settles back again.
While with far shouts, now homeward bound, Across the fields the reapers go; And, with the darkness closing round, The lilies of the twilight blow.
Many of the other poems in this volume, that follow the City Pastorals, are interpretations of various individuals and of various nationalities. Mr. Griffith has a gift for the making of epigrams; and indeed he has studied concision in all his work. It may be that this is a result of his long years of training in journalism; he must have silently implored the writers of manuscripts he was forced to read to leave their damnable faces and begin. Certain it is, that although he can write smoothly flowing music, there is hardly a page in his whole book that does not contain some idea worth thinking about. His wine of Cyprus has both body and bouquet.
Three professional teachers of youth who write poetry as an avocation are John Erskine, professor at Columbia, whose poems bear the impress of an original and powerful personality, William Ellery Leonard, professor in the University of Wisconsin, the author of a number of volumes of poems, some of which show originality in conception and style, and William Thornton Whitsett, of Whitsett Institute, Whitsett, North Carolina, whose book Saber and Song (1917), exhibits such variations in merit that if one read only a few pages one might be completely deceived as to the author's actual ability. His besetting sin as an artist is moralizing. Fully half the contents of the volume are uninspired, commonplace, flat. But when he forgets to preach, he can write true poetry. He has the lyrical gift to a high degree, and has a rather remarkable command of the technique of the art. An Ode to Expression, The Soul of the Sea, and some of the Sonnets, fully justify their publication. The author is rather too fond of the old "poetic diction"; he might do well to study simplicity.
A poet who differs from the two last mentioned in her ability to maintain a certain level of excellence is Helen Hay Whitney. She perhaps inherited her almost infallible good taste and literary tact from her distinguished father, that wholly admirable person, John Hay. His greatness as an international statesman was matched by the extraordinary charm of his character, which expressed itself in everything he wrote, and in numberless acts of kindness. He was the ideal American gentleman. One feels in reading the poems of Mrs. Whitney that each one is written both creatively and critically. I mean that she has the primal impulse to write, but that in writing, and more especially in revising, every line is submitted to her own severe scrutiny. I am not sure that she has not destroyed some of her best work, though this is of course only conjecture. At all events, while she makes no mistakes, I sometimes feel that there is too much repression. She is one of our best American sonnet-writers. Such a poem as After Rain is a work of art.
Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (Mrs. Douglas Robinson, sister of Theodore Roosevelt) has published two volumes of poems, The Call of Brotherhood, 1912, and One Woman to Another, 1914. I hope that she will speedily collect in a third book the fugitive pieces printed in various magazines since 1914. Mrs. Robinson's poetry comes from a full mind and a full heart. There is the knowledge born of experience combined with spiritual revelation. She is an excellent illustration of the possibility of living to the uttermost in the crowded avenues of the world without any loss of religious or moral values. It must take a strong nature to absorb so much of the strenuous activities of metropolitan society while keeping the heart's sources as clear as a mountain spring. It is the exact opposite of asceticism, yet seems not to lose anything important gained by the ascetic vocation. She does not serve God and Mammon: she serves God, and makes Mammon serve her. This complete roundness and richness of development could not have been accomplished except through pain. She expresses grief's contribution in the following sonnet:
Beloved, from the hour that you were born I loved you with the love whose birth is pain; And now, that I have lost you, I must mourn With mortal anguish, born of love again; And so I know that Love and Pain are one, Yet not one single joy would I forego.— The very radiance of the tropic sun Makes the dark night but darker here below. Mine is no coward soul to count the cost; The coin of love with lavish hand I spend, And though the sunlight of my life is lost And I must walk in shadow to the end,— I gladly press the cross against my heart— And welcome Pain, that is Love's counterpart!
Meredith Nicholson, the American novelist, like Mr. Galsworthy, Mr. Phillpotts and many other novelists in England, has published a volume of original verse, Poems, 1906. It is possibly a sign of the growing interest in poetry that so many who have won distinction in prose should in these latter days strive for the laurel crown. Mr. Nicholson's poems are a kind of riming journal of his heart. It is clear that he is not a born poet, for the flame of inspiration is not in these pages, nor do we find the perfect phrase or ravishing music; what we do have is well worth preservation in print—the manly, dignified, imaginative speculations of a clear and honest mind. Furthermore, although he writes verse with his left hand, there is displayed in many of these pieces a mastery of the exact meaning of words, attained possibly by his long years of training in the other harmony of prose.
Witter Bynner—the spelling of whose name I defy any one to remember, and envelopes addressed to him must be a collection of curiosities—was born at Brooklyn on the tenth of August, 1881. He was graduated from Harvard in 1902, and addressed his Alma Mater in an Ode To Harvard, published in book form in 1907. In 1917 he collected in one attractive volume, Grenstone Poems, the best of his production—exclusive of his plays and prose—up to that date. One who knew Mr. Bynner only by the terrific white slave drama Tiger, would be quite unprepared for the sylvan sweetness of the Grenstone poems. Their environment, mainly rural, does not localize the sentiment overmuch; for the poet's mind is a kingdom, even though he is bounded in a nutshell. The environment, however, may be partly responsible for the spirit of healthy cheerfulness that animates these verses; whatever they lack, they certainly do not lack purity and charm. Far from the madding crowd the singer finds contentment, which is the keynote of these songs; happiness built on firm indestructible foundations. Some of the divisional titles indicate the range of subjects: Neighbors and the Countryside, Children and Death, Wisdom and Unwisdom, Celia, Away from Grenstone, where homesickness is expressed while travelling in the Far East. And the tone is clearly sounded in
A GRACE BEFORE THE POEMS
"Is there such a place as Grenstone?" Celia, hear them ask! Tell me, shall we share it with them?— Shall we let them breathe and bask
On the windy, sunny pasture, Where the hill-top turns its face Toward the valley of the mountain, Our beloved place?
Shall we show them through our churchyard, With its crumbling wall Set between the dead and living? Shall our willowed waterfall,
Huckleberries, pines and bluebirds Be a secret we shall share?— If they make but little of it, Celia, shall we care?
It will be seen that the independence of Mr. Bynner is quite different from the independence of Mr. Underwood; but they both have the secret of self-sufficiency.
Another loyal Harvard poet is Herman Hagedorn, who was born at New York in 1882, and took his degree at college in 1907. For some time he was on the English Faculty at Harvard, and has a scholar's knowledge of English literature. He has published plays and books of verse, of which the best known are A Troop of the Guard (1909) and Poems and Ballads, which appeared the same year. He has a good command of lyrical expression, which ought to enable him in the years to come to produce work of richer content than his verses have thus far shown.
The best known of the Harvard poets of the twentieth century is Percy Mackaye, who is still better known as a playwright and maker of pageants. He was born at New York, on the sixteenth of March, 1875, and was graduated from Harvard in 1897. He has travelled much in Europe, and has given many lectures on dramatic art in America. His poetry may be collectively studied in one volume of appalling avoirdupois, published in 1916. It takes a strong wrist to hold it, but it is worth the effort.
The chief difficulty with Mr. Mackaye is his inability to escape from his opinions. He is far too self-conscious, much too much preoccupied with theory, both in drama and in poetry. He can write nothing without explaining his motive, without trying to show himself and others the aim of poetry and drama. However morally noble all this may be—and it surely is that—it hampers the author. I wish he could for once completely forget all artistic propaganda, completely forget himself, and give his Muse a chance. "She needs no introduction to this audience."
There is no doubt that he has something of the divine gift. His Centenary Ode on Lincoln, published separately in 1909, was the best out of all the immense number of effusions I read that year. He rose to a great occasion.
One of his most original pieces is the dog-vivisection poem, called The Heart in the Jar. There is a tumultuous passion in it almost overpowering; and no one but a true poet could ever have thought of or have employed such symbolism. Mr. Mackaye's mind is so alert, so inquisitive, so volcanic, that he seems to me always just about to produce something that shall surpass his previous efforts. I have certainly not lost faith in his future.
John Gould Fletcher was born at Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1886. He studied at Andover and at Harvard, and has lived much in London. He has become identified with the Imagists. Personally I wish that Mr. Fletcher would use his remarkable power to create gorgeous imagery in the production of orthodox forms of verse. Free verse ought to be less monotonous than constantly repeated sonnets, quatrains, and stanza-forms; but the fact is just the other way. A volume made up entirely of free verse, unless written by a man of genius, has a capacity to bore the reader that at times seems almost criminal.
Conrad Aiken was born at Savannah, Georgia, on the fifth of August, 1889, is a graduate of Harvard and lives in Boston. He has published several volumes of poems, among which Earth Triumphant (1914) is representative of his ability and philosophy. It certainly represents his ability more fairly than The Jig of Forslin (1916), which is both pretentious and dull. I suspect few persons have read every page of it. I have.
Not yet thirty, Mr. Aiken is widely known; but the duration of his fame will depend upon his future work. He has thus far shown the power to write melodious music, to paint nature pictures in warm colours; he is ever on the quest of Beauty. His sensible preface to Earth Triumphant calls attention to certain similarities between his style in verse-narrative and that of John Masefield. But he is not a copier, and his work is his own. Some poets are on the earth; some are in the air; some, like Shelley, are in the aether. Conrad Aiken is firmly, gladly on the earth. He believes that our only paradise is here and now.
He surely has the gift of singing speech, but his poetry lacks intellectual content. In the volume Nocturne of Remembered Spring (1917), there is a dreamy charm, like the hesitating notes of Chopin.
Although his contribution to the advance of poetry is not important, he has the equipment of a poet. When he has more to say, he will have no difficulty in making us listen; for he understands the magic of words. Thus far his poems are something like librettos; they don't mean much without the music. Let him remember the bitter cry of old Henry Vaughan: every artist, racked by labour-pains, will understand what Vaughan meant by calling this piece Anguish:
O! 'tis an easy thing To write and sing; But to write true, unfeigned verse Is very hard! O God, disperse These weights, and give my spirit leave To act as well as to conceive
Among our young American poets there are few who have inherited in richer or purer measure than William Alexander Percy. He was born at Greenville, Mississippi, on the fourth of May, 1885, and studied at the University of the South and at the Harvard Law School. He is now in military service. In 1915, his volume of poems, Sappho in Leukas, attracted immediately the attention of discriminating critics. The prologue shows that noble devotion to art, that high faith in it, entirely beyond the understanding of the Philistine, but which awakens an instant and accurate vibration in the heart of every lover of poetry.
O singing heart, think not of aught save song; Beauty can do no wrong. Let but th' inviolable music shake Golden on golden flake, Down to the human throng, And one, one surely, will look up, and hear and wake.
Weigh not the rapture; measure not nor sift God's dark, delirious gift; But deaf to immortality or gain, Give as the shining rain, Thy music pure and swift, And here or there, sometime, somewhere, 'twill reach the grain.
There is a wide range of subjects in this volume, Greek, mediaeval, and modern—inspiration from, books and inspiration from outdoors. But there is not a single poem that could be called crude or flat. Mr. Percy is a poet and an artist; he can be ornate and he can be severe; but in both phases there is a dignity not always characteristic of contemporary verse. I do not prophesy—but I feel certain of this man.
One day in 1917, I clipped a nameless poem from a daily newspaper, and carried it in my pocketbook for months. Later I discovered that it was written by Mr. Percy, and had first appeared in The Bellman. I know of no poem by any American published in the year 1917 that for combined beauty of thought and beauty of expression is superior to this little masterpiece.
I heard a bird at break of day Sing from the autumn trees A song so mystical and calm, So full of certainties, No man, I think, could listen long Except upon his knees. Yet this was but a simple bird, Alone, among dead trees.
Alan Seeger—whose heroic death glorified his youth—was born at New York on the twenty-second of June, 1888. He studied at Harvard; then lived in Paris, and no one has ever loved Paris more than he. He enlisted in the Foreign Legion of France at the outbreak of the war in 1914, and fell on the fourth of July, 1916. His letters show his mind and heart clearly.
He knew his poetry was good, and that it would not die with his body. In the last letter he wrote, we find these words: "I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. Add the ode I sent you and the three sonnets to my last volume and you will have opera omnia quae existant."
He wrote his autobiography in one of his last sonnets, paying poetic tribute to Philip Sidney—lover of woman, lover of battle, lover of art.
Sidney, in whom the heydey of romance Came to its precious and most perfect flower, Whether you tourneyed with victorious lance Or brought sweet roundelays to Stella's bower, I give myself some credit for the way I have kept clean of what enslaves and lowers, Shunned the ideals of our present day And studied those that were esteemed in yours; For, turning from the mob that buys Success By sacrificing all life's better part, Down the free roads of human happiness I frolicked, poor of purse but light of heart, And lived in strict devotion all along To my three idols—Love and Arms and Song.
His most famous poem, I Have a Rendezvous with Death, is almost intolerably painful in its tragic beauty, in its contrast between the darkness of the unchanging shadow and the apple-blossoms of the sunny air—above all, because we read it after both Youth and Death have kept their word, and met at the place appointed.
He was an inspired poet. Poetry came from him as naturally as rain from clouds. His magnificent Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen in France has a nobility of phrase that matches the elevation of thought. Work like this cannot be forgotten.
Alan Seeger was an Elizabethan. He had a consuming passion for beauty—his only religion. He loved women and he loved war, like the gallant, picturesque old soldiers of fortune. There was no pose in all this; his was a brave, uncalculating, forthright nature, that gave everything he had and was, without a shade of fear or a shade of regret. He is one of the most fiery spirits of our time, and like Rupert Brooke, he will be thought of as immortally young.
A GROUP OF YALE POETS
Henry A. Beers—the fine quality of his literary style in prose and verse—force and grace—finished art—his humour—C. M. Lewis—his war poem—E. B. Reed—Lyra Yalensis—F. E. Pierce—his farm lyrics—Brian Hooker—his strong sonnets—his Turns—R. C. Rogers—The Rosary—Rupert Hughes—novelist, playwright, musician, poet—Robert Hunger—his singing—R. B. Glaenzer—his fancies—Benjamin R. C. Low—his growth—William R. Bent—his vitality and optimism—Arthur Colton—his Chaucer poem—Allan Updegraff—The Time and the Place—Lee Wilson Dodd—his development—a list of other Yale Poets—Stephen V. Bent.
During the twentieth century there has been flowing a fountain of verse from the faculty, young alumni, and undergraduates of Yale University; and I reserve this space at the end of my hook for a consideration of the Yale group of poets, some of whom are already widely known and some of whom seem destined to be. I am not thinking of magazine verse or of fugitive pieces, but only of independent volumes of original poems. Yale has always been close to the national life of America; and the recent outburst of poetry from her sons is simply additional evidence of the renaissance all over the United States. Anyhow, the fact is worth recording.
Professor Henry A. Beers was born at Buffalo on the second of July, 1847. He was admitted to the New York Bar in 1870, but in 1871 became an Instructor in English Literature at Yale, teaching continuously for forty-five years, when he retired. He has written—at too rare intervals—all his life. His book of short stories, containing A Suburban Pastoral and Split Zephyr, the last-named being, according to Meredith Nicholson, the best story of college life ever printed, would possibly have attracted more general attention were it not for its prevailing tone of quiet, unobtrusive pessimism, an unwelcome note in America. I am as sure of the high quality of A Suburban Pastoral as I am sure of anything; and have never found a critic who, after reading the tale, disagreed with me. In 1885 Professor Beers published a little volume of poems, The Thankless Muse; and in 1917 he collected in a thin book The Two Twilights, the best of his youthful and mature poetic production. The variety of expression is so great that no two poems are in the same mood. In Love, Death, and Life we have one of the most passionate love-poems in American literature; in The Pasture Bars the valediction has the soft, pure tone of a silver bell.
Professor Beers has both vigour and grace. His fastidious taste permits him to write little, and to print only a small part of what he writes. But the force of his poetic language is so extraordinary that it has sometimes led to a complete and unfortunate misinterpretation of his work. In The Dying Pantheist to the Priest, he wrote a poem as purely dramatic, as non-personal, as the monologues of Browning; he quite successfully represented the attitude of an (imaginary) defiant, unrepentant pagan to an (imaginary) priest who wished to save him in his last moments. The speeches put into the mouth of the pantheist no more represent Mr. Beers's own sentiments than Browning's poem Confessions represented Browning's attitude toward death and religion; yet it is perhaps a tribute to the fervour of the lyric that many readers have taken it as a violent attack on Christian theology.
Just as I am certain of the finished art of A Suburban Pastoral, I am equally certain of the beauty and nobility of the poetry in The Two Twilights. This volume gives its author an earned place in the front rank of living American poets.
To me one of the most original and charming of the songs is the valediction to New York—and the homage to New Haven.
Highlands of Navesink, By the blue ocean's brink, Let your grey bases drink Deep of the sea. Tide that comes flooding up, Fill me a stirrup cup, Pledge me a parting sup, Now I go free.
Wall of the Palisades, I know where greener glades, Deeper glens, darker shades, Hemlock and pine, Far toward the morning lie Under a bluer sky, Lifted by cliffs as high, Haunts that are mine.
Marshes of Hackensack, See, I am going back Where the Quinnipiac Winds to the bay, Down its long meadow track, Piled in the myriad stack, Where in wide bivouac Camps the salt hay.
Spire of old Trinity, Never again to be Seamark and goal to me As I walk down; Chimes on the upper air, Calling in vain to prayer, Squandering your music where Roars the black town:
Bless me once ere I ride Off to God's countryside, Where in the treetops hide Belfry and bell; Tongues of the steeple towers, Telling the slow-paced hours— Hail, thou still town of ours— Bedlam, farewell!
Those who are familiar with Professor Beers's humour, as expressed in The Ways of Yale, will wish that he had preserved also in this later book some of his whimsicalities, as in the poem A Fish Story, which begins:
A whale of great porosity, And small specific gravity, Dived down with much velocity Beneath the sea's concavity.
But soon the weight of water Squeezed in his fat immensity, Which varied—as it ought to— Inversely as his density.
Professor Charlton M. Lewis was born at Brooklyn on the fourth of March, 1866. He took his B.A. at Yale in 1886, and an LL.B at Columbia in 1889. For some years he was a practising lawyer in New York; in 1895 he became a member of the Yale Faculty. In 1903 he published Gawayne and the Green Knight, a long poem, in which humour and imagination are delightfully mingled. His lyric Pro Patria (1937) is a good illustration of his poetic powers; it is indeed one of America's finest literary contributions to the war.
Remember, as the flaming car Of ruin nearer rolls, That of our country's substance are Our bodies and our souls.
Her dust we are, and to her dust Our ashes shall descend: Who craves a lineage more august Or a diviner end?
By blessing of her fruitful dews, Her suns and winds and rains, We have her granite in our thews, Her iron in our veins.
And, sleeping in her sacred earth, The ever-living dead On the dark miracle of birth Their holy influence shed....
So, in the faith our fathers kept, We live, and long to die; To sleep forever, as they have slept, Under a sunlit sky;
Close-folded to our mother's heart To find our souls' release— A secret coeternal part Of her eternal peace;—
Where Hood, Saint Helen's and Rainier, In vestal raiment, keep Inviolate through the varying year Their immemorial sleep;
Or where the meadow-lark, in coy But calm profusion, pours The liquid fragments of his joy On old colonial shores.
Professor Edward B. Reed, B.A. 1894, published in 1913 a tiny volume of academic verse, called Lyra Yalensis. This contains happily humorous comment on college life and college customs, and as the entire edition was almost immediately sold, the book has already become something of a rarity. In 1917, he collected the best of his more ambitious work in Sea Moods, of which one of the most impressive is
He shook his head as he turned away— "Is it life or death?" "We shall know by day." Out from the wards where the sick folk lie, Out neath the black and bitter sky. Past one o'clock and the wind is chill, The snow-clad streets are ghostly still; No friendly noise, no cheering light, So calm the city sleeps to-night, I think its soul has taken flight.
Back to the empty home—a thrill, A shudder at its darkened sill, For the clock chimes as on that morn, That happy day when she was born. And now, inexorably slow, To life or death the hours go. Time's wings are clipped; he scarce doth creep. Tonight no drug could bring you sleep; Watch at the window for the day; 'Tis all that's left—to watch and pray. But I think the prayer of an anguished heart Must pierce that bleak sky like a dart, And tear that pall of clouds apart.
The poplars, edging the frozen lawn, Shudder and whisper: "Wait till dawn."
Two spirits stand beside her bed Softly stroking her curly head. Death whispers, "Come"—Life whispers, "Stay." Child, little child, go not away. Life pleads, "Remember"—and Death, "Forget." Little child, little child, go not yet. By all your mother's love and pain, Child of our heart, child of our brain, Stay with us; go not till you see The Fairyland that life can be. . . . . . . . . The poplars, edging the frozen lawn, Are dancing and singing. "Thank God—the Dawn!"
Professor Frederick E. Pierce, B.A. 1904, has produced three volumes of poems, of which The World that God Destroyed exhibits an epic sweep of the imagination. He imagines a world far off in space, where every form of life has perished save rank vegetation. One day in their wanderings over the universe, Lucifer and Michael meet on this dead ball. A truce is declared and each expresses some of the wisdom bought by experience.
The upas dripped its poison on the ground Harmless; the silvery veil of fog went up From mouldering fen and cold, malarial pool, But brought no taint and threatened ill to none. Far off adown the mountain's craggy side From time to time the avalanche thundered, sounding Like sport of giant children, and the rocks Whereon it smote re-echoed innocently. Then in a pause of silence Lucifer Struck music from the harp again and sang.
"I am the shadow that the sunbeams bring, I am the thorn from which the roses spring; Without the thorn would be no blossoming, Nor were there shadow if there were no gleam. I am a leaf before a wind that blows, I am the foam that down the current goes; I work a work on earth that no man knows, And God Works too,—I am not what I seem.
"There comes a purer morn whose stainless glow Shall cast no shadow on the ground below, And fairer flowers without the thorn shall blow, And earth at last fulfil her parent's dream. Oh race of men who sin and know not why, I am as you and you are even as I; We all shall die at length and gladly die; Yet even our deaths shall be not what they seem."
Then Michael raised the golden lyre, and struck A note more solemn soft, and made reply.
"There dwelt a doubt within my mind of yore; I sought to end that doubt and laboured sore; But now I search its mystery no more, But leave it safe within the Eternal's hand. The tiger hunts the lamb and yearns to kill, Himself by famine hunted, fiercer still; And much there is that seems unmingled ill; But God is wise, and God can understand.
"All things on earth in endless balance sway; Day follows night and night succeeds the day; And so the powers of good and evil may Work out the purpose that his wisdom planned. Eternal day would parch the dewy mould, Eternal night would freeze the lands with cold; But wise was God who planned the world of old; I rest in Him for He can understand.
"Yet good and evil still their wills oppose; And serving both, we still must serve as foes On yon far globe that teems with human woes; And sin thou art, though God work through thy hand. But here the race of man is now no more; The task is done, the long day's work is o'er; One hour I'll dream thee what thou wert of yore, Though changed thou art, too changed to understand."
All day sat Michael there with Lucifer Talking of things unknown to men, old tales And memories dating back beyond all time. And all night long beneath the lonely stars, That watched no more the sins of man, they lay, The angel's lofty face at rest against The dark cheek scarred with thunder. Morning came, And each departed on his separate way; But each looked back and lingered as he passed.
Some of his best work, however, appears in short pieces that might best be described as lyrics of the farm, or, to use a title discarded by Tennyson, Idylls of the Hearth. Mr. Pierce knows the lonely farm-houses of New England, both by inheritance and habitation, and is a true interpreter of the spirit of rural life.
One of the best-known of the group of Yale poets is Brian Hooker, who was graduated from Yale in 1902, and for some years was a member of the Faculty. His Poems (1915) are an important addition to contemporary literature. He is a master of the sonnet-form, as any one may see for himself in reading
The dead return to us continually; Not at the void of night, as fables feign, In some lone spot where murdered bones have lain Wailing for vengeance to the passer-by; But in the merry clamour and full cry Of the brave noon, our dead whom we have slain And in forgotten graves hidden in vain, Rise up and stand beside us terribly.
Sick with the beauty of their dear decay We conjure them with laughters onerous And drunkenness of labour; yet not thus May we absolve ourselves of yesterday— We cannot put those clinging arms away, Nor those glad faces yearning over us.
Mr. Hooker also includes in this volume a number of Turns, which he describes as "a new fixed form: Seven lines, in any rhythm, isometric and of not more than four feet; Rhyming AbacbcA, the first line and the last a Refrain; the Idea (as the name suggests) to Turn upon the recurrence of the Refrain at the end with a different sense from that which it bears at the beginning." For example:
Ah, God, my strength again!— Not power, nor joy, but these: The waking without pain, The ardour for the task, And in the evening, peace. Is it so much to ask? Ah, God, my strength again!
American literature suffered a loss in the death of Robert Cameron Rogers, of the class of 1883. His book of poems, called The Rosary, appeared in 1906, containing the song by which naturally he is best known. Set to music by the late Ethelbert Nevin, it had a prodigious vogue, and inspired a sentimental British novel, whose sales ran over a million copies. The success of this ditty ought not to prejudice readers against the author of it; for he was more than a sentimentalist, as his other pieces prove.
Rupert Hughes is an all around literary athlete. He was born in Missouri, on the thirty-first of January, 1872, studied at Western Reserve and later at Yale, where he took the degree of M.A. in 1899. He is of course best known as a novelist and playwright; his novel The Thirteenth Commandment (1916) and his play Excuse Me (1911) are among his most successful productions. His works in prose fiction are conscientiously realistic and the finest of them are accurate chronicles of metropolitan life; while his short stories, In a Little Town (1917) are, like those of William Allen White, truthful both in their representation of village manners in the West, and in their recognition of spiritual values. In view of the "up-to-dateness" of Mr. Hughes's novels, it is rather curious that his one long poem Gyges' Ring (1901), which was written during his student days at Yale, should be founded on Greek legend. Yet Mr. Hughes has been a student of Greek all his life, and has made many translations from the original. I do not care much for Gyges' Ring; it is hammered out rather than created. But some of the author's short poems, to which he has often composed his own musical accompaniment, I find full of charm. Best of all, I think, is the imaginative and delightful.
WITH A FIRST READER
Dear little child, this little book Is less a primer than a key To sunder gates where wonder waits Your "Open Sesame!"
These tiny syllables look large; They'll fret your wide, bewildered eyes; But "Is the cat upon the mat?" Is passport to the skies.
For, yet awhile, and you shall turn From Mother Goose to Avon's swan; From Mary's lamb to grim Khayyam, And Mancha's mad-wise Don.
You'll writhe at Jean Valjean's disgrace; And D'Artagnan and Ivanhoe Shall steal your sleep; and you shall weep At Sidney Carton's woe.
You'll find old Chaucer young once more, Beaumont and Fletcher fierce with fire; At your demand, John Milton's hand Shall wake his ivory lyre.
And learning other tongues, you'll learn All times are one; all men, one race; Hear Homer speak, as Greek to Greek; See Dante, face to face.
Arma virumque shall resound; And Horace wreathe his rhymes afresh; You'll rediscover Laura's lover; Meet Gretchen in the flesh.
Oh, could I find for the first time The Churchyard Elegy again! Retaste the sweets of new-found Keats; Read Byron now as then!
Make haste to wander these old roads, O envied little parvenue; For all things trite shall leap alight And bloom again for you!
Robert Munger, B.A., 1897, published in 1912 a volume called The Land of Lost Music. He is a lyric poet. Melody seems as natural to him as speech.
There is a land uncharted of meadows and shimmering mountains, Stiller than moonlight silence brooding and wan, The land of long-wandering music and dead unmelodious fountains Of singing that rose in the dreams of them that are gone.
That rose in the dreams of the dead and that rise in the dreams of the living, Fleeting, bodiless songs that passed in the night, Winging away on the moment of wonder their cadence was giving Into the deeps of the valleys of stifled delight.
Richard Butler Glaenzer, B.A. 1898, whose verses have frequently been seen in various periodicals, collected them in Beggar and King, 1917. His poems cover a wide range of thought and feeling, but I like him best when he is most whimsical, as in
Jupiter, lost to Vega's realm, Lights his lamp from the sun-ship's helm: Big as a thousand earths, and yet Dimmed by the glow of a cigarette!
Mr. Glaenzer has published a number of verse criticisms of contemporary writers, which he calls Snapshots. These display considerable penetration; perhaps the following is fairly illustrative.
To read your tales Is like opening a cedar-box Of ante-bellum days, A box holding the crinoline and fan
And the tortoise-shell diary With flowers pressed between the leaves Belonging to some languid grande dame Of Creole New Orleans.
Benjamin R. C. Low, B.A. 1902, a practising lawyer, has published four or five volumes of poems, including The Sailor who has Sailed (1911), A Wand and Strings (1913) and The House that Was (1915). He is seen at his best in These United States, dedicated to Alan Seeger, which appeared in the Boston Transcript, 7 February, 1917. This is an original, vigorous work, full of the unexpected, and yet seen to be true as soon as expressed. His verses show a constantly increasing grasp of material, and I look for finer things from his pen.
Although Mr. Low seems to be instinctively a romantic poet, he is fond of letting his imaginative sympathy play on common scenes in city streets; as in The Sandwich Man.
The lights of town are pallid yet With winter afternoon; The sullied streets are dank and wet, The halted motors fume and fret, The world turns homeward soon.
There is no kindle in the sky, No cheering sunset flame; I have no help from passers-by,— They part, and give good-night; but I.... Walk with another's name.
I have no kith, nor kin, nor home Wherein to turn to sleep; No star-lamp sifts me through the gloam, I am the driven, wastrel foam On a subsiding deep.
I do not toil for love, or fame, Or hope of high reward; My path too low for praise or blame, I struggle on, each day the same, My panoply—a board.
Who gave me life I do not know, Nor what that life should be, Or why I live at all; I go, A dead leaf shivering with snow, Under a worn-out tree.
The lights of town are blurred with mist, And pale with afternoon,— Of gold they are, and amethyst: Dull pain is creeping at my wrist.... The world turns homeward soon.
A poet of national reputation is William Rose Bent, who was graduated in 1907. Mr. Bent came to Yale from Augusta, Georgia, and since his graduation has been connected with the editorial staff of the Century Magazine. At present he is away in service in France, where his adventurous spirit is at home. He may have taken some of his reputation with him, for he is sure to be a favourite over there; but the fame he left behind him is steadily growing. The very splendour of romance glows in his spacious poetry; he loves to let his imagination run riot, as might be guessed merely by reading the names on his books. To every one who has ever been touched by the love of a quest, his title-pages will appeal: The Great White Wall, a tale of "magic adventure, of war and death"; Merchants from Cathay (1913), The Falconer of God (1914), The Burglar of the Zodiac (1917). His verses surge with vitality, as in The Boast of the Tides. He is at his best in long, swinging, passionate rhythms. Unfortunately in the same measures he is also at his worst. His most potent temptation is the love of noise, which makes some of his less artistic verse sound like organized cheering.
But when he gets the right tune for the right words, he is irresistible. There is no space here to quote such a rattling ballad—like a frenzy of snare-drums—as Merchants from Cathay, but it is not mere sound and fury, it is not swollen rhetoric, it is an inspired poem. No one can read or hear it without being violently aroused. Mr. Bent is a happy-hearted poet, singing with gusto of the joy of life.
ON EDWARD WEBBE, ENGLISH GUNNER
He met the Danske pirates off Tuttee; Saw the Chrim burn "Musko"; speaks with bated breath Of his sale to the great Turk, when peril of death Chained him to oar their galleys on the sea Until, as gunner, in Persia they set him free To fight their foes. Of Prester John he saith Astounding things. But Queen Elizabeth He worships, and his dear Lord on Calvary. Quaint is the phrase, ingenuous the wit Of this great childish seaman in Palestine, Mocked home through Italy after his release With threats of the Armada; and all of it Warms me like firelight jewelling old wine In some ghost inn hung with the golden fleece!
Arthur Colton, B.A. 1890, is as quiet and reflective as Mr. Bent is strenuous. Has any one ever better expressed the heart of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde than in these few words?
A smile, of flowers, and fresh May, across The dreamy, drifting face of old Romance; The same reiterate tale of love and loss And joy that trembles in the hands of chance; And midst his rippling lines old Geoffrey stands, Saying, "Pray for me when the tale is done, Who see no more the flowers, nor the sun."
Mr. Colton collected many of his poems in 1907, under the title Harps Hung Up in Babylon. He had moved from New Haven to New York.
Allan Updegraff, who left college before taking his degree, a member of the class of 1907, recently turned from verse to prose, and wrote an admirable novel, Second Youth. He is, however, a true poet, and any one might be proud to be the author of
THE TIME AND THE PLACE
Will you not come? The pines are gold with evening And breathe their old-time fragrance by the sea; You loved so well their spicy exhalation,— So smiled to smell it and old ocean's piquancy; And those weird tales of winds and waves' relation— Could you forget? Will you not come to me?
See, 'tis the time: the last long gleams are going, The pine-spires darken, mists rise waveringly; The gloaming brings the old familiar longing To be re-crooned by twilight voices of the sea. And just such tinted wavelets shoreward thronging— Could you forget things once so dear—and me?
Whatever of the waves is ceaseless longing, And of the twilight immortality: The urge of some wild, inchoate aspiration Akin to afterglow and stars and winds and sea: This hour makes full and pours out in libation,— Could you forget? Will you not come to me?
What golden galleons sailed into the sunset Not to come home unto eternity: What souls went outward hopeful of returning, This time and tide might well call back across the sea. Did we not dream so while old Wests were burning? Could you forget such once-dear things—and me?
From the dimmed sky and long grey waste of waters, Lo, one lone sail on all the lonely sea A moment blooms to whiteness like a lily, As sudden fades, is gone, yet half-seems still to be; And you,—though that last time so strange and stilly,— Though you are dead, will you not come to me?
Lee Wilson Dodd, at present in service in France, was graduated in 1899, and for some years was engaged in the practice of the law. This occupation he abandoned for literature in 1907. He is the author of several successful plays, and has published two volumes of verse, The Modern Alchemist (1906) and The Middle Miles (1915). His growth in the intervening years will be apparent to any one who compares the two books; there is in his best work a combination of fancy and humour. He loves to write about New England gardens and discovers beauty by the very simple process of opening his eyes at home. The following poem is characteristically sincere:
TO A NEO-PAGAN
Your praise of Nero leaves me cold: Poems of porphyry and of gold, Palatial poems, chill my heart. I gaze—I wonder—I depart. Not to Byzantium would I roam In quest of beauty, nor Babylon; Nor do I seek Sahara's sun To blind me to the hills of home. Here am I native; here the skies Burn not, the sea I know is grey; Wanly the winter sunset dies. Wanly comes day. Yet on these hills and near this sea Beauty has lifted eyes to me, Unlustful eyes, clear eyes and kind; While a clear voice chanted— _"They who find "Me not beside their doorsteps, know "Me never, know me never, though "Seeking, seeking me, high and low, "Forth on the far four winds they go!"
Therefore your basalt, jade, and gems, Your Saracenic silver, your Nilotic gods, your diadems To bind the brows of Queens, impure, Perfidious, passionate, perfumed—these Your petted, pagan stage-properties, Seem but as toys of trifling worth. For I have marked the naked earth Beside my doorstep yield to the print Of a long light foot, and flash with the glint Of crocus-gold— Crocus-gold! Crocus-gold no mill may mint Save the Mill of God— The Mill of God! The Mill of God with His angels in't!