BLISS CARMAN

THE presence of Mr. Carman, a Canadian singer, among a group of poets
of the States, needs no explanation; so identified is he with the
artistic life of the younger generation on this side the border that
we have come to forget his earlier allegiance, and to consider his
work, most of which has been produced here, as distinctly our own. But
while it is gratifying to feel that so much of his verse has drawn its
inspiration from nature and life as we know them, one could little
spare Mr. Carman’s first book of lyrics, _Low Tide on Grand Pré_,
which is purely Canadian—set in the air of the “blue North summer.”

It lacks as a collection the confident touch of his later work, but is
imbued with an indefinable delicacy; it withholds the uttermost word,
and its grace is that of suggestion. Especially is this true of the
initial poem, a lyric with a poignant undernote calling one back
thrice and again to learn its spell.

It has been Mr. Carman’s method to issue at intervals small volumes
containing work of a related sort; but it is open to question whether
this method of publishing, with the harmony which results from
grouping each collection under a certain key, may not have a
counterbalancing danger in the tendency toward monotony. As a matter
of fact, Mr. Carman has a wide range of subject; but unless one be
ever taking a bird’s-eye view of his work, it is likely to seem
restricted, owing to the reiterance of the same note in whatever
collection he chance to have in hand. A case in point is that
furnished by _Ballads of Lost Haven_, one of his most characteristic
and fascinating volumes, a very wizardy of sea moods, yet it has no
fewer than four poems, succeeding one another at the close of the
collection, prefiguring death under the titles of “The Shadow
Boatswain,” “The Master of the Isles,” “The Last Watch,” and
“Outbound.”

Each of these is blended of mystery, lure, and dread; each conveys the
feeling it was meant to convey; but when the four poems of similar
motive are grouped together, their force is lost. The symbols which
seem in each to rise as spontaneously from the sea as its own foam,
lose their magic when others of like import, but different phrasing,
crowd closely upon them. For illustration, the “Shadow Boatswain”
contains these fine lines:

Don’t you know the sailing orders?
It is time to put to sea,
And the stranger in the harbor
Sends a boat ashore for me.

* * * * *

That’s the Doomkeel. You may know her
By her clean run aft; and then
Don’t you hear the Shadow Boatswain
Piping to his shadow men?

And “The Master of the Isles,” immediately following, opens in this
equally picturesque, but essentially similar, manner:

There is rumor in Dark Harbor,
And the folk are all astir;
For a stranger in the offing
Draws them down to gaze at her,

In the gray of early morning,
Black against the orange streak,
Making in below the ledges,
With no colors at her peak.

[Illustration: Bliss Carman]

While each of the poems develops differently, and taken alone has a
symbolistic beauty that would fix itself in the memory, when the two
are put together and are followed by two others cognate in theme, the
lines of relief have melted into one indistinct image. This effect of
blurring from the grouping of related poems is not so apparent in any
collection as in the sea ballads, as the subject-matter of the other
volumes is more diversified and the likelihood of employing somewhat
the same imagery is therefore removed; but while Mr. Carman has a very
witchery of phrase when singing of the sea, and his words sting one
with delight like a dash of brine, one would, for that very reason,
keep the impression vivid, forceful, complete, and grudges the merging
of it into others and yet others that shall dissipate it or transform
it to an impalpable thing.

Judging them individually, it is doubtful if Mr. Carman has done
anything more representative, more imbued with his own temperament,
than these buoyant, quickening songs that freshen one as if from a
plunge in the sea, and take one to themselves as intimately. The
opening poem sets the key to the collection:

I was born for deep-sea faring;
I was bred to put to sea;
Stories of my father’s daring
Filled me at my mother’s knee.

I was sired among the surges;
I was cubbed beside the foam;
All my heart is in its verges,
And the sea wind is my home.

All my boyhood, from far vernal
Bourns of being, came to me
Dream-like, plangent, and eternal
Memories of the plunging sea.

And what a gruesome, eerie fascination is in this picture at whose
faithfulness one shudders:

Oh, the shambling sea is a sexton old,
And well his work is done.
With an equal grave for lord and knave,
He buries them every one.

Then hoy and rip, with a rolling hip,
He makes for the nearest shore;
And God, who sent him a thousand ship,
Will send him a thousand more;
But some he’ll save for a bleaching grave,
And shoulder them in to shore,—
Shoulder them in, shoulder them in,
Shoulder them in to shore.

How the swing of the lines befits the action, and how it puts on grace
in this stanza,

Oh, the ships of Greece and the ships of Tyre
Went out, and where are they?
In the port they made, they are delayed
With the ships of yesterday.

The remaining strophes tempt one beyond what he is able, especially
this characterization,

Oh, a loafing, idle lubber to him
Is the sexton of the town;

but we must take a glance at the ballads, at the “Nancy’s Pride,” that
went out

On the long slow heave of a lazy sea,
To the flap of an idle sail,

* * * * *

and

… faded down
With her creaking boom a-swing,
Till a wind from the deep came up with a creep,
And caught her wing and wing.

* * * * *

She lifted her hull like a breasting gull
Where the rolling valleys be,
And dipped where the shining porpoises
Put ploughshares through the sea.

* * * * *

They all may home on a sleepy tide
To the sag of an idle sheet;
But it’s never again the Nancy’s Pride
That draws men down the street.

But the fishermen on the Banks, in the eerie watches of the moon,
behold this apparition:

When the light wind veers, and the white fog clears,
They see by the after rail
An unknown schooner creeping up
With mildewed spar and sail.

Her crew lean forth by the rotting shrouds,
With the Judgment in their face;
And to their mates’ “God save you!”
Have never a word of grace.

Then into the gray they sheer away,
On the awful polar tide;
And the sailors know they have seen the wraith
Of the missing Nancy’s Pride.

There have been spectral ships since visions were, but few conjured so
vividly that one may almost see the

crew lean forth by the rotting shrouds
With the Judgment in their face,

and watch them as

into the gray they sheer away
On the awful polar tide.

The poem illustrates Mr. Carman’s gift of putting atmosphere into his
work. A line may give the color, the setting, for an entire poem,—a
very simple line, as this,

With her creaking boom a-swing,

or, “To the sag of an idle sheet,” which fixes at once the impression
of a sultry, languorous air, one of those, half-veiled,
“weather-breeder” days one knows so well.

From a narrative standpoint the ballads are spirited, there is always
a story worth telling; but they are occasionally marred by Mr.
Carman’s prolixity, the besetting sin of his art. He who can crowd so
much into a line is often lacking in the faculty of its appraisal, and
frequently a crisp, telling phrase or stanza is weakened by the
accretion that gathers around it. Beauty is rarely wanting in this
accretion, but beauty that is not organic, not structurally necessary
to the theme, becomes verbiage. Walter Pater has said it all in his
fine passage: “For in truth all art does but consist in the removal of
surplusage, from the last finish of the gem-engraver blowing away the
last particle of invisible dust, back to the earliest divination of
the finished work to be, lying somewhere, according to Michael
Angelo’s fancy, in the rough-hewn block of stone.” It is not Mr.
Carman’s divination of the finished work to be that is at fault; one
feels that the subject is clearly visioned in his mind at the outset,
but that it proves in some cases too alluring to his fancy. His work
is not artificial; he is not fashioning poetic bric-à-brac to adorn
his verse; sincerity is writ large upon it; but his mood is so
compelling that he is carried on by the force of momentum, and
finding, when the impulse is spent, so much beauty left behind, he has
not the heart to destroy it.

One pardons this over-elaboration in _Ballads of Lost Haven_ because
of the likelihood of coming upon a pungent phrase, like a whiff of
kelp, that shall transform some arid spot to the blue leagues of sea;
and for such a poem as “The Ships of St. John,” with no superfluous
lines, with a calm, sabbatic beauty, one is wholly Mr. Carman’s
debtor.

_Behind the Arras_ has proven a stumbling-block and rock of offence to
some of Mr. Carman’s readers, because of its recondite character. They
regard it as something esoteric that only the initiate may grasp,
whereas its mysticism is half whimsical, and requires no
superconsciousness to divine it. Mr. Carman is founding no cult; it
pleases him for the nonce to mask his thought in symbols, and there
are, alas, minds of the rectangular sort that have no use for symbols!
It is a book containing many strong poems, such as “Beyond the Gamut,”
“Exit Anima,” and “Hack and Hew,”—a book of spiritual enigmas through
which one catches hints of the open secret, ever-alluring,
ever-eluding, and follows new clews to the mystery, immanent, yet
undivined.

Earth one habitat of spirit merely,
I must use as richly as I may,—
Touch environment with every sense-tip,
Drink the well and pass my wander way,—

says this sane poet who holds his gift as a tribute, whose philosophy
is to affirm and not deny:

O hand of mine and brain of mine, be yours,
While time endures,
To acquiesce and learn!
For what we best may dare and drudge and yearn,
Let soul discern.

And who through the grime and in the babel still sees and hears,

Always the flawless beauty,—always the Chord
Of the Overword,
Dominant, pleading, sure,
No truth too small to save and make endure;
No good too poor!

This is the vision that shall lighten our eyes, quicken our ears, and
restore our hope,—the vision which we expect the poet to see and to
communicate. He must make the detached and fragmentary beauty a
typical revelation; the relative must foreshadow the absolute, as the
moon’s arc reveals by its mystic rim the fulness to which it is
orbing. It is not by disregarding the tragic, the sombre, the
inexplicable, that Mr. Carman comes into his vision. Pain has more
than touched him; it has become incorporate in him. _Low Tide on Grand
Pré_ has its poignant note; _Ballads of Lost Haven_, its undertone;
_Behind the Arras_, its overtone, its sublimation.

Mr. Carman’s work is more subjective than that of many of the younger
poets without being less objective, as the Vagabondia books attest. In
one mood he is the mystic, dwelling in a speculative nebula of
thought, in another the realist concerning himself only with the
demonstrable, and hence his work discloses a wide range of affinities.
He is not a strongly constructive thinker, but intuitional in his
mental processes, and his verse demands that gift in his readers.
Without it what could one make of “The Juggler” but a poem of
delicious color and music? If its import were none other than appears
upon the face of it, it would still be admirable, but as a symbol of
the Force projecting us, it is a subtle bit of art.

Mr. Carman’s sensitiveness to values of rhythm keeps his verse free
from lapses in that direction. He never, to my memory, makes use of
the sonnet, which shows critical judgment, as the lyric is his
temperamental medium. The apogee of his art is in his diction, which
has a predestined fitness, and above all a personal quality. To quote
Pater again, he has “begotten a vocabulary faithful to the coloring of
his own spirit,” and one cannot mistake even a fragment of his verse.
Now and again one comes upon an archaic expression, as “A _weird_ is
in their song,” using the ancient noun-form, or upon such a
meaningless solecism, at least to the uninitiate, as “illumining this
_quench_ of clay,” but in general Mr. Carman does not find it
necessary to go outside the established limits of the language for
variety and force in diction. He has a genius for imagery, and
conjures the most unsullied fancies from every aspect of nature. The
Vagabondia books are abrim with them, and while there are idle lines
and padded stanzas, there are few of the poems that do not strike true
flashes here and there, few that miss of justification, while their
gay and rollicking note heartens one and bids him up and join in the
revel.

There are others in a graver key, such as Hovey’s “At the End of the
Day,” and Carman’s “The Mendicants,” and “The Marching Morrows;” and
certain lyric inspirations, such as the “Sea Gypsy,” by Hovey, and the
“Vagabond Song,” by Carman, that have not been bettered by either,
that could not well be bettered within their limits. The former has
been quoted in the study of Hovey; the latter is equally an
inspiration. Within the confines of two stanzas Mr. Carman has
suggested what volumes of nature-verse could never say. He does not
analyze it to a finish, nor let the magic slip through his fingers;
under his touch it subtilizes into atmosphere and thus communicates
the incommunicable:

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

Throwing aside all that is ephemeral in the Vagabondia books, all mere
boyish ebullition, there is a goodly residuum of nature-poetry of the
freshest and most unhackneyed sort. It is the blithe, objective type;
eyes and ears are its informers, and it enters into one’s mood with a
keen sense of refreshment. Who does not know the impulse that prompted
these lines?

Make me over, mother April,
When the sap begins to stir!
When thy flowery hand delivers
All the mountain-prisoned rivers,
And thy great heart beats and quivers
To revive the days that were,
Make me over, mother April,
When the sap begins to stir!

The temper of the Vagabondia books is thoroughly wholesome; courage
and cheer dominate them; in short, they are good to know; and while it
is not vitally necessary to remember all they contain, one would be
distinctly the loser should he forget such poems as “Non Omnis Moriar”
or “The Deserted Inn” from _The Last Songs_.

The collection of Memorabilia, _By the Aurelian Wall_, takes its title
from the burial-place of Keats, and includes “A Seamark,” the fine
threnody on Stevenson; a thrilling eulogy of Phillips Brooks; a
spiritual, poetic visioning of Shelley under the symbol of “The White
Gull;” a Bohemian lyric to Paul Verlaine, and other things equally
well-wrought. Some of them need distilling; the poem to Shelley, in
particular, volatilizes to the vanishing-point—but what haunting
sweetness it carries with it! To be sure, Shelley is elusive, and
Matthew Arnold’s “beautiful but ineffectual angel, beating in the void
his luminous wings in vain,” has come to dominate the popular fancy in
regard to him. Mr. Carman’s poem, though touched with this mood, is
not set to it, and he has several stanzas which have in them the
essence of Shelley’s spirit,—the real Shelley, the passionate
idealist, the spent runner who, falling, handed on the torch.

The Stevenson threnody is probably the best of the elegies, as Mr.
Carman is by temperament one of the Stevenson brotherhood, and no
subject could better command him. That “intimate and magic name,” a
password to fellowship, conjures many a picture of him—

Whose courage lights the dark’ning port
Where every sea-worn sail must come.

Mr. Carman has singular power to visualize a scene; one becomes an
eye-witness of it as of this:

But I have wander-biddings now.
Far down the latitudes of sun,
An island mountain of the sea,
Piercing the green and rosy zone,

Goes up into the wondrous day.
And there the brown-limbed island men
Are bearing up for burial,
Within the sun’s departing ken,

The master of the roving kind.
And there where time will set no mark
For his irrevocable rest,
Under the spacious melting dark,

With all the nomad tented stars
About him, they have laid him down
Above the crumbling of the sea,
Beyond the turmoil of renown.

This island procession to the mountain, leaving the master to his
“irrevocable rest,”

Under the spacious melting dark,
With all the nomad tented stars
About him,

is an artist’s picture not easily forgotten.

Mr. Carman’s three volumes in the projected “Pipes of Pan” series,
including thus far _The Book of the Myths_, _The Green Book of the
Bards_, and _The Sea Children_, make new disclosures of his talent,
and the title poem “Pipes of Pan,” is a bit of anointed vision that
would waken the dullest eyes from lethargy as to the world around
them. There is necromancy in Mr. Carman’s words when the outer world
is his theme; something of the thrill, the expectancy in the heart of
growing things, the elation of life, comes upon one as he reads the
“Pipes of Pan.” It is a nobler vision than illumined Vagabondia days,
revealing

Power out of hurt and stain
To bring beauty back again,

and showing the

Scope and purpose, hint and plan
Lurking in the Pipes of Pan,

as well as the sheer delight that we noted in Vagabondia.

It seems that every mood of every creature has been divined and
uttered, uttered with deep love, with a human relatedness that melts
the barriers between life and life, whether in man or in

All the bright, gay-colored things
Buoyed in air on balanced wings.

This relatedness, and all the molding influences of nature leading us
on from beauty to strength, are developed in Mr. Carman’s poem until
they become to us religion. We realize that at heart we are all
pantheists, and that revelation antedates the Book; that the law is
written on the leaves of roses as well as on tables of stone,—a
testament both new and old, given for our learning that we might have
hope.

The remaining poems of _The Book of the Myths_ are not the best things
Mr. Carman has done, though renewals of classic verse-forms in the
Sapphic and other metres, and often picturesque in story. “The Lost
Dryad” is the most attractive, “The Dead Faun” the least so, to my
ears; but perhaps from lack of sympathy with the subject-matter I
cannot think the collection, with the exception of the poem “Pipes of
Pan,” is of especial value. It is not to be named, still excepting the
above poem, with its companion volume, _The Green Book of the Bards_,
which contains some of the strongest work of Mr. Carman’s pen as to
subject and thought, but which has one pronounced limitation,—its
monotony of form.

The entire volume, with a sole exception, and that not marked, is
written in the conventional four-line stanza, in which so much of Mr.
Carman’s work of late has been cast. Within this compass, the
accomplishment is as varied as to theme and diction, as that of his
other work; but when one sings on and on in the same numbers, it
induces a state of mental indolence in the reader, and presupposes a
similar state in the writer. The verse goes purling musically along,
until, as running water exercises an hypnotic spell, one is hypnotized
by the mere melody of the lines, and comes to consciousness to find
that he has no notion what they are about, and must re-read them to
find out. To be sure, the poems will bear reviewing, and will make new
disclosures whenever one returns to them; but had they greater variety
as to manner, their appeal would be stronger, as the mind would be
startled to perception by unexpectedness, instead of lulled by the
same note in liquid reiterance. It is quite possible that Mr. Carman
has a principle at stake in this,—it may indeed be a reactionary
measure against over-evident mechanism, a wholesome desire for
simplicity. Now simplicity is one of the first canons of art, but
variety in metre and form is another canon by no means annulling the
first. One may have variety to the superlative degree, and never
depart from the fitness and clearness that spell simplicity.

Were _The Green Book of the Bards_ relieved by contrasts of form, it
would rank with the finest work of Mr. Carman’s pen, as the individual
poems have strong basic ideas,—such as the “Creature Catechism,” full
of pregnant thought, and speaking a vital, spiritual word as to the
mystic union of the creative Soul with the creatures of feather and
fin and fleece. The marked evolution of Mr. Carman’s philosophy of
life, as influenced by his growing identity with nature, comes out so
strongly in the “Pipes of Pan” series, and in _The Word at Saint
Kavin’s_, as almost to reveal a new individuality. He had gone out in
the light-foot, light-heart days of Vagabondia, holidaying with the
woods and winds; glad to be quit of the gyves, to drink from the
wayside spring, eat of the forest fruit, sleep ’neath the tent of
night, and dream to the rune of the pines. He had sought nature in a
mood of pagan joy; but the wayside spring had excited a thirst it
could not quench, and the forest fruit a hunger it could not allay,
and the blithe seeker of freedom and delight became at length the
anointed votary, and lingered to watch the God at work shaping life
from death, and expressing His yearning in beauty.

The mere objective delight of the earlier time has grown steadily into
the subjective identity with every manifestation of the Force that
operates within this world of wonder and beauty, from the soul of man,
shaping his ideals and creating his environment, to the butterfly
whose sun-painted wings, set afloat in the buoyant air, are upheld by
the breath of God. Coming into the finer knowledge, through long
intimacy with the earth and its multitudinous life, fulfilling itself
in joy,—Mr. Carman has come at length to

readjust
The logic of the dust,

and to shape from it a creed and law for his following, which he has
put into the mouth of Saint Kavin for expounding. The opening stanzas
of the volume give the setting and note:

Once at St. Kavin’s door
I rested. No sigh more
Of discontent escaped me from that day.
For there I overheard
A Brother of the Word
Expound the grace of poverty, and say:

Thank God for poverty
That makes and keeps us free,
And lets us go our unobtrusive way,
Glad of the sun and rain,
Upright, serene, humane,
Contented with the fortune of a day.

The poem follows simple, but no less picturesque phrase, as becomes
Saint Kavin, and is, from the technical side, quaint and artistic. On
the philosophical, it develops at first the initial thought that one
shall “keep his soul”

Joyous and sane and whole

by obeying the word

That bade the earth take form, the sea subside,

and that

When we have laid aside
Our truculence and pride,
Craven self-seeking, turbulent self-will,—

we shall have found the boon of our ultimate striving,—room to live
and let our spirits grow, and give of their growth and higher gain to
another. Here is the giving that turns to one’s own enrichment:

And if I share my crust,
As common manhood must,
With one whose need is greater than my own,
Shall I not also give
His soul, that it may live,
Of the abundant pleasures I have known?

And so, if I have wrought,
Amassed or conceived aught
Of beauty, or intelligence or power,
It is not mine to hoard;
It stands there to afford
Its generous service simply as a flower.

The poem then broadens into a dissertation upon the complexities of
life, one’s servitude to custom and “vested wrong,” the lack of
individual courage to

Live by the truth each one of us believes,

and turns, for illustration of the nobler development and poise, back
to nature, and the evolutionary round of life through which one traces
his course and kinship. These stanzas are among the finest spoken by
the wise Brother of the Word. After citing the strength and serenity
of the fir-trees, and what a travesty upon man’s ascent it were, did
one bear himself less royally than they, he adverts to the creature
kin-fellows whose lot we have borne:

I, too, in polar night
Have hungered, gaunt and white,
Alone amid the awful silences;
And fled on gaudy fin,
When the blue tides came in,
Through coral gardens under tropic seas.

And wheresoe’er I strove,
The greater law was love,
A faith too fine to falter or mistrust;
There was no wanton greed,
Depravity of breed,
Malice nor cant nor enmity unjust.

Nay, not till I was man,
Learned I to scheme and plan
The blackest depredation on my kind,
Converting to my gain
My fellow’s need and pain
In chartered pillage, ruthless and refined.

Therefore, my friends, I say
Back to the fair sweet way
Our Mother Nature taught us long ago,—
The large primeval mood,
Leisure and amplitude,
The dignity of patience strong and slow.

Let us go in once more
By some blue mountain door,
And hold communion with the forest leaves;
Where long ago we trod
The Ghost House of the God,
Through orange dawns and amethystine eves!

Then follows a glad picturing of the allurements of this place of
return, a more thoughtful one of its requitals, and the infinitude of
care bestowed upon every task to which the Master Craftsman sets his
hand, and orbs into a vision of the soul enlarged by breathing the
freer air and by regaining therefrom her “primal ecstasy and poise.”
It traces also the soul’s commission,

To fill her purport in the ampler plan.

Altogether the Word is admirably expounded by Saint Kavin, and one is
distinctly the gainer for having rested at his door to learn not only
the grace of joyousness, but the means to that grace.

In his latest work, constructing from the “fragments” of Sappho lyrics
that should bear as close relation to the original as an imagination
imbued with the Sapphic traditions and a temperament sympathetically
Greek would enable him to do,—Mr. Carman undertook a daring task, but
one whose promise he has made good, as poetry, however near it may
approach to the imagined loveliness of those lost songs of the
Lesbian, which have served by their haunting beauty to keep vital her
memory through twenty-five centuries in which unnumbered names have
gone to oblivion.

Of the “Ode to Aphrodite,” the most complete Sapphic poem extant, many
translations and paraphrases have been made, those by Edwin Arnold,
John Addington Symonds, Ambrose Philips, Swinburne, etc., being among
the finest; and were there space it would be interesting to show by
comparison that Mr. Carman’s rendering of the Ode ranks well with the
standard already set.

Of the fragments, also, while perhaps no previous attempt has been
made to give an imaginative recast to so large a number of them, many
have been incorporated by Swinburne in his “Anactoria,” and fugitive
stanzas in the work of Rossetti, Tennyson, Byron, and others, attest
this source. To refashion them, however, after the manner, as Mr.
Roberts says in his introduction to the volume, of a sculptor
restoring a statue by Praxiteles from the mere suggestion of a hand or
a finger,—is a work of artistic imagination demanding the finest
sympathy, taste, and kinship with the theme, as well as the poet’s
touch to shape it; and while no one may pronounce upon the fidelity of
the work, beyond its Greek spirit and command of the Sapphic metres,
together with the interpretation of the original fragment, it has
great charm of phrase and atmosphere and a certain pensive beauty even
in the most impassioned stanzas, setting them to a different note from
that usually met in Sapphic paraphrases; as in these lines:

O heart of insatiable longing,
What spell, what enchantment allures thee,
Over the rim of the world
With the sails of the sea-going ships?

And when the rose petals are scattered
At dead of still noon on the grass-plot,
What means this passionate grief,—
This infinite ache of regret?[1]

Among the most familiar of the fragments is that of the “apple
reddening upon the topmost bough,” which Rossetti has put into
charming phrase, together with its companion verse upon the wild
hyacinth; but while these lines are of haunting charm, they do not
make a complete stanza, the comparison being unknown; whereas Mr.
Carman, in recasting the fragment, has supplied a logical complement
to the lines and symmetrized them, together with their companion
illustration, to a lyric. His rendering, too, while less musical, from
being unrhymed, is picturesque and concise, each word being made to
tell as a stroke in a sketch:

Art thou the topmost apple
The gatherers could not reach,
Reddening on the bough?
Shall not I take thee?

Art thou a hyacinth blossom
The shepherds upon the hills
Have trodden into the ground?
Shall not I lift thee?

The first Rossetti stanza ends with a fantastic play upon words
explaining that, although the gatherers did not get the coveted apple,
they

Forgot it not, nay, but got it not, for none could get it till now,

which, although a pleasant poetical mix-up, is hardly in keeping with
the dignity of the comparison, which dignity Mr. Carman has well
preserved.

Another fragment made familiar by adaptation is that to Hesperus,
expanded by Byron into one of the great passages of “Don Juan.” Mr.
Carman gives a more compact rendering and again brings the lines to
such a close as shall render them a complete lyric. They scarcely vie
in beauty with the Byron passage, which is one of the surest strokes
of his hand, but have their own charm and grace:

Hesperus, bringing together
All that the morning star scattered,—

Sheep to be folded in twilight,
Children for mothers to fondle,—

Me, too, will bring to the dearest,
Tenderest breast in all Lesbos.

The fragment, “I loved thee, Athis, in the long ago,” has been
expanded by Mr. Carman into a poem of reminiscent mood, the long,
slow-moving pentameter enhancing the effect of pensive meditation
which the lines convey. Many of the fragments are of a blither note,
having the variety which distinguishes the original.

Mr. Carman has exercised a fine restraint in his treatment of the
fragments. They are not over-ripe in diction, nor over-elaborated, and
while there is a certain atmosphere of insubstantiality about many of
them, as could scarcely fail to result from the attempt to restore, by
imagination alone, what had existence but in tradition, they justify
themselves as artistic poetry, which is the only consideration of
moment.

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LIZETTE WOODWORTH REESE

MISS LIZETTE WOODWORTH REESE is an Elizabethan, not by affectation,
but by temperament. Sidney and Lovelace and Herrick and Marlowe are
her contemporaries, though she moves among them as a gray-robed figure
among gay cavaliers and knights, so restrained is her mood, so
delicate in its withholding.

Her first collection is aptly named, _A Handful of Lavender_, for the
fragrance of the elder time pervades it impalpably, as the scent of
lavender makes sweet the linen of some treasured chest. How Miss Reese
has been able, in the hurly-burly of American life, to find some
indesecrate corner, some daffodiled garden-close, holding always the
quiet and the glint of sunshine out of which these songs have come, is
an enigma worth a poet’s solving. She is a Southern woman, which may
furnish some clew to the repose of her work. There is time down there
to ripen, to let life have its own way of enrichment with one. She has
been content to publish three books of verse—although the first is now
incorporated with the second—in the interval in which our Northern
poets would have produced a half-dozen; nor does she much concern
herself, when once the captive melodies are freed, as to their flight.
She knows there are magnetic breezes in the common air, charméd winds
that blow unerringly, and in whose upper currents song’s wings are
guided, as the carrier-doves’, to their appointed goal.

There is a delicate harmony between Miss Reese’s poems and their
number, a nicety of adjustment between quality and quantity, that
bespeaks the artist. She has the critic’s gift of appraising her own
work before it leaves her hand, and thus forestalls much of the
criticism that might otherwise attend it. The faculty of self-analysis
would be a safety-valve to the high-pressure speed at which most
literature of to-day is produced—but, alas, the few that employ it!
“Open the throttle and let it drive!” is the popular injunction to the
genius within, and wherever it drives, one is expected to follow. How
refreshing it is, then, to come upon work with calm upon it!—work that
came out of time, culture, and artist-love, and trusts its
appreciation to the same standards.

[Illustration: Lizette Woodworth Reese]

Miss Reese’s verse shows constant affinity with Herrick, though it is
rarely so blithe. It has the singing mood, but not the buoyant one,
being tempered by something delicate and remote. The unheard melodies
within it are the sweetest; it pipes to the spirit “ditties of no
tone.” Even its least rare fancies convey more than they say, and it
must be confessed that much so-called poetry says more than it
conveys. Whitman’s mystical words: “All music is what awakes from you
when you are reminded by the instruments,” applies equally well to
poetry, to poetry of suggestion, such as Miss Reese’s. Yesterday’s
parted grace has been transmuted to poetry within us all, but it is a
voiceless possession, speaking to us in the soul. Miss Reese’s poems,
by a line or two, perhaps, put one in swift possession of that
vanishing beauty within himself. It floods back, perchance in tears,
but it is ours again. Take almost a random citation, for this quality
is rarely absent from her poems, whether they summon Joy or Pain,—her
lines “To A White Lilac”:

I know you, ghost of some lone, delicate hour,
Long-gone but unforgot;
Wherein I had for guerdon and for dower
That one thing I have not.

Unplucked I leave your mystical white feather,
O phantom up the lane;
For back may come that spent and lovely weather,
And I be glad again!

To analyze this, would be to pluck the mystical white feather that a
poet left untouched, that it might recall the grace of “some lone,
delicate hour, long-gone but unforgot;” but the soul of such an hour
has subtilized for each of us in that spiritual memory-flower, and it
needs no more than the opening line of this poem to invest the
disillusioned day with a mood the same—yet not the same. Miss Reese
has put it in two lines in her “Song of the Lavender Woman”:

Oh, my heart, why should you break at any thoughts like these?
So sooth are they of the old time that they should bring you ease.

In another brief poem, the spirit of grief, that transmutes itself at
last to music, to odor, to sunsets and dawns, becomes vital again in
the scent of the box, the garden shrub. The lines show Miss Reese’s
susceptibility to impression from the most intangible sources:

Dark, thinned, beside the wall of stone,
The box dripped in the air;
Its odor through my house was blown
Into the chamber there.

Remote and yet distinct the scent,
The sole thing of the kind,
As though one spoke a word half meant
That left a sting behind.

I knew not Grief would go from me
And naught of it be plain,
Except how keen the box can be
After a fall of rain.

Miss Reese’s art is its apparent lack of art, of conscious effort. Her
diction is as simple in the mere store of words which she chooses to
employ, as might be that of some poet to whom such a store was his
sole equipment; but what is that fine distinction between _simplesse_
and _simplicité_? One recognizes in her vocabulary the subtlest art of
choice and elimination, art that is temperament, however, that selects
by intuitive fitness and not by formulas or deliberate trying of
effects. The words she employs are thrice distilled and clarified,
until they become the essence of lucidity, and this essence in turn is
crystallized into form in her poems. Perhaps they have, for some, too
little warmth and color; they are not the rich-dyed words of passion,
they are rather the white, delicate words of memory, but no others
would serve as well.

In reading certain poems of Miss Reese’s, such as “Trust,” or her
lines “Writ In A Book Of Elizabethan Verse,” the clarity of the
language recalls a passage in a letter of Jean Ingelow’s in which she
exclaims: “Oh that I might wash my words in light!” The impression
which many of these lyrics convey is that Miss Reese _has_ washed her
words in light, so clear, so pure is their beauty. Take, for
illustration, the much-quoted lines “Love Came Back At Fall O’ Dew,”
and note the art and feeling achieved almost wholly in monosyllabic
words:

Love came back at fall o’ dew,
Playing his old part;
But I had a word or two,
That would break his heart.

“He who comes at candlelight,
That should come before,
Must betake him to the night
From a barréd door.”

This the word that made us part
In the fall o’ dew;
This the word that brake his heart—
Yet it brake mine, too!

A lyric imbued with charm, and into which a heart history is
compressed, and yet employing but five or six words of more than one
syllable! Is this not clarifying to a purpose? The lines called
“Trust,” illustrate with equal minuteness the gift of putting into the
simplest words some truth that seems to speak itself without calling
attention to language or form, and, though having less of charm, they
illustrate the point in question, that of absolute simplicity without
insipidity. This is not, however, to be taken as advice to all poets
to cultivate the monosyllabic style. Because Miss Reese can achieve
such an effect through it, when she chooses, as “Love Came Back At
Fall O’ Dew,” does not argue that another poet would not corrupt it to
nursery babble, nor would it be desirable to strive for it in any
case. Song is impulse, not effort, and back of it is temperament. Miss
Reese is a poet-_singer_; she is at her best in the pure lyric, the
lyric that could be sung, and therefore her most artistic poems are
such as are the least ornate, but have rare distinction in the purity,
fitness, and individuality of her words.

Very few modern lyrics possess the singing quality. The term “lyric
verse,” as used to-day, is a misnomer. It is as intricate in form and
phrase as if not consecrated to the lyre by poets in the dawn of art.
The divorce between poetry and song grows more absolute year by year;
composers search almost vainly through modern volumes of verse for
lyrics that combine the melody and feeling, the spontaneity and grace,
indispensable to song. It is not that the modern poet is unable to
produce such, but that he does not choose. It has gone out of fashion,
to state the case quite frankly, to write with a singing cadence;
something rare and strange must issue from the poet’s lips, something
inobvious. Art lurks in surprises, and the poet of to-day must be a
diviner of mysteries, a searcher of secrets, in nature and humanity
and truth, and a revealer of them in his art, though he reveal
ofttimes but to conceal.

Poetry grows more and more an intellectual pleasure for the cultured
classes, less and less a possession of the people. Elizabethan song
was upon the lips of the milkmaids and market-women, the common ear
was trained to grace and melody; but how many of the country folk of
to-day know the involved numbers of our poets, or, knowing, could
grasp them? Who is writing the lays of the people? One can only answer
that few are writing them because the spirit of poetic art has
suffered a sea-change into something rich and strange, and the poet of
to-day would be fearful of his laurels should he write so artless a
song as “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” or “Come live with me and
be my love,” and yet these are beads that Time tells over on the
rosary of Art.

The question is too broad to discuss here. We should all agree,
doubtless, as to the increasing separation between poetry and song,
the increasing tendency of verse to appeal to the cultured classes;
but as to the desirability of returning to the simpler form, adapting
theme and melody to the common ear—how many modern poets would agree
upon that? There is a middle ground, however; the reaction against the
highly ornate is already felt, and a finer art may be trusted to bring
its own adjustments until poetry will again become of universal
appeal.

And how does this pertain to Miss Reese? It pertains in that her ideal
is the very return to clear, sympathetic song of which we have spoken.
She would recapture the blitheness of Herrick, the valor of Lovelace,
would lighten song’s wings of their heaviness and shift Care and
Wisdom to more prosaic burden-bearers. While the reminiscent mood is
prevalent in her work, it is not melancholy, but has rather the
iridescent glint of smiles and tears. Joy never quite departs,
although “with finger at his lip, bidding adieu.” Miss Reese’s strife
is toward a valiant cheer, whose passing she deplores in the poem
called “Laughter”:

Spirit of the gust and dew,
Herrick had the last of you!
Empty are the morning hills.
Herrick, he whose hearty airs
Still are heard in our dull squares;
Herrick of the daffodils!

* * * * *

Now the pulpit and the mart
Make an unquiet thing of Art,
For we trade or else we preach;
Even the crocus,’stead of song,
Serves for text the April long;
Thus we set it out of reach.

There is heartier food than ambrosia in this stanza. It is true that
when we use the crocus for a text we set it out of reach, or, in
common phrase, when poetry becomes didactic, Art flees. A dew-fresh
song would teach the crocus’ lesson, or many another lesson, without a
hint of teaching it, merely by beauty; by the creed of Keats. Pope’s
didactic, sententious lines are gone; but Keats, who never pointed a
moral in his life, sings on eternally. Miss Reese too is votary to
beauty for its own sake; she gives one the flower, and he may extract
the nectar for himself. The nectar is always there for one’s
distilling into the truth which is the essence of things. She does not
herself extract and distil it, for hers is the art of suggestion.

Having this creed of song, Miss Reese’s themes are not widely
inclusive. They are, however, the universal themes,—love, beauty,
reverence, remembrance, joy that has been tempered to cheer, having
met pain by the way; for, as we have said, no encounter with pain—and
her poems give abundant evidence of such encounter—has been able to
subdue the valor of her spirit, or to quench the joy at the springs of
her feeling, albeit the buoyant, brimful joy has given place to
acquiescent cheer.

There is a certain quality in Miss Reese’s poems, a quaintness, an
elder grace, that is wholly unique. It is the union of theme,
phraseology, and atmosphere. The two former have been considered, but
the spirit, after all, is in the last, in that which analysis cannot
reach. One selects a poem from _A Quiet Road_ illustrative of this art
of correlating Then and Now, making quick the dead in memory and hope,
and sets about to analyze it,—when, lo, as if one had prisoned a white
butterfly, it escapes, leaving only the dust of its wing in one’s
hand! Miss Reese’s poems are not to be analyzed, they are to be felt;
that, too, is the creed of her song. Is it difficult to feel these
delicate lines called “The Road of Remembrance”?—

The old wind stirs the hawthorn tree;
The tree is blossoming;
Northward the road runs to the sea,
And past the House of Spring.

The folk go down it unafraid;
The still roofs rise before;
When you were lad and I was maid,
Wide open stood that door.

Now, other children crowd the stair,
And hunt from room to room;
Outside, under the hawthorn fair,
We pluck the thorny bloom.

Out in the quiet road we stand,
Shut in from wharf and mart,
The old wind blowing up the land,
The old thoughts at our heart.

Miss Reese’s growth, as shown in her two volumes, is so marked that
while _A Handful of Lavender_ has the foreshadowing of her later work,
and also some notably fine poems,—such as “That Day You Came,” “The
Last Cricket,” “A Spinning Song,” and “The Old Path,”—it has not the
same perfectly individual note that pervades _A Quiet Road_. The
personal mark, the artist-proof mark, upon nearly everything in the
later collection, is frequently absent from the first. That part of _A
Handful of Lavender_ first issued as _A Branch of May_ is naturally
the least finished of Miss Reese’s work. It is unsure and yet
indicative of that—

Oncoming hour of light and dew,
Of heartier sun, more certain blue,

which shines in her later work.

“The Death Potion,” from the first collection, is a case in point: it
is strong in idea, and here and there in execution, but its metre is
faulty, and it departs so often from the initial measure that one who
has set himself in tune with that is thrown from the key, and in
adapting himself to the changed rhythm loses the pleasure of the poem.

It must be said, however, that such lack of metrical sensitiveness is
very rare even in the earlier poems. In general, they are of
unimpeachable rhythm; indeed, the singing note is so much Miss Reese’s
natural expression that it creeps into this sonnet, “The Old Path,”
and turns it in effect to a lyric:

O Love! O Love! this way has hints of you
In every bough that stirs, in every bee,
Yellow and glad, droning the thick grass through,
In blooms red on the bush, white on the tree;
And when the wind, just now, came soft and fleet,
Scattering the blackberry blossoms, and from some
Fast darkening space that thrush sang sudden sweet,
You were so near, so near, yet did not come!
Say, is it thus with you, O friend, this day?
Have you, for me that love you, thought or word?
Do I, with bud or bough, pass by your way;
With any breath of brier or note of bird?
If this I knew, though you be quick or dead,
All my sad life would I go comforted.

_A Handful of Lavender_ shows the tendency of most young poets to
affect the sonnet, a tendency laudable enough if one be a natural
sonneteer. Miss Reese has many finely conceived and well-executed
sonnets, but few that are unforgettably fine, as are many of her
lyrics. That she recognizes wherein her surest power lies is obvious
from the fact that, whereas _A Handful of Lavender_ contains some
thirty-two sonnets, _A Quiet Road_ contains but twelve. Those of
nature predominated in the former, nature for its own sake; but in the
latter there is far less accent upon nature and more upon life.

They show in technique, also, Miss Reese’s firmer, surer touch and
greater clarity. There are certain sonnets in _A Handful of Lavender_,
such as “A Song of Separation,” and “Renunciation,” warmer in feeling
than the later ones and equal to them in manner; but in general the
mechanism is much more apparent—one _does_ occasionally see the wires,
which is never the case in the later work.

“The Look of the Hedge,” or these lines called “Recompense,” will
illustrate the ease and lucidity of her sonnets in _A Quiet Road_:

Sometimes, yea, often, I forget, forget;
Pass your closed door with not a thought of you,
Of the old days, but only of these new;
I sow; I reap; my house in order set.
Then of a sudden doth this thing befall,
By a wood’s edge, or in the market-place,
That I remember naught but your dead face,
And other folk forgotten, you are all.
When this is so, oh, sooth the time and sweet!
And I, thereafter, am like unto one
Who from the lilac bloom and the young year
Comes to a chamber shuttered from the street,
Yet heeds nor emptiness nor lack of sun,
For that the recompensing Spring is near!

There are excellently wrought sonnets in the first volume, indeed, the
majority of them are not without fine lines or true feeling, but the
gain in command of the form has been marked. When all is said,
however, one comes back to _A Quiet Road_ for the songs it holds, and
for these he treasures it. Miss Reese has epitomized, in her lines
“Writ In A Book Of Elizabethan Verse,” her own characteristics under
those of the earlier singers, sounded the delicate notes of her own
reed, when she says:

Mine is the crocus and the call
Of gust to gust in shrubberies tall;
The white tumult, the rainy hush;
And mine the unforgetting thrush
That pours its heart-break from the wall.

For I am tears, for I am Spring,
The old and immemorial thing;
To me come ghosts by twos and threes,
Under the swaying cherry-trees,
From east and west remembering.

O elder Hour, when I am not,
Gone out like smoke from road and plot,
More perfect Hour of light and dew,
Shall lovers turn away from you,
And long for me, the Unforgot!

Surely they will, for clear, pure song keeps its vibrancy, and the
note to which is set the quaintness of such words as these in Miss
Reese’s poem “A Pastoral,” will not easily be forgotten:

Oho, my love, oho, my love, and ho, the bough that shows,
Against the grayness of mid-Lent, the color of the rose!
The lights o’ Spring are in the sky and down among the grass;
Bend low, bend low, ye Kentish reeds, and let two lovers pass!

The plum-tree is a straitened thing; the cherry is but vain;
The thorn but black and empty at the turning of the lane;
Yet mile by mile out in the wind the peach-trees blow and blow,
And which is stem and which is bloom, not any maid can know.

The ghostly ships sail up to town and past the orchard wall;
There is a leaping in the reeds; they waver and they fall;
For lo, the gusts of God are out; the April time is brief;
The country is a pale red rose, and dropping leaf by leaf.

I do but keep me close beside and hold my lover’s hand;
Along the narrow track we pass across the level land;
The petals whirl about us and the sedge is to our knees;
The ghostly ships sail up, sail up, beyond the stripping trees.

When we are old, when we are cold, and barréd is the door,
The memory of this will come and turn us young once more;
The lights o’ Spring will dim the grass and tremble from the sky;
And all the Kentish reeds bend low to let us two go by!

Miss Reese’s work in _A Quiet Road_ is so uniformly quotable that one
distrusts his judgment in the matter of choice, and having cited one
poem as representative comes suddenly upon another that might have
served him better; such an one, perhaps, is that to Robert Louis
Stevenson, in its penetrative feeling, showing Miss Reese to be a
diviner of spirits. One need hardly be told that she is of the “mystic
fellowcraft” of Stevenson, and although the very name of the valorous
one has become a sort of fetich among his lovers everywhere, one would
go far to find him set forth more bravely than in this characterization,
of which a part must suffice to show the quality:

In his old gusty garden of the North,
He heard lark-time the uplifting Voices call;
Smitten through with Voices was the evenfall—
At last they drove him forth.

Now there were two rang silverly and long;
And of Romance, that spirit of the sun,
And of Romance, spirit of youth, was one;
And one was that of Song.

Gold-belted sailors, bristling buccaneers,
The flashing soldier, and the high, slim dame,
These were the Shapes that all around him came,—
That we let go with tears.

His was the unstinted English of the Scot,
Clear, nimble, with the scriptural tang of Knox
Thrust through it like the far, strict scent of box,
To keep it unforgot.

No frugal Realist, but quick to laugh,
To see appealing things in all he knew,
He plucked the sun-sweet corn his fathers grew,
And would have naught of chaff.

David and Keats and all good singing men,
Take to your hearts this Covenanter’s son,
Gone in mid-years, leaving our years undone—
Where you do sing again!

There! I have repented me and quoted it all, to preserve the unity.

To be rare and quaint without being fantastic, to have
swift-conceiving fancy that turns into poetry the near-by thing that
many overlook—this is Miss Reese’s gift. You shall not go to her for
ethics, philosophy, nor for instruction of any kind, for that is
contrary to her creed; but you shall go to her for truth, truth that
has become personal through experience; go to her for beauty, uplift,
and refreshment, and above all for the recovery of the departed mood.

Continue Reading

RICHARD HOVEY

RICHARD HOVEY was a poet of convictions rather than of fancies, in
which regard he overtopped many of his contemporaries who were content
to be “enamored architects of airy rhyme.” Hovey was himself a skilful
architect of rhyme, an imaginative weaver of fancy; but these were not
ends, he does not stand primarily for them. He stands for comradeship;
for taking vows of one’s own soul; for alliance with the shaping
spirit of things; for a sane, wholesome, lusty manhood; a hearty,
confident surrender to life.

He is the poet of positivism, virile, objective, and personal to a
Whitmanesque degree, and answers to many of the qualifications laid
down by Whitman for the testing of an American poet. His performance
is eminently of the sort to “face the open fields and the seaside;” it
does “absorb into one;” it “animates to life,” and it is of the
people. It answers also to the query, “Have you vivified yourself from
the maternity of these States?” for Hovey was an American of the
Americans, and his patriotic poems are instinct with national pride,
though one may dissent from certain of his opinions upon war.

Hovey, to the degree of his development when his hand was stayed, was
a finely balanced man and artist. The purely romantic motives which
form the entire basis, for example, of Stephen Phillips’ work, and
thus render him a poet of the cultured classes and not of the people,
were foreign to the spirit of Hovey. He, too, was recasting in
dramatic form some of beauty’s imperishable traditions; but this was
only one phase of his art, it did not cause him to approach his own
time with less of sympathy; and while he had not yet come deeply into
the prophet gifts of song, their potency was upon him, and in the
Odes, which contain some of his strongest writing, his passion for
brotherhood, for development through comradeship, finds splendid
expression. In the best known of his odes, “Spring,” occurs this
stirring symbol:

For surely in the blind deep-buried roots
Of all men’s souls to-day
A secret quiver shoots.

* * * * *

The darkness in us is aware
Of something potent burning through the earth,
Of something vital in the procreant air.

It is in this ode, with the exception of his visioning of “Night” in
_Last Songs from Vagabondia_, that the influence of Whitman upon Hovey
comes out most prominently; that is, the influence of manner. The
really vital influence is one much less easily demonstrated, but no
less apparent to a student of both poets. It is not of the sort,
however, to detract from the originality of Hovey, but rather an
intensifying of his characteristics, a focalizing of his powers, and
is in accordance with Whitman’s declaration that

“He most honors my style
Who learns under it to destroy the teacher.”

Hovey’s own nature was so individual that he rarely failed to destroy
the teacher, or he was perhaps unconscious of having one; but in the
opening lines of the ode in question the Whitman note is unmistakable:

I said in my heart, “I am sick of four walls and a ceiling.
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.
I will up and get me away where the hawk is wheeling,
Lone and high,
And the slow clouds go by.

* * * * *

Spring, like a huntsman’s boy,
Halloos along the hillsides and unhoods
The falcon in my will.
The dogwood calls me, and the sudden thrill
That breaks in apple blooms down country roads
Plucks me by the sleeve and nudges me away.
The sap is in the boles to-day,
And in my veins a pulse that yearns and goads.”

Could volumes of conventional nature poetry set one a-tingle like
this? The crowning excellence of Hovey’s nature poems is that they are
never reports, they do not describe with far-sought imagery, but are
as personal as a poem of love or other emotion. Such passionate
surrender, such intimate delight as finds expression, for example, in
“The Faun,” could scarcely be more communicative and direct. It
becomes at once our own mood, an interchange which is the test of art:

… And I plunge in the wood, and the swift soul cleaves
Through the swirl and the flow of the leaves,
As a swimmer stands with his white limbs bare to the sun
For the space that a breath is held, and drops in the sea;
And the undulant woodland folds round me, intimate, fluctuant, free,
Like the clasp and the cling of waters, and the reach and the effort
is done;—
There is only the glory of living, exultant to be.

In such words as these one loses thought of the merely picturesque,
their infection takes hold upon him, particularly in that line
befitting the forest spirit as a garment, in which

The undulant woodland folds round me, intimate, fluctuant, free,—

a line wherein the idea, feeling, movement, and diction are wholly at
one. It is impossible for Richard Hovey to be aloof and analytical in
any phase of his work, and when he writes of nature it is as the
comrade to whom she is a mystic personality. A stanza of “The Faun”
illustrates this; still in the wood, he asks:

Oh, what is it breathes in the air?
Oh, what is it touches my cheek?
There’s a sense of a presence that lurks in the branches.
But where?
Is it far, is it far to seek?

The first two collections of the _Vagabondia_ books contain Hovey’s
most spontaneous nature verse; they have also some of the lyrics by
which he will be known when such a rollicking stave as “Barney McGee,”
at which one laughs as a boyish exuberance, is forgotten. The quips of
rhyme and fancy that enliven the pages of the earlier volumes give
place, in the _Last Songs_, to a note of seriousness and artistic
purpose which sets the collection to an entirely different key; not
that the work is uniformly superior to that of the former songs, but
it is more earnest in tone; dawn is giving place to noon.

From the second collection may be cited one of the lyric inspirations
that sometimes came to Hovey, all warmth and color, as if fashioned
complete in a thought. It is called “A Sea Gypsy,” and the first of
its quatrains, though perhaps not more than the others, has a haunting
charm:

I am fevered with the sunset,
I am fretful with the bay,
For the wander-thirst is on me
And my soul is in Cathay.

There’s a schooner in the offing,
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.

I must forth again to-morrow!
With the sunset I must be
Hull down on the trail of rapture
In the wonder of the sea.

Aside from the dramas, and the noble elegy, “Seaward,” Hovey’s most
representative work is found in his collection, _Along the Trail_,
which opens with a group of battle-hymns inspired by the
Spanish-American war. With the exception of “Unmanifest Destiny,” and
occasional trumpet notes from the poem called “Bugles,” these
battle-songs are more or less perfunctory, nor are they ethically the
utterance of a prophet. There is the old assumption that because war
has ever been, it ever will be; that because the sword has been the
instrument of progress in past world-crises, it is the divinely chosen
arbiter. There is nothing of that development of man that shall find a
higher way, no visioning of a world-standard to which nations shall
conform; it is rather the celebration of brawn, as in the sonnet
“America.” The jubilant note of his call of the “Bugles,” however,
thrills with passionate pride in his country as the deliverer of the
weak, for the ultimate idea in Hovey’s mind was his country’s
altruism; but, as a whole, the battle-songs lack the larger vision and
are unequal in workmanship, falling constantly into the commonplace
from some flight of lyric beauty. The best of them, and a worthy best,
both in conception and in its dignified simplicity, is “Unmanifest
Destiny,” which follows:

To what new fates, my country, far
And unforeseen of foe or friend,
Beneath what unexpected star,
Compelled to what unchosen end,

Across the sea that knows no beach
The Admiral of Nations guides
Thy blind obedient keels to reach
The harbor where thy future rides!

The guns that spoke at Lexington
Knew not that God was planning then
The trumpet word of Jefferson
To bugle forth the rights of men.

To them that wept and cursed Bull Run,
What was it but despair and shame?
Who saw behind the cloud the sun?
Who knew that God was in the flame?

Had not defeat upon defeat,
Disaster on disaster come,
The slave’s emancipated feet
Had never marched behind the drum.

There is a Hand that bends our deeds
To mightier issues than we planned,
Each son that triumphs, each that bleeds,
My country, serves Its dark command.

I do not know beneath what sky
Nor on what seas shall be thy fate;
I only know it shall be high,
I only know it shall be great.

Hovey’s themes are widely diverse, but they are always of the
essential purports. He seems not only integral with nature, but
integral with man in his ardor of sympathy for his fellows, and the
swift understanding of all that makes for achievement or defeat. He
had the splendid nonchalance that met everything with confident ease,
and made his relation to life like that of an athlete trained to
prevail. Not to be servile, not to be negative, not to be vague,—these
are some of the notes of his stirring song. Even in love there is a
characteristic dash and _verve_, a celebration of comradeship as the
keynote of the relation, that makes it possible for him to write this
sonnet, so refreshing and wholesome, and so far removed from the
mawkish or effeminate:

When I am standing on a mountain crest,
Or hold the tiller in the dashing spray,
My love of you leaps foaming in my breast,
Shouts with the winds and sweeps to their foray;
My heart bounds with the horses of the sea,
And plunges in the wild ride of the night,
Flaunts in the teeth of tempest the large glee
That rides out Fate and welcomes gods to fight.
Ho, love, I laugh aloud for love of you,
Glad that our love is fellow to rough weather,—
No fretful orchid hothoused from the dew,
But hale and hardy as the highland heather,
Rejoicing in the wind that stings and thrills,
Comrade of ocean, playmate of the hills.

And that other sonnet, “Faith and Fate,” with its Valkyr spirit, and
its words like ringing hoofbeats:

To horse, my dear, and out into the night!
Stirrup and saddle and away, away!
Into the darkness, into the affright,
Into the unknown on our trackless way!

And closing with one of his finest lines—

East, to the dawn, or west or south or north!
_Loose rein upon the neck of Fate—and forth!_

What valor in that line—“Loose rein upon the neck of Fate—and forth!”
This is the typical mood, but I cannot refrain, before considering the
last phase of his work, the dramas, from quoting another sonnet in
another mood, because of its beauty and its revelation of the
spiritual side of his nature:

My love for thee doth take me unaware,
When most with lesser things my brain is wrought,
As in some nimble interchange of thought
The silence enters, and the talkers stare.
Suddenly I am still and thou art there,
A viewless visitant and unbesought,
And all my thinking trembles into nought,
And all my being opens like a prayer.
Thou art the lifted Chalice in my soul,
And I a dim church at the thought of thee;
Brief be the moment, but the mass is said,
The benediction like an aureole
Is on my spirit, and shuddering through me
A rapture like the rapture of the dead.

“The Quest of Merlin,” Hovey’s first incursion into drama, and indeed
one of his earliest works, having been issued in 1891, is most
illustrative of his defects and least of his distinctions. It is
unnecessary to the subsequent dramas, though serving as an
introduction to them, and has in itself very little constructive
congruity. In the songs of the fairies, the dryads, the maenads, there
is often a delicate airy beauty; but the metrical lapses throughout
the drama are so frequent as to detract from one’s pleasure in the
verse. This criticism is much less apposite to the subsequent works of
the cycle.

Hovey’s Arthurian dramas must be judged by the manner rather than
motif, by the situations through which he develops the well-known
story, and the dramatic beauty and passion of the dialogue, since the
theme is his only as he makes it his by the art of his adaptation. He
has given us the Arthur of Malory, and not of Tennyson, the Arthur of
a certain early intrigue with Morgance, the Queen of Orkney, outlived
in all save its effect, that of bitterness and envy cherished by her
against the young Queen Guinevere, and made use of as one of the
motives of the drama.

While Tennyson’s Arthur, until the final great scene with Guinevere in
the convent, and Bedivere by the lake, has a lay-figure personality,
placidly correct, but unconvincing,—in these scenes, and in the
general ideal of the Round Table, as developed by Tennyson, there is
such profound spiritual beauty that Arthur has come to dwell in a
nebulous upper air, as of the gods. It is a shock, then, to see him
brought down to earth, as he is in Hovey’s dramas. However, the lapses
are but referred to as incidental to the plot, not occurring during
its action, and Arthur becomes to us a human, magnanimous personality,
commanding sympathy, if he does not dominate the imagination as does
Tennyson’s hero. The handicap under which any poet labors who makes
use of these legends, even though vitalizing them with a new touch,
and approaching them from a new standpoint, is that the Tennyson
touch, the Tennyson standpoint, has so impressed itself upon the
memory that comparison is inevitable.

The fateful passion of Lancelot and Guinevere is enveloped by Tennyson
in a spiritual atmosphere; but in the dramas of Hovey, while
delicately approached, it lacks that elevation by which alone it lives
as a soul-tragedy, and not as an intrigue. There is, indeed, a strife
for loyalty on the part of Lancelot, when he returns from a chivalrous
quest and learns that the King’s bride is his unknown Lady of the
Hills; but it is soon overborne by Galahault’s assurance that Arthur
is to Guinevere—

A mere indifferent, covenanted thing,

and that she

Is as virgin of the thought of love
As winter is of flowers.

Ere this declaration, Lancelot, in conflict with himself, had
exclaimed:

Oh, Galahault, for love of my good name,
Pluck out your sword and kill me, for I see
Whate’er I do it will be violence—
To soul or body, others or myself!

But to Galahault’s subtle arguments he opposes an ever-weakening will,
and seeing the Queen walking in the garden, exquisite in beauty,

As if a rose grew on a lily’s stem,
So blending passionate life and stately mien,—

he is persuaded to seek her, and, ere the close of the interview, half
confessions have orbed to full acknowledgment by each. The scene is
artistically handled, especially in the ingenuous simplicity of
Guinevere.

Hovey occasionally makes the mistake of robbing some vital utterance
of its dramatic value by interlarding it with ornament. True emotion
is not literary, and Guinevere, meeting Lancelot alone at the lodge of
Galahault, for the first time after their mutual confession, having
come hither disguised and by a perilous course, would scarcely have
chosen these decorative words:

Oh, do not jar with speech
This perfect chord of silence!—Nay, there needs
Thy throat’s deep music. Let thy lips drop words
Like pearls between thy kisses;

and Lancelot, of the overmastering passion, would scarcely have
babbled this reply:

Thy speech breaks
Against the interruption of my lips
Like the low laughter of a summer brook
Over perpetual pebbles.

But when the crisis of the play is reached, when the court is rife
with rumors of the Queen’s disloyalty, and Lancelot and Guinevere,
under imminent shadow of exposure, meet by chance in the throne
room,—there is drawn a vital, moving picture, one whose art lies in
revealing the swift transition from impulse to impulse through which
one passes when making great decisions. First, the high light is
thrown upon the stronger side of Guinevere, in such meditative
passages as these, tinged with a melancholy beauty:

We have had a radiant dream; we have beheld
The trellises and temples of the South,
And wandered in the vineyards of the Sun:—
’Tis morning now; the vision fades away
And we must face the barren norland hills.

_Lancelot._ And must this be?

_Guinevere._ Nay, Lancelot, it is.
How shall we stand alone against the world?

_Lancelot._ More lonely in it than against!
What’s the world to us?

_Guinevere._ The place in which we live.
We cannot slip it from us like a garment,
For it is like the air—if we should flee
To the remotest steppes of Tartary,
Arabia, or the sources of the Nile,—
It still is there, nor can it be eluded
Save in the airless emptiness of death.

And fortressed with resolve, she speaks of war, of rending the
kingdom, of violating friendships, of desecrating the family bond, to
all of which Lancelot opposes his own desires:

And I—
I, too, defend it when it _is_ a family,
As I would kneel before the sacred Host
When through the still aisles sounds the sacring bell;
But if a jester strutted through the forms
And turned the holy Mass into a mock,
Would I still kneel, or would I rise in anger
And make an end of that foul mimicry?

This but adds strength to Guinevere’s argument,

Believest thou, then, the power of the Church?
The Church would give our love an ugly name.

_Lancelot._ Faith, I believe, and I do not believe.
The shocks of life oft startle us to thought,
Rouse us from acquiescence and reveal
That what we took for credence was but custom.

_Guinevere._ You are Arthur’s friend, your love—
Stands this within the honor of your friendship?

_Lancelot._ Mother of God—have you no pity?

_Guinevere._ I would
I could be pitiful, and yet do right.
Alas, how heavy—your tears move me more
Than all—(what am I saying? Dare I trust
So faint a heart? I must make turning back
Impossible);

and with a final resolve she adds:

But know the worst! I jested—
I—God!—I do not love you. Go! ’Twas all
Mockery—wanton cruelty—what you will—lechery!—
I—

(_Lancelot looks at her dumbly, then slowly turns to go. As he draws
aside the curtain of the doorway_—)

_Guinevere._ Lancelot!

_Lancelot._ What does the Queen desire?

_Guinevere._ Oh, no, I am not the Queen—I am
Your wife!
Take me away with you! Let me not lie
To you, of all—my whole life is a lie,
To one, at least, let it be truth. I—I—
O Lancelot, do you not understand?
I love you—Oh, I cannot let you go!

This swift change of front, this weakening, this inconsistency, is yet
so human, so subtly true to life, under such a phase of it, that the
entire scene vibrates with emotion which gathers force in the
declaration of Guinevere:

Love, I will fly with thee where’er thou wilt!

and reaches its climax in the sudden strength with which Lancelot
meets the Queen’s weakness. During her pleading that he should leave
her, his selfish wish had been uppermost; but her weakness recalls him
to himself and evokes his latent loyalty to the King:

Speak not of flight; I have played him
False—the King, my friend.
I ne’er can wipe that smirch away.
At least I will not add a second shame
And blazon out the insult to the world.

And Guinevere, casting about for her own justification, replies:

What I have given thee was ne’er another’s.
How has another, then, been wronged?

To which Lancelot:

What’s done
Is done, nor right nor wrong, as help me, Heaven,
Would I undo it if I could. But more
I will not do. I will not be the Brutus
To stab with mine own hand my dearest friend.
It must suffice me that you love me, sweet,
And sometime, somewhere, somehow must be mine.
I know not—it may be in some dim land
Beyond the shadows, where the King himself,
Still calling me his friend, shall place your hand
In my hand, saying, “She was always thine.”

No surplusage, no interposition of the merely literary, cumbers this
scene, which immediately precedes the final one, in which Lancelot and
the Queen are publicly accused before the King, sitting with Guinevere
beside him on the throne.

The opportunity for a great dramatic effect is obvious; but through
the magnanimity of Arthur, in waiving the impeachment, and exonerating
from suspicion the Queen and Lancelot, the effect is not of the clash
and din order, in fact, it is anti-climax in action, the real climax
being a spiritual one whose subtlety would be lost on the average
audience.

Lancelot (half aside, partly to Guinevere and partly to himself):

Be less kingly, Arthur,
Or you will split my heart—not with remorse—
No, not remorse, only eternal pain!
Why, so the damned are!

Guinevere (half apart):

To the souls in hell
It is at least permitted to cry out.

Whatever one may think of the ethical side of the play as wrought out
by Hovey, there is no question of its human element. As a whole, “The
Marriage of Guenevere” leaves upon one a more concrete and vital
impression than do the other dramas of the cycle, though it has less
of action and intricacy of plot than the succeeding one, “The Birth of
Galahad,” and would probably, for stage purposes, be less effective.

The action of the latter play takes place chiefly with Arthur’s army
occupied in the siege of Rome, and unfolds an ingenious plot, turning
upon the capture of Dagonet, the Queen’s jester, who has been sent
with a letter to Lancelot, informing him of the birth of his son, and
announcing that Guinevere, having left the child with her friend, the
Princess Ylen, had set out to join the army. The Romans at once
conceive the plan of holding Dagonet; capturing the Queen for the
palace of Caesar; and giving to Lancelot the alternative of forsaking
Arthur, placing himself at the head of the army and becoming tributary
king of Britain, with Guinevere as his queen; or of being publicly
dishonored by the conveyance to Arthur of the incriminating letter.
All of which was artfully planned, and might have been executed as
artfully, had not Dagonet, the jester, in an act of jugglery, stolen
the Emperor’s cloak and escaped, and, in the guise of a scrivener,
attached himself to the service of a young poet of Caesar’s household.

Guinevere is captured by the Romans, and after many unsuccessful
machinations on Caesar’s part to subdue her to his will, and on the
part of his advisers to win Lancelot to their ends, the letter, which
may, according to the law of Britain, bring death to the Queen and
banishment to Lancelot, is given to Dagonet to copy for Caesar, and is
burned by the jester with the taper given him to heat the waxen
tablet. Then comes on apace the sacking of Rome by Arthur; the taking
of the city; the rescue of Guinevere by Lancelot; the slaying of
Caesar and the crowning of Arthur as Emperor of Rome with Guinevere as
Empress. The scene closes with the entrance of a messenger with
letters from Merlin, to Arthur and Guinevere, scanning which the Queen
says apart to Lancelot:

All’s well with him.

Thus ends the drama, again with no suspicion on the part of Arthur
that his faith has been betrayed, and with no remorse on the part of
Guinevere at having betrayed it, only increasing joy in the love of
Lancelot. It is Lancelot himself who has the conflict, and in his
character lies the strength of the drama.

It is evident that Hovey intended to create a flesh-and-blood Arthur,
to eliminate the sanctimonious and retain the ideal; but the task
proved too difficult, and after opening the reader’s eyes to the human
weaknesses of the King, thereby inflicting a shock, he returns to the
other extreme, lifts him again into upper air, and leaves him abstract
and unconvincing. Lancelot, on the contrary, if too palpably human at
the start, grows into a more spiritual ideal, and when for the first
time he meets Guinevere transfigured with maternal joy, he greets her
with these exquisite words:

How great a mystery you seem to me
I cannot tell. You seem to have become
One with the tides and night and the unknown.
My child … your child … whence come? By
What strange forge
Wrought of ourselves and dreams and the great deep
Into a life? I feel as if I stood
Where God had passed by, leaving all the place
Aflame with him.

And again he says,

The strangeness is
That I, who have not borne him, am aware,
I, too, of intimacy with his soul.

The dramas abound in quotable passages, nor are they lacking in those
that make the judicious grieve. The work is unequal; but as a whole it
lives in the imagination, and remains in the memory, especially “The
Marriage of Guenevere,” in that twilight of the mind where dwell all
mystic shapes of hapless lovers.

The last of the dramatic cycle, “The Masque of Taliesin,” is regarded
by most of Mr. Hovey’s critics as the high-water mark of his verse,
and it has certainly some of the purest song of his pen, and
profoundest in thought and conception; but it has also passages of
unresolved metaphysics, whose place, unless the poet had the patience
to shape them to a finer issue, should be in a Greek philosophy.

The Masque turns upon the quest of the Graal by Percival, and is in
three scenes, or movements, set in the forest of Broceliande, Helicon,
and the Chapel of the Graal. It introduces the Muses, Merlin, Apollo,
Nimue, King Evelac, guardian of the Graal, and lesser mortals and
deities, but chief in interest, Taliesin, a bard, through whom are
spoken the finest passages of the play. As the work is cast in the
form of a Masque, to obviate the need of adhering to a strict dramatic
structure, one may dispense with a summary of its slight plot, and
look, instead, at the verse.

The passages spoken by Apollo to Taliesin, in other words, Inspiration
defining itself to the poet, are full of glowing thought:

Greaten thyself to the end, I am he for whose breath thou art
greatened;
Perfect thy speech to a god’s, I am he for whom speech is made
perfect;
And my voice in the hush of thy heart is the voice of the tides of
the worlds.
Thou shalt know it is I when I speak, as the foot knows the rock that
it treads on,
As the sea knows the moon, as the sap knows the place of the sun in
the heavens,
As the cloud knows the cloud it must meet and embrace with caresses
of lightning.
When thou hearest my voice, thou art one with the hurl of the stars
through the void,
One with the shout of the sea and the stampede of droves of the wind,
One with the coursers of Time and the grip of God’s hand on their
harness;
And the powers of the night and the grave shall avail not to stand
in thy path.

Genius and its invincible assurance could scarcely be defined better
than in this passage.

The Masque contains a litany spoken by King Evelac, and responded to
by the choristers at the Chapel of Graal, which is one of its
achievements, in point of beauty, though too long to quote, and lyrics
of great delicacy are scattered throughout the work; but in the more
spiritual passages, spoken chiefly by Taliesin, one gets the finer
quality of the verse, as in this noble query addressed to Uriel, the
angel who holds the flaming sword before the Graal:

Thou who beholdest God continually,
Doth not his light shine even on the blind
Who feel the flood they lack the sense to see?
The lark that seeks him in the summer sky
Finds there the great blue mirror of his soul;
Winged with the dumb need of he knows not what,
He finds the mute speech of he knows not whom.
Is not the wide air, after the cocoon,
As much God as the moth-soul can receive?
Doth not God give the child within the womb
Some guess to set him groping for the world,
Some blurred reflection answering his desire?
We, shut in this blue womb of doming sky,
Guess and grope dimly for the vast of God,
And, eyeless, through some vague, less perfect sense,
Strive for a sign of what it is to see.

Had one space to follow Mr. Hovey’s philosophy in the more
metaphysical passages, though fashioned less artistically, the
individuality of his thought in its subtler and more speculative
phases would be revealed, but to trace it adequately one must needs
have the volume before him, rather than such extracts as may be given
in a brief study. I must therefore, in taking leave of his work,
content myself with citing the exultant lines with which the volume
closes, the splendid death-song lifting one on the wave of its
ecstatic feeling:

Unaware as the air of the light that fills full all its girth,
Yet crowds not an atom of air from its place to make way;
Growing from splendor to splendor, from birth to birth,
As day to the rose of dawn from the earlier gray;
As day from the sunrise gold to the luminous mirth
Of morning, and brighter and brighter, till noon shall be;
Intense as the cling of the sun to the lips of the earth,
And cool as the call of a wind on the still of the sea,

Joy, joy, joy in the height and the deep;
Joy like the joy of a leaf that unfolds to the sun;
Joy like the joy of a child in the borders of sleep;
Joy like the joy of a multitude thrilled into one.

* * * * *

Stir in the dark of the stars unborn that desire
Only the thrill of a wild, dumb force set free,
Yearn of the burning heart of the world on fire
For life and birth and battle and wind and sea,
Groping of life after love till the spirit aspire,
Into Divinity ever transmuting the clod,
Higher and higher and higher and higher and higher
Out of the Nothingness world without end into God.

Man from the blindness attaining the succor of sight,
God from his glory descends to the shape we can see;
Life, like a moon, is a radiant pearl in the night
Thrilled with his beauty to beacon o’er forest and sea;
Life, like a sacrifice laid on the altar, delight
Kindles as flame from the air to be fire at its core!
Joy, joy, joy in the deep and the height!
Joy in the holiest, joy evermore, evermore!

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