Secluded,

IN nothing, more than in his attitude toward nature, does the modern
betray himself. Ours is the questioning age, the truth-seeking, the
scientific age; when, for illustration, Maeterlinck laid his
philosophy by to observe with infinite pains the habits of the bee and
to record, without the intrusion of too many deductions, the amazing
facts as nature passed them in review before his eyes,—he became the
naturalist-philosopher, selling days, not for speculations, but for
laws. To the poet also has come the desire which came to the
philosopher to demonstrate the truth within the beauty; to penetrate
to the finer law at the heart of things; in short, there has arisen
what one may term the poet-naturalist, and in the recent work of Mr.
Madison Cawein we have perhaps the most characteristic illustration
among our own poets of the younger school, of this phase of
nature-interpretation.

Before considering it, however, one must trace briefly Mr. Cawein’s
evolutionary steps through the haunted ways of nature in its
imaginative and romantic phases, which enthralled him first, by no
means wholly, but predominantly, and of which he has left many records
in his volume, _Myth and Romance_. Of the more artistic poems, worthy
to be put in comparison with his later work, there are several from
the opening group of the collection, as these picturesque lines
containing the query:

What wood-god, on this water’s mossy curb,
Lost in reflection of earth’s loveliness,
Did I, just now, unconsciously disturb?
I, who haphazard, wandering at a guess,
Came on this spot, wherein, with gold and flame
Of buds and blooms, the season writes its name.—
Ah me! could I have seen him ere alarm
Of my approach aroused him from his calm!
As he, part Hamadryad and, mayhap,
Part Faun, lay here; who left the shadow warm
As wild-wood rose, and filled the air with balm
Of his sweet breath as with ethereal sap.

Or from the same group these charming glimpses of “an unseen presence
that eludes”:—

Perhaps a Dryad, in whose tresses cling
The loamy odors of old solitudes,
Who, from her beechen doorway, calls;

* * * * *

Or, haply ’tis a Naiad now who slips,
Like some white lily, from her fountain’s glass,
While from her dripping hair and breasts and hips,
The moisture rains cool music on the grass.

* * * * *

Or now it is an Oread—whose eyes
Are constellated dusk—who stands confessed,
As naked as a flow’r; her heart’s surprise,
Like morning’s rose, mantling her brow and breast:
She, shrinking from my presence, all distressed
Stands for a startled moment ere she flies,
Her deep hair blowing, up the mountain crest,
Wild as a mist that trails along the dawn.
And is’t her footfalls lure me? or the sound
Of airs that stir the crisp leaf on the ground?
And is’t her body glimmers on yon rise?
Or dog-wood blossoms snowing on the lawn?

[Illustration: Madison Cawein]

Who shall deny both charm and accomplishment to these lines,
particularly to the glimpse of the dryad in her “beechen doorway,” but
on the next page of the same volume occurs this more realistic
apostrophe addressed to the “Rain-Crow,” giving a foretokening hint of
his later manner of observation, and who shall say that it has not a
truer charm and accomplishment?

Can freckled August,—drowsing warm and blonde
Beside a wheat-shock in the white-topped mead,
In her hot hair the oxeyed daisies wound,—
O bird of rain, lend aught but sleepy heed
To thee? when no plumed weed, no feather’d seed
Blows by her; and no ripple breaks the pond,
That gleams like flint between its rim of grasses,
Through which the dragonfly forever passes
Like splintered diamond.

Drouth weights the trees, and from the farmhouse eaves
The locust, pulse-beat of the summer day,
Throbs; and the lane, that shambles under leaves
Limp with the heat—a league of rutty way—
Is lost in dust; and sultry scents of hay
Breathe from the panting meadows heaped with sheaves—
Now, now, O bird, what hint is there of rain,
In thirsty heaven or on burning plain,
That thy keen eye perceives?

But thou art right. Thou prophesiest true.
For hardly hast thou ceased thy forecasting,
When, up the western fierceness of scorched blue,
Great water-carrier winds their buckets bring
Brimming with freshness. How their dippers ring
And flash and rumble! lavishing dark dew
On corn and forestland, that, streaming wet,
Their hilly backs against the downpour set,
Like giants vague in view.

The butterfly, safe under leaf and flower,
Has found a roof, knowing how true thou art;
The bumble-bee, within the last half-hour,
Has ceased to hug the honey to its heart;
While in the barnyard, under shed and cart,
Brood-hens have housed.—But I, who scorned thy power,
Barometer of the birds,—like August there,—
Beneath a beech, dripping from foot to hair,
Like some drenched truant, cower.

This, however, is airy imagination as compared with the naturalist
fidelity of much of Mr. Cawein’s work in _Weeds by the Wall_, _A Voice
on the Wind_, and in _Kentucky Poems_,—to which Mr. Edmund Gosse
contributes a sympathetic introduction,—books chiefly upon nature,
occasionally reverting to the mythological or more imaginative phase
of the subject, but in the main set to reveal the fact, with its aura
of beauty; for it is never the purely elemental side of a
nature-manifestation that presents itself to Mr. Cawein, but always
the fact haloed by its poetic penumbra. Indeed, the limitation of his
earlier work lay in the excess of fancy over reflection and art; but
his growth has been away from the romantic toward the realistic and
individual, and upon this side its best assurance for the future is
given. Mr. Cawein has yet far too facile a pen not to be betrayed by
it into excesses both of production and fancy. He writes too much to
keep to the standard set in his best work of the past two or three
years, and lacks still to a great degree the self-scrutiny which would
reject much that he includes; but granting all this, it must be
apparent to any reader of his work that he is not a singer making
verse for diversion, but one to whom poetry is the very breath of his
spirit, one who lives by this air, and can by no other; and while it
is one thing to be driven through vision-haunted days by beauty’s
urgence and unrest, and another to body forth the vision in the calm;
one thing to have had the mystery whispered by a thousand wordless
voices, and another to communicate it in terms of revealing truth—it
is notable in Mr. Cawein’s verse that he is teaching his hand to obey
him more surely each year, and is producing work that quickens one’s
perception of the world without, and adds to his sum of beauty. It is
serious work, work with purpose, and while its fancy still runs at
times to the fantastic, it shows so marked a growth in technique and
spirit from year to year that one may well let to-morrow take care of
to-morrow with a poet who brings to his art the ideal which inspires
Mr. Cawein.

To return, then, to his distinctive field, Kentucky, and his
characteristic note of nature, one observes that a hand-book of the
flora of his state could doubtless be compiled from his poems, so do
they leave the beaten path in their range of observation; but it would
be a botany plus imagination and sympathy, analysts keener than
microscopes, and in it would be recorded the habits of the bluet, the
jewel-weed, the celandine, the black-cohosh, the bell-flower, the
lobelia, the elecampane, the oxalis, the touch-me-not, the
Indian-pipe, and many another unused to hear its name rehearsed in
song.

One follows the feet of September to the forest

Windowed wide with azure, doored with green,
Through which rich glimmers of her robe were seen—
Now, like some deep marsh-mallow, rosy gold;
Now like the great Joe-Pye-weed, fold on fold
Of heavy mauve; and now, like the intense
Massed iron-weed, a purple opulence;

or wanders under the Hunter’s Moon to watch the frost spirits

… with fine fingers, phantom-cold,
Splitting the wahoo’s pods of rose, and thin
The bittersweet’s balls o’ gold
To show the coal-red berries packed within.

Autumn is apparently, however, little to his liking, and in his
attitude toward it he reveals the Southerner; for it is not only
Kentucky flora and fauna, but Kentucky climate which Mr. Cawein
celebrates, treating Autumn not with the buoyancy that to a Northerner
renders it a season of lusty infection, but almost wholly in its
aspect of sadness. In his volume called _Undertones_ he has a group of
poems upon the withdrawing year, sounding only this note, which is the
prevalent one when touching upon the same theme in his other volumes.
He glimpses

… the Fall
Like some lone woman in a ruined hall
Dreaming of desolation and the shroud;
Or through decaying woodlands goes, down-bowed,
Hugging the tatters of her gipsy shawl;

and speaks elsewhere of

… the days gray-huddled in the haze;
Whose foggy footsteps drip.

Winter is encountered with far scantier cheer, and rarely receives the
grace of salutation, as its face appears dire and malevolent to this
lover of the sun. To follow Mr. Cawein’s work with such a purpose in
view would be to present an interesting study in climatic psychology,
for though no mention were made of the section in which he writes, the
internal evidence is sufficient to localize the poems. Not alone the
gracious side of the Southern summer is presented, but the fearful
time of drouth when

The hot sunflowers by the glaring pike
Lift shields of sultry brass; the teasel tops,
Pink-thorned, advance with bristling spike on spike
Against the furious sunlight. Field and copse
Are sick with summer: now, with breathless stops,
The locusts cymbal; now grasshoppers beat
Their castanets: and rolled in dust, a team,—
Like some mean life wrapped in its sorry dream,—
An empty wagon rattles through the heat.

This is vivid picturing and a fine touch of realism fused with
imagination which compares the team rolled in dust to

“Some mean life wrapped in its sorry dream.”

Immediately following the poem upon “Drouth,” of which there are
several stanzas sketched with minuteness, occurs one entitled “Before
the Rain,” opening with these pictorial lines:

Before the rain, low in the obscure east,
Weak and morose the moon hung, sickly gray;
Around its disc the storm mists, cracked and creased,
Wove an enormous web, wherein it lay
Like some white spider hungry for its prey.
Vindictive looked the scowling firmament,
In which each star, that flashed a dagger ray,
Seemed filled with malice of some dark intent.

The moon caught in its creased web of storm mists is another
well-visioned image. Mr. Cawein carries the record on to a third poem,
picturing the “Broken Drouth;” all are notable for the infusion of
atmosphere,—climatic atmosphere, in this case; and indeed of this
palpable sort there is plenty, infused into words that fairly parch
the page in such poems as “Heat,” or “To the Locust,” which give
abundant evidence that Mr. Cawein knows whereof he speaks and is not
supposing a case. The stanzas to “The Grasshopper” will deepen this
conviction when one looks them up in the volume called _Weeds by the
Wall_.

Mr. Cawein has poems in celebration of many other of the creatures
whom he links in fellowship with man in his keenly observant verse.
“The Twilight Moth,” “The Leaf Cricket,” “The Tree Toad,” “The
Chipmunk,” and even the despised “Screech-Owl,” are observed and
celebrated with impartial sympathy and love. He shelters in the wood
during a summer rain to learn where each tiny fellow of the earth and
air bestows himself, and notes that the “lichen-colored moths” are
pressed “like knots against the trunks of trees;” that the bees are
wedged like “clots of pollen” in hollow blooms, and that the “mantis,
long-clawed, furtive, lean,” and the dragonfly are housed together
beneath the wild-grape’s leaves and gourds. Each creature’s haunt,
’neath rock or root, or frail roof-bloom, is determined as a
naturalist might lie in wait during the summer storm to record for
Science’s sake each detail of this forest tenantry. Imagination has,
however, touched it to beauty, while losing none of the fidelity.

To the “Twilight Moth,” “gnome wrought of moonbeam fluff and
gossamer,” he addresses in another poem these delicate lines:

Dusk is thy dawn; when Eve puts on her state
Of gold and purple in the marbled west,
Thou comest forth like some embodied trait,
Or dim conceit, a lily-bud confessed;
Or, of a rose, the visible wish; that, white,
Goes softly messengering through the night,
Whom each expectant flower makes its guest.

All day the primroses have thought of thee,
Their golden heads close-haremed from the heat;
All day the mystic moonflowers silkenly
Veiled snowy faces,—that no bee might greet
Or butterfly that, weighed with pollen, passed;—
Keeping Sultana charms for thee, at last,
Their lord, who comest to salute each sweet.

Cool-throated flowers that avoid the day’s
Too fervid kisses; every bud that drinks
The tipsy dew and to the starlight plays
Nocturnes of fragrance, thy winged shadow links
In bonds of secret brotherhood and faith;
O bearer of their order’s shibboleth,
Like some pale symbol fluttering o’er these pinks.

The final line of this stanza has a certain thinness, and in that
above, the ending which turns “sweet” to a noun is too evidently a
matter of expediency; but with these exceptions the stanzas are
charming, as are the unquoted ones following them. Before turning to
other phases of Mr. Cawein’s work, here is a glimpse of the “Tree
Toad,” pictured with quaint delicacy and fancy:

Secluded, solitary on some underbough,
Or cradled in a leaf, ’mid glimmering light,
Like Puck thou crouchest: haply watching how
The slow toad stool comes bulging, moony white,
Through loosening loam; or how, against the night,
The glow-worm gathers silver to endow
The darkness with; or how the dew conspires
To hang at dusk with lamps of chilly fires
Each blade that shrivels now.

* * * * *

Continue Reading

MADISON CAWEIN

Minstrel of moisture! silent when high noon
Shows her tanned face among the thirsting clover
And parching meadows, thy tenebrious tune
Wakes with the dew or when the rain is over.
Thou troubadour of wetness and damp lover
Of all cool things! admitted comrade boon
Of twilight’s hush, and little intimate
Of eve’s first fluttering star and delicate
Round rim of rainy moon!

Art trumpeter of Dwarfland? does thy horn
Inform the gnomes and goblins of the hour
When they may gambol under haw and thorn,
Straddling each winking web and twinkling flower?
Or bell-ringer of Elfland? whose tall tower
The liriodendron is? from whence is borne
The elfin music of thy bell’s deep bass
To summon fairies to their starlit maze,
To summon them or warn.

What a happy bit of realism is that of the toadstool “bulging, moony
white, through loosening loam”! The second of the stanzas may be too
Keats-like in atmosphere to have been achieved with unconsciousness of
the fact, be that as it may, it is a bit of sheer beauty, as the last
is of dainty fancy.

But nature, either realistically or romantically, is not all that Mr.
Cawein writes of, though it must be said that his verse upon other
themes is so largely tinctured with his nature passion that one rarely
comes upon a poem whose illustrations are not drawn more or less from
this source, making it difficult to find lyrics wholly upon other
themes. Because of his opulent metrical variety, Mr. Cawein is less
lyrical than as if he sang in simpler measures. His lyrics, indeed,
are in the main his least distinguished work, having frequently, if
highly musical, too slight a motive; or if more consequent in motive,
not being sufficiently musical; or the melody may be unimpeachable and
the theme too romantic to have convincing value, as “Mignon,” “Helen,”
“The Quest,” “Floridian,” etc. Indeed, Mr. Cawein sounds the
troubadour note all too frequently in his lyrical love poems, which
are not without a lightsome grace of phrase and fancy, as becomes this
style of verse; but it is likely to be a superficial note, heard but
to be forgotten. He can, however, strike a deeper chord, as in the
poem called “The End of All,” or in that from an earlier volume,
bringing a poignant undertone in its strong, calm utterance, beginning

Go your own ways. Who shall persuade me now
To seek with high face for a star of hope?

and ending,

Though sands be black and bitter black the sea,
Night lie before me and behind me night,
And God within far Heaven refuse to light
The consolation of the dawn for me,—
Between the shadowy bourns of Heaven and Hell,
It is enough love leaves my soul to dwell
With memory.

In such notes as these controlled by the Vox Humana stop, Mr. Cawein
best reveals himself; another, coming from the heart rather than the
fancy, is “Nightshade,” from the volume called _Intimations of the
Beautiful_, a record of life’s bringing to judgment the late-proffered
love, unyielded when desired.

“A Wild Iris” is in the later and finer manner, but although love is
the spirit of the song, it is embodied chiefly in terms of nature, and
would not reveal a different phase of his work from that already
shown. This, too, is the case with the two lighter lyrics, “Love In A
Day” and “In The Lane,” each with a most taking measure; the second a
rural song lilting into this note:

When the hornet hangs in the hollyhock,
And the brown bee drones i’ the rose,
And the west is a red-streaked four-o’-clock,
And summer is near its close—
It’s—Oh, for the gate and the locust lane
And dusk and dew and home again!

Mr. Cawein has frequent poems in celebration of the farm, not only its
picturesque cheer, but its dignity and finer idealism. “A Song For
Labor” is one of the best; also “Old Homes,” an idyllic picture of the
Southern plantation, with its gentle haze of reminiscence:

Old homes among the hills! I love their gardens,
Their old rock-fences, that our day inherits;
Their doors, ’round which the great trees stand like wardens;
Their paths, down which the shadows march like spirits;
Broad doors and paths that reach bird-haunted gardens.

I see them gray among their ancient acres,
Severe of front, their gables lichen-sprinkled,—
Like gentle-hearted, solitary Quakers,
Grave and religious, with kind faces wrinkled,—
Serene among their memory-hallowed acres.

Their gardens, banked with roses and with lilies—
Those sweet aristocrats of all the flowers—
Where Springtime mints her gold in daffodillies,
And Autumn coins her marigolds in showers,
And all the hours are toilless as the lilies.

* * * * *

Old homes! old hearts! Upon my soul forever
Their peace and gladness lie like tears and laughter;
Like love they touch me, through the years that sever,
With simple faith; like friendship, draw me after
The dreamy patience that is theirs forever.

Mr. Cawein blends the mood and the picture in the simple tenderness of
these lines, with their unstriving felicity. Kentucky’s more strenuous
side also finds a chronicler in his verse: the tragedies of its
mountains are told in one of the earlier volumes in such poems as “The
Moonshiner,” “The Raid,” and “Dead Man’s Run;” and in _Weeds by the
Wall_, in that graphic poem “Feud,” sketching with the pencil of a
realist the road to the spot

… where all the land
Seems burdened with some curse,

and where, sunk in obliterative growth of briers, burrs, and ragweed,
stands the

… huddled house
Where men have murdered men,

and where a terrified silence still broods, for

The place seems thinking of that time of fear
And dares not breathe a sound.

Mr. Howells, in an appreciation of Mr. Cawein’s work, after the
appearance of _Weeds by the Wall_, spoke of this poem declaring that
“What makes one think he will go far and long, and outlive both praise
and blame, is the blending of a sense of the Kentucky civilization in
such a poem as ‘Feud.’ Civilization may not be quite the word for the
condition of things suggested here, but there can be no doubt of the
dramatic and the graphic power that suggests it, and that imparts a
personal sense of the tragic squalor, the sultry drouth, the forlorn
wickedness of it all.” His poem “Ku Klux,” in a volume published some
time ago, is no less dramatic in touch and theme. Mr. Cawein knows how
to set his picture; the ominous portent of the night in which the dark
deed is done would be understood from these three lines alone:

The clouds blow heavy towards the moon.
The edge of the storm will reach it soon.
The kildee cries and the lonesome loon.

It may be said of Mr. Cawein’s work in general that it shows him to be
alert to impression, and gives abundant evidence that life presents
itself to him abrim with suggestion. Occasionally, as mentioned above,
he wanders too far into the romantic, or yields to the rhyming impulse
in a fallow time of thought; but when he throws this facile poetizing
by, and betakes himself to nature and life in the capacity of observer
and analyst, he produces work notable for its strength, fidelity, and
beauty. Metrically, in his earlier work he was influenced by various
poets he had read too well. “Intimations of the Beautiful,” occupying
a part of the volume bearing that name, would be one of his best
efforts, in thought and imaginative charm, were it not written in a
form developed from “In Memoriam,” so that one is haunted by the
metrical echo. The poem is devoted to interpretations of life and the
spirit, through nature; and has not a division without some revelation
from that book of the earth which Mr. Cawein has made his gospel. Its
observations, while couched in imagery that now and again tends to the
over-fanciful, are in the main consistent and artistic.

In his recent books, however, he adventures upon his way, seeing
wholly by the light of his own eyes, and portraying by the skill of
his own hand, so that his work has taken on personality and
individuality with each succeeding volume.

Its breath from the bourns of meadow and woodland brings with it a
stimulating fragrance, and one closes a book by Mr. Cawein, feeling
that he has been in some charmed spot under Southern skies where

Of honey and heat and weed and wheat
The day had made perfume.

Continue Reading

EDITH M. THOMAS

AN earnest idealist is Miss Edith Thomas, who commits to her song a
vital word and sends it as a courier to arouse that drowsy
lodge-keeper, the soul, and bid him give ear to the importunate
message of life. Not by outwardly strenuous numbers, however, is this
end achieved; on the contrary, Miss Thomas is a quiet singer whose
thoughtful restraint is one of her chief distinctions. The spiritual
tidings which she intrusts to her song are destined to be delivered in
the silence of the soul; none the less are they sent to awaken it, and
none the less do they bide and knock at the door of one’s spirit until
one rise and open to them.

The ideality of her work has been from the outset its most informing
quality; the thoughts beyond the thrall of words that pass, in
Maeterlinck’s phrase, “like great white birds, across the heart,” had
brushed with their unsullied wings the thoughts of every-day and left
a light upon them, giving assurance, when the art was still unshapen,
that the vision had been revealed. One seldom reads a poem by Miss
Thomas without bringing away from it a suggestive thought or a
spiritual stimulus, sometimes introduced so subtly that it breaks upon
one in the after-light of memory rather than at the moment of reading;
for Miss Thomas is not a homiletic singer, obtruding the moral. She is
too much the artist for that. She delivers no crass counsel, does no
obvious and commonplace moralizing; but she has the nature that
resolves every phase of life into its spiritual elements, and, seen
imaginatively, these elements are material for Art. When once they are
wrought into song by Miss Thomas, they have lost none of the force of
the original idea, none of the thought-giving value; but into them has
been infused the spiritual value in a subtly philosophical way, by
which the experience is resolved into its personal import to the soul.

Miss Thomas has written many beautiful lyrics, but her characteristic
expression is too thoughtful to be set to the lighter and more purely
musical rhythms. She has a finely cultivated style, inventive in form,
and often employing richly cadenced measures, but one feels rather
that the cadence is well tested, the form well fitted to the theme,
than that the impulse created its own form and sang itself into being.
One cannot, however, generalize upon such varied work as that of Miss
Thomas. Because one feels back of the work the thinker, the analyst,
weighing even the emotion in the balance of reflection, is not to say
that the work is cold or unemotional; on the contrary, it is deeply
human and sympathetic, and in such inspirations as are drawn directly
from life it is often highly impassioned; but in many of the poems the
motive is drawn from some classic source, such as, “At Seville,”
“Ulysses at the Court of Alcinous,” “The Roses of Pieria,” “Timon to
the Athenians,” “The Voice of the Laws,” being Socrates’ reply to
Crito,—and while each of these poems, and particularly the last, has
both beauty and strength, they naturally lack the warmth and impulse
that accompany more personal themes.

As compared with the large body of Miss Thomas’ work, that for which
the inspiration has been sought far afield is slight; but it is
sufficient to set the mark of deliberate intent upon many of the poems
and detract from the spontaneity of the work as a whole. Miss Thomas
is so accomplished and ready a technician that the temptation to
utilize such allusions and themes from literature as have artistic
possibilities, is a strong one; nor is it one to be deprecated, except
in the ultimate tendency that one shall let the inspiration from
without take precedence of that within, thus quenching one’s own
creative faculty. With Miss Thomas such a result is far distant, if
not impossible, for life is to her the vital reality, and the majority
of her themes are drawn from its passing drama; but there is also the
other phase of her art, and a sufficiently prominent one to be noted.
Her work falls under two distinct heads,—poetry of the intellect and
poetry of the heart,—and while her most emotional verse has a fine
subtlety of thought, and her most intellectual a subtlety of emotion,
making them not crassly one or the other, none the less is the
distinction apparent, and it is easy to put one’s hand upon the work
into which her own temperament has entered and which her creative
moods have shaped. Upon Art itself she has written some of her most
luminous poems, holding genius to be one with that force by which

The blossom and the sod
Feel the unquiet God,

and exclaiming to a doubting votary,

Despair thine art!
Thou canst not hush those cries,
Thou canst not blind those eyes,
Thou canst not chain those feet,
But they a path shall beat
Forth from thine heart.
Forth from thine heart!
There wouldst thou dungeon him,
In cell both close and dim—
The key he turns on thee,
And out he goeth free!
Despair thine art!

In her poem, “The Compass,” she carries the reasoning farther, and
declares that if one is to wait upon the Force within and give it
freedom, he shall also be trusted to follow where it leads, knowing
that if temporarily deflected it will adjust itself to the truth as
surely as the compass, thrown momentarily out of poise, searches and
finds its compelling attraction. Aside from the analogy in the lines,
the dignity of their movement, the harmonious fall of the cæsura, and
the fine blending of word and tone, render them highly artistic:

Touch but with gentlest finger the crystal that circles the Mariner’s
Guide—
To the East and the West how it drifts, and trembles, and searches on
every side!
But it comes to its rest, and its light lance poises only one self-same
way
Since ever a ship spread her marvellous sea-wings, or plunged her
swan-breast through the spray—
For North points the needle!

Ye look not alone for the sign of the lode-star; the lode-stone too
lendeth cheer;
Yet one in the heavens is established forever, and one is compelled
through the sphere.
What! and ye chide not the fluttering magnet that seemeth to fly its
troth,
Yet even now is again recording its fealty’s silent oath—
As North points the needle!

Praise ye bestow that, though mobile and frail as a tremulous spheret
of dew,
It obeys an imperial law that ye know not (yet know that it guideth
most true);
So, are ye content with its fugitive guidance—ye, but the winds’ and
waves’ sport!—
So, are ye content to sail by your compass, and come in fair hour to
your port;
For North points the needle!

And now, will ye censure, because, of compulsion, the spirit that
rules in this breast,
To show what a poet must show, was attempered, and touched with a
cureless unrest,
Swift to be moved with all human mutation, to traverse passion’s
whole range?
Mood succeeds mood, and humor fleets humor, yet never heart’s drift
can they change,
For North points the needle!

Inconstant I were to that Sovereign Bidding (why or whence given
unknown),
Failed I to tent the entire round of motive ere sinking back to my
own:
The error be yours, if ye think my faith erring or deem my allegiance
I fly;
I follow my law and fulfil it all duly—and look! when your doubt
runneth high—
North points the needle!

These lines illustrate Miss Thomas’ command of accurately descriptive
phrase: the compass is “mobile and frail as a tremulous spheret of
dew,” and touched never so lightly, “how it drifts, and trembles, and
searches on every side.” One feels that just these words, and no
others, convey at once the sense of its delicacy, and the almost
sentient instinct by which it seeks its attraction. Miss Thomas’
diction in general shows rather fineness of discrimination in the
expressive value of words than a strenuous attempt to seek out those
which are “literary” and inobvious. There is rarely a word that calls
undue attention to itself; but when a passage or poem is analyzed, one
cannot but note the fine sense of values in its phraseology. Her
diction has elegance without conventionality, but one would scarcely
say that it is highly temperamental. It is flexible, colorful,
picturesque, but has not so strong a note of personality that one
meeting a poem of Miss Thomas’ by chance would be able to identify it
by its evidence of word and phrase, as one may often do in the work of
a poet. Miss Thomas’ marked individuality is rather in the essence of
her work, its motive, mood, and thought, than in its distinctive
style, which is too varied to be recognized by its touch.

Now and again in her earlier work the influence of Emerson comes out
unmistakably. “A Reed Shaken With the Wind,” “Child and Poet,” and
“The Naturalist,” are distinctly Emersonian in manner and
atmosphere—the first especially so in its consecutive, unstanzaed
lines, and in the note pervading it. Whatever mannerisms of style Miss
Thomas acquired from Emerson were, however, quickly cast off; but with
his thought she could scarcely fail to have a continued kinship, if
not a debt, so much does her own work incline to the spiritually
philosophical. One may not trace influences at all definitely in her
work, though felt in its general enrichment and breadth. In
“Palingenesis,” from her last collection, she has done what poets
before her have done,—embody in song the theory of evolution; but it
has rarely been done better than in these stanzas, which seize the
spiritual side of the scientific fact and fuse it with the
imagination. It has been shudderingly foreboded that in this baldly
practical age the poet would come singing of science; but if he invest
it with the life and charm that pervade Miss Thomas’ incursion into
the realm, there is no immediate cause for alarm. Indeed, a scientific
truth, seen through the lens of a poet’s imagination, often takes on a
beauty that no conception of fancy could duplicate, witness Whitman’s
line:

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,

from a poem upon the same theme which inspires Miss Thomas’ stanzas:

I dwelt with the God, ere He fashioned the worlds with their heart
of fire,
Ere the vales sank down at His voice or He spake to the mountains,
“Aspire!”
Or ever the sea to dark heaven made moan in its hunger for light,
Or the four winds were born of the morning and missioned on various
flight.

In a fold of His garment I slept, without motion, or knowledge, or
skill,
While age upon age the thought of creation took shape at His will;

* * * * *

Part had I not in the scheme till He sent me to work on the reef.
Nude, in the seafoam, to clothe it with coralline blossom and leaf.
Patient I wrought—as a weaver that blindly plyeth the loom,
Nor knew that the God dwelt with me, there as I wrought in the gloom.

Strength had I not till chiefdom supreme of the waters He gave;
Joyous I went—tumultuous; the billows before me I drave—
Myself as a surge of the sea when impelled by the driving storm;
Nor knew that the God dwelt with me, there in leviathan’s form.

Lightness I had not till, decked with light plumes, He endued me with
speed—
Buoyant the hollow quill as the hollow stem of the reed!
And I gathered my food from the ooze, and builded my home at His word;
Nor knew that the God dwelt with me clothed in the garb of a bird.

I trod not the earth till on plains unmeasured He sent me to rove,
To taste of the sweetness of grass and the leaves of the summer grove.
For shelter He hollowed the cave; fresh springs in the rock He
unsealed;
But I knew not the God dwelt with me that ranged as a beast of the
field.
Foresight I had not, nor memory, nor vision that sweeps in the skies,
Till He made me man, and bade me uplift my marvelling eyes!
My hands I uplifted—my cries grew a prayer—on the green turf I knelt,
And knew that the God had dwelt with me wherever of old I had dwelt!

Wild is the life of the wave, and free is the life of the air,
And sweet is the life of the measureless pastures, unburdened of care;
They all have been mine, I upgather them all in the being of man,
Who knoweth, at last, that the God hath dwelt with him since all life
began!

My heritage draw I from these—I love tho’ I leave them behind;
But shall I not speak for the dumb, and lift up my sight for the
blind?
I am kin to the least that inhabits the air, the waters, the clod;
They wist not what bond is between us, they know not the Indwelling
God!
For under my hands alone the charactered Past hath He laid,
One moment to scan ere it fall like a scroll into ashes and fade!
Enough have I read to know and declare—my ways He willkeep,
If onward I go, or again in a fold of His garment I sleep!

There is no internal evidence in these strongly phrased and stirring
lines that a woman’s hand penned them; their vigor, grasp, and
resonant freedom of measure would do credit to Browning; and here one
may pause to observe the adaptability of Miss Thomas’ style to her
thought. In certain poems demanding the delicate airy touch, such as,
“Dew-Bells,” Titania herself could scarcely speak in lighter phrase,
nor could a tenderer, sweeter note be infused into a poem than has
been put into the lines: “The soul of the violet haunts me so,” or
into the poem incident to the query, “Is it Spring again in Ohio?”—but
when the thought demands virility of word and measure Miss Thomas has
a vivid energy of style, masculine in its force. One may argue that
there is no sex in poetry, that, coming close home for illustration, a
woman’s hand might have fashioned the work of Longfellow and Whittier;
but what of Lowell, Whitman, and Emerson? These names alone prove
sex-evidence in art; nor is any disparagement meant to Longfellow and
Whittier that their characteristic notes were of the gentler, sweeter
sort. We know they could be sufficiently robust upon occasion,
particularly the latter; but, in general, art obeys a temperamental
polarity giving evidence of the masculine or feminine mind that
produced it. Miss Thomas’ work in the main proves the woman, and the
typical woman, who has lived, suffered, joyed; drank, indeed, the
brimming beaker from the foam to the lees; but on her more
philosophical and intellectual side, in such poems as “The Voice of
the Laws,” or “The Flutes of the Gods” and in many others, she has all
a man’s virility. It is partly for this reason that her style is too
varied to be identified by a random poem, the temperamental
differences in the work are so marked, and the style changes so
entirely with them, as to elude classification under one head.

For one of her heartening notes and quick-step measures take
“Rank-And-File” from her last volume, _The Dancers_:

You might have painted that picture,
I might have written that song:
Not ours, but another’s, the triumph,
’Tis done and well done—so ’long!

You might have fought in the vanguard,
I might have struck at foul Wrong:
What matters whose hand was the foremost?
’Tis done and well done—so ’long!

So ’long, and into the darkness,
With the immemorial throng—
Foil to the few and the splendid:
All’s done and well done—so ’long!

Yet, as we pass, we will pledge them—
The bold, and the bright, and the strong,
(Ours was never black envy):
All’s done and well done—so ’long!

Miss Thomas is very keen to see what may be termed the subjectively
dramatic side of life,—all the subtlety of motive and impulse working
out of sight to shape the destiny, she sees with acute divination; but
constructively she lacks the dramatic touch. In “A Winter Swallow,”
her one definite incursion into this field, it cannot be said that she
has done such work as would represent her at her real value either in
the literary beauty of the lines, or in the insight displayed in the
characterization.

So short a dramatic effort, however, could scarcely do more than
indicate the likelihood or unlikelihood of Miss Thomas’ success in a
more sustained plot; and while a theme having in itself warmer
elements of sympathy would doubtless create for itself a more moving
and vital art, there is very little to indicate that the effort would
be wisely spent. One is inclined more fully to this opinion by the
lack of dramatic impulse in Miss Thomas’ narrative poem turning upon
the story of Genevra of the Amieri, she who woke by night from the
death-trance to find herself entombed in the powerful vault of her
ancestors, and, being spurned from her father’s and her husband’s
doors, as a haunting spirit, took refuge at that of her former lover,
to whom, being adjudged by the law as dead, she was reunited.

The mere skeleton of this story is palpitant with life; but in Miss
Thomas’ cultivated and beautiful recital, wherein the well-rounded,
suave pentameter falls never otherwise than richly on the ear, all the
vibrant, thrilling, terrifying elements of the story have been refined
away. When Genevra wakens in the tomb, and touches in the darkness the
human skeletons about her, and struggles to free herself from the
entangling cerements, and beats with superhuman strength at the
gratings until they yield to her hand, and to the outer stone until it
unseals at her terrified touch,—there are dramatic materials which
even history has infused with red blood; but either Miss Thomas does
not conceive the situation as having thrills and terrors, or has not
been able to impart them to her record, for she sums the matter up in
these two stanzas, illustrating, apparently, the Gentle Art of Being
Buried Alive:

And now she dreams she lies in marble rest
Within the Amieri’s chapel-tomb,
With hands laid idly on an idle breast.
How sweetly can the carven lilies bloom,
As they would soften her untimely doom….
Nay, living flowers are these that brush her cheek!
She starts awake amid the nether gloom,
From out dead swoon returning faint and weak;
No voice hath she, but none might hear her, could she speak.

Vaguely she reaches from her stony bed;
The blessed moonbeam, gliding underground,
Like angel ministrant from heaven sped,
To rescue one in frosty irons long bound,
Cheers her new-beating heart, till she has found
Recourse of memory and use of will.
Then soon her feet are on the ladder-round,
The stone above gives way to patient skill;
And now the wide night greets her, bright, and lone, and still.

The story of Genevra, as told by Miss Thomas, has often great beauty
of phrase, picturesque descriptive passages of Florentine life,
delicacy in the scene between the reunited lovers when Genevra seeks
Antonio’s gate, and fine pathos in the lines spoken by her father to
her supposed spirit returning to haunt him; in short, the poem has all
but the dramatic touch. The narrative force is lost in the poetic
elaboration.

But although Miss Thomas has not the outward art of the dramatist, she
has, as earlier stated, a keenly intuitive sense of the spiritually
dramatic in passing life. Upon love she has written with so keen a
psychology that certain of the poems probe to the quick of that source
of pain; for it is not the lighter phase, already so well celebrated,
that she sings, but oftener the fateful, the inexplicable. For
illustration, the poem, “They Said,” presents the caprice of love by
which (they say), it goes to those who hold it most lightly, spend it
most prodigally, flee it to entice it, and yet weave snares to detain
it. The thrust of these stanzas is as delicately keen as a rapier
point:

Because thy prayer hath never fed
Dark Atë with the food she craves;
Because thou dost not hate (they said),
Nor joy to step on foemen’s graves;
Because thou canst not hate, as we,
How poor a creature thou must be,
Thy veins as pale as ours are red!
Go to! Love loves thee not (they said).

Because by thee no snare was spread
To baffle Love—if Love should stray,
Because thou dost not watch (they said),
To strictly compass Love each way:
Because thou dost not watch, as we,
Nor jealous Care hath lodged with thee,
To strew with thorns a restless bed—
Go to! Love loves thee not (they said).

Because thy feet were not misled
To jocund ground, yet all infirm,
Because thou art not fond (they said),
Nor dost exact thine heyday term:
Because thou art not fond, as we,
How dull a creature thou must be,
Thy pulse how slow—yet shrewd thy head!
Go to! Love loves thee not (they said).

Because thou hast not roved to wed
With those to Love averse or strange,
Because thou hast not roved (they said),
Nor ever studied artful change:
Because thou hast not roved, as we,
Love paid no ransom rich for thee,
Nor, seeking thee, unwearied sped.
Go to! Love loves thee not (they said).

Ay, so! because thou thought’st to tread
Love’s ways, and all his bidding do,
Because thou hast not tired (they said),
Nor ever wert to Love untrue:
Because thou hast not tired, as we,
How tedious must thy service be;
Love with thy zeal is surfeited!
Go to! Love loves thee not (they said).

* * * * *

Every contradiction of passion is in this poem, and the very
refinement of satire, as well. In “The Domino,” Miss Thomas images,
with a pleasant humor, the various disguises under which one meets
Love, and symbolizes in “The Barrier” the infallible intuition, the
psychic sense, by which one feels a change not yet apparent.

“A Home-Thrust,” wherein the inconstant one betrays himself by his
doubt of another’s constancy, and “So It Was Decreed,” are also among
the psychological bits of delineation; but for the less penetrative
but sweeter and more memorable note, there are two short poems, “Vos
Non Vobis,” and “The Deep-Sea Pearl,” tender, human, sufficiently
universal to appeal to all and artistically wrought. The first records
that,

There was a garden planned in Spring’s young days,
Then, Summer held it in her bounteous hand;
And many wandered thro’ its blooming ways;
But ne’er the one for whom the work was planned.
And it was vainly done—
For what are many, if we lack the one?

There was a song that lived within the heart
Long time—and then on Music’s wing it strayed!
All sing it now, all praise its artless art;
But ne’er the one for whom the song was made.
And it was vainly done—
For what are many, if we lack the one?

The whole argument of Art versus Life is summed up in this poem. The
second lyric, of eight lines, is as delicate as the symbol it employs,
and globes within it, as the drop within the pearl, many a
life-history:

The love of my life came not
As love unto others is cast;
For mine was a secret wound—
But the wound grew a pearl, at last.

The divers may come and go,
The tides, they arise and fall;
The pearl in its shell lies sealed,
And the Deep Sea covers all.

It is in such poems as bring from the heart of life a certain poignant
strain that Miss Thomas is at her best. She is not a melancholy
singer, but her work is too deeply rooted in the pain and unrest of
life to be joyous. A certain longing, an almost impalpable sadness,
pervades much of her verse. Nevertheless, it is not so emphasized as
to be depressing, and, indeed, adds just the touch of personality by
which one treasures that which he feels has been fused in experience.
This pertains to the more intimate phases of Miss Thomas’ work. Upon
death she has written with deep feeling and insight,—feeling all too
vital to be analyzed, such as renders Spring the season

When that blithe, forerunning air
Breathes more hope than thou canst bear.

Nature is often, in her verse, as it must be to any sympathetic mind,
a keener source of pain than of pleasure, instinct as it is with
memories, and flaunting before one’s thwarted dreams the infallible
fulfilment of its hopes; yet she has for it an intense passion, and
enters into its most delicate and undefined moods with swift
comprehension.

“The Soul of the Violet,” previously referred to, is an illustration
in point, being a purely subjective treatment of a nature-suggestion.
When spring is yet too young for promise of bloom, and only in the
first respite from the snow,

The brown earth raises a wistful face—
Whenever about the fields I go,
The soul of the violet haunts me so!

I look—there is never a leaf to be seen;
In the pleachéd grass is no thread of green;
But I walk as one who would chide his feet
Lest they trample the hope of something sweet!
Here can no flower be blooming, I know—
Yet the soul of the violet haunts me so!

Again and again that thrilling breath,
Fresh as the life that is snatched out of death,
Keen as the blow that Love might deal
Lest a spirit in trance should outward steal—
So thrilling that breath, so vital that blow—
The soul of the violet haunts me so!

Is it the blossom that slumbers as yet
Under the leaf-mould dank and wet,

* * * * *

Or is it the flower shed long ago?
The soul of the violet haunts me so!

The subjective touch in the final couplet gives the key-note to the
poem.

Miss Thomas is indeed so subjective in her conception of some of the
profounder and more vital losses of life, the sense of the irrevocable
and irreparable is so keenly emphasized to her mind as to communicate
almost a hint of fatalism to certain of her poems, such as “Expiation”
and “A Far Cry To Heaven.” The latter is such an utterance, in its
impassioned tone, as might proceed from the lips of the Angel with the
Flaming Sword sent to bar one’s return to his desecrated Eden. The
ultimate effect of such a poem, however, is salutary, as the warning
outruns the scath, and one reading it will pay closer heed to the
import of the “white hour” of his life. On its technical side, the
poem has all the ease of an improvisation, and so at one are the metre
and thought that line succeeds line with a surge and a rhythm, as wave
follows wave to the shore:

What! dost thou pray that the outgone tide be rolled back on the
strand,
The flame be rekindled that mounted away from the smouldering brand,
The past-summer harvest flow golden through stubble-lands naked and
sere,
The winter-gray woods upgather and quicken the leaves of last year?—
Thy prayers are as clouds in a drouth; regardless, unfruitful, they
roll;
For this, that thou prayest vain things, ’tis a far cry to Heaven,
my soul,—
Oh, a far cry to Heaven!

Thou dreamest the word shall return, shot arrow-like into the air,
The wound in the breast where it lodged be balmed and closed for thy
prayer,
The ear of the dead be unsealed, till thou whisper a boon once
denied,
The white hour of life be restored, that passed thee unprized,
undescried!—
Thy prayers are as runners that faint, that fail, within sight of
the goal,
For this, that thou prayest fond things, ’tis a far cry to Heaven,
my soul,—
Oh, a far cry to Heaven!

And cravest thou fondly the quivering sands shall be firm to thy
feet,
The brackish pool of the waste to thy lips be made wholesome and
sweet?
And cravest thou subtly the bane thou desirest, be wrought to thy
good,
As forth from a poisonous flower a bee conveyeth safe food?
For this, that thou prayest ill things, thy prayers are an anger-rent
scroll;
The chamber of audit is closed,—’tis a far cry to Heaven, my soul,—
Oh, a far cry to Heaven!

For the strong, but aloe-tinctured draught of this poem, “Sursum
Corda” is the antidote. Here we have the same experience that went to
the making of the former poem, and touched it with bitterness, turned
to sweetness and a fervor of exaltation, when viewed from the hour of
illumination at the last. It is throughout a valiant, noble song, of
which the following lines show the spirit:

Up and rejoice, and know thou hast matter for revel, my heart!
Up and rejoice, not heeding if drawn or undrawn be the dart
Last winged by the Archer whose quiver is full for sweeter than thou,
That yet will sing out of the dust when the ultimate arrow shall bow.

* * * * *

Now thou couldst bless and God-speed, without bitterness bred in thine
heart,
Loves, that, outworn and time-wasted, were fain from thy lodge to
depart:
Though dulled by their passing, thy faith, like a flower upfolded by
night,
New kindness should quicken again, as a flower feels the touch of new
light.
Ay, now thou couldst love, undefeated, with ardor instinct from pure
Love,—
Warmed from a sun in the heavens that knows not beneath nor above,
Nor distance its patience to weary, nor substance unpierce by its ray.

* * * * *

Now couldst thou pity and smile, where once but the scourge thou
wouldst lay;
Now to thyself couldst show mercy, and up from all penance arise,
Knowing there runneth abroad a chastening flame from the skies.

Doubt not thou hast matter for revel, for once thou wouldst cage thee
in steel,
And, wounded, wouldst seek out the balm and the cordial cunning to
heal;
But now thou hast knowledge more sovran, more kind, than leech-craft
can wield:
Never Design sent thee forth to be safe from the scath of the field,
But bade thee stand bare in the midst, and offer free way to all scath
Piercing thee inly—so only might Song have an outgoing path.

* * * * *

But now ’tis not thine to bestow, to abide, or be known in thy place;
Withdraweth the voice into silence, dissolveth the form and the face.
Death—Life thou discernest! Enlarged as thou art, thy ground thou must
shift!
Love over-liveth. Throb thou forth quickly. Heart, be uplift!

The hard-won philosophy of nearly all lives is summed up in these
stanzas, pregnant therefore with suggestion to those who have the
untrodden way before them, and full of uplift to those who have the
course behind them, and view it in retrospect as but “a stuff to try
the soul’s strength on.”

Not only in this poem, but throughout her work, the evolution of Miss
Thomas’ philosophy of life is marked, had one time to trace its
growing significance. She has sounded many stops, touched many keys of
feeling and thought, so that one may do no more in a brief comment
than suggest the various phases of her widely inclusive song.

Continue Reading

CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS

MR. CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS presents so marked an example of evolution
in the style of his work and the sources of his inspiration, that he
has from volume to volume, like the nautilus, “changed his last year’s
dwelling for the new,” and having entered the “more stately mansion”
has “known the old no more.”

The first chamber which he fashioned for himself in the House of Art
could not long contain him, as its walls were built of myths and
traditions, incapable of further expansion. This was the period of
_Orion and Other Poems_, such as “Ariadne,” “Memnon,” and “Launcelot
And The Four Queens,” work done prior to 1880 and creditable to the
initial effort of a young collegian.

The second lodging was scarcely more permanent; though structured less
in myth, and showing a gain in workmanship, it was still too narrow a
dwelling for an expanding spirit, and did little more than give
foretokens of that which should succeed it. The volume contained,
however, one admirable composition, one that remains as vital and
apposite as when it was written,—the stirring stanzas to Canada.
Indeed, the fine courage, the higher loyalty that distinguishes this
appeal, lifts it from the mere grandiloquent utterance of a young man
with over-hasty convictions, to a noble arraignment, and leads one to
wonder why other poets of her domain do not turn their pens to
revealing her to herself as does this fine utterance.

Mr. Roberts’ third volume, _Songs of the Common Day_, bore almost no
relation to its predecessors, and might have been the work of a
different hand, as regards both subject and style. Legend and myth had
wholly disappeared, and experience had begun to furnish the raw
material, the flax, for the poet’s spindle and distaff which earlier
effort had been making ready. Not yet, however, had the work the
virility and tang that smack in the very first line of its successor,
_The Book of the Native_. It was graceful, artistic singing, but
lacking, except in a few instances, the large free note that sounds in
the later work. Among its lyrics is one of exquisite tenderness, as
sad and sweet as Tennyson’s “Break, break, break,” and in the sifting
of the volume, this remains, perhaps, the sand of gold:

Grey rocks and greyer sea,
And surf along the shore—
And in my heart a name
My lips shall speak no more.

The high and lonely hills
Endure the darkening year—
And in my heart endure
A memory and a tear.

Across the tide a sail
That tosses and is gone—
And in my heart the kiss
That longing dreams upon.

Grey rocks and greyer sea,
And surf along the shore—
And in my heart the face
That I shall see no more.

The simplicity and pathos of this lyric render it unforgettable.

[Illustration: Charles G. D. Roberts]

“The Tide on Tantramar,” from the third volume, a ballad of the sea
and the salt marshes, transfers to the page the keen pungence of the
brine, as do the descriptive stanzas of Tantramar used illustratively
in the “Ave” to Shelley. There is noble work in this elegy, and while
it wanders over a good deal of Canadian territory, making inspired
observations of nature before it discloses their relation to the
subject—when the comparison is reached it is apposite, and the poem
shows an insight into the character of Shelley that is gratifying, in
view of the vagueness usually associated with his name.

Other _Songs of the Common Day_, forelooking to the later poet, are
“The Silver Thaw,” “Canadian Streams,” and “The Wood Frolic,” having
the first-hand, magnetic touch distinguishing every line of Mr.
Roberts’ out-of-door verse in that volume which first truly reveals
him,—_The Book of the Native_. So conscious is one of a new force in
this book that it would seem to represent another personality. Its
opening poem, “Kinship,” turns for inspiration,

Back to the bewildering vision
And the border-land of birth;
Back into the looming wonder,
The Companionship of Earth,

and puts the query to nature:

Tell me how some sightless impulse,
Working out a hidden plan,
God for kin and clay for fellow,
Wakes to find itself a man.

Tell me how the life of mortal,
Wavering from breath to breath,
Like a web of scarlet pattern
Hurtles from the loom of death.

How the caged bright bird, Desire,
Which the hands of God deliver,
Beats aloft to drop unheeded
At the confines of forever.

Faints unheeded for a season,
Then outwings the farthest star,
To the wisdom and the stillness
Where thy consummations are.

This sounds the keynote to _The Book of the Native_, which is equally
concerned with the enigmas of the soul and the mysteries of nature.
The questing spirit is abroad in it; the unquenched faith, the
vitality, the hidden import of life is in it; and while its
metaphysics do not go to the point of developing a definite
philosophy, they set one to thinking for himself, which is a better
service. “Origins,” a speculation as to our coming from “the enigmatic
Will,” and the “Unsleeping,” a vision of the Force brooding over
life,—are among the strongest poems of this motive. To cite the second:

I soothe to unimagined sleep
The sunless bases of the deep,
And then I stir the aching tide
That gropes in its reluctant side.

I heave aloft the smoking hill:
To silent peace its throes I still.
But ever at its heart of fire
I lurk, an unassuaged desire.

I wrap me in the sightless germ
An instant or an endless term;
And still its atoms are my care,
Dispersed in ashes or in air.

I hush the comets one by one
To sleep for ages in the sun;
The sun resumes before my face
His circuit of the shores of space.

The mount, the star, the germ, the deep,
They all shall wake, they all shall sleep.
Time, like a flurry of wild rain,
Shall drift across the darkened pane.

Space, in the dim predestined hour,
Shall crumble like a ruined tower.
I only, with unfaltering eye,
Shall watch the dreams of God go by.

What a fine touch in the lines declaring that

Time, like a flurry of wild rain,
Shall drift across the darkened pane!

Mr. Roberts has the rare pictorial gift of flashing a scene before one
without employing an excess of imagery, and never that which is
confused or cumbrous. His style is nervous, magnetic, direct, and has,
in his later work, very little superfluous tissue. This statement,
has, of course, its exceptions, but is sufficiently accurate to be
made a generalization, and in no case is it better shown than in the
descriptive poems of the Canadian country in _The Book of the Native_.
What is there about Canada that sets the blood of her poets a-tingle
and lends magic to their fingers when writing of her? What is there in
Grand Pré’s “barren reaches by the tide,” or in the marshes of
Tantramar, that such a spell should wait upon them, calling the roamer

“Back into the looming wonder,
The Companionship of Earth”?

With the American poets of the present day, despite their feeling for
nature, it is rather her beauty in the abstract than any particular
locality with which they chance to be associated, that inspires
them,—though Mr. Cawein, in his allegiance to Kentucky, furnishes a
marked exception to this statement,—but the Canadian poets, with a
passion like that of a lover, sing of the haunts that knew their first
devotion: now with a buoyant infectious note, now with a reminiscent
sadness; in short, the Canadian poets seem to have a sympathetic
identity with their country, an interchange of personality by which
they reciprocally express each other.

Particularly is this true of Bliss Carman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and
Charles G. D. Roberts; and it was equally true of Archibald Lampman,
whose untimely passing lost to Canada one of her anointed singers, to
whose high promise justice has hardly yet been done. To illustrate Mr.
Roberts’ nature-sympathy, and susceptibility to the mood of the year,
let me put in contrast parts of two poems from _The Book of the
Native_. The first belongs to the racy note pervading a good deal of
the nature-verse of to-day, of which the Vagabondia books set the
fashion: it is called “Afoot,” but might with equal aptness be named
the “Processional,” since the second is the “Recessional”:

Comes the lure of green things growing,
Comes the call of waters flowing,—
And the wayfarer desire
Moves and wakes and would be going.

Hark the migrant hosts of June
Marching nearer noon by noon!
Hark the gossip of the grasses
Bivouacked beneath the moon!

Hark the leaves their mirth averring;
Hark the buds to blossom stirring;
Hark the hushed, exultant haste
Of the wind and world conferring!

Hark the sharp, insistent cry
Where the hawk patrols the sky!
Hark the flapping, as of banners,
Where the heron triumphs by!

Note the picturesque phrase and the compulsive, quickstep note in the
lines above, as of the advancing cohorts of spring, and in contrast
the slow movement, the sadness of the retreating year, in these
beautiful “Recessional” stanzas:

Now along the solemn heights
Fade the Autumn’s altar-lights;
Down the great earth’s glimmering chancel
Glide the days and nights.

Little kindred of the grass,
Like a shadow on a glass
Falls the dark and falls the stillness;
We must rise and pass.

We must rise and follow, wending
Where the nights and days have ending,—
Pass in order pale and slow,
Unto sleep extending.

Little brothers of the clod,
Soul of fire and seed of sod,
We must fare into the silence
At the knees of God.

Little comrades of the sky,
Wing to wing we wander by,
Going, going, going, going,
Softly as a sigh.

And to make the season-cycle complete, and also to show the delicacy
of imagination with which Mr. Roberts invests every changing aspect of
his well-loved outer world, here are two stanzas on “The Frosted Pane”:

One night came Winter noiselessly, and leaned
Against my window-pane.
In the deep stillness of his heart convened
The ghosts of all his slain.

Leaves, and ephemera, and stars of earth,
And fugitives of grass,—
White spirits loosed from bonds of mortal birth,
He drew them on the glass.

Fancies as exquisite as this bespeak the true poet. “The Trout Brook”
and “The Solitary Woodsman” are other inspirations as individual.

Mr. Roberts’ fifth volume, _New York Nocturnes_, as its name implies,
was a decided departure from his former work, showing his versatility,
but what is more to the purpose, his recognition of the dramatic
element, the human, vital poetry in the babel of the streets. One
could wish that the _Nocturnes_ penetrated more profoundly into the
varied phases of life in the great seething city, that, in short, they
sounded other deeps than those of love; but Mr. Roberts has succeeded
in conveying that sense of isolation in a throng, that heavy
loneliness and reaction, throwing one back upon his own spiritual
personality, which belongs to the bewildering city night, and from
which the finer companionships of love arise as a refuge and need.

The _Nocturnes_ have the city’s over-soul incarnate in them; for in
the last analysis, the commerce, the art, the ambition, the strife,
the defeat, that one may term the city’s life, are but as hands and
feet to minister to the spirit of love. The first of the _Nocturnes_
suggests this:

I walk the city square with thee,
The night is loud; the pavements roar.
Their eddying mirth and misery
Encircle thee and me.

The street is full of lights and cries:
The crowd but brings thee close to me,
I only hear thy low replies;
I only see thine eyes.

The “Nocturne of Consecration” is impassioned and full of
spirituality; it is, however, too long to quote, which is
unfortunately the case with the “Nocturne of the Honeysuckle,” another
of the finer poems. “At the Station” is instinct with movement,
reproducing the picture of the swiftly changing throngs, and conveying
the eager expectancy of the hour of meeting. The _Nocturnes_ have also
a group of miscellaneous poems, and the volume as a whole, while less
virile than _The Book of the Native_, owing to the difference in
theme, is distinguished by refinement of feeling and artistry.

In _The Book of the Rose_ Mr. Roberts has done some excellent work,
and some, alas, that strikes a decided note of artificiality. The
least real and convincing of the poems is that called “On the Upper
Deck,” which opens the volume. The first stanza is subtly phrased, and
also the lyric which occurs midway of the poem; but the dialogue
between the lovers is honeyed poetizing rather than genuine emotion. I
find few heart-throbs in it, but rather a melodramatic sentimentality
from whose flights one is now and again let down to the common day
with summary despatch, as in the parenthetical clause of the stanza
which follows:

Let us not talk of roses. Don’t you think
The engine’s pulse throbs louder now the light
Has gone? The hiss of waters past our hull
Is more mysterious, with a menace in it?
And that pale streak above the unseen land,
How ominous! a sword has just such pallor!
(Yes, you may put the scarf around my shoulders.)
Never has life shown me the face of beauty
But near it I have seen the face of fear.

It may be that an obtuse man upon the deck of a steamer would
interrupt his sweetheart’s flight of poesy to envelop her in a shawl,
but the details of the matter may well be left to the imagination. It
is doubtless one of those passages which seem to a writer to give
reality to a picture, but afterward smile at him sardonically from the
printed page. Mr. Roberts inclines elsewhere in the same poem to be
too explicit; after a most exalted declaration, he says:

No, do not move! Alone although we be
I dare not touch your hand; your gown’s dear hem
I will not touch lest I should break my dream
And just an empty deck-chair mock my longing.

Here again it was scarcely necessary to qualify the chair, and indeed
the whole passage savors of melodrama. These are, however, only such
lines as show that to the one relating a matter the least incident may
appear to lend reality to the setting, whereas to the reader the
detail may violate taste.

The opening stanza, mentioned as one of the truly subtle bits of the
poem in question, has these fine lines:

As the will of last year’s wind,
As the drift of the morrow’s rain,
As the goal of the falling star,
As the treason sinned in vain,
As the bow that shines and is gone,
As the night cry heard no more,—
Is the way of the woman’s meaning
Beyond man’s eldest lore.

This stanza and the lyric below, which is sung as an interlude to the
dialogue, go far toward redeeming the over-ripe sentiment of the poem:

O Rose, blossom of mystery, holding within your deeps
The hurt of a thousand vigils, the heal of a thousand sleeps,
There breathes upon your petals a power from the ends of the earth,
Your beauty is heavy with knowledge of life and death and birth.

O Rose, blossom of longing—the faint suspense, and the fire,
The wistfulness of time, and the unassuaged desire,
The pity of tears on the pillow, the pang of tears unshed,—
With these your spirit is weary, with these your beauty is fed.

The remaining poems of the volume are much more artistic than the
first, with the exception of the passages last quoted. “The Rose of
Life” is artistically wrought as to form and metre, and subtle in
analysis; but, because of its length and that it voices somewhat the
same thought as the lyric above, the former must serve to show with
what delicacy of interpretation he approaches a theme so well worn,
but ever new, as that of the rose. It is chiefly on the symbolistic
side that Mr. Roberts considers the subject; and while one may feel
that the sentiment cloys at times when a group of poems using the rose
as an image are bracketed together, this is the chief criticism of the
volume, as the lyrics following the opening poem, “On the Upper Deck,”
have both charm and art, and one hesitates between such an one as, “O
Little Rose, O Dark Rose,” and the one immediately following it, “The
Rose of My Desire.” This, perhaps, has a more compelling mood, though
no greater charm of touch than the other:

O wild, dark flower of woman,
Deep rose of my desire,
An Eastern wizard made you
Of earth and stars and fire.

When the orange moon swung low
Over the camphor-trees,
By the silver shaft of the fountain
He wrought his mysteries.

The hot, sweet mould of the garden
He took from a secret place
To become your glimmering body
And the lure of your strange face.

From the swoon of the tropic heaven
He drew down star on star,
And breathed them into your soul
That your soul might wander far—

On earth forever homeless,
But intimate of the spheres,
A pang in your mystic laughter,
A portent in your tears.

From the night’s heat, hushed, electric,
He summoned a shifting flame,
And cherished it, and blew on it
Till it burned into your name.

And he set the name in my heart
For an unextinguished fire,
O wild, dark flower of woman,
Deep rose of my desire!

Metrically the poem jars in the line,

And breathed them into your soul,

departing as it does from the general scheme of the third lines, and
rendering it necessary to make “soul” bisyllabic in order to carry the
metre smoothly, and in accord with its companion verses. “Spirit”
would have fitted the metrical exigency better, leaving the final
unaccented syllable as in the majority of the lines, but would not
have lent itself to repetition in the succeeding line as does
“soul,”—so “who shall arbitrate”? Mr. Roberts rarely offends the ear
in his metres, but instead his cadences are notably true.

Aside from the poems upon love, filling the first division of _The
Book of the Rose_ it has a miscellaneous group, of which the two that
best represent it, to my fancy, are so widely diverse that their mere
mention in juxtaposition is amusing; nevertheless they are the lines
“To An Omar Punch Bowl,” and the reverent Nativity Song, “When Mary,
the Mother, Kissed the Child.” The haunting couplets of the former are
by no means of the convivial sort, but the essence of memory and
desire, the pathos of this dust that is but “wind that hurries by,”—is
in them. However, to be quoted, they need their full context, as does
the Nativity Song mentioned.

Mr. Roberts has a rare sympathy with childhood, and a gift of reaching
the hearts of the little ones; the “Sleepy Man” and “Wake-up Song”
could scarcely be improved; note the picturing in the former and the
drowsihood in its falling cadences:

When the Sleepy Man comes with the dust on his eyes
(Oh, weary, my Dearie, so weary!)
He shuts up the earth, and he opens the skies.
(So hush-a-by, weary my Dearie!)

He smiles through his fingers, and shuts up the sun;
(Oh, weary, my Dearie, so weary!)
The stars that he loves he lets out one by one.
(So hush-a-by, weary my Dearie!)

He comes from the castles of Drowsy-boy Town;
(Oh, weary, my Dearie, so weary!)
At the touch of his hand the tired eyelids fall down.
(So hush-a-by, weary my Dearie!)

* * * * *

Then the top is a burden, the bugle a bane,
(Oh, weary, my Dearie, so weary!)
When one would be faring down Dream-a-way Lane.
(So hush-a-by, weary my Dearie!)

When one would be wending in Lullaby Wherry
(Oh, weary, my Dearie, so weary!)
To Sleepy Man’s Castle by Comforting Ferry.
(So hush-a-by, weary my Dearie!)

Mr. Roberts has collected his several volumes, exclusive of _The Book
of the Rose_, into one, eliminating such of the earlier work as falls
short of his standard of criticism, and adding new matter showing
growth and constantly broadening affinity with life. He manifests more
and more the potentialities of his nature, and while all of his later
work does not ring equally true, the majority of it is instinct with
sincerity and high idealism, and one may go to it for unforced,
unconventional song, having art without trammels, for a breath of the
ozone of nature, and for suggestive thoughts upon life and the things
of the spirit. Its creed is epitomized in the following lines,
pregnant with suggestion to the votary of Art, the creed of the
idealist, and yet the truer realist:

Said Life to Art: I love thee best
Not when I find in thee
My very face and form, expressed
With dull fidelity.

But when in thee my longing eyes
Behold continually
The mystery of my memories
And all I crave to be.

Continue Reading

JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY

A BEAUTIFUL and delicate art is that of Miss Josephine Preston
Peabody, but somewhat elusive of analysis, so much is its finer part
dependent upon the intuition which one brings to it; for Miss Peabody
is a poet-mystic, sensitive to impressions from which the grosser part
has slipped away,—impressions which come to her clothed upon with a
more ethereal vesture than the work-a-day garment of thought,—and
while she would fain reveal their hidden import, they often elude her
and grow remote in the telling, as if fearful of betraying too openly
their secret.

Her first volume, _The Wayfarers_, revealed at the outset a poet’s
imagination, and a technique so finished that it had already the touch
of the artist, but its vision was that of the novice who looks at the
morning from beneath her white veil and wonders at the world of sin
and strife and passion whose pain has never reached her. It was the
work of one who had not yet met her revealing crisis, not yet been
identified to herself, of one reaching out after truth with the
filament of fancy until the ductile thread had often been spun too far
before it found anchorage. The volume was, in short, an exquisite
conjecture as to life, whose baffling, alluring mystery only now and
again flashed upon her an unveiled glance of its eyes. This is not,
however, to say that the conjecture was vain; indeed, the initial
poem, “The Wayfarers,” in which, perhaps, it was most definitely
embodied, is a thoughtful, suggestive song holding many truths worth
pondering, and in phrasing and technique wrought with so much grace
that it might stand beside any work of the later volumes. Indeed, this
statement is apposite to nearly all the work in the first collection,
which in that regard presents an unusual distinction, having from the
first on its technical side a maturity that seemed not to belong to
the tentative work of a young poet; it was, however, over-ornate,
lacking directness and simplicity, and inclining to excess of
elaboration in theme, so that one often became entangled in the weft
of poetic artifice and lost the clew of thought. Take as a random
illustration the following stanzas from the poem entitled “The
Weavers,” under which Miss Peabody symbolizes the elusive hopes and
fancies that come by night, weaving their weft of dreams:

Lo, a gray pallor on the loom
Waxeth apace,—a glamourie
Like dawn outlooking, pale to see
Before the sun hath burst to bloom;
Wan beauty, growing out of gloom,
With promise of fair things to be.

* * * * *

The shuttle singeth. And fair things
Upon the web do come and go;
Dim traceries like clouds ablow
Fade into cobweb glimmerings,
A silver, fretted with small wings,—
The while a voice is singing low.

Of the eight remaining stanzas several are equally lacking in anything
that may be grasped, and while there is a certain art in imaging the
elusive fancies which the weavers bring, there should be some more
definite fancy or ideal to embody, rather than the mere intent to make
beautiful lines. This is, perhaps, an extreme instance of the
over-elaboration of the first volume, though it distinguishes the long
poem which gives its name to the collection, and appears in many of
the lyrics.

[Illustration: Josephine Preston Peabody]

Miss Peabody is an inventive metrist, and her sense of rhythm is
highly developed, or rather it is innately correct, being manifest
with equal grace in the first collection; witness the music of these
stanzas from “Spinning in April”:

Moon in heaven’s garden, among the clouds that wander,
Crescent moon so young to see, above the April ways,
Whiten, bloom not yet, not, yet, within the twilight yonder;
All my spinning is not done, for all the loitering days.

Oh, my heart has two wild wings that ever would be flying!
Oh, my heart’s a meadow-lark that ever would be free!
Well it is that I must spin until the light be dying;
Well it is the little wheel must turn all day for me!

All the hill-tops beckon, and beyond the western meadows
Something calls me ever, calls me ever, low and clear:
A little tree as young as I, the coming summer shadows,—
The voice of running waters that I ever thirst to hear.

Oftentime the plea of it has set my wings a-beating;
Oftentime it coaxes, as I sit in weary wise,
Till the wild life hastens out to wild things all entreating,
And leaves me at the spinning-wheel, with dark, unseeing eyes.

The poem has several other stanzas equally charming, but which detract
from the artistic structure of the song by over-spinning the thought.

Among the simple, sincere lyrics which prevail more by their feeling
than mechanism, are “One That Followed,” “Horizon,” “Dew-Fall,”
“Befriended,” “The Song of A Shepherd-Boy at Bethlehem,” and the two
stanzas called, “After Music,” whose intimate beauty renders them
personally interpretative.

I saw not they were strange, the ways I roam,
Until the music called, and called me thence,
And tears stirred in my heart as tears may come
To lonely children straying far from home,
Who know not how they wandered so, nor whence.

If I might follow far and far away
Unto the country where these songs abide,
I think my soul would wake and find it day,
Would tell me who I am, and why I stray,—
Would tell me who I was before I died.

There is a mystical touch here in note with the opening reference to
the subtlety of Miss Peabody’s sources of inspiration.

In the first volume is also a sonnet from the heart and to the heart,
for who has not known the weariness that comes of long striving to
image, or interpret the beautiful, and yet is loth to commit his
unfulfilled dream to the oblivion of sleep. The sonnet is called, “To
the Unsung.”

Stay by me, Loveliness; for I must sleep.
Not even desire can lift such wearied eyes;
The day was heavy and the sun will rise
On day as heavy, weariness as deep.
Be near, though you be silent. Let me steep
A sad heart in that peace, as a child tries
To hold his comfort fast, in fingers wise
With imprint of a joy that’s yet to reap.
Leave me that little light; for sleep I must,
—And put off blessing to a doubtful day—
Too dull to listen or to understand.
But only let me close the eyes of trust
On you unchanged. Ah, do not go away,
Nor let a dream come near, to loose my hand.

Altogether, Miss Peabody’s first book of verse revealed strength,
feeling, and imagination, though tentative in its philosophy, as the
initial work of a young poet must necessarily be, and having but a
slight rooting in life.

The second volume, _Fortune and Men’s Eyes_, opens with a cleverly
written one-act play, turning upon an adventure of two maids of honor
at Elizabeth’s court, with Master W. S., a player, whose identity is
not far to seek, and William Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, the
scene being laid at the tavern of the Bear and the Angel, whither
Mistress Anne Hughes and Mary Fyton have resorted on a merry escapade
under cover of seeing the people celebrate the fête of the Bear.

The atmosphere of the time is well reproduced, the dialogue of the
tapsters cleverly done, and the final scene between the Player and
Mary is full of dramatic intensity.

In her second volume, Miss Peabody has also a dramatic monologue
called, “The Wingless Joy,” which, though now and again Browningesque
in tone, has many felicitous images and shows a true insight into
human motive.

The lyrics in the second volume form a less important part of the
collection, though there are several, such as “The Source,” “The
Survivor,” “Psyche in the Niche,” and “In the Silence,” which rank
with Miss Peabody’s best work, particularly the last, illustrating the
truth that the Spirit manifests at the need, even the dumb and
undivining need, and not alone at the call:

Where did’st Thou tarry, Lord, Lord,
Who heeded not my prayer?
All the long day, all the long night,
I stretched my hands to air.

“There was a bitterer want than thine
Came from the frozen North;
Laid hands upon my garment’s hem
And led me forth.

“It was a lonely Northern man,
Where there was never tree
To shed its comfort on his heart,
There he had need of me.

“He kindled us a little flame
To hope against the storm;
And unto him, and unto me,
The light was warm.”

And yet I called Thee, Lord, Lord—
Who answered not, nor came:
All the long day, and yesterday,
I called Thee by Thy name.

“There was a dumb, unhearing grief
Spake louder than Thy word,
There was a heart called not on me,
But yet I heard.

“The sorrow of a savage man
Shaping him gods, alone,
Who found no love in the shapen clay
To answer to his own.

“His heart knew what his eyes saw not
He bade me stay and eat;
And unto him, and unto me,
The cup was sweet.

“Too long we wait for thee and thine,
In sodden ways and dim,
And where the man’s need cries on me
There have I need of him.

“Along the borders of despair
Where sparrows seek no nest,
Nor ravens food, I sit at meat,—
The Unnamed Guest.”

Before leaving the second volume there is one other poem of which I
cannot refrain from quoting a part, to show the subtlety with which a
phase of the psychology of sentiment has been grasped and analyzed in
these lines called “The Knot”:

Oh, I hated me,
That when I loved you not, yet I could feel
Some charm in me the deeper for your love:
Some singing-robe invisible—and spun
Of your own worship—fold me silverly
In very moonlight, so that I walked fair
When you were by, who had no wish to be
The fairer for your eyes! But at some cost
Of other life the hyacinth grows blue,
And sweetens ever…. So it is with us,
The sadder race. I would have fled from you,
And yet I felt some fibre in myself
Binding me here, to search one moment yet—
The only well that gave me back a star,—
Your eyes reflecting. And I grew aware
How worship that must ever spend and burn
Will have its deity from gold or stone;
Till that fain womanhood that would be fair
And lovable,—the hunger of the plant—
Against my soul’s commandment reached and took
The proffered fruit, more potent day by day.

And the lines which follow close with the wholly feminine query,

Will you not go?—and yet, why will you go?

It is a human bit of dramatic analysis, and reduces inconsistent
femininity to a common denominator.

In her third volume, _Marlowe_, a drama, founded upon the life of the
lovable but erratic poet and playwright, Miss Peabody essayed an
ambitious undertaking, but one which, as literature, carries its full
justification. As drama, one must qualify. In characterization, aside
from Marlowe himself, who comes before one vividly, there is a lack of
sharp definition. Nashe, Lodge, Peele, and Green, Marlowe’s fellow
playwrights and friends, might, from the evidence of the dialogue, be
the same character under different names, so alike are they in speech
and temperament. Next to Marlowe himself, Bame, who through jealousy
becomes his enemy, and brings on the final tragedy, is the most
individually drawn. Of the women characters, the drama presents
practically but one,—Alison, the little country maid who loves Marlowe
secretly, and becomes in a way his good angel,—as “Her Ladyship” of
the Court, object of his adoration, is introduced but twice in the
play, and that veiled, so that only for a moment at the last may one
see the beauty that—under guise of Helen—inspired Marlowe’s lines:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burned the topless towers of Ilium!

While the two brief comings of “Her Ladyship” impart an artistic touch
of mystery, it is to be doubted if in a play so intangible a heroine
could become a vital factor, and if she were not, the woman element of
the drama must be sustained wholly by Alison, the little “Quietude,”
who, until the one beautiful scene with Marlowe after her marriage,
remains an artless undeveloped child, with too little color, too weak
a human pulse-beat, to compel interest and sympathy. She is delicately
drawn, in her unsophisticated sweetness and purity, and the inner
strength of her nature is finely shown at the last, but up to this
period of revelation one does not feel her; she lacks the touch of
life essential to a character in drama.

In plot the work presents somewhat the same limitation. It is, until
the two final scenes, after Marlowe’s downfall, literature without
action: nothing happens in the earlier part of the play to create an
element of suspense forelooking to the developments at the close.
Marlowe’s triumphs are detailed to one another by his friends, but
they are not _shown_ in some great scene where he might receive the
acclamations of the people and so contrast sharply with his downfall
at the end: story suffices for action. The sentiment of the play
presents also no intricacies: Alison, although loving Marlowe, is not
for a moment a factor of love in his life, since he neither suspects
her attachment nor reciprocates it, and hence the jealousy of her
suitors has no effect either upon him or upon the supposed audience.
“Her Ladyship” is not pitted against Alison, since the latter knows
that Marlowe’s heart is given to his veiled divinity; hence there are
no complexities arising from the love-element. For the purpose of
acting, therefore, the play seems to me to lack movement, suspense,
variety of characterization, and, except in the drawing of Marlowe,
definiteness of type. It has, however, a strong and vivid scene at the
close, leading up to and including Marlowe’s tragic death, and a scene
of rare beauty and of intense dramatic reality, of which I shall speak
later, in the visit of Marlowe to Alison after his downfall.

On the side of literature, the drama contains work of admirable
strength and quality, work that in its beauty of phrase and subtlety
of penetration is not unworthy to be put into the mouth of Marlowe of
the “mighty line.” Miss Peabody never falls into the Shakespearizing
strain which many writing of that epoch assume; her dialogue is vivid,
direct, and full of original imagery, as when Marlowe speaks of Alison
as having for him—

Snowflake pity,
Destined to melt and lose itself in fire
Or ever it can cool my tongue,

and thus describes her:

Why, she was a maid
Of crystalline! If you looked near enough,
You’d see the wonder changing in her eyes
Like parti-colored marvels in a brook,
Bright through the clearness!

Note now in contrast the impassioned words in which he pictures his
divinity:

Hers is the Beauty that hath moved the world
Since the first woman. Beauty cannot die.
No worm may spoil it. Unto earth it goes,
There to be cherished by the cautious spring,
Close folded in a rose, until the time
Some new imperial spirit comes to earth
Demanding a fair raiment; and the earth
Yields up her robes of vermeil and of snow,
Violet-veinéd—beautiful as wings,
And so the Woman comes!

And this beautiful passage addressed to her after the triumph of
“Faustus”:

Drink my song.
Grow fair, you sovran flower, with earth and air;
Sip from the last year’s leaves their memories
Of April, May, and June, their summer joy,
Their lure for every nightingale, their longing.

And finally these words spoken to her in splendid scorn, after his
downfall and her rejection:

I took you for a Woman, thing of dust,—
I—I who showed you first what you might be!
But see now, you were hollow all the time,
A piece of magic. Now the air blows in,
And you are gone in ashes.

At once the most beautiful and artistically drawn scene is that
previously referred to, in which Marlowe, his star in eclipse, visits
Alison after her marriage. Here is a dramatic situation, human and
vital, and Miss Peabody has developed it with rare feeling and skill.
The picture of Marlowe in his disgrace and despondency, coming to the
woman who had believed in him, and whose love had shone upon his
unseeing eyes, is drawn with fine delicacy and pathos. In the flash of
revelation that comes to him from her white spirit, he speaks these
words:

Thou hast heard
Of Light that shined in darkness, hast thou not?
And darkness comprehended not the Light?
So. But I tell thee why. It was because
The Dark, a sleeping brute, was blinded first,
Bewildered at a thing it did not know.

* * * * *

Have pity on the Dark, I tell you, Bride.
For after all is said, there is no thing
So hails the Light as that same blackness there,
O’er which it shines the whiter. Do you think
It will not know at last?—it will not know?

Those, too, are noble passages, though too long to quote, in which
Marlowe unburdens his overcharged heart to Alison, and intrusts to her
faith the keeping of that higher self she had divined in him; and when
Marlowe, early in the scene, referring to his misfortunes, says:

You do not know
The sense of waking down among the dead,
Hard by some lazar-house,—

note the hidden meaning in Alison’s reply:

Nay; but I know
The sense of death. And then to rise again
And feel thyself bewildered, like a spirit
Out of the grave-clothes and the fragment strewings.

Passages of subtle significance, wistful, tender, and pathetic,
distinguish this scene.

Miss Peabody has visualized Marlowe clearly wherever he appears, and
created him as the lovable, impulsive, generous-spirited, but
ill-starred genius that he was. It is a life-study, in its conflicts,
its overthrown ideals, its appealing humanity, and should take its
place as one of the permanent interpretations of his character.

Many of her critics have found in Miss Peabody’s latest volume, _The
Singing Leaves_, an inspiration and charm exceeding that of her former
work, and in delicacy, lyrical ease, simplicity, and ideality it must
be accounted one of her truest achievements; but there is about the
volume an impalpability, an airy insubstantiality, which renders it
elusive and unconvincing. The mystical subtlety hitherto noted in Miss
Peabody’s work has, in the latest volume, grown, until many of the
poems have so little objectivity that they float as iris-tinted flecks
of foam upon the deep of thought. They have beauty of spirit, beauty
of word; but their motive is so subtle, their thought so intangible,
that while they charm one in the reading, they have, with a few
exceptions, melted into vapor, gone the way of the foam, when once the
eye has left them. One feels throughout the volume an ingenuous
simplicity, a _naïveté_, that is, in many of her poems, exceedingly
charming, but which, becoming the pervasive note of the collection,
communicates to it a certain artificial artlessness, as if June,
disregarding the largess of the rose, yearned back to April and the
violet; in short, the poems seem to me, with a few exceptions, to lack
moving, vital impulse, and to bring few warmly imbued words from life.
They are as the pale moon-flower, growing in the stillness of dreams,
rather than the rose dyed with the blood of the heart.

But what is, to me, the limitation of the volume,—its over-subtilized
mood and lack of definite, moving purpose,—must, to many of its
readers, be granted to be its distinction; and for their very
impalpability these delicate Leaves, that vibrate with impulse as
ethereal as that which moves the aspen when the wind is still, have
for many the greater charm.

To glance, then, at some of the finer achievements of the volume, one
finds among the lyrics several turning upon love that catch in
artistic words an undefined mood, such as “Forethought” and “Unsaid,”
or in captivating picture-phrase, a blither fancy, such as “The
Enchanted Sheepfold,” or, stronger and finer than these, that vision
of love called “The Cloud,” which enfolds truth and wraps the heart in
its whiteness. One can scarcely fancy a more exquisite bit of imagery
in which to clothe the thought of these lines:

The islands called me far away,
The valleys called me home.
The rivers with a silver voice
Drew on my heart to come.

The paths reached tendrils to my hair
From every vine and tree.
There was no refuge anywhere
Until I came to thee.

There is a northern cloud I know,
Along a mountain crest.
And as she folds her wings of mist,
So I could make my rest.

There is no chain to bind her so
Unto that purple height;
And she will shine and wander, slow,
Slow, with a cloud’s delight.

Would she begone? She melts away,
A heavenly joyous thing.
Yet day will find the mountain white,
White-folded with her wing.

* * * * *

And though love cannot bind me, Love,
—Ah no!—yet I could stay
Maybe, with wings forever spread,
—Forever, and a day.

Here is delicacy enshrining one of the deeper truths of life.

Many of the lyrics have a seventeenth-century lilt, but not of
imitation. There are no echoes in Miss Peabody’s song, its note,
measure, and spirit are entirely her own, and a random stanza would
carry its identification, so individual is her touch. Of the
seventeenth-century mood, however, are “The Song Outside,”
“Forethought,” “The Top of the Morning,” “The Blind One,” and other
poems.

Nearly all the lyrics in _The Singing Leaves_ are very brief, showing,
in their compactness and restrained use of imagery, just the opposite
method from that prevailing in Miss Peabody’s first book, _The
Wayfarers_. So marked is the contrast that, but for the personality
imbuing them, they might have been written by another hand. Whereas
the diction also in the earlier work inclined to beauty for its own
sake, the reaction to its present simplicity is the more marked. It is
doubtless for this reason that many of the poems carry with them a
note of conscious ingenuousness, as if their simplest effects had been
deliberately achieved. Not so, however, such poems as “The Inn,” “The
Drudge,” “Sins,” “The Anointed,” “The Walk,” whose words are quick
with native impulse, as the trenchant lines of the third:

A lie, it may be black or white;
I care not for the lie:
My grief is for the tortured breath
Of Truth that cannot die.

And cruelty, what that may be,
What creature understands?
But O, the glazing eyes of Love,
Stabbed through the open hands!

Two poems contained in _The Singing Leaves_ are of a note far more
serious and vital than that of their fellows: the first, “The Ravens;”
the second, and to my thinking, the more important, “The Fool,” which
from the standpoint of strength, feeling, forceful expression,
idealism, and the portrayal of human nature, seems to me the
achievement of the book. It holds a truth bitten in with the acid of
experience:

O what a Fool am I!—Again, again,
To give for asking: yet again to trust
The needy love in women and in men,
Until again my faith is turned to dust
By one more thrust.

How you must smile apart who make my hands
Ever to bleed where they were reached to bless;
—Wonder how any wit that understands
Should ever try too near, with gentle stress,
Your sullenness!

Laugh, stare, deny. Because I shall be true,—
The only triumph slain by no surprise:
True, true, to that forlornest truth in you,
The wan, beleaguered thing behind your eyes,
Starving on lies.

Build by my faith; I am a steadfast tool:
When I am dark, begone into the sun.
I cry, ‘Ah, Lord, how good to be a Fool:—
A lonely game indeed, but now all done;
—And I have won!’

Here speaks a word from life worth a score of “Charms: To Be Said In
The Sun,” or other fanciful unreality; and because of such poems as
this, fibred in human motive, one feels by contrast in many of the
others that Miss Peabody has been playing with her genius, casting
“Charms” and “Spells,” which are mere poetic sorcery.

Miss Peabody has a rare sympathy with child-life, and her group of
poems of this nature could not well be bettered. With the exception of
a line now and then which may be a bit beyond the expression of a
child, they are fidelity itself to the moods that swayed _The Little
Past_. “Journey,” “The Busy Child,” and “The Mystic” are among the
best, though none could be spared, unless, perhaps, “Cakes and Ale.”
Still another with the true child-feeling is that called “Late,”—a
tender little song which, because of its brevity, must suffice to
represent the group:

My father brought somebody up,
To show us all asleep.
They came as softly up the stairs
As you could creep.

They whispered in the doorway there
And looked at us awhile,
I had my eyes shut up, but I
Could feel him smile.

I shut my eyes up close, and lay
As still as I could keep;
Because I knew he wanted us
To be asleep.

Miss Peabody’s work, considered in its entirety, is distinguished by
an art of rare grace and delicacy, by imagination and vision,
susceptibility to the finer impressions, and by an ever-present
ideality; and while it lacks somewhat the element of personal emotion
and passion, it has a sympathy subtle and spiritual, if less intimate
in its revealing.

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