MISS GERTRUDE HALL is a poet of the intimate mood, the personal touch,
one who writes for herself primarily, and not for others. One fancies
that verses such as these were penned in musing, introspective moments
in the form in which they flitted through the mind, and were
indesecrate of further touch. They are as words warm upon the lips,
putting one in magnetic _rapport_ with a speaker; and their defects,
as well as distinctions, are such as spring from this spontaneity.
Frequently a change of word or line, readily suggested to the reader,
would have made technically perfect what now bears a flaw; but these
lapses are neither so marked nor so frequent as to detract from the
prevailing grace of the verse, and but serve to illustrate the point
in question,—their unpremeditated note and freedom from posing.
One is not so much arrested by the inevitable image and word in these
lyrics of the _Age of Fairygold_, as by the feeling, the mood, that
pervades them. It is not a buoyant mood, nor yet a sombre one, but
rather the expression of a varied impulse, a melody of many stops,
such as one might play for himself at evening, wandering from theme to
theme. The poems convey the impression of coming in touch with a
personality rather than a book, the veil between the author and reader
being impalpable; and this, their most obvious distinction, is a
quality in which many poets of the present day are lacking, either
from a mistaken delicacy in regarding their own inner life as an
isolated mood not of import to others, or in robbing it of personality
and warmth by technical elaboration.
One may confide to the world by means of art what he would not reveal
to his closest friend, and yet keep inviolate his spiritual selfhood;
but to withhold this disclosure, to become but a poet of externals, is
to abrogate one’s claim to speak at all; for a life, however meagre,
has something unique and essential to convey, and while one delights
in the artist observation, the vivid pictorial touch, it must not be
divorced from the subjective. The poems of Miss Hall are happily
blended of the objective and subjective; here, for illustration, is a
lighter note bringing one in thrall to that seductive, tantalizing
charm, that irresistible allurement, of the Vita Nuova of the year:
I try to fix my eyes upon my book,
But just outside a budding spray
Flaunts its new leaves as if to say,
I trim my pen, I make it fine and neat;
There comes a flutter of brown wings.
A little bird alights and sings,
O little bird, O go away! be dumb!
For I must ponder certain lines;
And straight a nodding flower makes signs,
O Spring, let me alone! O bird, bloom, beam,
“I have no time to dream!” I cry;
The echo breathes a soft, long sigh,
The beautiful lyric,
“Ah, worshipped one, ah, faithful Spring!”
tempers this blitheness to a pensive strain, though only as one may
introduce a note of minor in a staccato melody. In another bit of
verse celebrating the renewing year, and noting how joy lays his
finger on one’s lips and makes him mute, occur these delicate lines:
Thrice happy, oh, thrice happy still the Earth
That can express herself in roses, yea,
Can make the lily tell her inmost thought!
One nature lyric of two stanzas, despite the fact that its cadence
halts in the final couplet, is compact of atmosphere; and to one who
has been companioned by the pines, it brings an aromatic breath, full
The sun in the pine is sleeping, sleeping.
The drops of resin gleam….
There’s a mighty wizard with perfumes keeping
My brain benumbed in a dream!
The wind in the pine is rushing, rushing,
Fine and unfettered and wild….
There’s a mighty mother imperiously hushing
Her fretful, uneasy child!
These lines give over pictures of mornings in the radiant sunlight of
the North, that cloudless, lifted air; and “The drops of resin gleam,”
has the same touch of transmutation that some suggestion of the brine
has for the exiled native of the seaboard.
Miss Hall’s themes are not sought far afield, but bring, in nearly all
the poems, a hint of personal experience; nature, love, spiritual
emotion, blending with lighter moods and fancies, comprise the record
of the _Age of Fairygold_. We have glanced at the nature verse; that
upon love is subtler in touch, but holds to the intimate note
distinguishing all of her work. The second of these stanzas contains a
Be good to me! If all the world united
Should bend its powers to gird my youth with pain,
Still might I fly to thee, Dear, and be righted—
But if thou wrong’st me, where shall I complain?
I am the dove a random shot surprises,
That from her flight she droppeth quivering,
And in the deadly arrow recognizes
A blood-wet feather—once in her own wing!
In her poem called “The Rival” human nature speaks a direct word,
particularly in the contradiction of the last stanza. The lines have
the quality of speech rather than of print:
This is the hardest of my fate:
She’s better whom he doth prefer
Than I am that he worshipped late,
As well as so much prettier,
So much more fortunate!
He’ll not repent; oh, you will see,
She’ll never give him cause to grieve!
I dream that he comes back to me,
Leaving her,—but he’ll never leave!
Hopelessly sweet is she.
So that if in my place she stood,
She’d spare to curse him, she’d forgive!
I loathe her, but I know she would—
And so will I, God, as I live,
Not she alone is good!
The ethical inconsistency of the above stanza, “I loathe her,” and
“Not she alone is good,” is so human and racy with suggestion of these
paradoxical moods of ours, that the stanza, together with its
companion lines, becomes a leaf torn from the book of life.
In its spiritual quality Miss Hall’s work shows, perhaps, its finest
distinction: brave, strong, acquiescent, inducing in one a nobler
mood,—such is the spirit of the volume. Its philosophy is free from
didacticism or moralizing; indeed, it should scarcely be called
philosophy, but rather the personal record of experiences touching the
inner life,—phases of feeling interpreted in their spiritual import.
These lines express the mood:
Then lead me, Friend. Here is my hand,
Not in dumb resignation lent
Because Thee one cannot withstand—
In love, Lord, with complete consent.
* * * * *
Lead. If we come to the cliff’s crest,
And I hear deep below—O deep!—
The torrent’s roar, and “Leap!” Thou say’st,
I will not question—I will leap.
The last stanza, in its vivid illustrative quality, is an admirable
expression of spiritual assurance.
Another brief lyric rings with the true note of valor, declaring the
eternal potency of hope, and one’s obligation to pass on his unspent
faith, though falling by the way:
Could I not be the pilgrim
To reach my saint’s abode,
I would make myself the road
To lead some other pilgrim
Where my soul’s treasure glowed.
Could not I in the eager van
Be the stalwart pioneer
Who points where the way is clear,
I would be the man who sinks in the swamp,
And cries to the rest, “Not here!”
From an Eastern Apologue Miss Hall has drawn a charming illustration
of the power of influence and association:
“Thou smell’st not ill, thou object plain,
Thou art a small, pretentious grain
Of amber, I suppose.”
“Nay, my good friend, I am by birth
A common clod of scentless earth….
But I lived with the Rose.”
In the poems of a blither note, Miss Hall excels, having a swift and
sprightly fancy and a clever aptness of phrase, which, in
_Allegretto_, her collection of lighter verse, reveals itself in
charming witticisms and whimsicalities. Her children’s poems are
delicate in touch and fancy, and quaintly humorous. Her lines, “To A
Weed,” in the second collection, tuck away a moral in their sprightly
comment; indeed, a bit of philosophy as to being glad in the sun and
taking one’s due of life, despite limitations, which renders them more
than the merry apostrophe they seem:
You bold thing! thrusting ’neath the very nose
Of her fastidious majesty, the rose,
Even in the best ordainéd garden bed,
Unauthorized, your smiling little head!
The gardener, mind! will come in his big boots,
And drag you up by your rebellious roots,
And cast you forth to shrivel in the sun,
Your daring quelled, your little weed’s life done.
* * * * *
Meantime—ah, yes! the air is very blue,
And gold the light, and diamond the dew,—
You laugh and courtesy in your worthless way,
And you are gay, ah, so exceeding gay!
You argue, in your manner of a weed,
You did not make yourself grow from a seed;
You fancy you’ve a claim to standing-room,
You dream yourself a right to breathe and bloom.
* * * * *
You know, you weed, I quite agree with you,
I am a weed myself, and I laugh too,—
Both, just as long as we can shun his eye,
Let’s sniff at the old gardener trudging by!
In the art of compression, in consistent and restrained imagery, in
clearness and simplicity, and in freedom from affectation, Miss Hall’s
work is altogether commendable. In technique she makes no ambitious
flights, employing almost wholly the more direct and simple forms and
metres, but these suit the intimate mood and singing note of her
themes better than more intricate measures. Technically her chief
defect is in the disregard which she frequently shows for the demands
of metre. I say disregard, for it is evident from the grace of the
majority of her work that she allows herself to depart from metrical
canons at her own will, with the occasional result of jagged lines
which may have seemed more expressive to Miss Hall than those of a
smoother cadence, but which are likely to offend the ear of one
sensitive to rhythm. These lapses are not, however, so frequent or
conspicuous as to constitute a general indictment against the work.
The reflective predominates over the imaginative in the _Age of
Fairygold_, notwithstanding the suggestion of the title. Indeed, there
is a subtly pensive note running through the volume, which remains in
one’s mind as a characteristic impression when the lighter notes are
forgotten. They are not poems of vivid color, imagination, nor
passion, though touched with all. They are not incrusted with verbal
gems, though the diction is fitting and graceful. They have no
daringly inventive metres, though the form is always in harmony with
the thought,—in short, the poems of Miss Hall are such as please and
satisfy without startling. They are leaves from the book of the heart,
and admit us to many a kindred experience. These lines, in which we
must take leave of them, carry the wistful, tender, sympathetic note,
which distinguishes much of her work:
Though true it be these splendid dreams of mine
Are but as bubbles little children blow,
And that Fate laughs to see them wax and shine,
Then holds out her pale finger—and they go:
One bitter drop falls with a tear-like gleam,—
Still, dreaming is so sweet! Still, let me dream!
Though true, to love may be definéd thus:
To open wide your safe defenceless hall
To some great guest full-armed and dangerous,
With power to ravage, to deface it all,
A cast at dice, whether or no he will,—
Still, loving is so sweet! Let me love still!