Baltimore Evening Sun (8 August 1911): 6.
Poets, like bartenders, are hard-working cusses. Here it is still as hot as blazes, and every man who can afford a holiday is taking it, and all those who can’t are discreetly loafing on their jobs—and yet the fall crop of sonnets and ballads is already knee-high, and no less than six volumes of the longest shoots are already cut, dried, cured, baled and reposing on my desk.
For example, the “Poems” of C. E. d’Arnoux. C. E. may stand for Charles Edward or Conrad Ewald, but I rather incline to Caroline Euphemia, for the fourth poem in the book is a hot blast for the Suffrage and the last of all is an elegy upon the sorrows of wifery. Thus:
If cook he hired, the cook he’d pay; For me the housework is “but play,” For I’m his wife.
They say that other people laugh; My face is like an epitaph— I’m but his wife.
No wonder he “goes to meeting every night,” as the next stanza laments! An epitaph must be rather depressing. But it to the artistic quality rather then the philosophical content of poetry that should engage the honest critic—and of these poems it may be frankly said that they are as thoroughly artistic as any crayon portrait or hand-painted necktie you ever saw. Miss d’Arnoux rhymes “legs” with “specks,” “toot” with “loot,” “does” with “knows,” “menus” with “grease” and “brews” with “reduce.” A charming and original metrician. A new Cooglar, with touches of Geddes and Louis Michel.
Poet No. 2 is Henry Percival Spencer, author of “A Rape of Halloween,” and as the title of his volume shows, he is at some pains to be devilish. Thus he voices the great ribaldry which consumes him:
God made this world in just five days, The sixth day it was tested; The seventh day God took a rest—And ever since has rested!
I jog along from day to day, Without ambition, clan or creed; And only ask that on my grave They plant the good tobacco weed.
But let it be said for Mr. Spencer that, in his less painfully diabolic monds, he is a rhymster of a very considerable talent, who writes fluently and well and has an ear for music. On page 30 of his book you will find a pagan song that Otto Julius Bierbaurn would have enjoyed and perhaps even envied. And elsewhere there are other good things—not good, I am sorry to say, in the sense that feeding the orphans is good, but good in the sense that a mint julep is good.
Another strophist of respectable gifts is Fred Raphael Allen, who bounces into the arena with a whole book of sonnets. Sonneteering has become the rage among our native bards of late: not long ago I tackled four books of verse in four hours and found that, between them, they contained no less than 256 sonnets. A hard night’s work, believe me! As for Mr. Allen, he often misses complete success by no more than a hair’s-breadth, as this sonnet, “To an Old Poet, Who Fears Death,” will show:
You talk of winter; dread the snow of death; But look, has one leaf left its parent tree? Your fields are rich with autumn’s kindly breath Snd green pines line your pathway to the sea. Your orchard sweep is ripe with mellow fruit; You walk ’mid Indian summer’s purple haze. No voice you love can be forever mute— Lo! Moses’ strength shall crown your length of days! What of the winter, shall it slay the spring? Shall one small blossom fail its promised bloom? Love weds you with its golden marriage ring; Nor will it flee you in the narrow room! All Fate and Love are God, so live and trust; No singer dies; no poet turns to dust.
Mr. Allen, who is apparently of the Roman Catholic faith, devotes a number of his sonnets to religlous themes, and always the result is graceful and dignified. I quote the closing sestina of one entitled “The Annunciation”:
But now he came in glory! And the power Leaped in Her soul and shouted in Her heart! A regal throne became Her maiden’s bower, She stood majestic in Her destined part! Troubled in mind was She, but not afraid: Thus Gabriel called Her Mother, Queen and Maid!
Altogether this Mr. Allen deserves something more than a polite welcome. He has yet to achieve anything of the first rank, or even, for that matter, anything of the second rank, but his efforts are painstaking and honest, and the result is never absurd.
The religious note also appears in the verses of Alfred J. Hough, whose book is called “Egyptian Melodies,” but the dignity of Mr. Allen’s sonnets is missing. Here is an example of the author’s inept endeavor to be both homiletic and dashing:
A man named Peter stumbled bad, Lost all the love he ever had, Fouled his own soul’s divinest spring, Cursed, swore and all that sort of thing; He got another chance, and then Reached the far goal of Godlike men.
From such stuff it is but a step to translating the New Testament into limericks. Elsewhere, let it be said for Mr. Hough, he is more reverent and less ridicuious. But his volume cannot be recommended to those who are sensible of any difference between poetry and doggerel.
Joseph J. Coughlin, author of “Osirus,” runs to martial stuff. He has ballads about Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Malvern Hill and the Little Big Horn, and an eloquent protest against the retirement of Gen. Nelson A. Miles. I quote a stanza from this last:
The heart that never quailed with fear Still beats the same as yore; The soldier holds the memory dear Though he hears thy voice no more, Nor sees thy steed in direst need Dash by the wavering lines, To do or die in that flashing eye Where the light of victory shines.
Suave and sonorous rhapsodist—but Tennyson still holds the Police Gazette belt! Something of the same high mediocrity is in the verse of Hayden Sands, which appears between gray covers as “Lights and Shadows.” But if Mr. Sands is not a nightingale of purest note, we must at least allow him not a little talent as a mocking bird, as this excellent (and unacknowledged) imitation of Swinburne testifies:
Dear heart, if all my flowers Were kindled to red wine; If all my wild desires Could fan to ardent fires The lyrics of my lyres, What song would then be thine! What dreams of old dead hours; On seas what Stars would shine? If all my fruits and flowers Were crushed to crimson wine!
Which brings us, by great good fortune, to the end of the poets and their poetizing.