Baltimore Evening Sun (25 October 1911): 6.
Just 1,305 days more! And not a day off for bad behavior!
Poets’ day! Their slim volumes have been piling up for weeks past, while this last column, their natural asylum and jousting place, has been given over to tedious political controversy. Open the gate! Let them in! Give them a hearty welcome–particularly when they bring such pretty stuff as that Miss Gertrude Heath has put into “The Madonna and the Christ-Child” (Badger), a book if carols and ballads. I quote a stanza:
That say that on the holy night
That saw the Christ-child’s birth
The very winds and waves were still,
No sound was heard on earth;
The moon and stars all feared to shine,
Lest they disturb that night divine,
And every little wayside flower
Withheld its fragrance at that hour.
Not great poetry. Not the work of genius. But still verse of genuine grace and dignity, with music in it. The stanza I have quoted is from “The Holy Night” and there are two more in the poem. Even better are “The Legend of the Aspen Tree” and “Mary of the Mystic Eyes” The volume could scarcely be smaller: it has but 35 pages of print. But many bulkier tomes have far less poetry in them.
Another fair bard is Miss Bertha Gordon, whose work has been compared, by the Boston Transcript, to that of Miss Lisette Woodworth Reese. A very inept comparison. Miss Reese is a great poet—the greatest woman poet that America has yet produced. Miss Gordon is merely an accomplished maker of verse. That tone of brave defiance which Homer first sounded, and which one hears in all the songs of Theodosia Pickering Garrison, is the tone of her best work. For example, her “Song at the Brink of Death”:
My soul is in my hand—I shall not fear.
Now shall I test the tamper of that sword
That I have spent my life to weld and whet.
Through ills I dream not of, through agony
And ruin, I shall cleave my fiery way.
The heart within me burns like glowing wine,
And as the husk of earth slips from my soul.
The thrill of dawning godhood stirs within.
I swing my sword. and with a cry I leap.
Suave blank verse, but not verse of mighty lines. The lines following have even less distinction. Here, for example, one comes close to banality:
Dear, when the twilight shadows fail,
Then do you hear me call, and call?
My tired heart would lie at rest
Safe in the shelter of your breast.
Hear, oh my loyal love, and true,
The cry of my heart to you.
The collection is called “Songs of Courage, and Other Poems” (Baker-Taylor).
The “Poems of Revolt” of G. Constant Lounsbery (Moffat-Yard) are even more commonplace, though a certain charm is in stray stanzes. Mr. Lounsbery’s chief difficulty is a lack of technical facility. He often changes his rhyme schemes to clear his way, and sometimes he ventures upon rhymes which fall upon the ear like blasts from a B flat cornet. A pretentious blank verse drama, “Satan Unbound,” fills 99 pages of the book. Old Nick, roaming the earth in despair, finally finds death and release in a Paris cemetery, and is buried by Socialists. The millennium is dawning. His job is gone.
The humble, the high-hearted who with hope
War against war, opposing pride with peace,
And calling the oppressor’s brother, come
To pay a tribute to the Comrade’s grave.
But one of them, more suspicious than the rest, asks somewhat tartly who the horned Comrade may be. Answers a female Socialist:
What matters it, a man,
Bury in him all human suffering,
And set your faces to salute the dawn.
Then all hands sing, to the music of the Internationale, “the following song.” I am not going to give you the song. It is, in the first place, a pretty bad song. And in the second place, it doesn’t fit the tune of the Internationale.
Now comes a bulky collection of the poems of Madison Cawein (Macmillan), with an introduction by William Dean Howells. No need to quote copiously; you are all familiar with Mr. Cawein’s very excellent songs of “the woods and fields, the days and nights, the changing seasons.” Not often does human passion get into his stanzas: they are nearly always of a spacious serenity. And yet they escape monotony, for Mr. Cawein makes up for his lack of a dramatic sense by offering a great variety and beauty of melody. An example of his writing:
But I would die when Autumn goes,
The dark rain dripping from her hair.
Through forests where the wild wind blows
Death and the red wrecks everywhere;
Sweet as love’s last farewells and tears
To fall asleep when skies are gray,
In the old autumn of my years,
Like a dead leaf borne far away.
It would be difficult, indeed, to imagine more melodious stuff than this. The thought is old, and it is set forth simply, but there is exquisite music in almost every line. In “Beauty and Art” one comes upon the poet’s creed:
The gods are dead; but still for me
Lives on in wildwood brook and tree
Each myth, each old divinity.
For me still laughs among the rocks
The Naiad; and the Dryad’s locks
Drop perfume as the wildflower flocks.
The Satyr’s hoof still prints the loam;
And whiter than the wind-blown foam
The Oread haunts her mountains home.
A pagan, but, as Mr. Howells shrewdly points out, a pagan within bounds. Not many echoes of Dionysus are in these poems. They are as little orgiastic as so many Mozart minuets. And yet, like Mozart minuets, they have the spirit of youth in them—of youth touched with melancholy—of that youth which is, perhaps, the real youth of us all. Your young man is soldom hilarious. The sorrows of the world, newly discovered. oppress him too vastly. And neither, one may fancy, were those pagans who peopled Greece when the whole race was young.
A final paragraph for “The Midnight Mummer,” by Thornwell Jacobs (Redbrook), a Southern bard. Hear the Echo of Poe:
I listen alone in the moonlight,
At the edge of the forest glade,
And dreeam of the moonbeams kissing
The lips of my little maid;
Remember the wood-lily fading
On the breast that it taught to fade;
The pure, white woodlily fading
On the breast it besought to fade.
Honest stuff. But not poetry–nor even a good imitation of poetry.
The brave, brave fellows of the Baltimore Sob Squad:
The Right Hon. James Harry Preston. The Hon. Robert H. Carr.
Contributions to the lexicon of American synonyms for married: