Architecture Among the Poets

I HAVE often wondered at the inadequate way in which architecture has been treated by the poets. The art is so closely connected with the development of humanity, so curiously in sympathy with the progress of civilization, so interwoven with the aspirations of the race, that, with its own intrinsic and infinite expressions of grace and fitness, apart from these associations, one might suppose it would present peculiar attractions to them ; that they would delight not only to describe and interpret its manifestations as they appear in historical monuments, but to imagine new forms fit to illustrate and adorn poetry’s various moods. And yet, with one or two possible exceptions, whenever the muse does celebrate architecture, she seems to stoop from her high career, and to be afflicted with a paralysis either of the intellect or of the imagination, which leaves her unfit to express an intelligible idea on the subject.

It is well known that no two architects who have attempted to restore, on paper, the villa Laurentinum of Pliny, by following the detailed and elaborate description of it in his famous letter to Gallus. have succeeded in producing similar designs. Disraeli, in his Curiosities of Literature, infers from this that it is idle to indulge in architectural descriptions, as they cannot succeed in presenting clear pictures, and that the pen should not intrude on the province of the pencil. But the question is not so much one of description as of interpretation. Architectural ideas and motifs excite in the minds of architects certain emotions, which are rarely shared in their fullness by the laity. But I hesitate to believe that it is impossible for the pen to convey to the public at least some part of these emotions, it seems unreasonable that certain detined capacities of delicate enjoyment should be in a condition of permanent and hopeless atrophy in the minds of the great mass of mankind. It is contrary to experience in other domains of human effort that there should exist in one art powers of expression which are incapable of some sort of intelligible exegesis. Of course, every fine art appeals to a certain range of faculties of appreciation which cannot be reached by other fine arts. Painting has something to say which sculpture cannot say ; architecture has a message which cannot be repeated in music ; and vice versa. If this were not the case, these arts would hardly have an excuse for separate existence. Yet it would seem that the inspired insight and passion of the poet should be able to sympathize with, and to impart at least somewhat of, the peculiar intellectual excitement created by these arts. Indeed, poets have successfully attempted this in the case of painting and sculpture and music. But the art of the architect is hardly more technical than that of the musician, and surely his appeals to the intelligence of mankind should arouse emotions as capable of translation by the art of the poet. If a monument of architecture is like a “ song without words,” it certainly touches the mind and heart as much as it moves the senses. The work of Callicrates, of Apollodorus, of Anthemius of Tralles, of the builder monks of Cluny, of the Abbé Suger, of Palladio and Sansovino, of the other masters of architecture, ancient and modern, is no more a mere pedantic display of technique than the work of Mendelssohn. The art is not merely conventional or academic ; it is essentially an expression of humanity in its noblest and most Godlike moods.

Under these circumstances, it is remarkable that this magnificent and inspiring art is generally reduced by the poets to the subordinate function of furnishing an indispensable background to the persons and movements of the poem, and is referred to with certain commonplaces of description which nearly always fail to suggest the really essential values of the theme, which betray either indifference or ignorance as to fact, and which often present impossibilities of form and structure. Sculpture, painting, statues, tapestries, all often receive worthy recognition in verse, but the noble shrine which incloses and protects them, for which they were made and of which they are a part, is passed by with a conventional epithet, conveying to the mind no recognizable image. In fact, the intrinsic qualities of architecture seem, for the most part, to be invisible to the poets and inaccessible to their sympathies. When they refer to a monument of this art, it is generally to recall some historical association or incident connected with it, to draw an inference, to point a moral or adorn a tale. They do not seem to realize that its pilasters or buttresses, its base and cornice, its windows and doors, its panels and stringcourses, its columns and arches, have assumed shape and character coincidently with the progress of mankind ; that these features can be interpreted as demonstrations of humanity and as evidences of civilization, all highly idealized and converted into visible poetry ; that their ornaments of sculpture are a re-creation of the works of the great Creator, reflections of nature, slowly developed in types and conventional forms by the action of the human mind through centuries.

The old metrical romances, like those of Lydgate, the monk of Bury, Piers the Plowman, the Romance of Sir Degrevant, or Henry Bradshaw’s quaint translation in verse of The Lyfe of Saynt Werburge, or the Faerie Queene contain occasional references to architectural effects, more or less fanciful, hut indicating an intelligent basis of observation, and a certain appreciation of some of the characteristics of mediæval ornament. These references, however, deal, for the most part, with details of furniture and fittings, and, though they have proved mines of wealth to the antiquarian, never, even where they are most definite, convey to the mind a distinct architectural image, or touch upon the essential and vital qualities of the art.

Even Shakespeare, with his world-wide range of sympathy and his immortal intuitions, apparently is unaware of the real relations of this art to mankind. His almost divine imagination seems, in this one respect, to have no loftier vision than that common to the time of Elizabeth. Bacon has a very intelligent interest in architecture, and writes of it with far more sympathy than any of his contemporaries ; but Shakespeare makes no use of the frequent opportunities of his dramas to refer to it, save once, very indirectly, in the second part of Henry IV.:

“ When we mean to build,
We first survey the plot, then draw the model;
And when we see the figure of the house,
Then must we rate the cost of the erection ;
Which if we find outweighs ability,
What do we then but draw anew the model
In fewer offices; or, at least, desist
To build at all ? ”

Even this, however, is a recognition of practical processes of building, and not of architecture as an art. This absence of adequate allusion may serve as another proof, if another were needed, that the two great Elizabethan names do not stand for one personality.

Milton, in his description of the Satanic hall of council,

“ Built like a temple, where pilasters round
Were set. and Doric pillars, overlaid
With golden architrave; nor did there want
Cornice or frieze with bossy sculpture graven,”

affords us but a glimpse of what he might have done with an architectural subject; and we are grateful to Thomson’s rare muse for condescending to give us, in his Liberty, this brief summary, which in fact seems to comprehend all the literary knowledge of his time in respect to this art: —

“ First unadorned,
And nobly plain, the manly Doric rose;
The Ionic then, with decent matron grace,
Her airy pillar heaved ; luxuriant last,
The rich Corinthian spread her wanton wreath.
The whole so measured true, so lessen’d off
By fine proportion, that the marble pile.
Form’d to repel the still and stormy waste
Of rolling ages, light as fabrics look’d
That from the magic wand aerial rise.”

But we search in vain through the elegant rhymed heroics of Dryden, Pope, and their imitators of the eighteenth century for a single appreciative or intelligible architectural idea. When they attempted it, the result was a shapeless, disordered, heterogeneous mass; set to most harmonious verse, indeed, but hopelessly inharmonious in the image. Vanbrugh, one of the numerous fashionable gentleman-poets of the time, himself the architect of Blenheim and Castle Howard, is not inspired, in his own verse, to correct the ignorant incongruities of his contemporaries. When Pope, imitating Chaucer in 1he scheme of his poem, and Milton in his architectural imagery, essays to present a poetic idea of The Temple of Fame, we have, in elegant and facile rhymes, an horrific intermingling of crude hints of Doric, Barbaric, and Gothic styles, which can convey absolutely no sane impression of structure or form in outline or detail. If the poet of Twickenham villa, in his insatiable greed for knowledge, had considered it worth his while to master the simplest elements of architecture, how readily could he have enshrined, in the elegant artificiality of his lines, a subject so much in sympathy with his poetic methods as a classic composition, with its ordered peristyle, its walls rich with color and incrustations behind the open screen of marble shafts, its pilastered pavilions and sculptured pediments, its decorations of statues and painting, and, over all, its storied dome ! It is hard to conceive how such an imagination could he indifferent to a fact so poetic, so orderly. so easy to comprehend, so adjustable to the purpose of his verse.

In fact, the general insensibility to effects of art in the eighteenth century is one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of the intellect. Gothic art in especial suffered from this eclipse of feeling. Its most magnificent monuments, the great metropolitan cathedrals of the Middle Ages, were not only neglected during this long period, but despised, insulted, and misunderstood. When they were referred to at all, they were stigmatized as demonstrations of barbarism. They touched no responsive chord in the human heart until the modern romantic school arose, and Boisserée in Germany, Viollet-le-Due and Victor Hugo in France, Pugin and Ruskin in England, restored them to the admiration and affection of mankind. Until then, through all those long years, to the poets as well as to the common herd, they uttered absolutely no word, and gave no breath of inspiration. To the literature of this time architecture was merely a series of stiff, unpliant formulas of classic art, without principles, only half comprehended, — a fetich to pedants, an enigma to the people. Since the enlightenment furnished by the romanticists, since the exposition by certain late writers of the theory and principles of the art, the sentiment of architecture has begun to penetrate the tardy perceptions of the poetic instinct; yet only in two or three instances has it received anything like an intelligent recognition.

Towards the close of the period of sterility, one strong, clear voice broke the long silence with strains which accomplished more for the recognition of architecture in literature than all other agencies combined. Among all the poets, Sir Walter Scott seems to stand alone in his thorough appreciation of the value of real architectural background and accessories to the interest of romantic verse. He used his archaeological knowledge and his fondness for mediæval architecture with the skill of a practiced romancer and the sympathy of a poet. His example was the potent factor in the creation of that particular romantic school in English literature which followed him. But none of his imitators approached this mighty minstrel in the truth with which the characteristic details of chapel, castle, or abbey were made essential parts of his picturesque stories. Abbotsford itself, the realization in material substance of Scott’s architectural ideals, is but indifferent architecture ; it is at best but pinchbeck mediævalism. These ideals of structure, however, found much happier expression in his verse, the plan of which did not necessitate exactness of portrayal, much less any attempt to interpret the intrinsic properties of his mediaeval models. The architect is relieved to find that this one poet, at least, did not make nonsense of his buildings. Whether the scene of his poem was laid in Melrose Abbey or Norham Castle, or whether it took him to the Saxon monastery of “ St. Cuthbert’s holy isle,” to the stronghold of Crichtoun, or to the towers of Tantallon, the wizard’s touch was true. His poetic visions never betrayed an historical monument. The flow of his imagination was corrected and held in check by the rare quality of honest loyalty to the facts of architecture as he understood them. Even in his details of description, though he touched them but lightly, the architect recognizes the salient points of the style of the building which he celebrates. His archaeological knowledge was ever sufficient to his theme, and in great part inspired it, as was the case with Victor Hugo in Notre Dame. If the schools created by these masters had, with poetic penetration and sympathy, continued the investigations of romantic art so brilliantly begun, literature would have been enriched with a new light out of the past, and architecture would, in some of its phases at least, have become an open book instead of an undecipherable myth or hieroglyph, of which the interest to the world resides in its outward grace, and not in its inward meaning.

If we turn to the entrancing stanzas of Childe Harold, whose pilgrimages included the contemplation of the great masterpieces of art in Greece, Florence, Venice, and Rome, and who dwelt in immortal verse on the Venus de Medici, the Dying Gladiator, and the Laocoon, on the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s, we find that the architectural subjects, among all the works of art, are alone, from the point of view of the architect, inadequately treated. Byron’s active and virile genius, prompt to appreciate a few palpable points of outline, and to enlarge upon the historical and romantic suggestions connected with the subject, exhausts itself with these. His quick insight and his descriptive powers are sufficiently evident, but, though the scheme of his poem certainly invites him to employ them on the most august themes that the art can present, he fails to touch the really vital points. We cannot but he thankful for what he deigns to give us, and regret his failure to complete the work which in each case he begins with such splendid promise. He lingers long with fine historical emotions and tuneful meditations on the Acropolis of Athens, but the Parthenon furnishes no other inspiration than a spirited denunciation of Lord Elgin for stealing the Panathenaic frieze! The Ereehtheum he does not see at all, nor the Theseion ; but he does espy the few remaining columns of the Homan temple of Jupiter Olympias. He visits the Bosphorus, but cannot find the matchless dome of St. Sophia, from beneath which the arts of Christianity and Islam parted on their divergent careers. What a subject for his muse ! He is magnificent, however, when he enters St. Peter’s, and shows clearly enough that his poetic powers can grow colossal with the greatness of his theme, and can, when he pleases, express an architectural emotion ; but the pagan art by which this Christian pomp is expressed, and all that this art, as developed in the great basilica, stands for in the history of the human race, have absolutely no recognition. So far as his architectural description or references are concerned, his words would apply quite as well to the hypostyle hall at Karnak or to the Cologne cathedral. He enters the Pantheon without noticing the portico (which, however, another and later poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, did see in his time) ; he observes within that the sole source of light is from one aperture, and he sees the altars and the busts, but there is nothing to show that this sole aperture is open to the sky, and forms the eye of the dome, whose vast coffered concave, itself an epic poem, appeals to him in vain.

Perhaps the attitude of Byron towards this art is revealed in the stanza of the fourth canto wherein, with lofty disdain, he refers to the students of sculpture : —

“ I leave to learned fingers and wise hands,
The artist and his ape, to teach and tell
How well his coimoisseurslfip understands
The graceful Lend and the voluptuous swell:
Let these describe the undescribable.”

But surely, to leave untouched all the deep human meanings involved in the purely architectural points of the great monuments of which he sings; much more, to remain insensible to such points as appeals of art, betrays at. least an astonishing indolence of mind. In fact, like most of his tuneful brethren, he was a mere impressionist as regards architecture. Like them, he had not patience enough to study the subject, nor cared to penetrate the veil of conventionalism which shuts out from casual view its richest and most potent significances. They flattered and caressed the blurred and imperfect images made upon their minds by these objects of art, and delighted the world with their unstudied reflections.

Rogers is another poet who, like Byron, wandered through the old lands of art in search of inspirations ; hut if Byron did, at rare moments, break into irrepressible panegyric when some one of these great monuments of human intelligence and aspiration forced itself upon his reluctant apprehension, Rogers ransacked all Italy for poetic emotions, but apparently did not see a building from the beginning to the end of his metrical career.

Wordsworth, with less fire than Byron, but with a far sweeter and more patient poetic instinct, at times seemed almost to enter the enchanted castle, and to arouse to life its sleeping beauty. No architect can read his forty-third and forty-fourth ecclesiastical sonnets on King’s College Chapel at Cambridge without grateful recognition.

“Vex not the royal Saint with vain expense,
With ill-matched aims the Architect who planned —
Albeit laboring for a scanty band
Of white-robed Scholars only — this immense
And glorious Work of fine intelligence !
Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely calculated less or more ;
So deemed the man who fashioned for the sense
These lofty pillars, spread this branching roof,
Self-poised, and scooped into ten thousand cells,
Where light and shade repose, where music dwells
Lingering, and wandering on as loath to die ;
Like thoughts whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
That they were born for immortality.
“ What awful pérspective! while from our sight
With gradual stealth the lateral windows hide
Their Portraitures, their stone-work glimmers, dyed
In the soft cheekerings of sleepy light.
Martyr, or King, or sainted Eremite,
Whoe’er ye be, that thus, yourselves unseen,
Imbue your prison bars with solemn sheen,
Shine on, until ye fade with coming Night !
But, from the arms of silence, — list! oh list! —
The music bursteth into second life ;
The notes luxuriate, every stone is kissed
By sound, or ghost of sound, in mazy strife ;
Heart-thrilling strains, that cast, before the eye
Of the devout, a veil of ecstasy!
“They dreamt not of a perishable home
Who thus could build.”

There is another master who penetrated deeper yet behind the veil, and showed that he not only appreciated a work of architecture, but understood somewhat of the structural form through which its sentiment found expression. No architect could ask for a clearer picture than that presented by Browning’s half-pagan Bishop when he ordered his cinque-cento Tomb in St. Praxed’s Church. The voluptuous Renaissance of the episcopal cenotaph suggests a definite image in shape and color, not only of the material object, but of the idea behind it. It is but a sketch, yet it is touched with the hand of a master, whose inspiration has behind it not only feeling, but knowledge.

Tennyson, in his Palace of Art, gives us the merest phantasm, like Thomson’s Castle of Indolence, or like the temple in Shelley’s Revolt of Islam. These are all cloud-capped visions in a ” pleasing land of drowsyhed,” without foundation or tangible substance.

Lowell, too, in his Cathedral, is beautifully vague, and, though his poem is rich with precious thought, it wanders from its theme, and misses nearly all those points of true Gothic design and sentiment which present themselves with inspiring suggestion to the imagination of every architect who knows and loves his cathedral of Chartres. He himself frankly says: —

“ I, who to Chartres came to feed my eye
And give to Fancy one clear holiday,
Scarce saw the minster for the thoughts it stirred
Buzzing o’er past and future with vain quest.”

But we could not ask for a more exquisite sketch, as the work of an impressionist, than this of the exterior : &emdash;

“ Looking up suddenly, I found mine eyes
Confronted with the minster’s vast repose.
Silent and gray as forest-leaguered cliff
Left inland by the ocean’s slow retreat,
That hears afar the breeze-borne rote and longs,
Remembering shocks of surf that clomb and fell,
Spume-sliding down the baffled decuman.
It rose before me, patiently remote
From the great tides of life it breasted once.
Hearing the noise of men as in a dream.
1 stood before the triple northern port.
Where dedicated shapes of saints and kings,
Stern faces bleared with immemorial watch,
Looked down benignly grave and seemed to say,
Ye come and go incessant ; we remain
Safe in the hallowed quiets of the past ;
Be reverent, ye who flit and are forgot,
Of faith so nobly realized as this.
. . . . . I give thanks
For a new relish, careless to inquire
My pleasure’s pedigree, if so it please,
Nobly, I mean, nor renegade to art.
The Grecian gluts me with its perfectness,
Unanswerable as Euclid, self-contained,
The one tiling finished in this hasty world,
Forever finished, though the barbarous pit,
Fanatical on hearsay, stamp and shout
As if a miracle could be encored.
But ah ! this other, this that never ends,
Still climbing, luring fancy still to climb,
As full of morals half-divined as life,
Graceful, grotesque, with ever new surprise
Of hazardous caprices sure to please,
Heavy as nightmare, airy-lightas fern,
Imagination’s very self in stone !
With one long sigh of infinite release
From pedantries past, present, or to come,
I looked, and owned myself a happy Goth.”

If, with such affluence of imagination and diction, Lowell had not been, as he confessed, “ careless of his pleasure’s pedigree,” like the rest of the impressionists in verse and in art; if he had had more of the pre-Raphaelite qualities, which inspect and analyze the source of pleasure before attempting to portray, he would have interpreted this lovely mediaeval enigma like a prophet.

Emerson, with a delicate and almost unequaled depth of poetic insight, touched, as it has never been touched before or since, one truthful chord in The Problem:

“ The hand that rounded Peter’s dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Wrought in a sad sincerity ;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than be knew ; —
The conscious stone to beauty grew.”

But he left his brief architectural strain too soon, and left how much unsung!

Longfellow’s muse, it must be admitted, is indebted for some of its happiest imagery to his fine consciousness of the romantic sentiment in Gothic art. No European poet, born and bred in the shadow of cathedral or cloister, ever felt more deeply than this sweet minstrel from Maine, or expressed more tenderly, the emotions which a true poet should feel under these influences. But he never wrote an architectural poem, and it is very evident that he never studied and did not really comprehend the true Gothic, which he loved so much, and which inspired so much of his verse, nor imagine the infinite lights and shadows of human life hidden behind the mediæval mask. If we read his lovely lines on his translation of the Divina Commedia of Dante, we may see that, when he touched upon architecture, he merely used it as a rhetorical image, secondary to a thought outside of the art. As an example of the delicacy and truth of his poetical workmanship under such limitations, I may be permitted to quote his second stanza : —

“ How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!
This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves
Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves
Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,
And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers !
But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves
Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,
And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers !
Ah ! from what agonies of heart and brain,
What exultations trampling on despair,
What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,
What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,
Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
This mediæval miracle of song! ”

The architect can never forget that noblest of all the poetic tributes to his art which Longfellow puts in the mouth of his Michael Angelo : —

“ Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all the arts.
Painting and sculpture are but images,
Are merely shadows east by outward things
On stone or canvas, having in themselves
No separate existence. Architecture,
Existing in itself, and not in seeming
A something it is not, surpasses them
As substance, shadow.”

The architect who completed for the Duchess Marguerite the church of Brou, and the sculptor who carved the tomb within, though they aimed to appeal to such refined intelligence as that of Matthew Arnold, and to touch with their art such sensitive hearts as his, studied their careful details and created their harmonies of form in vain so far as he was concerned. His lovely lines on this church and tomb have no recognition of the fullness of the message which these objects were intended to convey, and present no clear picture even of their apparent form. His delicate instinct, when confronted by the visible poetry in these monuments of art, felt no sympathetic thrill, and saw only the effect of the tinted light from the windows as it played upon the pavement ; the shafts and groined vaulting of the church appeared to him only a “foliaged marble forest;” and his poetic eye discovered only “ chisell’d broideries rare ” and “ carved stone fretwork ” on the tomb, where were sculptured the two forms, —

“ One, the Duke in helm and armour ;
One, the Duchess in her veil.”

The competent interpretation which the “ frozen music ” of one art had a right to demand from the inspired insight of the other is vainly sought for in this beautiful verse. Here, as elsewhere, the sister arts remained strangers one to the other, and the real architecture of the church of Brou was invisible to one who should have been its oracle.

The emotions aroused in the mind of an intelligent expert by the contemplation of a work of pure architecture, in whatever style and of whatever race, are necessarily complex and difficult to describe ; but I am persuaded that the quality and keenness of these emotions are such as have been awakened by no other work of human hands. To the “ capable eve ” there is, in the first place, the charm of repose, which includes almost all the virtues of design. Then follow the gracious and caressing appeal of technical harmony and grace in outline and proportion, in symmetry or balance of parts, in color, texture, detail, and distribution of ornament; the pleasing evidences of scholarship without pedantry, if the work is modern, of the intelligent study and adaptation of historical styles to modern use, of reserved power, of the absence of affectation or caprice ; the just subordination of the personality of the author to his theme ; the skillful adjustment of means to ends; the perfect agreement between construction and decoration ; and, in certain cases, the glad recognition of the audacity of genius in breaking through the trammels of convention, and creating a surprise which does not offend. In the second place, outside of technique, the student is moved, in the contemplation of an historical monument, by its poetic suggestions ; by the effect of national or local spirit on the treatment of outline and detail, and of that unconscious but inevitable imprint made by contemporaneous political, religions, social, or commercial conditions, which differentiates an architectural achievement from any other work of fine art, and makes it an evidence in the history of civilization. He has learned that the architectural monument is saturated with humanity ; that it contains the essential spirit of history ; and that even a Grecian Ionic capital, for instance, the decoration of a Roman frieze, of a Gothic spandrel or capital, or of the panel of an Italian pilaster of the fifteenth century, is a highly figurative image of a phase of civilization. Every movement of their lines, all their combinations, their various methods of presenting natural forms, are eloquent to those who can understand them. But all these remoter suggestions are conveyed to the mind by implication, by figure or symbol, as in poetry, and not, as in prose, by direct statement. The language of architectural forms is one of infinite artifice ; it is born of traditions, is shaped by conventions, and speaks in parables and apologues, which can be interpreted only by those who have studied the growth of thought in the development of its signs and symbols. This language is not so much in construction as in the decoration of construction. It becomes articulate in ornament, whether, like that of Egypt, its apparent motif is a remote paraphrase of the lily and papyrus ; or, like that of Greece, a highly conventionalized and chastened apotheosis of the acanthus, the honeysuckle, and the seasliell ; or, like that of Rome, an ostentatious, opulent, sensuous development of the Greek forms; or, like that of the early Christians, a spiritualized reminiscence of the conventions of Greece and Rome, and a new creation of the flowers and fruits of nature; or, like the mediæval ornament, an embroidery of cusps and crockets, and an artificial adjustment of natural forms to the rhythm of architectural order and harmony ; or. like the ornament of the Moslems, an intricate but orderly tangle of geometrical lines ; or, finally, like that of the Renaissance, an elegant profusion of wreaths, garlands, and emblems, with flowing stalks of artificial foliage, mingled with human figures and eliimseras, all created and arranged to make symmetry more beautiful. These conventions were used merely to ornament construction, with no deeper object in view; nevertheless, the spirit of the times in which they were executed unconsciously gives them a peculiar character and significance.

Much of the sentiment, many of the emotions, to be derived from architecture are of course enjoyed by the layman according to the degree of his natural sensitiveness to impressions from works of art, and according to the liberality of his education ; but it is apparent that to his complete comprehension of the full meaning of an architectural monument there is needed an interpreter, who can not only feel it, as an expert, in its evi dent and remoter meanings, but who, if possible, can analyze and demonstrate it, thus opening to the world this most fertile and most delicate source of intellectual and emotional delight.

We would first look for such an interpreter among the poets; but apparently no poet, even in this century, the most inquisitive of all in the history of our race, has as yet endeavored to penetrate this difficult region of art, although Browning, Wordsworth to some extent, and perhaps one or two others seem to have shown that the obstacles are not insurmountable, when the spirit is willing and the mind informed.

Byron’s haughty disdain for the study of a work of art may be something more than a personal idiosyncrasy ; it may represent the characteristic attitude of all his poetic brothers and sisters. But a mind familiar with this noblest of the fine arts, and trained to its practice, finds it difficult to condone this indolence or indifference of the tuneful choir. Of course it may be said that a poet need not be a geologist or a botanist to enable him to treat a landscape in adequate poetic phrase, and that, therefore, to celebrate justly an architectural theme, the equipment of an architect or of an archaeologist is not necessary to him ; that the Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth, for instance, is a beautiful and satisfactory poem as it stands, and that it would have been no more acceptable if, instead of the exquisite reflections which were actually incited in his mind by the neighborhood of that monument, it had inspired him with thoughts more germane to its intrinsic architectural and human conditions. In fact, it is because of these conditions, because it is a creation of the culminated and combined wisdom of mankind at the moment of its erection, and a poetic expression of the civilization of its times, that a monument of architecture has a different sort of interest from the works of nature, a significauce which cannot be reached by a casual impression of some of its external effects. The Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth was not intended to be a poem of architecture. For the purposes of the poet, this building did not differ in value from a demonstration of nature ; to him it was a mere mark of locality, inducing a certain range of thought because of association. An architectural poem on such a subject would be at least equally well worth writing : it would celebrate in poetic form the structural and decorative harmonies of the subject, and would enter into the feelings of the men who created it; it would reveal the deep significance of its individuality of character in form and detail; it would touch upon the human aspirations and passions unconsciously built into its walls, and would draw its inferences and lessons from these inherent conditions ; it would be a poem of humanity, based upon one of humanity’s most exquisite manifestations. Such a poem, apparently, has not been written.

Now, pondering these things, it occurred to me to question whether the explanation of this silence of the poets lies in the fact that no expert has as yet shown the way to this region of difficult access, so that the inspired ones might at last find an entrance by following his footsteps, and gather there the flowers that so long have blushed unseen and wasted their sweetness in vain ; or whether, after all. it may be impossible to describe architecture adequately in sympathetic poetic diction, avoiding technicalities, which would be the merest stumbling-blocks to inspiration, and to express, by the same medium, somewhat of its true sentiment and meaning. The answering of the questions seemed to be worth a somewhat hazardous experiment. To this end, quite conscious of the absence of the divine afflatus in my own composition, though with a lively appreciation of its results in others, and encouraged by the reflection that genius has been called the art of taking pains, and that patience is one of its most potent ingredients, I timidly, and with no exalted expectations, ventured to try my ’prentice hand on

“ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.”

For the sake of its simplicity, mainly, and because its capacities for the purpose seemed to be reasonably obvious and manageable, I have chosen for a subject a doorway in southern Romanesque, having in my mind, not an individual example, but rather a type ; so that the characteristics of the style might not be subjected to the accidents, or limited to the idiosyncrasies, of a single monument. Perhaps, however, features of the porch of St. Trophême at Arles may have had a somewhat prevailing influence over the ideal which I have attempted to portray. Though of course the development of my thought has been materially embarrassed by the unfamiliar obstructions of rhyme,rhythm, and poetic diction, and my progress has been consequently slow, laborious, and plodding, quite without anything approaching what I understand to be meant by “ fine frenzy,” the performance of this self-imposed task has not been without somewhat of the “pleasure of poetic pains.” The theme was at the beginning mapped out in cold blood, but I fancy that the form of the composition has forced it not only to overflow the original prudent boundaries of the argument, but at several points to take an unexpected turn of emphasis or imagination, which I dare to hope may possibly be explained or condoned as the process of the evolution of prose into what may be called poetry. I am not at all sure on this point; but the process, I believe, if it has to some extent idealized the thought, or perhaps led it astray, has not betrayed the architecture, for the integrity of which I must be held responsible.

Possibly the method of presentation which I have employed may, in skilled and practiced hands, render architecture intelligible to those who, as Burke said, are ready to yield to sympathy what they refuse to description. At all events, if the results which mere plodding industry, under the impulse of long-cherished enthusiasm and corrected by a reasonable knowledge of the subject, has reached may not afford a sort of pleasui’e to others, it may at least interest them, as, under the circumstances of its production, a curiosity of literature.

If it is remembered that in this modest experiment I do not rashly pretend to compete with the poets, nor even to prove that the field, which I still believe to be rich in poetic thought and abounding in food for the imagination, is accessible to them, the obvious comment will not be made, that “ fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

I am tempted, therefore, to release this child of painful endeavor from its secret place, with the pathetic inquiry upon its lips, “ Have I a right to exist ? ”



Twice four hundred years have borne
To this doorway, gray and worn,
Weary weights of grief and sin ;
Contrite, have they entered in,
And, beneath the arch of stone,
Laid their burdens down, and known
That, to faith, whate’er betide,
The doors of heaven are opened wide.
For, with invitation sweet,
The pastoral Church, her dock to greet,
To fold, to comfort, and to feed.
This Portal Beautiful decreed.
The narrowing arch is deep and wide ;
Niched in its jambs on either side,
Shaft beyond shaft in ordered state
Stand on their solid stylobate,
Their leafy capitals upholding
Archivolt and fretted moulding;
Arch within arch, with lessening leap,
From shaft to shaft concentric sweep,
Echoing inward o’er and o’er,
Inward to the vaulted door,
Everr arch by subtle hand
Wrought with roll or bead or band,
Wrought with fillet or with fret,
Dentil, hillet, or rosette,
While, between the sculptured rings,
Angel choirs spread their wings,
And, soaring as the arches soar,
With viol and with voice adore.
For the happy masons said,
As the radial stones they laid,
Truly wedged, with every joint
Loyal to the central point,
And by touch of chisel taught
Utterance of human thought, —
“ Let the choral arches sing
Joyfully a welcoming,
Every one in concord fair
Moulded and attuned to share
By the cunning of the mason
In a solemn diapason,
While the great arch over all,
Silent, hears the mighty wall ;
Silent, while its arch-stones deep
Under the sheltering label sleep,
And the corbel-heads intone
Vespers with their lips of stone.”
Then with reverent hands they laid,
Deep in the archèd frame embayed,
Circled with immortal song,
Upon a lintel deep and strong,
A sculptured slab, to symbolize
Grace Divine to human eyes.
Oaken doors they hung below.
On forgèd hinges turning’ slow,
The rigid iron branching wide
With foliate growth from side to side.
Blessèd they who enter here !
For, upon the midway pier,
The gentle Mother, undefiled,
Bears on her breast the Holy Child,
And, born of superstitions old,
Consecrated types unfold
To purer meanings, and impart
Dignity to childlike art.
Ranged along the lintel stone,
Each like each, and all like one,
Side by side in sad debate.
The twelve apostles sit in state.
High on the stone where Grace Divine
Shows to mankind the sacred sign.
The blessèd Lord, in glory crowned,
Sits majestic, while around
His central throne, on either hand,
The four mysterious Creatures stand.
Ready to bear, with wings unfurled.
His great Evangel to the world;
His hand, upraised in benediction,
Comforts pain and soothes affliction,
Ever blessing year by Year
All who humbly enter here,
Saying at the open door,
Pax vobiscum evermore. With craft by gray traditions bound,
The builder raised these arches round,
Developing hi progress true
The ruder forms his fathers knew.
He built them strong with honest care,
With heart of pride he built them fair,
Prodigal of labor spent
In joyfulness of ornament;
Not yet by learning led astray
From nature’s strong and simple way,
Not trained as yet to analyze
The gifts of God with questioning eyes,
Nor by sophistication cold
Made timid where he should be hold,
No fine restraint the builder knew ;
Barbaric force to beauty grew
In types of unaffected form,
From the heart of nature warm. —
Prolific roots with strength innate
In future growths to germinate,
The perfect flower, yet unblown,
Hidden in the sheath of stone.

To him no rich, historic Past,
With strange ideals and visions vast,
Held bitter fruit of knowledge out
To tempt his innocence with doubt.
In narrow bounds his ©nurse was laid ;
Not distracted, nor afraid,
Here he worked with earnest heart,
Nor knew his handiwork was art;
In images, as nature taught,
And not in learned words, he thought;
Carved as his fathers carved of yore,
But with a touch unknown before,
And kept his living art apace
With the progress of his race.

The sterile stones to life awake;
O’er the naked fabric break
Growths from ancient classic seed,
Acanthus, ovolo, and bead,
But the flowers of the field
Secrets to the carver yield,
And, new-created, play their part
In the symmetries of art.
Stem and tendril, bud and bloom.
Here an order new assume,
Trained to fit the builder’s place
With artifice of formal grace.
All livingthings, by art transformed.
In this new creation warmed.
To new uses strangely grown.
Animate the bossy stone.
From these vital forces spring
Forms of prophet, priest, or king,
Scarcely wrought on nature’s plan.
More of stone, and less of man,
Tall, attenuate, and still.
Like the niches which they fill;
Right and left, the door they keep.
Watching, while the ages sleep.
Here the carver’s wayward tool
Breaks through order’s rigid rule,
And grotesquely, as he works,
Humor gross with worship links.
Creatures of invention strange
Through the sculptured leafage range,
As with strains of music stirred,
By all ears but theirs unheard,
Moving rhythmic with the bent,
Of structural line and ornament,
Pursue their sports or chase their prey
In a carver’s holiday.
Tales of Scripture, legends old,
In the crowded caps are told,
Which, with leaf or figure, still
Under the abacus fulfill
In various forms their double duty
To bear with strength and crown with beauty.
Now, nature, with her soft caress,
Has stooped the carver’s work to bless
With the mystery and surprise
Of her silent sympathies.
Centuries, whose mellow tones
Sleep upon these votive stones,
Have smoothed the thresholds with the beat
Of their penitential feet ;
And age to art a grace has lent
Quite beyond the art’s intent,
To conscious stone, to human thought,
A new interpretation brought.
Out of the quarry’s sleeping heart.
The spirit, waked by patient art.
Taught to repeat its lessons clear
On fretted arch and storied pier
In utterance beautiful, that finds
Quick access to lowly minds,
Whispers from the graphic stone
Solemn secrets of its own,—
Runes which, heard aright, betray
Stories of the ancient day;
Tell what never scribe nor sage
Wrote on the historic page
Of arts and manners, and the place
Reached in the progress of the race,
When builders toiled, untaught but true,
And " builded better than they knew ;
Tell, in some new exotic grace
In turn of leaf or chisel’s trace,
In flower’s shape or carver’s thought.
The sources whence the people caught
The strength to rise from old to new.
From dark to light, from false to true ;
What Byzantine fires came
To set their smouldering arts aflame ;
How from Roman shrines was brought
Pagan wealth to Christian thought;
What forces and what fates combined
To change the courses of the mind. Pointing paths which men must take,
Nations yet unborn to make.
Thus the witness of the stone
Is not for date or style alone ;
Still beneath these arches low
Humble generations go
To receive the peace that falls
From these visionary walls, —
Rest from toil and peace from strife,
Glimpses of the nobler life ;
But what is hidden few may read
Behind the church’s sculptured screed.
If the powers which shaped the fate
Alike of lowly and of great
Hieroglyphic, record made
When these humble stones were laid ;
If acanthus and volute,
If this growth of leaf and fruit.
This new creative force, which brings
New life to all created things.
Kindling with its vital flame
The lifeless geometric frame,
Gathered in from race to race
Increments of time and place,
And the nations set their signs
In the carver’s forms and lines ;
If the spirit that awoke,
’Neath the unconscious chisel-stroke,
Was the soul of history, —
Deep into its mystery
Let my new-world vision see,
When these doors unfold for me,
When upon this threshold-seat
Linger my expectant feet,
And the blessing on my head
From the lifted Hand is shed.
When, beneath far Western skies,
Seeds of this ancient art surprise
The children of a younger race
With blossoms of exotic grace;
When, in sweet and virgin earth,
They find a new and prosperous birth,
And, in spacious, strenuous air,
A growth more free, a bloom more fair,
While the vigorous germs retain
The virtues of their primal strain, —
So may a strong and simple art,
Born in innocence of heart,
Unfold beyond the builder’s hope
In purer line and larger scope,
And modern life and light fulfill,
With studied aim and conscious skill,
The promises which, all unknown.
Slept in the old prolific stone ;
So may the later spendthrift age
Waste no more its heritage,
In the mazes of the past
Wandering aimless, hut at last,
Find for art a path which leads
Out of the doubt of varying creeds,
And onward from the Christian arch
Begin a new triumphant march.

Henry Van Brunt.