The Successful Jack Rabbit Sonneteer
THE editor of the Club was rash enough to print in the July number the first eight lines of a sonnet by a Wyoming shepherd. The shepherd’s Muse was interrupted, it will be remembered, by the untimely appearance of a jack rabbit; for after the shepherd-poet had paused to shoot, clean, and cook the rabbit, he found it impossible to complete the sonnet satisfactorily. “ My inspiration had departed,” he wrote mournfully. “ Here is the uncompleted sonnet. You finish it!”
In this kindly task the coöperation of other poets was invited by the Club.
The promptness of their response was gratifying, and a good deal of light has been thrown upon the vexed question of the geographical distribution of American poets. In regard to the number of competitors, Pennsylvania heads the list! Pennsylvania is getting a great many harsh things said about her nowadays, even by Pennsylvanians themselves. And here she is revealed as a very “ nest of singing birds,” with Nebraska and Massachusetts tied for a poor second place !
But the highest excellence, as Matthew Arnold was wont to remind us, is often in inverse proportion to numbers, and there seems to be some rift within the lute of even the best Pennsylvania poet. We alluded in the August Atlantic to one of these poets, a venerable Quaker, whose sestet begins with the painful but deliberately chosen words, —
Obviously, “this will never do.” Another Pennsylvanian portrays
“ The nimble rabbit darting from the gorse.”
is sadly un-American. We believe that Mr. Roosevelt, that sportsman without fear and without reproach, never uses it. Errors in natural history, too, abound in many of the competing sonnets. A Michigan poetess describes the dead jack rabbit as
whereas experts know that, next to a dogfish and a blue jay, the jack rabbit is the most ungrateful of God’s creatures. Here is a Minnesota competitor, who insists that the rabbit is caught by an eagle,
But the only time we ever saw an eagle attempt this feat, he fell, indeed, like lightning (in accordance with all the best traditions of English poetry) ; but by the time he struck the sagebrush (“gorse ”) “ the quarry ” was about eighty yards away, traveling like one of Harry Vardon’s brassy shots.
Yet to err in such matters of detail is surely better than to leave the rabbit quite out of the picture, as do many of the sonneteers. Listen to a Nebraska poet, who remarks that, “ as the octave is the work of a Westerner, it seems but proper that the sestet also should be supplied by one who breathes the same pure atmosphere. ... I wanted to close with the suggestion that a reaction of public feeling here, with a corresponding political change, would yet give the Filipinos the freedom they seek, but I was unable to find room for the thought within the required limits.” Then follows his effort: —
Fled ever onward ’fore the angry blast
From out the icy north ; no shadow cast
By sun or moon in all that time. But lo !
A new day dawns. The distant mountains show
Their broad, majestic brows ; the storm has passed:
The sun in glory shines, and now at last,
Its fury o’er, the wind breathes soft and low.’
Thus, in the storm of death o’erwhelmed and dazed,
Her new-lit flame of freedom glimmering low,
Sits fair Luzon, still reeking with the stains
Of blood of martyred children ; sits amazed,
And waits the only boon that tyrants know, —
The calm imposed by fetters and by chains.”
This is good verse, and for all we know may be good politics; and yet it seems to us that “ fair Luzon ” is made to pop up not so much after the fashion of a jack rabbit as of Mr. Dick’s head of Charles I.
But if irreconcilable differences in politics and natural history are betrayed here and there in these curious sonnets, what shall be said of differences in philosophy ? An uncle and a nephew in Lynn, sending their contributions in the same envelope, begin their sestets respectively, “So man ” and “Not so with man ”! When members of one family differ thus vitally on all-important questions, it would be “temerious,” as Kentuckians say, to judge between them.
Like most judges in prize contests, however, we are taking quite too much time in announcing the winner, on the theory that the more prolix the preliminary compliments, the greater will be the suspense among the audience. We approach with diffidence, and by way of quotation, the question of the winner’s sex. Says a Pennsylvanian contestant: “ I, with one thousand others, try my hand at the six lines of the sonnet. I have quoted ‘ So man,’ and brought in ‘ Brer Rabbit,’ but left out the ‘ jack.’ Having no doubt the prize will be given to the best man, — or woman, although some one says a woman cannot write a sonnet, which I don’t believe, — I am,” etc. His sestet reads : —
Swift as the hunted rabbit flees away :
Here in the sunshine, there in the storms of life;
Here when the wintry blasts around him play.
There when the air with balm and warmth is rife,
Until his journey end in perfect day.”
This is tolerably soothing, upon the whole, and yet what seeds of discord lurk in that remark about a woman not being able to write a sonnet!
A woman not write a sonnet? Dear Pennsylvanian, take the word of one who sorrowfully knows! There are thousands of women who do nothing else but write sonnets, attach stamps to them (sometimes), and send them to the magazines. Or is it meant that a woman cannot write a good sonnet? The judge of the Jack Rabbit contest is now getting very “ warm,” as the children say ; the patient audience need listen but a moment longer. Yes, a woman can write not only a good sonnet, but a good Jack Rabbit sonnet, and, what is more, she can write five just as easily as she can write one ! Here they are, with her letter. Alas that her signature must be withheld, in deference to that strict anonymity upon which the freedom of the Club depends !
Los ANGELES, CALIFORNIA.
EDITOR OF THE CLUB, — I have read Enter the Jack Rabbit, and it induced a protracted spell of Uncle Remus’s “dry grins.” No doubt you will bitterly regret your rash invitation to the “chaffering swallows” to complete the roundelay of the “ holy lark.” It is an irresistible temptation, and the mischief is, it is impossible to stop with one trial. I’ve done five, and could have made it an even half dozen as well as not!
Here in the West one figures so perfectly to one’s self the situation of the shepherd, the wide stillness, the solitude inviting to poesy, the sportsman’s instinct elbowing the Muse, and, finally, the stern necessity of embracing the means of bodily sustenance, however inopportunely proffered. One is reminded of Stevenson leaving David Balfour to help Fanny build a pigsty. Oh, it is all too delicious !
So here are my efforts, in different styles, and with varying degrees of explicitness as regards their reference to the intruder.
You have brought them on your own head, and I have n’t had so much fun for an age.
SESTET FOR THE SHEPHERD’S SONNET.
Think not my inspiration is diminished :
Life’s sordid needs intrude. Remuneration
Arrives too slowly, for the soul’s oblation.
At any rate, if I’ve not wholly done it,
I’ve come within a hare’s breadth of a sonnet.
Looms on my ken) ; when a substantial dinner
Presents itself, ’t is common sense to nab it.
(A sizy jack, and fat, as I’m a sinner !) Art’s long, and I am short (he’s on that hum-
Lord ! what a shot!), and rhymes fill no man’s
I shot a hare. (You know the rule, “ First catch it.”)
I chopped his head off with my little hatchet,
Cleaned, cooked, and ate ; for, you must know, I “ bach it.”
Thus was my sonnet most untimely ended,
As long ere this the Muse had fled, offended.
Endures distress, privation, beyond reason.
When sudden something happens at this juncture
With stars of hope the threatening sky to puncture ;
Man takes fresh aim, and, if he does not miss,
Achieves his mark, — success, full-fill - ment, bliss!
Bows him in anguish ’neath inclement fate ;
Alone, in pain, privation, till his reason
Must totter, dreaming not what bliss may wait,
When lo ! the scene is changed in every feature,
And joy leaps toward him like some fleet wild creature !