Significant Poetry

IT has been the fortune of the writer to peruse within the past year, for purposes that may be nameless, if not the entire metrical production of the United States and Great Britain, at least no inconsiderable portion of the same. I have, to speak sadly and precisely, read within that time between two and three thousand manuscript poems, and more than two hundred volumes of recently collected verse. Standing thus, as an old poet hath it,

“ Up to the chin in the Pierian flood,” it may very well be that I am but ill qualified to speak of the course of the stream, to trace it to its remote and secret springs, or to foretell in what sea or swamp it shall ultimately be merged. But at any rate it will not be difficult to set down the direction and strength of the current, with some account of the braver argosies that are borne upon its murmurous waves.

Perhaps we shall best determine which books of recent poetry are “significant ” if we ask ourselves, flatly, what makes any book of verse significant ? And first we must inquire, to avoid confusion of mind, significant to whom?

To its author, any volume of rhymes, however spiritless, is significant for the excellent reason that he wrote it; and significance of this sort ripples out in widening, weakening circles in the appreciation of the author’s parents, friends, and cousins, and may, at the last, even lap against the stern and rock-bound consciousness of his publisher, in the form of a profit on the cost of manufacture paid by the author. Significant poetry of this class might afford a thorough-going humanist a fruitful theme for discussion. He might deal profitably with the question of the origins of the instinct for rhythmical expression, with the representative nature of the vast result, with the place and function of the deplorable poet in society, and in the home. But all this is obviously remote from the end of the present adventure.

To the aesthetically pure lover of poetry for poetry’s sake, on the other hand, there is but one sole spring of significance in verse, — beauty, — beauty of thought, of phrase, of melodious cadence, and the bright beauty of perfect outline. Such an one is upon the side of the angels; yet his point of view commands but a segment of a large and crowded circle of poetic phenomena.

We shall do best to regard the matter from the angle of the reader of cultivated curiosity, who, a true-born lover of poetry, is withal of a philosophic turn, inquisitive of relations. For such a reader that poetry is significant which by its sincerity and strength of conception, its artistic adequacy of execution, expresses pleasurably not only the mood of that exceptional person, the poet, but something, as well, of the pervasive mood of his day. Shall we say, then, that poetry is significant for us when it bears some vital and discernible relation to men’s business and bosoms, — so it be their most important business, their innermost bosoms, — and to the poetry that, has been and shall be. Yet in pursuing our investigations we shall need the constant correction of the lover of poetry for poetry’s sake. In a certain dubious sense a poem may have significance because it is widely admired, and this may lead the inquisitive mind too far afield. But here, if we discriminate, the significance is rather in the admiration than in the poem itself. In the long run, in any age only the poetry that is sincere and fine is significant.

If we conceive of the poetry that has been written in English in the last twelve months as a kind of Purgatory, a mountainous cone like Dante’s, with a spiral pathway leading to its summit, we shall find among the one hundred and seventyodd volumes on its lower rounds no ponderable significance; but midway in the ascent we come to a score or more of poets with something to say for themselves.

The clever poetic thaumaturgy of Josephine Dodge Daskam (now Mrs. Bacon) and Frederic Lawrence Knowles, the ripe and scholarly work of Dr. William C. Huntington and the late Dr. John W. Chadwick, the eerie crooning of the marvelous ten-year-olds, Julia Cooley and Enid Welsford, the polished, highspirited wit of Harry Graham and Owen Seaman, the suave, melodious classicism of Lloyd Mifflin and Bliss Carman, the thoughtful versifying of Florence Earle Coates and Gamaliel Bradford, Jr., the ambitious, if superheated tragic writings of George Cabot Lodge and Percy Mackaye, — all these are significant, if only as showing the number and variety of the poets who are writing effective verse. Nor would any account of recent poetry be complete which failed to make mention of the latest work of Mr. Riley, still overflowing with the old laughter and tears; of the richly picturesque poems of John Payne, the “loud symphonious lays” of C. E. Russell, the quaint, intellectual tenderness of “A. E.,” the crabbed, impressive pieces of Edith Thomas, and the pleasing pin pricks of Robert Loveman’s tiny poems. The year has seen, besides, two posthumous volumes by young poets of a promise now pathetically frustrate, Guy Wetmore Carryl and Edith Banfield.

But interesting as is the work of all these poets, none of it has quite the distinction or the significance to justify a close examination of it here, for, — to be fanciful again, — as we wind upwards along the perilous cornices of our Purgatory toward the Terrestrial Paradise of recent poetry, other, more considerable figures are discerned. The fine and significant poetry in the latest work of Mr. Woodberry, Miss Peabody, and Mr. Moody has already been treated in the Atlantic. We have before us, then, as material for the deduction of significance, the collected poems of Mr. Swinburne and Ernest Dowson, a selection from the poetry of John Davidson, dramatic pieces by Thomas Hardy, Stephen Phillips, and Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and volumes of verse by Frank Dempster Sherman, Henry van Dyke, Anna Hempstead Branch, and T. Sturge Moore.1

The six ornate volumes of the collected edition of Mr. Swinburne’s work other than dramatic reveal him as a poet of a deeper inspiration than it has always been possible to perceive as his single volumes of numerous nympholepsy, or ranting denunciation, have fallen one by one from the press. The dedicatory epistle to Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton, which Mr. Swinburne has prefixed to the collection, is rather mournful in its insistence on the palpitancy, so to say, of the author’s poetic moods; yet in reading through the set the corresponding agitation of the verse comes to have, for this so quizzical age, a certain importance. It is in a way the proper agitation of a prophet without full honor in his own country.

The empty, canorous resonance which was the notable quality of Mr. Swinburne’s early work, and which has often been charged against his work as a whole, is seen now to be illusive. In his preoccupation with all the most poetical poetry of the world’s past, and with the great hope of human brotherhood for her future, in the sheer temperament of his work, there is a substance that will not weigh lightly in Time’s scales.

Yet, looking at his work steadily, one quality is discerned which makes against its permanence. With all Mr. Swinburne’s intimate British passion for the girdling sea, with all his passionate celebration of the old English dramatists, his work all but wholly lacks the national note. In the shaping of both the spirit and form of his work Hugo and Baudelaire have meant more to him, judging by the result, than all the past of English literature. His political dreams are those of a Continental revolutionary, not those of the heir of Milton and Wordsworth. The very tone of his work is un-English. In true British verse there has always been, even in the whirlwind of the highest inspiration, even in the work of Shelley, a certain reticence and concision of phrase. A vital poetic idea has been more likely to take shape in a single stanza or a single line, vivid, curt, and memorable,than to be elaborated through a sequence of stanzas in melodious but elusive variation. There are many memorable poems in Mr. Swinburne’s works, but few memorable stanzas, and fewer memorable lines.

If we may judge by the fate of exotic poetry in the past, this lack of a deep national quality is a principle of corruption making against the permanence of a poet’s work. In Mr. Swinburne’s case, however, the fact that the first English poet of the last decade of the nineteenth century should turn so instinctively toward the Continent for his inspiration and his models is full of significance. There, and there only, it would appear, was there any passion of dream, any present nutriment for a genius so avid of flowers and flame.

In The Poems of Ernest Dowson, we find a similar endeavor to escape from the predicament of a prosaic and conventional society into paths of artistic freedom. In Dowson’s case, however, there was a grievous disease of the temperament and of the will that led him into ways that were sordid and evil; and Mr. Symons in his introduction has been at no pains to conceal it. Had he died in 1600 instead of 1900, this would have made him perhaps the more attractive to us. For, as most virtuous persons are constituted, ancient sin in doublet and hose has a certain interesting glamour that the modern article happily does not possess. The perusal of the memoir brings the reader to Dowson’s poems, for all the delicacy of Mr. Symons’s touch, with a certain preconceived repugnance. Yet as one reads the poems themselves the repugnance gives way to a pitiful and admiring interest. This poet of the docks and stews and cabmen’s shelters, who led habitually a life such as Poe led occasionally, was a scholar and an artist, who wrote in verse with sad sincerity, in exquisite lingering rhythms and a diction poignant in its reserved perfection. How almost classic is the accent of these stanzas from his " Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration:” —

Calm, sad, secure ; behind high convent walls,
These watch the sacred lamp, these watch and pray :
And it is one with them when evening falls,
And one with them the cold return of day.
Outside the world is wild and passionate ;
Man’s weary laughter and his sick despair
Entreat at their impenetrable gate :
They heed no voices in their dream of prayer.
They saw the glory of the world displayed ;
They saw the bitter of it, and the sweet;
They knew the roses of the world should fade,
And be trod under by the hurrying feet.
Calm, sad, secure ; with faces worn and mild:
Surely their choice of vigil is the best ?
Yea! for our roses fade, the world is wild ;
But there, beside the altar, there, is rest.

The pathos of poetry such as Ernest Dowson’s — a type more pathetically common in this unregardful world than any but readers of poetry in manuscript know — lies precisely in this conflict of the old vision with a volition diseased of a malady more insidious than that violent complaint of the romantic period whence the Byronic poets drew a large melancholy for their song. The note of Ernest Dowson’s poetry more nearly resembles that of Leopardi’s in its suggestion of a fine poetic faculty, a clear, undeluded mind, struggling for expression against a mortal weariness of flesh and spirit. Dowson’s inspiration was never of the volume of Leopardi’s, his idealism was more faltering and ineffective, but there is more than a passing likeness to such poems as Il Sogno, Alla sua Donna, and Aspasia in the mood and in the deeper meaning of the lyric entitled “Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae: ” —

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine ;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head :
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara ! in my fashion.
All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray :
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I have forgot much, Cynara ! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long :
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
I cried for madder music and for stronger
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire :
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

There is in this, surely, something of the open-eyed supineness of what it is the fashion to call, perhaps too loosely, decadence, but there is in it, too, the old, piteous, significant cry of the soul.

Mr. John Davidson’s poetic view of the world is as tragical as Ernest Dowson’s ; but there is a grim irony of intellectual strength in his work that marks him of a different race of men. Suicide and seduction, disaster and desolation, are his favorite themes. Yet his willful mood is the mood of a fighter, and so firm is his faculty of narrative construction, so vigorous his poetic utterance, that to read him at his best is a mental tonic. Capable as he is of an imaginative richness and a lyrical sweetness that no poet of the day has surpassed, he has plainly endeavored in the choice of pieces for the volume of selections to exhibit the strength rather than the sweetness of his vein. Yet there are few poems in the collection that do not show both qualities. Mr. Davidson is, perhaps, most important poetically when they are in most perfect balance, as in some of his longer poems, likethe “ Ballad of Lancelot,” or even in certain of his pieces in a lighter vein, like his “ Holiday at Hampton Court ; where, withal, there is an undertone of tragic irony: —

Scales of pearly cloud inlay,
North and south, the turquoise sky,
While the diamond lamp of day
Quenchless burns, and time on high
A moment halts upon his way
Bidding noon again good-bye.
Gaffers, gammers, huzzies, louts,
Couples, gangs, and families
Sprawling, shake, with Babel-shouts
Bluff King Hal’s funereal trees ;
And eddying groups of stare-abouts
Quiz the sandstone Hercules.
Now the echoing palace fills;
Men and women, girls and boys
Trample past the swords and frills,
Kings and Queens and trulls and toys;
Or listening loll on window-sills,
Happy amateurs of noise !
That for pictured rooms of state !
Out they hurry, wench and knave,
Where beyond the palace-gate
Dusty legions swarm and rave,
With laughter, shriek, inane debate,
Kentish fire and comic stave.
Voices from the river call ;
Organs hammer tune on tune ;
Larks triumphant over all
Herald twilight coming soon.
For as the sun begins to fall
Near the zenith gleams the moon.

Among contemporary English poets other than dramatic, there is one more writer who has done work of a strong peculiar flavor that is of enough importance to merit the most studious attention of lovers of poetry. Mr. T. Sturge Moore has published within the past two years four paper-bound volumes at a shilling apiece that contain poetry of the first water. Mr. Moore’s earliest preoccupations were with the psychology of out-of-the-way aspects of paganism. His Centaur’s Booty was a glorification, of animal strength and beauty, put into the mouths of two Centaurs, the last of their race, who have stolen a mortal boy from his mother. The initial conception was fantastic in the extreme, yet it was presented with a lyric passion that appealed to city-worn sensibilities like a breath of uncontaminate mountain air. How stirring was the concluding resolution of the Centaurs for the rearing of their booty:

He shall milk the wild goats on the mountains;
His feet shall grow sure as their feet;
He shall bathe in the clear rock fountains,
Till so clear is his mind and so deep ;
And his joy shall be high as the snow-line
And embrace a vast plain with delight.;
His laugh shall twang true as a bow-line,
Like arrows his songs take their flight.

In the succeeding volume Mr. Moore turned to a more piteous fable, — piteous first in his reading of it, — and through the mouth of a faun tells the story of The Rout of the Amazons by the Athenian horsemen. Only by the luxuriance of beautiful imagery was the detailed pain of the piece made endurable. But that it was so made may be inferred from this specimen: —

A thousand rode together, poising darts,
Behind them those with other arms came on ;
All flaunting down a green-sward valley came
Between Arcadia’s gentle bolted hills,
It was for beauty like a fleet at sea,
Or like an hundred swans
Sailing before the breeze across a lake !
Their vests of daffodil, or pallid pink
Or milky violet! their saffron caps
And hoods like birds for sudden wing-like flaps !
Their white and piebald mounts! the rich green sward,
The morning light, the blossoming hawthorn trees!
The zephyr’s music in the holts that crown
With delicate fern-like trees, each soft knoll’s top!
I thought the night had borne me heavenward
And in Olympus I had waked from sleep ;
And when their war-song rose
Long tears of rapture ran across my face.

In his latest volume, The Gazelles, and Other Poems, Mr. Moore leaves the Hellenic byways where his imagination has been dwelling, for others equally curious and remote from this present world. Yet the rapid maturing of his art is seen in the vigor wherewith he drives the permanent meaning of a fantastic tale home to the reader’s heart. For all his narrative skill, his picturesqueness and his humor, Mr. Moore in his present manner is not likely to be a popular poet. He depends little upon the attraction of obvious sentiments, or suave, pellucid speech. At first sight his crowded lines, with their excessive punctuation, seem crabbed as Donne’s. Like Donne’s, too, are the oversubtle pregnancy of his phrase, his farbrought analogies. Yet as one reads him over, many of Donne’s characteristic excellences may be discerned in his work, along with the superficial qualities. Read aloud, his heavily consonanted lines will be found to have a throbbing insistence like the trampling of passionate feet. And the crabbedest, hardest phrase, the most recondite simile, if pondered, will open long vistas of meaning.

“The Gazelles” is a kind of elegy for a band of the frail, beautiful beasts hunted with chetahs to the death by a troop of Persian princes. The hunting is described in a series of ornate pictures seen as if through a kind of hazy dream. At the end the poet breaks out into a threnody which in energy of conception, in adequacy of execution, is perhaps the finest poetry that he has produced: —

Why are they born ? ah! why beget
They in the long November gloom
Heirs of their beauty, their fleetness, — yet
Heirs of their panics, their pangs, their doom ?
That to princely spouses children are born
To be daintily bred and taught to please,
Has a fitness like the return of morn:
But why perpetuate lives like these ?
Like the shadows of flames which the sun’s
rays throw
On a kiln’s blank wall, where glaziers dwell,
Pale shadows as those from the glasses they blow.
Yet that lap at the blank wall and rebel,—
Even so to my curious trance-like thought
Those herds move over those pallid hills,
With fever as of a frail life caught
In circumstance o’er-charged with ills ;
More like the shadow of lives than life,
Or most like the life that is never born
From baffled purpose and foredoomed strife,
That in each man’s heart must be hidden from
Yet with something of beauty very rare
Unseizable, fugitive, half discerned ;
The trace of intentions that might have been
In action, left on a face that yearned
But long has ceased to yearn, alas!
So faint a trace do they leave on the slopes
Of hills as sleek as their coats with grass ;
So faint may the trace be of noblest hopes.
Yet why are they born to roam and die ?
Can their beauty answer thy query, O soul ?
Nay, nor that of hopes which were born to fly,
But whose pinions the common and coarse day
Like that region of grassy hills outspread,
A realm of our thought knows days and nights
And summers and winters, and has fed
Ineffectual herds of vanished delights.

To behold the thronging world in “curious trance-like thought” is the lot of the sincerest poetic temperaments that are now expressing themselves in verse, but none has expressed the tragic things beheld with a more delicate fidelity than Mr. Moore in the stanzas above. The mood which views life as a tragedy of pitiful frustration must inevitably doom a man to the ranks of minor poetry; yet in Mr. Moore’s writing, along with abundant poetic gifts, there is an intellectual vigor, a depth of humor back ot the mood, that leads one to hope that he may be one of the first of contemporary English poets to escape from the labyrinth of modern fatalism, dispose of the bull-headed beast of “commercialism,” and embark upon the old high sea of poetry.

As the inquiring student of contemporary poetry turns from the best English to the best American verse, he is doomed to something of a disappointment. The robust American note which has been the dream of our literary prophets — and of which the tuning flourish has been sounded in the poetry of Lowell, of Whitman, and of some lesser men — is rarely heard now save in poetry so crude as to be a provocation rather than a pleasure. The best and most significant American poetry of the past year partakes of that delicate retrospective refinement which since the days of Irving and Longfellow has been one of the prime marks of our literature. This poetic strain is heard most purely in Music, and Other Poems, by Henry van Dyke, and in Lyrics of Joy, by Frank Dempster Sherman.

Dr. Van Dyke’s work is that of a scholar in poetry endowed with a graceful gift of lyric speech. He has fed upon the bee-bread of English poetry, and he produces honeyed verse that by reason of the intellectual integrity of the poet often attains the accent of true and fine poetry. There is always a faint suggestion of the bookish labor of the study in Dr. Van Dyke’s verse; it rarely utters the unpremeditated word of pure inspiration, and as rarely does its artful phrase come freighted with the subtle, shadowy intimation of the spirit of the hour that makes some poetry of artifice important; yet in its sweet ingenuity, in its sincere and intelligent workmanship, its high and wholesome sentiment , it is of exceptional charm. Dr. Van Dyke is nowhere more characteristically himself than in these strophes of his “God of the Open Air:”

Thou who hast made thy dwelling fair
With flowers beneath, above with starry
And set thy altars everywhere, —
On mountain heights,
In woodland valleys dim with many a dream,
In valleys bright with springs,
And on the curving capes of every stream :
Thou who hast taken to thyself the wings
Of morning, to abide
Upon the secret places of the sea.
And on far islands, where the tide
Visits the beauty of untrodden shores,
Waiting for worshippers to come to thee
In thy great out-of-doors!
To thee I turn, to thee I make my prayer,
God of the open air.
From the prison of anxious thought that greed
has builded,
From the fetters that envy has wrought and
pride has gilded,
From the noise of the crowded ways and the
fierce confusion,
From the folly that wastes its days in a world
of illusion,
(Ah, but the life is lost that frets and languishes there ! )
I would escape and be free in the joy of the
open air.
So let me keep

These treasures of the humble heart
In true possession, owning them by love;
And when at last I can no longer move
Among them freely, but must part
From the green fields and from the waters
Let me not creep
Into some darkened room and hide
From all that makes the world so bright and
But throw the windows wide
To welcome in the light ;
And while I clasp a well-beloved hand,
Let me once more have sight
Of the deep sky and the far-smiling land,—
Then gently fall on sleep,
And breathe my body back to Nature’s care,
My spirit out to thee, God of the open air.

Mr. Sherman’s work, like Dr. Van Dyke’s, is that of the fine and conscientious artist. No American poet has a more tireless instinct for perfection, or is more masterly in his manipulation of the file. Nor is the result in Mr. Sherman’s case poetry merely of a polished and fragile surface, splendidly null. An element of his talent even more important than his pursuit of perfection is a vein of mystical fancy and quiet pathos. This is the breath of his poetry. Hence it is that his delicate, coolly meditated lines are so often full of elusive, haunting suggestion. His lyric entitled “ Witchery ” is one of his slightest, yet how magical is its drowsy spell of reverie: —

Out of the purple drifts,
From the shadow sea of night
On tides of musk a moth uplifts
Its weary wings of white.
Is it a dream or a ghost
Of a dream that comes to me,
Here in the twilight on the coast.
Blue cinctured by the sea ?
Fashioned of foam and froth —
And the dream is ended soon,
And, lo, whence came the moon-white moth
Comes now the moth-white moon!

Compared with the work of the transatlantic poets whom we have considered, even poetry so good as Dr. Van Dyke s and Mr. Sherman’s is a little lacking in temperament, in hind-head, so to say, and less closely related to the major intellectual currents of the time. In The Shoes that Danced, and Other Poems, however, Miss Anna Hempstead Branch has written poetry that is at once full, sometimes a little too full, of temperament, and in the truest sense of the word “ significant,”both in its own quality, and in its relation to some of the deeper moods of the hour.

Miss Branch’s inspiration is purely romantic, and there is always something of strangeness in the beauty of her verse. For color and picturesqueness she habitually adopts mediaeval subjects, and sometimes, even, a mediaeval fashion of poetic speech. Her chief preoccupation is constantly with the wan wonder of the world as it is revealed to the eye of an imaginative psychology. But there is an intellectual vigor in her work, a freshness of music and a vivid strength of phrase, that keep it free of the note of morbidity. Explicitness of doctrine is too often fatal to a poem’s charm, yet Miss Branch’s long “monologue in regard to heredity,”entitled The Descendant and the Id,” for all its explicit homiletics, hasa Lucretian richness and passion that gives it power over the imagination as well as over the intellect. The Descendant reasons of the fate that for modern men and women no longer darkens from the skies, but surges, more tragical and resistless, in the blood; and chiefly he considers the “small satiric Id,” —

That little Ark, that peopled with a brood
Of dreams, desires, portents, rides the flood,
Rocks on forever through thy wistful blood.
Behold in it how many lives arrayed!
Wild, hostile, loving, exquisite, afraid,
All living things that God has ever made.
Here is thy will, thy war, thy heavenly fire,
Thy dust, thy want, thy labor, and thy hire,
The dream, the anger, and the old desire.

Yet at the end he comes to a conclusion that is as reassuring, as it is — shall we say — “significant:” —

Apart, above, beneath, beyond, within,
I laugh at this vast heritage of sin.
That God that made me armed my soul to win.
Slowly I feel the ancient custom fall
Like shattered rain from off a steady wall,
And great “ I will ” is stronger than them all.
For if these hordes that terribly must ride
Drive through my heart and leave their grief inside,
God also wanders there at eventide.

Poetry like this, so thoughtful and so imaginative, yet so prodigal of imagery and thought, is handicapped by its very prodigality. Yet Miss Branch is capable of a telling repression, and in the three vigorous dramatic sketches in her volume, as well as in her lyrics, odes, sonnets, and narrative poems, she has drawn together a body of poetry of very hopeful promise. Perhaps the most promising quality of all is the diversity of mood that underlies the variety of form. It ranges from the weird ecstasy of this startling stanza of “The Riders:" —

Strange times have galloped through my mood !
(Ride, quoth he.)
Old cities dance along my blood !
(Ride, quoth he.)
’T is Sodom has an adder’s tongue —
But oh, what songs has Venice sung !
With piercing Troy have I been stung,
Gomorrah through my heart has swung!
’T was so with Christ when he was young!
(Ride, quoth he.) —

to the wistful feminine tenderness of “Sweet Weariness:” —

Fatigue itself may be a pleasant thing,
And weariness be silken, soft, and fine !
Upon my eyes its little vapors shine,
Trailing me softly like a colored wing !
Tender as when belovèd voices sing
It steals upon me and with touch divine
Lulls all my senses till each thought of mine
Is hushed to quiet, unremembering.
Oh, weariness thrice dear, so frailly spun
Of ended pleasure that still shines and glows ;
Oh, weariness, thrice dear! What have I done
To earn this delicate and deep repose ?
Child, thou hast worshiped at the setting sun
And looked long, long, upon the opening rose.

The best dramatic poetry of the last eighteen months is in the work of Mr. Hardy, Mr. Stephen Phillips, and Mr. Aldrich. Yet even this is perhaps rather of curious or purely aesthetic interest than symptomatic or significant in the sense that we have been proposing. The Dynasts, part one of “a drama of the Napoleonic wars, in three parts, nineteen acts, and one hundred and thirty scenes,” is chiefly important as a vivid presentation of a fatalistic philosophy of history. The poetry of the piece is not so much in the brickish verse as in some of the stage directions in prose. By these the reader is deified into an observer sitting above the clouds, before whose gaze the intricate pageant of a great war passes in an ironic littleness. Writes Mr. Hardy in one place:—

The silent insect creep of the Austrian columns towards the banks of the Don continues to be seen till the view fades to nebulousness, and dissolves !

In another: —

The scene assumes the preternatural transparency before mentioned, and there is again beheld, as it were, the interior of a brain which seems to manifest the volitions of an Universal Will, of whose tissues the personages of the action form a part.

In the very audacity of this there is poetry, as in its fatalism there is significance.

The Sin of David, Mr. Stephen Phillips’s latest adventure in the field of poetry for the stage, still further sustains the contention of the present writer in the Atlantic three years ago, that the talent, of the author of Marpessa is for elegiac rather than for dramatic verse. The Sin of David is even cleverer than Herod and Ulysses in its superficial dramatic quality, its superficial poetry. But the true dramatic fire is not in it. The catastrophe, wherein the tragic sins of adultery and murder are expiated by the death neither of the man nor of the woman, but by that of their child, while they are left to a future of chastened happiness, is soft and dramatically ineffective. It savors of an easy optimism that really amounts to cynicism, and carries no burden of pity and terror.

In Mr. Aldrich’s Judith of Bethulîa there is more, perhaps, both of poetry and of drama than in either of the foregoing The tragedy is rather one of epical episode than of temperament and character, and so it does not furnish many symptoms of our present predicament in poetry, but in its compact dramatic action, set forth in verse of a firm yet delicate beauty, it has the perennial significance that attaches to sincere and masterly workmanship

The conclusion of the whole matter seems to be the not very novel one that there is in our modern life a centrifugal impulse which drives the man of poetic temperament and training, capable of writing truly and beautifully, toward an ivory tower of poetic absenteeism, and, unless he be of a certain energy of character, into “devious coverts of dismay,” there to wander in the perilous pursuit of strange beauty and over-intricate truth.

Yet in such work as that of Mr. David - son, Mr. Moore, and Miss Branch there is evidence of much of the poet’s mind as well as of the poet’s temperament, and of the old incommunicable gifts of music and imagination that are reassuring. The business of the poet is to make heroes as well as to sing them; and if for modern men the hero’s stage is transferred from the battlefield with its drums and trampling of hosts to the office and the study, the poet’s call is no less insistent. It was not many years ago that Trevelyan told Lowell that he could never have carried through the abolition of purchase in the British army but for the inspiration and support he had drawn from the Commemoration Ode. And who can doubt that our lesser poets, waging in sincerity the old warfare of the soul, have made heroes, too, heroes of myriad fights with subtler foes than Paladin or Panym. Perhaps we may hope that some day the great victory shall be won, the poignant music of the reed be silenced, by the triumphant lyre

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  2. The Poems of Ernest Dowson , with a Memoir by Arthur Symons. New York: John Lane.
  3. Selected Poems. By JOHN DAVIDSON. New York : John Lane.
  4. The Dynasts. By THOMAS HARDY. New York : The Macmillan Co.
  5. The Sin of David. By STEPHEN PHILLIPS. New York : The Macmillan Co.
  6. Judith of Bethulîa. By THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  7. Lyrics of Joy. By FRANK DEMPSTER SHERMAN. Boston and New York : Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  8. Music, and Other Poems. By HENRY VAN DYKE. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  9. The Shoes that Danced, and Other Poems. By ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
  10. The Gazelles, and Other Poems. By T. STURGE MOORE. London: Duckworth & Co.