The Golden Whales of California, and Other Rhymes in the American Language

by Vachel Lindsay. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1920. 12mo, xx+181 pp. $1.75.
IN a café overseas, a handful of American officers were discussing America with their French colleagues. To the Europeans, the American miracle had been the welding into a national type and consciousness of many races and manyminds. A bearded elderly French combiandant told of discovering an American soldier who had been born in France, and, shaking his head with the gravity of Zeus, repeated several times, ‘Twelve years ago that man was a Frenchman.’ The talk turned to America’s expression of herself. A French voice boomed out ‘Emerson,’ and ‘ tres grand homtne’; but the seed fell on stony ground. The Americans sought for names in the desperate fashion in which a man on a steep cliff claws for something to grasp at; but feeling that the New England patriarchs were somewhat out of sight and out of mind, they fell backward into the gulf of an awkward silence.
‘The form and the expression must exist,’ insisted the commandant, in true French fashion making the question one of analysis and logic; ‘ all that youth, that strength, that energy, must have an outlet — an expression in art. It exists because it must exist.’
Such might be the creed of Mr. Vachel Lindsay. If America cherishes rhythm in music and speech, rhythm and rhythmic form will he use; if you cry to him that rhythm and rag-time are born of the jungle and the tom-tom, he will look you boldly in the face, and ask you to find something more characteristically national. The reviewer, weary of those imitations of European literary modes, which now reveal a kind of intellectual deliquescence, frankly rejoices in Mr. Lindsay’s attitude. Let the expression and the intention be sincere, and let us have America — rhythm, jazz, tomtom, and all. Why should our literary house be desolate? It is good to read of
The far western slope,
And of prairie-schooner children
Born beneath the stars,
Beneath falling snows.
Of the babies born at midnight
In the sod-huts of lost hope,
With no physician there,
Except a Kansas prayer,
With the Indian raid a-howling through the air.
And mark the homely beauty of these lines in the ‘ Daniel Jazz’: —
And she was a golden lily in the dew.
And she was as sweet as an apple on the tree,
And she was as fine as a melon in a corn-field,
Gliding and lovely as a ship on the sea.
Lover and interpreter of America, Mr. Lindsay ought to find a friend in every American who looks for sincere expression in the arts of his country’s youth, energy, and generous humanity.
H. B. B.