A Study of Poetry

by Bliss Perry. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1920. 12mo, x+396 pp. $3.25.
AT the base of all of Professor Bliss Perry’s discussions in the chapters of his new book entitled A Study of Poetry is the significant idea that there is a certain inherent mystery in art; and any real student of æsthetics is inevitably interested in reaching the solution of that art-mystery of beauty—be it the mystery of painting, of plastic art, of music, or of poetry.
An early acknowledged aid to this solution is the work of the modern psychologists, particularly the work of Charcot, Ribot, and William James. To such testimony as theirs Mr. Perry adds the more interesting, and perhaps no less authoritative, testimony of the poets who have not only successfully practised their art, but have also written discriminating analyses of it.
Mr. Perry’s discussion of the means and methods whereby the æsthetic processes of poetry are wrought is most illuminating. The poet must, of course, rely upon mere words for transmuting his images, thoughts, and feelings into a versemedium that will arouse in his reader ideas and emotions akin to his own — akin, for the unique experiences and temperament of each individual reader forbid exact duplication of poetic response. Yet, if the words be aptly chosen, there is enough in common among individuals to allow appreciation of similar sensations and tone-colors. And furthermore, the poet has other agencies besides mere words: he has rhythm, imagery, metre, rhyme, refrain, stanzaic structure, and a host of minor aids and devices.
Of all the topics discussed in this scholarly and very human book, doubtless the curiously disposed will be most interested in discovering the author’s attitude toward free verse. In the first place, it is gratifying to know that he treats it with adequate seriousness rather than academic scorn. The essential quality of free verse is rhythm. ‘The real question at issue then,’ says Mr. Perry, ' is the manner in which free verse may secure the effects of rhythmic unity and variety, without, on the one hand, resorting to the obvious rhythms of prose, or on the other hand, without repeating the recognized patters of verse.’ Among the examples quoted are passages from Walt Whitman, Sidney Lanier, Giovannitti, Arnold, Henley, and Richard Aldington. Miss Amy Lowell’s ‘Patterns’ is a ‘triumph of structural imagination. But we are in thorough accord with Mr. Perry’s conclusions. Free verse may arouse temporary enthusiasm, but for the most part this artificial genre wins no loyal, long-continuing allegiance. ‘Intense feeling has gone into these formless forms, very certainly, but the medium soaks up the feeling like blotting-paper.’
One ends the reading of A Study of Poetry with a feeling of genuine satisfaction. The author has not at any phase of the discussion hesitated to grapple with matters involved and highly technical. There is remarkable lucidity of statement. Moreover, generalizations and abstractions are explained by apt and liberal use of passages readily summoned. A fitting place for this new volume is to be found side by side with President Neilson’s Essentials, and Professor Lowes’s Convention and Revolt. When we read books such as these, we feel that Oscar Wilde was right in saythat criticism is an essential part of the creative spirit.
C. S. T.