The Poems of Alice Meynell

Complete Edition. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1923. 12mo. xii + 144 pp. $2.00.
The Poems of Alice Meynell present the already known collection with some twenty-four poems added. It is a slender sheaf to have received at her death the peculiar recognition of lyric praise in the London press. The poems vary in intensity, in significance, in energy of wing; but to Alice Meynell have been given as her due the uniform courtesies of reverence.
We have prized the delicate austerities, the fine controls, in this her infrequent ‘flower of the mind,’ dim-hued, clear-shaped. But she appears here most herself in the guarded integrity of her individual spirit, her poetic ‘solitude.’ In a sense which few would risk, she kept herself unspotted from her world. By reversal of the parable, we might say that her talent has done its profitable service by being wrapped in a napkin. It has forgone thereby various gains from interest and exchange. But it has remained incorrupt. Her verses are touched by few of the multitudinous reflections which confuse the poetical light of our day.
The complete Poems draw a fine are through the three ages of man. Youth vibrates in the ‘Early Poems,’ with its ‘prophetic spring,’ its awareness of the coming-on of time, ‘miles and miles of unsprung wheat,’ and, in the exquisite ‘Neophyte,’ its predestined sacrifices at ‘altars far apart.’
The ‘Later Poems’ reveal our middle years as they are reached in generosity and intelligence, in their freedom from the personal absorption. They are for the most part fine points of contemplation, — not of the local self, but of the human spirit in its immemorial moments, — grave but pulsing reflections upon life’s essential relations, upon significance perceived in the familiar and therefore the commonly invisible. Here too are the best of her religious verses, epigrammatic, inward as the heart-beat, but still for the most part strangely detached from personal wistfulness or adoration. Rather they touch the experience of the universal ‘child of process’ on pilgrimage; or at their boldest they send the soul to divine immortal experience from human depths.
The ‘Last Poems’ foretell an approaching age which comes in mellowness but with spirit still alert. They are sometimes slighter, less essential in content, but at ease, released from grapples of endurance, with a young-eyed vision which has turned in patience from the shadow. Her song is like the song of ‘The October RedBreast’: —
For duty sang those mates in May —
This singing bird’s a lad, a lad!
One delights to see this elder mind in its grave but zestful sport of fancy or of pranking paradox.
Here too are her happiest assertions of poetic theory, as in ‘The English Metres,’ with ’their rooted liberty of flowers in breeze,’ and the best phrasing of her fundamental persuasion to which her own work is always true — that thought is the authentic stuff of poetry: —
Man at his little prayer tells Heaven his thought,
To man entrusts his thought, ‘Friend, this is mine!’
The immortal poets within my breast have sought,
Saying, ‘What is thine?’