The Poets Tn Color

IT has been written ‘Of Color in the Poets,’ why not ‘Of the Poets in Color’? Why, for instance, has not some enterprising publisher issued a Pope or a Wordsworth or a Keats, with the purple patches in purple, so that with a mere flutter of the pages the reader may light upon the desired? No more searching of quotation handbooks; the passage would spring at you, detached from its context and yet rich with it, like Glaucus coming up from the sea. It is not as an amputated fragment that you would then find it, but alive with meaning, explained and magnified by its natural surroundings.

And if purple be conceded, the rest follows. Green for passages of nature-description, drab for the dull didactic, pink for egoistic self-display, yellow for bad taste; and for the servile reproduction of earlier conventions, for what Mr. Lippmann calls ‘stereotypes,’ nothing is more appropriate than magenta.

How would not the teacher of, say, Wordsworth be aided! There disappears at once the necessity for lectures upon ‘The Feeling for Nature in William Wordsworth’: the student has merely to glance through the volume and observe the distribution of green, and all is said. Remarks by the instructor on ‘The Development of Wordsworth’s Art’ are also superfluous: one has only to call the attention of the assembled class to the prevalence of magenta at one end of the volume, of drab at the other, and the object of the course is attained.

From force of habit, we have spoken of remarks as made to the class. But in all probability the necessity for such assemblages would disappear, so far as English literature is concerned. This simple color-type device, taking the place of the lecturer, will enable the student at home and in an evening to comprehend the life effort of any English poet. The merest glance into the volume of an author’s work will give the material for easy and masterful statements on the youthful bad taste of Keats or the dreary pedantry of the aging Wordsworth. Thus can education be speeded up and the waste of valuable time avoided.

The student mind is delivered, too, from the intrusive tyranny of the critical essayist. He is left free, on our plan, to commune with the words of the poet himself, undisturbed by a multiplicity of words about the poet. If a simple streak of yellow on a page can give the student guidance and set his mind working, it is surely an advantage for his development; it is surely better pedagogy than our present distraction by multifarious vocal comment.

Just as we have escaped to the movie from the verbiage of an unsatisfactory stage, so we retreat from the voluble critic to the quiet illumination of the pointing finger of color. The blend of green and purple on a Wordsworth page, with a single spot of yellow and some little streaks of pink, tells all that the most diligent pedagogue could tell in a semester; we know from it that here Wordsworth nobly expressed his feeling for nature, with one unfortunate lapse of taste and a touch or two of intruding complacency.

Of course, the pedagogue is not so easily deprived of his occupation. He will find substitutes. Instead of discoursing on ‘The Development of Wordsworth’s Art,’ he will lecture on ‘The Inaccurate Use of Magenta in the Westmoreland Edition’ of He poet; or he will struggle to reduce the Yellow Period of Keats, as indicated in the Hampstead volume of his poems.

The word is yet with us; but assuredly everything that we can do to reduce the mass of lesser words, every attempt toward immediate spiritual communion with the great English poets, is a move for the better.