Collected Poems of H. D./Selected Poems

New York: Boni and Liveright. 1925. 12mo. viii+304 pp. $2.50.
by W. H. Davies, decorated with woodcuts by Stephen Bone. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 12mo. vi+71 pp. $2.00.
COMPARISONS are sometimes neither just nor necessary, but they may be of interest in determining the scope of contemporary writing. The Collected Poems of II. D. and the Selected Poems of W. H. Davies form such a combination. H. D. admittedly stands among the finest of those poets who have been seeking new turns of phrase; W. H. Davies is an adherent to that continuous English tradition which stretches back to Chaucer, even to Layamon. He is, of course, unconsciously of that tradition; indeed, self-consciousness is alien to the tradition itself. And here, perhaps, we perceive the greatest cleavage between these two poets who are at the opposite octaves of modern song.
H. D.’s method is highly self-conscious — euphuistic, some would say. She is so ardent a lover of words that she holds them, as a miser holds his gold, letting them slip slowly, reluctantly, each into its most economical place. We cannot tell her treasure unless we imagine it; she is most content with the flashes of the separate pieces, never desiring to create a large display. So it is that critics have justly named restraint as her highest artistic virtue. It is natural, too, that her mood should be wholly objective; that she should chasten her emotions according to the austere Greek model which she has selected; that she should halt the insensate with one phrase, keen as a spear-point, or with one cool name from marble Attica. She feels the sea and the groves as the Greeks felt them. Therefore her translations are of peculiar excellence; and all her work is translation, though some of it from an unwritten original. In her poems we note the same beauty of proportion which has made MacKail’s Select Epigrams one of the indispensable books. Yet it should be added that this applies only to her cadeneed verse. Her metrical and rhymed verse is unsure, even bungling; always excepting from this comment the truly exquisite ‘Lethe,’ In my opinion H. D. erred in publishing her Collected Poems. A maker of intricate filigree, she is Hellenistic rather than Hellenic. She has no gusto and little vigor; therefore the effect of a mass of her poems is tiresome. It will be her greatest good fortune if she survive, not in her collected edition, but rather, like her admired Sappho, in fragments.
Where H. D. etches detail after detail and leaves the general vista to the imagination of her reader, W. H, Davies sweeps the horizon with his glance and then sets down the few significant parts necessary for its realization. There is no reason for a judgment between him and H. D.; those who prefer artifice and the exotic temper of our day will stand without question in her favor; those more attuned to the English lyric tradition at its best will be as positive on the other side. As a nature-poet. — and he is primarily that—W. H. Davies has an eloquent simplicity which will recall several of the greatest names in English poetry without weakening his own claim to individual expression. Furthermore, his outlook is as direct as a child’s, and includes no philosophy book in the landscape. Instead of moral axiom, the poet knits his verses together with an epigrammatic twist which sometimes becomes ironical. ‘A Thought’ is not conspicuously better than his other poems, but it illustrates the point in small space: —
When I look into a glass,
Myself’s my only care;
But I look into a pool
For all the wonders there.
When I look into a glass
I see a fool;
But I see a wise man
When I look into a pool.
This poet has the rugged tenderness of his native Wales, One might accuse him of small faults in technique — weak rhymes, awkward inversions, and occasional banalities; but I believe a just reader would readily agree with me that the large spirit of the man has found expression in a sure, clear melody which falters, as folk music falters, only when more is demanded of it than it is intended to convey. ROBERT HILLYER