Two American Poets

NEW volumes by two poets of reputation are here reported on by one who is himself both poet and critic.
FOR a long period, marked by innovations and experiments which seem in large part to have run their course, narrative poetry stood in danger of total eclipse. Edwin Arlington Robinson preserved an area from which light continued to stream, albeit at times with a somewhat ghostly glitter. In a steady succession of volumes, he kept alive the broader heritage of poetry, dealing with characters and experience, and presenting stories charged with destiny and spiritual problems. For this he should have a full measure of honor and respect. His new volume, The Glory of the Nightingales (Macmillan, $2.00), is not, however, a fortunate example of his accomplishments. The story is melodramatic and forced; to be made significant, it would require a full outpouring of his gifts at their best. Instead, less rather than more of his usual inspiration is present, and without diminution of his familiar mannerisms. It is peculiarly melancholy that the Nightingale of the title turns out to be not the selfsame bird that sang through the sad heart of Ruth, but plain Mr. Night ingale, one of the characters.
Robert Hillyer, in The Gates of the Compass (Viking, $2.00), continues the ripening and enhancing of his always beautiful work which those acquainted with his poems cannot have failed to notice in The Halt in the Garden and in The Seventh Hill. He has been master of poetic form and expression from the beginning; his later books have been marked by an increasing simplicity of diction, by an increasing originality and sharpness of thought in the sonnet and in stanzas of his own devising, and finally by an advance at once in reserve and in exaltation of meaning. Why has his work never received more attention, or been more widely read? Some fault lies, no doubt, with the public and some with the poems themselves. It is not to be denied that they are often tenuous, that they require a reader specially attuned, that by reason of their very reserve and simplicity they are frequently enigmatic and do not easily yield up their value. On the other hand, it would seem as though Mr. Hillyer’s poems were so purely adapted to give the pleasure of beauty, if nothing else, that they would be widely treasured. Attentively read, they yield more than this; they yield a consistent attitude and meaning the value of which grows with the reader’s perceptiveness.
Both his accomplishments and the qualities that leave kept him from a wider audience are illustrated by his new book. ‘The Gates of the Compass’ goes far beyond his previous long poems in both substance and expression, yet it would be far more compulsive if it too did not hang shimmering between tenuity and vitality. Among the shorter poems, ‘In the Tidal Marshes’ stands as one of the moments when Mr. Hillyer completely and triumphantly expresses himself, and when with no reservation one can speak of him as poet and seer.
THEODORE MORRISON