A Masque of Reason

THE dramatic element has always been strong in Mr. Frost’s lyrics, and it is not surprising that he should now produce a kind of ballet in verse, for that is in a sense an extension of his lyrical method. The surprise consists rather in the tone of A Masque of Reason and in its sources — in, that is, Frost’s choosing to write a sequel to or a satire on (as you wish to view it) the Book of Job, and to divorce himself from speculations and sentiments which hitherto have been attached quite explicitly to a locality and to the somewhat dogged pieties which comprise its picture of itself.
A Masque of Reason is presented as the forty-third chapter of Job. The ancient sufferer, still unsatisfied by God’s answer of His inscrutability, demands to know the reason why. So does Job’s wife, a theological feminist. God replies: —
. . . Job and I together
Found out the discipline man needed most
Was to learn his submission to unreason.
This, still, does not satisfy Job, and at last God confesses, with considerable anxiety: —
I was just showing off to the Devil, Job,
As is set forth in chapters One and Two.
Job replies: —
’Twas human of You. I expected more
Than I could understand and what I get
Is almost less than I can understand.
And in so far as A Masque of Reason is to be read for metaphysical intentions, this seems to be its essence.
It is clear, however, from the tone of bantering irreverence and from the accidents of situation and of language (puns, for example, and constant contemporary allusions) with which Mr. Frost supplements Biblical considerations, that he is at least as intent on writing an entertaining poem as he is on writing a philosophical one. That they need not be distinct, A Masque of Reason amply demonstrates. and no more clearly than at its end.
God calls in the Devil, finally,
More to give his reality its due
Than anything;
for he has lost stature of late (or apparent stature) through “Church neglect and figurative use.” The Devil does not wish to speak, and does not, in fact, wish to remain. (Denis de Rougement points out in a new book that the Devil’s first trick is the escape into anonymity.) He steps on a “tendency,”
. . . like the Gulf Stream,
Only of sand not water,
and, without himself moving, begins to move away; but Job’s wife, who is determined to take a picture of the three of them, pulls him off it and makes him stay. No humor could he more metaphysical.
Yet what is most memorable about A Masque of Reason is not so much its humor or its metaphysics as the tone of voice in which these characters speak at all times except the few occasions when topicality drowns them out: the tone of ancient wisdom, which carries with it the full weight and weariness of that skepticism to which intelligence is doomed. Holt, $2.00.