woe, for the old fascination!
The women make deep lamentation
In starts and in slips;
Here always is hope unavailing,
Here always the dreamers are sailing
After the ships!"
might easily have been written of the gentle poet of
the Charles, who has indeed laid so many young writers
under his spell. The volume as a whole, however, hardly
keeps up our delight of these opening lines and contains
little else, I fancy, that its author will care to preserve,
with the exception of one brief lyric.
the bloom, the northward flight,
The fount freed at its silver height,
And down the deep woods to the lowest,
The fragrant shadows scarred with light.
inescapeable joy of spring!
For thee the world shall leap and sing;
But by her darkened door thou goest
Forever as a spectral thing."
is in these verses alone any hint of the racy and wonderful
style Miss Guiney was soon to develop. But her second
venture in the sea of letters, "The White Sail,"
pubished some three years later, show a marked advance
upon the first and contains a number of distinctly original
and notable poems. It is full of that delightful freshness
of health which lends her words their inspiring quality.
The joy of her lyric mood is as clear and inevitable
as the "inescapeable joy of spring." Absolute
sincerity and health possess her lines and bear them
with a rush beyond the commonplace monotony of minor
chords. She is never dolorous and never dull. Even natural
sorrow is so infused with the perennial gladness of
this beautiful world as to become scarcely more poignant
than an ancient tale of pathos.
young Sun rides the mist anew; his cohorts follow from
Let Aztec children shout and sue, the Persian bend a
Those glad Auroral eyes shall beam not anywhere henceforth
Up with the banners on the height, set every matin bell
The tree-top choirs carouse in light; the dew's on phlox
Ah, mockery! for, worlds away, the heart of morning
beats with her."
exquisite touch is here, the lightness of hand, the
perfection of temper. Not to be overborne by the turbulence
of our days, nor too much moved by any sadness, is the
first lesson of art,-art, that helper and continual
solace of the world's life. So that the great artist
must be first of all joyous, then assured, then fervent,
then unrestrained and out of all bounds save those of
his own conscience and contriving. His only patent is
originality. And while he says something new about all
the facts of experience, he brings them all to the touchstone
of his unjaded spirit. He must not merely see Homer's
world with an eye trained to minuter vision and wider
sweep, he must bring to its appreciation a zest as wholly
unspoiled as that of a savage. If the revelations of
knowledge mean for him the dissolution of old faiths
and historic creeds, he must not despond; he must have
merely so much faith the more, believing that what has
come safely so far may be trusted to journey to the
end without any anxiety of his. He must know that while
dogma, which is only fossilized creed, can never be
anything more than a curiousity, the need of worship
is a craving of the human heart, a living desire neither
to be ridiculed nor overthrown. If the discoveries of
science seem for the time to overshadow the achievements
of art, he must only rejoice, remembering that art has
been the mother of science, and that all science has
returned the benefits of its parent a thousand fold.
When he hears on every side the detractors of art belauding
science and decrying the work of the artist as a thing
long past use to the world, he will recall similar periods
of history and smile to think how art has always been
entirely equal to the task of absorbing what ever innovations
science might unfold. He will keep in mind forever and
ever the necessary place of art in the general economy
of the state, and no temporary dethronement of his mistress
will cause his loyalty to swerve. While the artist,
then, ponders the word of God in the wind through the
tree, he will be glad and brave before all other men.
the artist will be the gladdest and bravest of men only
if he is great. For the same sensitiveness of inward
vision which makes the great artist the happiest of
his kind will make a lesser spirit the most miserable.
Revelation will come to him as a burden too heavy to
be borne, not as a rapture too keen to be expressed.
So you will find all the minor poets of a nation piping
in a minor key, while their greater and robuster brothers
are bearing up the eternal chorus of the world, refrain
after refrain, to the final triumph of right and love
and beauty and goodness, to the final assurance of gladness
and the contentedness of peace.
true artist, therefore, in these qualities of courage
and hope must be distinctly the most manly of his fellows,
and there is no more manly note in American letters
to-day than that which rings through the lyrics of the
little lady of Auburndale. She can put more valor in
a single line than one can squeeze from our periodical
poets in a twelve month. For it is a sorry but certain
fact that our magazines are fast becoming the nicompoopiana
of literature. And this not because they are ill-conducted,
but because their practical success depends upon it.
We must always make allowance in any art for the influence
of popular demand. When we consider the circulation
necessary to make a book or a magazine a practical success,
the wonder is, not that contemporary letters are so
poor, but that they are so good.
ballad like "Tarpeia" or a single lyric like
"The Wild Ride," has virility enough to furnish
the ordinary minor poet with lyric passion ten times
over. I am permitted to quote a version of the latter
lyric, longer by two stanzas than that contained in
"The While Sail."
hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses
All day, the commotion of sinewy mane-tossing horses;
All night, from their cells, the importunate tramping
cowards and laggards fall back; but alert to the saddle,
Straight, grim and abreast, vault our weather-worn galloping legion,
With a stirrup-cup each to the one gracious woman that
road is thro' dolor and dread, over crags and morasses;
There are shapes by the way, there are things that appal
or entice us:
What odds? We are knights, and our souls are but bent
on the riding!
self is a vanishing wing, and joy is a cobweb,
And friendship a flower in the dust, and glory a sunbeam:
Nor here is our prize, nor, alas! after these our pursuing.
dipping of plumes, a tear, a shake of the bridle,
A passing salute to this world, and her pitiful beauty!
We hurry with never a word in the track of our fathers.
hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses,
All day the commotion of sinewy mane-tossing horses,
All night, from their cells, the importunate tramping
spur to a land of no name, out-racing the storm-wind;
We leap to the infinite dark, like the sparks from the
Thou leadest, O God! All's well with thy troopers that
find just such another dauntless note, the very elation
of courage, we must go to Miss Guiney's own new volume,
"A Roadside Harp," a particularly pleasing
piece of bookmaking, by the way. There in "The
Kings," and in the following extract from "The
Knight Errant," we are touched in the same strain.
of old that bore me,
And set me, meek of mind,
Between great dreams before me,
And deeds as great behind,
Knowing humanity my star
As first abroad I ride,
Shall help me wear, with every scar,
Honor at eventide.
. . .
give my youth, my faith, my sword,
Choice of the heart's desire:
A short life in the saddle, Lord!
Not long life by the fire.
Rivet mine armor gay!
The passion for perfection
Redeem my failing way!"
passion for perfection," that is so characteristic
of our time! Indeed all our artistic activity may be
said to be distributed among two classes, those who
have a passion for perfection, and those who have a
madness for reform. While the latter are running with
socialism, realism, "veritism," the New Ethic,
the New Education, the New Granny's Nightcap, and all
sorts of feather toppery whatever, the former are frittering
away their efforts in symbolism and the deceptive sound.
In matters of faith, too, the latter are devoured by
a thousand untried notions and nostrums for the betterment
of this precious race of pigmies, while the former have
turned back to a paganism older than Athens, a paganism
on which the shadow of the time has passed as a cloud
on the sea. "To a Dog's Memory," "Open
Time," "Athassel Abbey," "A Friend's
Song for Limdisius," there is no more gracious
and winning and impassioned note in English letters
to-day than rings through these beautiful and pagan,
perfectly pagan, lyrics. Listen to the opening of the
breath of dew, and twilight's grace,
Be on the lonely battle place;
And to so young, so kind a face,
The long protecting grasses cling!
The one inexorable thing!)
rocky hollows cool and deep,
The bees our boyhood hunted sleep;
The early moon from Ida's steep
Comes to the empty wrestling-ring.
The one inexorable thing!)
the widowed wind recede
No echoes of the shepherd's reed,
And children without laughter lead
The war-horse to the watering.
The one inexorable thing!)"
again listen to the close of "Athassel Abbey."
I am wind that passes
In ignorant wild tears,
Uplifted from the grasses,
Blown to the void of years,
to the void, yet sighing
In thee to merge and cease,
Last breath of beauty's dying,
Of sanctity, of peace!
use nor place forever
Unto my soul befall,
By no beloved river
Set in a saintly wall,
thou by builders given
Speech of the dumb to be,
Beneath thine open heaven,
Athassel, pray for me!"
is given to few poets to write so. And if such lines
are not unmistakable proof of genius of the very finest
lyric quality, one must be sadly deluded as to what
is good and bad in English poetry. While this writer
is thus so worthy a follower of the masters of song,
she is in her serene unvexed temper at one with that
eternal paganism which lies like the deep sea calms
far below all passing storms of faction and fashion
and the virulence of creed.
are, it seems to me, two characteristics in Miss Guiney's
work, either one of which would render her most worthy
of distinction as a poet. The first is this pagan quality
of joy, which she must inherit from our New England
saint, Emerson; the second is a rich and anything but
modern quality of style entirely her own, yet one whose
seeds must have been sown by those robust and individual
poets of the Elizabethan times. I find none of the verse-makers
of to-day whose product is so markedly original and
at the same time so free from affectation. It is easy
to adopt this or that sort of originality at will,-to
acquire a mannerism. But real style is an attitude of
the heart, a frame of mind, quite impossible to imitate.
When suffused by an abundant wholesome imagination,
as in the author of "A Roadside Harp," such
an attitude of spirit, such a power of style, becomes
capable of the rarest self-revelation and expression
in art. Take for instance that lovely "Ballad of
Kenelm." So absolutely fresh and unhackneyed in
every line, yet so free from any taint of affectation,
it could only have been born of the most genuine poetic
impulse working through the sincerest and most unconscious
travelled down the lane,
hour's dust they made."
once I hear they black bird in Leighlin hedges call,
The foolishness is on me, and the wild tears fall"
has done with roofs and men,
Time, and let him pass."
gusty morns are here,
When all the reeds ride low with level spear."
are the things, so simple in their loveliness, which
look so easy to do, and which none but a master ever
achieves. Like Browning, Miss Guiney has often a too
curious and irresponsible fancy, which leads her through
perplexities of speech; she wreaks expression upon some
thought too trivial or vague or remote to be worth the
while; any yet like the great Victorian of "Pippa
Passes" or "Home Thoughts from Abroad,"
she has at command a golden unmarred deliciousness of
cadence and a smooth sufficiency of utterance, that
make all rival effort toil in vain.
for example, could be more winning in unstudied simplicity,
more graciously touched with haunting quiet, than these
on the marge of evening the last blue light is broken,
And winds of dreamy odor are loosened from afar,
Or when my lattice opens, before the lark has spoken,
On dim laburnum-blossoms and morning's dying star,
think of thee, (O mine the more if other eyes be sleeping!)
Whose great and noonday splendor the many share and
While sacred and forever, some perfect law is keeping
The late and early twilight alone and sweet for me."
so we lay aside this thin little volume of exquisite
poetry, reassured that it is only the blind who can
believe that the poets are all dead to-day, while there
walks among us a very child of the old Greek spirit,
Struck from the dark whole scenes like these,
Archaic beauty, never planned
Nor reared by wan degrees,
leaves an artist poor, and art
An earldom richer all her years;"
lay it aside with one quotation more, summing up in
a single couplet, itself worthy of the Greek Anthology,
the light-hearted philosophy of that elder paganism,
a hundred times overthrown by the casuistries of the
schools, yet always returning with its unobtrusive solace,
dauntless and unperturbed, to our human need at last.
How large and sweet a benediction of farewell within
the small compass of a score of words!
thou the Mighty Mother for what is wrought, not me,
A nameless nothing-caring head asleep against her knee."