Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 

 

Selected Essays and Reviews

by Bliss Carman

Edited by Terry Whalen


 

American Poetry*


 

The one volume of poetry which must outrank all others this season, is Mr. Stedman's long anticipated American Anthology. The book bears the same relation to "Poets of America" that "A Victorian Anthology" bears to "Victorian Poets." And, as the author himself remarks in the introduction, it should make "the breviary of our national poetic legacies from the nineteenth century to the twentieth."

One must, first of all, offer sincere congratulations to Mr. Stedman on the completion of his task. That it has been completed with incomparable skill and catholicity of taste, goes without saying. It was a heavy undertaking, the two stout volumes of criticism on the English poetry of the century, and the two volumes of illustrative selections, still more voluminous, requiring no common equipment for its successful termination. It demanded patience, industry, the creative insight, the severe critical faculty, the intuition of sympathy, and the unwearied zeal of a devoted enthusiasm. All these qualities Mr. Stedman possesses in happy measure, and nowhere to-day outside of Lawrence Park, could we find this rare combination. Let no one who cares for poetry fail to appreciate the debt of gratitude his country owes Mr. Stedman for this self-imposed labor carried on with such unflagging ardor, and now brought to so happy an issue.

In a time like the present, when poetry wins but scant regard, an undertaking like this must have been a more or less gratuitous obligation of love. But I have the feeling that those best fitted to appreciate such a monument of generous toil will mingle a breath of relief with their satisfaction on Mr. Stedman's behalf, saying to themselves, "Ah, now he will have leisure for the half discarded muse, for a freer expression of himself in new poems, or perhaps in another book like 'The Nature and Elements of Poetry.'"

Meanwhile here is a library in little to be thankful for; an American Anthology, indeed; so thorough, and so much better than any one else could have made it, that particular criticism is forestalled, and faultfinding is reduced to a mere difference of personal opinion. And that, truly, is hardly criticism at all.

As evidence of Mr. Stedman's thoroughness, you will find here that admirable poem "A Portrait," by Miss Caroline Duer; you will find that excellent sturdy rhyme, "The Coasters," by Mr. Thomas F. Day; you will find Mr. John Henry Boner's lines "On Poe's Cottage at Fordham," one of the most splendid and beautiful threnodies in the English tongue; you will find many a lovely poem which you may have treasured, and which noisy fame has half forgotten, and many another scarcely dry from the press.

If there seems to be omissions, that was inevitable. As the editor himself notes in the introduction, this is an anthology and not a treasury; the conditions of the work have compelled him to select sparingly from the more distinguished writers, that he may have space to represent the great body of their less famous followers. For myself, I miss several of Mr. James Whitcomb Riley's companionable poems; I miss Emerson's "Two Rivers;" I miss half a dozen of Miss Guiney's incomparable lyrics, and two or three of Miss Gertrude Hall's. For any one of these I could spare a good many of the poems which I now read for the first time. However, if some work, particularly of the younger men and women, seems unillumined, I dare say that is only another compliment to Mr. Stedman's boyish energy and unjaded taste.

Turning to less imposing volumes, the books of Mr. Hardy and Mr. Crowninshield are interesting ventures of a novelist and a painter in a field of art hitherto untried by them. Mr. Hardy's poems are marked by a clear spirituality, and are embodied in a free lyrical form, with a Dantesque severity of emotion. Two selections from the volume are to be found in Mr. Stedman's collection. Mr. Crowninshield's volume is made up of a hundred sonnets and a dozen short poems. If his cadences are not always as felicitous as his thought, it is to be remembered that facility only comes with use. The sincerity and earnestness of the poems are evident.

In his America and Other Poems, Mr. Shadwell shows evidences of a laudable humanitarian sentiment, which, if not always logical, is often touched with force. His lines "There's something in the English after all," have a significance of their own. There is a manliness in his pages often lacking in better poetry. Mrs. Dorr has already won her own following, both by her volumes of poems and her constant contributions to the magazines. And her admirers will not be disappointed in her latest book, with its unflagging and brave regard of the pageant of the world. She will be found at her best, perhaps, in "The Sanctuary Lamp," a narrative in blank verse.

In the work of Mrs. Giltner, Mr. Peterson, and Houston Mifflin (now piously reprinted in memory of a good man) we have contributions to that great stream of artistic production which must serve to water the barren wastes of commercialism. One is apt to question the advisability of so copious an output of literary effort as our own day beholds; but after all it is only where artistic interest is widespread and intelligent that we may find hopes of further greatness.

Mrs. Fields is a distinguished figure in American letters, carrying on, as she does, the traditions of the golden era of Boston culture. And her new volume breathes of that time, passing too rapidly away, when familiarity with the classic literatures was much commoner than it is now. There is something very pleasing about her Orpheus, with its dignity and repose. One would not compare it with a masque of Milton's; it certainly has none of the lyrical rush to be found in Mr. Swinburne's work. And yet to find seriousness with a modicum of thought in a book of current verse is enough to make it remarkable and refreshing. A word of most unstinted praise must be accorded to the Riverside Press for one of the most beautiful pieces of printing of the season.

In The Hidden Servants Miss Alexander has given us a really delightful book of ballads. Very simple they are, certainly, very artless, and not in the least remarkable for any display of craftsmanship. But their sweet sincerity and loving faith lend them a far rarer value than our modern self-consciousness is often able to attain. It will be surprising if they do not find a wide and sympathetic audience. Miss Alexander (known already to the world in her "Roadside Songs of Tuscany") has gathered up about a dozen Italian legends of the saints, folk tales, and old written stories of the miraculous, and retold them with a na´vetÚ and modest charm altogether lovely.

With interest of another sort one takes up Miss Proctor's New Hampshire poems. Here, too, is homely simplicity, winning us by appeal to sentiment and love of country. Miss Proctor enlists the sympathy of her readers in such subjects as these: "Monadnock in October," "The Hills are Home," "Kearsarge," "Keep the Forests," "Star Island Church," "The Bluebird," "Merrimack River" and "The Lost War Sloop." And she has a straightforwardness in dealing with her themes, and a knack of description, that carry assent with them. This "Old Home Week" edition (as it is called), with its attractive illustrations taken from photographs of various New Hampshire scenes, is a book for New Englanders, at home or away.


"American Poetry," The Christmas Book Buyer, Dec., 1900 [back]