suppose that the skilled critic of American literature,
to be properly equipped for his task, should be able
to locate a new poet within at least two hundred miles
of his exact habitat-should be able to tell from his
references to nature what State he hails from, just
as he could tell by the turn of a phrase and the fall
of a cadence who his masters in poetry were.
if all poets could be trusted for scientific accuracy
and faithfulness of delineation in their treatment of
nature, this might not be so impossible as it seems.
But unluckily we are all overimbued with a literary
phraseology which keeps us from reporting accurately,
even when we see clearly. It is not every one, touched
with a desire for expression, who can get away from
the influence of tradition and custom and name things
anew. And yet that is what every genuine poet must do-break
away from the academic and the stereotyped, and bring
a virgin mind to the naming of things he sees. Burns
did it, Wordsworth did it, Browning did it, and Mr.
Kipling has done it. It looks easy until you try it.
But the great mass of material produced which is wholly
derivative, wholly reminiscent, attests the difficulty
of the task.
yet I think that our verse-men in America have not been
uninfluenced by the growing faithfulness of the short-story
writer, who is held in so little esteem now if his local
color is a shade off, or his picture the least out of
drawing. Their sentiment for nature has much of Wordsworth's
piety and simple directness; and this loving care for
every natural phenomenon leads them to be content with
an almost reportorial exactness of phrase. And this
direct simplicity of diction often results in the greatest
beauty through its sheer inevitableness.
are things in Miss Evaleen Stein's poems that remind
one of the love of nature in some of the late Archibald
Lampman's beautiful lyrics- not quite so sure nor so
distinguished as Lampman, but sensitive and delicate
and sincere. I have not her first book by me, and perhaps
it is just as well, for I might be led into attempting
to estimate her "growth" or even her "position"-always
a rather impertinent and futile undertaking. It ought
to be enough to find ingenuous charm in poetry, without
wishing always to judge it and adjust its rank.
hesitate to speak of "The Book of Joyous Children."
The name is enough to captivate one. And
when one says it is by James Whitcomb Riley, there is
nothing more to be said. Mr. Riley is so brimming with
irrepressible humor, so loving and lovable and manly,
that I cannot but think him the most distinctive American
poet alive. I shall not insist on the obiter dictum.
I am not an impartial judge; first because all his
delightful rhymes, even the most trivial, are much too
delicious to be criticised; and second because the man
himself is much too near. I don't mean near in time;
there are plenty of one's contemporaries that it would
be a joy to criticise (indeed there is little else they
are fit for); I mean near one's heart. If you love Riley,
of course, of you will read of his Joyous Children;
and if you don't-well, if you don't, you are no friend
of one reviewer, at least. It is chiefly, I fancy,
the heart in Mr. Riley's work that gives it so great
a hold on us-its indestructible faith and spontaneous
natural gladness. His is the simple human mind that
has never been overlaid with sophistry nor undermined
by doubt; and this native vigor of spirit and intelligence
lends him power; so that he is always as happy as a
June morning, just as every healthy man ought to be.
The sickness of modernity has never been able to get
hold of men like him; like other maladies, it is only
fatal to the weak. It is a horrid disease for an artist
to succumb to, and one unfortunately which they are
only too liable to contract. I wish that we all might
be inoculated with a touch of the Riley joy. We should
all better for it, even though we could not write as
delightfully as he does.
Mr. Riley gives us a faithful picture of homely life
in the Middle West, Mr. Frank L. Stanton draws the average
life of his section of the South. His volume is full
of hearty rhymes in the vernacular, which have nothing
of hesitation about them nor that paralyzing self-consciousness
which often makes more ambitious work so ineffectual.
His training in journalism, if I mistake not, has heightened
his power of interpreting the poetry of the commonplace,
and making us so much the richer by showing us unexpected
beauty in the familiar. And that is no small service
to render in any time or country.
very different source of inspiration is Mr. S.E. Kiser's.
The Muse of Comedy has taken him into her favor. The
incongruity of an office boy's slang set in the stately
movement of the Rosettian sonnet form is inimitable
in its way.
is not to be expected that Mr. Ernest Crosby should
succeed where William Morris failed; and with all my
admiration for him personally and for his generous ideals,
I cannot feel that his new volume comes near hitting
the mark at which good poetry should aim. Perhaps he
did not intend it to; perhaps he is somewhat skeptical
of the efficacy of beauty of form in art, and is content
if the spirit of his work is noble and true. However
that may be, I should be sorry to overlook the tenor
and substance of his writing.