must add another, my friends, to the lengthening list
of our poets. I have been reading Mr. J.H. Brown's "Poems,
Lyrical and Dramatic," published by Messrs. J.
Durie & Son, Ottawa. Those who have followed the
periodicals will remember some of Mr. Brown's pieces
in The Week, especially some of his excellent sonnets.
The present volume is a collection of short poems on
a considerable variety of subjects, together with a
drama, called "The Mad Philosopher," which
fills the latter half of the book. Mr. Brown is a scholar,
a philosopher and a poet, and his book gives evidence
of the extent of his studies, the sweetness and delicacy
of his natural gift, and the excellence to which he
has attained in the workmanship of his art. We have
not gone far before we discover that he is not a careless
trifler in verse, but a man interested in the deeper
spiritual problems of the day, a writer of humane enthusiasms
and serious intent. A great many of his pieces are of
a speculative and philosophic cast. His "Mad Philosopher"
centres in the effort of an impractical enthusiast to
interest the two most prominent leaders of his day,
Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson, in a scheme
for the regeneration of mankind. His "Julian,"
a somewhat daring bit of dialogue, inspired, I imagine,
by Shelley, treats of the subject of marriage. In his
poem, "A Letter," one of the best pieces of
versification in the book, with now a sharp touch of
satire, and now a full phrasing of some generous thought,
he states his attitude toward life and society, and
calls up before us the chief captains of his soul—Shakespeare,
Shelley and Whitman.
what is called in common critical parlance a "nature-poet,"
Mr. Brown sometimes strikes in with a vivid descriptive
touch, as when he says:—
night the lightning flashed in fork and flame,
And the deep thunder groaned and roared so loud
As it would rip the timbers of the world
And scatter them to chaos."
new-born breeze comes out unseen,
Flies o'er the mead on joyous wing;
The verdure lines in motion swing;
The heart of nature seems to sing."
of Mr. Brown's especial successes, both as regards thought
and versification, is the poem "On reading the
Rubaiyat of Omar Koiyyam." I give the concluding
stanzas, which will sufficiently indicate the wisdom
and beauty of the whole piece:—
brave and strong! My Omar, kind and wise!
Scorner of sophists and their subtle lies;
Lover of truth—of truth without disguise,
And soul's integrity—the highest prize!
thee, I hold, He placed us here to live;
To love the life He found it good to give;
And, though the secret we should never know,
Why life at worst is sweet—and wherefore grieve?
in the east the light of morning grows;
The curling mists ascend, the crimson glows;
And in the smile of greeting earth and heaven
The universe appears, on opening those!"
I think Mr. Brown is at his strongest in the sonnet.
There are many excellent examples of this form scattered
about through his book. Lack of space obliges me to
limit my quotation to one. It is entitled "Greatness":—
most men hunger for, yet none achieves
Save him who
greatly cares not to be great;
the loom of time spins not more state
Than that small filament a spider weaves.
Since single barley straws make piled-up sheaves,
diminute the gross earth's weight;
from Sirius earthward rarer freight
Than this small taper-beam my page receives.
greater is the desert than one sand,
than one dust-spec at its base,
The ocean than one rain-drop in my hand;
self, there in the foremost place,
Hath but in ampler measure at command
which shines from rustic Hodge's face."
must congratulate Mr. R.K. Kernighan upon his poem in
the Christmas number of Saturday Night. It is a skilful
and successful piece of work; it has a movement that
proves that Mr. Kernighan has a true natural gift for
verse. We are all familiar with the author's work under
the nom de plume of "The Khan," and to an
extent at least he is our Canadian James Whitcombe Riley
when he writes in the vernacular of homely things; but
such pieces as the one I have mentioned above show that
he can also deal with images and ideas which require
among the articles in the December Cosmopolitan is a
fine one on the subject of the Trappist monks of Oka,
written by Mr. Gorman, editor of The Ottawa Free Press.
This article ought to be of special interest not only
to Canadians, but also to all Americans who have studied
the lives and habits of religious orders. Even in this
overpractical and worldly age the cloister life, with
its peculiar environments, appeals to the consideration
of the thoughtful and reflective mind. And while it
seems out of place in our modern world and hurrying
toil and scientific spirit, yet as an institution the
monastic life in its finer aspects still retains for
us a certain dignity and sternness of reality that is
found wanting in much of our modern religious life.
Mr. Gorman has performed for the silent monks of Oka
what the distinguished American writer, Mr. James Lane
Allen, did some time ago in The Century Magazine for
the convent of the same order in Kentucky. While the
Canadian convent is not so old as that of Kentucky,
it is equally interesting to those who would study the
peculiar characteristics of the Trappist order, which
is without doubt the most remarkable and perhaps the
most worthy of our consideration and respect among all
the religious brotherhoods. It is impossible for the
modern cultured mind to regard the monastic institution
in contemporary religion as other than a survival of
medievalism, and so indicate an attitude toward life
more in keeping with that of the present day. History
and human experience have also shown that the first
homes of all religious orders that grew out of the asceticism
of the Christian, Buddhist and Mohammedan faiths, the
milder climates of southern Asia and Europe, are still,
and always will be, the only localities where such institutions
can be successful. Aside from all other reasons, there
is no doubt that much of the corrupt life and falling
off from the old standards of the monastic life of western
Europe was owing to the climate that tempted men to
a greater necessity of indulgence in physical nourishment.
In Southern Asia, where abstinence from grosser food
is almost necessary to common existence, the life of
lonely contemplation has long been an inseparable part
of the genius of the people. Matthew Arnold expressed
this so finely in four lines:
east bowed low before the blast,
She let the legions thunder past,
in thought again."
may be the future development of religion, there is
no doubt that both the severer climates and the restless,
practical spirit of the peoples of western Europe and
North America will always prove inimical to the success
of the conventual system in religion. Apart from all
these considerations and our natural repugnance for
any order of men who are consciously or unconsciously
out of keynote with the spirit of what is best in the
age, anyone who recognises the inner life of these men,
who willingly immure themselves within gloomy walls,
and, alienated from their kind and in constant contemplation
of death, deny themselves all but the commonest necessities
of life, cannot but be impressed by the stern reality
of these lives where the tragedy of the soul in its
striving for the eternal is daily enacted. While we
all agree that there are millions of men and women in
the world to-day who by acts and often by lives of heroic
self-denial are in their several vocations as wives,
husbands, parents and citizens doing much more for the
good of humanity than could ever be done by any amount
of silent contemplation, and however we may differ from
the doctrines that have originated this peculiar order,
yet we cannot but respect the phase of religion which,
no matter how gloomy in its outlook on humanity, is
almost great in its intense realism of practice.
is most difficult and nearly always an ungrateful task
to write poems for special occasions. The greater the
occasion the most difficult the task, for what may be
a really great celebration of a most important event
may not arouse those feelings of enthusiasm which are
necessary to the making of a poem. It is gratifying
to know how worthily the commemoration ode for the 400th
anniversary of the discovery of America has been accomplished.
It was peculiarly fitting that this ode should have
been written by a woman, for the American civilisation
gives a larger and larger scope for the development
of woman. She has nowhere attained such freedom and
is nowhere, excepting perhaps in Canada, treated with
such respect and consideration. It was therefore a recognition
of this fact perhaps as much as anything else which
led to the choice of Miss Harriet Monroe as the poetess
who should express in verse the great anniversary which
has just passed. She had proved herself entirely able
for the task by her ode for the opening of the Auditorium,
and her production for the latter and more important
occasion surpassed her first effort. Miss Monroe is
first of all a poet, and she approaches her subject
from the poetic standpoint. She has enthusiasm not only
for her art but for her subject, for the future of America,
for the outcome of her civilisation. It was almost inevitable
then that she should make a success of what would have
been a task to one who had not her glow of enthusiasm.
But her ringing and true-hearted lines prove that she
found the production of the ode no task, but rather
accepted the opportunity with a knowledge of its import
and with a resolve to make the work the expression of
her heart towards the life and aspirations of her people.
In the development of her subject she has shown true
constructive ability, and her lines progress naturally
to their inspiring and prophetic close.