It is undeniable that in certain
of the most distinguished of American poets exists
a marked deficiency in the sense of form, in symmetry
of construction, and in finish. Poe was master
in all the magic of rhythm, a wizard conjuring
potently with musical balance of words. Longfellow,
in his riper work, displayed fine technical skill.
Stedman and Aldrich have hardly a living superior
in matters of pure technique,
in the essentially artistic qualifications of
a poet. But these stand out as exceptions. Sometimes
it looks as if the idea were of supreme importance,
and to be developed at all hazard, while the medium
of expression is handled with a trace of impatience
or contempt. In the minor poets much more than
this is apparent. One feels too often that their
reverence for their art is scanty, that they have
a disdain of careful and devoted labor, perhaps
no perception whatever of the need of recasting,
of polishing, of perfecting. An idea, an emotion,
an incident, or a romance is forced into ill-fitting
garments of crudely-constructed verse. All deficiencies
in the manner, should such be acknowledged to
exist, must be compensated for by the value and
beauty of the matter; which value and beauty themselves
may chance to be all but non-existent. And at
best, how rarely is it realized that in so subtle
a creation as song half the matter, indeed, is
the manner? Body and soul are by no means so thoroughly
made one as are language and thought in poetry;
by no means so potently do they act and re-act
upon each other as do the word and the idea in
song. It would be genius sublime, indeed, that
could afford to display itself always in slovenly
verse. But the fact is that in slovenly verse
sublime genius is hidden, not displayed. Great
poets, it is true, have written slovenly verse;
it was just then their genius was at fault.
poet, therefore, who is essentially an artist,
reverencing deeply his art, and master of all
its technicalities, should attract our most earnest
regard. Such a poet is Mr. Edgar Fawcett. Never
falling into the snare of sound for sweet sound’s
sake only, his pregnant lines are nevertheless
harmonious as though his sole aim were harmony.
Like Keats, he is enamored of fine phrases. His
phrases, too, like those of Keats and unlike those
of many verbal gymnasts, are really fine, ring
true, have a solid substance to them. The fine
phrases that Keats loved, full of sweetness and
color, and perfume and music, are scarcely even
akin to those sonorous collocations of works which
one of the greatest of living poets delights sometimes
to string for us, which not seldom seem to us
"Like a tale of little meaning,
though the words are strong."
Mr. Fawcett’s phrases are moulded
with nicest skill; he makes them rich and delicious,
fit to be rolled under the tongue; but each has
a reason for being, each is vitalized with an
idea. Such lines as the following, taken at random,
captivate sense and thought alike:
great grapes droop their dusty globes of wine."
Italy, which is summer’s softer name."
pale temples and the limpid skies,
The storied shores and haunted groves
this, in another key—
low persistent requiem of the rain."
the consummate art displayed in the first of these
quotations. The epithet "dusty," peculiarly
apt as picturing the rich grape-clusters exposed
in the dry and sunny autumn weather, calls up
on the tongue a sensation of thirst, most intensely
expectant of the gust of exquisite coolness when
the "globes of wine" shall be crushed
against the palate. How the suggestion of fresh
and liquid deliciousness is breathed under the
sultriness of the words. These, and other phrases
equally with them, allure, as Keats does, in such
beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
the fulness of sensuous delight is focussed, as
it were, upon the sense, is realized with a keenness
of perception not before possible; while at the
same time the imagination is incited to a further
reach, by the hint of some ecstasy beyond.
through Mr. Fawcett’s volume published in 1878
under the name of "Fantasy and Passion,"
is perceptible this high technical skill, this
mastery of words, and above all, this subtle essence
of poetry. Certain lines bring a feeling of velvety
richness on the lips repeating them. For example:
her vaporous robe and one dim hand
and lotus doth she bear,"
which the last line is one that the tongue is
reluctant to let cease.
the sonnet containing these lines must be quoted
in full. It is entitled "Sleep," and
written for a picture. Perhaps it is not too much
to say that it has but one superior in the whole
range of English pictorial sonnets. It has greater
unity, is less exclamatory, than that marvelous
one by Rossetti, "For a Venetian Pastoral,"
which is surely the most perfect sonnet-music
in the language:—
(FOR A PICTURE.)
A yellow sunset, soft and dreamy
Met sharply by black,
fluctuant lines of grass;
A river glimmering like
And narrowing till it ends in distant sky;
Pale, scattered pools of luminous rain, that
In shadowy amplitudes
of green morass;
A crescent that the
old moon, as moments pass,
Has turned to a silver acorn hung on high!
Now, through this melancholy
and silent land
Sleep walks, diaphanous-vestured,
Within her vaporous robe and one dim hand
Much asphodel and lotus
doth she bear,
Going lovely and low-lidded, with a band
Of dull-red poppies
amid her dull-gold hair!
poem will serve to display very many of Mr. Fawcett’s
characteristics. Herein are well instanced the
artistic perfection of rhythm, the well-linked
music of language, that he knows how to create.
As a colorist, also, his faculty shows itself.
He has a clear appreciation of values; his quietest
and most subdued tone is instinct with the glow
of vitality. Here, too, we perceive the definiteness
and reach of his imagination; the clearness of
his vision and of his rendering of the vision;
his excellent sense of proportion.
my mind no others of the sonnets quite attain
the perfection of this one, though all are worthy
of praise, whether for grace, masterly workmanship,
ingenuity of thought, or imaginative insight.
With this poem the critic has nothing to do but
applaud, nevertheless, a censure may be based
upon a tendency herein observable. I refer to
the redundant syllable employed in the pentameter
line. As used here, and indeed wherever used sparingly
and judiciously, the effect is excellent, adding
richness, flexibility, and compass to the verse.
But its use is easily carried to excess, when
it degenerates into a mannerism and becomes very
cloying to the ear. It may be hypercriticism to
suggest that a peculiar word, such as "amplitudes,"
having been once used here with such newness,
precision, and beauty of effect, might almost
be consecrated to this office. Certain it is that
for me this word, being a striking and unusual
one, wears inseparably the color and aroma of
all this sonnet, and when met with anywhere else
seems out of place. It is a favorite word with
Mr. Fawcett, and possibly he uses it too often.
alone in the sonnets, but in that charming group
of songs entitled "Minor-chords," is
Mr. Fawcett’s symmetry of design displayed to
advantage. Each of these poems, however brief,
is complete, rounded and justly developed. Most
of them being the outcome of close and loving
study of this or that of the surrounding objects
of nature, dramatic intensity is not herein to
be looked for; but intensity and keenness of search—these
are well evident. Nor is it here we should expect
the utterance of passionate thought; though one
or two of these small master-pieces are aglow
with heat of passion held in check. They are filled,
too, with the charm of suggestiveness; scarcely
a poem but brings some new thought; some strange
analogy, to gaunt the brain after reading it.
Instance the following stanza from "A Tuberose:"—
did the moon, through some sweet night long
On some rich tomb, while silence
held its breath,
Till one pure sculptured blossom
thrilled and grew
Cold child of moonbeams, marble
and white death!"
the following beautiful fancy:—
in the dim swamp, firefly throngs
A brilliant, soundless
As though beneath their radiant
slept her sleep!"
would be easy to go on multiplying quotations
of like excellence, but this from the lines "To
an Oriole" is finer still:—
did some orange tulip, flaked with black,
In some forgotten garden, ages back,
Yearning toward heaven until its
wish was heard,
Desire unspeakably to be a bird?"
how many times in verse has the hummingbird been
assailed? Yet I think the spirit of this swift
atom of a bird was never truly captured till Mr.
Fawcett addressed himself to the effort. From
these verses let his success be judged:—
the mild gold stars flow’r out,
As the summer
A dim shape quivers about
Some sweet rich
heart of a rose.
your watch its fluttering poise,
wings will steal
A hum like the eerie noise
Of an elfin spinning-wheel!
then, from the shape’s vague sheen,
of blue will float,
That melt in luminous green
Round a glimmer
of ruby throat!
* * *
Then you, by thoughts
of it stirred,
Is it a gem, half-bird,
Or is it a bird,
must be ranked with the best that has ever been
written of a bird. The quick, throbbing, darting,
measure; the changeful iridescence of the coloring;
the faithfulness of every touch to the individuality
of the bird; the delicate suggestion of that mystery,
which, save for the driest investigator, must
ever haunt about these living jewels—all combine
to set this poem apart as an authorized utterance
of nature’s most radiant mood. This is subtle
and accurate interpretation; and the volume abounds
in such interpretations—of external nature, of
emotion, and of thought.
for proofs that Mr. Fawcett can interpret, not
only external nature even in his subtlest manifestations,
but also the palimpsest of human passion and thought,
we must turn to that division of his work entitled
"Voices and Visions." Here we are concerned
with the emotions of "the deep heart of man."
Here we find ourselves straightway searching weightier
problems. We are in a stronger and more vitalizing
atmosphere. We touch humanity, and our circle
of sympathy and knowledge is enlarged. But the
artist is master of his art, and of himself. The
fiercest emotion must find utterance in obedience
to law and reason.
House on the Hill," the initial poem of this
division, is a form of song in which success is
difficult. It is an episode of passion and heart-ruin
under the common light of the present day and
life. In form and subject not unlike some work
of the younger Lytton, it is as much superior
to that clever writer’s productions as sincerity,
simplicity and strength might be expected to make
it. There is never a cynical touch to make one
ashamed of his emotion, or the hollow ring to
remind one that his breathless sympathy is all
for the fiction of a poet’s idle brain. There
is no raving, no attitudinizing; but the story
is briefly told, with vigor and directness, and
its pathos of governed pain is deep and enduring.
And let him keep my hand, as I said
"The truth is better. Good-night!
seem to be so far Mr. Fawcett’s most ambitious
efforts are "Jael" and "Violante,"
in blank verse. These are eminently strong and
impressive dramatic poems, worthy of most attentive
study. Perhaps somewhat more impressive than pleasing—save
that penetrative imagination and forcible utterance
of necessity give pleasure to the intellect; they
stimulate thought and conjecture, to a high degree.
"Violante" reminds one somewhat of Rossetti’s
splendid poem, "The Last Confession."
"Jael" is grandly conceived, disturbing
and then satisfying the imagination. It represents
a sumptuous development of woman, inexorably self-held
in stern restraint. The sinewy verse, admirably
adapted to the subject-matter, is slightly marred,
however, by the prevalence of redundant syllables,
giving the lines a restless and tumultuous character:
I have drawn the curtains of my
tent and shut
Heaven’s vague supremities and the
Palm-gilding, from mine eyes. I
would that doors
Of massive metal dulled your grateful
To me, lying prone, veiled with
my loosened hair
An agony in my thoughts, and loathing
* * *
knowest of how the quick pulse ruled my heart
When Sisera was near, yet how I
Face, form, and gesture one cold
Of decorous matronhood severely
Acting until the last my virtuous
Feeling the insolent animal in my
Gnaw at its bonds with fiery teeth.
. . "
* * *
Barak and Deborah, bless the Kenite’s
Who thrust the deadly nail in Sisera’s
Who strove to free not Israel, but
Who failed . . . "
the poem, in some respects the most remarkable
of the whole collection, is a short lyric entitled
"Behind History." The unrestricted praise
which is so often applied to Browning’s "My
Last Duchess" may with justice be applied
to this. It is in a high degree forcible, keen
in analysis, intensely dramatic, polished ad
unguem, pure from all
obscurity in spite of its exquisite compactness;
and, indeed, for so many excellences quite so
excellently combined, one may make long search
am the Queen they hold so pure,
They will carve my tomb one day,
With marble praise that shall endure."
this Queen the flood of a fierce and tyrannous
passion rises against the rock of her indomitable
pride. The flood, as is usual with floods of this
sort, prevails against the rock, overwhelms and
covers it. But the tide ebbs more swiftly than
it rose; and the rock, taking pitiless vengeance,
stands apparently inviolable, as before. There
is contained in this poem what most writers would
require a volume to render. By masterly suggestiveness
and lucidity of expression Mr. Fawcett has included
everything; he has taken in the whole world of
a surging and destructive passion. Yet the marvelous
condensation is accomplished apparently with perfect
ease, with no trace of the "labor to be brief."
mention merely a few more poems representing the
variety of Mr. Fawcett’s powers, let me call attention
to the grim weirdness of "D’outre Mort"—desire
surviving death; the cruel gorgeousness and stealthy
tropic heat of "Tiger to Tigress;" above
all, the tender human pitifulness, the long-drawn
lamenting music, the inexpressible loneliness
of the lovely "Cradle-song:"
over the rocking sea, and windily over the
Hark how the lowering Autumn night
the lonely world!"
* * *
"Go to sleep, darling;
go to sleep, dear one;
Heed not the tempest
gathering o’er thee!
Slumber well, though the night be
a drear one,
Wild and drear
to the mother that bore thee!"
"Barcarolle," though somewhat artificial,
has a delightful lilt. "A Souvenir"
is delicious slow music; and "One May Night"
is brimming with richness and soft passion and
warm color. In this poem, as in one of two others,
we are reminded that Mr. Fawcett has studied systematically
the genius of Mr. Aldrich. But the poetry of Mr.
Aldrich, truly exquisite and jewel-like at its
best, is occasionally, I think, refined to the
verge of finicalness. This perilous verge Mr.
Fawcett shuns with care.
forgoing extracts and comments have shown Mr.
Fawcett crowned already with brilliant and solid
achievement, the author of work endowed with strength,
subtlety, and sensuousness. Possessed also of
the singing voice, the artist’s intolerance of
slovenly workmanship, and an unerring sense of
proportion, Mr. Fawcett should fulfill the most
sanguine expectations. His defects have not been
dwelt upon here, because, unlike his excellences,
they are distinctly of the minor sort. A few of
his lyrics lack their full share of inspiration,
having been written perhaps more as a metrical
exercise than under strong compulsion of creative
desire. Here and there, also, a pet word gets
more than its share of attention. But matter for
blame, on the whole, is conspicuous chiefly by