Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


 

Miss Thomas's Second Volume of Verse*


 

Lyrics and Sonnets. [1887] By Edith M. Thomas. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

 

A CHILD OF EARTH

Ye meadows and maize-waving fields,
Warm orchards, with your mellow yields,
And fallows, joyous and unkempt;
Ye woodlands, whether grey or green,
As spring in you doth sleep or wake;
Ye trivial runs that ever tempt
The longest way to reach your home,
And, as ye wander, ever break
Green news to banks ye glide between;
Thou quiet shore, and thou serene,
Cool under-heaven, dashed with foam
(Wide water, glad in thy approach)—
O ye, my kindred! hear me now,
While I my love and service broach;
Your claim I may not disallow.

     I am of thee, thou patient soil;
Your harvests here, that bend and bow,
And make long pathways for the breeze;
Thine ancient clansmen, strong with toil
(Thine old storm-proven growths, the trees);
Thy fondlings recent from the germ,
Which dew and beam make haste to find—
All cognate are to me, and kind:
I am of these, and taught by these,
To strike my roots down deep and firm.

     Ye veering streams, where’er ye ply,
I seek you with a thirsty mind:
In summer, when ye climb the sky,
And leave your channels cracked and dry,
Burns fever in my dwindled veins;
And when in your white cells ye lie,
And soundless hammers forge your chains,
My fluid thought in gyves remains,
Wide water, with thy Protean lives,
In counting of thy tribute gains,
Miss not the streams that draw to thee
From sources in the heart of me.

     My kindred! forest, field and lake!
Once more I right confession make,
How dear to me ye ever were,
And, while I live by breath, shall be:
When breadth is past ‘tis yours to take,
Mournless, the never wanderer,
And gently, without sound or stir,
His elements among you break -
Whose heaven shall perchance be fair
With types of you, immortal there.

The above lines are thoroughly typical of the genius of Miss Thomas. It is in poems of this class that she shows herself at her strongest. In her first volume, the influence of Keats was to some extent predominant; but in this, which is as rich in fulfilment as was that other in promise, an Emersonian spirituality of interpretation, with something of Wordsworth’s plain strength of diction, is added to that rich sympathy with the natural world which has made her work so attractive from the first. The Wordsworthian plainness of diction just spoken of, is not by any means a general characteristic of this poetry, for Miss Thomas is remarkable for her richness of phrase and freshness of epithet. She is a student of the Elizabethans, it is evident. But simplicity and plainness are hers to command, and when she employs them, it is with admirable effect. She is a pronounced stylist, stamping plainly as her own all she writes. Her rhythms and her diction are alike distinctive. It seems to me that her peculiar power, the quality which marks all her strongest work and sharply differentiates it from that of all contemporary poets, lies in her over-whelming consciousness of a personal life pervading nature. For her there is no such thing as "inanimate" nature. An individual intelligence—now frank, now elusive, now sympathetic, now tricksy,—looks out at her form the eye of every flower, breathes upon her in every fragrance, beckons to her from every tree-top and changing cloud. To a superficial glance she seems by turns Christian, Pantheist, Polytheist. The fundamental fact is that to her the spiritual is omnipresent. She is the most sincere of idealists, and yet ever keeps a firm grasp upon the tangible, and unerring eye on material facts and experiences. Her field is by no means a wide one, but within it she has a mastery which will, I feel sure, secure to her a permanence of fame. Such poems as "Vertermnus" in her previous volume,—as "The Breathing Earth", "Spirit to Spirit", "Easter Morn", "A Nocturn", Woodcraft", "The Quiet Pilgrim", and a few others, leave a deep and definite impression. They are a stimulus to the imagination; and their flavor is unmistakable. For a certain accuracy of touch and delicacy of pathos, the two stanzas entitled "The Dreamer" are beyond praise:

Oh, not for her the early violet,
The swarm-like buds upon the fruit trees set,
The robin singing in the first spring rain,
She will have gone ere these can come again.

And therefore is it that soft, pitying sleep,
Each night, by ways the Winter cannot keep,
Brings her where bloom the flowers her childhood knew
In griefless places kissed by sun and dew.

In her lighter verse, as has so often been pointed out, Miss Thomas catches the quaintness and naivete which prove so taking in the lyrics of Herrick. In this sort of work I think the volume before me is less rich than its predecessor,—which is as it should be, Miss Thomas being now concerned with weightier matter. In her classical studies Miss Thomas, in my opinion, is seldom at her best, she seems not always to hit the antique note. But even so, these poems are fine, if not Grecian. There is hardly one in the whole collection that I would willingly see omitted. Perhaps that one might be the "Humming-bird", which, like Miss Helen Cone’s lyric on the same subject, has seemed to me almost superfluous after the perfection of Mr. Fawcett’s lines ending:

"Was it a gem half bird,
Or was it a bird half gem?"

I must close by quoting one of Miss Thomas’ sonnets, which are among the best the new world has to show. This on "Music" is as characteristic as it is beautiful:

"The god of music dwelleth out of doors,
All seasons through his ministry we meet,
Breathing by field and covert haunting-sweet;
From organ lofts in forests old he pours
A solemn harmony; on leafy floors
To smooth autumnal pipes he moves his feet,
Or with the tingling plectrum of the sleet
In winter keen beats out his thrilling scores,
Leave me the reed unplucked beside the stream,
And he will stoop and fill it with the breeze;
Leave me the viol’s frame in secret trees,
Unwrought, and it shall wake a druid theme;
Leave me the whispering shell on nereid shores:
The god of music dwelleth out of doors."

 


"The World of Books: Miss Thomas's Second Volume of Verse," Progress 1:18 (Saint John, N.B.), 1 September 1888, 2 [back]