Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

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


 

THE WORLD OF BOOKS: A Popular Volume of Poems.*


 

Gentleman Dick of the Grays and Other Poems, by Hereward K. Cockin. [1889] Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson

 

A good story, well told, is always acceptable. If told in fluent and simple verse, sweetened here with sentiment, brightened there with humor, and decorated ever and anon with the gay touch of fancy, it may be sure of a host of gratified readers. Mr. Cockin can tell a story in the fashion above indicated, and he is winning an audience with most wonderful rapidity. His little volume, published last month, in Toronto has been received with a degree of popular favor perhaps never before accorded to a book of Canadian poems. Part of this success is perhaps due to the fact that many of the poems are admirably suited for recitation—which, indeed, is but another way of saying that they are rich in certain admirable qualities. It may be said, in a word, then, that Mr. Cockin’s powers and limitations are alike to be inferred from the promptness of his acceptance by the public. He uses three or four simple measures, such as the public ear is well accustomed to—and uses them with a most agreeable dash and freedom. His serious poems treat either of the domestic affections,—when his note has a natural and tender quality, with much unstrained pathos; or of heroic deed and stirring episode, in telling of which his verse acquires a fine swing and resonance. A healthy sentiment, an air of vigorous and common sense manliness, pervades every page. Fancy rather than imagination is the inspirer of these lays; the subtler beauties of cadence and color must not be looked for, any more than faultless technique, or profound psychical insight. But to these qualities the poems make no pretension, and Mr. Cockin never irritates us with posings and strivings after effect. We bless him as we find that he leaves us in no doubt as to his meaning. It is no small distinction for him to be able to say that the sin of obscurity will never be laid [text illegible].

A large part of the book is taken up with humorous and satirical verse. In this department Mr. Cockin employs a robust method, savouring more of Fielding than of Locker or Dobson. His humor is large of mould, genial, hearty, the humor of situations. It is not the most remotely akin to the subtle jesting just now in fashion, but is to be comprehended at a glance as are the satire and fun of Hudibras. In its large humanity, its tolerance of anything rather than hypocrisy, I have found this free-and-easy verse very refreshing. Such a bit as "A Graveyard Idyll" reminds one irresistibly of the unsurpassable Fielding.

In many respects the best poem in the book is the "Gentleman Dick o’ the Greys," which gives the collection its title. It is too long to quote in full, and a selection would not give a fair idea of its qualities. It is full of vitality. "The Vale of Lune," also too long to quote, is filled with the charm of

The murmur of the waters in the little Vale of
     Lune,

where

Sheltered by the Pennine shadows, lags the drowsy
     water-wheel.

An idea of Mr. Cockin’s facile metrical movement may be gathered from these opening lines of "St. Hilda’s Bells":

From the pleasant vale of Whitby, by the German
     Ocean shore,
Floats the sweetness of a legend handed down from
     days of yore,
When that hardy North Sea rover, Oscar Olaf, son
     of Sweyn,
Swooping down of Whitby’s convent, bore her bells
     beyond the main,
Far away to where the headlands on the Scandinavian
     shore,
With reverberating thunder echo Baltic’s sullen
     roar;—
And sad the nightwinds o’er the Yorkshire fells,
Bemoaned the absence of St. Hilda’s bells.

Very touching and human are the lyrics called "Dulce Domum" and "The Sighing of the Firs." In conclusion, I will quote from "These Degenerate Modern Days," in order to give a specimen of Mr. Cockin’s humor:

Glibly fall the tones regretful o’er the pleasant times
     no more,
When this earth of ours was younger, in the goodly
     days of yore;
When full dress was but a figleaf in the prehistoric
     times;
When the troubadour and jongleur sang in mediaeval
     rhymes;
When fat Hal, our kingly Bluebeard—model of
     false-heartedness—
Changed his wives almost as often as he changed his
     royal dress;
And those days of England’s Georges—mention of
     them is to praise,
With a parting sigh and sneer at these degenerate
     modern days.

In the good days prehistoric folks camped out in
     goat-hair tents,
Innocent of baths, etc., scorning house advertisements;
Eastern night-dews picnic’d round them, and our
     Aryan forbear’s "phiz"
Grimaced as its owner wallowed in the pangs of
     "rheumatiz".
‘Neath our roof-trees we may never sleep in soul-
     entrancing joy,
With a billy-goat beside us, like the patriarchal
     boy,
Sheltered by the brick and mortar, winter’s frosts
     and summer’s rays
Are, alas! but little felt in these degenerate modern
     days.

In the mediaeval period murder, violence and lust
Made things rosy for those mashers who are with
     the saints, we trust.
Happy happy mediaevals! when crusading was the
     rage.

*          *          *

Julius Cćsar was a hero, yet his "came—saw—
     conquered" tone
Never warbled "Thank you, Central," through the 
     wondrous telephone.
Praise your past! Though half its glory is but an
     exploded craze.
Still my vote and influence go for these degenerate
     modern days.

These extracts may be regarded as a trifle Rabelaisian, but they seem to me genuinely humorous. Their capacious fooling is not unrefreshing in these days.

 


"The World of Books: A Popular Book of Poems," Progress 1:48 (Saint John, N.B.), 30 March 1889, 6 [back]