Henry Newbolt





Literatur: Newbolt
Literatur: Poetry and Drama
Literatur: "1913"


GEORGIAN POETRY 1911-12. Edited by E. M. (The Poetry Bookshop, 35 Devonshire Street, Theobalds Road, W.C. 3s. 6d. net.)

"TO-DAY," said a lecturer ten years ago, "to-day we have no great novelist: will any one suggest that we have a poet?" – and the audience echoed his contempt. They probably knew as well as he did that Hardy and Meredith, William Morris and Swinburne, were not only then living, but had already brought in the bulk of their harvest. In their eyes, as in the lecturer's, it all counted for nothing, because it was not what they were looking for. Dickens and Thackeray were great novelists, Tennyson and Browning great poets: no one living resembled these, therefore no one living was either poet or novelist. The same argument is reported to hold good among the savage tribes of North Africa, who will refuse all your gold and accept only a silver dollar with the head of Maria Theresa upon it. The metal counts for nothing: they know what money – is money is that which they have seen before.

It is unfortunate that in our own country this way of looking at things is not confined to the less civilised tribes: it is perhaps most common among the educated and the professed lovers of literature. Their very education, their very love of the beauty they know, lays the fatal spell of habit upon them: the unfamiliar becomes the uncomfortable, and they spend, at any rate, the latter pan of their intellectual existence in lamenting as decadent whatever in art possesses any newness of life. No doubt Time brings in his revenges: no doubt, as the years go on, the saplings prove to be something more than hazel or dog-oak. They grow to undeniable timber and replace the old kings of the forest. But no one is converted: their greatness is now a part of the laudable past and is used in its turn as a standard by which to depreciate the newer growth around them. This perpetually repeated error is a costly one. Poets are a part of their age: a generation that does not realise its own literature is an unwholesome generation, an organism unrefreshed, cut off from that renewal of the blood which is among the first conditions of health.

How, then, is the public to be convinced? How is the most willing reader to discover the best poets of his own day? The number of those who are writing in verse is very large and they cover an immense field of thought: they are little talked about, and in the Press they are too often either neglected altogether or reviewed in batches of twenty at a time, with five lines of comment apiece, and perhaps in favourable cases a single haphazard quotation. We have well-known reviewers of fiction, and stalls-full of dramatic critics; but what editor would think it worth his while to keep a reviewer on his staff who should write week by week on the whole output of current poetry, not as an anonymous and casual impressionist, but pledging the credit of his own name for a serious and consistent judgment? And perhaps for this state of things the critics are more to blame than the editors, for they have long been accustomed to lighten the responsibility of praise or blame by concluding with a traditional remark on the im[46]possibility of estimating the work of a contemporary, and the comfortable assurance that the ultimate verdict is for posterity and posterity alone to pronounce. Hopes of the verdict of posterity may afford some gratification to a sanguine poet, but how can it benefit his hungry contemporaries – the would-be readers – to know that the food they are starving for will be adjudicated good or bad a hundred years hence? That verdict, moreover, of absolute good or bad, is not the one they need. What concerns them most is to know, not what may be good for posterity, but what is good for them, which is not necessarily the same thing. The right poetry for any age is not the poetry of the future, but the poetry of the past and the present. A poet writes to express himself, but he does so nearly always with an ardent belief that he is serving his fellows. If he looks forward to a fame that shall survive him, it cannot in reason be for his own sake, but rather that his service may not be limited to the period of his own generation, which perhaps has given him but a partial and long-delayed opportunity. What would most benefit him and his contemporaries alike is the action and reaction of sympathy between the living writer and his living audience. To secure this result what experiment would not be worth making?

Several experiments are in fact being tried, and one of them has already achieved a considerable amount of success. A certain "E. M." has published in the volume which he calls Georgian Poetry a selection from the work of seventeen living poets. The qualification for admission is that the verse chosen should have been first published during the past two years, and that the authors should be only such as were practically unknown two years ago, or such as have since that time gained some accession of power. The editor believes that his collection "may, if it is fortunate, help the lovers of poetry to realise that we are at the beginning of another 'Georgian period' which may take rank in due time with the several great poetic ages of the past." Let us grant to the critics, if they will, that since we are only at the beginning of the period we cannot know what rank it may or may not take in due time. The important point is that E. M.'s enthusiasm is amply justified. The book is a striking one: it has been eagerly bought up, and I believe that it cannot fail to astonish most of its readers, for there are probably but few who have been carefully noting the scattered appearances which together prove the coming of a new breath of poetic emotion. And the reader who has no standard of condemnation ready, who desires life and the movement of life rather than a belated copy of it – he, I think, will be not only astonished, but delighted.

Let us turn to the poets themselves: for a first survey any order is equally good. Mr Lascelles Abercrombie is represented by his "Sale of St. Thomas," a legend or morality play, put before us in a single scene of some five hundred lines, one half of which are spoken by Thomas himself. The story is a simple one: Thomas is a soul of flame blown this way and that alternately between the impulse to preach Christ among the heathen and the even stronger impulse to draw back and take shelter in prudence from the dangers which his too vivid imagination presents to him. He has already turned back from Baghdad: rather than face the desert he will go by sea to India. The captain of the ship he is to sail in, with his quiet humorous hints of danger, and his horrible tales of Eastern cruelty, sets him wavering once more; once more his own teeming imagination fills the world with enemies and apes, and flies and fevers. Then comes the Stranger, claims Thomas as his runaway servant, and sells him to the [47] captain for twenty pieces of silver. He will go the voyage after all, in irons. His sin, so his Master tells him, was not fear, but prudence a more deadly thing:

For this refuses faith in the unknown powers
Within man's nature: shrewdly bringeth all
Their inspiration of strange eagerness
To a judgment bought by safe experience;
Narrows desire into the scope of thought.
But it is written in the heart of man,
Thou shall no larger be than thy desire.
Thou must not therefore stoop thy spirit's sight
To pore only within the candle-gleam
Of conscious wit and reasonable brain;
But search into the sacred darkness lying
Outside thy knowledge of thyself, the vaste
Measureless fate, full of the power of stars,
The outer noiseless heavens of thy soul.

This is the moral; but, full of high imagination as the lines are, they give no idea of the almost physical intensity with which we are made to see and feel and fear with Thomas himself, or of the delicate and humorous skill which contrasts with these agitations the cool worldly wisdom of the captain and the calm heavenly wisdom of the Stranger.

Mr Gordon Bottomley contributes two pieces, both of blank verse. The successful one is called "The End of the World":

The snow had fallen many nights and days;
The sky was come upon the earth at last.

Here, in sixty lines, is the more extended realisation of a vision seen long ago by Mr Bridges – the vision of

The Earth that, sleeping 'neath her frozen stole.
Shall dream a dream, crept from the sunless pole
Of how her end shall be.

Mr Bottomley's effect is produced by direct and literal narrative; it passes from apprehension to terror, and from terror to a deep pathos of human tenderness. It is haunting in retrospect: it revives that old panic of childhood when the joy of the white world turned suddenly to the thought, "But there is too much snow; what shall we do if there is too much? what if it should never stop?"

Mr Rupert Brooke has not only distinction, but a distinction which is of rare interest. He is gifted with an intellectual curiosity and a natural and habitual intensity of feeling that recall the work of Donne, and of Donne only, among the English poets. In some of his poems there is the vital directness which startles one in such a line as the famous –

For God's sake hold your tongue and let me love.

[48] The selection here given is not quite representative – it does not cover the whole range – but three of the five poems are of great beauty and originality. In "The Fish" this poet has so used words as almost to endow humanity with a new and non-human rapture of sensation. In the poem called "Dining-room Tea" he has done what only the greatest of painters succeed in doing. First, he has arrested, in a familiar moment, the kinematograph of eye and brain by which life is displayed to us as an unending, unseverable tissue of everchanging action. But he has done more: he has not merely made his picture – a commonplace, bright domestic interior – he has thrown over it the light, invisible to others, of the eternal reality lying behind the appearances of our transitory life. The poem called "Dust" is a triumph of Passion over Reason: the lovers that are so surely to be dust shall yet, as wind-blown dust, come together again, and bring a radiant ecstasy to other lovers in other sunset gardens. Here, as elsewhere, Mr Brooke's bravely hopeless philosophy is burnt up in the flame of his poetic faith.

Mr James Stephens is another contributor who is but half represented here. His own volume, The Hill of Vision, opens with a "Prelude and Song" which can only be read – and cannot quite be read – in one breathless rapture. Many poems have been made about the skylark's singing: one, at least, has described it with supreme felicity. Mr Stephens does not describe at all – he sings: his song is the very song itself, the profuse strains of unpremeditated art, joyous and clear and fresh, a rain of melody showering from rainbow clouds. But here, instead of this, we have a poem equally arresting but of much less certain acceptability. "The Lonely God" is a fine piece of criticism in the form of an epic fragment. It will shock; but it will shock only those who claim for themselves and refuse to others the right to make God in their own image. Milton took the God of Genesis and recreated Him as an irresponsible being with the ideas of a Puritan politician. Mr Stephens has accepted the outline of the story and of the supreme figure, but has changed the Creator's mental and moral attributes to those demanded by a philosophy and humanity which are of to-day.

And so along the base of a round hill,
Rolling in fern, He bent His way until
He neared the little hut which Adam made,
And saw its dusky roof-tree overlaid
With greenest leaves. Here Adam and his spouse
Were wont to nestle in their little house
Snug at the dew-time: here He, standing sad,
Sighed with the wind, nor any pleasure had
In heavenly knowledge, for His darlings twain
Had gone from Him to learn the feel of pain,
And what was meant by sorrow and despair –
Drear knowledge for a Father to prepare.
        *        *        *         *        *         
O solitude unspeakable! to be
For ever with oneself! never to see
An equal face or feel an equal hand,
To sit in state and issue reprimand,
Admonishment or glory, and to smile,
Disdaining what has happened the while!
[49] O to be breast to breast against a foe!
Against a friend! to strive and not to know
The laboured outcome: love nor be aware
How much the other loved, and greatly care
With passion for that happy love or hate.
Nor know what joy or dole was hid in fate.
        *        *        *         *        *         
And so, He thought, in Mine own image I
Have made a man, remote from Heaven high
And all its humble angels; I have poured
My essence in his nostrils; I have cored
His heart with My own spirit; pan of Me,
His mind with laboured growth unceasingly
Must strive to equal Mine; matt ever grow
By virtue of My essence till he know
Both good and evil through the solemn test
Of sin and retribution, till, with zest,
He feels his godhead, soars to challenge Me
In Mine own Heaven for supremacy.

The concluding part of this poem may be thought fantastic: if so, the fantasy is such as would have seriously pleased Coventry Patmore. But, in any case, Poetry is not Dogma; and this is poetry.

Two of the longer poems in the book are autobiographical. Mr Masefield's, which bears the title "Biography," is almost an essay on the subject, with poetical passages by way of illustration. It is highly epigrammatic, and would yield a number of striking quotations; but it has not the qualities for which its author is best known and admired. Mr Drinkwater's ode "The Fires of God" is one of the most careful and accomplished pieces of writing in the book: the unfortunate result is that the thought, in so elaborate and finished a form, seems to fail of its due impressiveness. Mr Gibson and Mr Sargent achieve more conviction with far less artifice. The style of the former's gipsy romance, "The Hare," is a triumph of the happy-go-lucky: it gives the story both charm and reality. Wordsworth would have liked this poem, in the days when he was so unpunctual for meals, and of a mood not to mind the aversion of the heroine's father for clergy and police. Mr Sargent will also please and convince those who get entangled in his magic "Cuckoo Wood." The underwood may need a little cutting, but it is impossible to doubt that the poet did really get inside that wood and see all the little flying things, and the snows of the anemones, and the shifting light and shade – and all but saw, if only he had dared to stay, the goatfoot himself.

Mr Lawrence, it would appear, has seen him – Pan, that is more and less than human, the divine brute, the bringer of madness. The poem called "Snapdragon" is flooded with the distress of mere animal impulse – the man is beaten down and blinded with it, as one may be made sightless and almost breathless by unendurable excess of sunlight. The reader is driven to wonder what such a power as this will make of other scenes and less painful emotions. In this book the poem stands quite alone, for the realism of Mr De la Mare is of a totally different character. He too conveys an extraordinarily vivid sense of physical reality; but he conveys it, like the Pre-Raphaelite [50] painters, through the eyes, and mingles with it a spiritual suggestion which makes it act like a spell rather than a drug. "The Sleeper" in his poem is –

Fast – fast asleep; her two hands laid
    Loose folded on her knee,
So that her small unconscious face
    Looked half unreal to be.

So fast asleep indeed that –

Even her hands upon her lap
    Seemed saturate with sleep.

In the poem called "The Listeners," which gives the name to his latest volume, this power is turned to the uses of romance.

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
    Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
    Of the forest's ferny floor.

When the reader comes to the end of this piece it is no longer only the bodily nerves that are awake: there is also stirring that unexplained sense which gives such a pleasurable shiver to those who feel it and such indignant pain to the more scientific who do not. In Mr Chesterton's "Song of Elf" the feeling is no longer romantic: it reaches the point of "sheer superstition."

There is always a thing forgotten
    When all the world goes well;
A thing forgotten, as long ago
When the gods forgot the mistletoe,
And soundless as an arrow of snow
    The arrow of anguish fell.

The thing on the blind side of the heart
    On the wrong side of the door;
The green plant groweth, menacing
Almighty lovers in the spring;
There is always a forgotten thing,
    And love is not secure.

Unfortunately this tells us very little about the writer, and the same complaint may be made of the few lines contributed by Mr Flecker and Sir Ronald Ross. Mr Trevelyan, too, has only a single page, and, poignant and sincere as the tiny stanzas are, they can only set the reader upon inquiry. Mr Monro's two pieces are both pleasing, but they also are hardly representative: they have meither the incisiveness nor the more memorable charm which may be found in some of the short poems at the end of his Before Dawn.

There remain two poems only, and of them, for different reasons, it is hardly [51] necessary to speak. "The Child and the Mariner," by Mr Davies, is a character-sketch; a sketch of a figure with a kind of double rainbow round it, made by the light of humour in an old man's eyes and the light of romance in a child's. It is a delightful piece, the best and the most personal that Mr Davies has yet given us, and it needs only to be read. The "Sicilian Idyll" of Mr Sturge Moore also needs only to be read. It is undoubtedly the finest piece of work in the volume, as it is by far the longest and most elaborate. Strictly, it ought not to be here at all, for Mr Sturge Moore can by no stretch be brought within the new group of Georgian Poets. His reputation, and much of his finest verse, was made ten years ago. But the inclusion of this Idyll certainly adds to the value of the book, for the poem throws much light on the work of his younger contemporaries and takes none from them.

I have spoken of these poets one by one; but what of the whole company of them? Is their book merely an agreeable and various anthology, or is it something more? Has it the force of accumulated evidence? and, if so, what does it prove?

To these questions two entirely opposite answers will be given by the two classes of readers. Those who are accustomed to consider the poem apart from the poet, to regard it as a work of skilled craftsmanship, an external or decorative scheme with a possible perfection of its own – certainly for them the collection will be merely a collection, without any kind of unity; a chaos, if not a discord. But to those who look rather to the essential elements of poetry than to its external form it will, I think, be clear that at least three qualities are strikingly exemplified in this book. They may not be – they are not – all present in all the poems; but each of the three is to be found in a majority of them. The first of these qualities is poetic imagination, the power of the poet to grasp the things of earth and to transfigure them, to take the world of the senses and to recast it – to send it forth glowing from the furnace of his own heart. This is a power which has been given to the generations of men in very varying degrees: it was as common in the age of Shakespeare and Lope de Vega as it was rare in the England of the eighteenth century. It came back with Blake and has never since entirely failed us. But it would be difficult to point to a time when it has been seen more suddenly, more widely and more strongly at work than it is at the present moment. This, it may be said, is merely a personal judgment, merely the record of answering vibrations in a particular receiver. I reply that the testing apparatus is, and must always be, a particular one; but the actual test, though every one can make it for himself, is not an individual one – it lies in the comparison of the new work with those poems which have always and by all been acknowledged as supreme in the quality of imaginative intensity. Let those readers who are looking for poetical imagination look here, and let them impose as they will the ordeal by juxtaposition: they will not, I believe, be disappointed.

The second quality of which I spoke is constructive power. It is not properly separable from the first, being in reality included in the power of intuitive creation. Shapeless or incoherent poetry is simply inferior poetry, the expression of a defective or immature imagination. But there is a degree of constructive power which is needed only for poems of a certain form and magnitude, and this may well be spoken of separately. It is certain that, by the lack of it, many poems of great intensity have been rendered almost ineffective. Keats's Endymion and George Darley's Nepenthe would probably have had a different fate if their readers had not seen that each of [52] these poets had to some extent failed to determine and mark out, before the fiery process of fusion began, the lines within which his molten metal was to run. In the poems before us there is no such failure. Mr Sturge Moore has long been recognised as a master of his favourite form of expression – the idyllic drama. Mr Lascelles Abercrombie, whose "Emblems of Love" seemed to suffer from having been written piece by piece at different dates and under different impulses, has in the "Sale of St. Thomas" made a garment for his spirit as perfect in outline and fashioning as it is rich in texture. Mr Gibson has told his romantic story with as sure a sense of proportion as Mr Davies has shown in his romantic portrait. Proportion has been kept too by Mr Stephens, one of the two most impulsive poets in the company: the other, Mr Masefield, is perhaps the only one who has not quite realised where intuition ceased and intellect alone prolonged the flow. In the shorter poems there is plenty of freedom, some uncertainty perhaps, but no eccentricity.

The third quality is truth of diction – an achievement so hedged with entanglements as to seem, theoretically, almost beyond reach for a modern poet. The absolute impossibility of forgetting the richly coloured words and haunting cadences of the past; the more absolute necessity of speaking in a natural voice and in the language of to-day; the risk of distracting or offending a hearer whose ear is differently tuned; the increased difficulty of dyeing speech of commoner material with deep shades of thought, – if all this were in the poet's consciousness at once we may be sure we should have little poetry. Fortunately, it is hardly in his consciousness at all. The younger poets of to-day – it follows inevitably from their imaginative gift – have no temptation to a false and embarrassing æsthetic. They are not for making something pretty, something up to the standard of the professional patterns; they are not members of an arts-and-crafts industrial guild. They write as grown men walk, each with his own unconscious gesture; and with the same instinctive tact as the walker they vary their pace and direction, keep their balance, and avoid collisions. In short, they express themselves, and seem to steer without an effort between the dangers of innovation and reminiscence. In the whole book there are only two disconcerting cases of resemblance: Sir Ronald Ross has once seen Shelley plain, and Mr Masefield has bowed too completely to the spell of Mr Bridges' "Recollections of Solitude." The rest speak in tones so natural, so characteristic, and so flexible that the reader may easily fail to note the degree of mastery implied. That eighteenth-century dodo, the pseudo-Miltonic Diction, with its half-bred varieties, has made a long struggle for existence, but it would seem to be extinct at last. If it troubles us again it will not be as a thing of life but as a triumph of some taxidermist's craft. The new English is to be one with life itself: to slip like running water over rock, sand, or weed with the same swift adaptability but with ever-varying sound. The secret of this adaptability is no discovery of the Georgian Poets – it is their birthright, inherited from those predecessors who from Wordsworth and Coleridge onwards have worked for the assimilation of verse to the manner and accent of natural speech. In recognition of one of their more immediate benefactors they have unanimously inscribed their volume with the name of Robert Bridges. Better still, they have secured the continuance of his line.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

Poetry and Drama.
Jg. 1, 1913, Nr. 1, März, S. 45-52.

Gezeichnet: Henry Newbolt.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

Poetry and Drama   online
URL: https://archive.org/details/poetrydrama01monruoft   [1913]
URL: https://archive.org/details/poetrydrama02monruoft   [1914]
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011596380









Literatur: Newbolt

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PURL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015031008033 The greater part of the twelve essays delivered as lectures of the professor of poetry at the Royal Society of Literature.
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