the contents of the collection has already appeared
is separate volumes, the book does not strictly come
under the head of new poetry. Mr. Gosse, however, has
several noticeable things to say about the fortune of
verse in America, and about Mr. Cawein's poems in particular.
remarking that serious poetry in the United States seems
to have been passing through a "crisis of languor,
since the disappearance of the New England School,"
he continues, "Perhaps there is no country on the
civilized globe where, in theory, verse is treated with
more respect and, in practice, with a greater lack of
grave consideration than America. No conjecture as to
the reason of this must be attempted here, further than
to suggest the extreme value set upon sharpness, ingenuity
and rapid mobility is obviously calculated to depreciate
and condemn the quiet practice of the most meditative
of the arts." And again, "Whatever be the
cause, it is certain that this is not a moment when
serious poetry, of any species, is flourishing in the
is this true? And if it is, what is the reason for the
temporary decadence of poetry? I fancy no one will seriously
contend that the present time is productive even of
tolerably good poetry, to say nothing of poetry of eminent
significance and power. I suppose there has never been
a time in the past half century when books of verse
were less in demand. While the faithful "remnant"
is always to be found, eager to receive and encourage
what is new, sensitive to all artistic beauty and appreciative
of delicate originality, the mass of readers care very
little for any recent invention of the Muse. Considering
the quality of most of such inventions, there is no
reason why the average reader should care for them.
But why is the level of poetic production not higher?
Why does no man write poetry that compels attention
answer must still be that art is a natural product of
the intellectual garden, and springs up on the right
soil as readily as mushrooms of a morning. You cannot
get poetry out of an unpoetic people. There may be something
in Mr. Gosse's hint that our mercurial wit and restless
eagerness are too completely engrossed in other affairs
to flower successfully in verse. It only remains for
us to bide our time with what patience we may, and believe
that the period of materialism will pass and an age
of ideals and intellectuality return. If there is no
great poetry, it is because there are no great people.
Art is the voice of a nation, and when that voice becomes
obscured or faint, it means that the nation is perilously
near to shame. When Mr. Gosse says, "Where is American
poetry?" we cannot reply. If he should ask, "Where
are American ideals?" he might come nearer the
root of the matter, and we should have just as much
trouble to answer him. There is a foolish notion commonly
accepted that art and poetry are in no way the vital
product of a civilization, but are at best esoteric
amusements-avocations for the leisure class. Such an
idea in itself argues the utter absence of any noble
regard for things of the mind and concerns of the spirit.
The truth is that the decay of American poetry means
the decay of American ideals-if there is any decay.
the decision of such curious questions, however, the
publication of books by contemporary poets continues.
Miss Edith Thomas with "The Dancers," and
Miss Ethelwyn Wetherald with "Tangled in Stars,"
will add to their established and growing fame. Miss
Thomas's pleasing style and lucid expression made her
acceptable to the magazines from the first, and will
be found unimpaired in the present collection. It is
so graceless a task to criticise any worker in a craft
in which one may have made efforts oneself, that I hesitate
to be specific in speaking of such books as this.
question there is that has often occurred to me. How
long can a writer contribute to the magazines without
detriment to his art, or rather I should say without
stifling his inspiration? I do not mean to imply that
the magazines are inhospitable to originality. On the
contrary, I think they are as hospitable to it as could
reasonably be expected. The magazines form a ready forum
for new poets; and if, after a fair trial, a man cannot
get a hearing in one periodical or another, it is safe
to conclude that his work lacks certain qualities which
all good writing must possess. However able and new
and penetrating a poem or a story may be, if it merely
expresses its author, and makes no appeal to the public,
it is only half great after all; for all the best art
must be both expressive and impressive and in an equal
degree. Serial publication offers an easy test of the
latter requisite quality in writing, for which our aspirations
ought to be grateful, though I doubt if this aspect
of the case very often occurs to them.
after all our stripling has won his first laurels in
the magazine field, when he has achieved a certain power
of self expression, a certain facility which ensures
him a ready hearing (not to mention a ready market),
what then lies before him? How is he to grow? What influences
will help his genius to unfold? The truth is that after
a man has achieved a degree of excellence which makes
him always welcome in the columns of our periodicals,
when he is sure of his audience and sure of his cheque,
he is in a more perilous position than before. There
will be no inducements to him to grow, no influences
helping him to develop. All the pressure will be in
the opposite direction. Editors will want him to repeat
his first success. Some passing phase of his growing
fancy will be held up to him as the standard pattern
for all future contributions. And he is in danger of
consciously making all his work conform to the type
of excellence and execution which his editors demand.
To do that, evidently, is to cease to grow.
other words it seems to me that the magazines are an
excellent influence on the exuberance of a young writer
up to a certain point; but after that point has been
reached, they exert a pressure which is far from beneficial,
and tends to flatten out genius rather than to foster
it. But perhaps I am all wrong after all, and one ought
not to look for popular poets to grow into elemental
and prophetic bards.