Charles G.D. Roberts
by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone
WORLD OF BOOKS: William Sharp*
Romantic Ballads and Poems of
Phantasy. By William
Sharp. London: Printed for the author the author
by Walker Scott, 24 Warwick Lane.
us Canadians, and on this side the water generally,
the poems of Mr. Sharp have been strangely overlooked.
To all lovers of high verse, the loss is a serious
one. The student of English literature moreover,
can no longer afford to be ignorant of those younger
singers, on whom it must devolve to sustain the
supremacy of English song. Of these Mr. Sharp
is not the most widely recognized, as yet; but
he is, I think, the strongest and most genuinely
inspired. His verse has not, for the most part,
as captivating a melody as that of Mr. Gosse,
but his genius seems to me more vital, more stimulating,
more exuberant, and of a larger mould. This I
say while yielding to no one in admiration for
the true impulse, the technical mastery, the clarity
and sweetness of Mr. Gosse’s verse. But Mr. Sharp
seems to have perceived that English poetry is
in need of some fresh motive, and his instinct
has told him this fresh motive would be found
in a return to Romance. A step, and a great step,
in this return to Romance is the little volume
before me;—which, by the way, though issued only
a few months ago, is already become scarce and
a treasure for the lovers of rare editions. Happy
is the bibliophile who has possessed himself in
time of this dainty parchment-bound volume, or
who succeeds in picking up a copy at some remote
Sharp’s feeling for the romantic, the supernatural,
the heroic, the weirdly suggestive, does not lead
him into any contempt for that vital and selective
realism, which (as I have said on all possible
occasions) must form the basis of all true art.
All the external manifestations of Nature are
scanned by this poet with a clear and sympathetic
vision. The spirit of a scene is caught by his
brooding observation, and then rendered with vivid
fidelity in a few direct strokes. A distinctive
quality in Mr. Sharp’s genius is felt in his first-hand
rendering of nature and in the unhackneyed tone
of his interpretations.
present volume is, as its name implies, arranged
in two sections. The first section, Romantic Ballads,
contains four poems of the supernatural, which
are of themselves sufficient to establish Mr.
Sharp’s claim to be regarded as a powerful and
original singer. They are permeated in every line
with that unquestioning realization of the supernatural
which gives such thrilling effect to "The
Ancient Mariner" and "Christabel."
I know of no more impressive poem of its kind
in our language than "The Weird Michael Scott,"
which has all the sincerity, simplicity and ghostly
horror of some of the old Scottish folk-songs,
combined with a unity and concentration which
heighten all the effects many times over, and
which were generally beyond the reach of the early
balladists. Mr. Sharp does not dilute his material.
He remembers Keats’s injunction to "load
every rift of his subject with ore." He has
woven together, in the one wild ballad, several
of the most terrifying legends of
diablerie and Gothic
witchcraft, and the blending is so skilful that
one is carried on irresistibly, with ever-deepening
fascination of strange terror, to the splendid
and awful close. The case with which Mr. Sharp
produces most nerve-thrilling effects is instanced
in the following stanzas:
as the darkness grew and made
Forest and mountain one vast shade,
Michael the Wizard moaned in dread—
A long white moonbeam like a blade
Swept after him where’er he fled.
through the wood there stole and crept,
And through the wood there raced and leapt,
A thing in semblance of a man;
A human look its wild eyes kept,
As howling through the night it ran.
Deith-Tide" is not a narrative but rather
a lyrical ballad, shorter than its predecessors,
but not less admirable. Its haunting cadences
and weird refrains are not less fruitful of a
creeping sense of awe, but there is something
more alluring, more delicious in this fear than
in that evoked by such work as the "Michael
Scott." The lyric is a sort of ghostly and
dreadful yet piercingly pathetic love-song.
the "Poems of Phantasy" the note is
sweeter, softer, less strenuous; but that strange
and wide-eyed sense of the super-natural is not
for a moment absent. The magic dealt with here,
however, is more of white magic, the spells are
those of fairy rather than of wizard, and the
pervading atmosphere is of beauty and of tenderness.
It is difficult to choose where all are well nigh
flawless, but the two I quote will serve to give
the tone of this section, and also, perhaps, to
give colour to my claim that in this species of
English verse Mr. Sharp is the greatest living
night through a haunted land I went,
Upon whose margins Ocean leant
Waveless and soundless save
That with the twilight airs were blent.
And passing, hearing never stir
Of football, or the startled whirr
Of birds, I said, "In
this land lies
Sleep’s home, the secret haunt of her."
And then I came upon a stone
Whereon these words were writ alone,
who reads, its body dies
For hence, that moment, without moan.
And then I knew that I was dead,
And that the shadow overhead
Was not the darkness of
But that form which my soul had fled.
THE WANDERING VOICE.
hear it in the sunless dale,
It moans beside the stream,
They hear it when the woodlands wail,
And when the storm winds
They hear it—going from the fields
Through the twilight shadows
It sighs across the silent wealds
And far and wide doth roam.
It moans upon the wind, No
The House of Malcolm stands:
It comes at dusk,
and o’er and o’er
Haunts Malcolm’s lands.
He rides down by the foaming lion—
But hark! What is it calls
With faint, far voice, so shrill and thin,
The House of Malcolm
He lifts the revel cup at night—
What makes him start and
What makes his face blanch deadly white,
What makes him spring from
His comrades feast within the room,
And through the darkness
What is that wailing cry of doom,
That scream of woe!
No more sunless dells, or high
On moorland way is heard
Of the long wandering prophecy:—
In moonlit nights alone
A shadowy shape is seen to stand
Beside a ruined place:
It waves a wildly threatening hand,
It hath a dreadful face.
Sharp is author of two other volumes of poems—The
Human Inheritance, now
out on print, and Earth’s Voices (London:
Elliot Stock). He is also author of Dante Gabriel
Rossetti: A Record and Study, of those altogether
admirable brief biographies, Shelley and
Heine— in the Great Writer’s series;
and of several introductory essays, of special
value, prefixed to works which he has edited.
World of Books: William Sharp," Progress
1:37 (Saint John, N.B.), 12 January 1889, 6 [back]