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CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
JOHN LIVINGSTON LOWES
Professor of English in

Harnjard

Uni'versity

EoUGHTON

BOSTON AND NEW YORR MIFFLIN COMPANY
1919

1919.COPYRIGHT. BY JOHN LIVINGSTON LOWES ALL RIGHTS RSSERVED P/v loyi L 2 .

G. L. .TO M.

.

. grew out of what was then the one dominating and unescapable influence on all our thinking. Except for some slight shifts in the order of treatment in the fourth chapter. as the apologia pro vita sua of such a book at such a time. 1918. L. they are printed as they were given.PREFACE The chapters which constitute this volume were delivered as lectures at the Lowell Institute in Boston during January. The last lecture. It has been allowed to stand. L. January. 1919. in part. J.

CONTENTS
I.

The Roots of Convention

1

II.

The Ways of Conventions
Originality and the Moulding of Con-

47

III.

ventions
IV.

93

The Hardening of Conventions, and
Revolt
134

V.

The Diction of Poetry versus Poetic
Diction
180

VI.
VII.

Rhyme, Metre, and Vers Libre

226

The Incursions of Prose and the Vogue
OF THE Fragmentary
269
311

VIII.

The Anglo-Saxon Tradition

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION

The subject immediately before us is the roots of
have no intention of scrutinizing the dark backward and abysm of time for the dancing throng, or of
convention in poetry, not
its

beginnings.

I

disquieting the spirits of the ancient bards to

bring

them
is,

up.

The

origins of convention chro-

nologically considered will not concern us here.

There

to be sure, keen zest in retracing the

vestiges of primitive poetry,
ing, ex

and

in reconstructitself.

pede Herculem, primitive poetry

up Hercules from his foot, when everything above the ankle is your own creation, is an alluring exercise, and I confess its fascination, and yield to no one in my recognition of its fruitfulness. But I shall take another way. The phenomena of which I wish to speak spring from
build

To

the very nature of poetry. In a word,

it is

be-

cause poetry

is

what

it is

that

its

conventions

2
are
is

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
what they
are.

And my

task at the

moment

the scrutiny of poetry
I feel

itself.

In the face of

that enterprise
letters:

with Keats in one of his

"The

Cliff of

Poesy towers above me,

[and] I

am

one that 'gathers Samphire, dreadful

trade.'"

We may deal summarily with the definition of
convention.
I

am spealdng to you now. And I am

using sounds which have not the remotest logical

connection with the things for which they stand.

They mean what they mean solely because we accept them as meaning it. "Horse" has no more connection with the animal it names than "tV7ro9," or "equus," or "cheval," or "Pferd." The
varying sounds convey the idea of the creature to
their respective users simply because, through

)")

immemorial consent, they are so understood. That is one element in convention acceptance. There is another. An artist sets to work to paint a landscape. But the landscape has three dimensions, the flat surface before him has but two.

Out

of the limitations of his

medium he must

construct a set of symbols that will give to a

plane the appearance of depth.

He

does
it is

it,

and

we

accept

it,

and

see depth

where

not.

A

dramatist writes a play.

The

action covers days,

weeks, perhaps months, or even years.

The

play-

THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION

3

Wright has at his disposal a brief three hours.

Out of the Umitations of his medium he must somehow bring it about that stage time shall produce the impression of real time.
accept

We know that
we
that a sur-

hours and months do not synchronize, yet

them

as coincident;

we know

two dimensions, yet we accept it as representing three. The major conventions of
face has only
art, in

other words, involve not only acceptance,
illusion.

.
i

but acceptance of

We are deahif^, then, with the communication
of ideas, perceptions, feelings, impressions.

That

medium. The medium and the thing communicated do not correspond: stage time is
involves a

not real time, a surface has not depth, words are not things. There are differences between the relations in each case, of course,

but in

all

one fun-

something which

damental fact appears: we accept as one thing is another and a different thing.
Convention, therefore, so far as art
is

con-

cerned, represents concurrence in certain ac-

cepted methods of communication.

And

the

fundamental conventions of every art grow out of the nature of its medium. Conventions beget
conventions, to be sure, and their ramifications

and permutations are endless. But that, for the moment, is another story. Our business now is

:

4

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
What
is

with the roots of conventions in poetry.
the problem that the poet has to solve?

Here, on the one hand,

is

what WiUiam James

once called "the blooming welter"

— everything

from a sea-shell to Chicago, from a restless gossamer to the swing of the planets, from my lady's eyebrow to the stuff of "Lear." And here is the poet who feels it all and strives to catch and fix it to catch it and fix it in words. How shall he do it? Let me quote a part of Goethe's famous answer to those inquiring spirits who kept asking what idea he sought to embody in "Faust"

on the whole, my way, as a poet, to strive embodiment of something abstract. I received within myself impressions impressions of a hundred sorts, sensuous, lively, lovely, many-hued as an alert imaginative energy presented them. And I had as a poet nothing else to do but mould and fashion within me such observations and impressions, and through a vivid
It

was

n't,

after the

representation to bring
ceive the

it

about that others should
I

re-

same impression, when what

had written

was read or heard.

There we have

it

again in a nutshell: the phan-

tasmagoria of the concrete world; the poet's

mind

like

a sensitized

fihn, alive to impressions;

the impulse to give to these impressions form,

and to communicate. But, once more, how?
Since
it is

a poet of

whom we're talking,

his only

sharp fine where sea meets sky. — the ship pure. and the surging mass for the of impressions. rhythmic thunder of the the grass and in sea. in vacant or in pensive mood. waving beach luminous in the air. sound — the by the slow. the warmth of the sun beneath the wind. the wind through Dante's voice of the sand soft my within a voice. But what moment I call "I. color — the infinite purples of the sea. I lie is 5 words. as I he on the sand. recurrent. the wind. like through my fingers. salty And those are but a moiety of the sum. I may. taste and smell tang of the — the fresh. Now clearly there are two things to be reckoned with — I. glancing along the grass.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION medium a case. the exquisite pattern left receding waves. and flowing across felt my body. the curve of the beach. a shell-pink." is no less complex than what I've just sketched. What happens? Let us assume pour hght drift. shat- tered into fragments of a rainbow in the spin- gUnting from the sand. the white flash of phantom line a gull. touch as I sift it — the texture sea. alone and glad to be. be happy. And there on me a throng of physical sensations: gleaming and sparkhng on the sea. — in on the sand by the seashore. ears. dejected. alone \ .

or my mind may be to it a tabula rasa. I may be steeped in all that the poets have ever sung about the sea. I may be seeing the ocean for the first time. the subjective and the objective. stirred by the ma- "Hitherto shalt thou come. but no further. shall and here I thy proud waves be stayed. I see takes and what proportion and emsee." The who see am as manifold as what I phasis. oppressed jestic by its vastness. form and color. and wishing that I were n't. Call the two worlds. returning to it after a long absence. And — What I out of that situation there arise (to use again words from a letter of Keats) "the innumerable compositions and decompositions which take place between the intellect and its thousand materials before it arrives at that trembhng. in company that harmonizes. Heaven forbid that I should psychologize or metaphysicize. in company that jars.6 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY . — or any tag-words that you hke. del- . I may be caught by the sea's mys- tery. from what I feel. renewing a daily pilgrimage. and the macrocosm ticket them. It is obviously a problem of two worlds with which we have to deal. the microcosm if will want to make clear is a situation a protean and multiform ego (I pay that homage to the psychologists) over against a rich and thronging world of sensible things.

and Two more elements enter in. And for a medium is words." which emerges from the labyrinth.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION 7 icate. do? translucent color off Sardinia. they are Sound and movement they have. they have not line or color. But let us go one step further. the sole rub. the sea has a thousand blues. But words cannot give the things in themselves. not paint what do I I Once more. Suppose I am a poet. the sound and movement are not odorless. the same. And once more the medium is speech. they are not salt. my audience my medium. tasted. with the artist's imperious instinct to express. For what we are concerned with munication of what is the com- seen. But even so. The audience is a bridge which when we come to it. Color can give color. and that is all. and snail-horn perception of beauty. I cannot give the things directly. not the miracle of luminous. felt. smelled. And the blue Nantucket it. heard. yet different — . in common with what I hear and see. I canfall back upon its relations to things that are like. Une hne. If I say the sea is blue. And there's the is we shall cross poet. Words are not warm or luminous. but the relation between words and things is not and cannot be direct. I must off transfer and is translate.

his How does he. in point of fact. beyond the "winedark sea" of Homer. nate. . breaking the tops of the up the waves into egg-white foam. "the low wind whispers near". out on the ship. in our expression of the actual world as tions. translate world of sea and sky? The flash and sparkle of the sunlit waves become iEschylus' "innumerable laughter" of Shakespeare's "multitudinous sea. . feel is the very sea-mark of our utmost for a Come back on the moment to our supposititious poet beach. ruffling larkspur-blue sea. the grains of And it Are clear Uke wine". "A breeze. less fluctuating. "the sails ." The breakers "dart their hissing tongues high up the sand". it impinges upon us. "the hard sand breaks. so far as the inexorable limitations of the medium are concerned. sound like. We are shut up. smell Uke?" — that formula sail." Those are from a prose modernists. poem pubhshed a few months ago by the most modern of the We have not advanced a step (nor can we). "Blue as the tip of a deep blue salvia blossom. shoving ripple after ripple of pale jade-green over the shoals of Aboukir Bay". like. indetermi. to indirecit "What does look Uke. taste Uke. the inverted cup of the sky arches over the sea. evanescent.8 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY fixed more than it. then.

I am talking of a trite and threadbare figures of speech. I know fight theme — namely. nearer. as stage time sities of inherent in the neces- the dramatic medium." And he tired himself. But the if trite we shy of because the dust. or perspective in flat surface." We even turn the thing about: And through the music of the languid hours. feeble. is as deeply in the nature of the poet's language. at intervals. "the mighty Being his eternal And doth with like motion make A sound thunder everlastingly". They hear like ocean on a western beach The surge and thunder of the Odyssey. he may. like 9 is sedge". cannot escape the limitations. and by and by night "smokes about the burning crest Of the old. in our boredom with the eternal truisms about similes and metaphors as poetical embeUish- ments. the restrictions of a strive as And the poet. is sometimes more shining than the upstart new.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION do sigh awake. brush off we will but And we are apt to forget. for just forty-three years in the . the pregnant fact of the inevitabihty of imagery — an inevitabihty rooted and grounded medium. it is trite. and day-wearied sun. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in her "Journal" in 1802: "WiUiam tired himself with seeking an epithet for the cuckoo.

Nor is the inevitabiUty of imagery. hke our hypotheti- cal poet. Yet the final triumph of the poem a triumph unsurpassed in its — kind in EngHsh poetry — Ues primarily in its translation of the cuckoo's hteral voice into terms of inner experience. How does like she make us it. 1827.'' Fitzgerald. a far more keen and exquisite observer than her brother. 1815. and struggled between fact and seeming." Read especially the second stanza of "To the Cuckoo. Dorothy Wordsworth was. She puts in her "Journal" one day her favorite birch tree. I suspect. It belongs to every attempt to give in words our impression of things. with stem and branches.10 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY attempt to express directly what cannot be the sound of the cuckoo's expressed directly — "wandering voice. lying at full length in a garden." Nero in Tacitus. of course. but it was like a spirit of water. confined to verse. a nightingale singing. It was a tree in shape. is basking in the sun: ous sunshiny day. see it what she sees? "The sun shone upon and gleamed in the wind a flying. anemones eyeing the sun manfully not far . 1820. all "Here is a glorithe morning I read about on a bench and some red off. and 1845." written in 1804. as Wordsworth came back and back to it in 1807. sunshiny shower.

— again. fierce desire"? Is it the love of Launce- Tristan. Paul. Theresa. Romeo. But can express even my feelings directly? I can say: *'I am sad. or of delia. Dante. There are as many sadnesses as there are shifting aspects of the sea. Is it the love of John. Fitzgerald himself is an essential element! And that brings us back from the world perceived to the other element in our complex: namely. as I I feel them. the percipient poet to me (who am obligingly playing the part). that is. [and] Tacitus full of pleasant atrocity. or of St. St. the blooming welter a funny mixture. . Abelard. For what I strive to give is. . in which. or of Germany for England? I can say: "I love"." But for Antonio.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION 11 funny mixture all this. "with all her brim-filled bowls of lot. : is it the hatred of Shylock Paul for Regan and Goneril for Corsin. not the things themselves but impression of affect things — my things. Anthony. or St. Martha. but the gradations and degrees of love are infinite. Mary. with my permanent bents." he goes on: "Nero nightingales singand the deUcacy of spring ." is Well. Peter. I can say " I hate. my passing moods. . please observe. "A ing. my transient emotions." But "sad" tells no more than "blue" before. as they me. Francis.

There are cries. hate. or of this one or that of the infinitely diverse men and women who have ever Hved and loved. enjoy. than anguish. As in her breast the wave of life Kept heaving to and fro. "the sea sounds. to be sure. . they are my only medium. And the painters and sculptors can give us that — witness Diirer's Melancolia.: 12 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY all Goethe. or the seal Surprised by joy. Words do not any more than they taste. hunger. as they have not soHdity love. Her breathing soft and low. But these are not words. The in- variety of pleasure and pain can no more be expressed directly by words than the endless play of Ught and color on the sea. again. Leonardo's Mona finite Lisa. We watch'd her breathing thro' the night. if I late once more More fell Spartan dog. shining eyes. is like saying.'* I have." for telling all. or are soft or cool. Yet. they have not in themselves passion. am a poet. compressed lips. quivering nostrils. "even as you and I"? "I love. a means of expressing my feeUngs directly. or smell. tears. Michelangelo's figures in the Chapel of the Medici. sijffer. What is my way out? I must transor line. impatient as the wind. gestures.

but of the complex feelings. has roots in the essential limitations of the poet's medium. the thing I see. Like to the lark at break of day arising 13 — From sullen earth. but is a congeries of conventional symbols of symbols which themselves. into a tedium quid that interprets both. then. owe alike their origin and growth to innumerable similar transfers. no less than to I my impressions of sensuous things. for feelings in relations of objects. it is And the agency that moulds is the ceaselessly active power that poetry only in degree the thing — imagination. them to something else. To put my record relate feelings into words. the language of poetry is made up terms of It is inevitably of symbols — of symbols for things in terms of other things. that special to fuses the familiar and the strange. sings hymns at Heaven's gate. in in the fact that language itself stands no immediate relation to the objects which it represents. And in its — larger sense as well. for things in terms of things.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising Haply I think on thee: and then my state. Open Shakespeare anywhere: . I feel and the world within and the world without. a language not of objects. as it happens. must its The^basic convention of imagery. For the substance of poetry is also the very stuff of words.

And poetry mediates between the two. I know not where is that Promethean heat. There are the two worlds on the one hand. but sober truth. Should I repent me. passion. I should put it somewhat differently. but once put out thy light. each. what we have seen with our eyes. Raze out the written troubles of the brain. thou flaming minister. and Emotion. It needs must wither. "Life. And this is not rhapsody. and our hands have handled each incomplete — — without the other. it brings the two to- gether into one. And death's pale flag is not advanced there. I can again thy former light restore. Thou cunning' st pattern of exceUing nature. on thejother. thought and affliction. That can thy light relume. nonexistent without the other. hell itself. and I" so Matthew Arnold once summed up the poet's triad. what we have looked upon. Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow. or rather. Put out the If I quench and then put out the light.14 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Thou Is are not conquer'd: beauty's ensign yet crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks. thee. light. When I have pluck'd the rose I cannot give it vital growth again. in a true sense. There are two vivid — . what we have heard.

I have tried to make clear how the con- For we must come vention of imagery grows out of the essential character of the poetic medium. at once to a second fundamental attribute of poetry which follows from the first. "But if. "look in thy heart. But You (both for your love and skill) your name seek to nurse at fullest breasts of Fame. like a shuttle. or it." and the which deal with the exigencies of the poet's problem. that is yet neither. And speech. in and write!" So the first. what you say: emotion. Stella behold! and then begin to endite.^ and helpless Biting my throes. there.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION sonnets of Sir Philip* Sidney." says the second. an object. ''Stella behold and write'''. is the eterfeel. if ''Look in your heart and write''-. But imagery. the fifteenth in "Astrophel first 15 and Stella. beating myself for spite: "Fool I" said my Muse to me. in summary nal triangle of the poet's art — what you form. rather the basic necessity that hes behind car- . and speech. Their endings will help me to what I mean: Thus. what you see. plays back and forth between the other two the feehng and the thing weaving a fabric from — — both. great with child to speak. my truant pen.

fact. of the relations of things different. and and truth. . but for us mortals. in *'The Miller's Daughter": Remember you that pleasant day When. ('T was April then). It must paint the god of not. who see them not at all as they are. and reality. the perilous edge of which I ing. am circumspectly skirt- For I am compelled to speak of appearance. alas! for the who presumably sees them as they are. Let us. however. not facts. and by instinct I shy. may sum up broadly as the World of what? And that means Here we are at once on tickUsh ground. In 1833 Tennyson wrote. poet's business is with appearances. Instead of dogmatizing. after roaming in the woods. let us go to the fountain-head. It does not deal with objects per jects as but with ob- they appear to it thing as sees it — us.16 ries CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY with it as a corollary a mass of conventions which we Illusion. holding firmly to the concrete as a hfe line. That is a hard saying. I ea- — gerly desire to steer clear of metaphysics. I have said that poetry builds up a fabric out se. And the things as they are. but simply as they seem. make the plunge. I came and lay Beneath those gummy chestnut buds ^ That glistened in the April blue. to poetry itself. at the terms. yet ahke.

And in 1842 the offending hues became: ^ . the white foam The furrow followed free. "The furrow folfree. In the Take a somewhat "Ancient Mariner. but what under Heaven had that incontrovertible fact of nature to do with what the lover saw? He was n't at the moment cUmbing trees in the Hesperides to fmger fruit. when their buds Were gUstening to the breezy blue. he was looking at a shining object." as printed in the "Lyrical Ballads." But I had not been long on board a ship. case. And note: Coleridge appended to the revised line a lowed In the former editions the line was. the truth is (to wit. I came and sat Below the chestnuts. That gives the truth of fact of appearance. flew." the second Une was printed thus: The furrow streamed off free.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION The Quarterly paid its 17 respects with alacrity to the chestnut buds." occurred the famihar lines: The fair breeze blew. in "Sibylline Leaves... Gummy they indubitably were. and with some reason. before I perceived that this was the image as seen by . Later. stickiness) at the moment different sheer impertinence.

of fact lurks behind For the Mariner. regarded as matters of fact: Lie still and deep. never was. But to to take obtrude that fact is to snap the spell — the Ancient Mariner from the mystery of his silent sea and set him. on sea or land. It is unnecessary to labor the point. Ponder the following statements. not following. less. and truth of appearance at that. Coleridge restored the original reading. both the old and the newest of the new. not of what is com- is. Sad soul. until the sea-wave washes The rim o* the sun. Poetry. or from another vessel. A line that is as inevitable as the nearwas marred by a ing of the spectre-bark meticulous observance of irrelevant truth of fact. as hunting alone. off it. And eleven years later. pact of what seems. perceived. if taken Uterally. Perfectly true. From the ship itself the Wake appears like a brook flowing off from the stern. was on the ship. with his unruly intellect in its place again. at the stern of a boat. not and so should see the furrow streaming away. an old itself sailor. .18 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY a spectator from the shore. of what. But supererogatory truth the change. none the Coleridge's intellect.

even when possible. I wept as I remember'd how often you and I the sky. flat sky. K H W out of the fundamental necessities directly out of the initial situation tried to sketch. and that I have For art deals in illusion. Right up above the mast did stand. Literal accuracy. Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down Part of a Dragging moon was the whole falling down the it west. No bigger than the Moon. grow of art. etches it's more a tree than if The tension sensed behind the thirty-one Unes. The bloody Sun. all. and ten thousand others. on violet shaded snow. Pushing it farther and farther up. would never it. sky with to the hills. that take less than two minutes . every one of them is true. painted as Gorot paints it. Not one of these statements is literal fact. Like a four-sided wedge The Custom House Tower Pokes at the low. And ll all of them. as a transcript of appearance.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION ' 19 All in the hot and copper sky. is art's undoing. Clipped by naked hills. Large and smoky red the sun's cold disk drops. A tree painted with sedulous exactness as a give the tree at or it tree. at noon. Rembrandt were a tree.

20 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY now struck twelve" " the bell then beating one. Lear. These are But it is the essence of art that its creations seem more true than if they were true as Hamlet is truer than John Jones. like Michelangelo's figures. the titanic grandeur of Shake- — speare's later heroes — that something colossal. but sober. even scientific truth. of which Professor Bradley speaks. an hour. And it is be- — precisely cause they can't be actual that they can be true because Rembrandt's medium can't emulate a camera. Consider. And it is again no rhapsody. so that out of the very limitations of thejnedium comes liberty." to all intents and purposes. for a moment. to repeat. They are truer than if they were. between "'Tis and of "Hamlet. Macbeth. sixty hteral minutes of intervening talk on the stage would drag truisms. Othello. to say that it is because Keats could not reproduce in . that he can paint as it is the Night Watch. It is the fact th atjwords ar^ not and cannot be attached-ta. " in the first scene is. it to eternity. precisely as a medium^that can't present directly actual space becomes thereby capable of suggesting the depths beyond depths through which the eye is carried in some great landscapes. Coriolanus. Anthony.tlungs^lJiatieav£S them free. are not transcripts of reality.

For true illusion (if the paradox may be permitted). and sets it assorting and weaving its thousand materials. Keats wrote to Reynolds from Winchester I never liked stubblefields so much as now Aye better than the chilly green of the Spring. is the bald statement of the impression of a stubblefield on Keats: "[I Hke] stubblefields better . the actual that rouses the poet's inner vision. a stubblefield looks warm in the same way that some — in — pictures look warm. For the "effects of sort. on the other hand. opening on the foam Of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn. that he could give us "magic casements. .' It exists. than the chilly green of Spring somehow a ." to use a pregnant phrase of Meredith's. were capable of actual reproducthere would be no art." But it is that divorce which true art never makes. springs from the ground." If the artistic medium. of whatever tion. . "are wrought out through a series of illu- sions. is my There reality —a stubblefield. Somehow. But it is. too. grandeur.: THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION 21 words a window. There. because the law is ineluctable that the actual must be translated. This struck me so much Sunday's walk that I composed upon it. though it may be a dome in air. that are illusions to the sense within us only when divorced from the groundwork of the real.

"'And here is stubblefield looks the trans- lation of the impression into art. There are the stubblefields. thou hast thy music too. Thou watchest Where the last oozings hours by hours. . with patient look.22 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY wann. Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind. while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook. after a delectable description of Winchester with its "excessively maiden-lady-like side its "staid and serious knockers. And what he enclosed was the fragment of the . Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep. in the "Ode \ to Autumn": Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor. True? Yes if there be any virtue and if there be any truth. quite in the town quietude. Drows*d with the fume of poppies. and the' spirit that haunts them! Actual? No. Or by a cider-press. Two days — earher. . While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day. — And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue. are the songs of Spring? Ay." Keats wrote to George and Georgiana Keats: streets" and Some time spirit of since I began a poem . / think I will give you the sensation of walking about an old country town in a coolish evening. where are they? Think not of them.

Exactness of observation and illusion do not conflict." ReaUty serves the artist. demands it — who in a stubblefield. Some of the most significant recent verse. Poetry starts from the actual as Coleridge started and ends in the true the account of "the Gitie Xandu. for Let me pause for a moment. in Keats's own phrase. in the light of Keats's remark. and try your own hand at giving." on the from eightieth page of Purchas's Third Part. find his father's asses aught I know — and found a kingdom. 23 Mark. is compact of both. "as a starting-post towards all *the two-and-thirty Palaces. and ended in the vision of the stately pleasure-dome alas! — — shattered. . in particular. in literal terms for actual things.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION "Eve of St. Meanwhile us proceed with our analysis." Read it again.'" For the poet started out to is like Saul the son of Kish. to insist with the utmost explicitness that not one word that I have said runs counter to the of delicate and penetrating accuracy of observation. But that I wish to reserve for let fuller discussion another time. "the spirit of town quietude"! And then ponder on the function of illusion. or of scrupulous fidelity to fact as appears. by the intrusion of another actuality in the guise of the "person on business from Porlock.

The flame of the candle it may. by a passion. Take one star. in the carried alive into the heart is words of Wordsworth's famous pronouncement. There it differs fundamentally from that other aspect of truth fix. But the magnificent and daring heightening in that one word has lifted the line from a statement of a fact of entomology into a poignant and unforgettable expression of one of the deepest truths of "Poetry should surprise by a fine excess. which the scientist strives to catch and And "truth because the object of poetry. . human deceiving. must be reckoned with as another object of the illusion of art.24 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY The poet's truth which is is presented through illusion also truth tinged with emotion. it is There is not a shred of fact about that.*' brief line: "The desire of the moth for the The moth does not desire the star. Tiger. burning bright In the forests of the night." one element of poetic illusion heightening of actual fact. Yet truth at white heat — the truth of terror and ." wrote Keats. and does. and that excess is at the heart of the illusion that exalts without hfe. and truth of feeling. For emotion enhances reality. which is as veracious in its own sphere as truth of intellect. Tiger. desire. is . .

and' nothing else.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION 25 mystery and baleful beauty. the rocks melt wi* the sun. And I will as the sea. Till a' the seas Till a* gang dry: the seas gang dry. majestic. free. And Do we believe these things? In the answer to that question we come from another angle back to the heart of the matter. and what we accept them as meaning. so sweetly were forsworn. Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: Pure as the naked heavens. Lights that do mislead the morn! Thy soul was like a Star. And words mean what we mean them to mean. luve thee still. My bounty is as boundless My love as deep. my dear. It is concurrence alone. the break of day. ^ | I So didst thou travel on life's common way. Take. And that is the very stuff of poetry. That And those eyes. and dwelt apart. that determines their signifi- . For what we may — in the larger sense — and that includes call the language of poetry illusion exists under precisely the same conditions as words themselves. not logic. fused into one flaming impression. my dear. take those lips away.

mean what you take me mean." In a word. and we desire to be so" And we do not balk at the sea-wave washing the rim of the sun. a glorified "Let's play. which we know it does not do. Consentvj the be-all and end-all of speech. is to clear our minds of endless confusion. nor do we understand it so. Now illusion also means what it if it is meant to mean." and yet beUeve. which." says he. any more than we boggle at blackberries that are red are green. "is still an imitation of nature. we see through it. in theusense that. we know we are to be deceived. "constitutes poetic faith.'' It neither aims at it. and to see that. If I say that blackberries are red they are green." you will. John Dryden's robust critical common sense is at one with Amiel's acumen: "For a play. like children "pretending" (Stevenson's "Lantern Bearers. although when they we know the colors as colors to be mutually exclusive. not the kaleidoscopic sequence of contradiction that logic finds in is my remark. founded with reality itself. and what It's we accept as meaning. illusion is a convention^ ." as Coleridge says. We simply exercise ''that willing suspension of disbelief for the 7nO'> ment.26 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY when to I cance. Amiel was right when he spoke of "that poetical and artistic illusion which does not aim at being consay).

Now. Mice and^rats and such small . let poured out the and once more with reason. its roots. the Quarterly vials of its scorn. because a water- rat is unpoetical. me hasten to protest. Let me from some instances of the make that poets' striving to attain it. too." begins as follows: A water-rat Upon Not. The Miller's buds. in that common consent which underlies the possibility of all communication whatother arts. And soever. have already used a passage from first fine Daughter" to point of the stanza which immediately succeeds the one which immortahzed the "gummy chestnut "The another moral. first their work. it this presupposition (and it is axi- follows that the sole criterion of the is its inner congruity. and then by a few examples of how it is broken in upon. from off the bank Plunged in the stream. and on the other. There is no more illuminating commentary on the art of poetry than the poets' own revision of truth of illusion clear. granted omatic). And that revision is constantly diI rected towards keeping the illusion true. are in the nature of the poetic medium itself. i that.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION 27 —a convention which poetry shares with the on the one hand.

In lazy mood is watch'd the little circles die. Tennyson not rehearsing facts of natural history. Let me be extremely expUcit again: the point is not that a trout more poetic than a water-rat. . from a poem where the creative energy was working (I think . . he is striving for con- sistency of impression. . or an otter. the other helps It is simply that the create. But the associations that cluster about rats clash as sharply with the other associations that Ten- nyson happens to be evoking cent Hogarthianism of is in his picture. . And in 1842 the water-rat disappeared forever. are in place. or a turtle." when . in "The Jolly and swaggering. in point is of fact. one destroys. a water-rat jumped. the particular illusion that Tennyson at the moment was seeking to create. He roar'd this ditty . up While frighted rattons backward leuk And seek the benmost bore. as those same associations accord with the magnifi- not of the slightest or a frog.28 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY when they They are triumphantly at home Beggars. staggering. "The Jolly Beggars." It moment whether. and instead: Then I leapt a trout. That is a rather obvious example. deer are perfectly in place in poetry.

ten lines of "Hyperion. No stir of air was there. is . the silence round about his lair. if it ever was secured. this time of the highest imaginative quality." "forest on forest" hanging motionless "like cloud on cloud" — the landscape and its one Titanic central figure permeated with utter stillness. is absolute truth of illusion. Forest on forest hung about his head Like cloud on cloud. there did it rest." "still as the silence. silence. Sat gray-hair'd Saturn. But Keats wrote first to take two — lines only: Not so much life as Would spread upon I a young vulture's wing a field of green-eafd corn — on second thought deleting the vulture in favor of an eagle. There. Still as Not so much life as on a summer's day Robs not one light seed from the feather'd grass." as they now Deep in the shady sadness of a vale Far sunken from the healthy breath of mom." "quiet as a stone.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION it 29 must be first said) at low tension. Far from the fiery noon. quiet as a stone. Here are the stand. What has happened? A world that is motionless as death and hueless as despair. and eve's one star. and flawless consistency of the it: imagery that creates "eve's one star. majesty. Take another. remoteness. But where the dead leaf fell.

30 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY broken in upon by a vulture's flight. which is inviolate consistency with itself. even though there beckons me Words- worth's substitution of "the whisthng rustic tending his plough" for "the rural milk-maid by her cow. But fleece or no fleece. the elusive harmony was Not so much life as on a summer's day Robs not one light seed from the feathered grass. But it has the supreme truth of poetry. sunny gold snaps utterly the captured once for all: And at last. And so Keats cancelled the Hues. For I want a moment for that other shattering of illusion which comes by way of the intrusion of fact. and wrote in the margin of the manuscript: Not so much life as on a summer's day Robs not at all the dandelion's fleece. in the -proof-sheets. And the landscape is now motionless and hueless from hanging cloud to fallen leaf. It is the stuff that dreams are made on. and the vivid freshness of the summer's green. The whole key is changed. the dandelion's bUthe and spell. And since Wordsworth at his best is in- . not fact. to be sm*e. in the Toussaint L'Ouverture son- and a score of other alluring possibilities." net. I resolutely resist the temptation to illustrate further.

in calm and bright weather. accordingly. no one ever set himmore doggedly than Wordsworth in this instance. without noticing it. a stanza from "The Thorn. Where oft the stormy winter gale Cuts like a scythe. stanza: I shall take but one High on a mountain's highest ridge. a thorn which [he] had often past. "'Cannot I by some invention do as much to make this Thorn permanently an impressive when he inherits Prospero's staff . we may take him without if worst. only to justify the airy charm he works and book." he continues. let us to himself: "Go At make a stubblefield impressive. you will observe.'to create the fabric of illusion out of the raw material of reality." self all events. and as unerring as a shaft of scruple at his light." That. is' very like Keats and his stubblefield — except that Keats did not say to. on a stormy day. Consider.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION fallible in his 31 touch. object as the storm has this made it to my eyes at moment?' I began the poem] accordingly. while It sweeps through the clouds from vale to vale — So far we are on the heights (even if not very ." "I said to myself." Wordsworth tells us himself that the poem arose out of his observing "on the ridge of Quantock Hill.

'' truest poetry is the most Out of the mouth of fools comes forth wisdom (when the voice is the voice of Shake- . 'T is three feet long. "for the feigning. and bare To thirsty suns and parching air. "I do not know. Whan maistrie comth." says Audrey to Touchstone. muddy pond ' compass small. But the stanza remorselessly proceeds: Not Jive yards from the mountain path. and farewell he is goni And poetic truth Ues buried in the infant's grave later in the that Wordsworth digged a few hues poem: I've measured it from side to side." says Touchstone. And You to the left. "what 'poetical' is. and two feet wide. Though but The illusion is precipitated. fairly safe in the airy citadel of poetry.' 32 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY near the summit). This Thorn you on your left espy." For poetic truth and Uke the Franklin's love and lordship: Love wol nat ben constreyned by maistrye. truly. Is it honest in deed and word? Is it a true thing?" "No. the god of love anon Beteth his wings. see a little of Of water — never dry. the spell is snapt again. three yards beyond. "as the fractured point of a Prince literal fact are Rupert's tear reduces the crystal globule to sand.

For carries no license to play at it ducks and drakes combines. not a transcript. we demand illusion thaf it shall have its own probabiUty. with the materials which in his "Apology License. be- cause the fundamental conventions of poetry grow inevitably out of the fact that art is what it is/a translation. but once granted. Dryden. We of illusion freely. who knew everything. In the abdicate disbehef first its place. and no farther? Two such checks and balances. there is And lates another question which dare not clash it is neces- sary to ask about illusion. Even the throne." quotes "example of Poetry and Poetic what he regards as the best excellent imaging" from his own for Heroic .' THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION speare!). knew that. is incredible Aristotle. present illusion ' ' themselves. of reality. Are there other postu- with which : it — that say to ' Thus far shalt thou go. than grant the world an improbable possibility. subject to standards of credibility. he declares. common sense does not The wiUing suspension of may not be strained too far. Bet- ter a probable impossibiUty. times evinced a kinship with the bewildered intellect of I am dwelling persistently upon illusion. 33 but poetry in quest of fact has someAudrey. I think.

so to speak." So Dryden.34 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY "State of Innocence and Fall of Man. "He might have burlesqued Virgil too." The sun walking in a russet mantle remains untranslated. And all dissolved in hallelujahs lie. . For "buried in sleep" or "dissolved in two impressions which the usage of imagery permits to merge. But seraphs and cherubs dissolved in hallelujahs violate what Coleridge calls "the chosen laws controlling choice. . dragsleep ging a red herring across the ease'' unite trail with admirable dexterity. in revising was infallible. A mighty witticism! "he continues." Here it is: Seraph and cherub. and songs of triumph. careless of their charge. from whom I took the image: 'They invade jthe city. And wanton." that "walks o'er the dew of yon high mountain top. the sun ." of art. Shakespeare's instinct he substituted. when "Hamlet." "the morn in russet mantle clad" forr'"the sun in russet mantle clad. is just as proper on occasion. buried in and wine. Unguarded leave the passes of the sky. but never of an angel in hallelujahs. Then he proceeds: "I have heard (says one of censors]) of anchovies dissolved [my well-natured in sauce. as an angel's being dissolved in ease. in full ease now live at large.' A city's being buried. .

The union calls there has to the full is what Coleridge just that effect "credibiUzing effect." is absent. The illusion ^ shattered because the translation of the actual is into terms themselves too potently actual to merge. burning bright." and the "blood of the slaughtered sun. 35 and the mantle a mantle. The poppy's"^" burnt mouth red like a hon's. entire accord : perfect fusion of impressions in: Where the Robed great in flames Sun begins his and amber light." It I think. as angels re- main insoluble in hallelujahs.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION stays'sun. tiger. walking o'er the dew of yon high eastward on the other hand. we accept the hill is. The supreme transmutation into the very in^ quintessence. And^observe though we stickle at the sun clad in a russet mantle. The morn in/usset mantle." magpoetic nificently daring as they are. the case of ^Francis Thomson's poppy: With burnt mouth red like a Uon*s it drank The blood of the sun as he slaughtered sank. in^ which we miss. strain my creduhty to the breaking point. a blending of images in with the tacit understanding that controls illusion. Have I made clear what I mean? Illusion is . of truth^ "Tiger. state.

but." the spectre-bark. unless I am mistaken. . We do not. if are its own necessities. Like ghosts and fairies and spells. those belong to the misty midregion of our racial as well as literary inheritance. in the "Ancient Mariner. to a matter of acceptance. on the other hand. Is there another? There are what we call the laws of nature. and all the super- natural agencies that underUe the action of the poem. in the last analysis. It within it a world apart. reduces wholly. you please. the all.36 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is not lawless. but which exact inif exorable adherence to their mandates. world which we have willed is to exist at That is one check upon illusion. since he sun as old and disk — may he He may feeble. may There has been a good deal of dust it raised about the question. or may represent the may speak of its cold he' also also represent it as setting in the East? contradict it? modify actual fact. there is suspension of disbelief that constitutes poetic faith? That is no question of our extending the suspension to include transcendence of natural law. Dare the poet run counter to these? May he venture. like the others. for example. How far do we stretch our wiUing the sole criterion. Well. towards which we cherish at least the poetical will to believe. We accept without an instant's hesitation.

it contradicts universal and does violence to that stubborn persuasion within us which Dr. a star seen through the different category moon is in a wholly we freely from a spectre-bark. that if we do not we know accept it.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION accept violation of natural law If. The last acquiesce in. make such things and overcome us Hke a summer's cloud. And that out our special wonder. be. experience. and begin to write body of the moon. way peril Hes. when he refuted Bishop Berkley by "striking his foot with mighty force against a stone. — if we know in the "Ancient Mariner. The poet may. For that is n't part of the — — spell that we accept. I said." In a word. notes upon the error. that the didn't mean it to mean. 37 it. But fully. For in this particular quarter of I fear. our suspension of disbehef termi- nates forthwith. violation of natural law. Mariner saw a star through the sohd. Johnson felt. the sad truth that applies to sin: "man may . withif he does it successhe must seem not to have done it. a moment ago. the world of appearance there holds good. on the other hand." we think that the "one bright star within the nether tip'' of the moon means what Coleridge pretty certainly namely. opaque we balk. if we understand the first to be meant.

" said Goethe." "But this dark background." "Through what." — — " on the side turned towards us. "that the clump of trees throws towards the figures. has Rubens brought about this beautiful effect?" "Through the fact." "But how is that?" I continued. throws its shadow towards the spectator! So we have the light from two opposite sides. the reapers in the foreground are in strong light. in seeming as in is some- times done. On the evening of April 18. however. Still. the horses. in astonishment. 1827. and throw the shadows into the picture. the that we see before us there hay-cart. the reapers going home from which side are they lighted?" "They have the light. on the other hand. Goethe laid before Eckermann an engraving of a landscape and asked him to point out what he saw." said I. which produces a fine effect." said I. "that he throws these bright figures against a dark background. but safely never" — or at sin. hardly ever. But you've missed the main point. "how does it come to be there?" "It is the strong shadow. and here ^ a case in point. the clump of trees.38 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY securely sin." persisted Goethe. Eckermann named the outstanding details of Rubens. it is least. "The figures throw their shadow into the picture. Now may I interrupt the conversation at this point to observe that the invaluable Eckermann did n't see the violation of nature until Goethe . All these objects the herd of sheep. Particularly. of the picture. but that's really contrary to all nature. "Good." I replied. "that would seem to be all.

and treats it in accordance with his higher ends. I say that it is the daring touch of the master. in the double light." replied Goethe. he has freer play. he may not arbitrarily alter the conformation of the skeleton or the position of muscles and sinews in an animal. \/ but has its own laws. that art is not wholly subject to physical necessity. "must undoubtedly follow nature in details with scrupulous piety." continued Goethe. To resume: "That's just the point. But in the higher regions of artistic technique whereby a picture becomes a real picture." In a word.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION national efficiency. so that thereby its individual character is infringed upon. and here he may proceed even to such arbitrary devices as Rubens has used. The Goethes he'd have to reckon with. then I say along with that. 39 had performed the Socratic function with truly And what is more. and proclaims that he stands with free spirit above nature. as genius can. For that would be to nullify nature. is we are back at appearance again. we may be reasonably certain that Rubens did n't mean the Eckermanns to see it. The double light is certainly audacious. with a little through this that Rubens shows himself a master. But if it is contrary to nature." ^ smile. there ture. and you can always say that it's contrary to nature. If of art a contravention of naeffect in a work and the resulting seems more true . that it is higher than nature. "It's And now "The observe the distinction that is made: ' artist. through which he makes clear.

There are others where the artist. to bring it into connection with what has just been said about illusion. has a fighting chance its peril. " I would to heaven. I am blood. But that is only half of the content of poetry. passion. the artist. for the most part. marrow. bone. on the physical world. be he painter or when he speaketh. passion. We have been discussing appearance and reality in poetry. very briefly. ing.40 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY if it than poet. the poet in relation to ." is the other reality. feel- There. or must he there again translate? We have already looked at the question from one angle. But at best artistic illusion runs counter to the laws of nature at There are always commentators in the background making notes. and then Eckermann is as wise as Goethe. to win our assent. with our eye." scrawled Byron. feeling. put to his shifts. Consider. There are infringements when we upon natural law which we flatly refuse. in "blood. for a moment. under any circumstances. Can the poet give us that directly. to accept. marrow. is justified were true. I wish now. on the back of the manuscript of Juan" — I "Don As would to heaven that I were so much clay. bone. and we clear judge.

collected. but at once significant Astrophel. "The faint conceptions I have of poems to come. placid. on the other the low. serene. which are not rhetori- . for instance. but Thyrsis. Recall the great elegies in English. unruffled level of our normal moods. feeling at its keen- est edge and highest tension. express the poignancy of grief? Do they. "Astrophel. stir grief in us who read them? I name." wrote Keats. And all four poems are — either steeped in pastoral imagery. Does the poet — can he indeed — con- vey to us. "bring the blood frequently into my forehead. Do they." And the very titles are not Philip Sidney. not Edward King. on the other." "Thyrsis. as they wrote them? set off one question which I shaU leave my questions." "Lycidas. or similarly from actuality. not John Keats. but Lycidas.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION his audience : 41 on the one hand. but Adonais. the intense emotion which he feels? Does he even himself go on feehng at white heat? Or must there once more be a transfer of some sort? Let us put the matter briefly to the test." Our blood courses quietly in our veins. not Arthur Hugh Clough. on the one hand. But for the moment the I wish to ask is this: Does any one feel grief on reading any of these elegies? Did the poets themselves." "Adonais. cool.

they are none of them. Meredith's "A Faith death is past. To beUeve sincerity. unanswered for a moment. my son Absalom! would God son. CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY . . in which the underlying personal grief was certainly present.42 cal. otherwise would be to impugn a great But what has happened? The poet is no longer swept from his moorings. my The is no longer the husband. artist. Let us grant it without discussion. from the loss on Trial. I had died my son! " — he for thee. The poet merely the friend. Tennyson's "In Memoriam" grows dear friend — a life out of the loss of a close and loss which darkened the poet's for years. Whitman's "When Lilacs last in the Doorway Bloomed. these four great elegies. That may well be." from the tragic taking off of a beloved leader." from the death of the poet's wife. too. my son. the poignancy of emotion has softened into recollection. it is still the lover of a dead leader. For. is^no longer Emerson's "Threnody" the exceeding bitter cry: "0 my son Absalom. you will say. and take another group of four. But in these. — compare with Absalom. no longer. the expressions of deep personal loss. the bitterness of Emerson's "Threnody" springs of an only son. There was never more than sadness. the father. but the grief has not ceased to be personal. that.

. wrung from grief. wild. love. when "emotion and whirlwind of passion — recollected in tranquillity'' has touched the springs of the imagination. 43 is." But the-^ end of art. turned to stone within. then. or through. but a lofty a deep beauty. For the poet's feeUngs. And must it is because he is an artist. or grow pale with rage. his grief has become to him as hving clay for the potter's wheel. **Aus meinen grossen Schmerzen mach' ich die — but the sorrows are not the is restraint. dark. And it can take form only when looked back upon. all. whose essence not to make us grieve. hate. when he has passed out of the very torrent. is songs. wasteful. or love. at their height are "out- rageous as a sea. tempest. or flush with anger. And that sense is communicated only when the poet has been first submerged and then detached. like his stubblefield.— THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION like Ugolino. outside his grief we are. or hate. It is to stir us with the sense of an imperishable beauty. feel is not grief at but no longer grief itself. Grief. he as in a true sense. been a translation most momentous which poetry can make: the — transmutation of kleinen Lieder" its ingredients into beauty. And what we tranquillity. It take form. or down upon. the There has.

] have really been discussing. has attained permanence. form. I wish now to turn. under the guise of illusion. May weep. grows which we consent. chaotic. the natiu-e of poetic truth. ventions of poetry. as we have also seen. were thine. medium. beauty. to one of the major conventions which I shall discuss more fully in another chapter namely. every grace! all Rose Aylmer. fluid in itself. what the form divine I I What every virtue. formless. rhythm. And all in turn. whom these wakeful eyes see.44 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY all. doing I it and sighs I consecrate to thee. are only a starting-post to something which has not their sort of reahty at Ah. Rose Aylmer. with the utmost brevity. The one and only thing I wish to say about poetic rhythm now is this: It serves notice that we are on the frontiers of illusion "Enter — . what avails the sceptered race Ah. For the very essence of poetic truth is accepted illusion. with the taproot of the con- inevitably out of the limitations of the poet's illusion to is that that impUes. And it is in so has become something which not. but never A night of memories Emotion. That illusion.

long sohloquies. It is the signal for that willing suspension of disbeUef I on which parallel situation.THE ROOTS OF CONVENTION these enchanted woods. the heightening of make-up . have rung the changes. we know that what we are to be given is illusion. We stand ready to if accept in we reject. verse. more or less unconsciously. it these things would we accept outside those walls. in the other. ye the expectation with 45 is. tricks hears. men and women speaking in blank verse. and we expect and we desire to undergo it. And eye. When we hear verse or see it. it may be. a definite attitude of mind towards what we is know we are to see and of light . That is what we go for. time that not real time. we find it. is whether directed to the ear or to the the outward and visible sign that we are entering the world where truth of literal fact yields place to another truth. relation in sound of verse stands to poetry in precisely the which the rising of the ciu*tain stands to the play. who dare!" That which we approach poetry is utterly different from the expectation with which we approach the one what prose. Consider a precisely What happens when we enter a theatre? We assume. Now the sight or There. we pass . letters and stage whispers that everybody read aloud that no one ever reads may be. asides hear: namely. None of aloud .

. I —a understand it. metre. all. in essence. therefore never built at built forever. and therefore the essential Such.46 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY from one world to another. then. Poetry is. is fabric of truth based reality. I have said enough when I repeat thaLveise. for it is fundamental in more ways than one. We shall come back to this again. and we expect to pass. as natiu*e of poetry reality. of convention all compact. on the but not reproducing And constituent elements of the fabric have their sanction in consent. and opens the door to the illusion that is poetic truth —a city built to music. For the moment.notice that we are on enchanted ground. poetic rhythm or cadence (name it by what name you will) seryesL.

pertinent to ask. with are. — provided that those hours it is is is by usage to the fashion and cerefall after sun- What. and it comes. would happen. on pain of feeling the weight of the imponderables that rule the world. There we . It is the behavior of conventions. (as Now convention in poetry is has been well said) only the costume in which emotion attires self. and usage V human. then. But that usage — is is precisely as it is linguistic usage that permits imponderables to have weight — and it- usage the source and origin of conventions. exist of all things I by virtue of usage. hke clothes.II THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS Conventions is. as which we have now to do. under the same capricious sway. were one to give a morning lecture garbed in evening clothes? Yet there obviously neither rhyme nor reason in the requirement that I shall wear a certain coat only between certain stipulated hours. The I clothes should wear were speaking at eight instead of five are consecrated hours whose appurtenance mony set. the most capricious.

if I can. "The couplet. sense conventions are not born at For what- ever their ancestry." But when Chaucer wrote heroic couplets. lets. Conven-\ tions frequently take their rise. the heroic couplet did not thereby spring into existence as a convention. they multiply and ramify and split and merge. With the birth of the individual conventions not particularly concern myself. In one all.48 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY initself." says Professor Manly. It later. when other it poets. they never come into being as conventions. certain fundamental conventions herent in the very nature of poetry all conventions are not so firmly rooted. Yet it is sometimes possible to see how this. became that Chaucer. . with the utmost truth. "origi- suddenly. and there all at once they nated . to exhibit. that. have seen. It is only when they are taken up heroic through acceptance into usage that they acquire conventionaUty. Chaucer wrote heroic coupand there they were. were. . But Once started on their way. and wore it threadbare. and the other convention began. following it looked upon and saw that was good. and it is the bewildering and phantasmagoric variety of the branches rather than their ultimate derivation from a common I shall root that I wish. for instance. .

My wyff and my chyldere here on rowe his wife proceeds — with the further enlightenment of the spectators by giving to Noah presum- ably superfluous information: / am your wyff. conscious or unconscious. The germs of the stage whisper and the aside and the soliloquy are the dozen present in the naive endeavors of a primitive dramatic technique to produce sion. The tions essential point.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 49 from the faulty essays of an early and as yet undeveloped technique. Dramatic conventions by had some such origin. my name is knowe. imitation. After its special illu- Noah has presented himself to the audience. however. There is the artless device by which the early drama strove to solve the technical problem of imparting certain necessary facts to the audience through a supposedly natural conversation be- tween the dramatis personam. is that conven-\' become conventions through wholesale methods of expression. of forms. devices. seres. your childeryn these he. And the footman and parlor-maid of modern comedy represent but a later stage in the evolution of the same convention. which may them- . in the Hegge Miracle Plays — Noe.

One simply path of in least resistance. however. on the other hand. he falls. "playfollows the so. years the Contributors' Club of the Atlantic aspires to become a contributor (if half consciously. because hundreds of other contributors have been doing just that thing. into the pre- — a prevaiUng tone which York Nation he fit vailing tone he can) of that delightful causerie it has. One does sees others doing. And very much not any specially occult or thaumaturgic way. more or less unconsciously. The innate human tendency to imitation. There process. he addresses his observations to the New finds himself. If. cou- pled with that other formidable phenomenon which we call habit. And is all this may not mean in the least that one all. nothing mysterious about the in letters. If what one anybody who has read for himself. even consciously at ing the sedulous ape." perhaps. does the business. half instinctively. of poetic conventions emerge two weighty and paradoxical which have influenced the development of . of the seeming chaos. please mark. Out facts. merely. one has to think of literary conventions as arising. as in hfe. curbing and pruning his style to the Nation's more austere conventions.50 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY have had is selves their origin in any of a hundred ways.

I We shall be clear only by being very concrete. through their very unfamiliarity. and the way of revolt. And I am going this time to draw my illustra- tions chiefly from mediaeval poetry. accordingly. these And through — conventions themselves.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS poetry from its 51 still beginnings. One is the fact that the older conventions. part and parcel of what for most of us is a subtle texture of personal associations and predilections. and more especially from Chaucer. like abandoned chrysahds when the two opposing characteristics of convention. because each grows out of the ways of forming hfe has flown. and their tendency to harden into may change the figure) empty in- shells. and are potent to-day: the plasticity of conventions. stand out to us in sharp detachment as conventions. it comes about that art moves from stage to stage by two divergent paths: on the one hand. by moulding the still ductile forms. Nor shall I make any secret of my reasons. Each has its place. while the life still (if I runs in their veins. And since I am anx- . by shattering the way of constructive acthe empty shells ceptance. as in the case of contemporary poetry. looks directly forward to the underlying theme of the remainder of our discussion. What have to say now. They are not. on the other.

52

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY

and disengage the conventions as conventions, the freedom from disturbing modern imphcations is, for the moment, valuable. Moreover, quite frankly, I am doing what I do just now, because the Middle Ages are so tremendously alive. For while they lasted, please perpend, they were not the Middle Ages at all. They had n't the faintest idea that they were mediaeval; to themselves they were as "modern" as we think we are. And they were as blissfully ignorant of what we in our wisdom were going to think of them and tag them, as we are mercifully oblivious of what succeeding centuries are going to think of (and label) us. For we too shall be Heaven only knows what, but most certainly not "modern," soon enough. "Stop! careless youth," the fourteenth century might cry from
ious to isolate
its

crypts to our self-styled modernity:
Stop! careless youth, as you pass by; As you are now, so once was I; As I am now, so you will be.

''As you are now, so once was

/"

— that homely
I

"Hark from

the tombs," then,

should Uke to

propose, for the moment, not as a memento mori, but as a vade mecum. For the poet of the Middle Ages was in essentials altogether such an one as
ourselves.

THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS
I

53

have

said, then, for

one thing, that conven-

tions are plastic, so long as they are alive. Let us
consider, to begin with, their capabihty of form-

ing

new attachments. And

I

know no more

il-

luminating instance of this particular trick than
the case of the rose and the daisy in Chaucer's
century.
first place, the rose and the lady of the dream were identified. That is the theme the most remarkable and influential of all the

In the
lover's

of

mediaeval allegories, the

"Roman

de

la

Rose."

And as time went on,

the perfections of the flower

were carried over bodily to the lady.
famihar with the transfer yet: "Oh,
like

We

are

my

Luve's

a red, red rose";

garden of girls"

— and

"Queen
all

rose of the rosebud

the rest.

The conven-

tion as such has its roots in the tendency that has

already been discussed at length.

But now a new

and most

interesting factor enters into the Ufe of

this particular poetic

celebration

by a group

the charms of

commonplace. Through the of French courtly poets of certain ladies whose name was

Marguerite, the daisy became the fashionable

symbol

for the poet's mistress.

What happened?
had gathered

The wealth

of conventions that

about the rose was transferred, through the accident of a lady's name, in
toto

to the marguerite.

54

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
that carried with
it

And
sult.

a rather astonishing reto the possessions

The marguerite

falls heir
is

of the rose; the rose
ergOy

endowed with fragrance;

the daisy, which
it

now

represents the lady,
it

must possess
marguerite, in

too.

And

so

follows that the

Machaut,
est garnie d'odour.

Par excellence

The

poet, preternaturally acute, even smells the

daisy from afar:

Sa douce odeur qui de loing m'est presente.

And
got

Froissart goes so far as to

tell

us where

it

its

fragrance:
Zepherus
li

donna odours.
possi-

Deschamps more cautiously admits the
bility:

Voir de

tel fleur

a maint Todeur proufitte

but he enters mild protest in another poem: "It is n't a flower that's puffed up, for its odor is n't

haughty or fierce (car s'odeur n'est orgueilleuse ne here) " But it is Chaucer who caps the climax. In the Prologue to the "Legend of Good Women," after the exquisite passage in which he describes his homage to "these floures whyte
!

and

rede, Swiche as

men

callen daysies in our

toun," and pictures himself as

THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS
Kneling alwey, til hit unclosed was. Upon the smale softe swote gras,

55

he goes on to
. . .

tell

how

the grass was

with floures swote enbrouded al. Of swich swetnesse and swich odour over-al.

That, for to speke of gomme, or herbe, or tree;

Comparisoun may noon y-maked be; For hit surmounteth pleynly alle odoureSy

And

eek of

ricl;ie

beautee

alle floures.

The

reference

daisy

and the the English flower that Chaucer knew
is

plainly to the daisy,

is odorless.

One

recalls the

well-known song

that opens the

"Two Noble Kinsmen," which
names:

happens to use odor as the distinguishing quaUty
of the flowers
it

Roses, their sharp spines being gone, Not royal in their smells alone. But in their hue;

Maiden

pinks, of odour faint.

Daisies smell-less^ yet most quaint.

And
Or,
if

sweet thyme true.

one hesitates to trust the testimony of one

poet against another, or even the evidence of
one's proper nose, one
scientific
alists

may

find impartial

and

authority on the point from the herb-

of the sixteenth

century

botanists of the twentieth.

down to the The Enghsh daisy

has no odor, and never had. Chaucer speaks of
its

odor as beyond comparison with that of gum,

56

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY

or herb, or tree

— as

flatly surpassing all odors,

j

"Whom," in Mr. Browning's impassioned words,

"whom
W^ell,

shall

my

soul believe?"
is

the thing that had happened

obvious

enough.

The

marguerite, like the rose,

was but

the symbol of the lady; the lady must be perfect

and

entire,

wanting nothing in

all

the qualities

inherent in a lady; therefore, her flower

must

be possessed of all the perfections of a flower. Fragrance is such a perfection; therefore it follows inevitably that the daisy must possess the

very much the same reason that Anselm existence had to be predicated of the Deity. The fragrance of the rose was transferred to the daisy without a qualm. It had to have it, and realism looked the other way.
attribute, for

to

It continued, indeed, to

keep

its

eyes averted.
signifi-

For

I

wish to ask you to observe another

cant fact. For over five centuries not a soul but
the much-maligned

Godwin seems ever

to have

observed that Chaucer does represent the daisy
as

endowed with fragrance. The passage has been
it is

quoted times without number for what

one of the most charming descriptions of the
flower in the whole range of English poetry.

Most of us think of it, when we think of Chaucer,
before any other fines except the Prologue to the

THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS

57

"Canterbury Tales." As Longfellow reads Chaucer, "from every page Rise odors of ploughed incidentally, there isn't a ploughed field" "or field, except in one simile, in Chaucer Eckermann and the Rubens flowery mede." It's landscape over again. The illusion is so complete

that five centuries of English
to observe that
it

was

illusion,

Eckermanns failed and not fact.

Chaucer, in other words, has so vivified the convention that
it

seems truer than a transcript

from

reality.

Just that performance

we should

not, I pre-

sume, repeat to-day. Keats puts odorous daisies
where, to our mind, they properly belong

namely, in the Elysian

fields.

There the bards of

passion and of mirth are
Seated on Elysian lawns

Browsed by none but Dian's fawns; Underneath large blue-bells tented. Where the daisies are rose-scented.

And

the rose herself has got
is

Perfume which on earth

not.

same time I am not at all sure that a daisy has n't as good a right to smell as a trumpet-flower to "bray and blare," which it does (with modesty enough and likelihood to lead it) in the most impeccably correct "new" poetry. The transfer of quahties, then, from the rose At
the

58

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
is full

to the daisy

of a

number

of things that

il-

luminate the behavior of conventions.
lar shifts

And

simi-

meet us on every hand. Since we have been deaUng with one odor which on earth is not,
let

us give a

moment

to another.

The mediaeval lover, particularly if he were French or North ItaUan, was not unlikely, in his
panegyric of his lady, to identify her with a panther. It was a commonplace of compliment.

And

it

arose through a perfectly normal transfer

Middle found in Pliny's "Natural History" and a Ages treatise known as "Physiologus," a mine of useful

of conventions. In the first place, the

and misleading information. The two together

furnished most of the data for the "unnatural

natural history" that ran riot as late as Lyly's

"Euphues." But the Middle Ages had their own way of deaUng with their facts. From still earher centuries had come down an inordinate fondness for allegorizing everything on which allegory could lay its hands. And so there sprang up the Bestiaries, amazing compilations of beasts, and birds, and fishes, endowed with quaUties they never had, and allegorized into types of
sacred things.

And

in the Bestiaries the pan-

ther holds an honorable place.

Now

the "fact"

about the panther was that

it

possessed a breath

Nor does it matter in the least of the of the devil. — and that moment. the lily's purity. It is all as irrational as words or dress. on the basis of a common quality transferred from one to the other. That the panther's breath was not sweet. has nothing to do with the case. and that was enough. we withhold acceptance from a panther breathing odors of Araby the Blest is all. For conventions are irrational. their behav- ior is the same. Allegorized. his hly. his rose. men draw But so does the lady's sweetness her lovers. are concerned with for the What we . had common with the whale).\ Yet let us be chary of casting the first stone. We still acquiesce in the dove's gentleness. When the poet even now invokes his mistress as his dove. he is performis ing a legerdemain with his conventions that identically the same. It was accepted as such.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS of marvellous sweetness (a quality in 59 it which it. the panther became the symbol of the lady. the panther So much became the all type of Christ. and this fragrant breath attracted other animals to for the fact. his star. the rose's beauty. The conventions are different. Accordingly. that the precisely similar endowment whale turned it into a symbol who also exercises attraction. For his sweetness draws to him.

60 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is please remember. — Let us consider. was his conception of the devout and gentle Prioress. posal. a particularly interesting group of conventions which occur in one of the most finished masterpieces of subtly penetrating characterization in English poetry — the description of the Prioress in the is Prologue to the "Canterbury Tales. by a daring yet consummately At his dison the one hand. the freedom with which conventions form which renders new and varied new attachments a freedom them susceptible of constantly use. now. his on the other hand. she The Prioress is a woman. who has not only immortal but very mortal longings in her. nun. yet exquisitely sympathetic is also very much a Chaucer is depicting is the engagingly imperfect submergence of the feminine in the ecclesiastical. was the mass of convenit tional phraseology indelibly stamped through long usage with the associations of the poetry of love. luminously present in mind. And he achieves the im- — the impression pression which permeates the whole description of the hovering of the worthy deftly lady's spirit between two worlds — by . and pervaded with his inahenable hu- mor. a dehcately ironical." It portrayal of a clash of ideals. and what And he does adroit transference of conventions.

And the combination of simple and coy (simple et coie) was no less a com- monplace of the "sweet jargoning" of mediaeval lovers. her speech. It associations the clash of between the two to the thing sets of conventions is that creates the character. so was her look. her bearing and herself. her smile." with a touch sometimes of the demure. All this ing. One was the pasand the engagingly frank and often frail of its favorite habitats young persons who are are the heroines of the genre uncommonly hkely is it less to be simple and coy.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS carrying over to the 61 in nun conventions steeped is reminiscences of earthly love. and — "coy" alone. and "simple and coy" together. let us generaliz- come itself. though not of coquetry) was apphed by the lover to his mistress incessantly." For "simple" alone. There were two words with which every reader of French poetry in Chaucer's day (and everybody in Chaucer's circle read French poetry) had clearly defined and inevitable associations "simple" and "coy. tourelle. belong to the stock phraseology of fourteenth- century courtly poetry. her voice. simple (even The Medea's among lady's eyes were others) — usually simple as a dove. Nor a pet locution of the inexorably . "Coy" (which meant "quiet. her face.

exquisite incongruity of the nun's self-chosen. did n't belong nun at all. the description. struck the keynote of The convention as nun. and artist. a Prioresse.62 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY long-drawn catalogues of the lady's physical charms. And the next transfer is an audacious one. The of the clash first between the woman and the nun dexterously given by the impinging. the French Saint Eloi. so far as I know. Start- ing centuries before Chaucer with that [Bible of mediaeval chivalric practice. That of hir smyling was ful simple and There. unecclesiastical. \ I was confined to the poetry of courtly love. so to speak. In a word. to the is coy. as her favorite saint. I must pass over the name. To every one of Chau- cer's readers its distinctly earthly rather than hint is heavenly flavor was unmistakable. Ovid's "Art of . and lover beautiful attire. in the second hne. )' Now Chaucer begins his sketch of the Prioress as follows: Ther was also a Nonne. and any lover to any lady was pretty certain to employ it. the phrase. flowerlike Madame Eglantine. For Chaucer is with his shifting of old conventions to by no means done new uses. her choice of of a one-time and courtier. of two opposing auras of associations.

is her delicate behavior at the Now come back to Geoffrey Chaucer and his Prioress. And in a famous. table. Among these foibles are the wiles a woman uses to allure a potential yet still demurring lover." and handed down through scores of poets after him. falle. of the lover's and the care of his or her teeth and nails. with intimate detail. At mete wel y-taught was she leet no morsel from hir lippes . even notorious passage in Jean de Meun's part of the "Roman. to the most esoteric doctrines of love's joys and perils. What does he do next? appropriates the lines from the He coolly "Roman de la Rose " which everybody knew as we know Hamlet's soliloquy and transfers them to lines — — Madame She Eglantine with-alle.de la Rose" the convention attains a pecuUarly vivid embodiment. and among these. the checkered story and descants at large. La Vielle. of her life. rehearses to a youth to whom she has taken a liking. For there an old harridan. upon the faihngs of her sex. that is to say) at table. there developed a code of conventional injunctions to lovers and fit ladies alike — injunctions ranging from the clothes.: THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 63 Love. in turn. High among these precepts stood observance of dainty manners (mediaevally dainty.

Wei coude she carie a morsel. the intent. There the and meet phrase for every featiu-e. And that brings us to another of the amazing conventions of mediaeval love poetry. and wel kepe. In curteisye was set ful muche hir lest. whan she dronken hadde hir draughte. We have still to be told how she looked. That no drope ne fille up-on hir brest." "Roman The de la But Chaucer dress is not yet done. and with an anatomical exhausis tiveness that extenuated nothing. they occur with desolating unanimity in the pages of I . distinctly more of precisely these mundane than same manners as enjoined with gusto by the Duenna in the Rose. For it was accepted poetic good form that the lover. and her tenderness of heart. The smile of the Spirit of Comedy lurks behind the lines! And to every one of Chaucer's readers came the flash of dehghted association from the rehearsal of the Prioress's dainty manners to pious. should inventory her charms from top to toe in good right set terms. and her Httle dogs. writing of his lady. Hir over lippe wyped she so clene. That in hir coppe was no ferthing sene Of grece. Ful semely after hir mete she raughte. Prioress's and bearing. must be passed over.64 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Ne wette hir fingres in hir sauce depe.

lily whom there was just little cleft. but every detail might have come from any fourteenth-century lover's description of his mistress: Hir nose tretys. one) . she was nat undergrowe. hfted bodily from its The convention has been with all its attachment to the earthly lady and transferred. It was almost a spanne brood. to the nun. her fore- head broad. . is the which foregoes the remainder of the inevitable inventory.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 65 a hundred poets. her — mouth must be traitis (a petite. Read one. gray as glass. Now Chaucer describes the Prioress in five hues. For. gray as a goose. and leaves the Prioress charmingly human. without a suggestion of the sensuous. Hir mouth ful smal. hardily. blushing associations thick upon it. and ther-to softe and reed. hir eyen greye as glas." of like ivory. and you have all. and high. vermeilley riant: her nose mediaeval lady with an ill-propor- tioned nose was rarer than the "soleyn fenix of Arabye. and white. But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed. Yet no less noteworthy than the still skill with which the hues suggest restraint youthful flesh and blood behind the well pinched wimple. I trowe. Her eyes must be gray or vair gray as a falcon. and poUshed her chin a her face mingled and rose.

For the motto on the Prioress's brooch was a convention with a history. And ther-on heng a broche of gold ful shene. And fer the an convention — — that makes Chaucer's use itself it is precisely that happy ambiguity of it result of earlier trans- here. gauded al with grene. Eclogues. Which of the two loves does ''amor'' I mean to the Prioress? do not know. to the way fer. That is the most consummate touch of all. There of course. but celestial. now heavenly. as a final summarizing touch. verted to the use of love earthly love that conquers Now is it all. The closing lines of the sketch are these: Ful fetis was hir cloke. of a man with a maid. as I was war. as everybody knows. Amor vincit omnia. and had behind it the strange jumble of mediaeval superstitions about Virgil. the of the phrase plays back and forth between the two.66 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Yet one more transfer and Chaucer is done. the line was concelestial. The Une ("love conquers all things") gil's is. I think she thought she meant love . On which ther was first write a crowned A. from one of Virit refers. a master stroke. Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar A peire of bedes. But by a pious transwhich took place long before Chaucer. And after.

This last procedure is one that never ceases. Not only do the same conventions acquire new content. acquire fresh content. And so far forth they are plastic stuff for the artist's hand. achieve not only hfe may outworn conventions new by forming fresh attachments. passed that took place into the twelfth- when the and thirteenth-century romance. But again let us use. to convey the wavering of the Prioress's spirit between her two worlds. but outworn themes may be rejuvenated by taking on contemporary garb. a mediaeval instance classical epic — the remarkable series of transformations. Prioress. namely. . ConvenI tions are not static.. but the same content may also assume new conventions.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 67 Throughout the masterly characterization. But there is another important modus operandi of conventions. because it have dwelt on Chaucer's delineation of the makes clear one of the two points I wish especially to emphasize. They form new attachments. In other words. And in this case we can follow the successive metamorphoses straight down to our own time. the hovering of the conventions between their two environments is the medium which Chaucer uses. then. with unerring skill. to begin with.

translated the classical conventions into terms of the commonplaces dear to their own heart. battles were turned into tournaments." the narrative core persists. that is to say. The classical heroes and heroines were transmogrified into mediaeval knights and ladies. is what . but now no longer classically. Their core of narrative was felt as vividly alive. The Middle Ages. Greece. the stage was completely reset. for instance. We have already seen the mediaeval ideal of feminine beauty. Troy." and the Homeric stories the "Roman de Troie. sheath of epic ma- chinery and classical mythology and obsolete manners and customs. And so." and the "Thebaid" the "Roman de Thebes. but the sheath of epic con- ventions has for the most part been sloughed off. when the "^Eneid" becomes the "Roman d'Eneas." and the "Pharsaha" the "Roman de Julius Cesar. was ahen and remote. Rome. And in its place has developed a new and highly significant integument. on the other hand. And here. For one thing.or thirteenth-century France. but medi- sevally conventional. and Carthage became twelfth. conventional to the last degree.68 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY The Middle Ages seized on the great its stories of the classics with avidity. and the actors recostumed.

Amphiorax is a bishop. wide apart." and Cleopatra in the "Roman de Julius Cesar" agree in foreheads. and Cassandra. Andromache. ditch. and barbican. or incense. smihng mouth. nose high. and straight. lips full and a little redder than red samite in grain. chin and neck. Carthage has donjon. little teeth. precisely as in the eighteenth-century gardens "grove an- swers grove. and long. And Helen and Hecuba. and chins with each other and with in the all the ladies of the poets of the day. on good steeds bred in Castile. face with fresh color of roses and flem de lis . or balsam. whiter than any ermine clearer — and so on through two mortal pages more. Greek and in the And every alley has its brother. straight eyebrows. breath that smells sweeter than piment. throat and breast." Roman and Trojan heroes joust in accordance with the canons of chivalry. Troy and Thebes are . eyes than jacinth. garbed French guise." Dido and Lavinia in the "Eneas. in a row. Ismene attends Atys' funeral vested as a nun. noses. white. eyes." Antigone and Is- mene "Thebes. neither painted nor adorned. in helmets of Spanish gold.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS Philomela becomes in the Chretien de Troyes little 69 romance that made out of Ovid's sixth Metamorphosis: Forehead white and broad without wrinkle. with Turkish bows. and Polyxena in the "Roman de Troie.

that plea would never have that it nas old") the French romancers. more mediaeval courtly romances crowded with the marvellous. were substituted marvels. they found the there a no less imposing paraphernaha of con- ventional machinery — the wrath of Juno. for mythology stigations of Pallas Athene. the wiles of Venus. And when Benoit and of the period were The unknown writers of the other classical romances came to their Latin material. and elevated to a virtue. the translation into the contemporary is complete. the missions of Hermes. and the elaborate structure built on their interventions had become to the Middle Ages an empty shell. Anachronism of extenuation blithely ac- cepted. And so when the epics went over into the romances. the in- But the gods of Greece and Rome had meantime undergone their Gdtterddmmerung.70 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is mediaeval towns. in place of the positions of gods inter- and goddesses appears the . But there was another metamorphosis even starthng. Chaucer's plea when he arms with Prussian shields that it — "there's no new fashion nis his Grecian knights no newe gyse. The obbeen entered by wasn't old" ("ther — solete has been calmly jettisoned. And the marvellous had built up its own imposing fabric of conventions.

beasts. Above the romances revel in a bewildering profusion of automata — as- tounding fabrications of gold and silver and precious stones. and men. and instead the land is "al fulfiled of mance or fayerye. and in the vine and on the are ten thousand birds of fine gold. magic swords. Those are but two examples out of a hundred. the birds all sing. magic /ees tents." . in the form of birds. with grapes of precious stones. and monsters. River But as Benoit himself observes. enchanted castles and chambers. all its wonders. The gods have vanished. no one could write on parchment. that behave as if they were alive. whose least worth is When the wind blows through the branches. Briseida has a robe made through necromancy by an enchanter — a robe given by a sage Indian poet to her father Calchas — made partly of India Superior in the from skins of sables that dwell of Paradise. either in roLatin. and I shall waive the enterprise. all. In the hall where ^Eneas and Dido sit down to dine there grows on a trellis of silver a trellis vine of gold. subtly ramified. so that from neither harp nor organ issues sweeter sound. plants.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS world of magic 71 — magic robes. each with its own note. the value of a city.

. and great teeth curving to the neck. states the ivy. has been made over in the mediaeval image. Its eyes no man ever saw so illwere red as a leopard's — favored a look. and broad. — fees weaving. I shall pass over the displacement of the long- drawn-out epic similes by the pithy and succinct comparisons that our mediaeval ancestors. It was green. with a nose a cubit long. It is clad in a brown maintle. for instance. fasting. that the fees made. and frightful. its ears are long. dehghted there is in. and hairy. . marvel" itself (so But there is still a greater the "Thebes" goes on). anticipating the modern Imagists. Its arms are big as a great tent. the teeth that jutted from its mouth curved around till they touched the neck behind. . For a still more significant translation of .72 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Nor is it only the gods who have suffered a sea change. .. The Sphinx. "Roman its de Thebes" — "green as a leaf of head hideous and terrifying." That is the typical ogre of Celtic and French romance. fasting. wholly with its ears. its its mouth black and all its snout. and in the last amazing conception hands have nails like a Hon's. a brown mantle for the Sphinx — is a compendium of the incredible transmogrification which the mythological con- ventions underwent. "it covers .

We still. constituted what Chaucer calls the "lov- . for one in love. It is not that love itself has changed its spots. 73 conventions in the classical romances that de- To us moderns perhaps the most extraordinary phenomenon of the Middle Ages is the mass of conventions that in hterature and Hfe accumulated about love. re- Greek medicine. if one were so unfortunate as not to be afflicted with They them in due course of nature. restlessness. they were. pure and simple. of love in the became Sleeplessness. taciturnity.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS mands attention. to be as- sumed as such. a beard neglected. a blue eye and sunken. the exotic oriental doctrines of the great Arabic physicians — the physical symptoms Middle Ages estabhshed as conventions. loss of appetite. The difference is this. good form. arid into strange capers — everything about one demonstrating a careless desolation. aversion to society. were not merely the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual state. swooning. that are true lovers run and certain outstanding symptoms of love (the medical term is used advisedly) are as famihar to-day as a thousand a lean cheek. emaciation. pallor. weeping. Through a markable series of converging influences — Ovid. years ago an unquestionable spirit.

her inex- pugnable reluctance to be easily won. holds as good to-day as clothes are different. is it What underlies it did then." Al)Ove all. but this time social rather than physical in its character. Moreover. he must /ear as well as love her. There was another. and the phrase "love and dread" lies thick on the pages of French poetry as autumnal leaves that does not love" strow the brooks in Vallombrosa. no less conspicuous. but the woman's instinctive difficulty of access.74 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY maladye of Hereos. his "earthly god" ." and Burton elucidates eres of captivating detail. She is his "lady sovereyne". But it its and in clothes the obsolete the fantastic. the Middle Ages made sharp distinction there) must obey his mistress. under " Heroicall Love." the title of them with a wealth That was one set of mediaeval love conventions. is "He who fears not an endlessly repeated dictum." And danger meant not what it means to-day. For it involved primarily the attitude of the lover towards his lady. We shall have to distinctive touch very briefly. " in the "Anatomy. the lover (not the husband. And the mediaeval lover lived constantly (to use the ac- cepted phrase) in his lady's danger. "held up by the brydel at the [shaftes] ende. The most word is in the jargon of the poetry of courtly love "danger.

serenely oblivious of our own motley. [and] Turkye. She may send him to the ends "to Walakye. or farther still. to the mystic card. obsolete to-day. There was none of it in the "PharsaUa". then. Now love in the classical epics played a minor part. and it touched . Dry Tree on the "straunge strondes" at I the outposts of the world. as they first reached the Middle Ages. dominating and permeating mediaeval literature. now to shippe. these conventions of love. she yaf him daunger al his fille. Therfor she had him at hir owne wille. it happens." or even to the mysterious Dry Sea on the edge of the goblin-haunted sands by the Jade Gate into Cathay. invention were am speaking superfluous.75 THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS ("mon Dieu terrien"). to whom he owes unquestioning allegiance. by the "She sent him. they were. with unfeigned wonder and amaze. There. were devoid of it." says Chaucer of Arcite's new lady — She sent him now to londe. To AHsaundre. not But the fill bizarre conventional garb in which this and other tenets of courtly love array themselves. as they dominated and permeated mediaeval life. the Homeric legends. To of the earth to win his spurs — Pruyse and in-to in-to Tartarye. And for The principle and its practice are. us twentieth-century moderns.

where it was.76 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY baic!. into the Dido andiEneas. in the and translated. dischevele" — as indeed. that the courtly romancers came. in a rapid running over of the "Roman de Troie. reigning conventions of the day. as I have herd sayd. and to swoon four or five times hand running during a single trying situation is no novelty." thirty swoons of heroes and heroines. in Chaucer as in the "Eneas. " twenty-two. . What happened? Love was interpolated where it was not. in the "Thebes." "waketh." It is with beauty but a single episode in the "Theonly in the great and moving tale of Dido in the "iEneid" that love assumes a major role. walweth. d'Eneas. Above all." She love. I ." deport themselves in "Roman accordance with the strictest canons of courtly Dido. she have counted. . The visit of Julius Caesar to Egypt in the "Pharsalia" is seized upon by its redactor to introduce. And it was to these epic narratives. As doon thise loveres." the innamoramento of ^Eneas and Lavinia is elaborated into one of the most amazing documents now extant of the very malady of heroic love. for the most part barren of one of the most powerful mediaeval appeals. maketh many a brayd. . "swowneth must. on the bare hint of the "^Eneid.

three conventional portraits." bits from the affair of Jason with Medea. "affable. Chaucer's matchless insight and humor and felicity of phrase. Troilus. in triangle not far to And the "Roman de Troie. contributions from the exotic romance of " Floris and Blaunchefleur. one knightly warrior described as "pulcherrimus. — "hot-headed and sudden" ing-point. But. In the oldest Latin documents there appear. among other things. and finally. and Diomede.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS point-device in its 77 accoutrements. as of Briseida. and one of the world's supreme love stories launched upon it left its w^ay —a story into which. given such promising materials as a lady declared to be "affabilis oculisvenustis" — . granted this startis : iant for his age". "cerebro calido. among others. pro set ate valens" — "most handsome and valand a second hero who was. the liaison between Csesar and Cleopatra. They are not brought together." we find the three brought together. . . respectively. had been poured the hot blood of Boccaccio's intrigue with Maria d 'Aquino. impatiens" and the eternal so. But the most remarkable history of all is that of the Trojan story. with winning eyes". seek. and there is absolutely no story of them in this early work. before the Middle Ages. . has been aptly pointed out.

and La Galprenede. — Let us put away childish things. fixed and astonished. Let us waive the question of pertinence for a moment and move a little nearer to to-day. to be sure. The mediaeval poetic idiom came after while to seem a jargon quaint. Troy was n't a second Paris. and delectably naive. Dido did n't wallow and swoon. the garb ridiculous no bearing on the conduct of Very well. and held them. you say. Sappho. is But.78 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY In a word. And in the heroic romances of Gomber\^ille. Antony and Cleopatra. no less than myth- ology and backgrounds. and has conventions now. And the quaint eccentricities of courtly love gave place to that sage and serious schematization of passion which found its com- . or ^neas wear a helmet equipped with a carbuncle that made the night as bright as day. andMademoiselle de Scudery. and later of the salon of the "matchless Orinda" herself. to the walls. the Middle Ages reclothed the classical epics in the garb of their own day. And so the sev- enteenth century proceeded to put them away. as regards love. or Carthage defended by serried rows of magnets that drew steel-armed enemies. Cyrus. and Artaxerxes became denizens of the Hotel de Rambouillet. but tedious and drolly untrue to life.

What do we do? What. And in such terms the heroes and heroines of antiquity. without in — — change of a word. ple." and Paul Heyse in "Mary of Magdala"? There are the ancient narratives. and consider the matter of love alone. through rolling country dotted with the hamlets of SensibiUty. And that still was in Moliere's century. indeed. and Assiduity. and An Amorous Letter." where the River of Inclination flowed into the Dangerous Sea between the Lake of Indifference and the Sea of Enmity. and Indiscretion. and Forgetfulness. through six thousand six hundred and seventy-nine deadly pages. in which love plays about as slight a part on the whole.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS pendium in the 79 "Carte du Tendre." and Hermann Sudermann in "Johannes. for exam- has Stephen Phillips done in "Ulysses" and "Herod. insist. and Pleasing Verses. it But. let gently wasn't ours. in one sole novel only. what I said a few minutes ago of the it romances: "Love was interpolated where was . And I can repeat. you Well. a considerably more tenuous one than it played in the epics on which the romances were built. no longer absurdly mediaeval but impeccably up-todate. classical and Bibhcal. for the dramas that I have named." and Oscar Wilde in "Salome. us look at ours. discoursed.

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and translated. where it was. at the moment." I am not passing judgment. materials in the garb of our own conven- And I am inclined to think that the twenty-fifth century (which will have its particular modernity to instance. And when it comes to the audit before high heaven. for in the museum of conventions with the tale of Lavinia and Dido in the "Eneas." of which there trace in the original. into the reign- ing conventions of the day. amuse it) Oscar Wilde's "Salome" will put. the sexual passion in "Johannes" is one with the passion in "Das hohe Lied. it may well be that the Prioress's smiUng that was simple and coy will hold its own with the httle crooked smile of the modern heroine. That is entirely beside the point." and will catalogue Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations to the play with Briseide's mantle and the Sphinx. either ethical or aesthetic." The eroticism of "Salome. is the fact that we in our way are doing precisely what the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries did in theirs — we are reclothing the own same same tions.80 not. Let us not forget our vade mecum: "as we are now. The one thing that concerns us. of is is not the slightest of a piece with the stuff hundred novels that represent the vogue. so once . any one of a on the facts.

It is this. and then remould it nearer to the heart's desire? ." Nor is the accompanying memento mori in this case without its pertinence: "as they are now. ineluctable. and instead of an enveloping integument the conventions become bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh? Or shall he grasp their it sorry scheme of things entire. And that leads di- rectly to a somewhat practical remark. until he impose his will form and content coalesce. We escape the conventions behind us only to find ating — a consideration which should induce ourselves imphcated in a new set of our own cre- in us large charity towards those limed souls of earher days who. the zest of the game Hes in adventures clothe himself in among conventions. When me they fly. as he For the poet. his from that in which the poet stands to them. then. Shall he them as with a garment? Shall upon them. The relation in which the reader of poetry is stands to poetic conventions radically different writes. were like us more engaged. so we shall be!" is Convention.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 81 were they. I am the wings. It can say with Brahma: They reckon ill who leave me out. shatter to bits. similarly struggling to be free.

and But the reader of poetry in these in no such predicament. is and practical. is day. the medium of his expression. An Attic drachma minted sent to us the in the days of Pericles it is no less beautiful because no longer passes current. must reckon with conven- tions as the tools of his craft. them is immediate. For coin just issuing from the mint. And days inces- when the makers santly before us. of poetry keep in their com- muniques the warfare with convention it is well that the distinction be we who read poetry are ridden and haunted by no such insistent problem. To us. the impediments that thwart his ut- terance. There.82 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY as he writes. His relation to exigent. Yet. Those who make . the old conventions are what the of their time its new will one day be — the mould which gives to the very age and body form and pressure. They repreways along which beauty has in the past been sought and found. nor are we concerned alone with the made sharp and clear. The poet. the coin that does pass current must bear the image and superscription of in a word. may lend them a peculiar permanence. and the very fact that the paths are now deserted and beauty sought no longer where they lead. on the other its hand. is the distinction which there some danger that we inay obhterate.

from puny whipsters to supreme creators. We've been considering love. let us edge will reinvest old conventions with something of their one-time contemporaneousness. imaginative effort is always a bit of a poet himself — your true reader poetry — but the game is worth the candle.". consider who these of spell of the illu- *Voorf" women were? Or has the sion carried unquestioning acceptance with it? They Medea. Cleopatra. among others. death that is sometimes the only enduring of Sympathetic understanding means. From which brief excursion I now return to our sheep. its enjoyment demands a sympathetic understanding of conventions.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS it 83 poetry are intent. or dead in the Ufe. 'on moulding day were all the poets who have ever lived. . very the a case in point. Here. but an actual modern are. to brieJfly. for a moment. and they are (to quote no hypothetical objector. Dido. have said that from the reader's point of view imaginative sympathy coupled with knowlinto homiletics. (and rightly. Let us turn. And whatever one in living forms. whether alive. to be sure. is poem from which we daisy — Chaucer's "Legend really to culled the rose-scented Did you ever stop Good Women. and Hypermnestra. But so in their may think about the writing of poetry.

Ptolemy." and more than that.'" that is we And perfectly true. But the Middle . ad libitum. of her younger brother. Hector of prowess. They were other things. Chaucer's cen- tury (and by no means that century alone) had a trick of conventionalizing a single person into the representative. of a particular attribute or quality. which assumed it nature had denied in reahty. Penelope of wifely devotion — and so on. Cleopatra (to round out the tale). Croesus of wealth. why actually canonize them. Hypermnestra.84 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY who professes English) "they are. Cleopatra scarcely lived or died in the odor of sanctity. Absalom was the stock embodiment of beauty. call Why them "good. And Dido was guilty of a flagrant lapse of conventional morality. the pecuHar prerogative of saints ? It is a pretty problem in the behavior of conventions. 'women with a past. as George Washington is something more than the frigid stateliness. for which they stand to most of us. by endowing them with legends. Solomon of wisdom. And the reason is as simple as in the case of the in verse a fragrance that daisy. Hercules of strength. Esther of meekness. and Lincoln than the homespun sagacity. to be sure. as critic should say to-day. of her husband. Medea was the mur- deress of her children. the exemplum.

' THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 85 Ages. all man. And Chau- makes . and Deschamps. that not only Chaucer. in love (as it still Now cer loyalty was remains) so the supreme and crowning virtue. into sharp rehef the salient trait. carried patience beyond the utmost bound of human thought.. and the mediaevals all and some. same category exactly as Penelope and Lucretia and was as exemplars oi fidelity in love. his spirits. a glorious Legende Of Gode Wommen. and Christine de Pisan. confluctions. sacrificed ruthlessly subsidiary qualities to throw. in whom "some one pecuhar quality Doth so possess a All his affects. for example. their conventional are close kin to the figures of the Jonsonian Comedy of Humors. their evil behavior. In their to run one way." They are first . They a single quality from the mass. That weren trewe in lovinge al hir It lyves. thought of Cleopatra and Dido and Medea.. that it doth draw and his powers. but Boccaccio. maidenes and wyves. in the Alcestis. Overlooking their weakness. till Griselda. The convention lies in the isolation of And on the side of /orm the "good" women are of a piece with a hundred creations since. with uncompromising thoroughness. the poet saw their loyalty alone.

of rising abruptly from their graves. we're at home. Discretion. Pity. Sapience. and it is never wholly safe to carve their epitaphs. die through a pro- as new and more vigorous develops within them. Perseverance. of how conventions cease to For one thing." or whatever the insulating phrase may into one ball. it is true. conventions cess of sloughing life off. We see it happening in the Moralities. and Medea." * * be.86 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY all cousins to the Micawbers and Barkises and their breed of Dickens's "roll all their strength Human Comedy. as wilUng "or waiting for something to turn up. But enough of them are surely dead to warrant a summary statement live. like old Roger under the apple tree in the folk-game. is as "good" (to tilt the convention at another angle) as Anna Karenina or Hester dozen sleeping on the hill in the Prynne. despite her faihngs. But conventions do disconcerting die. to take one instance only. They have. Contem- plation. lie their congeners by the Spoon River churchyard. And last but not least. Once inside it. who all and * * their sweetness up andJive perpetually in singleness of heart. . Here are the conventional virtues — Mercy. The convention is strange and bizarre only when looked at from outside. a way at times.

Whoop! whool Peace." he and retorts New Gyse. and Free Will. beware! .THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS Devotion 87 all — there are "forty feeding as one. and my denomination. "lading out Latin with leaping scoops. and and Mischief. What. lucubrates (his speUing as follows: stripped of its eccentricities) you your conditions to And with humility and reverence to have a remotion To this blessed Prince that our nature doth glorify. may I ask. was going to happen when things like the following came into immediate juxtaposition? the Vices — New Folly. conceive that ye have but a little force in communication." in the pithy phrase of an unrecon- — Guise. when she smote her husband's head. ay." And among them come impeccably correct. even lurid Saxon. I beseech rectify. That ye may be participable of his retribution . structed Vice. . In "Mankynd" Mercy O sovereigns. fair babes I Ye shall have anapple to-morrow! off Beware! quoth the good-wife. and their pungent tang of forbidden fruit. ! "your body of English Latin" And here is the way in which his confreres in sin discourse: lend us a foot-ball. I name. and Ignorance with their vivid. Mercy is my my is full "Ay. and Nowadays. .

something ahnost narcotic in much mediaeval poetry. Poets of low vitality ensconce them- Hke hermit-crabs. the remorseless bead-roll of the catalogues. indeed. 88 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Crabbed youth and age can live as well together as those two lingoes. Nor is it the diction only which has hardened into rigor mortis. The setting of the vision. conventions selves die of being used to death. For there is.^ The French poetry of Chaucer's day nearer home) is come no possessed of a jargon beside whose deadly yet fascinating monotony the poetic diction of the eighteenth century is kalei- doscopic in its variety. thick. and in the good.. as the Bishop at St. one is lulled into central plains. the stock descriptions inevitably foreseen from the initial phrase feels whose end is one that the poets relaxed into them and were — at rest. while the racy license of the Vices heads straight towards Falstaff But in the main. stupefying incense smoke. And the staid conventions of the Virtues slip into innocuous desuetude (they would have rolled the phrase as a sweet morsel under their tongues). watching a pleas- ing stupor such as one feels in crossing our great from the car window . Praxed's lay luxuriating in the blessed mutter of the mass. generation after gener(to ation. in the cast-off shells of their predecessors.

and the feet of it go down to death. It comes as life. Jane Austen's occupation had been gone. There were the allegories in general and the vision poems in particular. near certainty as one attains in this our But that shuddering rehsh conventions at their worst I for the horrors of grant to be a purely human frailty. only when one forgets the sonnet cy- and the heroic couplet. the thing reprehensible. however. set for the ear to the steady. vogues of certain poetic forms cles. story. But if Professor Gowell had known fourteenthcentury French courtly poetry. I confess that I snatch a fearful joy myself in the settled assur- ance of the sort of thing predestined to confront one when the next page is turned. — astounding. monoto- nous beat of the pulsing wheels. too. like a fondness for detective stois ries. in the astounding One gets the same thing. Fitzgerald wrote that Professor Gowell "constantly reads Miss Austen at night after his Sanskrit Philology is done it composes him.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS 89 a landscape which always moves yet rarely changes." I apologize for : even repeating that slander on Jane Austen. there were journeys through heaven and hell and the under- . Artistically. and vers litre. like Gruel. and the short and the 0. Henry or Rudyard Kipling opening.

90 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY world (the sentimental and zigzag journeys being yet in the seeds of time) . and a fourth neither loved nor loving." that delectable old Interlude in which appeared four this. "both loved and loving. another loved but not loving. for I have twice felt bound to go over the whole four thousand eight hundred eight-Une stanzas of the one thousand two hundred balades not to speak of which he alone has left behind the one hundred and seventy-one rondeaux. Christine de Pisan wrote them by the score. Oton de Granson. on the whole." or the "loved not loving". If one wrote sion of the deplorable cataract of balades — . the "loving not loved. there were temples of and mirrors of that. Lucas recently called "the first effu- and rondeaux'' that swept over Europe. the sort of thing which a little later one finds in the elder Heywood's "Play of Love. of whom one was loving but not loved. and which wa-s the happier. the eighteen virilais and the fifteen lais. And there was the debat. characters. a third both loving and loved. Froissart." There was also beginning what Mr. Of the indefatigable Deschamps I speak with something verging on emotion. And the amicable debate jogged comfortably on as to which was the more miserable." or "neither loving nor loved. Machaut.

and virilais. by slipping as usual into the well-worn verbal commonplaces of the eternal theme of courtly love. now as they were then. Yet be something the past. before perspective may gained through the recognition of the present in And my have had the present steadily eyes in all that has just been said. There were regular rules of the game.THE WAYS OF CONVENTIONS at all. then as now. I ." It was a test Deschamps himself laid of virtuosity to little comply with them. and that was easiest of attainment. have been scrupulously keeping to the Middle Ages. and we ourselves are approaching in the picture. them down in all their bewildering complexity. to It mattered what was be formally and conven- was the thing that counted. Critical detachment demands perspective. rondeaux. in what Chaucer would have called a "litel thing in prose. But almost everything that I have said has had its de te fabula for to-day. and undergoing metamorphosis. because we are caught in the vortex. and case-hardening into forms that cabin I and confine. 91 one had to write halades. But it is hard to estimate justly the significance of their con- temporary behavior. naturally. said. tionally correct Conventions were tyrants as well as servants. For conventions are shifting.

or we may keep and mould them. . then. undream'd of forces that press It is the other shores. or we may gloriously smash them. they are the neutrals in the clash outward the frontiers of art. Those who passively accept are negligible praise is — senza infamia e senza lodo. those who reject.92 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY There are. two that will concern us here: those who accept. Neither infamy nor theirs. three determining attitudes toward conventions: we may accept them and passively conform. And to the first we may now come. and go on. and in rejecting strike out for unpath'd waters. but in accepting transmute and re-create.

should be thereby. in order to be understood. stands in then. Obviously. We express in order we must be we must employ the language of those to whom we speak. the individual is not the only factor to be reckoned with in what as expression is we call originaUty. You exercise no compulsion whatsoever. conform. forego the desideratum of putting inferences. Only one thing my way: I most potently and powerfully desire to be understood by you. I . "original" in the sense in which many of us seem to understand the term. That is a fact so obvious that we sometimes to communicate. you simply cease to listen. who am here to communicate.Ill ORIGINALITY AND THE MOULDING OF CONVENTIONS I AM free as the air to-day to coin a vocabulary of very own. I take it. and speak to you in I its fresh- my minted words. we are all of us original our expression until our wings are clipped. If you don't understand. it on its As a matter in of fact. to communicate. so far concerned. understood. And I.

and conform. calls an auto- mobile a "cadeuga. The poet writes in order to communicate. can't go to the telephone and ask for a "cadeu- ga" with any valid hope of seeing it And since the world with which the young adcall venturer must communicate prefers to affair the a motor. on the sound the thing makes. But you appear. estabhshed by long usage. than expression in every-day speech. too. like both to him and in point of fact. All this. an excellently descriptive' term. And is the language of poetry in the broader sense. he must be Ex- understood. or a machine (incomless parably fallibly exact and fitting terms). pression in art can no more escape the demands of intelligibilitg. like speech itseK. many a word in the pristine days of speech. and every infant anif archist in speech yields at last to the usage of that world by which. It may. of course.94 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY three-year-old know a boy who is. he is to live. he will in- drop his own fresh and vivid coinage. poetic forms and conventions of whatever sort. and to communicate he. beats its The tangential energy of the individual wings in vain against the centripetal force of the community. from the point of view of either rhyme or . has larger implications. or a car. must be understood." It based.

ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS But there it is. 95 reason. or curious. through which "outlandish" and "uncouth" " attained their present meaning. modes — of speech is strange. a more compelling power. For "outlandish meant in the beginning only what does n't be- own land. or bizarre. a fresh vividness. manners. but one of those appallingly veracious records of human nature and an innate bias for the familiar. There are two deep-rooted idiosyncrasies of human nature that bear on our acceptance or rejection of place. even absurd. be irrational. . experience in which the history of words abounds." The change in meaning registers a universal trait. or queer. Whatever is alien to our own long to our ways of another race or of other times — the costume. For it is no mere trick of speech. the chances of the youthful coiner of "cadeuga. What he can do is to use the comlanguage with a new distinction. So are words. in the first Whatever we 're thoroughly unfamiliar with is apt to seem to us odd. but the world goes on unmoved. and "uncouth" was simply "unknown. what is offered us. he does. We have. And though the poet is free as if air to create a new poetic language. And that offers to originahty its richest field. he takes." His own immediate poetic family may mon understand and marvel.

nor cared to see. We're averse to shocks. not lasting. but all becomes at once the most beautiful and thrillat once you've ing object in the world. and the monotonous irks and bores. Whatever is too familiar wearies us. not permanent. Incessant recurrence without variety breeds tedium. is to our taste." is only another record of the same idiosyncrasy. But they are apt to be forward.96 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and "strange" itself. at times their fascination. the overiterated becomes the monoto- And there we are. All the lovers who have friend recognized as old. the person you've never known before. or a new The experience and the pleasure are universal. That is one thing. But there is still another trait that is no less broadly himian. which started out by meaning merely "foreign. under narcotics. you find all known . The source of more or two less abiding satislies in faction for most normal human of the happy merging light in — beings a in the twofold de- an old friend recognized as new. remains the face you've always known. Neither that which we do not know at all. ever lived have made experiment of it. I grant. a face that you've passed a hundred times. and we go to sleep nous. sweet. nor that which we know too well. Now both the shock and the narcotic have.

like love. me illustrate — like the Ghost in "Hamsingle Let what I mean from a device of poetry. As dew That in April falleth He came To As dew That al so still his mother's hour. but insist we that it establish Things may recur as often as they please. but we want it to seem somehow new.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS from all 97 its eternity. . sends roots deep into what we are. yet not so trite as to rob us of the other pleasure of surprise. And our most per- manent aesthetic satisfaction arises as a rule from things familiar enough to give the pleasure of recognition. Now art. on the grass. we want the old. new. We are keen for the some connection with what is friendly and our own. in April falleth on the flour. his mother was. As dew That in April falleth on the spray. He came There al so still his mother lay. What is it that charms us in these stanzas from a fifteenth-century carol? He came There al so still. so long as they surprise us let" — each time they appear.

quite the whole story. does not so much consist in the creation of something wholly new. And Poe's con- summate and deliberate technique. as in this repristination (to use Browning's word) of something securely wait. then. Of my most immemorial year. no less than its the limpid simplicity of the carol. old. That is not. though we start out with the elder poets. The leaves they were crisped and sere. secures almost magical effects by the same means: The skies they were ashen and sober. through whatever secret of his art. It was night in the lonesome October. But the other side may Let us begin with one or two conventions. It In the misty mid region of Weir: was down by the dank tarn of Auber. And when a poet. gives to the expected the thrill of a discovery. In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir. The leaves they were withering and sere.98 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY recurrence and variation is The balance between so delicately kept that monotony itself becomes the signal for a fresh surprise. he need have no fears for his originality. That is but one way out of a thousand in which the familiar merges with the strange. What we call originality. It was hard by the dim lake of Auber. of course. And we .

Ful smale y-puUed were hir browes two. clearness of crystal. We have glanced at the dreary and wire-drawn inventories of feminine charms in the poetry of courtly love. And tho were bent. red- ness of roses. . and it is worth a moment to see what could be done towards vivifying it. She was ful more blisful on to see Than is the newe pere-jonette tree." All the famiUar paraphernaHa of the stock catalogue are there intact. the fragrance of apples. truant in the fields! Fair was this yonge wyf. the racy young person who helps give zest to the **Miller's Tale. You begin with resignation (unless you happen to remember that it's Chaucer you are reading). prepared for the inevitable — whiteness offleur de lis. . grayness of glass.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS shall arrive. . smoothness of ivory. the fairness of the pear tree in the spring. at the 99 year of our Lord that we date by. and ther-with-al As any wesele hir body gent and smal. Here is a part of Chaucer's description of Alisoun. and blake as any sloo. We should have to search far to find anything more nearly in the article of death. and you find — the The slimness of the weasel. the blackness of the sloe. correct and courtly formulas have gone playing . in the end. the shrilling of the swallow's song. the softness of the wool of a wether.

asks Deschamps in one of his twelve hundred balades where are David and Solomon. Or hord of apples leyd in hey or heeth. and racy of good English soil. dux invincibilis and so on through an interminable list. as is a joly colt. oh. Hir mouth was swete as bragot or the meeth. and upright as a bolt. It is tailed interrogation. I shall give at once the most terrible example that I know. where are the Hebrew children? " as to the whereabouts of * all the ancient worthies: Die. a comprehensive and deon the order of "Where. But of hir song. it was as loude and yerne As any swalwe sittinge on a berne. One of the most notorious instances is of the mediaeval trick of listing things the so-called Ubi sunt formula. . Holofernes. Winsinge she was. That happens to be from a mediaeval hymn. Joshua.— . ubi Salomon. . but the thing is everywhere. olim tam nobilis. The hackneyed convention has become vivid as a branch of hawthorn leaves. 100 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY And softer than the woUe is of a wether. As any kide or calf folwinge his dame. Ther-to she coude skippe and make game. Where. Long as a mast. Let us see what happened to another. Maccabaeus. Alexander and — . Methuselah. Vel ubi Samson est.

. Methuselah and Major Walker. Tom. Lizzie. Hippocrates and Plato. Paris. And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton. the loud. Herman and Holofernes. 101 Samson. are sleeping on the hill. Bert. where con- Jason. . . King Arthur. Mag. . Queen Dido. who built Avignon. Julius Caesar and Hector and Pompey. is Darius the Great. the good Penelope. The tender heart. Godfrey. the proud. Juno. Denis the felon king. Herman. And Major Walker who had talked With venerable men of the revolution? — All. Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily. all. is Rheims. fairest of is all. Elmer and Aristotle. and Rouen? That a list from a single you two others in a similar The old convention came to Hfe again only Illinois: the other day. Iseult. — All. and Edith. . and Helen. are sleeping on the hill. I spare strain. Charlemagne. Tobias. where he who quered Aragon. Aunt Emily and Dido whether it hails from Beaute-sur-Marne — or from Spoon River. Saladin. Hercules. Judas. . where Aristotle. the simple soul. Ptolemy. all. and Charley Where are Ella. in are Elmer. Hester. or he balade only. Job the courteous. Guinevere. Kate. the happy one? Where . the Ubi sunt is catholic. ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS Croesus. Romulus. Pallas.

through which the hoary banahties of the convention were merged in the things that are.102 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY all. a supremely gifted poet took it up. what Villon did with the balade general is in a no less illuminating case in point. . and where is Thais. But modern its instances aside. beheld of no man. in France. She whose beauty was more than human? But where are the snows of yester-year? — . It did. The one compelling phrase became a solvent. Only heard on river and mere. All at once. Neither of them the fairer woman? Where is Echo. but he added one thing of a refrain which fused the penetrating beauty — dead Hst into one of the most haunting symbols of human Tell transitoriness: is me now in what hidden way Lady Flora the lovely Roman? Where's Hipparchia. and holds quietly inurned. Sainte-Beuve long ago pointed out that Villon's poignant refrain — "Mais ou sont neiges — transformed by the alchemy d'antan!" his les of genius the hackneyed formula. fleeting evanescence of all Moreover. . He found it more dead than any modern poet has . He took it the up and kept it. the thing with appalling in fecundity dogs one down the Middle Ages unrelieved monotony.

did He . fit only for the scrap- by the grace of Heaven. The dead heap. and everybody knows what happened. his lament for the misfortunes of the church. would seem. And so Villon found it. It was a garment walking about with nobody in it. It was hackneyed. in The balade could cry peccavi to these stern all and some. traditional. his Weltan- schauung in general. of epithets fist which I ment of the have culled from a recent pronouncenewer poetry upon the only less new. was indictments to discard it utterly. The thing he should have done. are poured indiscriminately into the balade receptacle. stiffened. stereotyped. it which has already death. His military campaigns. his maledictions on the toothache. of course. rigid —a ready-made. second-hand. his resent- ment against England. as n't. his profound distaste for truffles. — arts. artificial. on the seven liberal on the Seven Deadly Sins trite. his views his lucubrations all.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS 103 ever thought he found the chrysalids from which the spirits of Tennyson and Arnold and Swin- burne have flown. bookish. all. shop-worn. Deschamps in particular had used it as a catch-all for the multifarious sheddings of his mind. his observations on different ways of eating. his counsels of perfection addressed to kings and princes. his dislike of tripe.

these far-fet helps bd such As do bewray a want of inward touch. of artificial sen- timent." but "La belle Heaulmiere. and dregs of wine. Ye that do dictionary's method bring Into your rimes. into your poesie wring. which grows Near thereabouts. in the hands of innumerable practitioners. might dwell with no less profit upon the progressive desiccation." and a dozen others stand. with vivid and imperishable freshness. iteration.104 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY awoke. One has only to read seriatim the EUzabethan sonnet cycles (with their glorious islets rising here and as the lees . among the supreme achievements of poetry. of the son- Nobody ever put the reason for what hap- pened better than Sidney himself. and not only the "Balade des dames du temps jadis. And every flower. a little later. who. on occasion recked not his own rede. Which from the And through these far-fetched helps the sonnet a thing of frigid conceits worn bare by flat became. You that poor Petrarch's long-deceased woes With new-born sighs and denizen'd wit do sing. not sweet perhaps. You take wrong ways. You that do search for every puriing spring ribs of old Parnassus flows. We net. of servile borrowings. running in rattling rows. showing the steep and thorny way to Heaven.

and made of the sonnet. Shakespeare responded to the vogue.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS mark 105 there out of the general haze) to find every earof the incorrigibly case-hardened conven- tion. in his hand The Thing became a trumpet." But." and that its metre was "a good excuse for the dull didactic thoughts which naturally inchne towards it. stupidly platonic comfit positions. we are told tants alone — the sonnet's day — and not by recent protesis at last done. "And. with lapses here and there. — but most Keats wrote that he was "endeavoring to discover a better sonnet stanza than we have" it is worth observing that he left as his legacy the realms of gold in the hues: "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. "they are the petrifying." " I will never write another. when a damp Fell round the path of Milton. Well. the vehicle of the very quintessence of poetry. which thought is not lyrical enough in itself to exhale in a more lyrical measure." And he also expresses the pious wish "to tie old Wordsworth's volume about his neck and pitch him into one of the ." puling." Fitzgerald thought sonnets were only to "serve as little shapes in which a man may mould very mechanically any single thought which comes into his head. Byron declared.

a shining peace. There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter Ht by the rich skies. with a gesture. And The new comes and takes its place beside the old. For the touch of genius Let us return. like Villon. the dead. under the night. lifeless forms have is to be reckoned with. and the colours of the earth. a gathered radiance. to our Neither familiar things grown trite. Felt the quick stir of wonder. loved. And Rupert Brooke. but not comes along and writes this "du temps jadis": — of These hearts were woven of human joys and cares. But it is not wise to give up too soon the old for dead. gone proudly And friended. and we welcome it. swift to mirth. Frost. Washed marvellously with sorrow. Dawn was theirs. These had seen movement. known Slumber and waking. too. The years had given them kindness. And after. A width. The ways of genius with supposedly cast-off and like the miracle of Spring. all day. sunset. stays the waves that dance And wandering loveliness. sat alone. He leaves a white Unbroken glory. nor things . for a moment. and heard music. Touched flowers and furs and cheeks.106 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY But through it the sonnet holds its deepest holes of his dear Duddon." all way. All this is ended. thesis.

upon the fabrication of a new. And the supreme test of originahty is its power to give us the sense of a footing on trodden and familiar ground. The way of constructive rejection shall have . For origit- inality. "I holde. And genius of the highest order far more apt to disclose the unexpected resources of it whatever vehicle of expression than to spend itself I falls heir to. "I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek. seldom concerns with minting a new and particular medium is of its own. and yet fresh (if I may use a poet's phrase) with some unspent beauty of surprise. I And know. within its. us as do those things which are at the which all at once is recognized as unexplored. too. ever grip same time old enough to touch the chords of memory. I am doubly anxious. is not without a vaUd case." And originality undoubtedly is fulfils itself in many ways. but to establish it. due lim- know that this is not the doctrine of the hour. But precisely because the acceptance just way of creative now more or less anathema. rightly understood. That hath but oon hole for to sterte to. the Wife of Bath. That self is what Villon does in the balade. that the hour. not to defend.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS SO 107 new as still to be remote and alien." says that peerless natural philosopher. That is what Chaucer does times without number.

Dickens. and intended to centre . and in spite of the fact that both narrative and the drama have now been commandeered by prose. If it one of the vulgar errors that true. for the most had come down to them themes that had grown and developed through a selective als that — part. is The current notion that invention is a mark of of a high originality die hard. the usage of Sophocles. and Goethe (although I am far from wishing to conjure with great names) still. of narrative That is and dralargely matic poetry. through long generaus start with a And instead of inventing. let If that sounds cryptic. and Shakespeare. often. materi- instinct working. already begun. tions. Meantime. is not without relevance They took. then. as everybody knows. None of the great poets has ever troubled himself particularly to invent. But it were is "The House not the case. they discovered. took over in "Pickwick Papers" a farcical series of sporting sketches. and Dante. of course. and (I there are cerstill tain fundamental believe) fruitful and operative principles to reckon with.108 full CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY hearing by and by. especially true. and Chaucer. is modem instance that n't poetry at all. Thousand Candles" or the "Filigree Ball" would bear away the pahn from many a masterpiece.

! to dance. by one of those changes on which immortal issues turn. And I need not remind you. And I so Dickens found him. **He made. to defy tyrants. . pie beds.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS sketches 109 about a mythical [Nimrod Club. . be suspected of building up a parallel ad hoc.' . to be a deus ex machind. . a thin man. Chesterton. "in the midst of this book a great discovery. in passing. Chesterton. and proceeded with lest his book. to experiment with Hfe. And the outstanding and arresting original feature in *The Pickwick Papers. In these earlier Mr. scoff. he had become short and fat. and in this fashion Samuel Pickwick joined the company of the immortals." says Chesterton of Dickens. to be tipped out of carts into horse-ponds. discovered as he went on how fitted the fat old man was to rescue ladies. to struggle with apple- and dipped But Dickens. . Pickwick Club to ." So Mr. And now I quote Mr. and even a knight errant.. Dickens went into the II and Dickens remained to pray. to leap.. . Pickwick appeared (absit omen!) as tall. He had chosen (or somebody else had chosen) that corpulent old simpleton as a person pecuUarly fitted to fall down trapdoors. Dick- ens made this discovery. to shoot over butter shdes. and Dickens only. But before he reached Dickens's hands. that discovery constituted .

and from that time my task was stenographic. Pandar. and they turned their backs on me and walked off bodily. and at once something happens. And he all reaches Cressida herself. that is what happened to Chau- . he left it the it." How does he He starts out in pretty close dependence upon Boccaccio. Chaucer did over into English the story of Troilus and Gressida as it came to him. "was ever do it? in the world before. particularly through Boccaccio. and one only. then. "Nothing like as has been recently said.110 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY own vera- that one Sir John Falstaff. Pickwick. He found it an ItaUanate romantic grew out of a similar epic. There another unique performance that flash of insight." first great EngUsh novel. despite his cious rehearsal of the circumstances of his birth." Well. if the characters took the bit in their teeth. And out of his discovery grew a unique book. he him underneath is his disguising habili- ments. Some of you will recall what Stevenson says of "Kidnapped": "In one of my books. you read the two narratives together. had a not discovered dissimilar pedigree. all at once they became detached from the flat paper. did n't invent Mr. Then and you can see it happening before your eyes. Dickens.

bodily out of Boccaccio. and like wind I go. and Cressida with him. What time he discovered in Boccaccio's he his fails Pandaro. But something lifted else in her seized upon Chaucer. to tell. a conventional treatment of the hackneyed theme of a quickly lost. to him. 111 There before him was Boccaccio's Cressida. fluctuating impulses of a against and with her will. or so tragically implicated in the defects of noble qualities." she might liave said. And the faciUty with which she went is rivalled only by the fatal ease with which she came. But through in the fresh conception of rials that what he found mate- came new and amazing hterary form. "I came like water.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS cer. he created a But Chaucer had the habit of discovering . woman Hghtly won and turns into a penetrating and pro- foundly sympathetic portrayal of the shifting. And as a result of that flash of vision. and the matchless figure that made of it. in Omar's words. woman yielding both And I know no charis acter outside Shakespeare that at once so human. and so hauntingly elusive in its com- plexity. and did something that was never done again until Fielding and Thackeray and Meredith appeared. the conventionally fickle woman. and him. as the Cressida of Chaucer's discovery.

or confined within some stationary framework. and they smack of the qualities of their narraof tors." at Indeed." collected tragedies. But stories grow. that he of them in his cell! Such collecstories were merely collections tions. Story collections. Let us take another instance. were a stock convention. in the "Golden Legend. The cigars burn freely. and the bars come down. in the "De Casibus. Chaucer himself had tried his hand them more than once. and one begets another. A group of men (and I am not forgetting Chaucer for a moment) are gathered in the smoking compartment of a Pullman car." and he had done it in what later came to be the "Monk's Tale. the mediaeval preachers were indefatigable collectors of exempla. in the "De Claris MuHeribus" he collected famous women. and pressed in an herbarium. The Middle Ages had a passion for collecting. before he launched into his string of tragedies.112 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY astounding possibilities in things that appear to have incurably gone stale." collected saints. strung together. They spring from the had a hundred — fillip some suggestion. and mounted. then. The . the Monk cheerfully stated. Jacobus de Voragine. however. tales lifted from their native soil. Boccaccio. He had done it in the "Legend of Good Women. classified.

like. and swift reagents upon human nature. With scrippes age. but the damned life.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS captain of industry lets himself be stories of big business. and friends of years no longer speak. And an act of the Human Comedy boat tions is promptly takes the stage. and propinquity has its perfect work. to make or mar. Journeys are both fertile soil for stories. had their scrips chock-full of news interspersed with lies: "pilgrymes. when such things were. the pilgrimLike gravitates to modern counterparts. the soldier 113 known by has tales of the trenches. but he did know something that combined the merits of them both. like their . total strangers leave the boat betrothed. And pilgrims. the Californian sings the glories of his State in dazzhng anecdote. your transatlantic voyseeks his berth. spot will not out. A body of people whose paths have never crossed before are thrown together for a week or so without the possibility of respite or escape. till The scarcely out of sight of land attrac- and repulsions are weaving back and forth. Recall. Now Chaucer knew no Pullman cars nor transatlantic liners. the commercial traveller tells the story of his and the clergyman discreetly you find Chaucer everywhere). moreover (for ages. the college professor strives to seem unacademic.

hke Cressida. Professor Kittredge has recently done for Chaucer himself." "Who-so wol here it in a lenger wyse. Journeys are where stories live when home. — "a companye Of sondry felaweshipe. willynilly. "I take my leve. on the road to Canterbury. "Redeth the grete poete of Itaille. static into a dynamic and out if of a hackitself neyed type the Human Comedy unfolds before our eyes. it was when the "nyne and twenty in a companye" set out from Southwerk at the Tabard." says the Monk when he has told the Tale of UgoUno.114 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY bret-ful of lesinges. That highte Dant. Why fish leave them water- stranded in a collection. "lyk a lees"? that is And by literary a stroke of genius he turned a thing. with its sage's brows and its slim feasting smile. And Chaucer made they ^ re at the great discovery. And there. Entremedled with tydinges. pilgrimages threw together. every sort of person in the world folk. For ever the Spirit of Comedy." his kind. was luminous and watchful overhead. for he can al devyse Fro point to point. by aventure y-falle In And they told their tales each after thies and as they rode they developed antipaand disclosed afTinities. nat o word wol he faille." Moreover." And what Chaucer says Dante did for Ugolino. And the supreme originality of the .

lingering look behind to those warm precincts of the cheerful day. the — breaking into life of tive forms. But must cast just one more longing. the self-revelations. He was origiand nal because he could n't be anything else to save his soul. when they all. Unto this day it dooth myn herte bote That I have had my world as in my tyme. that is Chaucer's own savoring of Hfe. I said I should drop the "Canterbury Tales" I with that. It tikleth me aboute myn herte rote. And this invincible zest of his. this — keen and intimate reUsh of the his own role with the rest — through which he Human Comedy . once for point. me Well. devised from point to retell and I shall not what has been so luminously told. lord Crist whan that it remembreth Upon my yowthe. For he was it is alive to his finger tips. and on my jolitee. or ribald lips of the pilgrims — all that has been. Some of you will remember the incomparable hues in which the Wife of Bath breaks in upon her retrospect 1 But. fall hackneyed narrafrom the racy.: ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS ** 115 the matchless give-andCanterbury Tales" take along the Canterbury road. or stately. And that is the secret of his originahty. nothing that he really touched could remain dead.

and breezes repeat each other. He dares to begin the immortal Proitself logue to the "Canterbury Tales" with a device that had been worn to the bone in the swarming vision poems of the day. open road. as usual saw what others had n't And he Spring struck through the shell of the trite it- springtime convention to the heart of Spring self. And bathed every veyne in swich licour. trees. is But Chaucer seen. boke. And the same conventional birds. Thou And. over the goon on pilgrimages. Chaucer. Thou sittest at [boke after] Till fully daswed And livest thy loke. domb as any stoon. vitalizes everything He is everlastingly discovering that dead things are n't dead at all. gost also hoom to thy hous anoon. is the time of the irrepressible Wan- derlust. Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth . It was always Spring when the dreamer fell asleep. of longings for the hills and far away: ''than longen folk to so:." And Whan The droghte that Aprille with his shoures sote of Marche hath perced to the rote. till almost one's spirit dies "for wo and wery of that companye. thus as an hermyte." How like deadly they were you can only know if. Of which vertu engendred is the flour.116 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY he lays his hands on.

: ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS The tendre croppes. at once flash into new. this: that the old and well-worn forms of the . and sky effects of light and shade. couthe in sondry londes. nuances of color. And specially. The holy bhsful martir for to seke. is Originahty. to realize art. to Caunterbury they wende. What we fail. independent of invention. nature in hir corages) Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages (And palmers for to seken straunge strondes) To feme halwes. then. And smale fowles maken melodye. aspects of mass and line. from every shires ende Of Engelond. has given to Enghsh poetry the lines whose famiharity has kept five its April freshness through hundred years. a jaded commonplace has achieved an opening is flawlessly organic — and. — sound. 117 the night with open ye. and air. It is rather the gift of seeing and seizing the latent possibilities of famiUar things. and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne. ing. al That slepen (So priketh hem And that the pilgrimage is on. iridescent movement — all the bewilderall throng of old impressions that perhaps. and sea. fragrance. And a spirited turn to incidentally. We accept fa- that formulation without demur when the mihar things are the appearances of earth. when the eye is quickened is and alert.

. For art is tradition.118 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY same relation as the familiar treatments of traditional themes." and Brooke's " Romeus and Juhet. and discloses beauty. stand to the poet in precisely the ear. and what is world of eye and life handed down It is itself material for the alembic. If go on a voyage of discovery of your own. summon Shakespeare as a witness." and the old "King Leir and naUty. that Well and good. And what we not call originality has always found rich I shall stuff for its transmutation there. with him. at the What we are concerned with moment is the half that has suffered tem- porary eclipse: the fact that old forms and old themes have always remained. And they too may flash into under the same compeUing vision that at rare moments pierces the husks of things. less than to is manners and costume and speech. a malady incident to art no tine ductility vanished forever. and in large measure still remain. in all their conceivable manifestations. its pris- may is prove to be utterly intractable. But that other half of the truth — the the half that is turned towards us to-day. One thing only I you wish a complete compendium of the essentials and the quintessentials of origiIt is all or nothing shall say. and begin by reading Lodge's "Rosalynde. malleable under creative energy.

has always been itself a pure matter of convention. nor an injunction to settle Hoti's business. made of all originality whatsoever. They have determined solely by the ethics of the it is the current hterary usage. the answer to which importance. all their quanfirst- make up its sum. a practicable and supremely illuminating enterprise. in its sovereign dealing with other men's work ? The problem has been that originality in its rather hopelessly mud- dled in our minds through a failure to remember narrower sense. For in the hand comparison lies of what Shakespeare found and it." and North's noble transAntony. as a mere antonym for plagiarism. word by word. been. with the That is it is neither a counsel of perfection. Concern . not without There however. The metes and bounds between "mine" and "thine" in literary property have never remained fixed. with tity of lore. And forty thousand lectures could not. another question about is originaUty.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS his 119 lation of Plutarch's "Life of Three Daughters. took with the astounding thing he the touchstone of is. and sometimes plays that Shakespeare built on them." page by page. for any given period. What are the hmits of originaUty. And question need concern us only so far as a matter of the evolution of conventions.

because US it we persist in judg- ing in accordance with the conventions of to-day older practices. And usually he combines the two. that were subject to a wholly different usage. for his poetic needs. as large as store. for example. as the works of God. stood on practically the same footing. and infallible observations of Ufe. it And was as little incumbent upon him to state that he had done so. conceive it." words about another matter are apphcable here: "there was nothing of which one could say It is mine." Short of wholesale and servile cribbing.' for everything was common as the sun and moon. A was as free to incorporate what B had written. Chaucer fuses the results of his reading into a precisely as he fuses his keen new thing. The works of other men. to a writer. however. had practically no sense whatever of literary property. as we Rights of possession in other men's work were Froissart's "free as the road. The Wife of Bath who should have lived long enough hereafter to have met in Falstaff her only peer and her only match the Wife of — — . in fact. as it is even yet for me to announce that I lifted "the blessed sun of heaven" from Shakespeare. The Middle Ages.120 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY must. as he was to levy on the ' blessed sun of heaven.

Jerome. a remarkable ?6a/aG?e. he has. I suspect would be the first to waive acknowledgment of such a borrowing. St. the "Roman de la In Chaucer's garden. And so. by a common friend. as it noble Geffroy Chancier" ** Grand jtranslateur. — What is Deschamps answer for Long before the Wife's apologia pro vita sua was written. sowed the flowers the balade speaking. the refrain of which is this: — Geoffrey Chaucer. and not I) and planted the rosebush of Rose" for those who are ignorant of French. and his alert and omnivorous reading of native conception. he . he modestly protests. But the Wife of Bath is no less a debtor without acknowledgment to one of Chaucer's contemporaries. But those who are ignorant of French are also deprived of Deschamps. in the envoy. is Chaucer's distinction. the great translator. to be said of that? Let himself. That. Eustache Deschamps. Deschamps proffers a suggestion. Jerome amazing metamorphosis that ever a saint has undergone. poured together con amore into the mould of a superbly vital imagiNow one of the Wife's chief the most components happens to be St. Deschamps sent across the Channel to Chaucer. to Deschamps. however. (it is happens. hfe.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS 121 Bath herself is simply Chaucer's multifarious and vivid reading of books.

unmistakably clear that he was anxious to be if only Chaucer would. to of men whom all things were take over another's "goodly words" into one's own "douce melodic" was in itself a compliment as acceptable and courtly as any that one could pay. but a nettle jardin ne seroye qu'ortie" — but — "En ton it he makes transplanted there. precisely as one pleased. Acknowledgment might or might not be made. loom.122 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY be. the sequel is this. For among that to happy breed theirs. originality meant in Chaucer's day substantially of the transmutation what it means now what is [taken over. And the difference with reflit- erence to acknowledgment grew directly out of the absence of any such active sense as ours of . And as we now know. into something that is — essentially one's own. to would be sure. Barring the single point of acknowledgment. which Des- champs followed with the rest. lies the crux of the whole matter. that he had actually done For. stuff for his into his own tapestry. But it last Chaucer did find in Deschamps. and wove it is only within the dozen years that the discovery was made so. in entire ac- cordance with the usage of his day. indeed. Chaucer made no acknowledgment. It would have been a work of pure supererogation if he had. And there.

that they exerted over beauty of their finding in earth. For poets like Dante. a splendid and cumulative bodying forth in poetry of the life of men and things. in the end. precisely as.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS erary property 123 — an absence which. becomes Dante's property when he enriches Virgil's hues from his own cre- no more. the result of causes rooted deep in mediaeval Our modern is sensitiveness to any infringement of our property rights in the children of our brain merely a stage a trifle farther on in the evolu- tion of a convention. Virgil of the souls that fell The simile in from the banks of the Styx Uke leaves. of their holding And the stipulation was in either case the same — they must improve the property. no less. gain through the development has not been offset by an At all events. or sky. treasureative observation . was life. I am not wholly sure. Virgil and the meadow were aUke priceless. trove. that our ethical aesthetic loss. sea. however. in turn. And all this meant. our robust el- ders in poetry exercised the of eminent same imperial rights domain over beauty to their liking in a book. and . and alike legitimate. the greenness of new grass becomes inalienably his when the same penetrating observation confers on it the vividness of fresh emerald the instant it is spht.

and have the Lord God bring to each of us. of — miss. And quaUties Uke those we can ill afford to fulness of habit. And one of their glories is the interpenetration. There they both were. of books and life. beast of the field we would call and fowl of the air to see what them however thrilling that — . and Shakespeare recognized far more clearly and surely than we the perennial vitality latent in tradition. we may its limitations too. to find its stuff. its high value. when we all too seldom catch in verse that sense of a rich and varied background flashing into expression in a single poem. ' For originality is more than the saying That has of something never said before about something grant at once. a which we often feel the lack these days. but it For however exciting it might well be to play a second Adam. all new. And this richness of assimilation of what tradi- tion furnishes gives to the older poetry a body.124 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Chaucer. and the creative energy in those more spacious days struck as straight and true for the one as for the other. in their work. every now own has for the first time perceived. or pouring its profusion into the compass of one master work the sense that sometimes in a single phrase throws windows open upon endless vistas.

the academic.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS 125 might be to each happy individual. the universe would not thereby get far. and the stream runs shallow. And poetry becomes original by breaking with Cut the connection with the great reservoir of past achievement. the erudite. Its specific quahty is the individual stamp: the pervasion of thought 'and expression. whencesoever derived. tradition at its peril. Fresh beginnings are excellent stimulants to a jaded world. and the substance of poetry becomes tenuous and thin. then. is in the main independent of derivation. but a defective method of progression. Either without the other means steriUty. but hard and dead. Cut connection with the other reservoir low. *'the — mighty world of — and the stream again runs eye and ear" shal- and the substance of poetry becomes this time not merely tenuous and thin. This try. is not an apologia for bookishness in poe- The bookish. 'Originahty. are worlds away from what I mean. The vitality of tradition and the quickening impulse of immediate contact with reaUty it is — the fructifying influence of each of these upon the other that makes for hfe in poetry. The art great conis structive element in both life and the deal- ings of genius with the continuity of tradition. by something that .

freshness. When Coleridge read that.126 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Take gives distinction. individuality. An also bears ampler ether. in life "the rank the is but the The man's gowd for a' that. — through and For lo! And the New-moon winter bright! overspread with phantom light (With swimming phantom Hght o'erspread But rimmed and circled by a silver thread) — as these lines are permeated with the very quintessence of Coleridge. But. the distinction fails to hold. Into the bosom of the steady lake. in art. a line and a half of Wordsworth's: . a diviner air. Wordsworth's unequivocal image and superscription. For although guinea stamp. they are saturated as through with him. It its is the cutting of the intagUo that gives value to the gem. though this time the gold is the gold of Virgil. ." where form and content are as indissolubly one as body and spirit. And "Drink to me . he sat letter: down and running wrote in a "had I met these I lines wild in the deserts of Arabia. should have in- stantly screamed out 'Wordsworth!'" Of course he would. that uncertain heaven received .

like original it. and Ninth Symphonies." and remember. John. than a thousand poems that are the transmutation of the dross of a dozen old Latin lines into a finished bit of goldsmith's work. it almost every phrase of letters of were n't buried in the neat. Fifth. when your stomach is strong. and grim mystery. Seventh. is 127 as inalienably Ben Jonas if by virtue of its chiselled terseness.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS only with thine eyes" son's. still a Greek rhetorician. as you read. the scherzo of the Third. And in Miss Lowell's "Guns as Keys: and the Great Gate Swings" to come down with a leap to the most modern of the mod- — ern — the daring constructive device is is no less original because it gives a brilHant new turn to what (in as old. as the "Odyssey" its the constant juxtaposition of its great sweep forward and waiting goal). on another. and tragic portent. . and "Still to be to be dressed " is incomparably more n't. Read some day. recall Beetho- ven's transformations of the conventional minuet of Haydn and Mozart into that vehicle of roUick- ing gaiety. on the one side. is Beethoven's similar trans- figuration of the air of a ribald folk-song about For that matter. and. that the soaring melody of the rondo in the the old song which Burns took over in Waldstein sonata fleas in straw. "John Anderson my jo.

them. hay. Where does inspiration come in? criterion Is n't it that which. None of these move whether in Wordsworth. and cry out: *Here are we are !' " — is n't it then that we too. after all. if we could. but we know not what they may be. while from a third angle it's a superb appropriation and translation into words of the methods things of the cinematograph. We know what they are. clay for the potter. They are stuff for the loom. — gold. precious stones.128 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY alternation of verse of as long date as "Aucassin and Nicolete" (in its and — with apologies — ! prose). wood. that larger aspect of Goethe's doctrine. silver. or Miss Lowell. or Burns. as Goethe puts it. For it is n't when the poet is done with them. of genius: . it is by the thing you do with There is one other question that will certainly and properly be asked. "the good ideas stand suddenly before us hke free children of God. or Ben Jonson. what we each of us would say. is the true and touchstone of originality? Is it not when. stubble it matters not what in the slightest degree. which comes so near expressing. by the materials you use that your solely claim to originahty will stand justified or con- demned. or Beethoven. once for all. of most authentically original ? What. us.

They are akin to the daemonic. and to which we unwittingly yield ourselves. or in a walk after a good meal. Or it may come in the amazing way in which it came to Mozart: "When I am riding in a carriage. even while we think we are acting on our own initiative. stands in no man's power. "with a fine suddenness. as Buffon enjoined. . Inspiration may spring from what Tennyson calls "unseen germinait may come on the spirit. as veritable children of God. every invention. then the thoughts and best of growing . as Keats once wrote. what is not involved." It may arrive through brooding over an idea and waiting patiently until it shines. in the first place. or in a sleepless tion". and is exalted above all earthly might. every great idea that bears fruit and achieves results. come to me in a rush. .ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS Every productivity 129 of the highest type. The ways of genius are as manifold as the mercies of the Lord. to be received with reverence and with joyful gratitude. all. . every signi- ficant apercu. Then [the thing] goes on it and however long be. Let us see. Things that so come we must regard as unlooked-for gifts from above. which does resistlessly with us as it will. becomes in- deed ahnost finished in my head. . . like a goodly picture or handsome man. night. and in my imagination do not . so that I afterwards survey it at a glance. Is n't that what we really mean by originality? you will surely ask.

' William tired himself with hammering at a ." as he wrote his verses on the it top of his sod-dyke along the stream." and "in such ecstasy that the tears were happing down his cheeks. . "crooning to himsel. It more Spartan bedmay come as it used it may descend as descended in the it upon Gautier." It may come as to Goethe." Inspiration me as in a very vivid may seize on one as "Tam all o'Shanter" seized on Burns. passage. an epithet for the William very nervous. as may is with Flau- "I'm like a bowl of cream: if the cream to form. as cuckoo it wearied Wordsworth: "Wilham tired himself with seeking . or it to come to Scott. . haunted with altering 'The Rainbow. After he was in bed. . but as a simultane! ous whole." One may write of pastoral scenery. or respond only to bert: cloistral isolation. in his bare httle anchorite's cell of a study. working imperturbably midst of the clatter of printing presses. while he galloped on horseback over the moors. . from which (he says) he scarcely stepped the whole winter still through. as Lodge did in "Rosa- . except into the room opening out of it. . when he walked day by the riverside. . That indeed a feast All the finding in and making goes on dream. Or may weary one. the bowl must sit immobile.130 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it hear at all in succession is .

as Tennyson made "Break. And the modes of its workings are utterly irrelevant to our concern. break. For Words- worth an epithet. or the nest of a field mouse turned up by a a line of Vir- plough. visit may be a the River Wye. between blossoming hedges." is as original as Burns gesticulating by the riverside tiring himself for in an ungovernable access of joy. For what we call inspiration. always point is starts. break. in whatever wondrous ways it may behave once started." For inspiration is like the wind. or as Byron off verses after dashing a ball.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS lynde. And it may equally weU be of Horace. at once touches the springs of inspiration. or Flaubert "afflicting his soul over some dubious word. gil. that bloweth when and where and how it hsteth. or the bugle music of the boatmen on Lake Killarney. at five o'clock in the morning. and that sug- gestion field may be anything. It may be that it a stubbleall under the autumn with one's sister to fight. And its starting- some concrete suggestion. But what is it that sets the winds of inspiration blowing? That is absolutely the only question that concerns us here." **in the ocean 131 when every line was wet with a surge". or one may write of the sea." "in a Lincolnshire lane. itself or some phrase "the birth of .

132 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY ." or an old yellow book picked up in a Florentine book ration through stall. dynamic factor in originality Let us end orderly as we began." among the that in a flash gives wings to the imagination." and the thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls in "Hamlet. The titanic sweep of inspi- "King Lear. . or in the wide stillness of Arabia." were stirred to life by two old plays. and wondered. Love is as dazzling a miracle to every lover who loves to-day as if unnumbered millions hadn't loved since time began. or among the hills and pasture lands of Israel. . What we call inspiration is the that is all. men saw them. beside the rivers of Babylon and Egypt. The tide of generations flows on unceasingly. some chance morning or evening Sabine hills. We are back where we started. and brooded. That is why the old themes are perennial. moon and stars grown old because . because — the old is always new. Poetry may never with safety cut loose from the old. The oldest things in the world are the things that also have been new as many times as common lot since life first was. or a page of "Purchas His Pilgrims. and dreamed. Death it's is n't trite to you and me because nor been the unhave the counted centuries ago. and for each the old experi- ences have their pristine freshness.

That . too. Its roots strike deep into the eternally famiUar. each was as old as the other Now that is what the greatest poetry has ships.ORIGINALITY AND CONVENTIONS 133 human day cottage. But the gift of fix the gods to that familiar is genius is the power to catch and in the recurrent act of originality. I happened one this summer to look across at an adjoining There on the porch was a group of ur- chins absorbed in constructing a fleet of whittled and on the path below. beings have been born. And and as new. each with an arm about the other's waist. two Uttle girls. was the eternal sea. heads close together. becoming new. oblivious of all but their own secrets. And there. — always built on.

whatever may be your preference is or mine. You the other. For behind our conventions bents. The one is the road of the builders. now by now by the the discovery and conquest of the new. and the of constructive way of revolt. by two opposing paths: the way acceptance. and now through both together. as we have seen.IV THE HARDENING OF CONVENTIONS." And there always be these two great highways to a common goal. It because human beings are what they are that the world advances. So be when . who say: "So was I it when my life it be- gan. AND REVOLT Art moves from stage to stage. differing attitudes towards stand two fundamental human between them comprehend the world. the salt of the that earth. either. may prefer one path. There are always souls. creative transmutation of the old. and I We shall certainly not all agree on little But what Chaucer wrote is still to his son Lewis will to the point: "diverse pathes leden diverse folk the righte wey to Rome. So is it now am a man. the other of the adventurers and pioneers.

restless spirits. I fear. a dull that developed without break of continuity. and do. punctuated by the sudden flaming or flowering of a crucial then. tempered by occasional revolution. on the other hand. that remains the least objec- mode that has been found of muddhng through. But the unsolicitous spectator [of the game sees both. is a continuous evolution. from change to change unceasingly. wish grow old" their days to be bound each to each by natural piety. as in the State. it is after and all a constitutional regime. seldom see eye to eye. There are always. — who rejoice that man is hurled wings never furled. Neither by Wordsworth nor Browning that progressed whom strung together my opposing art phrases) saw the thing whole.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT I shall 135 who could. The amazing scheme of things of which we find ourselves a part demands both conservationable . moment now For in poetry. and those who spend their passionate lives in leaps all day to reach the sun. alike The world and move on through what. and sees each as a factor in the paradox of world it human progress. in the main. It would be. his soul's And it is n't to be wondered at that those who live to watch wild ecstasies mature into a sober pleasure. would surely (from be a mad world I leaps alone.

We what ance of the is And this creative assimilation of handed down constitutes the great conservative force in poetry. It is destructive. then. It so hapmoment in the midst of in poetry. not without a cheerful flourish of trumpets now and then. to find it. unfolding. deal primarily with the idiosyncracies of this particular insurgent move- ment. in this chapter. And without it poetry would indu- bitably be the poorer. But I wish to pens that we are at the make my immediate purpose clear. and sets forth. because it wants the new. a period of revolt how- ever. And that attitude is apt to be twofold. to consider the radical temper as the complement. I propose. But the radical attitude towards the old must be reckoned with too. because it is tired of the old. It is sometimes justified in both procedures. [it is usually extreme.136 lives its CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and radicals as indispensable instruments of have dealt with the constructive acceptold. and it is always interesting. and frequently proceeds without compunction to consign it to the scrap-heap. for will is what be matter for consideration going on has quite enough . no less than the antithesis. Those later. I shall nqt. It is also constructive. of the conservative trend in poetry.

Let us return for a moment to the type of origia remoulding in fresh forms finds in existing nality that has already been discussed.in of old materials. as . accordingly. But if it is can't be taken seriously. essentially.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT significance to 137 it be taken seriously. call power to breath from the four winds. and it forms no check upon Its cachet is its its own freedom to recreate. a hindrance rather than a help to freedom. proclaimed as someis thing sui generis. Revolt is perennial. revisiting. that is too frequently overlooked. in other words. And it is this periodic aspect.. It an old familiar observance of friend. The . Poetry. this background with a long perspective. and make them live. as latent in the old. on the other hand. It consists. and for it the new lies without. It is with the phenomena of revolt in general. and breathe upon the valley of dry bones. that we have immediately to do. the confines of the familiar. It discovers the new. not within. It is very far from that. and the best aid to reflection on its meaning now is some acquaintance with its previous behavior. the glimpses of the moon. The temper of mind which we have now to analyze finds in the old. its with punctual period. current insurgence will concern us only indirectly.

Let us consider very briefly. The path of least resistance has always shared honors with the primrose way. no exception to the . dead me- shackled by a mass of tres. then. is the radicals react to inherited conventions — dead rhymes. dead diction. sharply set their repudiation in favor of the new. dead stock ideas.138 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it. then. is a continual sloughing of chrys- and trying new wings. some of the conditions out of which revolt takes its rise. We have seen something of the ways of genius in dealing with conventions. We may consider the negative aspect insurgent temper rebels against what it feels it to be the dead hand of convention. as they it. first. of conventions offers And the history rule. is The radical both negative and positive. And The it is necessary to regard it from both angles. tions But convenhands of by no means always fall into the More often than not it is poetry's journeymen who ply their trade with them. not iconoclastic only. and off of set the starry prisoner free. And may be granted at once that its revolt is often warranted. but in its way creative too. Life in poetry. They would play the role of Perseus to a conceive alids new Andromeda. and then genius. Over against the is transmutation of old conventions attitude. the worst is apt to happen.

as they permeate speech. That is why slang is so insidious and so pervasive. Now most human minds are indolent. the cue once given. spring in large measure from bent of the average mind to follow the line of least resistance." "white as a sheet. a few with "a rose. of you If I begin "red worn channel to an inevitable end. once started on. Pope. and thought is tough." "red as a rose." before strewn with inmmierable phrases which. a few you smaller. leads probably supply "a sheet". places And the mass of commonand cliches that permeate poetry. If I say "white stop. And the temptation to slip at ease along a groove already worn is irresistible. whose unri- this inveterate . the trail to "a lily." will lily.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT To touch as" of 139 is a trigger and release a formula file easier than to forge and — and a thought. conduct us. one goes off at score." "white as a will few of us have already ended the phrase I pause. a fewof you with "fire"." stand for so many beaten tracks. along a well- as " — most go except by taking thought." "red as fire. willy-nilly. And every-day speech and poetry alike are with "blood." "Red as blood." But beyond "white as snow. it too is a facile surrogate for thought. nine out of ten of you will in- stantly complete my phrase by "snow". for a more poetically minded group.

And the sequel . pays his respects to the " tuneful fools who haunt Parnassus " While they ring round the same unvary'd chimes. With such all." The reader's threatened (not in vain) with "sleep. With sure returns of still expected rhymes.: 140 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY vailed terseness and point have spared countless thousands the travail of thought on a number of themes. Where'er you find "the cooling western breeze. and dies upon the trees." And here are three of them: Her fate is whisper' d by the gentle breeze. is fatal facihty we glide by the canal. good old Colony days. And told in sighs to all the trembling trees. In some still ev'ning. If crystal streams "with pleasing murmurs creep. when the whisp'ring breeze Pants on the leaves. Somebody. or take the poetic turnpike road! For poetry. and another at another. and adventurer very followed in adventurer's wake. in four it Pope's own punctually rhymes with "trees. after in the much like Harvard Yard. The lakes that quiver to the curhng breeze." Most sions excellent fooling! But out of the five occaline in on which "breeze" ends a verse. cut across at a new angle. The dying gales that pant upon the trees. it "whispers through the trees"'.** In the next line.

There is. That is incommunicable. And so comes about that Pope's couplets run wild without Pope's pith and point. for example. The basic human where. What he can and does transmit is the accidents. and grandiosity. the idiomannerisms of his genius." The slopes of Parnassus are . Which parable he who and lo into the waiting rut runs may read I too have comfortably slipped. that Sterne propagates his inconsequence. another significant factor in the creation of the conditions out of which revolt is born. bereft of Byron's " daring. moreover. the it rhetoric rolls on. and that Byron's syncrasies.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT to-day of their brave farings-forth of trim is 141 a criss-cross and sacred paths. dash. one vivid and comtricks of speech manding figure whose tricities of and eccen- gesture are stamped on scores of men who have sat under him. It is what we may call the sur- — ! vival of the unfittest in conventions. upon a give or they receive is the quality that But what he cannot makes him what he is. fact which underhes it meets us every- I recall. while his suavity and ease of style die with him. Every powerful in the classroom personality imposes himself inevitably recipient group of followers. while his vividness and his power remain as inaccessible to their emulation as the moon.

And so. And there is a certain cosmic humor in the recurby virtue of which the rebel. like metamorphosis. as we have seen.142 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY in the cast-off accidents crowded with poets clad of genius. as series of disgusts. purposes. in due dom becomes the conservative. repudiate the old coinage altogether. to undergo rent shift course. Pater declares. there are just three ways of reckoning with them. is through a And it is an inveterate habit of Enghsh poetry. and more or less definitely set themselves to minting new. Poets may set the conven- tions going with the detachment of a phonograph. For artistic reactions move in cycles. they may rise up in revolt. as the other two. . and bring about a metamorphosis. and even absent themselves. In per- petual alternation the same tendencies emerge. finally. last And the procedure is as common. are supplanted by these opposites. upon dead forms and empty shells. to all intents and Or they may exercise creative energy. The way to perfection. entirely. when dead conventions squeak and gibber in the streets. give rise to their opposites. and as inevitable. the older freewhen the cycle automata new tyranny — ically starts again. and out of that very eclipse emerge again. Or.

! CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT and turn from sin. — — — merely one of the countless waves of action and reaction between which the arts. that brings us to the positive aspect of With the spirit of goes hand in hand the spirit of the pioneer. If poetry is not to be- . new obedience. per- petually swing to and sional fro. and they are here till the moving wheel turns on again For any revolt this. against the tyranny of the mid-eighteenth-century conventions. or the other is in revolt . like life. carry in in the — — wake the inevitable reaction. with full purpose of. through an occa- ground swell. 143 once in so often to be stricken with conviction of words of the catechism to it. the rebel there often And revolt. and the history of Enghsh poetry is an illuminating record of periodical farewells to folly. The wheel has simply come full circle. For we obviously cannot and retransform the forever merely transform old. The poetic abertheir rations of the seventeenth century (broadly speaking) led to a sharp revulsion of feeling and practice in the eighteenth. no less than those of frail humanity. and. the late eighteenth and the nineteenth century rose and now the air is vocal with the battlecries of the young insurgents of the twentieth. and endeavor after. sometimes farther on. For the excesses of verse. that.

of shipwreck or of spoils. ^ souls particularly over Nor need we Vex our the vagaries of the voyagers. to become the plastic Now poetry. into the regions of the it. most of us remain obhvious to the vast tracts of the unexplored. must also be fresh with But in our preoccupation the trodden paths. for its iar.144 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY pool. which he waiting to be drawn within the circle of the known. make shipwreck in the process. It takes even chances. The inevitable ex- tremes are merely insurgency's alms for oblivion. and that adventures to the shores washed with the farthest sea. It may. and bring back from whatever new also lands it has spied out at least the promise of en- larged possessions. and only so. The essential point is that a residuum persists. It has always done it and presumably it always will. is also new substance for alchemy. and the frontiers of art have been so far ad- . may. and stuff of art. there come a stagnant influx of the new. But neither the race nor its poets would have got far without a certain ardor in the blood that leaps at chances. it when sets out. a new inch of the strange has been made familiar. which attains its high- est triumphs in the transmutation of the famileverlastingly reaching out. and frequently does. But frequently does. so. strange.

the spirit that busies itself creatively with forms and themes that have been handed down. and bulletins all make the recent history of art read like a 'series of from revolutionary Russia — when these have enjoyed their nine days' wonder. And in the fact that it makes this ultimate transformation possible lies one of the outstanding glories of finesse revolt. when the strange has become no longer strange. who transmute what the adventurers have brought within the circle into something that is enduringly old and new in one. and the more swiftly and surely worn trite. and been gathered to their fathers. The cliche is merely the less . lies in the inabiUty of the new to remain the new for more than a fleeting moment. the Picassos and the Matisses. The insurgent temper. the technique of art is usually found to have gained a little in and flexibiUty. futurism the other isms that and cubism. The commonplace it is. suppleit ments. 145 And when the Kandinslcys and Stravin- skys. even while apparently contravenes. For after the pioneers there follow others.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT vanced. the more eagerly it is seized upon. and our recognition of beauty to have been appreciably widened in its scope. The irony of revolt. to be sure. accordingly.

Revolt. the highest boon which the new can crave of the gods will always be the chance of becoming old. suffers under a specific limitation. its And just value. is futile. determined by that against which . I trust that I have now made clear my conception of the function and the value of revolt. For I am anxious not to be misunderstood as captious or censorious in pointing out certain tendencies inherent in the radical procedure. the nature of the case. Yet none the less. Its own character is in large it is measure directed. whether it be panegyric or In the it is tirade. now an unprejudiced appraisal of the pros and cons together may not be without A discussion of either without the other. there is one general principle in which important to emphasize. and likewise the reconcihation of conservatism and revolt. that has been loved not wisely but too well. That is the paradox of art.146 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY sometime novel. The devotion its of insurgency to the principle of neck or nothing (a devotion which is one of engaging qualities) carries certain its fairly uniform consequences in wake. first place. which constitute not so much a menace to poetry as an efficacious mode of suicide for their practitioners. For the old will perennially jbecome new at the hand of genius.

CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT The new must not only not be be different. but a contingent phenomenon. now gave it less. but threw overboard. And even when it does not adopt is still that simple but extreme procedure. restricted. Action and reaction. and grows by what it feeds on." And that verdict is borne out by the history The tendency. human nature in its protesting moods. 147 it that. itself human nature is so constituted that the mental state accompanying protest intensi- by a sort of auto-intoxication. and no declaration of independence can ever be itself quite free. "at the beginning of their present literary revolution. but must is And. were after nothing further than a freer form. tions that birth. speaking in 1830. however. before or since. They could not stop with that. sity Moreover. in poetry as elsewhere. revolt now more." said fies Goethe. the aim of revolt to be as different as possible. are apt to be equal in inten- and opposite in direction. the previous content too. "The French. along with the form. The thing against which we protest exercises its compulsion upon us even in oiu" act of protest. as a rule. inherent in is (if of practically every literary revolt. It is by the condinot a free and independent. I may spoil the Egyptians of a proverb) to throw out the baby with the bath. And .

before they came to their children's hands. which they have not blown . There is scarce an humor. The old things have all been said. is anathema to the insurgent bent of mind. The tions of old forms determining factor in the insurgent quest of ginality is ori- a fine impatience of the stereotyped and second-hand. and the wouldbe original veers perilously towards the extravagant and the eccentric. because of a very plausible and quite intelligible frame of mind. and itself in which exerts the creative transforma- and of famihar themes. a character. The type of which we have already analyzed. It confronts us at once revolutionary notion of originality when we approach the originality. and it always has. It does so largely. "but they have ruined their estates themselves. We run across the feel- ing unmistakably after the great EHzabethans and Jacobeans had left the platter bare." writes Dryden. "We acknowledge them our fathers in wit. The element of recoil becomes at once the dominant influence.148 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is that a fact which we shall need to bear in mind. or else to give to what has already been said some dazzhng or sharply arresting turn. there is nothing left us but to say new things. or any kind of plot.

. in good argument to us. 149 . it [art] wants to find new channels and be different. while the visitings of genius touch endeavor only at rare and . therefore will be a . and it's kept at it ever since.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT upon. nor will the labor of a day suffice to reach it. the twentieth-century artist heroine of can't surpass [the Eden Phillpott's "Banks of Cohne" speaks to the question: "Just because old masters]. Now and again some lucky mortal does the trick. But since the desire and its expression spring eternal. And now to say something in a way self- that shatters the moulds and discloses a marvel isn't. ." And effect. and that is a red-letter day for poetry. abnegation. It wants to say new things in a new language that's never been used by art before. but alas! there are lions in the way. thing new. art began saying things. ''opus unius lorum'' — nee Indus parvu- it's neither child's play. We don't want to say again [what's been We want to say somesupremely well said]. For the world is very. but to the same all. and back in the caves of the Pleisto- cene." That is a desire with which even a lecturer can poignantly sympathize. as old Thomas a Kempis says of diet. . . This not to write at way. . . . All comes sullied or wasted to us. very old. either or to attempt some other different words.

as it happens. The lady's eyes kindle the flame of love in her adorer's heart. a singular phenomenon which we may designate as spurious originality. to play fantastic tricks before high heaven. for the most part. on the insurgency that holds the stage. as Celia would say. to some earlier exemplifications of the same tendency. on occasion. is a more or less violent straining fleeting after the unusual. rather than to lay stress. it That is an immemorial convention. His lady's house one day takes . it takes the convention. poetry. it strains them.150 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY moments. One of concettistiy the ItaUan fifteenth-century Tebal- improves upon his predecessor Cariteo. It works by distortion rather than by transmutation. We are endeavoring to reach clearness about the quahty of revolt in general. Now leads this striving after a salient individuality of expression coupled with the tang of novelty. and its practitioners aim at novelty by the happy expedient of each going the other one better. Let us go back. becomes trite and commonplace. accordingly. but instead of transforming them. It retains the old conventions. But deo. the upshot of the effort. There is. out of all hooping. and twists into a more arresting form. at the moment.

been. 151 all Her friends rush up with buckets of water in vain! For the fire from the lady's eyes comdash the water. tells how dry. My Laura laid her handkercher to Which had before snow-white ywashed But after. when the Taper of mine heart is Like Salamanders. Barnabe Barnes. and very Ere sun could do. She dried her cloth. late. On quicksedge wrought with lovely eglantine. an Elizabethan sonneteer. That long 't would be before. nourish in the flame. Gentleman. as would her glistering eyes: She cast from them such sparkling glances straight. The natural recoil from the commonplace. The Elizabethan sonnet-cycles are a treasure- trove of conventions. hfe. And As suddenly. in a mistaken endeavor to galvanize them into grotesquerie. into sheer Their last state is is worse than the fantastic than as a danse macabre more a quiet corpse. not — pels the would-be rescuers to against the burning house. lighted. in one selfsame time. achieves another contortion [My passions]. Robert Tofte. but burnt this heart of mine. in . distorted. when she called to memory.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT fire. but in self-defence on their own now : flaming breasts. first. in such a strangy guise. and with such force.

and you. more than marry'd are. For here was one of the most daring and penetrating imaginations. yea. is towards the singular. sion individuality of expression than the case of expressed itself through the medium of verse." he . almost. we 're met. Where we This three lives in one flea spare. And Though use make you apt Hving walls of jet. own and his lady's "two bloods cries. before or since. Donne is the preeminent example of the inabiUty of genius itself to escape the inevitable. cloister'd in these sacrilege.152 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY other words. And . in which his Donne imagines (or recalls) a flea. one of the most subtle and restless intellects that ever. flea is you and I. . . And there is perhaps no more saUent instance in Enghsh poetry of this revul- from the conventional to an unchartered John Donne." **0h! stay. mingled be. to kill me. Yet for all his magnificent and lavish gifts. and this Our marriage bed and marriage temple is. when a dominant individuahty refuses to be subdued to what it works in. Not only must we be spared the obvious at all hazards. Let not to that self-murder added be. and rebels against the limitations imposed upon every one who would impart his thoughts. Though parents grudge. but unexpected and remote analogies must startle us incessantly. three sins in killing three.

both stuff and form into the with pro- fantastic. and that supremely characteristic interpenetration of in Love and Death and **a bracelet of Beauty of|his one haunting phrase: bright hair about the bone. And passion for Donne at his worst. and which leaves what it touches strangely. and pass on. The coruscate Hke brilliant pyrotechnics out. not distortion. luminous. along foundly imaginative poems. for example." lets himself go in a wild flight after new images to express the Magdalen's weeping . be permanently joined together. survive by virtue of a transcendent and unique originality of another type.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT But 153 ideas that essentially belong asunder cannot. Yet he has also left. the famous characterization of "her pure and eloquent blood". imperishable Hues: "I long to talk with some old lover's ghost Who died before the god of love was born". in "The Weeper. singularity contorts. we wonder the at an amazing and perverse in ingenuity. — and others go But Donne did not and does not stand alone. through its excess." But those Hues which Uve. and the shock of surprise once over. even at the hands of genius. it may be even eerily. which works through pervasion. Richard Crashaw.

By Ripe. baths. . Such the maiden gem the purpling vine put on. Two walking Portable. Peeps from her parent stem. two weeping motions. He's followed by two faithful fountains. and compendious had propounded a series of conundrums: "Why are the Magdalen's tears like grapes? Why are they hke cream? Why like snowy hills? Why like nests of milky doves?" And Crashaw plies his ingenuity to answer them. This wat'ry blossom of thine eyne. mean . Thy sweet Magdalene! . a locus dassicus of seven- teenth-century conceits: Hail. oceans. will make the richer wine. Among the Galilean mountains. never spent! fair eyes. And this: so through eighteen incredible stanzas up to And now where'er He strays. And blushes at the bridegroom sun.154 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and the result is eyes. I Or more unwelcome ways. sister springs! Parents of silver-footed Ever-bubbling things I rills I Thawing Still crystal! snowy hills! I spending. Yet Crashaw's no less is the sheer magnificence of the closing apostrophe of "The Flaming Heart": It's as if a lunatic I .

" who the scent of nature — When What Harvey's violent passion she did to flee . And in his "Ode upon Dr. But as the deer. By thy last morning's draught of liquid fire. seduced and obsessed by the mania for novelty at any cost. I discovery of the circulation of the blood suppose. She leap'd at last into the winding streams of blood. By the full kingdom of that final kiss That seized thy parting soul.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT O thou undaunted daughter of desires I 155 By all thy dower of lights and fires. Till at the heart she stay'd. and keeps her still in sight. By all thy lives and deaths of love. . By thy large draughts of intellectual day. Harvey" he depicts the discoverer as hot on "coy nature. Began to tremble and . The absurdities of "The Weeper" are merely origi- nality gone astray. takes a flood. By all the eagle in thee. The was. By all thy brim-fiUed bowls of fierce desire. Cowley thought so. a theme worthy of the lyre. His — and seal'd thee and so on to the close of the splendid hnes. Anyway. long-hunted. see." And by thy thirsts of love more large than they. . should she do? through all the moving wood Of lives endow'd with sense she took her flight: Harvey pursues. Of man's meander ' all the purple reaches made. all the dove.

is But the tendency.156 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY there. And most is of the worst of our own so-called "New Poetry. the cliche. there. to court mortahty. and ." and occasionally some characterized even of the best. I have gone back to the seventeenth century. " I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess. as always. often to the breaking point. its indulgence is an expeditious way. mutatis mutandis." "how they I stampe." cries the Pardoner in the " Canterbury Tales. Harvey was with her there — and there I leave them "Thise cookes. And many of those who follow it deserve a better fate. And now. " I think. by this same straining of expression. because to it is I perspective that we are seeking. into the far-fetched and the ex- travagant. in its ardent quest of the striking and the novel as a recoil from the threadbare and the trite. substaunce into accident!" And turnen Than which I know no terser summary of the procedure of what I must once more call originaUty gone astray. she incontinently boasted of her Once safety: She spoke: but ere she was aware." wrote Keats in one of his letters. and streyne. and grinde. not confined any period. The tendency is to rebound from that bete noire. and it is unmistakable.

At its worst (and its worst is very bad). and the community to whose usage he must conform. For there are always. it may its be as Unes/^ that/ individual as pleases. retreats from and isolates itself. It and shatdoes more. if understanding is — to follow. as we have seen. But the tendency tive .CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT 157 not by singularity. Singularity intrudes ters the illusion. two parties to all communication of whatever sort the individual who speaks.'' There. infallibly touched. it as individuality! approaches singularity. of communication. . And Keats hints at its fatal defect in his next words: "[Poetry] should strike the reader as a wording of his highest thoughts. and appear almost a own remem- brance. It is the hall-mark of the conserva- temper that it never loses sight of the community by which it would be understood." For poetry may is never with safety cut wholly loose from what common But to the poet it and the rest of us. excess is not only not inconsist- ent with poetic truth. is the distinction which poetry insurgent is apt to overlook. A fine it. while at the same time it leads. Subject to that. it enters into an intimate partnership. And way disaster Ues. parcel of it may even be part and itself. it conforms with entire and slavish acquiescence at its best. following.

precisely as repudiates it hackneyed expression. The characteristic of revolt which we have just discussed has to do rather with form than with content. if does not break. whether he a part. Overbalance the nice adjust- ment on either side of the scale. and freshness and vitahty till away. For the problem of all great expression in of which art reduces itself to this: to the striking of the supremely difficult and delicate balance between is. it and the resulting sahency strains. sets . it dissolves the partnership out permanent and fruitful understanding grows. and the thing that has been goes on to be. And precisely to the degree in which the purely individual as such thus isolates itself. Throw it overwhelm- ingly on the side of the sharp projection of the individual. the end of the chapter. But the insurgent temper rebels against it threadbare themes. of which he will or no. and loss is the Throw the weight overwhelmflee ingly on the side of conformity with the usage of the community. inevitable result. those lines of junction with the community which are the sine qua non of intelligibility and acceptance. and to be at all costs itself. the contribution of the individual and the contribution of the mass. And here as there.158 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY of revolt is to let the community go hang.

which we have already had occasion to observe. Let us turn. of in our poeely preoccupations.CONVENTIONa AND REVOLT out in quest of new. in the midst of the irremediable flatness of Chautauqua. For stable satisfaction we most of us settle down in the famihar. even though it were as bad as an Armenian massacre. And none of more curious than that twofold attitude of ours towards the famiUar and the strange. found himself longing for "something primordial and sav- age. But we are all. And it is never amiss to begin by scrutinizing Ufe. Now hfe. because people are what they are. at the same time. creatures of reaction. then. 159 its We are perhaps in academic poetry behaves as some danger." Too long a siege of the famiUar is them without mitigation sets us hankering after the strange. to set the balance straight again" — . "with what we most enjoy contented least. when one is questioning the ways of poetry. It is than-Chestertonian paradoxes. as we all agree. is a mass of morereaches of the air. to dealings with the subject-matter of poetry. as WilUam James. it forgetting that does. And revolt in poetry is not a wind and fitfully that blows aloof along the upper bound up with the general ebb and flow of attractions and repulsions which go to make up life.

we want to be. Marie Antoinette and her court play shepherds and shepherdesses at the Trianon. as he calls which gives outer world. and paradox reasserts itself. "Da wo du nicht bist. side by side with its . The unexplored is. for the moment. And one of the symptoms of revolt in poetry is the appearance. and the glamour fades. Jaded and oversophisticated denizens of towns devote themselves to pastorals. as well as to the more homely human sort. suppose. for that element of precipitousness. and therefore where.160 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it. Horace Walpole turns Strawberry Hill into the fearful and wonderful thing that he thought was Gothic. and the watchword of a land of cities is I "Back to the farm. Let it once cease to be unknown. its picturesqueness to the wicked On the other hand. which has exercised at times a more or less compelling influence on poetry. But that comes later. For deep in the paradoxical heart of all of us is the perennial longing to be what we are not. and there descends upon us an overwhelming." And all that. for the moment. where we are n't. give us a pro- tracted sojourn in the exotic and the aUen. da ist piquant dictum holds the keys to aesthetic reactions. is the secret of the lure of the unknown. even das Gliick" — that passionate homesickness for the famihar.

— those images du monde and Africa lie I The most vivid record of that fascination which know is found in the mediaeval Mappemondes in which Europe. Let us glance but one of the three. in equal parts. in manifold forms. folded close together. work-a-day themes. I shall confine my- the spell which has always been thrown itself over poetry by the Orient. Asia. we shrink from. For the re- had the faculty of stirring that shuddering pleasure which springs from what. burgher-like. like the . And when human the on. of less outlandish strangers. The lure of the thing is exercising its old potency afresh to-day. most illuminating chapters in the history of art and I do not know that any one fully written it would be that which dealt has of the One — — with the gradual drawing of the strange in space within the purlieus of the familiar. especially since that happens to lend to a further use. in and the recondite and occult briefly at nature alike attract the insurgent temper. and we in space has always mote want. three cells within the circle of the Ocean Stream. the distant in time. For the influence of the East has gone through stages that are perhaps of some significance. the remote in space.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT more or fit is 161 respectable. But since restriction self to is imperative.

so — and Asia. All that in drab reality was not. the Earthly Paradise itself on endlessly. Then gradually the unknown East became And it is possible to watch the glamour Speed. And poetry seized upon its opportunity. ineradicable tendency.162 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY of the later world. with their childlike zest in the marvellous. on the sides of the North. is one of innumerable fa- embodiments of the same mihar. came bits of fact that were speedily meta- morphosed into new marvels. the Land of Femenye. and what we have local habitation seen in the classical romances. in easy reach of that. And back along the mys- terious trade routes. the Castle of Gog and Magog. became a veritable repository of the illustrated fiction of their day. where the down the dreams the Middle mediaeval fancy revelled in the most engaging set of marvels that even it conceived. were set Ages ever dreamed — the shadowy and fabulous Pentexoire. the land of Prester John. stretching dimly into Central. until the maps with their legends. just across the frontiers of the known. and their accurately pictured goblins and demons and monsters. fading on the very maps themselves. received a and a name to conjure with. and especially in the unfathomable all East. embryo For there. just across from where Japan now lies. John 1 . not far from it.

beneath the ghoul-haunted Des- Lop. The Orient known became more profoundly unknown than before.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT at once cartographer and worthy 163 of the member his Merchant ert of Tailors' Company. speare's time the Orient. had on map of China." wrote Conrad in "Youth. be. "The mysterious East faced me. was largely But it had lost its first hold only to catch imagination in a yet stronger toil. the cautious legend: "Where men are be seduced by wonderful illusions and deuilish spittings. as it still remains to us Occidenis seductive with all that cryptic and un- fathomable in humanity itself. as a terra incognita where the fantastic had of the past." And so John Speed became a convenient index of the of rost general fading of this special vision into the light of common day. but it had come to tals. Even by Marlowe's and Shakefree rein. near the head of the River Ob." But Speed had moments when his faith was wholly dry. of 1626. though in a different way." . It had ceased to be the haunt of naive and fantastic marvels. appears this quite unpunctuated record of his disillusionment: "Pliny places the perosites here whom hee saith be so narrow-mouthed that they live only thought to by the smel meat beleeve it not. For on his map of Tartary.

on Marlowe. Not a branch stirred along the and the brown roofs of hidden houses peeped through the green foUage. and motionless. And all these beings stared without a murmur. bronze. looks down I in the morning at the shipwrecked boats come up from their the tussle with the sea: men of the East — they were looking full "And then saw at me. . silent like death. so old. saw brown. and Baudelaire. on Flaubert. The whole I length of the jetty was of people. . living and unchanged." And that is the East which has exercised its spell upon Occidental poetry for centuries on Goethe. the black an Eastern crowd. and Heine. the gUtter. in which the Orient. dark I a grave. Nothing moved. impassive. and now. through the big leaves that hung shining and still Uke leaves forged of heavy metal. very particularly. so mysterious. This was the East of the ancient navigators. without a sigh. re- splendent and sombre. The fronds of palms stood still eyes. and Gautier.164 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY like "perfumed like a flower. without a movement. on the poets who are writing at this — ." And cannot serve my purpose better than by quoting the unforgettable con- tinuation of the passage. silent. against the sky. full of danger and promise. shore. and Byron. yellow faces. the color of . and Rlickert.

CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT 165 moment. and from the cosmic finesse its very soul revolts. If ling against you happen to be rebelwhat you regard as too much soul in can't be expected to set out forth- poetry. It is n't the vastness or the mystery of the East that this time exercises its old compulsion. For whenever poetry finds the uses of gone flat and stale. On the one hand. And that is is what that it is it is doing now. and the and the crystalline quality of the verse of China and Japan. But the interesting thing it doing in a fashion entirely in keeping with its own pecuhar tendency. what is happening to-day is what has happened again and again through the long and checkered career of poetry. Bits of chinoiserie. you . These are among what it would call the "cosmic" qualities. That which does allure it in the delicacy. and deftness. For very modern poetry has set its face hke a flint against all vastness and mystery whatsoever. that is to say. to turn its eyes to the exhaustless East. it is its its special world very apt indeed. — the East is an amazing tininess and Japanese jewels five-syllables-long are our chief modern treasure-trove. And all that is as inevi- table as gravitation. 'And they are doing both an old thing and a new thing. before the reaction runs course.

in the present instance. Neither can you crack a nut. Meanis while. this particular excursion beyond the bounds of the famihar will not have been a mere vagary. And in things like Mr. the East of the mystery is still there. with in quest of the Oriental influence And that is why a new and significant phase of the immemorial coming into English poetry. Fletcher's "Blue riches .: 166 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY illimitable. For in our rebellion against rebellion we sometimes overlook the fact that poetic revolution. because its sharp terseness doesn't loom vast and vague. as it is to object to a squirrel because it's not a mountain If I cannot carry forests on my back. And so far that is pure gain. leaves unmarred the objects even of its deep antipathies. it is as idle. to quarrel with a predilection for the intense compression of the hokku. if the technique of Oriental verse en- European poetry as the technique of the Oriental graphic arts has enriched European painting. for example. dark like a grave. If you or I happen to prefer an East perfumed like a flower. silent like death. all At events. And I strongly suspect that deftness and precision are an asset of high value to poetry just now. unlike civilized warfare.

in its successive manifestations. or even perverse embodiments of the to "the special. or precious. . feels that new achievement all. or spoke to the spirit of adventure — all this has been gradually losing it is its hold upon poetry. little cell by cell. has been it so. obsession of the familiar.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT 167 Symphony. and fantastic reveries. to the exceptional and the esoteric. unless I am mistaken. undergoing sublimation. coming slowly over the character of to say that is But not to say revolt itself. I is not have chosen deliberately the attitude of poetry towards the Orient. to beauty that is "the — deposit. when we fly from the growingly apt to be to the more recondite. in its larger. or quintessential. the remote. exquisite perstrange or far fume" of Oriental art. and exquisite fancies". For more and more the if I spirit of re- volt. Instead." and the magic casements opening into old Japan in Miss Lowell's "Guns and Keys. of strange thoughts. human aspects — and by that more broadly mean such versal qualities as in the older influence of the Orient stirred the imagination through the appeal of mystery. may I put The uni- strange. because that happens to be conveniently symbolic of changes that have been. in a word." one far off.

for one thing. A community is a body of people bound together by common interests and a common medium of communication. it movement in characterized the "naughty nineties" in England. The . one or two salient facts stand out. But the very term "community" is now ambiguous. a striking tendency of is latter-day revolt. the interpretation of life through But to grant that does not release us from the endeavor to attain perspective. andy^n de siecle art in general. cavil. I have spoken of the individual poet in his relation to the com- munity by which he must be understood. But what we're pleased to call civilization has profoundly modified the old conception. all as a matter their interests virtually in common.168 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY of the Symboliste rather than to the perennial and universal. There that is. those to of fact. and looked at in perspective. all whom it was addressed had. I repeat without the slightest hesitation." as Henley called it. That means gain. and some of the very best of the poetry that is being written now is moving in the same direction. which a corollary of the phase we have been discussing. For the present tendency of poetry to "quintessentialize. That was the trend France. enriches. And when poetry began. without art.

which was once the only one. That was true of Symbolisme . it another characteristic less malicious satisrelief as faction in throwing into as strong sible pos- the great gulf fixed between Philistinism and the it is That. and there are tracts which fall within the circumference of one circle only. the tendency of poetry to quintessentialize results in a narrowing of its audience from the whole community to the elite. it is true. In other words. with certain large qualifications. ing disposition of revolt is And the grow- to strike away from lie the common centre to the special areas that out towards the periphery. there are smaller areas common to a number of the circles. There is. but not to all. All this carries with result — a certain more or elect. But an almost inevitable concomitant of the sort . to be sure.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT larger is split 169 community. it was true of the activities of the nineties. is a by-product. of the insurgent movement of to-day. an area common to an area in which all men still all the circles — meet on common ground. of course. and the poetry of revolt is apt to become the poetry of a coterie. up into a complex of intersecting circles that represent the rise of innumerable special interests. rather than an end sought for its own sake.

It is. or the cognoscenti. to of poetry primarily stinctively finds hideous. "The beautiful. which was to the elect a delicately titillating shudder. but neither its author nor any of the Symbolistes. hap- pened to killed set the teeth of the PhiUstines chatter- ing in a convulsion. "Fleurs du Mai" may le not have been written expressly d'etonner bourgeois." declared the Goncourts. remains ." If the frisson nouveau. The beautiful is that which your mistress or your cook inother words. it is the excess of a it But whatever our admission. nor Oscar Wilde nor any of that circle. "is that which seems abominable to uneducated eyes. at the Now it is obvious that to stress to the limit the element of strangeness in beauty is same time to run a line of cleavage sharply through the general ity. two goodly birds had been with the same stone.170 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY le of reaction which found typical expression in Baudelaire's axiom: beau est toujours bizarre. in commun- make the enjoyment an affair of the illuminati. or whatever other flattering unction we may turn into a name. put far behind his back the temptation to "shock the middle classes." And that is the inex- orable logic of the recoil from the banal to the outrL Let us grant at once that virtue.

has had its roots deep in the common stuff. — have always admitted as such the greatest art. from Homer down. and indignation. Shakespeare took the raw materials of melodrama. and gave it "Hamlet. But no attempt to make poetry once more a izing force need ever it vital." And "Hamlet" still fills the house.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT as an inherent element of beauty. if hope to attain sets to the elect. and of tears. For the public will accept what the artist has to give. It may and will have overtones. For the greatest art mean what the insurgents themselves with virthe power. For is it work solely by way of the initiates and what the art of the coterie ignores the weighty fact that the very public which scouts wants in reahty more than it knows it wants. That is the case in a nutshell. The Elizabethan pubhc wanted blood and thunder. In its fruitful recognition of the strange overlooks more strong in beauty. it 171 excess. is merely the strument ready at the artist's hand for creating and satisfying finer needs. civilits goal. The more or less crude touching of the springs of laughter pity. born of the and by that I familiar. of love. it may and will awaken thoughts tual unanimity — beyond the reaches of the average soul. and adventure it — and this in- which thinks is all it asks. if the .

. . At its height it transcends and transmutes that taste. and Shakespeare." with the remark: "In this sense the Imagists are the descendants of the Symbolistes. . abandonment for writing is ing forms." And the Preface closes with this temperate and disarming sentence: "We are . The sole excuse." he continues. liberty of art. There is still another corollary of the individis uahstic bent of revolt. to unveil for others the sort of itself in his world which mirrors should admit as many individual glass. If this be error and upon me proved. . then Dante. to write "which a man can have down himself. they are Individualists.. Remy de Gourmont of exist- characterizes Symbolisme as "individualism in literature. and Goethe common The finest wrote amiss. . and most exquisite art need make no compromise whatever with the public taste.172 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY big enough and wise enough to build on artist is ground to the masses and the coterie. and Chaucer. It prone to insist on being a law unto itself. ife should create his own aesthetics — and we I sesthetics as there are original minds. and judge them for what they are and not for what they are not. it responds." This is quoted in the Preface to the 1916 "Imagist Anthology. and in its response creates.

of relaxation. and lay readers But we are not yet. driven to accept a poetic Petrograd as our Parnassus. critics. and probably would. It is the inaUenable right of any movement to insist that its accomplish- ment be judged in the light of what it has set out to do. that whetstone because not a swordshall blade. capable We seem. "that is moment is poetry to a man which produces on him as he fairly add. we might which prois poetry to a critic duces on him such poetical effects as he of perceiving. or flash demands that a sword-blade not and cut. that it is such poetical effects capable of receiving. but whet." says Pandar. Individual ." Most heartily. yes! "A whetston is no kerving instrument." And. to be con- fronted with Chaos and old Night. sharpe kerving toles. attempt. and not as if it were attempting what the critics might. But who in a shall assess the relative values of the is ends? "That poetry." says Professor Saintsbury. I think. in a word. not by those which have governed other men at other times. but we ask to be judged by our own standards." cavils at a "and yet it maketh And it is mere captiousit 's ness masquerading in the guise of criticism. in the world. 173 we are experimentalists. with as many poetries as there are poets.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT young.

but by the taciturnity of time. The pecuhar separateness of recent insurgent to come back for a moment to the movements concrete fact. La Revue Independent. The i . The National Observer.174 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY fall aims. La Cravache. In France there were UHydropathe. And that adjustment of values comes about through no individual critic or group of critics. not by you and not by me. — appears — in another and more curious decadence (or what you nineties. Individualism in poetry is worth having at all hazards. Symbolisme in France during the eighties. Le Decadent. Le Chat-Noir. Lutece. in England appeared The Yellow Book. will) in England in the and now the "New Poetry" of the present decade on both sides of the water. but the game is well worth the candle. ulti- mately into place in a scheme of values. have each been convoyed to immortaUty by an extremely active flotilla of Uttle periodicals. The hazards are there. The Pageant. the first and second Vogue. but through the relentless judgment of that community of all the communities which persists undisturbed through the waves and the billows of each successive generation. and Art et Critique. Yet we are not thereby called upon to abrogate the standards of values that are fixed. The Savoy. however successfully attained.

so one fight more. turn round!" let the cats For myself. The Egoist. "I was ever a fighter. making no Compromise with the PubHc Taste." — — The trumpets of the elect are still blowing about the stubborn walls of Jericho. nailed to the mast of its cover. the legend: "A Magazine of the Arts. than in a superb remark of the equally insurgent Billy Sunday: **They say I rub the fur the wrong way. / say. And the last carries.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT 175 a little Dome. self- attractive than a complacent correct inertia. and The Little Review. The Poetry Review. Others. Poetry. And now we late in the game. its eager hospitality to exiled all poetic Ishmaehtes. I confess to unfeigned delight in the insurgent propaganda. edification from Abraham's bosom. and The New Age." might serve as a motto for many a poet besides Robert . but ignoring with admirable we of the aplomb the fact that we are tardy decade have. or have had (for the things current are deciduous). its enthusiasm for ideals. are metal more and impeccably And militant poetry is more to than poetic or any other pacifism. And indeed I cannot put more tersely the general attitude of the fervid little insurgent periodicals towards the public. Its fine ardor and alacrity of spirit. Blast.

"the sterile professors. and the poets pawed in the valley. And there are happy moments when the all periodicals emulate the practice of the late author of the "Way of Flesh": "I am. and a and know I cannot. It true that the war drums throb no longer as in the robust anathemas of Ritson. get the Hterary and shilling. a slighter breed can scarcely hope to draw Ulysses' bow. or And the insurgent journals. Since. I can. and Percy. in the case of poetry insur- gent. But in the main. have busily combined the functions of a gadfly and a star.176 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is" Browning. heave bricks And bricks fly freely embattled slopes of the new Parnasand however. scientific critics to give I me in the middle of them. it is to ." some of you will remember terrible of literature I Butler said. If I cannot. know I can. when the critics clothed their necks in thunder. the critics are apt to be those betes noires of the inner cu-cle. the revolutionists in poetry are quite the mild- est-mannered cut a throat. Above all. and Warton." the contest is scarcely an even one. from the eighties on. men that ever scuttled ship. stinging and beckoning with the same facility. But the electric amenities that pass between artistic temperaments at different tensions still find free play. "the enfant science." across the sus.

and are. am.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT their ephemeral pages that 177 if seek the harbor from which we must turn. For most of the little periodicals have I been. of course." Moreover. . emphasizing for the moment that type of revolt which leads to the poetry of the coterie. reaction against reaction is one of the most fanize or overlap. as many directions as a bursting bomb. But this aspect of revolt is. in fact. exquisite perfume of China or Japan. many a rare we spirit has set out for immortaUty. Revolt has. the organs of a group. And the divergent tendencies may synchro- and the same insurgent journal print poems as antipodal as a slaughter house and a hand-painted fan." And their Anglo-Saxon successors owe their idiosyncracies to a not dissimilar environment. and the common bond between variant and simultaneous avatars of the spirit of revolt is often merely "a general union of total dissent. The same recoil from accepted themes and formulas that sends one group to the special. dispatches another to the stark reahsm of Chicago or Spoon River. The miheu forth with precision from which the Symboliste journals sprang is set and verve in Andre Barre's **Le SymboHsme. For literary movements have a disconcerting habit of complexity. but a single strand in a mingled yarn. however.

it rises again to trace the parallel pathway in the air — "now up. blood. flesh and And a face that looked up . now doun. A-painting for the great man. "Saints and saints and . . . . saints and saints And saints again Ouf I leaned out of the window for fresh air. •> I . like the rest of For us: . . And Fra Lippo Lippi has had many a follower. art behaves . when of the great road so deeply dug out by Zola.178 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY all miliar of the phenomena of revolt. Curtain and counterpane and coverlet I — and you know the rest. in the words of Mr. . Wells. uncommonly I've been three weeks [here] shut within my mew. . . That's all I'm made of Into shreds it went. and in company with fiction and the drama. . There came a hurry of feet and little feet zooks." And paraphrase Huysmans) then. as boket in a welle. The pre- occupation of poetry with the exquisite and the remote has more than once set up a sharp recoil to the nudities and crudities of the sheerest nat- Extreme breeds extreme. sir. uralism. poetry plunges like a falling star from the circle of the elect to bury itself for a time in the contemplation of characters who. "crawl along drain pipes it tires (to till they die.

awake to the fact that not only has it ceased itself to be revolt. "Be not too tame. with Hamlet.CONVENTIONS AND REVOLT saints again. drive us to and from sinners we fly back again to sinners. fingers. the child away!" is and not a theory. It will not do to say magisterially : I "Take suspect that even exhortation it will superfluous. so long as action and reaction play their systole and diastole in life. And both . There will always be revolt in poetry. and go its own gait. What way bold I should like to write over the door of every is stronghold of revolt the motto over the gate- — but not too bold!" To which the insurg- of the castle ir the folk-tale: "Be bold. neither!" are right. Like its forbears." in art 179 and actuality. We are confronting a condition. then. be ents will promptly and properly retort. saints. And poetry should be the last to rebel against the operation of poetic justice. but has become the cause of own burn its and one day revolt in others.

is in us. of us. but rather with the important questions which are being raised once more about poetry itself. and not all the lines are holding. And in doing this I propose to abide the method of procedure we have so far fol- lowed. that constitute the subject of the re- . then. with meek- And one of the greatest services which the present insurgent movement is performing is in sending us back to first principles. to that the sharpest issues have been raised. I make an effort to reach clearness. in a salutary endeavor after such preparedness. I present am not primarily concerned with the movement per se. and we by are bound. accordingly. It is is To take stock of resources. in the light of what is going on to-day. It is these larger poetic problems.THE DICTION OF POETRY VERSUS POETIC DICTION Peter admirably enjoins us to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks St. us a reason for the faith that ness and fear. less more or incumbent upon all about some of the fundamentals of poetry think. For it is a strong offensive that is on.

precisely delimited meaning only speaking to the hard. What the difference between the diction of poetry of prose? and the diction And by prose I mean or now plain. and . intrudes at once a disturbing influence. And I am limiting poetry to poetry in verse. it has always been. scientific words prose. not artistic elevated prose. 'And among them the is diction of poetry now. in poetry. by emotional That idea. work-a-day prose. as point. The terms must be cold as a diagram. then. but also (and sometimes primarily) to suggest. poetry and between the functions of words in the two mediums. associations. clear intellect alone. mooted is Let us take the bull by the horns at once. purely expository. poetry or poetic prose will concern us The difference. that of prose depends between the diction of on a difference not only to state. The business of words in prose is primarily to state. In such prose may be used for their exact.^THE DICTION OF POETRY mainder of a vigorously this 181 volume. The problem of so-called proselater. in which one and one idea only. is why the sciences build up their technical word conveys one terminologies. blurring of their sharp defmiteness especially Any or by vague. the moment. gain clearness for We may by setting over against poetry.

For \ words our feelings. and not one word produces its effect through what a dictionary can afford. "Not poppy.|bare. words in scientific prose are used for their denotation. the connota- constitutes in large degree the very stuff with which the poet works. chill to the touch. — read Nor all the drowsy syrups of not to the lucid exactness of the epithets alone. sweet. in poetry the case is it fundamentally dif[ For poetry. but even more to a composing of their faint and elusive suggestion into an impression not . sweet. is And j that which scientific prose excising tion — namely the of words — that stir bent on ruthlessly suggestions. chill to the touch." That is a bit of Imagist verse. To sum up what I am saying by using myself a technical term. and "violets. that. but through their envel- oping atmosphere of associations. They must suggest nothing beyond the rigorous exactitude of their sense." owes its clear and delicate beauty.182 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY awakens no more emotion than the binomial theorem. nor mandragora. though speaks to the intel- Ject. But ferent. the world" and the hovering associations merge and blend. is directed equally to the emotions. "We bring the hyacinth-violets. not through a precise de- limitation of their sense. bare.

Verlaine said the thing once for all.. and always leaves bef . there are. " In the style of poetry. in his "Art poetique. unfoldings of vistas up his fabric and the overtones. but in holding the balance true between the two. Between purely scientific prose at the one end of the scale. any more than he creates the meanings both are there. stirrings and the poet out of both the basic mean- — \ i emotion at the other. not in sacrificing either for the other. caught from each user's own adventures among words builds — flashes that of memories. THE DICTION OF POETRY remotely resembling the fugitive 183 chilly and perfume of the flowers themselves. hind it a multitude of vibrations. and verse that is saturated with ings come and vanish." "each word reverberates like the note of a well-tuned lyre. in one of his luminous "Pensees." when he spoke of "la chanson grise Oil VIndecis au Precis se joint '^ For it is the successful blending of the undefined and the definite in words that constitutes the triumph of the poet's art." says Joubert." For over that call \ which we the meaning of the words a poet uses. there goes on an incessant play of suggestion. of course. What he does create is a harmony. He does n't create the overtones. endless gradations in the balance between the denota- . For his exquisite art consists.

Everybody has several vocabularies. tial an essen- and sometimes a major part inferences. Now wrong these facts are constantly put upon and the conclusion drawn that its poetry has a pecuhar diction of own — that "poetic" words. or they may not be. permit myself. merely saying in other words that each of us belongs to a mmiber of communities. their associations. The diction of a sermon is not quite that of for an after-dinner speech. must be somehow different from the words of every-day prose. fairly collo- close relations. They may be. in speaking to a body of stu- dents with whom I have come to stand in should not indulge in. tion of words eral. We talk in the bosom of our family in a that in which I way different from we I discourse on state occasions. But in gen- the bare significance of words plays the larger part in prose.184 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and their connotation. And the whole question of poetic diction has been confused by isolating it from the fundamental if facts of usage. in poetry. as we call them. a freedom in the use of quialisms which were I reading a formal paper before a learned society. Let us see the bringing together of a niunber of these perfectly familiar facts may not conduce Which is to clearness. Nor do people write .

THE DICTION OF POETRY Punch. This is common experience. as we pass from clothes to clothes. that would strike a jarring note in prose. And that common store of words is the backbone of poetry. others on that. 185 the British Quarterly exactly as they write for We shift our vocabularies. our drafts are on ject-matter. words which are proper in which would be more or less out of place in poetry. and needs no an entirely different fund. but . We don't book at one time. and at another discard every word that might adorn the printed page. argument. there talk like a an extensive tract common to the vocabularies that we possess. and for the same reason. The all character of the occasion determines each. whereas. Given the same suband there are words which we are apt to use on this occasion. I think. But we do. when the touch is light. on grave or more formal occasions. is Moreover. but there is a far larger residuum which we use on all. draw largely on one element of our vocabulary. There are also. towards a clearer un- derstanding of our immediate problem. There are words which are fitting in verse. For the diction of poetry and the diction of prose have also a vast tract in common. in the freedom of intimate circles. of course. But it helps us.

We had ne'er been broken-hearted. Out. never lov'd sae blindly. equally at home in prose? our yesterdays have lighted fools to dusty death. all And The way I Fear no more the heat Nor o' the sun. And never lifted up a single stone. Queens have died young and fair. there did it rest. a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage. But it is the great central tract of diction that is common to both poetry and prose which must claim our attention first.^ What words in the following passages are not. Had we Had we never lov'd sae kindly. brief candle Life's but a walking shadow. have to consider the relation to poetry of both these outlying districts of the general vocabulary. .186 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY And we shall prose. And then is heard no more. — \> But where the dead leaf fell. as words. Never met or never parted. the furious winter's rages. The very greatest effects of poetry are often ' produced without the use of a single word which might not be eniployed in ordinary speech. out. Brightness falls from the air.

It is concerned with truth "^rried alive into the heart by passion". as words the dyer's hand. both that and To a certain degree in prose and essentially words are impregnated by their consubdued to what they work in. in poetry. Poetry communicates ideas. then. The last is the . well as an intellectual context. Its 187 loftiest at employing the diction which we call richest store hes within and not withit out the tract that holds in And fuller our original question answer. have an emotional and imaginative. They are the same words precisely as when they occur in prose. it aims at the transmission. like text. It is not merely that their meaning It is is de- termined by their context. But a new virtue (in the fine old sense of the term) has passed into them. they are ^ ^ To put the same thing barely. not facts. so far as their diction is concerned. without poetic. but in the use that is made of the words. may now receive a The fundamental difference between poetry and prose. but it does more. is not in the words themselves. and the that. more. and its words take up and absorb fresh potencies from these powerful elements in which they move. of impressions. through the exercise of imaginative energy. common with prose.THE DICTION OF POETRY Poetry may be poetry.

silent landscape on which we have already dwelt. to one or two of the passages already quoted. the whole of that motionless. hueless." focuses in itself the stark simpHcity of the rustic tragedy of "Michael." That has been referred to (and I think justly) as "a line ahnost as intense and full of the essence of poetry as any line in our language. with this in mind.188 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it is chief determining factor in prose. as in the famous: "Quel giorno piu non vi leggemmo avante" "That day they read in — . What the line does is to resume and gather up in one penetratingly simple detail. It is something else. the first \'^- which is powerfully operative in poetry. times without number. Let us return for a moment. Here is the tenth line of "Hyperion": "But where the dead leaf fell. there did it rest. and it is ^^^ the imaginative intensity of the whole conits ception which transforms every syllable of closing line." And it is the same power of imbuing with penetrating emotional cogency words which are without distinction in themselves that finds su- preme expression." Why? Certainly not on account of any independent poetical quality in a single one of its ten unimpassioned and famiUar monosyllables. in Dante. So Wordsworth's: "And never lifted up a single stone.

to put it differently. im- now." Indeed. Is it possible. it is very largely'through just this penetration of famihar words with imquahty that poetry exercises its creaaginative tive energy. to set any limit to this transfusing power which poetry exercises over words? Are there. "Falls. or none. Brightness falls from the air. stir them an any way infringing on has endowed them with the power to agination in us. It If is perilous to make categorical is the imaginative energy strong enough.THE DICTION OF POETRY it 189 no farther. is hable to disastrous refutation by a triumphant instance of the "poetizing" (as Goldsmith calls it) of that very word. almost no word can remain insoluble. but there has been exerted on influence which." mean in in and "shake" mean what 'they prose. "Intrinsicate" is a word we should rule out at once . words which remain intractable to its assimilating influence? assertions. without distorting or their ordinary sense. do hang those boughs which shake against the cold. and a case of flat denial of poetic possibilities." "hang. or few. That time When Upon of year thou mayst in me behold' yellow leaves. in the any vocable.

on general perb in its ^And there it stands. and every word.190 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY principles." for exis ample. if intrinsicate "Vitreous" is a prose word. With thy sharp teeth this knot Of hfe at once untie. Their sugges- tions interpenetrate each other. I sup- it is. Yet. There are misguided souls "vitreous. chameleon-like. I — rich apple-blossom'd It would take a word to of tougher fibre than even amalgamating power of such a context as that! And we might illustrate endlessly." the colors of may take on. unpoetic. listen! Smile voluptuous cool-breath'd earth! Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees earth of the mountains Earth of departed sunset — I misty-topt! Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue! Far-swooping elbow' d earth earth Smile. ever there was one. thou'lnortal wretch. even "scratch. for your lover comes. its fellows: . But in poetry that is worthy of the name there are no isolated words." withstand the who pose think that a word hke "scratch. su- resolution of Cleopatra's trenchant monosyllables: Come. In splendid isolation.

. a farm appears. "Essence" is unimpeachable: His glassy essence. and Duty": is The essence of mind's being Difference of mind's being the stream of thought. I have just used the figure of a stream. Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven As make the angels weep. to be sure. is Nothing is wrong with the words. there are few words it. A tap at the pane. And a voice less loud. the quick sharp scratch fears. They jut out from their It is context. And blue spurt of a lighted match. Here ory. but it is poeti- cally sound: But she is in her grave. "Difference" a bit over-worked.THE DICTION OF POETRY Then a Three mile of 191 warm fields to cross till sea-scented beach. and. is difference of the stream. like an angry ape. in "Poetry. through its joys and Than the two hearts beating each to each. unassimilated entities. is a quatrain quoted with gusto by Professor Everett of beloved mem- Comedy. Within this single difference may be brought The countless differences that are or seem. that the words refuse to blend. which it cannot safely carry with when the stream runs shallow. If the current runs strong. The difference to me! oh. so far as their' poetic potentialities are concerned.

Through years. They lose their grief who hear his song.192 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY the other words need no bush. Thou in thy narrow banks art pent: The stream I love unbounded goes Through Through flood light. with "colors dipt heaven. Musketaquit. this time by a philosopher poet too: who was a Thy summer voice. One thing is And only the matter with the quatrain. But sweeter rivers pulsing flit Through thee. a goblin strong. It all. And the words remain words — not winged things. through men. . And ages drop in it like rain. Musketaquit. And where he winds is the day of day. . I hear the spending of the stream fleet. is n't poetry at It is innocent of the slightest trace of imaginatiye fusion. through nature Through love and thought. No stream whatever pulses in through it. I see the inundation sweet. through life. — Who drink it shall not thirst again. No darkness stailis its equal gleam. Of shard and flint makes jewels gay. and sea and firmament." Set beside this another treatment of a similar theme. Repeats the music of the rain. through power and dream. So forth and brighter fares my stream. it forward flows. as thou through Concord Plain.

certain odors and colors. sounds innumerable (as of footsteps. and of evening. like of shards Musketaquit. ena of soul and sense. bird notes. running water." if 193 you please. Sun. words which are more readily assimilated by poetry than others. roads. then." But true poetry. which are for all common ground the sea. the rain. is less poetic (as we say) than either "difference" or "essence. are neither poetic nor unpoetic. makes jewels out and flints. according as the poet's is or is not sufficiently power- absorb them. There are. moon. for the most part. the seasons. night stars. universal phenomhumanity.THE DICTION OF POETRY "Inundation. and all the throng of emotional experiences that come between them. Words in themselves. words which may become poetic. words which are associated with objects that stir the sort of emotion which is the basis of posafely may be etry — with the immemorial. flutes). are there words which are inherently poetical to start with? Let us begin with an assumption that If there are made. and especially death. the fireside. sheep-bells. or they re- main unassimilated imaginative energy ful to prose. the fall and sleep. the birth surf. They become poetic. together with all the familiar . and these are. without question. winds.

the mystery of birth and death — all the perennial. and the place thereof shall know it no more. for the wind passeth over it..-»-«^. all the changing. are as a sleep. they As a dream when one awaketh. the rock in the desert. He shall come down like upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. As for man.. The large and simple and permanent objects and life elements of — the eternal hills..»^ HI I I. and it is gone.194 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it is needless more homely objects of daily use than to suggest. so. yet abiding physiognomy of earth and sky. That which gives to Hebrew poetry. Lord his . the treasures grass. of the snow.. so he flourisheth. and a covert from the tempest. and woven into the very texture of their speech. as a flower of the field.l III I ~. thy judgments are a great deep. the vividness -. carriest days are as grass.— •• 11 ---II _L. —limpid »clearness. Thou .4 I . as rivers of water in a dry place. . as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. still water in pasture lands and the sea that roars and is troubled. sleep and the fleetingness of dreams. elemental processes of nature..i. were charged for psalmist and prophet with spiritual significance. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind.»-ii | . for instance. its depth and poignancy is — jilgt this elemental quality in its words. I lll. Utter simpUcity.^. Thy rain righteousness is like the great mountains. them away as with a flood. thou shalt despise their image. '1 Ji II ~- . rain coming down upon mown winds and all weathers.

indeed. the hunter home from the hill. are pervaded already with emotional or imaginative suggestion. as. Here are two lines from Stevenson's "Requiem": is the sailor. Home And The words themselves which is are latent poetry — a very different thing from saying that "sailor." "hill.THE DICTION OF POETRY of direct." then. "Home." they are poetic diction. are not poetic. They simply happen to belong to that element of the common vocabulary which is especially apt for the poet's use." "sea. are most of the words which come closest to men's business and bosoms. have named are of native origin. hke those of Hebrew poetry. They are both. the diction of King EngUsh is What I am concerned with now the readiness for poetic use of words which." and any more than they are prose words. And out of this arises a common fallacy. And For all five words that I the statement is not infrequently made that Saxon words are more "poetic" than the words . "hunter. I may not at the moment speak of the influence of the James version upon poetry. home from sea. authentic vision of 195 "unworded things "and old": these are the sahent quahties of the diction of the poetry of the Bible.

all of I and concretewhich are qualities of worth in poetr^J But other words than native-words possess thesgi qualities. sound. is. Not even a poet can live perpetually [at white heat without burning out." tential of poetry.J . so to speak. aiid^yiyidness.196 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is of foreign. as a mandate laid upon poetry is by the inflexible nature of things. Poe's doctrine of brevity.A^ just so much of truth in that as hes in the fact that the native . and and its diction changes with its Bents and its occasions. from the most impassioned lyric to the coldest. And certainly no sane reader of poetry cares to glow with emotion as a steady regimen. dispositions. keenest satire. shifts incessantly. Moreover. in which our con- glomerate speech abounds. what Fitzgerald concise "a concise and simple way But all poets are not and simple souls. And absolutely the only test of the poetic quality of a word is its ability to hold its own triumphantly I in its particular poetic setting. as yours does or mine. M suspect that the greatest poetry calls as a rule. For poetry is protean in its moods and forthrightness. There . the poof^ saying great things. chiefly Latin origin. and they are not the only qualities of poetry. { jness. and even the simplest souls have complex moments. in .i»" \ stock is pecuHarly endowed with homely vigor.

They fit more poetic occaand that is all. But. . I i deals in forthright words. On thy cold gray stones. when he sent the drunken porter stumbhng across the stage just when he did. It sweeps the chords of all the faculties that it we possess. rush on like a stream. In other words. sions. When it is ? forthright. as Coleridge has it. poetry is not always tugging at our heartstrings. its diction becomes prismatic and subtle with intellectual quality. then. break. when it runs * through the whole gamut. Shake- knew what he was doing. . Seal And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me — Saxon (and only two that are n't monosyllables). as is inevitable. Break. and words that ^ (flash images. is has not a single word that n't native ." Saxon words. flow together. and . and words of abstract notion.THE DICTION OF POETRY SO far as it 197 rests on the indisputable fact that we too long a stretch with- cannot speare feel intensely at out something snapping or sinking limp. when thought plays glancing and shifting above the deeper current. are no more inherently poetic than the naturalized aliens of our richly cosmopolitan tongue. break. then. and it owes its poignancy largely to that fact. "words that convey feehngs.

you get no more of me! And I am glad. who Latin should say that one word was more poetic than another in passages like these. is The miracle can be achieved. let us kiss and parti I have done." "silent. Since there's no help. indeed. yea. What As God is excellent. opening on the foam Of perilous seas." "past" which are of origin. permanent. But. monosyllable and polysyllable. that achieves the miracle: Magic casements. That thus so There are thirty-three monosyllables in succession. to be sure." "summon. And he would be rash. Along the cool sequester'd vale of life They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. by bare monosyllables alone: Nay. in faery lands forlorn.198 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past -] Owes its certainly no less exquisite poetic qual- words "sessions. Hearts are dust. . where it is the ity to five — — consummate balance of native and foreign-born." "remembrance. cleanly I myself can free. come. glad with all my heart. and in all four lines but two words that are not. lives. hearts* Joves remain.

with its poising of one against the other. Which makes so many poets. of sonorous Latin polysyllables. Poems are inevitably limited. no law whatever that can be laid down. Here is a sample: All these things will be specified in time. And what is "Don Juan's" meat may be "The Excur- another ticular sion's" poison. . poetry is not. And very handsome supernatural scenery.THE DICTION OF POETRY The multitudinous with its roll 199 seas incarnadine. and some fools: Prose poets like blank-verse. there did it rest. And so is that other line without a single polysyllable itself: with which to bless But where the dead leaf fell. and In the dark backward and abysm of time. and Splits the unwedgeable and gnarled oak. with its tough and massy native polysyllables. accordingly. Good workmen never quarrel with their tools. This or that parpoem has a circumscribed range of choice. determined by its own unity of impression. With strict regard to Aristotle's rules. The Vade Mecum of the true subhme. I 've got new mythological machinery. I 'm fond of ryme. whereby one word is taken and left by poetry at large. There is. are all the essence of poetry.

200 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Imagine any single word of that in the "Ode to the West Wind" or "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"! There are. " Dost thou think. if friends. who cakes and ale? Yes. or Parnassus. they read me dead All my demurs but double his attacks." Moreover. And they will by no means always employ "a stately speech. Such as grave Livers do in Scotland use. I 'm dead. because [Milton. . . All Bedlam. The diction of poetry includes every wor d use. and ginger mouth too. shut the door. and Bums. if poetry chooses to discourse in slippered ease. and Wordsworth are verbally] virtuous. they write. is ill-accommodated to the uses of this world. At last he whispers. I said. good John fatigu'd. is let out A dire dilemma! either way I'm sped. Tie up the knocker. ethereal spirits who deny that "Don Juan" is poetry. If foes. which poetry can . there shall be no more by Saint Anne. "Do. ." for Chaucer. it may fall into colloquiaUsms with the best of us: I ' Shut. From such I must gently but firmly part company. and Southey. . say I 'm sick. and Byron." . I know. shall be hot i' the give to God and man their dues. Religious men. A fugitive and cloistered poetry that never at any time heard the chimes at midnight. and we go snacks. The Dog-star rages! nay 't is past a doubt..

differs in nothing from prose. in respect Very high authority. and sports are the four most powerful conservators. law. ecclesiastical ritual. And first as regards Gray. not only of older words. and older meanings. to the latter is statement. archaisms. I have this The language of the age is never the language of poetry. it is true. "The language of the age is language of poetry" ? As a matter of all independently of theory. Po- etry. about which the battle has always raged.THE DICTION OF POETRY There rages are. two classes of words particular intensity or. on the contrary. although the diiference far more a of question of interpretation than of fact." I have been running counter to that verse. more exactly. makes the following "As to matter of style. What the other dictum: never the fact. but also of older forms of words. archaisms and neologisms. in one of his statement: to say: letters. is And in all four cases this tenaciousness due to the strong traditional character of their usages. except among the French. has a language peculiar to itself. whose where the thought or image does not support it. The one point which I wish to emphasize t is this: archaic words are as proper to poetry as '"" ' ' ) J . with — it f \ anti- quated and brand-new words. Our poetry. 201 however. as now.

. is the most notorious examdiction.. Spenser." Ben Jonore. With black bitumen they have sealed up her mouth. or less poetically effective — as they may cer- tainly are. than the current coin of speech. is any other words. are intruded for their own tity." says "Words borrowed coveries. of antiquity. The only question that we have a right to that of their fitness to their are no particular use." stale There are words which are like Cleopatra dead: "Now she is very old and dry and faded. They more specifically poetic.202 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY raise. when they archaic words even be sake." It is the poet's instinct that must determine which is which. under a mistaken notion of their sancThere are words which vie with Cleopatra living: "Age cannot wither them. in those observations on style in the "Dis- whose every rift is packed with "do lend a kind of majesty to style. except in so far as they may carry richer associations. and out of their intermission do win themselves a kind of gracelike newness. j)le^of over-indulgence in many of an archaic you are famihar with the I shall and justification of his practice in the Epistle Dedicatory to the "Shepheardes Calender." quote but one of ." On the other hand.. son. of course. nor custom Their infinite variety. for they have the authority of years.

as have ben long time out of use. as to theyr rightful! heritage. in a careless tone. All beyond this is superstition. such good and naturall Enghsh words. his thoughts must When an ancient word." Against that. lies with the poet nor with his his stalwart common clarifies sense to Dryden brings bear upon the first problem. And the charge of unintelligibility sometimes laid at the door of archaisms is not always a man of straw. writ no lan- guage. for its grow obscure. in affecting the ancients. . ." And so we are brought back to our fundamental principle of intelligibility.'s sentences: "In ail 203 my opinion it is one specare prayse of many. as his language grows obsolete." usual. however. I have that reasonable veneration for antiquity to restore it. and of a writer the issue: "If the end be to be understood. deserves to be revived. K. whych dew to this Poete/ that he hath laboured to restore. then. we must As set Ben Jonson's terse remark: neither "Spenser. Wordsworth's poem entitled "The Force of Prayer" begins as follows: "What is good for a bootless bene?" And this is what Lamb wrote to when I first opened Wordsworth: "Apropos — upon the just-mentioned poem. .THE DICTION OF POETRY E. sound and significancy. the whole truth critics. . and almost cleane disherited.

| the other hand. but I fear it was warranted. to be sure. the spirit congruity of the diction with the tone and poem constitutes the determin- ing factor. she answered. Archaisms are of the very substance of "The Ancient Mariner. note in "Bishop Blougram's Apology. And their meaning is. right in veering is away from any tinge of archaism it is in its diction.204 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY to I said Mary. for the poem at once becomes a glossary: proceeds. 'What ' is good for a bootless bene? It To which with infinite presence of mind." If an archaic word is and produces the effect which the poet wishes to produce. condescends to our weakness in the premises.' was the first joke she ever made. to apologize for his on such an occasion. Quite apart from of the individual however. because aiming at an effect . 'A shoeless pea." or the Ballads." and "The Blessed Damozel" they would strike a hopelessly jarring . On "Barrack Room ( intelHgible. levity " What is good for a bootless bene?" spring With these dark words begins my Tale." Lamb it must be added. whence can comfort When But all Prayer is of no avail? archaisers are not so thoughtful! intelligibility. for example. Imagist poetry. it is good poetic gold. Wordsworth. as if putting a riddle.

Both in his acceptances and his rejections of words. And the proof even of his pudding is the eating of it. One may one please. Precisely the same principles of intelligibility and fitness apply to the use of neologisms in j)oetry. civihan speech masses of words. however. and there always will be. There goes on in any living language an incessant streaming up into good and accepted usage of low words. strange words. and they are often and vivid as well as new. technical words. There are always new words. is another question. Terms of the utmost dignity to-day began as slang. so glib long as the language lives. and a word that is slang to-day may be President (so to speak) to-morrow. the burden of proof rests on the poet. new words. Once grant the aim of the modernists. Must poetry keep hands off? Well. Scientific inventions crowd into every nook and cranny of our Uves. War heaves up into the level stretches of our every-day. if 205 is inconsistent.THE DICTION OF POETRY with which such diction question. and their instinct in this respect is sound. but now on our tongues. and fresh . and scraps of the terminology of science follow them. the worth of the effect. that depeuds upon just two things: what the poet is trying to achieve. then. for the moment. that. a few months ago un- known.

to be poetic.206 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY what he is willing to risk. He proposes the new word (I am quoting Dryden) to be natur'-^Lt' ralized. it must get away from the basic elements of the general vocabulary to a pecuHar diction of its own. "and. he racily. their patent of nobility If. now. by using it. For "the eldest of the present. or colloquially." As Meredith to allow the "poetic rashness of the right quality enriches the language. and the newest of the best. what happens when poetry labors under the delusion that. it himself. And turous. If that which he is demands the use of Dante's "sieve for noble words. is is not yet writing conferred. they may fit into his pattern. I shall use ^»y^' the vagaries of the eighteenth century to point . I suppose. Let us see. he takes his chances. is excellent way. bill if the public approves of i/'/y^ declares. If they remain at par or advance. he is wins. lies wiped out. if they depreciate. on the other hand. his margin of safety there. one of the is sweet uses of revolt. Your insurgent adven- and takes the chances. or in lighter vein." So much for general principles." But (still poets themselves to speak of what they know) Ben Jonson shows the more the past language." the newcomers will undoubtedly writing sift through. the passes. But in any case.

downright calling of things their names. and one of the most consummate craftsmen of treatment here. It is all self in company very suggestive of Bottom .jj THE my DICTION OF POETRY and 207 implicit moral. have to hold up Pope himself as a terrible example. led to the outbreak of a diction that What plague. Since that is so. shall follow briefly the vicissitudes of poetic diction down it. like his Erasmus. if by the things were regarded as in any way common or unclean. it is a "great injur'd name. is absolute master of the raciest." largely because his imitators perpetuated his worst. was. swept over the is eighteenth century like the of the utmost interest. I And I shall who is ever dealt in words. of which Pope was at the same time a result and an active cause. to the pres- ent active propaganda against And obviously suggestion rather than exhaustiveness must be my aim. The tendency. which was beyond their reach. away from the direct. then. but impossible must plunge in medias res. simple. If he. most cogent and telling elements of the vernacular. in the bulk of his work. which was within their scope. for one thing. To call a spade a spade in puris was like presenting one's naturalibus. and not his best. I wish to say expUcitly that Pope. most famihar.

" Does one make coffee? "From spouts the grateful liquors gHde. is a most dreadful thing. bristly kind"." And so. for there is not a more fearful wild-fowl than your Hon — — living. in the poetry we are considering. And Thames still wafts me ocean's scaly breed. "the silver grunting." Does one serve fish and fowl? "From Darkin's roosts the feath- ered victims bleed." Are you blind of one eye? "To one the fates the visual ray deny. "was wondering at the moon." Francis Fawkes wonders too. the Hons roar as gently as is any sucking dove. a boot is "the shining leather that encased the limb". imperious surge" becomes "the sprightly flood." "To bring in a Hon. he wonders . sheep." zephyr. for the benefit of artistic sensibiHties. "the soft. pigs." in Keats. negroes are " Afric's sable progeny " bulls are "monarchs of the brindled breed" . "another pro- logue must tell he is not a lion. fearful people." or "swelling tide".20& CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and Snout and the Lion in the "Midsummer Night's Dream. nose " ." says Bottom." "Therefore." "iEaea's isle." says Snout. "to bring in God shield us! a Hon among ladies. While China's earth receives the smoking tide. a pipe is "the short tube that fumes beneath the ." or "the Shakespeare's "rude. The wind trembling softened to "the fragrant gale.

Thy Thy If love to me was wonderful. But it's the nobodies are the straws that of poetry. "Since there's no help. Francis Fawkes was nobody. meek-ey'd queen of night. love was wondrous. is a taste of his quality. Here. For it is in the attempts of the eighteenth century to translate into its own hngo the noble simplicity of great speech. let us kiss and part!" And I indulge in that remark advisedly. passing the love of women. she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. come. that poetic diction finds its re- dudio ad absurdum. I wish space permitted me to set down in antiphonal sequence the twelfth chapter of and Fawkes's poetizing of it. my care. however. who is show the way the wind blowing. even to-day. soothing all Passing the fond affection of the fair. from his rendering of David's lament over Jonathan: Ecclesiastes. and she gave him milk. now precipitates her flight.: THE DICTION OF POETRY 209 "Why silver Phoebe. stately hues of was then! Let us pass the Song of Deborah to the He asked for water. Now slackens." And / wonder with what amazing circumlocution Fawkes would have said. ever the beauty of Israel was slain upon it its high places. .

And bid new music charm th' unfolding ear. here is poetic diction: The milky beverage ask'd refreshment from the limpid wave. a few verses of Isaiah. and it remains un- wept. to the chief she gave. No more Nor the rising Sun shall gild the morn. you will say. it is as patently disingenuous it to single out Francis Fawkes. and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. shall from thick films The sun for brightness shall the be no more thy light by day. Let us move above the salt. . apparently. and unsung.210 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is But that He prose. ev'ning Cynthia fill her silver horn. the excel- See lofty Lebanon his head advance. See nodding forests on the mountains dance: See spicy clouds from lowly Saron rise. it. He And on shall purge the visual ray. unhonored. in antiphonal sequence. and Alexander Pope: The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto lency of Garmel and Sharon. But. as would be to pitch upon the veriest camp-follower of the New Poetry as the abstract and brief chronicle of its procedure. the sightless eye-ball pour the day: 'T is he th' obstructed paths of sounds shall clear. And now I shall set down. could not but- ter to the plane of poetry. neither moon give light unto thee. lift Even periphrasis. And Garmel's flow'ry top perfumes the skies 1 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened. Very good.

and how somebody. the unlucky Grainger triumphantly substituted for his rats: whisker'd vermin race. when Dr. Sad Helen next in pomp of grief appears. Here is Homer. while thus she cries." Phoebus now "glads the glebe and paints the flowery fields". And now Pope: Thus spoke the dame. and melted into tears. his Thus spake she wailing. one night. Some of you will recall the passage in Boswell which tells of the inextinguishable laughter at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. Muse. let's sing of rats''. when of "glad[ing] every flour with his warmnesse. Fast from the shining sluices of her eyes Fall the round crystal drops. and how. and stirred unending moan. Then thirdly Helen led their sore lament. slyly looking over the reader's shoulder. Grainger read from his manuscript of "The SugarCane" the line: "Now. but had been altered to rats. in which Pope makes a similar excursion round Robin Hood's barn. finally.THE DICTION OF POETRY Chaucer in wig and small-clothes ful a spectacle for is 211 too mourninstead us to linger over. in Andrew Lang's prose: And as when a lazy ass going past a field hath the . and I pass on to Homer. saw that the word had been originally mice. as more dignified." I "the shall make but one more excerpt from Pope's Homer.

peace! Dost thou not see my baby at That sucks the nurse asleep? Char. With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate Of life at once untie. But Pope balks at "ass": As the slow beasU with heavy strength endued. The patient animal maintains his ground. Though round his sides a wooden tempest rain. In some wide field by troops of boys pursued. and he fareth into the deep crop. Poor venomous fool. eastern star! Cleo. Be That angry. and despatch. tion. — as balm. Pope justifies himself on the ground that "a much to the taste of the age in which he lives as not to make too great a complitranslator owes so ment and this induced me to omit the mention of the word ass in the translato the former [age] . my breast. Peace. O. as soft as air." May I give. thou mortal wretch. break! 0. an ass that hath had many a cudgel broken about his sides. Thick on his hide the hollow blows resound. and lays waste the plain. while the boys smite him with and so on. a passage from one who was not induced to omit the mention of the word ass? Come. I might hear thee call great Gsesar ass Unpolicied Char. break! As sweet gentle. in its full context. as Antony! . 0. couldst thou speak. and waste th cudgels — it. Crops the tall harvest.! 212 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY better of the boys with him. Cleo.

And it passes without break of a Hne or a jarring syllable into poetry of the ." should choose incidents and situations from com- mon. most poignant and supernal beauty. When he threw his theory to the winds. and it sifiould employ. but a shall try not to be unfair. Wordsworth's doctrine )i^ >^ compound of fundamental truths and subtle fallacies. .^tr. and the '•" fallacies rode him like hags. and not on the object. I have made the only comment that I care to make on the merits of the case. And in the juxtaposition of a conventional poetic diction with that su- preme embodiment of the diction of poetry. "held the hye wey.THE DICTION OF POETRY If there 213 be such a thing on earth as the grand style. We have already seen that action and reaction are pretty certain to be equal. compression and excision are imperative." he could write like the him Angel of the Vision. preferably humble and rustic life. And everybody The sternest I knows how Wordsworth reacted against the eighteenth-century poetic diction. as elucidated in the Poetry- Preface to the "Lyrical Ballads. and lat his gost lede. the truths slipped out from under him. of which ass is an integral part. Now the gist of his theory. it is that speech. And when he wrote with his eye on his is theory. in relating and describing them. is this.

"Why. my boy hung down his head. — this is strange.In his recoil from the stilted. nor made reply. And three times to the child I said. and in its rebellion against the artificially poetic. At Edward. in men/' The part. blushed with shame. A broad and gilded vane. glittering bright. his diction became the apotheosis of the prosaic. but there is nothing present to infuse them with it.". Upon the house-top. teU me why?" this. but "Sol thro' white curtains shot a tim'rous ray. however." little — . "I My little Edward. I do not know. Wordsworth pitched headlong into the trivial. he saw it plain — — sight." said I . quite wrong. He there was in His head he raised It caught his eye. . but the tenets themselves represent a sound and healthy revolt against an affected and citified diction. say why so: tell me why. '* cannot tell. "Now. in which the sun never rose across open fields.214 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY selection of language really used by "a reasons for the tenets were. Edward. All the words in these famous stanzas from the "Anecdote for Fathers" are susceptible of poetic quality. "Why. And having the form of poetry .

THE DICTION OF POETRY level of prose itself to the prosaic. Signifying nothing." The difficulty. 215 without the power thereof. as lack-wit.. but there no such word... half-wit. etc. witless. poets "redeem words from degradation by a single noble employment. Wordsworth wrote to one of the critics of "The Idiot Boy" a letter which occupies eight full pages of the "Memoir. should certainly have employed in preference. to had been any such which we had attached I it passion. hath . your Idiot Boy? this bustle. they sink below the Why bustle thus What means about your door." and Shakespeare had saved is ever. howno single word certainly not in "idiot. Betty Foy? Why are you in this mighty fret? And why on horseback have you set Him whom you love." if it required salvation: . It is a tale Told by an idioU full of sound and fury. If there word in our language. and in the other poems of its kind." As Sir Walter Raleigh has said. lies in — "idiot." Two sentences are of special interest " It : is probable that the principal cause of your dislike to this particular in the poem hes word Idiot. The head and in this front of Wordsworth's offending.

216 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY no more: employment of his words The indictment Ues. he changed the tub to a turtle-shell — A shell of ample size. And that use is not infrequently due to a defective sense of humor — a perilous when one is deahng with the po- tential incongruities that lurk." limitations which he imposed upon it. stripped of the was absolutely sound. and Goody Blake. diction. And Wordsworth's fective. and Betty Foy. sense of values remained de- when. and the Bhnd Highland Boy who went to sea. is^not noble. . not in a bowl." said Words- worth of "The Idiot Boy. flying from Scylla to Gharybdis. and light As the pearly car of Amphitrite. not against his his its use. and Harry Gill. for then his touch on words is never sure." It is precisely when Wordsworth is most gleeful that he is most afflicting. malignly expectant. like one of those Which women use to wash their clothes. but in A household tub. and little Edward. The diction of poetry was to be "a selection of language really used by men. this extent. in the associations of words. And yet Wordsworth's theory. And that means Peter Bell. but against lack. That sportive dolphins drew. " I never wrote anything with so much glee.

apt for all affairs. But it has behind it the ulateness. Intense. intense. apt for all affairs. and fitting. and frugal. and the "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality. copious stores of Wordsworth's own vocabulary. and exact words to express a man who could not possibly thus express himself. the other of "Michael. and not of by William Wordsthat employed by Betty Foy. not a mere emulator of their inartic- Wordsworth says of Michael: "His mind was keen. The poet is more than the mouth-piece of an idiot and his mother." little Ed- ward. and all frugal. there is also a simpUcity which results from the winnowing of a rich abundance." and the great sonnets. that means a selection of worth. and in tion which reflects a why \ such lines as: Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns." That is a selection of the language really used by men.THE DICTION OF POETRY the language really used 217 Rightly understood. And a phrase like "Now. The one is the simplicity of the "Anecdote for Fathers"." refutes once for the absurdities of so." And in the Tintern Abbey lines. '* keen. from which are culled the apt. . The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep. say There is a simplicity of dicmeagre and barren stock. He is the translator of their halt- ing speech.

Wordsworth transcends. without contravening. far-off things. is always swinging. . lavish. And since they all had. f And battles long ago — He employs the lan- in all these. I And very opulence of the Romantic diction best.. Its own deep For unhappy. notable exceptions. to send quiet to restore our hearts. one of the glories of EngUsh poetry — — this! its at tended to confuse the issue for the Romanticists' . with. concrete. . The diction of poetry became. /theyocabulary of poetry increased enormously: its store of words of heightened emotional asso-.. of richly sensuous suggestion. however. but his employment is noble with a nobiUty attained only by the greatest. his theory. and the Romanticists opened up new and vast regions for poetry. . through Thee. ciations. sumptuous. terse. P^ rather than pointed. now guage really used by men. that grenzten — that Hang zum Unbethe infinite penchant for — which Goethe ascribed to Byron in particular. old.218 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY the most ancient heavens. are fresh And and strong. opulent. The pendulum. to a greater or less degree. of vague splendors.

And so there arose dors. and verdurous gleams. as so in words came to be regarded as having themselves poetic virtue. It finds its reaction has set fined expression in most sharply dethe principles and practices of the Imagists. 219 Words once nobly used were taken to be inherently noble. As usual. I am not now speaking primarily of the masters. so that one need only arrange in ordered sequence the proper of poetic terms. it is by no . and were employed to confer on poetry the nobihty which it is poetry's function to confer on words. that poetry became. J ^>» as practiced by its minor acolytes. alone and invertebrate. and uymurmurous darks and deeps. however. than that of the eighteenth century — but more /> a diction which conferred plenary absolution from the pains of thought upon poet and reader alike. often. They usually thought straight amid their splen- from the architectonic compulsion of ideas. It was when the splendors cut loose a new conventional m'^ insidious diction.THE DICTION OF POETRY successors. and walked I off. to whom. in order to achieve a number poem. the haunt of {^ slumberous glooms. Once more. in turn. the inevitable in. And now against that. less crass. a powerful poetic force set the echoes reverberating through the pages of minor poetry.

but revolutionary are extreme. are: 1st. The destructive trend of the reaction is of course extreme. And their tenets are both negative and positive. — ^ *^' edly ripe for just such a revolt. will movements always and the inevitable counter-offensive win back whatever territory of value is for is the moment lost. nothing to our souls: "Nothing . and though it is often used by dreadfully inexpert and ruthless hands.220 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY means confined. The pruning- hook was needed." And the time was undoubt2d. Stevenson once wrote to Henry James: My two aims may be 1st. the two battle cries of the I New Poetry. "Take eloquence and wring its neck." wrote Verlaine in his "Art poetique. They merely happen to be the most articulate among the groups. War on the eloquent. Death to the cliche. We may imperturbably possess here for tears. as catch their echoes. and "A cliche is worse than a crime. and to grow the more vigorously for the lopping. the stock is strong enough to stand it. so far as diction is concerned that. described as: War to the adjective. 2d." That might well be the motto of the present movement. to the optic nerve. Death Well.

is wrong. tide is at a turn- ing. but the poet's imand these impressions may and must be of infinite variety. but iol^T." The all.^c^ employ always the not far from the exact word. too. if so be that William Wordsworth It fifteen that Kingdom's prophet! took the pendulum exactly one hundred and years to swing from Wordsworth's "se- lection of the language really used by men. that sound For poetry gives. and back again to the Imagists' "language of differentia of the common speech. nor the merely decorative word. lies the phrase "to employ always the exad word. not facts. in the words of the Imagist pronounce- ment." That is Kingdom is of God. not the nearly^ a exact. however." out through the interstellar spaces of the Romanticists and the Victorians. The doctrine of the ." That has been authoritatively interpreted as meaning "the exact word which conveys the writer's impression to the reader." The in new statement. "the language of common speech. It proposes to use." And is unless everything that has been said in the opening chapter of this book doctriuQ. that is But the movement is positive. pression of facts. in its atti- tude towards the diction of poetry.THE DICTION OF POETRY wail 221 Or knock the breast.

222 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY while at the same time in- exact word. if I is one of splendor. then the splen- \ is also the exact word. Imagist and otherwise. and the Imagists are is right in saying that their contention not new. for is bound up with the whole question of vers libre. The protest is j understand. In the meantime. not any imis pression. admits the utmost flexibility of diction. but the impression that I sought. Beside and there may be two or three . Frost's "After Apple-Picking": My long two-pointed ladder's a tree sticking through Toward heaven still. against this or that type se. it. so understood. sisting that each word shall carry. in some obvious limitations and extremes in practice. or class of words per fj^ but against the use of any word solely for its adventitious values. two or three passages from very recent poetry. Here is a bit of Mr. We shall return to the matter. The renewed em- phasis spite of upon it is none the less wholesome. fill And there's a barrel that I did n't it. If the impression did word not. That is in /U accord with the consistent usage of the great poets. may serve the view under discussion inextricably if/j' to bring out its cathohcity with respect to diction.

Edward Arlington Robinson thus writes on cider barrels: From one of them A bright pine spile stuck out alluringly. Essence of winter sleep is on the night. Glimmered a late-spilled proof that Archibald Had spoken from unfeigned experience. So sharp that the would turn its edge Were it to be twisted in flight. prisoned. And on the black flat stone. This I is Miss Lowell: have whetted blade. Richard Aldington: . My brain is curved like a scimitar. done with apple-picking now. in and out. Licking passions have bitten their arabesques into And the mark of them lies. or at rest. of the brown soft sort That feeds on darkness. There was a fluted antique water-glass Close by. There was a cricket. it. With the beauty of corroded copper patterning white steel. just under it. And sighs at its cutting Like a sickle mowing grass. I 223 But I am Mr. and in it. The scent of apples: I am drowsing off. And here is another Imagist. Worm-like.THE DICTION OF POETRY Apples did n't pick upon some bough. it my brain until it is like a Damascus So keen that nicks off the floating fringes of air passers-by.

pallid chaplets. Since with thy white hands. art Thou That an healing wind bio west over white flowers A-tremble with dew.. palanquins swaying and balancing Amid the vermilion pavilions. In the evening I listen to the wind's lisping. in the actual words that it nicks" to "flamboyant . against the jade balustrades. sun. And now Fletcher: still a third Imagist. after all. Winds from the mountains of cinnebar. We yearn no more for the Death. John Gould Whirlpools of purple and gold. Thou art the silence of beauty. 224 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY O Death. Thou art the dusk and the fragrance Thou . is very like it any uses — from "So keen that other poetry. Thou crownest us with the The slim colorless poppies Which in thy garden alone Softly thou gatherest. The new poetry. While the conflagrations of the sunset flicker and clash behind me. And we look no more for the morning. . art a wind flowing Over long leagues of lonely sea. Lacquered mandarin moments. Mr. Flamboyant crenellations of glory amid the charred ebony boles.

" Its insistence upon the manner of their use.^*y Jj. . then. will And that involves questions that concern us later. which..^^^ THE DICTION OF POETRY is 225 crenellations.<^pation would be gone. it is not poetic diction which makes poetry. gives to through its energizing words poetic guahty. If this were ^The truism that it seems to be. the critic's occu- . influ ence. It is poetry.

on criticism. and think even a bad verse as good a thing or better than the best observation that ever was made upon it. Nor never did in shade of Tempe sit. and one great verse . I fear. we're capable of a luminous demonstration of how the thing is done: The It scholars praise it. "We never drank of Aganippe's well. that most of us who talk about its the poet's craft are innocent of experience in practice. has n't yet made weavers of 'em I And so I often find myself leaning strongly to- wards a remark of Thomas Gray's to Mason: "You know I do not love." and I'm inclined to think that his dictum must therefore be taken with a grain of allowance." who elucidates the mysteries of the weaver's craft. METRE. but Lord love *em. had begun his letter by saying that he was "almost bhnd with a great cold." Gray. to be sure.VI RHYME." Like Mephistopheles' philosopher in "Faust. much less pique myself. But one may heartily agree that even the germs of creative energy are infinitely precious in a world where things are in the saddle and ride mankind. AND VERS LIBRE It is true.

a few observations on the versifier's art. Yet criticism and even the sometimes harmless. METRE. AND VERS LIBRE alone outweighs a critic's volume. Let me say at once. and I have no claim to expert knowledge in the intricate and baffling field of metrical technique. And so. necessary expositor may have a place. thing. . I venture. It is the here is independent of technical bearing of certain broad and general considerations upon present problems that I wish to dis- cuss. that I have no intention of going into the technicalities of verse.RHYME. without a still line of verse to bless myself withal. It is that contention which I should like to is examine. The view is vigorously urged to-day that rhyme and metre hamper the poet's free expression. and the one object of this chapter to attempt some answer to these questions: far How do rhyme and metre restrict the poet's free- dom. 227 and creation do go hand in hand. and. that is something on which only the speciahst has a right to speak. the phase of the subject For another which concerns us niceties. as a corollary. For one thing. wherein consists the peculiar freedom of free verse? That is really the central point at issue: the balance between restraint and liberty in art. most undog- matically. however.

then? I confess that. and any convention is the same way namely. on acceptance. those are The essential point is that metrical forms are conventional. of course. had neither." Chaucer was wise. in They are open to change as open to change. — by a slow and gradual consent to something else. Hebrew poetry. as tyme. I am something of a fatahst when it comes to matters of convention. moment with their differ- For our immediate purpose. without delay. We are not concerned at the ences. And the new thing will stand or fall according as it does or does not win its way into the permanent acceptance of the great community of readers. What you or I may say makes little difference. when he wrote . As I have already indicated. is essential to poetry as such. nor rhyme. in the strictest sense. The issue rests with the thing and the public. I am sometimes hard put to it for an answer. for his Take every man his turn. "But al shal passe that men prose or ryme. which moves together. like Wordsworth's little Edward.228 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY we Let us recognize. as apply the term. that neither metre. and even the oldest English poetry was based on a rhythmic system other than that in use to-day. entirely immaterial. Why say it. Hke all matters of usage. and therefore rest. if it move at all.

For language wholly devoid of emotional quality does not enter into the question at all. the rest of us may at least endeavor to reach clearness. with the 229 ence. That rhythm is not the rhythm of verse. whose ordinary daily talk maintains gait slow or hurried. when speech is touched with emotion. radicals fire radicals to keener ardors. the point of freedom. under stress of compel- ling emotion. The language of elevated thought or feeling is always rhythmic. METRE. find our speech taking on not only deeper color. Strong feeling of whatever sort. less susceptible of formu- . to which metre really that And we may first consider the extent upon and rhyme impose restrictions That involves at once the relations between the rhythms of verse and those of expression. that is. Even you and its I. but always pedestrian — even you and I. under- neath the inevitable flux there are permanencies. at issue is As has been said. it is infinitely more varied. nervous or phleg- matic. And and while conservatives hearten conservatives. wisdom (and the humor) of experiand emergence in art go on inces- and always have. ordinary speech. AND VERS LIBRE that. but a more or less measured beat. staccato or legato.RHYME. Eclipse santly. imposes upon speech a rhythmic beat. Nevertheless.

however. and the line is made up of a limited number of groups of stressed and unstressed syllables. that this is particular restraint unduly rigid. the number of unaccented syllables that accented syllable is may accompany an Beyond verse also limited. Moreover. rise lation. English metre rarely goes. that verse is a convention of art. whose very essence is restraint.230 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY ebbing and flowing with the being. or of one accented and two unaccented syllables. made up of varying alternations of one accented- and one unaccented syllable. on the other hand. In regis ular English metres the line the saUent unit. whenever thought touched with prose. that characterizes elevated In metrical verse. both to eye and ear. It is contended. The protest is . deeply feeling. the rhythm follows relatively fixed patterns. and fall of the emotion. controlled or unrestrained. nor does it group its syllables inevitably by twos and threes. that gives it And it is that heightening of is rhythmic quality. To state these obvious facts is to — admit at once that metrical verse imposes restrictions upon the freedom of ordinary speech which is merely to say in other words. Rhythmic utterance does not normally fall into units of fixed length.

of two rhythms. I understand them. tends towards restraint. metre does not impose any Hmitations whatever. There hand. nor so slight as the conservatives. the other of which. it is At all events. a resolution. If the line length and the sentence rhythm uniformly coincide (as they do in some of Pope's couplets. overlook. insist. on the one that is to say. If there is only the sentence cadence. - H' Upon the length or the development of the larger. ^''^ They are merely taken up into and merged with ^ Let me make mean. fectly inteUigible position. the last degree. I think. without the beat of . the — is line. it is 231 against imposing upon rhythm the strait-jacket of metre. clearer what I freedom. on the other in verse. The movement of regular verse is a resultant. tends towards utter another rhythmic movement. AND VERS LIBRE not against rhythm. taken alone. one of which. what we may designate as the sentence rhythm or cadence. for our There is. Its That is a perand it is plausible to measure of justification is. Now no merely academic question. for example) we get monotony. neither so great as the radicals. hand. ^\j^ infinitely varying rhythmic units. These are free. there is a fundamental fact which the if protestants. taken alone. METRE. the metrical unit present purpose. deadly and intolerable.RHYME.

in the best verse unobtrusively. or both. Regular verse would strike out. the rhythmic cadences determined by the thought. or by the breath. variety of your speech and mine. the there is variety. And the aesthetic pleasure of such verse Ues the conscious or unconscious rec- largely in ognition of unity in variety. interwoven into . but the beat of the lines is The freedom of regular verse is the freedom of infinitely varied rhythms thrown against a constant rhythmic background. but the two together — these is rhythm constitute normal English verse. The regular beat and the shifting neither alone. like lines. flow around and through and in the beat of the there. the rhythm of the line. when invested with the added charm of the unfore- — is seen. in our inexhaustible human delight in the known and expected. Metrical verse. What free verse moment. In the hands of the artist.232 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY line. to anticipate for a line. time in music. that is not sheer doggerel. Behind the endlessly weaving rhythms of the sentence cadences beats steadily. the recurrent rhythm of the the resultant of two rhythms. is built upon the harmony of both. of the fixed and constant taken up into the ever changing — movement of the in a word. but it is merely the when charged with emotion in varying degrees.

The leaf of eglantine. nor. but a monstrosity.' RHYME. like thy veins. is 233 ^^r ^v>ji • innumerable harmonies. which I am trying to make clear. ruthlessly printed as if it were merely metrical hues. so that constantly shifting rhythmic patterns weave through the ^^ ^^^ ^ vUiJ^'^ " beating metrical units. Thou shalt not lack.53c>^ '^ Si^^ have said that the rhythm of the sentence or the phrase plays through and about the rhythm of the line. While summer lasts and I live here. METRE. no. phony. so read. in order that we may see with some clearness what is left: With fairest flowers. If warp of the steadily you recall the second Pathetic ^ '^ T ^ "^ movement of Tschaikowsky's Sym. Better still. has been torn bodily away from the other. whom not to slander. is not verse. I '11 sweeten thy sad grave. One rhythm. pale primrose. nor. The flower that's like thy face. its way without ' ^ rhythms of the ^- have one of a thousand musical analogues of the blending of the two rhythms in verse. broadly speaking. . Here is a passage will you ^^ from Shakespeare. where the measured and muffled throbbing of the kettledrum holds cessation through the surging orchestra. That. Free versa J&JiiiilLjQn mental difference I the funda. . Out-sweeten'd not thy breath. The azur'd harebell. That. AND VERS LIBRE one alone. that is. let verse speak for itself. Fidele.

With gazing eyes and stumbling I cared not where she led me. pale primrose. nor The azur'd harebell. Here is one. And the indigo-blue of quartz. the in vers libre. whom not to slander. nor The leaf of eglantine. Points of orange. My . Or poet let us take two passages from one poet is —a who writing now. Here is what Shakespeare wrote: With fairest flowers While summer lasts and I live here. feet. I '11 sweeten thy sad grave. indicate which I followed which. One a fully rhymed stanza in other is absolutely orthodox metre. rubies. her for long. Thou shalt not lack The flower that's like thy face. layers of chrysoprase. the yellows of beryls. Fidele. to whose variety they impart a basic unity. Out-sweeten'd not thy breath.234 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is Yet that impose what must be. spirals of vermilion. but they are taken up into the larger rhythmic movement. if metre really does larger free- itself as a restriction upon the dom of rhythmic utterance. eyes were full of colors: Saffrons. no. The loud pink of bursting hydrangeas. and in who is cathoHc is enough to practice both kinds. The metrical units are there. like thy veins. Of course it does not. at the is moment. I shall not. Flights of rose. The spotted gold of tiger-lily petals.

cool. crushed. It an attempt. A proper vestibule and antechamber to the rainbow. are: heads. to the ear. Beyond. And reds in orange crushed. is This is not a controversial document. metrical. than the unchartered freedom it is of the first. Dyes of prismed richness: Carmine. the beds of tulips blazed. Blues tinging dark browns to purple. The Let little fall Quiet. 235 And watched for the flashing of her wings. flushed. Spotting tender saffron hues. which make it possible to restore the stanza. AND VERS LIBRE I followed. that poetry written. Silvers flushed to amethyst and tinct with gold. And here is the other: apple leaves above their heads a quivering sunshine. cool.RHYME. hues. Violets sunk to blacks. In blossomed boughs they sat. rhymed metrical pattern has imposed restric- stanza. . not for the eye. METRE. And its upon the rhythmic movement no more tion. Madder. as unbiased as the academic mind per- * The rhyme-words. The free last (which ^ I have arbitrarily printed as verse) is a regular. Round eyes of scarlet. And is for the ear. beds. dyes. blues. eyes. vestibule.

If we keep the rhythm. I may n't say: "When Porphyria ghded in. if we keep the words we want. as to marshal the accented and unaccented syllables punctually at the proper intervals for the genesis of metrical feet. to state the facts. Mesopotamia must go overboard." though our rhythm cry out for it ever so loud.236 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY And one fact that has is mils. nor do they so fall into relation with each other. bind in the poet's freedom of expression. And "border on the Tigris" may not be in the least what our scheme of things demands." Granted at once both counts of the indictment! . we must often shift the order. neither are so constructed in themselves. plains of "When glided in Porphyria. she straight shut out the cold and the storm. But metre imposes other checks on freedom. suffered temporary eclipse these days the is lib- erty inherent in the type of verse which larly popu- supposed to cabin. and some such makeshift as "the fertile plains that border on the Tigris" must take its place. we are told." I must say: must correspond. Words in normal speech. straight She shut the cold out and the storm. confine. Moreover. If I'm writing in a certain metre. Yet the verse stress and the word stress We may n't say "the fertile Mesopotamia. crib.

In other words. I But before I take the high let ground that In the verse. There one way. first The basis of we do not scan English EngUsh verse is accent. unlike classical quantity. and only one.RHYME. AND VERS LIBRE Verse is 237 not prose. In the sentence just written. degrees of there are accented syllables of stress. propose to take on that point. seriously question if. METRE. is there such a thing as a fixed reading. the state of things within the line closely analogous to the situation we have seen in the case of the hne and the circumambient sentence rhythm. I venture to say that no two mortals ever read aloud any given long passage of verse with precisely the same rhythms. of correctly reading a may be three or four of reading ways an English blank verse line. us look a httle more closely at the facts. absolutely I incapable of formulation. There is Latin hexameter. or in the one I am have writing now. and the metrists themselves read the same hues differently. is There for the line a general norm — iambic. I am very sure that I should never read certain lines as the books on metrics say they should be read. And is I for many lines. place. and is accent. all and there are likewise relatively unac- cented syllables that carry more actual stress than some that are technically accented. .

the door of When we come mal order of to the dislocation of the noris words which laid at metrical necessity. The * — plain fact in is that. — which carries through But half the time we norm merely as something which persists feel the as a metrical background. we find a similar overstate- ment verse. is the offspring of a priori notions. "there were too many Miltonic inversions in it. in the interest of a propaganda. And the idea up of rhythm into and stereotyped forms. relatively speaking.238 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY what you will trochaic. will lead some of the modernists forthwith to embrace them.'" wrote Keats. But the decided tendency of English — . inversion Enghsh verse is rare. Inversion undoubtedly occurs with unnecessary frequency in some English "I have given up Hyperion. I fear. but neither is it a lock-step. Verse is not prose. The hampering influence of metre upon phrasal rhythm within the line has been rather grossly exaggerated these days. Shifts in the position of words and phrases for the sake of emphasis are common precisely as we practice them in prose." declared Tennyson a statement which." " I hate inversions. through shifting variations from of metre as a rigid locking set it. let me say again. and not of the reading of great verse itself. of the facts.

RHYME, METRE, AND VERS LIBRE
verse, taken not here
is

239

and

there,

but in the mass,
order.

to preserve the normal

word

To

illus-

would be to print a dozen pages from a dozen poets, excluding one or two who do, by their individual usage, extend aid and comfort to the enemy. Here I may only instance a few random lines which, I think, it will none the less be admitted are typical. And I shall choose them from no one sort of poetry.
trate adequately
Farewell thou art too dear for
I

my possessing.

And like enough thou know'st thy estimate: The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;

My bonds in thee are all determinate.
I

Who

long to talk with some old lover's ghost died before the god of love was born.

But to our tale: Ae market night, Tarn had got planted unco right; Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely, Wi' reaming swats, that drank divinely;

And

at his elbow, Souter Johnny, His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;

Tam

lo'ed him like They had been fou

a vera brither;
for

weeks thegither.

Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour; England hath need of thee: she is a fen Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen, Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower. Have forfeited their ancient English dower

Of inward happiness.

We are selfish men.

240

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
Well! If the Bard was weather-wise, who made The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence, This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence Unroused by winds.

can ail thee, knight-at-arms. Alone and palely loitering? The sedge is wither'd from the lake. And no birds sing.
... for

O what

my purpose
sunset,

holds

To
Of
It

sail
all

beyond the

and the baths
I die.

the western stars, until

may be that the gulfs will wash us down; It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Those are
all

as straightaway as your talk or

mine, and they represent normal English verse. The contention that inversion is a necessity in-

a man of straw. That it is sometimes the path of least resistance is clear enough, and poets, hke the rest of us, often take to their hurt the easy way. But that is rather the fault of the poet than of his medium. But, insist the protestants, even though we grant all that, you are merely making the shoe pinch at another point. To keep the metre and
herent in metre
is

avoid inversion

still

involves restriction, for

we

are not thereby reUeved of the necessity of

choosing words that

fit

the

line.

The

limitation

RHYME, METRE, AND VERS LIBRE
still

241

persists.

Undoubtedly

it

does. I
it.

have not the
If
I

slightest intention

of denying

did,

I

should be denying that poetry was an art.
there
is

And

where I part company with some of my very good friends. Art demands a medium. That medium is never the same as the thing which it presents. Canvas is not a landscape, stone flesh, the stage reality. Obliterate the difference, and you have actuality, not art. We have already seen the grounds for this, and I shall not restate them here. Let the medium of poetry conform completely to the usages of ordinary speech, and it ceases to be poetry. If poetry is art, it must produce its effects through a medium which differentiates it, without divorcing it, from reality.
It

may

not be unaccommodated speech.

And

that differentiation does without question im-

pose restrictions upon the poet's absolute free-

dom

of expression.

But

it

is

precisely these

restrictions

which make the poet.
will,

Wer

Grosses

muss

sich

zusammen

raffen:

In der Beschrdnkung zeigt sich erst der Meister, Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.

Goethe has touched the core of the problem that confronts us now. The very restrictions of his medium become to the artist, as blank verse

became growingly to Shakespeare, the way to

:

242

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
its

freedom; and the triumphs of art have been

through
able,

sovereign deaUngs with the intract-

"when the hard means rebel." Let me

con-

tinue

my

quotation

O

Poet, then, forbear

The

loosely-sandalled verse.

Choose rather thou to wear straight and The buskin

terse;

Leave to the tiro's hand The limp and shapeless style; See that thy form demand

The

labor of the

file

Paint, chisel, then, or write;

But, that the work surpass. With the hard fashion fight, With the resisting mass.


me
set be-

Those are the words, not

of a pedant or a peda-

gogue, but of Theophile Gautier. Let

them — ness again — a remark
side

as artist's, not schoolmaster's witof

Henry James from one

of those distilled prefaces of his. of the
ist:

He

is

speaking

"charm of supreme

difficulty" to the art-

"To put all that is

possible of one's idea into

a form and compass that will contain and express
it

only

by deUcate adjustments and an
left

exquisite

chemistry, so that there will at the end be neither

a drop of one's liquor

nor a hair's breadth of

RHYME, METRE, AND VERS LIBRE
the rim of one's glass to spare

243

— every

artist will

remember how often that
carried with
is it its

sort of necessity has

particular inspiration."
it is

That

written of fiction, but

supremely true of
limitations at its

verse.
peril.

And

verse foregoes

its

For art gambles with that which makes it when it rebels against restriction. But we are not yet done with the shackles. There is still rhyme. And we shall consider that as we have considered metre, only in its relation
art,

to freedom of expression.

In the

first place,

rhyme is,

of course,

an

acciit is

dent rather than an essential of verse.

And

term rhyme, in its popular acceptance, refers to what is technically known as end rhyme. Strictly speakscarcely necessary to point out that the
ing, alliteration is
is initial,

rhyme too

— that
mean

is

to say,

it

as contrasted with end rhyme.

But the

technical distinction need not concern us here.

By rhyme
usage

I

mean what we

all

in ordinary

similarity or identity, as

between two

words or even sets of words, of an accented vowel sound and whatever follows it, set off by difference in the preceding sound.

And rhyme,

thus

understood, does several things.

For one thing, it gives the sort of aesthetic pleasure which arises from the recognition of

:

244

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY

sameness with difference in another fashion, metre
illustrate

— the pleasure which,
itself affords.

Let

me

what

The
this:

first line

mean from an unrhymed poem. of GoUins's "Ode to Evening" is
I

If
If,

aught of oaten stop, or pastoral song.
I

now, you do what
line,

did

— namely, write out the consonant sounds
you
(n)

am

certain Collins never
of

the
f t

find a remarkable result.
St

Here
ng).

it is:

r p p same consonants are repeated
f

t

r

st

(1

s

The

in a sequence

which resembles a mathematical design. But
observe: the recurrences of identical consonants

accompanied by totally different vowel by a vowel sequence, in fact, as remarkable as the consonantal sequence, ranging from the full open sound of "aught," down through "oat" and "stop," to the lighter o in
are

sounds

"pastoral," and up again in "song."
of the line, in other words
If

The music

aught of oaten stop, or pastoral song

due to the nice conjunction of recurring consonants with subtly varying vowels. And if one cares to see the difference between such an effect and that of crass identity, one has only to read the next line as ColUns first wrote it
is

May

hope,

pensive Eve, to sooth thine ear.

RHYME, METRE, AND VERS LIBRE
There "hope
"sive

245

pe"

is

sheer cacophony, and

Eve"

Httle better.

And

ColHns, whose ear

was

exquisite to a degree, changed the

Une to

read:

May hope,
sacrificing
effect.

chaste Eve, to sooth thy modest ear

"pensive" on the altar of musical
a similar merging of sameaes-

Now rhyme, by
thetic pleasure,
d'etre. It does,

ness with difference, gives a specific sort of

and

that, I take

it, is

its

raison

however, other more or

less useful

things. It obviously sets off the metrical unit,

the line; and, paradoxically enough,
lines together in larger units

it

also binds

couplets, qua-

trains,

or

what

not.

For the
its

first

sound

still

echoes in the ear

when

counterpart occurs,

and the two

link together, in

varying degrees

according to the interval, their respective hues.

Rhyme

plays, then, a rather important,

though

not an essential part in verse.
restrictions

But rhyme, in the nature of the case, imposes upon the poet's liberty. The number of words in the language that rhyme with any given word is obviously limited. The use of a word in rhyme, accordingly, compels the poet to
choose a second word, not for
its

sense alone, but

" he goes on." "This. The poets themselves have grumbled freely. range of choice circumscribed by a purely accidental fact — the is rhyming words which actually exist. and musical.246 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY And even so." Gray characterizes lyric style in words which I wonder that the Imagists have not appropriated as their motto: "Extreme conciseness of expression. would deny that this constitutes Only a definite restraint upon free choice. perspicuous. Campion and Daniel." Per contra^ sixteenth . the necessity of rhyming is one great obstacle to it. Chaucer translates three Balades of Oton de Granson. the sense of all the rest." and of "the close of that one syllable. yet pure. among the protagonists. which often confines. and more often corrupts. To folwe word by word the curiositee Of Graunson. Dryden speaks of "the slavery of rhyme. "I have always aimed at. floure of hem that make in Sith I Fraunce. his for its sound. with Spenser and Gabriel Harvey. pass over reluctantly the battles royal that the and seventeenth centuries waged on the subject. rym in English hath swich scarsitee. and ends his envoy thus: of number a fanatic And eek to me it is a greet penaunce. and nobody that I know of does deny it. and never could attain.

the Bradwardine. and chains. "truly. as Touchstone to Corin. . Black shall be white. clogs. Paul shall be Peter. this damn*d Trade of Versifying. thou art in a parlous state. This Poetic Age hath is prov'd the most and Immoral. the Paul. in some rhymes 247 "On Rhyme. — . Merely to hear the Verse cry Clink." and ends: "Those who are excessively addicted to [Rhyme] have generally their Minds and Manners distorted. METRE. the Calvin of his day. as his admirers called him.» And would there were space to quote from the Reverend John Edwards. He only aims that you should think." that While the trim bard in easy strains. . But of sterner stuff is Quevedo's "Complaint of the Poets in Hell": Oh. the passage which begins: "Verse Words put into a WantonPosture. Has brought us all to Hell for lying! For writing what we do not think. How charmingly he makes them clink. thou art damm'd." one might say to rhyme. Talks much of fetters." And it would be easy to accumulate corroborative evidence from the poets themselves Atheistical . AND VERS LIBRE Robert Lloyd protests." "Truly. For rather than abuse the Meter. the AugusI tine.RHYME. .

which banter All that e'er was true? That Tennyson at the age of sixteen or so. and you may read in Engthe Tenny- son "Memoir" his tours deforce on rhinoceros. since even Walker's Lexi* con could give no help.: 248 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY if. Marjorie Fleming's divine shared by few of her fellow-craftsmen: He was ^ kill'd by a cannon splinter Quite in the middle of the winter. and "banter" dances to "enchanter's" piping." because they can't dodge preceding line. (Perhaps it was not at that time. Browning said he thought he could lish make a rhyme for every word in the language. since "canter" was the sole alternative left open to the dreams of youth. Keats's trees sprout "a shady boon For simple sheep" under the obvious compulsion of the moon. . ''lodge'' in the The Alps in "Childe Harold" are endowed with candor is scalps. we levy on their Juvenilia Memory! Dreams dear enchanter! Why bring back to view of youth. Of course the difficulty puts adventurous spirits on their mettle. But I can get no other rhyme). and his solitary thinkings is ''dodge Conception to the very bourne of hea- ven. especially to make a case.

RHYME. it. or he. The disclosure of a sort of Cartesian pre- estabhshed harmony between rhyme and reason is one of the prerogatives of the poetic of the gift. Very good. Admitting losses. phrase in poetry are the result of a flash of inspiration under the happy guidance . and Graigenputtock. and you cannot eat your cake in poetry. And some most felicitous turns of thought and of a rhyme. as it holds sway in hfe. so be question is. Rhyme poet's freedom. METRE. 249 And every- body knows Byron's But ye lords of ladies intellectual. are there countervaiUng gains? For the law of compensation rules supreme in art. Abandon rhyme. have they not hen-peck'd you I — Oh all? But that I is amiable license and not liberty. The sole how far the game is worth the candle. and the lady (I am quoting Hamlet!) shall say her mind more freely. Will she. however. Inform us truly. AND VERS LIBRE Ecclefechan. and have it too. say it with more beauty? Will it even necessarily be said more exactly? Sometimes. devil's have now played the advocate with restricts the exemplary thoroughness. yes! But one of the curious phenomena of language is the uncanny way in which sound and sense have the trick of playing into each other's hands.

which reason delivered could not so prosperously be In a word. hits on. Yet did I never breathe its pure serene. Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold Then the nine low words that crept in one dull Ime: "Yet could I never judge what men could gave place. poetry. regarded from the side of its technique. is the moulding of language to ar- tistic ends. of the hap- piness in words which rhyming often itself of. Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold. It deals with the aesthetic as well as clash. In the for illustration to a single case in "On first first looking into Chapman's Homer. under the compulsion of mean" the rhyme. That is one instance out of hundreds. to the splendid phrase which now — completes the figure: Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne. but sonnet I must confine myself point. Yet could I never Judge what men could mean. the significative values of words." Keats wrote: Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne. In so far as the two sets of values do not rhyme enhances that power of awakening delight which verse^ .250 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is That not an offhand statement.

Cogency and consecutiveness of development are as characteristic of the supreme lyrics. but they have also made it incumbent on us to think straight after them. as are rhythm and imagery. And rhyme is a powerful factor in throwing into relief what Pope would cafl "the strong connections. 251 rhyme has no case. or of something else. the other function of rhyme is something which poetry can ill afford to spare. and it imposes upon the lyric impulse an ordered sequence and an organic unity. METRE. For rhyme is one of the binding elements in both the production and the perception of structural unity. But it is part of the poet's challeng- ing and obdurate enterprise to see that they do not conflict. If the values conflict. gradations just. And whether they take the form of rhyme or Byron him something craggy sought in the study of metre. even. Great poetry is vertebrate. even when they most deeply. I confess to a firm behef in the tonic properties of crags." which constitute a poem an artistic whole. Rhyme simply affords him what : Armenian it offers for his mind to break on.RHYME. AND VERS LIBRE shares with music. nice dependencies. Moreover. For the great poets have not only thought straight themselves. I am well felt . Creative energy in its highest exercise is magnificently architectonic.

however. and you obliterate first its very essence. If one prefer (as one may) Debussy to Beethoven. balde Ruhest du auch. Or consider the stanza at which my "Oxford Book of English Verse" hap- pens to open: . one may. Kaum Rob that of its rhymes. quite intelligibly. that beauty of form which consists in a sequence of balanced parts composing into an ordered unity. apart from the welding power of the And to pass to one of the briefest same time most flawless of all lyrics.252 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY aware that there are those who will reject my major premise. care little for firm structural Une in poetry. Die Vogelein schweigen Warte nur. but also the synthesizing effect of the rhymes in and at the Goethe's lines: Ueber 1st alien Gipfeln Ruh. If we recognize at all. I shall ask you to observe not merely the music. or Gauguin to Rembrandt. we shall also recognize the con- structive value of rhyme. In alien Wipfeln Spiirest du im Walde. It would be difficult to imagine the superb cogency of the "Divine Comedy" terza rima. * einen Hauch.

The as conventional forms of English verse. and may not be discarded without loss. acare sometimes asked to beheve. and the design pricked out. that a by the rhymes.BHYME. so to speak. And such an ad- venture is now in full career. O so sweet is she! 253 Have you That. do not shackle poetry so disastrously we On it the contrary. AND VERS LIBRE seen but a bright lily grow Before rude hands have touch'd it? Have you mark'd but the fall of the snow Before the soil hath smutch' d it? Have you felt the wool of beaver. ture is is slight. become does But not follow that the door is therefore closed to fresh adventures in technique. . METRE. but its strucis as firm as delicate. the very limitations frequently in a true sense creative agencies. without the But it is no less true that rhyme has become in EngUsh poetry a constructive element of great value. O so soft. poem may possess artistic unity of high order. I need scarcely add. aid of rhyme. too. cordingly. if it is you will. Or swan's down ever? Or have smelt o' the bud o' the brier. Whether there are compensatory gains is another question. Or the nard in the fire? Or have tasted the bag of the bee? so white. I hope. which we shall come to in a moment.

To under- stand. But both understanding and tremely difficult. and. But it is also con- and it is experimenting in a genuinely its best. and as such it is spectful consideration. quintessential of time's And one of the most little ironies is its trick . are notorious even among time's laughing-stocks. worthy of the most reAt its worst.254 It CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is. it is no more predecessors. it is fruitful fashion. a frank revolt all against metrical conventions. structive. we are too close for perspective. long since absurd than scores of its embalmed among the curiosities of literature. I have tried to estabhsh a general background. but even at that we are still in too close proximity to the picture. even though less it may not feel called upon to pray. it is extreme. merely part and parcel of the intellectual one more wave in the endferment of our day It is — ebb and flow of action and reaction. Contemporary judgments. At a serious attempt to readjust the relations of content and form in poetry. pro or con. among other things. The movement is neither a bogy nor an avatar. And criticism has no cause to scoff. so far as possible. like insur- gent tendencies. appraisal are ex- For one thing. the infinitesimal increments of which we call Progress. and to appraise are more to the point.

RHYME. treme to the point of anarchy — there are gradations all the way between. it is sometimes brief discussion to avoid. AND VERS LIBRE of extinguishing us. As for myself. an unobtrusive but unmistakable reaction from these extremes. through the 255 very process of providing us with due perspective. I by and have profound respect for certain of their . qualifications and abatements. The new poets themselves are far from unanimous in There are wings exthe Paroxysmists in France. And a since one group repudiates what another group difficult in stands sponsor for. the Vorticists in England. taking the insurgents large. We make up our transitory must speak now. and mild lunacies of one sort or another in this country. And either theory or practice. out of which has emerged a relatively moderate and balanced Centre. to minds. within the insurgent camp itself. There is also. That. Moreover. METRE. a certain appear- ance of unfairness. clarity and poise of judgment in this particular instance are rendered almost unattainable through the fact that the movement we are concerned with is beset with innumerable cross currents and shifting channels. or forever after hold our peace. is inevitable. Yet we can't wait till we're dead. without interminable I fear.

both gains and losses. and others. So far as its behavior in this respect is concerned. and I do not wholly share their implicit faith in their own methods. under the influence of Greek. and Whitman. the answer is more diflicult. Its history.256 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY I admire tremendously some things that they have done. and some of their assertions. It is their metrical tenets that concern us And it is not my purpose to discuss either the is sufficient origins or the history of vers llbre. and that it has since passed. or is passing. it is maintaining the estabUshed traditions of English poetry. When one asks precisely what free verse is. It to say that the present impulse comes primarily from France. and Henley. in a word. both directly and at second-hand. But I doubt the vahdity of aims. I shall briefly indicate what seem to me now. all their off- or their pardonable family pride in spring. and even Hebrew poetry. the ground prepared for it in differing ways by Arnold. that it found. Miss Amy Lowell has been at more pains than anybody else to define . when it came. in that it represents the grafting of foreign scions upon the native stock. Chinese and Japanese. is absolutely typical of the procedure of EngUsh poetry from the Middle Ages on.

RHYME. * would not be *free' if it had. AND VERS LIBRE and to explain it. 1918). or may be only a part. METRE. in the closing chapter of her recent volume." Or. and clear as it still more recently the Dial (January 17. in the North American Review for January." The emphasis. then (and the .' or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing. The unit is the strophe. she has made it as probably can be made. to put it another way. the quantity. unrhymed cadence is "built upon organic rhythm. Each strophe is a complete circle." But cadence "To understand all vers libre. I shall still essay no statement of my own. which may be the whole poem. "The unit of vers libre is not the foot. rather than upon a strict metrical system. 257 and in the Preface to "Sword Blades and Poppy Seed"." "Free verse within its own law of ca- desire to find in rical feet." What is this law of cadence? For that is the vital point. number of the syllables. one must abandon it the even rhythm of metOne must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader. 1917. draw for my statement upon these "The definition of vers libre is: a verse-form is based upon cadence. it dence has no absolute rules. "Tendencies in Modern in American Poetry". or the line. And I shall documents. not metre.

is upon what has been else- where itself.'' called "the desire of verse to return upon un- The law it. except in the selection and arrangement of the excerpts. more than I have read most of the best and. The poem "can be fast or slow. The group of lines constitutes the unit. and I am glad to emphasize the difference. it it may even jerk. led on by an unholy fascination. far my quota of the worst . but this perfect swing must have. I beUeve. the Unes move as the poet wills. of which any given line is but a part. The chopped-up that goes by the same name is worth nei- ther your time nor mine for critical consideration. like the swing of a balanced pendulum. a perfectly fair statement of the is insurgent position. Within that swing. even its jerks must follow the central movement. accordingly. of cadence. have been scrupulously careful to wrest nothing from its context." This summary is. practitioners understand prose And it is with this that I am concerned. which is a rhythmic movement returning upon itself.258 this CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is fundamental). The genuine attempt to work out a new artistic medium has suffered from the confusion. in that I and Now alone this represents free verse as its serious it. if I derstand appHes to a balanced flow of free rhythm. It not my own.

What is the difference? I Mainly this: in the one. is the recurrent beat of the fine. METRE. That regular verse. poem rhythms of any The sentence and phrasal rhythms of the great rhymed lyrics are always potentially. Regular verse is also at its best essentially strophic. which are far more lineSy significant than the rhythms of Milton's are as free as the strophic in vers libre." for example. and in many cases actually. they are free to vary as they please. And now for the more is serious experi- ment itself. It too. namely metrical lines. the constituent rhythmic elements. It . as just defined. in the other. as have already tried to make clear. 259 and I speak by the book. as un- restrained as the modern cadences. AND VERS LIBRE free verse printed in recent years. is a larger rhythmic movement which subsumes other rhythms. it has in common with The great strophic rhythms of "Paradise Lost. as I have already said. tially strophic. What the modern unrhymed cadences abandon. It is at its best essen- a larger rhythmic movement which subsumes other rhythms. then. It is not in the strophic element as such. an enveloping rhythm. The two have in common. have a relatively uniform beat. Therein Ues the pecuhar freedom of free verse.RHYME. Free verse.

as in regular verse. .260 is CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and partially supposed restraint. are children of a scientific They know that man not the centre of the and so they scrupulously refrain from any attempt to impose their feelings upon things. especially the Imagist poetry "concerns itself with man in his proper relation to the universe." it." who indulges in vague generalities. For am still speaking only of the more artistic use of it) may not fairly be separated from its content. And they have a right to ask. The new. does the New Poetry envisage its world? For one thing. And one of their chief aims. accordingly. is the universe. be uniform. as they do. The is insurgent poets. Where Ues the gain? The answer to that free verse (and I in- volves the other tenets of the movement. How. about his universe. magnificent and sonorous. that this fact be taken into account. The poets who use it insist that they see the world in their own way. as one of them has put age. and they have hit upon a medium which they believe serves best to record their impressions of what they see. here that they have freed themselves from a partially real The constituent elements of the strophic rhythm need not. then. rather than as the lord and master of it. it sets itself in sharp opposition to what it calls "the cosmic poet.

. is felt to serve these ends with pecuUar aptness. to the reader. that their chief immediend in and hardness of presentaextraneous detail which the vividness of the main tends to blur theme. . objectivity. That is a consistent and reasoned doctrine of the poet's business. in their pristine freshness. or 261 attainment of what they have variously called acy.. all . Before coming to debit and credit. bare as they are of conventional emotional associations. then. By the same token. is in turn.." And finally. exteriority. the rhythms. "discarding . dismissed with a gesture. ploy inversions ceases to operate. And finally. It imposes no re- upon the choice of words. the temptation to emthe strophic at will. METRE. Unrhymed striction cadence.RHYME. their search is for "the exact word. I must avow a certain skepticism on one important point. are a tabula rasa on which the poet may inscribe his own sharp and clear impressions for conveyance. . and it cannot be expression clearness tion." the word that at once presents the thing and conveys the writer's impression of it to the reader. That means. since within movement the rhythm is variable and no accentual idiosyncrasies need bar a refractory but inevitable word from its meet place. AND VERS LIBRE externality.

Frost to leave William Shakespeare and in battaUons. D. And over against every example of the inevitable word in unrhymed cadence (and the number is happily large). If relative ease that is it is merely a matter of I involved. as the dic- H. Let us take the contributions . may be set " exact " words. nor metre for profit am talk- ing of artists. Neither free verse will damn. of course. Given a rich vocabulary and the artist's sense for words. But ease in art not a high desidera- tum. I blank verse does n't halt for save. and metre will interpose little or no obstacle to the mot juste. and the either. we are concerned with the results. or Richard Aldington. As and loss. not single spies but from metrical verse. Robinson and Mr. — a few others out of account tion of — it is quite as exact. first. the others. I also believe that over against this indebtedness must be set certain definite abatements.262 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY libre is I do not believe that vers vantage over metre that has nearly the adit claimed for in the choice of the mot juste. in the full Imagist sense of the term. I have no hesitation in saying that in my judgment the serious practitioners of vers libre are making contributions of genuine significance to EngHsh poetry. is yield the point at once. The diction of Mr.

METRE. and accept the challenge that bids nor sit nor stand. There are even stern traditionalists who cherish a surreptitious hking for the thing.RHYME. than is stantly insisted. and terse. But that welcome does not absolve us from a . a medium of unmistakable artistic possibilities. but go. Furthermore. and nebulous. And that in itself is reason enough for those of us who love the old to bid a hearty welcome to the new. And only the captious can well dechne to admit the fact. tradition must rub the sleep out of its eyes. indeed. in com- petent hands. but gree. The vocabulary of poetry is lary. or to recognize the significance of what is happening. AND VERS LIBRE It is the freshness 263 and vividness of the diction. and incisive. And they are sometimes very beautiful. in the best free verse. en- hanced by the pleasantly uneasy sense that it ought n't to be liked. wherever the new rhythms are to be classified will — and that — they concern us later is a question which constitute. undergoing a renovation. Less. and stereotyped in its vocabuAnd it is a relief to come to a diction that is frequently crisp. and (if you will) external. poetry has still to an unfortunate debeen tending to become vague. When that happens. that is of particular worth con- just now to poetry.

In the first place. bleeding or not. that the concrete and the external are merely. sympathize profoundly of with a poetry that does n't its bleeding heart. agonies. the contention of New Poetry has some validity. But the medium itself is . the trend of recent externahty. or to the spiritual — the case should say with respect is not so clear. it still remains true that we are children of more ages dren of a be. I know that the poets insist that they are not ex- are still "exultations. on But chil- may scientific and analytic age though we and however fruitful our exploiting of the field of the external and the concrete. In a measure so alluring. than our own. true. And cluded. There love. with respect lies to that which I distrust deeper than the intellectual I — the word. in their work. and no recoil from man's unconquerable mind. the medium through which the informing that is spirit is expressed. except to its grave loss. results critical scrutiny of And there are two points in particular which give one pause." and the so-called "cosmic" releases poetry from its wresthngs with these. or that even dechnes to wear its heart.264 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY the other side of the account. the Intellectually. I much that is no less the make a pageant its sleeve. it calls poetry towards what in the virtual exclusion of stuff of creative art.

Yet — . I am merely insisting that there are also other standards. as tion with see it. in an over-preoccupain verbal in its textures — a craftsmanship which rivals that of the an exquisite craftsmanship own way sometimes Flemish painters. that the suggestions and impressions which do reach certain regions of consciousness alone. Of such technique there can in a slipshod world. But the peril the movement at the hands of its most notable I exponents Hes. my genuine liking for many it doubt. One feels in meant to feel — them is also tempered by a and one is the new verse the absence of a norm. METRE. vahd fields still. I yield to no one in my admiration for the chiselled. the dispassionate judgment of a not unsympathetic reader. AND VERS LIBRE and the delight us stir 265 in pure sensation so acute. I am not quarreUing with the squirrel because it is not a mountain. and leave the depths unmoved. scarcely be too much but the self-imposed is restric- tion of that technique to the expression of sheer immediacy of experience This at least is a grave limitation. is nor judging Imagism by a standard that its not own. pellucid beauty of to many an image that lends distinction to the best work of the new school. and that the old have not yet been exhausted.RHYME. As for the rhythms of of free verse.

And that compulsion is felt at all. only when exercised within restraint. For by substituting rhythm alone for rhythm and metre in one. it would seem. vers libre has at the same made certain definite renunciations. but it the compensations which has to offer must be clear. rhythms by of the finer craftsmen of the genre. The restraining of the free verse strophe. Its peril in this direction lies in a tendency to obliterate the ancient landmarks between freedom and Ucense. And even freedom of time at its best. the "quality of return" absent. then. Far more significant than the . In so far. to be sure. are but they are themselves unrestrained.266 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY is felt freedom it is as the freedom of art. as it the experiment keeps clearly before the ineluc- table necessity of a moulding foTm. only there. except by an inner compulsion of their own. it has verse. I my judgment is the thing that do not wish to close without saying what in after all most demands expression. orchestral effects of the older That it has a perfect right to do. in electing this pecuhar its own. even though that form have not as yet received the sanction of tradition. In the mass what answers to the is name of free verse. the fusion of foregone the great harmonic. its warrant is secure.

AND VERS LIBRE faults of the is 267 the fact movement. can forego their not . apt to lack the detachment which alone makes fruitful criticism possible. That in itself is of happy omen. At no time. not because the importance of the movecritic. and the rudder will do its part. is usually. We may carp at the form that it takes. who call their art in question. but because we do. on the other hand. METRE. has there been so keen and widespread an interest in poetry. If they do — if the new poets can bring themselves to moderate their attitude of somewhat sensitive resentment towards those the critics. that it exists. The fact remains that more people are reading poetry to-day than for a period of many years.RHYME. perhaps. Many of us have been with criticism and suggestion. The does not produce — as he certain terms. if please. we may leave it. You can't steer a boat that is n't moving. The two must work together to a common end. if on their part. we may poke we fun at its vagaries. unread. in the history of this country at least. not so as for free much what for what the poetry now it promises. Once let it gather headway. The new preoccupation with poetry in this country is a fact of large significance itself — is. often told in no unis The poet. we do not believe in ment. or even than its merits.

we may look with some assurance for a genuine poetic Renaissance. and welcome. with no surrender of discrimination. .268 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY infrequent tone of irritating condescension. a fresh impulse — if this fraternity of interests can be brought from Utopia to Earth.

tagonists. with all combat." declared Sir Philip Sidney. claimed the No Man's Land side." why not "Tom Jones"? "There have been many most excellent poets that never versified. why not the great purple patches of the "Areopagitica"? If Chaucer's "Troilus and Creseyde. or must is it have rhythm too? "Paradise Lost" poetry. however. . was essentially a poet. It has been for centuries the Debatable Ground. of literature. and how they warred." The pretty the fine fury that attends a bloodless battle of the books has raged since Aristotle. and securely neither.VII THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE AND THE VOGUE OF THE FRAGMENTARY The ters great uncharted region in the realm of let- is the borderland between poetry and prose." says "Lord Bacon was a poet. adding. now by one held by now by Is the other. a quid pro quo: "and sifiers that now swarm many verneed never answer to the name of poets. all speech that possesses imaginative quality If poetry." "Plato Shelley. And and the Homeric bead-roll of the protheir acts.

the arguments pro and con. All that need be said here is this: We use the word sense. For prose distinction may be rhythmic And that brings us to the really fundamental —a distinction which. we may say with Keats that "the poetry of earth is never dead". in racy summary. we are commonly understood to have reference to both an imaginative and a rhythmic use of speech." There you may read." as we use hundreds of other words. but the antithesis of prose and verse. and there is no occasion. But as a matter of usage merely. include prose. to ride of Professor into the hsts. unlike the interest. perfect propriety we may affirm with and truth that all language is poetry. we are out of the woods. "poetry. in a loose as well as in a more rigid When we accord ourselves an entirely permissible latitude. if we speak of poetry without qualification or saving clause. other.270 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY behold they are written in the second chapter Gummere's notable volume on the "Beginnings of Poetry. We do not. and reduces . whistle before But we may not wisely too. That eliminates the common factors. we may assert with Blackie that "to live poetry is always better than to write it". as a rule. I have no desire. has more than academic is The im- portant contradistinction not that of poetry and prose.

never as verse. and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me. 271 our feet were on firm antithesis to Prose is And until recently ground. but we think of as prose. I will lodge: thy people shall be my people. the exact and ferentia between verse and prose. Metre not. but verse scientific dif- That Prose is is neat and satisfactory to the last degree. "The only strict Metre. and thy God my God: where thou diest. will I die. rhythmic. How does the rhythm of emancipated verse differ from the rhythm of elevated prose? tion That is the disconcerting ques- which which there still confronts us. Does it remain verse? If it does. Underneath that runs the balanced structure of the Hebrew poetry which it is. may be and verse is always and prose never metrical. accordingly. Intreat me not to leave thee. if ought but death part thee and me. what prose is now its differentia? Rhythm is is not." wrote Wordsworth. for it has thrown metre to the dogs. is and it is a question from no escape. But now a respectable body of verse turns its back on metre and walks out. and where thou lodgest. and more also. but it is a trans- . or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest. Metre be- comes. I will go. for may be rhythmic. it Now elevated prose may be strongly rhythmic.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE the problem to one of form.

we should never think of describing it as verse.272 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY rhythms of surpassingly is lation into the noble perfect prose. all the pride. and though in the bed of Cleopatra. and whom all the world hath flattered. all shall awake again? We may call that poetry. it No one could possibly mistake for anything else. Hie jacet. that hour which freed us from everlasting sleep? or have slumbring thoughts at that time when Sleep itself must . thou hast done. end. It not verse. and. thou hast persuaded. and mighty Death! eloquent. but still ca- dences are the cadences of prose. wherein the dullness of that Sense shakes hands with delectable Odours. and ambition of man. glories of the Elizabethan and Jacobean prose — the But these represent the uncertain surg- ing cadences which. whom none could advise. . Raleigh's apostrophe is majestic in its rhythm its beyond all but the greatest verse. after the reaction of the . cruelty. Or take the haunting close of Sir Thomas Browne's "Garden of Cyrus": Nor will the sweetest delight of Gardens afford much comfort in Sleep. if we please. as some conjecture. thou only hast cast out of the world and despised: thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness. what none hath dared. can hardly with any delight raise But who can be drowsie at up the ghost of a Rose. just. and covered it all over with these two narrow words. .

. The rhythms of modern artistic prose are simpler. appeared again with other De Quincey and Carlyle and Ruskin. On June Now the rhythms are Uke these of Joseph Conrad: The bright domes Of the parasols Swayed lightly outwards Like full-blown blossoms On the rim of a vase . and now have vanished. While time seemed to move ever more slowly To the murmur of the bees in still it. Now they are Uke this of Pater's ^ : The perfume Fell Of the Httle flowers of the lime-tree through the air upon them. The wheels turned solemnly. Folding their colors Like gorgeous flowers shutting their petals At the end of the day. . Till it almost stood afternoons. . One after another the sunshades drooped.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE contours in 273 eighteenth century. Like rain. Again there are cadences of almost languorous beauty as in these of Fiona Macleod: 1 I have intentionally printed the prose that follows in such its fashion as to bring out cadences to the eye.

. Full-orbed and with a pulse of flame. a creek hush of a still dawn. In the cups of the moss. . And was at peace. . . Lay down among the dewy fern. . . . The stars Were as wind-whirled fruit Blown upward from the tree-tops. A doe. The dew glistened the fronds of the ferns. Silverly.. A grey. Led a tide of soft light Across the brown shores of the world . The moon. As the eyes of fawns Shining through the green gloom Of the forest A cool green freshness Came into the air. in the . her. lett: is Maurice Hew- As he had seen So he painted . Heavy with fawn. with a stronger rhythm. Here. On The stars Emerged delicately. Laps translucent sea little silently Upon And. 274 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY The gloaming came. The myrtles and sedges on the water's brim Are quiet . .

will become evident For this poetry definitely harks back to the old oral tradition. tell And you might her presence there. not a written art. But you could only see her In mid-April. and delightful. And you should look for her Over the sea. Or coo of doves Mating in the pines. You might What is it really that we have been reading? If I had not given due notice. There has been no juggUng of the cards. it is written to be spoken." That is sound doctrine. we know." Let me complete the quotation: "Then new rhythms satisfying." rhythm — beheve that poetry is a spoken. Into the daffodils 275 Or a bank of violets. feel her genius In the scent of the earth Or the kiss of the West wind. I think you would promptly say. We have merely been pay- ing strict attention to the "'organic rhythm.' and allowing the phrases (still to quote a well-known description of free verse) "to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader. But do not these satisfying and delightful rhythms (as they are) . For we or the of the speaking voice. \ Or in the rustle of the myrtles. Free verse.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE She would vanish.

" Having observed this myself. free verse has no absolute rules. brief article called ist. but at least by scores. to the ear. its as a somewhat mystified admirer. because for it the only standard of comparison is our vague recollection of the general effect of free verse rhythms. We are therefore compelled to become empiricists.276 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY rightly or wrongly. Its cadences are either the If cadences of rhythmic prose. we it are told. since would not be "free" if it did. The ear is the sole judge. specific differ- Metre is gone. from it let me say most emphatically. I Three years ago. some difference should be obvious What we have so far read does not form a fair test. or they are not. I am trying. ing an indictment against vers filch its or seeking to name. goes appear in what we have just read? still. to detect ences. Beyond the law of the strophic rhythm. it occurred to ist . Witter Bynner's: "George Meredith has thousands of ImagIn it I poems incidental to each of his novels. bringlihre." printed in the Nation a "An Unacknowledged Imag- quoted a remark of Mr. And that by the name of prose. Let us verse and modern rhythmic prose in put free immediate juxtaposition. not perhaps by thousands. I am not. they are not.

" But did they .THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE me I 277 to put the statement to a test. In none of the Meredithean excerpts have I varied from the original by a syllable. I have no desire to make a case by setting good prose over against bad verse. then. images with the luminous precision of a bit of landscape seen in the reflex of a lens. above all. fulfil the other requirements of Imagist verse? Did they have "the quality of return produces the effect of ." their their marvellous fidehty to the particular fact. There were images that suggested the clairvoyance of a crystal gazer. Her face was like the after-sunset Across a rose-garden. . and I have chosen the vers litre for its beauty. "strait and terse. their texture "dur et rare. penetrating." images crisp. the balance which music upon the ear"? In free other words did they have the strophic character which constitutes the law of cadence of verse? Let us set side by side. Their lucid (if I clarity may repeat a few sentences of what then said). a few passages of Meredith's prose and a few bits of Imagist verse. depth of imaginative insight — all this was obvious enough. incised. and compare the cadences. . images that "quintessentiahzed an emotion until it burnt white hot.

upon burnt grass. With the pungence of sealed spice-jars." the second from a poem in vers libre by H. written as prose. Miss She had the secret Of lake waters under rock. D. And the perfume of your soul Is vague and suffusing.^. | . Both things of beauty in image is George Meredith's Lowell's as verse. In your eyes Smoulder the fallen roses of out-lived minutes. perishes hidden in a far valley. its flower.278 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY With the wings of an eagle light. Unfathomable In limpidness. Poised outspread on the The light of her face falls from as a hyacinth. The two fragments are alike beautiful. But the first is from Meredith's "Sandra Belloni. ' . Let us dwell for a moment on two more faces: He had a look Superior to simple strength and grace: The look Of a great sky-bird About to mount. and rhythm. they are ahke strophic.

and the strophic rhythm in each is obvious to any ear. Listen once the balance which promore to the "return . 279 The first. D. the second is vers libre a complete poem in by Richard Aldington. . is from Mere- dith's prose. And it here is H. with hard edge. THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE She has new leaves After her dead flowers. . such as it is. like the Sphinx's. stone. duces the effect of music on the ear": like a Tartar Modelled by a Greek: Supple As the Scythian's bow. on a bright Now my ear. precisely as it stands.. Braced He was As the string! That is Meredith. . it can detect no essential between the unrhymed cadences of and the unrhymed cadences of certain modern rhythmic prose. Like the Uttle almond tree Which the frost hurt. may be heavy." because the rhythms of vers libre have httle in difference free verse common with the movement of the older prose. however. I emphasize "modern. again: Sand cuts your furrows like flint petal.

and like Agag. indeed." as he himself described them breathe deep. save for a lumbering Titan here and there. on the other : hand. It is rather the exquisite craftsmanship of France than the surging and orotund utterances of "Leaves of Grass" that has given to free verse. The — — giant's swinging stride has passed. do maintain these rhythms consistently. then. alike in England and America. prose. its most distinctive quaUties. un- am mistaken. But that is not an assertion that free verse is prose. His elemental measures "brawny enough. modern free verse walks deUcately. in prose like Meredith's and . whereas vers libre respires more lightly. The prose from which I have culled my excerpts does not maintain unbrokenly I the rhythms which If it did.280 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY they. Nor have any close affiliation with Whitman's verse. are in large degree the rhythms of a certain type of modern rhythmic prose. There are differences which set the one off from the other. we should certainly hesitate to call it The best free verse poems. And that is an important difference the rhythms which are occasional in one are persistent in the other. Moreover. and limber and full enough. The rhythms less I of vers libre in English. have shown it to possess.

*' On the other hand. to ticket the fact that it free is deals with prose rhythms in a fashion which prose itself may not employ without thereby ceasing to be prose. Vers libre is exploring the borderland between prose and verse. It is doing certain things which hitherto verse has done. in spite of the I evidence which verse as prose. And both sides are practicing their marksmanship. of cahn and serene air. have pointed out. the quality of return. That is as far as I can. and verse has not. there will be at least an armistice by and by to consider terms. It is doing certain other things which hitherto prose has done. It has simply staked out its claim in No Man's Land. it is open to fire from two sides at once. then — to anticipate that happy . and that is not a region mild. the strophic it is fre- quently present (as in most of the passages which I have quoted) is also not uniform. the prose would at once be- come bad all. and prose has not. If free verse holds its ground (and from what I know of the versifiers I have a strong suspicion that it will). see my way. On the contrary. it is the re- currence of return" that makes verse verse at And my reason for dechning. at the moment. If it recurred with any regularity. prose. As I see it.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE element. although 281 Conrad's and Pater's and Hewlett's.

it is and choose the more thorny way. Definitions follow facts. and the fittest have survived. And the daily prayer of free verse should be for deliverance from the tender mercies of misguided friends. But verse is also too soon to reconstruct our definitions. . And I fear we must turn our eyes regretfully from this expeditious mode of settling criticism's business.282 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY 1 hour — we are shut up to two alternatives. If new facts are unmistakably established. Free not yet out of the experimental stage. Either we must declare that free verse isn't verse. But when the air is clear. or our definition of verse must undergo revision. artists and the artisans in who practice it have still the their own craft to reckon with. The first is the simple and summary way. For last Browning's wish has at I come true: want to know a butcher paints. But it is the primrose path. A baker rhymes for his pursuit. The poetic world is already too safe for democ- racy. and "off with his head" is a happy issue out of all our critical afflictions. criticism can then no longer evade the issue. Candlestick-maker much acquaints His soul with song. The Queen in "AUce in Wonderland" is a singularly appealing character.

let ing. If it has a fair field. The present movement wants its status determined in a moment. There is no third alternative. moment we us at least criticise with understandof the group deaUng with. and. is an artistic medium of not yet fully developed possibiUties. No one alive can possibly do that. Free verse. and trust to time to assess its work and define its category. Meanwhile. is criticism worthy of the name. in the absence of a norm . who have not. let us meet a serious and sincere experieither must ment in the technique of poetry with an open withholding are mind. without for a criticism.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE definitions 283 be modified to fit them. which. It can make its contribution. run into absurdities. I am aware of few poets. Its freedom is a liberty conditioned upon a subtle restriction of rhythms which it shares with prose. but which it wields in different fashion. or break down. it need ask no favor. even among the greatest. danger lies in its very freedom. But no criticism which dwells on the extravagancies without at the same time recognizing the constructive attempt that hes behind them. then. It is Even the best gradually being perfected as an instrument of delicate precision and rare flexibility for recording the impressions Its of observed phenomena.

284

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
itself,

outside
elusive.
it

permits form to become at times
itself

And

being

the child of a reaction,

foregoes, as a matter of conscience, certain

possibilities,

the abstention from which impovit is itself

erishes

it

in

one direction, while

enrich-

ing poetry in another. In a word, just because

movement is a revolt, it is still too largely by its repugnances. That, as always is a passing phase. It is more important
the
conditioned
to

remember that the insurgents
If free verse

are also pi-

oneers.

puts us to our shifts to place

it,

the

so-called polyphonic prose

comes near

baffling
go, the

the attempt.
critic

But where the poet dares to must perforce gird up his loins and

follow,

envying, though he

may

not emulate the vigor

and

agility of his guides.
like

however,

the worthy

One feels occasionally, Bottom trying to keep

up with Puck.
Polyphonic prose concerns us briefly here, because
it is

an endeavor, even more radical than

vers libre, to

combine the functions of both prose was invented in France by M. Paul Fort; Miss Lowell was the first to attempt it in EngUsh; and she and Mr. John Gould Fletcher are its chief exponents in its adopted tongue.

and

verse. It

And

since the

new form

is

still

in the plastic

THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE
stage, I shall

285

venture to point out quite frankly,
captious protest, wherein
it

but

in

no

spirit of

seems to
at the

me

to limit

and even thwart

its

own

possibilities. I realize

my danger. A critic, who is
new and not
is

same time

friendly to the

bUnd

to the defects of its virtues,

always in a

parlous state.

He can only ask that his intentions
way
be-

be taken as honorable, and pursue his

tween the devil and the deep sea, where balance perilously resides, with such cheerfulness and
resolution as he can muster.

What

is

polyphonic prose? It was heralded by

Mr. Fletcher a couple of years ago as follows: "During the past year something has happened
in the sphere of the arts quite as

important in

my opinion, as the European
politics

war in the sphere of ... or the discovery of radium in that of

science.
in

A new poetic form,
libre,

equal
its

if

not superior

value to vers

has

made

appearance in

EngUsh." That roars pretty loud, and thunders
in the index,

and

I

am

deliberately quoting

it,

because

it

illustrates the sort of

extreme that

begets in retort the opposite extreme,
ders judicial criticism difficult.
fines

and ren-

Mr. Fletcher deof fusing to-

polyphonic prose as a

"way

gether

unrhymed

vers libre

patterns, giving the rich

and rhymed metrical decorative quahty of

286

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
of the other." "Intense

the one and the powerful conciseness of state-

ment

and concise grasp
this bare skeleton

of substance," he points out, "is not enough; the

ear instinctively

demands that
all

be clothed fittingly with
tion,

the beautiful and

subtle orchestral quahties of assonance, allitera-

rhyme, and return." Free verse, that

is,

lacks something which regular verse has, notably

"rhymed
quahties."

metrical patterns" and "orchestral
I

have said something to the same effect myself, you may remember, but I do not care to press the point. The new medium, then, is to combine in prose the merits of both sorts of verse. "Here," exclaims Mr. Fletcher, "are the Beethoven symphonies, the Bach fugues, the Cesar Franck chorales, of poetry." Miss Lowell's statement shuns flamboyancy, and is plain and definite.^ "The word 'poly1

For a

still

fuller discussion,

printed since this paragraph

written, see the Preface to "Can Grande's Castle." And the achievement in " Can Grande's Castle " itself challenges, through its

was

vividness and contagious zest in
miration.
ell,

But the

life and color, an unreluctant advividness and the zest are native to Miss Low-

whatever the vehicle of their expression, and certain obstinate questionings of the medium, in two at least of its details, remain as intractable as Banquo's ghost. It is not, unless I am very much
mistaken, the elements of rhyme and metre in "Can Grande's Castle" which give to it its rare union of vigor and deftness, precision and flexibility, imaginative grasp and clarity of detail. Its formal achievement lies rather, as I see it, in a remarkable extension of the potentialities latent in the moveme:^t of free verse.

And

THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE
phonic'
is [the]

287

keynote of the genre." "'Polymany-voiced phonic' means and the form

is

so called because

it

makes use of all the

'voices'

of poetry, viz., metre, vers litre, assonance, allit-

rhyme, and return. It employs every form of rhythm, even prose rhythm at times, but usually holds no particular one for long. .
eration,
.
.

The rhymes may come
dences, or

at the ends of the ca-

may

each other, or

appear in close juxtaposition to may be only distantly related."

So Miss Lowell, as over against Mr. Fletcher.

The

essential point, however, is the same. Polyitself of

phonic prose avails

the two qualities of

regular verse which free verse rejects,

namely

metre and rhyme.

It is

an attempt at a single

medium which

shall gather into itself all the po-

tentiahties of prose, metre,

unrhymed cadence,

and rhyme. The enterprise is rather splendid in its audacity, and commands one's admiration,
even when one doubts
its entire feasibihty.

And

despite ungrudging recognition of accomplish-

ment, a lurking doubt

persists.

For

in

my

sober judgment such an attempt

goes far towards marring one great
these potentialities
it

medium

of

venture once more my own opinion) without the adventitious aid of the two conventions which free verse rejects. In what follows, the grounds
full (to

might retain to the

of this belief are given

more at

length.

288

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
make
it

expression in the effort to

perform the

functions of another.

I

am

not forgetting that

we have been warned
**
*

against misunderstanding.

Polyphonic prose

'

is

not a prose form, although,

being printed as prose,
it difficult

many people have found
But even an intelif

to understand this."

ligent reader

may

be pardoned
is

he

fails

to un-

derstand that what

and printed as prose is yet not prose. It is a Httle as if, your name being Schwarzkopf, and your physiogcalled prose

nomy Teutonic, you
stand that you were
genuinely anxious to

should expect
Irish. I

me

to under-

am not flippant,
clear

but
to

make
The

what seems

me

to be the crucial point involved.
is this.

That point
with which
is

legitimate expectation

we approach

a given artistic
artist
is

medium

something that the

compelled to

reckon with.

We expect on the stage the make-up

and the costumes which would disconcert us, if we met them on the street. Per contra, we should be thrown out of our reckoning, and disturbed in our enjoyment, if we saw on the stage faces without the heightening of make-up, and in unassisted hght. Now in the same way we approach prose and verse respectively with perfectly definite and entirely different expectations. We
rightly

expect,

when we approach

verse,

a

THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE
heightening, both in form

289

and

in content;

we

look as a matter of course for rhyme, and asso-

nance, and aUiteration, and for cunningly fash-

ioned rhythms and cadences, as

we

look on the

stage for a corresponding heightening of effect.

When we
cisely as

approach prose, on the other hand,
all,

we

expect these things sparingly or not at

pre-

we

expect to find make-up on the faces

of our friends either discreetly inconspicuous

or absent altogether.

And

the artist in words,

whether he will or no, faces as part of his problem the legitimate expectation with which his
readers approach his

medium.
is
it is

Now
printed.

I

agree at once that polyphonic prose
called prose,

not genuine prose. But

and so

And

it

carries with

it

the good-will, so to

speak, of prose.

One cannot keep the form with:

out assuming the responsibility of the form. And a prologue which says " If you think I come here
as a hon,

"Midsummer Night's Dream," does not quite meet the case. For when we find in that which bears the name and assumes the appearance of prose, the very things, rhyme and metre, which the
thing,"
in a

— such an assurance, except

it

were pity of my

life;

no, I

am no such

masters of prose sweat to keep out of
either confused or irritated,

it,

we

are

and sometimes both.

290

CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY
that

If it is felt

rhyme and metre must be

kept,

as essential and distinguishing elements of the

medium,
the

it is

not, I think, straining a point to

suggest that both the

name and new form be changed. The

the printing of
signals are set

wrong, and the more intelligent the reader, the

more violently he goes off the track. But why, in sober sadness, should rhyme and
metre be retained? All which has been urged

them by the adherents of free verse, appUes with double force when they appear in a
against

medium which
prose. If

carries

with

it

the associations of
place in

rhyme and metre have no
no

verse, they have, bull or

bull, less place there.

And
If

one

is

at once constrained to ask in addition:

they are effective in polyphonic prose,

why do

they cease to be effective when they appear in
verse?
I

know

that polyphonic prose,

if I

may

quote

again, "usually holds no particular [rhythm] for

long,"

and that
it

it is

printed as prose "for conits

venience, as

changes

character so often,
it is

with every wave of emotion, in fact." But

precisely that constant shift of gear, so to speak,

which disturbs us, and leaves us restless, rather than poised for flight. Either metre alone or free
verse or prose alone
is

surely capable of keeping

It is a pity that should labor under a self-imposed handicap. shown color it itself of splendid vigor and vivid pictorial power. "Do poem not blame me. at that value constructive. I am aware that all this sounds exceedingly destructive.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE does n't." wrote Gray to Mason. nor hostile. except in I intercalated passages." The genius of the language is clearly one of the factors in the problem. neither destructive has any value at all. In the "Sword Blades and Poppy Seed" the author remarked of the form we are discussing: "Perhaps it is more suited to the French language than to Enghsh. of richness of If and sharpness of contrasts. And there are obstacles in the way of such a among them what Keats medium in Enghsh — once called its "pouncing rhymes" — which do not apply in French. I think. suspect that the half which is left will Preface to be more than the whole. and unmetrically the next. feel 291 pace with the varying shades of emotion. It is. apropos of his insistence that "deigns" in a of Mason's should be "deign'st" (even "do though the change did wreck a rhyme!) — . rhyme and metre are abandoned. One at one instant metrically. however. its The medium has best. If is my criticism capable.

the fine is found in the filthy earth"." died. "I will to bookes. May was I add. It only one aspect of the prevailing tendency is to . no more in Athens. as a matter of more than mere historical interest." with fervent fellow-feehng echo Gray. which (despite like the old in its its differences) is many ways. and alliteration. but the English tongue. so far as this phase of the subject concerned. there to tosse my Naples to live with faire lookes". "My tongue is too too base a Tryton to eternize her praise. is Finally. The present experisingularly ment. that thus upholdeth our happy shreds Time fails for more than these and patches. the attempt to efface the boundaries between prose and verse is symptomatic. hee sounded with weaknesse". may find perhaps in extremes. the Euphuists were experimenting in prose much And balanced gold they too indulged in rhyme. Euphuism ran its course and dales. that a very similar experiment artificial in full swing in Shakespeare's day? Lyly and as the polyphonists are to-day. not without its contribution to the flexibil- ity of the English tongue. and assonance. "Then wounded with griefe.292 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY And I not blame me. if not a caveaU at least a caution. and even metre: "The foule toad hath a faire stone in his head.

For him. and painting. on the is Music trying to do the work of poetry other the fluidity of music. "in music a darker blue a 'cello ." fundamental thesis arts And Kandinsky 's the encroachment of the upon one another. while sculpture is its mean- while undergoing own private metamorphosis. the other orchestrates painting. a certain wid- ening of the scope of each of the arts involved. he has broken down the between music and painting. as there always has come in the past.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE obliterate the dividing lines 293 between all the arts. says the same is his — and asserted of Picasso their followers — "Kandinsky is and others by painting music. Debussy. Enghsh interpreter Kandinsky. and Stra- vinsky to recognize the converse tendency: the one group paints music. barrier is that is to say. Schonberg. of The reciprocal strivings of the arts to merge into each it other is as old as art Out will come. The phenomenon itself. and has cast besides an appropriating eye on the hardness and clarity of sculpture . is nothing new." One has only to think of Strauss. light blue is like a flute. . and the all darkest blue of an organ. Painting is striving to approximate on the one hand the rigidity of architecture. poetry is experimentit ing with the technique of both. a still a darker a thunderous double bass.

and the briefer narrative in verse has retired before the ubiquitous short story. revert. save for a few gallant leaders of forlorn hopes. of a very different nature. it is more than probable that prose will remain prose. and color color. The epic (and largely the drama itself) has yielded place to the novel. lion's share of the territory once held.|The really serious incursions of prose upon poetry (not merely this time upon verse) have been. by poThe drama. to its own technique. it is clear that prose has pre- empted a etry. So far as poetry is concerned (unless the it will past can teach us nothing). So soon as we stop to think. am not sure that poetry. value. without dispossessing prose. either in sovereignty or on equal terms. and that each will whatever gains. and with recent adventures between the lines. The conquered regions are firmly it is held and well administered. . with music music. however. from the its possibihties. verse verse. lose httle of and it may in the end gain more. and useless to I reargue a seemingly adjudicated case. present attempt to enlarge Up to this point we have been deaUng with the dubious borderland between prose and verse.294 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY But with whatever augmented flexibiUty and enhanced expressiveness. has surrendered unconditionally to prose.

now all that hold their place unchal- But even here there are signs of a confusion of aims which may work disaster. but by the very nature of his medium? That is a question of some importance. how far afield may the poet go in his search for themes? Are there. . What means tence in from one senthe summary of the aims of the French to the extremists clear is. in other words. not by tradition. Paroxysmists: "It [that as the movement known "Paroxysm"] perceives the elements of poetry contained in modern cities.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE may not fact in at least a portion of the 295 once more win a footing on equal terms abandoned field. but which rightly belong to prose? Are there limitations upon the poet's freedom of choice which are imposed. third article of the Imagists' Declaration is The of Principles as follows: "To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. however. locomotives. I shall come to in is What that a moment. and the issue far is from being academic at the present moment. The remains. With the range of poetry limited as it now is. subjects which are not adapted to poetry. that lyric and descriptive poetry are lenged." really it means. And this time the threatened encroachment of prose is along the road of content and not of form.

296 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and submarines. We is believe passionately in the artistic value of mod- ern life. dreadnaughts. of capital importance. " It is not good art. a Wall Street. in a stock exchange. such pronunciamentos as that in mind. and in every scientific marvel. is sharply joined between the two wings of the Modernists themselves." it continues. then. And the question is one Let us strike at once to the heart of the matter. that the moderate Imagist declaration proceeds to qualify its doctrine of absolute freedom. "to write badly is it about aeroplanes and automobiles." of the And even the leader "There is EngUsh Vorticists remarks: no necessity to burn candles in front of your tele- phone apparatus or motor car. is Sappho WilUam Mason's "Ode contemporary with Rupert Brooke. I suspect." published in the notable year of the Declaration of . Pinchbeck on his newly invented patent Candle Snuffers. What wrote Thales and the Seven Sages thought and is matter of historical interest merely. nor essarily nec- bad art to write well about the past. but we wish to point out that there nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911. to Mr." The issue. and in the sonorous song of factories and railways. or a wheat pit." It is with aeroplanes.

however. It may deal with what and be understood.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE Independence. It is not tradition and convention that this time hold is an inhibition rather than its a prohibition that interposes. and everything whatsoever that is bound up with those. mistake the reasons. all and submarines. and roots are in part in the nature of poetry. It may lavish its art (as Tennyson did in a stanza which he did n't wait for time to kill) on the wonders of gas. its only to discard them. a thousand years from now. its external. and the rest. Let us not. I sus- pect. is 297 now introduced to you. and in part in the transiency of things. and collecting about it. and be rendered obsolete by electricity. and feehngs. It the flaming sword. Until objects have become . heart. The themes of poetry are the enduring beliefs. Poetry has perfect freedom to conitself with either. "Elegy in a The contemporary Country Churchyard" you know by theme is death. extrinsic paraphernaKa and apparatus its motor cars. if it is good enough to last. and passions of humanity. It has followed its patent candle snuffers to obHvion. cern persists. It is perilous for poetry to be up to date. and aeroplanes. for the first time. But Hfe is endlessly taking on and sloughing off new shells. and — telephones. and death knows no oblivion.

except to those of us whom its elucidation is is helps to Uve. . if the time should ever come when these things shall be manifestly and palpably material to us as enjoying and . The "In Memoriam" that deal with evolution were antiquated while Ten- nyson was yet alive. and hates. . Perhaps. and Milton is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. Even the purely stuff for art to intellectual is interwoven with poetry at the sections of poet's risk. or discoveries of the Chemist. So long as a scientific textbook obsolete in a decade or less. but when poetry has caught up with a 1916 model. and hopes. right: Wordsworth was absolutely The remotest nist. they are outside the domain of art. they are not plastic work with. . what doth it profit it in 1917? Things as things belong to prose. "It is poetry's job to catch up. to poetize science to court mortahty.298 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY part and parcel of the loves. "Material to us as enjoying and suffering beings" — that is the clue through the labyrinth. As objects. and fears of men. and Chaucer. Ezra Pound. and Ben Jonson. suffering beings. the Bota- Mineralogist. and the contemporary science in Dante. who was once a poet. will be as proper objects of the poet's art as any upon which it can be employed." says Mr.

in the very stuff of poetry. as we have and seen. new and That is why selves What I have said of words is true of There are objects that are not in themmore poetical than others. If the creative energy strong enough. then aeroplanes. and wireless telegraphy. things. a scythe than a McGormick reaper. the most intractable words may be merged. a well than a waterworks. And the poet is by ancient right the interpreter of their significance. beauty terror bound up with invention and the processes of modern life. penetrates to whatever of human — glory of motion. daring of flight. And if imagination. But once more it is with things as is it is with words.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE In that lies 299 the reason why objects of imme- morial use and wont have an initial advantage. an open road lends itself more readily to the poet's purpose than a railway. and railways. a lamp than an electroUer. which yet. stir through their associations. and all the rest become fit matter for its exercise. directly. But he dare not concern himself and power is — and . feeling in more their And these are perennial appeal. instead of being caught in wheels pistons. an open fire than a radiator. over the amazing machinery of modern life. as themes for poetic treatment.

. in boiling. . and praise of Antigua." and Dodsley's "Agriculture." and Garth's "Dispensary. described. Planters should always have a spare set of vessels. . Address to the Sun. Care of mules." . . Address. Effects of music." and Dyer's "Fleece. because the iron furnaces are apt to crack. Cane-cutting Planters should be pious." and Green's "The Spleen. That is with the privi- lege of prose." and Thomson's "Sickness. from sudden squalls.300 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY how the wheels go round. Humanity towards the maimed recomHow to preserve the laths and mill-points mended. Cleanliness and skimming well recommended. Eighteenth-century poetry usurped the prerogatives of prose at just this point. or the Progress of Commerce. A cattle-mill described. I wish might fill the next few pages with copious extracts from King's "Art of Cookery. Planters have employment all the year round. . and copper vessels to melt. is a part of the Argument to the third book of "The Sugar-Cane": "Hymn to the month of January. . Crop begun." and Glover's "London. Great care requisite in feeding the mill. Here." and a few other like attempts to wring poetry out of the stuff of prose." and Grainger's "SugarCane." and Armstrong's "Art of Preserving Health. as poetry I stands again at the dividing of the ways. . Diseases to which they are subject. and its debacle offers food for thought. when crop begins. The danger of throwing cold water into a thorough-heated furnace. . instead. The necessity of a strong clear fire. .

is to tive. With iron cas'd. Whereon. By transverse beams Secure the whole. Of three long rollers. turn with ease. And depurated by opposing wires. I shall mill. Fast flows the liquor through the lead-lin'd spouts. the vast bridge-tree's mortise'd form Of pond'rous hiccory.. three steel capouces. give motion to the whole. And harness to each sweep two seasoned mules: They pacing round. and in the pillar'd frame. In the receiver floats a limpid stream. twice-nine inches round. that Grainger's theme his day what the aeroplane. what happens when poetry usurps the place of prose. and jagg'd with many a cogg. One is impelled to urge upon the Muse the heartfelt caution which Grainger offers to his That is planter: . thence aptly captain nam'd. and with ease reduce To trash the canes thy Negroes throw between. but the poem Remember. artist. please. Sink. The central cylinder exceeds the rest In portly size. itself. 301 Reminding you that this is part of the prospectus come to the description of the And this is not the prospectus. hiccory time defies: To this be nail'd three polish'd iron plates. The close-brac'd cyHnders with ease revolve On their greas'd axle. and meddles with machinery. To this be rivetted th' extended sweeps.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE of a poem. and the locomoand the automobile are to ours.

Climb'd. The gloomy winter sky was dimly starr'd. The fly-wheel with a mellow murmur turn'd. will and law. sad spectacle of woe! Let trast me set over against that a offers poem which is not great." For in the "Georgics. in the murky air. while smoke and vapour fiU'd the yard. but which — Charles an illuminating con- Tennyson-Turner's sonnet on the "Steam Threshing-Machine with the StrawCarrier": Flush with the pond the lurid furnace burn'd At eve. The straw of harvest." Virgil has dealt with implements and utensils in the one . partly for the sake of its reference to the "Georgics. ever rising on its mystic stair In the dim light. and the booming wheel! for have quoted that partly for its own sake its fusion of pictorial power and imaginative sugI — gestion. While. from secret chambers borne. between the steel-cas'd cylinders. And then of him. who set his stately seal Of Roman words on all the forms he saw Of old-world husbandry I could but : feel With what a rich precision he would draw The endless ladder. and fell over. The hand incautious: off the member snapt Thou 'It ever rue.302 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY beware! Nor trust. sever'd from the corn. I thought of mind and matter.

shingle-dressing." he writes. nor relaxed precision where precision was required. was constantly "too true." and some of his successors follow in his steps." That is a good beginning. for example." it lacks the falsehood of Walt Whitman. It in its dealings with the sharply impinging actualities of contemporary apt to forget that art is fundamentally illusion. measuring." "and speaking aesthetically perspective. but here is how he proceeds: House-building. and he has imbued every object that he touches. coopering. in "A Song for Occupations". sawing the boards. And modern poetry may still the exactness of impression and the imaginative vision of the " Georgics. tin-roofmg." its craft in is still gain hints for There to keep life another caution which is it is well in mind. "// is too true. "Strange and hard that paradox true I give. nail-making. with the hght and warmth and color absorbed from its contact with life. he has never lost sight of pictorial beauty. He has given the essence and not the accident.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE and only way open to poetry in 303 its making own the machinery that has taken their place.'' wrote Flauis that poetry bert of his "Education Sentiment ale. . glass-blowing. Blacksmithing. "objects gross and the unseen soul are one.

— hints. The pens of live pork. but the things themselves are neither. the hoghook. kiln the pile-driver. immediately about with the complex and tyr- annous machinery task. in them poems for you and me in them all themes. . . Ship-joining. the great derrick. I believe that poetry has a great and supremely ture before it. flagging of side- The pump.304 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY walks by flaggers. the killing-hammer. your daily life! In them realities for you and me. the slaughter-house of the butcher. gutting. its in which full it is involved. including: full page of cata- Beef on the butcher's stall. the butcher in his killing clothes. dock-building. the cutter's and the plenteous winterwork of pork-packing. Nothing could be more profoundly true than that. In things are poems and possibilities. difTicult advenlife in the interpretation of the it. the packer's maul. . fish-curing. In them the development good . — . possibilities. the coal- and brick-kiln — and on through more than a logue. The they poets recognize to the the greatness of the difficulties almost insurmountable . And then he concludes: These shows all near you by day and night workmen! whoever you are. cleaver. . the scalder's tub.

in a poem that is like the blow of a fist in the face. The defection to prose of the larger forms of poetry has had another result. I know how to end. In a word. "I thank you. and hurl a complete impression at us. The short has tended to become the fragmentary. and Mr." writes the lover to his lady in Machaut's "Voir-dit. And we may consider for a moment the general shift of taste from long to short. Poetry wants even Chicago." "that the length of does n't bore you." And Peronne was a . for certainly don't what when I I write begin. gives it to us. any more than Professor Firkins hkes poems that put up their mouth to be kissed. and Carl Sandburg. But Chicago is not an unobtrusive town. for while the poet writes. Sandburg has at least tried to grasp it. life is But it must catch the permanent and hard- behind the modern. the modern is slipping into obsolescence. That. And that is something. ening into the rigid Past. of course. The Middle Ages liked things long.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE are taking lightly. the passionate belief of modern not poetry in the artistic value of modern misplaced. does not inevitably follow. 305 There are essays in the right direction. I do not like poems that black your eye.

' it would not bore me in the least. patient person. Count of Foix. in rain or wind. and there in the brightly lighted room where supper night. and the rest of the heroic romances kept . and faith. de Scudery's "Le Grand Cyrus" ran to 6679 pages. his aloud. after." Now the " Romance of the Rose" reached 22." And Gaston Phebus of his little ment — witness — was not a naturally son recalls. he -went was spread. the "Meli- ador.306 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY she replied in her next letter: true child of her time. as well as a courteous lady. when "By my what you wrote stretched out as long as the 'Romance of the Rose' or the 'Lancelot. if there is one version of the "Lancelot" of which its the fragment that survives extends beyond forty-seven thousandth Une! Nor must we forget the account which Froissart gives in "Le Dit dou Florin" of how in the winter of 1388. night after night. for ten six before Christmas and four his treat- own interminable romance.814 lines. night after from his inn to the castle of Gaston Phebus. The ten volumes of Mile. One moreover. read mortal weeks. that Des- champs had begun on the thirteenth thousand of his lines on marriage when death stayed his hand. Of course our less remote ancestors are a close second in endurance.

is The ten-volume novel shrank the three to one." Tennyson." used to say. far-flung epic simile has given place to the concision and compactness of the metaphor. are hopepoetasters. Wells's "weary wants his poems snapped at him. a poem of a dozen or sixteen lines may have as flawless unity as an epic. even on that the short story rapidly encroaching. makes indubitably for unity of form. lessly But the poets. And since . that I might go on and on". now outnumbered by the as always." toin the Now gether with the weight attached to the strophic element in verse. to concur in his to three. like the pregnant utterances of the heroes of the detective stories. but he would have found few. in an age of effi- must go through no unnecessary motions. and the emphasis upon compression. "I wish there were a great novel in hundreds of volumes. ciency. Titan" The tired business — — rapped at him. barked at him. bids fair to and the ten-word headline become the type of modern narrative. The old-fashioned. who liked what "Clarissa he called "those great still books. and concentration. man Mr. I fear. and " quintessentializing. And poetry itself. longing.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE the same leisurely pace 307 — a pace successfully emulated by Harlowe" and "Sir Charles Grandison. hands of an artist.

I could read you by the score. and least of all a poem. the total impression of recent poetry apt to be that of a of poetry. like Remare Leonardo's sketches. one might gladly rest content. But they are not. at best. impressions. I that it cease to think. brandt's or one could but that they were preliminary studies. is that its writers have thought nothing through. What I feel about the ruck of recent verse. is forged in the brain. And so we get the disjedi membra poetx — as if the poet had been hit and scattered into crystal fragments by a bomb. thing of shreds and patches. I trust have made it clear that I should regard poetry which embodied thought alone. if it be worthy of the name. often beautifully phrased. especially as it ebbs and flows by the moon through the monthly periodicals. But however feeling may render plastic the stuff of poetry. which as poems have If neither beginfeel ning nor middle nor end. cut .308 it is CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY as easy to write verse (especially free verse) it is difficult badly. or had been. as to write is it well. They fondly regarded as finished works themselves. from the mass of recent verse. the poem. as prose in the disguise of verse. For the great danger ahead is when it primarily interested in the recording of sensuis ous impressions.

much modern verse is cinemato- The trend of all but the best current poetry is away from the consecutive and towards the discrete. It is not mere accident that graphic. unintermitted energy is of the creative imagination. as the succesI sive globules. I think. after an hour of of the tides. I believe. The stronger spirits are able to impose . fused from innum- erable parts by the steady. impressions are richly present. feel fusing energy of which. sweep of the winds. In the great poets. when a faucet is turned off. fall with distinct yet gentle impact upon the water in a bowl. Except in some of the more serious craftsmen. But does grow in large measure. like 309 Romeo. the architectonic power has suffered atrophy." it. but they are integral components of a whole. out of the quest for externality and immediacy of impression. to-day — and not we the lack in poetry only. One wearies quickly of what somebody has called "thumb-nail sketches of the star in the puddle. have read volumes of recent verse in which Httle fragment after little fragment is dropped into the receptive mind. and the heaving and even shattering cataracts of rain. It that sustained.THE INCURSIONS OF PROSE up. And one cries to Heaven. for the I wish again to say distinctly that this indictlie ment does not it against all recent poetry. into little stars.

Since we happen at the present moment to be alive. going to the wall? Far from it. — But I shall not anticipate his list! . and will have the simple task of discoursing on the early-twentieth-century classics. and the happy lecturer a hundred years from now will find the house swept and garnished. I should say. then. What we overlook the fact that every previous generation has gone through the same experience. we get the bad contemporary verse together with the good. the ef- overwhelming. however. Is poetry. The others shed impressions as a cat sheds hairs. And since quantitatively the fect is rather is bad is in excess.310 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY upon the phantasmagoria of images their will which they evoke. Ours is n't yet! By and by it will be. The only difference is that their bad verse is safely dead and decently interred.

And "Anglo-Saxon" is itself have in ambiguous. merits and defects alike. And I am allowing myself in closing to say certain things I want to say. There are two outstanding facts about the .VIII THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION I HAVE said "Anglo-Saxon. I shall not attempt to deal with days when the whole exhaustively. But in these of Wordsworth's line is true as it was never true before: tongue that Shakespeare spake" — "We must be free or die." because there I is no other term that quite expresses what mind. a very splendid tradi- And it it has both the surpassing merits and the complementary defects of the breed from which it springs. with new affection and a great pride. without particular regard to their connection with either convention or revolt. It tion. who speak in these the days we turn back to our kind. ideals By the Anglo-Saxon tradition I mean the and quaUties that have been handed down through those speare spoke — the poetic is who speak the tongue that Shaketradition of our Eng- lish-speaking race.

and an hideous flame of fire flew out of his mouth. and his shoulders shone as gold. and his claws like fine gold. and his paws as big as a post. In each there is the directness and the virihty of the native stock. the stock persists. persistent native strain. the in resultant is none of these. like as the land and water had flamed all of fire. but English. in each the flexibihty that comes from an unrivalled power of assimilation. and came in the wind like a falcon. his feet full of fine sable. and be the influence French. his belly hke mails of a marvellous hue. Let me illustrate the quaUties that I have particularly in mind. he fell and dreamed a marvellous dream: him seemed that a dreadful dragon did drown much of his people.312 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY English language which have their counterparts EngUsh poetry. Then the dreadful dragon advanced him. he was rugged looking roughly. or what not. and he came flying out of the west. and his head was enamelled with azure. his tail full of tatters. But through all the influences and agencies from without. to which we may now come. or ItaUan. he was the foulest beast that ever man saw. Here is a paragraph from Malory's "Morte Darthur": And as the king lay in his cabin in the ship. and the . After him seemed there came out of the orient a grimly boar all black in a cloud. or Spanish. he roared and romed in a slumbering. in speech and poetry alike. so hideously that it were marvel to hear. giving great strokes on the boar. It is this with all its imperfections on its head.

Ornament. a which are a are part of part of our ancestral heritage." "Gammer satires. directness of are their distinctive marks. a mascuUne energy that never overlooks the mass in the detail. Dryden's "Tam "Don "Jolly Beggars. the Romances and the Tales. and came down with such a swough. which was ten foot large from the head to the tail. There is in the diction of that sinewy prose directness. and smote the boar all to powder." "Leaves of Grass. both flesh and bones. For from "Beowulf" down to the "BarrackRoom Ballads" a splendidly robust and virile strain has run through EngUsh poetry. frankness of delineation. speech They are less con- cerned with moonlight and with skylarks and . and that the hot blood made all the sea red of his blood. "Canterbury Gurton's Needle." Papers. Then the dragon flew away all on an height. Think of a few of the many names: "Beowulf" Ballads. that it flittered aU abroad on the sea. boldness of conception. the itself. prettiness. finesse are secondary qualities. and smote the boar on the ridge. despite their is infinite array of differences.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION 313 boar hit him again with his grisly tusks that his breast was all bloody." Ben Jonson's comedies. a vigor. They our ancestral heritage in poetry as well." Common to all of them. a forthrightness." first and o'Shanter" and the Juan." the "Biglow second "Henry IV.

That implies limitations without doubt. The two points on which I am intent are these: the Enghsh tradition includes a magnificently virile strain. Samuel Johnson. strain shows itself chiefly in poetry that takes for its province the actions of men.- 314 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY men and They deal with action rather than with enamels and cameos. than with their affairs." and they looked with masculine eyes. have particularly in mind Chaucer. and even coarseness in some of the poets whom I have named. Henley. And exquisiteness. or titillate the sense. even in these days of partisan poUtics in poetry. and that fusion with the so-called greatest art. Burns. and raciness. Dryden. they do not leave the brain idle while they seek to touch the heart. not a question Let me say at once that it is of admiring either robustness or delicacy to the exclusion of the other. with objects. It of being is not even a matter happy with either. Byron. were tother away. Cathohcity of taste is still. at once desirable and . Ben Jonson. they are dynamic rather than static. The qualities poets I The whom — — that we name feminine are apt to be present in mascuUne in all the and deUcacy. and their line looked on life as what we call nowadays " a man's job. Scott. and charm go hand in hand with vigor.

"Sweetheart. to fling it in my face that I must therefore dislike the opposite. this jolly good ale and old. My stomach is not good. And Of saith. I took my . there like is danger of misunderstanding. ye may see The tears run down her cheek: Then doth she trowl to me the bowl Even as a maltworm should. If I say that I like 315 one thing. for instance. Whether it be new or old. And particu- larly in the case of the antithesis we are considI ering. But sure I think that I can drink With him that wears a hood. . go bare. is neither delicate. belly. it is bad logic. take ye no care. But. . nor exquisite. And Tib. part . I stuff my skin so full within Of good ale and old. jolly .". God send thee good ale enough. this drinking- song from I "Gammer cannot eat but little meat. I nothing am a-cold. Both foot and hand go cold. Back and side go bare.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION possible. That fined. Gurton's Needle": tremendously. however usual. that as her till life Loveth well good Full oft drinks she ale to seek. my wife. Though I go bare. nor re- But detract from my liking for it does not my delight in this: in the least .

But might I of Jove's nectar sup. I suppose that if Chaucer had lived to-day. And however great the gain for the one. and the novel. For the form of the "Canterbury Tales" has given them an immortality which prose could scarcely confer precisely as the swiftness and vividness — and verve of "Tam o'Shanter" find their inevit- . literature would prob- ably have been on the whole the poorer. it has been diverted from poetry to prose. that portion of the field of poetry which once action claimed as its own men and and affairs. the loss has been indubitable for the other. Or leave a kiss but in the cup. many a brow would now be looking to its laurels. The thirst that from the soul doth Doth ask a drink divine. he would have written prose fiction. The tradition has not lapsed.316 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY only with thine eyes. I suspect that is in part to a fact which has met us elsewhere. in the drama. And I '11 not look for wine. Nevertheless. pledge with mine. I would not change for thine. and the short story. Prose has taken over. If he had. Drink to me And I will rise The thing we may is regret is that the mascuHne in vigor of the one somewhat due abeyance in English poetry to-day.

into the open road of narrative." I wrote Keats. and the artistry. has lightly the play for the set- The play is still the thing. I am not one of the devotees of the "Spoon River Anthology. not but for more virility. in It my judgment." And midst of the finesse." lacks. for the adventurous voyager again. in a word. human nature is finer . And its chief signifi- . . whose letters **but am . 317 able vehicle in verse. — the quoting freely.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION abandoned far too ting. who will sail the old lanes of the seas and scruples about polyphonic prose. for less refinement I sail beheve the wind sits in the shoulder of the and convoy is assistant. in the line of the great tradition. Poetry. without the relinquishment of the impressions of things. of one thing there can be no doubt: it is at least striking. in Yet it too is its immediate sole concern with life. for a return on the part of poetry. the distinction which would and lift it to the level of great art. to the doings of men. one longs at times. Moun- taineer has looked into it. and the meticulous minutiae of recent verse. " Scenery is fine. definitely and with Whatever one's fears something of the old-time directness. richer for the tread of a foot — the Eagle's nest sward is nervous English for the in the is finer.

the deepest and most abiding human interest. on occasion. It — has been its glory. results Its may be. and therefore is taboo for poetry. its undoing.318 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY cance lies in its amazing popularity a vogue which means. Enghsh poetry has been in large measure a poetry of ideas. prose. And pure ratiocination. Let us look at another closely related element of the tradition. cease to when we also feel profoundly. that the readers of poetry are ready. that time is now. and always has been. to-day. or exert imaginative energy. its own fit medium of expression. whatever may be its austere and remote beauty of intellect another sort. even we do not is. even eager. is beauty. because the great poets have always recognized that think. is as unaccommodated thought. and that has been both its glory and. Now I grant at once that poetry's first conand in secula seculorum. and presumably will always be. yesterday. to welcome once more in verse the actions and the lives of men. And if ever a time was ripe for its return. whatever other excellence it may possess. That is. But if . is not as such the stuff of poetry. cern. is not a thing of beauty. There to be sure. a fantastic notion abroad these days that thought. where the works cold and aloof in dry light. unless I am much mistaken.

let me repeat. however penetrating or profound." We may continue without comthink." wrote Keats the year before his I death. " I hope am a httle more of a Philosopher little less than I was. either the I "Divine Comedy." or "Hamlet. Dante thought profoundly in the "Gonvivio. consequently a of a versify- ing Pet-lamb. "Faust" the because we never ex- haust the creative energy of thought that they hold stored to quicken thought." And we think after them when we read these things. There is we are started is something that eludes analysis. beauty of imperishable /or/77. but which of thought the very heart of poetry. But that quickening power. even a poet with impunity plead guilty to its exer"I hope. More than that happens." We are not merely thinking after them. Take these hues from "Antony and Gleopatra": .THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION body in 319 thought. in the mysterious fusion and form in supremely great verse. find punction to look askance at detachable gems of thought in verse. takes may cise." and Goethe (however wrongly) in the "Farbenlehre. whenever there is vital contact with a mind. when we read the "Divine Gomedy" and "Faust." or less poetry. as such. is exercised through something more than thought. But we do not. on voyages of our own.

.320 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY Cheer your heart. The poet. ideas are out of ^ I have allowed these lines to stand as they were written in January. cannot think too deeply. That has its place. which drives O'er your content these strong necessities. however exquisite. and it is high. Let's do it after the high Roman fashion. edy is And I submit that a it thought so imperishably phrased that stoic sums up not only the cataclysm of a world. by milUons. the supreme tragbeing met to-day. then. but it is not the soUtary peak of poetry. troubled with the time. 19 18." but. which has dawned upon the planet. which drives O'er your content these strong necessities'* — there — in one phrase is the burden just it: of this tragic year of our Lord. Without that. what's noble.^ And in the rest of "But let determin'd things to destiny Hold is unbewail'd their way" not only the spirit of "what's brave. if he thinks through the imagination. Be you not "The time. is of at least as much worth as the embodiment of a sensuous impression. stern and austere in its simplicity. But let determin'd things to destiny Hold unbewail'd their way. but also the and indomitable temper that endures it. which gives to thought its wings. the ultimate formulation of the spirit with which.

a Presbyterian. the academic bent of mind an excellent thing in its place. or a sociahst. or a movement. There is. or an adherent of any creed. insidiously and unawares. like an ill-roasted egg all on one partisan of any — side. that I am speaking now. But through poetry. its brain surrepti- . and I as a human being. while at we feel. so far as possible. the same time imagination. is alien or inimical to poetry. — But of us in spite of shades of the prison-house. and. but devastating out of it. There develops. however freighted with pabulum for the brain. still some it is read poetry as human beings. beUeve. He is versifying his ideas. such as they are. he comes under Touchstone's anathema he is damn'd. or a professor. not impregnating thought with imaginative beauty It — which That is one at least of poetry's high prerogatives. no idea. find satisfaction in the challenge to thought.• THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION place in 321 With it. want to is think. And most of us. he must think as a poet. If he thinks as poetry. tal carries for any frail mor- a lurking peril. I know. a pubhc that does if. That means that when a poet thinks. through an awakened see. And poetry at its greatest n't seeks for nothing less than the whole of us. happens to be my business to teach English with it literature.

instead of being transfused and . Each. it becomes. it and even may and its involuntary exercise of inteUigence. And any- way. and Wordsworth. in his way.322 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it tiously reached. and Browning. at least does n't know it 's sometimes does experience a new dehght in the unasked for and hurt. five shining and and Meredith. inexhaustible. For when thought invests itself in imaginative beauty. too. exemplipletely permeated with imagination — fies the peril that besets a highly gifted poetic nature. Much of the work of some of the greatest has been vitiated by thinking. for example imperishable names. and that. by the miracle which we call genius. and Shelley. For the intellectual element in poetry must be com- and fused with feeling. And that supreme and difficult interpenetration has by no means always been achieved. unassimilated to the inexorable demands of art. if it is not to mar where it should make. It has been more than once its evil genius. neither they nor we get all of what a great poem has to give. as I have said. when at bad moments thought inhibits imagination. has been one of its glories. I shall not reiterate what has been said a hundred times about Donne. Now the great tradition in poetry has always offered ungrudging hospitality to ideas.

the understanding. issue. in the verse of their school it persisted flinty and intractable. winged with im- agination. We are dealing with a phase of the subject qualification. And the fact that even genius has sometimes lapsed. that the vast majority of those who write verse are unendowed with the alchemy of genius — these assimilating facts should not be- tray us into the repudiation of a great tradition. however. as most of us is know to our sorrow. On the one side the streams flow off toward the subhme. on the other they plunge headlong to the ridiculous. because the like which requires endless intellectual element runs through poetry a great watershed. Let us not. To think imaginatively the gift To give to thought. confuse the to think is itself Merely no easy task. almost to the level of imagination. an imperishable form — that is the supreme achievement of genius in its highest exercise. sad but inexorable. And the Eng- . Even Shelley sometimes mingles poetry and propaganda to their mutual disaster. And though Dryden's intellectual vigor and Pope's consummate art raised at times that shibboleth of the eighteenth century. of genius. and the further fact.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION informed and 323 made luminous by it. and the turn of a hair may save or damn.

Charles. even homiletic. tradition is itself ambiguous. will can at least discriminate. moralise: And And in this wisdom of the Holly Tree Can emblems see Wherewith perchance to make a pleasant rhyme." replied Lamb. Reader! hast thou ever stood to see The Holly Tree? The eye that contemplates it well perceives Its glossy leaves Order 'd by an intelligence so wise As might confound the Atheist's sophistries. There is native to our Anglo-Saxon blood a distinctly didactic. Is poetry's business to teach ? There single interrogation is perhaps no which sets so swiftly the storm signals answer which The poetic And there is probably no command universal assent. with it lish tradition lapses down respect to one vitally important matter. ." "My dear fellow. 1 love to view these things with curious eyes. but we flying." And it is one of our racial traits to point a moral even while we adorn a tale. you never heard me preach. Coleridge once said to Lamb. "I believe. One which may profit in the after time. strain. "I never heard you do anything else.324 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY has steered a course not without the wrong side of the ridge.

in which Southey asseverates that Gentle at home amid [his] friends [he'd] be Like the high leaves upon the Holly Tree. I told her that in my own judgment the poem had too much. among other "An Address to the Deity." and "Hymns in Prose for Children. Dorothy Wordsworth's birch tree. but they are the tongues of trees. owned that that might admit some question. Anna Letitia things.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION I shall 325 not quote the rest of the poem. I . and that the only. For there are tongues in trees assuredly." "Mrs. and not of tractates. — moral. and expresses the pious hope that In [his] age as cheerful [he] might be As the green winter of the Holly Tree. but as to the want of a moral. Coleridge reports in his "Table Talk" a conversation between himself and Mrs. and had no faults in it. Barbauld — who wrote." says Coleridge. "glancing in the wind like a flying sunshiny shower." and "bending to the breezes as if for the love of its own deUghtful motions" is worth unnumbered cords sawed from Southey's holly tree. Barbauld. but that there were two it was improbable. or As for the probabihty. "once told me that she admired the 'Ancient Mariner' very much.

Punishment: ance. Happily one I does n't plot it. — Crime. As one reads the . because one of the date shells had. and says he must kill the aforea well. plots And it. Absolution. Barbauld who was right. The "Ancient Mariner." to a degree surpassed in the case of few other poems imagination. might say so. one looks hke the bare bones of a sermon (a) for oneself. and the Burden Pen- A New is Life. Yet even here we must discriminate. said merchant. Penitence. is a work of sheer absolutely in keeping with that should have a firm yet flexible frameit work. it seems. chant's sitting It ought to have had no more tale of the moral than the Arabian Nights' mer- down to eat dates by the side of and throwing the shells aside. put out the eye of the genie's son. It is not inconsistent with if its imaginative quality that the framework. (b) for falls. the innocent. has. employ them. and also as art may not. was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of such pure imagination. unless one out (as am at the moment) for that sort of game." It was Coleridge rather than Mrs.326 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY if I chief fault. It fact that it is in EngUsh. For the poem offers a striking example of ethical values employed both as art may. and lo! a genie starts up.

at the close of the poem. an expHcit moral is definitely drawn (how under heaven Mrs." it doesn't bite. For there is. and left it background of the poem. then. The "Ancient Mariner" ought to be as bare of a categorically pointed moral as "Kubla Khan.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION 327 poem. is not a moral. "does the . it is an imaginative use of moral values. if it teaches in art's it if." to quote Cole- famous statement. in fact. it has a high artistic and imaginative function. as an inuntouched. Barbauld missed it. over which the sudden charm of the accidents of hght and shade is to be diffused. The sense of the homely and traditional moral values is to the poem harbor and the wedding feast — the — part like quiet of "the known and famihar ridge's landscape. as Coleridge employs it. I don't know) that the moral sentiment is." Poetry way — may teach. in Browning's phrase. It is when. obtruded openly on the reader. its skeleton is as unobtrusive as yours or mine. And what I wish to emphasize is the fact that. changed you. nothing so strange as the famihar. as Hazlitt says of the allegory in the "Faery Queene. then. as Coleridge says. tegral element of when a cataclysm has The ethical an imaginative conception — and that is a horse of a totally different color.

But the great tradition of Enghsh poetry is sound in its steadfast insistence that beauty is and ideas." delightfully." he goes on. itself he has may communicate to us." So soon as he moralizes. which is not delightful. as they suppose.328 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY "To instruct thing shall breed the thought. and does not startle with itself — but with or amaze it its subject. Once more. The poet's sense of ethical values. without the intrusion of a moral sentiment." Browning and Dryden are at one. it. "that has a palpable design upon Poetry should be great and unobtruus. but it performs its work by precept. if we to learn. but it allows us to be and the universe permit us. the poet has abdicated his throne. and may be present even when actions and ideas have ethical quahty. Poetry does not teach taught. . I beheve profoundly in the doctrine of art for latent in actions . if life shrewdly suspect. the end of art is the disclosure of beauty. imphcitly. or not so delightful as example. Philosophy instructs. sive. is and the preacher's I — though The not much. as Shakespeare's does." says Dryden." wrote Keats. the poet's business teacher's so is not with precept. . following Sir Philip Sydney. "is the general end of all poetry. . "We hate poetry. us. as will. "a thing which it enters into one's soul.

so treated as to disclose beauty. which are subject to no limitation save theu* fitness for artistic endowment with And a theme that possesses ethical impHcations. so far as goes. admits no alternative. rejuvenation by their present-day discifetters is But the formula imposes it upon art. fulfils the stern requirements of Fart pour Uart as completely as a similar treatment of themes that may be fitly described as Emaux is et Camees. that is. art's he as true to art for when he composes an "Ode to Duty. its accept as vaUd. overtaken by disaster. that poetry that.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION art's 329 sake — of art. it I the limitation of the dictum to anything short of beauty wherever I it is the touch of art to release and awaiting and reveal it. as I see it." The one inexorable mandate is that he sake take art's way. the Symbolistes' appUcation of the shibboleth. If the poet remains relentlessly the artist. when confuses art's way. why the Anglo-Saxon . with the themes of form. is And and that alone. which art." as when he writes a "Symphonic en Blanc Majeur. immutable. That. The sole criterion is the treatment. and only then. That it means that and ples. and give only in art's way. But latent. for the sake of what art object to alone can give. It is when art's way is is abandoned.

this.330 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY emphasis on content." Nor significance that perhaps. to spUt I hairs over the question of casuistry involved in that deliberate paradox. has too its tradition. in the final audit. gests the saving grace. and Cleopatra. devoid of humor. I decline. What wish to say is Any poetic tradition is fairly secure. a rather dry lady. respectfully series of magnifi- cently unmoral embodiments of moral reprehen- but firmly. which can set over against the worst that Southey. against the charge of surrender to the didactic. without most of the poets who have thus offended have been. the Pandar of "Troilus and Creseyde. And that sug- For through the high gift of humor and the resultant power of detachment. in varying degrees. and Wordsworth. and Felicia Hemans at their worst can do. Enghsh poetry has been enriched with a long sibility. and ." and the Wife of Bath and all the engaging rascals of the " Canterbury Tales. For didacticism and a sense of humor are mutually exclusive quaUties." and Falstaff. but (may we not add ?) is it. with its often led followers astray. And what one gets as a result is suggestive of Stevenson's malign but alluring reference to George EUot as "a high. and Martin Tupper. Didacticism in poetry is high seriousness turned wrong side out.

whatever de- fections into the parochial. it has flowed. "against seeking such values only in is must guard. There is another tendency that demands a passing word. but. They might not save Sodom and Gomorrah. "I must take issue with you. at least since the days of Laurence Sterne. and Fra Lippo Lippi. through minor English verse. and moist. and the Jolly Beggars. warm. has also gloriously recognized the truth which Goethe once stated in speaking of Byron. For Enghsh poetry. It does not belong to the great tradition.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION 331 Tarn o'Shanter. and Don Juan."Byand grandiosity has that — not educative value? distinctly pure is We on. . is — whatever great creative. ron's daring." said Goethe. dash." That from the the Puritan Milton — Heaven be thanked — rose to the highest height great arguof his creator of Mephistopheles has weight. Alles grosse hildet. The excellent Eckermann had expressed a doubt regarding Byron's value as a moral factor in the uplifting of humanity. and and sometimes nebulously ecstatic. And even for it! ment in the superb conception of the moral grandeur of Satan. and occasionally saccharine." he went what and moral. but they insure EngHsh tradition against possession in fee simple by the its PhiUstines.

and amor- phous." she continues.332 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY a major poet relaxes his English poetry stones from its glass — and here fibre and admits it." and "Odes on the Sentiments of Young Indians at Sunrise." I "Some Suggestions about Bad commend it to the Imagists as an and to the non-combatant to Purge Melancholy." If the thing were confined to musings on the emotional reactions of the untutored but sensitive savage. entitled of the EngUsh Associ- Poetry. with the non-inebriating quality of warm days tea. Now senti- arsenal of weapons. vague. and false possibiUties. But . For is alas! it cannot throw house at Germany — sometimes sentimental." she proceeds. reader as a Pill mentahty is at its worst in verse. "that cannot be imagined by people of no imagination. One of the most delectable articles I know is a paper in the "Essays and Studies" by members ation. it would not be so bad. "this this era is the reason why can boast more minor poetesses than any other. It is the sort of thing that in its earUer revelled (as Miss Sichel notes in the article re- ferred to) in "Lines to Cherokees. facile emotions. and hazy. Perhaps." "There is nothing. and the emotions of colored races on large natural phenomena admit of any amount of woolly thoughts. when emotion flows over a theme.

and when its when her images floated on her memory only in softened colors. touched the strings of the lute in softest harmony. hope. — immediately "To mortal Such sprite blissful hours. repeated the following lines: SUNRISE A Sonnet Oft let me wander." of Mrs. Drink the rich fragrance of the budding May. And the wild musk-rose weeps along the glade. . remember the heroine of the Forest. Where sleeps the violet in the dewy shade. were never known I" .THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION nothing evades the sentimentalist. Thro' the cool vale o'erhung with waving woods. at the break of day. "A Midsummer Night's Dream. Two . And catch the murmur of the distant floods. as they returned home through a romantic senses were no longer absorbed in the contemplation of this grand scenery. May refresh your Adeline. I omit the lines Adeline ceased to sing when she heard repeated in a low voice. Or rest on the fresh bank of limpid rill. Where opening lilies balmy sweets distill." from Titania to her Lover. I 333 Some of you. such dulcet sounds. her voice accompanying it with words which she had one day written after having read that rich effusion of Shakespeare's genius. but take up the thread immediately after them. pages farther on. AdeUne as she viewed the tranquil splendor of the setting sun . Radcliffe's I "Romance memory? glen.

sensibility. Annand to burst into tears. Armandi She blushed and laid down the lute. M. All that we need of the lines is their closing couplet: So sweet so tranquil may my evening ray and rise in future day. sweet bird! and hail thy pensive tear and to virtue dear I Now AdeUne's prompt ulus is responsiveness to stimif I typical. And the poem "To hail. resigning herself to the luxury of sweet and tender emotions. Set to this world I — I After which: Adeline quitted the heights." In a melodious voice. to fancy. may risk . and followed a narrow path that wound to the beach below her mind was now particularly sensible to fine impressions. she saw M. sunset in the next chapter. the Nightingale" ends: Then To taste. that trembled with sang the following sonnet. and with a tremulous hand drew forth tones " That might create a soul under the ribs of Death. and the sweet notes of the nightingale. Your sentimentalist. amid the stillness of the woods. which he instantly took up. he We may also pass over the sonnet. : again awakened her enthusiasm. which led and come to the it. As she observed Adeline.334 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY and turning her eyes whence it came. repeated the following lines.

is very like a pennyin-the-slot machine. and a poem drops soft and warm into yoiu* outstretched hand. If the pensive tear of a nightingale. Let nature drop in a sunset. The poem born in a sort of poetic twilight sleep. the absence of lachrymatory glands in that otherwise poetic bird divine afflatus. of precision and lucidity of thought. must be sensitive and receptive to impressions." The artist. "The Principles of Success in Literature. alert to every stimulus ble. in other words. there is a little cUck. of compression harmony of form — these trouble the sentimenis and balanced is tahst not a whit. from within -and from without. All that necessary to reach out into an atmosphere of rosy mist. — "The greatness of an author. or life a heart-throb." "consists in having a mind extremely irritaand at the same time steadfastly imperial. sway over his impressions. and capture the first nebulous notion that floats into one's it is grasp. stern travail of is beneath the notice of the escapes the is The sentimentaHst thought. beyond the capacity of ordinary men. imperial But he must hold selecting. Why not? The austere require- ments of clarity of imagery." wrote George Henry Lewes in an infinitely suggestive little book. .THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION 335 a most unsentimental simile.

" and the "Music- Master. "can in the long run be exhilarating to no soever the flood of utter- creature. "To sit as a passive bucket and be pumped into. inchoate yearnings to be touched." And there are also gospel hymns. filing." says Carlyle of Coleridge's talk. It distressing. steadfastly imperial. over "Camille. The sentimentalist is often enough extremely irritable." And poetry which bathes us in lukewarm emotion spiritual fibre. I is not toughening to the wish we could think that such poetry has sometimes a certain value as a sort of propaedeutic for the primary grades. 1 and refiling them. in Lewes's sense. he is never clarifying.336 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY ordering. and throngs to shed them. Impressions flow through him and drop on us. moulding. If senti- one could beheve that the fondness for the mental song were the protoplasm of a liking for " Tristan and Isolde. that it is the sentimental doggerel sung by two lovers in the spotlight during every comic opera that draws the most heartfelt and continuous applause. how eloquent ance that is descending. And on a little higher plane." and that the far-off interest . we know the audience that has tears to shed. may be more or less but it is none the less significant. The heart of the crowd is undoubtedly a thing of vague.

THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION of the tears shed over " Camille" 337 were a capacity for the purging through pity and fear afforded by ** Othello" or "King Lear. however automatically it may exude itself in verse. And I that is our salvation. main represents a back-water. a reasonably clear one. as that spirit concerns us now. These lectures have been written with a divided mind. SentimentaUty. its relations and with to didacticism and senti- mentality. the great EngUsh tradition has kept sweetness sound and wholesome. is not and cannot be the stuff of poetry. Sentimental verse in EngUsh. past which the stream flows fresh and strong. I do not wish to close this course without a word as to the spirit of English poetry. Why talk about poetry with a world in flames? Is there not poignant truth once more in those words which Carlyle wrote in his . But I fear that evolution A taste formed on the cloying is sweetness of the sentimental more apt than stern sweetness — Montaigne's poetry." the case would be does not so work. appaUing as its expanse may be. its not to turn away unfed from the "severe douceur" — of great Happily. poetic tradition in English have dealt now with the emphasis of the on actions and ideas.

And yet if poetry is. we have eaten more than we can digest. . as Hfe strives to catch and fix in form the endless flux in which it if poetry is life itself. we want the poetry of life: our calculations have outrun conception. proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world.. as I beheve it to merely an ornament that graces life. to song so-called . The cultivation of poetry is never more to be desired than at periods when.338 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY : we will talk of that a couple of centuries hence. but only when Troy is taken: alas. and man. has. then Shelley wrote in his "Defence of Poetry" these profoimdly suggestive words: — We want the creative faculty to imagine that which we know. we want the generous impulse to act that which we imagine. having enslaved the elements. for want of the poetical faculty. Homer shall be thrice welcome.. from an excess of the selfish and which have enlarged the . what can I do with Homer?" That comes home with pitiless du-ectness to any one be. The cultivation of those sciences limits of the empire of man over the external world. reaching out moves — creatively after the permanence of beauty poetry is worthy of consideration now. not inti- who ventures to talk of poetry to-day. remains himself a slave. when things are cahner again. but an mate reading and record of hfe. " Life of Sterling " "As while the siege lasts and battle's fury rages everywhere. . .

that." No man ever brought to the study of poetry a more sternly . unintelUgible now. If there is issues that humanity has ever in it a tonic virtue. could scarcely have conceived. of a national which Shelley. a fugitive and cloistered retreat from the most tremendous faced. I the form — and racial egoism that has turned a I continent into a shambles. an assurance is that the stuff of our stock at least. as a sentimental should be ashamed to regard refuge. That selfish and privileged calculating principle has taken a form. our concern with poetry now. in these days in which we are both and doomed to live. think. embodied the same indomitable will that yet looks on tempests and is never shaken. at the beginning of the FrancoPrussian war.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION of external life exceed the quantity of the 339 calculating principle. But the spirit race to-day lish is the spirit that has animated Eng- poetry itself from those earliest days when its virile speech. do not believe that it poetry I is a panacea for the cataclysm of a world. the accumulation of the materials power of as- similating them to the internal laws of human nature. lectured at the College de France on the "Chanson de Roland. Heaven forbid that I should seem to preach or that animates our sentimentalize. justifies indestructible. Gaston Paris.

340 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY a more rigorous devotion to scientific attitude. but it is more. a fit subject merely for tea-table talk. And that spirit. has dreed his Not only is it the indiown weird. embodied a superb individuahsm. has misingly individuahstic. and rightly. It is the incarnation of the spirit of a people. He could not its know that this same spirit would later find apotheosis in the magnificent "They shall not pass" of Verdun. it must include the conservation of the spirit of the race. or even doctoral dissertations. I do not know fully what that means I wish I did. is And what I want to make clear the fact that the "Carry on" of England and America has been present in EngUsh poetry from its beginnings. whatever the checks been uncompro- and balances upon vidual who excess. And what was he pointed out in his opening lecture this : the spirit of France — that gallant and chivalrous spirit that has streamed like an ori- flamme through the storms of centuries — was imphcit in that old masterpiece. From its very beginnings EngUsh poetry has fighting to We say we are make the world safe for democracy. . It is these things. but it has . But if it means anything vital and constructive. or truth. than that master of method in research. For poetry is not something isolated and aloof from fife.

pris. For want to make clear." I courage the more. not dogmatic or express. as one of the things which poetry has to offer to-day. against when the tide was setting strong a dwindhng handful. And a poetry that numbers among its outstanding figures Beowulf." a tion that runs veteran warrior. heart the bolder. and Childe Roland. is a poetry whose democracy is tempered by a stubborn conviction that democracy thwarts the development of the individual at its peril. Nothing that . as our strength might quote the whole poem. mod "Purpose wish I sceal ^e mare. the "Battle of Maldon. and Chapman's Bussy d'Ambois. and Tennyson's Ulysses. In that fine old Anglo-Saxon poem. littleth. who to the Dark Tower came. heorte ]>e cenre. a continuity of tradi- from the battle of Maldon to Ypres and Arras and the Somme. speaks to his young in comrades Hige arms: ]>e sceal heardra. ^e ure maegen shall be the sterner. lytla*S. 341 who has moulded is the inert Now great poetry never written a parti and its interpretation of the temper of a great people is impHcit. Let I me be still more concrete and specific. and Milton's Satan and Samson Agonistes.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION been the individual mass.

It is the ton's same dauntlessness that animates Milsplendidly EngUsh Satan: What though All is not lost — the unconquerable the field be lost? will. "Libeaus Desconus": As he gan sore smerte. And keverede of hys state." Armstrong in the ballad: Uke Johnie Said John. that which we are. I will lay me down for to bleed a while. as Ulysses. Then I '11 rise and fight with you again. Up he pullede hys herte.342 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY it has yet come from this vast carnage touches for stern beauty. it might have been written yesterday. And courage never to submit or yield. "When heart. and tho' We are not Moved that strength which in old days earth and heaven. passed from Homer by way of Dante into taken. And what is else not to be overcome. It animates Ulysses. in a new Odys- sey. barring the accidents of changed conditions. now — . pain smote him sore. Yet. So might the words of the hero of the old romance. up he pulled his It's and was himself again. English poetry: Tho' much is much abides. we are. immortal hate. but I am not slain. Fight on my merry men all. I am a little hurt. And study of revenge.

but mind to keep your . we need not — that motto. 343 Made weak by time and fate. est necesse — inscribed over the doorway of one of the great halls of the Hanseatic League. est. be" — and leaps to fate. Navigare necesse hand vivere non live" in hand with "sail we must. And "Prospice" and "Childe Roland" and "The Grammarian's Funeral" and the Epilogue to "Asolando" need no quotation here. that has been the fatalism of our Anglo- And Saxon ancestry.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION One equal temper of heroic hearts. to find. if his courage holds!'' And "Beowulf " is nowhere more consummately national than in that superb resolution of foreordination and free-will. will action. sums up the spirit. will There is folds its hands. another type which says: "What shall be. English poetry from is nings nently Oriental) which says: be. ]?onne his ellen deahl "Fate often saves an unfated warrior. why act?" — and "What shall be. There is a fatalism (one thinks of the type as preemi- Moreover. and not to yield. its very beginpermeated by that dynamic fatalism which has characterized our stock. to seek. Cromwell's "Put your trust in God. but strong in will To strive. You Wyrd find it in "Beowulf": oft nere^ unfsegne eorl.

chere. in that great balade in which he concentrates all that felt about Fortune — Chaucer same ringing note: This wrecched worldes transmutacioun. But natheles.344 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY powder dry". though I dye. Fortune. now povre and now honour. the EngUsh "Gawain and the Green Knight": pe kny^t mad ay god &. **Iay tout perdu mon temps et mon labour**: For fynally. Franklin's "God helps those who help themselves. I thee defyel The same ley: indomitableness speaks again in Hen- I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. As wele or wo. the lak of hir favour Ne may nat don me singen. . With-outen ordre or wys discrecioun Governed is by Fortunes errour. I "quat schuld wonde." are but other phrasings of the same canny playing of the game with destiny. sayde. You get it in one of the greatest of the old ro- mances. Of destines derf Sc dere? What may mon do botfonde?** " The knight made ever good cheer and said should I : Why swerve from destinies stern and strange? but dare?'' What can one do the Middle Ages strikes the And Chaucer.

ourselves and all. And we will risk the ship. And I return in closing to the thesis is with which this course began. And finally. the indifife and here the chaotic welter of the . finds expression in the superb close of Whitman's "Passage to India": Sail forth — steer for the deep waters only. the acceptance of fate as a call and not a quietus. mutatis mutandis. be not an element of surpassing value in any education that is worthy of the name. For that which goes to the making of great poetry is. I Reckless with thee. as it dominates his prose. if famiUarity with great spirit embodied in great form. exploring. of our And the modern pedagogical psychologist asfit severates that only contemporary poetry has place in the schools ! If the inculcation of a long and glorious tradition. soul. and thou with me.THE ANGLO-SAXON TRADITION 345 And it is the moving spirit of the stark austerity of Thomas Hardy's verse. we are no longer interested in the making of men. For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go. the law of the moulding of life. then let us frankly recognize that in our concern with producing the efficiency of a machine. The poetry which embodies the temper stock has tonic quahty. Here vidual.

breathing thoughtful breath.346 CONVENTION AND REVOLT IN POETRY And the object of the artist whose of that other artist it is about him. whatever throws into rehef the eternal vaUdity of the balance between freedom and restraint. the goal of — in made effective through restraint. in this return to chaos. is of to his kind constructive worth. Carlyle once said of Tennyalways carrying a bit of chaos around with him. THE END . but the one overpowering have still ventured to deal with poetry. and it is amazingly like And one reason why poetry is worthy of the consideration of men and women the enterprise of hfe. and medium is life. as individual. And that is why. of the behef that the individual is most truly individual when he builds. is the fact that poetry's essence is is also. and moulded into form and creative energy comeliness again. upon that which is common to him and whatever lays stress on that. medium is words. And in these days when a shattered world is to be made over. that is poetry's job. is one: son: "Alfred is whose to give to the amor- phous welter form." Well. and turning it into cosmos. in spite of — what has seemed triviahty of I all at times the almost unbearable fact. life a sense that it is profoundly true.

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