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Mr. Benét has avoided with real craftsmanship that pitfall of the narrative poem, a too regular rhythm. The framework of heroic measure is here, but so well. does he halt and vary it that nowhere, even to the ear of the sophisticated, is the sense rocked to sleep in the cradle of the metre; and the ambitions and the love of Timur stand out almost as starkly as from prose. In the end too, while not losing the elaborate brightness of the key, he lends a note of human truth to the tale by having Timur's spiritual defeat come at the moment of his greatest physical triumph.
There is a distinct place in American poetry for Mr. Benét's jewelled stories, and it is to be hoped that he will give us more of them. E. T.
OTHER BOOKS OF VERSE
The increase of public interest in poetry is shown by nothing more powerfully than by trade conditions—the number of interesting books of verse which are being published and apparently sold; and of anthologies, biographies, essays, etc., which belong to our province.
We propose to group together for brief mention now and then books which would justify more extensive notice if we had the space, or books whose authors have been so recently studied in our pages that there seems to be nothing especially new to say about them.
Here, for example, is The Quest, by John G. Neihardt (Macmillan Co.), a reprint of the best poems from his first Other Books of Verse
three volumes—1907-1912. We have reviewed at some length this poet's more recent books, and further pages would but repeat a certain feeling of disappointment. Some of these poems seemed quite “advanced” when they first appeared; but the art has gone a long way since then, and many poets have raced past Mr. Neihardt, perhaps because they carry fewer impedimenta. He is too much preoccupied with the “masterful male” attitude, and with a diction and technique which seem old-fashioned today, the inspiration not being keen enough to carry the archaisms. The Prayer for Pain is perhaps the finest poem in the book. The Hymn Before Birth gives this poet at his worst in the second stanza and his best in the last. The Song of the Plow (Macmillan Co.), by Maurice Hewlett, is a rhymed “English Chronicle,” dedicated “to England, long divided, now made one.” It begins with 1066, and turns its flash-light upon the wars of the roses, the despotic kings, the commonwealth, Waterloo, and other imperial episodes, ending with a vision of the New Domesday—the present war and all that its patriotic sacrifices mean for England. Though Mr. Hewlett is a poet by force of his own will rather than that of the gods, this poem, a fit subject for his muse, presents its mediaeval episode picturesquely, and rises to an eloquent patriotic apostrophe at the end. From the Hidden Way (Robt. M. McBride & Co., New York) indicates that James Branch Cabell, a new Virginia poet, has mediaeval loves not unlike Mr. Hewlett's. The book is too long, but it contains a few poems of real delicacy, especially One End of Love, which PoETRY printed under the title Post Annos; and perhaps The Oldest Story, whose last line, “But life remains life's plagiarist,” sums up, in a way, the spirit of the book. Glen Ward Dresbach's first book, The Road to Everywhere (Gorham Press), shows a dangerous facility, enriched now and then with a true lyric touch. A Road Song has a fine open-air feeling in it, a real shout and swing; while Songs for a Violin, and a few tiny songs like The More I Know of the Ocean, and, above all, I Groped Through Blooms, are exquisite. Several are familiar to our readers. A sharp contrast is Smoky Roses (G. P. Putnam's Sons), by Lyman Bryson. Here the pace is slow and heavy, and the poet, oppressed by modern miseries, strips his verse bare of ornament. The Flood is characteristic—a stark description of the death in mad waters of a mother, after a desperate effort to save her child. Gratitude has a similar stern sincerity, and now and then we have a good song in minor cadence, like The Guest. A light and delicate touch has Antoinette de Coursey Patterson. The Son of Merope and Other Poems (H. W. Fisher & Co., Philadelphia) is full of very fragile meshes, but they gleam with pale gold and soft color. Danaide, for example, is lovely. Horizons (Four Seas Co.), by Robert Alden Sanborn, are first-fruits from a carefully tended garden. The poet has delicate intuitions, but not quite the necessary magic. If Other Books of Verse
only the sun would shine more brightly in his garden, and the winds blow through it, we should not care in what pattern it was planted. But Lento, in the imagist manner, is a pretty thing.
A Hidden Well: Lyrics and Sonnets, by Louis How (Sherman, French & Co.), is a book of quiet songs, genuine in their soft appeal because they present with a certain delicacy presonal and intimate moods of feeling. Such poems as A Message, Strangers' Charm, Mere Living, and some of the sonnets, are reflective rather than emotional; not exactly lyrics, perhaps, but sincere and personal, and gracefully done.
Grandiloquent is a descriptive word for the style of Frederick Mortimer Clapp, in On the Overland and Other Poems (Yale University Press). He piles Pelion on Ossa of words, figures, rolling phrases; especially in the free-verse poems— a form which gives him too much freedom because the moment he cuts loose from the familiar iambic the meagreness of his rhythmic instinct becomes painfully apparent.
He is safer under the restraint of the sonnet form, yet even then the efforts at sublimity too often achieve mere bombast, as in the line,
The night is like a snake
Coiled lifeless on the twin vast brows of death—
One longs to suggest to certain poets a course of nursery rhyming to teach simplicity.
In a recent Reedy's Mirror Vachel Lindsay has a few pertinent things to say on the subject of Home Rule for Poets. One of them involves the critics or poets who prolong the barren discussion of the relative merits of free and metrical verse. “It is,” he says, “as dreary as the ancient scanning of the ward-school pedagogues,” which, he insists, made many readers grow up to dislike poetry. He might have added that in many cases we have heard precisely this class protesting most loudly against vers libre—a case of poetic prudery, so to speak, indicating need of the services of a skilful psycho-analyst. Mr. Lindsay says further: “The new free verse requires an ear that is first elaborately trained in conventional rhythms—the people that like it best are apt to be those who love the old poets.” This is discriminating, and true.
Mr. Lindsay also issues a challenge to American poets, very consonant with his own philosophy of life, to leave Bohemia at a suitable age—as one would leave college—and take up the life of a citizen of the larger world, be it in Springfield, Illinois, or Davenport, Iowa. And he includes a reminder to the poet's home audience that “it is absurd for utterly unknown labor leaders, politicians, merchants or bankers to insist that their local singer prove that he has won the admiration of the unborn of the whole wide world for all the ages to come, before he is privileged to