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This he has done skilfully. Now and then, possibly out of too literal an adherence to the image, possibly from mere paucity of image, the effect is scanty and incomplete. And infrequently the spell is marked by a certain lack of taste, a clumsiness; in the manner of the gossip who tells too much, or tells it with two great relish. Despite these flaws, out of the weave ghosts do take shape and live—ghosts both ordinary and strange, whimsical and fearful—of that indeterminate life existing between men and the objects about them. This house, with “its six white columns,” and “the nine great windows of its face” “stared into by uncivil, ancient trees,” does exist, perhaps not as inevitably as the house of Usher or the castle of Golaud, yet by some kindred magic. Its story, in the best of the poems, proceeds out of an economy of language, a delicate adjustment of word to word, of verse to verse, that maintains the line of rhythm, and makes of the poem a shapely thing—like a vase from which flowers rise beautifully.
The second section of the book, Symphonies, seems a less simple matter. To refer again to the preface, these poems aim “to narrate certain important phases of the life of an artist . . . each phase in the terms of a certain color or combination of colors.” The first of these, Blue Symphony, spreads life before one in a rare pattern of words, certainly marked by new genius. Day and night, gardens and waters, the palace and the temple, “foot passengers in scarlet,” pilgrims of autumn, treasure lying in the marsh grasses, and the distant “blue mountains of death”—these symbols ar
Poet and Theorist
range themselves with clarity and measure, and flow together as if some great Japanese had used them in a land'scape. Readers of PoETRY will remember the cadence:
The darkness rolls upward.
The thick darkness carries with i
Palely the dawn
Sombre wreck—autumnal leaves;
In the blue mist,
Oh, old pagodas of my soul, how you glittered across green trees'
Blue and cool:
The Green Symphony likewise, though tonally not so perfect, paints with fine motion and freshness the intoxication of flowers, clouds, winds, lakes, pine forests, light and air. Black and Gold contains two or three swift notes of the city at night. And always one finds from time to time, in White Symphony and Blue and White especially, beautiful moments, poignant notes of color and sound, and now and then a lyric with the value of this one:
Autumn ! Golden fountains,
Amid the monotonous hills:
Desolation of the old gods,
Rain that lifts and rain that moves away; . In the green black torrent
But, except always for the first and third symphonies, Mr. Fletcher goes, in these poems, where I, for one, find it irksome to follow. It is not that he loses the gist in the image, as some wag has said “these imagists” do, but in a wild concatenation of images, in which adjectives play too insistent and meticulous a part, especially those denoting color. Sometimes for pages, it seems, he allows no noun to appear without its blue-white, gray-green, strong red. To me, even after a repeated use of the guide in the preface, these dramas of the soul in terms of color lack life and motion, become turgid, and dry almost to choking. The artist “runs out like the wind,” “no one can hold him,” “races between the gray guns”; birds fan him with hot winds; rugged waves of blue-black water lash him, lap him, dash him, do not let him rest a minute; a howling sunset, a shrieking storm assail him; fierce whirling swords spit and stab; his lungs and heart fight for air; appalling scarlet sears his eyes. And yet with all this, one only gets the sensation that dreams give, of violent effort and no progress. To borrow from Frank Tinney, Mr. Fletcher “put it over, and it lay there.”
I wonder if this failure is not due to a courting of the impossible, if he has not sought to build a system out of too elusive intuitions, and so has foundered in abstractions. The same tendency to depart from the concrete is apparent in his prefacing discussion of poetry—a tendency to generalize,
Poet and Theorist
which, Blake bluntly says, is to be an idiot. He tells us, for example, with an eye always to modernity, that “no sincere artist cares to handle subject matter already handled and exhausted,” forgetting that AEschylus, Euripides and Sophocles made use of the same ancient stories, and that anyway, manner and matter being inseparable, talk of “subject matter” is not pertinent.
Wouldn't it be well for the poet to leave to the litterateur all this solemn elation over “the new art,” “the new poetry,” “the new technique”? Why worry about it? The great artist inevitably is neither conventional nor hackneyed; lesser men are certain to echo him, and then follow the echoes of the echo, and so on to emptiness. Why clamor and admonish? The story will remain the same—great art always unsolvably old and new, as established as mathematics, as surprising as the spring. Possibly some one of “the new school” is already echoing Mr. Fletcher, and some of his verses distinctly owe their piquancy to the old device of rhyme:
Owls flap in this ancient barn
Rats squeak in this ancient barn
Owls flap in this ancient barn
There is something hidden in this barn
Something the owls have torn,
A SOLDIER POET
Le Prisonnier des Mondes, par Jean Le Roy. Société d’ Editions Mansi et Cie., Paris. Amid the masses of to-day's poetry of detail heaped high on every editorial desk, from an ode to an egg-shell found in an alley, to reflections upon suspenders hanging in a shop window, it is at least a change to come upon Le Prisonnier des Mondes, by Jean Le Roy, one of the younger French poets and a soldier who took part in the great offensive in Champagne. This poet signals to us from high places. His themes are the elements, which possess him, whirl him about, till he is occasionally in danger of losing his balance. True, he may write about a tramway; but he is less concerned with the tramway than with what he sees from it—fleeting houses, landscapes. He likes to write of the open, with its sounds and sights, and does not tire of looking at life, which builds of cells wonderful animate structures. He handles cosmic laws vastly and impersonally. Must these great facts be always related to the human, the personal, in poetry? I think not. Poems of nature, when they are warmed by the human appeal, are perhaps those most lingered over; yet it is good to feel the wide coldness of the elemental forces. Not that Le Roy's work is heedless of the human pulse; but he sees in the heart of a man the heart of all creation. Instant de Clarté, the opening poem in the little paperbound book, whose titles, all told, number only eight, is interesting from a wide point of view: