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Robert Frost who first furnished the impulse that liberated some hidden spring and permitted the man to express himself in verse, then we have every reason to feel indebted to Mr. Frost for the revelation of this sensitive poetic mind. This inter-action of poets one upon another, when it occurs —not in the sense of imitation, but of creative quickening— is a very inspiriting thing. One could wish that there might be more of it, and less of poets tearing other poets to pieces in the press for the sake of a very doubtful publicity. It is not, as many seem to think, a mark of final superiority to be able to detect weaknesses in a work of art; it requires a much greater skill and intelligence to recognize the virtues. Not all of Mr. Thomas's poems are included in this volume. In February, 1917, two months before his death, a group of them was published in PoETRY, and one is disappointed to find that neither these nor the poems which appeared in An Annual of New Poetry, 1917, are included here. One hopes that a complete collection may be published later. There is a great deal of modern poetry which one does not care to read a second time; but one who likes these poems will care to read them many times, each time with a new appreciation of their beauty. A. C. H.
RALPH HODGSON AGAIN
The Last Blackbird, by Ralph Hodgson. Macmillan Co. Have publishers no literary conscience, or do they lack
critical perception, basing all their enterprise on a sort of
hit-or-miss calculation of what the market will be? And, once an author is established, is his subsequent work immune from further critical scrutiny by the publisher? One is moved to such conjecture in reading this second book by Ralph Hodgson, so noticeably inferior to his first that one can only regard its publication as a mistake. In fact, those critics who recently championed Mr. Hodgson's work against adverse criticism will find little here to sustain their enthusiasm. All the qualities that made for both the success and the weakness of the first book are here in a kind of obscure excess. One concludes therefore that these poems must be earlier in composition; at least it is kinder to believe so. By comparison the first book assumes a perhaps undue importance. Certainly no one questioned Mr. Hodgson's skill—he is quite truly an artificer in rhyme. But this is quite different from being a great artist in rhyme. And one may very properly admire the one without giving it the prestige of the other. Mr. Hodgson has an almost automatic facility, as evident in some of his serious poems as in Human Ambition and Big Behaviour, in which he hits off this very facility, or in My Books, in which he plays deftly with rhymes. The poems in this second book, however, lack the clarity of those in the first. The longer poems here macander vaguely to a vague conclusion. The Last Blackbird is about the last blackbird in the world, and a long conversation with Nature in which that lady promises something like a flood in return for man's disregard and destruction of herself. (This feeling for outraged nature is Mr. Hodgson's most characteristic note.) St. Athelstan is a narrative poem, rather obscure because of the literary language and inversions. In The Last Blackbird, teo, we find this outworn poetic phrasing:
My head was tired; I had no mind to think
A blackbird sang, so down I fell; meseemed,
Soothed by his note, I closed a drowsy lid; * And I was ventured on a dream—I dreamed
One stood and questioned me how linnets did.
And straight I knew who thus in angel guise
Would we confine modern architecture to English Gothic? Or if we take exception to contemporary copies of English Gothic, should it be inferred that we therefore have no appreciation of the original?
The shorter poems in this book, as in the first, are the best. Thrown, Hammers, Beauty Sprite and The Rose have the brevity, the directness, the swift vivid touch typical of Mr. Hodgson's most distinctive work. But one who wishes to know Mr. Hodgson at his best will have to return
to the Poems. A. C. H.
IRISH EARTH Earth of Cualann, by Joseph Campbell, With Twenty-one Designs by the Author. Maunsel and Co., Ltd., Dublin.
In A Gilly of Christ and The Mountainy Singer, Mr. Campbell contributed some very beautiful lyrics to the Irish Renaissance, lyrics which seem to me to have more individuality and spontaneity than this group of poems in unrhymed cadence, many of them with a touch of Biblical solemnity and phrasing. Readers of PoETRY will recall The Stranger, At Dawn and At Samhain, published in this magazine. In these, as in the other poems in this book, one feels a fine sense of quantitative rhythm, a sure sense of the musical phrase; but the image is seldom inevitable, it remains rather as a sort of suspended simile—the two parts do not quite knit:
The days of my life
Come and go.
One is a black valley,
In the following complete poem, the scene is set, but nothing really happens:
How still the night!
But my soul is not still.
In a word, the poems seem to promise more than is really concealed in their depths. The manner is grave, measured and assured, even solemn; and one is led to expect more than one receives. It may be, of course, that I do not possess the key to some secret understanding. At any rate, whether the fault be mine or the poet's, I remain unsatisfied.
The Poems of Frank Dempster Sherman, edited, with an Introduction, by Clinton Scollard. Houghton-Mifflin Co. Here is my old friend Frank Dempster Sherman proudly set forth in an édition de luxe. Poet and professor of mathematics, he was as genial as he was versatile, and all who had ever known him grieved when they heard of his death over a year ago. He was only fifty-six years old when the summons Came. He was very modest about his poetry. “I have dollars for Milton or Shelley, but none for Sherman,” he replied to a publisher who had suggested that he pay for printing one of his early books. And once he said to me: “If I keep my hand in, my technique in order, some day I may be lucky enough to write a song that will live. And that's worth working for all one's life—one song that will live.” Or, as he rhymed it later, in Desire:
Of all the threads of rhyme
And I would have each word