« IndietroContinua »
this orientation of the spirit for the sake of the preservation of identity, will always operate—it will never be lacking to art, however much it may be lacking to all life outside art. What is significant, then, in the work of men like Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters and Sherwood Anderson, as well as other poets that one could name, is this sense of identity with their own country-side, their own city's streets, and with the past, present and future of “Mid-America.” It is from this kind of thing that national art springs. Yet the work of these men is widely divergent—another hopeful sign of vitality and fertility. One may accept one and reject another; yet they are all, one must admit, expressively “Mid-American.” The reader will no doubt be repelled as well as attracted by many of these songs. That too is one source of their strength, of their expressiveness. No one poet will tell the whole story. Both Synge and Yeats reveal the soul of Ireland. A. C. H.
Out Where the West Begins, by Arthur Chapman. Hough-
Western Verse. Chicago is still the West for those who live there or on the Atlantic sea-coast, but for anyone living beyond the Rockies Chicago is part of the East. The books of verse which head this review are of the Far West, that God-forsaken country of whose value Daniel Webster had such slight opinion. Bret Harte, of course, opened up the West, poetically speaking. But his was the West of the gold-fevered easterners, who came in a flurry and stayed to repent, or to grow rich, as the case might be. Since that time not only the Pacific coast lands, but the far inland desert ranges, hills, pastures and purple mountains have been peopled by a new race of men, who have grown up with the land and have learned to love it in a way that an
easterner sometimes finds hard to understand.
This note is struck in the familiar cowboy song:
Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the reader must be prepared to find it in the work of more sophisticated western poets. It is this sentiment, in fact, which insures the popularity of Arthur Chapman's title poem, Out Where the West Begins—a poem with good lines in it, but whose chief merit is that it expresses a popular sentiment. The other poems in the book exhibit various aspects of western life with varying degrees of success. Mr. Chapman's worst failing is a tendency to mix colloquialisms. When a cow-puncher says “old top,” or a sheep-herder says that his sheep are “drinkin' their bloomin' fill,” you know that they have got store clothes on. And there is also much of the pseudopoetic in his phrasing: “yon mesa,” for instance, or “where gleams yon gaunt peak's snowy hood.” Mr. Chapman is at his best in poems not in the colloquial manner—Before the Gringo Came, Out Among the Big Things, At the Outposts, or In a Deserted Mining Camp (in spite of such rhyme-words as “steed” and “mart”). The Sheriff's Report, however, with its laconic note of duty done—“We just went out to git him, and we did"—is perhaps the best poem in the volume. I don't know why one who writes about western things should adopt a quasi-bantering tone about nature and a colloquialism that comes far more from the echoes of Service or Kipling than from the plains or desert. It is a theatricality that is put on as easily as grease paint or a wig, but is quite as obviously detected. In suggesting that he is “the Service of Arizona,” or words to that effect, the publishers of Henry Herbert Knibbs' two books have done the author an injustice. Three years ago, in reviewing Songs of the Outlands, PoETRY called these poems “the best verse of its kind written in this century, or perhaps since Bret Harte himself.” Mr. Knibbs is much better than Service. His vocabulary is his own, or rather the western vocabulary is his own; and his verse has genuine musical quality which is not borrowed either. Mr. Knibbs is particularly good in the dramatic lyric, such as The Shallows of the Ford or The Walking Man or The Mule Skinner. These and others of his poems are western ballads, most appreciated, it may be, by those who know the life he celebrates, even as Irish folk-song may be most at home in Ireland. The stuff his verse is made of is indigenous. I like particularly that bit of a song called Eh, Johnny-Jo which expresses his attitude towards his work:
The wind of dawn has swept the plains,
It ain't no use for to talk like that;
Mr. John Butler Yeats in his letters says there are no “solitaries” in America; but the “solitary” does not stand on a street corner in New York and proclaim himself. Shall I leave the hills, the high, far hills that shadow the morning plain? Shall I leave the desert sand and sage that gleams in the winter rain?
Shall I leave the ragged bridle-trail to ride in the city street—
To barter the sting of the mountain wind for the choking fog and smoke P
To barter the song of the mountain stream for the babble of city folk 2
To lose my grip on the god I know and fumble among the creeds?
O rocks and pines of the high, far hills, hear the lisp of the valley reeds !
There is a touch of the romantic in Mr. Knibbs’ work which distinguishes him from other writers of western verse. One finds it in Oliver West, in The Last of Cavaliers, in Overland the Red and other poems, and it rises to the genuinely poetic in The Far and Lonely Hill. I'd like to quote from these and others, from the poems about horses and dogs, from The Glorious Fool, and particularly from the song about the cowboys in heaven—an idea that one meets often enough in cowboy songs, but one which has seldom been given with so much humor and swing as in Sunshine Over Yuma:
Come, my little cayuse and lope along, lope along—
But the reader may be left to make his own selection. If we call Mr. Knibbs a romanticist, perhaps we may say that Mr. Badger Clark, author of High Chin Bob, is a realist—that is, if the words may be taken not as a means of hard and fast classification but as denoting merely a slight distinction. In the title Sun and Saddle Leather one recognizes at once something of Mr. Clark's quality, something of that same quality that made High Chin Bob, or The Glory Trail as it is called in this book, so simple, con