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WAR POETRY AGAIN
A Treasury of War Poetry, edited by George Herbert Clarke. Houghton Mifflin Co. Poems of the Great War, selected by J. W. Cunliffe. For the Benefit of the Belgian Relief Scholarship Committee. Macmillan Co. 2 The war itself is not responsible for the many bad poems of which it is the occasion, even as love is not to blame for the many indiscretions in verse committed in its name. The fine poem about war, as about love, is the exceptional one, and only a small number of all the poems now being written about the war, and only a very small number of those included in these two anthologies, will, we may venture to believe, be included in the anthologies of fifty or a hundred years hence. But the sifting will necessarily be gradual, and the editors of these two volumes have done us a good service in beginning it. The two books supplement each other, for the selections differ except for those more notable poems on the war which everyone knows: Rupert Brooke's sonnets, Alan Seeger's I Have a Rendezvous with Death; the early war poems of Kipling and Hardy, Chesterton's The Wife of Flanders, Vachel Lindsay's Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight, and other poems with which the public is now generally familiar. Of course the first thing one does on reviewing an anthology is to look for the omissions. Ford Madox Hueffer's Antwerp must be included in any final anthology of war poems, and so must some of John Curtis Underwood's War-Flames, published later than Mr. Cunliffe's selection. One notes also the absence of John Masefield's August 1914, an omission for which the editors presumably may not be responsible, since authors and publishers also have something to say about what shall, or shall not, go into an anthology. A. C. H. A Book of Verse on the Great War, edited by W. Reginald Wheeler, with a foreword by Charlton M. Lewis. Yale Univ. Press. The Muse in Arms, edited by E. B. Osborn. Fred. A. Stokes Co. Fifes and Drums—Poems of America at War. Geo. H. Doran Co. Mr. Wheeler's principle of selection is not unlike Mr. Clarke's and Mr. Cunliffe's—an effort to bring together the best war poetry as yet written. It omits some of the general favorites above mentioned, and includes a few translations from Emile Cammaerts and Edmond Rostand, and poems by Sarojini Naidu, Henry Newbolt, and others who are not often quoted. Among these is W. N. Ewer, whose Five Souls is one of the most moving poems of the present war. It begins with this stanza from the First Soul, a Russian, and continues with stanzas from an Austrian, a Frenchman, a German, and a Scotchman, all ending with the same refrain: -
I was a peasant of the Polish plain.
As Mr. Lewis informs us in his platitudinous preface, Mr. Wheeler “has considerately admitted to his collection a few specimens of what is strangely called the new poetry.” For example, Miss Lowell's Bombardment.
The Muse in Arms is, as its title implies, poems “written chiefly in the field of action”—a more complete collection than the Soldier Poems reviewed last year in PoETRY. It contains a good deal of mere journalism, but also more entries of really poetic quality, by men known and unknown, than one would expect to find coming straight from the front.
Fifes and Drums represents last year's first American reaction to the call to arms. The poems were “written under the immediate stress of great events by those who have banded themselves together under the name of The Vigilantes.” The book is interesting as impassioned rhymed eloquence, but none of the poems rises to lyric beauty.
Editors of PoETRY: In your June issue A. C. H. contends that “Spectra, then, proves nothing against the method of free verse as such, though it may hit off very cleverly some of the practitioners thereof.” May I call the attention of A. C. H. to the fact that all but one or two of Emanuel Morgan's contributions to Spectra are what might be called “rhymed jingles,” and to this paragraph from the book's preface: Emanuel Morgan . . . has found the best expression of his genius in regular metrical forms and rhyme. Anne Knish, on the other hand, has used only free verse. We wish to make it clear that the spectric manner does not necessitate the employment of either of these metrical systems to the exclusion of the other. Our intent in publishing the book was not to question the use of free verse and not to “bait the public,” but to satirize fussy pretence; and if we have in any degree focussed laughter on pomp and circumstance among poets we shall have had enough satisfaction in our fun. I frankly admit that my approach to the game may have been with an excess of impatience, but I ask you if it is not true that I who came to scoff remained to play. Having given vent to Witter Bynner's irritation at smug and pedantic pretences, Emanuel Morgan soon found himself a liberated identity glad to be agog with a sort of laughing or crying abandon, of which, in other poets, the New England soul of Witter Bynner had been too conscientiously suspicious. And so I am eager for a chance in the pages of PoETRY to make amends for whatever may have been unworthy in Witter Bynner's intention and manners, and to thank the editors of PoETRY, Others, The Little Review and Reedy's Mirror for their encouragement. After various inaccurate and unjust statements in the press, let me say here accurately and justly that I think now of my later work even better than you do, that I count on having the readers of PoETRY place my hand in yours when they read the group of my verses you have accepted, and then place your hand in mine when they read, if they will, my new volume, Songs of the Beloved Stranger, which I am going to publish not pretentiously but seriously, and well aware of the likelihood that some of the critics may mock it according to their cue.
Yours more than ever, Emanuel Morgan
Note by the Editor: Thanks for your thanks, Emanuel ! But has PoETRY ever printed you? or so much as mentioned Spectra? It was a pleasure to “accept” the poems of so clever a joker, but why all this hand-clasping?
But don't be proud—don't quite obliterate Mr. Bynner! Have you read Mr. Arthur J. Eddy's tribute to you and Miss Knish in Reedy's Mirror? “Believe me,” he says, “they are not half bad! - - No one can read them without being instantly impressed with the importance of the so-called burlesques as revelations of the real Bynner and the real Ficke—and if all the “poems' are as good as the few printed in the Times, delightful revelations they are of two personalities who are betrayed to be more human, more natural, more hail-fellow-well-met than their serious verse indicates them to be. And by conventional standards their serious verse is good—good but conscious, while their burlesques are the gleeful outpourings of their unrestrained—say boyish—selves. Their burlesques are their own while their serious verse is largely literature—traditional. How true this is of Ficke's sonnets—many of them fine—attempts to cast the thoughts and feelings of an Iowa lawyer (a good one) in Roman mold ! Admirable, as attempts, but why try to fit the youth, the surge, the radicalism of America into the most rigid of antique armors?
“I should say both Bynner and Ficke simply ‘broke loose' in their burlesques and, for the first time in their lives, abandoned their literary pose under the cover of pseudonyms, just as many another man has been able best to express himself anonymously.”