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the two London pieces. Whistler in his post-impressionistic English studies—and these poems. are not entirely unlike Whistler's studies—had the advantage of his more static medium, of a somewhat more romantic temperament, and of the fact that the objects he painted half-hid their ugliness under shadows and the haze of distance. But Eliot deals with life, with beings and things who live and move almost nakedly before his individual mind's eye—in the darkness, in the early sunlight, and in the fog. Whatever one may feel about sweetness in literature, there is also the word honesty, and this man is a faithful friend of the objects he portrays; altogether unlike the sentimentalist who really stabs them treacherously in the back while pretending affection. M. M.
SEND AMERICAN POETS
Why not send poets to the front? Not to the trenches, for active service, where many of them now are, but as official government agents to see and to record this war for future generations? The newspaper correspondent has an official position; there are official camera men, official moving picture photographers; why not poets in a similar capacity? As a matter of fact Italy has D'Annunzio at the front; John Masefield and Rudyard Kipling have visited western and eastern fronts and published their impressions; why not American poets? It is true that both Masefield and Kipling have written their impressions in prose, with the exception of their early restrained poems on the war—the poem on this war that will live can not be born save by slow, gradual, accumulative process. But both men, in their prose, have exhibited a sensitiveness to impressions far exceeding that of the ordinary correspondent; they have given us more than journalism. What big magazine will be progressive enough to send an American poet to the front as an accredited correspondent? Mr. Ring Lardner has been over for Collier's—I wish Collier's would send Carl Sandburg or Edgar Lee Masters or Vachel Lindsay over! If we realized sufficiently the importance of our literary men, our literature would be a more vital and intimate part of our lives, and it would be increasingly virile. It is worth noting that our poetry is now in closer touch with our lives than any other form of native art. A. C. H.
Al Que Quiere! by William Carlos Williams. Four Seas Co.
As preface to these poems the publishers have been, I think, foolish in dealing the “gentle reader,” as they are pleased to call him, a kind of blow over the head. They advertise the book as “brutally powerful” and “scornfully crude.” They intimidate one with the magnificent news that Mr. Williams “doesn't give a damn for your opinion” and that “his opinion of you is more important than your opinion of him.” They end by “venturing to predict that the poets of the future will dig here for material as the poets of today dig in Whitman's Leaves of Grass. In passing, what baseness these pretty publishers impute to the poets—the depravity of the apache off to the battle-field for all detachable property! It seems a pity that Mr. Williams' indifference should have extended quite to this introduction. Just a slight remonstrative damn might have escaped him, to save a delightful volume from a foreword that hangs too oppressively over it, and deprives one of intrinsic pleasure in the poems. Unavoidably they appear for judgment in the heavy light of this challenge; which has the further fault of being misleading. One would expect to find in Al Que Quiere, despite its brief number of pages, a veritable tour de force, a kind of poetic Woolworth Building, massing magnificently on the horizon, but to the closer eye perhaps inexpressive, harsh, from sheer neglect of detail. One looks in vain, however, for enormous violent shapes, and finds instead poetry of the sparer, more meticulous sort—at its best fibrous, marvelously observant, delicate, haunting; then at moments stilted, confused, obtuse." Many of the poems concern themselves with pure sensation; again they seem doctrinal in character, truth in compact form, often most deftly handled:
Love is so precious,
But at times more vulnerable, sententious even:
Very charming, but why this feigned astonishment, when obviously rain and wind would contribute to majesty more than divinity schools? One should, however, let that pass, for usually Mr. Williams is at great pains to be authentic. He leans far out, in fact, to capture in some snare of words those more intricate sensations that nearly baffle expression; and often he succeeds. Trees, for example, save for too easy an adverb in the third line, seems a feat of accuracy.
And when he has failed in this quest for the precise thought, the elusive difficult detail, when his verse lacks content or suppleness, it is rarely through semblance of carelessness. He appears, in fact, to have the conscience of the great artist, only as yet to lack the supreme ease. His very failures contradict the qualities indicated in the foreword. Not untrammelled enough to give any consecutive impression of power, he is too punctilious to be thought of as brutal, too scrupulous to be often crude. His concern, one feels, has been at least to keep intact the complexion of the poem. The most unwilling words have been brought together and touched up with the cosmetics of style, until often they possess that air of greater distinction which ugliness has over prettiness. Only occasionally does he drop his devices, as in the final section of January Morning, or seem to relax as in Ballet Russe; when one gets the shock of a bad nut among many more difficult to get at, perhaps, but palatable. For the most part his reverence for tone is unremitting, and his reward frequent. Observe the lovely bloom of a poem like this:
I know only the bare rocks of today. In these lies my brown sea-weed— green quartz veins bent through the wet shale; in these lie my pools left by the tide— quiet, forgetting waves; on these stiffen white star-fish; on these I slip bare-footed Whispers of the fishy air touch my body; “Sisters,” I say to them. Not many of the poems seek quite this fluid beauty. Their virtue lies rather in the native weathered quality of the words, like that of stones in untouched places; and they have the same fragmentary strength. They give at moments the effect of hardness, of fine reality; but when the thought becomes too bold, too intricate or too emotional to manage prettily, evidently rather than mar the surface of the poem Mr. Williams has resorted to the obscure and the cryptic. This refuge of course has just now the virtue or the vice, as one looks at it, of being distinctly the fashion. Writers are “doing it” this season, and Al Que Quiere doubtless will strengthen the inclination. But no matter how sparse