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The Poet's Poet by Elizabeth Atkins

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revival of interest in the type, probably because the lower classes are
popularly conceived to have more first hand acquaintance with sordidness
than those hedged about by family tradition. [Footnote: See John
Davidson, _A Ballad in Blank Verse_; Vachel Lindsay, _The North Star
Whispers to the Blacksmith's Son_; John Masefield, _Dauber_; Francis
Carlin, _MacSweeney the Rhymer_ (1918).] Still, for the most part, the
present attitude of poets toward the question seems to be one of
indifference, since they feel that other factors are more important than
caste in determining the singer's genius. Most writers of today would
probably agree with the sentiment of the lines on Browning,

What if men have found
Poor footmen or rich merchants on the roll
Of his forbears? Did they beget his soul?
[Footnote: Henry van Dyke, _Sonnet_.]

If poets have given us no adequate body of data by which we may predict
the birth of a genius, they have, on the other hand, given us most
minute descriptions whereby we may recognize the husk containing the
poetic gift. The skeptic may ask, What has the poet to do with his body?
since singers tell

us so repeatedly that their souls are aliens upon earth,
Clothed in flesh to suffer: maimed of wings to soar.
[Footnote: _The Centenary of Shelley_.]

as Swinburne phrases it. Yet, mysteriously, the artist's soul is said to
frame a tenement for its brief imprisonment that approximately expresses
it, so that it is only in the most beautiful bodies that we are to look
for the soul that creates beauty. Though poets of our time have not
troubled themselves much with philosophical explanations of the
phenomenon, they seem to concur in the Platonic reasoning of their
father Spenser, who argues,

So every spirit, as it is most pure,
And hath in it the more of heavenly light,
So it the fairer body doth procure
To habit in, and it more fairly dight
With cheerful grace, and amiable sight;
For of the soul the body form doth take,
For soul is form, and doth the body make.
[Footnote: _Hymn in Honour of Beauty_.]

What an absurd test! one is likely to exclaim, thinking of a swarthy
Sappho, a fat Chaucer, a bald Shakespeare, a runt Pope, a club-footed
Byron, and so on, almost _ad infinitum_. Would not a survey of notable
geniuses rather indicate that the poet's dreams arise because he is like
the sensitive plant of Shelley's allegory, which

Desires what it hath not, the beautiful?[Footnote: _The Sensitive
Plant_.]

Spenser himself foresaw our objections and felt obliged to modify his
pronouncement, admitting--

Yet oft it falls that many a gentle mind
Dwells in deformed tabernacle drownd,
Either by chance, against the course of kind,
Or through unaptness of the substance found,
Which it assumed of some stubborn ground
That will not yield unto her form's direction,
But is preformed with some foul imperfection.

But the modern poet is not likely to yield his point so easily as does
Spenser. Rather he will cast aside historical records as spurious, and
insist that all genuine poets have been beautiful. Of the many poems on
Sappho written in the last century, not one accepts the tradition that
she was ill-favored, but restores a flower-like portrait of her from
Alcaeus' line,

Violet-weaving, pure, sweet-smiling Sappho.

As for Shakespeare, here follows a very characteristic idealization of
his extant portrait:

A pale, plain-favored face, the smile where-of
Is beautiful; the eyes gray, changeful, bright,
Low-lidded now, and luminous as love,
Anon soul-searching, ominous as night,
Seer-like, inscrutable, revealing deeps
Where-in a mighty spirit wakes or sleeps.
[Footnote: C. L. Hildreth, _At the Mermaid_ (1889).]

The most unflattering portrait is no bar to poets' confidence in their
brother's beauty, yet they are happiest when fashioning a frame for
geniuses of whom we have no authentic description. "The love-dream of
his unrecorded face," [Footnote: Rossetti, _Sonnet on Chatterton_.]
has led to many an idealized portrait of such a long-dead singer.
Marlowe has been the favorite figure of this sort with which the fancies
of our poets have played. From the glory and power of his dramas their
imaginations inevitably turn to

The gloriole of his flame-coloured hair,
The lean, athletic body, deftly planned
To carry that swift soul of fire and air;
The long, thin flanks, the broad breast, and the grand
Heroic shoulders!
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _At the Sign of the Golden Shoe_.]

It is no wonder that in the last century there has grown up so firm a
belief in the poet's beauty, one reflects, remembering the seraphic face
of Shelley, the Greek sensuousness of Keats' profile, the romantic fire
of Byron's expression. [Footnote: Browning in his youth must have
encouraged the tradition. See Macready's Diary, in which he describes
Browning as looking "more like a youthful poet than any man I ever
saw."] Yet it is a belief that must have been sorely tried since the
invention of the camera has brought the verse-writer's countenance, in
all its literalness, before the general public. Was it only an accident
that the popularity of current poetry died just as cameras came into
existence? How many a potential admirer has been lost by a glance at the
frontispiece in a book of verse! In recent years, faith in soul-made
beauty seems again to have shown itself justified. Likenesses of Rupert
Brooke, with his "angel air," [Footnote: See W. W. Gibson, _Rupert
Brooke_.] of Alan Seeger, and of Joyce Kilmer in his undergraduate
days, are perhaps as beautiful as any the romantic period could afford.
Still the young enthusiast of the present day should be warned not to be
led astray by wolves in sheep's clothing, for the spurious claimant of
the laurel is learning to employ all the devices of the art photographer
to obscure and transform his unaesthetic visage.

We have implied that insistence upon the artist's beauty arose with the
romantic movement, but a statement to that effect would have to be made
with reservations. The eighteenth century was by no means without such a
conception, as the satires of that period testify, being full of
allusions to poetasters' physical defects, with the obvious implication
that they are indicative of spiritual deformity, and of literary
sterility. Then, from within the romantic movement itself, a critic
might exhume verse indicating that faith in the beautiful singer was by
no means universal;--that, on the other hand, the interestingly ugly
bard enjoyed considerable vogue. He would find, for example, Moore's
_Lines on a Squinting Poetess_, and Praed's _The Talented Man_. In the
latter verses the speaker says of her literary fancy,

He's hideous, I own it; but fame, Love,
Is all that these eyes can adore.
He's lame,--but Lord Byron was lame, Love,
And dumpy, but so is Tom Moore.

Still, rightly interpreted, such verse on poetasters is quite in line
with the poet's conviction that beauty and genius are inseparable. So,
likewise, is the more recent verse of Edgar Lee Masters, giving us the
brutal self-portrait of Minerva Jones, the poetess of Spoon River,

Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
For my heavy body, cock eye, and rolling walk,
[Footnote: _Spoon River Anthology_.]

for she is only a would-be poet, and the cry, "I yearned so for beauty!"
of her spirit, baffled by its embodiment, is almost insupportable.

Walt Whitman alludes to his face as "the heart's geography map," and
assures us,

Here the idea, all in this mystic handful wrapped,
[Footnote: _Out from Behind This Mask_.]

but one needs specific instructions for interpretation of the poetic
topography to which Whitman alludes. What are the poet's distinguishing
features?

Meditating on the subject, one finds his irreverent thoughts inevitably
wandering to hair, but in verse taken up with hirsute descriptions,
there is a false note. It makes itself felt in Mrs. Browning's picture
of Keats,

The real Adonis, with the hymeneal
Fresh vernal buds half sunk between
His youthful curls.
[Footnote: _A Vision of Poets_.]

It is obnoxious in Alexander Smith's portrait of his hero,

A lovely youth,
With dainty cheeks, and ringlets like a girl's.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

And in poorer verse it is unquotable. [Footnote: See Henry Timrod, _A
Vision of Poesy_ (1898); Frances Fuller, _To Edith May_ (1851);
Metta Fuller, _Lines to a Poetess_ (1851).] Someone has pointed out
that decadent poetry is always distinguished by over-insistence upon the
heroine's hair, and surely sentimental verse on poets is marked by the
same defect. Hair is doubtless essential to poetic beauty, but the
poet's strength, unlike Samson's, emphatically does not reside in it.

"Broad Homeric brows," [Footnote: See Wordsworth, _On the Death of
James Hogg_; Browning, _Sordello_, _By the Fireside_; Mrs. Browning,
_Aurora Leigh_; Principal Shairp, _Balliol Scholars_; Alfred Noyes,
_Tales of the Mermeid Inn_.] poets invariably possess, but the less
phrenological aspect of their beauty is more stressed. The
differentiating mark of the singer's face is a certain luminous quality,
as of the soul shining through. Lamb noticed this peculiarity of
Coleridge, declaring, "His face when he repeats his verses hath its
ancient glory; an archangel a little damaged." [Footnote: E. V. Lucas,
_The Life of Charles Lamb_, Vol. I., p. 500.] Francis Thompson was
especially struck by this phenomenon. In lines _To a Poet Breaking
Silence_, he asserts,

Yes, in this silent interspace
God sets his poems in thy face,

and again, in _Her Portrait_, he muses,

How should I gage what beauty is her dole,
Who cannot see her countenance for her soul,
As birds see not the casement for the sky.

It is through the eyes, of course, that the soul seems to shine most
radiantly. Through them, Rupert Brooke's friends recognized his poetical
nature,--through his

Dream dazzled gaze
Aflame and burning like a god in song.
[Footnote: W. W. Gibson, _To E. M., In Memory of Rupert Brooke_.]

Generally the poet is most struck by the abstracted expression that he
surprises in his eyes. Into it, in the case of later poets, there
probably enters unconscious imitation of Keats's gaze, that "inward
look, perfectly divine, like a Delphian priestess who saw visions."
[Footnote: The words are Benjamin Haydn's. See Sidney Colvin, _John
Keats_, p. 79.] In many descriptions, as of "the rapt one--the
heaven-eyed" [Footnote: Wordsworth, _On the Death of James Hogg_]
Coleridge, or of Edmund Spenser,

With haunted eyes, like starlit forest pools
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

one feels the aesthetic possibilities of an abstracted expression. But
Mrs. Browning fails to achieve a happy effect. When she informs us of a
fictitious poet that

His steadfast eye burnt inwardly
As burning out his soul,
[Footnote: '_The Poet's Vow_.]

we feel uneasily that someone should rouse him from his revery before
serious damage is done.

The idealistic poet weans his eyes from their pragmatic character in
varying degree. Wordsworth, in poetic mood, seems to have kept them half
closed.[Footnote: See _A Poet's Epitaph_, and _Sonnet: Most Sweet
it is with Unuplifted Eyes_.] Mrs. Browning notes his

Humble-lidded eyes, as one inclined
Before the sovran-thought of his own mind.
[Footnote: _On a Portrait of Wordsworth_.]

Clough, also, impressed his poetic brothers by "his bewildered look, and
his half-closed eyes." [Footnote: The quotation is by Longfellow. See J.
I. Osborne, _Arthur Hugh Clough_.]

But the poet sometimes goes farther, making it his ideal to

See, no longer blinded with his eyes,
[Footnote: See Rupert Brooke, _Not With Vain Tears_.]

and may thus conceive of the master-poet as necessarily blind. Milton's
noble lines on blindness in _Samson Agonistes_ have had much to do,
undoubtedly, with the conceptions of later poets. Though blindness is
seldom extended to other than actual poets, within the confines of verse
having such a poet as subject it is referred to, often, as a partial
explanation of genius. Thus Gray says of Milton,

The living throne, the sapphire blaze
Where angels tremble while they gaze
He saw, but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night,
[Footnote: _Progress of Poesy_.]

and most other poems on Milton follow this fancy.[Footnote: See John
Hughes, _To the Memory of Milton_; William Lisle Bowles, _Milton in
Age_; Bulwer Lytton, _Milton_; W. H. Burleigh, _The Lesson_; R. C.
Robbins, _Milton_.] There is a good deal of verse on P. B. Marston,
also, concurring with Rossetti's assertion that we may

By the darkness of thine eyes discern
How piercing was the light within thy soul.
[Footnote: See Rossetti, _P. B. Marston_; Swinburne,
_Transfiguration, Marston, Light_; Watts-Dunton, _A Grave by the
Sea_.]

Then, pre-eminently, verse on Homer is characterized by such an
assertion as that of Keats,

There is a triple sight in blindness keen.
[Footnote: See Keats, _Sonnet on Homer_, Landor, _Homer, Laertes,
Agatha_; Joyce Kilmer, _The Proud Poet, Vision_.]

Though the conception is not found extensively in other types of verse,
one finds an admirer apostrophizing Wordsworth,

Thou that, when first my quickened ear
Thy deeper harmonies might hear,
I imaged to myself as old and blind,
For so were Milton and Maeonides,
[Footnote: Wm. W. Lord, _Wordsworth_ (1845).]

and at least one American writer, Richard Gilder, ascribes blindness to
his imaginary artists.[Footnote: See _The Blind Poet_, and _Lost_. See
also Francis Carlin _Blind O'Cahan_ (1918.)]

But the old, inescapable contradiction in aesthetic philosophy crops up
here. The poet is concerned only with ideal beauty, yet the way to it,
for him, must be through sensuous beauty. So, as opposed to the picture
of the singer blind to his surroundings, we have the opposite
picture--that of a singer with every sense visibly alert. At the very
beginning of a narrative and descriptive poem, the reader can generally
distinguish between the idealistic and the sensuous singer. The more
spiritually minded poet is usually characterized as blond. The natural
tendency to couple a pure complexion and immaculate thoughts is surely
aided, here, by portraits of Shelley, and of Milton in his youth. The
brunette poet, on the other hand, is perforce a member of the fleshly
school. The two types are clearly differentiated in Bulwer Lytton's
_Dispute of the Poets_. The spiritual one

Lifted the azure light of earnest eyes,

but his brother,

The one with brighter hues and darker curls
Clustering and purple as the fruit of the vine,
Seemed like that Summer-Idol of rich life
Whom sensuous Greece, inebriate with delight
From orient myth and symbol-worship wrought.

The decadents favor swarthy poets, and, in describing their features,
seize upon the most expressive symbols of sensuality. Thus the hero of
John Davidson's _Ballad in Blank Verse on the Making of a Poet_ is

A youth whose sultry eyes
Bold brow and wanton mouth were not all lust.

But even the idealistic poet, if he be not one-sided, must have sensuous
features, as Browning conceives him. We are told of Sordello,

Yourselves shall trace
(The delicate nostril swerving wide and fine,
A sharp and restless lip, so well combine
With that calm brow) a soul fit to receive
Delight at every sense; you can believe
Sordello foremost in the regal class
Nature has broadly severed from her mass
Of men, and framed for pleasure...
* * * * *
You recognize at once the finer dress
Of flesh that amply lets in loveliness
At eye and ear.

Perhaps it is with the idea that the flesh may be shuffled off the more
easily that poets are given "barely enough body to imprison the soul,"
as Mrs. Browning's biographer says of her. [Footnote: Mrs. Anna B.
Jameson. George Stillman Milliard says of Mrs. Browning, "I have never
seen a human frame which seemed so nearly a transparent veil for a
celestial and immortal spirit." Shelley, Keats, Clough and Swinburne
undoubtedly helped to strengthen the tradition.] The imaginary bard is
so inevitably slender that allusion to "the poet's frame" needs no
further description. Yet, once more, the poet may seem to be
deliberately blinding himself to the facts. What of the father of
English song, who, in the _Canterbury Tales_, is described by the
burly host,

He in the waast is shape as wel as I;
This were a popet in an arm tenbrace
For any woman, smal and fair of face?
[Footnote: _Prologue to Sir Thopas_.]

Even here, however, one can trace the modern aesthetic aversion to fat.
Chaucer undoubtedly took sly pleasure in stressing his difference from
the current conception of the poet, which was typified so well by the
handsome young squire, who

Coude songes make, and wel endyte.
[Footnote: _Prologue_.]

Such, at least, is the interpretation of Percy Mackaye, who in his play,
_The Canterbury Pilgrims_, derives the heartiest enjoyment from
Chaucer's woe lest his avoirdupois may affect Madame Eglantine
unfavorably. The modern English poet who is oppressed by too, too solid
flesh is inclined to follow Chaucer's precedent and take it
philosophically. James Thomson allowed the stanza about himself,
interpolated by his friends into the _Castle of Indolence_, to
remain, though it begins with the line,

A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems.

And in these days, the sentimental reader is shocked by Joyce Kilmer's
callous assertion, "I am fat and gross.... In my youth I was slightly
decorative. But now I drink beer instead of writing about absinthe."
[Footnote: Letter to Father Daly, November, 1914.]

Possibly it would not be unreasonable to take difference in weight as
another distinction between idealistic and sensuous poets. Of one recent
realistic poet it is recorded, "How a poet could _not_ be a glorious
eater, he said he could not see, for the poet was happier than other
men, by reason of his acuter senses." [Footnote: Richard Le Gallienne,
_Joyce Kilmer_.] As a rule, however, decadent and spiritual poets alike
shrink from the thought of grossness, in spite of the fact that Joyce
Kilmer was able to win his wager, "I will write a poem about a
delicatessen shop. It will be a high-brow poem. It will be liked."
[Footnote: Robert Cortez Holliday, _Memoir of Joyce Kilmer_, p. 62.] Of
course Keats accustomed the public to the idea that there are aesthetic
distinctions in the sense of taste, but throughout the last century the
idea of a poet enjoying solid food was an anomaly. Whitman's
proclamation of himself, "Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating and
drinking and breeding" [Footnote: _Song of Myself_.] automatically shut
him off, in the minds of his contemporaries, from consideration as a
poet.

It is a nice question just how far a poet may go in ignoring the demands
of the flesh. Shelley's friends record that his indifference reached the
stage of forgetting, for days at a time, that he was in a body at all.
Even more extreme was the attitude of Poe, as it is presented at length
in Olive Dargan's drama, _The Poet_. So cordial is his detestation
of food and bed that he not only eschews them himself, but withholds
them from his wife, driving the poor woman to a lingering death from
tuberculosis, while he himself succumbs to delirium tremens. In fact,
excessive abstemiousness, fostering digestive disorders, has been
alleged to be the secret of the copious melancholy verse in the last
century. It is not the ill-nourished poet, however, but enemies of the
melancholy type of verse, who offer this explanation. Thus Walt Whitman
does not hesitate to write poetry on the effect of his digestive
disorders upon his gift, [Footnote: See _As I Sit Writing Here_.]
and George Meredith lays the weakness of _Manfred_ to the fact that
it was

Projected from the bilious Childe.
[Footnote: George Meredith, _Manfred_.]

But to all conscious of possessing poetical temperament in company with
emaciation, the explanation has seemed intolerably sordid.

To be sure, the unhealthy poet is not ubiquitous. Wordsworth's _Prelude_
describes a life of exuberant physical energy. Walt Whitman's position
we have quoted, and after him came a number of American writers,
assigning a football physique to their heroes. J. G. Holland's poet was
the superior of his comrades when brawn as well as brain, contended.
[Footnote: _Kathrina_.] William Henry Burleigh, also, described his
favorite poet as

A man who measured six feet four:
Broad were his shoulders, ample was his chest,
Compact his frame, his muscles of the best.
[Footnote: _A Portrait_.]

With the recent revival of interest in Whitman, the brawny bard has
again come into favor in certain quarters. Joyce Kilmer, as has been
noted, was his strongest advocate, inveighing against weakly
verse-writers,

A heavy handed blow, I think,
Would make your veins drip scented ink.
[Footnote: _To Certain Poets_.]

But the poet hero of the Harold Bell Wright type is receiving his share
of ridicule, as well as praise, at present. A farce, _Fame and the
Poet_, by Lord Dunsany, advertises the adulation by feminine readers
resulting from a poet's pose as a "man's man." And Ezra Pound, who began
his career as an exemplar of virility,[Footnote: See _The Revolt
against the Crepuscular Spirit in Modern Poetry_.] finds himself
unable to keep up the pose, and so resorts to the complaint,

We are compared to that sort of person,
Who wanders about announcing his sex
As if he had just discovered it.
[Footnote: _The Condolence_.]

The most sensible argument offered by the advocate of better health in
poets is made by the chronic invalid, Mrs. Browning. She causes Aurora
Leigh's cousin Romney to argue,

Reflect; if art be in truth the higher life,
You need the lower life to stand upon
In order to reach up unto that higher;
And none can stand a tip-toe in that place
He cannot stand in with two stable feet.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_. See also the letter to Robert Browning,
May 6, 1845.]

Mrs. Browning's theory is not out of key with a professedly scientific
account of genius, not unpopular nowadays, which represents art as the
result of excess vitality. [Footnote: See R. C. Robbins, _Michael
Angelo_ (1904).]

Yet, on the whole, the frail poet still holds his own; how securely is
illustrated by the familiarity of the idea as applied to other artists,
outside the domain of poetry. It is noteworthy that in a recent book of
essays by the painter, Birge Harrison, one runs across the contention:

In fact, as a noted painter once said to me: These
semi-invalids neither need nor deserve our commiseration,
for in reality the beggars have the advantage
of us. _Their_ nerves are always sensitive and keyed
to pitch, while we husky chaps have to flog ours up to
the point. We must dig painfully through the outer
layers of flesh before we can get at the spirit, while the
invalids are all spirit.
[Footnote: From _Landscape Painters_, p. 184.]

That such a belief had no lack of support from facts in the last
century, is apparent merely from naming over the chief poets. Coleridge,
Byron, Shelley, Keats, Mrs. Browning, Rossetti, all publish their
ill-health through their verse. Even Browning, in whose verse, if
anywhere, one would expect to find the virile poet, shows Sordello
turned to poetry by the fact of his physical weakness.[Footnote: So
nearly ubiquitous has ill-health been among modern poets, that Max
Nordau, in his widely read indictment of art, _Degeneration_, was
able to make out a plausible case for his theory that genius is a
disease which is always accompanied by physical stigmata.]

Obviously, if certain invalids possess a short-cut to their souls, as
Birge Harrison suggests, the nature of their complaint must be
significant. A jumping toothache would hardly be an advantage to a
sufferer in turning his thoughts to poesy. Since verse writers recoil
from the suggestion that dyspepsia is the name of their complaint, let
us ask them to explain its real character to us. To take one of our
earliest examples, what is the malady of William Lisles Bowles' poet, of
whom we learn,

Too long had sickness left her pining trace
With slow still touch on each decaying grace;
Untimely sorrow marked his thoughtful mien;
Despair upon his languid smile was seen.
[Footnote: _Monody on Henry Headley_.]

We can never know. But with Shelley, it becomes evident that
tuberculosis is the typical poet's complaint. Shelley was convinced that
he himself was destined to die of it. The irreverent Hogg records that
Shelley was also afraid of death from elephantiasis, [Footnote: T. J.
Hogg, _Life of Shelley_, p. 458.] but he keeps that affliction out
of his verse. So early as the composition of the _Revolt of Islam,_
Shelley tells us of himself, in the introduction,

Death and love are yet contending for their prey,

and in _Adonais_ he appears as

A power
Girt round with weakness.
* * * * *
A light spear ...
Vibrated, as the everbearing heart
Shook the weak hand that grasped it.

Shelley's imaginary poet, Lionel, gains in poetical sensibility as
consumption saps his strength:

You might see his colour come and go,
And the softest strain of music made
Sweet smiles, yet sad, arise and fade
Amid the dew of his tender eyes;
And the breath with intermitting flow
Made his pale lips quiver and part.
[Footnote: _Rosalind and Helen_.]

The deaths from tuberculosis of Kirke White [Footnote: See Kirke White,
_Sonnet to Consumption_.] and of Keats, added to Shelley's verse, so
affected the imagination of succeeding poets that for a time the cough
became almost ubiquitous in verse. In major poetry it appears for the
last time in Tennyson's _The Brook_, where the young poet hastens to
Italy, "too late," but in American verse it continued to rack the frame
of geniuses till the germ theory robbed it of romance and the
anti-tuberculosis campaign drove it out of existence.

Without the aid of physical causes, the exquisite sensitiveness of the
poet's spirit is sometimes regarded as enough to produce illness. Thus
Alexander Smith explains his sickly hero:

More tremulous
Than the soft star that in the azure East
Trembles with pity o'er bright bleeding day
Was his frail soul.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

Arnold, likewise, in _Thyrsis_, follows the poetic tradition in
thus vaguely accounting for Clough's death: his heroes harried by their
genius into ill health. Prince Athanase is

A youth who as with toil and travel
Had grown quite weak and gray before his time.
[Footnote: _Prince Athanase_, a fragment.]

In _Alastor_, too, we see the hero wasting away until

His limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
Sung dirges in the wind: his listless hand
Hung like dead bone within his withered skin;
Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone
As in a furnace burning secretly
From his dark eyes alone.

The likeness of Sordello to Shelley [Footnote: Browning himself pointed
out a similarity between them, in the opening of Book I.] is marked in
the ravages of his genius upon his flesh, so that at the climax of the
poem he, though still a young man, is gray and haggard and fragile.

Though ill-health is a handicap to him, the poet's subjection to the
mutability that governs the mundane sphere is less important, some
persons would declare, in the matter of beauty and health than in the
matter of sex. Can a poetic spirit overcome the calamity of being cast
by Fate into the body of a woman?

As the battle of feminism dragged its bloody way through all fields of
endeavor in the last century, it of course has left its traces in the
realm of poetry. But here the casualties appear to be light,--in fact,
it is a disappointment to the suffragist to find most of the blows
struck by the female aspirant for glory, with but few efforts to parry
them on the part of the male contingent. Furthermore, in verse concerned
with specific woman poets, men have not failed to give them their due,
or more. From Miriam [Footnote: See Barry Cornwall, _Miriam_.] and
Sappho, [Footnote: Southey, _Sappho_; Freneau, _Monument of Phaon_;
Kingsley, _Sappho_, Swinburne, _On the Cliffs_, _Sapphics_, _Anactoria_;
Cale Young Rice, _Sappho's Death Song_; J. G. Percival, Sappho; Percy
Mackaye, _Sappho and Phaon_; W. A. Percy, _Sappho in Lenkos_.] to the
long list of nineteenth century female poets--Mrs. Browning, [Footnote:
Browning, _One Word More_, _Preface to The Ring and the Book_; James
Thomson, B. V., _E. B. B._; Sidney Dobell, _On the Death of Mrs.
Browning_.] Christina Rossetti, [Footnote: Swinburne, _Ballad of
Appeal to Christina Rossetti_, _New Year's Eve_, _Dedication to
Christina Rossetti_.] Emily Bronte, [Footnote: Stephen Phillips,
_Emily Bronte_.] Alice Meynell, [Footnote: Francis Thompson, _Sister
Songs_, _On her Photograph_, _To a Poet Breaking Silence_.] Felicia
Hemans, [Footnote: L. E. Maclean, _Felicia Hemans_.] Adelaide Proctor,
[Footnote: Edwin Arnold, _Adelaide Anne Proctor_.] Helen Hunt,
[Footnote: Richard Watson Gilder, _H_. _H_.] Emma Lazarus [Footnote:
_Ibid_., _To E. Lazarus_.]--one finds woman the subject of complimentary
verse from their brothers. There is nothing to complain of here, we
should say at first, and yet, in the unreserved praise given to their
greatest is a note that irritates the feminists. For men have made it
plain that Sappho was not like other women; it is the "virility" of her
style that appeals to them; they have even gone so far as to hail her
"manlike maiden." [Footnote: Swinburne, _On the Cliffs_.] So the
feminists have been only embittered by their brothers' praise.

As time wears on, writers averse to feminine verse seem to be losing
thecourage of their convictions. At the end of the eighteenth century,
woman's opponent was not afraid to express himself. Woman writers were
sometimes praised, but it was for one quality alone, the chastity of
their style. John Hughes [Footnote: See _To the Author of "A Fatal
Friendship."_] and Tom Moore [Footnote: See _To Mrs. Henry Tighe_.] both
deplored the need of such an element in masculine verse. But Moore could
not resist counteracting the effect of his chary praise by a play, _The
Blue Stocking_, which burlesques the literary pose in women. He seemed
to feel, also, that he had neatly quelled their poetical aspirations
when he advertised his aversion to marrying a literary woman. [Footnote:
See _The Catalogue_. Another of his poems ridiculing poetesses is _The
Squinting Poetess_.] Despite a chivalrous sentimentality, Barry Cornwall
took his stand with Moore on the point, exhorting women to choose love
rather than a literary career. [Footnote: See _To a Poetess_. More
seriously, Landor offered the same discouragement to his young friend
with poetical tastes. [Footnote: See _To Write as Your Sweet Mother
Does_.] On the whole the prevalent view expressed early in the
nineteenth century is the considerate one that while women lack a
literary gift, they have, none the less, sweet poetical his heroes
harried by their genius into ill health, prince Athanase is

A youth who as with toil and travel
Had grown quite weak and gray before his time.
[Footnote: _Prince Athanase_, a fragment.]

In _Alastor_, too, we see the hero wasting away until

His limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
Sung dirges in the wind: his listless hand
Hung like dead bone within his withered skin;
Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone
As in a furnace burning secretly
From his dark eyes alone.

The likeness of Sordello to Shelley [Footnote: Browning himself pointed
out a similarity between them, in the opening of Book I.] is marked in
the ravages of his genius upon his flesh, so that at the climax of the
poem he, though still a young man, is gray and haggard and fragile.

Though ill-health is a handicap to him, the poet's subjection to the
mutability that governs the mundane sphere is less important, some
persons would declare, in the matter of beauty and health than in the
matter of sex. Can a poetic spirit overcome the calamity of being cast
by Fate into the body of a woman?

As the battle of feminism dragged its bloody way through all fields of
endeavor in the last century,

Some life of men unblest
He knew, which made him droop, and filled his head.
He went, his piping took a troubled sound
Of storms that rage outside our happy ground.
He could not wait their passing; he is dead.

In addition, the intense application that genius demands leaves its mark
upon the body. Recognition of this fact has doubtless been aided by
Dante's portrait, which Wilde has repainted in verse:

The calm, white brow, as calm as earliest morn,
The eyes that flashed with passionate love and scorn,
The lips that sang of Heaven and of Hell,
The almond face that Giotto drew so well,
The weary face of Dante.[Footnote: _Ravenna._]

Rossetti repeats the tradition that the composition of the
_Inferno_ so preyed upon Dante that the superstitious believed that
he had actually visited Hades and whispered to one another,

Behold him, how Hell's reek
Has crisped his beard and singed his cheek.
[Footnote: _Dante at Verona._]

A similar note is in Francis Thompson's description of Coventry Patmore:

And lo! that hair is blanched with travel-heats of hell.
[Footnote: _A Captain of Song._]

In this connection one thinks at once of Shelley's prematurely graying
hair, reflected in description of his heroes harried by their genius
into ill health, Prince Athanase is

A youth who as with toil and travel
Had grown quite weak and gray before his time.
[Footnote: _Prince Athanase_, a fragment.]

In _Alastor_, too, we see the hero wasting away until

His limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
Sung dirges in the wind: his listless hand
Hung like dead bone within his withered skin;
Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone
As in a furnace burning secretly
From his dark eyes alone.

The likeness of Sordello to Shelley [Footnote: Browning himself pointed
out a similarity between them, in the opening of Book 1.] is marked in
the ravages of his genius upon his flesh, so that at the climax of the
poem he, though still a young man, is gray and haggard and fragile.

Though ill-health is a handicap to him, the poet's subjection to
themutability that governs the mundane sphere is less important, some
persons would declare, in the matter of beauty and health than in the
matter of sex. Can a poetic spirit overcome the calamity of being cast
by Fate into the body of a woman?

As the battle of feminism dragged its bloody way through all fields of
endeavor in the last century, of their complaint must be significant. A
jumping toothache would hardly be an advantage to a sufferer in turning
his thoughts to poesy. Since verse writers recoil from the suggestion
that dyspepsia is the name of their complaint, let us ask them to
explain its real character to us. To take one of our earliest examples,
what is the malady of William Lisles Bowles' poet, of whom we learn,
Too long had sickness left her pining trace
With slow still touch on each decaying grace;
Untimely sorrow marked his thoughtful mien;
Despair upon his languid smile was seen.
[Footnote: _Monody on Henry Headley._]

We can never know. But with Shelley, it becomes evident that
tuberculosis is the typical poet's complaint. Shelley was convinced that
he himself was destined to die of it. The irreverent Hogg records that
Shelley was also afraid of death from elephantiasis, [Footnote: T. J.
Hogg, _Life of Shelley_, p. 458.] but he keeps that affliction out
of his verse. So early as the composition of the _Revolt of Islam_,
Shelley tells us of himself, in the introduction,

Death and love are yet contending for their prey,

and in _Adonais_ he appears as

A power
Girt round with weakness.
* * * * *
A light spear ...
Vibrated, as the everbeating heart
Shook the weak hand that grasped it.

Shelley's imaginary poet, Lionel, gains in poetical sensibility as
consumption saps his strength:

You might see his colour come and go,
And the softest strain of music made
Sweet smiles, yet sad, arise and fade
Amid the dew of his tender eyes;
And the breath with intermitting flow
Made his pale lips quiver and part.
[Footnote: _Rosalind and Helen._]

The deaths from tuberculosis of Kirke White [Footnote: See Kirke White,
_Sonnet to Consumption_.] and of Keats, added to Shelley's verse,
so affected the imagination of succeeding poets that for a time the
cough became almost ubiquitous in verse. In major poetry it appears for
the last time in Tennyson's _The Brook_, where the young poet hastens to
Italy, "too late," but in American verse it continued to rack the frame
of geniuses till the germ theory robbed it of romance and the
anti-tuberculosis campaign drove it out of existence.

Without the aid of physical causes, the exquisite sensitiveness of the
poet's spirit is sometimes regarded as enough to produce illness. Thus
Alexander Smith explains his sickly hero:

More tremulous
Than the soft star that in the azure East
Trembles with pity o'er bright bleeding day
Was his frail soul.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

Arnold, likewise, in _Thyrsis_, follows the poetic tradition in
thus vaguely accounting for Clough's death: it of course has left its
traces in the realm of poetry. But here the casualties appear to be
light,--in fact, it is a disappointment to the suffragist to find most
of the blows struck by the female aspirant for glory, with but few
efforts to parry them on the part of the male contingent. Furthermore,
in verse concerned with specific woman poets, men have not failed to
give them their due, or more. From Miriam [Footnote: See Barry Cornwall,
_Miriam_.] and Sappho, [Footnote: Southey, _Sappho_; Freneau, _Monument
of Phaon_; Kingsley, _Sappho_, Swinburne, _On the Cliffs, Sapphics,
Anactoria;_ Cale Young Rice, _Sappho's Death Song;_ J. G. Percival,
_Sappho_; Percy Mackaye, _Sappho and Phaon_; W. A. Percy, _Sappho in
Lenkos._] to the long list of nineteenth century female poets--Mrs.
Browning, [Footnote: Browning, _One Word More, Preface to The Ring and
the Book;_ James Thomson, B. V., _E. B. B._; Sidney Dobell, _On the
Death of Mrs. Browning._] Christina Rossetti, [Footnote: Swinburne,
_Ballad of Appeal to Christina. Rossetti, New Year's Eve, Dedication to
Christina Rossetti._] Emily Bronte, [Footnote: Stephen Phillips, _Emily
Bronte._] Alice Meynell, [Footnote: Francis Thompson, _Sister Songs,
on her Photograph, To a Poet Breaking Silence._] Felicia Hemans,
[Footnote: L. E. Maclean, _Felicia Hemans._] Adelaide Proctor,
[Footnote: Edwin Arnold, _Adelaide Anne Proctor._] Helen Hunt,
[Footnote: Richard Watson Gilder, _H. H._] Emma Lazarus
[Footnote: _Ibid., To E. Lazarus._]--one finds woman the subject of
complimentary verse from their brothers. There is nothing to complain of
here, we should say at first, and yet, in the unreserved praise given to
their greatest is a note that irritates the feminists. For men have made
it plain that Sappho was not like other women; it is the "virility" of
her style that appeals to them; they have even gone so far as to hail
her "manlike maiden." [Footnote: Swinburne, _On the Cliffs._] So the
feminists have been only embittered by their brothers' praise.
As time wears on, writers averse to feminine verse seem to be losing the
courage of their convictions. At the end of the eighteenth century,
woman's opponent was not afraid to express himself. Woman writers were
sometimes praised, but it was for one quality alone, the chastity of
their style. John Hughes [Footnote: See _To the Author of "A Fatal
Friendship."_] and Tom Moore [Footnote: See _To Mrs. Henry Tighe._] both
deplored the need of such an element in masculine verse. But Moore could
not resist counteracting the effect of his chary praise by a play, _The
Blue Stocking_, which burlesques the literary pose in women. He seemed
to feel, also, that he had neatly quelled their poetical aspirations
when he advertised his aversion to marrying a literary woman. [Footnote:
See _The Catalogue._ Another of his poems ridiculing poetesses is _The
Squinting Poetess._] Despite a chivalrous sentimentality, Barry Cornwall
took his stand with Moore on the point, exhorting women to choose love
rather than a literary career. [Footnote: See _To a Poetess._] More
seriously, Landor offered the same discouragement to his young friend
with poetical tastes. [Footnote: See _To Write as Your Sweet Mother
Does._] On the whole the prevalent view expressed early in the
nineteenth century is the considerate one that while women lack a
literary gift, they have, none the less, sweet poetical natures. Bulwer
Lytton phrased the old-fashioned distinction between his hero and
heroine,

In each lay poesy--for woman's heart
Nurses the stream, unsought and oft unseen;
And if it flow not through the tide of art,
Nor win the glittering daylight--you may ween
It slumbers, but not ceases, and if checked
The egress of rich words, it flows in thought,
And in its silent mirror doth reflect
Whate'er affection to its banks hath brought.
[Footnote: Milton.]

Yet the poetess has two of the strongest poets of the romantic period on
her side. Wordsworth, in his many allusions to his sister Dorothy,
appeared to feel her possibilities equal to his own, and in verses on an
anthology, he offered praise of a more general nature to verse written
by women. [Footnote: See To Lady Mary Lowther.] And beside the sober
judgment of Wordsworth, one may place the unbounded enthusiasm of
Shelley, who not only praises extravagantly the verse of an individual,
Emilia Viviani, [Footnote: See the introduction to Epipsychidion.] but
who also offers us an imaginary poetess of supreme powers,--Cythna, in
_The Revolt of Islam_.

It is disappointing to the agitator to find the question dropping out of
sight in later verse. In the Victorian period it comes most plainly to
the surface in Browning, and while the exquisite praise of his

Lyric love, half angel and half bird,

reveals him a believer in at least sporadic female genius, his position
on the question of championing the entire sex is at least equivocal. In
_The Two Poets of Croisic_ he deals with the eighteenth century in
France, where the literary woman came so gloriously into her own.
Browning represents a man writing under a feminine pseudonym and winning
the admiration of the celebrities of the day--only to have his verse
tossed aside as worthless as soon as his sex is revealed. Woman wins by
her charm, seems to be the moral. A hopeful sign, however, is the fact
that of late years one poet produced his best work under a feminine
_nom de plume_, and found it no handicap in obtaining recognition.
[Footnote: William Sharp, "Fiona McLeod."] If indifference is the
attitude of the male poet, not so of the woman writer. She insists that
her work shall redound, not to her own glory, merely, but to that of her
entire sex as well. For the most worthy presentation of her case, we
must turn to Mrs. Browning, though the radical feminist is not likely to
approve of her attitude. "My secret profession of faith," she admitted
to Robert Browning, "is--that there is a natural inferiority of mind in
women--of the intellect--not by any means of the moral nature--and that
the history of Art and of genius testifies to this fact openly."
[Footnote: Letter to Robert Browning, July 4, 1845.] Still, despite this
private surrender to the enemy, Mrs. Browning defends her sex well.

In a short narrative poem, _Mother and Poet_, Mrs. Browning claims
for her heroine the sterner virtues that have been denied her by the
average critic, who assigns woman to sentimental verse as her proper
sphere. Of course her most serious consideration of the problem is to be
found in _Aurora Leigh_. She feels that making her imaginary poet a
woman is a departure from tradition, and she strives to justify it. Much
of the debasing adulation and petty criticism heaped upon Aurora must
have been taken from Mrs. Browning's own experience. Ignoring
insignificant antagonism to her, Aurora is seriously concerned with the
charges that the social worker, Romney Leigh, brings against her sex.
Romney declares,

Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doting mothers, and perfect wives,
Sublime Madonnas and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you,--and verily
We shall not get a poet, in my mind.

Aurora is obliged to acknowledge to herself that Romney is right in
charging women with inability to escape from personal considerations.
She confesses,

We women are too apt to look to one,
Which proves a certain impotence in art.

But in the end, and after much struggling, Aurora wins for her poetry
even Romney's reluctant admiration. Mrs. Browning's implication seems to
be that the intensely "personal and passionate" nature of woman is an
advantage to her, if once she can lift herself from its thraldom,
because it saves her from the danger of dry generalization which assails
verse of more masculine temper. [Footnote: For treatment of the question
of the poet's sex in American verse by women, see Emma Lazarus,
_Echoes_; Olive Dargan, _Ye Who are to Sing_.]

Of only less vital concern to poets than the question of the poet's
physical constitution is the problem of his environment. Where will the
chains of mortality least hamper his aspiring spirit?

In answer, one is haunted by the line,

I too was born in Arcadia.

Still, this is not the answer that poets would make in all periods. In
the eighteenth century, for example, though a stereotyped conception of
the shepherd poet ruled,--as witness the verses of Hughes, [Footnote:
See _Corydon_.] Collins, [Footnote: See _Selim, or the Shepherd's
Moral_.] and Thomson,[Footnote: See _Pastoral on the Death of
Daemon_.]--it is obvious that these gentlemen were in no literal
sense expressing their views on the poet's habitat. It was hardly
necessary for Thomas Hood to parody their efforts in his eclogues giving
a broadly realistic turn to shepherds assuming the singing robes.
[Footnote: See _Huggins and Duggins_, and _The Forlorn Shepherd's
Complaint_.] Wherever a personal element enters, as in John Hughes'
_Letter to a Friend in the Country_, and Sidney Dyer's _A Country
Walk_, it is apparent that the poet is not indigenous to the soil. He
is the city gentleman, come out to enjoy a holiday.

With the growth of a romantic conception of nature, the relation of the
poet to nature becomes, of course, more intimate. But Cowper and Thomson
keep themselves out of their nature poetry to such an extent that it is
hard to tell what their ideal position would be, and not till the
publication of Beattie's _The Minstrel_ do we find a poem in which
the poet is nurtured under the influence of a natural scenery. At the
very climax of the romantic period the poet is not always bred in the
country. We find Byron revealing himself as one who seeks nature only
occasionally, as a mistress in whose novelty resides a good deal of her
charm. Shelley, too, portrays a poet reared in civilization, but
escaping to nature. [Footnote: See _Epipsychidion_, and _Alastor_.]
Still, it is obvious that ever since the time of Burns and Wordsworth,
the idea of a poet nurtured from infancy in nature's bosom has been
extremely popular.

There are degrees of naturalness in nature, however. How far from the
hubbub of commercialism should the poet reside? Burns and Wordsworth
were content with the farm country, but for poets whose theories were
not so intimately joined with experience such an environment was too
tame. Bowles would send his visionary boy into the wilderness.
[Footnote: See _The Visionary Boy_.] Coleridge and Southey went so
far as to lay plans for emigrating, in person, to the banks of the
Susquehanna. Shelley felt that savage conditions best foster poetry.
[Footnote: See the _Defense of Poetry_: "In the infancy of society
every author is necessarily a poet."] Campbell, in _Gertrude of
Wyoming_, made his bard an Indian, and commented on his songs,

So finished he the rhyme, howe'er uncouth,
That true to Nature's fervid feelings ran
(And song is but the eloquence of truth).

The early American poet, J. G. Percival, expressed the same theory,
declaring of poetry,

Its seat is deeper in the savage breast
Than in the man of cities.
[Footnote: _Poetry_.]

To most of us, this conception of the poet is familiar because of
acquaintance, from childhood, with Chibiabus, "he the sweetest of all
singers," in Longfellow's _Hiawatha_.

But the poet of to-day may well pause, before he starts to an Indian
reservation. What is the mysterious benefit which the poet derives from
nature? Humility and common sense, Burns would probably answer, and that
response would not appeal to the majority of poets. A mystical
experience of religion, Wordsworth would say, of course. A wealth of
imagery, nineteenth century poets would hardly think it worth while to
add, for the influence of natural scenery upon poetic metaphors has come
to be such a matter of course that one hardly realizes its significance.
Perhaps, too, poets should admit oftener than they do the influence of
nature's rhythms upon their style. As Madison Cawein says

If the wind and the brook and the bird would teach
My heart their beautiful parts of speech,
And the natural art they say these with,
My soul would sing of beauty and myth
In a rhyme and a meter none before
Have sung in their love, or dreamed in their lore.
[Footnote: _Preludes_.]

The influence of nature which the romantic poet stressed most, however,
was a negative one. In a sense in which Wordsworth probably did not
intend it, the romantic poet betrayed himself hastening to nature

More like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved.

What nature is not, seemed often her chief charm to the romanticist.
Bowles sent his visionary boy to "romantic solitude." Byron [Footnote:
See _Childe Harold_.] and Shelley, [Footnote: See _Epipsychidion_.] too,
were as much concerned with escaping from humanity as with meeting
nature. Only Wordsworth, in the romantic period, felt that the poet's
life ought not to be wholly disjoined from his fellows. [Footnote: See
_Tintern Abbey_, _Ode on Intimations of Immortality,_ and _The
Prelude_.]

Of course the poet's quarrel with his unappreciative public has led him
to express a longing for complete solitude sporadically, even down to
the present time, but by the middle of the nineteenth century "romantic
solitude" as the poet's perennial habitat seems just about to have run
its course. Of the major poets, Matthew Arnold alone consistently urges
the poet to flee from "the strange disease of modern life." The Scholar
Gypsy lives the ideal life of a poet, Matthew Arnold would say, and
preserves his poetical temperament because of his escape from
civilization:

For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt
Which much to have tried, in much been baffled brings.

No doubt, solitude magnifies the poet's sense of his own personality.
Stephen Phillips says of Emily Bronte's poetic gift,

Only barren hills
Could wring the woman riches out of thee,
[Footnote: _Emily Bronte_.]

and there are several poets of whom a similar statement might be made.
But the Victorians were aware that only half of a poet's nature was
developed thus. Tennyson [Footnote: See _The Palace of Art_.] and
Mrs. Browning [Footnote: See _The Poet's Vow_; Letters to Robert
Browning, January 1, 1846, and March 20, 1845.] both sounded a warning
as to the dangers of complete isolation. And at present, though the
eremite poet is still with us, [Footnote: See Lascelles Ambercrombe,
_An Escape_; J. E. Flecker, _Dirge_; Madison Cawein, _Comrading_; Yeats,
_The Lake Isle of Innisfree_.] he does not have everything his own way.

For it has begun to occur to poets that it may not have been merely
anuntoward accident that several of their loftiest brethren were reared
in
London. In the romantic period even London-bred Keats said, as a matter
of course,

The coy muse, with me she would not live
In this dark city,
[Footnote: _Epistle to George Felton Mathew_. Wordsworth's sonnet,
"Earth has not anything to show more fair," seems to have been unique at
this time.]

and the American romanticist, Emerson, said of the poet,

In cities he was low and mean;
The mountain waters washed him clean.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

But Lowell protested against such a statement, avowing of the muse,

She can find a nobler theme for song
In the most loathsome man that blasts the sight
Than in the broad expanse of sea and shore.
[Footnote: _L'Envoi_.]

A number of the Victorians acknowledged that they lived from choice in
London. Christina Rossetti admitted frankly that she preferred London to
the country, and defended herself with Bacon's statement, "The souls of
the living are the beauty of the world." [Footnote: See E. L. Gary,
_The Rossettis_, p. 236.] Mrs. Browning made Aurora outgrow pastoral
verse, and not only reside in London, but find her inspiration there.
Francis Thompson and William Henley were not ashamed to admit that they
were inspired by London. James Thomson, B.V., belongs with them in this
regard, for though he depicted the horror of visions conjured up in the
city streets in a way unparalleled in English verse, [Footnote: See _The
City of Dreadful Night_.] this is not the same thing as the romantic
poet's repudiation of the city as an unimaginative environment.

Coming to more recent verse, we find Austin Dobson still feeling it an
anomaly that his muse should prefer the city to the country. [Footnote:
See _On London Stones_.] John Davidson, also, was very self-conscious
about his city poets. [Footnote: See _Fleet Street Eclogues_.] But as
landscape painters are beginning to see and record the beauty in the
most congested city districts, so poets have been making their muse more
and more at home there, until our contemporary poets scarcely stop to
take their residence in the city otherwise than as a matter of course.
Alan Seeger cries out for Paris as the ideal habitat of the singer.
[Footnote: See _Paris_.] Even New York and Chicago [Footnote: See Carl
Sandburg, _Chicago Poems_; Edgar Lee Masters, _The Loop_; William
Griffith, _City Pastorals_; Charles H. Towne, _The City_.] are beginning
to serve as backgrounds for the poet figure. A poem called _A Winter
Night_ reveals Sara Teasdale as thoroughly at home in Manhattan as the
most bucolic shepherd among his flocks.

To poets' minds the only unaesthetic habitat nowadays seems to be the
country town. Although Edgar Lee Masters writes what he calls poetry
inspired by it, the reader of the _Spoon River Anthology_ is still
disposed to sympathize with Benjamin Fraser of Spoon River, the artist
whose genius was crushed by his ghastly environment.

So manifold, in fact, are the attractions of the world to the modern
poet, that the vagabond singer has come into special favor lately. Of
course he has appeared in English song ever since the time of minstrels,
but usually, as in the Old English poem, _The Wanderer_, he has been
unhappy in his roving life. Even so modern a poet as Scott was in the
habit of portraying his minstrels as old and homesick. [Footnote: See
_The Lay of the Last Minstrel_.] But Byron set the fashion among poets
of desiring "a world to roam through," [Footnote: _Epistle to Augusta_.]
and the poet who is a wanderer from choice has not been unknown since
Byron's day. [Footnote: Alfred Dommett and George Borrow are notable.]
The poet vagabond of to-day, as he is portrayed in Maurice Hewlitt's
autobiographical novels, _Rest Harrow_ and _Open Country_, and William
H. Davies' tramp poetry, looks upon his condition in life as ideal.
[Footnote: See also Francis Carlin, _Denby the Rhymer_ (1918); Henry
Herbert Knibbs, _Songs of the Trail_ (1920)] Alan Seeger, too,
concurred in the view, declaring,

Down the free roads of human happiness
I frolicked, poor of purse but light of heart.
[Footnote: _Sonnet to Sidney_.]

"Poor of purse!" The words recall us to another of the poet's quarrels
with the world in which he is imprisoned. Should the philanthropist, as
has often been suggested, endow the poet with an independent income?
What a long and glorious tradition would then be broken! From Chaucer's
_Complaint to His Empty Purse_, onward, English poetry has borne
the record of its maker's poverty. The verse of our period is filled
with names from the past that offer our poets a noble precedent for
their destitution,--Homer, Cervantes, Camoeens, Spenser, Dryden, Butler,
Johnson, Otway, Collins, Chatterton, Burns,--all these have their want
exposed in nineteeth and twentieth century verse.

The wary philanthropist, before launching into relief schemes, may well
inquire into the cause of such wretchedness. The obvious answer is, of
course, that instead of earning a livelihood the poet has spent his time
on a vocation that makes no pecuniary return. Poets like to tell us,
also, that their pride, and a fine sense of honour, hold them back from
illegitimate means of acquiring wealth. But tradition has it that there
are other contributing causes. Edmund C. Stedman's _Bohemia_ reveals the
fact that the artist has most impractical ideas about the disposal of
his income. He reasons that, since the more guests he has, the smaller
the cost per person, then if he can only entertain extensively enough,
the cost _per caput_ will be _nil_. Not only so, but the poet is likely
to lose sight completely of tomorrow's needs, once he has a little ready
cash on hand. A few years ago, Philistines derived a good deal of
contemptuous amusement from a poet's statement,

Had I two loaves of bread--ay, ay!
One would I sell and daffodils buy
To feed my soul.
[Footnote: _Beauty_, Theodore Harding Rand.]

What is to be done with such people? Charity officers are continually
asking.

What relief measure can poets themselves suggest? When they are speaking
of older poets, they are apt to offer no constructive criticism, but
only denunciation of society. Their general tone is that of Burns' lines
_Written Under the Portrait of Ferguson:_

Curse on ungrateful man that can be pleased
And yet can starve the author of the pleasure.

Occasionally the imaginary poet who appears in their verse is quite as
bitter. Alexander Smith's hero protests against being "dungeoned in
poverty." One of Richard Gilder's poets warns the public,

You need not weep for and sigh for and saint me
After you've starved me and driven me dead.
Friends, do you hear? What I want is bread.
[Footnote: _The Young Poet_.]

Through the thin veneer of the fictitious poet in Joaquin Miller's
_Ina_, the author himself appears, raving,

A poet! a poet forsooth! Fool! hungry fool!
Would you know what it means to be a poet?
It is to want a friend, to want a home,
A country, money,--aye, to want a meal.
[Footnote: See also John Savage, _He Writes for Bread_.]

But in autobiographical verse, the tone changes, and the poet refuses to
pose as a candidate for charity. Rather, he parades an ostentatious
horror of filthy lucre, only paralleled by his distaste for food. Mrs.
Browning boasts,

The Devil himself scarce trusts his patented
Gold-making art to any who makes rhymes,
But culls his Faustus from philosophers
And not from poets.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

A poet who can make ends meet is practically convicted of being no true
artist. Shakespeare is so solitary an exception to this rule, that his
mercenary aspect is a pure absurdity to his comrades, as Edwin Arlington
Robinson conceives of them. [Footnote: See _Ben Jonson Entertains a
Man from Stratford_.] In the eighteenth century indifference to
remuneration was not so marked, and in poetic epistles, forgers of the
couplet sometimes concerned themselves over the returns, [Footnote: See
_Advice to Mr. Pope_, John Hughes; _Economy, The Poet and the Dun_,
Shenstone.] but since the romantic movement began, such thought has been
held unworthy. [Footnote: See _To a Poet Abandoning His Art_, Barry
Cornwall; and _Poets and Poets_, T. E. Browne. On the other hand, see
Sebastian Evans, _Religio Poetae_.] In fact, even in these days, we are
comparatively safe from a poet's strike.

Usually the poet declares that as for himself, he is indifferent to his
financial condition. Praed speaks fairly for his brethren, when in _A
Ballad Teaching How Poetry Is Best Paid For_, he represents their
terms as very easy to meet. Even the melancholy Bowles takes on this
subject, for once, a cheerful attitude, telling his visionary boy,

Nor fear, if grim before thine eyes
Pale worldly want, a spectre lowers;
What is a world of vanities
To a world as fair as ours?

In the same spirit Burns belittles his poverty, saying, in _An Epistle
to Davie, Fellow Poet_:

To lie in kilns and barns at e'en
When bones are crazed, and blind is thin
Is doubtless great distress,
Yet then content would make us blest.

Shelley, too, eschews wealth, declaring, in _Epipsychidion_,

Our simple life wants little, and true taste
Hires not the pale drudge luxury to waste
The scene it would adorn.

Later poetry is likely to take an even exuberant attitude toward
poverty. [Footnote: See especially verse on the Mermaid group, as
_Tales of the Mermaid Inn_, Alfred Noyes. See also Josephine Preston
Peabody, _The Golden Shoes_; Richard Le Gallienne, _Faery Gold_; J. G.
Saxe, _The Poet to his Garret_; W. W. Gibson, _The Empty Purse_; C. G.
Halpine, _To a Wealthy Amateur Critic_; Simon Kerl, _Ode to Debt, A Leaf
of Autobiography_; Thomas Gordon Hake, _The Poet's Feast_; Dana Burnet,
_In a Garret_; Henry Aylett Sampson, _Stephen Phillips Bankrupt_.] The
poet's wealth of song is so great that he leaves coin to those who wish
it. Indeed he often has a superstitious fear of wealth, lest it take
away his delight in song. In Markham's _The Shoes of Happiness_, only
the poet who is too poor to buy shoes possesses the secret of joy.
With a touching trust in providence, another poet cries,

Starving, still I smile,
Laugh at want and wrong,
He is fed and clothed
To whom God giveth song.
[Footnote: Anne Reeve Aldrich, _A Crowned Poet_.]

It is doubtful indeed that the poet would have his fate averted. Pope's
satirical coupling of want and song, as cause and effect,

One cell there is, concealed from vulgar eye,
The cave of Poverty and Poetry.
Keen, hollow winds howl through the bleak recess,
Emblem of music caused by emptiness,
[Footnote: _Dunciad_.]

is accepted quite literally by later writers. Emerson's theory of
compensations applies delightfully here as everywhere, and he meditates
on the poet,

The Muse gave special charge
His learning should be deep and large,--
* * * * *
His flesh should feel, his eyes should read
Every maxim of dreadful need.
* * * * *
By want and pain God screeneth him
Till his appointed hour.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

It may appear doubtful to us whether the poet has painted ideal
conditions for the nurture of genius in his picture of the poet's
physical frame, his environment, and his material endowment, inasmuch as
the death rate among young bards,--imaginary ones, at least, is
appalling. What can account for it?

In a large percentage of cases, the poet's natural frailty of
constitution is to blame for his early death, of course, but another
popular explanation is that the very keenness of the poet's flame causes
it to burn out the quicker. Byron finds an early death fitting to him,

For I had the share of life that might have filled a century,
Before its fourth in time had passed me by.
[Footnote: _Epistle to Augusta_.]

A fictitious poet looks back upon the same sort of life, and reflects,

... For my thirty years,
Dashed with sun and splashed with tears,
Wan with revel, red with wine,
Other wiser happier men
Take the full three score and ten.
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

this richness of experience is not inevitably bound up with
recklessness, poets feel. The quality is in such a poet even as Emily
Bronte, of whom it is written:

They live not long of thy pure fire composed;
Earth asks but mud of those that will endure.
[Footnote: Stephen Phillips. _Emily Bronte_.]

Another cause of the poet's early death is certainly his fearlessness.
Shelley prophesies that his daring spirit will meet death

Far from the trembling throng
Whose souls are never to the tempest given.
[Footnote: _Adonais_.]

With the deaths of Rupert Brooke, Alan Seeger, Joyce Kilmer, and Francis
Ledwidge, this element in the poet's disposition has been brought home
to the public. Joyce Kilmer wrote back from the trenches, "It is wrong
for a poet ... to be listening to elevated trains when there are
screaming shells to hear ... and the bright face of danger to dream
about." [Footnote: Letter to his wife, March 12, 1918.] And in his
article on Joyce Kilmer in _The Bookman_, Richard LeGallienne
speaks of young poets "touched with the ringer of a moonlight that has
written 'fated' upon their brows," adding, "Probably our feeling is
nothing more than our realization that temperaments so vital and intense
must inevitably tempt richer and swifter fates than those less
wild-winged."

It is a question whether poets would expect us to condole with them or
to felicitate them upon the short duration of their subjection to
mortality. Even when the poet speaks of his early death solely with
regard to its effect upon his earthly reputation, his attitude is not
wholly clear. Much elegiac verse expresses such stereotyped sorrow for a
departed bard that it is not significant. In other cases, one seems to
overhear the gasp of relief from a patron whom time can never force to
retract his superlative claims for his protege's promise.

More significant is a different note which is sometimes heard. In
Alexander Smith's _Life Drama_, it is ostensibly ironic. The critic
muses,

He died--'twas shrewd:
And came with all his youth and unblown hopes
On the world's heart, and touched it into tears.

In _Sordello_, likewise, it is the unappreciative critic who expresses
this sort of pleasure in Eglamor's death. But this feeling has also been
expressed with all seriousness, as in Stephen Phillip's _Keats_:

I have seen more glory in sunrise
Than in the deepening of azure noon,

or in Francis Thompson's _The Cloud's Swan Song_:

I thought of Keats, that died in perfect time,
In predecease of his just-sickening song,
Of him that set, wrapped in his radiant rhyme,
Sunlike in sea. Life longer had been life too long.

Obviously we are in the wake of the Rousseau theory, acclimatized in
English poetry by Wordsworth's youth "who daily farther from the east
must travel." A long array of poets testifies to the doctrine that a
poet's first days are his best. [Footnote: See S. T. Coleridge, _Youth
and Age_; J. G. Percival, _Poetry_; William Cullen Bryant, _I Cannot
Forget with What Fervid Devotion_; Bayard Taylor, _The Return of the
Goddess_; Richard Watson Gilder, _To a Young Poet_, _The Poet's Secret_;
George Henry Boker, _To Bayard Taylor_; Martin Farquhar Tupper, _To a
Young Poet_; William E. Henley, _Something Is Dead_; Francis Thompson,
_From the Night of Foreboding_; Thomas Hardy, _In the Seventies_; Lewis
Morris, _On a Young Poet_; Richard Le Gallienne, _A Face in a Book_;
Richard Middleton, _The Faithful Poet, The Boy Poet_; Don Marquis, _The
Singer_ (1915); John Hall Wheelock, _The Man to his Dead Poet_ (1919);
Cecil Roberts, _The Youth of Beauty_ (1915); J. Thorne Smith, jr., _The
Lost Singer_ (1920); Edna St. Vincent Millay, _To a Poet that Died
Young_.] _Optima dies_ ... _prima fugit_; the note echoes and reechoes
through English poetry. Hear it in Arnold's _Progress of Poetry_:

Youth rambles on life's arid mount,
And strikes the rock and finds the vein,
And brings the water from the fount.
The fount which shall not flow again.

The man mature with labor chops
For the bright stream a channel grand,
And sees not that the sacred drops
Ran off and vanished out of hand.

And then the old man totters nigh
And feebly rakes among the stones;
The mount is mute, the channel dry,
And down he lays his weary bones.

But the strangle hold of complimentary verse upon English poetry, if
nothing else, would prevent this view being unanimously expressed there.
For in the Victorian period, poets who began their literary careers by
prophesying their early decease lived on and on. They themselves might
bewail the loss of their gift in old age--in fact, it was usual for them
to do so [Footnote: See Scott, _Farewell to the Muse_; Landor, _Dull is
my Verse_; J. G. Percival, _Invocation_; Matthew Arnold, _Growing Old_;
Longfellow, _My Books_; O. W. Holmes, _The Silent Melody_; C. W.
Stoddard, _The Minstrel's Harp_; P. H. Hayne, _The Broken Chords_; J. C.
MacNiel, _A Prayer_; Harvey Hubbard, _The Old Minstrel_.]--but it would
never do for their disciples to concur in the sentiment. Consequently we
have a flood of complimentary verses, assuring the great poets of their
unaltered charm.[Footnote: See Swinburne, _Age and Song, The Centenary
of Landor, Statue of Victor Hugo_; O. W. Holmes, _Whittier's Eightieth
Birthday, Bryant's Seventieth Birthday_; E. E. Stedman, _Ad Vatem_; P.
H. Hayne, _To Longfellow_; Richard Gilder, _Jocoseria_; M. F. Tupper,
_To the Poet of Memory_; Edmund Gosse, _To Lord Tennyson on his
Eightieth Birthday_; Alfred Noyes, _Ode for the Seventieth Birthday of
Swinburne_; Alfred Austin, _The Poet's Eightieth Birthday_; Lucy Larcom,
_J. G. Whittier_; Mary Clemmer, _To Whittier_; Percy Mackaye, _Browning
to Ben Ezra_.] And of course it is all worth very little as indicating
the writer's attitude toward old age. Yet the fact that Landor was still
singing as he "tottered on into his ninth decade,"--that Browning,
Tennyson, Swinburne, Longfellow, Whittier, Holme's, and Whitman
continued to feel the stir of creation when their hair was hoary, may
have had a genuine influence on younger writers.

Greater significance attaches to the fact that some of the
self-revealing verse lamenting the decay of inspiration in old age is
equivocal, as Landor's

Dull is my verse: not even thou
Who movest many cares away
From this lone breast and weary brow
Canst make, as once, its fountains play;
No, nor those gentle words that now
Support my heart to hear thee say,
The bird upon the lonely bough
Sings sweetest at the close of day.

It is, of course, even more meaningful when the aged poet, disregarding
convention, frankly asserts the desirability of long life for his race.
Browning, despite the sadness of the poet's age recorded in _Cleon_
and the _Prologue to Aslando_, should doubtless be remembered for
his belief in

The last of life for which the first was made,

as applied to poets as well as to other men. In America old age found
its most enthusiastic advocate in Walt Whitman, who in lines _To Get
the Final Lilt of Songs_ indicated undiminished confidence in himself
at eighty. Bayard Taylor, [Footnote: See _My Prologue_.] too, and
Edward Dowden, [Footnote: See _The Mage_.] were not dismayed by
their longevity.

But we are most concerned, naturally, with wholly impersonal verse, and
in it the aged poet is never wholly absent from English thought. As the
youthful singer suggests the southland, so the aged bard seems
indigenous to the north. It seems inevitable that Gray should depict the
Scotch bard as old, [Footnote: _The Bard_.] and that Scott's
minstrels should be old. Campbell, too, follows the Scotch tradition.
[Footnote: See _Lochiel's Warning_.] It is the prophetic power of
these fictional poets, no doubt, that makes age seem essential to them.
The poet in Campbell's poem explains,

'Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore.

Outside of Scotch poetry one finds, occasionally, a similar faith in the
old poet. Mrs. Browning's observation tells her that maturity alone can
express itself with youthful freshness. Aurora declares,

I count it strange and hard to understand
That nearly all young poets should write old.
... It may be perhaps
Such have not settled long and deep enough
In trance to attain to clairvoyance, and still
The memory mixes with the vision, spoils
And works it turbid. Or perhaps again
In order to discover the Muse Sphinx
The melancholy desert must sweep around
Behind you as before.

Aurora feels, indeed, that the poet's gift is not proved till age. She
sighs, remembering her own youth,

Alas, near all the birds
Will sing at dawn,--and yet we do not take
The chaffering swallow for the holy lark.

Coinciding with this feeling is Rossetti's sentiment:
... Many men are poets in their youth,
But for one sweet-strung soul the wires prolong
Even through all age the indomitable song.
[Footnote: _Genius in Beauty_.]

Alice Meynell, [Footnote: See _To any Poet_.] too, and Richard Watson
Gilder [Footnote: See _Life is a Bell_.] feel that increasing power of
song comes with age.

It is doubtless natural that the passionate romantic poets insisted upon
the poet's youth, while the thoughtful Victorians often thought of himas
old. For one is born with nerves, and it does not take long for them
to wear out; on the other hand a great deal of experience is required
before one can even begin to think significantly. Accordingly one is not
surprised, in the turbulent times of Elizabeth, to find Shakespeare, at
thirty, asserting,

In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
As on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

and conversely it seems fitting that a _De Senectute_ should come
from an Augustan period. As for the attitude toward age of our own
day,--the detestation of age expressed by Alan Seeger [Footnote: See
_There Was a Youth Around Whose Early Way_.] and Rupert Brooke,
[Footnote: See _The Funeral of Youth: Threnody_.]--the complaint of
Francis Ledwidge, at twenty-six, that years are robbing him of his
inspiration, [Footnote: See _Growing Old, Youth_.]--that, to their
future readers, will only mean that they lived in days of much feeling
and action, and that they died young. [Footnote: One of the war poets,
Joyce Kilmer, was already changing his attitude at thirty. Compare his
juvenile verse, "It is not good for poets to grow old," with the later
poem, _Old Poets_.] As the world subsides, after its cataclysm,
into contemplative revery, it is inevitable that poets will, for a time,
once more conceive as their ideal, not a singer aflame with youth and
passion, but a poet of rich experience and profound reflection,

White-bearded and with eyes that look afar
From their still region of perpetual snow,
Beyond the little smokes and stirs of men.
[Footnote: James Russell Lowell, _Thorwald's Lay_.]

CHAPTER III.

THE POET AS LOVER

Do the _Phaedrus_ and the _Symposium_ leave anything to be said on the
relationship of love and poetry? In the last analysis, probably not. The
poet, however, is not one to keep silence because of a dearth of new
philosophical conceptions. As he discovers, with ever fresh wonder, the
power of love as muse, each new poet, in turn, is wont to pour his
gratitude for his inspiration into song, undeterred by the fact that
love has received many encomiums before.

It is not strange that this hymn should be broken by rude taunts on the
part of the uninitiated.

Saynt Idiote, Lord of these foles alle,

Chaucer's Troilus called Love, long ago, and the general public has been
no less free with this characterization in the last century than in the
fourteenth. Nor is it merely that part of the public which associates
all verse with sentimentality, and flees from it as from a contagion,
which thus sneers at the praise lovers give to their divinity. On the
contrary, certain young aspirants to the poet's laurel, feeling that the
singer's indebtedness to love is an overworked theme, have tried, like
the non-lover of the _Phaedrus_, to charm the literary public by
the novelty of a different profession. As the non-lover of classic
Greece was so fluent in his periods that Socrates and Phaedrus narrowly
escaped from being overwhelmed by his much speaking, so the non-lover of
the present time says much for himself.

In the first place, our non-lover may assure us, the nature of love is
such that it involves contempt for the life of a bard. For love is a mad
pursuit of life at first hand, in its most engrossing aspect, and it
renders one deaf and blind to all but the object of the chase; while
poetry is, as Plato points out, [Footnote: See the _Republic_ X, sec.
599-601; and _Phaedrus_, sec. 248.] only a pale and lifeless imitation
of the ardors and delights which the lover enjoys at first hand.
Moreover, one who attempts to divide his attention between the muse and
an earthly mistress, is likely not only to lose the favor of the former,
but, as the ubiquity of the rejected poet in verse indicates, to lose
the latter as well, because his temperament will incline him to go into
retirement and meditate upon his lady's charms, when he should be
flaunting his own in her presence. It will not be long, indeed, before
he has so covered the object of his affection with the leafage of his
fancy, that she ceases to have an actual existence for him at all. The
non-lover may remind us that even so ardent an advocate of love as Mrs.
Browning voices this danger, confessing, in _Sonnets of the Portuguese_,
[Footnote: Sonnet XXIX.]

My thoughts do twine and bud
About thee, as wild vines about a tree
Put out broad leaves, and soon there's nought to see
Except the straggling green that hides the wood.

The non-lover may also recall to our minds the notorious egotism and
self-sufficiency of the poet, which seem incompatible with the humility
and insatiable yearning of the lover. He exults in the declaration of
Keats,

My solitude is sublime,--for, instead of what I have
described (_i.e._, domestic bliss) there is sublimity
to welcome me home; the roaring of the wind is my wife; and
the stars through the windowpanes are my children; the
mighty abstract idea of beauty in all things, I have,
stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness.
[Footnote: Letter to George Keats, October 31, 1818.]

Borne aloft by his admiration for this passage, the non-lover may
himself essay to be sublime. He may picture to us the frozen heights on
which genius resides, where the air is too rare for earthly affection.
He may declare that Keats' Grecian Urn is a symbol of all art, which
must be

All breathing human passion far above.

He will assert that the mission of the poet is "to see life steadily and
see it whole," a feat which is impossible if the worship of one figure
out of the multitude is allowed to distort relative values, and to throw
his view out of perspective.

Finally, the enemy of love may call as witnesses poets whom he fancies
he has led astray. Strangely enough, considering the dedication of the
_Ring and the Book_, he is likely to give most conspicuous place among
these witnesses to Browning. Like passages of Holy Writ, lines from
Browning have been used as the text for whatever harangue a new
theorist sees fit to give us. In _Youth and Art_, the non-lover
will point out the characteristic attitude of young people who are
"married to their art," and consequently have no capacity for other
affection. In _Pauline_, he will gloat over the hero's confession
that he is inept in love because he is concerned with his perceptions
rather than with their objects, and his explanation,

I am made up of an intensest life;
Of a most clear idea of consciousness
Of self ...
And I can love nothing,--and this dull truth
Has come at last: but sense supplies a love
Encircling me and mingling with my life.

He will point out that Sordello is another example of the same type, for
though Sordello is ostensibly the lover of Palma, he really finds
nothing outside himself worthy of his unbounded adoration. [Footnote:
Compare Browning's treatment of Sordello with the conventional treatment
of him as lover, in _Sordello_, by Mrs. W. Buck (1837).] Turning to
Tennyson, in _Lucretius_ the non-lover will note the tragic death
of the hero that grows out of the asceticism in love engendered by his
absorption in composition. With the greatest pride the enemy of love
will point to his popularity in the 1890's, when the artificial and
heartless artist enjoyed his greatest vogue. As his most scintillating
advocate he will choose Oscar Wilde. Assuring us of many prose passages
in his favor, he will read to us the expression of conflict between love
and art in _Flower of Love_, where Wilde exclaims,

I have made my choice, have lived my poems, and though my youth is
gone in wasted days,
I have found the lover's crown of myrtle better than the poet's
crown of bays,

and he will read the record of the same sense of conflict, in different
mood, expressed in the sonnet _Helas_:

To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
Is it for this that I have given away
Mine ancient wisdom and austere control?
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
With idle songs for pipe and virelai,
Which do but mar the secret of the whole.
Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God.
Is that time dead? Lo, with a little rod
I did but touch the honey of romance,
And must I lose a soul's inheritance?

And yet, when the non-lover has finally arrived at the peroration of his
defense, we may remain unshaken in our conviction that from the _Song
of Solomon_ to the _Love Songs of Sara Teasdale_, the history of poetry
constitutes an almost unbroken hymn to the power of love, "the poet, and
the source of poetry in others," [Footnote: _The Symposium_ of Plato, sec.
196.] as Agathon characterized him at the banquet in Love's honour.
Within the field of our especial inquiry, the last century, we may rest
assured that there is no true poet whose work, rightly interpreted, is
out of tune with this general acclaim. Even Browning and Oscar Wilde are
to be saved, although, it may be, only as by fire.

The influence of love upon poetry, which we are assuming with such _a
priori_ certainty, is effected in various ways. The most obvious, of
course, is by affording new subject matter. The confidence of
Shakespeare,

How can my muse want subject to invent
While thou dost breathe, that pourest into my verse
Thine own sweet argument?

is at least as characteristic of the nineteenth as of the sixteenth
century. The depletion of our lyric poetry, if everything relating to
the singer's love affairs were omitted, is appalling even to
contemplate. Yet, if this were the extent of love's influence upon
poetry, one would have to class it, in kind if not in degree, with any
number of other personal experiences that have thrilled the poet to
composition.

The scope of love's influence is widened when one reflects upon its
efficacy as a prize held up before the poet, spurring him on to express
himself. In this aspect poetry is often a form of spiritual display
comparable to the gay plumage upon the birds at mating season. In the
case of women poets, verse often affords an essentially refined and
lady-like manner of expressing one's sentiments toward a possible
suitor. The convention so charmingly expressed in William Morris' lines,
_Rhyme Slayeth Shame_, seems to be especially grateful to them. At
times the ruse fails, as a writer has recently admitted:

All sing it now, all praise its artless art,
But ne'er the one for whom the song was made,
[Footnote: Edith Thomas, _Vos non Nobis_.]

but perhaps the worth of the poetry is not affected by the stubbornness
of its recipient. Sara Teasdale very delicately names her anthology of
love poems by women, _The Answering Voice_, but half the poems reveal
the singer speaking first, while a number of them show her expressing an
open-minded attitude toward any possible applicant for her hand among
her readers. But it is not merely for its efficacy as a matrimonial
agency that poets are indebted to love.

Since the nineteenth century is primarily the age of the love story,
personal experience of love has been invaluable to the poet in a third
way. The taste of the time has demanded that the poet sing of the tender
theme almost exclusively, whether in dramatic, lyric or narrative,
whether in historical or fictional verse. This is, of course, one reason
that, wherever the figure of a bard appears in verse, he is almost
always portrayed as a lover. Not to illustrate exhaustively, three of
the most widely read poems with poet heroes, of the beginning, middle
and end of the century respectively, _i. e._, Moore's _Lalla
Rookh_, Mrs. Browning's _Lady Geraldine's Courtship_, and
Coventry Patmore's _The Angel in the House_, all depend for plot
interest upon their hero's implication in a love affair. The authors'
love affairs were invaluable, no doubt, since a poet is not be expected
to treat adequately a passion which he has not experienced himself. It
is true that one hears from time to time, notably in the 1890's, that
the artist should remain apart from, and coldly critical of the emotions
he portrays. But this is not the typical attitude of our period. When
one speaks thus, he is usually thought to be confusing the poet with the
literary man, who writes from calculation rather than from inspiration.
The dictum of Aristotle, "Those who feel emotion are most convincing
through a natural sympathy with the characters they represent,"
[Footnote: _Poetics_ XVII, Butcher's translation.] has appeared
self-evident to most critics of our time.

But the real question of inspiration by love goes deeper and is
connected with Aristotle's further suggestion that poetry involves "a
strain of madness," a statement which we are wont to interpret as
meaning that the poet is led by his passions rather than by his reason.
This constitutes the gist of the whole dispute between the romanticist
and the classicist, and our poets are such ardent devotees of love as
their muse, simply because, in spite of other short-lived fads, the
temper of the last century has remained predominantly romantic. It is
obvious that the idea of love as a distraction and a curse is the
offspring of classicism. If poetry is the work of the reason, then
equilibrium of soul, which is so sorely upset by passionate love, is
doubtless very necessary. But the romanticist represents the poet, not
as one drawing upon the resources within his mind, but as the vessel
filled from without. His afflatus comes upon him and departs, without
his control or understanding. Poetical inspiration, to such a
temperament, naturally assumes the shape of passion. Bryant's expression
of this point of view is so typical of the general attitude as to seem
merely commonplace. He tells us, in _The Poet_,

No smooth array of phrase,
Artfully sought and ordered though it be,
Which the cold rhymer lays
Upon his page languid industry
Can wake the listless pulse to livelier speed.
* * * * *
The secret wouldst thou know
To touch the heart or fire the blood at will?
Let thine own eyes o'erflow;
Let thy lips quiver with the passionate thrill.
Seize the great thought, ere yet its power be past,
And bind, in words, the fleet emotion fast.

Coleridge's comprehension of this fact led him to cry, "Love is the
vital air of my genius." [Footnote: Letter to his wife, March 12, 1799.]

All this, considering the usual subject-matter of poetry, is perhaps
only saying that the poet must be sincere. The mathematician is most
sincere when he uses his intellect exclusively, but a reasoned portrayal
of passion is bound to falsify, for it leads one insensibly either to
understate, or to burlesque, or to indulge in a psychopathic analysis of
emotion. [Footnote: Of the latter type of poetry a good example is Edgar
Lee Masters' _Monsieur D---- and the Psycho-Analyst_.]

Accordingly, our poets have not been slow to remind us of their
passionate temperaments. Landor, perhaps, may oblige us to dip into his
biography in order to verify our thesis that the poet is invariably
passionate, but in many cases this state of things is reversed, the poet
being wont to assure us that the conventional incidents of his life
afford no gauge of the ardors within his soul. Thus Wordsworth solemnly
assures us,

Had I been a writer of love poetry, it would have been natural to me to
write with a degree of warmth which could hardly have been approved by
my principles, and which might have been undesirable for the reader.
[Footnote: See Arthur Symons, _The Romantic Movement_, p. 92 (from
Myers, _Life of Wordsworth_).]

Such boasting is equally characteristic of our staid American poets, who
shrink from the imputation that their orderly lives are the result of
temperamental incapacity for unrestraint. [Footnote: Thus Whittier, in
_My Namesake_, says of himself,

Few guessed beneath his aspect grave
What passions strove in chains.

Also Bayard Taylor retorts to those who taunt him with lack of passion,

But you are blind, and to the blind
The touch of ice and fire is one.

The same defense is made by Richard W. Gilder in lines entitled _Our
Elder Poets_.] In differing mode, Swinburne's poetry is perhaps an
expression of the same attitude. The ultra-erotic verse of that poet
somehow suggests a wild hullabaloo raised to divert our attention from
the fact that he was constitutionally incapable of experiencing passion.

Early in the century, something approaching the Wordsworthian doctrine
of emotion recollected in tranquillity was in vogue, as regards capacity
for passion. The Byronic hero is one whose affections have burned
themselves out, and who employs the last worthless years of his life
writing them up. Childe Harold is

Grown aged in this world of woe,
In deeds, not years, piercing the depths of life,
So that no wonder waits him, nor below
Can love, or sorrow, fame, ambition, strife,
Cut to his heart again with the keen knife
Of silent, sharp endurance.

The very imitative hero of Praed's _The Troubadour_, after
disappointment in several successive amours, at the age of twenty-six
dismisses passion forever. We are assured that

The joys that wound, the pains that bless,
Were all, were all departed,
And he was wise and passionless
And happy and cold-hearted.

The popularity of this sort of poet was, however, ephemeral. Of late
years poets have shown nothing but contempt for their brothers who
attempt to sing after their passion has died away. It seems likely,
beside, that instead of giving an account of his genius, the depleted
poet depicts his passionless state only as a ruse to gain the sympathy
of his readers, reminding them how much greater he might have been if he
had not wantonly wasted his emotions.

One is justified in asking why, on the other hand, the poet should not
be one who, instead of spending his love on a finite mistress, should
devote it all to poetry. The bard asks us to believe that love of poetry
is as thrilling a passion as any earthly one. His usual emotions are
portrayed in Alexander Smith's _Life Drama_, where the hero agonizes for
relief from his too ardent love:

O that my heart was quiet as a grave
Asleep in moonlight!
For, as a torrid sunset boils with gold
Up to the zenith, fierce within my soul
A passion burns from basement to the cope.
Poesy, poesy!
But one who imagines that this passion can exist in the soul wholly
unrelated to any other, is confusing poetry with religion, or possibly
with philosophy. The medieval saint was pure in proportion as he died to
the life of the senses. This is likewise the state of the philosopher
described in the _Phaedo_. But beauty, unlike wisdom and goodness,
is not to be apprehended abstractly; ideal beauty is super-sensual, to
be sure, but the way to vision of it is through the senses. Without
doubt one occasionally finds asceticism preached to the poet in verse.
One of our minor American poets declares,

The bard who yields to flesh his emotion
Knows naught of the frenzy divine.
[Footnote: _Passion_, by Elizabeth Cheney. But compare Keats' protest
against the poet's abstract love, in the fourth book of _Endymion_.]

But this is not the genuine poet's point of view. In so far as he is a
Platonist--and "all poets are more or less Platonists" [Footnote: H. B.
Alexander, _Poetry and the Individual_, p. 46.]--the poet is led upward
to the love of ideal beauty through its incarnations in the world of
sense. Thus in one of the most Platonic of our poems, G. E. Woodberry's
_Agathon_, Eros says of the hero, who is the young poet of the
_Symposium_,

A spirit of joy he is, to beauty vowed,
Made to be loved, and every sluggish sense
In him is amorous and passionate.
Whence danger is; therefore I seek him out
So with pure thought and care of things divine
To touch his soul that it partake the gods.

This does not imply that romantic love is the only avenue to ideal
beauty. Rupert Brooke's _The Great Lover_ might dissipate such an
idea, by its picture of childlike and omnivorous taste for
sensuousbeauty.

These I have loved,

Brooke begins,

White plates and cups, clean gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamplight; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many tasting food;
Rainbows, and the blue bitter smoke of wood.

And so on he takes us, apparently at random, through the whole range of
his sense impressions. But the main difficulty with having no more than
such scattered and promiscuous impressionability is that it is likely to
result in poetry that is a mere confusion of color without design,
unless the poet is subject to the unifying influence of a great passion,
which, far from destroying perspective, as was hinted previously,
affords a fixed standard by which to gauge the relative values of other
impressions. Of course the exceptionally idealistic poet, who is
conscious of a religious ideal, can say with Milton, "I am wont day and
night to seek the _idea_ of beauty through all the forms and faces
of things (for many are the shapes of things divine) and to follow it
leading me on with certain assured traces." [Footnote: _Prose
Works_, Vol. I, Letter VII, Symmons ed.] To him there is no need of
the unifying influence of romantic love. In his case the mission of a
strong passion is rather to humanize the ideal, lest it become purely
philosophical (as that of G. E. Woodberry is in danger of doing) or
purely ethical, as is the case of our New England poets. On the other
hand, to the poet who denies the ideal element in life altogether, the
unifying influence of love is indispensable. Such deeply tragic poetry
as that of James Thomson, B. V., for instance, which asserts Macbeth's
conclusion that life is "a tale told by an idiot," is saved from utter
chaos sufficiently to keep its poetical character, only because the
memory of his dead love gives Thomson a conception of eternal love and
beauty by which to gauge his hopeless despair.

In addition, our poets are wont to agree with their father Spenser that
the beauty of a beloved person is not to be placed in the same class as
the beauty of the world of nature. Spenser argues that the spiritual
beauty of a lady, rather than her outward appearance, causes her lover's
perturbation. He inquires:

Can proportion of the outward part
Move such affection in the inward mind
That it can rob both sense and reason blind?
Why do not then the blossoms of the field,
Which are arrayed with much more orient hue
And to the sense most daintie odors yield,
Work like impression in the looker's view?
[Footnote: _An Hymne in Honour of Beautie_.]

Modern theorists, who would no doubt despise the quaintly idealistic
mode of Spenser's expression, yet express much the same view in
asserting that romantic excitement is a stimulus which keys all the
senses to a higher pitch, thus dispersing one's amorousness over all
creation. The love celebrated in Brooke's _The Great Lover_, they
declare, cannot be compared with that of his more conventional love
poems, simply because the one love is the cause of the other. Such
heightened sensuous impressionability is celebrated in much of our most
beautiful love poetry of to-day, notably in Sara Teasdale's.

It may be that this intensity of perception engendered by love is its
most poetical effect. Much verse pictures the poet as a flamelike spirit
kindled by love to a preternaturally vivid apprehension of life for an
instant, before love dies away, leaving him ashes. Again and again the
analogy is pointed out between Shelley's spirit and the leaping flames
that consumed his body. Josephine Preston Peabody's interpretation of
Marlowe is of the same sort. In the drama of which Marlowe is the
title-character, his fellow-dramatist, Lodge, is much worried when he
learns of Marlowe's mad passion for a woman of the court.

Thou art a glorious madman,

Lodge exclaims,

Born to consume thyself anon in ashes,

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