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of the definition had in mind chiefly the poetry of ideas; when it is described as 'emotion remembered in tranquillity,' the description is directed chiefly to emotional poetry; and when we are told, as we often are nowadays, that the sincere reproduction of a moment's spiritual experience is the proper concern of the poetic art, this third and final definition applies almost exclusively to the poetry which seeks to reproduce the writer's passing mood without any reference to its truth or value. The highest order of poetry will be found, under analysis, to combine elements from each of these three classes; for the emotion, without which poetry is barren, contains in itself an indirect reference to the mood in which it is evoked, while the poet proceeds from the registration of the emotion to test it by the standard of the universal idea. But it must never be forgotten that the idea is the germ of the poem; that the truth and universality of the idea is the test of the poem's quality; and that, as poetry recedes from the region of ideas into that of emotions, and sinks still further from emotions into moods, it retires more and more from that high vantage ground from whose summit the classic poetry of the ages overlooks the manifold activity of the world. From the idea to the emotion, and from the emotion to the mood, is a downward path, separating poetry from its high, universal significance, and bringing it step by step nearer to a condition of anarchy, in which every individual's claim is paramount, where art can represent nothing permanent, since nothing permanent or stable exists within its survey to be represented.
Now a careful examination of these two volumes of Georgian poetry seems to suggest that during the last ten years or so English poetry has been approaching a condition of poetic liberty and license which threatens, not only to submerge old standards altogether, but, if persevered in to its logical limits, to hand over the sensitive art of verse to a general process of literary democratisation. For some time before this movement took shape, the powers of reaction had been at work upon English poetry. The Pre-Raphaelite movement, for example, was in itself a reaction. It found the soulful earnestness of the Victorians quietly sinking into a sort of dogmatic philosophy. Science, religion,
doubt, and faith had apparently taken the Muses' Hill by storm; and a way of escape was sought into the dreams of the past, by reviving ideals and standards of a simpler and a more artistically-minded world. The step from such a mood to one of general discontent with all surviving traditions was but a short one; and the next step after that is inevitably the complete abandonment of tradition and standard alike. We write nothing that we might not speak,' proclaims the new rebellion in effect: 'we draw the thing as we see it for the God of things as they are. Every aspect of life shall be the subject of our art, and what we see we will describe in the language which we use every day. The result shall be the New Poetry, the vital expression of a new race.'
To such a manifesto, even before its artistic achievements come to be examined, there is one preliminary reply. It is indeed true that the artificer may put whatever he sees into his melting-pot, but it by no means follows that he will get a work of art out of his mould. It may be arguable that the poet should shovel the language of the mining-camp into his lyric, but it is more than doubtful whether poetry will emerge. Force may emerge, vigour may emerge, an impressive and vital kind of rhetoric may take form from the composition; but poetry is something more than these. Poetry must possess beauty ; beauty is the essence of its being; and it has never been the general experience that the language of the common crowd possesses either beauty or authority. When poetry proposes to confine itself to the commercial counters of speech, the first thing we should expect would be a failure in dignity and charm. When it sets itself to break loose from the traditions of structure and harmony, the next inevitable consequence would be the wastage of form and melody.
melody. And, emphatically enough, the very first impression with which the reader of these volumes of Georgian poetry is assailed is an impression of a fitful lack of dignity, and a recurrent tendency to neglect the claims of form and structure, which continually distract the reader's attention from his author's meaning, by thrusting into the foreground a sense of the unrestrained and even violent fashion in which that meaning is striving to get itself expressed. That the form of expression has crude
energy, rising at intervals into power, we do not dispute; but it is emphatically the sort of energy that has not hitherto been associated with the methods and aims of poetry.
The blank verse of Mr Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, for example, has evidently thrown aside in weariness the golden foot-rule of the Augustans :
* For sure enough the camel's old evil incarnate! ...
When I've seen life compact in some perfect body.' ... It would be amusing to hear Dr Johnson's comments upon this turbulent kind of prosody. Such liberties with his favourite ten-syllabled line might well 'perturbate his paradisal state,' torturing it into one of fuliginous thunderstorm. But Mr Lascelles Abercrombie's blank verse is yet more rough and unmelodious :
'Anger was smarting in my eyes like grit.
Carrion, or the stink of smouldering brimstone.' Now, it is evident that the writer who sets down such unmetrical lines as these is writing in deliberate defiance of metrical tradition. No man, possessed by the impulse to express himself in verse, was ever the victim of so bad an ear as to believe that
• O the fine earth and fine all for nothing !
is a reasonable line of blank-verse as it was understood by the classicists. But Mr Abercrombie would very properly reply that he is not writing for the classicists at all, but for the young bloods of the twentieth century, and that he chooses to write like this for the sake of avoiding monotony and of achieving sudden and vigorous effect. But, as a matter of fact, is the effect really heightened by this kind of incoherent violence? Is it not rather true that the description in the first passage
quoted above is so confused and involved that the lines must be read twice before they take hold upon the imagination, and that even then the final impression left by them is one of an imperfect and unfinished draft? Vehemence without corresponding effect is nothing worth; it resembles the volubility of an unpractised orator, and the taint of undisciplined experiment too frequently affects and mars Mr Abercrombie's workmanship. His ·Sale of St Thomas' has a fine imaginative idea at the heart of it; it is, in fact, one of the few poems in the collection which deal with an idea of permanent significance and original force. St Thomas is conceived as torn asunder between a divine impulse to carry on the work of his Master and a restraining prudence which perpetually retards his mission by suggesting the risks and perils of the enterprise. Finally the Master reappears and sells St Thomas into bondage. For fear, He says, is a venial failing,
* But prudence, prudence is the deadly sin,
Here is a fine animating theme for poetry, and one well suited to a muse bent upon new adventure; but throughout the poem, as even more noticeably in his breathless, exclamatory drama "The End of the World,' the poet appears to have hurled himself into the effort of creation before properly digesting his material, and to be content to accept as finished work what ought to have been recognised as the first rough notes, or trial balance of his composition. He is so eager to be trying conclusions with the new idea that he exhausts himself in a single flight, and never advances beyond the initial phases of the experiment.
This restlessness seems to be growing upon the poet, for his earlier work showed imagination much more satisfactorily at one with its material. His vers libre, which is now often crude and shapeless, had at first a
genuine justification, in its courageous attempt to break free once and for all from the mild fluidity of the Tennysonian euphuists. He introduced a degree of elasticity and variety into the metre which was stimulating to the ear, while the eye was continually fed by rich and clustered imagery:
• The world's a flame of the unquenching fire,
And again, in the lyric metre of the choruses in Peregrinus' there was a haunting beauty, which appears too rarely in his later work :
*Little flames, merry flames, modest low chucklings,
It is a great pity that a sort of impulsive impatience should mar such genuine ability, but it is difficult to resist the impression that Mr Abercrombie is in danger of accepting everything that occurs spasmodically to his fancy as the finished product of a meditative art.
Something of the same haste and impatient negligence of technique disfigures the work of Mr Walter De la Mare, who aims at a simpler form of fantasy than Mr