Critical Essays By Amy Lowell Essay, Research Paper
WHY WE SHOULD READ POETRY
WHY should one read Poetry? That seems to me a good deal like
asking: Why should one eat? One eats because one has to, to support life, but every time
one sits down to dinner one does not say, ‘I must eat this meal so that I may not
die.’ On the contrary, we eat because we are hungry, and so eating appears to us as a
pleasant and desirable thing to do.
The necessity for poetry is one of the most fundamental traits of the human race. But
naturally we do not take that into account, any more than we take into account that
dinner, and the next day again, dinner, is the condition of our remaining alive. Without
poetry the soul and heart of man starves and dies. The only difference between them is
that all men know, if they turn their minds to it, that without food they would die, and
comparatively few people know that without poetry they would die.
When trying to explain anything, I usually find that the Bible, that great collection
of magnificent and varied poetry, has said it before in the best possible way. Now the
Bible says that ‘man shall not live by bread alone.’ Which, in modern words, means–cannot
live on the purely material things. It is true, he cannot, and he never does. If he did,
every bookshop would shut, every theatre would close its doors, every florist and picture
dealer would go out of business, even the baseball grounds would close. For what is
baseball but a superb epic of man’s swiftness and sureness, and his putting forth the
utmost of the sobriety and vigour that is in him in an ecstasy of vitality and movement?
And the men who watch are carried away by this ecstasy, out of themselves and the routine
of their daily lives, into a world romantic with physical force. But you object that they
don’t think of it in this way. Of course they don’t; if they did they would be poets, and
most men are not poets. But this is really what stirs them, for without it, throwing a
little ball about a field, and trying to hit it with a stick, isn’t really very
interesting. A baseball game is a sort of moving picture of what Homer wrote in his Iliad.
I do not believe there is a boy in America who would not like Butcher and Lang’s
translation of the Odyssey, if no one had ever told him it was a schoolbook.
That is what poetry really is. It is the height and quintessence of emotion, of every
sort of emotion. But it is always somebody feeling something at white heat, and it is as
vital as the description of a battle would be, told by a soldier who had been in it.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I do not mean that every book, or every play,
contains this true poetry. Many, most, alas! are poor imitations; some are merely sordid
and vulgar. But books and plays exist because man is groping for a life beyond himself,
for a beauty he needs, and is seeking to find. And the books and plays which live are
those which satisfy this need.
Somebody once said to me that to make goodness dull was a great crime. In poetry, those
men who have written without original and vital feeling, without a flaming imagination,
have much to answer for. It is owing to them that poetry has come to mean a stupid and
insipid sort of stuff, quite remote from people’s lives, fit only for sentimental youth
and nodding old age. That sort of poetry is what is technically called ‘derivative,’ which
means that the author copies some one else’s emotion often some one else’s words, and
commonplace verses are written about flowers, and moonlight, and love, and death, by
people who would never be moved by any of these things if sincere poets had not been
writing about them from the beginning of the world. People who like to hear the things
they are used to repeated say, I That is beautiful poetry’; simple, straightforward people
say, ‘Perhaps it is. But I don’t care for poetry.’ But once in a while there comes along a
man with knowledge and courage enough to say, ‘That is not poetry at all, but insincere
Again I do not mean that all poetry can be enjoyed by everybody. People have different
tastes and different training. A man at forty seldom cares for the books which delighted
him as a boy. People stop developing at all ages. Some men never mature beyond their
teens; others go on growing and changing until old age. Because B likes a book is no
reason why A should. And we are the inheritors of so splendid a literature that there are
plenty of books for everybody, Many people enjoy Kipling’s poems who would be confused by
Keats; others delight in Burns who would be utterly without sympathy for Blake. The people
who like Tennyson do not, as a rule, care much about Walt Whitman, and the admirers of Poe
and Coleridge may find Wordsworth unattractive, and again his disciples might feel
antagonized by Rossetti and Swinburne. It does not matter, so long as one finds one’s own
sustenance. Only, the happy men who can enjoy them all are the richest. The true test of
poetry is sincerity and vitality. It is not rhyme, or metre, or subject. It is nothing in
the world but the soul of man as it really is. Carlyle’s ‘French Revolution’ is a great
epic poem; so are Trevelyan’s three volumes on ‘Garibaldi and the Italian War of
Independence.’ That they are written in prose has nothing to do with the matter. That most
poems are written rhythmically, and that rhythm has come to be the great technical fact of
poetry, was, primarily, because men under stress of emotion tend to talk in a rhythmed
speech. Read Lincoln’s ‘Address at Gettysburg’ and ‘Second Inaugural,’ and you will see.
Nothing is more foolish than to say that only such and such forms are proper to poetry.
Every form is proper to poetry, so long as it is the sincere expression of a man’s
thought. That insincere men try bizarre forms of verse to gain a personal notoriety is
true, but it seems not very difficult to distinguish them from the real artists. And so
long as men feel, and think, and have the need of expressing themselves, so long will
their modes of expression change. For expression tends to become hackneyed and
devitalized, and new methods must be found for keeping the sense of palpitant vigour.
There are signs that we are living at the beginning of a great poetic renaissance. Only
three weeks ago the ‘New York Times’ printed some remarks of Mr. Brett, the head of The
Macmillan Company, in which he said that poetry was pushing itself into the best-seller
class. And the other day a London publisher, Mr. Heinemann, announced that he should not
publish so many novels, as they were a drug on the market. England has several magazines
devoted exclusively to poetry and poetic drama. Masefield is paid enormous sums for his
work, and a little book entitled ‘The Georgian Book of Poetry,’ containing the work of
some of the younger men, which has been out barely two years, is already in its ninth
edition. Here, in America, we have ‘The Poetry Journal,’ published in Boston, and
‘Poetry,’ published in Chicago. England counts among her poets W. B. Yeats, Robert
Bridges, John Masefield, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, D. H. Lawrence, F. L. Flint, James
Stevens, Rudyard Kipling, and, although on a somewhat more popular level, Alfred Noyes.
England also boasts, as partly her own, the Bengal poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who has just
been awarded the Nobel Prize, and Ezra Pound, who, although an American by birth and
happily therefore ours to claim, lives in London. In America we have Josephine Preston
Peabody, Bliss Carman, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Anna Hempstead Branch, Hermann Hagedorn,
Grace Fallow Norton, Fanny Stearns Davis, and Nicholas Vachel Lindsay. These lists
represent poets with many differing thoughts and modes of thought, but they point to the
great vitality of poetry at the moment.
Have I answered the question? I think I have. We should read poetry because only in
that way can we know man in all his moods — in the most beautiful thoughts of his heart,
in his farthest reaches of imagination, in the tenderness of his love, in the nakedness
and awe of his soul confronted with the terror and wonder of the Universe.
Poetry and history are the textbooks to the heart of man, and poetry is at once the
most intimate and the most enduring.
from Amy Lowell, Poetry and Poets: Essays (New York: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1930) 3-9. Previously published in Boston American, May 3, 1914.
POETRY, IMAGINATION, AND EDUCATION
PERHAPS there never was a time when education received so much general attention as it
does today. The world is deluged with books, pamphlets, and reviews on the subject, new
systems are continually jostling the old out of place, new methods are constantly being
applied, the very end and aim of education itself seems to change from time to time.
That the object of education should be to fit the child for life is such a trite and
well-worn saying that people smile at its commonplaceness even while they agree with its
obvious common sense. But the many ways of fitting the child, and the very various and
diverse lives that have to be fitted for, are so perplexing that it is small wonder that
curriculums multiply and still, multiply their subjects in order to keep up with the
complexity of modern existence.
More and more of late years has the old education by means of the humanities been
broken down, and instead of it we see substituted a sort of vocational training. Children
are now taught to do, where, in the older systems, they were taught to think. It is as if
we had learnt to distrust what we cannot see, to demand an immediate tangible result for
the outlay of preparation. This is perhaps largely due to our national temper. We are
always in a hurry. But does this constant haste produce the results desired? ‘Evolution,
not revolution, is the order of development,’ says Mr. Hughes, in his book on comparative
education, and education is a process requiring much time. Nature cannot be hurried; there
is no such thing as cramming possible to her methods. A congested curriculum results in
the proper assimilation of no one subject, and what can we think of a primary school,
boasting only one teacher, in which children were taught seventeen subjects, with fifteen
minutes given to each subject, as was the case some years ago in a school which came under
No educator is so insensate as to approve of such a method, and it is just in the hope
of simplifying education that this idea of dropping the humanities has been evolved. But,
in considering the means as the end, to what are we led? What is the result of an
over-insistence upon fact, and an under-emphasis upon the development of faculties? It is
a result little realized for the most part; one which may fit in with the views of the
more extreme socialists, perhaps, but hardly in accord with those rights of the individual
which have always been America’s brightest ideal. For it is precisely the humanities which
develop individuality. A knowledge of facts does not make us men; it is the active use of
brains which does that. Whatever tends to make the brain supple and self-reliant is a
direct help to personality.
Perhaps the two qualities which more than any others go to the making of a strong
personality are character and imagination. Character means courage, and there is a great
difference between the collective courage of a mass of people all thinking the same way
and the courage of a man who cares not at all for public opinion but follows his own
chosen path unswervingly. Our national ideal as to the moral attitude is high; what the
people understand, and what they all agree about, that they will do; but it is not
so easy to find men who are willing to think and act at variance with the opinions of
their neighbours. We see this trait constantly in those people who live beyond their
Incomes; who must have this and that because their friends have it. This weakness gnaws at
the foundation of our national existence like an insidious disease. For, with all our talk
of individualism, we are among the least individual of nations. The era of machine-made
articles has swept over the land, and nowhere is its product more deteriorating than in
the machine-made types which our schools turn out.
I do not wish to be misunderstood; I do not mean that these types are poor or bad types
– on the contrary, machines work with a wonderful precision -but these types are ran in a
mould, or rather several moulds. The result is a high state of mediocrity. But there is a
danger here which we do not quite foresee. Machines are controlled by the men who make and
work them. Upon the few with the brains to create and guide, the destinies of the others
therefore depend. There has never been such a machine-made people as the Germans; and we
can see clearly to-day, as we could not some years ago, what happens to such a people when
the guiding powers are unscrupulous and wrought upon by an overweening ambition.
A democracy can only succeed through an enlightened proletariat. If character and
imagination are the essentials to a strong personality, one capable of directing itself
and not at the mercy of demagogues and fanatics, then we should leave no stones unturned
to gain this end. I think I make no unwise statement when I say that it is only in those
minds possessing but a modicum of imagination that the value of the humanities as an
educational factor is denied.
It is clearly not my purpose, in this paper, to speak of character building,
neither have I space to go into all the ways in which the faculty of imagination might be
stimulated, but there is one, and I think the most important one, the value of which is
only imperfectly understood. I mean literature, and more especially poetry, and more
especially still, contemporary poetry.
We all agree that the aim of education is to fit the child for life. But the
differences of opinion as to how that fitting is to be done are almost as many as there
are men to hold them. Again, we all agree as to the necessity of building up a strong
character, but here again we are at variance as to how this is to be done. Still, upon
these points the world is in accord; the point on which it differs radically is precisely
that of imagination. Fully a of our pedagogues cannot see that imagination is the root of
all civilization. Like love, it may very fairly be said to ‘make the world go round.’
But as it works out of sight, it is given very little credit for what it performs.
Pedagogy is being treated as a science, which would seem a start in the right
direction, were it not that true science must be exact, mathematically so, and capable of
being proved backwards. The slightest mistake in facts or reasoning throws the result
hopelessly out. Is it possible that, with all our scientific pretensions, we have
overlooked a primary link in a logical chain? Is it possible that that link is the
importance of the subconscious? Can it be said that the very lack of imagination in the
pedagogic mind is responsible for this fatal error? But let us leap to no conclusions.
Even if we think we see an end, let us not postulate upon it until we have reached it,
step by step, and have proved its existence.
Character is no new thing in the world, neither is imagination, nor, indeed, education.
Our ancestors were as much interested in these things as we are. Like us, they talked of
character and education, and, like us, they did not talk of imagination. And yet I think
it can easily be proved that their methods were more favourable to its development than
Let us forget theories for the moment and take our stand upon an unassailable truism,
namely that the object of education is to educate. Now, once more, forgetting the dusty
cobwebs of twentieth-century discussion, let us consider the old dictionary definition of
‘to educate,’ which is ‘to bring forth and form the natural faculties.’ To bring forth and
form the natural faculties, to bring out the best that the child has in him so that no
talent nor power shall be left latent, and then so to train and cultivate these talents
and powers that the child shall obtain perfect control over them, and make them of the
Nothing is said here about fitting the child for life. Our ancestors considered that so
obvious a fact as to need no stating, and this very reticence proves an imaginative
attitude which we seem to have lost to-day.
It might be said quite truthfully that no one was ever taught anything; that one
learned, but was not taught; that what the mind was ready for the mind received, that what
the mind was not ready for fell away and was forgotten. Therefore the true end of
education as such must be to train the mind. Another truism, you will say. Granted but how
is this same training to be done?
The last generation believed in the old classical education; they had forgotten why in
many cases, but the prejudice remained that Greek and Latin were the best training. The
reason was a perfectly valid one: Greek and Latin were hard to learn and needed brain
application, also they could not be learnt by rote; the boy had to use his mind and his
imagination, and, being accustomed to using his mind and imagination in his studies, he
brought them to bear on other things as well.
We have not dropped the old classical education entirely, but we have added many other
things to it, and in so doing have diminished the amount of time and thought given to it,
and consequently the amount of benefit to be derived from it. Of the things which we have
added, some are really good, others appear so, but the total effect does not seem so very
far in advance of the old method after all.
Our children are turned out with a smattering of many subjects, but can we say that
they are any better educated than the men and women that preceded them? Are they better
equipped for life? do they find the problems that they have to solve easier of solution?
For there is one great fault in our educational systems to-day; they teach, but they do
not train; and the one faculty without which no other can come to fruition is never really
trained at all, for we cannot deny that imagination is forced to strive against adverse
circumstances both at home and in school.
Years ago, before the education of little children was considered so important a
subject as it is now, lessons were given in certain well-defined subjects; reading,
writing, and ciphering (as it was then called) formed the staple of the school course,
supplemented by geography, Latin, and, in the case of little girls, sewing.
Dreary enough these lessons must have been, for a-b, ab, many times repeated
fails to germinate any interesting train of thought, and pot-hooks and hangers scrawled in
interminable succession with a squeaky slate pencil on a slate leave the imagination cold.
But even if the lessons themselves were not in the least alluring, this same
imagination wag stimulated by the best of all methods, by the good old-fashioned fairy
story; either told by some old nurse, or read out of enchanting books with innumerable
quaint woodcuts, so that forever after the names of certain tales were inseparably bound
up with the woodcuts in question, and to name the one was to see the other. There was no
moral hidden away in these stories, except the wholesome one that the good always
triumphed in the end; their aim was to amuse, to charm, and even sometimes to terrify, to
beguile the child along the paths of unreality into the great and beautiful world of
romance. Romance is a grasp of the ideal, an endeavour to express by symbols the great
truths of life. Wedded to rhythm, it becomes poetry. It is the striving of the soul after
the unattainable. And into this rich world the little child entered through the portals of
the fairy story, as thousands of years before the nations in their childhood had entered;
as the Nibelungen Lied, the Norse sagas, and the myths of every land are here to testify.
But to-day the fairy story is discountenanced, or if the child is beguiled into reading
a book purporting to be about a certain Jack Frost, a sprightly elf, he speedily discovers
that he is really reading a treatise on the action of frost. One child’s magazine
absolutely forbids fairy stories, and in all, information, whether given outright or
cleverly disguised as in the Jack Frost story, preponderates. This is a work-a-day world
and solid information is at a premium. So we have ‘Life in a Lighthouse,’ ‘ Careers of
Danger and Daring,’ ‘How a Big City is Lighted,’ ‘The Children’s Room at the
Smithsonian" ‘English Public Schools,’ ‘The Fairy Land of Science,’ and many more
articles and books, very informing, doubtless, but doubtless also very uninspiring.
These deal with the facts of life, and facts are most important things, but fancies are
important too, and the fancies are not much cultivated today.
It is doubtful if fancy can be cultivated directly, it is too subtle and elusive, it
must grow of itself, but conditions can be made conducive or the reverse. To be conducted
through the realms of poetry and romance by a grown-up person, as one of a class of
children all with differing needs and perceptions, at a given rate of speed, is not
conducive to such growth.
To gain the greatest amount out of a book, one must read it as inclination leads; some
parts are to be hurried over quickly, others read slowly and many times over; the mind
will take what it needs, and dwell upon it, and make it its own.
Its connotations are really what make a book of use in stimulating the imagination. As
a musical note is richer the more overtones it has, so a book is richer the more it
ramifies into trains of thought. But there must be time and space for the thought to
develop; the reader must not be interrupted by impertinent comments and alien suggestions.
We all hate the poetry we learnt in school. Why? Is it because it was in school that we
learnt it, or is it because the conditions were such that we never really learnt it at
all, the fine inner sense of it and its beauty of expression were both hidden from us?
Children never know why a thing is beautiful, but if their taste has not been perverted
they often feel that it is so. This feeling can be cultivated and improved until the time
comes when the child can know why.
There are two ways in which books stimulate the imagination; one is by beauty of
thought, the other is by beauty of form. It takes a much wiser head than a little child’s
to say why certain combinations of words are beautiful, but even a little child can feel
their charm. A story well told and a story ill told are as the poles asunder. At first one
might deny that a child could have artistic perception enough to notice the difference.
But that would be merely to confuse with technical jargon. The primary test of good
writing is really very simple. It consists in the effect produced. The well-told story
will make the child thrill with delight, its scenes will be real to him, its people his
own dear friends; the ill-told story will not keep his attention, and nothing in it will
interest him much.
For the object of writing is to produce a given effect. The writing will be good
acc9rding as the effect is produced or not. Simple actions are easily described; the old
spelling-book did not need to be possessed of much literary ability when it told us that
‘The boy is on the box,’ but it was good writing as far as it went. From that to
Shakespeare’s poetry and Pater’s prose is merely a question of degree. The effect is
infinitely more subtle, more penetrating, but the words are equally adequate, and convey
the meaning in the same succinct manner.
At first the child merely knows that this story or that story is interesting, that
certain other stories are not interesting, he does not attempt to analyse why. Later he
will make his first true criticism; he will say, ‘It does not seem real,’ or ‘Nobody would
do so.’ He has detected bad writing; his imagination refuses to give credence to what its
instinct declares not to be true. Gradually these criticisms of matter are added to by
criticisms of form, and we have ‘Nobody would talk like that.’
What makes the child think that nobody would do thus and so, or that nobody would talk
in such and such a way? Partly his knowledge of life as he has lived it, of course. Though
he has lived a very small life and his experiences have necessarily been few, yet through
the life of his imagination he has been able to live much more, he has gained a conception
of life far beyond anything that he has ever experienced.
If one can imagine oneself a child of twelve years old denuded of any knowledge or idea
of anything except what he can have known or seen in his daily life, one will at once see
how much more meagre his conceptions would be than is actually the case. Therefore what
makes the child think that this or that thing that he is reading about is false is the
knowledge that he has gained through his imagination.
The power of judgment is like water running up hill; water cannot rise higher than its
own level, and judgment cannot go beyond the experience which informs it. To be sure that
the judgment is sound, the school in which the experience is gained must be true to life.
Only the best in literature and art is this, and it is with the best in literature and art
that our children must be familiar.
There is a popular impression that so-called ‘children’s books’ are the proper reading
for children, and certainly very few children’s books can be classed as belonging to the
best in literature. But also the really great books are few in any literature, and there
is much inspiration and profit to be got from books below this highest grade. Homer,
Dante, and Shakespeare are like mountain-peaks, the horizon is wider on the heights, the
air purer and more invigorating; but literature has its byways, and shady lanes, and quiet
sequestered places as well, and because we enjoy mountain-climbing does not prove that
there is no profit to be got in rambling through these simpler paths.
Many books purporting to be written for children are very good, have become classics,
indeed; ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Through the Looking-Glass,’ George Macdonald’s ‘Princess
and the Goblin,’ and Thackeray’s ‘The Rose and the Ring’ come under this class. But the
mass of children’s books are poor, with a poverty only varying in degree. This brings us
to the question of whether children’s reading should be confined to juvenile books.
The old argument that children do not understand grown-up books is really a
groundless one. Some books written for older people are more enjoyed in childhood than
they ever will be later. Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ is a good example of this, and in the
case of many people it would be true also of the novels of both Scott and Dickens.
Even in cases where the full meaning is only faintly grasped, there is often much
pleasure to be gained and consequently much profit. This is especially true of poetry.
Children are often captivated by poetry which they cannot possibly understand, and the
charm lies partly in the images it conjures up and partly in the music of the syllables;
the main purport of the poem remaining forever concealed. But who shall say that this
enjoyment in something so balanced and beautiful as a great poem has not a stimulating
effect upon the imagination?
James Russell Lowell has told us that when he was a very little boy his sister used to
read him to sleep with Spenser’s ‘Faery Queen! It was the first poem he ever heard and he
was very fond of it, but it was not until many years later that he discovered that it had
a double meaning. How much his early intimacy with Spenser and other authors of the same
class had in determining the extreme delicacy of his literary perception it is impossible
to tell, but it is certain that it was not without effect.
It is always difficult to decide how much early environment has to do with later
development, but all education is based on the belief that it has much to do with it, and
one could cite instance after instance to prove this theory.
There is a remarkable example in the case of Charlotte Bronte. Her style has great
vigour and beauty. It is exquisitely proportioned, quick, sure, and subtle. This seems
extraordinary in the daughter of a poor country clergyman, whose nominal education was got
at an inferior boarding school, whose life was passed in a little country town, only
varied by a few attempts at teaching as a governess in the country houses of richer
families, and by one year and ten months in a pension in Brussels. But when we consider
what her reading was as a child it does not seem so strange. In Mrs. Ward’s introduction
to ‘Jane Eyre,’ in the Haworth edition of Miss Bronte’s novels, is the following passage:
‘There were no children’s books at Haworth Parsonage. The children were nourished upon the
food of their elders: the Bible, Shakespeare, Addison, Johnson, Sheridan, Cowper for the
past; Scott, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, "Blackwood’s Magazine,"
"Fraser’s Magazine," and Leigh Hunt for the moderns; on a constant supply of
newspapers, Whig and Tory Charlotte once said to a friend that she had taken an interest
in politics since she was five years old; on current biographies, such as Lockhart’s
"Life of Burns," Moore’s "Lives of Byron and Sheridan, Southey’s
"Nelson," Wolfe’s "Remains"; and on miscellaneous readings of old
Methodist magazines, Mrs. Rowe’s "Letters from the Dead to the Living," the
"British Essayists," collected from the "Rambler," the
"Mirror," and elsewhere, and stories from the "Lady’s Magazine." They
breathed, therefore, as far as books were concerned, a bracing and stimulating air from
the beginning. Nothing was softened or adapted for them.’
It will be objected that Charlotte Bronte was a genius, that her reading alone would
never have enabled her to write as she did. True; but even genius needs to be trained!
But what has style to do with imagination, some people will ask? Style has everything
to do with imagination. A really good style cannot exist without imagination. As the test
of good writing is in the effect produced, and the object of all writing is to produce a
given effect, so that effect must be first clear to the mind of the writer, and this
The writer conceives of his idea through the power of imagination, and through the
power of imagination the idea takes form again in the reader’s mind; the vehicle of
transmission is the writer’s style. The more fully developed the imagination of both
writer and reader, and the more adequate the style, the more perfectly transmitted is the
Imagination is behind all the great things that have been said and done in the world.
All the great discoveries, all the great reforms, they have all been imagined first. Not a
poem has been written, not a sermon preached, not an invention perfected, but has been
And yet imagination must take a second place to-day and give room for the learning of
so-called useful things!
In a list of the books for boys and girls in a large public library near Boston,
the subjects are divided under headings. ‘Poetry’ takes up only a part of one page out of
a catalogue of twenty-nine pages; ‘Fairy Tales and Folk-Lore’ have another page, while one
page and a half is devoted to ‘Inventions and Occupations’ and one page to ‘Outdoor Life.’
Of course some of the books that come under other headings, such as ‘Famous Old Stories’
and ‘Other Countries,’ axe really good literature, but appallingly few. Leaving out those
sections devoted to ‘Younger Readers’ and ‘For Older Boys and Girls,’ that is, taking the
middle section which is especially adapted for children of the grammar-school age, I find,
out of a total of four hundred and seven books, the only ones which could be considered
good literature are Aldrich’s ‘Story of a Bad Boy,’ Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ Hughes’s
‘Tom Brown’s -’School Days,’ Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island,’ Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and
the Pauper,’ Mary Mapes Dodge’s ‘Hans Brinker,’ Kipling’s’ Jungle Book,’ Bunyan’s
‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ Hawthorne’s ‘Wonder Book," Tanglewood Tales,’
and ‘Grandfather’s Chair,’ ‘ The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey,’ Irving’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ Malory’s ‘King Arthur,’ Shakespeare (the Ben Greet
Edition), ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ and Marryat’s ‘Masterman Ready’ and ‘Children of the New
The poetry list is unaccountably inadequate, consisting almost entirely of individual
poems. The only volumes listed are: Longfellow’s ‘Evangeline’ and ‘Hiawatha,’ Macaulay’s
‘Lays of Ancient Rome,’ Scott’s ‘The Lady of the Lake’ and ‘Marmion,’ Stevenson’s ‘A
Child’s Garden of Verses,’ Tennyson’s ‘Idylls of the King,’ and Whittier’s ‘Snow-Bound.’
There are also collections of poetry, ten of them, of which the best are Henley’s ‘Lyra
Heroica,’ Lang’s ‘Blue Poetry Book,’ and Lucas’s ‘Book of Verses for Children.’
The fairy-tale section is even worse, and how dreary the inclusion of the word
‘Folklore’ in a catalogue intended for the use of children. Certainly, the erudite person
who made this selection never reads fairy stories for amusement. The pseudo-scientific
flavour of ‘folklore’ has intrigued him sadly, else why include Kingsley’s ‘Greek Heroes’
under ‘Fairy Tales,’ why entirely exclude Thackeray’s ‘The Rose and the Ring’ and George
Macdonald’s ‘Princess and the Goblin’ and ‘Princess and Curdie,’ these last both better
books than ‘At the Back of the North Wind,’ by the same author, which has been allowed?
What is the matter with ‘Through the Looking-Glass, since ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is here,
and here without the asterisk which tells the child that the library contains other books
by the same author. Think of growing up conversant with only half of Alice! Where are the
delightful fairy tales of Mrs. Molesworth? where are those of Perrault, of Lord Brabourne?
and why are Andrew Lang’s long series of coloured fairy books represented by only one, and
again with no asterisk? Poor little children, at the mercy of such elders as this
The list for older boys and girls is somewhat better, and here we find ‘Through the
Looking-Glass,’ though why it should be considered too advanced for younger
readers, I cannot imagine. But the fact that this older section starts out with Miss
Addams’s ‘Twenty Years at Hull House,’ is eloquent of the attitude of the present day.
Alas for imagination, when the inclusion of such a volume in such a list is possible!
It is true, a child can have any book that the library contains by asking for it. But
the children who frequent the library most belong to the poorer classes, and their only
chance of becoming familiar with books out of school is at the Public Library. At home,
they are not surrounded with a large culture which makes the names of the great writers
household words to them. How do they know what to ask for? A catalogue tells them nothing,
and the only shelves they have access to until they are eighteen are those containing the
books in the list I have been quoting. And this is in a town famous for its educational
Probably the catalogues intended for the use of children in our large libraries would
show conditions to be less unfortunate, but I think the one I have quoted is at least
There is no education like self-education, and no stimulus to the imagination so good
as that which it gives itself when allowed to roam through the pent-up stores of the
world’s imaginings at will.
There is a class of people known to all librarians as ‘browsers.’ They wander from
shelf to shelf, now reading here, now there. Sometimes dipping into ten books in the hour,
sometimes absorbed in one for the whole day. If we look back to our childhood we shall see
how large a part ‘browsing’ had in our education. One book suggested another, and as we
finished one we knew the next that was waiting to be begun. They stretched on and on in a
delightful and never-ending vista. The joy of those hours when we sat cross-legged’ on the
floor, or perched on the top of a ladder, a new world hidden behind the covers of every
book within reach, and perfect liberty to open the covers and enter at will, can never be
We talk about ‘creating a demand for books’ among the children of the masses, and about
‘ giving them the reading habit,’ and the best way to do this is to have a well-stocked
reading-room of good books, books for grown-up people as well as for children, and let the
children have free access to the shelves. They will be found reading strange things often,
strange from the point of view of the grown-up person, that is. But in most cases their
instincts will be good guides, and they will read what is best for them.
There is too much teaching to-day.
We love and admire certain things rather inspite of what people say than because of it.
We like to compare notes with some one who enjoys the same things that we do, but the real
enjoyment was there before. Beauty cannot be proved as a mathematical problem can. If
beauty is its own excuse for being, it is also its own teacher for perceiving. Contact
with beautiful things creates a taste for the beautiful, if there is any taste to be
Not every one has a great deal of imagination, but every one has a certain amount
capable of cultivation to a greater or lesser degree, and the chief stimulaters of
imagination are the arts poetry, music, painting; the humanities as opposed to the
The boy who said that his Shakespeare class was only questioned on the notes, and so,
as the boys were pressed for time, they only read the notes, was giving the most eloquent
testimony as to the absolute unfitness of his teacher. Doubtless the teacher would have
been horrified had he known of this state of things, but his own imagination must have
been very much in need of cultivating for him not to have noticed it.
For the last two years of my school course, I attended lectures on Shakespeare by an
eminent Harvard professor. I remember those lectures very well; they made an indelible
impression. We learnt everything about the plays we studied except the things that
mattered. Not a historical allusion, not an antiquarian tit-bit, escaped us. The plays
were made mines of valueless information. Out of them we delved all sorts of stray and
curious facts which were as unimportant to Shakespeare as to us. Not once in those two
years were we bidden to notice the poetry, not once was there a single aesthetic analysis.
The plays might have been written in the baldest prose for all the eminent professor
seemed to care. They became merely ‘quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore,’ and if
what we learnt at those lectures were a criterion, might indeed have been promptly and
satisfactorily forgotten. So much time and energy had been wasted in finding out these
things, and when found out their proper goal was the bonfire.
In my own case, however, I was saved, saved from the clutches of ignorant and
unimaginative Academia, by coming across a volume in my father’s library which opened a
door that might otherwise have always remained shut. Browsing about one day, I found Leigh
Hunt’s ‘Imagination and Fancy! I did not read it, I devoured it. I read it over and over,
and then I turned to the works of the poets referred to, and tried to read them by the
light of the new aesthetic perception I had learnt from Hunt.
So engulfed in this new pursuit was 1, that I used to inveigle my schoolmates up to my
room and read them long stretches of Shelley, and Keats, and Coleridge, and Beaumont and
Fletcher. Guided by Hunt, I found a new Shakespeare, one of whom I had never dreamed, and
so the plays were saved for me, and nothing was left of the professor’s lectures except an
immense bitterness for the lost time.
I have often thought that in this book of Leigh Hunt’s we have an excellent text-book
for what should be the proper teaching of literature, and especially of poetry. Poetry is
an art, and to emphasize anything else in teaching it is to deny its true function.
The study of what is now called the ’science of aesthetics’ is a difficult one. Such a
book as Mr. Willard Huntington Wright’s ‘The Creative Will’ is immensely stimulating to
the artist, but would only be confusing to school-children, even to those of high-school
grade. But much of this volume, much of the many volumes on the subject, could be
expressed in simpler terms. Beginning by stimulating the child’s artistic perceptions in
the very primitive manner of the. child’s own reactions, an example of which I mentioned
earlier in this article, the teacher can easily inculcate certain rules and touchstones,
enlarging upon them from year to year, and in this manner lay a firm foundation for
literary understanding; for it is only through understanding that literature, and
particularly poetry, can function as a direct stimulus to imagination.
I realize perfectly that this method would put a great strain on our teachers. It is
comparatively easy to learn a series of antiquarian allusions and reel them off to a
class; to analyse an aesthetic scheme is a much more difficult matter. I was interested to
come across this very idea in an essay of Professor Dowden’s which I read lately. But,
having pointed out the difficulty, the wise professor ignored it, and proceeded to write
his paper without the inclusion of a single aesthetic preoccupation. To be sure, he
apologized for this in the preface, but the essay was published.
We see, therefore, that to permit poetry to exert its imaginative training upon youth,
a complete change must take place in the method by which it is taught. We must lay aside
the academic tricks of the trade. Our teachers and expounders must first put themselves to
school; they must desert the easy path of historical anecdote, for the difficult one of
aesthetic comprehension. They must teach their pupils what poetry is, and why it is good,
greater, greatest. They must be enthusiastic pioneers for themselves and for their
classes. They must forget the mass of criticism (most of it mischievous) grown up about
the classics, and rediscover them with delight. An excellent way to begin would be to
conduct a course upon living poets.
The most significant thing in America to-day is the popular demand for poetry. It has
grown by leaps and bounds. I read recently in a newspaper that the demand for poetry at
the training-camps was extraordinary. In the ‘Book News Monthly’ for July, is an
interesting chart showing the increase in the publication of books on poetry and the drama
since 1902. In that year, 220 such books were published in the United States; in 1916,
there were 633. More volumes of this kind were issued than of any other kind except
fiction, and fiction only exceeded by seventy-three volumes. The publication of fiction
has markedly diminished of late years. Why? Simply because poetry is really much more
vital than fiction. Once poetry had thrown off its shackles, once it had begun to speak
freely, sturdily, with the voice of its own age, it found a ready audience. Even Academia
is listening, puzzled a little perhaps, but still becoming daily more attentive. I have
had various teachers tell me sadly that the difficulty in speaking of it to a class is
that they do not know the good modem poetry from the bad, it is all so ‘different.’ What
is the matter? What has happened to the critical faculty within the walls of learning? I
am sorry to have to say it, but the answer is ‘pure laziness.’ It is so much easier to run
through a couple of volumes of somebody else’s conclusions and be guided by them, than to
form one’s own by first-hand contact with works of art. And then, too, it opens one to an
awful danger. One may be wrong! Still, the world is growing, and humanists, no more than
scientists, can afford to live in an intellectual back-water.
The humanities are not yet a dead letter; one cannot push out of place something which
is daily proving itself an emotional force of profound importance. Granted that, as
taught, they might as well go, so might science if it taught that the world was flat.
Taught as they should be, imagination might once again assert its saving power over a
The printed outline of work for the English Department of one of our high schools
begins with the following sentence: ‘The primary aim during the first year is to read
works of standard authors which, while quickening the imagination and presenting a strong
element of interest, shall reinforce the History and the Latin.’ Imagination in
parenthesis, that is the attitude of education to-day! And until it is once more
considered as worthy of being the end of a sentence and the end of an endeavour, education
will not be the harmonious and nicely balanced thing that perfect development presupposes.
From Amy Lowell, Poetry and Poets: Essays (New York: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1930) 30-58. Previously published in North American Review 206 (1917):
Review of Georgian Poetry, 1918-1919. Edited by E. M. New York:
G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
It is a profound labour to read this book. Not because, let me hastily say, there is
nothing good in it, but because it is all so dreadfully tired.
Is this the exhaustion of the war, or is it the debility of an old habit of mind
deprived of the stimulus of a new inspiration? It is an interesting question, for the
fatigue is undeniable. Here are nineteen poets, in the heyday of their creating years, and
scarcely one of them seems to have energy enough to see personally or forge a manner out
of his own, natural speech. They are all respectable poets, each knows his trade and can
turn out good enough verse on an old model, but how strangely one man’s contribution
dovetails into the next man’s! This is happily not true of all, but it is true of the
majority. Try it—for instance, who wrote this
But this shall be the end of my delight:
That you, my lovely one, shall stoop and see
Your image in the mirrored beauty there.
And did the same man write this?
And Cleopatra’s eyes, that hour they shone
The brighter for a pearl she drank to prove
How poor it was compared to her rich love:
But when I look on thee, love, thou dost give
Substance to those fine ghosts, and make them live.
Is this he again, or another?
Thy hand my hand,
Thine eyes my eyes,
All of thee
Caught and confused with me:
My hand thy hand,
My eyes thine eyes,
All of me Sunken and discovered anew in thee.
And who is responsible for this?
Dear Love, whose strength no pedantry can stir
Whether in thine iron enemies,
Or in thine own strayed follower
Bemused with subtleties and sophistries,
Now dost thou rule the garden…
If the reader will play fairly and guess a bit, I think he will find himself
sufficiently bewildered. The answer to the riddle is purely arbitrary. The book says that
Francis Brett Young is the author of the first quotation and the other names, in order,
read: W. H. Davies, John Freeman, and Edward Shanks. But, for all we can see to the
contrary, the names might be jumbled about in any order without causing the slightest
confusion in style or attitude.
The reason is quite plain, Mr. Young, Mr. Davies, Mr. Freeman, Mr. Shanks are merely
taking the place of our old friends Brown, Jones, and Robinson, or, to telescope the whole
after the manner of a composite photograph, we might name them collectively John Doe. In
other words, these gentlemen are not writing at all, it is their poetic ancestors who are
writing, they have made themselves ouija boards for the recrudescence of a dead song.
There are notable exceptions to this, I am glad to say, and I shall come to them later,
but on the whole, the book seems pale and spectre-like, haunted by the ghosts of England’s
There is really no excuse for this, for even if these English poets choose to ignore
the fresh vigour of American poetry, they have Masefield in England, and Ralph Hodgson,
and Aldington, and Sassoon. It is stuff and nonsense to try and raise such echoes into the
dignity of a poetic creed as Mr. Squire and Mr. Shanks are constantly trying to do. All
literature is against them; good poets are not echoes, and never were, and that is the
long and the short of it. I am told that Mr. T. S. Eliot is having a great influence in
England and, although I am not a complete admirer of Mr. Eliot’s style, I can well believe
that he is needed in a country where Mr. Young stalks abroad mellifluously bemoaning the
duress of poethood in such a new and striking phrase as: ‘Whither, 0 my sweet mistress,
must I follow thee?’ His own words, farther on in the same poem, are more than portrait;
they are prophecy: ‘The pillared halls of Sleep echoed my ghostly tread,’
He is a wonder, this Mr. Young, I can hardly tear myself away from him. What a memory
he has, to be sure. Where have we read:
With all the joy of Spring
And morning in her eyes?
It is foolish to ask where; it would be much more sensible to put it ‘where not.’
Certainly Mi. Young challenges the spectres right smartly. He speaks of ’snow upon the
blast’ of the ‘livery of death’; his moon is quite comfortably ‘horned,’ with the
accent all nicely printed over the last syllable. But let us give him his due, his
cacophony is original. Read this aloud:
The frozen fallows glow, the black trees shaken
In a clear flood of sunlight vibrating awaken.
But we must not leave Mr. Young alone in a glorious isolation; that
would be to do him too much honour, for does not Mr. Davies speak of ‘Yon full moon,’ and
Mr. Abercrombie complacently watch while ‘The sun drew off at last his piercing fires’;
even Mr. Gibson, who is usually above such diction, permits himself to call the sea ‘the
One could go on poking fun forever—there is matter for it—but the thing is
not funny; on the contrary, it is desperately sad. They want to be poets so much, these
young men. They know they have something to say, they feel it doubtless, but they are like
men uttering words in a dream; in the cold light of day, it comes perilously near
nonsense, because it is nonsense to repeat by rote a thing which does not express one’s
thoughts. There is atrophy here; this stale stuff is not merely stale, it is pathological.
We know what these young men want to say; the strong spirits among them have told us: they
want to say how deeply they love England, how much the English countryside (the most
beautiful countryside in the world) means to them; they detest war, and long for the past
which cannot come back, and they hope fiercely for a future which, if they can, they will
see to it shall be better. But the power to set down all this has been weakened by strain.
They have not the energy to see personally, or speak with their own voices. The will to do
so is strong; the nervous strength necessary for the task (and it requires much) is
The English countryside is here, but in all the old tones and colours. Surely never
book was so swayed over by the branches of trees. Nightingales and thrushes abound, but
seldom does the poet get them alive on the page; he loves them, but he slays them, and
more’s the pity.
This is not always true. Mr. Drinkwater’s ‘Chorus from "Lincoln "’ is very
England, although not quite so fine as his ‘In Lady Street,’ which is not in this volume,
and so is Mr. de la Mare’s ‘Sunken Garden,’ and Mr. Monro’s ‘Dog’ is fully successful.
Even Mr. Davies gets himself sometimes, since he can write:
Blink with blind bats’ wings, and heaven’s bright face
Twitch with the stars that shine in thousands there.
Mr. Davies tries to be himself, and it is unfortunate that we often wish he would not.
When he describes a lark as ‘raving’ above the clouds, we feel that his vocabulary is
unwarrantably scanty, and it is nonsense to speak of the ‘merry sound of moths’ bumping on
a ceiling. ‘Merry’ — watching the tortured struggles of the poor things to get out
-merry! He tells us that he is the ‘dumb slave’ of a lady who brings ‘great bursts’ of
music out of a harpsichord; ‘deaf’ I think should be the word, for I doubt if even a Liszt
could force that frail and delicate instrument to ‘great bursts.’ Or, perish the thought,
was the lady really playing a piano, and did Mr. Davies merely think ‘harpsichord’ more
Yes, they do try, but often only to make a mess of it. When the nightingale does not
sing, Mr. Nichols observes, ‘Nor has the moon yet touched the brown bird’s throat,’ which
is mighty fine writing of a kind usually found in ‘Parlour Albums’ and ‘Gems from the
Poets for Every Day in the Year.’ Mr. Nichols has been reading the dictionary, his boughs
are ‘labyrinthine,’ the blossom of a lime tree is a ‘Hispid star of citron bloom,’ and ‘
sigils’ are burned into his heart and face. A sort of passion for the archaic seems to
have got hold of him, we have ‘flittest, profferest, blowest, renewest,’ all in four
lines. Most of these poets love ‘thees’ and ‘thous,’ that horrible second person which
everyday speech has happily got rid of. But Mr. Nichols is a good poet, only he does not
hold himself up. To speak of the trunk of a tree as ‘splitting into massy limbs’ is
excellent, but he spoils it by having the branches ‘bowered in foliage,’ and yet the man
is often full of insight. Of a squirrel, he can say: ‘He scrambled round on little
scratchy hands,’ and what could be finer than the ‘peaked and gleaming face’ of the dying
man in ‘The Sprig of Lime.’ That whole poem touches a very high mark, and sets Mr. Nichols
quite apart from the John Does.
As one glances through the four volumes of ‘Georgian Poetry,’ one cannot help wondering
on what principle they are edited. Scarcely on that of presenting all the best poetry of
the moment, it would seem, since Richard Aldington, F. S. Flint, the Sitwells, and Anna
Wickham have never been included. Mr. James Stephens, who bad been in from the beginning,
has vanished, which is a great loss; and Mr. Hodgson, who appeared in the second and third
issues, has also gone. It is understandable why Mr. Chesterton, as belonging to an older
group, has left, but Mr. Masefield, by all the laws of literary relationship, should
surely have remained. Is the editor, Mr. Marsh, sole arbiter, and if so, why? When former
contributors disappear, do they remove themselves, or are they assisted to depart? And
again, in either case, why?
It is horrible to reflect on the power of an editor. Poets, at the mercy of editorial
selection, may well tremble, reflecting on the fate of the Dutch painter Vermeer, who
vanished for nearly three hundred years from the knowledge of men because a contemporary
writer with whom he was so ill-advised as to quarrel omitted him from a list of painters
which was destined to become the textbook of future generations.
Mr. Marsh edits with well-defined prejudices, evidently, but, on the whole, he has
accomplished much, for he has brought the authors of his anthologies a wide publicity. For
those who go out, others come in. Mr. Graves, and Mr. Sassoon, who, with Mr. Squire,
appeared first in the 1916-17 anthology, are the chiefs of the newcomers. The most
powerful poem in the book is Mr. Sassoon’s ‘Repression of War Experience.’ The war made
Mr. Sassoon a poet. He needed to be torn and shaken by a great emotion; he has found this
emotion in his detestation of war. Nothing stronger than these poems, which are the
outgrowth of his suffering, has been written in England since the war ’stopped our
clocks.’ It would be hard to make a selection of them, and really it does not matter; one
side of a heart is a good deal like the other side provided it be a real flesh and blood
heart. In this case it is, and wherever you take it, you get the same sensation. There is
no rhetoric here, we are not treated to erudite expressions nor literary artifices, and
for that reason these poems, and ‘Repression’ especially, come perilously near to being
great. I say ‘perilously,’ for what is Mr. Sassoon going to do now? When was ‘Everyone
Sang’ written? Perhaps that points a new departure.
Mr. Sassoon and Mr. Graves feel so much that they can afford to joke about it. Mr.
Sassoon’s joking is a shade more bitter, more ironical. For instance, ‘What Does It
Matter?’ is a trifle harder and heavier than Mr. Graves’s ‘It’s a Queer Time,’ which
unfortunately is not in this volume. Neither is ‘I Wonder What It Feels Like to be
Drowned.’ But one cannot have all a man’s collected works in an anthology, and we have got
that fine thing, ‘A Frosty Night,’ and the possibly even finer ‘The Cupboard.’ Mr. Graves
is that delightful being among poets, a faux naif. He runs his ballad
forms hard but so far they do not fade upon the palate.
Miss Shove is a notable addition to this year’s anthology. She has originality and a
saving sense of the grotesque and macabre. ‘The New Ghost’ is excellent.
Of the original contributors, Mr. Abercrombie’s poetry is always a strange mixture of
the quick and the dead. He builds live tales on a pattern of rusty pins. The result is
according as one feels about the vexed question of subject and treatment. I confess that I
find Mr. Abercrombie worthy of respect, but dull.
Mr. Davies has ardent admirers, and I am quite aware that my making him sit as part
portrait for the highly estimable John Doe will probably cause much offence. If only Mr.
Davies would always write poems like ‘A Child’s Pet,’ would always keep to such natural
speech as that in the first four lines of ‘England,’ I would readily subtract him from the
sum total of my composite hero. But Mr. Davies has read books, and they have remained in
his mind alien and undigested. Therefore he must give his quota to John Doe, and I
regretfully beg his pardon.
Mr. de la Mare is scarcely at his best in this volume, although ‘The Sunken Garden’ is
very charming. But I cannot forgive him his last line with the false rhyme. False rhyming
is often a most happy device, but scarcely here, where there have been no other such
rhymes in the poem, and for the last line — particularly when he had a perfect rhyme in
his adjective! Clearly the sound did not trouble Mr. de la Mare’s ear, but it teases mine
Mr. Drinkwater is a poet who must be read in a certain mood. His poems do not yield all
their fragrance if they are hastily approached or violently attempted. They grow on the
reader as of something becoming conscious. They seem extraordinarily simple, by every
preconceived canon they should be dull, and behold, they are neither the one nor the
other. The best of them, that is, and two of the best are here: ‘Moonlit Apples’ and
‘Habitation,’ while ‘Chorus from "Lincoln,"’ the first half especially, is
nearly as good. What is Mr. Drinkwater’s charm? how does he escape the sensation of echo,
considering that he chooses to write in a traditional mode? To analyse it with any care
would take up too much space here; in brief, I think it lies in his utter abandonment to
his poem, in his complete sincerity in regard to it, in his straightforward,
unselfconscious love of what he is writing about. He is a quiet poet, he keeps his drama
for his plays, but his dramatic sense has taught him the secret of creating atmosphere.
‘Moonlit Apples’ is beautifully moony. But this simplicity and this atmosphere are not
accidental; they are built up with delicate touch after touch throughout the poem. One
could wish that ‘In Lady Street’ had been included and ‘Southampton Bells’ left out, but,
on the whole, his selection is one of the best in the book.
Mr. Gibson’s ‘Cakewalk’ is a good poem, and so is the first stanza of ‘Parrots’; the
latter is a complete poem by itself; the second stanza adds nothing, it even detracts
appreciably. Why must Mr. Gibson bring in his heart? the Parrots did so well without it.
Mr. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Seals’ is in his most mystical and passionate vein. The poem is
serious and exalted, but it is a pity that it should be his only contribution; it would
stand better were it companioned. As a, poet, Mr. Lawrence is rising in stature year by
year; his last volume, ‘Bay,’ is the best book of poetry, pure poetry, that he has
written, although it does not reach the startling human poignance of ‘Look! We Have Come
Through.’ It is unfair to Mr. Lawrence to be represented by one poem; the editor should
take heed and give us more of him in future.
Mr. Monro improves steadily. I have already mentioned his beautiful and exceedingly
satisfactory ‘Dog.’ I wish I had space to quote it. It is not only good poetry, but good
dog. Mr. Monro’s work is gaining in muscle. Beauty it has often had, but now there is a
firm structure under the beauty — see, for instance, ‘Man Carrying Bail.’ ‘The
Nightingale Near the House’ was a bold challenge to Fate, but Mr. Monro has come through
fairly successfully. His nightingale lives and sings, and not too reminiscently, which is
much for a modern nightingale to do.
For the newer men, Mr. Squire is a clever fellow. His criticisms, even if one disagree
with them, are always interesting. His poetry is clever too, and that is not so useful an
attribute in poetry. But he has done some good things. ‘August Moon,’ with its marvellous
description of moonlight on water, is not here (really we must quarrel with the editor for
leaving it out) but another of his best things, the ‘Sonnet,’ is. Few modern sonnets are
as good as this; the last two lines are magnificent. ‘Rivers’ begins well, with an
original and fluctuating rhythm which gives the lapsing and flowing of river to a
remarkable degree, and the slight change between the first and second stanza is well
conceived. But then he becomes tangled in his own creation, the metre stiffens into a
convention, be comes hard, unimaginative, and cold, and t poem loses itself in a long and
rather stupid catalogue.
Mr. Turner, who appears for the second time, has a nice little quality — he has his
own turns, and a very pleasant whimsical touch:
The thronged, massed, crowded multitude of leaves
Hung like dumb tongues that loll and gasp for air
gives an effect we have all seen, most vividly. ‘Tinkling like polished tin’ has the
thin sharpness of tone of a small stream, and ‘ old wives cried their wares, like queer
day owls’ is very nice. ‘Silence’ is a good poem, but the best of those here is ‘Talking
With Soldiers,’ with its refra