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A SONG OF DERIVATIONS
Down, through long links of death and birth,
I am like the blossom of an hour.
Awoke my breath i' the young world's air.
I track the past back everywhere Through seed and flower and seed and flower.
Or I am like a stream that flows
In morning lands, in distant hills;
Voices, I have not heard, possessed
With relics of the far unknown.
And mixed with memories not my own The sweet streams throng into my
Before this life began to be,
Woke long ago and far apart.
Heavily on this little heart Presses this immortality.
A. E. HOUSMAN'S 'LAST POEMS'
‘Now dreary dawns the eastern light,
And fall of eve is drear,
And so goes out the year.
'Little is the luck I've had,
And oh, 'tis comfort small
Has had no luck at all.'
That clearly is the expression of a tragic mood, almost even a forlorn one which is less than tragic. And the note pervades Mr. Housman's new book. Even such occasional relief as is found in his longest poem 'Hell-Gate, with its final overthrow of the black city, or in
'O Queen of air and darkness,
I think 'tis truth you say,
But you will die to-day,' hardly modifies the extremely grim character of this beautiful collection of poems. The passionate, brooding protest, that came out of the west-midland landscape twenty-five years ago, is unchanged. To say that the technique of Last Poems'is better than that of the best of the 'Shropshire Lad' would be to say that the impossible had been achieved.
But it is as good, and more consistently good. The little poem at the head of this paper is perfectly done, and hardly a page of the book fails to match it. The old manner is often here, but it is no less arresting because Mr. Housman himself happens to have done it before.
"When summer's end is nighing,
And skies at evening cloud,
When I was young and proud.... So, it would seem, in these poems where the loved landscape is now rather one of recollection, the youth that once saw so much bitterness in the promise of life has passed to a maturity when the old fears have but proved themselves. Circumstance itself, as apart from a general philosophic view of life, would seem to have worked to the same end.
"When I would muse in boyhood
The wild green woods among, And nurse resolves and fancies
Because the world was young, It was not foes to conquer,
Nor sweethearts to be kind, But it was friends to die for
That I would seek and find.
'I sought them far and found them,
The sure, the straight, the brave, The hearts I lost my own to,
The souls I could not save. They braced their belts about them,
They crossed in ships the sea,
And there they died for me.' And yet the consoling thing about this book is that it vindicates anew the belief that art, truly done, however desolate its mood, can never be desolating in its effect. It is not merely the fact that the poet here faces his tragic conclusions with so fine a courage that makes the book, when all is said, an inspiring one. The truth is that despair is no longer despair when it ceases to be dumb. Perfect expression, such as it finds over and over again in Mr. Housman's new poems, purges despair of its own disastrousness and transfigures it into a mood that knows not only to endure, but even to delight. If one had to say in other words what Mr. Housman thinks of the world, it would be no very inspiriting story. But as we listen to his statement, made in terms of an exquisite poetic art, we know that there is a beauty which is not at the mercy philosophic denial.
of any EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON 1
When recently Mr. Edwin Arlington Robinson reached his fiftieth birthday, he was publicly greeted by nearly every poet of any distinction in America as the master of them all. Enlightened criticism in that country has for long recognized him as having more clearly the qualities of permanence, perhaps, than any other American now writing. Even a poet so unlike Mr. Robinson himself in aim and method as Miss Amy Lowell devotes a long chapter in her book on ‘Tendencies in American Poetry' to the work of one whose distinction she finely acknowledges. A new book by Mr. Robinson has in America, among the austere critics at least, as much importance, shall we say, as a new book by Mr. Yeats has to those in this country. And yet,
, with all this, there is, I suppose, no poet of anything like his excellence in America who is there so little known as more than a name, while in this country at present he can hardly be said even to be a name.? In reviewing a recently issued anthology of contemporary American verse, at the length of two columns, the 'Times Literary Supplement’
1 Read to the Royal Society of Literature from the Chair of Poetry.
? I leave these words as they were written, though happily they could be modified to-day.