Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

FRANCIS LEDWIDGE 1

Francis LEDWIDGE, coming from Irish peasant stock, for some time living so that his publisher could advertise him as ‘The Scavenger Poet,' joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1914, and was killed in Flanders in 1917, at the age of twentyfive, leaving two books of poems, and the material for a third which has since been published.

To these volumes Lord Dunsany has contributed intimate little prefatory notes, full of generous delight in a new poet's work. His preference for individual

poems

is a matter over which we may differ pleasantly enough; it is no small distinction for any man to have known the shy footfall of genius when it came, and Lord Dunsany has proved his critical sense in the best of all ways. It is with nothing but respect and gratitude for his charming and courageous god-parentage that we question his opinion at a crucial point in his very brief analysis of Ledwidge's poetic quality. He says, in introducing the poet's first book:

I have looked for a poet amongst the Irish peasants because it seemed to me that almost only among them was in daily use a diction worthy of poetry, as well as an

Songs of the Fields (1916); Songs of Peace (1917); Last Songs (1918). Three volumes, with Introductions by Lord Dunsany.

1

imagination capable of dealing with the great and simple things that are a poet's wares. Their thoughts are in the spring-time, and all their metaphors fresh....

Ledwidge, he concludes, is the poet for whom he has been looking. We believe that underlying this passage is a misconception in general æsthetics, and that the definition arising from it demonstrably fails to fit the particular case of Ledwidge. In its profounder issues poetry depends little enough on the artificial — but not therefore negligible or worthless — culture that a man absorbs from the prosperous condition of his descent and his own early advantages of society and education. In the process, however, by which a poet comes to the final realization of his faculty such things are of considerable moment, and the nature of their influence is not such as is commonly supposed. Every poet, if he is to do work of any consequence at all, has to find himself through tradition; that is an unescapable condition of his function. Native wood-notes wild are no more of the most natural lyrist's untutored sounding than is the bird's ecstasy unaware of the generations, and almost invariably the personal ease of the young poet's song depends upon the degree of intimacy with the poetic resources of his tongue that he has acquired unconsciously by natural inheritance and early association. The most mannered early verse, after the merely imitative period, is nearly always the work of poets with no assimilated knowledge of literature in their blood who have suddenly become conscious of examples that others have never lacked. One cannot help contrasting with Ledwidge the case of poets such as Mr. Robert Graves and Mr. Siegfried Sassoon, who set out upon their poetic careers at twenty, having already made in the progress of boyhood the sound adjustment to tradition, the necessity of which some of us had to waste several precious years of early manhood in laboriously perceiving and meeting. It is they, and not Ledwidge, who fetch their first proper tunes to their own easy impulses, assured of a technical behaviour that they need not strain at. There are, no doubt, earlier poems by Ledwidge than any that Lord Dunsany has published, but we may take it that in ‘Songs of the Fields' we have the first work of any personal character. And from this through the three volumes nothing is more notable in the poet's external habit than his certain progress from a manner heavy with self-conscious discovery of English poetry, through which his genius struggles often but brokenly to its own gesture, to clear deliverance from this tardy constraint, when he writes of his own simple and lovely world with no touch of untutored circumstance, but in the sweetest and most delicate tradition of English song.

Whether these poems are printed in chronological order we are not told, though the dates given in the last volume suggest that they are, and they are certainly so arranged as to show direct continuity of development. From the beginning there are signs of imaginative waywardness and of the suddenness of inspired thought that are unmistakable in their meaning On the first page we find, ‘And the sweet blackbird in the rainbow sings'; and the

s presence of poetry is clear. But for long the smallest flight is marred by the mannered or insincere turn. The wind ‘like a swan dies singing,' the dusk is velvet, the moon is a pilgrim, the harebells ring. Not yet, either, can he use such a word as 'sublime’ in ‘Ah! then the poet's dreams are most sublime,' with any of the sureness that belongs to mastery. In his anxiety to do well by the demands of poetry for significant figures, moreover, he falls at first often into triviality and sometimes into real gaucherie. The 'woodbine lassoing the thorn' is as unimpressive as the crane watching the troutlets' circles

grow as a smoker does his rings,' and there is the same kind of poverty in ‘Autumn's crayon.' Worse than these, as indicating some deeper defect of judgment, from which, however, he wholly recovered, are such phrases as `fog of blossom,' and ‘facefuls of your smiles.' Another uncertainty in his earliest work comes from the occasional confusion by no means unknown in poets of far greater experience and power — of scientific knowledge with vision. It would be interesting to know

a

a

something of Ledwidge's adventures in learning; one imagines that his eager mind, something after boyhood, went through a phase of delight in mere contact with formal instruction, and that for a little while to know a fact was as exciting as to realize a thing. Out of such a mood surely comes the little town's 'octagon spire toned smoothly down,' which is strangely what poetry is not; and yet he could turn his learning sometimes in his verse to right account, as in, ‘When will was all the Delphi I would heed.'

These are indications in particular of the general directions in which the first book is weak. Against them, even among the poems that fail in any complete effect, are to be set many tender and exact felicities, such as:

'And like an apron full of jewels

The dewy cobweb swings...' Or again:

‘And in dark furrows of the night there tills

A jewelled plough... Or, speaking of a poet,

‘And round his verse the hungry lapwing grieves.' Professor de Selincourt recently reminded us of the wonder of two simple words in Milton's

'Which cost Ceres all that pain ...' There is a kindred beauty in this young

Irishman's

« VorigeDoorgaan »