Alfred H. Miles, ed. Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.
Critical and Biographical Essay by Arthur Symons
Dollie Radford (18581920)
MRS. ERNEST RADFORDnée Dollie Maitlandwas born December 3rd, 1858. She published her first book under the prettily and whimsically modest title, A Light Load (1891). A tiny, fragile load it is indeed, but not less exquisite than it is unsubstantial. It is a book of songs, and the songs are full of instinctive music, which soars naturally. They have the choice, unsought felicity of a nature essentially lyrical. Always finished in style, with the distinction which can never be acquired, they have almost an air of impromptu, and one might imagine the writer to be little conscious of the process by which they have come to be so finished. With certain delicate, remote echoes of the poets who have written the most haunting lyricsof Heine, of Tennysonthey have the originality of a single temperament, of which one feels they are the direct outcome, the spontaneous, sincere expression. And this temperament, emotional as it is, has attained to see life steadily, to accept the hours of joy and of sadness without extravagant outcry. There is a restraint, a sense of measure, in the expression of varying moods, which gives a singular charm to these really passionate and deeply-felt lyrics. In the lines placed by way of dedication at the beginninglines which any poet might be proud to have writtenthere is a thrill of profound emotion which comes with all the stronger effect on account of the strenuous quietness with which it is expressed:
The love within my heart for thee
Before the world was had its birth,
It is the part God gives to me
Of the great wisdom of the earth.
These four lines seem to have something final about themseem to say concerning the supreme devotion, the sacrament and worship of love, all that needs to be said. Something of the same fineness of appropriate expression occurs again and again, in something the same inevitable way, in many parts of the book. Here are some lines which have not a little of Wordsworths natural magic of feeling and stylethe perfect communion with Nature bringing with it the perfect expression:
When you are lonely, full of care,
Or sad with some new sorrow,
And when your tired fancy hides
The brightness of the morrow,
Ah, turn your footsteps to the woods
And meadows, where the rills
Are quietly flowing, when the moon
And stars shine on the hills.
Upon your brow the great wise trees
Will breathe, and something sweet
Will reach you from the fragrant grass
You press beneath your feet;
And some fair spirit of the fields,
Peaceful and happy-eyed,
Will find a way into your heart,
I think, and there abide.
And in the lovely little lyric beginning Amid a crown of radiant hills there is the same rare quality, the same sympathetic delicacy of touch. Again, in another order of emotion, take the last stanza of the Spring Song; and yet again, the last stanza of Evening, the following poem which has something curiously rare and intimate, so subtle a simplicity, and, in the last line, a touch of inexpressible magic:
This Light Load, this book of songs and snatches, so musical, so finished, so tenderly sincere, so full of contentment in love, of delight in the flowers and birds of spring, has the charm of a gracious unitythe unity, as I have said, of a special temperament. This augurs well for the future of a very genuine poet, whose first book is already so full of exquisite accomplishment. What Mrs. Radford will do it is impossible to foretell, but the hitherto unpublished poem, Ah, bring it not, which belongs to a later date than most of the contents of the volume, seems to me to point towards work still more intimately personal, still more strenuously simple and expressive, than even the simplest and most expressive of the poems previously published: