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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE POEMS of Richard Henry Stoddard, one of America’s truest lyrical poets, were collected and published in a complete edition in 1880. The ‘Early Poems’ form the first of the periods into which, for convenience’s sake, the book is divided; the ‘Songs of Summer’ with ‘The King’s Bell’ the second; the ‘Songs of the East’ the third; and ‘Later Poems’ the fourth. They represent the work of thirty years. In 1890 he published ‘The Lion’s Cub and Other Verses,’ a book not unworthy of his maturity.  1
  Stoddard’s early verses, too good to be purely original, are perhaps the nearest approach made by any youthful poet to the tuneful phrases and overflowing melody of Keats. But the poet of twenty had lighted his fire with the divine torch. The song
  “You know the old Hidalgo,”
the serenade
  “But music has a golden key,”—
songs of the gay troubadour singing under the latticed window,—are true lyrics, showing those peculiar traits of poetic power which are recognizable through all the changes consequent upon nearly fifty years of study and development. These traits are a passionate love of beauty, affluence, virility, and imagination; and a minor but unusual quality, that of childlike unselfconsciousness. He propounds no questions, he seeks to solve no problems. He is a poet, not a metaphysician.
  2
  Stoddard learned to “find” his art, according to his own confession, in his early poems. ‘The Songs of Summer’ are made up of short poems in which his warm imagination gives life to the simplest themes. Among the best known of them are ‘There are Gains for all Our Losses,’ ‘Two Brides,’ ‘Through the Night,’ and the songs ‘The Sky is a Drinking-Cup,’ and ‘Birds are Singing Round my Window.’  3
  Beginning with a measure a little less regular than that of Keats, Stoddard departed gradually from the even ten-syllabled rhyme, and adopted freer movements for his varied themes. This is perceptible in—
  “The young child Jesus had a garden
Full of roses rich and rare,”
a poem which might be inscribed under one of Francia’s pictures.
  4
  Few men have sung with so pure a spontaneity, preserving at the same time the canons of art. There is infinite variety in ‘The Book of the East.’ Its versifications are made from translations by many hands, and not translations at first hand. That love of beauty, that “sensuous love of earth” which passionately possessed him, led Stoddard to use in maturer years the language of the Orient, as in youth it had led him to echo ‘Endymion.’ But through the caressing measures of the Persian, the ringing rhythm of the Tartar, the sensuous tenderness of the Arab songs, through the Chinese songs where he runs the gamut of sweetness, sentiment, homely naturalism, and savage passion,—through all these themes and quantities the poet keeps himself always within the limits of accurate and organic composition.  5
  His narrative poems, scattered through all four volumes, owe much of their simplicity and strength to the vigor and purity of his prose. In ‘The Fisher and Charon,’ in ‘Proserpine,’ in ‘The King’s Sentinel,’ in ‘The Pearl of the Philippines,’ and in ‘Wratislaw,’ his imagination and his strength blending, find completest expression.  6
  It was said of Browning that he was “a woman’s man.” Stoddard is essentially “a man’s man.” In his ‘Book of the East,’—poems which exhibit to the full his delicate sensuousness,—he has the Oriental view of woman, feeling her helplessness and her witchery. In his ‘Songs of the Mystic’ he watches the passing of youth and love, the approach of age and sorrow, with all of the poet’s, of the man’s, regret; yet retains his strength and sweetness, his love of love and warfare, to the end. The ‘Later Poems’ contain many of his noblest efforts,—poems that express the highest flights and largest freedom of his poetical genius.  7
  Mr. Stoddard was born July 2d, 1825, at Hingham, Massachusetts. His father was a sea-captain, who died when his son was ten years old. It was doubtless owing to this parentage, and to his early influences and associations, that the poet’s songs of the sea are so appreciative of its mystery and its charm. After his father’s death he came with his mother to New York, where he received a common-school education, supplemented by independent study. He served for some time in the New York Dock Department, and spent seventeen years in the Custom House, in an employment dignified by the example of Hawthorne at Salem, and of Lamb at the East India House. During this time he did much scholarly prose work, generally as a literary essayist and critic. His death occurred in New York City, May 12, 1903.  8
 
 
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