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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Robert Bridges (1844–1930)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Franklin Henry Giddings (1855–1931)
 
ROBERT BRIDGES, poet-laureate (1913–1930), is by circumstance and the quality of his work an almost lonely representative in letters of an English life and taste that already were passing before the European war, and that will not return. It was a life that cared for old gardens and quiet houses, for gentility of thought and carefulness of phrase, and for beauty, within bounds of decorum. He was born on October 23rd, 1844, son of L. T. Bridges of Walmer and St. Nicholas Court, Isle of Thanet, went up from Eton to Corpus Christi, Oxford, took an honorary fellowship, traveled, as good form required, studied medicine and gave the first half of his life to hospital practice. Subsequently making his home at Boar’s Head near Oxford, he wrote much, but always, it would appear, leisurely. His prose includes a study of Milton’s prosody and a critical estimate of Keats; his poetry consists of eight plays, namely, ‘Nero’ (in two parts), ‘Palicio,’ ‘Ulysses,’ ‘Christian Captives,’ ‘Achilles in Scyros,’ ‘Humors of the Court,’ and ‘Feast of Bacchus’; two masques, ‘Demeter’ and ‘Prometheus the Firegiver’; a sonnet series, ‘The Growth of Love’; ‘Eros and Psyche,’ “done into English from the Latin of Apuleius”; and numerous shorter poems. The dramas are dramatic; the action is true to fate as Greek action is, and the masque ‘Prometheus’ also claims to be “in the Greek manner”; but it is Oxford Greek, not Attic; the interest is not compelling, and there is no splendid swing of the lines. In the longer love poems passion, whether well or ill-behaved, is never turbulent. There is music in the lyrics, but it is not unforgettable. Of the descriptive and reflective verse, however, it is possible to speak with less qualification. If Mr. Bridges’ talent is ever touched with genius it is when he surrenders himself to the contemplative mood. Then he creates intellectual beauty that meets his own high requirement:—

      “The making mind, that must untimely perish
Amidst its work which time may not destroy,
The beauteous forms which man shall love to cherish,
The glorious songs that combat earth’s annoy,
Thou dost dwell here, I know, divinest Joy:
But they who build thy towers fair and strong,
Of all that toil, feel most of care and wrong.”
(Shorter Poems, Book III, 13.)    
  1
 
  His purely descriptive lines, always clean and “in drawing” are not often stark or rugged, but now and then, in ‘Prometheus,’ they are:—

                  “Thy way along the coast
Lies till it southward turn, when thou shalt seek
Where wide on Strymon’s plain the hindered flood
Spreads like a lake; thy course to his oppose
And face him to the mountain whence he comes:
Which doubled, Thrace receives thee: barbarous names
Of mountain, town and river, and a people
Strange to thine eyes and ears, the Agathyrsi,
Of pictured skins, who owe no marriage law,
And o’er whose gay-spun garments sprent with gold
Their hanging hair is blue. Their torrent swim
That measures Europe in two parts, and go
Eastward along the sea, to mount the lands
Beyond man’s dwelling, and the rising steeps
That face the sun untrodden and unnamed.
    Know to earth’s verge remote thou then art come,
The Scythian tract and wilderness forlorn,
Through whose rude rocks and frosty silences
No path shall guide thee then, nor my words now.
There as thou toilest o’er the treacherous snows,
A sound then thou shalt hear to stop thy breath,
And prick thy trembling ears; a far-off cry,
Whose throat seems the white mountain and its passion
The woe of earth. Flee not, nor turn not back:
Let thine ears drink and guide thine eyes to see
That sight whose terrors shall assuage thy terror,
Whose pain shall kill thy pain. Stretched on the rock,
Naked to scorching sun, to pinching frost,
To wind and storm and beaks of wingèd fiends
From year to year he lies. Refrain to ask
His name and crime—nay, haply when thou see him
Thou wilt remember—’tis thy tyrant’s foe,
Man’s friend, who pays his chosen penalty.
Draw near, my child, for he will know thy need,
And point from land to land thy further path.”
(Prometheus, lines 1137–1171.)    
  2
 
  Now and then he proves that he can break into free, musical song:—

  “Awake, my heart, to be loved, awake, awake!
The darkness silvers away, the morn doth break,
It leaps in the sky: unrisen lustres slake
The o’ertaken moon. Awake, O heart, awake!
  
She too that loveth awaketh and hopes for thee;
Her eyes already have sped the shades that flee,
Already they watch the path thy feet shall take:
Awake, O heart, to be loved, awake, awake!
  
And if thou tarry from her,—if this could be,—
She cometh herself, O heart, to be loved, to thee;
For thee would unashamed herself forsake:
Awake to be loved, my heart, awake, awake!
  
Awake, the land is scattered with light, and see,
Uncanopied sleep is flying from field and tree:
And blossoming boughs of April in laughter shake:
Awake, O heart, to be loved, awake, awake!
  
Lo all things wake and tarry and look for thee:
She looketh and saith, ‘O sun, now bring him to me.
Come more adored, O adored, for his coming’s sake,
And awake my heart to be loved: awake, awake!’”
(Shorter Poems, Book III, No. 15.)    
  3
 
  The following selections represent fairly well such variety of poetic quality as Mr. Bridges offers, including, in the Voltaire bits, an occasional indulgence in satirical wit.  4
 
 
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