|Louis Untermeyer, ed. (1885–1977). Modern British Poetry. 1920.|
Thomas Hardy was born in 1840, and has for years been famous on both sides of the Atlantic as a writer of intense and sombre novels. His Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure are possibly his best known, although his Wessex Tales and Life's Little Ironies are no less imposing.
It was not until he was almost sixty, in 1898 to be precise, that Hardy abandoned prose and challenged attention as a poet. The Dynasts, a drama of the Napoleonic Wars, is in three parts, nineteen acts and one hundred and thirty scenes, a massive and most amazing contribution to contemporary art. It is the apotheosis of Hardy the novelist. Lascelles Abercrombie calls this work, which is partly a historical play, partly a visionary drama, "the biggest and most consistent exhibition of fatalism in literature." While its powerful simplicity and tragic impressiveness overshadow his shorter poems, many of his terse lyrics reveal the same vigor and impact of a strong personality. His collected poems were published by The Macmillan Company in 1919 and reveal another phase of one of the greatest living writers of English.
Robert Bridges was born in 1844 and educated at Eton and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. After traveling extensively, he studied medicine in London and practiced until 1882. Most of his poems, like his occasional plays, are classical in tone as well as treatment. He was appointed poet laureate in 1913, following Alfred Austin. His command of the secrets of rhythm and a subtle versification give his lines a firm delicacy and beauty of pattern.
The Irish-English singer, Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy, was born in London in 1844. He was connected, for a while, with the British Museum, and was transferred later to the Department of Natural History. His first literary success, Epic of Women (1870), promised a brilliant future for the young poet, a promise strengthened by his Music and Moonlight (1874). Always delicate in health, his hopes were dashed by periods of illness and an early death in London in 1881.
The poem here reprinted is not only O'Shaughnessy's best, but is, because of its perfect blending of music and message, one of the immortal classics of our verse.
William Ernest Henley
William Ernest Henley was born in 1849 and was educated at the Grammar School of Gloucester. From childhood he was afflicted with a tuberculous disease which finally necessitated the amputation of a foot. His Hospital Verses, those vivid precursors of current free verse, were a record of the time when he was at the infirmary at Edinburgh; they are sharp with the sights, sensations, even the actual smells of the sickroom. In spite (or, more probably, because) of his continued poor health, Henley never ceased to worship strength and energy; courage and a triumphant belief in a harsh world shine out of the athletic London Voluntaries (1892) and the lightest and most musical lyrics in Hawthorn and Lavender (1898).
The bulk of Henley's poetry is not great in volume. He has himself explained the small quantity of his work in a Preface to his Poems, first published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1898. "A principal reason," he says, "is that, after spending the better part of my life in the pursuit of poetry, I found myself (about 1877) so utterly unmarketable that I had to own myself beaten in art, and to indict myself to journalism for the next ten years." Later on, he began to write again—"old dusty sheaves were dragged to light; the work of selection and correction was begun; I burned much; I found that, after all, the lyrical instinct had slept—not died."
After a brilliant and varied career (see Preface), devoted mostly to journalism, Henley died in 1903.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson was born at Edinburgh in 1850. He was at first trained to be a lighthouse engineer, following the profession of his family. However, he studied law instead; was admitted to the bar in 1875; and abandoned law for literature a few years later.
Though primarily a novelist, Stevenson has left one immortal book of poetry which is equally at home in the nursery and library: A Child's Garden of Verses (first published in 1885) is second only to Mother Goose's own collection in its lyrical simplicity and universal appeal. Underwoods (1887) and Ballads (1890) comprise his entire poetic output. As a genial essayist, he is not unworthy to be ranked with Charles Lamb. As a romancer, his fame rests securely on Kidnapped, the unfinished masterpiece, Weir of Hermiston, and that eternal classic of youth, Treasure Island.
Stevenson died after a long and dogged fight with his illness, in the Samoan Islands in 1894.
Alice Meynell was born in London in 1850. She was educated at home and spent a great part of her childhood in Italy. She has written little, but that little is on an extremely high plane; her verses are simple, pensive and always distinguished. The best of her work is in Poems (1903).
Fiona Macleod (William Sharp)
William Sharp was born at Garthland Place, Scotland, in 1855. He wrote several volumes of biography and criticism, published a book of plays greatly influenced by Maeterlinck (Vistas) and was editor of "The Canterbury Poet" series.
His feminine alter ego, Fiona Macleod, was a far different personality. Sharp actually believed himself possessed of another spirit; under the spell of this other self, he wrote several volumes of Celtic tales, beautiful tragic romances and no little unusual poetry. Of the prose stories written by Fiona Macleod, the most barbaric and vivid are those collected in The Sin-Eater and Other Tales; the longer Pharais, A Romance of the Isles, is scarcely less unique.
In the ten years, 1882–1891, William Sharp published four volumes of rather undistinguished verse. In 1896 From the Hills of Dream appeared over the signature of Fiona Macleod; The Hour of Beauty, an even more distinctive collection, followed shortly. Both poetry and prose were always the result of two sharply differentiated moods constantly fluctuating; the emotional mood was that of Fiona Macleod, the intellectual and, it must be admitted the more arresting, was that of William Sharp.
He died in 1905.
Oscar Wilde was born at Dublin, Ireland, in 1856, and even as an undergraduate at Oxford he was marked for a brilliant career. When he was a trifle over 21 years of age, he won the Newdigate Prize with his poem Ravenna.
Giving himself almost entirely to prose, he speedily became known as a writer of brilliant epigrammatic essays and even more brilliant paradoxical plays such as An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. His aphorisms and flippancies were quoted everywhere; his fame as a wit was only surpassed by his notoriety as an æsthete. (See Preface.)
Most of his poems in prose (such as The Happy Prince, The Birthday of the Infanta and The Fisherman and His Soul) are more imaginative and richly colored than his verse; but in one long poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), he sounded his deepest, simplest and most enduring note. Prison was, in many ways, a regeneration for Wilde. It not only produced The Ballad of Reading Gaol but made possible his most poignant piece of writing, De Profundis, only a small part of which has been published. Salomé, which has made the author's name a household word, was originally written in French in 1892 and later translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas, accompanied by the famous illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley. More recently this heated drama, based on the story of Herod and Herodias, was made into an opera by Richard Strauss.
Wilde's society plays, flashing and cynical, were the forerunners of Bernard Shaw's audacious and far more searching ironies. One sees the origin of a whole school of drama in such epigrams as "The history of woman is the history of the worst form of tyranny the world has ever known: the tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts." Or "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
Wilde died at Paris, November 30, 1900.
John Davidson was born at Barrhead, Renfrewshire, in 1857. His Ballads and Songs (1895) and New Ballads (1897) attained a sudden but too short-lived popularity, and his great promise was quenched by an apathetic public and by his own growing disillusion and despair. His sombre yet direct poetry never tired of repeating his favorite theme: "Man is but the Universe grown conscious."
Davidson died by his own hand in 1909.
William Watson was born at Burley-in-Wharfedale, Yorkshire, August 2, 1858. He achieved his first wide success through his long and eloquent poems on Wordsworth, Shelley, and Tennyson—poems that attempted, and sometimes successfully, to combine the manners of these masters. The Hope of the World (1897) contains some of his most characteristic verse.
It was understood that he would be appointed poet laureate upon the death of Alfred Austin. But some of his radical and semi-political poems are supposed to have displeased the powers at Court, and the honor went to Robert Bridges. His best work, which is notable for its dignity and moulded imagination, may be found in Selected Poems, published in 1903 by John Lane Co.
Born in 1859 at Preston, Francis Thompson was educated at Owen's College, Manchester. Later he tried all manner of strange ways of earning a living. He was, at various times, assistant in a boot-shop, medical student, collector for a book seller and homeless vagabond; there was a period in his life when he sold matches on the streets of London. He was discovered in terrible poverty (having given up everything except poetry and opium) by the editor of a magazine to which he had sent some verses the year before. Almost immediately thereafter he became famous. His exalted mysticism is seen at its purest in "A Fallen Yew" and "The Hound of Heaven." Coventry Patmore, the distinguished poet of an earlier period, says of the latter poem, which is unfortunately too long to quote, "It is one of the very few great odes of which our language can boast."
Thompson died, after a fragile and spasmodic life, in St. John's Wood in November, 1907.
A. E. Housman
A. E. Housman was born March 26, 1859, and, after a classical education, he was, for ten years, a Higher Division Clerk in H. M. Patent Office. Later in life, he became a teacher.
Housman has published only one volume of original verse, but that volume (A Shropshire Lad) is known wherever modern English poetry is read. Originally published in 1896, when Housman was almost 37, it is evident that many of these lyrics were written when the poet was much younger. Echoing the frank pessimism of Hardy and the harder cynicism of Heine, Housman struck a lighter and more buoyant note. Underneath his dark ironies, there is a rustic humor that has many subtle variations. From a melodic standpoint, A Shropshire Lad is a collection of exquisite, haunting and almost perfect songs.
Housman has been a professor of Latin since 1892 and, besides his immortal set of lyrics, has edited Juvenal and the books of Manlius.
Doctor Douglas Hyde was born in Roscommon County, Ireland in, as nearly as can be ascertained, 1860. One of the most brilliant Irish scholars of his day, he has worked indefatigably for the cause of his native letters. He has written a comprehensive history of Irish literature; has compiled, edited and translated into English the Love Songs of Connaught; is President of The Irish National Literary Society; and is the author of innumerable poems in Gaelic—far more than he ever wrote in English. His collections of Irish folk-lore and poetry were among the most notable contributions to the Celtic revival; they were (see Preface), to a large extent, responsible for it. Since 1909 he has been Professor of Modern Irish in University College, Dublin.
The poem which is here quoted is one of his many brilliant and reanimating translations. In its music and its peculiar rhyme-scheme, it reproduces the peculiar flavor as well as the meter of the West Irish original.
Amy Levy, a singularly gifted Jewess, was born at Clapham, in 1861. A fiery young poet, she burdened her own intensity with the sorrows of her race. She wrote one novel, Reuben Sachs, and two volumes of poetry—the more distinctive of the two being half-pathetically and half-ironically entitled A Minor Poet (1884). After several years of brooding introspection, she committed suicide in 1889 at the age of 28.
Katharine Tynan Hinkson
Katharine Tynan was born at Dublin in 1861, and educated at the Convent of St. Catherine at Drogheda. She married Henry Hinkson, a lawyer and author, in 1893. Her poetry is largely actuated by religious themes, and much of her verse is devotional and yet distinctive. In New Poems (1911) she is at her best, graceful, meditative and with occasional notes of deep pathos.
One of the most delightful of English versifiers, Owen Seaman, was born in 1861. After receiving a classical education, he became Professor of Literature and began to write for Punch in 1894. In 1906 he was made editor of that internationally famous weekly, remaining in that capacity ever since. He was knighted in 1914. As a writer of light verse and as a parodist, his agile work has delighted a generation of admirers. Some of his most adroit lines may be found in his In Cap and Bells (1902) and The Battle of the Bays (1892).
Henry Newbolt was born at Bilston in 1862. His early work was frankly imitative of Tennyson; he even attempted to add to the Arthurian legends with a drama in blank verse entitled Mordred (1895). It was not until he wrote his sea-ballads that he struck his own note. With the publication of Admirals All (1897) his fame was widespread. The popularity of his lines was due not so much to the subject-matter of Newbolt's verse as to the breeziness of his music, the solid beat of rhythm, the vigorous swing of his stanzas.
In 1898 Newbolt published The Island Race, which contains about thirty more of his buoyant songs of the sea. Besides being a poet, Newbolt has written many essays and his critical volume, A New Study of English Poetry (1917), is a collection of articles that are both analytical and alive.
Born in 1865, Arthur Symons' first few publications revealed an intellectual rather than an emotional passion. Those volumes were full of the artifice of the period, but Symons's technical skill and frequent analysis often saved the poem from complete decadence. His later books are less imitative; the influence of Verlaine and Baudelaire is not so apparent; the sophistication is less cynical, the sensuousness more restrained. His various collections of essays and stories reflect the same peculiar blend of rich intellectuality and perfumed romanticism that one finds in his most characteristic poems.
Of his many volumes in prose, Spiritual Adventures (1905), while obviously influenced by Walter Pater, is by far the most original; a truly unique volume of psychological short stories. The best of his poetry up to 1902 was collected in two volumes, Poems, published by John Lane Co. The Fool of the World appeared in 1907.
William Butler Yeats
Born at Sandymount, Dublin, in 1865, the son of John B. Yeats, the Irish artist, the greater part of William Butler Yeats' childhood was spent in Sligo. Here he became imbued with the power and richness of native folk-lore; he drank in the racy quality through the quaint fairy stories and old wives' tales of the Irish peasantry. (Later he published a collection of these same stories.)
It was in the activities of a "Young Ireland" society that Yeats became identified with the new spirit; he dreamed of a national poetry that would be written in English and yet would be definitely Irish. In a few years he became one of the leaders in the Celtic revival. He worked incessantly for the cause, both as propagandist and playwright; and, though his mysticism at times seemed the product of a cult rather than a Celt, his symbolic dramas were acknowledged to be full of a haunting, other-world spirituality. (See Preface.) The Hour Glass (1904), his second volume of "Plays for an Irish Theatre," includes his best one-act dramas with the exception of his unforgettable The Land of Heart's Desire (1894). The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) contains several of his most beautiful and characteristic poems.
Others who followed Yeats have intensified the Irish drama; they have established a closer contact between the peasant and poet. No one, however, has had so great a part in the shaping of modern drama in Ireland as Yeats. His Deirdre (1907), a beautiful retelling of the great Gaelic legend, is far more dramatic than the earlier plays; it is particularly interesting to read with Synge's more idiomatic play on the same theme, Deirdre of the Sorrows.
The poems of Yeats which are quoted here reveal him in his most lyric and musical vein.
Born at Bombay, India, December 30, 1865, Rudyard Kipling, the author of a dozen contemporary classics, was educated in England. He returned, however, to India and took a position on the staff of "The Lahore Civil and Military Gazette," writing for the Indian press until about 1890, when he went to England, where he has lived ever since, with the exception of a short sojourn in America.
Even while he was still in India he achieved a popular as well as a literary success with his dramatic and skilful tales, sketches and ballads of Anglo-Indian life.
Soldiers Three (1888) was the first of six collections of short stories brought out in "Wheeler's Railway Library." They were followed by the far more sensitive and searching Plain Tales from the Hills, Under the Deodars and The Phantom 'Rikshaw, which contains two of the best and most convincing ghost-stories in recent literature.
These tales, however, display only one side of Kipling's extraordinary talents. As a writer of children's stories, he has few living equals. Wee Willie Winkie, which contains that stirring and heroic fragment "Drums of the Fore and Aft," is only a trifle less notable than his more obviously juvenile collections. Just-So Stories and the two Jungle Books (prose interspersed with lively rhymes) are classics for young people of all ages. Kim, the novel of a super-Mowgli grown up, is a more mature masterpiece.
Considered solely as a poet (see Preface) he is one of the most vigorous and unique figures of his time. The spirit of romance surges under his realities. His brisk lines conjure up the tang of a countryside in autumn, the tingle of salt spray, the rude sentiment of ruder natures, the snapping of a banner, the lurch and rumble of the sea. His poetry is woven of the stuff of myths; but it never loses its hold on actualities. Kipling himself in his poem "The Benefactors" (from The Years Between ) writes:
Ah! What avails the classic bent
And what the cultured word,
Against the undoctored incident
That actually occurred?
- Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. His varied poems have finally been collected in a remarkable one-volume Inclusive Edition (1885–1918), an indispensable part of any student's library. This gifted and prolific creator, whose work was affected by the war, has frequently lapsed into bombast and a journalistic imperialism. At his best he is unforgettable, standing mountain-high above his host of imitators. His home is at Burwash, Sussex.
Richard Le Gallienne
Richard Le Gallienne, who, in spite of his long residence in the United States, must be considered an English poet, was born at Liverpool in 1866. He entered on a business career soon after leaving Liverpool College, but gave up commercial life to become a man of letters after five or six years.
His early work was strongly influenced by the artificialities of the æsthetic movement (see Preface); the indebtedness to Oscar Wilde is especially evident. A little later Keats was the dominant influence, and English Poems (1892) betray how deep were Le Gallienne's admirations. His more recent poems in The Lonely Dancer (1913) show a keener individuality and a finer lyrical passion. His prose fancies are well known—particularly The Book Bills of Narcissus and the charming and high-spirited fantasia, The Quest of the Golden Girl.
Le Gallienne came to America about 1905 and has lived ever since in Rowayton, Conn., and New York City.
Born in 1867, Lionel Johnson received a classical education at Oxford, and his poetry is a faithful reflection of his studies in Greek and Latin literatures. Though he allied himself with the modern Irish poets, his Celtic origin is a literary myth; Johnson, having been converted to Catholicism in 1891, became imbued with Catholic and, later, with Irish traditions. His verse, while sometimes strained and over-decorated, is chastely designed, rich and, like that of the Cavalier poets of the seventeenth century, mystically devotional. Poems (1895) contains his best work. Johnson died in 1902.
Ernest Dowson was born at Belmont Hill in Kent in 1867. His great-uncle was Alfred Domett (Browning's "Waring"), who was at one time Prime Minister of New Zealand. Dowson, practically an invalid all his life, was reckless with himself and, as disease weakened him more and more, hid himself in miserable surroundings; for almost two years he lived in sordid supper-houses known as "cabmen's shelters." He literally drank himself to death.
His delicate and fantastic poetry was an attempt to escape from a reality too big and brutal for him. His passionate lyric, "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion," a triumph of despair and disillusion, is an outburst in which Dowson epitomized himself—"One of the greatest lyrical poem of our time," writes Arthur Symons, "in it he has for once said everything, and he has said it to an intoxicating and perhaps immortal music."
Dowson died obscure in 1900, one of the finest of modern minor poets. His life was the tragedy of a weak nature buffeted by a strong and merciless environment.
"A. E." (George William Russell)
At Durgan, a tiny town in the north of Ireland, George William Russell was born in 1867. He moved to Dublin when he was 10 years old and, as a young man, helped to form the group that gave rise to the Irish Renascence—the group of which William Butler Yeats, Doctor Douglas Hyde, Katharine Tynan and Lady Gregory were brilliant members. Besides being a splendid mystical poet, "A. E." is a painter of note, a fiery patriot, a distinguished sociologist, a public speaker, a student of economics and one of the heads of the Irish Agricultural Association.
The best of his poetry is in Homeward Songs by the Way (1894) and The Earth Breath and Other Poems. Yeats has spoken of these poems as "revealing in all things a kind of scented flame consuming them from within."
Born in 1868, Stephen Phillips is best known as the author of Herod (1900), Paola and Francesca (1899), and Ulysses (1902); a poetic playwright who succeeded in reviving, for a brief interval, the blank verse drama on the modern stage. Hailed at first with extravagant and almost incredible praise, Phillips lived to see his most popular dramas discarded and his new ones, such as Pietro of Siena (1910), unproduced and unnoticed.
Phillips failed to "restore" poetic drama because he was, first of all, a lyric rather than a dramatic poet. In spite of certain moments of rhetorical splendor, his scenes are spectacular instead of emotional; his inspiration is too often derived from other models. He died in 1915.
Laurence Binyon was born at Lancaster, August 10, 1869, a cousin of Stephen Phillips; in Primavera (1890) their early poems appeared together. Binyon's subsequent volumes showed little distinction until he published London Visions, which, in an enlarged edition in 1908, revealed a gift of characterization and a turn of speech in surprising contrast to his previous academic Lyrical Poems (1894). His Odes (1901) contains his ripest work; two poems in particular, "The Threshold" and "The Bacchanal of Alexander," are glowing and unusually spontaneous.
Binyon's power has continued to grow; age has given his verse a new sharpness. "The House That Was," one of his most recent poems, appeared in The London Mercury, November, 1919.
Lord Alfred Douglas was born in 1870 and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. He was the editor of The Academy from 1907 to 1910 and was at one time the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde. One of the minor poets of "the eighteen-nineties," several of his poems rise above his own affectations and the end-of-the-century decadence. The City of the Soul (1899) and Sonnets (1900) contain his most graceful writing.
T. Sturge Moore
Thomas Sturge Moore was born March 4, 1870. He is well known not only as an author, but as a critic and wood-engraver. As an artist, he has achieved no little distinction and has designed the covers for the poetry of W. B. Yeats and others. As a poet, the greater portion of his verse is severely classical in tone, academic in expression but, of its kind, distinctive and intimate. Among his many volumes, the most outstanding are The Vinedresser and Other Poems (1899), A Sicilian Idyll (1911) and The Sea Is Kind (1914).
William H. Davies
According to his own biography, William H. Davies was born in a public-house called Church House at Newport, in the County of Monmouthshire, April 20, 1870, of Welsh parents. He was, until Bernard Shaw "discovered" him, a cattleman, a berry-picker, a panhandler—in short, a vagabond. In a preface to Davies' second book, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1906), Shaw describes how the manuscript came into his hands:
"In the year 1905 I received by post a volume of poems by one William H. Davies, whose address was The Farm House, Kensington, S. E. I was surprised to learn that there was still a farmhouse left in Kensington; for I did not then suspect that the Farm House, like the Shepherdess Walks and Nightingale Lane and Whetstone Parks of Bethnal Green and Holborn, is so called nowadays in irony, and is, in fact, a doss-house, or hostelry, where single men can have a night's lodging, for, at most, sixpence.... The author, as far as I could guess, had walked into a printer's or stationer's shop; handed in his manuscript; and ordered his book as he might have ordered a pair of boots. It was marked 'price, half a crown.' An accompanying letter asked me very civilly if I required a half-crown book of verses; and if so, would I please send the author the half crown: if not, would I return the book. This was attractively simple and sensible. I opened the book, and was more puzzled than ever; for before I had read three lines I perceived that the author was a real poet. His work was not in the least strenuous or modern; there was indeed no sign of his ever having read anything otherwise than as a child reads.... Here, I saw, was a genuine innocent, writing odds and ends of verse about odds and ends of things; living quite out of the world in which such things are usually done, and knowing no better (or rather no worse) than to get his book made by the appropriate craftsman and hawk it round like any other ware."
It is more than likely that Davies' first notoriety as a tramp-poet who had ridden the rails in the United States and had had his right foot cut off by a train in Canada, obscured his merits as a genuine singer. Even his early The Soul's Destroyer (1907) revealed that simplicity which is as naïf as it is strange. The volumes that followed are more clearly melodious, more like the visionary wonder of Blake, more artistically artless.
With the exception of "The Villain," which has not yet appeared in book form, the following poems are taken from The Collected Poems of W. H. Davies (1916) with the permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.
Hilaire Belloc, who has been described as "a Frenchman, an Englishman, an Oxford man, a country gentleman, a soldier, a satirist, a democrat, a novelist, and a practical journalist," was born July 27, 1870. After leaving school he served as a driver in the 8th Regiment of French Artillery at Toul Meurthe-et-Moselle, being at that time a French citizen. He was naturalized as a British subject somewhat later, and in 1906 he entered the House of Commons as Liberal Member for South Salford.
As an author, he has engaged in multiple activities. He has written three satirical novels, one of which, Mr. Clutterbuck's Election, sharply exposes British newspapers and underground politics. His Path to Rome (1902) is a high-spirited and ever-delightful travel book which has passed through many editions. His historical studies and biographies of Robespierre and Marie Antoinette (1909) are classics of their kind. As a poet he is only somewhat less engaging. His Verses (1910) is a rather brief collection of poems on a wide variety of themes. Although his humorous and burlesque stanzas are refreshing, Belloc is most himself when he writes either of malt liquor or his beloved Sussex. Though his religious poems are full of a fine romanticism, "The South Country" is the most pictorial and persuasive of his serious poems. His poetic as well as his spiritual kinship with G. K. Chesterton is obvious.
Anthony C. Deane
Anthony C. Deane was born in 1870 and was the Seatonian prizeman in 1905 at Clare College, Cambridge. He has been Vicar of All Saints, Ennismore Gardens, since 1916. His long list of light verse and essays includes several excellent parodies, the most delightful being found in his New Rhymes for Old (1901).
J. M. Synge
The most brilliant star of the Celtic revival was born at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, in 1871. As a child in Wicklow, he was already fascinated by the strange idioms and the rhythmic speech he heard there, a native utterance which was his greatest delight and which was to be rich material for his greatest work. He did not use this folk-language merely as he heard it. He was an artist first and last, and as an artist he bent and shaped the rough material, selecting with great fastidiousness, so that in his plays every speech is, as he himself declared all good speech should be, "as fully flavored as a nut or apple." Even in The Tinker's Wedding (1907), possibly the least important of his plays, one is arrested by snatches like:
"That's a sweet tongue you have, Sarah Casey; but if sleep's a grand thing, it's a grand thing to be waking up a day the like of this, when there's a warm sun in it, and a kind air, and you'll hear the cuckoos singing and crying out on the top of the hill."
- For some time, Synge's career was uncertain. He went to Germany half intending to become a professional musician. There he studied the theory of music, perfecting himself meanwhile in Gaelic and Hebrew, winning prizes in both of these languages. Yeats found him in France in 1898 and advised him to go to the Aran Islands, to live there as if he were one of the people. "Express a life," said Yeats, "that has never found expression." Synge went. He became part of the life of Aran, living upon salt fish and eggs, talking Irish for the most part but listening also to that beautiful English which, to quote Yeats again, "has grown up in Irish-speaking districts and takes its vocabulary from the time of Malory and of the translators of the Bible, but its idiom and vivid metaphor from Irish." The result of this close contact was five of the greatest poetic prose dramas not only of his own generation, but of several generations preceding it. (See Preface.)
In Riders to the Sea (1903), The Well of the Saints (1905), and The Playboy of the Western World (1907) we have a richness of imagery, a new language startling in its vigor, a wildness and passion that contrast strangely with the suave mysticism and delicate spirituality of his associates in the Irish Theatre.
Synge's Poems and Translations (1910), a volume which was not issued until after his death, contains not only his few hard and earthy verses, but also Synge's theory of poetry. The translations, which have been rendered in a highly intensified prose, are as racy as anything in his plays; his versions of Villon and Petrarch are remarkable for their adherence to the original and still radiate the poet's own personality.
Synge died, just as he was beginning to attain fame, at a private hospital in Dublin March 24, 1909.
Nora Hopper Chesson
Nora Hopper was born in Exeter on January 2, 1871, and married W. H. Chesson, a well-known writer, in 1901. Although the Irish element in her work is acquired and incidental, there is a distinct if somewhat fitful race consciousness in Ballads in Prose (1894) and Under Quickened Boughs (1896). She died suddenly April 14, 1906.
Eva Gore-Booth, the second daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth and the sister of Countess Marcievicz, was born in Sligo, Ireland, in 1872. She first appeared in "A. E."'s anthology, New Songs, in which so many of the modern Irish poets first came forward.
Her initial volume, Poems (1898) showed practically no distinction—not even the customary "promise." But The One and the Many (1904) and The Sorrowful Princess (1907) revealed the gift of the Celtic singer who is half mystic, half minstrel. Primarily philosophic, her verse often turns to lyrics as haunting as the two examples here reprinted.
Moira O'Neill is known chiefly by a remarkable little collection of only twenty-five lyrics, Songs from the Glens of Antrim (1900), simple tunes as unaffected as the peasants of whom she sings. The best of her poetry is dramatic without being theatrical; melodious without falling into the tinkle of most "popular" sentimental verse.
John McCrae was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, in 1872. He was graduated in arts in 1894 and in medicine in 1898. He finished his studies at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and returned to Canada, joining the staff of the Medical School of McGill University. He was a lieutenant of artillery in Sough Africa (1899–1900) and was in charge of the Medical Division of the McGill Canadian General Hospital during the World War. After serving two years, he died of pneumonia, January, 1918, his volume In Flanders Fields (1919) appearing posthumously.
Few who read the title poem of his book, possibly the most widely-read poem produced by the war, realize that it is a perfect rondeau, one of the loveliest (and strictest) of the French forms.
Ford Madox Hueffer
Ford Madox Hueffer was born in 1873 and is best known as the author of many novels, two of which, Romance and The Inheritors, were written in collaboration with Joseph Conrad. He has written also several critical studies, those on Rossetti and Henry James being the most notable. His On Heaven and Other Poems appeared in 1916.
Walter De la Mare
The author of some of the most haunting lyrics in contemporary poetry, Walter De la Mare, was born in 1873. Although he did not begin to bring out his work in book form until he was over 30, he is, as Harold Williams has written, "the singer of a young and romantic world, a singer even for children, understanding and perceiving as a child." De la Mare paints simple scenes of miniature loveliness; he uses thin-spun fragments of fairy-like delicacy and achieves a grace that is remarkable in its universality. "In a few words, seemingly artless and unsought" (to quote Williams again), "he can express a pathos or a hope as wide as man's life."
De la Mare is an astonishing joiner of words; in Peacock Pie (1913) he surprises us again and again by transforming what began as a child's nonsense-rhyme into a suddenly thrilling snatch of music. A score of times he takes things as casual as the feeding of chickens or the swallowing of physic, berry-picking, eating, hair-cutting—and turns them into magic. These poems read like lyrics of William Shakespeare rendered by Mother Goose. The trick of revealing the ordinary in whimsical colors, of catching the commonplace off its guard, is the first of De la Mare's two magics.
This poet's second gift is his sense of the supernatural, of the fantastic other-world that lies on the edges of our consciousness. The Listeners (1912) is a book that, like all the best of De la Mare, is full of half-heard whispers; moonlight and mystery seem soaked in the lines, and a cool wind from Nowhere blows over them. That most magical of modern verses, "The Listeners," and the brief music of "An Epitaph" are two fine examples among many. In the first of these poems there is an uncanny splendor. What we have here is the effect, the thrill, the overtones of a ghost story rather than the narrative itself—the less than half-told adventure of some new Childe Roland heroically challenging a heedless universe. Never have silence and black night been reproduced more creepily, nor has the symbolism of man's courage facing the cryptic riddle of life been more memorably expressed.
De la Mare's chief distinction, however, lies not so much in what he says as in how he says it; he can even take outworn words like "thridding," "athwart," "amaranthine" and make them live again in a poetry that is of no time and of all time. He writes, it has been said, as much for antiquity as for posterity; he is a poet who is distinctively in the world and yet not wholly of it.
G. K. Chesterton
This brilliant journalist, novelist, essayist, publicist and lyricist, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, was born at Campden Hill, Kensington, in 1874, and began his literary life by reviewing books on art for various magazines. He is best known as a writer of flashing, paradoxical essays on anything and everything, like Tremendous Trifles (1909), Varied Types (1905), and All Things Considered (1910). But he is also a stimulating critic; a keen appraiser, as in his volume Heretics (1905) and his analytical studies of Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, and George Bernard Shaw; a writer of strange and grotesque romances like The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1906), The Man Who Was Thursday (1908), which Chesterton himself has subtitled "A Nightmare," and The Flying Inn (1914); the author of several books of fantastic short stories, ranging from the wildly whimsical narratives in The Club of Queer Trades (1905) to that amazing sequence The Innocence of Father Brown (1911)—which is a series of religious detective stories!
Besides being the creator of all of these, Chesterton finds time to be a prolific if sometimes too acrobatic newspaperman, a lay preacher in disguise (witness Orthodoxy , What's Wrong with the World? , The Ball and the Cross ), a pamphleteer, and a poet. His first volume of verse, The Wild Knight and Other Poems (1900), a collection of quaintly-flavored and affirmative verses, was followed by The Ballad of the White Horse (1911), one long poem which, in spite of Chesterton's ever-present didactic sermonizing, is possibly the most stirring creation he has achieved. This poem has the swing, the vigor, the spontaneity, and, above all, the ageless simplicity of the true narrative ballad.
Scarcely less notable is the ringing "Lepanto" from his later Poems (1915) which, anticipating the banging, clanging verses of Vachel Lindsay's "The Congo," is one of the finest of modern chants. It is interesting to see how the syllables beat, as though on brass; it is thrilling to feel how, in one's pulses, the armies sing, the feet tramp, the drums snarl, and all the tides of marching crusaders roll out of lines like:
"Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war;
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold;
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes...."
Chesterton, the prose-paradoxer, is a delightful product of a skeptical age. But it is Chesterton the poet who is more likely to outlive it.
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
Born at Hexam in 1878, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson has published almost a dozen books of verse—the first four or five (see Preface) being imitative in manner and sentimentally romantic in tone. With The Stonefolds (1907) and Daily Bread (1910), Gibson executed a complete right-about-face and, with dramatic brevity, wrote a series of poems mirroring the dreams, pursuits and fears of common humanity. Fires (1912) marks an advance in technique and power. And though in Livelihood (1917) Gibson seems to be theatricalizing and merely exploiting his working-people, his later lyrics recapture the veracity of such memorable poems as "The Old Man," "The Blind Rower," and "The Machine." Hill Tracks (1918) attempts to capture the beauty of village-names and the glamour of the English countryside.
John Masefield was born June 1, 1878, in Ledbury, Hertfordshire. He was the son of a lawyer but, being of a restless disposition, he took to the sea at an early age and became a wanderer for several years. At one time, in 1895, to be exact, he worked for a few months as a sort of third assistant bar-keeper and dish-washer in Luke O'Connor's saloon, the Columbia Hotel, in New York City. The place is still there on the corner of Sixth and Greenwich Avenues.
The results of his wanderings showed in his early works, Salt-Water Ballads (1902), Ballads (1903), frank and often crude poems of sailors written in their own dialect, and A Mainsail Haul (1905), a collection of short nautical stories. In these books Masefield possibly overemphasized passion and brutality but, underneath the violence, he captured that highly-colored realism which is the poetry of life.
It was not until he published The Everlasting Mercy (1911) that he became famous. Followed quickly by those remarkable long narrative poems, The Widow in the Bye Street (1912), Dauber (1912), and The Daffodil Fields (1913), there is in all of these that peculiar blend of physical exulting and spiritual exaltation that is so striking, and so typical of Masefield. Their very rudeness is lifted to a plane of religious intensity. (See Preface.) Pictorially, Masefield is even more forceful. The finest moment in The Widow in the Bye Street is the portrayal of the mother alone in her cottage; the public-house scene and the passage describing the birds following the plough are the most intense touches in The Everlasting Mercy. Nothing more vigorous and thrilling than the description of the storm at sea in Dauber has appeared in current literature.
The war, in which Masefield served with the Red Cross in France and on the Gallipoli peninsula (of which campaign he wrote a study for the government), softened his style; Good Friday and Other Poems (1916) is as restrained and dignified a collection as that of any of his contemporaries. Reynard the Fox (1919) is the best of his new manner with a return of the old vivacity.
Masefield has also written several novels of which Multitude and Solitude (1909) is the most outstanding; half a dozen plays, ranging from the classical solemnity of Pompey the Great to the hot and racy Tragedy of Nan; and one of the freshest, most creative critiques of Shakespeare (1911) in the last generation.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, was born July 24, 1878, and was educated at Eton and Sandhurst. He is best known as an author of fantastic fairy tales and even more fantastic plays. The Gods of the Mountain (1911) and The Golden Doom (1912) are highly dramatic and intensely poetic. A Night at an Inn (1916) is that peculiar novelty, an eerie and poetical melodrama.
Dunsany's prime quality is a romantic and highly colored imagination which is rich in symbolism. After the World War, in which the playwright served as captain in the Royal Innis-killing Fusiliers, Dunsany visited America and revised the re-issue of his early tales and prose poems collected in his The Book of Wonder.
Edward Thomas, one of the little-known but most individual of modern English poets, was born in 1878. For many years before he turned to verse, Thomas had a large following as a critic and author of travel books, biographies, pot-boilers. Hating his hack-work, yet unable to get free of it, he had so repressed his creative ability that he had grown doubtful concerning his own power. It needed something foreign to stir and animate what was native in him. So when Robert Frost, the New England poet, went abroad in 1912 for two years and became an intimate of Thomas's, the English critic began to write poetry. Loving, like Frost, the minutiæ of existence, the quaint and casual turn of ordinary life, he caught the magic of the English countryside in its unpoeticized quietude. Many of his poems are full of a slow, sad contemplation of life and a reflection of its brave futility. It is not disillusion exactly; it is rather an absence of illusion. Poems (1917), dedicated to Robert Frost, is full of Thomas's fidelity to little things, things as unglorified as the unfreezing of the "rock-like mud," a child's path, a list of quaint-sounding villages, birds' nests uncovered by the autumn wind, dusty nettles—the lines glow with a deep and almost abject reverence for the soil.
Thomas was killed at Arras, at an observatory outpost, on Easter Monday, 1917.
James Starkey was born in Dublin in 1879. Writing under the pseudonym of Seumas O'Sullivan, he contributed a great variety of prose and verse to various Irish papers. His reputation as a poet began with his appearance in New Songs, edited by George Russell ("A. E."). Later, he published The Twilight People (1905), The Earth Lover (1909), and Poems (1912).
This exquisite poet was born in Northumberland about 1879. One of the most graceful of the younger word-magicians, Ralph Hodgson will retain his freshness as long as there are lovers of such rare and timeless songs as his. It is difficult to think of any anthology of English poetry compiled after 1917 that could omit "Eve," "The Song of Honor," and that memorable snatch of music, "Time You Old Gypsy Man." One succumbs to the charms of "Eve" at the first reading; for here is the oldest of all legends told with a surprising simplicity and still more surprising freshness. This Eve is neither the conscious sinner nor the Mother of men; she is, in Hodgson's candid lines, any young, English country girl—filling her basket, regarding the world and the serpent itself with a mild and childlike wonder.
Hodgson's verses, full of the love of all natural things, a love that goes out to
"an idle rainbow
No less than laboring seas," were originally brought out in small pamphlets, and distributed by Flying Fame.
The publisher of the various anthologies of Georgian Poetry, Harold Monro, was born in Brussels in 1879. He describes himself as "author, publisher, editor and book-seller." Monro founded The Poetry Bookshop in London in 1912, a unique establishment having as its object a practical relation between poetry and the public, and keeping in stock nothing but poetry, the drama, and books connected with these subjects. His quarterly Poetry and Drama (discontinued during the war and revived in 1919 as The Monthly Chapbook), was in a sense the organ of the younger men; and his shop, in which he has lived for the last seven years except while he was in the army, became a genuine literary center.
Of Monro's books, the two most important are Strange Meetings (1917) and Children of Love (1919). "The Nightingale Near the House," one of the loveliest of his poems, is also one of his latest and has not yet appeared in any of his volumes.
T. M. Kettle
Thomas M. Kettle was born at Artane County, Dublin, in 1880 and was educated at University College, where he won the Gold Medal for Oratory. His extraordinary faculty for grasping an intricate problem and crystallizing it in an epigram, or scoring his adversaries with one bright flash, was apparent even then. He was admitted to the bar in 1905 but soon abandoned the law to devote himself to journalism, which, because of his remarkable style, never remained journalism in his hands. In 1906 he entered politics; in 1910 he was re-elected for East Tyrone. Even his bitterest opponents conceded that Tom Kettle (as he was called by friend and enemy) was the most honorable of fighters; they acknowledged his honesty, courage and devotion to the cause of a United Ireland—and respected his penetrating wit. He once spoke of a Mr. Helay as "a brilliant calamity" and satirized a long-winded speaker by saying, "Mr. Long knows a sentence should have a beginning, but he quite forgets it should also have an end."
"An Irish torch-bearer" (so E. B. Osborn calls him), Kettle fell in action at Ginchy, leading his Fusiliers in September, 1916. The uplifted poem to his daughter was written shortly before his death.
Alfred Noyes was born at Staffordshire, September 16, 1880. He is one of the few contemporary poets who have been fortunate enough to write a kind of poetry that is not only saleable but popular with many classes of people.
His first book, The Loom of Years (1902), was published when he was only 22 years old, and Poems (1904) intensified the promise of his first publication. Swinburne, grown old and living in retirement, was so struck with Noyes's talent that he had the young poet out to read to him. Unfortunately, Noyes has not developed his gifts as deeply as his admirers have hoped. His poetry, extremely straightforward and rhythmical, has often degenerated into cheap sentimentalities and cheaper tirades; it has frequently attempted to express programs and profundities far beyond Noyes's power.
What is most appealing about his best verse is its ease and heartiness; this singer's gift lies in the almost personal bond established between the poet and his public. People have such a good time reading his vivacious lines because Noyes had such a good time writing them. Rhyme in a thumping rhythm seems to be not merely his trade but his morning exercise. Noyes's own relish filled and quickened glees and catches like Forty Singing Seamen (1907), the lusty choruses in Tales of the Mermaid Tavern (1913), and the genuinely inspired nonsense of the earlier Forest of Wild Thyme (1905).
The least popular work of Noyes is, as a unified product, his most remarkable performance. It is an epic in twelve books of blank verse, Drake (1908), a glowing pageant of the sea and England's drama upon it. It is a spirited echo of the maritime Elizabethans; a vivid and orchestral work interspersed with splendid lyric passages and brisk songs. The companion volume, an attempted reconstruction of the literary phase of the same period, is less successful; but these Tales of the Mermaid Tavern (which introduce Shakespeare, Marlowe, Drayton, Raleigh, Ben Jonson, and other immortals) are alive and colorful, if somewhat too insistently rollicking and smoothly lilting.
His eight volumes were assembled in 1913 and published in two books of Collected Poems (Frederick A. Stokes Company).
Padraic Colum was born at Longford, Ireland (in the same county as Oliver Goldsmith), December 8, 1881, and was educated at the local schools. At 20 he was a member of a group that created the Irish National Theatre, afterwards called The Abbey Theatre.
Colum began as a dramatist with Broken Soil (1904), The Land (1905), Thomas Muskerry (1910), and this early dramatic influence has colored much of his work, his best poetry being in the form of dramatic lyrics. Wild Earth, his most notable collection of verse, first appeared in 1909, and an amplified edition of it was published in America in 1916.
Joseph Campbell (Seosamh MacCathmhaoil)
Joseph Campbell was born in Belfast in 1881, and is not only a poet but an artist; he made all the illustrations for The Rushlight (1906), a volume of his own poems. Writing under the Gaelic form of his name, he has published half a dozen books of verse, the most striking of which is The Mountainy Singer, first published in Dublin in 1909.
This unique personality was born in Dublin in February, 1882. Stephen was discovered in an office and saved from clerical slavery by George Russell ("A. E."). Always a poet, Stephens's most poetic moments are in his highly-colored prose. And yet, although the finest of his novels, The Crock of Gold (1912), contains more wild phantasy and quaint imagery than all his volumes of verse, his Insurrections (1909) and The Hill of Vision (1912) reveal a rebellious spirit that is at once hotly ironic and coolly whimsical.
Stephens's outstanding characteristic is his delightful blend of incongruities—he combines in his verse the grotesque, the buoyant and the profound. No fresher or more brightly vigorous imagination has come out of Ireland since J. M. Synge.
Primarily a poetic dramatist, John Drinkwater, born in 1882, is best known as the author of Abraham Lincoln—A Play (1919) founded on Lord Charnwood's masterly and analytical biography. He has published several volumes of poems, most of them meditative and elegiac in mood.
The best of his verses have been collected in Poems, 1908–19, and the two here reprinted are used by permission, and by special arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Company, the authorized publishers.
James Joyce was born at Dublin, February 2, 1882, and educated in Ireland. He is best known as a highly sensitive and strikingly original writer of prose, his most celebrated works being Dubliners (1914) and the novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). His one volume of verse, Chamber Music, was published in this country in 1918.
J. C. Squire
Jack Collings Squire was born April 2, 1884, at Plymouth, of Devonian ancestry. He was educated at Blundell's and Cambridge University, and became known first as a remarkably adroit parodist. His Imaginary Speeches (1912) and Tricks of the Trade (1917) are amusing parodies and, what is more, excellent criticism. He edited The New Statesman for a while and founded The London Mercury (a monthly of which he is editor) in November, 1919. Under the pseudonym "Solomon Eagle" he wrote a page of literary criticism every week for six years, many of these papers being collected in his volume, Books in General (1919).
His original poetry is intellectual but simple, sometimes metaphysical and always interesting technically in its fluent and variable rhythms. A collection of his best verse up to 1919 was published under the title, Poems: First Series.
Lascelles Abercrombie was born in 1884. Like Masefield, he gained his reputation rapidly; totally unknown until 1909, upon the publication of Interludes and Poems, he was recognized as one of the greatest metaphysical poets of his period. Emblems of Love (1912), the ripest collection of his blank verse dialogues, justified the enthusiasm of his admirers.
Many of Abercrombie's poems, the best of which are too long to quote, are founded on scriptural themes, but his blank verse is not biblical either in mood or manner. It is the undercurrent rather than the surface of his verse which moves with a strong religious conviction. Abercrombie's images are daring and brilliant; his lines, sometimes too closely packed, glow with a dazzling intensity that is warmly spiritual and fervently human.
James Elroy Flecker
Another remarkable poet whose early death was a blow to English literature, James Elroy Flecker, was born in London, November 5, 1884. Possibly due to his low vitality, Flecker found little to interest him but a classical reaction against realism in verse, a delight in verbal craftsmanship, and a passion for technical perfection—especially the deliberate technique of the French Parnassians whom he worshipped. Flecker was opposed to any art that was emotional or that "taught" anything. "The poet's business," he declared, "is not to save the soul of man, but to make it worth saving."
The advent of the war began to make Flecker's verse more personal and romantic. The tuberculosis that finally killed him at Davos Platz, Switzerland, January 3, 1915, forced him from an Olympian disinterest to a deep concern with life and death. He passionately denied that he was weary of living "as the pallid poets are," and he was attempting higher flights of song when his singing ceased altogether.
His two colorful volumes are The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913) and The Old Ships (1915).
D. H. Lawrence
David Herbert Lawrence, born in 1885, is one of the most psychologically intense of the modern poets. This intensity, ranging from a febrile morbidity to an exalted and almost frenzied mysticism, is seen even in his prose works—particularly in his short stories, The Prussian Officer (1917), his analytical Sons and Lovers (1913), and the rhapsodic novel, The Rainbow (1915).
As a poet he is often caught in the net of his own emotions; his passion thickens his utterance and distorts his rhythms, which sometimes seem purposely harsh and bitter-flavored. But within his range he is as powerful as he is poignant. His most notable volumes of poetry are Amores (1916), Look! We Have Come Through! (1918), and New Poems (1920).
John Freeman, born in 1885, has published several volumes of pleasantly descriptive verse. The two most distinctive are Stone Trees (1916) and Memories of Childhood (1919).
Shane Leslie, the only surviving son of Sir John Leslie, was born at Swan Park, Monaghan, Ireland, in 1886 and was educated at Eton and the University of Paris. He worked for a time among the Irish poor and was deeply interested in the Celtic revival. During the greater part of a year he lectured in the United States, marrying an American, Marjorie Ide.
Leslie has been editor of The Dublin Review since 1916. He is the author of several volumes on Irish political matters as well as The End of a Chapter and Verses in Peace and War.
The daughter of Francis Darwin, third son of Charles Darwin, Mrs. Frances Macdonald Cornford, whose husband is a Fellow and Lecturer of Trinity College, was born in 1886. She has published three volumes of unaffected lyrical verse, the most recent of which, Spring Morning, was brought out by The Poetry Bookshop in 1915.
Anna Wickham, one of the most individual of the younger women-poets, has published two distinctive volumes, The Contemplative Quarry (1915) and The Man with a Hammer (1916).
Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, the poet whom Masefield hailed as "one of England's most brilliant rising stars," was born September 8, 1886. He was educated at Marlborough and Clare College, Cambridge, and was a captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He fought three times in France, once in Palestine, winning the Military Cross for bringing in wounded on the battlefield.
His poetry divides itself sharply in two moods—the lyric and the ironic. His early lilting poems were without significance or individuality. But with The Old Huntsman (1917) Sassoon found his own idiom, and became one of the leading younger poets upon the appearance of this striking volume. The first poem, a long monologue evidently inspired by Masefield, gave little evidence of what was to come. Immediately following it, however, came a series of war poems, undisguised in their tragedy and bitterness. Every line of these quivering stanzas bore the mark of a sensitive and outraged nature; there was scarcely a phrase that did not protest against the "glorification" and false glamour of war.
Counter-Attack appeared in 1918. In this volume Sassoon turned entirely from an ordered loveliness to the gigantic brutality of war. At heart a lyric idealist, the bloody years intensified and twisted his tenderness till what was stubborn and satiric in him forced its way to the top. In Counter-Attack Sassoon found his angry outlet. Most of these poems are choked with passion; many of them are torn out, roots and all, from the very core of an intense conviction; they rush on, not so much because of the poet's art but almost in spite of it. A suave utterance, a neatly-joined structure would be out of place and even inexcusable in poems like "The Rear-Guard," "To Any Dead Officer," "Does It Matter?"—verses that are composed of love, fever and indignation.
Can Sassoon see nothing glorious or uplifting in war? His friend, Robert Nichols, another poet and soldier, speaks for him in a preface. "Let no one ever," Nichols quotes Sassoon as saying, "from henceforth say one word in any way countenancing war. It is dangerous even to speak of how here and there the individual may gain some hardship of soul by it. For war is hell, and those who institute it are criminals. Were there even anything to say for it, it should not be said; for its spiritual disasters far outweigh any of its advantages...." Nichols adds his approval to these sentences, saying, "For myself, this is the truth. War does not ennoble it degrades."
Early in 1920 Sassoon visited America. At the same time he brought out his Picture Show (1920), a vigorous answer to those who feared that Sassoon had "written himself out" or had begun to burn away in his own fire. Had Rupert Brooke lived, he might have written many of these lacerated but somehow exalted lines. Sassoon's three volumes are the most vital and unsparing records of the war we have had. They synthesize in poetry what Barbusse's Under Fire spreads out in panoramic prose.
Possibly the most famous of the Georgians, Rupert Brooke, was born at Rugby in August, 1887, his father being assistant master at the school. As a youth, Brooke was keenly interested in all forms of athletics; playing cricket, football, tennis, and swimming as well as most professionals. He was six feet tall, his finely molded head topped with a crown of loose hair of lively brown; "a golden young Apollo," said Edward Thomas. Another friend of his wrote, "to look at, he was part of the youth of the world. He was one of the handsomest Englishmen of his time." His beauty overstressed somewhat his naturally romantic disposition; his early poems are a blend of delight in the splendor of actuality and disillusion in a loveliness that dies. The shadow of John Donne lies over his pages.
This occasional cynicism was purged, when after several years of travel (he had been to Germany, Italy and Honolulu) the war came, turning Brooke away from
"A world grown old and cold and weary...
And half men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love."
- Brooke enlisted with a relief that was like a rebirth; he sought a new energy in the struggle "where the worst friend and enemy is but Death." After seeing service in Belgium, 1914, he spent the following winter in a training-camp in Dorsetshire and sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in February, 1915, to take part in the unfortunate Dardenelles Campaign.
Brooke never reached his destination. He died of blood-poison at Skyros, April 23, 1915. His early death was one of England's great literary losses; Lascelles Abercrombie, W. W. Gibson (with both of whom he had been associated on the quarterly, New Numbers), Walter De la Mare, the Hon. Winston Spencer Churchill, and a host of others united to pay tribute to the most brilliant and passionate of the younger poets.
Brooke's sonnet-sequence, 1914 (from which "The Soldier" is taken), which, with prophetic irony, appeared a few weeks before his death, contains the accents of immortality. And "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester" (unfortunately too long to reprint in this volume), is fully as characteristic of the lighter and more playful side of Brooke's temperament. Both these phases are combined in "The Great Lover," of which Abercrombie has written, "It is life he loves, and not in any abstract sense, but all the infinite little familiar details of life, remembered and catalogued with delightful zest."
Winifred M. Letts
Winifred M. Letts was born in Ireland in 1887, and her early work concerned itself almost entirely with the humor and pathos found in her immediate surroundings. Her Songs from Leinster (1913) is her most characteristic collection; a volume full of the poetry of simple people and humble souls. Although she has called herself "a back-door sort of bard," she is particularly effective in the old ballad measure and in her quaint portrayal of Irish peasants rather than of Gaelic kings and pagan heroes. She has also written three novels, five books for children, a later volume of Poems of the War and, during the conflict, served as a nurse at various base hospitals.
Francis Brett Young
Francis Brett Young, who is a novelist as well as a poet, and who has been called, by The Manchester Guardian, "one of the promising evangelists of contemporary poetry," has written much that is both graceful and grave. There is music and a message in his lines that seem to have as their motto: "Trust in the true and fiery spirit of Man." Best known as a writer of prose, his most prominent works are Marching on Tanga and The Crescent Moon.
Brett Young's Five Degrees South (1917) and his Poems 1916–18 (1919) contain the best of his verse.
F. S. Flint
Known chiefly as an authority on modern French poetry, F. S. Flint has published several volumes of original imagist poems, besides having translated works of Verhaeren and Jean de Bosschere.
Edith Sitwell was born at Scarborough, in Yorkshire, and is the sister of the poets, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. In 1914 she came to London and has devoted herself to literature ever since, having edited the various anthologies of Wheels since 1916. Her first book, The Mother and Other Poems (1915), contains some of her best work, although Clowns' Houses (1918) reveals a more piquant idiom and a sharper turn of mind.
F. W. Harvey
Harvey was a lance-corporal in the English army and was in the German prison camp at Gütersloh when he wrote The Bugler, one of the isolated great poems written during the war. Much of his other verse is haphazard and journalistic, although Gloucestershire Friends contains several lines that glow with the color of poetry.
T. P. Cameron Wilson
"Tony" P. Cameron Wilson was born in South Devon in 1889 and was educated at Exeter and Oxford. He wrote one novel besides several articles under the pseudonym Tipuca, a euphonic combination of the first three initials of his name.
When the war broke out he was a teacher in a school at Hindhead, Surrey; and, after many months of gruelling conflict, he was given a captaincy. He was killed in action by a machine-gun bullet March 23, 1918, at the age of 29.
W. J. Turner
W. J. Turner was born in 1889 and, although little known until his appearance in Georgian Poetry 1916–17, has written no few delicate and fanciful poems. The Hunter (1916) and The Dark Wind (1918) both contain many verses as moving and musical as his splendid lines on "Death," a poem which is unfortunately too long to quote.
Patrick MacGill was born in Donegal in 1890. He was the son of poverty-stricken peasants and, between the ages of 12 and 19, he worked as farm-servant, drainer, potato-digger, and navvy, becoming one of the thousands of stray "tramp-laborers" who cross each summer from Ireland to Scotland to help gather in the crops. Out of his bitter experiences and the evils of modern industrial life, he wrote several vivid novels (The Rat Pit is an unforgettable document) and the tragedy-crammed Songs of the Dead End. He joined the editorial staff of The Daily Express in 1911; was in the British army during the war; was wounded at Loos in 1915; and wrote his Soldier Songs during the conflict.
Francis Ledwidge was born in Slane, County Meath, Ireland, in 1891. His brief life was fitful and romantic. He was, at various times, a miner, a grocer's clerk, a farmer, a scavenger, an experimenter in hypnotism, and, at the end, a soldier. He served as a lance-corporal on the Flanders front and was killed in July, 1917, at the age of 26 years.
Ledwidge's poetry is rich in nature imagery; his lines are full of color, in the manner of Keats, and unaffectedly melodious.
Irene Rutherford McLeod
Irene Rutherford McLeod, born August 21, 1891, has written three volumes of direct and often distinguished verse, the best of which may be found in Songs to Save a Soul (1915) and Before Dawn (1918). The latter volume is dedicated to A. de Sélincourt, to whom she was married in 1919.
Richard Aldington was born in England in 1892, and educated at Dover College and London University. His first poems were published in England in 1909; Images Old and New appeared in 1915. Aldington and "H. D." (Hilda Doolittle, his American wife) are conceded to be two of the foremost imagist poets; their sensitive, firm and clean-cut lines put to shame their score of imitators. Aldington's War and Love (1918), from which "Prelude" is taken, is somewhat more regular in pattern; the poems in this latter volume are less consciously artistic but warmer and more humanly searching.
Edward Shanks was born in London in 1892 and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He has reviewed verse and belles lettres for several years for various English publications, and is at present assistant editor of The London Mercury. His The Queen of China and Other Poems appeared late in 1919.
Born in London, December 6th, 1892, Osbert Sitwell (son of Sir George Sitwell and brother of Edith Sitwell) was educated at Eton and became an officer in the Grenadier Guards, with whom he served in France for various periods from 1914 to 1917.
His first contributions appeared in Wheels (an annual anthology of a few of the younger radical writers, edited by his sister) and disclosed an ironic and strongly individual touch. That impression is strengthened by a reading of Argonaut and Juggernaut (1920), where Sitwell's cleverness and satire are fused. His most remarkable though his least brilliant poems are his irregular and fiery protests against smugness and hypocrisy. But even Sitwell's more conventional poetry has a freshness of movement and definiteness of outline.
Robert Nichols was born on the Isle of Wight in 1893. His first volume, Invocations (1915), was published while he was at the front, Nichols having joined the army while he was still an undergraduate at Trinity College, Oxford. After serving one year as second lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, he was incapacitated by shell shock, visiting America in 1918–19 as a lecturer. His Ardours and Endurances (1917) is the most representative work of this poet, although his new volume, The Flower of Flame (1920), shows a steady advance in power.
Charles Hamilton Sorley
Charles Hamilton Sorley, who promised greater things than any of the younger poets, was born at Old Aberdeen in May, 1895. He studied at Marlborough College and University College, Oxford. He was finishing his studies abroad and was on a walking-tour along the banks of the Moselle when the war came. Sorley returned home to receive an immediate commission in the 7th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. In August, 1915, at the age of 20, he was made a captain. On October 13, 1915, he was killed in action near Hulluch.
Sorley left but one book, Marlborough and Other Poems. The verse contained in it is sometimes rough but never rude. Although he admired Masefield, loveliness rather than liveliness was his aim. Restraint, tolerance, and a dignity unusual for a boy of 20, distinguish his poetry.
Robert Graves was born July 26, 1895. One of "the three rhyming musketeers" (the other two being the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Nichols), he was one of several writers who, roused by the war and giving himself to his country, refused to glorify warfare or chant new hymns of hate. Like Sassoon, Graves also reacts against the storm of fury and blood-lust (see his poem "To a Dead Boche"), but, fortified by a lighter and more whimsical spirit, where Sassoon is violent, Graves is volatile; where Sassoon is bitter, Graves is almost blithe.
An unconquerable gayety rises from his Fairies and Fusiliers (1917), a surprising and healing humor that is warmly individual. In Country Sentiment (1919) Graves turns to a fresh and more serious simplicity. But a buoyant fancy ripples beneath the most archaic of his ballads and a quaintly original turn of mind saves them from their own echoes.