Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > Introduction
Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
IN the early days of English mysticism the first translation of Dionysius’ Mystical Theology was so readily welcomed that it is said, in a quaintly expressive phrase, to have ‘run across England like deere’. Since that time the fortunes of mysticism in these islands have been various, but, despite all the chances of repute and disrepute which it has undergone, there has been a continual undercurrent of thought by which it has been not only tolerated but welcomed. There have been, of course, heights of enthusiasm as well as profound depths of apathy in regard to it, but even if the limitations of the greatest enthusiasm have always been evident, so also has been the continuing readiness of some portion of the religious consciousness of the people to respond to what has been most vital in it. It is, in fact, the hypothesis of mysticism that it is not utterly without its witness in any age, even though the voice of that witness be lost in the turmoil of surrounding things.   1
  And now it appears—it has in fact been appearing for some years—that the fortunes of mysticism are mending. It has emerged from the morass of apathy which characterized the eighteenth and the greater part of the nineteenth century; it is reawakening to the value of its own peculiar treasure of thought and word: on all sides there are signs that it is on the verge of entering into a kingdom of such breadth and fertility as it has perhaps never known. It is as though the world were undergoing a spiritual revitalization, spurring it on to experience—even through destruction and death—a further measure of Reality and Truth.   2
  At such a time it is of interest to look back over the past and discover something of what has been already accomplished in the way of poetic expression of mystical themes and feelings. The most essential part of mysticism cannot, of course, ever pass into expression, inasmuch as it consists in an experience which is in the most literal sense ineffable. The secret of the inmost sanctuary is not in danger of profanation, since none but those who penetrate into that sanctuary can understand it, and those even who penetrate find, on passing out again, that their lips are sealed by the sheer insufficiency of language as a medium for conveying the sense of their supreme adventure. The speech of every day has no terms for what they have seen and known, and least of all can they hope for adequate expression through the phrases and apparatus of logical reasoning. In despair of moulding the stubborn stuff of prose into a form that will even approximate to their need, many of them turn, therefore, to poetry as the medium which will convey least inadequately some hint of their experience. By the rhythm and the glamour of their verse, by its peculiar quality of suggesting infinitely more than it ever says directly, by its very elasticity, they struggle to give what hints they may of the Reality that is eternally underlying all things. And it is precisely through that rhythm and that glamour and the high enchantment of their writing that some rays gleam from the Light which is supernal.   3
  The ways in which mystical experience will translate itself into such measure of expression as is possible must evidently vary, both in kind and degree, with the experience itself. In sending out this anthology we have no desire to venture on a definition of what actually constitutes mysticism and what does not, since such an attempt would be clearly outside our province. Our conception of mysticism must be found in the poetry we have gathered together. But it may serve as a ground for comprehension to say that in making our selection we have been governed by a desire to include only such poems and extracts from poems as contain intimations of a consciousness wider and deeper than the normal. This is the connecting link between them—the thread, as it were, on which the individual pieces are strung. It is less a question of a common subject than of a common standpoint and in some sense a common atmosphere, and our attempt has been to steer a middle course between the twin dangers of an uninspired piety on the one hand and mere intellectual speculation on the other. The claim to inclusion has in no case been that any particular poet is of sufficient importance to demand representation as such, but that a poet of no matter what general rank has written one or more poems which testify to the greater things and at the same time reach a certain level of expression. For similar reasons we have not included the work of any poet when there seemed no better reason for so doing than that he was representative of some particular period or style.   4
  It should be remembered, further, that this anthology makes no claim to be representative even of any poet whose work is included, since the great mass of writing by which he or she is commonly known may fall without our limits, and some little known poem or poems may have seemed to answer our requirements. The difficulty of selection has of course been greatest in the cases, like that of Thomas Traherne, where nearly all the poems are definitely mystical, and it is evident that, here and elsewhere, we have been compelled to choose from among many possible pieces. We cannot, therefore, pretend to have made an exhaustive collection of the mystical poetry of the English language or of any poet, but hope rather that our selections may be found to be adequately representative both of the one and the other.   5
  Beyond this question of the immediate ground for choice, it may be well to mention the limits we have set ourselves in other direction. We have felt it desirable to admit any poetry written in English, from whatever country the poet may have hailed, as well as any native poetry written in Great Britain and Ireland in some other tongue than English, and subsequently translated. Thus translation from any European language have been excluded, often with very great regret, but translations from the Gaelic have been gladly admitted. In point of time we have set ourselves no limits, but have rather sought to show that the torch of the Inner Light has been handed down from age to age until the present day, when, as we believe, the world is near to a spiritual vitalization hitherto unimagined.   6
  We offer our sincere thanks to the following authors for permission to include their own poems:   7
  Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie, Mrs. de Bary (Anna Bunston), Mr. Clifford Bax, the Dean of Norwich (Dr. H. C. Beeching), Mr. A. C. Benson, Mr. F. W. Bourdillon, Mr. F. G. Bowles, Miss A. M. Buckton (for two poems from Songs of joy) Mr. Bliss Carman, Mr. Edward Carpenter, Miss Amy Clarke, Mr. Aleister Crowley, Dr. W. J. Dawson, Mrs. Margaret Deland, Mr. E. J. Ellis, Mr. Darrell Figgis, Mr. H. E. Goad, Mr. Edmund Gosse, Father John Gray, Miss Emily Hickey, Mrs. K. Tynan Hinkson, Mr. E. G. A. Holmes, Mr. Paul Hookham, Miss G. M. Hort, Mr. Laurence Housman, Mrs. H. E. Hamilton King, Mr. John Masefield, Mr. Eugene Mason, Mrs. Stuart Moore (Miss Evelyn Underhill), Mr. Henry Newbolt (for his own poem from Poems New and Old, published by Mr. John Murray, and for Miss Mary Coleridge’s work from poems, published by Mr. Elkin Mathews), Mr. Alfred Noyes, Mr. John Oxenham, Mr. James Rhoades, Sir Rennell Rodd, Mr. G. W. Russell (‘A. E.’), Mr. G. Santayana, Mr. R. A. E. Shepherd, Mr. Arthur Symons, Mr. Herbert Trench, Mr. Samuel Waddington, Mr. A. E. Waite, the Rev. F. W. Orde Ward, and Mr. W. L. Wilmhurst (for his own poem and, as editor of The Seeker, for confirming Mr. Goad’s permission).   8
  We are further indebted for a similar courtesy to many publishers and private owners of copyrights, of whom the full list follows:   9
  The editor of the Academy for confirming the permission given by Miss Hort; Messrs. George Allen & Unwin for two poems from The Mockers by Miss Barlow, and for the text of Richard Rolle’s poem from Dr. Horstmann’s edition of his works; Messrs. Angus & Robertson of Sydney for a poem from At Dawn and Dusk by Mr. V. J. Daley; Messrs. Appleton & Co. for three of the poems by Walt Whitman; Mr. Edward Arnold for confirming the permission given by Sir Rennell Rodd; Messrs. G. Bell & Sons for Coventry Patmore; Mr. Mackenzie Bell for A. C. Swinburne; Mr. B. H. Blackwell for the work of the Rev, A. S. Cripps, Mr. W. R. Childe, and Mr. J. S. Muirhead; Messrs. Blackwood & Sons for confirming the permission given by Mr. Noyes for poems from his, Collected Works; Mr. Robert Bridges for the Father Gerard Hopkins; Mr. A. H. Bullen for Mr. Horace Holley; Messrs. Burns & Oates for Mgr. R. H. Benson, Mr. J. C. Earle, Hon. Mrs. Lindsay, Mrs. Meynell, Father J. B. Tabb, and Francis Thompson; the late Lady Victoria Buxton for the Hon. Roden Noel; Messrs. Chatto & Windus for George MacDonald and for confirming Miss Jay’s permission for Robert Buchanan’s work; Mr. W. H. Chesson for Mrs. Chesson; the Clarendon Press for its texts of Donne, Herrick, and Vaughan; Messrs. Constable & Co. for George Meredith (by permission of Constable & Co., Ltd., London, and Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York), for confirming Mr. E. G. A. Holmes’s permission and for Mr. Harold Monro; Mrs. P. L. Deacon for A. W. E. O’Shaughnessy; Messrs. J. M. Dent & Sons for Mr. G. K. Chesterton; Mr. Stephen de Vere for Aubrey de Vere; Messrs. P. J. & A. E. Dobell for the Thomas Traherne (printed here from Mr. Bertram Dobell’s modernized text); Mrs. Dowden for Edward Dowden (including the poem ‘Love’s Lord’ from A Woman’s Reliquary); the Very Reverend Mother Provincial O. S. D. for Augusta Theodosia Drane; Messrs. Duffield & Co. for Mrs. Elsa Barker; the Early English Text Society for the text of Quia Amore Langueo; Mr. H. J. Glaisher as literary executor for Mr. G. Barlow; Canon Greenwell for Miss Dora Greenwell; Messrs. Heinemann for ‘The Soul’s Prayer’ and ‘In Salutation to the Eternal Peace’, from The Bird of Time by Sarojini Nayadu, London, Heinemann, and for ‘To a Buddha seated on a Lotus’ from The Golden Threshold by Sarojini Nayadu, London, Heinemann; Mrs. Henley for W. E. Henley; the Houghton Mifflin Company for poems by Mr. H. B. Carpenter, Mr. C. P. Cranch, and Miss E. M. Thomas; Miss Harriett Jay for Robert Buchanan; Messrs. Kegan Paul & Co. for Archbishop Alexander, Sir Edwin Arnold, P. J. Bailey, and A. Gurney, as well as for confirming the permission given by Mrs. Hamilton King; Mr. John Lane for Richard le Gallienne and for ‘The Immortal Hour’ from Poems by Mrs. R. A. Taylor and for confirming permissions given by Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie, Mr. A. C. Benson, and Mr. James Rhoades; Messrs. Longmans, Green & Co. for poems by F. W. H. Myers and Miss E. Gore Booth; Messrs. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co. for D. A. Wasson; Messrs. Macmillan & Co. for T. E. Brown, Mrs. D. M. Craik (Miss Mulock), Christina Rossetti, Lord Tennyson, and Mrs. Fraser-Tytler, and for confirming the permission given by Mr. G. W. Russell; Mr. Elkin Mathews for Miss May Probyn, Mrs. R. A. Taylor, and the Rev. A. S. Cripps (‘The Death of St. Francis’); Messrs. Maunsel & Co. for Mr. J. H. Cousins, Miss S. L. Mitchell, J. M. Plunkett, and Mrs. James Stephens; Messrs. Methuen & Co. for Oscar Wilde; Lady Miller for Sir Alfred Lyall; Mr. Arthur Morris for the Sir Lewis Morris; Mr. Eveleigh Nash for Michael Field; Messrs. James Nisbet & Co., Ltd., for Frances Ridley Havergal; the Rev. Conrad Noel for concurring in permission for the Hon. Roden Noel; The Page Company for confirming Mr. Bliss Carman’s permission; Mr. Herbert Paul for D. M. Dolben; Messrs. Putnam’s Sons for ‘Sibylline’ from Madison Cawein’s Intimations of the Beautiful, and for Mr. C. A. Walworth; Messrs. Routledge for P. J. Bailey and for confirming the permission given by Lady Miller; Mr. Duncan C. Scott for Archibald Lampman; Mrs. Elizabeth Sharp for William Sharp (Fiona Macleod); Mr. Clement Shorter for Mrs. D. S. Shorter; Messrs. Small, Maynard & Co. for two poems from The Poet, the Fool and the Faeries by Madison Cawein; Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co. for J. A. Symonds; the editor of the Spectator for Confirming Mr. F. W. Bourdillon’s permission; Mr. Fisher Unwin for poems from Mr. W. B. Yeats’s Poems and The Secret Rose, and from the Collected Poems of Mrs. Duclaux, and for Mr. C. Weekes; Mr. A. S. Walker for J. S. Blackie; and Mr. J. M. Watkins for Miss C. M. Verschoyle.  10
  This completes the record of our indebtedness. We would simply add an expression of our regret that it has been impossible to obtain permission to include any of Sidney Lanier’s writing, owing to copyright restrictions. But if we cannot reprint ‘A Ballad of Trees and the Master’, which is the chief object of our regret, we can at least point to it as deserving inclusion in any such anthology as the present, and we can further draw attention to such other poems as ‘The Marshes of Glynn’ and ‘A Florida Sunday’. We would gladly have included all these and even more, but we must now content ourselves with this mention of them. It is with equal regret that we offer a mere extract from George Meredith’s ‘Outer and Inner’, but in his case the rules now laid down for quotation from his poems make it impossible to do him justice.  11
  There are a very few poems the copyright-holders of which we have been unable to discover or to trace in spite of repeated efforts. To these unknown owners of treasure we would offer our acknowledgements and our apologies, as to those, if any, whose claims we have unknowingly overlooked.
A. H. E. LEE.



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