Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Critical Introduction by John Drinkwater
Frederic William Henry Myers (1843–1901)
[Born at Keswick on February 6, 1843, his father being a Keswick clergyman and his mother a Marshall of Hallsteads. He had a distinguished career at Cheltenham and at Cambridge, where he won no less than six University prizes and was second in the first class both of the Classical and the Moral Sciences Tripos; won a reputation as a critic; and became a leader of the psychical research movement. He died in Rome on January 17, 1901. His Saint Paul (1867), an unsuccessful prize poem, was followed by Poems (1870) and The Renewal of Youth (1882).]  1
A GREAT deal of human emotion, that is of real and urgent significance, is vague, and in nearly every heart escapes all attempts at the solace of definition. For example, most people know at moments the instinct for some unrealizable self-identification with natural phenomena. While, however, the existence and force of this kind of emotion is unquestionable, the poet can hope to achieve anything in his art until he understands that nebulous feeling, however real it may be, is a thing that words are wholly incapable of expressing. Good poets have sometimes in their apprenticeship, before they have considered wisely the functions of their art, indulged the fallacy that leads to such writing as—
 “I yearn towards the sunset
In the magic of the twilight,
And the radiance of the heavens
Fills my soul with throbbing beauty …
but unless a man recovers from the error in his very green days, he forfeits any hope of poetic distinction. For to write thus is not to express mysterious and subtle emotion, but to lose oneself in an unintelligible foam of words. The poet, indeed, must by no means ignore this particular sort of emotional experience; it is far too universal and profound a thing for that. But it is his business to realize its essential value and to translate that precise value into an image that is capable of exact and vivid, or poetical, definition in words. It is failure to perceive this fundamental and invariable necessity of the art that is the cause of nearly all the bad poetry in the world.
  A great deal of the work of Frederic Myers, a poet of many gifts, suffers from this failure, though his fine classical scholarship ought to have saved him. His most famous and still popular poem, Saint Paul, has metrical interest, though the form in itself is apt to combine with Myers’s mental method to throw an emotional haze over the work. Here and there are figures of comparatively sharp definition, as in the passage here given, though a characteristic vagueness in the poem makes it difficult for us to do more than feel that here is a fine spiritual fervour, but that our perception of it is incomplete because of the lack of precision in the poet’s statement. Many of Myers’s other poems are touched by the same defect, but his real singing quality carries him happily through shorter pieces—such as that general favourite, Simmenthal—often enough to give him permanently something at least of the fame that was so widely his in his own day. With secondary poetic qualities he was well equipped; he had an earnest curiosity about life, wide and liberal knowledge, a sensitive and individual rhythmical gift, considerable grace of style, and spiritual dignity; and when he was visited by the clearer poetic mood, and was not misled by his too volatile imagination, these fine natural gifts were ready to the service of his inspiration, and he wrote shapely verse, infused at its best with a generous temper and real tenderness, and now and again moving with great delicacy, as in the subtle arrangement of the last line of—
 “Across the ocean, swift and soon,
  This faded petal goes,
To her who is herself as June,
  And lovely, and a rose.”

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