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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Alfred Noyes (1880–1958)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Walter Brooks Drayton Henderson (1887–1939)
IN his ‘Tales of the Mermaid Tavern,’ Mr. Noyes pictures himself as pot-boy to those worthies of the spacious days who frequented the famous hostelry of his title. He is overmodest in his picture: but not otherwise untrue. For he has consorted with the Elizabethans joyously, and his youth, exuberance, simplicity of emotion and faith have made one with whatever in them was youthful, buoyant, adventurous, and full of wonder at a world deliriously young. He has developed in their company a rich sense of situation, if not of constructive drama; a sense of melody which, vigorously tutored also by most modern masters, Swinburne and Kipling first among them, retains at best something of the springtime clearness of the earlier time. Further, being only in imagination an Elizabethan, he is untroubled by most of their troubles (though not unmindful of them) and remains with their joys permanently content.  1
  Most obvious of these last in him, perhaps, is the joy of England. One might almost say that Drayton’s mantle has fallen upon him (for scarcely since ‘Polyolbion’ fell on sleep has England been for a poet so full a theme); and in falling something of Marlowe’s glowing thread has caught in it, some spirited design of Nashe or Greene—to speak no higher names. Mr. Noyes’s songs never fail of some beauty: he is too skillful a metrist for that to happen. But there is a special fervor and appeal to them when this is their theme—either the England of legend and romance, of political and social history, or of natural loveliness. He has indeed made vocal that unsung song that only her lovers know. ‘A Song of England,’ ‘The Song of Sherwood,’ ‘The World’s May Queen,’ ‘Earth Bound,’ ‘The Home Born,’ are but a few among many memorable examples of his doing it. In addition there are also the Mermaid tales and the epic ‘Drake’ which are only completer realizations of the same ideal. Ideal is precisely the word: for intense as is his patriotism, and his delight in all her intimate beauty, he loves England not as a circumscribed geographical point but as an outlook on the stars: a port of departure. And in the two last-named poems he has most strongly realized this in that same perennial dawn of his Elizabethan world where horizons grow constantly into the infinite and every voyage is a spiritual adventure.  2
  He had aimed at the same effect in the earliest of his poems—at giving to all things a spiritual setting: at making manifest the relationship between every honest human activity, child’s play or artist’s dream, and God. In ‘Drake’ he has done it for a man’s voyage, losing sight meanwhile of none of the virilities and values of his actual story. In ‘The Forest of Wild Thyme’ and ‘The Flower of Old Japan’ he did it for children who voyage in fanciful fairy countries where Mother Goose and the psalmist are at peace together, fairies and the Christ Child, and return to find the mystic flower in a common daisy at home. Here perhaps, attuned as the poems are to the child mind, the serious, the Christian purpose, is a little too pressing (as it occasionally is elsewhere in his early work), the combinations a little hazardous. But if it is so, accidentals of manner, not essentials of aim are to blame. Elsewhere the poet shows himself capable of construing his religious function more broadly—and of showing the spiritual relationships in ways more subtle and more potent.  3
  To pay attention to this religious determination of his work, is to discover its unifying principle. It is not seldom obvious whether the work be philosophical and deliberately concerned to sense the oneness of things, or to defend their spiritual source against agnosticism and science, or to deliver his creed of art and his creed of peace and love; or whether it be purely literary, given to celebrate a tramp by the wayside, or the poet’s masters, or his university, or to tell a tale. Understanding it (either in its orthodox or its romance form) the work itself becomes the thing. But this speaks for itself and its qualities—opulence of rhythm and color, sturdy humanness and blitheness of emotion, narrative skill and ballad vividness—are for open observance in every example.  4

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