Infomotions, Inc.The Poet's Poet / Atkins, Elizabeth

Author: Atkins, Elizabeth
Title: The Poet's Poet
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): poet; poets; poetry; verse; joyce kilmer; aurora leigh; alfred noyes; christina rossetti
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Title: The Poet's Poet

Author: Elizabeth Atkins

Release Date: April, 2005  [EBook #7928]
[This file was first posted on June 1, 2003]

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Essays on the Character and Mission of the Poet As Interpreted in
English Verse of the Last One Hundred and Fifty Years



Instructor in English, University of Minnesota




Utterances of poets regarding their character and mission have perhaps
received less attention than they deserve. The tacit assumption of the
majority of critics seems to be that the poet, like the criminal, is the
last man who should pass judgment upon his own case. Yet it is by no
means certain that this view is correct. Introspective analysis on the
part of the poet might reasonably be expected to be as productive of
aesthetic revelation as the more objective criticism of the mere observer
of literary phenomena. Moreover, aside from its intrinsic merits, the
poet's self-exposition must have interest for all students of Platonic
philosophy, inasmuch as Plato's famous challenge was directed only
incidentally to critics of poetry; primarily it was to Poetry herself,
whom he urged to make just such lyrical defense as we are to consider.

The method here employed is not to present exhaustively the substance of
individual poems treating of poets. Analysis of Wordsworth's _Prelude,_
Browning's _Sordello,_ and the like, could scarcely give more than a
re-presentation of what is already available to the reader in notes and
essays on those poems. The purpose here is rather to pass in review the
main body of such verse written in the last one hundred and fifty years.
We are concerned, to be sure, with pointing out idiosyncratic
conceptions of individual writers, and with tracing the vogue of passing
theories. The chief interest, however, should lie in the discovery of an
essential unity in many poets' views on their own character and mission.

It is true that there is scarcely an idea relative to the poet which is
not somewhere contradicted in the verse of this period, and the attempt
has been made to be wholly impartial in presenting all sides of each
question. Indeed, the subject may seem to be one in which dualism is
inescapable. The poet is, in one sense, a hybrid creature; he is the
lover of the sensual and of the spiritual, for he is the revealer of the
spiritual in the sensual. Consequently it is not strange that
practically every utterance which we may consider,--even such as deal
with the most superficial aspects of the poet, as his physical beauty or
his health,--falls naturally into one of two divisions, accordingly as
the poet feels the sensual or the spiritual aspect of his nature to be
the more important Yet the fact remains that the quest of unity has been
the most interesting feature of this investigation. The man in whose
nature the poet's two apparently contradictory desires shall wholly
harmonize is the ideal whom practically all modern English poets are
attempting to present.

Minor poets have been considered, perhaps to an unwarranted degree. In
the Victorian period, for instance, there may seem something grotesque
in placing Tupper's judgments on verse beside Browning's. Yet, since it
is true that so slight a poet as William Lisles Bowles influenced
Coleridge, and that T. E. Chivers probably influenced Poe, it seems that
in a study of this sort minor writers have a place. In addition, where
the views of one minor verse-writer might be negligible, the views of a
large group are frequently highly significant, not only as testifying to
the vogue of ephemeral ideas, but as demonstrating that great and small
in the poetic world have the same general attitude toward their gift. It
is perhaps true that minor poets have been more loquacious on the
subject of their nature than have greater ones, but some attempt is here
made to hold them within bounds, so that they may not drown out the more
meaningful utterances of the master singers.

The last one hundred and fifty years have been chosen for discussion,
since the beginning of the romantic movement marked the rise of a
peculiarly self-conscious attitude in the poet, and brought his
personality into new prominence. Contemporary verse seems to fall within
the scope of these studies, inasmuch as the "renaissance of poetry" (as
enthusiasts like to term the new stirring of interest in verse) is
revealing young poets of the present day even more frank in
self-revealment than were poets of twenty years ago.

The excursion through modern English poetry involved in these studies
has been a pleasant one. The value and interest of such an investigation
was first pointed out to me by Professor Louise Pound of the University
of Nebraska. It is with sincere appreciation that I here express my
indebtedness to her, both for the initial suggestion, and for the
invaluable advice which I have received from her during my procedure. I
owe much gratitude also to President Wimam Allan Neilson of Smith
College, who was formerly my teacher in Radcliffe College, and to
Professor Hartley Burr Alexander, of the department of Philosophy at the
University of Nebraska, who has given me unstinted help and generous





Apparent futility of verse dealing with the poet.--Its
justification.--The poet's personality the hidden theme of all
verse,--The poet's egotism.--Belief that his inspirations are
divine.--Belief in the immortality of his poems.--The romantic view that
the creator is greater than his creations.--The poet's contempt for
uninspired men.--Reaction of the public to the poet's contempt.--Its
retaliation in jeers.--The poet's wounded vanity.--His morbid
self-consciousness.--His self-imposed solitude.--Enhancement of his
egotism by solitude.


View that genius results from a happy combination of physical
conditions.--The poet's reluctance to embrace such a theory.--His
heredity.--Rank.--Patricians vs. children of the soil.--His
body.--Poetic beauty.--Features expressing alert and delicate
senses.--Contrary conception of poet rapt away from sense.--
Blindness.--Physique.--Health.--Hypersensibility of invalids.--
Escape from fleshly bondage afforded by perfect health.--The poet's
sex.--Limitations of the woman poet.--Her claims.--The poet's
habitat.--Vogue of romantic solitude.--Savage environment.--Its
advantages.--Growing popularity of the city poet.--The wanderer.--
The financial status of the poet.--Poverty as sharpener of
sensibility.--The poet's age.--Vogue of the young poet.--Purity of
youthful emotions.--Early death.--Claims of the aged poet.--
Contemplation after active life.


The classic conception.--Love as a disturbing factor in
composition.--The romantic conception.--Love the source of
inspiration.--Fusion of intense passion with repose essential to
poetry.--Poetic love and Platonic love synonymous.--Sensual love not
suggestive.--The poet's ascent to ideal love.--Analogy with ascent
described in Plato's _Symposium_.--Discontent with ephemeralness of
passion.--Poetry a means of rendering passion eternal.--Insatiability of
the poet's affections.--Idealization of his mistress.--Ideal beauty the
real object of his love.--Fickleness.--Its justification.--Advantage in
seeing varied aspects of ideal beauty.--Remoteness as an essential
factor in ideal love.--Sluggishness resulting from complete
content.--Aspiration the poetic attitude.--Abstract love-poetry,
consciously addressed to ideal beauty.--Its merits and defects.--The
sensuous as well as the ideal indispensable to poetry.


Reticence of great geniuses regarding inspiration.--Mystery of
inspiration.--The poet's curiosity as to his inspired moments.--Wild
desire preceding inspiration.--Sudden arrest rather than satisfaction of
desire.--Ecstasy.--Analogy with intoxication.--Attitude of reverence
during inspired moments.--Feeling that an outside power is
responsible.--Attempts to give a rational account of inspiration.--The
theory of the sub-conscious.--Prenatal memory.--Reincarnation of dead
geniuses.--Varied conceptions of the spirit inspiring song as the Muse,
nature, the spirit of the universe.--The poet's absolute surrender to
this power.--Madness.--Contempt for the limitations of the human
reason.--Belief in infallibility of inspirations.--Limitations of
inspiration.--Transience.--Expression not given from without.--The work
of the poet's conscious intelligence.--Need for making the vision
intelligible.--Quarrel over the value of hard work.


The poet's reliance upon feeling as sole moral guide.--Attack upon his
morals made by philosophers, puritans, philistines.--Professedly wicked
poets.--Their rarity.--Revolt against mass-feeling.--The aesthetic
appeal of sin.--The morally frail poet, handicapped by susceptibility to
passion.--The typical poet's repudiation of immorality.--Feeling that
virtue and poetry are inseparable.--Minor explanations for this
conviction.--The "poet a poem" theory.--Identity of the good and the
beautiful.--The poet's quarrel with the philistine.--The poet's horror
of restraint.--The philistine's unfairness to the poet's innocence.--The
poet's quarrel with the puritan.--The poet's horror of asceticism.--The
poet's quarrel with the philosopher.--Feeling upon which the poet relies
allied to Platonic intuition.


Threefold attack upon the poet's religion.--His lack of theological
temper.--His lack of reverence.--His lack of conformance.--The poet's
defense.--Materialistic belief deadening to poetry.--His idealistic
temper.--His pantheistic leanings.--His reverence for beauty.--His
repudiation of a religion that humbles him.--Compatibility of pride and
pantheism.--The poet's nonconformance.--His occasional perverseness.--
Inspiring nature of doubt.--The poet's thirst for God.--The occasional
orthodox poet.


The poet's alleged uselessness,--His effeminacy.--His virility.--The
poet warrior.--Incompatibility of poets and materialists.--Plato'scharge
that poetry is inferior to actual life.--The concurrence of
certain soldier poets in Plato's charge.--Poetry as an amusement
only.--The value of faithful imitation.--The realists.--Poetry as a
solace.--Poetry a reflection of the ideal essence of things.--Love of
beauty the poet's guide in disentangling ideality from the accidents of
things.--Beauty as truth.--The poet as seer.--The quarrel with the
philosopher.--The truth of beauty vs. cold facts.--Proof of validity of
the poet's truth.--His skill as prophet.--The poet's mission as
reformer.--His impatience with practical reforms.--Belief in essential
goodness of men, since beauty is the essence of things.--Reform a matter
of allowing all things to express their essence.--Enthusiasm for
liberty.--Denial of the war-poet's charge.--Poets the authors of
liberty.--Poets the real rulers of mankind.--The world's appreciation of
their importance.--Their immortality.


Denial that the views of poets on the poet are heterogeneous.--Poets'
identity of purpose in discussing poets.--Apparent contradictions in
views.-Apparent inconsistency in the thought of each poet.--The two-fold
interests of poets.--The poet as harmonizer of sensual and spiritual.--
Balance of sense and spirit in the poetic temperament.--Injustice to
one element or the other in most literary criticism.--Limitations of
the poet's prose criticism.--Superiority of his critical expressions
in verse.--The poet's importance.--Poetry as a proof of the idealistic




Most of us, mere men that we are, find ourselves caught in some
entanglement of our mortal coil even before we have fairly embarked upon
the enterprise of thinking our case through. The art of self-reflection
which appeals to us as so eminent and so human, is it after all much
more than a vaporous vanity? We name its subject "human nature"; we give
it a raiment of timeless generalities; but in the end the show of
thought discloses little beyond the obstreperous bit of a "me" which has
blown all the fume. The "psychologist's fallacy," or again the
"egocentric predicament" of the philosopher of the Absolute, these are
but tagged examples of a type of futile self-return (we name it
"discovery" to save our faces) which comes more or less to men of all
kinds when they take honest-eyed measure of the consequences of their
own valuations of themselves. We pose for the portrait; we admire the
Lion; but we have only to turn our heads to catch-glimpse Punch with
thumb to nose. And then, of course, we mock our own humiliation, which
is another kind of vanity; and, having done this penance, pursue again
our self-returning fate. The theme is, after all, one we cannot drop; it
is the mortal coil.

In the moment of our revulsion from the inevitable return upon itself of
the human reason, many of us have clung with the greater desperation to
the hope offered by poetry. By the way of intuition poets promise to
carry us beyond the boundary of the vicious circle. When the ceaseless
round of the real world has come to nauseate us, they assure us that by
simply relaxing our hold upon actuality we may escape from the
squirrel-cage. By consenting to the prohibition, "Bold lover, never,
never canst thou kiss!" we may enter the realm of ideality, where our
dizzy brains grow steady, and our pulses are calmed, as we gaze upon the
quietude of transcendent beauty.

But what are we to say when, on opening almost any book of comparatively
recent verse, we find, not the self-forgetfulness attendant upon an
ineffable vision, but advertisement of the author's importance? His
argument we find running somewhat as follows: "I am superior to you
because I write poetry. What do I write poetry about? Why, about my
superiority, of course!" Must we not conclude that the poet, with the
rest of us, is speeding around the hippodrome of his own self-centered

Indeed the poet's circle is likely to appear to us even more viciousthan
that of other men. To be sure, we remember Sir Philip Sidney's
contention, supported by his anecdote of the loquacious horseman, that
men of all callings are equally disposed to vaunt themselves. If the
poet seems especially voluble about his merits, this may be owing to the
fact that, words being the tools of his trade, he is more apt than other
men in giving expression to his self-importance. But our specific
objection to the poet is not met by this explanation. Even the horseman
does not expect panegyrics of his profession to take the place of
horseshoes. The inventor does not issue an autobiography in lieu of a
new invention. The public would seem justified in reminding the poet
that, having a reasonable amount of curiosity about human nature, it
will eagerly devour the poet's biography, properly labeled, but only
after he has forgotten himself long enough to write a poem that will
prove his genius, and so lend worth to the perusal of his idiosyncratic
records, and his judgments on poetic composition.

The first impulse of our revulsion from the self-infatuated poet is to
confute him with the potent name of Aristotle, and show him his doom
foreordained in the book of poetic Revelations. "The poet should speak
as little as possible in his own person," we read, "for it is not this
that makes him an imitator." [Footnote: _Poetics_, 1460 a.] One cannot
too much admire Aristotle's canniness in thus nipping the poet's egotism
in the bud, for he must have seen clearly that if the poet began to talk
in his own person, he would soon lead the conversation around to
himself, and that, once launched on that inexhaustible subject, he would
never be ready to return to his original theme.

We may regret that we have not Aristotle's sanction for condemning also
extra-poetical advertisements of the poet's personality, as a hindrance
to our seeing the ideal world through his poetry. In certain moods one
feels it a blessing that we possess no romantic traditions of Homer, to
get in the way of our passing impartial judgment upon his works. Our
intimate knowledge of nineteenth century poets has been of doubtful
benefit to us. Wordsworth has shaken into what promises to be his
permanent place among the English poets much more expeditiously than has
Byron. Is this not because in Wordsworth's case the reader is not
conscious of a magnetic personality drawing his judgment away from
purely aesthetic standards? Again, consider the case of Keats. For us
the facts of his life must color almost every line he wrote. How are we
to determine whether his sonnet, _When I Have Fears,_ is great poetry or
not, so long as it fills our minds insistently with the pity of his love
for Fanny Brawne, and his epitaph in the Roman graveyard?

Christopher North has been much upbraided by a hero-worshiping
generation, but one may go too far in condemning the Scotch sense in his

Mr. Keats we have often heard spoken of in terms of great kindness, and
we have no doubt that his manners and feelings are calculated to make
his friends love him. But what has all this to do with our opinion of
their poetry? What, in the name of wonder, does it concern us, whether
these men sit among themselves with mild or with sulky faces, eating
their mutton steaks, and drinking their porter? [Footnote: Sidney
Colvin, _John Keats,_ p. 478.]

If we are reluctant to sponsor words printed in _Blackwoods,_ we may be
more at ease in agreeing with the same sentiments as expressed by
Keats himself. After a too protracted dinner party with Wordsworth and
Hunt, Keats gave vent to his feelings as follows:

Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing that enters into one's
soul, and does not startle or amaze it with itself, but with its
subject. How beautiful are the retired flowers! How they would lose
their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, "Admire
me, I am a violet! Dote upon me, I am a primrose!".... I will cut all
this--I will have no more of Wordsworth or Hunt in particular.... I
don't mean to deny Wordsworth's grandeur and Hunt's merit, but I mean to
say that we need not be teased with grandeur and merit when we can have
them uncontaminated and unobtrusive. [Footnote: _Ibid.,_ p. 253.]

If acquaintance with a poet prevents his contemporaries from fixing
their attention exclusively upon the merits of his verse, in how much
better case is posterity, if the poet's personality makes its way into
the heart of his poetry? We have Browning's dictum on Shakespeare's

                            With this key
  Shakespeare unlocked his heart. Once more
  _Did_ Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he.
[Footnote: _House._]

Did Browning mean that Shakespeare was less the poet, as well as less
the dramatist, if he revealed himself to us in his poetry? And is this
our contention?

It seems a reasonable contention, at least, the more so since poets are
practically unanimous in describing inspiration as lifting them out of
themselves, into self-forgetful ecstasy. Even that arch-egoist, Byron,
concedes this point. "To withdraw myself from myself--oh, that accursed
selfishness," he writes, "has ever been my entire, my sincere motive in
scribbling at all." [Footnote: Letters and Journals, ed, Rowland E.
Prothero, November 26, 1813.] Surely we may complain that it is rather
hard on us if the poet can escape from himself only by throwing himself
at the reader's head.

It would seem natural to conclude from the selflessness of inspiration
that the more frequently inspired the poet is, the less will he himself
be an interesting subject for verse. Again we must quote Keats to
confute his more self-centered brothers. "A poet," Keats says, "is the
most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity; he
is continually in for, and filling, some other body. The sun, the moon,
the stars, and men and women who are creatures of impulse are poetical
and have about them an unchangeable attribute; the poet has none, no
identity." [Footnote: Letter to Richard Woodhouse, October 27, 1818.]
The same conviction is differently phrased by Landor. The poet is a
luminous body, whose function is to reveal other objects, not himself,
to us. Therefore Landor considers our scanty knowledge of Shakespeare as
compared with lesser poets a natural consequence of the
self-obliterating splendor of his genius:

  In poetry there is but one supreme,
  Though there are many angels round his throne,
  Mighty and beauteous, while his face is hid.
[Footnote: _On Shakespeare_.]

But though an occasional poet lends his voice in support of our censure,
the average poet would brush aside our complaints with impatience. What
right have we to accuse him of swerving from the subject matter proper
to poetry, while we appear to have no clear idea as to what the
legitimate subject matter is?  Precisely what are we looking for, that
we are led to complain that the massive outlines of the poet's figure
obscure our view?

Now just here we who assail the poet are likely to turn our guns upon
one another, for we are brought up against the stone wall of age-old
dispute over the function of the poet. He should hold up his magic
mirror to the physical world, some of us declare, and set the charm of
immortality upon the life about us. Far from it, others retort. The poet
should redeem us from the flesh, and show us the ideal forms of things,
which bear, it may be, very slight resemblance to their imitations in
this world.

Now while we are sadly meditating our inability to batter our way
through this obstacle to perfect clarity, the poets championing the
opposing views, like Plato's sophistic brothers, Euthydemus and
Dionysodorus, proceed to knock us from one to the other side, justifying
their self-centered verse by either theory. Do we maintain that the poet
should reflect the life about him? Then, holding the mirror up to life,
he will naturally be the central figure in the reflection. Do we
maintain that the poet should reveal an ideal world? Then, being alone
of all men transported by his vision into this ideal realm, he will have
no competitors to dispute his place as chief character.

At first thought it may have appeared obvious to us that the idealistic
poet, who claims that his art is a revelation of a transcendental
entity, is soaring to celestial realms whither his mundane personality
cannot follow. Leaving below him the dusty atmosphere of the actual
world, why should he not attain to ideas in their purity, uncolored by
his own individuality? But we must in justice remember that the poet
cannot, in the same degree as the mathematician, present his ideals
nakedly. They are, like the Phidian statues of the Fates, inseparable
from their filmy veiling. Beauty seems to be differentiated from the
other Platonic ideas by precisely this attribute, that it must be
embodied. What else is the meaning of the statement in the _Phaedrus_,
"This is the privilege of beauty, that, being the loveliest (of the
ideas) she is also the most palpable to sight?" [Footnote: sec. 251.] Now,
whatever one's stand on the question of nature versus humanity in art,
one must admit that embodying ideals means, in the long run,
personifying them. The poet, despising the sordid and unwieldy natures
of men, may try, as Wordsworth did, to give us a purer crystallization
of his ideas in nature, but it is really his own personality, scattered
to the four winds, that he is offering us in the guise of nature, as the
habiliments of his thought. Reflection leads us to agree with Coleridge:

  In our life alone does nature live,
  Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shrowd.
[Footnote: _Ode to Dejection._]

The poet may not always be conscious of this, any more than Keats was;
his traits may be so broadcast that he is in the position of the
philosopher who, from the remote citadel of his head, disowns his own
toes; nevertheless, a sense of tingling oneness with him is the secret
of nature's attraction. Walt Whitman, who conceives of the poet's
personality as the most pervasive thing in the universe, arrives at his
conviction by the same reflection as that of Keats, telling us,

  There was a child went forth every day,
  And the first object he looked upon, that object he became.

Perhaps Alice Meynell has best expressed the phenomenon, in a sonnet
called _The Love of Narcissus:_

  Like him who met his own eyes in the river,
  The poet trembles at his own long gaze
  That meets him through the changing nights and days
  From out great Nature; all her waters quiver
  With his fair image facing him forever:
  The music that he listens to betrays
  His own heart to his ears: by trackless ways
  His wild thoughts tend to him in long endeavor.
  His dreams are far among the silent hills;
  His vague voice calls him from the darkened plain;
  With winds at night vague recognition thrills
  His lonely heart with piercing love and pain;
  He knows again his mirth in mountain rills,
  His weary tears that touch him in the rain.

Possibly we may concede that his fusion with all nature renders the
poet's personality so diaphanous that his presence is unobtrusive in
poetry of ideas, but we may still object to his thrusting himself into
realistic poetry. Shelley's poet-heroes we will tolerate, as translucent
mediums of his thought, but we are not inclined to accept Byron's, when
we seek a panoramic view of this world. Poetry gains manifold
representation of life, we argue, in proportion as the author represses
his personal bias, and approximates the objective view that a scientist
gives. We cannot but sympathize with Sidney Lanier's complaint against
"your cold jellyfish poets that wrinkle themselves about a pebble of a
theme and let us see it through their substance, as if that were a great
feat." [Footnote: _Poem Outlines._]

In answer, champions of the ubiquitous poet in recent realistic verse
may point to the _Canterbury Tales,_ and show us Chaucer ambling
along with the other pilgrims. His presence, they remind us, instead of
distorting his picture of fourteenth-century life, lends intimacy to our
view of it. We can only feebly retort that, despite his girth, the poet
is the least conspicuous figure in that procession, whereas a modern
poet would shoulder himself ahead of the knight, steal the hearts of all
the ladies, from Madame Eglantine to the Wife of Bath, and change the
destinies of each of his rivals ere Canterbury was reached.

We return to our strongest argument for the invisible poet. What of
Shakespeare? we reiterate. Well, the poets might remind us that
criticism of late years has been laying more and more stress upon the
personality of Shakespeare, in the spirit of Hartley Coleridge's lines,

  Great poet, 'twas thy art,
  To know thyself, and in thyself to be
  Whate'er love, hate, ambition, destiny,
  Or the firm, fatal purpose of the heart
  Can make of man.
[Footnote: _Shakespeare_.]

If this trend of criticism is in the right direction, then the apparent
objectivity of the poet must be pure camouflage, and it is his own
personality that he is giving us all the time, in the guise of one
character and another. In this case, not his frank confession of his
presence in his poetry, but his self-concealment, falsifies his
representation of life. Since we have quoted Browning's apparent
criticism of the self-revealing poet, it is only fair to quote some of
his unquestionably sincere utterances on the other side of the question.
"You speak out, you," he wrote to Elizabeth Barrett; [Footnote: January
13, 1845.] "I only make men and women speak--give you truth broken into
prismatic hues, and fear the pure white light." Again he wrote, "I never
have begun, even, what I hope I was born to begin and end,--'R.B.', a
poem." [Footnote: Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, February 3, 1845.] And
Mrs. Browning, usually a better spokesman for the typical English poet
than is Browning himself, likewise conceives it the artist's duty to
show us his own nature, to be "greatly _himself always_, which is
the hardest thing for a man to be, perhaps." [Footnote: Letter to Robert
Browning, September 9, 1845.]

"Art," says Aristotle, "is an imitation of life." "_L'art, mes
enfants_," says the modern poet, speaking through the lips of
Verlaine, "_c'est d'etre absolument soi-meme_." Of course if one
concedes that the poet is the only thing in life worth bothering about,
the two statements become practically identical. It may be true that the
poet's universal sympathies make him the most complex type that
civilization has produced, and consequently the most economical figure
to present as a sample of humanity. But Taine has offered us a simpler
way of harmonizing the two statements, not by juggling with Aristotle's
word "life," but with the word "imitation." "Art," says Taine, "is
nature seen through a temperament."

Now it may be that to Aristotle imitation, _Mimeseis_, did mean "seeing
through a temperament." But certainly, had he used that phrase, he would
have laid the stress on "seeing," rather than on "temperament."
Aristotle would judge a man to have poetic temperament if his mind were
like a telescope, sharpening the essential outlines of things. Modern
poets, on the other hand, are inclined to grant that a person has poetic
temperament only if his mind resembles a jeweled window, transforming
all that is seen through it, if by any chance something _is_ seen
through it.

If the modern poet sees the world colored red or green or violet by his
personality, it is well for the interests of truth, we must admit, that
he make it clear to us that his nature is the transforming medium, but
how comes it that he fixes his attention so exclusively upon the colors
of things, for which his own nature is responsible, and ignores the
forms of things, which are not affected by him? How comes it that the
colored lights thrown on nature by the stained windows of his soul are
so important to him that he feels justified in painting for us,
notnature, but stained-glass windows?

In part this is, as has often been said, a result of the individualizing
trend of modern art. The broad general outlines of things have been
"done" by earlier artists, and there is no chance for later artists to
vary them, but the play of light and shade offers infinite possibilities
of variation. If one poet shows us the world highly colored by his
personality, it is inevitable that his followers should have their
attention caught by the different coloring which their own natures throw
upon it. The more acute their sense of observation, the more they will
be interested in the phenomenon. "Of course you are self-conscious,"
Elizabeth Barrett wrote to Robert Browning. "How could you be a poet
otherwise?" [Footnote: February 27, 1845.]

This modern individualizing trend appears equally in all the arts, of
course. Yet the poet's self-consciousness appears in his work more
plainly than does that of painters and sculptors and musicians. One
wonders if this may not be a consequence of the peculiar nature of his
inspiration. While all art is doubtless essentially alike in mode of
creation, it may not be fanciful to conceive that the poet's inspiration
is surrounded by deeper mystery than that of other geniuses, and that
this accounts for the greater prominence of conscious self-analysis in
his work. That such a difference exists, seems obvious. In spite of the
lengths to which program music has been carried, we have, so far as I
know, practically no music, outside of opera, that claims to have the
musician, or the artist in general, for its theme. So sweeping an
assertion cannot be made regarding painting and sculpture, to be sure.
Near the beginning of the history of sculpture we are met by the legend
of Phidias placing his own image among the gods. At the other extreme,
chronologically, we are familiar with Daniel Chester French's group,
Death Staying the Hand of the Sculptor. Painters not infrequently
portray themselves and their artist friends. Yet it is improbable that
the mass of material concerned with the poet's view of the artist can be
paralleled. This is due in part, obviously, to the greater plasticity to
ideas of his medium, but may it not be due also to the fact that all
other arts demand an apprenticeship, during which the technique is
mastered in a rational, comprehensible way? Whereas the poet is apt to
forget that he has a technique at all, since he shares his tool,
language, with men of all callings whatever. He feels himself,
accordingly, to be dependent altogether upon a mysterious "visitation"
for his inspiration.

At least this mystery surrounding his creations has much to do with
removing the artist from the comparative freedom from self-consciousness
that we ascribe to the general run of men. In addition it removes him
from the comparative humility of other thinkers, who are wont to think
of their discoveries as following inevitably upon their data, so that
they themselves deserve credit only as they are persistent and
painstaking in following the clues. The genesis of Sir Isaac Newton's
discovery has been compared to poetical inspiration; yet even in this
case the difference is apparent, and Newton did not identify himself
with the universe he conceived, as the poet is in the habit of doing.

Not being able to account for his inspirations, the poet seems to be
driven inevitably either into excessive humility, since he feels that
his words are not his own, or into inordinate pride, since he feels that
he is able to see and express without volition truths that other men
cannot glimpse with the utmost effort. He may disclaim all credit for
his performance, in the words of a nineteenth-century verse-writer:

  This is the end of the book
  Written by God.
  I am the earth he took,
  I am the rod,
  The iron and wood which he struck
  With his sounding rod.
[Footnote: L. E. Mitchell, _Written at the End of a Book._]

a statement that provokes wonder as to God's sensations at having such
amateurish works come out under his name. But this sort of humility is
really a protean manifestation of egotism, as is clear in the religious
states that bear resemblance to the poet's. This the Methodist
"experience meeting" abundantly illustrates, where endless loquacity is
considered justifiable, because the glory of one's experience is due,
not to one's self, but to the Almighty.

The minor American poets in the middle of the last century are often
found exhorting one another to humility, quite after the prayer-meeting
tradition. Bitter is their denunciation of the poet's arrogance:

  A man that's proud--vile groveller in the dust,
  Dependent on the mercy of his God
  For every breath.
[Footnote: B. Saunders, _To Chatterton._]

Again they declare that the poet should be

  Self-reading, not self-loving, they are twain,
[Footnote: Henry Timrod, _A Vision of Poesy._]

telling him,

  Think not of thine own self,
[Footnote: Richard Gilder, _To the Poet._]


  Always, O bard, humility is power.
[Footnote: Henry Timrod, _Poet If on a Lasting Fame._]

One is reminded of Mrs. Heep's repeated adjuration, "Be 'umble, Ury,"
and the likeness is not lessened when we find them ingratiatingly
sidling themselves into public favor. We hear them timidly inquiring of
their inspiration,

  Shall not the violet bloom?
[Footnote: Mrs. Evans, _Apologetic._]

and pleading with their critics,

  Lightly, kindly deal,
  My buds were culled amid bright dews
  In morn of earliest youth.
[Footnote: Lydia M. Reno, _Preface to Early Buds._]

At times they resort to the mixed metaphor to express their innocuous
unimportance, declaring,

  A feeble hand essays
  To swell the tide of song,
[Footnote: C. H. Faimer, _Invocation._]

and send out their ideas with fond insistence upon their diminutiveness:

  Go, little book, and with thy little thoughts,
  Win in each heart and memory a home.
[Footnote: C. Augustus Price, _Dedication._]

But among writers whose names are recognizable without an appeal to a
librarian's index, precisely this attitude is not met with. It would be
absurd, of course, to deny that one finds convincingly sincere
expressions of modesty among poets of genuine merit. Many of them have
taken pains to express themselves in their verse as humbled by the
genius above their grasp. [Footnote: See Emerson, _In a Dull Uncertain
Brain_; Whittier, _To my Namesake_; Sidney Lanier, _Ark of the Future_;
Oliver Wendell Holmes, _The Last Reader_; Bayard Taylor, _L'Envoi_;
Robert Louis Stevenson, _To Dr. Hake_; Francis Thompson, _To My
Godchild_.] But we must agree with their candid avowals that they belong
in the second rank. The greatest poets of the century are not in the
habit of belittling themselves. It is almost unparalleled to find so
sweeping a revolutionist of poetic traditions as Burns saying of

  I am nae poet, in a sense,
  But just a rhymer like, by chance,
  And hae to learning nae pretense,
  Yet what the matter?
  Whene'er my muse does on me glance,
  I jingle at her.
[Footnote: _Epistle to Lapraik._]

Most of the self-depreciatory writers, by their very abnegation of the
title, exalt the supreme poet. There are few indeed so unconcerned about
the dignity of the calling as is Sir Walter Scott, who assigns to the
minstrels of his tales a subordinate social position that would make the
average bard depicted in literature gnash his teeth for rage, and who
casually disposes of the poet's immortality:

  Let but the verse befit a hero's fame;
  Immortal be the verse, forgot the author's name.
[Footnote: _Introduction to Don Roderick._]

Mrs. Browning, to be sure, also tries to prick the bubble of the poet's
conceit, assuring him:

  Ye are not great because creation drew
  Large revelations round your earliest sense,
  Nor bright because God's glory shines for you.
[Footnote: _Mountaineer and Poet_.]

But in her other poetry, notably in _Aurora Leigh_ and _A Vision of
Poets,_ she amply avows her sense of the preeminence of the singer, as
well as of his song.

While it is easy to shake our heads over the self-importance of the
nineteenth century, and to contrast it with the unconscious lyrical
spontaneity of half-mythical singers in the beginning of the world, it
is probable that some degree of egotism is essential to a poet.
Remembering his statement that his name was written in water, we are
likely to think of Keats as the humblest of geniuses, yet he wrote to a
friend, "You will observe at the end of this, 'How a solitary life
engenders pride and egotism!' True--I know it does: but this pride and
egotism will enable me to write finer things than anything else could,
so I will indulge it." [Footnote: Letter to John Taylor, August 23,
1819.] No matter how modest one may be about his work after it is
completed, a sense of its worth must be with one at the time of
composition, else he will not go to the trouble of recording and
preserving it.

Unless the writer schools himself to keep this conviction out of his
verse, it is likely to flower in self-confident poetry of the classic
type, so characteristic of the Elizabethan age. This has such a long
tradition behind it that it seems almost stereotyped, wherever it
appears in our period, especially when it is promising immortality to a
beloved one. We scarcely heed such verses as the lines by Landor,

  Well I remember how you smiled
  To see me write your name upon
  The soft sea-sand, "O! what a child,
  You think you're writing upon stone!"
  I have since written what no tide
  Shall ever wash away, what men
  Unborn shall read, o'er ocean wide,
  And find Ianthe's name again,

or Francis Thompson's sonnet sequence, _Ad Amicam_, which expresses
the author's purpose to

  Fling a bold stave to the old bald Time,
  Telling him that he is too insolent
  Who thinks to rase thee from my heart or rhyme,
  Whereof to one because thou life hast given,
  The other yet shall give a life to thee,
  Such as to gain, the prowest swords have striven,
  And compassed weaker immortality,

or Yeats' lines _Of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved_,
wherein he takes pride in the reflection:

  Weigh this song with the great and their pride;
  I made it out of a mouthful of air;
  Their children's children shall say they have lied.

But a more vibrantly personal note breaks out from time to time in the
most original verse of the last century, as in Wordsworth's testimony,

      Yet to me I feel
  That an internal brightness is vouchsafed
  That must not die,
[Footnote: _Home at Grasmere_.]

or in Walt Whitman's injunction:

  Recorders ages hence,
  Come, I will take you down underneath this impassive
  Exterior. I will tell you what to say of me.
[Footnote: See also, _Long Long Hence_.]

Nowadays, in fact, even minor poets for the most part frankly avow the
importance of their works. We find George Edward Woodberry in the
clutches of the old-fashioned habit of apology, to be sure, [Footnote:
See _My Country_.]--perhaps this is one reason the radicals are so
opposed to him; but in the ranks of the radicals themselves we find very
few retaining any doubt of themselves. [Footnote: Exceptions are Jessie
Rittenhouse, _Patrius_; Lawrence Houseman, _Mendicant Rhymes_;
Robert Silliman Hillyer, _Poor Faltering Rhymes_.] Self-assertion
is especially characteristic of their self-appointed leader, Ezra Pound,
in whose case it is undoubtedly an inheritance from Walt Whitman, whom
he has lately acknowledged as his "pig-headed father." [Footnote:
_Lustra_.] A typical assertion is that in _Salutation the Second_,

  How many will come after me,
  Singing as well as I sing, none better.

There is a delicate charm in the self-assurance appearing in some of the
present verse, as Sara Teasdale's confidence in her "fragile
immortality" [Footnote: _Refuge._] or James Stephens' exultation in
_A Tune Upon a Reed,_

  Not a piper can succeed
  When I lean against a tree,
  Blowing gently on a reed,

and in _The Rivals,_ where he boasts over a bird,

  I was singing all the time,
  Just as prettily as he,
  About the dew upon the lawn,
  And the wind upon the lea;
  So I didn't listen to him
  As he sang upon a tree.

If one were concerned only with this "not marble nor the gilded
monuments" theme, the sixteenth century would quite eclipse the
nineteenth or twentieth. But the egoism of our writers goes much further
than this parental satisfaction in their offspring. It seems to have
needed the intense individualism of Rousseau's philosophy, and of German
idealism, especially the conception of "irony," or the superiority of
the soul over its creations, to bring the poet's egoism to flower. Its
rankest blossoming, in Walt Whitman, would be hard to imagine in another
century. Try to conceive even an Elizabethan beginning a poem after the
fashion of _A Song of Myself:_

  I, now thirty-seven years old, in perfect health, begin,
  Hoping to cease not till death.

Whitman is conscious of--perhaps even exaggerates--the novelty of his

  Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited
    itself (the great pride of man in himself)
  Chanter of personality.

While our poets thus assert, occasionally, that the unblushing nudity of
their pride is a conscious departure from convention, they would not
have us believe that they are fundamentally different from older
singers. One seldom finds an actual poet, of whatever period, depicted
in the verse of the last century, whose pride is not insisted upon. The
favorite poet-heroes, Aeschylus, Michael Angelo, Tasso, Dante, Marlowe,
Shakespeare, Milton, Chatterton, Keats, Byron, are all characterized as
proud. The last-named has been especially kept in the foreground by
following verse-writers, as a precedent for their arrogance. Shelley's
characterization of Byron in _Julian and Maddalo_,

  The sense that he was greater than his kind
  Had struck, methinks, his eagle spirit blind
  By gazing on its own exceeding light,

has been followed by many expressions of the same thought, at first
wholly sympathetic, lately, it must be confessed, somewhat ironical.

Consciousness of partnership with God in composition naturally lifts the
poet, in his own estimation, at least, to a super-human level. The myth
of Apollo disguised as a shepherd strikes him as being a happy
expression of his divinity. [Footnote: See James Russell Lowell, _The
Shepherd of King Admetus._] Thus Emerson calls singers

  Blessed gods in servile masks.
[Footnote: _Saadi._]

The hero of John Davidson's _Ballad in Blank Verse on the Making of a
Poet_ soars to a monotheistic conception of his powers, asserting

  Henceforth I shall be God, for consciousness
  Is God. I suffer. I am God.

Another poet-hero is characterized:

  He would reach the source of light,
  And share, enthroned, the Almighty's might.
[Footnote: Harvey Rice, _The Visionary_ (1864).

In recent years a few poets have modestly disclaimed equality with God.
See William Rose Benet, _Imagination,_ and Joyce Kilmer, _Trees._ The
kinship of poets and the Almighty is the theme of _The Lonely Poet_
(1919), by John Hall Wheelock.]

On the other hand, recent poets' hatred of orthodox religion has led
them to idealize the Evil One, and regard him as no unworthy rival as
regards pride. One of Browning's poets is "prouder than the devil."
[Footnote: _Waring._] Chatterton, according to Rossetti, was "kin
to Milton through his Satan's pride." [Footnote: Sonnet, _To
Chatterton._] Of another poet-hero one of his friends declares,

  You would be arrogant, boy, you know, in hell,
  And keep the lowest circle to yourself.
[Footnote: Josephine Preston Peabody, _Marlowe_ (1911).]

There is bathos, after these claims, in the concern some poets show over
the question of priority between themselves and kings. Yet one writer
takes the trouble to declare,

      Artists truly great
  Are on a par with kings, nor would exchange
  Their fate for that of any potentate.
[Footnote: Longfellow, _Michael Angelo_.]

Stephen Phillips is unique in his disposition to ridicule such an
attitude; in his drama on Nero, he causes this poet, self-styled, to

  Think not, although my aim is art,
  I cannot toy with empire easily.
[Footnote: _Nero_.]

Not a little American verse is taken up with this question, [Footnote:
See Helen Hunt Jackson, _The King's Singer_; E. L. Sprague, _A
Shakespeare Ode_; Eugene Field, _Poet and King_.] betraying a
disposition on the part of the authors to follow Walt Whitman's example
and "take off their hats to nothing known or unknown." [Footnote: Walt
Whitman, _Collect_.] In these days, when the idlest man of the
street corner would fight at the drop of a hat, if his inferiority to
earth's potentates were suggested to him, all the excitement seems
absurdly antiquated. There is, however, something approaching modernity
in Byron's disposal of the question, as he makes the hero of _The
Lament of Tasso_ express the pacifist sentiment,

  No!--still too proud to be vindictive, I
  Have pardoned princes' insults, and would die.

It is clear that his creations are the origin of the poet's pride, yet,
singularly enough, his arrogance sometimes reaches such proportions that
he grows ashamed of his art as unworthy of him. Of course this attitude
harks back to Shakespeare's sonnets. The humiliation which Shakespeare
endured because his calling was despised by his aristocratic young
friend is largely the theme of a poem, _Ben Jonson Entertains a Man
from Stratford_, by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Such a sense of shame
seems to be back of the dilettante artist, wherever he appears in verse.
The heroes of Byron's and Praed's poems generally refuse to take their
art seriously.[Footnote: See W. M. Praed, _Lillian, How to Rhyme for
Love, The Talented Man;_ Byron, _Childe Harold, Don Juan._] A few of
Tennyson's characters take the same attitude.[Footnote: See Eleanor, in
_Becket;_ and the Count, in _The Falcon._] Again and again Byron gives
indication that his own feeling is that imputed to him by a later poet:

  He, from above descending, stooped to touch
  The loftiest thought; and proudly stooped, as though
  It scarce deserved his verse.
[Footnote: Robert Pollock, _The Course of Time._]

After Byron's vogue died out, this mood slept for a time. It is only of
late years that it is showing symptoms of waking. It harries Cale Young

  I have felt the ineffable sting
  Of life, though I be art's valet.
  I have painted the cloud and the clod,
  Who should have possessed the earth.
[Footnote: _Limitations_.]

It depressed Alan Seeger:

  I, who, conceived beneath another star,
  Had been a prince and played with life,
  Have been its slave, an outcast exiled far
  From the fair things my faith has merited.
[Footnote: _Liebestod_.]

It characteristically stings Ezra Pound to expletive:

  Great God! if we be damned to be not men but only dreams,
  Then let us be such dreams the world shall tremble at,
  And know we be its rulers, though but dreams.
[Footnote: _Revolt Against the Crepuscular Spirit in Modern Poetry_.]

Perhaps, indeed, judging from contemporary tendencies, this study is
made too early to reflect the poet's egoism at its full tide.

The poet's overweening self-esteem may well be the hothouse atmosphere
in which alone his genius can thrive, but from another point of view it
seems a subtle poison gas, engendering all the ills that differentiate
him from other men. Its first effect is likely to be the reflection that
his genius is judged by a public that is vastly inferior to him. This
galling thought usually drives him into an attitude of indifference or
of openly expressed contempt for his audience. The mood is apparent at
the very beginning of the romantic period. The germ of such a feeling is
to be found even in so modest a poet as Cowper, who maintains that his
brother poets, rather than the unliterary public, should pass upon his
worth.[Footnote: See _To Darwin_.] But the average poet of the last
century and a half goes a step beyond this attitude, and appears to feel
that there is something contemptible about popularity. Literary
arrogance seems far from characteristic of Burns, yet he tells us how,
in a mood of discouragement,

  I backward mused on wasted time,
  How I had spent my youthful prime,
  And done naething
  But stringin' blithers up in rhyme
  For fools to sing.
[Footnote: _The Vision._]

Of course it is not till we come to Byron that we meet the most
thoroughgoing expression of this contempt for the public. The sentiment
in _Childe Harold_ is one that Byron never tires of harping on:
  I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
  I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bowed
  To its idolatries a patient knee.

And this attitude of Byron's has been adopted by all his disciples, who
delight in picturing his scorn:

  With terror now he froze the cowering blood,
  And now dissolved the heart in tenderness,
  Yet would not tremble, would not weep, himself,
  But back into his soul retired alone,
  Dark, sullen, proud, gazing contemptuously
  On hearts and passions prostrate at his feet.
[Footnote: Robert Pollock, _The Course of Time._]

Of the other romantic poets, Sir Walter Scott alone remains on good
terms with the public, expressing a child's surprise and delight over
the substantial checks he is given in exchange for his imaginings. But
Shelley starts out with a chip on his shoulder, in the very
advertisements of his poems expressing his unflattering opinion of
The public's judgment, and Keats makes it plain that his own criticisms
concern him far more than those of other men.

The consciously aristocratic, sniffing attitude toward the public, which
ran its course during Victoria's reign, is ushered in by Landor, who

  I know not whether I am proud,
  But this I know, I hate the crowd,
  Therefore pray let me disengage
  My verses from the motley page,
  Where others, far more sure to please
  Pour forth their choral song with ease.

The same gentlemanly indifference to his plebeian readers is diffused
all through Matthew Arnold's writing, of course. He casually disposes of

  Some secrets may the poet tell
    For the world loves new ways;
  To tell too deep ones is not well,--
    It knows not what he says.
[Footnote: See _In Memory of Obermann._]

Mrs. Browning probably has her own success in mind when she makes the
young poetess, Aurora Leigh, recoil from the fulsome praise of her
readers. Browning takes the same attitude in _Sordello,_ contrasting
Eglamor, the versifier who servilely conformed to the taste of the mob,
with Sordello, the true poet, who despised it. In _Popularity_, Browning
returns to the same theme, of the public's misplaced praises, and in
_Pacchiarotto_ he outdoes himself in heaping ridicule upon his readers.
Naturally the coterie of later poets who have prided themselves on their
unique skill in interpreting Browning have been impressed by his
contempt for his readers. Perhaps they have even exaggerated it. No less
contemptuous of his readers than Browning was that other Victorian, so
like him in many respects, George Meredith.

It would be interesting to make a list of the zoological metaphors by
which the Victorians expressed their contempt for the public. Landor
characterized their criticisms as "asses' kicks aimed at his head."
[Footnote: Edmund Gosse, _Life of Swinburne_, p. 103.] Browning
alternately represented his public cackling and barking at him.
[Footnote: See Thomas J. Wise, Letters, Second Series, Vol. 2, p. 52.]
George Meredith made a dichotomy of his readers into "summer flies" and
"swinish grunters." [Footnote: _My Theme_.] Tennyson, being no
naturalist, simply named the public the "many-headed beast." [Footnote:
_In Memoriam_.]

In America there has been less of this sort of thing openly expressed by
genuine poets. Emerson is fairly outspoken, telling us, in _The
Poet_, how the public gapes and jeers at a new vision. But one must
go to our border-line poets to find the feeling most candidly put into
words. Most of them spurn popularity, asserting that they are too
worthwhile to be appreciated. They may be even nauseated by the slight
success they manage to achieve, and exclaim,

                Yet to know
  That we create an Eden for base worms!

If the consciousness of recent writers is dominated by contempt for
mankind at large, such a mood is expressed with more caution than
formerly. Kipling takes men's stupidity philosophically. [Footnote: See
_The Story of Ung._] Edgar Lee Masters uses a fictional character
as a mask for his remarks on the subject. [Footnote: See _Having His
Way._] Other poets have expressed themselves with a degree of mildness.
[Footnote: See Watts-Dunton, _Apollo in Paris;_ James Stephens, _The
Market;_ Henry Newbolt, _An Essay in Criticism;_ William Rose Benet,
_People._] But of course Ezra Pound is not to be suppressed. He

  Will people accept them?
    (i.e., these songs)
  As a timorous wench from a centaur
    (or a centurion)
  Already they flee, howling in terror
       *       *       *       *       *
  Will they be touched with the verisimilitude?
  Their virgin stupidity is untemptable.

He adds,

  I beg you, my friendly critics,
  Do not set about to procure me an audience.

Again he instructs his poems, when they meet the public,

  Salute them with your thumbs to your noses.

It is very curious, after such passages, to find him pleading, in
another poem,

  May my poems be printed this week?

The naivete of this last question brings up insistently a perplexing
problem. If the poet despises his readers, why does he write? He may
perhaps evade this question by protesting, with Tennyson,

  I pipe but as the linnets do,
  And sing because I must.

But why does he publish? If he were strictly logical, surely he would do
as the artist in Browning's _Pictor Ignotus,_ who so shrank from
having his pictures come into contact with fools, that he painted upon
hidden, moldering walls, thus renouncing all possibility of fame. But
one doubts whether such renunciation has been made often, especially in
the field of poetry. Rossetti buried his poems, of course, but their
resurrection was not postponed till the Last Judgment. Other writers
have coyly waved fame away, but have gracefully yielded to their
friends' importunities, and have given their works to the world. When
one reads such expressions as Byron's;

  Fame is the thirst of youth,--but I am not
  So young as to regard men's frown or smile
  As loss or guerdon of a glorious lot,
[Footnote: _Childe Harold._]

one wonders. Perhaps the highest genius takes absolutely no account of
fame, as the sun-god asserts in Watts-Dunton's poem, _Apollo in Paris:_

  I love the song-born poet, for that he
  Loves only song--seeks for love's sake alone
  Shy Poesie, whose dearest bowers, unknown
  To feudaries of fame, are known to thee.
[Footnote: See also Coventry Patmore, from _The Angel in the House,_ "I
will not Hearken Blame or Praise"; Francis Carlin, _The Home Song_

But other poets, with the utmost inconsistency, have admitted that they
find the thought of fame very sweet. [Footnote: See Edward Young, _Love
of Fame;_ John Clare, _Song's Eternity, Idle Fame, To John Milton;_
Bulwer Lytton, _The Desire of Fame;_ James Gates Percival, _Sonnet 379;_
Josephine Peston Peabody, _Marlowe._] Keats dwells upon the thought of
it. [Footnote: See the _Epistle to My Brother George._] Browning shows
both of his poet heroes concerned over the question. In _Pauline_ the
speaker confesses,

      I ne'er sing
  But as one entering bright halls, where all
  Will rise and shout for him.

In _Sordello,_ again, Browning analyzes the desire for fame:

  Souls like Sordello, on the contrary,
  Coerced and put to shame, retaining will,
  Care little, take mysterious comfort still,
  But look forth tremblingly to ascertain
  If others judge their claims not urged in vain,
  And say for them their stifled thoughts aloud.
  So they must ever live before a crowd:
  --"Vanity," Naddo tells you.

Emerson's Saadi is one who does not despise fame,
            Nor can dispense
  With Persia for an audience.
[Footnote: _Saadi._]

Can it be that when the poet renounces fame, we must concur with Austin
Dobson's paraphrase of his meaning,

  But most, because the grapes are sour,
  Farewell, renown?
[Footnote: _Farewell Renown._]

Perhaps the poet is saved from inconsistency by his touching confidence
that in other times and places human nature is less stupid and
unappreciative than it proves itself in his immediate audience. He
reasons that in times past the public has shown sufficient insight to
establish the reputation of the master poets, and that history will
repeat itself. Several writers have stated explicitly that their quarrel
with humanity is not to be carried beyond the present generation. Thus
Arnold objects to his time because it is aesthetically dead. [Footnote:
See _Persistency of Poetry._] But elsewhere he objects because it shows
signs of coming to life, [Footnote: See _Bacchanalia._] so it is hard to
determine how our grandfathers could have pleased him. Similarly
unreasonable discontent has been expressed by later poets with our own
time. [Footnote: See William Ernest Henley, _The Gods are Dead;_ Edmund
Gosse, _On Certain Critics;_ Samuel Waddington, _The Death of Song;_
John Payne, _Double Ballad of the Singers of the Time_(1906).] Only
occasionally a poet rebukes his brethren for this carping attitude. Mrs.
Browning protests, in _Aurora Leigh,_

                  'Tis ever thus
  With times we live in,--evermore too great
  To be apprehended near....
  I do distrust the poet who discerns
  No character or glory in his times,
  And trundles back his soul five hundred years.
[Footnote: See Robert Browning, Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, March 12,

And Kipling is a notorious defender of the present generation, but these
two stand almost alone. [Footnote: See also James Elroy Flecker, _Oak
and Olive;_ Max Ehrmann, _Give Me Today._]

Several mythical explanations for the stupidity of the poet's own times
have been offered in verse. Browning says that poetry is like wine; it
must age before it grows sweet. [Footnote: _Epilogue to the Pacchiarotto
Volume._] Emerson says the poet's generation is deafened by the thunder
of his voice. [Footnote: _Solution._] A minor writer says that poetry
must be written in one's life-blood, so that it necessarily kills one
before it is appreciated. [Footnote: William Reed Dunroy, _The Way of
the World_ (1897).] Another suggests that a subtle electric change is
worked in one's poems by death. [Footnote: Richard Gilder, _A Poet's
Question._] But the only reasonable explanation of the failure of the
poet's own generation to appreciate him seems to be that offered by
Shelley, in the _Defense of Poetry:_

    No living poet ever arrived at the fullness of his fame; the
    jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to
    all time, must be composed of his peers.

Of course the contempt of the average poet for his contemporaries is not
the sort of thing to endear him to them. Their self-respect almost
forces them to ignore the poet's talents. And unfortunately, in addition
to taking a top-lofty attitude, the poet has, until recently, gone much
farther, and while despising the public has tried to improve it. Most
nineteenth century poetry might be described in Mrs. Browning's words,

  Of medicated music, answering for
  Mankind's forlornest uses.
[Footnote: _Sonnets from the Portuguese._]

And like an unruly child the public struggled against the dose.
Whereupon the poet was likely to lose his temper, and declare, as
Browning did,

  My Thirty-four Port, no need to waste
  On a tongue that's fur, and a palate--paste!
  A magnum for friends who are sound: the sick--
  I'll posset and cosset them, nothing loath,
  Henceforward with nettle-broth.
[Footnote: _Epilogue to the Pacchiarotto Volume._]

Yes, much as we pity the forlorn poet when his sensitive feelings are
hurt by the world's cruelty, we must still pronounce that he is partly
to blame. If the public is buzzing around his head like a swarm of angry
hornets, he must in most cases admit that he has stirred them up with a

The poet's vilified contemporaries employ various means of retaliating.
They may invite him to dinner, then point out that His Omniscience does
not know how to manage a fork, or they may investigate his family tree,
and then cut his acquaintance, or, most often, they may listen to his
fanciful accounts of reality, then brand him as a liar. So the vicious
circle is completed, for the poet is harassed by this treatment into the
belief that he is the target for organized persecution, and as a result
his egotism grows more and more morbid, and his contempt for the public
more deliberately expressed.

At the beginning of the period under discussion the social snubs seem to
have rankled most in the poet's nature. This was doubtless a survival
from the times of patronage. James Thomson [Footnote: See the _Castle
of Indolence,_ Canto II, stanzas XXI-III. See also _To Mr. Thomson,
Doubtful to What Patron to Address the Poem,_ by H. Hill.] and Thomas
Hood [Footnote: See _To the Late Lord Mayor._] both concerned
themselves with the problem. Kirke White appears to have felt that
patronage of poets was still a live issue. [Footnote: See the _Ode
Addressed to the Earle of Carlisle._] Crabbe, in a narrative poem,
offered a pathetic picture of a young poet dying of heartbreak because
of the malicious cruelty of the aristocracy toward him, a farmer's son.
[Footnote: _The Patron._] Later on Mrs. Browning took up the cudgels for
the poet, in _Lady Geraldine's Courtship,_ and upheld the nobility of
the untitled poet almost too strenuously, for his morbid pride makes him
appear by all odds the worst snob in the poem. The less dignified
contingent of the public annoys the poet by burlesquing the grandiose
manners and poses to which his large nature easily lends itself. People
are likely to question the poet's powers of soul because he forgets to
cut his hair, or to fasten his blouse at the throat. And of course there
have been rhymsters who have gone over to the side of the enemy, and who
have made profit from exhibiting their freakishness, after the manner of
circus monstrosities. Thomas Moore sometimes takes malicious pleasure in
thus showing up the oddities of his race. [See _Common Sense and
Genius,_ and _Rhymes by the Road._] Later libelers have been, usually,
writers of no reputation. The literary squib that made most stir in the
course of the century was not a poem, but the novel, _The Green
Carnation,_ which poked fun at the mannerisms of the 1890 poets.
[Footnote: Gilbert and Sullivan's _Patience_ made an even greater
sensation.] Oddly, American poets betray more indignation than English
ones over such lampoons. Longfellow makes Michael Angelo exclaim,

  I say an artist
  Who does not wholly give himself to art,
  Who has about him nothing marked or strange,
  But tries to suit himself to all the world
  Will ne'er attain to greatness.
[Footnote: _Michael Angelo._]

Sometimes an American poet takes the opposite tack, and denies that his
conduct differs from that of other men. Thus Richard Watson Gilder
insists that the poet has "manners like other men" and that on
thisaccount the world that is eagerly awaiting the future poet will miss
him. He repeats the world's query:

  How shall we know him?
  Ye shall know him not,
  Till, ended hate and scorn,
  To the grave he's borne.
[Footnote: _When the True Poet Comes._]

Whitman, in his defense, goes farther than this, and takes an original
attitude toward his failure to keep step with other men, declaring

           Of these states the poet is the equable man,
  Not in him but off him things are grotesque, eccentric,
      fail of their full returns.
[Footnote: _By Blue Ontario's Shore._]

As for the third method employed by the public in its attacks upon the
poet,--that of making charges against his truthfulness,--the poet
resents this most bitterly of all. Gray, in _The Bard,_ lays the
wholesale slaughter of Scotch poets by Edward I, to their fearless truth
telling. A number of later poets have written pathetic tales showing the
tragic results of the unimaginative public's denial of the poet's
delicate perceptions of truth. [Footnote: See Jean Ingelow, _Gladys
and her Island;_ Helen Hunt Jackson, _The Singer's Hills;_ J. G.
Holland, _Jacob Hurd's Child._]

To the poet's excited imagination, it seems as if all the world regarded
his race as a constantly increasing swarm of flies, and had started in
on a systematic course of extirpation. [Footnote: See G. K. Chesterton,
_More Poets Yet._] As for the professional critic, he becomes an
ogre, conceived of as eating a poet for breakfast every morning. The new
singer is invariably warned by his brothers that he must struggle for
his honor and his very life against his malicious audience. It is
doubtful if we could find a poet of consequence in the whole period who
does not somewhere characterize men of his profession as the martyrs of
beauty. [Footnote: Examples of abstract discussions of this sort are:
Burns, _The Poet's Progress;_ Keats, _Epistle to George Felton Matthew;_
Tennyson, _To ---- After Reading a Life and Letters;_ Longfellow, _The
Poets;_ Thomas Buchanan Read, _The Master Poets;_ Paul Hamilton Hayne,
_Though Dowered with Instincts;_ Henry Timrod, _A Vision of Poesy;_
George Meredith, _Bellerophon;_ S. L. Fairfield, _The Last Song_ (1832);
S. J. Cassells, _A Poet's Reflections_ (1851); Richard Gilder, _The New
Poet;_ Richard Realf, _Advice Gratis_ (1898); James Whitcomb Riley, _An
Outworn Sappho;_ Paul Laurence Dunbar, _The Poet;_ Theodore Watts-
Dunton, _The Octopus of the Golden Isles;_ Francis Ledwidge, _The Coming
Poet._] Shelley is particularly wrought up on the subject, and in _The
Woodman and the Nightingale_ expresses through an allegory the murderous
designs of the public.

A salient example of more vicarious indignation is Mrs. Browning, who
exposes the world's heartlessness in a poem called _The Seraph and the
Poet._ In _A Vision of Poets_ she betrays less indignation, apparently
believing that experience of undeserved suffering is essential to the
maturing of genius. In this poem the world's greatest poets are

  Where the heart of each should beat,
  There seemed a wound instead of it,
  From whence the blood dropped to their feet.

The young hero of the poem, to whom the vision is given, naturally
shrinks from the thought of such suffering, but the attendant spirit
leads him on, nevertheless, to a loathsome pool, where there are bitter

  And toads seen crawling on his hand,
  And clinging bats, but dimly scanned,
  Full in his face their wings expand.
  A paleness took the poet's cheek;
  "Must I drink here?" He seemed to seek
  The lady's will with utterance meek:
  "Ay, ay," she said, "it so must be:"
  (And this time she spoke cheerfully)
  Behooves thee know world's cruelty.

The modern poet is able to bring forward many historical names by which
to substantiate the charges of cruelty which he makes against society.
From classic Greece he names Aeschylus [Footnote: R. C. Robbins, _Poems
of Personality_ (1909); Cale Young Rice, _Aeschylus._] and Euripides.
[Footnote: Bulwer Lytton, _Euripides;_ Browning, _Balaustion's
Adventure;_ Richard Burton, _The First Prize._] From Latin writers our
poets have chosen as favorite martyr Lucan, "by his death approved."
[Footnote: _Adonais._ See also Robert Bridges, _Nero._] Of the great
renaissance poets, Shakespeare alone has usually been considered exempt
from the general persecution, though Richard Garnett humorously
represents even him as suffering triple punishment,--flogging,
imprisonment and exile,--for his offense against Sir Thomas Lucy,
aggravated by poetical temperament. [Footnote: See _Wm. Shakespeare,
Pedagogue and Poacher_, a drama (1904).] Of all renaissance poets Dante
[Footnote: See G. L. Raymond, _Dante_; Sarah King Wiley, _Dante and
Beatrice_; Rossetti, _Dante at Verona_; Oscar Wilde, _Ravenna_.] and
Tasso [Footnote: Byron, _The Lament of Tasso_; Shelley, _Song for
Tasso_; James Thomson, B. V., _Tasso to Leonora_.] have received most
attention on account of their wrongs. [Footnote: The sufferings of
several French poets are commented upon in English verse. Swinburne's
poetry on Victor Hugo, Bulwer Lytton's _Andre Chenier_, and Alfred
Lang's _Gerard de Nerval_ come to mind.]

Naturally the adversities which touch our writers most nearly are those
of the modern English poets. It is the poets of the romantic movement
who are thought of as suffering greatest injustice. Chatterton's extreme
youth probably has helped to incense many against the cruelty that
caused his death. [Footnote: See Shelley, _Adonais_; Coleridge, _Monody
on the Death of Chatterton_; Keats, _Sonnet on Chatterton_; James
Montgomery, _Stanzas on Chatterton_; Rossetti, _Sonnet to Chatterton_;
Edward Dowden, _Prologue to Maurice Gerothwohl's Version of Vigny's
Chatterton_; W. A. Percy, _To Chatterton_.] Southey is singled out by
Landor for especial commiseration; _Who Smites the Wounded_ is an
indignant uncovering of the world's cruelty in exaggerating Southey's
faults. Landor insinuates that this persecution is extended to all

  Alas! what snows are shed
  Upon thy laurelled head,
  Hurtled by many cares and many wrongs!
  Malignity lets none
  Approach the Delphic throne;
  A hundred lane-fed curs bark down Fame's
  hundred tongues.
[Footnote: _To Southey_, _1833_.]

The ill-treatment of Burns has had its measure of denunciation. The
centenary of his birth brought forth a good deal of such verse.

Of course Byron's sufferings have had their share of attention, though,
remembering his enormous popularity, the better poets have left to the
more gullible rhymsters the echo of his tirades against persecution,
[Footnote: See T. H. Chivers, _Lord Byron's Dying Words to Ada_, and
_Byron_ (1853); Charles Soran, _Byron_ (1842); E. F. Hoffman, _Byron_
(1849).] and have conceived of the public as beaten at its own game by
him. Thus Shelley exults in the thought,

  The Pythian of the age one arrow drew
  And smiled. The spoilers tempt no second blow,
  They fawn on the proud feet that laid them low.
[Footnote: _Adonais._]

The wrongs of Keats, also, are not so much stressed in genuine poetry as
formerly, and the fiction that his death was due to the hostility of his
critics is dying out, though Shelley's _Adonais_ will go far toward
giving it immortality. Oscar Wilde's characterization of Keats as "the
youngest of the martyrs" [Footnote: _At the Grave of Keats._]
brings the tradition down almost to the present in British verse, but
for the most part its popularity is now limited to American rhymes. One
is rather indignant, after reading Keats' own manly words about hostile
criticism, to find a nondescript verse-writer putting the puerile
self-characterization into his mouth:

  I, the Boy-poet, whom with curse
  They hounded on to death's untimely doom.
[Footnote: T. L. Harris, _Lyrics of the Golden Age_ (1856).]

In even less significant verse the most maudlin sympathy with Keats is
expressed. One is tempted to feel that Keats suffered less from his
enemies than from his admirers, of the type which Browning characterized
as "the foolish crowd of rushers-in upon genius ... never content till
they cut their initials on the cheek of the Medicean Venus to prove they
worship her." [Footnote: Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, November 17,

With the possible exception of Chatterton, the poet whose wrongs have
raised the most indignant storm of protest is Shelley. Several poets, as
the young Browning, Francis Thompson, James Thomson, B. V., and Mr.
Woodberry, have made a chivalrous championing of Shelley almost part of
their poetical platform. No doubt the facts of Shelley's life warrant
such sympathy. Then too, Shelley's sense of injustice, unlike Byron's,
is not such as to seem weak to us, though it is so freely expressed in
his verse. In addition one is likely to feel particular sympathy for
Shelley because the recoil of the public from him cannot be laid to his
scorn. His enthusiasms were always for the happiness of the entire human
race, as well as for himself. Everything in his unfortunate life vouches
for the sincerity of his statement, in the _Hymn to Intellectual

  Never joy illumed my brow
  Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
  This world from its dark slavery.

Accordingly Shelley's injuries seem to have affected him as a sudden
hurt does a child, with a sense of incomprehensibility, and later poets
have rallied to his defense as if he were actually a child.[Footnote:
See E. C. Stedman, _Ariel_; James Thomson, B. V., _Shelley_; Alfred
Austin, _Shelley's Death_; Stephen Vincent Benet, _The General Public_.]

The vicariousness of the nineteenth century poet in bewailing the hurts
of his brethren is likely to have provoked a smile in us, as in the
mourners of Adonais, at recognizing one

  Who in another's fate now wept his own.

Of course a suppressed personal grudge may not always have been a factor
in lending warmth to these defenses. Mrs. Browning is an ardent advocate
of the misunderstood poet, though she herself enjoyed a full measure of
popularity. But when Landor so warmly champions Southey, and Swinburne
springs to the defense of Victor Hugo, one cannot help remembering that
the public did not show itself wildly appreciative of either of these
defenders. So, too, when Oscar Wilde works himself up over the
persecutions of Dante, Keats and Byron, we are minded of the irreverent
crowds that followed Wilde and his lily down the street. When the poet
is too proud to complain of his own wrongs at the hands of the public,
it is easy for him to strike in defense of another. As the last century
wore on, this vicarious indignation more and more took the place of a
personal outcry. Comparatively little has been said by poets since the
romantic period about their own persecutions.[Footnote: See, however,
Joaquin Miller, _I Shall Remember_, and _Vale_; Francis Ledwidge, _The
Visitation of Peace_.]

Occasionally a poet endeavors to placate the public by assuming a pose
of equality. The tradition of Chaucer, fostered by the _Canterbury
Tales_, is that by carefully hiding his genius, he succeeded in
keeping on excellent terms with his contemporaries. Percy Mackaye, in
the _Canterbury Pilgrims_, shows him obeying St. Paul's injunction
so literally that the parson takes him for a brother of the cloth, the
plowman is surprised that he can read, and so on, through the whole
social gamut of the Pilgrims. But in the nineteenth century this
friendly attitude seldom works out so well. Walt Whitman flaunts his
ability to fraternize with the man of the street. But the American
public has failed "to absorb him as affectionately as he has absorbed
it." [Footnote: _By Blue Ontario's Shore._] Emerson tries to get on
common ground with his audience by asserting that every man is a poet to
some extent,[Footnote: See _The Enchanter_.] and it is consistent
with the poetic theory of Yeats that he makes the same assertion as

  There cannot be confusion of sound forgot,
  A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.
[Footnote:  _Pandeen._]

But when the mob jeers at a poet, it does not take kindly to his retort,
"Poet yourself." Longfellow, J. G. Holland and James Whitcombe Riley
have been warmly commended by some of their brothers [Footnote: See O.
W. Holmes, _To Longfellow_; P. H. Hayne, _To Henry W. Longfellow_; T. B.
Read, _A Leaf from the Past_; E. C. Stedman, _J. G. H._; P. L. Dunbar,
_James Whitcombe Riley_; J. W. Riley, _Rhymes of Ironquill_.] for their
promiscuous friendliness, but on the whole there is a tendency on the
part of the public to sniff at these poets, as well as at those who
commend them, because they make themselves so common. One may deride the
public's inconsistency, yet, after all, we have not to read many pages
of the "homely" poets before their professed ability to get down to the
level of the "common man" begins to remind one of pre-campaign speeches.

There seems to be nothing for the poet to do, then, but to accept the
hostility of the world philosophically. There are a few notable examples
of the poet even welcoming the solitude that society forces upon him,
because it affords additional opportunity for self-communion. Everyone
is familiar with Wordsworth's insistence that uncompanionableness is
essential to the poet. In the _Prelude_ he relates how, from early

  I was taught to feel, perhaps too much,
  The self-sufficing power of solitude.

Elsewhere he disposes of the forms of social intercourse:

  These all wear out of me, like Forms, with chalk
  Painted on rich men's floors, for one feast night.
[Footnote: _Personal Talk_.]

So he describes the poet's character:

  He is retired as noontide dew
  Or fountain in a noonday grove.
[Footnote: _The Poet's Epitaph_.]

In American verse Wordsworth's mood is, of course, reflected in Bryant,
and it appears in the poetry of most of Bryant's contemporaries.
Longfellow caused the poet to boast that he "had no friends, and needed
none." [Footnote: _Michael Angelo_.] Emerson expressed the same mood
frankly. He takes civil leave of mankind:

  Think me not unkind and rude
  That I walk alone in grove and glen;
  I go to the god of the wood,
  To fetch his word to men.
[Footnote: _The Apology_.]

He points out the idiosyncrasy of the poet:

  Men consort in camp and town,
  But the poet dwells alone.
[Footnote: _Saadi_.]

Thus he works up to his climactic statement regarding the amplitude of
the poet's personality:

  I have no brothers and no peers
  And the dearest interferes;
  When I would spend a lonely day,
  Sun and moon are in my way.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

Although the poet's egotism would seem logically to cause him to find
his chief pleasure in undisturbed communion with himself, still this
picture of the poet delighting in solitude cannot be said to follow,
usually, upon his banishment from society. For the most part the poet is
characterized by an insatiable yearning for affection, and by the
stupidity and hostility of other men he is driven into proud loneliness,
even while his heart thirsts for companionship.[Footnote: See John
Clare, _The Stranger, The Peasant Poet, I Am_; James Gates Percival,
_The Bard_; Joseph Rodman Drake, _Brorix_ (1847); Thomas Buchanan Reade,
_My Heritage_; Whittier, _The Tent on the Beach_; Mrs. Frances Gage,
_The Song of the Dreamer_ (1867); R. H. Stoddard, _Utopia_; Abram J.
Ryan, _Poets_; Richard H. Dana, _The Moss Supplicateth for the Poet_;
Frances Anne Kemble, _The Fellowship of Genius_ (1889); F. S. Flint,
_Loneliness_(1909); Lawrence Hope, _My Paramour was Loneliness_ (1905);
Sara Teasdale, _Alone_.] One of the most popular poet-heroes of the last
century, asserting that he is in such an unhappy situation, yet

  For me, I'd rather live
  With this weak human heart and yearning blood,
  Lonely as God, than mate with barren souls.
  More brave, more beautiful than myself must be
  The man whom I can truly call my friend.
[Footnote: Alexander Smith, _A Life Drama_.]

So the poet is limited to the companionship of rare souls, who make up
to him for the indifference of all the world beside. Occasionally this
compensation is found in romantic love, which flames all the brighter,
because the affections that most people expend on many human
relationships are by the poet turned upon one object. Apropos of the
world's indifference to him, Shelley takes comfort in the assurance of
such communion, saying to Mary,

  If men must rise and stamp with fury blind
  On his pure name who loves them--thou and I,
  Sweet friend! can look from our tranquillity
  Like lamps into the world's tempestuous night,--
  Two tranquil stars, while clouds are passing by,
  That burn from year to year with inextinguished light.
[Footnote: Introduction to _The Revolt of Islam_.]

But though passion is so often the source of his inspiration, the poet's
love affairs are seldom allowed to flourish. The only alleviation of his
loneliness must be, then, in the friendship of unusually gifted and
discerning men, usually of his own calling. Doubtless the ideal of most
nineteenth century writers would be such a jolly fraternity of poets as
Herrick has made immortal by his _Lines to Ben Jonson_.[Footnote:
The tradition of the lonely poet was in existence even at this time,
however. See Ben Jonson, _Essay on Donne_.] A good deal of nineteenth
century verse shows the author enviously dwelling upon the ideal
comradeship of Elizabethan poets.[Footnote: Keats' _Lines on the
Mermaid Tavern_, Browning's _At the Mermaid_, Watts-Dunton's _Christmas
at the Mermaid_, E. A. Robinson's _Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from
Stratford_, Josephine Preston Peabody's _Marlowe_, and Alfred Noyes'
_Tales of the Mermaid Inn_ all present fondly imagined accounts of the
gay intimacy of the master dramatists. Keats, who was so generous in
acknowledging his indebtedness to contemporary artists, tells, in his
epistles, of the envy he feels for men who created under these ideal
conditions of comradeship.] But multiple friendships did not flourish
among poets of the last century,--at least they were overhung by no
glamor of romance that lured the poet to immortalize them in verse. The
closest approximation to such a thing is in the redundant complimentary
verse, with which the New England poets showered each other to such an
extent as to arouse Lowell's protest. [Footnote: See _A Fable for
Critics_.] Even they, however, did not represent themselves as living in
Bohemian intimacy. Possibly the temperamental jealousy that the
philistine world ascribes to the artist, causing him to feel that he is
the one elect soul sent to a benighted age, while his brother-artists
are akin to the money-changers in the temple, hinders him from
unreserved enjoyment even of his fellows' society. Tennyson's and
Swinburne's outbreaks against contemporary writers appear to be based on
some such assumption. [Footnote: See Tennyson, _The New Timon and the
Poet_; Bulwer Lytton, _The New Timon_; Swinburne, _Essay on Whitman_.
For more recent manifestation of the same attitude see John Drinkwater,
_To Alice Meynell_ (1911); Shaemas O'Sheel, _The Poets with the Sounding
Gong_ (1912); Robert Graves, _The Voice of Beauty Drowned_ (1920).]

Consequently the poet is likely to celebrate one or two deep friendships
in an otherwise lonely life. A few instances of such friendships are so
notable, that the reader is likely to overlook their rarity. Such were
the friendships of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and of Wordsworth and his
sister Dorothy, also that recorded in Landor's shaken lines:

  Friends! hear the words my wandering thoughts would say,
  And cast them into shape some other day;
  Southey, my friend of forty years, is gone,
  And shattered with the fall, I stand alone.

The intimacy of Shelley and Byron, recorded in _Julian and Maddalo_, was
of a less ardent sort. Indeed Byron said of it, "As to friendship, it is
a propensity in which my genius is very limited.... I did not even feel
it for Shelley, however much I admired him." [Footnote: Letter to Mrs.
(Shelley?) undated.] Arnold's _Thyrsis_, Tennyson's _In Memoriam_, and
more recently, George Edward Woodberry's _North Shore Watch_, indicate
that even when the poet has been able to find a human soul which
understood him, the friendship has been cut short by death. In fact, the
premature close of such friendships has usually been the occasion for
their celebration in verse, from classic times onward.

Such friendships, like happy love-affairs, are too infrequent and
transitory to dissipate the poet's conviction that he is the loneliest
of men. "Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart," might have been
written by almost any nineteenth century poet about any other. Shelley,
in particular, in spite of his not infrequent attachments, is almost
obsessed by melancholy reflection upon his loneliness. In _To a
Skylark_, he pictures the poet "hidden in the light of thought."
Employing the opposite figure in the _Defense of Poetry_, he says,
"The poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer his
own solitude." Of the poet in _Alastor_ we are told,

  He lived, he died, he sung, in solitude.

Shelley's sense of his personal loneliness is recorded in _Stanzas
Written in Dejection_, and also in _Adonais_. In the latter poem
he says of himself,

  He came the last, neglected and apart,

and describes himself as

  As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
  Whose thunder is its knell.

Victorian poets were not less depressed by reflection upon the poet's
lonely life. Arnold strikes the note again and again, most poignantly in
_The Buried Life_, of the poet's sensitive apprehension that all
human intercourse is mockery, and that the gifted soul really dwells in
isolation. _Sordello_ is a monumental record of a genius without
friends. Francis Thompson, with surface lightness, tells us, in _A
Renegade Poet on the Poet:_

    He alone of men, though he travel to the pit, picks   up no
    company by the way; but has a contrivance to avoid scripture,
    and find a narrow road to damnation. Indeed, if the majority
    of men go to the nether abodes, 'tis the most hopeful argument
    I know of his salvation, for 'tis inconceivable that he should
    ever do as other men.

One might imagine that in the end the poet's poignant sense of his
isolation might allay his excessive conceit. A yearning for something
beyond himself might lead him to infer a lack in his own nature. Seldom,
however, is this the result of the poet's loneliness. Francis Thompson,
indeed, does feel himself humbled by his spiritual solitude, and
characterizes himself,

  I who can scarcely speak my fellows' speech,
  Love their love or mine own love to them teach,
  A bastard barred from their inheritance,
       *       *       *       *       *
  In antre of this lowly body set,
  Girt with a thirsty solitude of soul.
[Footnote: _Sister Songs_.]

But the typical poet yearns not downward, but upward, and above him he
finds nothing. Therefore reflection upon his loneliness continually
draws his attention to the fact that his isolation is an inevitable
consequence of his genius,--that he

  Spares but the cloudy border of his base
  To the foiled searching of mortality.
[Footnote: Matthew Arnold, Sonnet, _Shakespeare_.]

The poet usually looks for alleviation of his loneliness after death,
when he is gathered to the company of his peers, but to the supreme poet
he feels that even this satisfaction is denied. The highest genius must
exist absolutely in and for itself, the poet-egoist is led to conclude,
for it will "remain at heart unread eternally." [Footnote: Thomas Hardy,
_To Shakespeare_.]

Such is the self-perpetuating principle which appears to insure
perennial growth of the poet's egoism. The mystery of inspiration breeds
introspection; introspection breeds egoism; egoism breeds pride; pride
breeds contempt for other men; contempt for other men breeds hostility
and persecution; persecution breeds proud isolation. Finally, isolation
breeds deeper introspection, and the poet is ready to start on a second
revolution of the egocentric circle.



  If I might dwell where Israfel
  Hath dwelt, and he where I,
  He might not sing so wildly well
  A mortal melody,

sighs Poe, and the envious note vibrates in much of modern song. There
is an inconsistency in the poet's attitude,--the same inconsistency that
lurks in the most poetical of philosophies. Like Plato, the poet sees
this world as the veritable body of his love, Beauty,--and yet it is to
him a muddy vesture of decay, and he is ever panting for escape from it
as from a prison house.

One might think that the poet has less cause for rebellion against the
flesh than have other men, inasmuch as the bonds that enthrall feebler
spirits seem to have no power upon him. A blind Homer, a mad Tasso, a
derelict Villon, an invalid Pope, most wonderful of all--a woman Sappho,
suggest that the differences in earthly tabernacles upon which most of
us lay stress are negligible to the poet, whose burning genius can
consume all fetters of heredity, sex, health, environment and material
endowment. Yet in his soberest moments the poet is wont to confess that
there are varying degrees in the handicap which genius suffers in the
mid-earth life; in fact ever since the romantic movement roused in him
an intense curiosity as to his own nature, he has reflected a good deal
on the question of what earthly conditions will least cabin and confine
his spirit.

Apparently the problem of heredity is too involved to stir him to
attempted solution. If to make a gentleman one must begin with his
grandfather, surely to make a poet one must begin with the race, and in
poems even of such bulk as the _Prelude_ one does not find a complete
analysis of the singer's forbears. In only one case do we delve far into
a poet's heredity. He who will, may perchance hear Sordello's story
told, even from his remote ancestry, but to the untutored reader the
only clear point regarding heredity is the fusion in Sordello of the
restless energy and acumen of his father, Taurello, with the refinement
and sensibility of his mother, Retrude. This is a promising combination,
but would it necessarily flower in genius? One doubts it. In _Aurora
Leigh_ one might speculate similarly about the spiritual aestheticism
of Aurora's Italian mother balanced by the intellectual repose of her
English father. Doubtless the Brownings were not working blindly in
giving their poets this heredity, yet in both characters we must assume,
if we are to be scientific, that there is a happy combination of
qualities derived from more remote ancestors.

The immemorial tradition which Swinburne followed in giving his mythical
poet the sun as father and the sea as mother is more illuminating,
[Footnote: See _Thalassius_.] since it typifies the union in the
poet's nature of the earthly and the heavenly. Whenever heredity is
lightly touched upon in poetry it is generally indicated that in the
poet's nature there are combined, for the first time, these two powerful
strains which, in mysterious fusion, constitute the poetic nature. In
the marriage of his father and mother, delight in the senses, absorption
in the turbulence of human passions, is likely to meet complete
otherworldliness and unusual spiritual sensitiveness.

There is a tradition that all great men have resembled their mothers;
this may in part account for the fact that the poet often writes of her.
Yet in poetical pictures of the mother the reader seldom finds anything
patently explaining genius in her child. The glimpse we have of Ben
Jonson's mother is an exception. A twentieth century poet conceives of
the woman who was "no churl" as

  A tall, gaunt woman, with great burning eyes,
  And white hair blown back softly from a face
  Etherially fierce, as might have looked
  Cassandra in old age.
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

In the usual description, however, there is none of this dynamic force.
Womanliness, above all, and sympathy, poets ascribe to their mothers.
[Footnote: See Beattie, _The Minstrel_; Wordsworth, _The Prelude_;
Cowper, _Lines on his Mother's Picture_; Swinburne, _Ode to his Mother_;
J. G. Holland, _Kathrina_; William Vaughan Moody, _The Daguerreotype_;
Anna Hempstead Branch, _Her Words_.] A little poem by Sara Teasdale,
_The Mother of a Poet_, gives a poetical explanation of this type of
woman, in whom all the turbulence of the poet's spiritual inheritance is
hushed before it is transmitted to him. Such a mother as Byron's, while
she appeals to certain novelists as a means of intensifying the poet's
adversities, [Footnote: See H. E. Rives, _The Castaway_ (1904); J. D.
Bacon, _A Family Affair_ (1900).] is not found in verse. One might
almost conclude that poets consider their maternal heritage
indispensable. Very seldom is there such a departure from tradition as
making the father bequeather of the poet's sensitiveness. [Footnote: _A
Ballad in Blank Verse_, by John Davidson, is a rare exception.]

The inheritance of a specific literary gift is almost never insisted
upon by poets, [Footnote: See, however, Anna Hempstead Branch, _Her
Words_.] though some of the verse addressed to the child, Hartley
Coleridge, possibly implies a belief in such heritage. The son of Robert
and Mrs. Browning seems, strangely enough, considering his chance of a
double inheritance of literary ability, not to have been the subject of
versified prophecies of this sort. One expression by a poet of belief in
heredity may, however, detain us. At the beginning of Viola Meynell's
career, it is interesting to notice that as a child she was the subject
of speculation as to her inheritance of her mother's genius. It was
Francis Thompson, of course, who, musing on Alice Meynell's poetry, said
to the little Viola,

  If angels have hereditary wings,
  If not by Salic law is handed down
  The poet's laurel crown,
  To thee, born in the purple of the throne,
  The laurel must belong.
[Footnote: _Sister Songs_.]

But these lines must not be considered apart from the fanciful poem in
which they grow.

What have poets to say on the larger question of their social
inheritance? This is a subject on which, at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, at least, poets should have had ideas, and the
varying rank given to their lyrical heroes is not without significance.
The renaissance idea, that the nobleman is framed to enjoy, rather than
to create, beauty,--that he is the connoisseur rather than the
genius,--seems to have persisted in the eighteenth century, and at the
beginning of the romantic movement to have combined with the new
exaltation of the lower classes to work against the plausible view that
the poet is the exquisite flowering of the highest lineage.

Of course, it is not to be expected that there should be unanimity of
opinion among poets as to the ideal singer's rank. In several instances,
confidence in human egotism would enable the reader to make a shrewd
guess as to a poet's stand on the question of caste, without the trouble
of investigation. Gray, the gentleman, as a matter of course consigns
his "rustic Milton" to oblivion. Lord Byron follows the fortunes of
"Childe" Harold. Lord Tennyson usually deals with titled artists.
[Footnote: See _Lord Burleigh_, Eleanore in _A Becket_, and the Count in
_The Falcon_.] Greater significance attaches to the gentle birth of the
two prominent fictional poets of the century, Sordello and Aurora Leigh,
yet in both poems the plot interest is enough to account for it. In
Sordello's case, especially, Taurello's dramatic offer of political
leadership to his son suffices to justify Browning's choice of his
hero's rank. [Footnote: Other poems celebrating noble poets are _The
Troubadour_, Praed; _The King's Tragedy_, Rossetti; _David, Charles di
Trocca_, Cale Young Rice.]

None of these instances of aristocratic birth are of much importance,
and wherever there is a suggestion that the poet's birth represents a
tenet of the poem's maker, one finds, naturally, praise of the singer
who springs from the masses. The question of the singer's social origin
was awake in verse even before Burns. So typical an eighteenth century
poet as John Hughes, in lines _On a Print of Tom Burton, a Small Coal
Man_, moralizes on the phenomenon that genius may enter into the
breast of one quite beyond the social pale. Crabbe [Footnote: See _The
Patron_.] and Beattie,[Footnote: See _The Minstrel_.] also, seem
not to be departing from the Augustan tradition in treating the fortunes
of their peasant bards. But with Burns, of course, the question comes
into new prominence. Yet he spreads no propaganda. His statement is
merely personal:

  Gie me ae spark of nature's fire!
  That's a' the learning I desire.
  Then, though I drudge through dub and mire
  At plough or cart,
  My muse, though homely in attire,
  May touch the heart.
[Footnote: _Epistle to Lapraik_.]

It is not till later verse that poets springing from the soil are given
sweeping praise, because of the mysterious communion they enjoy with
"nature." [Footnote: For verse glorifying the peasant aspect of Burns
see Thomas Campbell, _Ode to Burns_; Whittier, _Burns_; Joaquim Miller,
_Burns and Byron_; William Bennett, _To the Memory of Burns_; A. B.
Street, _Robbie Burns_ (1867); O. W. Holmes, _The Burns Centennial_;
Richard Realf, _Burns_; Simon Kerl, _Burns_ (1868); Shelley Halleck,
_Burns_.] Obviously the doctrine is reinforced by Wordsworth, though few
of his farmer folk are geniuses, and the closest illustration of his
belief that the peasant, the child of nature, is the true poet, is found
in the character of the old pedlar, in the _Excursion_. The origin of
Keats might be assumed to have its share in molding poets' views on
caste, but only the most insensitive have dared to touch upon his
Cockney birth. In the realm of Best Sellers, however, the hero of May
Sinclair's novel, _The Divine Fire_, who is presumably modeled after
Keats, is a lower class Londoner, presented with the most unflinching
realism that the author can achieve. Consummate indeed is the artistry
with which she enables him to keep the sympathy of his readers, even
while he commits the unpardonable sin of dropping his h's. [Footnote:
Another historical poet whose lowly origin is stressed in poetry is
Marlowe, the son of a cobbler. See Alfred Noyes, _At the Sign of the
Golden Shoe_; Josephine Preston Peabody, _Marlowe_.] Here and there, the
poet from the ranks lifts his head in verse, throughout the last
century. [Footnote: For poet-heroes of this sort see John Clare, _The
Peasant Poet_; Mrs. Browning, _Lady Geraldine's Courtship_; Robert
Buchanan, _Poet Andrew_; T. E. Browne, _Tommy Big Eyes_; Whittier,
_Eliot_; J. G. Saxe, _Murillo and his Slave_.] And at present, with the
penetration of the "realistic" movement into verse, one notes a slight
revival of interest in the type, probably because the lower classes are
popularly conceived to have more first hand acquaintance with sordidness
than those hedged about by family tradition. [Footnote: See John
Davidson, _A Ballad in Blank Verse_; Vachel Lindsay, _The North Star
Whispers to the Blacksmith's Son_; John Masefield, _Dauber_; Francis
Carlin, _MacSweeney the Rhymer_ (1918).] Still, for the most part, the
present attitude of poets toward the question seems to be one of
indifference, since they feel that other factors are more important than
caste in determining the singer's genius. Most writers of today would
probably agree with the sentiment of the lines on Browning,

                       What if men have found
  Poor footmen or rich merchants on the roll
  Of his forbears? Did they beget his soul?
[Footnote: Henry van Dyke, _Sonnet_.]

If poets have given us no adequate body of data by which we may predict
the birth of a genius, they have, on the other hand, given us most
minute descriptions whereby we may recognize the husk containing the
poetic gift. The skeptic may ask, What has the poet to do with his body?
since singers tell

  us so repeatedly that their souls are aliens upon earth,
  Clothed in flesh to suffer: maimed of wings to soar.
[Footnote: _The Centenary of Shelley_.]

as Swinburne phrases it. Yet, mysteriously, the artist's soul is said to
frame a tenement for its brief imprisonment that approximately expresses
it, so that it is only in the most beautiful bodies that we are to look
for the soul that creates beauty. Though poets of our time have not
troubled themselves much with philosophical explanations of the
phenomenon, they seem to concur in the Platonic reasoning of their
father Spenser, who argues,

  So every spirit, as it is most pure,
  And hath in it the more of heavenly light,
  So it the fairer body doth procure
  To habit in, and it more fairly dight
  With cheerful grace, and amiable sight;
  For of the soul the body form doth take,
  For soul is form, and doth the body make.
[Footnote: _Hymn in Honour of Beauty_.]

What an absurd test! one is likely to exclaim, thinking of a swarthy
Sappho, a fat Chaucer, a bald Shakespeare, a runt Pope, a club-footed
Byron, and so on, almost _ad infinitum_. Would not a survey of notable
geniuses rather indicate that the poet's dreams arise because he is like
the sensitive plant of Shelley's allegory, which

  Desires what it hath not, the beautiful?[Footnote: _The Sensitive

Spenser himself foresaw our objections and felt obliged to modify his
pronouncement, admitting--

  Yet oft it falls that many a gentle mind
  Dwells in deformed tabernacle drownd,
  Either by chance, against the course of kind,
  Or through unaptness of the substance found,
  Which it assumed of some stubborn ground
  That will not yield unto her form's direction,
  But is preformed with some foul imperfection.

But the modern poet is not likely to yield his point so easily as does
Spenser. Rather he will cast aside historical records as spurious, and
insist that all genuine poets have been beautiful. Of the many poems on
Sappho written in the last century, not one accepts the tradition that
she was ill-favored, but restores a flower-like portrait of her from
Alcaeus' line,

  Violet-weaving, pure, sweet-smiling Sappho.

As for Shakespeare, here follows a very characteristic idealization of
his extant portrait:

  A pale, plain-favored face, the smile where-of
  Is beautiful; the eyes gray, changeful, bright,
  Low-lidded now, and luminous as love,
  Anon soul-searching, ominous as night,
  Seer-like, inscrutable, revealing deeps
  Where-in a mighty spirit wakes or sleeps.
[Footnote: C. L. Hildreth, _At the Mermaid_ (1889).]

The most unflattering portrait is no bar to poets' confidence in their
brother's beauty, yet they are happiest when fashioning a frame for
geniuses of whom we have no authentic description. "The love-dream of
his unrecorded face," [Footnote: Rossetti, _Sonnet on Chatterton_.]
has led to many an idealized portrait of such a long-dead singer.
Marlowe has been the favorite figure of this sort with which the fancies
of our poets have played. From the glory and power of his dramas their
imaginations inevitably turn to

  The gloriole of his flame-coloured hair,
  The lean, athletic body, deftly planned
  To carry that swift soul of fire and air;
  The long, thin flanks, the broad breast, and the grand
  Heroic shoulders!
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _At the Sign of the Golden Shoe_.]

It is no wonder that in the last century there has grown up so firm a
belief in the poet's beauty, one reflects, remembering the seraphic face
of Shelley, the Greek sensuousness of Keats' profile, the romantic fire
of Byron's expression. [Footnote: Browning in his youth must have
encouraged the tradition. See Macready's Diary, in which he describes
Browning as looking "more like a youthful poet than any man I ever
saw."] Yet it is a belief that must have been sorely tried since the
invention of the camera has brought the verse-writer's countenance, in
all its literalness, before the general public. Was it only an accident
that the popularity of current poetry died just as cameras came into
existence? How many a potential admirer has been lost by a glance at the
frontispiece in a book of verse! In recent years, faith in soul-made
beauty seems again to have shown itself justified. Likenesses of Rupert
Brooke, with his "angel air," [Footnote: See W. W. Gibson, _Rupert
Brooke_.] of Alan Seeger, and of Joyce Kilmer in his undergraduate
days, are perhaps as beautiful as any the romantic period could afford.
Still the young enthusiast of the present day should be warned not to be
led astray by wolves in sheep's clothing, for the spurious claimant of
the laurel is learning to employ all the devices of the art photographer
to obscure and transform his unaesthetic visage.

We have implied that insistence upon the artist's beauty arose with the
romantic movement, but a statement to that effect would have to be made
with reservations. The eighteenth century was by no means without such a
conception, as the satires of that period testify, being full of
allusions to poetasters' physical defects, with the obvious implication
that they are indicative of spiritual deformity, and of literary
sterility. Then, from within the romantic movement itself, a critic
might exhume verse indicating that faith in the beautiful singer was by
no means universal;--that, on the other hand, the interestingly ugly
bard enjoyed considerable vogue. He would find, for example, Moore's
_Lines on a Squinting Poetess_, and Praed's _The Talented Man_. In the
latter verses the speaker says of her literary fancy,

  He's hideous, I own it; but fame, Love,
  Is all that these eyes can adore.
  He's lame,--but Lord Byron was lame, Love,
  And dumpy, but so is Tom Moore.

Still, rightly interpreted, such verse on poetasters is quite in line
with the poet's conviction that beauty and genius are inseparable. So,
likewise, is the more recent verse of Edgar Lee Masters, giving us the
brutal self-portrait of Minerva Jones, the poetess of Spoon River,

  Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
  For my heavy body, cock eye, and rolling walk,
[Footnote: _Spoon River Anthology_.]

for she is only a would-be poet, and the cry, "I yearned so for beauty!"
of her spirit, baffled by its embodiment, is almost insupportable.

Walt Whitman alludes to his face as "the heart's geography map," and
assures us,

  Here the idea, all in this mystic handful wrapped,
[Footnote: _Out from Behind This Mask_.]

but one needs specific instructions for interpretation of the poetic
topography to which Whitman alludes. What are the poet's distinguishing

Meditating on the subject, one finds his irreverent thoughts inevitably
wandering to hair, but in verse taken up with hirsute descriptions,
there is a false note. It makes itself felt in Mrs. Browning's picture
of Keats,

  The real Adonis, with the hymeneal
  Fresh vernal buds half sunk between
  His youthful curls.
[Footnote: _A Vision of Poets_.]

It is obnoxious in Alexander Smith's portrait of his hero,

                                  A lovely youth,
  With dainty cheeks, and ringlets like a girl's.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

And in poorer verse it is unquotable. [Footnote: See Henry Timrod, _A
Vision of Poesy_ (1898); Frances Fuller, _To Edith May_ (1851);
Metta Fuller, _Lines to a Poetess_ (1851).] Someone has pointed out
that decadent poetry is always distinguished by over-insistence upon the
heroine's hair, and surely sentimental verse on poets is marked by the
same defect. Hair is doubtless essential to poetic beauty, but the
poet's strength, unlike Samson's, emphatically does not reside in it.

"Broad Homeric brows," [Footnote: See Wordsworth, _On the Death of
James Hogg_; Browning, _Sordello_, _By the Fireside_; Mrs. Browning,
_Aurora Leigh_; Principal Shairp, _Balliol Scholars_; Alfred Noyes,
_Tales of the Mermeid Inn_.] poets invariably possess, but the less
phrenological aspect of their beauty is more stressed. The
differentiating mark of the singer's face is a certain luminous quality,
as of the soul shining through. Lamb noticed this peculiarity of
Coleridge, declaring, "His face when he repeats his verses hath its
ancient glory; an archangel a little damaged." [Footnote: E. V. Lucas,
_The Life of Charles Lamb_, Vol. I., p. 500.] Francis Thompson was
especially struck by this phenomenon. In lines _To a Poet Breaking
Silence_, he asserts,

  Yes, in this silent interspace
  God sets his poems in thy face,

and again, in _Her Portrait_, he muses,

  How should I gage what beauty is her dole,
  Who cannot see her countenance for her soul,
  As birds see not the casement for the sky.

It is through the eyes, of course, that the soul seems to shine most
radiantly. Through them, Rupert Brooke's friends recognized his poetical
nature,--through his

  Dream dazzled gaze
  Aflame and burning like a god in song.
[Footnote: W. W. Gibson, _To E. M., In Memory of Rupert Brooke_.]

Generally the poet is most struck by the abstracted expression that he
surprises in his eyes. Into it, in the case of later poets, there
probably enters unconscious imitation of Keats's gaze, that "inward
look, perfectly divine, like a Delphian priestess who saw visions."
[Footnote: The words are Benjamin Haydn's. See Sidney Colvin, _John
Keats_, p. 79.] In many descriptions, as of "the rapt one--the
heaven-eyed" [Footnote: Wordsworth, _On the Death of James Hogg_]
Coleridge, or of Edmund Spenser,

  With haunted eyes, like starlit forest pools
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

one feels the aesthetic possibilities of an abstracted expression. But
Mrs. Browning fails to achieve a happy effect. When she informs us of a
fictitious poet that

  His steadfast eye burnt inwardly
  As burning out his soul,
[Footnote: '_The Poet's Vow_.]

we feel uneasily that someone should rouse him from his revery before
serious damage is done.

The idealistic poet weans his eyes from their pragmatic character in
varying degree. Wordsworth, in poetic mood, seems to have kept them half
closed.[Footnote: See _A Poet's Epitaph_, and _Sonnet: Most Sweet
it is with Unuplifted Eyes_.] Mrs. Browning notes his

  Humble-lidded eyes, as one inclined
  Before the sovran-thought of his own mind.
[Footnote: _On a Portrait of Wordsworth_.]

Clough, also, impressed his poetic brothers by "his bewildered look, and
his half-closed eyes." [Footnote: The quotation is by Longfellow. See J.
I. Osborne, _Arthur Hugh Clough_.]

But the poet sometimes goes farther, making it his ideal to

  See, no longer blinded with his eyes,
[Footnote: See Rupert Brooke, _Not With Vain Tears_.]

and may thus conceive of the master-poet as necessarily blind. Milton's
noble lines on blindness in _Samson Agonistes_ have had much to do,
undoubtedly, with the conceptions of later poets. Though blindness is
seldom extended to other than actual poets, within the confines of verse
having such a poet as subject it is referred to, often, as a partial
explanation of genius. Thus Gray says of Milton,

  The living throne, the sapphire blaze
  Where angels tremble while they gaze
  He saw, but blasted with excess of light,
  Closed his eyes in endless night,
[Footnote: _Progress of Poesy_.]

and most other poems on Milton follow this fancy.[Footnote: See John
Hughes, _To the Memory of Milton_; William Lisle Bowles, _Milton in
Age_; Bulwer Lytton, _Milton_; W. H. Burleigh, _The Lesson_; R. C.
Robbins, _Milton_.] There is a good deal of verse on P. B. Marston,
also, concurring with Rossetti's assertion that we may

    By the darkness of thine eyes discern
  How piercing was the light within thy soul.
[Footnote: See Rossetti, _P. B. Marston_; Swinburne,
_Transfiguration, Marston, Light_; Watts-Dunton, _A Grave by the

Then, pre-eminently, verse on Homer is characterized by such an
assertion as that of Keats,

  There is a triple sight in blindness keen.
[Footnote: See Keats, _Sonnet on Homer_, Landor, _Homer, Laertes,
Agatha_; Joyce Kilmer, _The Proud Poet, Vision_.]

Though the conception is not found extensively in other types of verse,
one finds an admirer apostrophizing Wordsworth,

  Thou that, when first my quickened ear
  Thy deeper harmonies might hear,
  I imaged to myself as old and blind,
  For so were Milton and Maeonides,
[Footnote: Wm. W. Lord, _Wordsworth_ (1845).]

and at least one American writer, Richard Gilder, ascribes blindness to
his imaginary artists.[Footnote: See _The Blind Poet_, and _Lost_.  See
also Francis Carlin _Blind O'Cahan_ (1918.)]

But the old, inescapable contradiction in aesthetic philosophy crops up
here. The poet is concerned only with ideal beauty, yet the way to it,
for him, must be through sensuous beauty. So, as opposed to the picture
of the singer blind to his surroundings, we have the opposite
picture--that of a singer with every sense visibly alert. At the very
beginning of a narrative and descriptive poem, the reader can generally
distinguish between the idealistic and the sensuous singer. The more
spiritually minded poet is usually characterized as blond. The natural
tendency to couple a pure complexion and immaculate thoughts is surely
aided, here, by portraits of Shelley, and of Milton in his youth. The
brunette poet, on the other hand, is perforce a member of the fleshly
school. The two types are clearly differentiated in Bulwer Lytton's
_Dispute of the Poets_. The spiritual one

  Lifted the azure light of earnest eyes,

but his brother,

  The one with brighter hues and darker curls
  Clustering and purple as the fruit of the vine,
  Seemed like that Summer-Idol of rich life
  Whom sensuous Greece, inebriate with delight
  From orient myth and symbol-worship wrought.

The decadents favor swarthy poets, and, in describing their features,
seize upon the most expressive symbols of sensuality. Thus the hero of
John Davidson's _Ballad in Blank Verse on the Making of a Poet_ is

  A youth whose sultry eyes
  Bold brow and wanton mouth were not all lust.

But even the idealistic poet, if he be not one-sided, must have sensuous
features, as Browning conceives him. We are told of Sordello,

  Yourselves shall trace
  (The delicate nostril swerving wide and fine,
  A sharp and restless lip, so well combine
  With that calm brow) a soul fit to receive
  Delight at every sense; you can believe
  Sordello foremost in the regal class
  Nature has broadly severed from her mass
  Of men, and framed for pleasure...
       *       *       *       *       *
  You recognize at once the finer dress
  Of flesh that amply lets in loveliness
  At eye and ear.

Perhaps it is with the idea that the flesh may be shuffled off the more
easily that poets are given "barely enough body to imprison the soul,"
as Mrs. Browning's biographer says of her. [Footnote: Mrs. Anna B.
Jameson. George Stillman Milliard says of Mrs. Browning, "I have never
seen a human frame which seemed so nearly a transparent veil for a
celestial and immortal spirit." Shelley, Keats, Clough and Swinburne
undoubtedly helped to strengthen the tradition.] The imaginary bard is
so inevitably slender that allusion to "the poet's frame" needs no
further description. Yet, once more, the poet may seem to be
deliberately blinding himself to the facts. What of the father of
English song, who, in the _Canterbury Tales_, is described by the
burly host,

  He in the waast is shape as wel as I;
  This were a popet in an arm tenbrace
  For any woman, smal and fair of face?
[Footnote: _Prologue to Sir  Thopas_.]

Even here, however, one can trace the modern aesthetic aversion to fat.
Chaucer undoubtedly took sly pleasure in stressing his difference from
the current conception of the poet, which was typified so well by the
handsome young squire, who

  Coude songes make, and wel endyte.
[Footnote: _Prologue_.]

Such, at least, is the interpretation of Percy Mackaye, who in his play,
_The Canterbury Pilgrims_, derives the heartiest enjoyment from
Chaucer's woe lest his avoirdupois may affect Madame Eglantine
unfavorably. The modern English poet who is oppressed by too, too solid
flesh is inclined to follow Chaucer's precedent and take it
philosophically. James Thomson allowed the stanza about himself,
interpolated by his friends into the _Castle of Indolence_, to
remain, though it begins with the line,

  A bard here dwelt, more fat than bard beseems.

And in these days, the sentimental reader is shocked by Joyce Kilmer's
callous assertion, "I am fat and gross.... In my youth I was slightly
decorative. But now I drink beer instead of writing about absinthe."
[Footnote: Letter to Father Daly, November, 1914.]

Possibly it would not be unreasonable to take difference in weight as
another distinction between idealistic and sensuous poets. Of one recent
realistic poet it is recorded, "How a poet could _not_ be a glorious
eater, he said he could not see, for the poet was happier than other
men, by reason of his acuter senses." [Footnote: Richard Le Gallienne,
_Joyce Kilmer_.] As a rule, however, decadent and spiritual poets alike
shrink from the thought of grossness, in spite of the fact that Joyce
Kilmer was able to win his wager, "I will write a poem about a
delicatessen shop. It will be a high-brow poem. It will be liked."
[Footnote: Robert Cortez Holliday, _Memoir of Joyce Kilmer_, p. 62.] Of
course Keats accustomed the public to the idea that there are aesthetic
distinctions in the sense of taste, but throughout the last century the
idea of a poet enjoying solid food was an anomaly. Whitman's
proclamation of himself, "Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating and
drinking and breeding" [Footnote: _Song of Myself_.] automatically shut
him off, in the minds of his contemporaries, from consideration as a

It is a nice question just how far a poet may go in ignoring the demands
of the flesh. Shelley's friends record that his indifference reached the
stage of forgetting, for days at a time, that he was in a body at all.
Even more extreme was the attitude of Poe, as it is presented at length
in Olive Dargan's drama, _The Poet_. So cordial is his detestation
of food and bed that he not only eschews them himself, but withholds
them from his wife, driving the poor woman to a lingering death from
tuberculosis, while he himself succumbs to delirium tremens. In fact,
excessive abstemiousness, fostering digestive disorders, has been
alleged to be the secret of the copious melancholy verse in the last
century. It is not the ill-nourished poet, however, but enemies of the
melancholy type of verse, who offer this explanation. Thus Walt Whitman
does not hesitate to write poetry on the effect of his digestive
disorders upon his gift, [Footnote: See _As I Sit Writing Here_.]
and George Meredith lays the weakness of _Manfred_ to the fact that
it was

  Projected from the bilious Childe.
[Footnote: George Meredith, _Manfred_.]

But to all conscious of possessing poetical temperament in company with
emaciation, the explanation has seemed intolerably sordid.

To be sure, the unhealthy poet is not ubiquitous. Wordsworth's _Prelude_
describes a life of exuberant physical energy. Walt Whitman's position
we have quoted, and after him came a number of American writers,
assigning a football physique to their heroes. J. G. Holland's poet was
the superior of his comrades when brawn as well as brain, contended.
[Footnote: _Kathrina_.] William Henry Burleigh, also, described his
favorite poet as

  A man who measured six feet four:
  Broad were his shoulders, ample was his chest,
  Compact his frame, his muscles of the best.
[Footnote: _A Portrait_.]

With the recent revival of interest in Whitman, the brawny bard has
again come into favor in certain quarters. Joyce Kilmer, as has been
noted, was his strongest advocate, inveighing against weakly

  A heavy handed blow, I think,
  Would make your veins drip scented ink.
[Footnote: _To Certain Poets_.]

But the poet hero of the Harold Bell Wright type is receiving his share
of ridicule, as well as praise, at present. A farce, _Fame and the
Poet_, by Lord Dunsany, advertises the adulation by feminine readers
resulting from a poet's pose as a "man's man." And Ezra Pound, who began
his career as an exemplar of virility,[Footnote: See _The Revolt
against the Crepuscular Spirit in Modern Poetry_.] finds himself
unable to keep up the pose, and so resorts to the complaint,

  We are compared to that sort of person,
  Who wanders about announcing his sex
  As if he had just discovered it.
[Footnote: _The Condolence_.]

The most sensible argument offered by the advocate of better health in
poets is made by the chronic invalid, Mrs. Browning. She causes Aurora
Leigh's cousin Romney to argue,

  Reflect; if art be in truth the higher life,
  You need the lower life to stand upon
  In order to reach up unto that higher;
  And none can stand a tip-toe in that place
  He cannot stand in with two stable feet.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_. See also the letter to Robert Browning,
May 6, 1845.]

Mrs. Browning's theory is not out of key with a professedly scientific
account of genius, not unpopular nowadays, which represents art as the
result of excess vitality. [Footnote: See R. C. Robbins, _Michael
Angelo_ (1904).]

Yet, on the whole, the frail poet still holds his own; how securely is
illustrated by the familiarity of the idea as applied to other artists,
outside the domain of poetry. It is noteworthy that in a recent book of
essays by the painter, Birge Harrison, one runs across the contention:

  In fact, as a noted painter once said to me: These
  semi-invalids neither need nor deserve our commiseration,
  for in reality the beggars have the advantage
  of us. _Their_ nerves are always sensitive and keyed
  to pitch, while we husky chaps have to flog ours up to
  the point. We must dig painfully through the outer
  layers of flesh before we can get at the spirit, while the
  invalids are all spirit.
[Footnote: From _Landscape Painters_, p. 184.]

That such a belief had no lack of support from facts in the last
century, is apparent merely from naming over the chief poets. Coleridge,
Byron, Shelley, Keats, Mrs. Browning, Rossetti, all publish their
ill-health through their verse. Even Browning, in whose verse, if
anywhere, one would expect to find the virile poet, shows Sordello
turned to poetry by the fact of his physical weakness.[Footnote: So
nearly ubiquitous has ill-health been among modern poets, that Max
Nordau, in his widely read indictment of art, _Degeneration_, was
able to make out a plausible case for his theory that genius is a
disease which is always accompanied by physical stigmata.]

Obviously, if certain invalids possess a short-cut to their souls, as
Birge Harrison suggests, the nature of their complaint must be
significant. A jumping toothache would hardly be an advantage to a
sufferer in turning his thoughts to poesy. Since verse writers recoil
from the suggestion that dyspepsia is the name of their complaint, let
us ask them to explain its real character to us. To take one of our
earliest examples, what is the malady of William Lisles Bowles' poet, of
whom we learn,

  Too long had sickness left her pining trace
  With slow still touch on each decaying grace;
  Untimely sorrow marked his thoughtful mien;
  Despair upon his languid smile was seen.
[Footnote: _Monody on Henry Headley_.]

We can never know. But with Shelley, it becomes evident that
tuberculosis is the typical poet's complaint. Shelley was convinced that
he himself was destined to die of it. The irreverent Hogg records that
Shelley was also afraid of death from elephantiasis, [Footnote: T. J.
Hogg, _Life of Shelley_, p. 458.] but he keeps that affliction out
of his verse. So early as the composition of the _Revolt of Islam,_
Shelley tells us of himself, in the introduction,

  Death and love are yet contending for their prey,

and in _Adonais_ he appears as

  A power
  Girt round with weakness.
       *       *       *       *       *
  A light spear ...
  Vibrated, as the everbearing heart
  Shook the weak hand that grasped it.

Shelley's imaginary poet, Lionel, gains in poetical sensibility as
consumption saps his strength:

  You might see his colour come and go,
  And the softest strain of music made
  Sweet smiles, yet sad, arise and fade
  Amid the dew of his tender eyes;
  And the breath with intermitting flow
  Made his pale lips quiver and part.
[Footnote: _Rosalind and Helen_.]

The deaths from tuberculosis of Kirke White [Footnote: See Kirke White,
_Sonnet to Consumption_.] and of Keats, added to Shelley's verse, so
affected the imagination of succeeding poets that for a time the cough
became almost ubiquitous in verse. In major poetry it appears for the
last time in Tennyson's _The Brook_, where the young poet hastens to
Italy, "too late," but in American verse it continued to rack the frame
of geniuses till the germ theory robbed it of romance and the
anti-tuberculosis campaign drove it out of existence.

Without the aid of physical causes, the exquisite sensitiveness of the
poet's spirit is sometimes regarded as enough to produce illness. Thus
Alexander Smith explains his sickly hero:

  More tremulous
  Than the soft star that in the azure East
  Trembles with pity o'er bright bleeding day
  Was his frail soul.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

Arnold, likewise, in _Thyrsis_, follows the poetic tradition in
thus vaguely accounting for Clough's death: his heroes harried by their
genius into ill health. Prince Athanase is

  A youth who as with toil and travel
  Had grown quite weak and gray before his time.
[Footnote: _Prince Athanase_, a fragment.]

In _Alastor_, too, we see the hero wasting away until

  His limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
  Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
  Sung dirges in the wind: his listless hand
  Hung like dead bone within his withered skin;
  Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone
  As in a furnace burning secretly
  From his dark eyes alone.

The likeness of Sordello to Shelley [Footnote: Browning himself pointed
out a similarity between them, in the opening of Book I.] is marked in
the ravages of his genius upon his flesh, so that at the climax of the
poem he, though still a young man, is gray and haggard and fragile.

Though ill-health is a handicap to him, the poet's subjection to the
mutability that governs the mundane sphere is less important, some
persons would declare, in the matter of beauty and health than in the
matter of sex. Can a poetic spirit overcome the calamity of being cast
by Fate into the body of a woman?

As the battle of feminism dragged its bloody way through all fields of
endeavor in the last century, it of course has left its traces in the
realm of poetry. But here the casualties appear to be light,--in fact,
it is a disappointment to the suffragist to find most of the blows
struck by the female aspirant for glory, with but few efforts to parry
them on the part of the male contingent. Furthermore, in verse concerned
with specific woman poets, men have not failed to give them their due,
or more. From Miriam [Footnote: See Barry Cornwall, _Miriam_.] and
Sappho, [Footnote: Southey, _Sappho_; Freneau, _Monument of Phaon_;
Kingsley, _Sappho_, Swinburne, _On the Cliffs_, _Sapphics_, _Anactoria_;
Cale Young Rice, _Sappho's Death Song_; J. G. Percival, Sappho; Percy
Mackaye, _Sappho and Phaon_; W. A. Percy, _Sappho in Lenkos_.] to the
long list of nineteenth century female poets--Mrs. Browning, [Footnote:
Browning, _One Word More_, _Preface to The Ring and the Book_; James
Thomson, B. V., _E. B. B._; Sidney Dobell, _On the Death of Mrs.
Browning_.] Christina Rossetti, [Footnote: Swinburne, _Ballad of
Appeal to Christina Rossetti_, _New Year's Eve_, _Dedication to
Christina Rossetti_.] Emily Bronte, [Footnote: Stephen Phillips,
_Emily Bronte_.] Alice Meynell, [Footnote: Francis Thompson, _Sister
Songs_, _On her Photograph_, _To a Poet Breaking Silence_.] Felicia
Hemans, [Footnote: L. E. Maclean, _Felicia Hemans_.] Adelaide Proctor,
[Footnote: Edwin Arnold, _Adelaide Anne Proctor_.] Helen Hunt,
[Footnote: Richard Watson Gilder, _H_. _H_.] Emma Lazarus [Footnote:
_Ibid_., _To E. Lazarus_.]--one finds woman the subject of complimentary
verse from their brothers. There is nothing to complain of here, we
should say at first, and yet, in the unreserved praise given to their
greatest is a note that irritates the feminists. For men have made it
plain that Sappho was not like other women; it is the "virility" of her
style that appeals to them; they have even gone so far as to hail her
"manlike maiden." [Footnote: Swinburne, _On the Cliffs_.] So the
feminists have been only embittered by their brothers' praise.

As time wears on, writers averse to feminine verse seem to be losing
thecourage of their convictions. At the end of the eighteenth century,
woman's opponent was not afraid to express himself. Woman writers were
sometimes praised, but it was for one quality alone, the chastity of
their style. John Hughes [Footnote: See _To the Author of "A Fatal
Friendship."_] and Tom Moore [Footnote: See _To Mrs. Henry Tighe_.] both
deplored the need of such an element in masculine verse. But Moore could
not resist counteracting the effect of his chary praise by a play, _The
Blue Stocking_, which burlesques the literary pose in women. He seemed
to feel, also, that he had neatly quelled their poetical aspirations
when he advertised his aversion to marrying a literary woman. [Footnote:
See _The Catalogue_. Another of his poems ridiculing poetesses is _The
Squinting Poetess_.] Despite a chivalrous sentimentality, Barry Cornwall
took his stand with Moore on the point, exhorting women to choose love
rather than a literary career. [Footnote: See _To a Poetess_. More
seriously, Landor offered the same discouragement to his young friend
with poetical tastes. [Footnote: See _To Write as Your Sweet Mother
Does_.] On the whole the prevalent view expressed early in the
nineteenth century is the considerate one that while women lack a
literary gift, they have, none the less, sweet poetical his heroes
harried by their genius into ill health, prince Athanase is

  A youth who as with toil and travel
  Had grown quite weak and gray before his time.
[Footnote: _Prince Athanase_, a fragment.]

In _Alastor_, too, we see the hero wasting away until

  His limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
  Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
  Sung dirges in the wind: his listless hand
  Hung like dead bone within his withered skin;
  Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone
  As in a furnace burning secretly
  From his dark eyes alone.

The likeness of Sordello to Shelley [Footnote: Browning himself pointed
out a similarity between them, in the opening of Book I.] is marked in
the ravages of his genius upon his flesh, so that at the climax of the
poem he, though still a young man, is gray and haggard and fragile.

Though ill-health is a handicap to him, the poet's subjection to the
mutability that governs the mundane sphere is less important, some
persons would declare, in the matter of beauty and health than in the
matter of sex. Can a poetic spirit overcome the calamity of being cast
by Fate into the body of a woman?

As the battle of feminism dragged its bloody way through all fields of
endeavor in the last century,

  Some life of men unblest
  He knew, which made him droop, and filled his head.
  He went, his piping took a troubled sound
  Of storms that rage outside our happy ground.
  He could not wait their passing; he is dead.

In addition, the intense application that genius demands leaves its mark
upon the body. Recognition of this fact has doubtless been aided by
Dante's portrait, which Wilde has repainted in verse:

  The calm, white brow, as calm as earliest morn,
  The eyes that flashed with passionate love and scorn,
  The lips that sang of Heaven and of Hell,
  The almond face that Giotto drew so well,
  The weary face of Dante.[Footnote: _Ravenna._]

Rossetti repeats the tradition that the composition of the
_Inferno_ so preyed upon Dante that the superstitious believed that
he had actually visited Hades and whispered to one another,

  Behold him, how Hell's reek
  Has crisped his beard and singed his cheek.
[Footnote: _Dante at Verona._]

A similar note is in Francis Thompson's description of Coventry Patmore:

  And lo! that hair is blanched with travel-heats of hell.
[Footnote: _A Captain of Song._]

In this connection one thinks at once of Shelley's prematurely graying
hair, reflected in description of his heroes harried by their genius
into ill health, Prince Athanase is

  A youth who as with toil and travel
  Had grown quite weak and gray before his time.
[Footnote: _Prince Athanase_, a fragment.]

In _Alastor_, too, we see the hero wasting away until

  His limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
  Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
  Sung dirges in the wind: his listless hand
  Hung like dead bone within his withered skin;
  Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone
  As in a furnace burning secretly
  From his dark eyes alone.

The likeness of Sordello to Shelley [Footnote: Browning himself pointed
out a similarity between them, in the opening of Book 1.] is marked in
the ravages of his genius upon his flesh, so that at the climax of the
poem he, though still a young man, is gray and haggard and fragile.

Though ill-health is a handicap to him, the poet's subjection to
themutability that governs the mundane sphere is less important, some
persons would declare, in the matter of beauty and health than in the
matter of sex. Can a poetic spirit overcome the calamity of being cast
by Fate into the body of a woman?

As the battle of feminism dragged its bloody way through all fields of
endeavor in the last century, of their complaint must be significant. A
jumping toothache would hardly be an advantage to a sufferer in turning
his thoughts to poesy. Since verse writers recoil from the suggestion
that dyspepsia is the name of their complaint, let us ask them to
explain its real character to us. To take one of our earliest examples,
what is the malady of William Lisles Bowles' poet, of whom we learn,
  Too long had sickness left her pining trace
  With slow still touch on each decaying grace;
  Untimely sorrow marked his thoughtful mien;
  Despair upon his languid smile was seen.
[Footnote: _Monody on Henry Headley._]

We can never know. But with Shelley, it becomes evident that
tuberculosis is the typical poet's complaint. Shelley was convinced that
he himself was destined to die of it. The irreverent Hogg records that
Shelley was also afraid of death from elephantiasis, [Footnote: T. J.
Hogg, _Life of Shelley_, p. 458.] but he keeps that affliction out
of his verse. So early as the composition of the _Revolt of Islam_,
Shelley tells us of himself, in the introduction,

  Death and love are yet contending for their prey,

and in _Adonais_ he appears as

                                   A power
  Girt round with weakness.
       *       *       *       *       *
  A light spear ...
  Vibrated, as the everbeating heart
  Shook the weak hand that grasped it.

Shelley's imaginary poet, Lionel, gains in poetical sensibility as
consumption saps his strength:

  You might see his colour come and go,
  And the softest strain of music made
  Sweet smiles, yet sad, arise and fade
  Amid the dew of his tender eyes;
  And the breath with intermitting flow
  Made his pale lips quiver and part.
[Footnote: _Rosalind and Helen._]

The deaths from tuberculosis of Kirke White [Footnote: See Kirke White,
_Sonnet to Consumption_.] and of Keats, added to Shelley's verse,
so affected the imagination of succeeding poets that for a time the
cough became almost ubiquitous in verse. In major poetry it appears for
the last time in Tennyson's _The Brook_, where the young poet hastens to
Italy, "too late," but in American verse it continued to rack the frame
of geniuses till the germ theory robbed it of romance and the
anti-tuberculosis campaign drove it out of existence.

Without the aid of physical causes, the exquisite sensitiveness of the
poet's spirit is sometimes regarded as enough to produce illness. Thus
Alexander Smith explains his sickly hero:

                             More tremulous
  Than the soft star that in the azure East
  Trembles with pity o'er bright bleeding day
  Was his frail soul.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

Arnold, likewise, in _Thyrsis_, follows the poetic tradition in
thus vaguely accounting for Clough's death: it of course has left its
traces in the realm of poetry. But here the casualties appear to be
light,--in fact, it is a disappointment to the suffragist to find most
of the blows struck by the female aspirant for glory, with but few
efforts to parry them on the part of the male contingent. Furthermore,
in verse concerned with specific woman poets, men have not failed to
give them their due, or more. From Miriam [Footnote: See Barry Cornwall,
_Miriam_.] and Sappho, [Footnote: Southey, _Sappho_; Freneau, _Monument
of Phaon_; Kingsley, _Sappho_, Swinburne, _On the Cliffs, Sapphics,
Anactoria;_ Cale Young Rice, _Sappho's Death Song;_ J. G. Percival,
_Sappho_; Percy Mackaye, _Sappho and Phaon_; W. A. Percy, _Sappho in
Lenkos._] to the long list of nineteenth century female poets--Mrs.
Browning, [Footnote: Browning, _One Word More, Preface to The Ring and
the Book;_ James Thomson, B. V., _E. B. B._; Sidney Dobell, _On the
Death of Mrs. Browning._] Christina Rossetti, [Footnote: Swinburne,
_Ballad of Appeal to Christina. Rossetti, New Year's Eve, Dedication to
Christina Rossetti._] Emily Bronte, [Footnote: Stephen Phillips, _Emily
Bronte._] Alice Meynell, [Footnote: Francis Thompson, _Sister Songs,
on her Photograph, To a Poet Breaking Silence._] Felicia Hemans,
[Footnote: L. E. Maclean, _Felicia Hemans._] Adelaide Proctor,
[Footnote: Edwin Arnold, _Adelaide Anne Proctor._] Helen Hunt,
[Footnote: Richard Watson Gilder, _H. H._] Emma Lazarus
[Footnote: _Ibid., To E. Lazarus._]--one finds woman the subject of
complimentary verse from their brothers. There is nothing to complain of
here, we should say at first, and yet, in the unreserved praise given to
their greatest is a note that irritates the feminists. For men have made
it plain that Sappho was not like other women; it is the "virility" of
her style that appeals to them; they have even gone so far as to hail
her "manlike maiden." [Footnote: Swinburne, _On the Cliffs._] So the
feminists have been only embittered by their brothers' praise.
As time wears on, writers averse to feminine verse seem to be losing the
courage of their convictions. At the end of the eighteenth century,
woman's opponent was not afraid to express himself. Woman writers were
sometimes praised, but it was for one quality alone, the chastity of
their style. John Hughes [Footnote: See _To the Author of "A Fatal
Friendship."_] and Tom Moore [Footnote: See _To Mrs. Henry Tighe._] both
deplored the need of such an element in masculine verse. But Moore could
not resist counteracting the effect of his chary praise by a play, _The
Blue Stocking_, which burlesques the literary pose in women. He seemed
to feel, also, that he had neatly quelled their poetical aspirations
when he advertised his aversion to marrying a literary woman. [Footnote:
See _The Catalogue._ Another of his poems ridiculing poetesses is _The
Squinting Poetess._] Despite a chivalrous sentimentality, Barry Cornwall
took his stand with Moore on the point, exhorting women to choose love
rather than a literary career. [Footnote: See _To a Poetess._] More
seriously, Landor offered the same discouragement to his young friend
with poetical tastes. [Footnote: See _To Write as Your Sweet Mother
Does._] On the whole the prevalent view expressed early in the
nineteenth century is the considerate one that while women lack a
literary gift, they have, none the less, sweet poetical natures. Bulwer
Lytton phrased the old-fashioned distinction between his hero and

  In each lay poesy--for woman's heart
  Nurses the stream, unsought and oft unseen;
  And if it flow not through the tide of art,
  Nor win the glittering daylight--you may ween
  It slumbers, but not ceases, and if checked
  The egress of rich words, it flows in thought,
  And in its silent mirror doth reflect
  Whate'er affection to its banks hath brought.
[Footnote: Milton.]

Yet the poetess has two of the strongest poets of the romantic period on
her side. Wordsworth, in his many allusions to his sister Dorothy,
appeared to feel her possibilities equal to his own, and in verses on an
anthology, he offered praise of a more general nature to verse written
by women. [Footnote: See To Lady Mary Lowther.] And beside the sober
judgment of Wordsworth, one may place the unbounded enthusiasm of
Shelley, who not only praises extravagantly the verse of an individual,
Emilia Viviani, [Footnote: See the introduction to Epipsychidion.] but
who also offers us an imaginary poetess of supreme powers,--Cythna, in
_The Revolt of Islam_.

It is disappointing to the agitator to find the question dropping out of
sight in later verse. In the Victorian period it comes most plainly to
the surface in Browning, and while the exquisite praise of his

  Lyric love, half angel and half bird,

reveals him a believer in at least sporadic female genius, his position
on the question of championing the entire sex is at least equivocal. In
_The Two Poets of Croisic_ he deals with the eighteenth century in
France, where the literary woman came so gloriously into her own.
Browning represents a man writing under a feminine pseudonym and winning
the admiration of the celebrities of the day--only to have his verse
tossed aside as worthless as soon as his sex is revealed. Woman wins by
her charm, seems to be the moral. A hopeful sign, however, is the fact
that of late years one poet produced his best work under a feminine
_nom de plume_, and found it no handicap in obtaining recognition.
[Footnote: William Sharp, "Fiona McLeod."] If indifference is the
attitude of the male poet, not so of the woman writer. She insists that
her work shall redound, not to her own glory, merely, but to that of her
entire sex as well. For the most worthy presentation of her case, we
must turn to Mrs. Browning, though the radical feminist is not likely to
approve of her attitude. "My secret profession of faith," she admitted
to Robert Browning, "is--that there is a natural inferiority of mind in
women--of the intellect--not by any means of the moral nature--and that
the history of Art and of genius testifies to this fact openly."
[Footnote: Letter to Robert Browning, July 4, 1845.] Still, despite this
private surrender to the enemy, Mrs. Browning defends her sex well.

In a short narrative poem, _Mother and Poet_, Mrs. Browning claims
for her heroine the sterner virtues that have been denied her by the
average critic, who assigns woman to sentimental verse as her proper
sphere. Of course her most serious consideration of the problem is to be
found in _Aurora Leigh_. She feels that making her imaginary poet a
woman is a departure from tradition, and she strives to justify it. Much
of the debasing adulation and petty criticism heaped upon Aurora must
have been taken from Mrs. Browning's own experience. Ignoring
insignificant antagonism to her, Aurora is seriously concerned with the
charges that the social worker, Romney Leigh, brings against her sex.
Romney declares,

                        Women as you are,
  Mere women, personal and passionate,
  You give us doting mothers, and perfect wives,
  Sublime Madonnas and enduring saints!
  We get no Christ from you,--and verily
  We shall not get a poet, in my mind.

Aurora is obliged to acknowledge to herself that Romney is right in
charging women with inability to escape from personal considerations.
She confesses,

  We women are too apt to look to one,
  Which proves a certain impotence in art.

But in the end, and after much struggling, Aurora wins for her poetry
even Romney's reluctant admiration. Mrs. Browning's implication seems to
be that the intensely "personal and passionate" nature of woman is an
advantage to her, if once she can lift herself from its thraldom,
because it saves her from the danger of dry generalization which assails
verse of more masculine temper. [Footnote: For treatment of the question
of the poet's sex in American verse by women, see Emma Lazarus,
_Echoes_; Olive Dargan, _Ye Who are to Sing_.]

Of only less vital concern to poets than the question of the poet's
physical constitution is the problem of his environment. Where will the
chains of mortality least hamper his aspiring spirit?

In answer, one is haunted by the line,

  I too was born in Arcadia.

Still, this is not the answer that poets would make in all periods. In
the eighteenth century, for example, though a stereotyped conception of
the shepherd poet ruled,--as witness the verses of Hughes, [Footnote:
See _Corydon_.] Collins, [Footnote: See _Selim, or the Shepherd's
Moral_.] and Thomson,[Footnote: See _Pastoral on the Death of
Daemon_.]--it is obvious that these gentlemen were in no literal
sense expressing their views on the poet's habitat. It was hardly
necessary for Thomas Hood to parody their efforts in his eclogues giving
a broadly realistic turn to shepherds assuming the singing robes.
[Footnote: See _Huggins and Duggins_, and _The Forlorn Shepherd's
Complaint_.] Wherever a personal element enters, as in John Hughes'
_Letter to a Friend in the Country_, and Sidney Dyer's _A Country
Walk_, it is apparent that the poet is not indigenous to the soil. He
is the city gentleman, come out to enjoy a holiday.

With the growth of a romantic conception of nature, the relation of the
poet to nature becomes, of course, more intimate. But Cowper and Thomson
keep themselves out of their nature poetry to such an extent that it is
hard to tell what their ideal position would be, and not till the
publication of Beattie's _The Minstrel_ do we find a poem in which
the poet is nurtured under the influence of a natural scenery. At the
very climax of the romantic period the poet is not always bred in the
country. We find Byron revealing himself as one who seeks nature only
occasionally, as a mistress in whose novelty resides a good deal of her
charm. Shelley, too, portrays a poet reared in civilization, but
escaping to nature. [Footnote: See _Epipsychidion_, and _Alastor_.]
Still, it is obvious that ever since the time of Burns and Wordsworth,
the idea of a poet nurtured from infancy in nature's bosom has been
extremely popular.

There are degrees of naturalness in nature, however. How far from the
hubbub of commercialism should the poet reside? Burns and Wordsworth
were content with the farm country, but for poets whose theories were
not so intimately joined with experience such an environment was too
tame. Bowles would send his visionary boy into the wilderness.
[Footnote: See _The Visionary Boy_.] Coleridge and Southey went so
far as to lay plans for emigrating, in person, to the banks of the
Susquehanna. Shelley felt that savage conditions best foster poetry.
[Footnote: See the _Defense of Poetry_: "In the infancy of society
every author is necessarily a poet."] Campbell, in _Gertrude of
Wyoming_, made his bard an Indian, and commented on his songs,

  So finished he the rhyme, howe'er uncouth,
  That true to Nature's fervid feelings ran
  (And song is but the eloquence of truth).

The early American poet, J. G. Percival, expressed the same theory,
declaring of poetry,

  Its seat is deeper in the savage breast
  Than in the man of cities.
[Footnote: _Poetry_.]

To most of us, this conception of the poet is familiar because of
acquaintance, from childhood, with Chibiabus, "he the sweetest of all
singers," in Longfellow's _Hiawatha_.

But the poet of to-day may well pause, before he starts to an Indian
reservation. What is the mysterious benefit which the poet derives from
nature? Humility and common sense, Burns would probably answer, and that
response would not appeal to the majority of poets. A mystical
experience of religion, Wordsworth would say, of course. A wealth of
imagery, nineteenth century poets would hardly think it worth while to
add, for the influence of natural scenery upon poetic metaphors has come
to be such a matter of course that one hardly realizes its significance.
Perhaps, too, poets should admit oftener than they do the influence of
nature's rhythms upon their style. As Madison Cawein says

  If the wind and the brook and the bird would teach
  My heart their beautiful parts of speech,
  And the natural art they say these with,
  My soul would sing of beauty and myth
  In a rhyme and a meter none before
  Have sung in their love, or dreamed in their lore.
[Footnote: _Preludes_.]

The influence of nature which the romantic poet stressed most, however,
was a negative one. In a sense in which Wordsworth probably did not
intend it, the romantic poet betrayed himself hastening to nature

                               More like a man
  Flying from something that he dreads, than one
  Who sought the thing he loved.

What nature is not, seemed often her chief charm to the romanticist.
Bowles sent his visionary boy to "romantic solitude." Byron [Footnote:
See _Childe Harold_.] and Shelley, [Footnote: See _Epipsychidion_.] too,
were as much concerned with escaping from humanity as with meeting
nature. Only Wordsworth, in the romantic period, felt that the poet's
life ought not to be wholly disjoined from his fellows. [Footnote: See
_Tintern Abbey_, _Ode on Intimations of Immortality,_ and _The

Of course the poet's quarrel with his unappreciative public has led him
to express a longing for complete solitude sporadically, even down to
the present time, but by the middle of the nineteenth century "romantic
solitude" as the poet's perennial habitat seems just about to have run
its course. Of the major poets, Matthew Arnold alone consistently urges
the poet to flee from "the strange disease of modern life." The Scholar
Gypsy lives the ideal life of a poet, Matthew Arnold would say, and
preserves his poetical temperament because of his escape from

  For early didst thou leave the world, with powers
  Fresh, undiverted to the world without,
  Firm to their mark, not spent on other things;
  Free from the sick fatigue, the languid doubt
  Which much to have tried, in much been baffled brings.

No doubt, solitude magnifies the poet's sense of his own personality.
Stephen Phillips says of Emily Bronte's poetic gift,

      Only barren hills
  Could wring the woman riches out of thee,
[Footnote: _Emily Bronte_.]

and there are several poets of whom a similar statement might be made.
But the Victorians were aware that only half of a poet's nature was
developed thus. Tennyson [Footnote: See _The Palace of Art_.] and
Mrs. Browning [Footnote: See _The Poet's Vow_; Letters to Robert
Browning, January 1, 1846, and March 20, 1845.] both sounded a warning
as to the dangers of complete isolation. And at present, though the
eremite poet is still with us, [Footnote: See Lascelles Ambercrombe,
_An Escape_; J. E. Flecker, _Dirge_; Madison Cawein, _Comrading_; Yeats,
_The Lake Isle of Innisfree_.] he does not have everything his own way.

For it has begun to occur to poets that it may not have been merely
anuntoward accident that several of their loftiest brethren were reared
London. In the romantic period even London-bred Keats said, as a matter
of course,

  The coy muse, with me she would not live
  In this dark city,
[Footnote: _Epistle to George Felton Mathew_. Wordsworth's sonnet,
"Earth has not anything to show more fair," seems to have been unique at
this time.]

and the American romanticist, Emerson, said of the poet,

  In cities he was low and mean;
  The mountain waters washed him clean.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

But Lowell protested against such a statement, avowing of the muse,

  She can find a nobler theme for song
  In the most loathsome man that blasts the sight
  Than in the broad expanse of sea and shore.
[Footnote: _L'Envoi_.]

A number of the Victorians acknowledged that they lived from choice in
London. Christina Rossetti admitted frankly that she preferred London to
the country, and defended herself with Bacon's statement, "The souls of
the living are the beauty of the world." [Footnote: See E. L. Gary,
_The Rossettis_, p. 236.] Mrs. Browning made Aurora outgrow pastoral
verse, and not only reside in London, but find her inspiration there.
Francis Thompson and William Henley were not ashamed to admit that they
were inspired by London. James Thomson, B.V., belongs with them in this
regard, for though he depicted the horror of visions conjured up in the
city streets in a way unparalleled in English verse, [Footnote: See _The
City of Dreadful Night_.] this is not the same thing as the romantic
poet's repudiation of the city as an unimaginative environment.

Coming to more recent verse, we find Austin Dobson still feeling it an
anomaly that his muse should prefer the city to the country. [Footnote:
See _On London Stones_.] John Davidson, also, was very self-conscious
about his city poets. [Footnote: See _Fleet Street Eclogues_.] But as
landscape painters are beginning to see and record the beauty in the
most congested city districts, so poets have been making their muse more
and more at home there, until our contemporary poets scarcely stop to
take their residence in the city otherwise than as a matter of course.
Alan Seeger cries out for Paris as the ideal habitat of the singer.
[Footnote: See _Paris_.] Even New York and Chicago [Footnote: See Carl
Sandburg, _Chicago Poems_; Edgar Lee Masters, _The Loop_; William
Griffith, _City Pastorals_; Charles H. Towne, _The City_.] are beginning
to serve as backgrounds for the poet figure. A poem called _A Winter
Night_ reveals Sara Teasdale as thoroughly at home in Manhattan as the
most bucolic shepherd among his flocks.

To poets' minds the only unaesthetic habitat nowadays seems to be the
country town. Although Edgar Lee Masters writes what he calls poetry
inspired by it, the reader of the _Spoon River Anthology_ is still
disposed to sympathize with Benjamin Fraser of Spoon River, the artist
whose genius was crushed by his ghastly environment.

So manifold, in fact, are the attractions of the world to the modern
poet, that the vagabond singer has come into special favor lately. Of
course he has appeared in English song ever since the time of minstrels,
but usually, as in the Old English poem, _The Wanderer_, he has been
unhappy in his roving life. Even so modern a poet as Scott was in the
habit of portraying his minstrels as old and homesick. [Footnote: See
_The Lay of the Last Minstrel_.] But Byron set the fashion among poets
of desiring "a world to roam through," [Footnote: _Epistle to Augusta_.]
and the poet who is a wanderer from choice has not been unknown since
Byron's day. [Footnote: Alfred Dommett and George Borrow are notable.]
The poet vagabond of to-day, as he is portrayed in Maurice Hewlitt's
autobiographical novels, _Rest Harrow_ and _Open Country_, and William
H. Davies' tramp poetry, looks upon his condition in life as ideal.
[Footnote: See also Francis Carlin, _Denby the Rhymer_ (1918); Henry
Herbert Knibbs, _Songs of the Trail_ (1920)]  Alan Seeger, too,
concurred in the view, declaring,

  Down the free roads of human happiness
  I frolicked, poor of purse but light of heart.
[Footnote: _Sonnet to Sidney_.]

"Poor of purse!" The words recall us to another of the poet's quarrels
with the world in which he is imprisoned. Should the philanthropist, as
has often been suggested, endow the poet with an independent income?
What a long and glorious tradition would then be broken! From Chaucer's
_Complaint to His Empty Purse_, onward, English poetry has borne
the record of its maker's poverty. The verse of our period is filled
with names from the past that offer our poets a noble precedent for
their destitution,--Homer, Cervantes, Camoeens, Spenser, Dryden, Butler,
Johnson, Otway, Collins, Chatterton, Burns,--all these have their want
exposed in nineteeth and twentieth century verse.

The wary philanthropist, before launching into relief schemes, may well
inquire into the cause of such wretchedness. The obvious answer is, of
course, that instead of earning a livelihood the poet has spent his time
on a vocation that makes no pecuniary return. Poets like to tell us,
also, that their pride, and a fine sense of honour, hold them back from
illegitimate means of acquiring wealth. But tradition has it that there
are other contributing causes. Edmund C. Stedman's _Bohemia_ reveals the
fact that the artist has most impractical ideas about the disposal of
his income. He reasons that, since the more guests he has, the smaller
the cost per person, then if he can only entertain extensively enough,
the cost _per caput_ will be _nil_. Not only so, but the poet is likely
to lose sight completely of tomorrow's needs, once he has a little ready
cash on hand. A few years ago, Philistines derived a good deal of
contemptuous amusement from a poet's statement,

  Had I two loaves of bread--ay, ay!
  One would I sell and daffodils buy
  To feed my soul.
[Footnote: _Beauty_, Theodore Harding Rand.]

What is to be done with such people? Charity officers are continually

What relief measure can poets themselves suggest? When they are speaking
of older poets, they are apt to offer no constructive criticism, but
only denunciation of society. Their general tone is that of Burns' lines
_Written Under the Portrait of Ferguson:_

  Curse on ungrateful man that can be pleased
  And yet can starve the author of the pleasure.

Occasionally the imaginary poet who appears in their verse is quite as
bitter. Alexander Smith's hero protests against being "dungeoned in
poverty." One of Richard Gilder's poets warns the public,

  You need not weep for and sigh for and saint me
  After you've starved me and driven me dead.
  Friends, do you hear? What I want is bread.
[Footnote: _The Young Poet_.]

Through the thin veneer of the fictitious poet in Joaquin Miller's
_Ina_, the author himself appears, raving,

  A poet! a poet forsooth! Fool! hungry fool!
  Would you know what it means to be a poet?
  It is to want a friend, to want a home,
  A country, money,--aye, to want a meal.
[Footnote: See also John Savage, _He Writes for Bread_.]

But in autobiographical verse, the tone changes, and the poet refuses to
pose as a candidate for charity. Rather, he parades an ostentatious
horror of filthy lucre, only paralleled by his distaste for food. Mrs.
Browning boasts,

  The Devil himself scarce trusts his patented
  Gold-making art to any who makes rhymes,
  But culls his Faustus from philosophers
  And not from poets.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

A poet who can make ends meet is practically convicted of being no true
artist. Shakespeare is so solitary an exception to this rule, that his
mercenary aspect is a pure absurdity to his comrades, as Edwin Arlington
Robinson conceives of them. [Footnote: See _Ben Jonson Entertains a
Man from Stratford_.] In the eighteenth century indifference to
remuneration was not so marked, and in poetic epistles, forgers of the
couplet sometimes concerned themselves over the returns, [Footnote: See
_Advice to Mr. Pope_, John Hughes; _Economy, The Poet and the Dun_,
Shenstone.] but since the romantic movement began, such thought has been
held unworthy. [Footnote: See _To a Poet Abandoning His Art_, Barry
Cornwall; and _Poets and Poets_, T. E. Browne. On the other hand, see
Sebastian Evans, _Religio Poetae_.] In fact, even in these days, we are
comparatively safe from a poet's strike.

Usually the poet declares that as for himself, he is indifferent to his
financial condition. Praed speaks fairly for his brethren, when in _A
Ballad Teaching How Poetry Is Best Paid For_, he represents their
terms as very easy to meet. Even the melancholy Bowles takes on this
subject, for once, a cheerful attitude, telling his visionary boy,

  Nor fear, if grim before thine eyes
  Pale worldly want, a spectre lowers;
  What is a world of vanities
  To a world as fair as ours?

In the same spirit Burns belittles his poverty, saying, in _An Epistle
to Davie, Fellow Poet_:

  To lie in kilns and barns at e'en
  When bones are crazed, and blind is thin
  Is doubtless great distress,
  Yet then content would make us blest.

Shelley, too, eschews wealth, declaring, in _Epipsychidion_,

  Our simple life wants little, and true taste
  Hires not the pale drudge luxury to waste
  The scene it would adorn.

Later poetry is likely to take an even exuberant attitude toward
poverty. [Footnote: See especially verse on the Mermaid group, as
_Tales of the Mermaid Inn_, Alfred Noyes. See also Josephine Preston
Peabody, _The Golden Shoes_; Richard Le Gallienne, _Faery Gold_; J. G.
Saxe, _The Poet to his Garret_; W. W. Gibson, _The Empty Purse_; C. G.
Halpine, _To a Wealthy Amateur Critic_; Simon Kerl, _Ode to Debt, A Leaf
of Autobiography_; Thomas Gordon Hake, _The Poet's Feast_; Dana Burnet,
_In a Garret_; Henry Aylett Sampson, _Stephen Phillips Bankrupt_.] The
poet's wealth of song is so great that he leaves coin to those who wish
it. Indeed he often has a superstitious fear of wealth, lest it take
away his delight in song. In Markham's _The Shoes of Happiness_, only
the poet who is too poor to buy shoes possesses the secret of joy.
With a touching trust in providence, another poet cries,

  Starving, still I smile,
  Laugh at want and wrong,
  He is fed and clothed
  To whom God giveth song.
[Footnote: Anne Reeve Aldrich, _A Crowned Poet_.]

It is doubtful indeed that the poet would have his fate averted. Pope's
satirical coupling of want and song, as cause and effect,

  One cell there is, concealed from vulgar eye,
  The cave of Poverty and Poetry.
  Keen, hollow winds howl through the bleak recess,
  Emblem of music caused by emptiness,
[Footnote: _Dunciad_.]

is accepted quite literally by later writers. Emerson's theory of
compensations applies delightfully here as everywhere, and he meditates
on the poet,

           The Muse gave special charge
  His learning should be deep and large,--
       *       *       *       *       *
  His flesh should feel, his eyes should read
  Every maxim of dreadful need.
       *       *       *       *       *
  By want and pain God screeneth him
  Till his appointed hour.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

It may appear doubtful to us whether the poet has painted ideal
conditions for the nurture of genius in his picture of the poet's
physical frame, his environment, and his material endowment, inasmuch as
the death rate among young bards,--imaginary ones, at least, is
appalling. What can account for it?

In a large percentage of cases, the poet's natural frailty of
constitution is to blame for his early death, of course, but another
popular explanation is that the very keenness of the poet's flame causes
it to burn out the quicker. Byron finds an early death fitting to him,

    For I had the share of life that might have filled a century,
    Before its fourth in time had passed me by.
[Footnote: _Epistle to Augusta_.]

A fictitious poet looks back upon the same sort of life, and reflects,

             ... For my thirty years,
  Dashed with sun and splashed with tears,
  Wan with revel, red with wine,
  Other wiser happier men
  Take the full three score and ten.
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

this richness of experience is not inevitably bound up with
recklessness, poets feel. The quality is in such a poet even as Emily
Bronte, of whom it is written:

  They live not long of thy pure fire composed;
  Earth asks but mud of those that will endure.
[Footnote: Stephen Phillips.  _Emily Bronte_.]

Another cause of the poet's early death is certainly his fearlessness.
Shelley prophesies that his daring spirit will meet death

      Far from the trembling throng
  Whose souls are never to the tempest given.
[Footnote: _Adonais_.]

With the deaths of Rupert Brooke, Alan Seeger, Joyce Kilmer, and Francis
Ledwidge, this element in the poet's disposition has been brought home
to the public. Joyce Kilmer wrote back from the trenches, "It is wrong
for a poet ... to be listening to elevated trains when there are
screaming shells to hear ... and the bright face of danger to dream
about." [Footnote: Letter to his wife, March 12, 1918.] And in his
article on Joyce Kilmer in _The Bookman_, Richard LeGallienne
speaks of young poets "touched with the ringer of a moonlight that has
written 'fated' upon their brows," adding, "Probably our feeling is
nothing more than our realization that temperaments so vital and intense
must inevitably tempt richer and swifter fates than those less

It is a question whether poets would expect us to condole with them or
to felicitate them upon the short duration of their subjection to
mortality. Even when the poet speaks of his early death solely with
regard to its effect upon his earthly reputation, his attitude is not
wholly clear. Much elegiac verse expresses such stereotyped sorrow for a
departed bard that it is not significant. In other cases, one seems to
overhear the gasp of relief from a patron whom time can never force to
retract his superlative claims for his protege's promise.

More significant is a different note which is sometimes heard. In
Alexander Smith's _Life Drama_, it is ostensibly ironic. The critic

  He died--'twas shrewd:
  And came with all his youth and unblown hopes
  On the world's heart, and touched it into tears.

In _Sordello_, likewise, it is the unappreciative critic who expresses
this sort of pleasure in Eglamor's death. But this feeling has also been
expressed with all seriousness, as in Stephen Phillip's _Keats_:

  I have seen more glory in sunrise
  Than in the deepening of azure noon,

or in Francis Thompson's _The Cloud's Swan Song_:

  I thought of Keats, that died in perfect time,
  In predecease of his just-sickening song,
  Of him that set, wrapped in his radiant rhyme,
  Sunlike in sea. Life longer had been life too long.

Obviously we are in the wake of the Rousseau theory, acclimatized in
English poetry by Wordsworth's youth "who daily farther from the east
must travel." A long array of poets testifies to the doctrine that a
poet's first days are his best. [Footnote: See S. T. Coleridge, _Youth
and Age_; J. G. Percival, _Poetry_; William Cullen Bryant, _I Cannot
Forget with What Fervid Devotion_; Bayard Taylor, _The Return of the
Goddess_; Richard Watson Gilder, _To a Young Poet_, _The Poet's Secret_;
George Henry Boker, _To Bayard Taylor_; Martin Farquhar Tupper, _To a
Young Poet_; William E. Henley, _Something Is Dead_; Francis Thompson,
_From the Night of Foreboding_; Thomas Hardy, _In the Seventies_; Lewis
Morris, _On a Young Poet_; Richard Le Gallienne, _A Face in a Book_;
Richard Middleton, _The Faithful Poet, The Boy Poet_; Don Marquis, _The
Singer_ (1915); John Hall Wheelock, _The Man to his Dead Poet_ (1919);
Cecil Roberts, _The Youth of Beauty_ (1915); J. Thorne Smith, jr., _The
Lost Singer_ (1920); Edna St. Vincent Millay, _To a Poet that Died
Young_.] _Optima dies_ ... _prima fugit_; the note echoes and reechoes
through English poetry. Hear it in Arnold's _Progress of Poetry_:

  Youth rambles on life's arid mount,
  And strikes the rock and finds the vein,
  And brings the water from the fount.
  The fount which shall not flow again.

  The man mature with labor chops
  For the bright stream a channel grand,
  And sees not that the sacred drops
  Ran off and vanished out of hand.

  And then the old man totters nigh
  And feebly rakes among the stones;
  The mount is mute, the channel dry,
  And down he lays his weary bones.

But the strangle hold of complimentary verse upon English poetry, if
nothing else, would prevent this view being unanimously expressed there.
For in the Victorian period, poets who began their literary careers by
prophesying their early decease lived on and on. They themselves might
bewail the loss of their gift in old age--in fact, it was usual for them
to do so [Footnote: See Scott, _Farewell to the Muse_; Landor, _Dull is
my Verse_; J. G. Percival, _Invocation_; Matthew Arnold, _Growing Old_;
Longfellow, _My Books_; O. W. Holmes, _The Silent Melody_; C. W.
Stoddard, _The Minstrel's Harp_; P. H. Hayne, _The Broken Chords_; J. C.
MacNiel, _A Prayer_; Harvey Hubbard, _The Old Minstrel_.]--but it would
never do for their disciples to concur in the sentiment. Consequently we
have a flood of complimentary verses, assuring the great poets of their
unaltered charm.[Footnote: See Swinburne, _Age and Song, The Centenary
of Landor, Statue of Victor Hugo_; O. W. Holmes, _Whittier's Eightieth
Birthday, Bryant's Seventieth Birthday_; E. E. Stedman, _Ad Vatem_; P.
H. Hayne, _To Longfellow_; Richard Gilder, _Jocoseria_; M. F. Tupper,
_To the Poet of Memory_; Edmund Gosse, _To Lord Tennyson on his
Eightieth Birthday_; Alfred Noyes, _Ode for the Seventieth Birthday of
Swinburne_; Alfred Austin, _The Poet's Eightieth Birthday_; Lucy Larcom,
_J. G. Whittier_; Mary Clemmer, _To Whittier_; Percy Mackaye, _Browning
to Ben Ezra_.] And of course it is all worth very little as indicating
the writer's attitude toward old age. Yet the fact that Landor was still
singing as he "tottered on into his ninth decade,"--that Browning,
Tennyson, Swinburne, Longfellow, Whittier, Holme's, and Whitman
continued to feel the stir of creation when their hair was hoary, may
have had a genuine influence on younger writers.

Greater significance attaches to the fact that some of the
self-revealing verse lamenting the decay of inspiration in old age is
equivocal, as Landor's

  Dull is my verse: not even thou
  Who movest many cares away
  From this lone breast and weary brow
  Canst make, as once, its fountains play;
  No, nor those gentle words that now
  Support my heart to hear thee say,
  The bird upon the lonely bough
  Sings sweetest at the close of day.

It is, of course, even more meaningful when the aged poet, disregarding
convention, frankly asserts the desirability of long life for his race.
Browning, despite the sadness of the poet's age recorded in _Cleon_
and the _Prologue to Aslando_, should doubtless be remembered for
his belief in

  The last of life for which the first was made,

as applied to poets as well as to other men. In America old age found
its most enthusiastic advocate in Walt Whitman, who in lines _To Get
the Final Lilt of Songs_ indicated undiminished confidence in himself
at eighty. Bayard Taylor, [Footnote: See _My Prologue_.] too, and
Edward Dowden, [Footnote: See _The Mage_.] were not dismayed by
their longevity.

But we are most concerned, naturally, with wholly impersonal verse, and
in it the aged poet is never wholly absent from English thought. As the
youthful singer suggests the southland, so the aged bard seems
indigenous to the north. It seems inevitable that Gray should depict the
Scotch bard as old, [Footnote: _The Bard_.] and that Scott's
minstrels should be old. Campbell, too, follows the Scotch tradition.
[Footnote: See _Lochiel's Warning_.] It is the prophetic power of
these fictional poets, no doubt, that makes age seem essential to them.
The poet in Campbell's poem explains,

  'Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore.

Outside of Scotch poetry one finds, occasionally, a similar faith in the
old poet. Mrs. Browning's observation tells her that maturity alone can
express itself with youthful freshness. Aurora declares,

  I count it strange and hard to understand
  That nearly all young poets should write old.
  ... It may be perhaps
  Such have not settled long and deep enough
  In trance to attain to clairvoyance, and still
  The memory mixes with the vision, spoils
  And works it turbid. Or perhaps again
  In order to discover the Muse Sphinx
  The melancholy desert must sweep around
  Behind you as before.

Aurora feels, indeed, that the poet's gift is not proved till age. She
sighs, remembering her own youth,

  Alas, near all the birds
  Will sing at dawn,--and yet we do not take
  The chaffering swallow for the holy lark.

Coinciding with this feeling is Rossetti's sentiment:
    ... Many men are poets in their youth,
    But for one sweet-strung soul the wires prolong
    Even through all age the indomitable song.
  [Footnote: _Genius in Beauty_.]

Alice Meynell, [Footnote: See _To any Poet_.] too, and Richard Watson
Gilder [Footnote: See _Life is a Bell_.] feel that increasing power of
song comes with age.

It is doubtless natural that the passionate romantic poets insisted upon
the poet's youth, while the thoughtful Victorians often thought of himas
old. For one is born with nerves, and it does not take long for them
to wear out; on the other hand a great deal of experience is required
before one can even begin to think significantly. Accordingly one is not
surprised, in the turbulent times of Elizabeth, to find Shakespeare, at
thirty, asserting,

  In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
  As on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

and conversely it seems fitting that a _De Senectute_ should come
from an Augustan period. As for the attitude toward age of our own
day,--the detestation of age expressed by Alan Seeger [Footnote: See
_There Was a Youth Around Whose Early Way_.] and Rupert Brooke,
[Footnote: See _The Funeral of Youth: Threnody_.]--the complaint of
Francis Ledwidge, at twenty-six, that years are robbing him of his
inspiration, [Footnote: See _Growing Old, Youth_.]--that, to their
future readers, will only mean that they lived in days of much feeling
and action, and that they died young. [Footnote: One of the war poets,
Joyce Kilmer, was already changing his attitude at thirty. Compare his
juvenile verse, "It is not good for poets to grow old," with the later
poem, _Old Poets_.] As the world subsides, after its cataclysm,
into contemplative revery, it is inevitable that poets will, for a time,
once more conceive as their ideal, not a singer aflame with youth and
passion, but a poet of rich experience and profound reflection,

  White-bearded and with eyes that look afar
  From their still region of perpetual snow,
  Beyond the little smokes and stirs of men.
[Footnote: James Russell Lowell, _Thorwald's Lay_.]



Do the _Phaedrus_ and the _Symposium_ leave anything to be said on the
relationship of love and poetry? In the last analysis, probably not. The
poet, however, is not one to keep silence because of a dearth of new
philosophical conceptions. As he discovers, with ever fresh wonder, the
power of love as muse, each new poet, in turn, is wont to pour his
gratitude for his inspiration into song, undeterred by the fact that
love has received many encomiums before.

It is not strange that this hymn should be broken by rude taunts on the
part of the uninitiated.

  Saynt Idiote, Lord of these foles alle,

Chaucer's Troilus called Love, long ago, and the general public has been
no less free with this characterization in the last century than in the
fourteenth. Nor is it merely that part of the public which associates
all verse with sentimentality, and flees from it as from a contagion,
which thus sneers at the praise lovers give to their divinity. On the
contrary, certain young aspirants to the poet's laurel, feeling that the
singer's indebtedness to love is an overworked theme, have tried, like
the non-lover of the _Phaedrus_, to charm the literary public by
the novelty of a different profession. As the non-lover of classic
Greece was so fluent in his periods that Socrates and Phaedrus narrowly
escaped from being overwhelmed by his much speaking, so the non-lover of
the present time says much for himself.

In the first place, our non-lover may assure us, the nature of love is
such that it involves contempt for the life of a bard. For love is a mad
pursuit of life at first hand, in its most engrossing aspect, and it
renders one deaf and blind to all but the object of the chase; while
poetry is, as Plato points out, [Footnote: See the _Republic_ X, sec.
599-601; and _Phaedrus_, sec. 248.] only a pale and lifeless imitation
of the ardors and delights which the lover enjoys at first hand.
Moreover, one who attempts to divide his attention between the muse and
an earthly mistress, is likely not only to lose the favor of the former,
but, as the ubiquity of the rejected poet in verse indicates, to lose
the latter as well, because his temperament will incline him to go into
retirement and meditate upon his lady's charms, when he should be
flaunting his own in her presence. It will not be long, indeed, before
he has so covered the object of his affection with the leafage of his
fancy, that she ceases to have an actual existence for him at all. The
non-lover may remind us that even so ardent an advocate of love as Mrs.
Browning voices this danger, confessing, in _Sonnets of the Portuguese_,
[Footnote: Sonnet XXIX.]

                      My thoughts do twine and bud
  About thee, as wild vines about a tree
  Put out broad leaves, and soon there's nought to see
  Except the straggling green that hides the wood.

The non-lover may also recall to our minds the notorious egotism and
self-sufficiency of the poet, which seem incompatible with the humility
and insatiable yearning of the lover. He exults in the declaration of

    My solitude is sublime,--for, instead of what I have
    described (_i.e._, domestic bliss) there is sublimity
    to welcome me home; the roaring of the wind is my wife; and
    the stars through the windowpanes are my children; the
    mighty abstract idea of beauty in all things, I have,
    stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness.
    [Footnote: Letter to George Keats, October 31, 1818.]

Borne aloft by his admiration for this passage, the non-lover may
himself essay to be sublime. He may picture to us the frozen heights on
which genius resides, where the air is too rare for earthly affection.
He may declare that Keats' Grecian Urn is a symbol of all art, which
must be

  All breathing human passion far above.

He will assert that the mission of the poet is "to see life steadily and
see it whole," a feat which is impossible if the worship of one figure
out of the multitude is allowed to distort relative values, and to throw
his view out of perspective.

Finally, the enemy of love may call as witnesses poets whom he fancies
he has led astray. Strangely enough, considering the dedication of the
_Ring and the Book_, he is likely to give most conspicuous place among
these witnesses to Browning. Like passages of Holy Writ, lines from
Browning have been used as the text for whatever harangue a new
theorist sees fit to give us. In _Youth and Art_, the non-lover
will point out the characteristic attitude of young people who are
"married to their art," and consequently have no capacity for other
affection. In _Pauline_, he will gloat over the hero's confession
that he is inept in love because he is concerned with his perceptions
rather than with their objects, and his explanation,

  I am made up of an intensest life;
  Of a most clear idea of consciousness
  Of self ...
  And I can love nothing,--and this dull truth
  Has come at last: but sense supplies a love
  Encircling me and mingling with my life.

He will point out that Sordello is another example of the same type, for
though Sordello is ostensibly the lover of Palma, he really finds
nothing outside himself worthy of his unbounded adoration. [Footnote:
Compare Browning's treatment of Sordello with the conventional treatment
of him as lover, in _Sordello_, by Mrs. W. Buck (1837).] Turning to
Tennyson, in _Lucretius_ the non-lover will note the tragic death
of the hero that grows out of the asceticism in love engendered by his
absorption in composition. With the greatest pride the enemy of love
will point to his popularity in the 1890's, when the artificial and
heartless artist enjoyed his greatest vogue. As his most scintillating
advocate he will choose Oscar Wilde. Assuring us of many prose passages
in his favor, he will read to us the expression of conflict between love
and art in _Flower of Love_, where Wilde exclaims,

    I have made my choice, have lived my poems, and though my youth is
                gone in wasted days,
    I have found the lover's crown of myrtle better than the poet's
                crown of bays,

and he will read the record of the same sense of conflict, in different
mood, expressed in the sonnet _Helas_:

  To drift with every passion till my soul
  Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
  Is it for this that I have given away
  Mine ancient wisdom and austere control?
  Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
  Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
  With idle songs for pipe and virelai,
  Which do but mar the secret of the whole.
  Surely there was a time I might have trod
  The sunlit heights, and from life's dissonance
  Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God.
  Is that time dead? Lo, with a little rod
  I did but touch the honey of romance,
  And must I lose a soul's inheritance?

And yet, when the non-lover has finally arrived at the peroration of his
defense, we may remain unshaken in our conviction that from the _Song
of Solomon_ to the _Love Songs of Sara Teasdale_, the history of poetry
constitutes an almost unbroken hymn to the power of love, "the poet, and
the source of poetry in others," [Footnote: _The Symposium_ of Plato, sec.
196.] as Agathon characterized him at the banquet in Love's honour.
Within the field of our especial inquiry, the last century, we may rest
assured that there is no true poet whose work, rightly interpreted, is
out of tune with this general acclaim. Even Browning and Oscar Wilde are
to be saved, although, it may be, only as by fire.

The influence of love upon poetry, which we are assuming with such _a
priori_ certainty, is effected in various ways. The most obvious, of
course, is by affording new subject matter. The confidence of

  How can my muse want subject to invent
  While thou dost breathe, that pourest into my verse
  Thine own sweet argument?

is at least as characteristic of the nineteenth as of the sixteenth
century. The depletion of our lyric poetry, if everything relating to
the singer's love affairs were omitted, is appalling even to
contemplate. Yet, if this were the extent of love's influence upon
poetry, one would have to class it, in kind if not in degree, with any
number of other personal experiences that have thrilled the poet to

The scope of love's influence is widened when one reflects upon its
efficacy as a prize held up before the poet, spurring him on to express
himself. In this aspect poetry is often a form of spiritual display
comparable to the gay plumage upon the birds at mating season. In the
case of women poets, verse often affords an essentially refined and
lady-like manner of expressing one's sentiments toward a possible
suitor. The convention so charmingly expressed in William Morris' lines,
_Rhyme Slayeth Shame_, seems to be especially grateful to them. At
times the ruse fails, as a writer has recently admitted:

  All sing it now, all praise its artless art,
  But ne'er the one for whom the song was made,
[Footnote: Edith Thomas, _Vos non Nobis_.]

but perhaps the worth of the poetry is not affected by the stubbornness
of its recipient. Sara Teasdale very delicately names her anthology of
love poems by women, _The Answering Voice_, but half the poems reveal
the singer speaking first, while a number of them show her expressing an
open-minded attitude toward any possible applicant for her hand among
her readers. But it is not merely for its efficacy as a matrimonial
agency that poets are indebted to love.

Since the nineteenth century is primarily the age of the love story,
personal experience of love has been invaluable to the poet in a third
way. The taste of the time has demanded that the poet sing of the tender
theme almost exclusively, whether in dramatic, lyric or narrative,
whether in historical or fictional verse. This is, of course, one reason
that, wherever the figure of a bard appears in verse, he is almost
always portrayed as a lover. Not to illustrate exhaustively, three of
the most widely read poems with poet heroes, of the beginning, middle
and end of the century respectively, _i. e._, Moore's _Lalla
Rookh_, Mrs. Browning's _Lady Geraldine's Courtship_, and
Coventry Patmore's _The Angel in the House_, all depend for plot
interest upon their hero's implication in a love affair. The authors'
love affairs were invaluable, no doubt, since a poet is not be expected
to treat adequately a passion which he has not experienced himself. It
is true that one hears from time to time, notably in the 1890's, that
the artist should remain apart from, and coldly critical of the emotions
he portrays. But this is not the typical attitude of our period. When
one speaks thus, he is usually thought to be confusing the poet with the
literary man, who writes from calculation rather than from inspiration.
The dictum of Aristotle, "Those who feel emotion are most convincing
through a natural sympathy with the characters they represent,"
[Footnote: _Poetics_ XVII, Butcher's translation.] has appeared
self-evident to most critics of our time.

But the real question of inspiration by love goes deeper and is
connected with Aristotle's further suggestion that poetry involves "a
strain of madness," a statement which we are wont to interpret as
meaning that the poet is led by his passions rather than by his reason.
This constitutes the gist of the whole dispute between the romanticist
and the classicist, and our poets are such ardent devotees of love as
their muse, simply because, in spite of other short-lived fads, the
temper of the last century has remained predominantly romantic. It is
obvious that the idea of love as a distraction and a curse is the
offspring of classicism. If poetry is the work of the reason, then
equilibrium of soul, which is so sorely upset by passionate love, is
doubtless very necessary. But the romanticist represents the poet, not
as one drawing upon the resources within his mind, but as the vessel
filled from without. His afflatus comes upon him and departs, without
his control or understanding. Poetical inspiration, to such a
temperament, naturally assumes the shape of passion. Bryant's expression
of this point of view is so typical of the general attitude as to seem
merely commonplace. He tells us, in _The Poet_,

  No smooth array of phrase,
  Artfully sought and ordered though it be,
  Which the cold rhymer lays
  Upon his page languid industry
  Can wake the listless pulse to livelier speed.
       *       *       *       *       *
  The secret wouldst thou know
  To touch the heart or fire the blood at will?
  Let thine own eyes o'erflow;
  Let thy lips quiver with the passionate thrill.
  Seize the great thought, ere yet its power be past,
  And bind, in words, the fleet emotion fast.

Coleridge's comprehension of this fact led him to cry, "Love is the
vital air of my genius." [Footnote: Letter to his wife, March 12, 1799.]

All this, considering the usual subject-matter of poetry, is perhaps
only saying that the poet must be sincere. The mathematician is most
sincere when he uses his intellect exclusively, but a reasoned portrayal
of passion is bound to falsify, for it leads one insensibly either to
understate, or to burlesque, or to indulge in a psychopathic analysis of
emotion. [Footnote: Of the latter type of poetry a good example is Edgar
Lee Masters' _Monsieur D---- and the Psycho-Analyst_.]

Accordingly, our poets have not been slow to remind us of their
passionate temperaments. Landor, perhaps, may oblige us to dip into his
biography in order to verify our thesis that the poet is invariably
passionate, but in many cases this state of things is reversed, the poet
being wont to assure us that the conventional incidents of his life
afford no gauge of the ardors within his soul. Thus Wordsworth solemnly
assures us,

Had I been a writer of love poetry, it would have been natural to me to
write with a degree of warmth which could hardly have been approved by
my principles, and which might have been undesirable for the reader.
[Footnote: See Arthur Symons, _The Romantic Movement_, p. 92 (from
Myers, _Life of Wordsworth_).]

Such boasting is equally characteristic of our staid American poets, who
shrink from the imputation that their orderly lives are the result of
temperamental incapacity for unrestraint. [Footnote: Thus Whittier, in
_My Namesake_, says of himself,

  Few guessed beneath his aspect grave
  What passions strove in chains.

Also Bayard Taylor retorts to those who taunt him with lack of passion,

  But you are blind, and to the blind
  The touch of ice and fire is one.

The same defense is made by Richard W. Gilder in lines entitled _Our
Elder Poets_.] In differing mode, Swinburne's poetry is perhaps an
expression of the same attitude. The ultra-erotic verse of that poet
somehow suggests a wild hullabaloo raised to divert our attention from
the fact that he was constitutionally incapable of experiencing passion.

Early in the century, something approaching the Wordsworthian doctrine
of emotion recollected in tranquillity was in vogue, as regards capacity
for passion. The Byronic hero is one whose affections have burned
themselves out, and who employs the last worthless years of his life
writing them up. Childe Harold is

      Grown aged in this world of woe,
  In deeds, not years, piercing the depths of life,
  So that no wonder waits him, nor below
  Can love, or sorrow, fame, ambition, strife,
  Cut to his heart again with the keen knife
  Of silent, sharp endurance.

The very imitative hero of Praed's _The Troubadour_, after
disappointment in several successive amours, at the age of twenty-six
dismisses passion forever. We are assured that

  The joys that wound, the pains that bless,
  Were all, were all departed,
  And he was wise and passionless
  And happy and cold-hearted.

The popularity of this sort of poet was, however, ephemeral. Of late
years poets have shown nothing but contempt for their brothers who
attempt to sing after their passion has died away. It seems likely,
beside, that instead of giving an account of his genius, the depleted
poet depicts his passionless state only as a ruse to gain the sympathy
of his readers, reminding them how much greater he might have been if he
had not wantonly wasted his emotions.

One is justified in asking why, on the other hand, the poet should not
be one who, instead of spending his love on a finite mistress, should
devote it all to poetry. The bard asks us to believe that love of poetry
is as thrilling a passion as any earthly one. His usual emotions are
portrayed in Alexander Smith's _Life Drama_, where the hero agonizes for
relief from his too ardent love:

  O that my heart was quiet as a grave
  Asleep in moonlight!
  For, as a torrid sunset boils with gold
  Up to the zenith, fierce within my soul
  A passion burns from basement to the cope.
  Poesy, poesy!
But one who imagines that this passion can exist in the soul wholly
unrelated to any other, is confusing poetry with religion, or possibly
with philosophy. The medieval saint was pure in proportion as he died to
the life of the senses. This is likewise the state of the philosopher
described in the _Phaedo_. But beauty, unlike wisdom and goodness,
is not to be apprehended abstractly; ideal beauty is super-sensual, to
be sure, but the way to vision of it is through the senses. Without
doubt one occasionally finds asceticism preached to the poet in verse.
One of our minor American poets declares,

  The bard who yields to flesh his emotion
  Knows naught of the frenzy divine.
[Footnote: _Passion_, by Elizabeth Cheney. But compare Keats' protest
against the poet's abstract love, in the fourth book of _Endymion_.]

But this is not the genuine poet's point of view. In so far as he is a
Platonist--and "all poets are more or less Platonists" [Footnote: H. B.
Alexander, _Poetry and the Individual_, p. 46.]--the poet is led upward
to the love of ideal beauty through its incarnations in the world of
sense. Thus in one of the most Platonic of our poems, G. E. Woodberry's
_Agathon_, Eros says of the hero, who is the young poet of the

  A spirit of joy he is, to beauty vowed,
  Made to be loved, and every sluggish sense
  In him is amorous and passionate.
  Whence danger is; therefore I seek him out
  So with pure thought and care of things divine
  To touch his soul that it partake the gods.

This does not imply that romantic love is the only avenue to ideal
beauty. Rupert Brooke's _The Great Lover_ might dissipate such an
idea, by its picture of childlike and omnivorous taste for

  These I have loved,

Brooke begins,

             White plates and cups, clean gleaming,
  Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
  Wet roofs, beneath the lamplight; the strong crust
  Of friendly bread; and many tasting food;
  Rainbows, and the blue bitter smoke of wood.

And so on he takes us, apparently at random, through the whole range of
his sense impressions. But the main difficulty with having no more than
such scattered and promiscuous impressionability is that it is likely to
result in poetry that is a mere confusion of color without design,
unless the poet is subject to the unifying influence of a great passion,
which, far from destroying perspective, as was hinted previously,
affords a fixed standard by which to gauge the relative values of other
impressions. Of course the exceptionally idealistic poet, who is
conscious of a religious ideal, can say with Milton, "I am wont day and
night to seek the _idea_ of beauty through all the forms and faces
of things (for many are the shapes of things divine) and to follow it
leading me on with certain assured traces." [Footnote: _Prose
Works_, Vol. I, Letter VII, Symmons ed.] To him there is no need of
the unifying influence of romantic love. In his case the mission of a
strong passion is rather to humanize the ideal, lest it become purely
philosophical (as that of G. E. Woodberry is in danger of doing) or
purely ethical, as is the case of our New England poets. On the other
hand, to the poet who denies the ideal element in life altogether, the
unifying influence of love is indispensable. Such deeply tragic poetry
as that of James Thomson, B. V., for instance, which asserts Macbeth's
conclusion that life is "a tale told by an idiot," is saved from utter
chaos sufficiently to keep its poetical character, only because the
memory of his dead love gives Thomson a conception of eternal love and
beauty by which to gauge his hopeless despair.

In addition, our poets are wont to agree with their father Spenser that
the beauty of a beloved person is not to be placed in the same class as
the beauty of the world of nature. Spenser argues that the spiritual
beauty of a lady, rather than her outward appearance, causes her lover's
perturbation. He inquires:

  Can proportion of the outward part
  Move such affection in the inward mind
  That it can rob both sense and reason blind?
  Why do not then the blossoms of the field,
  Which are arrayed with much more orient hue
  And to the sense most daintie odors yield,
  Work like impression in the looker's view?
[Footnote: _An Hymne in Honour of Beautie_.]

Modern theorists, who would no doubt despise the quaintly idealistic
mode of Spenser's expression, yet express much the same view in
asserting that romantic excitement is a stimulus which keys all the
senses to a higher pitch, thus dispersing one's amorousness over all
creation. The love celebrated in Brooke's _The Great Lover_, they
declare, cannot be compared with that of his more conventional love
poems, simply because the one love is the cause of the other. Such
heightened sensuous impressionability is celebrated in much of our most
beautiful love poetry of to-day, notably in Sara Teasdale's.

It may be that this intensity of perception engendered by love is its
most poetical effect. Much verse pictures the poet as a flamelike spirit
kindled by love to a preternaturally vivid apprehension of life for an
instant, before love dies away, leaving him ashes. Again and again the
analogy is pointed out between Shelley's spirit and the leaping flames
that consumed his body. Josephine Preston Peabody's interpretation of
Marlowe is of the same sort. In the drama of which Marlowe is the
title-character, his fellow-dramatist, Lodge, is much worried when he
learns of Marlowe's mad passion for a woman of the court.

  Thou art a glorious madman,

Lodge exclaims,

  Born to consume thyself anon in ashes,
  And rise again to immortality.

Marlowe replies,

  Oh, if she cease to smile, as thy looks say,
  What if? I shall have drained my splendor down
  To the last flaming drop! Then take me, darkness,
  And mirk and mire and black oblivion,
  Despairs that raven where no camp-fire is,
  Like the wild beasts. I shall be even blest
  To be so damned.

Most often this conception of love's flamelike lightening of life for
the poet is applied to Sappho. Many modern English poets picture her
living "with the swift singing strength of fire." [Footnote: See
Southey, _Sappho_; Mary Robinson (1758-1800), _Sappho and Phaon_; Philip
Moren Freneau, _Monument of Phaon_; James Gates Percival, _Sappho_;
Charles Kingsley, _Sappho_; Lord Houghton, _A Dream of Sappho_;
Swinburne, _On the Cliffs_, _Anactoria_, _Sapphics_; Cale Young Rice,
_Sappho's Death Song_; Sara Teasdale, _Sappho_; Percy Mackaye, _Sappho
and Phaon_; Zoe Akins, _Sappho to a Swallow on the Ground_; James B.
Kenyon, _Phaon Concerning Sappho_, _Sappho_ (1920); William Alexander
Percy, _Sappho in Levkos_ (1920).] Swinburne, in _On the Cliffs_, claims
this as the essential attribute of genius, when he cries to her for

  For all my days as all thy days from birth
  My heart as thy heart was in me as thee
  Fire, and not all the fountains of the sea
  Have waves enough to quench it; nor on earth
  Is fuel enough to feed,
  While day sows night, and night sows day for seed.

This intensity of perception is largely the result, or the cause, of the
poet's unusually sensitive consciousness of the ephemeralness of love.
The notion of permanence often seems to rob love of all its poetical
quality. The dark despair engendered by a sense of its transience is
needed as a foil to the fiery splendors of passion. Thus Rupert Brooke,
in the sonnet, _Mutability_, dismisses the Platonic idea of eternal
love and beauty, declaring,

  Dear, we know only that we sigh, kiss, smile;
  Each kiss lasts but the kissing; and grief goes over;
  Love has no habitation but the heart:
  Poor straws! on the dark flood we catch awhile,
  Cling, and are borne into the night apart,
  The laugh dies with the lips, "Love" with the lover.

Sappho is represented as especially aware of this aspect of her love.
Her frenzies in _Anactoria_, where, if our hypothesis is correct,
Swinburne must have been terribly concerned over his natural coldness,
arise from rebellion at the brevity of love. Sappho cries,

                                What had all we done
  That we should live and loathe the sterile sun,
  And with the moon wax paler as she wanes,
  And pulse by pulse feel time grow through our veins?

Poetry, we are to believe, arises from the yearning to render eternal
the fleeting moment of passion. Sappho's poetry is, as Swinburne says,
[Footnote: In _On the Cliffs_.] "life everlasting of eternal fire."
In Mackaye's _Sappho and Phaon_, she exults in her power to
immortalize her passion, contrasting herself with her mother, the sea:

  Her ways are birth, fecundity and death,
  But mine are beauty and immortal love.
  Therefore I will be tyrant of myself--
  Mine own law will I be! And I will make
  Creatures of mind and melody, whose forms
  Are wrought of loveliness without decay,
  And wild desire without satiety,
  And joy and aspiration without death.
  And on the wings of these shall I, I, Sappho!
  Still soar and sing above these cliffs of Lesbos,
  Even when ten thousand blooms of men and maidens
  Are fallen and withered.

To one who craves an absolute aesthetic standard, it is satisfactory to
note how nearly unanimous our poets are in their portrayal of Sappho.
[Footnote: No doubt they are influenced by the glimpse of her given in
Longinus, _On the Sublime_.] This is the more remarkable, since our
enormous ignorance of her life and poetry would give almost free scope
to inventive faculty. It is significant that none of our writers have
been attracted to the picture Welcker gives of her as the respectable
matronly head of a girl's seminary. Instead, she is invariably shown as
mad with an insatiable yearning, tortured by the conviction that her
love can never be satisfied. Charles Kingsley, describing her

                  Night and day
  A mighty hunger yearned within her heart,
  And all her veins ran fever,
[Footnote: _Sappho_.]

conceives of her much as does Swinburne, who calls her,

  Love's priestess, mad with pain and joy of song,
  Song's priestess, mad with pain and joy of love.
[Footnote: _On the Cliffs_.]

It is in this insatiability that Swinburne finds the secret of her
genius, as opposed to the meager desires of ordinary folk. Expressing
her conception of God, he makes Sappho assert,

  But having made me, me he shall not slay:
  Nor slay nor satiate, like those herds of his,
  Who laugh and love a little, and their kiss
  Contents them.

It is, no doubt, an inarticulate conviction that she is "imprisoned in
the body as in an oyster shell," [Footnote: Plato, _Phaedrus_, sec. 250.]
while the force that is wooing her is outside the boundary of the
senses, that accounts for Sappho's agonies of despair. In Sara
Teasdale's _Sappho_ she describes herself,

                Who would run at dusk
  Along the surges creeping up the shore
  When tides come in to ease the hungry beach,
  And running, running till the night was black,
  Would fall forspent upon the chilly sand,
  And quiver with the winds from off the sea.
  Ah! quietly the shingle waits the tides
  Whose waves are stinging kisses, but to me
  Love brought no peace, nor darkness any rest.
[Footnote: In the end, Sara Teasdale does show her winning content,
in the love of her baby daughter, but it is significant that this
destroys her lyric gift. She assures Aphrodite,

                        If I sing no more
  To thee, God's daughter, powerful as God,
  It is that thou hast made my life too sweet
  To hold the added sweetness of a song.
       *       *       *       *       *
  I taught the world thy music; now alone
  I sing for her who falls asleep to hear.]

Swinburne characteristically shows her literally tearing the flesh in
her quest of the divinity that is reflected there. In _Anactoria_
she tells the object of her infatuation:

  I would my love could kill thee: I am satiated
  With seeing thee alive, and fain would have thee dead.
       *       *       *       *       *
  I would find grievous ways to have thee slain,
  Intense device and superflux of pain.

And after detailing with gusto the bloody ingenuities of her plan of
torture, she states that her motive is,

  To wring thy very spirit through the flesh.

The myth that Sappho's agony resulted from an offense done to Aphrodite,
is several times alluded to. In _Sappho and Phaon_ she asserts her
independence of Aphrodite's good will, and in revenge the goddess turns
Phaon's affection away from Sappho, back to Thalassa, the mother of his
children. Sappho's infatuation for Phaon, the slave, seems a cruel jest
of Aphrodite, who fills Sappho with a wholly blind and unreasoning
passion. In all three of Swinburne's Lesbian poems, Aphrodite's anger is
mentioned. This is the sole theme of _Sapphics_, in which poem the
goddess, displeased by Sappho's preferment of love poetry to the actual
delights of love, yet tried to win Sappho back to her:

  Called to her, saying "Turn to me, O my Sappho,"
  Yet she turned her face from the Loves, she saw not
  Tears or laughter darken immortal eyelids....
  Only saw the beautiful lips and fingers,
  Full of songs and kisses and little whispers,
  Full of music; only beheld among them
  Soar as a bird soars
  Newly fledged, her visible song, a marvel
  Made of perfect sound and exceeding passion,
  Sweetly shapen, terrible, full of thunders,
  Clothed with the wind's wings.

It seems likely that this myth of Aphrodite's anger is an allegory
indicating the tragic character of all poetic love, in that, while
incarcerated in the body, the singer strives to break through the limits
of the flesh and to grasp ideality. The issue is made clear in Mackaye's
drama. There Sappho's rival is Thalassa, Phaon's slave-mate, who
conceives as love's only culmination the bearing of children. Sappho, in
her superiority, points out that mere perpetuation of physical life is a
meaningless circle, unless it leads to some higher satisfaction. But in
the end the figure of "the eternal mother," as typified by Thalassa, is
more powerful than is Sappho, in the struggle for Phaon's love. Thus
Aphrodite asserts her unwillingness to have love refined into a merely
spiritual conception.

Often the greatest poets, as Sappho herself, are represented as having
no more than a blind and instinctive apprehension of the supersensual
beauty which is shining through the flesh, and which is the real object
of desire. But thus much ideality must be characteristic of love, it
seems obvious, before it can be spiritually creative. Unless there is
some sense of a universal force, taking the shape of the individual
loved one, there can be nothing suggestive in love. Instead of waking
the lover to the beauty in all of life, as we have said, it would, as
the non-lover has asserted, blind him to all but the immediate object of
his pursuit. Then, the goal being reached, there would be no reason for
the poet's not achieving complete satisfaction in love, for there would
be nothing in it to suggest any delight that he does not possess.
Therefore, having all his desire, the lover would be lethargic, with no
impulse to express himself in song. Probably something of this sort is
the meaning of the Tannhauser legend, as versified both by Owen Meredith
and Emma Lazarus, showing the poet robbed of his gift when he comes
under the power of the Paphian Venus. Such likewise is probably the
meaning of Oscar Wilde's sonnet, _Helas_, quoted above.

While we thus lightly dismiss sensual love as unpoetical, we must
remember that Burns, in some of his accounts of inspiration, ascribes
quite as powerful and as unidealistic an effect to the kisses of the
barmaids, as to the liquor they dispense. But this is mere bravado, as
much of his other verse shows. Byron's case, also, is a doubtful one.
The element of discontent is all that elevates his amours above the
"swinish trough," which Alfred Austin asserts them to be. [Footnote: In
_Off Mesolonghi_.] Yet, such as his idealism is, it constitutes the
strength and weakness of his poetical gift. Landor well says, [Footnote:
In _Lines To a Lady_.]

  Although by fits so dense a cloud of smoke
  Puffs from his sappy and ill-seasoned oak,
  Yet, as the spirit of the dream draws near,
  Remembered loves make Byron's self sincere.
  The puny heart within him swells to view,
  The man grows loftier and the poet too.

Ideal love is most likely to become articulate in the sonnet sequence.
The Platonic theory of love and beauty, ubiquitous in renaissance
sonnets, is less pretentiously but no less sincerely present in the
finest sonnets of the last century. The sense that the beauty of his
beloved is that of all other fair forms, the motive of Shakespeare's

  Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts
  Which I by lacking have supposed dead,

is likewise the motive of Rossetti's _Heart's Compass_,

  Sometimes thou seemest not as thyself alone,
  But as the meaning of all things that are;
  A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
  Some heavenly solstice, hushed and halcyon,
  Whose unstirred lips are music's visible tone;
  Whose eyes the sungates of the soul unbar,
  Being of its furthest fires oracular,
  The evident heart of all life sown and mown.

Thus also Mrs. Browning says of her earlier ideal loves,

                         Their shining fronts,
  Their songs, their splendors (better, yet the same,
  As river water hallowed into founts)
  Met in thee.
[Footnote: _Sonnets of the Portuguese_, XXVI.]

Reflection of this sort almost inevitably leads the poet to the
conviction that his real love is eternal beauty. Such is the progress of
Rossetti's thought in _Heart's Hope_:

  Lady, I fain would tell how evermore
  Thy soul I know not from thy body nor
  Thee from myself, neither our love from God.

The whole of Diotima's theory of the ascent to ideal beauty is here
implicit in three lines. In the same spirit Christina Rossetti
identifies her lover with her Christian faith:

  Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such
  I cannot love you if I love not Him,
  I cannot love Him if I love not you.
[Footnote: _Monna Innominata_, VI. See also Robert Bridges, _The of
Love_ (a sonnet sequence).]

It is obvious that, from the standpoint of the beloved at least, there
is danger in this identification of all beauties as manifestations of
the ideal. It is unpropitious to lifelong affection for one person. As a
matter of fact, though the English taste for decorous fidelity has
affected some poets, on the whole they have not hesitated to picture
their race as fickle. Plato's account of the second step in the ascent
of the lover, "Soon he will himself perceive that the beauty of one form
is truly related to the beauty of another; and then if beauty in general
is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty
in every form is one and the same," [Footnote: _Symposium_, Jowett
translation, sec.210.] is made by Shelley the justification of his shifting
enthusiasms, which the world so harshly censured. In _Epipsychidion_
Shelley declares,

  I never was attached to that great sect
  Whose doctrine is that each one should select
  Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend,
  And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend
  To cold oblivion....

  True love in this differs from gold and clay,
  That to divide is not to take away.
  Love is like understanding, that grows bright
  Gazing on many truths....

  Narrow the heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
  The life that wears, the spirit that creates
  One object and one form, and builds thereby
  A sepulchre for its eternity.

These last lines suggest, what many poets have asserted, that the
goddess of beauty is apt to change her habitation from one clay to
another, and that the poet who clings to the fair form after she has
departed, is nauseated by the dead bones which he clasps. [Footnote: See
Thomas Hardy's novel, _The Well Beloved_.] This theme Rupert Brooke
is constantly harping upon, notably in _Dead Men's Love_, which

  There was a damned successful poet,
  There was a woman like the Sun.
  And they were dead. They did not know it.
  They did not know his hymns
  Were silence; and her limbs
  That had served love so well,
  Dust, and a filthy smell.

The feeling that Aphrodite is leading them a merry chase through
manyforms is characteristic of our ultra-modern poets, who anticipate at
least one new love affair a year. Most elegantly Ezra Pound expresses
his feeling that it is time to move on to a fresh inspiration:

  As a bathtub lined with white porcelain
  When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,--
  So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
  My much praised, but not altogether satisfactory lady.

As each beautiful form is to be conceived of as reflecting eternal
beauty from a slightly different angle, the poet may claim that flitting
affection is necessary to one who would gain as complete as possible
vision of ideality. Not only so, but this glimpsing of beauty through
first one mistress, then another, often seems to perform the function of
the mixed metaphor in freeing the soul from bondage to the sensual. This
is the interpretation of Sappho's fickleness most popular with our
writers, who give her the consciousness that Aphrodite, not flesh and
blood, is the object of her quest. In her case, unlike that of the
ordinary lover, the new passion does not involve the repudiation or
belittling of the one before. In Swinburne's _Anactoria_ Sappho
compares her sensations

  Last year when I loved Atthis, and this year
  When I love thee.

In Mackaye's _Sappho and Phaon_, when Alcaeus pleads for the love
of the poetess, she asserts of herself,

  I doubt if ever she saw form of man
  Or maiden either whom, being beautiful,
  She hath not loved.

When Alcaeus protests, "But not with passion!" she rejoins,

  That breathes to her is passion, love itself
  All passionate.

The inevitability of fickleness arising from her idealism, which fills
her with insuperable discontent, is voiced most clearly by the
nineteenth century Sappho through the lips of Sara Teasdale, in lines
wherein she dismisses those who gossip about her:

  How should they know that Sappho lived and died
  Faithful to love, not faithful to the lover,
  Never transfused and lost in what she loved,
  Never so wholly loving nor at peace.
  I asked for something greater than I found,
  And every time that love has made me weep
  I have rejoiced that love could be so strong;
  For I have stood apart and watched my soul
  Caught in a gust of passion as a bird
  With baffled wings against the dusty whirlwind
  Struggles and frees itself to find the sky.

She continues, apostrophizing beauty,

  In many guises didst thou come to me;
  I saw thee by the maidens when they danced,
  Phaon allured me with a look of thine,
  In Anactoria I knew thy grace.
  I looked at Cercolas and saw thine eyes,
  But never wholly, soul and body mine
  Didst thou bid any love me as I loved.

The last two lines suggest another reason for the fickleness, as well as
for the insatiability of the poet's love. If the poet's genius consists
of his peculiar capacity for love, then in proportion as he outsoars the
rest of humanity he will be saddened, if not disillusioned, by the
half-hearted return of his love. Mrs. Browning characterizes her

  I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
  My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
  For the ends of Being and ideal grace.

It is clear that a lesser soul could not possibly give an adequate
response to such affection. Perhaps it is one of the strongest evidences
that Browning is a genuine philosopher, and not a prestidigitator of
philosophy in rhyme, that Mrs. Browning's love poetry does not conclude
with the note either of tragic insatiability or of disillusionment.
[Footnote: The tragedy of incapacity to return one's poet-lover's
passion is the theme of Alice Meynell's _The Poet and his Wife_. On
the same theme are the following: Amelia Josephine Burr, _Anne
Hathaway's Cottage_ (1914); C. J. Druce, _The Dark Lady to Shakespeare_
(1919); Karle Wilson Baker, _Keats and Fanny Brawne_ (1919); James B.
Kenyon, _Phaon concerning Sappho_ (1920).]

Since the poet's soul is more beautiful than the souls of other men, it
follows that he cannot love at all except, in a sense, by virtue of the
fact that he is easily deceived. Here is another explanation of the
transience of his affections,--in his horrified recoil from an unworthy
object that he has idealized. This blindness to sensuality is accounted
for by Plato in the figure, "The lover is his mirror in whom he is
beholding himself, but he is not aware of this." [Footnote: _Phaedrus_,
255.] [Footnote: Browning shows the poet, with his eyes open, loving an
unworthy form, in _Time's Revenges_.] This is the figure used in Sara
Teasdale's little poem, _The Star_, which says to the pool,

      O wondrous deep,
  I love you, I give you my light to keep.
  Oh, more profound than the moving sea,
  That never has shown myself to me.
       *       *       *       *       *
  But out of the woods as night grew cool
  A brown pig came to the little pool;
  It grunted and splashed and waded in
  And the deepest place but reached its chin.

The tragedy in such love is the theme of Alfred Noyes' poem on Marlowe,
_At the Sign of the Golden Shoe_. The dramatist comes to London as
a young boy, full of high visions and faith in human nature. His
innocence makes him easy prey of a notorious woman:

      In her treacherous eyes,
  As in dark pools the mirrored stars will gleam,
  Here did he see his own eternal skies.

But, since his love is wholly spiritual, it dies on the instant of her
revelation of her character:

  Clasped in the bitter grave of that sweet clay,
  Wedded and one with it, he moaned.
     *     *     *     *     *
  Yet, ere he went, he strove once more to trace
  Deep in her eyes, the loveliness he knew,
  Then--spat his hatred in her smiling face.

It is probably an instance of the poet's blindness to the sensual, that
he is often represented as having a peculiar sympathy with the fallen
woman. He feels that all beauty in this world is forced to enter into
forms unworthy of it, and he finds the attractiveness of the courtesan
only an extreme instance of this. Joaquin Miller's _The Ideal and the
Real_ is an allegory in which the poet, following ideal beauty into
this world, finds her in such a form. The tradition of the poet
idealizing the outcast, which dates back at least to Rossetti's
_Jenny_, is still alive, as witness John D. Neihardt's recent poem,
_A Vision of Woman_. [Footnote: See also Kirke White, _The Prostitute_;
Whitman, _To a Common Prostitute_; Joaquin Miller, _A Dove of St. Mark_;
and Olive Dargan, _A Magdalen to Her Poet_.]

To return to the question of the poet's fickleness, a very ingenious
denial of it is found in the argument that, as his poetical love is
purely ideal, he can indulge in a natural love that in no way interferes
with it. A favorite view of the 1890's is in Ernest Dowson's _Non Sum
Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae_:

  Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
  There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
  Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
  And I was desolate and sick of an old passion;
  Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
  I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

The poet sometimes regards it as a proof of the supersensual nature of
his passion that he is, willing to marry another woman. The hero of May
Sinclair's novel, _The Divine Fire_, who is irresistibly impelled
to propose to a girl, even while he trembles at the sacrilege of her
touching a book belonging to his soul's mistress, is only a _reductio
ad absurdum_ of a rather popular theory. All narratives of this sort
can probably be traced back to Dante's autobiography, as given in the
_Vita Nuova_. We have two poetic dramas dealing with Dante's love,
by G. L. Raymond, [Footnote: _Dante_] and by Sara King Wiley.
[Footnote: _Dante and Beatrice_] Both these writers, however, show
a tendency to slur over Dante's affection for Gemma. Raymond represents
their marriage as the result solely of Dante's compromising her by
apparent attention, in order to avoid the appearance of insulting
Beatrice with too close regard. Sara King Wiley, on the other hand,
stresses the other aspect of Dante's feeling for Gemma, his gratitude
for her pity at the time of Beatrice's death. Of course both dramatists
are bound by historical considerations to make the outcome of their
plays tragical, but practically all other expositions of the poet's
double affections are likewise tragic. Cale Young Rice chooses another
famous Renaissance lover for the hero of _A Night in Avignon_, a
play with this theme. Here Petrarch, in a fit of impatience with his
long loyalty to a hopeless love for Laura, turns to a light woman for
consolation. According to the accepted mode, he refuses to tolerate
Laura's name on the lips of his fancy. Laura, who has chosen this
inconvenient moment to become convinced of the purity of Petrarch's
devotion to her, comes to his home to offer her heart, but, discovering
the other woman's presence there, she fails utterly to comprehend the
subtle compliment to her involved, and leaves Petrarch in an agony of

Marlowe, in Josephine Preston Peabody's drama, distributes his
admiration more equally between his two loves. One stimulates the
dramatist in him, by giving him an insatiable thirst for this world; the
other elevates the poet, by lifting his thoughts to eternal beauty. When
he is charged with being in love with the Canterbury maiden who is the
object of his reverence, the "Little Quietude," as he calls her, he,
comparing her to the Evening Star, contrasts her with the object of his
burning passion, who seems to him the fruit of the tree of knowledge of
good and evil. He explains,

  I serve a lady so imperial fair,
  June paled when she was born. Indeed no star,
  No dream, no distance, but a very woman,
  Wise with the argent wisdom of the snake;
  Fair nurtured with that old forbidden fruit
  That thou hast heard of ...
  ... I would eat, and have all human joy,
  And know,--and know.

He continues,

  But, for the Evening Star, I have it there.
  I would not have it nearer. Is that love
  As thou dost understand? Yet is it mine
  As I would have it: to look down on me,
  Not loving and not cruel; to be bright,
  Out of my reach; to lighten me the dark
  When I lift eyes to it, and in the day
  To be forgotten. But of all things, far,
  Far off beyond me, otherwise no star.

Marlowe's closing words bring us to another important question, _i. e._,
the stage of love at which it is most inspiring. This is the subject of
much difference of opinion. Mrs. Browning might well inquire, in one of
her love sonnets,

  How, Dearest, wilt thou have me for most use?
  A hope, to sing by gladly? or a fine
  Sad memory with thy songs to interfuse?
  A shade, in which to sing, of palm or pine?
  A grave, on which to rest from singing? Choose.
[Footnote: _Sonnets from the Portuguese_, XVII.]
Each of these situations has been celebrated as begetting the poet's

To follow the process of elimination, we may first dispose of the
married state as least likely to be spiritually creative. It is true
that we find a number of poems addressed by poets to their wives. But
these are more likely to be the contented purring of one who writes by a
cozy fireside, than the passionate cadence of one whose genius has been
fanned to flame. One finds but a single champion of the married state
considered abstractly. This is Alfred Austin, in whose poem, _The Poet
and the Muse_, his genius explains to the newly betrothed poet:

  How should you, poet, hope to sing?
  The lute of love hath a single string.
  Its note is sweet as the coo of the dove,
  But 'tis only one note, and the note is love.

  But when once you have paired and built your nest,
  And can brood thereon with a settled breast,
  You will sing once more, and your voice will stir
  All hearts with the sweetness gained from her.

And perhaps even Alfred Austin's vote is canceled by his inconsistent
statement in his poem on Petrarch, _At Vaucluse_,

  Let this to lowlier bards atone,
  Whose unknown Laura is their own,
    Possessing and possessed:

  Of whom if sooth they do not sing,
  'Tis that near her they fold their wing
    To drop into her nest.

Let us not forget Shelley's expression of his need for his wife:

  Ah, Mary dear, come to me soon;
  I am not well when thou art far;
  As twilight to the sphered moon,
  As sunset to the evening star,
  Thou, beloved, art to me.
[Footnote: _To Mary_.]

Perhaps it is unworthy quibbling to object that the figure here suggests
too strongly Shelley's consciousness of the merely atmospheric function
of Mary, in enhancing his own personality, as contrasted with the
radiant divinity of Emilia Viviani, to whom he ascribes his
creativeness. [Footnote: Compare Wordsworth, _She Was a Phantom of
Delight_, _Dearer Far than Life_; Tennyson, _Dedication of
Enoch Arden_.]

It is customary for our bards gallantly to explain that the completeness
of their domestic happiness leaves them no lurking discontent to spur
them onto verse writing. This is the conclusion of the happily wedded
heroes of Bayard Taylor's _A Poet's Journal_, and of Coventry
Patmore's _The Angel in the House_; likewise of the poet in J. G.
Holland's _Kathrina_, who excuses his waning inspiration after his

  She, being all my world, had left no room
  For other occupation than my love.
  ... I had grown enervate
  In the warm atmosphere which I had breathed.

Taken as a whole, the evidence is decidedly in favor of the remote love,
prevented in some way from reaching its culmination. To requote Alfred
Noyes, the poet knows that ideal love must be

  Far off, beyond me, otherwise no star.
[Footnote: Marlowe.]

In _Sister Songs_ Francis Thompson asserts that such remoteness is
essential to his genius:

  I deem well why life unshared
  Was ordained me of yore.
  In pairing time, we know, the bird
  Kindles to its deepmost splendour,
    And the tender
  Voice is tenderest in its throat.
  Were its love, forever by it,
    Never nigh it,
  It might keep a vernal note,
  The crocean and amethystine
    In their pristine
  Lustre linger on its coat.
[Footnote: Possibly this is characteristic only of the male singer.
Christina Rossetti expresses the opposite attitude in _Monna Innominata_
XIV, mourning for

  The silence of a heart that sang its songs
  When youth and beauty made a summer morn,
  Silence of love that cannot sing again.]

Byron, in the _Lament of Tasso_, causes that famous lover likewise
to maintain that distance is necessary to idealization. He sighs,

  Successful love may sate itself away.
  The wretched are the faithful; 'tis their fate
  To have all feeling save the one decay,
  And every passion into one dilate,
  As rapid rivers into ocean pour.
  But ours is bottomless and hath no shore.

The manner of achieving this necessary remoteness is a nice problem. Of
course the poet may choose it, with open eyes, as the Marlowe of Miss
Peabody's imagination does, or as the minstrel in Hewlitt's _Cormac,
Son of Ogmond_. The long engagements of Rossetti and Tennyson are
often quoted as exemplifying this idiosyncrasy of poets. But there is
something decidedly awkward in such a situation, inasmuch as it is not
till love becomes so intense as to eclipse the poet's pride and joy in
poetry that it becomes effective as a muse. [Footnote: See Mrs.
Browning, Sonnet VII.

  And this! this lute and song, loved yesterday,
  Are only dear, the singing angels know
  Because thy name moves right in what they say.]

The minor poet, to be sure, is often discovered solicitously feeling his
pulse to gauge the effect of love on his rhymes, but one does not feel
that his verse gains by it. Therefore, an external obstacle is usually
made to intervene.

As often as not, this obstacle is the indifference of the beloved. One
finds rejected poets by the dozens, mourning in the verse of our period.
The sweetheart's reasons are manifold; her suitor's inferior station and
poverty being favorites. But one wonders if the primary reason may not
be the quality of the love offered by the poet, whose extreme humility
and idealization are likely to engender pride and contempt in the lady,
she being unaware that it is the reflection of his own soul that the
poet is worshipping in her. One can feel some sympathy with the lady in
Thomas Hardy's _I Rose Up as My Custom Is_, who, when her lover's
ghost discovers her beside a snoring spouse, confesses that she is
content with her lot:

  He makes no quest into my thoughts,
  But a poet wants to know
  What one has felt from earliest days,
  Why one thought not in other ways,
  And one's loves of long ago.

It may be, too, that an instinct for protection has something to do with
the lady's rejection, for a recent poet has openly proclaimed the effect
of attaining, in successful love, one step toward absolute beauty:

  O beauty, as thy heart o'erflows
    In tender yielding unto me,
  A vast desire awakes and grows
    Unto forgetfulness of thee.
[Footnote: "A. E.," _The Fountain of Shadowy Beauty_.]

Rejection is apt to prove an obstacle of double worth to the poet, since
it not only removes him to a distance where his lady's human frailties
are less visible, so that the divine light shining through her seems
less impeded, but it also fires him with a very human ambition to prove
his transcendent worth and thus "get even" with his unappreciative
beloved. [Footnote: See Joaquin Miller, _Ina_; G. L. Raymond,
_"Loving,"_ from _A Life in Song_; Alexander Smith, _A Life Drama_.

Richard Realf in _Advice Gratis_ satirically depicts the lady's
altruism in rejecting her lover:

  It would strike fresh heat in your poet's verse
  If you dropped some aloes into his wine,
  They write supremely under a curse.]

There is danger, of course, that the disillusionment produced by the
revelation of low ideals which the lady makes in her refusal will
counterbalance these good effects. Still, though the poet is so
egotistical toward all the world beside, in his attitude toward his lady
the humility which Emerson expresses in _The Sphinx_ is not without
parallel in verse. Many singers follow him in his belief that the only
worthy love is that for a being so superior that a return of love is
impossible. [Footnote: See _The Sphinx_--

  Have I a lover who is noble and free?
  I would he were nobler than to love me.

See also Walt Whitman, _Sometimes with One I Love_, and Mrs. Browning,
"I never thought that anyone whom I could love would stoop to love
me--the two things seemed clearly incompatible." Letter to Robert
Browning, December 24, 1845.]

To poets who do not subscribe to Emerson's belief in one-sided
attachments, Alexander Smith's _A Life Drama_ is a treasury of
suggestions as to devices by which the poet's lady may be kept at
sufficient distance to be useful. With the aid of intercalations Smith
exhibits the poet removed from his lady by scornful rejection, by
parental restraint, by an unhappy marriage, by self-reproach, and by
death. All these devices have been popular in our poetry.

The lady's marriage is seldom felt to be an insuperable barrier to love,
though it is effective in removing her to a suitable distance for
idealization. The poet's worship is so supersensual as to be
inoffensive. To confine ourselves to poetic dramas treating historical
poets,--Beatrice,[Footnote: G. L. Raymond's and S. K. Wiley's dramas,
_Dante_, and _Dante and Beatrice_.] Laura, [Footnote: Cale Young Rice,
_A Night in Avignon_.] Vittoria Colonna, [Footnote: Longfellow, _Michael
Angelo_.] and Alison [Footnote: Peabody, _Marlowe_.] are all married to
one man while inspiring another. A characteristic autobiographical love
poem of this type, is that of Francis Thompson, who asserts the ideality
of the poet's affection in his reference to

  This soul which on thy soul is laid,
  As maid's breast upon breast of maid.
[Footnote: See also _Ad Amicam_, _Her Portrait_, _Manus Animon Pinxit_.]

There is no other barrier that so elevates love as does death.
Translation of love into Platonic idealism is then almost inevitable.
Alexander Smith describes the change accomplished by the death of the
poet's sweetheart:

  Two passions dwelt at once within his soul,
  Like eve and sunset dwelling in one sky.
  And as the sunset dies along the west,
  Eve higher lifts her front of trembling stars
  Till she is seated in the middle sky,
  So gradual one passion slowly died
  And from its death the other drew fresh life,
  Until 'twas seated in the soul alone,
  The dead was love, the living, poetry.

The mystic merging of Beatrice into ideal beauty is, of course,
mentioned often in nineteenth century poetry, most sympathetically,
perhaps, by Rossetti. [Footnote: See _On the Vita Nuova of Dante_;
also _Dante at Verona_.] Much the same kind of translation is
described in _Vane's Story_, by James Thomson, B.V., which appears
to be a sort of mystic autobiography.

The ascent in love for beauty, as Plato describes it, [Footnote:
_Symposium._] might be expected to mark at every step an increase
of poetic power, as it leads one from the individual beauties of sense
to absolute, supersensual beauty. But it is extremely doubtful if this
increase in poetic power is achieved when our poets try to take the last
step, and rely for their inspiration upon a lover's passion for
disembodied, purely ideal beauty. The lyric power of such love has,
indeed, been celebrated by a recent poet. George Edward Woodberry, in
his sonnet sequence, _Ideal Passion_, thus exalts his mistress, the
abstract idea of beauty, above the loves of other poets:

  Dante and Petrarch all unenvied go
  From star to star, upward, all heavens above,
  The grave forgot, forgot the human woe.
  Though glorified, their love was human love,
  One unto one; a greater love I know.

But very few of our poets have felt their genius burning at its
brightest when they have eschewed the sensuous embodiment of their love.

Plato might point out that he intended his theory of progression in love
as a description of the development of the philosopher, not of the poet,
who, as a base imitator of sense, has not a pure enough soul to soar
very high away from it. But our writers have been able partially to
vindicate poets by pointing out that Dante was able to travel the whole
way toward absolute beauty, and to sublimate his perceptions to
supersensual fineness without losing their poetic tone. Nineteenth and
twentieth century writers may modestly assert that it is the fault of
their inadequacy to represent poetry, and not a fault in the poetic
character as such, that accounts for the tameness of their most
idealistic verse.

However this may be, one notes a tendency in much purely idealistic and
philosophical love poetry to present us with a mere skeleton of
abstraction. Part of this effect may be the reader's fault, of course.
Plato assures us that the harmonies of mathematics are more ravishing
than the harmonies of music to the pure spirit, but many of us must take
his word for it; in the same way it may be that when we fail to
appreciate certain celebrations of ideal love it is because of our
"muddy vesture of decay" which hinders our hearing its harmonies.

Within the last one hundred and fifty years three notable attempts, of
widely varying success, have been made to write a purely philosophical
love poem.[Footnote: Keats' _Endymion_ is not discussed here, though it
seems to have much in common with the philosophy of the _Symposium_. See
Sidney Colvin, _John Keats_, pp. 160ff.]

Bulwer Lytton's _Milton_ was, if one may believe the press notices,
the most favorably received of his poems, but it is a signal example of
aspiring verse that misses both the sensuous beauty of poetry, and the
intellectual content of philosophy. Milton is portrayed as the life-long
lover of an incarnation of beauty too attenuated to be human and too
physical to be purely ideal. At first Milton devotes himself to this
vision exclusively, but, hearing the call of his country in distress, he
abandons her, and their love is not suffered to culminate till after
death. Bulwer Lytton cites the _Phaedrus_ of Plato as the basis of
his allegory, reminding us,

  The Athenian guessed that when our souls descend
  From some lost realm (sad aliens here to be),
  Dim broken memories of the state before,
  Form what we call our reason...
  ... Is not Love,
  Of all those memories which to parent skies
  Mount struggling back--(as to their source, above,
  In upward showers, imprisoned founts arise:)
  Oh, is not Love the strongest and the clearest?

Greater importance attaches to a recent treatment of the theme by George
Edward Woodberry. His poem, _Agathon_, dealing with the young poet of
Plato's _Symposium_, is our most literal interpretation of Platonism.
Agathon is sought out by the god of love, Eros, who is able to realize
his divinity only through the perfection of man's love of beauty. He
chooses Agathon as the object of instruction because Agathon is a poet,
one of those

  Whose eyes were more divinely touched
  In that long-memoried world whence souls set forth.

As the poem opens, Agathon is in the state of the favorite poet of
nineteenth century imagination, loving, yet discontented with, the
beauty of the senses. To Diotima, the wise woman of the _Symposium_,
he expresses his unhappiness:

  Still must I mourn
  That every lovely thing escapes the heart
  Even in the moment of its cherishing.

Eros appears and promises Agathon that if he will accept his love, he
may find happiness in eternal beauty, and his poetical gift will be

  Eros I am, the wooer of men's hearts.
  Unclasp thy lips; yield me thy close embrace;
  So shall thy thoughts once more to heaven climb,
  Their music linger here, the joy of men.

Agathon resolves to cleave to him, but at this point Anteros,
corresponding to Plato's Venus Pandemos, enters into rivalry with Eros
for Agathon's love. He shows the poet a beautiful phantom, who describes
the folly of one who devotes himself to spiritual love:

  The waste desire be his, and sightless fate,
  Him light shall not revisit; late he knows
  The love that mates the heaven weds the grave.

Agathon starts to embrace her, but seeing in her face the inevitable
decay of sensual beauty, he recoils, crying,

    In its fiery womb I saw
  The twisted serpent ringing woe obscene,
  And far it lit the pitchy ways of hell.

In an agony of horror and contrition, he recalls Eros, who expounds to
him how love, beginning with sensuous beauty, leads one to ideality:

  Let not dejection on thy heart take hold
  That nature hath in thee her sure effects,
  And beauty wakes desire. Should Daphne's eyes,
  Leucothea's arms, and clinging white caress,
  The arch of Thetis' brows, be made in vain?

But, he continues,

  In fair things
  There is another vigor, flowing forth
  From heavenly fountains, the glad energy
  That broke on chaos, and the outward rush
  Of the eternal mind;...
  ... Hence the poet's eye
  That mortal sees, creates immortally
  The hero more than men, not more than man,
  The type prophetic.

Agathon, in an ecstasy of comprehension, chants the praises of love
which Plato puts into his mouth in the _Symposium_. In conclusion,
Urania sums up the mystery of love and genius:

  For truth divine is life, not love,
  Creative truth, and evermore
  Fashions the object of desire
  Through love that breathes the spirit's fire.

We may fittingly conclude a discussion of the poet as lover with
the _Epipsychidion_, not merely because it is the most idealistic of
the interpretations of Platonic love given by nineteenth century poets,
but because by virtue of the fact that it describes Shelley's personal
experience, it should be most valuable in revealing the attitude toward
love of one possessing the purest of poetic gifts. [Footnote: Treatment
of this theme is foreshadowed in _Alastor_.]

The prominence given to Shelley's earthly loves in this poem has led J.
A. Symonds to deny that it is truly Platonic. He remarks,

While Shelley's doctrine in _Epipsychidion_ seems Platonic, it will
not square with the _Symposium_.... When a man has formed a just
conception of universal beauty, he looks back with a smile on those who
find their soul's sphere in the love of some mere mortal object. Tested
by this standard, Shelley's identification of Intellectual Beauty with
so many daughters of earth, and his worshipping love of Emilia, is
spurious Platonism.[Footnote: _Shelley_, p. 142.]

Perhaps this failure to break altogether with the physical is precisely
the distinction between the love of the poet and the love of the
philosopher with whom Plato is concerned. I do not believe that the
Platonism of this poem is intrinsically spurious; the conception of
Emilia seems to be intended simply as a poetic personification of
abstract beauty, but it is undeniable that at times this vision does not
mean abstract beauty to Shelley at all, but the actual Emilia Viviani.
He has protested against this judgment, "The _Epipsychidion_ is a
mystery; as to real flesh and blood, you know that I do not deal with
those articles." The revulsion of feeling that turned him away from
Emilia, however, taught him how much of his feeling for her had entered
into the poem, so that, in June, 1822, Shelley wrote,

  The _Epipsychidion_ I cannot bear to look at. I think
  one is always in love with something or other; the
  error, and I confess it is not easy for spirits cased in
  flesh and blood to avoid it, consists in seeking in a
  mortal image the likeness of what is perhaps eternal.

Shelley begins his spiritual autobiography with his early mystical
intuition of the existence of spiritual beauty, which is to be the real
object of his love throughout life. By Plato, of course, this love is
made prenatal. Shelley says,

  She met me, robed in such exceeding glory
  That I beheld her not.

As this vision was totally disjoined from earthly objects, it won the
soul away from all interest in life. Therefore Shelley says,

  She met me, Stranger, upon life's rough way
  And lured me towards sweet death.

This early vision passed away, however,

  Into the dreary cone of our life's shade.

This line is evidently Shelley's Platonic fashion of referring to the
obscurity of this life as compared to the world of ideas. As the vision
has embodied itself in this world, it is only through love of its
concrete manifestations that the soul may regain it. When it is
regained, it will not be, as in the beginning, a momentary intuition,
but an abiding presence in the soul.

The first step toward this goal was a mistaken one. Shelley describes
his marriage with Harriet as a yielding to the senses merely, in other
words, as slavery to the Venus Pandemos. He describes this false vision,

  Whose voice was venomed melody.
       *        *        *        *        *
  The breath of her false mouth was like sweet flowers,
  Her touch was as electric poison.

Shelley was more successful in his second love, for Mary, whom he calls
the "cold, chaste moon." The danger of this stage in the ascent toward
beauty is that one is likely to be content with the fragmentary glimpse
of beauty gained through the loved one, and by losing sight of its other
embodiments fail to aspire to more complete vision. So Shelley says of
this period, "I was laid asleep, spirit and limb." By a great effort,
however, the next step was taken,--the agonizing one of breaking away
from the bondage of this individual, in order that beauty in all its
forms may appeal to one. Shelley writes,

  What storms then shook the ocean of my sleep,
  Blotting that moon, whose pale and waning lips
  Then shrank as in the sickness of eclipse.

Finally, the dross of its earthly embodiments being burned away by this
renunciation, ideal beauty is revealed to the poet, not merely in a
flash of inspiration, as at the beginning of his quest, but as an
abiding presence in the soul. At least this is the ideal, but, being a
poet, Shelley cannot claim the complete merging with the ideal that the
philosopher possesses. At the supersensual consummation of his love,
Shelley sinks back, only half conceiving of it, and cries,

  Woe is me!
  The winged words on which my soul would pierce
  Into the height of Love's rare universe
  Are chains of lead around its flight of fire;
  I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire.



Dare we venture into the holy of holies, where the gods are said to come
upon the poet? Is there not danger that the divine spark which kindles
his song may prove a bolt to annihilate us, because of our presumptuous
intrusion? What voice is this, which meets us at the threshold?

  Beware! Beware!
  His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
  Weave a circle round him thrice,
  And close your eyes in holy dread--

It is Coleridge, warning us of our peril, if we remain open-eyed and
curious, trying to surprise the secret of the poet's visitation.

Yet are we not tolerably safe? We are under the guidance of an initiate;
the poet himself promises to unveil the mystery of his inspiration for
us. As Vergil kept Dante unscathed by the flames of the divine vision,
will not our poet protect us? Let us enter.

But another doubt, a less thrilling one, bids us pause. Is it indeed the
heavenly mystery that we are bid gaze upon, or are we to be the dupe of
self-deceived impostors? Our intimacy is with poets of the last two
centuries,--not the most inspired period in the history of poetry. And
in the ranks of our multitudinous verse-writers, it is not the most
prepossessing who are loudest in promising us a fair spectacle. How
harsh-voiced and stammering are some of these obscure apostles who are
offering to exhibit the entire mystery of their gift of tongues! We see
more impressive figures, to be sure. Here is the saturnine Poe, who with
contemptuous smile assures us that we are welcome to all the secrets of
his creative frenzies. Here is our exuberant Walt Whitman, crying, "Stop
this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all
poems." [Footnote: _Song of Myself_.] But though we scan every face
twice, we find here no Shakespeare promising us the key to creation of a

Still, is it not well to follow a forlorn hope? Among the less
vociferous, here are singers whose faces are alight with a mysterious
radiance. Though they promise us little, saying that they themselves are
blinded by the transcendent vision, so that they appear as men groping
in darkness, yet may they not unawares afford us some glimpse of their

If we refuse the poet's revelation, we have no better way of arriving at
the truth. The scientist offers us little in this field; and his account
of inspiration is as cold and comfortless as a chemical formula. Of
course the scientist is amused by this objection to him, and asks, "What
more do you expect from the effusions of poets? Will not whatever secret
they reveal prove an open one? What will it profit you to learn that the
milk of Paradise nourishes the poetic gift, since it is not handled by
an earthly dairy?" But when he speaks thus, our scientific friend is
merely betraying his ignorance regarding the nature of poetry. Longinus,
[Footnote: _On the Sublime,_ I.] and after him, Sidney, [Footnote:
_Apology for Poetry._] long ago pointed out its peculiar action,
telling us that it is the poet's privilege to make us partakers of his
ecstasy. So, if the poet describes his creative impulses, why should he
not make us sharers of them?

This is not an idle question, for surely Plato, that involuntary poet,
has had just this effect upon his readers. Have not his pictures, in the
_Phaedrus_ and the _Ion_, of the artist's ecstasy touched  Shelley and
the lesser Platonic poets of our time with the enthusiasm he depicts?
Incidentally, the figure of the magnet which Plato uses in the
Ion may arouse hope in the breasts of us, the humblest readers of
Shelley and Woodberry. For as one link gives power of suspension to
another, so that a ring which is not touched by the magnet is yet
thrilled with its force, so one who is out of touch with Plato's
supernal melodies, may be sensitized by the virtue imparted to his
nineteenth century disciples, who are able to "temper this planetary
music for mortal ears."

Let us not lose heart, at the beginning of our investigation, though our
greatest poets admit that they themselves have not been able to keep
this creative ecstasy for long. To be sure this is disillusioning. We
should prefer to think of their silent intervals as times of insight too
deep for expression; as Anna Branch phrases it,

  When they went
  Unto the fullness of their great content
  Like moths into the grass with folded wings.
[Footnote: _The Silence of the Poets._]

This pleasing idea has been fostered in us by poems of appeal to silent
singers. [Footnote: See Swinburne, _A Ballad of Appeal to Christina
Rossetti_; and Francis Thompson, _To a Poet Breaking Silence_.]
But we have manifold confessions that it is not commonly thus with the
non-productive poet. Not merely do we possess many requiems sung by
erst-while makers over their departed gift, [Footnote: See especially
Scott, _Farewell to the Muse_; Kirke White, _Hushed is the Lyre_;
Landor, _Dull is My Verse_, and _To Wordsworth_; James Thomson, B. V.,
_The Fire that Filled My Heart of Old_, and _The Poet and the Muse_;
Joaquin Miller, _Vale_; Andrew Lang, _The Poet's Apology_; Francis
Thompson, _The Cloud's Swan Song_.] but there is much verse indicating
that, even in the poet's prime, his genius is subject to a mysterious
ebb and flow. [Footnote: See Burns, _Second Epistle to Lapraik_; Keats,
_To My Brother George_; Winthrop Mackworth Praed, _Letter from Eaton_;
William Cullen Bryant, _The Poet_; Oliver Wendell Holmes, _Invita
Minerva_; Emerson, _The Poet, Merlin_; James Gates Percival, _Awake My
Lyre_, _Invocation_; J. H. West, _To the Muse_, _After Silence_; Robert
Louis Stevenson, _The Laureate to an Academy Class Dinner_; Alice
Meynell, _To one Poem in Silent Time_; Austin Dobson, _A Garden Idyl_;
James Stevens, _A Reply_; Richard Middleton, _The Artist_; Franklin
Henry Giddings, _Song_; Benjamin R. C. Low, _Inspiration_; Robert
Haven Schauffler, _The Wonderful Hour_; Henry A. Beers, _The Thankless
Muse_; Karl Wilson Baker, _Days_.] Though he has faith that he is not
"widowed of his muse," [Footnote: See Francis Thompson, _The Cloud's
Swan Song_.] she yet torments him with all the ways of a coquette, so
that he sadly assures us his mistress "is sweet to win, but bitter to
keep." [Footnote: C. G. Roberts, _Ballade of the Poet's Thought_.] The
times when she solaces him may be pitifully infrequent. Rossetti, musing
over Coleridge, says that his inspired moments were

  Like desert pools that show the stars
  Once in long leagues.
[Footnote: _Sonnet to Coleridge_.]

Yet, even so, upon such moments of insight rest all the poet's claims
for his superior personality. It is the potential greatness enabling him
at times to have speech with the gods that makes the rest of his life
sacred. Emerson is more outspoken than most poets; he is not perhaps at
variance with their secret convictions, when he describes himself:

  I, who cower mean and small
  In the frequent interval
  When wisdom not with me resides.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

However divine the singer considers himself in comparison with ordinary
humanity, he must admit that at times

  Discrowned and timid, thoughtless, worn,
  The child of genius sits forlorn,
       *       *       *       *       *
  A cripple of God, half-true, half-formed.
[Footnote: Emerson, _The Poet_. See also George Meredith, _Pegasus_.]

Like Dante, we seem disposed to faint at every step in our revelation.
Now a doubt crosses our minds whether the child of genius in his
crippled moments is better fitted than the rest of us to point out the
pathway to sacred enthusiasm. It appears that little verse describing
the poet's afflatus is written when the gods are actually with him. In
this field, the sower sows by night. Verse on inspiration is almost
always retrospective or theoretical in character. It seems as if the
intermittence of his inspiration filled the poet with a wistful
curiosity as to his nature in moments of soaring. By continual
introspection he is seeking the charm, so to speak, that will render his
afflatus permanent. The rigidity in much of such verse surely betrays,
not the white heat of genius, but a self-conscious attitude of readiness
for the falling of the divine spark.

One wonders whether such preparation has been of much value in hastening
the fire from heaven. Often the reader is impatient to inform the
loud-voiced suppliant that Baal has gone a-hunting. Yet it is alleged
that the most humble bribe has at times sufficed to capture the elusive
divinity. Schiller's rotten apples are classic, and Emerson lists a
number of tested expedients, from a pound of tea to a night in a strange
hotel. [Footnote: See the essay on Inspiration. Hazlitt says Coleridge
liked to compose walking over uneven ground or breaking through
straggling branches.] This, however, is Emerson in a singularly
flat-footed moment. The real poet scoffs at such suggestions. Instead,
he feels that it is not for him to know the times and seasons of his
powers. Indeed, it seems to him, sometimes, that pure contrariety marks
the god's refusal to come when entreated. Thus we are told of the god of

  Vainly, O burning poets!
  Ye wait for his inspiration.
       *       *       *       *       *
  Hasten back, he will say, hasten back
  To your provinces far away!  There, at my own good time
  Will I send my answer to you.
[Footnote: E. C. Stedman, _Apollo_. _The Hillside Door_ by the same
author also expresses this idea. See also Browning, _Old Pictures
in Florence_, in which he speaks "of a gift God gives me now and then."
See also Longfellow, _L'Envoi_; Keats, _On Receiving a Laurel Crown_;
Cale Young Rice, _New Dreams for Old_; Fiona Macleod, _The Founts of

Then, at the least expected moment, the fire may fall, so that the poet
is often filled with naive wonder at his own ability. Thus Alice Meynell
greets one of her poems,

  Who looked for thee, thou little song of mine?
  This winter of a silent poet's heart
  Is suddenly sweet with thee, but what thou art,
  Mid-winter flower, I would I could divine.

But if the poet cannot predict the time of his afflatus, he indicates
that he does know the attitude of mind which will induce it. In certain
quarters there is a truly Biblical reliance upon faith as bringer of the
gift. A minor writer assures us, "Ah, if we trust, comes the song!"
[Footnote: Richard Burton, _Singing Faith_.] Emerson says,

  The muses' hill by fear is guarded;
  A bolder foot is still rewarded.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

And more extreme is the counsel of Owen Meredith to the aspiring artist:

  The genius on thy daily walks
  Shall meet, and take thee by the hand;
  But serve him not as who obeys;
  He is thy slave if thou command.
[Footnote: _The Artist_.]

The average artist is probably inclined to quarrel with this last
high-handed treatment of the muse. Reverent humility rather than
arrogance characterizes the most effectual appeals for inspiration. The
faith of the typical poet is not the result of boldness, but of an
aspiration so intense that it entails forgetfulness of self. Thus one
poet accounts for his inspired hour:

  Purged with high thoughts and infinite desire
  I entered fearless the most holy place;
  Received between my lips the sacred fire,
  The breath of inspiration on my face.
[Footnote: C. G. Roberts, _Ave_.]

Another writer stresses the efficacy of longing no less strongly;
speaking of

  The unsatiated, insatiable desire
  Which at once mocks and makes all poesy.
[Footnote: William Alexander, _The Finding of the Book_. See also Edward
Dowden, _The Artist's Waiting_.]

There is nothing new in this. It is only what the poet has implied in
all his confessions. Was he inspired by love? It was because thwarted
love filled him with intensest longing. So with his thirst for purity,
for religion, for worldly vanities. Any desire, be it fierce enough, and
hindered from immediate satisfaction, may engender poetry. As Joyce
Kilmer phrases it,

  Nothing keeps a poet
    In his high singing mood,
  Like unappeasable hunger
    For unattainable food.
[Footnote: _Apology_.]

But the poet would not have us imagine that we have here sounded the
depths of the mystery. Aspiration may call down inspiration, but it is
not synonymous with it. Mrs. Browning is fond of pointing out this
distinction. In _Aurora Leigh_ she reminds us, "Many a fervid man
writes books as cold and flat as gravestones." In the same poem she
indicates that desire is merely preliminary to inspiration. There are,
she says,

  Two states of the recipient artist-soul;
  One forward, personal, wanting reverence,
  Because aspiring only. We'll be calm,
  And know that when indeed our Joves come down,
  We all turn stiller than we have ever been.

What is this mysterious increment, that must be added to aspiration
before it becomes poetically creative? So far as a mere layman can
understand it, it is a sudden arrest, rather than a satisfaction, of the
poet's longing, for genuine satisfaction would kill the aspiration, and
leave the poet heavy and phlegmatic. Inspiration, on the contrary, seems
to give him a fictitious satisfaction; it is an arrest of his desire
that affords him a delicate poise and repose, on tiptoe, so to speak.
[Footnote: Compare Coleridge's statement that poetry is "a more than
usual state of emotion with more than usual order." _Biographia
Literaria_, Vol. II, Chap. I, p. 14, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge.]

Does not the fact that inspiration works in this manner account for the
immemorial connection of poetic creativeness with Bacchic frenzy? To the
aspiring poet wine does not bring his mistress, nor virtue, nor
communion with God, nor any object of his longing. Yet it does bring a
sudden ease to his craving. So, wherever there is a romantic conception
of poetry, one is apt to find inspiration compared to intoxication.

Such an idea did not, of course, find favor among typical eighteenth
century writers. Indeed, they would have seen more reason in ascribing
their clear-witted verse to an ice-pack, than to the bibulous hours
preceding its application to the fevered brow. We must wait for William
Blake before we can expect Bacchus to be reinstated among the gods of
song. Blake does not disappoint us, for we find his point of view
expressed, elegantly enough, in his comment on artists, "And when they
are drunk, they always paint best." [Footnote: _Artist Madmen: On the
Great Encouragement Given by the English Nobility and Gentry to
Correggio, etc_.]

As the romantic movement progresses, one meets with more lyrical
expositions of the power in strong drink. Burns, especially, is never
tired of sounding its praise. He exclaims,

  There's naething like the honest nappy.
       *       *       *       *       *
  I've seen me daist upon a time
  I scarce could wink or see a styme;
    Just ae half mutchkin does me prime;
  Aught less is little,
  Then back I rattle with the rhyme
  As gleg's a whittle.
[Footnote: _The First Epistle to Lapraik_.]

Again he assures us,

  But browster wives and whiskey stills,
  They are my muses.
[Footnote: _The Third Epistle to Lapraik_.]

Then, in more exalted mood:

  O thou, my Muse, guid auld Scotch drink!
  Whether through wimplin' worms thou jink,
  Or, richly brown, ream o'er the brink
  In glorious faem,
  Inspire me, till I lisp and wink
  To sing thy name.
[Footnote: _Scotch Drink_.]

Keats enthusiastically concurs in Burns' statements. [Footnote: See the
_Sonnet on the Cottage Where Burns Was Born_, and _Lines on the Mermaid

Landor, also, tells us meaningly,

  Songmen, grasshoppers and nightingales
  Sing cheerily but when the throat is moist.
[Footnote: _Homer_; _Laertes_; _Agatha_.]

James Russell Lowell, in _The Temptation of Hassan Khaled_,
presents the argument of the poet's tempters with charming sympathy:

  The vine is nature's poet: from his bloom
  The air goes reeling, typsy with perfume,
  And when the sun is warm within his blood
  It mounts and sparkles in a crimson flood,
  Rich with dumb songs he speaks not, till they find
  Interpretation in the poet's mind.
  If wine be evil, song is evil too.

His _Bacchic Ode_ is full of the same enthusiasm. Bacchus received
his highest honors at the end of the last century from the decadents in
England. Swinburne, [Footnote: See _Burns_.] Lionel Johnson,[Footnote:
See _Vinum Daemonum_.] Ernest Dowson, [Footnote: See _A Villanelle of
the Poet's Road_.] and Arthur Symonds, [Footnote: See _A Sequence to
Wine_.] vied with one another in praising inebriety as a lyrical agent.
Even the sober Watts-Dunton [Footnote: See _A Toast to Omar Khayyam_.]
was drawn into the contest, and warmed to the theme.

Poetry about the Mermaid Inn is bound to take this tone. From Keats
[Footnote: See _Lines on the Mermaid Inn_.] to Josephine Preston
Peabody [Footnote: See _Marlowe_.] writers on the Elizabethan
dramatists have dwelt upon their conviviality. This aspect is especially
stressed by Alfred Noyes, who imagines himself carried back across the
centuries to become the Ganymede of the great poets. All of the group
keep him busy. In particular he mentions Jonson:

  And Ben was there,
  Humming a song upon the old black settle,
  "Or leave a kiss within the cup
  And I'll not ask for wine,"
  But meanwhile, he drank malmsey.
  [Footnote: _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

Fortunately for the future of American verse, there is another side to
the picture. The teetotaler poet is by no means non-existent in the last
century. Wordsworth takes pains to refer to himself as "a simple,
water-drinking bard," [Footnote: See _The Waggoner_.] and in lines
_To the Sons of Burns_ he delivers a very fine prohibition lecture.
Tennyson offers us _Will Waterproof's Lyrical Monologue, a reductio ad
absurdum_ of the claims of the bibulous bard. Then, lest the
temperance cause lack the support of great names, Longfellow causes the
title character of _Michael Angelo_ to inform us that he "loves not
wine," while, more recently, E. A. Robinson pictures Shakespeare's
inability to effervesce with his comrades, because, Ben Jonson confides
to us,

  Whatso he drinks that has an antic in it,
  He's wondering what's to pay on his insides.
[Footnote: _Ben Jonson Entertains a Man from Stratford_. See also
Poe's letter, April 1, 1841, to Snodgrass, on the unfortunate results of
his intemperance.]

No, the poet will not allow us to take his words too seriously, lest we
drag down Apollo to the level of Bacchus. In spite of the convincing
realism in certain eulogies, it is clear that to the poet, as to the
convert at the eucharist, wine is only a symbol of a purely spiritual
ecstasy. But if intoxication is only a figure of speech, it is a
significant one, and perhaps some of the other myths describing the
poet's sensations during inspiration may put us on the trail of its
meaning. Of course, in making such an assumption, we are precisely like
the expounder of Plato's myths, who is likely to say, "Here Plato was
attempting to shadow forth the inexpressible. Now listen, and I will
explain exactly what he meant." Notwithstanding, we must proceed.

The device of Chaucer's _House of Fame_, wherein the poet is carried to
celestial realms by an eagle, occasionally occurs to the modern poet as
an account of his _Aufschwung_. Thus Keats, in _Lines to Apollo_, avers,

  Aye, when the soul is fled
  Too high above our head,
  Affrighted do we gaze
  After its airy maze
  As doth a mother wild
  When her young infant child
  Is in an eagle's claws.

"Poetry, my life, my eagle!" [Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.] cries Mrs.
Browning, likening herself to Ganymede, ravished from his sheep to the
summit of Olympus. The same attitude is apparent in most of her poems,
for Mrs. Browning, in singing mood, is precisely like a child in a
swing, shouting with delight at every fresh sensation of soaring.
[Footnote: See J. G. Percival, _Genius Awaking_, for the same

Again, the crash of the poet's inspiration upon his ordinary modes of
thought is compared to "fearful claps of thunder," by Keats [Footnote:
See _Sleep and Poetry_.] and others. [Footnote: See _The Master_, A. E.
Cheney.] Or, more often, his moment of sudden insight seems a lightning
flash upon the dark ways in which he is ordinarily groping. Keats says
that his early visions were seen as through a rift of sheet lightning.
[Footnote: See _The Epistle to George Keats_.] Emerson's impression is
the same; visions come "as if life were a thunderstorm wherein you can
see by a flash the horizon, and then cannot see your hand." [Footnote:
_Essay on Inspiration_.] Likewise Alexander Smith declares,

  Across the midnight sea of mind
  A thought comes streaming like a blazing ship
  Upon a mighty wind,
  A terror and a glory! Shocked with light,
  His boundless being glares aghast.
[Footnote: _A Life Drama_.]

Perhaps this is a true expression of the poet's feelings during the
deepest inspiration, yet we are minded of Elijah's experience with the
wind and the fire and the still small voice. So we cannot help
sympathizing with Browning's protest against "friend Naddo's" view that
genius is a matter of bizarre and grandiose sensations. [Footnote:
_Sordello_.] At least it is pleasant to find verse, by minor
writers though it be, describing the quietude and naturalness of the
poet's best moments. Thus Holmes tells us of his inspiration:

  Soft as the moonbeams when they sought
  Endymion's fragrant bower,
  She parts the whispering leaves of thought
  To show her full-leaved flower.
[Footnote: _Invita Minerva_.]

Edwin Markham says,

  She comes like the hush and beauty of the night.
[Footnote: _Poetry_.]

And Richard Watson Gilder's mood is the same:

  How to the singer comes his song?
  How to the summer fields
  Come flowers? How yields
  Darkness to happy dawn? How doth the night
  Bring stars?
[Footnote: _How to the Singer Comes His Song?_]

Various as are these accounts which poets give of their inspired
moments, all have one point in common, since they indicate that in such
moments the poet is wholly passive. His thought is literally given to
him. Edward Dowden, in a sonnet, _Wise Passiveness_, says this

  Think you I choose or that or this to sing?
  I lie as patient as yon wealthy stream
  Dreaming among green fields its summer dream,
  Which takes whate'er the gracious hours will bring
  Into its quiet bosom.

To the same effect is a somewhat prosaic poem, _Accident in Art_,
by Richard Hovey. He inquires,

  What poet has not found his spirit kneeling
  A sudden at the sound of such or such
  Strange verses staring from his manuscript,
  Written, he knows not how, but which will sound
  Like trumpets down the years.

Doubtless it is a very natural result of his resignation to this
creative force that one of the poet's profoundest sensations during his
afflatus should be that of reverence for his gift. Longfellow and
Wordsworth sometimes speak as if the composition of their poems were a
ceremony comparable to high mass. At times one must admit that verse
describing such an attitude has a charm of its own. [Footnote: Compare
Browning's characterization of the afflatus of Eglamor in _Sordello_,
Book II.] In _The Song-Tree_ Alfred Noyes describes his first sensation
as a conscious poet:

  The first note that I heard,
  A magical undertone,
  Was sweeter than any bird
  --Or so it seemed to me--
  And my tears ran wild.
  This tale, this tale is true.
  The light was growing gray,
  And the rhymes ran so sweet
  (For I was only a child)
  That I knelt down to pray.

But our sympathy with this little poet would not be nearly so intense
were he twenty years older. When it is said of a mature poetess,

  She almost shrank
  To feel the secret and expanding might
  Of her own mind,
[Footnote: _The Last Hours of a Young Poetess_, Lucy Hooper.]

the reader does not always remain in a sympathetically prayerful mind.
Such reverence paid by the poet to his gift calls to mind the multiple
Miss Beauchamp, of psychologic fame, and her comment on the vagaries of
her various personalities, "But after all, they are all me!" Too often,
when the poet is kneeling in adoration of his Muse, the irreverent
reader is likely to suspect that he realizes, only too well, that it is
"all me."

However, if the Philistine reader sets up as a critic, he must make good
his charges. Have we any real grounds for declaring that the alleged
divinity who inspires the poet is merely his own intelligence, or lack
of it? Perhaps not. And yet the dabbler in psychology finds a good deal
to indicate the poet's impression that the "subconscious" is shaping his
verse. Shelley was especially fascinated by the mysterious regions of
his mind lying below the threshold of his ordinary thought. In fact,
some of his prose speculations are in remarkable sympathy with recent
scientific papers on the subject. [Footnote: See _Speculations on
Metaphysics_, Works, Vol. VI, p. 282, edited by Buxton Forman.] And
in _Mont Blanc_ he expresses his wonder at the phenomenon of

  The everlasting universe of things
  Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
  Now dark--now glittering--now reflecting gloom--
  Now lending splendor, where from secret springs
  The source of human thought its tribute brings
  Of waters.

Again, in _The Defense of Poetry_ he says,

    The mind in creation is a fading coal, which some invisible
    influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory
    brightness; this power arises from within, like the color of a
    flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the
    conscious portions of our nature are unprophetic either of its
    approach or departure.

Wordsworth, too, thinks of his gift as arising from the depths of his
mind, which are not subject to conscious control. He apprises us,

      A plastic power
  Abode with me, a forming hand, at times
  Rebellious, acting in a devious mood,
  A local spirit of its own, at war
  With general tendency, but for the most
  Subservient strictly to external things
  With which it communed. An auxiliary light
  Came from my mind which on the setting sun
  Bestowed new splendor--
[Footnote: _The Prelude_.]

Occasionally the sudden lift of these submerged ideas to consciousness
is expressed by the figure of an earthquake. Aurora Leigh says that upon
her first impulse to write, her nature was shaken,

      As the earth
  Plunges in fury, when the internal fires
  Have reached and pricked her heart, and throwing flat
  The marts and temples, the triumphal gates
  And towers of observation, clears herself
  To elemental freedom.

We have a grander expression of the idea from Robert Browning, who
relates how the vision of _Sordello_ arises to consciousness:

    Upthrust, out-staggering on the world,
    Subsiding into shape, a darkness rears
    Its outline, kindles at the core--.

Is this to say that the poet's intuitions, apparently so sudden, have
really been long germinating in the obscure depths of his mind? Then it
is in tune with the idea, so prevalent in English verse, that in sleep a
mysterious undercurrent of imaginative power becomes accessible to the

"Ever when slept the poet his dreams were music," [Footnote: _The
Poet's Sleep_.] says Richard Gilder, and the line seems trite to us.
There was surely no reason why Keats' title, _Sleep and Poetry_,
should have appeared ludicrous to his critics, for from the time of
Caedmon onward English writers have been sensitive to a connection here.
The stereotyped device of making poetry a dream vision, so popular in
the middle ages,--and even the prominence of _Night Thoughts_ in
eighteenth century verse--testify that a coupling of poetry and sleep
has always seemed natural to poets. Coleridge, [Footnote: See his
account of the composition of _Kubla Khan_.] Keats, Shelley, [Footnote:
See _Alastor_, and _Prince Athanase_. See also Edmund Gosse,
_Swinburne_, p. 29, where Swinburne says he produced the first three
stanzas of _A Vision of Spring_ in his sleep.]--it is the romanticists
who seem to have depended most upon sleep as bringer of inspiration. And
once more, it is Shelley who shows himself most keenly aware that,
asleep or waking, the poet feels his afflatus coming in the same manner.
Thus he tells us of the singer in _Prince Athanase:_

  And through his sleep, and o'er each waking hour
  Thoughts after thoughts, unresting multitudes,
  Were driven within him by some secret power
  Which bade them blaze, and live, and roll afar,
  Like lights and sounds, from haunted tower to tower.

Probably our jargon of the subconscious would not much impress poets,
even those whom we have just quoted. Is this the only cause we can give,
Shelley might ask, why the poet should not reverence his gift as
something apart from himself and truly divine? If, after the fashion of
modern psychology, we denote by the subconscious mind only the welter of
myriad forgotten details of our daily life, what is there here to
account for poesy? The remote, inaccessible chambers of our mind may, to
be sure, be more replete with curious lumber than those continually
swept and garnished for everyday use, yet, even so, there is nothing in
any memory, as such, to account for the fact that poetry reveals things
to us above and beyond any of our actual experiences in this world.

  Alchemist Memory turned his past to gold,
[Footnote: _A Life Drama._]

says Alexander Smith of his poet, and as an account of inspiration, the
line sounds singularly flat. There is nothing here to distinguish the
poet from any octogenarian dozing in his armchair.

Is Memory indeed the only Muse? Not unless she is a far grander figure
than we ordinarily suppose. Of course she has been exalted by certain
artists. There is Richard Wagner, with his definition of art as memory
of one's past youth, or--to stay closer home--Wordsworth, with his
theory of poetry as emotion recollected in tranquillity,--such artists
have a high regard for memory. Still, Oliver Wendell Holmes is tolerably
representative of the nineteenth century attitude when he points memory
to a second place. It is only the aged poet, conscious that his powers
are decaying, to whom Holmes offers the consolation,

  Live in the past; await no more
  The rush of heaven-sent wings;
  Earth still has music left in store
  While memory sighs and sings.
[Footnote: _Invita Minerva_.]

But, though he would discourage us from our attempt to chain his genius,
like a ghost, to his past life in this world, the poet is inclined to
admit that Mnemosyne, in her true grandeur, has a fair claim to her
title as mother of the muses. The memories of prosaic men may be, as we
have described them, short and sordid, concerned only with their
existence here and now, but the recollection of poets is a divine thing,
reaching back to the days when their spirits were untrammeled by the
body, and they gazed upon ideal beauty, when, as Plato says, they saw a
vision and were initiated into the most blessed mysteries ... beholding
apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy as in a mystery;
shining in pure light, pure themselves and not yet enshrined in the
living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the
body, as in an oyster shell. [Footnote: _Phaedrus_, 250.]

For the poet is apt to transfer Plato's praise of the philosopher to
himself, declaring that "he alone has wings, and this is just, for he is
always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in
recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding which
He is what He is." [Footnote: _Ibid_., 249.]

If the poet exalts memory to this station, he may indeed claim that he
is not furtively adoring his own petty powers, when he reverences the
visions which Mnemosyne vouchsafes to him. And indeed Plato's account of
memory is congenial to many poets. Shelley is probably the most serious
of the nineteenth century singers in claiming an ideal life for the
soul, before its birth into this world. [Footnote: See _Prince
Athanase_. For Matthew Arnold's views, see _Self Deception_.]
Wordsworth's adherence to this view is as widely known as the _Ode on
Immortality_. As an explanation for inspiration, the theory recurs in
verse of other poets. One writer inquires,

  Are these wild thoughts, thus fettered in my rhymes,
  Indeed the product of my heart and brain?
[Footnote: Henry Timrod, _Sonnet_.]

and decides that the only way to account for the occasional gleams of
insight in his verse is by assuming a prenatal life for the soul.
Another maintains of poetry,

  Her touch is a vibration and a light
  From worlds before and after.
[Footnote: Edwin Markham, _Poetry_. Another recent poem on prenatal
inspiration is _The Dream I Dreamed Before I Was Born_ (1919), by
Dorothea Laurence Mann.]

Perhaps Alice Meynell's _A Song of Derivations_ is the most natural
and unforced of these verses. She muses:

  ... Mixed with memories not my own
  The sweet streams throng into my breast.
  Before this life began to be
  The happy songs that wake in me
  Woke long ago, and far apart.
  Heavily on this little heart
  Presses this immortality.

This poem, however, is not so consistent as the others with the Platonic
theory of reminiscence. It is a previous existence in this world, rather
than in ideal realms, which Alice Meynell assumes for her inspirations.
She continues,

  I come from nothing, but from where
  Come the undying thoughts I bear?
  Down through long links of death and birth,
  From the past poets of the earth,
  My immortality is there.

Certain singers who seem not to have been affected by the philosophical
argument for reminiscence have concurred in Alice Meynell's last
statement, and have felt that the mysterious power which is impressing
itself in their verse is the genius of dead poets, mysteriously finding
expression in their disciple's song. A characteristic example of this
attitude is Alfred Noyes' account of Chapman's sensations, when he
attempted to complete Marlowe's _Hero and Leander_. Chapman tells
his brother poets:

  I have thought, sometimes, when I have tried
  To work his will, the hand that moved my pen
  Was mine and yet--not mine. The bodily mask
  Is mine, and sometimes dull as clay it sleeps
  With old Musaeus. Then strange flashes come,
  Oracular glories, visionary gleams,
  And the mask moves, not of itself, and sings.
[Footnote: _At the Sign of the Golden Shoe_.]

The best-known instance of such a belief is, of course, Browning's
appeal at the beginning of _The Ring and the Book_, that his dead
wife shall inspire his poetry.

One is tempted to surmise that many of our young poets, especially have
nourished a secret conviction that their genius has such an origin as
this. Let there be a deification of some poet who has aroused their
special enthusiasm,--a mysterious resemblance to his style in the works
which arise in their minds spontaneously, in moments of ecstasy,--what
is a more natural result than the assumption that their genius is, in
some strange manner, a continuation of his? [Footnote: Keats wrote to
Haydn that he took encouragement in the notion of some good
genius--probably Shakespeare--presiding over him. Swinburne was often
called Shelley reborn.] The tone of certain Shelley worshipers suggests
such a hypothesis as an account for their poems. Bayard Taylor seems to
be an exception when, after pleading that Shelley infuse his spirit into
his disciple's verses, he recalls himself, and concludes:

  I do but rave, for it is better thus;
  Were once thy starry nature given to mine,
  In the one life which would encircle us
  My voice would melt, my voice be lost in thine;
  Better to bear the far sublimer pain
  Of thought that has not ripened into speech.
  To hear in silence Truth and Beauty sing
  Divinely to the brain;
  For thus the poet at the last shall reach
  His own soul's voice, nor crave a brother's string.
[Footnote: _Ode to Shelly._]

In the theory that the genius of a past poet may be reincarnated, there
is, indeed, a danger that keeps it from appealing to all poets. It
tallies too well with the charge of imitativeness, if not downright
plagiarism, often brought against a new singer. [Footnote: See Margaret
Steele Anderson, _Other People's Wreaths,_ and John Drinkwater,
_My Songs._] If the poet feels that his genius comes from a power
outside himself, he yet paradoxically insists that it must be peculiarly
his own. Therefore Mrs. Browning, through Aurora Leigh, shrinks from the
suspicion that her gift may be a heritage from singers before her. She
wistfully inquires:

  My own best poets, am I one with you?
  . . . When my joy and pain,
  My thought and aspiration, like the stops
  Of pipe or flute, are absolutely dumb
  Unless melodious, do you play on me,
  My pipers, and if, sooth, you did not play,
  Would no sound come? Or is the music mine;
  As a man's voice or breath is called his own,
  Inbreathed by the life-breather?

Are we exaggerating our modern poet's conviction that a spirit not his
own is inspiring him? Does he not rather feel self-sufficient as
compared with the earlier singers, who expressed such naive dependence
upon the Muse? We have been using the name Muse in this essay merely as
a figure of speech, and is this not the poet's usage when he addresses
her? The casual reader is inclined to say, yes, that a belief in the
Muse is indeed dead. It would be absurd on the face of it, he might say,
to expect a belief in this pagan figure to persist after all the rest of
the Greek theogony has become a mere literary device to us. This may not
be a reliable supposition, since as a matter of fact Milton and Dante
impress us as being quite as deeply sincere as Homer, when they call
upon the Muse to aid them in their song. But at any rate everyone is
conscious that such a belief has degenerated before the eighteenth
century. The complacent turner of couplets felt no genuine need for any
Muse but his own keen intelligence; accordingly, though the machinery of
invocation persists in his poetry, it is as purely an introductory
flourish as is the ornamented initial letter of a poem. Indeed, as the
century progresses, not even the pose of serious prayer is always kept
up. John Hughes is perhaps the most persistent and sober intreater of
the Muse whom we find during this period, yet when he compliments the
Muse upon her appearance "at Lucinda's tea-table," [Footnote: See _On
Lucinda's Tea-table_.] one feels that all awe of her has vanished. It
is no wonder that James Thomson, writing verses _On the Death of His
Mother_, should disclaim the artificial aid of the muses, saying that
his own deep feeling was enough to inspire him. As the romantic movement
progressed, it would be easy to show that distaste for the eighteenth
century mannerism resulted in more and more flippant treatment of the
goddesses. Beattie refers to a contemporary's "reptile Muse, swollen
from the sty." [Footnote: See _On a Report of a Monument to a Late
Author_.] Burns alludes to his own Muse as a "tapitless ramfeezled
hizzie," [Footnote: See the _Epistle to Lapraik_.] and sets the
fashion for succeeding writers, who so multiply the original nine that
each poet has an individual muse, a sorry sort of guardian-angel, whom
he is fond of berating for her lack of ability. One never finds a writer
nowadays, with courage to refer to his muse otherwise than
apologetically. The usual tone is that of Andrew Lang, when he
confesses, apropos of the departure of his poetic gift:

  'Twas not much at any time
  She could hitch into a rhyme,
  Never was the muse sublime
  Who has fled.
[Footnote: _A Poet's Apology_.]

Yet one would be wrong in maintaining that the genuine poet of to-day
feels a slighter dependence upon a spirit of song than did the world's
earlier singers. There are, of course, certain poetasters now, as
always, whose verse is ground out as if by machinery, and who are as
little likely to call upon an outside power to aid them as is the horse
that treads the cider mill. But among true poets, if the spirit who
inspires poesy is a less definitely personified figure than of old, she
is no less a sincerely conceived one and reverently worshiped. One
doubts if there could be found a poet of merit who would disagree with
Shelley's description of poetry as "the inter-penetration of a diviner
nature through our own." [Footnote: _Defense of Poetry_.]

What is the poet's conception of such a divinity? It varies, of course.
There is the occasional belief, just mentioned, in the transmigration of
genius, but that goes back, in the end, to the belief that all genius is
a memory of pre-existence; that is, dropping (or varying) the myth, that
the soul of the poet is not chained to the physical world, but has the
power of discerning the things which abide. And this, again, links up
with what is perhaps the commonest form of invocation in modern poetry,
namely, prayer that God, the spirit of the universe, may inspire the
poet. For what does the poet mean when he calls himself the voice of
God, but that he is intuitively aware of the eternal verities in the
world? Poets who speak in this way ever conceive of God as Shelley did,
in what is perhaps the most profoundly sincere invocation of the last
century, his _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_. All poets are

There is yet another view of the spirit who inspires poetry, which may
seem more characteristic of our poets than are these others. It
is expressed in the opening of Shelley's _Alastor_, and informs the
whole of the _Ode to the West Wind_. It pervades Wordsworth, for if
he seldom calls upon his natural environment as muse, he is yet
profoundly conscious that his song is an inflowing from the heart of
nature. This power has become such a familiar divinity to later singers
that they are scarcely aware how great is their dependence upon her.
There is nothing artificial or in any sense affected in the modern
poet's conviction that in walking out to meet nature he is, in fact,
going to the source of poetic power. Perhaps nineteenth and twentieth
century writers, with their trust in the power of nature to breathe song
into their hearts, are closer to the original faith in the muses than
most of the poets who have called the sisters by name during the
intervening centuries. This deification of nature, like the other modern
conceptions of the spirit of song, signifies the poet's need of bringing
himself into harmony with the world-spirit, which moulds the otherwise
chaotic universe into those forms of harmony and beauty which constitute

Whether the poet ascribes his infilling to a specific goddess of song or
to a mysterious harmony between his soul and the world spirit, a coming
"into tune with the infinite," as it has been called, the mode of his
communion is identical. There is a frenzy of desire so intolerable that
it suddenly fails, leaving the poet in trancelike passivity while the
revelation is given to him,--ancient and modern writers alike describe
the experience thus. And modern poets, no less than ancient ones, feel
that, before becoming the channel of world meaning, they must be
deprived of their own petty, egocentric thoughts. So Keats avers of the

  One hour, half-idiot, he stands by mossy waterfall;
  The next he writes his soul's memorial.
[Footnote: _A Visit to Burns' Country_.]

So Shelley describes the experience:

  Meaning on his vacant mind
  Flashed like strong inspiration.
[Footnote: _Alastor_.]

The poet is not, he himself avers, merely thinking about things. He
becomes one with them. In this sense all poets are pantheists, and the
flash of their inspiration means the death of their personal thought,
enabling them, like Lucy, to be

  Rolled round in earth's diurnal course
  With rocks and stones and trees.

Hence the singer has always been called a madman. The modern writer
cannot escape Plato's conclusion,

    There is no invention in him (the poet) until he has been
    inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer
    in him: when he has not attained to this state he is
    powerless and unable to utter his oracles. [Footnote:
    _Ion_, sec.534.]

And again,

    There is a ... kind of madness which is a possession of the
    Muses; this enters into a delicate and virgin soul, and
    there inspiring frenzy, awakens lyric and all other
    numbers.... But he who, not being inspired, and having no
    touch of madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks
    he will get into the temple by the help of art, he, I say,
    and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man is nowhere at
    all when he enters into rivalry with the madman. [Footnote:
    _Phaedrus_, sec. 245.]

Even Aristotle, that sanest of philosophers, so far agrees with Plato as
to say,

    Poetry implies either a happy gift of nature, or a strain of
    madness. In the one case, a man can take the mold of any
    character; in the other he is lifted out of his proper self.
    [Footnote: _Poetics_, XVII.]

One must admit that poets nowadays are not always so frank as earlier
ones in describing their state of mind. Now that the lunatic is no
longer placed in the temple, but in the hospital, the popular imputation
of insanity to the poet is not always favorably received. Occasionally
he regards it as only another unjust charge brought against him by a
hostile world. Thus a brother poet has said that George Meredith's lot

  Like Lear's--for he had felt the sting
  Of all too greatly giving
  The kingdom of his mind to those
  Who for it deemed him mad.
[Footnote: Cale Young Rice, _Meredith_.]

In so far as the world's pronouncement is based upon the oracles to
which the poet gives utterance, he always repudiates the charge of
madness. Such various poets as Jean Ingelow, [Footnote: See _Gladys
and Her Island_.] James Thomson, B. V., [Footnote: See _Tasso to
Leonora_.] Helen Hunt Jackson, [Footnote: See _The Singer's
Hills_.] Alice Gary, [Footnote: See _Genius_.] and George Edward
Woodberry, [Footnote: See _He Ate the Laurel and is Mad_.] concur
in the judgment that the poet is called insane by the rabble simply
because they are blind to the ideal world in which he lives. Like the
cave-dwellers of Plato's myth, men resent it when the seer, be he
prophet or philosopher, tells them that there are things more real than
the shadows on the wall with which they amuse themselves. Not all the
writers just named are equally sure that they, rather than the world,
are right. The women are thoroughly optimistic. Mr. Woodberry, though he
leaves the question, whether the poet's beauty is a delusion, unanswered
in the poem where he broaches it, has betrayed his faith in the ideal
realms everywhere in his writings. James Thomson, on the contrary, is
not at all sure that the world is wrong in its doubt of ideal truth. The
tone of his poem, _Tasso and Leonora_, is very gloomy. The Italian
poet is shown in prison, reflecting upon his faith in the ideal realms
where eternal beauty dwells. He muses,

  Yes--as Love is truer far
  Than all other things; so are
  Life and Death, the World and Time
  Mere false shows in some great Mime
  By dreadful mystery sublime.

But at the end Tasso's faith is troubled, and he ponders,

  For were life no flitting dream,
  Were things truly what they seem,
  Were not all this world-scene vast
  But a shade in Time's stream glassed;
  Were the moods we now display
  Less phantasmal than the clay
  In which our poor spirits clad
  Act this vision, wild and sad,
  I must be mad, mad,--how mad!

However, this is aside from the point. The average poet is as firmly
convinced as any philosopher that his visions are true. It is only the
manner of his inspiration that causes him to doubt his sanity. Not
merely is his mind vacant when the spirit of poetry is about to come
upon him, but he is deprived of his judgment, so that he does not
understand his own experiences during ecstasy. The idea of verbal
inspiration, which used to be so popular in Biblical criticism, has been
applied to the works of all poets. [Footnote: See _Kathrina_, by J.
G. Holland, where the heroine maintains that the inspiration of modern
poets is similar to that of the Old Testament prophets, and declares,

                         As for the old seers
  Whose eyes God touched with vision of the life
  Of the unfolding ages, I must doubt
  Whether they comprehended what they saw.]

Such a view has been a boon to literary critics. Shakespeare
commentators, in particular, have been duly grateful for the lee-way
granted them, when they are relieved from the necessity of limiting
Shakespeare's meanings to the confines of his knowledge. As for the
poet's own sense of his incomprehension, Francis Thompson's words are
typical. Addressing a little child, he wonders at the statements she
makes, ignorant of their significance; then he reflects,

  And ah, we poets, I misdoubt
  Are little more than thou.
  We speak a lesson taught, we know not how,
  And what it is that from us flows
  The hearer better than the utterer knows.
[Footnote: _Sister Songs._]

One might think that the poet would take pains to differentiate this
inspired madness from the diseased mind of the ordinary lunatic. But as
a matter of fact, bards who were literally insane have attracted much
attention from their brothers. [Footnote: At the beginning of the
romantic period not only Blake and Cowper, but Christopher Smart, John
Clare, Thomas Dermody, John Tannahill and Thomas Lovell Beddoes made the
mad poet familiar.] Of these, Tasso [Footnote: See _Song for Tasso_,
Shelley; _Tasso to Leonora_, James Thomson, B. V., _Tasso to Leonora_,
E. F. Hoffman.] and Cowper [Footnote: See Bowles, _The Harp and Despair
of Cowper_; Mrs. Browning, _Cowper's Grave_; Lord Houghton, _On Cowper's
Cottage at Olney_.] have appeared most often in the verse of the last
century. Cowper's inclusion among his poems of verses written during
periods of actual insanity has seemed to indicate that poetic madness is
not merely a figure of speech. There is also significance, as revealing
the poet's attitude toward insanity, in the fact that several fictional
poets are represented as insane. Crabbe and Shelley have ascribed
madness to their poet-heroes, [Footnote: See Crabbe, _The Patron_;
Shelley, _Rosalind and Helen_.] while the American, J. G. Holland,
represents his hero's genius as a consequence, in part, at least, of a
hereditary strain of suicidal insanity. [Footnote: See J. G. Holland,
_Kathrina_. For recent verse on the mad poet see William Rose Benet,
_Mad Blake_; Amy Lowell, _Clear, With Light Variable Winds_; Cale Young
Rice, _The Mad Philosopher_; Edmund Blunden, _Clare's Ghost_.]

It goes without saying that this is a romantic conception, wholly
incompatible with the eighteenth century belief that poetry is produced
by the action of the intelligence, aided by good taste. Think of the mad
poet, William Blake, assuring his sedate contemporaries,

  All pictures that's painted with sense and with thought
  Are painted by madmen as sure as a groat.
[Footnote: See fragment CI.]

What chance did he have of recognition?

This is merely indicative of the endless quarrel between the inspired
poet and the man of reason. The eighteenth century contempt for poetic
madness finds typical expression in Pope's satirical lines,

  Some demon stole my pen (forgive the offense)
  And once betrayed me into common sense.
[Footnote: _Dunciad_.]

And it is answered by Burns' characterization of writers depending upon
dry reason alone:

  A set o' dull, conceited hashes
  Confuse their brains in college classes!
  They gang in sticks and come out asses,
  Plain truth to speak,
  And syne they think to climb Parnassus
  By dint of Greek.[Footnote: _Epistle to Lapraik_.]

The feud was perhaps at its bitterest between the eighteenth century
classicists and such poets as Wordsworth [Footnote: See the _Prelude_.]
and Burns, but it is by no means stilled at present. Yeats [Footnote:
See _The Scholar_.] and Vachel Lindsay [Footnote: See _The Master of the
Dance_. The hero is a dunce in school.] have written poetry showing the
persistence of the quarrel. Though the acrimony of the disputants
varies, accordingly as the tone of the poet is predominantly thoughtful
or emotional, one does not find any poet of the last century who denies
the superiority of poetic intuition to scholarship. Thus Tennyson warns
the man of learning that he cannot hope to fathom the depths of the
poet's mind. [Footnote: See _The Poet's Mind_.] So Richard Gilder
maintains of the singer,

  He was too wise
  Either to fear, or follow, or despise
  Whom men call science--for he knew full well
  All she had told, or still might live to tell
  Was known to him before her very birth.
[Footnote: _The Poet's Fame_. In the same spirit is _Invitation_, by J.
E. Flecker.]

The foundation of the poet's superiority is, of course, his claim that
his inspiration gives him mystical experience of the things which the
scholar can only remotely speculate about. Therefore Percy Mackaye makes
Sappho vaunt over the philosopher, Pittacus:

  Yours is the living pall,
  The aloof and frozen place of listeners
  And lookers-on at life. But mine--ah! Mine
  The fount of life itself, the burning fount
  Pierian. I pity you.
[Footnote: _Sappho and Phaon_, a drama.]

Very likely Pittacus had no answer to Sappho's boast, but when the
average nondescript verse-writer claims that his intuitions are
infinitely superior to the results of scholarly research, the man of
reason is not apt to keep still. And one feels that the poet, in many
cases, has earned such a retort as that recorded by Young:

  How proud the poet's billow swells!
  The God! the God! his boast:
  A boast how vain! what wrecks abound!
  Dead bards stench every coast.
[Footnote: _Resignation_.]

There could be no more telling blow against the poet's view of
inspiration than this. Even so pronounced a romanticist as Mrs. Browning
is obliged to admit that the poet cannot always trust his vision. She
muses over the title of poet:

      The name
  Is royal, and to sign it like a queen
  Is what I dare not--though some royal blood
  Would seem to tingle in me now and then
  With sense of power and ache,--with imposthumes
  And manias usual to the race. Howbeit
  I dare not: 'tis too easy to go mad
  And ape a Bourbon in a crown of straws;
  The thing's too common.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_. See also the lines in the same poem,
      For me, I wrote
  False poems, like the rest, and thought them true
  Because myself was true in writing them.]

Has the poet, then, no guarantee for the genuineness of his inspiration?
Must he wait as ignorantly as his contemporaries for the judgment of
posterity? One cannot conceive of the grandly egoistic poet saying this.
Yet the enthusiast must not believe every spirit, but try them whether
they be of God. What is his proof?

Emerson suggests a test, in a poem by that name. He avers,

  I hung my verses in the wind.
  Time and tide their faults may find.
  All were winnowed through and through:
  Five lines lasted sound and true;
  Five were smelted in a pot
  Than the south more fierce and hot.
[Footnote: _The Test_.]

The last lines indicate, do they not, that the depth of the poet's
passion during inspiration corresponds with the judgment pronounced by
time upon his verses? William Blake quaintly tells us that he was once
troubled over this question of the artist's infallibility, and that on a
certain occasion when he was dining with the prophet Elijah, he
inquired, "Does a firm belief that a thing is so make it so?" To which
Elijah gave the comforting reply, "Every poet is convinced that it
does." [Footnote: _The Marriage of Heaven and Hell_, "A Memorable
Fancy."] To the cold critic, such an answer as Emerson's and Blake's is
doubtless unsatisfactory, but to the poet, as to the religious
enthusiast, his own ecstasy is an all-sufficient evidence.

The thoroughgoing romanticist will accept no other test. The critic of
the Johnsonian tradition may urge him to gauge the worth of his impulse
by its seemliness and restraint, but the romantic poet's utter surrender
to a power from on high makes unrestraint seem a virtue to him. So with
the critic's suggestion that the words coming to the poet in his season
of madness be made to square with his returning reason. Emerson quotes,
and partially accepts the dictum, "Poetry must first be good sense,
though it is something more." [Footnote: See the essay on
_Imagination_.] But the poet is more apt to account for his belief
in his visions by Tertullian's motto, _Credo quod absurdum_.

If overwhelming passion is an absolute test of true inspiration, whence
arises the uncertainty and confusion in the poet's own mind, concerning
matters poetical? Why is a writer so stupid as to include one hundred
pages of trash in the same volume with his one inspired poem? The answer
seems to be that no writer is guided solely by inspiration. Not that he
ever consciously falsifies or modifies the revelation given him in his
moment of inspiration, but the revelation is ever hauntingly incomplete.

The slightest adverse influence may jar upon the harmony between the
poet's soul and the spirit of poetry. The stories of Dante's "certain
men of business," who interrupted his drawing of Beatrice, and of
Coleridge's visitors who broke in upon the writing of _Kubla Khan_,
are notorious. Tennyson, in _The Poet's Mind_, warns all intruders
away from the singer's inspired hour. He tells them,

  In your eye there is death;
  There is frost in your breath
  Which would blight the plants.
       *       *       *       *       *
  In the heart of the garden the merry bird chants;
  It would fall to the ground if you came in.

But it is not fair always to lay the shattering of the poet's dream to
an intruder. The poet himself cannot account for its departure, so
delicate and evanescent is it. Emerson says,

  There are open hours
  When the God's will sallies free,
  And the dull idiot might see
  The flowing fortunes of a thousand years;--
  Sudden, at unawares,
  Self-moved, fly to the doors,
  Nor sword of angels could reveal
  What they conceal.
[Footnote: _Merlin_.]

What is the poet, thus shut out of Paradise, to do? He can only make a
frenzied effort to record his vision before its very memory has faded
from him. Benvenuto Cellini has told us of his tantrums while he was
finishing his bronze statue of Perseus. He worked with such fury, he
declares, that his workmen believed him to be no man, but a devil. But
the poet, no less than the molder of bronze, is under the necessity of
casting his work into shape before the metal cools. And his success is
never complete. Shelley writes, "When composition begins, inspiration is
already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry that has ever been
communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original
conceptions of the poet." [Footnote: _The Defense of Poetry_.]

Hence may arise the pet theory of certain modern poets, that a long poem
is an impossibility. Short swallow flights of song only can be wholly
sincere, they say, for their ideal is a poem as literally spontaneous as
Sordello's song of Elys. In proportion as work is labored, it is felt to
be dead.

There is no lack of verse suggesting that extemporaneous composition is
most poetical, [Footnote: See Scott's accounts of his minstrels'
composition. See also, Bayard Taylor, _Ad Amicos_, and _Proem
Dedicatory_; Edward Dowden, _The Singer's Plea_; Richard Gilder,
_How to the Singer Comes the Song_; Joaquin Miller, _Because the
Skies are Blue_; Emerson, _The Poet_; Longfellow, _Envoi_; Robert
Bridges, _A Song of My Heart_.] but is there nothing to be said on the
other side? Let us reread Browning's judgment on the matter:

  Touch him ne'er so lightly, into song he broke.
  Soil so quick receptive,--not one feather-seed,
  Not one flower-dust fell but straight its fall awoke
  Vitalizing virtue: song would song succeed
  Sudden as spontaneous--prove a poet soul!
  Rock's the song soil rather, surface hard and bare:
  Sun and dew their mildness, storm and frost their rage
  Vainly both expend,--few flowers awaken there:
  Quiet in its cleft broods--what the after-age
  Knows and names a pine, a nation's heritage.
[Footnote: _Epilogue to the Dramatic Idyls_. The same thought is in
the sonnet, "I ask not for those thoughts that sudden leap," by James
Russell Lowell, and _Overnight, a Rose_, by Caroline Giltiman.]

Is it possible that the one epic poem which is a man's life work may be
as truly inspired as is the lyric that leaps to his lips with a sudden
gush of emotion? Or is it true, as Shelley seems to aver that such a
poem is never an ideal unity, but a collection of inspired lines and
phrases connected "by the intertexture of conventional phrases?"
[Footnote: _The Defense of Poetry_.]

It may be that the latter view seems truer to us only because we
misunderstand the manner in which inspiration is limited. Possibly poets
bewail the incompleteness of the flash which is revealed to them, not
because they failed to see all the glories of heaven and earth, but
because it was a vision merely, and the key to its expression in words
was not given them. "Passion and expression are beauty itself," says
William Blake, and the passion, so far from making expression inevitable
and spontaneous, may by its intensity be an actual handicap, putting the
poet into the state "of some fierce thing replete with too much rage."

Surely we have no right to condemn the poet because a perfect expression
of his thought is not immediately forthcoming. Like any other artist, he
works with tools, and is handicapped by their inadequacy. According to
Plato, language affords the poet a more flexible implement than any
other artist possesses, [Footnote: See _The Republic_, IX, 588 D.]
yet, at times, it appears to the maker stubborn enough. To quote Francis

  Our untempered speech descends--poor heirs!
  Grimy and rough-cast still from Babel's brick-layers;
  Curse on the brutish jargon we inherit,
  Strong but to damn, not memorize a spirit!
[Footnote: _Her Portrait_.]

Walt Whitman voices the same complaint:

  Speech is the twin of my vision: it is unequal to measure itself;
  It provokes me forever; it says sarcastically,
  "Walt, you contain enough, why don't you let it out then?"
[Footnote: _Song of Myself_.]

Accordingly there is nothing more common than verse bewailing the
singer's inarticulateness. [Footnote: See Tennyson, _In Memoriam_,
"For words, like nature, half reveal"; Oliver Wendell Holmes, _To my
Readers_; Mrs. Browning, _The Soul's Expression_; Jean Ingelow, _A Lily
and a Lute_; Coventry Patmore, _Dead Language_; Swinburne, _The Lute and
the Lyre, Plus Intra_; Francis Thompson, _Daphne_; Joaquin Miller,
_Ina_; Richard Gilder, _Art and Life_; Alice Meynell, _Singers to Come_;
Edward Dowden, _Unuttered_; Max Ehrmann, _Tell Me_; Alfred Noyes, _The
Sculptor_; William Rose Benet, _Thwarted Utterance_; Robert Silliman
Hillyer, _Even as Love Grows More_; Daniel Henderson, _Lover and
Lyre_; Dorothea Lawrence Mann, _To Imagination_; John Hall Wheelock,
_Rossetti_; Sara Teasdale, _The Net_; Lawrence Binyon, _If I Could Sing
the Song of Her_.]

Frequently these confessions of the impossibility of expression are
coupled with the bitterest tirades against a stupid audience, which
refuses to take the poet's genius on trust, and which remains utterly
unmoved by his avowals that he has much to say to it that lies too deep
for utterance. Such an outlet for the poet's very natural petulance is
likely to seem absurd enough to us. It is surely not the fault of his
hearers, we are inclined to tell him gently, that he suffers an
impediment in his speech. Yet, after all, we may be mistaken. It is
significant that the singers who are most aware of their
inarticulateness are not the romanticists, who, supposedly, took no
thought for a possible audience; but they are the later poets, who are
obsessed with the idea that they have a message. Emily Dickinson,
herself as untroubled as any singer about her public, yet puts the
problem for us. She avers,

  I found the phrase to every thought
    I ever had, but one;
  And that defies me,--as a hand
    Did try to chalk the sun.

  To races nurtured in the dark;--
    How would your own begin?
  Can blaze be done in cochineal,
    Or noon in mazarin?

"To races nurtured in the dark." There lies a prolific source to the
poet's difficulties. His task is not merely to ensure the permanence of
his own resplendent vision, but to interpret it to men who take their
darkness for light. As Emerson expresses it in his translation of
Zoroaster, the poet's task is "inscribing things unapparent in the
apparent fabrication of the world." [Footnote: _Essay on Imagination_.]

Here is the point where poets of the last one hundred years have most
often joined issues. As writers of the eighteenth century split on the
question whether poetry is the product of the human reason, or of a
divine visitation, literal "inspiration," so poets of the nineteenth
century and of our time have been divided as to the propriety of
adapting one's inspiration to the limitations of one's hearers. It too
frequently happens that the poet goes to one extreme or the other. He
may either despise his audience to such a degree that he does not
attempt to make himself intelligible, or he may quench the spark of his
thought in the effort to trim his verse into a shape that pleases his

Austin Dobson takes malicious pleasure, often, in championing the less
aristocratic side of the controversy. His _Advice to a Poet_ follows,
throughout, the tenor of the first stanza:

  My counsel to the budding bard
  Is, "Don't be long," and "Don't be hard."
  Your "gentle public," my good friend,
  Won't read what they can't comprehend.

This precipitates us at once into the marts of the money changers, and
one shrinks back in distaste. If this is what is meant by keeping one's
audience in mind during composition, the true poet will have none of it.
Poe's account of his deliberate composition of the _Raven_ is
enough to estrange him from the poetic brotherhood. Yet we are face to
face with an issue that we, as the "gentle reader," cannot ignore. Shall
the poet, then, inshrine his visions as William Blake did, for his own
delight, and leave us unenlightened by his apocalypse?

There is a middle ground, and most poets have taken it. For in the
intervals of his inspiration the poet himself becomes, as has been
reiterated, a mere man, and except for the memories of happier moments
that abide with him, he is as dull as his reader. So when he labors to
make his inspiration articulate he is not coldly manipulating his
materials, like a pedagogue endeavoring to drive home a lesson, but for
his own future delight he is making the spirit of beauty incarnate. And
he will spare no pains to this end. Keats cries,

  O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
  Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
  My soul has to herself decreed.
[Footnote: _Sleep and Poetry_. See also the letter to his brother
George, April, 1817.]

Bryant warns the poet,

  Deem not the framing of a deathless lay
  The pastime of a drowsy summer day;
  But gather all thy powers
  And wreak them on the verse that thou dost weave.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

It is true that not all poets agree that these years of labor are of
avail. Even Bryant, just quoted, warns the poet,

  Touch the crude line with fear
  But in the moments of impassioned thought.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

Indeed the singer's awe of the mysterious revelation given him may be so
deep that he dares not tamper with his first impetuous transcription of
it. But as a sculptor toils over a single vein till it is perfect, the
poet may linger over a word or phrase, and so long as the pulse seems to
beat beneath his fingers, no one has a right to accuse him of
artificiality. Sometimes, indeed, he is awkward, and when he tries to
wreathe his thoughts together, they wither like field flowers under his
hot touch. Or, in his zeal, he may fashion for his forms an embroidered
robe of such richness that like heavy brocade it disguises the form
which it should express. In fact, poets are apt to have an affection,
not merely for their inspiration, but for the words that clothe it.
Keats confessed, "I look upon fine phrases as a lover." Tennyson
delighted in "jewels fine words long, that on the stretched forefinger
of all time sparkle forever." Rossetti spoke no less sincerely than
these others, no doubt, even though he did not illustrate the efficacy
of his search, when he described his interest in reading old manuscripts
with the hope of "pitching on some stunning words for poetry." Ever and
anon there is a rebellion against conscious elaboration in dressing
one's thoughts. We are just emerging from one of the noisiest of these.
The vers-librists insist that all adornment and disguise be stripped
off, and the idea be exhibited in its naked simplicity. The quarrel with
more conservative writers comes, not from any disagreement as to the
beauty of ideas in the nude, but from a doubt on the part of the
conservatives as to whether one can capture ideal beauty without an
accurately woven net of words. Nor do the vers-librists prove that they
are less concerned with form than are other poets. "The poet must learn
his trade in the same manner, and with the same painstaking care, as the
cabinet maker," says Amy Lowell. [Footnote: Preface to _Sword Blades
and Poppy Seed_.] The disagreement among poets on this point is
proving itself to be not so great as some had supposed. The ideal of
most singers, did they possess the secret, is to do as Mrs. Browning
advises them,

                                Keep up the fire
  And leave the generous flames to shape themselves.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

Whether the poet toils for years to form a shrine for his thought, or
whether his awe forbids him to touch his first unconscious formulation
of it, there comes a time when all that he can do has been done, and he
realizes that he will never approximate his vision more closely than
this. Then, indeed, as high as was his rapture during the moment of
revelation, so deep is likely to be his discouragement with his powers
of creation, for, however fair he may feel his poem to be, it yet does
not fill the place of what he has lost. Thus Francis Thompson sighs over
the poet,

  When the embrace has failed, the rapture fled,
  Not he, not he, the wild sweet witch is dead,
  And though he cherisheth
  The babe most strangely born from out her death,
  Some tender trick of her it hath, maybe,
  It is not she.
  [Footnote: _Sister Songs_.]

We have called the poet an egotist, and surely, his attitude toward the
blind rout who have had no glimpse of the heavenly vision, is one of
contemptuous superiority. But like the priest in the temple, all his
arrogance vanishes when he ceases to harangue the congregation, and goes
into the secret place to worship. And toward anyone who sincerely seeks
the revelation, no matter how feeble his powers may be, the poet's
attitude is one of tenderest sympathy and comradeship. Alice Gary

      Hear me tell
  How much my will transcends my feeble powers,
  As one with blind eyes feeling out in flowers
  Their tender hues.
[Footnote: _To the Spirit of Song_.]

And there is not a poet in the last century of such prominence that he
does not reverence such a confession, [Footnote: Some poems showing the
similarity in such an attitude of great and small alike, follow:
_Epistle to Charles C. Clarke_, Keats; _The Soul's Expression_, Mrs.
Browning; _Memorial Verses to Wm. B. Scott_, Swinburne; _Sister Songs_,
_Proemion to Love in Dian's Lap_, _A Judgment in Heaven_, Francis
Thompson; _Urania_, Matthew Arnold; _There Have Been Vast Displays of
Critic Wit_, Alexander Smith; _Invita Minerva_ and _L'Envoi to the
Muse_, J. R. Lowell; _The Voiceless_, O. W. Holmes; _Fata Morgana_, and
_Epimetheus, or the Poet's Afterthought_, Longfellow; _L'Envoi_,
Kipling; _The Apology_, and _Gleam on Me, Fair Ideal_, Lewis Morris;
_Dedication to Austin Dobson_, E. Gosse; _A Country Nosegay_, and
_Gleaners of Fame_, Alfred Austin; _Another Tattered Rhymster in the
Ring_, G. K. Chesterton; _To Any Poet_, Alice Meynell; _The Singer_, and
_To a Lady on Chiding Me For Not Writing_, Richard Realf; _The Will and
the Wing_ and _Though Dowered with Instincts Keen and High_, P. H.
Haynes; _Dull Words_, Trumbull Stickney; _The Inner Passion_, Alfred
Noyes; _The Veiled Muse_, William Winter; _Sonnet_, William Bennett;
_Tell Me_, Max Ehrmann; _The Singer's Plea_, Edward Dowden; _Genius_, R.
H. Home; _My Country_, George Woodberry; _Uncalled_, Madison Cawein;
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, _At the Funeral of a Minor Poet_; Robert Haven
Schauffler, _Overtones, The Silent Singers_; Stephen Vincent Benet, _A
Minor Poet_; Alec de Candole, _The Poets_.] and aver that he too is an
earnest and humble suppliant in the temple of beauty. For the clearer
his glimpse of the transcendent vision has been, the more conscious he
is of his blindness after the glory has passed, and the more
unquenchable is his desire for a new and fuller revelation.



If English poets of the last century are more inclined to parade their
moral virtue than are poets of other countries, this may be the result
of a singular persistency on the part of England in searching out and
punishing sins ascribed to poetic temperament. Byron was banished;
Shelley was judged unfit to rear his own children; Keats was advertised
as an example of "extreme moral depravity"; [Footnote: By _Blackwoods_.]
Oscar Wilde was imprisoned; Swinburne was castigated as "an unclean
fiery imp from the pit." [Footnote: By _The Saturday Review_.] These are
some of the most conspicuous examples of a refusal by the British public
to countenance what it considers a code of morals peculiar to poets. It
is hardly to be wondered at that verse-writers of the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries have not been inclined to quarrel with Sir Philip
Sidney's statement that "England is the stepmother of poets," [Footnote:
_Apology for Poetry_.] and that through their writings should run a vein
of aggrieved protest against an unfair discrimination in dragging their
failings ruthlessly out to the light.

It cannot, however, be maintained that England is unique in her
prejudice against poetic morals. The charges against the artist have
been long in existence, and have been formulated and reformulated in
many countries. In fact Greece, rather than England, might with some
justice be regarded as the parent of the poet's maligners, for Plato has
been largely responsible for the hue and cry against the poet throughout
the last two millennia. Various as are the counts against the poet's
conduct, they may all be included under the declaration in the
_Republic_, "Poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of
withering and starving them; she lets them rule instead of ruling them."
[Footnote: Book X, 606, Jowett translation.]

Though the accusers of the poet are agreed that the predominance of
passion in his nature is the cause of his depravity, still they are a
heterogeneous company, suffering the most violent disagreement among
themselves as to a valid reason for pronouncing his passionate impulses
criminal. Their unfortunate victim is beset from so many directions that
he is sorely put to it to defend himself against one band of assailants
without exposing himself to attack from another quarter.

This hostile public may be roughly divided into three camps, made up,
respectively, of philistines, philosophers, and puritans. Within recent
years the distinct grievance of each group has been made articulate in a
formal denunciation of the artist's morals.

There is, first, that notorious indictment, _Degeneration_, by Max
Nordau. Nordau speaks eloquently for all who claim the name "average
plain citizen," all who would hustle off to the gallows anyone found
guilty of breaking the lockstep imposed upon men by convention.
Secondly, there is a severe criticism of the poet from an ostensibly
unbiased point of view, _The Man of Genius_, by Cesare Lombroso.
Herein are presented the arguments of the thinkers, who probe the poet's
foibles with an impersonal and scientific curiosity. Last, there is the
severe arraignment, _What Is Art?_ by Tolstoi. In this book are
crystallized the convictions of the ascetics, who recognize in beauty a
false goddess, luring men from the stern pursuit of holiness.

How does it come about that, in affirming the perniciousness of the
poet's passionate temperament, the man of the street, the philosopher,
and the puritan are for the nonce in agreement? The man of the street is
not averse to feeling, as a rule, even when it is carried to egregious
lengths of sentimentality. A stroll through a village when all the
victrolas are in operation would settle this point unequivocally for any
doubter. It seems that the philistine's quarrel with the poet arises
from the fact that, unlike the makers of phonograph records, the poet
dares to follow feeling in defiance of public sentiment. Like the
conservative that he is, the philistine gloats over the poet's lapses
from virtue because, in setting aside mass-feeling as a gauge of right
and wrong, and in setting up, instead, his own individual feelings as a
rule of conduct, the poet displays an arrogance that deserves a fall.
The philosopher, like the philistine, may tolerate feeling within
limits. His sole objection to the poet lies in the fact that, far from
making emotion the handmaiden of the reason, as the philosopher would
do, the poet exalts emotion to a seat above the reason, thus making
feeling the supreme arbiter of conduct. The puritan, of course, gives
vent to the most bitter hostility of all, for, unlike the philistine and
the philosopher, he regards natural feeling as wholly corrupt. Therefore
he condemns the poet's indulgence of his passionate nature with equal
severity whether he is within or without the popular confines of proper
conduct, or whether or not his conduct may be proved reasonable.

Much of the inconsistency in the poet's exhibitions of his moral
character may be traced to the fact that he is addressing now one, now
another, of his accusers. The sobriety of his arguments with the
philosopher has sometimes been interpreted by the man of the street as
cowardly side-stepping. On the other hand, the poet's bravado in defying
the man of the street might be interpreted by the philosopher as an
acknowledgment of imperviousness to reason.

It seems as though the first impulse of the poet were to set his back
against the wall and deal with all his antagonists at once, by
challenging their right to pry into his private conduct. It is true that
certain poets of the last century have believed it beneath their dignity
to pay any attention to the insults and persecution of the public. But
though a number have maintained an air of stolid indifference so long as
the attacks have remained personal, few or none have been content to
disregard defamation of a departed singer.

The public cannot maintain, in many instances, that this vicarious
indignation arises from a sense of sharing the frailties of the dead
poet who is the direct object of attack. Not thus may one account for
the generous heat of Whittier, of Richard Watson Gilder, of Robert
Browning, of Tennyson, in rebuking the public which itches to make a
posthumous investigation of a singer's character. [Footnote: See
Whittier, _My Namesake_; Richard W. Gilder, _A Poet's Protest_, and
_Desecration_; Robert Browning, _House_; Tennyson, _In Memoriam_.]
Tennyson affords a most interesting example of sensitiveness with
nothing, apparently, to conceal. There are many anecdotes of his morbid
shrinking from public curiosity, wholly in key with his cry of

      Now the poet cannot die
  Nor leave his music as of old,
  But round him ere he scarce be cold
  Begins the scandal and the cry:
  Proclaim the faults he would not show,
  Break lock and seal; betray the trust;
  Keep nothing sacred; 'tis but just
  The many-headed beast should know.

In protesting against the right of the public to judge their conduct,
true poets refuse to bring themselves to a level with their accusers by
making the easiest retort, that they are made of exactly the same clay
as is the _hoi polloi_ that assails them. This sort of recrimination is
characteristic of a certain blustering type of claimant for the title of
poet, such as Joaquin Miller, a rather disorderly American of the last
generation, who dismissed attacks upon the singer with the words,

  Yea, he hath sinned. Who hath revealed
  That he was more than man or less?
[Footnote: _Burns_ and _Byron_.]

The attitude is also characteristic of another anomalous type which
flourished in America fifty years ago, whose verse represents an
attempted fusion of emasculated poetry and philistine piety. A writer of
this type moralizes impartially over the erring bard and his accusers,

  Sin met thy brother everywhere,
  And is thy brother blamed?
  From passion, danger, doubt and care
  He no exemption claimed.
[Footnote: Ebenezer Eliot, _Burns_.]

But genuine poets refuse to compromise themselves by admitting that they
are no better than other men.

They are not averse, however, to pointing out the unfitness of the
public to cast the first stone. So unimpeachable a citizen as Longfellow
finds even in the notoriously spotted artist, Benvenuto Cellini, an
advantage over his maligners because

      He is not
  That despicable thing, a hypocrite.
[Footnote: _Michael Angelo_.]

Most of the faults charged to them, poets aver, exist solely in the evil
minds of their critics. Coleridge goes so far as to expurgate the poetry
of William Blake, "not for the want of innocence in the poem, but from
the too probable want of it in the readers." [Footnote: Letter to Charles
Augustus Tulk, Highgate, Thursday Evening, 1818, p. 684, Vol. II,
_Letters_, ed. E. Hartley Coleridge.]

The nakedness of any frailties which poets may possess, makes it the
more contemptible, they feel, for the public to wrap itself in the cloak
of hypocrisy before casting stones. The modern poet's weakness for
autobiographical revelation leaves no secret corners in his nature in
which surreptitious vices may lurk. One might generalize what Keats says
of Burns, "We can see horribly clear in the work of such a man his whole
life, as if we were God's spies." [Footnote: Sidney Colvin, _John Keats_,
p. 285.] The Rousseau-like nudity of the poet's soul is sometimes put
forward as a plea that the public should close its eyes to possible
shortcomings. Yet, as a matter of fact, it is precisely in the lack of
privacy characterizing the poet's life that his enemies find their
justification for concerning themselves with his morality. Since by
flaunting his personality in his verse he propagates his faults among
his admirers, the public is surely justified in pointing out and
denouncing his failings.

Poets cannot logically deny this. To do so, they would have to confess
that their inspirations are wholly unaffected by their personalities.
But this is, naturally, a very unpopular line of defense. That unhappy
worshiper of puritan morals and of the muses, J. G. Holland, does make
such a contention, averring,

  God finds his mighty way
  Into his verse. The dimmest window panes
  Let in the morning light, and in that light
  Our faces shine with kindled sense of God
  And his unwearied goodness, but the glass
  Gets little good of it; nay, it retains
  Its chill and grime beyond the power of light
  To warm or whiten ...
  ... The psalmist's soul
  Was not a fitting place for psalms like his
  To dwell in overlong, while wanting words.
[Footnote: _Kathrina._]

But the egotism of the average poet precludes this explanation. No more
deadly insult could be offered him than forgiveness of his sins on the
ground of their unimportance. Far from holding that his personality does
not affect his verse, he would have us believe that the sole worth of
his poetry lies in its reflection of his unique qualities of soul.
Elizabeth Barrett, not Holland, exhibits the typical poetic attitude
when she asks Robert Browning, "Is it true, as others say, that the
productions of an artist do not partake of his real nature,--that in the
minor sense, man is not made in the image of God? It is _not_ true,
to my mind." [Footnote: Letter to Robert Browning, February 3, 1845.]

The glass houses in which the poet's accusers may reside really have
nothing to do with the question. The immorality of these men is of
comparatively slight significance, whereas the importance of the poet's
personality is enormous, because it takes on immortality through his
works. Not his contemporaries alone, but readers of his verse yet unborn
have a right to call him to account for his faults. Though Swinburne
muses happily over the sins of Villon,

  But from thy feet now death hath washed the mire,
[Footnote: _A Ballad of Francois Villon._]
it is difficult to see how he could seriously have advanced such a
claim, inasmuch as, assuming Villon's sincerity, the reader, without
recourse to a biography, may reconstruct the whole course of his moral
history from his writings.

Unquestionably if the poet wishes to satisfy his enemies as to the
ethical worth of his poetry, he is under obligation to prove to them
that as "the man of feeling" he possesses only those impulses that lead
him toward righteousness. And though puritans, philosophers and
philistines quarrel over technical points in their conceptions of
virtue, still, if the poet is not a criminal, he should be able, by
making a plain statement of his innocence, to remove the most heinous
charges against him, which bind his enemies into a coalition.

There is no doubt that poets, as a class, have acknowledged the
obligation of proving that their lives are pure. But the effectiveness
of their statements has been largely dissipated by the fact that their
voices have been almost drowned by the clamor of a small coterie which
finds its chief delight in brazenly exaggerating the vices popularly
ascribed to it, then defending them as the poet's exclusive privilege.

So perennially does this group flourish, and so shrill-voiced are its
members in self-advertisement, that it is useless for other poets to
present their case, till the claims of the ostentatiously wicked are
heard. One is inclined, perhaps, to dismiss them as pseudo-poets, whose
only chance at notoriety is through enunciating paradoxes. In these days
when the school has shrunk to Ezra Pound and his followers, vaunting
their superiority to the public, "whose virgin stupidity is
untemptable," [Footnote: Ezra Pound, _Tensone._] it is easy to
dismiss the men and their verse thus lightly. But what is one to say
when one encounters the decadent school in the last century, flourishing
at a time when, in the words of George Augustus Scala, the public had to
choose between "the clever (but I cannot say moral) Mr. Swinburne, and
the moral (but I cannot say clever) Mr. Tupper?" [Footnote: See E.
Gosse, _Life of Swinburne,_ p. 162.] What is one to say of a period
wherein the figure of Byron, with his bravado and contempt for accepted
morality, towers above most of his contemporaries?

Whatever its justification, the excuse for the poets flaunting an
addiction to immorality lies in the obnoxiousness of the philistine
element among their enemies. When mass feeling, mass-morality, becomes
too oppressive, poets are wont to escape from its trammelling
conventions at any cost. Rather than consent to lay their emotions under
the rubber-stamp of expediency, they are likely to aver, with the
sophists of old, that morality is for slaves, whereas the rulers among
men, the poets, recognize no law but natural law.

Swinburne affords an excellent example of this type of reaction. Looking
back tolerantly upon his early prayers to the pagan ideal to

  Come down and redeem us from virtue,

upon his youthful zest in leaving

  The lilies and languors of virtue
  For the roses and raptures of vice,

he tried to dissect his motives. "I had," he said, "a touch of Byronic
ambition to be thought an eminent and terrible enemy to the decorous
life and respectable fashion of the world, and, as in Byron's case,
there was mingled with a sincere scorn and horror of hypocrisy a boyish
and voluble affectation of audacity and excess." [Footnote: E. Gosse,
_Life of Swinburne,_ p. 309.]

So far, so good. There is little cause for disagreement among poets,
however respectable or the reverse their own lives may be, in the
contention that the first step toward sincerity of artistic expression
must be the casting off of external restraints. Even the most
conservative of them is not likely to be seriously concerned if, for the
time being, he finds among the younger generation a certain exaggeration
of the pose of unrestraint. The respectability of Oliver Wendell Holmes
did not prevent his complacent musing over Tom Moore:

  If on his cheek unholy blood
  Burned for one youthful hour,
  'Twas but the flushing of the bud
  That bloomed a milk-white flower.
[Footnote: _After a Lecture on Moore_.]

One may lay it down as an axiom among poets that their ethical natures
must develop spontaneously, or not at all. An attempt to force one's
moral instincts will inevitably cramp and thwart one's art. It is
unparalleled to find so great a poet as Coleridge plaintively asserting,
"I have endeavored to feel what I ought to feel," [Footnote: Letter to
the Reverend George Coleridge, March 21, 1794.] and his brothers have
recoiled from his words. His declaration was, of course, not equivalent
to saying, "I have endeavored to feel what the world thinks I ought to
feel," but even so, one suspects that the philosophical part of
Coleridge was uppermost at the time of this utterance, and that his
obligatory feelings did not flower in a _Christabel_ or a _Kubla Khan_.

The real parting of the ways between the major and minor contingents of
poets comes when certain writers maintain, not merely their freedom from
conventional moral standards, but a perverse inclination to seek what
even they regard as evil. This is, presumably, a logical, if
unconscious, outgrowth of the romantic conception of art as "strangeness
added to beauty." For the decadents conceive that the loveliness of
virtue is an age-worn theme which has grown so obvious as to lose its
aesthetic appeal, whereas the manifold variety of vice contains
unexplored possibilities of fresh, exotic beauty. Hence there has been
on their part an ardent pursuit of hitherto undreamed-of sins, whose
aura of suggestiveness has not been rubbed off by previous artistic

The decadent's excuse for his vices is that his office is to reflect
life, and that indulgence of the senses quickens his apprehension of it.
He is apt to represent the artist as "a martyr for all mundane moods to
tear," [Footnote: See John Davidson, A Ballad in Blank Verse.] and to
indicate that he is unable to see life steadily and see it whole until
he has experienced the whole gamut of crime.[Footnote: See Oscar Wilde,
Ravenna; John Davidson, A Ballad in Blank Verse on the Making of a Poet,
A Ballad of an Artist's Wife; Arthur Symons, There's No Lust Like to
Poetry.] Such a view has not, of course, been confined to the nineteenth
century. A characteristic renaissance attitude toward life and art was
caught by Browning in a passage of _Sordello_. The hero, in a momentary
reaction from idealism, longs for the keener sensations arising from
vice and exclaims,

                             Leave untried
  Virtue, the creaming honey-wine; quick squeeze
  Vice, like a biting serpent, from the lees
  Of life! Together let wrath, hatred, lust,
  All tyrannies in every shape be thrust
  Upon this now.

Naturally Browning does not allow this thirst for evil to be more than a
passing impulse in Sordello's life.

The weakness of this recipe for poetic achievement stands revealed in
the cynicism with which expositions of the frankly immoral poet end. If
the quest of wickedness is a powerful stimulus to the emotions, it is a
very short-lived one. The blase note is so dominant in Byron's
autobiographical poetry,--the lyrics, _Childe Harold_ and _Don
Juan_--as to render quotation tiresome. It sounds no less inevitably
in the decadent verse at the other end of the century. Ernest Dowson's
_Villanelle of the Poet's Road_ is a typical expression of the
mood. Dowson's biography leaves no doubt of the sincerity of his lines,

  Wine and women and song,
  Three things garnish our way:
  Yet is day overlong.
  Three things render us strong,
  Vine-leaves, kisses and bay.
  Yet is day overlong.
Since the decadents themselves must admit that delight in sin kills,
rather than nurtures, sensibility, a popular defense of their practices
is to the effect that sin, far from being sought consciously, is an
inescapable result of the artist's abandonment to his feelings. Moreover
it is useful, they assert, in stirring up remorse, a very poetic
feeling, because it heightens one's sense of the beauty of holiness.
This view attained to considerable popularity during the Victorian
period, when sentimental piety and worship of Byron were sorely put to
it to exist side by side. The prevalence of the view that remorse is the
most reliable poetic stimulant is given amusing evidence in the
_Juvenalia_ of Tennyson [Footnote: See _Poems of Two Brothers_.]and
Clough, [Footnote: See _An Evening Walk in Spring_.] wherein these
youths of sixteen and seventeen, whose later lives were to prove so
innocuous, represent themselves as racked with the pangs of repentance
for mysteriously awful crimes. Mrs. Browning, an excellent recorder of
Victorian public opinion, ascribed a belief in the deplorable but
inevitable conjunction of crime and poetry to her literary friends, Miss
Mitford and Mrs. Jameson. Their doctrine, Mrs. Browning wrote, "is that
everything put into the poetry is taken out of the man and lost utterly
by him." [Footnote: See letters to Robert Browning, February 17, 1846;
May 1,1846.] Naturally, Mrs. Browning wholly repudiated the idea, and
Browning concurred in her judgment. "What is crime," he asked, "which
would have been prevented but for the 'genius' involved in it?--Poor,
cowardly, miscreated creatures abound--if you could throw genius into
their composition, they would become more degraded still, I suppose."
[Footnote: Letter to Elizabeth Barrett, April 4, 1846.]

Burns has been the great precedent for verse depicting the poet as
yearning for holiness, even while his importunate passions force him
into evil courses. One must admit that in the verse of Burns himself, a
yearning for virtue is not always obvious, for he seems at times to take
an unholy delight in contemplating his own failings, as witness the
_Epistle to Lapraik_, and his repentance seems merely perfunctory,
as in the lines,

  There's ae wee faut they whiles lay to me,
    I like the lassies--Gude forgie me.

But in _The Vision_ he accounts for his failings as arising from his
artist's temperament. The muse tells him,

  I saw thy pulses' maddening play,
  Wild, send thee Pleasure's devious way,
  And yet the light that led astray
  Was light from Heaven.

And in _A Bard's Epitaph_ he reveals himself as the pathetic, misguided
poet who has been a favorite in verse ever since his time.

Sympathy for the well-meaning but misguided singer reached its height
about twenty years ago, when new discoveries about Villon threw a glamor
over the poet of checkered life. [Footnote: See Edwin Markham, _Villon_;
Swinburne, _Burns_, _A Ballad of Francois Villon_.] At the same time
Verlaine and Baudelaire in France, [Footnote: See Richard Hovey,
_Verlaine_; Swinburne, _Ave atque Vale_.] and Lionel Johnson, Francis
Thompson, Ernest Dowson, and James Thomson, B. V., in England, appeared
to prove the inseparability of genius and especial temptation. At this
time Francis Thompson, in his poetry, presented one of the most moving
cases for the poet of frail morals, and concluded

  What expiating agony
  May for him damned to poesy
  Shut in that little sentence be,--
  What deep austerities of strife,--
  He lived his life. He lived his life.
[Footnote: _A Judgment in Heaven_.]

Such sympathetic portrayal of the erring poet perhaps hurts his case
more than does the bravado of the extreme decadent group. Philistines,
puritans and philosophers alike are prone to turn to such expositions as
the one just quoted and point out that it is in exact accord with their
charge against the poet,--namely, that he is more susceptible to
temptation than is ordinary humanity, and that therefore the proper
course for true sympathizers would be, not to excuse his frailties, but
to help him crush the germs of poetry out of his nature. "Genius is a
disease of the nerves," is Lombroso's formulation of the charge.
[Footnote: _The Man of Genius_.] Nordau points out that the disease
is steadily increasing in these days of specialization, and that the
overkeenness of the poet's senses in one particular direction throws his
nature out of balance, so that he lacks the poise to withstand

Fortunately, it is a comparatively small number of poets that surrenders
to the enemy by conceding either the poet's deliberate indulgence in
sin, or his pitiable moral frailty. If one were tempted to believe that
this defensive portrayal of the sinful poet is in any sense a major
conception in English poetry, the volley of repudiative verse greeting
every outcropping of the degenerate's self-exposure would offer a
sufficient disproof. In the romantic movement, for instance, one finds
only Byron (among persons of importance) to uphold the theory of the
perverted artist, whereas a chorus of contradiction greets each
expression of his theories.

In the van of the recoil against Byronic morals one finds Crabbe,
[Footnote: See _Edmund Shore_, _Villars_.] Praed [Footnote: See _The
Talented Man_, _To Helen with Crabbe's Poetry_.] and Landor. [Footnote:
See _Few Poets Beckon_, _Apology for Gebir_.] Later, when the wave of
Byronic influence had time to reach America, Longfellow took up the
cudgels against the evil poet. [Footnote: See his treatment of Aretino,
in _Michael Angelo_.] Protest against the group of decadents who
flourished in the 1890's even yet rocks the poetic waves slightly,
though these men did not succeed in making the world take them as
seriously as it did Byron. The cue of most present-day writers is to
dismiss the professedly wicked poet lightly, as an aspirant to the
laurel who is unworthy of serious consideration. A contemporary poet
reflects of such would-be riders of Pegasus:

  There will be fools that in the name of art
  Will wallow in the mire, crying, "I fall,
  I fall from heaven!" fools that have only heard
  From earth, the murmur of those golden hooves
  Far, far above them.
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _At the Sign of the Golden Shoe_. See also
Richard Le Gallienne, _The Decadent to his Soul_, _Proem to the
Reader in English Poems_; Joyce Kilmer, _A Ballad of New Sins_.]

Poets who indignantly repudiate any and all charges against their moral
natures have not been unanimous in following the same line of defense.
In many cases their argument is empirical, and their procedure is
ideally simple. If a verse-writer of the present time is convicted of
wrong living, his title of poet is automatically taken away from him; if
a singer of the past is secure in his laurels, it is understood that all
scandals regarding him are merely malicious fictions. In the eighteenth
century this mode of passing judgment was most naively manifest in
verse. Vile versifiers were invariably accused of having vile personal
lives, whereas the poet who basked in the light of fame was conceded,
without investigation, to "exult in virtue's pure ethereal flame." In
the nineteenth century, when literary criticism was given over to
prose-writers, those ostensible friends of the poets held by the same
simple formula, as witness the attempts to kill literary and moral
reputation at one blow, which were made, at various times, by Lockhart,
Christopher North and Robert Buchanan. [Footnote: Note their respective
attacks on Keats, Swinburne and Rossetti.]

It may indicate a certain weakness in this hard and fast rule that
considerable difficulty is encountered in working it backward. The
highest virtue does not always entail a supreme poetic gift, though
poets and their friends have sometimes implied as much. Southey, in his
critical writings, is likely to confuse his own virtue and that of his
protege, Kirke White, with poetical excellence. Longfellow's,
Whittier's, Bryant's strength of character has frequently been
represented by patriotic American critics as guaranteeing the quality of
their poetical wares.

Since a claim for the insunderability of virtue and genius seems to lead
one to unfortunate conclusions, it has been rashly conceded in certain
quarters that the virtue of a great poet may have no immediate
connection with his poetic gift. It is conceived by a few nervously
moral poets that morality and art dwell in separate spheres, and that
the first transcends the second. Tennyson started a fashion for viewing
the two excellences as distinct, comparing them, in _In Memoriam_:

  Loveliness of perfect deeds,
  More strong than all poetic thought,

and his disciples have continued to speak in this strain. This is the
tenor, for instance, of Jean Ingelow's _Letters of Life and Morning_, in
which she exhorts the young poet,

      Learn to sing,
  But first in all thy learning, learn to be.

The puritan element in American literary circles, always troubling the
conscience of a would-be poet, makes him eager to protest that virtue,
not poetry, holds his first allegiance.

  He held his manly name
  Far dearer than the muse,
[Footnote: J. G. Saxe, _A Poet's Elegy_.]

we are told of one poet-hero. The good Catholic verse of Father Ryan
carries a warning of the merely fortuitous connection between poets'
talent and their respectability, averring,

  They are like angels, but some angels fell.
[Footnote: _Poets_.]

Even Whittier is not sure that poetical excellence is worthy to be
mentioned in the same breath as virtue, and he writes,

  Dimmed and dwarfed, in times like these
  The poet seems beside the man;
  His life is now his noblest strain.
[Footnote: _To Bryant on His Birthday_.]

When the poet of more firmly grounded conviction attempts to show reason
for his confidence in the poet's virtue, he may advance such an argument
for the association of righteousness and genius as has been offered by
Carlyle in his essay, _The Hero as Poet_. This is the theory that, far
from being an example of nervous degeneration, as his enemies assert,
the poet is a superman, possessing will and moral insight in as
preeminent a degree as he possesses sensibility. This view, that poetry
is merely a by-product of a great nature, gains plausibility from
certain famous artists of history, whose versatility appears to have
been unlimited. Longfellow has seized upon this conception of the poet
in his drama, _Michael Angelo_, as has G. L. Raymond in his drama,
_Dante_. In the latter poem the argument for the poet's moral supremacy
is baldly set forth.

Artistic sensibility, Dante says, far from excusing moral laxity, binds
one to stricter standards of right living. So when Cavalcanti argues in
favor of free love,

  Your humming birds may sip the sweet they need
  From every flower, and why not humming poets?

Raymond makes Dante reply,

  The poets are not lesser men, but greater,
  And so should find unworthy of themselves
  A word, a deed, that makes them seem less worthy.

Owing to the growth of specialization in modern life, this argument,
despite Carlyle, has not attained much popularity. Even in idealized
fictions of the poet, it is not often maintained that he is equally
proficient in every line of activity. Only one actual poet within our
period, William Morris, can be taken as representative of such a type,
and he does not afford a strong argument for the poet's distinctive
virtue, inasmuch as tradition does not represent him as numbering
remarkable saintliness among his numerous gifts.

There is a decided inconsistency, moreover, in claiming unusual strength
of will as one of the poet's attributes. The muscular morality resulting
from training one's will develops in proportion to one's ability to
overthrow one's own unruly impulses. It is almost universally maintained
by poets, on the contrary, that their gift depends upon their yielding
themselves utterly to every fugitive impulse and emotion. Little modern
verse vaunts the poet's stern self-control. George Meredith may cry,

      I take the hap
  Of all my deeds. The wind that fills my sails
  Propels, but I am helmsman.
[Footnote: _Modern Love_.]

Henley may thank the gods for his unconquerable soul. On the whole,
however, a fatalistic temper is much easier to trace in modern poetry
than is this one.

Hardly more popular than the superman theory is another argument for the
poet's virtue that appears sporadically in verse. It has occurred to a
few poets that their virtue is accounted for by the high subject-matter
of their work, which exercises an unconscious influence upon their
lives. Thus in the eighteenth century Young finds it natural that in
Addison, the author of _Cato_,

  Virtues by departed heroes taught
  Raise in your soul a pure immortal flame,
  Adorn your life, and consecrate your fame.
[Footnote: _Lines to Mr. Addison_.]

Middle-class didactic poetry of the Victorian era expresses the same
view. Tupper is sure that the true poet will live

  With pureness in youth and religion in age.
[Footnote: _What Is a Poet_.]

since he conceives as the function of poetry

  To raise and purify the grovelling soul,
       *        *        *        *        *
  And the whole man with lofty thoughts to fill.
[Footnote: _Poetry_.]

This explanation may account for the piety of a Newman, a Keble, a
Charles Wesley, but how can it be stretched to cover the average poet of
the last century, whose subject-matter is so largely himself? Conforming
his conduct to the theme of his verse would surely be no more
efficacious than attempting to lift himself by his own boot straps.

These two occasional arguments leave the real issue untouched. The real
ground for the poet's faith in his moral intuitions lies in his
subscription to the old Platonic doctrine of the trinity,--the
fundamental identity of the good, the true and the beautiful.

There is something in the nature of a practical joke in the facility
with which Plato's bitter enemies, the poets, have fitted to themselves
his superlative praise of the philosopher's virtue. [Footnote: See the
_Republic_, VI, 485, ff.] The moral instincts of the philosopher
are unerring, Plato declares, because the philosopher's attention is
riveted upon the unchanging idea of the good which underlies the
confusing phantasmagoria of the temporal world. The poets retort that
the moral instincts of the poet, more truly than of the philosopher, are
unerring, because the poet's attention is fixed upon the good in its
most ravishing aspect, that of beauty, and in this guise it has an
irresistible charm which it cannot hold even for the philosopher.

Poets' convictions on this point have remained essentially unchanged
throughout the history of poetry. Granted that there has been a strain
of deliberate perversity running through its course, cropping out in the
erotic excesses of the late-classic period, springing up anew in one
phase of the Italian renaissance, transplanted to France and England,
where it appeared at the time of the English restoration, growing again
in France at the time of the literary revolution, thence spreading
across the channel into England again. Yet this is a minor current. The
only serious view of the poet's moral nature is that nurtured by the
Platonism of every age. Milton gave it the formulation most familiar to
English ears, but Milton by no means originated it. Not only from his
Greek studies, but from his knowledge of contemporary Italian aesthetics,
he derived the idea of the harmony between the poet's life and his
creations which led him to maintain that it is the poet's privilege to
make of his own life a true poem.

"I am wont day and night," says Milton, "to seek for this idea of the
beautiful through all the forms and faces of things (for many are the
shapes of things divine) and to follow it leading me on as with certain
assured traces." [Footnote: Prose works, Vol. I, Letter VII, Symons ed.]
The poet's feeling cannot possibly lead him astray when his sense of
beauty affords him a talisman revealing all the ugliness and
repulsiveness of evil. Even Byron had, in theory at least, a glimmering
sense of the anti-poetical character of evil, leading him to cry,

      Tis not in
  The harmony of things--this hard decree,
  This ineradicable taint of sin,
  This boundless upas, this all-blasting tree
  Whose root is earth.
[Footnote: _Childe Harold_.]

If Byron could be brought to confess the inharmonious nature of evil, it
is obvious that to most poets the beauty of goodness has been
undeniable. In the eighteenth century Collins and Hughes wrote poems
wherein they elaborated Milton's argument for the unity of the good and
the beautiful.[Footnote: Collins, _Ode on the Poetical Character_;
John Hughes, _Ode on Divine Poetry_.] Among the romantic poets, the
Platonism of Coleridge,[Footnote: See his essay on Claudian, where he
says, "I am pleased to think that when a mere stripling I formed the
opinion that true taste was virtue, and that bad writing was bad
feeling."] Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats was unflinching in this
particular. The Brownings subscribed to the doctrine. Tennyson's
allegiance to scientific naturalism kept him in doubt for a time, but in
the end his faith in beauty triumphed, and he was ready to praise the
poet as inevitably possessing a nature exquisitely attuned to goodness.
One often runs across dogmatic expression of the doctrine in minor
poetry. W. A. Percy advises the poet,

  O singing heart, think not of aught save song,
  Beauty can do no wrong.
[Footnote: _Song_.]

Again one hears of the singer,

      Pure must he be;
  Oh, blessed are the pure; for they shall hear
  Where others hear not; see where others see
  With a dazed vision,
[Footnote: Henry Timrod, _A Vision of Poesy_.]

and again,

  To write a poem, a man should be as pure
  As frost-flowers.
[Footnote: T. L. Harris, _Lyrics of the Golden Age_.]

Only recently a writer has pictured the poet as one who

      Lived beyond men, and so stood
  Admitted to the brotherhood
  Of beauty.
[Footnote: Madison Cawein, _The Dreamer of Dreams_.]

It is needless to run through the list of poet heroes. Practically all
of them look to a single standard to govern them aesthetically and
morally. They are the sort of men whom Watts-Dunton praises,

Whose poems are their lives, whose souls within Hold naught in dread
save Art's high conscience bar, Who know how beauty dies at touch of
sin. [Footnote: _The Silent Voices_.]

Such is the poet's case for himself. But no matter how eloquently he
presents his case, his quarrel with his three enemies remains almost as
bitter as before, and he is obliged to pay some attention to their
individual charges.

The poet's quarrel with the philistine, in particular, is far from
settled. The more lyrical the poet becomes regarding the unity of the
good and the beautiful, the more skeptical becomes the plain man. What
is this about the irresistible charm of virtue? Virtue has possessed the
plain man's joyless fidelity for years, and he has never discovered any
charm in her. The poet possesses a peculiar power of insight which
reveals in goodness hidden beauties to which ordinary humanity is blind?
Let him prove it, then, by being as good in the same way as ordinary
folk are. If the poet professes to be able to achieve righteousness
without effort, the only way to prove it is to conform his conduct to
that of men who achieve righteousness with groaning of spirit. It is too
easy for the poet to justify any and every aberration with the
announcement, "My sixth sense for virtue, which you do not possess, has
revealed to me the propriety of such conduct." Thus reasons the

The beauty-blind philistine doubtless has some cause for bewilderment,
but the poet takes no pains to placate him. The more genuine is one's
impulse toward goodness, the more inevitably, the poet says, will it
bring one into conflict with an artificial code of morals. Shelley
indicated this at length in _The Defense of Poetry_, and in both
_Rosalind and Helen_ and _The Revolt of Islam_ he showed his bards
offending the world by their original conceptions of purity. Likewise of
the poet-hero in _Prince Athanase_ Shelley tells us,

  Fearless he was, and scorning all disguise.
  What he dared do or think, though men might start
  He spoke with mild, yet unaverted eyes.

It must be admitted that sometimes, notably in Victorian narrative
verse, the fictitious poet's virtue is inclined to lapse into a
typically bourgeois respectability. In Mrs. Browning's _Aurora
Leigh_, for instance, the heroine's morality becomes somewhat rigid,
and when she rebukes the unmarried Marian for bearing a child, and
chides Romney for speaking tenderly to her after his supposed marriage
with Lady Waldemar, the reader is apt to sense in her a most unpoetical
resemblance to Mrs. Grundy. And if Mrs. Browning's poet is almost too
respectable, she is still not worthy to be mentioned in the same breath
with the utterly innocuous poet set forth by another Victorian, Coventry
Patmore. In Patmore's poem, _Olympus_, the bard decides to spend an
evening with his own sex, but he is offended by the cigar smoke and the
coarse jests, and flees home to

  The milk-soup men call domestic bliss.

Likewise, in _The Angel in the House_, the poet follows a most
domestic line of orderly living. Only once, in the long poem, does he
fall below the standard of conduct he sets for himself. This sin
consists of pressing his sweetheart's hand in the dance, and after
shamefacedly confessing it, he adds,

  And ere I slept, on bended knee
  I owned myself, with many a tear
  Unseasonable, disorderly.

But so distasteful, to the average poet, is such cringing subservience
to philistine standards, that he takes delight in swinging to the other
extreme, and representing the innocent poet's persecutions at the hands
of an unfriendly world. He insists that in venturing away from
conventional standards poets merit every consideration, being

      Tall galleons,
  Out of their very beauty driven to dare
  The uncompassed sea, founder in starless night.
[Footnote: _At the Sign of the Golden Shoe_, Alfred Noyes.]

He is convinced that the public, far from sympathizing with such
courage, deliberately tries to drive the poet to desperation. Josephine
Preston Peabody makes Marlowe inveigh against the public,

      My sins they learn by rote,
  And never miss one; no, no miser of them,
       *        *        *        *        *
  Avid of foulness, so they hound me out
  Away from blessing that they prate about,
  But never saw, and never dreamed upon,
  And know not how to long for with desire.
[Footnote: _Marlowe_.]

In the same spirit Richard Le Gallienne, in lines _On the Morals of
Poets_, warns their detractor,

  Bigot, one folly of the man you flout
  Is more to God than thy lean life is whole.

If it be true that the poet occasionally commits an error, he points out
that it is the result of the philistine's corruption, not his own. He
acknowledges that it is fatally easy to lead him, not astray perhaps,
but into gravely compromising himself, because he is characterized by a
childlike inability to comprehend the very existence of sin in the
world. Of course his environment has a good deal to do with this. The
innocent shepherd poet, shut off from crime by many a grassy hill and
purling stream, has a long tradition behind him. The most typical
pastoral poet of our period, the hero of Beattie's _The Minstrel_,
suffers a rude shock when an old hermit reveals to him that all the
world is not as fair and good as his immediate environment. The
innocence of Wordsworth, and of the young Sordello, were fostered by
like circumstances. Arnold conceives of Clough in this way, isolating
him in Oxford instead of Arcadia, and represents him as dying from the
shock of awakening to conditions as they are. But environment alone does
not account for a large per cent of our poet heroes, the tragedy of
whose lives most often results from a pathetic inability to recognize
evil motives when they are face to face with them.

Insistence upon the childlike nature of the poet is a characteristic
nineteenth century obsession. Such temperamentally diverse poets as Mrs.
Browning, [Footnote: See _A Vision of Poets_.] Swinburne [Footnote:
See _A New Year's Ode_.] and Francis Thompson [Footnote: See _Sister
Songs_.] agree in stressing this aspect of the poet's virtue. Perhaps it
has been overdone, and the resulting picture of the singer as "an
ineffectual angel, beating his bright wings in the void," is not so
noble a conception as was Milton's sterner one, but it lends to the
poet-hero a pathos that has had much to do with popularizing the type in
literature, causing the reader to exclaim, with Shelley,

      The curse of Cain
  Light on his head who pierced thy innocent breast
  And scared the angel soul that was its earthly guest.

Of course the vogue of such a conception owes most to Shelley. All the
poets appearing in Shelley's verse, the heroes of _Rosalind and Helen,
The Revolt of Islam, Adonais, Epipsychidion_ and _Prince Athanase_,
share the disposition of the last-named one:

  Naught of ill his heart could understand,
  But pity and wild sorrow for the same.

It is obvious that all these singers are only veiled expositions of
Shelley's own character, as he understood it, and all enthusiastic
readers of Shelley's poetry have pictured an ideal poet who is
reminiscent of Shelley. Even a poet so different from him, in many
respects, as Browning, could not escape from the impress of Shelley's
character upon his ideal. Browning seems to have recognized fleeting
glimpses of Shelley in _Sordello_, and to have acknowledged them in
his apostrophe to Shelley at the beginning of that poem. Browning's
revulsion of feeling, after he discovered Shelley's abandonment of
Harriet, did not prevent him from holding to his early ideal of Shelley
as the typical poet. A poem by James Thomson, B.V., is characteristic of
later poets' notion of Shelley. The scene of the poem is laid in heaven.
Shelley, as the most compassionate of the angels, is chosen to go to the
earth, to right its evils. He comes to this world and lives with "the
saint's white purity," being

  A voice of right amidst a world's foul wrong,
       *       *       *       *       *
  With heavenly inspiration, too divine
  For souls besotted with earth's sensual wine.
[Footnote: _Shelley_.]

Consequently he is misunderstood and persecuted, and returns to heaven
heart-broken by the apparent failure of his mission.

Aside from Shelley, Marlowe is the historical poet most frequently
chosen to illustrate the world's proneness to take advantage of the
poet's innocence. In the most famous of the poems about Marlowe, _The
Death of Marlowe_, R. H. Horne takes a hopeful view of the world's
depravity, for he makes Marlowe's innocence of evil so touching that it
moves a prostitute to reform. Other poets, however, have painted
Marlowe's associates as villains of far deeper dye. In the drama by
Josephine Preston Peabody, the persecutions of hypocritical puritans
hound Marlowe to his death. [Footnote: _Marlowe._]

The most representative view of Marlowe as an innocent, deceived youth
is that presented by Alfred Noyes, in _At the Sign of the Golden
Shoe_. In this poem we find Nash describing to the Mermaid group
thetragic end of Marlowe, who lies

  Dead like a dog in a drunken brawl,
  Dead for a phial of paint, a taffeta gown.

While there float in from the street, at intervals, the cries of the
ballad-mongers hawking their latest doggerel,

  Blaspheming Tamborlin must die,
  And Faustus meet his end;
  Repent, repent, or presently
  To hell you must descend,

Nash tells his story of the country lad who walked to London, bringing
his possessions carried on a stick over his shoulder, bringing also,
  All unshielded, all unarmed,
  A child's heart, packed with splendid hopes and dreams.

His manner,

  Untamed, adventurous, but still innocent,

exposed him to the clutches of the underworld. One woman, in particular,

  Used all her London tricks
  To coney-catch the country greenhorn.

Won by her pathetic account of her virtues and trials Marlowe tried to
help her to escape from London-then, because he was utterly unused to
the wiles of women, and was

  Simple as all great, elemental things,

when she expressed an infatuation for him, then

  In her treacherous eyes,
  As in dark pools the mirrored stars will gleam,
  Here did he see his own eternal skies.
       *        *        *        *        *
  And all that God had meant to wake one day
  Under the Sun of Love, suddenly woke
  By candle-light, and cried, "The Sun, the Sun."

At last, holding him wrapped in her hair, the woman attempted to
tantalize him by revealing her promiscuous amours. In a horror of agony
and loathing, Marlowe broke away from her. The next day, as Nash was
loitering in a group including this woman and her lover, Archer, someone
ran in to warn Archer that a man was on his way to kill him. As Marlowe
strode into the place, Nash was struck afresh by his beauty:

  I saw his face,
  Pale, innocent, just the clear face of that boy
  Who walked to Cambridge, with a bundle and stick,
  The little cobbler's son. Yet--there I caught
  My only glimpse of how the sun-god looked--

Mourning for his death, the great dramatists agree that

  His were, perchance, the noblest steeds of all,
  And from their nostrils blew a fierier dawn
  Above the world.... Before his hand
  Had learned to quell them, he was dashed to earth.

Minor writers are most impartial in clearing the names of any and all
historical artists by such reasoning as this. By negligible American
versifiers one too often finds Burns lauded as one whom "such purity
inspires," [Footnote: A. S. G., _Burns_.] and, more astonishingly,
Byron conceived of as a misjudged innocent. If one is surprised to hear,
in verse on Byron's death,

  His cherub soul has passed to its eclipse,
[Footnote: T. H. Chivers, _On the Death of Byron_.]

this fades into insignificance beside the consolation offered Byron by
another writer for his trials in this world,

  Peace awaits thee with caressings,
  Sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Better known poets are likely to admit a streak of imperfection in a few
of their number, while maintaining their essential goodness. It is
refreshing, after witnessing too much whitewashing of Burns, to find
James Russell Lowell bringing Burns down to a level where the attacks of
philistines, though unwarranted, are not sacrilegious. Lowell imagines
Holy Willie trying to shut Burns out of heaven. He accuses Burns first
of irreligion, but St. Paul protests against his exclusion on that
ground. At the charges of drunkenness, and of yearning "o'er-warmly
toward the lasses," Noah and David come severally to his defense. In the
end, Burns' great charity is felt to offset all his failings, and Lowell
adds, of poets in general,

  These larger hearts must feel the rolls
  Of stormier-waved temptation;
  These star-wide souls beneath their poles
  Bear zones of tropic passion.
[Footnote: _At the Burns Centennial_.]

Browning is willing to allow even fictitious artists to be driven into
imperfect conduct by the failure of those about them to live up to their
standards. For example, Fra Lippo Lippi, disgusted with the barren
virtue of the monks, confesses,

  I do these wild things in sheer despite
  And play the fooleries you catch me at
  In sheer rage.

But invariably, whatever a poet hero's failings maybe, the author
assures the philistine public that it is entirely to blame.

If the poet is unable to find common ground with the plain man on which
he can make his morality sympathetically understood, his quarrel with
the puritan is foredoomed to unsuccessful issue, for whereas the plain
man will wink at a certain type of indulgence, the puritan will be
satisfied with nothing but iron restraint on the poet's part, and
systematic thwarting of the impulses which are the breath of life to

The poet's only hope of winning in his argument with the puritan lies in
the possibility that the race of puritans is destined for extinction.
Certainly they were much more numerous fifty years ago than now, and
consequently more voluble in their denunciation of the poet. At that
time they found their most redoubtable antagonists in the Brownings.
Robert Browning devoted a poem, _With Francis Furini_, to exposing the
incompatibility of asceticism and art, while Mrs. Browning, in _The
Poet's Vow_, worked out the tragic consequences of the hero's mistaken
determination to retire from the world,

  That so my purged, once human heart,
  From all the human rent,
  May gather strength to pledge and drink
  Your wine of wonderment,
  While you pardon me all blessingly
  The woe mine Adam sent.

In the end Mrs. Browning makes her poet realize that he is crushing the
best part of his nature by thus thwarting his human instincts.

No, the poet's virtue must not be a pruning of his human nature, but a
flowering of it. Nowhere are the Brownings more in sympathy than in
their recognition of this fact. In _Pauline_, Browning traces the poet's
mistaken effort to find goodness in self-restraint and denial. It is a
failure, and the poem ends with the hero's recognition that "life is
truth, and truth is good." The same idea is one of the leading motives
in _Sordello_.

One seems to be coming perilously near the decadent poet's argument
again. And there remains to be dealt with a poet more extreme than
Browning--Walt Whitman, who challenges us with his slogan, "Clear and
sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,"
[Footnote: _Song of Myself_.] and then records his zest in throwing
himself into all phases of life.

It is plain, at any rate, how the abandon of the decadent might develop
from the poet's insistence upon his need to follow impulse utterly, to
develop himself in all directions. The cry of Browning's poet in

  I had resolved
  No age should come on me ere youth was spent,
  For I would wear myself out,

Omar Khayyam's

  While you live
  Drink!--for once dead you never shall return,

Swinburne's cry of despair,

  Thou has conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has
  grown gray with thy breath;
  We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the
  fullness of death,[Footnote: _Hymn to Proserpine_.]

show that in a revulsion from the asceticism of the puritan, no less
than in a revulsion from the stupidity of the plain man, it may become
easy for the poet to carry his _carpe diem_ philosophy very far. His
talisman, pure love of beauty, must be indeed unerring if it is to
guide aright his

  principle of restlessness
  That would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel, all
[Footnote: _Pauline_.]

The puritan sees, with grim pleasure, that an occasional poet confesses
that his sense of beauty is not strong enough to lead him at all times.
Emerson admits this, telling us, in _The Poet_, that although the
singer perceives ideals in his moments of afflatus which

  Turn his heart from lovely maids,
  And make the darlings of the earth
  Swainish, coarse, and nothing worth,

these moments of exaltation pass, and the singer finds himself a mere
man, with an unusually rich sensuous nature,

  Eager for good, not hating ill;
  On his tense chords all strokes are felt,
  The good, the bad, with equal zeal.

It is not unheard-of to find a poet who, despite occasional expressions
of confidence in the power of beauty to sustain him, loses his courage
at other times, and lays down a system of rules for his guidance that is
quite as strict as any which puritans could formulate. Wordsworth's
_Ode to Duty_ does not altogether embody the aesthetic conception
of effortless right living. One may, perhaps, explain this poem on the
grounds that Wordsworth is laying down principles of conduct, not for
poets, but for the world at large, which is blind to aesthetic
principles. Not thus, however, may one account for the self-tortures of
Arthur Clough, or of Christina Rossetti, who was fully aware of the
disagreeableness of the standards which she set up for herself. She
reflected grimly,

  Does the road wind uphill all the way?
  Yes, to the very end!
  Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
  From morn till night, my friend.
[Footnote: _Uphill._]

It cannot be accidental, however, that wherever a poet voices a stern
conception of virtue, he is a poet whose sensibility to physical beauty
is not noteworthy.  This is obviously true in the case of both Clough
and Christina Rossetti. At intervals it was true of Wordsworth, whereas
in the periods of his inspiration he expressed his belief that goodness
is as a matter of good taste. The pleasures of the imagination were then
so intense that they destroyed in him all desire for dubious delights.
Thus in the _Prelude_ he described an unconscious purification of
his life by his worship of physical beauty, saying of nature,

  If in my youth I have been pure in heart,
  If, mingling with the world, I am content
  With my own modest pleasures, and have lived
  With God and Nature communing, removed
  From little enmities and low desires,
  The gift is yours.

Dante Gabriel, not Christina, possessed the most purely poetical nature
in the Rossetti family, and his moral conceptions were the typical
aesthetic ones, as incomprehensible to the puritan as they were to
Ruskin, who exclaimed, "I don't say you do wrong, because you don't seem
to know what is wrong, but you do just whatever you like as far as
possible--as puppies and tomtits do." [Footnote: See E. L. Cary, The
Rossettis, p.79.] To poets themselves however, there appears nothing
incomprehensible about the inevitable rightness of their conduct, for
they have not passed out of the happy stage of Wordsworth's _Ode to

  When love is an unerring light,
  And joy its own felicity.

For the most part, whenever the puritan imagines that the poet has
capitulated, he is mistaken, and the apparent self-denial in the poet's
life is really an exquisite sort of epicureanism. The likelihood of such
misunderstanding by the world is indicated by Browning in _Sordello,_
wherein the hero refuses to taste the ordinary pleasures of life,
because he wishes to enjoy the flavor of the highest pleasure untainted.
He resolves,

  The world shall bow to me conceiving all
  Man's life, who see its blisses, great and small
  Afar--not tasting any; no machine
  To exercise my utmost will is mine,
  Be mine mere consciousness: Let men perceive
  What I could do, a mastery believe
  Asserted and established to the throng
  By their selected evidence of song,
  Which now shall prove, whate'er they are, or seek
  To be, I am.

The claims of the puritans being set aside, the poet must, finally, meet
the objection of his third disputant, the philosopher, the one accuser
whose charges the poet is wont to treat with respect. What validity, the
philosopher asks, can be claimed for apprehension of truth, of the
good-beautiful, secured not through the intellect, but through emotion?
What proof has the poet that feeling is as unerring in detecting the
essential nature of the highest good as is the reason?

There is great variance in the breach between philosophers and poets on
this point. Between the philosopher of purely rationalistic temper, and
the poet who

                                      dares to take
  Life's rule from passion craved for passion's sake,
[Footnote: Said of Byron. Wordsworth, _Not in the Lucid Intervals._]

there is absolutely no common ground, of course.  Such a poet finds the
rigid ethical system of a rationalistic philosophy as uncharacteristic
of the actual fluidity of the world as ever Cratylus did. Feeling, but
not reason, may be swift enough in its transformations to mirror the
world, such a poet believes, and he imitates the actual flux of things,
not with a wagging of the thumb, like Cratylus, but with a flutter of
the heart. Thus one finds Byron characteristically asserting, "I hold
virtue, in general, or the virtues generally, to be only in the
disposition, each a _feeling,_ not a principle." [Footnote: _Letter to
Charles Dallas,_ January 21, 1808.]

On the other hand, one occasionally meets a point of view as opposite as
that of Poe, who believed that the poet, no less than the philosopher,
is governed by reason solely,--that the poetic imagination is a purely
intellectual function. [Footnote: See the _Southern Literary
Messenger,_ II, 328, April, 1836.]

The philosopher could have no quarrel with him. Between the two extremes
are the more thoughtful of the Victorian poets,--Browning, Tennyson,
Arnold, Clough, whose taste leads them so largely to intellectual
pursuits that it is difficult to say whether their principles of moral
conduct arise from the poetical or the philosophical part of their

The most profound utterances of poets on this subject, however, show
them to be, not rationalists, but thoroughgoing Platonists. The feeling
in which they trust is a Platonic intuition which includes the reason,
but exists above it. At least this is the view of Shelley, and Shelley
has, more largely than any other man, moulded the beliefs of later
English poets. It is because he judges imaginative feeling to be always
in harmony with the deepest truths perceived by the reason that he
advertises his intention to purify men by awakening their feelings.
Therefore, in his preface to _The Revolt of Islam_ he says "I would
only awaken the feelings, so that the reader should see the beauty of
true virtue." in the preface to the _Cenci,_ again, he declares,
"Imagination is as the immortal God which should take flesh for the
redemption of human passion."

The poet, while thus expressing absolute faith in the power of beauty to
redeem the world, yet is obliged to take into account the Platonic
distinction between the beautiful and the lover of the beautiful.
[Footnote: _Symposium,_ sec. 204.]

No man is pure poet, he admits, but in proportion as he approaches
perfect artistry, his life is purified. Shelley is expressing the
beliefs of practically all artists when he says, "The greatest poets
have been men of the most spotless virtue, of the most consummate
prudence, and, if we would look into the interior of their lives, the
most fortunate of men; and the exceptions, as they regard those who
possess the poetical faculty in a high, yet an inferior degree, will be
found upon consideration to confirm, rather than to destroy, the rule."
[Footnote: _The Defense of Poetry._]

Sidney Lanier's verse expresses this argument of Shelley precisely. In
_The Crystal,_ Lanier indicates that the ideal poet has never been
embodied. Pointing out the faults of his favorite poets, he contrasts
their muddy characters with the perfect purity of Christ. And in _Life
and Song_ he repeats the same idea:

  None of the singers ever yet
  Has wholly lived his minstrelsy,
  Or truly sung his true, true thought.

Philosophers may retort that this imperfection in the singer's life
arises not merely from the inevitable difference between the lover and
the beauty which he loves, but from the fact that the object of the
poet's love is not really that highest beauty which is identical with
the good. Poets are content with the "many beautiful," Plato charges,
instead of pressing on to discover the "one beautiful," [Footnote:
Republic, VI, 507B.]--that is, they are ravished by the beauty of the
senses, rather than by the beauty of the ideal.

Possibly this is true. We have had, in recent verse, a sympathetic
expression of the final step in Plato's ascent to absolute beauty, hence
to absolute virtue. It is significant, however, that this verse is in
the nature of a farewell to verse writing. In _The Symbol Seduces,_
"A. E." exclaims,

                                I leave
  For Beauty, Beauty's rarest flower,
  For Truth, the lips that ne'er deceive;
  For Love, I leave Love's haunted bower.

But this is exactly what the poet, as poet, cannot do. It may be, as
Plato declared, that he is missing the supreme value of life by clinging
to the "many beautiful," instead of the "one beautiful," but if he does
not do so, all the colour of his poetical garment falls away from him,
and he becomes pure philosopher. There is an infinite promise in the
imperfection of the physical world that fascinates the poet. Life is to
him "a dome of many colored glass" that reveals, yet stains, "the white
radiance of eternity." If it were possible for him to gaze upon beauty
apart from her sensuous embodiment, it is doubtful if he would find her

This is only to say that there is no escaping the fundamental aesthetic
problem. Is the artist the imitator of the physical world, or the
revealer of the spiritual world? He is both, inevitably, if he is a
great poet. Hence there is a duality in his moral life. If one aspect of
his genius causes him to be rapt away from earthly things, in
contemplation of the heavenly vision, the other aspect no less demands
that he live, with however pure a standard, in the turmoil of earthly
passions. In the period which we have under discussion, it is easy to
separate the two types and choose between them. Enthusiasts may,
according to their tastes, laud the poet of Byronic worldliness or of
Shelleyan otherworldliness. But, of course, this is only because this
time boasts of no artist of first rank. When one considers the
preeminent names in the history of poetry, it is not so easy to make the
disjunction. If the gift of even so great a poet as Milton was
compatible with his developing one side of his genius only, we yet feel
that Milton is a great poet with limitations, and cannot quite concede
to him equal rank with Shakespeare, or Dante, in whom the hybrid nature
of the artist is manifest.



There was a time, if we may trust anthropologists, when the poet and the
priest were identical, but the modern zeal for specialization has not
tolerated this doubling of function. So utterly has the poet been robbed
of his priestly character that he is notorious, nowadays, as possessing
no religion at all. At least, representatives of the three strongest
critical forces in society, philosophers, puritans and plain men, assert
with equal vehemence that the poet has no religion that agrees with
their interpretation of that word.

As was the case in their attack upon the poet's morals, so in the
refusal to recognize his religious beliefs, the poet's three enemies are
in merely accidental agreement. The philosopher condemns the poet as
incapable of forming rational theological tenets, because his temper is
unspeculative, or at most, carries him no farther than a materialistic
philosophy. The puritan condemns the poet as lacking reverence, that is,
as having no "religious instinct." The plain man, of course, charges the
poet, in this particular as in all others, with failure to conform. The
poet shows no respect, he avers, for the orthodox beliefs of society.

The quarrel of the poet and the philosopher has at no time been more in
evidence than at present. The unspeculativeness of contemporary poetry
is almost a creed. Poets, if they are to be read, must take a solemn
pledge to confine their range of subject-matter to fleeting impressions
of the world of sense. The quarrel was only less in evidence in the
period just before the present one, at the time when the cry, "art for
art's sake," held the attention of the public. At that time philosophers
could point out that Walter Pater, the molder of poet's opinions, had
said, "It is possible that metaphysics may be one of the things which we
must renounce, if we would mould our lives to artistic perfection." This
narrowness of interest, this deliberate shutting of one's self up within
the confines of the physically appealing, has been believed to be
characteristic of all poets. The completeness of their satisfaction in
what has been called "the aesthetic moment" is the death of their
philosophical instincts. The immediate perception of flowers and birds
and breezes is so all-sufficing to them that such phenomena do not send
their minds racing back on a quest of first principles. Thus argue

Such a conclusion the poet denies. The philosopher, to whom a
sense-impression is a mere needle-prick, useful only as it starts his
thoughts off on a tangent from it to the separate world of ideas, is not
unnaturally misled by the poet's total absorption in the world of sense.
But the poet is thus absorbed, not, as the philosopher implies, because
he denies, or ignores, the existence of ideas, but because he cannot
conceive of disembodied ideas. Walter Pater's reason for rejecting
philosophy as a handicap to the poet was that philosophy robs the world
of its sensuousness, as he believed. He explained the conception of
philosophy to which he objected, as follows:

    To that gaudy tangle of what gardens, after all, are meant
    to produce, in the decay of time, as we may think at first
    sight, the systematic, logical gardener put his meddlesome
    hand, and straightway all ran to seed; to _genus_ and
    _species_ and _differentia_, into formal classes,
    under general notions, and with--yes! with written labels
    fluttering on the stalks instead of blossoms--a botanic or
    physic garden, as they used to say, instead of our
    flower-garden and orchard. [Footnote: _Plato and

But it is only against this particular conception of philosophy, which
is based upon abstraction of the ideal from the sensual, that the poet
demurs. Beside the foregoing view of philosophy expressed by Pater, we
may place that of another poet, an adherent, indeed, of one of the most
purely sensuous schools of poetry. Arthur Symons states as his belief,
"The poet who is not also philosopher is like a flower without a root.
Both seek the same infinitude; the one apprehending the idea, the other
the image." [Footnote: _The Romantic Movement,_ p. 129.] That is,
to the poet, ideality is the hidden life of the sensual.

Wherever a dry as dust rationalizing theology is in vogue, it is true
that some poets, in their reaction, have gone to the extreme of
subscribing to a materialistic conception of the universe. Shelley is
the classic example. Everyone is aware of his revulsion from Paley's
theology, which his father sternly proposed to read aloud to him, and of
his noisy championing of the materialistic cause, in _Queen Mab_.
But Shelley is also the best example that might be cited to prove the
incompatibility of materialism and poetry. It might almost be said that
Shelley never wrote a line of genuine poetry while his mind was under
the bondage of materialistic theory. Fortunately Shelley was scarcely
able to hold to the delusion that he was a materialist throughout the
course of an entire poem, even in his extreme youth. To Shelley, more
truly perhaps than to any other poet, the physical world throbs with
spiritual life. His materialistic theories, if more loudly vociferated,
were of scarcely greater significance than were those of Coleridge, who
declared, "After I had read Voltaire's _Philosophical Dictionary,_
I sported infidel, but my infidel vanity never touched my heart."
[Footnote: James Gillman, _Life of Coleridge_, p. 23.]

A more serious charge of atheism could be brought against the poets at
the other end of the century. John Davidson was a thoroughgoing
materialist, and the other members of the school, made sceptic by their
admiration for the sophistic philosophy of Wilde, followed Davidson in
his views. But this hardly strengthens the philosopher's charge that
materialistic philosophy characterizes poets as a class, for the
curiously limited poetry which the 1890 group produced might lead the
reader to assume that spiritual faith is indispensable to poets. If
idealistic philosophy, as Arthur Symons asserts, is the root of which
poetry is the flower, then the artificial and exotic poetry of the
_fin de siecle_ school bears close resemblance to cut flowers,
already drooping.

It is significant that the outstanding materialist among American poets,
Poe, produced poetry of much the same artificial temper as did these
men. Poe himself was unable to accept, with any degree of complacence,
the materialistic philosophy which seemed to him the most plausible
explanation of life. One of his best-known sonnets is a threnody for
poetry which, he feels, is passing away from earth as materialistic
views become generally accepted. [Footnote: See the sonnet, _To
Science._] Sensuous as was his conception of poetry, he yet felt that
one kills it in taking the spirit of ideality out of the physical world.
"I really perceive," he wrote in this connection, "that vanity about
which most men merely prate,--the vanity of the human or temporal life."
[Footnote: Letter to James Russell Lowell, July 2, 1844.]

It is obvious that atheism, being pure negation, is not congenial to the
poetical temper. The general rule holds that atheism can exist only
where the reason holds the imagination in bondage. It was not merely the
horrified recoil of orthodox opinion that prevented Constance Naden, the
most voluminous writer of atheistic verse in the last century, from
obtaining lasting recognition as a poet. Verse like hers, which
expresses mere denial, is not essentially more poetical than blank

One cannot make so sweeping a statement without at once recalling the
notable exception, James Thompson, B.V., the blackness of whose
atheistic creed makes up the whole substance of _The City of Dreadful
Night_. The preacher brings comfort to the tortured men in that poem,
with the words,

  And now at last authentic word I bring
  Witnessed by every dead and living thing;
  Good tidings of great joy for you, for all:
  There is no God; no fiend with name divine
  Made us and tortures us; if we must pine
  It is to satiate no Being's gall.

But this poem is a pure freak in poetry. Perhaps it might be asserted of
James Thompson, without too much casuistry, that he was, poetically
speaking, not a materialist but a pessimist, and that the strength of
his poetic gift lay in the thirst of his imagination for an ideal world
in which his reason would not permit him to believe. One cannot say of
him, as of Coleridge, that "his unbelief never touched his heart." It
would be nearer the truth to say that his unbelief broke his heart.
Thomson himself would be the first to admit that his vision of the City
of Dreadful Night is inferior, as poetry, to the visions of William
Blake in the same city, of whom Thomson writes with a certain wistful

  He came to the desert of London town,
  Mirk miles broad;
  He wandered up and he wandered down,
  Ever alone with God.
[Footnote: _William Blake._]

Goethe speaks of the poet's impressions of the outer world, the inner
world and the other world. To the poet these impressions cannot be
distinct, but must be fused in every aesthetic experience. In his
impressions of the physical world he finds, not merely the reflection of
his own personality, but the germ of infinite spiritual meaning, and it
is the balance of the three elements which creates for him the
"aesthetic repose."

Even in the peculiarly limited sensuous verse of the present the third
element is implicit. Other poets, no less than Joyce Kilmer, have a dim
sense that in their physical experiences they are really tasting the
eucharist, as Kilmer indicates in his warning,

  Vain is his voice in whom no longer dwells
  Hunger that craves immortal bread and wine.
[Footnote: _Poets._]

Very dim, indeed, it may be, the sense is, yet in almost every
verse-writer of to-day there crops out, now and then, a conviction of
the mystic significance of the physical. [Footnote: See, for example,
John Masefield, _Prayer,_ and _The Seekers;_ and William Rose Benet,
_The Falconer of God._] To cite the most extreme example of a rugged
persistence of the spiritual life in the truncated poetry of the
present, even Carl Sandburg cannot escape the conclusion that his
birds are

  Summer-saulting for God's sake.

Only the poet seems to possess the secret of the fusion of sense and
spirit in the world. To the average eye sense-objects are opaque, or, at
best, transmit only a faint glimmering of an idea. To Dr. Thomas
Arnold's mind Wordsworth's concern with the flower which brought
"thoughts which do often lie too deep for tears" was ridiculously
excessive, since, at most, a flower could be only the accidental cause
of great thoughts, a push, as it were, that started into activity ideas
which afterward ran on by their own impulsion. Tennyson has indicated,
however, that the poetical feeling aroused by a flower is, in its utmost
reaches, no more than a recognition of that which actually abides in the
flower itself. He muses,

  Flower in the crannied wall,
  I pluck you out of the crannies;--
  I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
  Little flower--but if I could understand
  What you are, root and all and all in all,
  I should know what God and man is.

By whatever polysyllabic name the more consciously speculative poets
designate their philosophical creed, this belief in the infinite meaning
of every object in the physical world is pure pantheism, and the
instinctive poetical religion is inevitably a pantheistic one. All
poetical metaphor is a confession of this fact, for in metaphor the
sensuous and the spiritual are conceived as one.

A pantheistic religion is the only one which does not hamper the poet's
unconscious and unhampering morality. He refuses to die to this world as
Plato's philosopher and the early fathers of the church were urged to
do, for it is from the physical world that all his inspiration comes. If
he attempts to turn away from it, he is bewildered, as Christina
Rossetti was, by a duality in his nature, by

  The foolishest fond folly of a heart
  Divided, neither here nor there at rest,
  That hankers after Heaven, but clings to earth.
[Footnote: _Later Life,_ Sonnet 24.]

On the other hand, if he tries to content himself with the merely
physical aspects of things, he finds that he cannot crush out of his
nature a mysticism quite as intense as that of the most ascetic saint.
Only a religion which maintains the all-pervasive oneness of both
elements in his nature can wholly satisfy him.

Not infrequently, poets have given this instinctive faith of theirs a
conscious formulation. Coleridge, with his indefatigable quest of the
unity underlying "the Objective and Subjective," did so. Shelley devoted
a large part of _Prometheus Unbound_ and the conclusion of _Adonais_ to
his pantheistic views. Wordsworth never wavered in his worship of the
sense world which was yet spiritual,

  The Being that is in the clouds and air,
  That is in the green leaves among the groves,
[Footnote: _Hart Leap Well._]

and was led to the conclusion,

  It is my faith that every flower
  Enjoys the air it breathes.
[Footnote: _Lines Written in Early Spring._]

Tennyson, despite the restlessness of his speculative temper, was ever
returning to a pantheistic creed. The same is true of the Brownings.
Arnold is, of course, undecided upon the question, and now approves, now
rejects the pessimistic view of pantheism expressed in _Empedocles on
AEtna,_ in accordance with his change of mood putting the poem in and
out of the various editions of his works. But wherever his poetry is
most worthy, his worship of nature coincides with Wordsworth's
pantheistic faith. Swinburne's _Hertha_ is one of the most thorough
going expressions of pantheism. At the present time, as in much
of the poetry of the past, the pantheistic feeling is merely implicit.
One of the most recent conscious formulations of it is in Le Gallienne's
_Natural Religion,_ wherein he explains the grounds of his faith,

  Up through the mystic deeps of sunny air
  I cried to God, "Oh Father, art thou there?"
  Sudden the answer like a flute I heard;
  It was an angel, though it seemed a bird.

On the whole the poet might well wax indignant over the philosopher's
charge. It is hardly fair to accuse the poet of being indifferent to the
realm of ideas, when, as a matter of fact, he not only tries to
establish himself there, but to carry everything else in the universe
with him.

The charge of the puritan appears no more just to the poet than that of
the philosopher. How can it be true, as the puritan maintains it to be,
that the poet lacks the spirit of reverence, when he is constantly
incurring the ridicule of the world by the awe with which he regards
himself and his creations? No power, poets aver, is stronger to awaken a
religious mood than is the quietude of the beauty which they worship.
Wordsworth says that poetry can never be felt or rightly estimated
"without love of human nature and reverence for God," [Footnote: Letter
to Lady Beaumont, May 21, 1807.] because poetry and religion are of the
same nature. If religion proclaims cosmos against chaos, so also does
poetry, and both derive the harmony and repose that inspire reverence
from this power of revelation.

But, the puritan objects, the overweening pride which is one of the
poet's most distinctive traits renders impossible the humility of spirit
characteristic of religious reverence.

It is true that the poet repudiates a religion that humbles him; this is
one of the strongest reasons for his pantheistic leanings.

  There is no God, O son!
  If thou be none,
[Footnote: _On the Downs._]

Swinburne represents nature as crying to man, and this suits the poet
exactly. Perhaps Swinburne's prose shows more clearly than his poetry
the divergence of the puritan temper and the poetical one in the matter
of religious humility. "We who worship no material incarnation of any
qualities," he wrote, "no person, may worship the Divine Humanity; the
ideal of human perfection and aspiration, without worshipping any god,
any person, any fetish at all. Therefore I might call myself, if I
wished, a kind of Christian (of the Church of Blake and Shelley) but
assuredly in no sense a theist." [Footnote: Edmund Gosse, _Swinburne_,
p. 309.]

Nothing less than complete fusion of the three worlds spoken of by
Goethe, will satisfy the poet. If fusion of the outer world and the
other world results in the pantheistic color of the poet's religion, the
third element, the inner world, makes it imperative that the poet's
divinity should be a personal one, no less, in fact, than a deification
of his own nature. This tendency of the poet to create God in his own
image is frankly acknowledged by Mrs. Browning in prayer to the "Poet
God." [Footnote: _A Vision of Poets_.]

Of all English writers, William Blake affords the clearest revelation of
the poet's instinctive attitude, because he is most courageous in
carrying the implications of poetic egotism to their logical conclusion.
In the _Prophetic Books_, in particular, Blake boldly expresses all
that is implicit in the poet's yearning for a religion which will not
humble and thwart his nature, but will exalt and magnify it.

Even the puritan cannot affirm that the poet's demand for recognition,
in his religious belief, of every phase of his existence, has not
flowered, once, at least, in most genuinely religious poetry, for the
puritan himself feels the power of Emily Bronte's _Last Lines,_ in which
she cries with proud and triumphant faith,

  Though earth and man were gone,
  And suns and universes ceased to be,
  And Thou wert left alone,
  Every existence would exist in Thee.

  There is not room for Death,
  Nor atom that his might could render void;
  Thou, Thou art Being and Breath,
  And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

There remains the plain man to be dealt with. What, he reiterates, has
the poet to say for his orthodoxy? If he can combine his poetical
illusions about the divinity of nature and the superlative and awesome
importance of the poet himself with regular attendance at church; if
these phantasies do not prevent him from sincerely and thoughtfully
repeating the Apostle's creed, well and good. The plain man's religious
demands upon the poet are really not excessive, yet the poet, from the
romantic period onward, has taken delight in scandalizing him.

In the eighteenth century poets seem not to have been averse to
placating their enemies by publishing their attendance upon the
appointed means of grace. Among the more conservative poets, this
attitude lasted over into the earlier stages of the romantic movement.
So late a poet as Bowles delighted to stress the "churchman's ardor" of
the poet. [Footnote: See his verse on Southey and Milton.] Southey also
was ready to exhibit his punctilious orthodoxy. Yet poor Southey was the
unwitting cause of the impiety of his brothers for many years, inasmuch
as Byron's _A Vision of Judgment,_ with its irresistible satire on
Southey, sounded the death-knell of the narrowly religious poet.

The vogue which the poet of religious ill-repute enjoyed during the
romantic period was, of course, a very natural phase of "the renaissance
of wonder." The religious "correctness" of the eighteenth century
inevitably went out of fashion, in poetic circles, along with the rest
of its formalism. Poets vied with one another in forming new and daring
conceptions of God. There was no question, in the romantic revolt, of
yielding to genuine atheism. "The worst of it is that I _do_ believe,"
said Byron, discussing his bravery under fear of death. "Anything but
the Church of England," was the attitude by which Byron shocked the
orthodox. "I think," he wrote, "people can never have enough of
religion, if they are to have any. I incline myself very much to the
Catholic doctrine." [Footnote: Letter to Tom Moore, March 4, 1822. See
also the letter to Robert Charles Dallas, January 21, 1808.] _Cain,_
however, is not a piece of Catholic propaganda, and the chief
significance of Byron's religious poetry lies in his romantic delight in
arraigning the Almighty as well as Episcopalians.

Shelley comes out even more squarely than Byron against conventional
religion. In _Julian and Maddalo_, he causes Byron to say of him,

    You were ever still
  Among Christ's flock a perilous infidel.

Shelley helped to foster the tradition, too, that the poet was
persecuted by the church. In _Rosalind and Helen_, the hero was
hated by the clergy,

  For he made verses wild and queer
  Of the strange creeds priests hold so dear,

and this predilection for making them wild and queer resulted in
Lionel's death, for

  The ministers of misrule sent
  Seized on Lionel and bore
  His chained limbs to a dreary tower,
  For he, they said, from his mind had bent
  Against their gods keen blasphemy.

The most notable illustration of this phase of Shelley's thought is
_The Revolt of Islam,_ wherein the poets, Laon and Cythna, are put
to death by the priests, who regard them as their worst enemies.

Burns, also, took a certain pleasure in unorthodoxy, and later poets
have gloried in his attitude.

Swinburne, in particular, praises his daring, in that he

  Smote the God of base men's choice
  At God's own gate.
[Footnote: _Burns._]

Young poets have not yet lost their taste for religious persecution. It
is a great disappointment to them to find it difficult to strike fire
from the faithful in these days. Swinburne in his early poetry denounced
the orthodox God with such vigor that he roused a momentary flutter of
horror in the church, but nowadays the young poet who craves to manifest
his spiritual daring is far more likely to find himself in the position
of Rupert Brooke, of whom someone has said, "He imagines the poet as
going on a magnificent quest to curse God on his throne of fire, and

The poet's youthful zest in scandalizing the orthodox is likely,
however, to be early outgrown. As the difficulties in the way of his
finding a God worthy of his adoration become manifest to him, it may be,
indeed, with a sigh that he turns from the conventional religion in
which so many men find certitude and place. This is the mood,
frequently, of Browning, [Footnote: See _Christmas Eve_ and _Easter
Day._] of Tennyson, [Footnote: See _In Memoriam._] of Arnold, [Footnote:
See _Dover Beach._] of Clough. [Footnote: See _The New Sinai, Qui
Laborat Orat, Hymnos Amnos, Epistrausium._] So, too, James Thomson muses
with regret,

  How sweet to enter in, to kneel and pray
  With all the others whom we love so well!
  All disbelief and doubt might pass away,
  And peace float to us with its Sabbath bell.
  Conscience replies, There is but one good rest,
  Whose head is pillowed upon Truth's pure breast.
[Footnote: _The Reclusant._]

In fact, as the religious world grows more broad-minded, the mature poet
sometimes appeals to the orthodox for sympathy when his daring religious
questing threatens to plunge him into despair. The public is too quick
to class him with those whose doubt is owing to lassitude of mind,
rather than too eager activity. Tennyson is obliged to remind his

  There lives more faith in honest doubt,
  Believe me, than in half the creeds.

Browning, as always, takes a hopeful view of human stupidity when he
expresses his belief that men will not long "persist in confounding, any
more than God confounds, with genuine infidelity and atheism of the
heart those passionate impatient struggles of a boy toward truth and
love." [Footnote: _Preface_ to the Letters of Shelley (afterwards
proved spurious).]

The reluctance of the world to give honor too freely to the poet who
prefers solitary doubt to common faith is, probably enough, due to a
shrewd suspicion that the poet finds religious perplexity a very
satisfactory poetic stimulus. In his character as man of religion as in
that of lover, the poet is apt to feel that his thirst, not the
quenching of it, is the aesthetic experience. There is not much question
that since the beginning of the romantic movement, at least, religious
doubt has been more prolific of poetry than religious certainty has
been. Even Cowper, most orthodox of poets, composed his best religious
poetry while he was tortured by doubt. One does not deny that there is
good poetry in the hymn books, expressing settled faith, but no one will
seriously contend, I suppose, that any contentedly orthodox poet of the
last century has given us a body of verse that compares favorably, in
purely poetical merit, with that of Arnold.

Against the imputation that he deliberately dallies with doubt, the poet
can only reply that, again as in the case of his human loves, longing is
strong enough to spur him to poetic achievement, only when it is a
thirst driving him mad with its intensity. The poet, in the words of a
recent poem, is "homesick after God," and in the period of his blackest
doubt beats against the wall of his reason with the cry,

                   Ah, but there should be one!
  There should be one. And there's the bitterness
  Of this unending torture-place for men,
  For the proud soul that craves a perfectness
  That might outwear the rotting of all things
  Rooted in earth.
[Footnote: Josephine Preston Peabody, _Marlowe._]

The public which refuses to credit the poet with earnestness in his
quest of God may misconceive the dignified attempts of Arnold to free
himself from the tangle of doubt, and deem his beautiful gestures
purposely futile, but before condemning the poetic attitude toward
religion it must also take into account the contrary disposition of
Browning to kick his way out of difficulties with entire indifference to
the greater dignity of an attitude of resignation; and no more than
Arnold does Browning ever depict a poet who achieves religious
satisfaction. Thus the hero of _Pauline_ comes to no triumphant
issue, though he maintains,

  I have always had one lode-star; now
  As I look back, I see that I have halted
  Or hastened as I looked towards that star,
  A need, a trust, a yearning after God.

The same bafflement is Sordello's, over whom the author muses,

    Of a power above you still,
  Which, utterly incomprehensible,
  Is out of rivalry, which thus you can
  Love, though unloving all conceived by man--
  What need! And of--none the minutest duct
  To that out-nature, naught that would instruct
  And so let rivalry begin to live--
  But of a Power its representative
  Who, being for authority the same,
  Communication different, should claim
  A course, the first chosen, but the last revealed,
  This human clear, as that Divine concealed--
  What utter need!

There is, after all, small need that the public should charge the poet
with deliberate failure to gain a satisfactory view of the deity. The
quest of a God who satisfies the poet's demand that He shall include all
life, satisfy every impulse, be as personal as the poet himself, and
embody only the harmony of beauty, is bound to be a long one. It appears
inevitable that the poet should never get more than incomplete and
troubled glimpses of such a deity, except, perhaps, in

  The too-bold dying song of her whose soul
  Knew no fellow for might,
  Passion, vehemence, grief,
  Daring, since Byron died.
[Footnote: Said of Emily Bronte. Arnold, _Haworth Churchyard._]

A complete view of the poet's deity is likely always to be as disastrous
as was that of Lucretius, as Mrs. Browning conceived of him,

  Who dropped his plummet down the broad
  Deep universe, and said, "No God,"
  Finding no bottom.
[Footnote: _A Vision of Poets._]

If the poet's independent quest of God is doomed to no more successful
issue than this, it might seem advisable for him to tolerate the
conventional religious systems of his day. Though every poet must feel
with Tennyson,

  Our little systems have their day,
  They have their day and cease to be;
  They are but broken lights of thee,
  And thou, O Lord, art more than they,
[Footnote: _In Memoriam._]

yet he may feel, with Rossetti, that it is best to

  Let lore of all theology
  Be to thy soul what it can be.
[Footnote: _Soothsay._]

Indeed, many of the lesser poets have capitulated to overtures of
tolerance and not-too-curious inquiry into their private beliefs on the
part of the church.

In America, the land of religious tolerance, the poet's break with
thechurch was never so serious as in England, and the shifting creeds of
the evangelical churches have not much hampered poets. In fact, the
frenzy of the poet and of the revivalist have sometimes been felt as
akin. Noteworthy in this connection is George Lansing Raymond, who
causes the heroes of two pretentious narrative poems, _A Life in Song,_
and _The Real and the Ideal,_ to begin by being poets, and end by
becoming ministers of the gospel. The verse of J. G. Holland is hardly
less to the point. The poet-hero of Holland's _Bitter Sweet_ is a
thoroughgoing evangelist, who, in the stress of temptation by a woman
who would seduce him, falls upon his knees and saves his own soul and
hers likewise. In _Kathrina,_ though the hero, rebellious on account of
the suicide of his demented parents, remains agnostic till almost the
end of the poem, this is clearly regarded by Holland as the cause of his
incomplete success as a poet, and in the end the hero becomes an
irreproachable churchman. At present Vachel Lindsay keeps up the
tradition of the poet-revivalist.

Even in England, the orthodox poet has not been nonexistent. Christina
Rossetti portrays such an one in her autobiographical poetry. Jean
Ingelow, in _Letters of Life and Morning_, offers most conventional
religious advice to the young poet. And in Coventry Patmore's _The
Angel in the House_, one finds as orthodox a poet as any that the
eighteenth century could afford.

The Catholic church too has some grounds for its title, "nursing mother
of poets." The rise of the group of Catholic poets, Francis Thompson,
Alice Meynell, and Lionel Johnson, in particular, has tended to give a
more religious cast to the recent poet. If Joyce Kilmer had lived,
perhaps verse on the Catholic poet would have been even more in
evidence. But it is likely that Joyce Kilmer would only have succeeded
in inadvertently bringing the religious singer once more into disrepute.
There is perhaps nothing nocuous in his creed, as he expressed it in a
formal interview: "I hope ... poetry ... is reflecting faith ... in God
and His Son and the Holy Ghost." [Footnote: Letter to Howard Cook, June
28, 1918, _Joyce Kilmer: Poems, Essays and Letters_, ed. Robert
Cortes Holliday.] But Kilmer went much farther and advocated the
suppression of all writings, by Catholics, which did not specifically
advertise their author's Catholicism. [Footnote: See his letter to Aline
Kilmer, April 21, 1918, _Joyce Kilmer, Poems, Essays and Letters_,
ed. Robert Cortes Holliday.] And such a doctrine immediately delivers
the poet's freedom of inspiration into the hands of censors.

Perhaps a history of art would not square with the repugnance one feels
toward such censorship. Conformance to the religious beliefs of his time
certainly does not seem to have handicapped Homer or Dante, to say
nothing of the preeminent men in other fields of art, Phidias, Michael
Angelo, Raphael, etc. Yet in the modern consciousness, the theory of art
for art's sake has become so far established that we feel that any
compromise of the purely aesthetic standard is a loss to the artist. The
deity of the artist and the churchman may be in some measure the same,
since absolute beauty and absolute goodness are regarded both by poets
and theologians as identical, but there is reason to believe that the
poet may not go so far astray if he cleaves to his own immediate
apprehension of absolute beauty as he will if he fashions his beliefs
upon another man's stereotyped conception of the absolute good.

Then, too, it is not unlikely that part of the poet's reluctance to
embrace the creed of his contemporaries arises from the fact that he, in
his secret heart, still hankers for his old title of priest. He knows
that it is the imaginative faculty of the poet that has been largely
instrumental in building up every religious system. The system that
holds sway in society is apt to be the one that he himself has just
outgrown; he has, accordingly, an artist's impatience for its
immaturity. There is much truth to the poet's nature in verses entitled
_The Idol Maker Prays_:

  Grant thou, that when my art hath made thee known
  And others bow, I shall not worship thee,
  But as I pray thee now, then let me pray
  Some greater god,--like thee to be conceived
  Within my soul.
[Footnote: By Arthur Guiterman.]



No matter how strong our affection for the ingratiating ne'er-do-well,
there are certain charges against the poet which we cannot ignore. It is
a serious thing to have an alleged madman, inebriate, and experimenter
in crime running loose in society. But there comes a time when our
patience with his indefatigable accusers is exhausted. Is not society
going a step too far if, after the poet's positive faults have been
exhausted, it institutes a trial for his sins of omission? Yet so it is.
If the poet succeeds in proving to the satisfaction of the jury that his
influence is innocuous, he must yet hear the gruff decision, "Perhaps,
as you say, you are doing no real harm. But of what possible use are
you? Either become an efficient member of society, or cease to exist."
Must we tamely look on, while the "light, winged, and holy creature," as
Plato called the poet, is harnessed to a truck wagon, and made to
deliver the world's bread and butter? Would that it were more common for
poets openly to defy society's demands for efficiency, as certain
children and malaperts of the poetic world have done! It is pleasant to
hear the naughty advice which that especially impractical poet, Emily
Dickinson, gave to a child: "Be sure to live in vain, dear. I wish I
had." [Footnote: Gamaliel Bradford, _Portraits of American Women_,
p. 248 (Mrs. Bianchi, p. 37).] And one is hardly less pleased to hear
the irrepressible Ezra Pound instruct his songs,

  But above all, go to practical people, go, jangle their door-bells.
  Say that you do no work, and that you will live forever.
[Footnote: _Salutation the Second_.]

Surely no one else has had so bad a time with efficiency experts as has
the poet, even though everyone whose occupation does not bring out sweat
on the brow is likely to fall under their displeasure. The scholar, for
instance, is given no rest from their querulous complaints, because he
has been sitting at his ease, with a book in his hand, while they have
dug the potatoes for his dinner. But the poet is the object of even
bitterer vituperation. He, they remind him, does not even trouble to
maintain a decorous posture during his fits of idleness. Instead, he is
often discovered flat on his back in the grass, with one foot swinging
aloft, wagging defiance at an industrious world. What right has he to
loaf and invite his soul, while the world goes to ruin all about him?

The poet reacts variously to these attacks. Sometimes with (it must be
confessed) aggravating meekness, he seconds all that his beraters say of
his idle ways. [Footnote: For verse dealing with the idle poet see James
Thomson, _The Castle of Indolence_ (Stanzas about Samuel Patterson, Dr.
Armstrong, and the author); Barry Cornwall, _The Poet and the Fisher_,
and _Epistle to Charles Lamb on His Emancipation from the Clerkship_;
Wordsworth, _Expostulation and Reply_; Emerson, _Apology_; Whitman,
_Song of Myself_; Helen Hunt Jackson, _The Poet's Forge_; P. H. Hayne,
_An Idle Poet Dreaming_; Henry Timrod, _They Dub Thee Idler_; Washington
Allston, _Sylphs of the Seasons_; C. W. Stoddard, _Utopia_; Alan Seeger,
_Oneata_; J. G. Neihardt, _The Poet's Town_.] Sometimes he gives them
the plaintive assurance that he is overtaxed with imaginary work. But
occasionally he seems to be really stung by their reproaches, and tries
to convince them that by following a strenuous avocation he has done his
bit for society, and has earned his hours of idleness as a poet.

When the modern poet tries to establish his point by exhibiting singers
laboring in the business and professional world, he cannot be said to
make out a very good case for himself. He has dressed an occasional
fictional bard in a clergyman's coat, in memory, possibly, of Donne and
Herbert. [Footnote: See G. L. Raymond, _A Life in Song_, and _The Real
and the Ideal_.] In politics, he has exhibited in his verses only a few
scattered figures,--Lucan, [Footnote: See _Nero_, Robert Bridges.]
Petrarch, [Footnote: See Landor, _Giovanna of Naples_, and _Andrea of
Hungary_.]  Dante, [Footnote: See G. L. Raymond, _Dante_.]  Boccaccio,
Walter Map, [Footnote: See _A Becket_, Tennyson.]  Milton [Footnote: See
_Milton_, Bulwer Lytton; _Milton_, George Meredith.]--and these, he must
admit, belong to remote periods. Does D'Annunzio bring the poet-
politician down to the present? But poets have not yet begun to
celebrate D'Annunzio in verse. Really there is only one figure, a
protean one, in the realm of practical life, to whom the poet may look
to save his reputation. Shakespeare he is privileged to represent as
following many callings, and adorning them all. Or no, not quite all,
for a recent verse-writer has gone to the length of representing
Shakespeare as a pedagogue, and in this profession the master dramatist
is either inept, or three centuries in advance of his time, for the
citizens of Stratford do not take kindly to his scholastic innovations.
[Footnote: See _William Shakespeare, Pedagogue and Poacher_, a drama,
Richard Garnett.]

If the poet does not appear a brilliant figure in the business world, he
may turn to another field with the confidence that here his race will
vindicate him from the world's charges of sluggishness or weakness. He
is wont proudly to declare, with Joyce Kilmer,

    When you say of the making of ballads and songs that it is a woman's
    You forget all the fighting poets that have been in every land.
    There was Byron, who left all his lady-loves, to fight against the
    And David, the singing king of the Jews, who was born with a sword
                in his hand.
    It was yesterday that Rupert Brooke went out to the wars and died,
    And Sir Philip Sidney's lyric voice was as sweet as his arm was
    And Sir Walter Raleigh met the axe as a lover meets his bride,
    Because he carried in his heart the courage of his song.
[Footnote: Joyce Kilmer, _The Proud Poet_.]

It was only yesterday, indeed, that Rupert Brooke, Francis Ledwidge,
Alan Seeger and Joyce Kilmer made the memory of the soldier poet
lasting. And it cannot be justly charged that the draft carried the
poet, along with the street-loafer, into the fray, an unwilling victim.
From Aeschylus and David to Byron and the recent war poets, the singer
may find plenty of names to substantiate his claim that he glories in
war as his natural element. [Footnote: For poetry dealing with the poet
as a warrior see Thomas Moore, _The Minstrel Boy, O Blame Not the Bard,
The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls, Shall the Harp then be Silent,
Dear Harp of My Country_; Praed, _The Eve of Battle_; Whitman, _Song of
the Banner at Daybreak_; E. C. Stedman, _Jean Prouvaire's Song at the
Barricade, Byron_; G. L. Raymond, _Dante, A Song of Life_; S. K. Wiley,
_Dante and Beatrice_; Oscar Wilde, _Ravenna_; Richard Realf, _Vates,
Written on the Night of His Suicide_; Cale Young Rice, _David,
Aeschylus_; Swinburne, _The Sisters_; G. E. Woodberry, _Requiem_; Rupert
Brooke, _1914_; Joyce Kilmer, _In Memory of Rupert Brooke, The Proud
Poet_; Alan Seeger, _I Have a Rendez-vous with Death, Sonnet to Sidney,
Liebestod_; John Bunker, _On Bidding Farewell to a Poet Gone to the
Wars_; Jessie Rittenhouse, _To Poets Who Shall Fall in Battle_; Rossiter
Johnson, _A Soldier Poet_; Herbert Kaufman, _Hell Gate of Soissons_;
Herbert Asquith, _The Volunteer_; Julian Grenfil, _Into Battle_; Grace
Hazard Conkling, _Francis Ledwidge_; Richard Mansfield, 2d, _Song of the
Artists_; Norreys Jephson O'Connor, _In Memoriam: Francis Ledwidge_;
Donald F. Goold Johnson, _Rupert Brooke_.] A recent writer has said,
"The poet must ever go where the greatest songs are singing," [Footnote:
See Christopher Morley, Essay on Joyce Kilmer.] and nowhere is the
poetry of life so manifest as where life is in constant hazard. The
verse of Rupert Brooke and Alan Seeger surely makes it plain that
warfare was the spark which touched off their genius, even as it might
have done Byron's,

  When the true lightning of his soul was bared,
  Long smouldering till the Mesolonghi torch.
[Footnote: Stephen Phillips, _Emily Bronte_.]

But no matter how heroic the poet may prove himself to be, in his
character of soldier, or how efficient as a man of affairs, this does
not settle his quarrel with the utilitarians, for they are not to be
pacified by a recital of the poet's avocations. They would remind him
that the world claims the whole of his time. If, after a day of
strenuous activity, he hurries home with the pleasant conviction that he
has earned a long evening in which to woo the Muse, the world is too
likely to peer through the shutters and exclaim, "What? Not in bed yet?
Then come out and do some extra chores." If the poet is to prove his
title as an efficient citizen, it is clear that he must reveal some
merit in verse-making itself. If he can make no more ambitious claims
for himself, he must, at the very least, show that Browning was not at
fault when he excused his occupation:

  I said, to do little is bad; to do nothing is worse,
  And wrote verse.
[Footnote: Ferishtah's Fancies.]

How can the poet satisfy the philistine world that his songs are worth
while? Need we ask? Business men will vouch for their utility, if he
will but conform to business men's ideas of art. Here is a typical
expression of their views, couched in verse for the singer's better

  The days of long-haired poets now are o'er,
  The short-haired poet seems to have the floor;
  For now the world no more attends to rhymes
  That do not catch the spirit of the times.
  The short-haired poet has no muse or chief,
  He sings of corn. He eulogizes beef.
[Footnote: "The Short-haired Poet," in _Common-Sense_, by E. F. Ware.]

But the poet utterly repudiates such a view of himself as this, for he
cannot draw his breath in the commercial world. [Footnote: Several poems
lately have voiced the poet's horror of materialism. See Josephine
Preston Peabody, _The Singing Man_; Richard Le Gallienne, _To R. W.
Emerson, Richard Watson Gilder_; Mary Robinson, _Art and Life_.] In vain
he assures his would-be friends that the intangibilities with which he
deals have a value of their own. Emerson says,

  One harvest from thy field
  Homeward brought the oxen strong;
  A second crop thine acres yield
  Which I gather in a song.
[Footnote: _Apology_]

But for this second crop the practical man says he can find absolutely
no market; hence overtures of friendliness between him and the poet end
with sneers and contempt on both sides. Doubtless the best way for the
poet to deal with the perennial complaints of the practical-minded, is
simply to state brazenly, as did Oscar Wilde, "All art is quite
useless." [Footnote: Preface to _Dorian Gray_.]

Is the poet justified, then, in stopping his ears to all censure, and
living unto himself? Not so; when the hub-bub of his sordid accusers
dies away, he is conscious of another summons, before a tribunal which
he cannot despise or ignore. For once more the poet's equivocal position
exposes him to attacks from all quarters. He stands midway between the
spiritual and the physical worlds, he reveals the ideal in the sensual.
Therefore, while the practical man complains that the poet does not
handle the solid objects of the physical world, but transmutes them to
airy nothings, the philosopher, on the contrary, condemns the poet
because he does not wholly sever connections with this same physical
world, but is continually hovering about it, like a homesick ghost.

Like the plain man, the philosopher gives the poet a chance to vindicate
his usefulness. Plato's challenge is not so age-worn that we may not
requote it. He makes Socrates say, in the _Republic_,

Let us assure our sweet friend (poetry) and the sister arts of imitation
that if she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered state,
we shall be delighted to receive her.... We are very conscious of her
charms, but we may not on that account betray the truth.... Shall I
propose, then, that she be allowed to return from exile, but on this
condition only, that she makes a defense of herself in lyrical or some
other meter? And we may further grant to those of her defenders who are
lovers of poetry and yet not poets the permission to speak in prose on
her behalf. Let them show not only that she is pleasant but also useful
to states and to human life, and we will listen in a kindly spirit.
[Footnote: _Republic_, Book X, 607.]

       *       *       *       *       *

One wonders why the lovers of Poetry have been so much more solicitous
for her cause than Poetry herself has appeared to be. Aristotle, and
after him many others,--in the field of English literature, Sidney,
Shelley, and in our own day G. E. Woodberry,--have made most eloquent
defenses in prose, but thus far the supreme lyrical defense has not been
forthcoming. Perhaps Poetry feels that it is beneath her dignity to
attempt a utilitarian justification for herself. Yet in the verse of the
last century and a half there are occasional passages which give the
impression that Poetry, with childishly averted head, is offering them
to us, as if to say, "Don't think I would stoop to defend myself, but
here are some things I might say for myself, if I wished."

Since the Platonic philosopher and the practical man stand for antipodal
conceptions of reality, it really seems too bad that Plato will not give
the poet credit for a little merit, in comparison with his arch-enemy.
But as a matter of fact, the spectator of eternity and the sense-blinded
man of the street form a grotesque fraternity, for the nonce, and the
philosopher assures the plain man that he is far more to his liking than
is the poet. Plato's reasoning is, of course, that the plain man at
least does not tamper with the objects of sense, through which the
philosopher may discern gleams of the spiritual world, whereas the poet
distorts them till their real significance is obscured. The poet
pretends that he is giving their real meaning, even as the philosopher,
but his interpretation is false. He is like a man who, by an ingenious
system of cross-lights and reflections, creates a wraithlike image of
himself in the mirror, and alleges that it is his soul, though it is
really only a misleading and worthless imitation of his body.

Will not Plato's accusation of the poet's inferiority to the practical
man be made clearest if we stay by Plato's own humble illustration of
the three beds? One, he says, is made by God, one by the carpenter, and
one by the poet. [Footnote: See the _Republic_ X, 596 B ff.] Now
the bed which a certain poet, James Thomson, B. V., made, is fairly well
known. It speaks, in "ponderous bass," to the other furniture in the

  "I know what is and what has been;
  Not anything to me comes strange,
  Who in so many years have seen
  And lived through every kind of change.
  I know when men are bad or good,
  When well or ill," he slowly said,
  "When sad or glad, when sane or mad
  And when they sleep alive or dead."
[Footnote: _In the Room_]

Plato would say of this majestic four-poster, with its multifarious
memories "of births and deaths and marriage nights," that it does not
come so near the essential idea of bedness as does the most non-descript
product of the carpenters' tools. James Thomson's poem, he would say, is
on precisely the same plane as the reflection of one's bed in the mirror
across the room. Therefore he inquires, "Now do you suppose that if a
person were able to make the original as well as the image, he would
seriously devote himself to the image-making branch? Would he allow
imitation to be the ruling principle of his life, as if he had nothing
higher in him? ... Imitation is only a kind of play or sport."
[Footnote: _Republic_ X, 599 A.]

It has long been the fashion for those who care for poetry to shake
their heads over Plato's aberration at this point. It seems absurd
enough to us to hear the utility of a thing determined by its number of
dimensions. What virtue is there in merely filling space? We all feel
the fallacy in such an adaptation of Plato's argument as Longfellow
assigns to Michael Angelo, causing that versatile artist to conclude:

  Painting and sculpture are but images;
  Are merely shadows cast by outward things
  On stone or canvas, having in themselves
  No separate existence. Architecture,
  As something in itself, and not an image,
  A something that is not, surpasses them
  As substance shadow.
[Footnote: _Michael Angelo_.]

Yet it may be that the homeliness of Plato's illustration has misled us
as to the seriousness of the problem. Let us forget about beds and
buildings and think of actual life in the more dignified way that has
become habitual to us since the war. Then it must appear that Plato's
charge is as truly a live issue here and now as it ever was in Athens.
The claims for the supremacy of poetry, set forth by Aristotle, Sidney
and the rest, seem to weaken, for the time being, at least, when we find
that in our day the judgment that poetry is inferior to life comes, not
from outsiders, but from men who were at one time most ardent votaries
of the muse. Repudiation by verse-writers of poetry's highest claims we
have been accustomed to dismiss, until recently, as betrayal of a streak
of commonness in the speaker's nature,--of a disposition to value the
clay of life more highly than the fire. We were not, perhaps, inclined
to take even so great a poet as Byron very seriously when he declared,
"I by no means rank poets or poetry high in the scale of the intellect.
It is the lava of the imagination, whose eruption prevents an
earthquake. I prefer the talents of action." But with the outbreak of
the world war one met unquestionably sincere confession from more than
one poet that he found verse-writing a pale and anemic thing. Thus "A.
E." regretted the time that he spent on poetry, sighing,

  He who might have wrought in flame
  Only traced upon the foam.
[Footnote: _Epilogue_]

In the same spirit are Joyce Kilmer's words, written shortly before his
death in the trenches: "I see daily and nightly the expression of beauty
in action instead of words, and I find it more satisfactory." [Footnote:
Letter, May 7, 1918. See Joyce Kilmer's works, edited by Richard Le
Gallienne.] Also we have the decision of Francis Ledwidge, another poet
who died a soldier:

  A keen-edged sword, a soldier's heart,
  Are greater than a poet's art,
  And greater than a poet's fame
  A little grave that has no name.
[Footnote: _Soliloquy_.]

Is not our idealization of poets who died in war a confession that we
ourselves believe that they chose the better part,--that they did well
to discard imitation of life for life itself?

It is not fair to force an answer to such a question till we have more
thoroughly canvassed poets' convictions on this matter. Do they all
admit the justice of Plato's characterization of poetry as a sport,
comparable to golf or tennis? In a few specific instances, poets have
taken this attitude toward their own verse, of course. There was the
"art for art's sake" cry, which at the end of the last century surely
degenerated into such a conception of poetry. There have been a number
of poets like Austin Dobson and Andrew Lang, who have frankly regarded
their verse as a pastime to while away an idle hour. There was
Swinburne, who characterized many of his poems as being idle and light
as white butterflies. [Footnote: See the _Dedication to Christina
Rossetti_, and _Envoi_.] But when we turn away from these
prestidigitators of rhymes and rhythms, we find that no view of poetry
is less acceptable than this one to poets in general. They are far more
likely to earn the world's ridicule by the deadly seriousness with which
they take verse writing. If the object of his pursuit is a sport, the
average poet is as little aware of it as is the athlete who suffers a
nervous collapse before the big game of the season.

But Plato's more significant statement is untouched. Is poetry an
imitation of life? It depends, of course, upon how broadly we interpret
the phrase, "imitation of life." In one sense almost every poet would
say that Plato was right in characterizing poetry thus. The usual
account of inspiration points to passive mirroring of life. Someone has
said of the poet,

  As a lake
  Reflects the flower, tree, rock, and bending heaven,
  Shall he reflect our great humanity.
[Footnote: Alexander Smith, _A Life Drama_.]

And these lines are not false to the general view of the poet's
function, but they leave us leeway to quarrel over the nature of the
reflection mentioned, just as we quarrel over the exact connotations of
Plato's and Aristotle's word, imitation. Even if we hold to the narrower
meaning of imitation, there are a few poets who intimate that imitation
alone is their aim in writing poetry. Denying that life has an ideal
element, they take pains to mirror it, line for line, and blemish for
blemish. How can they meet Plato's question as to their usefulness? If
life is a hideous, meaningless thing, as they insinuate, it is not clear
what merit can abide in a faithful reflection of it. Let us take the
case of Robert Service, who prided himself upon the realism of his war
poetry. [Footnote: See _Rhymes of a Red Cross Man_.] Perhaps his
defense depends, more truly than he realized, upon the implication
contained in his two lines,

  If there's good in war and crime,
  There may be in my bits of rhyme.
[Footnote: See _Ibid_.]

Yet the realist may find a sort of justification for himself; at least
James Thomson, B.V., thinks he has found one for him. The most
thoroughly hopeless exposition of the world's meaninglessness, in
English poetry, is doubtless Thomson's _City of Dreadful Night_.
Why does the author give such a ghastly thing to the world? In order, he
says, that some other clear-eyed spectator of the nightmare of existence
may gain a forlorn comfort from it, since he will know that a comrade
before him has likewise seen things at their blackest and worst. But
would Plato accept this as a justification for realistic poetry? It is
doubtful. No one could be comforted by a merely literal rendering of
life. The comfort must derive from the personal equation, which is the
despair engendered in the author by dreams of something better than
reality; therefore whatever merit resides in such poetry comes not from
its realism, but from the idealism of the writer.

We must not think that all poets who regard their poetry as a reflection
of this world alone, agree in praising glaring realism as a virtue.
Rather, some of them say, the value of their reflection lies in its
misty indistinctness. Life may be sordid and ugly at first hand, but let
the artist's reflection only be remote enough, and the jagged edges and
dissonances of color which mar daily living will be lost in the purple
haze of distance. Gazing at such a reflection, men may perhaps forget,
for a space, how dreary a thing existence really is.

  And they shall be accounted poet-kings
  Who simply tell the most heart-easing things,
[Footnote: _Sleep and Poetry_.]

said Keats in his youth. Such a statement of the artist's purpose
inevitably calls up William Morris:

  Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
  Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
  Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
  Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
  Telling a tale, not too importunate
  To those who in the sleepy region stay,
  Lulled by the singer of an empty day.
[Footnote: _Prologue to the Earthly Paradise_.]

Would Plato scoff at such a formulation of the artist's mission? He
would rather condemn it, as fostering illusion and falsehood in men's
minds. But we moderns are perhaps more world-weary, less sanguine about
ideal truth than the ancients. With one of our war poets, we often plead
for "song that turneth toil to rest," [Footnote: Madison Cawein,
_Preludes_.] and agree with Keats that, whether art has any other
justification or not, it has one "great end, to soothe the cares of
man." [Footnote: _Sleep and Poetry_.]

We are not to imagine that many of our poets are content with the idea
that poetry has so minor a function as this. They play with the thought
of life's possible insignificance and leave it, for idealism is the
breath of life to poets, and their adherence to realism amounts to
suicide. Poetry may be comforting without being illusive. Emerson says,

  'Tis the privilege of art
  Thus to play its cheerful part
  Man on earth to acclimate
  And bend the exile to his fate.
[Footnote: _Art_.]

It is not, obviously, Emerson's conception that the poetry which brings
this about falsifies. Like most poets, he indicates that art
accomplishes its end, not merely by obscuring the hideous accidents of
life, but by enabling us to glimpse an ideal element which abides in it,
and is its essence.

Is the essence of things really a spiritual meaning? If so, it seems
strange that Plato should have so belittled the poet's capacity to
render the spiritual meaning in verse. But it is possible that the
artist's view as to the relation of the ideal to the physical does not
precisely square with Plato's. Though poets are so constitutionally
Platonic, in this one respect they are perhaps more truly Aristotelians.
Plato seems to say that ideality is not, as a matter of fact, the
essence of objects. It is a light reflected upon them, as the sun's
light is reflected upon the moon. So he claims that the artist who
portrays life is like one who, drawing a picture of the moon, gives
usonly a map of her craters, and misses entirely the only thing that
gives the moon any meaning, that is, moonlight. But the poet, that lover
of the sensuous, cannot quite accept such a view as this. Ideality is
truly the essence of objects, he avers, though it is overlaid with a
mass of meaningless material. Hence the poet who gives us a
representation of things is not obscuring them, but is doing us a
service by simplifying them, and so making their ideality clearer. All
that the most idealistic poet need do is to imitate; as Mrs. Browning

  Paint a body well,
  You paint a soul by implication.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

This firm faith that the sensual is the dwelling-place of the spiritual
accounts for the poet's impatience with the contention that his art is
useless unless he points a lesson, by manipulating his materials toward
a conscious moral end. The poet refuses to turn objects this way and
that, until they catch a reflection from a separate moral world. If he
tries to write with two distinct purposes, hoping to "suffice the eye
and save the soul beside," [Footnote: _The Ring and the Book_.] as
Browning puts it, he is apt to hide the intrinsic spirituality of things
under a cloak of ready-made moral conceptions. In his moments of deepest
insight the poet is sure that his one duty is to reveal beauty clearly,
without troubling himself about moralizing, and he assures his readers,

  If you get simple beauty and naught else,
  You get about the best thing God invents.
[Footnote: _Fra, Lippo Lippi_.]

Probably poets have always felt, in their hearts, what the radicals of
the present day are saying so vehemently, that the poet should not be
expected to sermonize: "I wish to state my firm belief," says Amy
Lowell, "that poetry should not try to teach, that it should exist
simply because it is created beauty." [Footnote: Preface to _Sword
Blades and Poppy Seed_. See also Joyce Kilmer, Letter to Howard W.
Cook, June 28, 1918.]

Even conceding that the ideal lives within the sensual, it may seem that
the poet is too sanguine in his claim that he is able to catch the ideal
and significant feature of a thing rather than its accidents. Why should
this be? Apparently because his thirst is for balance, proportion,
harmony--what you will--leading him to see life as a unity.

The artist's eyes are able to see life in focus, as it were, though it
has appeared to men of less harmonious spirit as

  A many-sided mirror,
  Which could distort to many a shape of error
  This true, fair world of things.
[Footnote: Shelley, _Prometheus Unbound_.]

It is as if the world were a jumbled picture puzzle, which only the
artist is capable of putting together, and the fact that the essence of
things, as he conceives of them, thus forms a harmonious whole is to him
irrefutable proof that the intuition that leads him to see things in
this way is not leading him astray. James Russell Lowell has described
the poet's achievement:

  With a sorrowful and conquering beauty,
  The soul of all looked grandly from his eyes.
[Footnote: _Ode_.]

"The soul of all," that is the artist's revelation. To him the world is
truly a universe, not a heterogeneity of unrelated things. In different
mode from Lowell, Mrs. Browning expresses the same conception of the
artist's imitation of life, inquiring,

                               What is art
  But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
  When, graduating up a spiral line
  Of still expanding and ascending gyres
  It pushes toward the intense significance
  Of all things, hungry for the infinite.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

The poet cannot accept Plato's characterization of him as an imitator,
then, not if this implies that his imitations are inferior to their
objects. Rather, the poet proudly maintains, they are infinitely
superior, being in fact closer approximations to the meaning of things
than are the things themselves. Thus Shelley describes the poet's work:

  He will watch from dawn to gloom
  The lake-reflected sun illume
  The yellow bees in the ivy bloom,
  Nor heed nor see, what things they be;
  But from these create he can
  Forms more real than living man,
  Nurslings of immortality.
[Footnote: _Prometheus Unbound_.]

Therefore the poet has usually claimed for himself the title, not of
imitator, but of seer. To his purblind readers, who see men as trees
walking, he is able, with the search-light of his genius, to reveal the
essential forms of things. Mrs. Browning calls him "the speaker of
essential truth, opposed to relative, comparative and temporal truth";
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.] James Russell Lowell calls him "the
discoverer and revealer of the perennial under the deciduous";
[Footnote: _The Function of the Poet_.] Emerson calls him "the only
teller of news." [Footnote: _Poetry and Imagination_. The following are
some of the poems asserting that the poet is the speaker of ideal truth:
Blake, _Hear the Voice of the Ancient Bard;_ Montgomery, _A Theme for a
Poet;_ Bowles, _The Visionary Boy;_ Wordsworth, _Personal Talk;_
Coleridge, _To Wm. Wordsworth;_ Arnold, _The Austerity of Poetry;_
Rossetti, _Sonnet, Shelley;_ Bulwer Lytton, _The Dispute of the Poets;_
Mrs. Browning, _Pan is Dead;_ Landor, _To Wordsworth_; Jean Ingelow,
_The Star's Monument_; Tupper, _Wordsworth_; Tennyson, _The Poet_;
Swinburne, _The Death of Browning_ (Sonnet V), _A New Year's Ode_;
Edmund Gosse, _Epilogue_; James Russell Lowell, Sonnets XIV and XV on
_Wordsworth's Views of Capital Punishment_; Bayard Taylor, _For the
Bryant Festival_; Emerson, _Saadi_; M. Clemmer, _To Emerson_; Warren
Holden, _Poetry_; P. H. Hayne, _To Emerson_; Edward Dowden, _Emerson_;
Lucy Larcom, _R. W. Emerson_; R. C. Robbins, _Emerson_; Henry Timrod, _A
Vision of Poesy_; G. E. Woodberry, _Ode at the Emerson Centenary_;
Bliss Carman, _In a Copy of Browning_; John Drinkwater, _The Loom of
the Poets_; Richard Middleton, _To an Idle Poet_; Shaemas O'Sheel, _The
Poet Sees that Truth and Passion are One_.]

Here we are, then, at the real point of dispute between the philosopher
and the poet. They claim the same vantage-point from which to overlook
human life. One would think they might peacefully share the same
pinnacle, but as a matter of fact they are continuously jostling one
another. In vain one tries to quiet their contentiousness. Turning to
the most deeply Platonic poets of our period--Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Shelley, Arnold, Emerson,--one may inquire, Does not your description of
the poet precisely tally with Plato's description of the philosopher?
Yes, they aver, but Plato falsified when he named his seer a philosopher
rather than a poet. [Footnote: In rare cases, the poet identifies
himself with the philosopher. See Coleridge, _The Garden of Boccaccio_;
Kirke White, _Lines Written on Reading Some of His Own Earlier Sonnets_;
Bulwer Lytton, _Milton_; George E. Woodberry, _Agathon_.] Surely if the
quarrel may be thus reduced to a matter of terminology, it grows
trivial, but let us see how the case stands.

From one approach the dispute seems to arise from a comparison of
methods. Coleridge praises the truth of Wordsworth's poetry as being

  Not learnt, but native, her own natural notes.
[Footnote: _To William Wordsworth_.]

Wordsworth himself boasts over the laborious investigator of facts,

  Think you, mid all this mighty sum
  Of things forever speaking,
  That nothing of itself will come,
  We must be ever seeking?
[Footnote: _Expostulation and Reply_.]

But the dispute goes deeper than mere method. The poet's immediate
intuition is superior to the philosopher's toilsome research, he
asserts, because it captures ideality alive, whereas the philosopher can
only kill and dissect it. As Wordsworth phrases it, poetry is "the
breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; the impassioned expression
which is in the countenance of all science." Philosophy is useful to the
poet only as it presents facts for his synthesis; Shelley states,
"Reason is to the imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the
body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance." [Footnote: _A
Defense of Poetry_.]

To this the philosopher may rejoin that poetry, far from making
discoveries beyond the bourne of philosophy, is a mere popularization, a
sugar-coating, of the philosopher's discoveries. Tolstoi contends,

    True science investigates and brings to human perception such
    truths and such knowledge as the people of a given time and
    society consider most important. Art transmits these truths
    from the region of perception to the region of emotion. And
    thus a false activity of science inevitably causes a
    correspondingly false activity of art. [Footnote: _What is

Such criticisms have sometimes incensed the poet till he has refused to
acknowledge any indebtedness to the dissecting hand of science, and has
pronounced the philosopher's attitude of mind wholly antagonistic to

  Philosophy will clip an angel's wings,
  Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
[Footnote: _Lamia_.]

Keats once complained. "Sleep in your intellectual crust!" [Footnote:
_A Poet's Epitaph_.]

Wordsworth contemptuously advised the philosopher, and not a few other
poets have felt that philosophy deadens life as a crust of ice deadens a
flowing stream. That reason kills poetry is the unoriginal theme of a
recent poem. The poet scornfully characterizes present writers,

  We are they who dream no dreams,
  Singers of a rising day,
  Who undaunted,
  Where the sword of reason gleams,
  Follow hard, to hew away
  The woods enchanted.
[Footnote: E. Flecker, _Donde Estan_.]

One must turn to Poe for the clearest statement of the antagonism. He

  Science, true daughter of Old Time thou art!
  Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes,
  Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
  Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
  How should he love thee? Or how deem thee wise,
  Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
  To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
  Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
  Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,
  And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
  To seek for shelter in some happier star?
  Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
  The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
  The summer dream beneath the tamarund tree?
[Footnote: _To Science_.]

If this sort of complaint is characteristic of poets, how shall the
philosopher refrain from charging them with falsehood? The poet's
hamadryad and naiad, what are they, indeed, but cobwebby fictions, which
must be brushed away if ideal truth is to be revealed? Critics of the
poet like to point out that Shakespeare frankly confessed,

  Most true it is that I have looked on truth
  Askance and strangely,

and that a renegade artist of the nineteenth century admitted, "Lying,
the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art."
[Footnote: Oscar Wilde, _The Decay of Lying_.] If poets complain that
  all charms fly
  At the mere touch of cold philosophy,
[Footnote: _Lamia_.]

are they not admitting that their vaunted revelations are mere ghosts of
distorted facts, and that they themselves are merely accomplished liars?

In his rebuttal the poet makes a good case for himself. He has
identified the philosopher with the scientist, he says, and rightly, for
the philosopher, the seeker for truth alone, can never get beyond the
realm of science. His quest of absolute truth will lead him, first, to
the delusive rigidity of scientific classification, then, as he tries to
make his classification complete, it will topple over like a lofty tower
of child's blocks, into the original chaos of things.

What! the philosopher may retort, the poet speaks thus of truth, who has
just exalted himself as the supreme truth-teller, the seer? But the poet
answers that his truth is not in any sense identical with that of the
scientist and the philosopher. Not everything that exists is true for
the poet, but only that which has beauty. Therefore he has no need
laboriously to work out a scientific method for sifting facts. If his
love of the beautiful is satisfied by a thing, that thing is real.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty"; Keats' words have been echoed and
reechoed by poets. [Footnote: A few examples of poems dealing with this
subject are Shelley, _A Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_; Mrs. Browning,
_Pan Is Dead_; Henry Timrod, _A Vision of Poesy_; Madison Cawein,
_Prototypes_.] If Poe's rejection of

  The loftiest star of unascended heaven,
  Pinnacled dim in the intense inane,

in favor of attainable "treasures of the jewelled skies" be an offense
against truth, it is not, poets would say, because of his
non-conformance to the so-called facts of astronomy, but because his
sense of beauty is at fault, leading him to prefer prettiness to
sublimity. As for the poet's visions, of naiad and dryad, which the
philosopher avers are less true than chemical and physical forces, they
represent the hidden truth of beauty, which is threaded through the ugly
medley of life, being invisible till under the light of the poet's
thought it flashes out like a pattern in golden thread, woven through a
somber tapestry.

It is only when the poet is not keenly alive to beauty that he begins to
fret about making an artificial connection between truth and beauty, or,
as he is apt to rename them, between wisdom and fancy. In the eighteenth
century when the poet's vision of truth became one with the scientist's,
he could not conceive of beauty otherwise than as gaudy ornaments,
"fancies," with which he might trim up his thoughts. The befuddled
conception lasted over into the romantic period; Beattie [Footnote: See
_The Minstrel_.] and Bowles [Footnote: See _The Visionary Boy_.] both
warned their poets to include both fancy and wisdom in their poetry.
Even Landor reflected,

  A marsh, where only flat leaves lie,
  And showing but the broken sky
  Too surely is the sweetest lay
  That wins the ear and wastes the day
  Where youthful Fancy pouts alone
  And lets not wisdom touch her zone.
[Footnote: See _To Wordsworth_.]

But the poet whose sense of beauty is unerring gives no heed to such

If the scientist scoffs at the poet's intuitive selection of ideal
values, declaring that he might just as well take any other aspect of
things--their number, solidarity, edibleness--instead of beauty, for his
test of their reality, the poet has his answer ready. After all, this
poet, this dreamer, is a pragmatist at heart. To the scientist's charge
that his test is absurd, his answer is simply, It works.

The world is coming to acknowledge, little by little, the poet points
out, that whatever he presents to it as beauty is likewise truth. "The
poet's wish is nature's law," [Footnote: _Poem Outlines_.] says Sidney
Lanier, and other poets, no less, assert that the poet is in unison with
nature. Wordsworth calls poetry "a force, like one of nature's."
[Footnote: _The Prelude_.] One of Oscar Wilde's cleverest paradoxes is
to the effect that nature imitates art, [Footnote: See the Essay on
Criticism.] and in so far as nature is one with human perception, there
is no doubt that it is true. "What the imagination seizes as beauty must
be truth," Keats wrote, "whether it existed before or not." [Footnote:
Letter to B. Baillie, November 17, 1817.] And again, "The imagination
may be compared to Adam's dream--he awoke and found it truth."
[Footnote: Letter to B. Baillie, November 17, 1817.]

If the poet's intuitions are false, how does it chance, he inquires,
that he has been known, in all periods of the world's history, as a
prophet? Shelley says, "Poets are ... the mirrors of the gigantic
shadows which futurity casts upon the present," and explains the
phenomenon thus: "A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, the
one; so far as related to his conceptions, time and place and number are
not." [Footnote: _A Defense of Poetry_.] In our period, verse dealing
with the Scotch bard is fondest of stressing the immemorial association
of the poet and the prophet, and in much of this, the "pretense of
superstition" as Shelley calls it, is kept up, that the poet can
foretell specific happenings. [Footnote: See, for example, Gray, _The
Bard_; Scott, _The Lady of the Lake_, _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_,
_Thomas the Rhymer_; Campbell, _Lochiel's Warning_.] But we have many
poems that express a broader conception of the poet's gift of prophecy.
[Footnote: See William Blake, Introduction to _Songs of Experience_,
_Hear the Voice of the Bard_; Crabbe, _The Candidate_; Landor, _Dante_;
Barry Cornwall, _The Prophet_; Alexander Smith, _A Life Drama_; Coventry
Patmore, _Prophets Who Cannot Sing_; J. R. Lowell, _Massaccio_, Sonnet
XVIII; Owen Meredith, _The Prophet_; W. H. Burleigh, _Shelley_; O. W.
Holmes, _Shakespeare_; T. H. Olivers, _The Poet_, _Dante_; Alfred
Austin, _The Poet's Corner_; Swinburne, _The Statue of Victor Hugo_;
Herbert Trench, _Stanzas on Poetry_.] Holmes' view is typical:

  We call those poets who are first to mark
  Through earth's dull mist the coming of the dawn,--
  Who see in twilight's gloom the first pale spark
  While others only note that day is gone;
  For them the Lord of light the curtain rent
  That veils the firmament.
[Footnote: _Shakespeare_.]

Most of these poems account for the premonitions of the poet as Shelley
does; as a more recent poet has phrased it:

      Strange hints
  Of things past, present and to come there lie
  Sealed in the magic pages of that music,
  Which, laying hold on universal laws,
  Ranges beyond these mud-walls of the flesh.
[Footnote: Alfred Noyes, _Tales of the Mermaid Inn_.]

The poet's defense is not finished when he establishes the truth of his
vision. How shall the world be served, he is challenged, even though it
be true that the poet's dreams are of reality? Plato demanded of his
philosophers that they return to the cave of sense, after they had seen
the heavenly vision, and free the slaves there. Is the poet willing to
do this? It has been charged that he is not. Browning muses,

      Ah, but to find
  A certain mood enervate such a mind,
  Counsel it slumber in the solitude
  Thus reached, nor, stooping, task for mankind's good
  Its nature just, as life and time accord.
  --Too narrow an arena to reward
  Emprize--the world's occasion worthless since
  Not absolutely fitted to evince
  Its mastery!
[Footnote: _Sordello_.]

But one is inclined to question the justice of Browning's charge, at
least so far as it applies peculiarly to the poet. Logically, he should
devote himself to sense-blinded humanity, not reluctantly, like the
philosopher descending to a gloomy cave which is not his natural
habitat, but eagerly, since the poet is dependent upon sense as well as
spirit for his vision. "This is the privilege of beauty," says Plato,
"that, being the loveliest of the ideas, she is also the most palpable
to sight." [Footnote: _Phaedrus_.] Accordingly the poet has no
horror of physical vision as a bondage, but he is fired with an
enthusiasm to make the world of sense a more transparent medium of
beauty. [Footnote: For poetry dealing with the poet's humanitarian
aspect, see Bowles, _The Visionary Boy_, _On the Death of the
Rev. Benwell_; Wordsworth, _The Poet and the Caged Turtle Dove_;
Arnold, _Heine's Grave_; George Eliot, _O May I Join the Choir
Invisible_; Lewis Morris, _Food Of Song_; George Meredith, _Milton_;
Bulwer Lytton, _Milton_; James Thomson, B. V., _Shelley_; Swinburne,
_Centenary of Landor_, _Victor Hugo_, _Victor Hugo in 1877_, _Ben
Jonson_, _Thomas Decker_; Whittier, _To J. P._, and _The Tent on the
Beach_; J. R. Lowell, _To The Memory of Hood_; O. W. Holmes, _At a
Meeting of the Burns Club_; Emerson, _Solution_; R. Realf, _Of Liberty
and Charity_; W. H. Burleigh, _Shelley_; T. L. Harris, _Lyrics of the
Golden Age_; Eugene Field, _Poet and King_; C. W. Hubner, _The Poet_; J.
H. West, _O Story Teller Poet_; Gerald Massey, _To Hood Who Sang the
Song of the Shirt_; Bayard Taylor, _A Friend's Greeting to Whittier_;
Sidney Lanier, _Wagner_, _Clover_; C. A. Pierce, _The Poet's Ideal_; E.
Markham, _The Bard_, _A Comrade Calling Back_, _An April Greeting_; G.
L. Raymond, _A Life in Song_; Richard Gilder, _The City_, _The Dead
Poet_; E. L. Cox, _The Master_, _Overture_; R. C. Robbins, _Wordsworth_;
Carl McDonald, _A Poet's Epitaph_.] It is inevitable that every poet's
feeling for the world should be that of Shelley, who says to the spirit
of beauty,

  Never joy illumed my brow
  Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
  This world from its dark slavery.
[Footnote: _Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_.]
For, unlike the philosopher, the poet has never departed from the world
of sense, and it is hallowed to him as the incarnation of beauty.
Therefore he is eager to make other men ever more and more transparent
embodiments of their true selves, in order that, gazing upon them, the
poet may have ever deeper inspiration. This is the central allegory in
_Enydmion_, that the poet must learn to help humanity before the mystery
of poetship shall be unlocked to him. Browning comments to this effect
upon Bordello's unwillingness to meet the world:

  But all is changed the moment you descry
  Mankind as half yourself.

Matthew Arnold is the sternest of modern poets, perhaps, in pointing out
the poet's responsibility to humanity:

  The poet, to whose mighty heart
  Heaven doth a quicker pulse impart,
  Subdues that energy to scan
  Not his own course, but that of man.
  Though he move mountains, though his day
  Be passed on the proud heights of sway,
  Though he hath loosed a thousand chains,
  Though he hath borne immortal pains,
  Action and suffering though he know,
  He hath not lived, if he lives so.
[Footnote: _Resignation_.]

It is obvious that in the poet's opinion there is only one means by
which he can help humanity, and that is by helping men to express their
essential natures; in other words, by setting them free. Liberty is
peculiarly the watch-word of the poets. To the philosopher and the
moralist, on the contrary, there is no merit in liberty alone. Men must
be free before they can seek wisdom or goodness, no doubt, but something
beside freedom is needed, they feel, to make men good or evil. But to
the poet, beauty and liberty are almost synonymous. If beauty is the
heart of the universe (and it must be, the poet argues, since it abides
in sense as well as spirit), there is no place for the corrupt will. If
men are free, they are expressing their real natures; they are

Is this our poet's view? But hear Plato: "The tragic poets, being wise
men, will forgive us, and any others who live after our manner, if we do
not receive them into our state, because they are the eulogists of
tyranny." [Footnote: _Republic._] Few enemies of poets nowadays
would go so far as to make a charge like this one, though Thomas
Peacock, who locked horns with Shelley on the question of poetry,
asserted that poets exist only by virtue of their flattery of earth's
potentates. [Footnote: See _The Four Ages of Poetry._] Once, it must
be confessed, one of the poets themselves brought their name into
disrepute. In the heat of his indignation over attacks made upon his
friend Southey, Landor was moved to exclaim,

  If thou hast ever done amiss
  It was, O Southey, but in this,
  That, to redeem the lost estate
  Of the poor Muse, a man so great
  Abased his laurels where some Georges stood
  Knee-deep in sludge and ordure, some in blood.
  Was ever genius but thyself
  Friend or befriended of a Guelf?

But these are insignificant exceptions to the general characterization
of the modern poet as liberty-lover.

Probably Plato's equanimity would not be upset, even though we presented
to him an overwhelming array of evidence bearing upon the modern poet's
allegiance to democracy. Certainly, he might say, the modern poet, like
the ancient one, reflects the life about him. At the time of the French
revolution, or of the world war, when there is a popular outcry against
oppression, what is more likely than that the poet's voice should be the
loudest in the throng? But as soon as there is a reaction toward
monarchical government, poets will again scramble for the post of

The modern poet can only repeat that this is false, and that a resume of
history proves it. Shelley traces the rise and decadence of poetry
during periods of freedom and slavery. He points out, "The period in our
history of the grossest degradation of the drama is the reign of Charles
II, when all the forms in which poetry had been accustomed to be
expressed became hymns to the triumph of kingly power over liberty and
virtue." Gray, in _The Progress of Poesy_, draws the same
conclusion as Shelley:

  Her track, where'er the goddess roves,
  Glory pursue, and generous shame,
  The unconquerable will, and freedom's holy flame.

Other poets, if they do not base their conclusions upon history, assert
no less positively that every true poet is a lover of freedom.
[Footnote: See Gray, _The Bard_; Burns, _The Vision_; Scott, _The Bard's
Incantation_; Moore, _The Minstrel Boy_, _O Blame Not the Bard_, _The
Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls_, _Shall the Harp then be Silent_,
_Dear Harp of My Country_; Wordsworth, _The Brownies' Cell_, _Here
Pause_; Tennyson, _Epilogue_, _The Poet_; Swinburne, _Victor Hugo_, _The
Centenary of Landor_, _To Catullus_, _The Statue of Victor Hugo_, _To
Walt Whitman in America_; Browning, _Sordello_; Barry Cornwall,
_Miriam_; Shelley, _To Wordsworth_, _Alastor_, _The Revolt of Islam_,
_Hymn to Intellectual Beauty_, _Prometheus Unbound_; S. T. Coleridge,
_Ode to France_; Keats, _Epistle to His Brother George_; Philip Freneau,
_To a Writer Who Inscribes Himself a Foe to Tyrants_; J. D. Percival,
_The Harper_; J. R. Lowell, _Ode_, _L'Envoi_, Sonnet XVII, _Incident in
a Railway Car_, _To the Memory of Hood_; Whittier, _Proem_, _Eliot_,
Introduction to _The Tent on the Beach_; Longfellow, _Michael Angelo_;
Whitman, _Starting from Paumaak_, _By Blue Ontario's Shore_, _For You_,
_O Democracy_; W. H. Burleigh, _The Poet_; W. C. Bryant, _The Poet_;
Bayard Taylor, _A Friend's Greeting to Whittier_; Richard Realf, _Of
Liberty and Charity_; Henry van Dyke, _Victor Hugo_, _To R. W. Gilder_;
Simon Kerl, _Burns_; G. L. Raymond, _Dante_, _A Life in Song; Charles
Kent, _Lamartine in February_; Robert Underwood Johnson, _To the Spirit
of Byron_, _Shakespeare_; Francis Carlin, _The Dublin Poets_,
_MacSweeney the Rhymer_, _The Poetical Saints_; Daniel Henderson, _Joyce
Kilmer_, _Alan Seeger_, _Walt Whitman_; Rhys Carpenter, _To Rupert
Brooke_; William Ellery Leonard, _As I Listened by the Lilacs_; Eden
Phillpotts Swinburne, _The Grave of Landor_.] It is to be expected that
in the romantic period poets should be almost unanimous in this view,
though even here it is something of a surprise to hear Keats, whose
themes are usually so far removed from political life, exclaiming,

  Where's the poet? Show him, show him,
  Muses mine, that I may know him!
  'Tis the man who with a man  Is an equal, be he king
  Or poorest of the beggar clan.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

Wordsworth's devotion to liberty was doubted by some of his brothers,
but Wordsworth himself felt that, if he were not a democrat, he would be
false to poetry, and he answers his detractors,

  Here pause: the poet claims at least this praise,
  That virtuous Liberty hath been the scope
  Of his pure song.

In the Victorian period the same view holds. The Brownings were ardent
champions of democracy. Mrs. Browning averred that the poet's thirst for
ubiquitous beauty accounts for his love of freedom:

                        Poets (hear the word)
  Half-poets even, are still whole democrats.
  Oh, not that they're disloyal to the high,
  But loyal to the low, and cognizant
  Of the less scrutable majesties.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

Tennyson conceived of the poet as the author of democracy. [Footnote:
_See The Poet_.] Swinburne prolonged the Victorian paean to the
liberty-loving poet [Footnote: See _Mater Triumphilis_, _Prelude_,
_Epilogue_, _Litany of Nations_, and _Hertha_.] till our new group of
singers appeared, whose devotion to liberty is self-evident.

It is true that to the poet liberty is an inner thing, not always
synonymous with suffrage. Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, all came to
distrust the machinery of so-called freedom in society. Likewise
Browning was not in favor of too radical social changes, and Mrs.
Browning went so far as to declare, "I love liberty so much that I hate
socialism." Mob rule is as distasteful to the deeply thoughtful poet as
is tyranny, for the liberty which he seeks to bring into the world is
simply the condition in which every man is expressing the beauty of his
truest self.

If the poet has proved that his visions are true, and that he is eager
to bring society into harmony with them, what further charge remains
against him? That he is "an ineffectual angel, beating his bright wings
in the void." He may see a vision of Utopia, and long that men shall
become citizens there, but the man who actually perfects human society
is he who patiently toils at the "dim, vulgar, vast, unobvious work"
[Footnote: See _Sordello_.] of the world, here amending a law, here
building a settlement house, and so on. Thus the reformer charges the
poet. Mrs. Browning, in _Aurora Leigh_, makes much of the issue,
and there the socialist, Romney Leigh, sneers at the poet's
inefficiency, telling Aurora that the world

  To rhyme the cry with which she still beats back
  Those savage hungry dogs that hunt her down
  To the empty grave of Christ ...
                           ... Who has time,
  An hour's time--think!--to sit upon a bank
  And hear the cymbal tinkle in white hands.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_. See also the letter to Robert Browning,
February 17, 1845.]

The poet has, occasionally, plunged into the maelstrom of reform and
proved to such objectors that he can work as efficiently as they. Thomas
Hood, Whittier, and other poets have challenged the respect of the
Romney Leighs of the world. Yet one hesitates to make specialization in
reform the gauge of a poet's merit. Where, in that case, would Keats be
beside Hood? In our day, where would Sara Teasdale be beside Edwin
Markham? Is there not danger that the poet, once launched on a career as
an agitator, will no longer have time to dream dreams? If he bases his
claims of worth on his ability as a "carpet-duster," [Footnote: See
_Aurora Leigh_.] as Mrs. Browning calls the agitator, he is merely
unsettling society,--for what end? He himself will soon have
forgotten--will have become as salt that has lost its savor. Nothing is
more disheartening than to see men straining every nerve to make other
men righteous, who have themselves not the faintest appreciation of the
beauty of holiness. Let reformers beware how they assert the poet's
uselessness, our singers say, for it is an indication that they
themselves are blind to the light toward which they profess to be
leading men. The work of the reformer inevitably degenerates into the
mere strenuosity of the campaign,

      Unless the artist keep up open roads
  Betwixt the seen and unseen, bursting through
  The best of our conventions with his best,
  The speakable, imaginable best
  God bids him speak, to prove what lies beyond
  Both speech and imagination.
[Footnote: _Aurora Leigh_.]

Thus speaks Mrs. Browning.

The reforms that make a stir in the world, being merely external, mean
little or nothing apart from the impulse that started them, and the poet
alone is powerful to stir the impulse of reform in humanity. "To be
persuaded rests usually with ourselves," said Longinus, "but genius
brings force sovereign and irresistible to bear upon every hearer."
[Footnote: _On the Sublime_.] The poet, in ideal mood, is as
innocent of specific designs upon current morality as was Pippa, when
she wandered about the streets of Asolo, but the power of his songs is
ever as insuperable as was that of hers. It is for this reason that
Emerson advises the poet to leave hospital building and statute revision
for men of duller sight than he:

  Oft shall war end and peace return
  And cities rise where cities burn
  Ere one man my hill shall climb
  Who can turn the golden rhyme.
  Let them manage how they may,
  Heed thou only Saadi's lay.
[Footnote: _Saadi_.]

Here the philosopher may demur. If the poet were truly an idealist,--if
he found for the world conceptions as pure as those of mathematics,
which can be applied equally well to any situation, then, indeed, he
might regard himself as the author of progress. But it is the poet's
failing that he gives men no vision of abstract beauty. He represents
his visions in the contemporary dress of his times. Thus he idealizes
the past and the present, showing beauty shining through the dullness
and error of human history. Is he not, then, the enemy of progress,
since he will lead his readers to imagine that things are ideal as they

Rather, men will be filled with reverence for the idealized portrait of
themselves that the poet has drawn, and the intervention of the reformer
will be unnecessary, since they will voluntarily tear off the shackles
that disfigure them. The poet, said Shelley, "redeems from decay the
visitations of the divinity in man." Emerson said of Wordsworth, "He
more than any other man has done justice to the divine in us." Mrs.
Browning said (of Carlyle) "He fills the office of a poet--by analyzing
humanity back into its elements, to the destruction of the conventions
of the hour." [Footnote: Letter to Robert Browning, February 27, 1845.]
This is what Matthew Arnold meant by calling poetry "a criticism of
life." Poetry is captivating only in proportion as the ideal shines
through the sensual; consequently men who are charmed by the beauty
incarnate in poetry, are moved to discard all conventions through which
beauty does not shine.

Therefore, the poet repeats, he is the true author of reform. Tennyson
says of freedom,

                          No sword
  Of wrath her right arm whirled,
  But one poor poet's scroll, and with his word
  She shook the world.
[Footnote: _The Poet_.]

This brings us back to our war poets who have so recently died. Did they
indeed disparage the Muse whom they deserted? Did they not rather die to
fulfill a poet's prophesy of freedom? A poet who did not carry in his
heart the courage of his song--what could be more discreditable to
poetry than that? The soldier-poets were like a general who rushes into
the thick of the fight and dies beside a private. We reverence such a
man, but we realize that it was not his death, but his plan for the
engagement, that saved the day.

If such is the poet's conception of his service to mankind, what is his
reward? The government of society, he returns. Emerson says,

  The gods talk in the breath of the woods,
  They talk in the shaken pine,
  And fill the long reach of the old seashore
  With dialogue divine.
  And the poet who overhears
  Some random word they say
  Is the fated man of men
  Whom the nations must obey.
[Footnote: Fragment on _The Poet_.]

What is the poet's reward? Immortality. He is confident that if his
vision is true he shall join

                                    The choir invisible
  Of those immortal dead who live again
  In minds made better by their presence: live
  In pulses stirred to generosity,
  In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
  And with their mild persistence urge man's search
  To vaster issues.
[Footnote: George Eliot, _The Choir Invisible_.]

Does this mean simply the immortality of fame? It is a higher thing than
that. The beauty which the poet creates is itself creative, and having
the principle of life in it, can never perish. Whitman cries,

  Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
  Not today is to justify me and answer what I am for,
  But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental,
  greater than before known,
  Arouse! for you must justify me!
[Footnote: _Poets to Come_.]

Browning made the only apparent trace of Sordello left in the world, the
snatch of song which the peasants sing on the hillside. Yet, though his
name be lost, the poet's immortality is sure. For like Socrates in the
_Symposium_, his desire is not merely for a fleeting vision of
beauty, but for birth and generation in beauty. And the beauty which he
is enabled to bring into the world will never cease to propagate itself.
So, though he be as fragile as a windflower, he may assure himself,

  I shall not die; I shall not utterly die,
  For beauty born of beauty--that remains.
[Footnote: Madison Cawein, _To a Windflower_.]



Not even a paper shortage has been potent to give the lie to the author
of _Ecclesiastes_, but it has fanned into flame the long smouldering
resentment of those who are wearily conscious that of making many books
there is no end. No longer is any but the most confirmed writer suffered
to spin out volume after volume in complacent ignorance of his readers'
state of mind, for these victims of eye-strain and nerves turn upon the
newest book, the metaphorical last straw on the camel's load, with the
exasperated cry, Why? Why? and again Why?

Fortunately for themselves, most of the poets who have taken the poet's
character as their theme, indulged their weakness for words before that
long-suffering bookworm, the reader, had turned, but one who at the
present day drags from cobwebby corners the accusive mass of material on
the subject, must seek to justify, not merely the loquacity of its
authors, but one's own temerity as well, in forcing it a second time
upon the jaded attention of the public.

If one had been content merely to make an anthology of poems dealing
with the poet, one's deed would perhaps have been easier to excuse, for
the public has been so often assured that anthologies are an economical
form of publication, and a time-saving form of predigested food, that it
usually does not stop to consider whether the material was worth
collecting in the first place. Gleaner after gleaner has worked in the
field of English literature, sorting and sifting, until almost the last
grain, husk, straw and thistle have been gathered and stored with their
kind. But instead of making an anthology, we have gone on the assumption
that something more than accidental identity of subject-matter holds
together the apparently desultory remarks of poets on the subject of the
poet's eyebrows, his taste in liquors, his addiction to midnight
rambles, and whatnot. We have followed a labyrinthine path through the
subject with faith that, if we were but patient in observing the clues,
we should finally emerge at a point of vantage on the other side of the

The primary grounds of this faith may have appeared to the skeptic
ridiculously inadequate. Our faith was based upon the fact that, more
than two thousand years ago, a serious accusation had been made against
poets, against which they had been challenged to defend themselves. This
led us to conclude that there must be unity of intention in poetry
dealing with the poet, for we believed that when English poets talked of
themselves and their craft, they were attempting to remove the stigma
placed upon the name of poet by Plato's charge.

Now it is easy for a doubter to object that many of the poems on the
subject show the poet, not arraying evidence for a trial, but leaning
over the brink of introspection in the attitude of Narcissus. One need
seek no farther than self-love, it may be suggested, to find the motive
for the poet's absorption in his reflection. Yet it is incontrovertible
that the self-infatuation of our Narcissus has its origin in the
conviction that no one else understands him, and that this conviction is
founded upon a very real attitude of hostility on the part of his
companions. The lack of sympathy between the English poet and the public
is so notorious that Edmund Gosse is able to state as a truism:
    While in France poetry has been accustomed to reflect the
    general tongue of the people, the great poets of England have
    almost always had to struggle against a complete dissonance
    between their own aims and interests and those of the nation.
    The result has been that England, the most inartistic of the
    modern races, has produced the largest number of exquisite
    literary artists. [Footnote: _French Profiles_, p. 344.]

Furthermore, even though everyone may agree that a lurking sense of
hostile criticism is back of the poet's self-absorption, another ground
for skepticism may lie in our assumption that Plato is the central
figure in the opposition. It is usually with purpose to excite the envy
of contemporary enemies that poets call attention to their graces, the
student may discover. Frequently the quarrels leading them to flaunt
their personalities in their verses have arisen over the most personal
and ephemeral of issues. Indeed, we may have appeared to falsify in
classifying their enemies under general heads, when for Christopher
North, Judson, Belfair, Friend Naddo, Richard Bame, we substituted faces
of cipher foolishness, abstractions which we named the puritan, the
philosopher, the philistine. Possibly by so doing we have given the
impression that poets are beating the air against an abstraction when
they are in reality delivering thumping blows upon the body of a
personal enemy. And if these generalizations appear indefensible, still
more misleading, it may be urged, is an attempt to represent that the
poet, when he takes issue with this and that opponent, is answering a
challenge hidden away from the unstudious in the tenth book of Plato's
_Republic_. It is doubtful even whether a number of our poets are
aware of the existence of Plato's challenge, and much more doubtful
whether they have it in mind as they write.

Second thought must make it clear, however, that to prove ignorance of
Plato's accusation on the part of one poet and another does not at all
impair the possibility that it is his accusation which they are
answering. So multiple are the threads of influence leading from the
_Republic_ through succeeding literatures and civilizations that it
is unsafe to assert, offhand, that any modern expression of hostility to
poetry may not be traced, by a patient untangler of evidence, to a
source in the _Republic_. But even this is aside from the point.
One might concede that the wide-spread modern antagonism to poetry would
have been the same if Plato had never lived, and still maintain that in
the _Republic_ is expressed for all time whatever in anti-aesthetic
criticism is worthy of a serious answer. Whether poets themselves are
aware of it or not, we have a right to assert that in concerning
themselves with the character of the ideal poet, they are responding to
Plato's challenge.

This may not be enough to justify our faith that these defensive
expositions lead us anywhere. Let us agree that certain poets of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries have answered Plato's challenge. But
has the Poet likewise answered it? If from their independent efforts to
paint the ideal poet there has emerged a portrait as sculpturally clear
in outline as is Plato's portrait of the ideal philosopher, we shall
perhaps be justified in saying, Yes, the Poet, through a hundred mouths,
has spoken.

Frankly, the composite picture which we have been considering has not
sculptural clarity. To the casual observer it bears less resemblance to
an alto-relief than to a mosaic; no sooner do distinct patterns spring
out of myriad details than they shift under the onlooker's eyes to a
totally different form. All that we can claim for the picture is
excellence as a piece of impressionism, which one must scan with
half-closed eyes at a calculated distance, if one would appreciate its
central conception.

Apparently readers of English poetry have not taken the trouble to scan
it with such care. They may excuse their indifference by declaring that
an attempt to discover a common aesthetic principle in a collection of
views as catholic as those with which we have dealt is as absurd as an
attempt to discover philosophical truth by taking a census of general
opinion. Still, obvious as are the limitations of a popular vote in
determining an issue, it has a certain place in the discovery of truth.
One would not entirely despise the benefit derived from a general survey
of philosophers' convictions, for instance. Into the conclusions of each
philosopher, even of the greatest, there are bound to enter certain
personal whimsicalities of thought, which it is profitable to eliminate,
by finding the common elements in the thought of several men. If the
quest of a universal least common denominator forces one to give up
everything that is of significance in the views of philosophers, there
is profit, at least, in learning that the title of philosopher does not
carry with it a guarantee of truth-telling. On the other hand if we find
universal recognition of some fundamental truth, a common _cogito ergo
sum_, or the like, acknowledged by all philosophers, we have made a
discovery as satisfactory in its way as is acceptance of the complex
system of philosophy offered by Plato or Descartes. There seems to be no
real reason why it should not be quite as worth while to take a similar
census of the views of poets.

After hearkening to the general suffrage of poets on the question of the
poet's character, we must bring a serious charge against them if a
deafening clamor of contradiction reverberates in our ears. In such a
case their claim that they are seers, or masters of harmony, can be
worth little. The unbiased listener is likely to assure us that
clamorous contradiction is precisely what the aggregate of poets'
speaking amounts to, but we shall be slow to acknowledge as much. Have
we been merely the dupe of pretty phrasing when we felt ourselves
insured against discord by the testimony of Keats? Hear him:

  How many bards gild the lapses of time!
       *       *       *       *       *
  ... Often, when I sit me down to rhyme,
  These will in throngs before my mind intrude,
  But no confusion, no disturbance rude
  Do they occasion; 'tis a pleasing chime.

However incompatible the characteristics of the poets celebrated by
Wordsworth and by Swinburne, by Christina Rossetti and by Walt Whitman
may have seemed in immediate juxtaposition, we have trusted that we need
only retire to a position where "distance of recognizance bereaves"
their individual voices, in order to detect in their mingled notes
"pleasing music, and not wild uproar."

The critic who condemns as wholly discordant the variant notes of our
multitudinous verse-writers may point out that we should have had more
right to expect concord if we had shown some discernment in sifting true
poets from false. Those who have least claim to the title of poet have
frequently been most garrulous in voicing their convictions. Moreover,
these pseudo-poets outnumber genuine poets one hundred to one, yet no
one in his right mind would contend that their expressions of opinion
represent more than a straw vote, if they conflict with the judgment of
a single true poet.

Still, our propensity for listening to the rank breath of the multitude
is not wholly indefensible. In the first place pseudo-poets have not
created so much discord as one might suppose. A lurking sense of their
own worthlessness has made them timid of utterance except as they echo
and prolong a note that has been struck repeatedly by singers of
reputation. This echoing, it may be added, has sometimes been effective
in bringing the traditions of his craft to the attention of a young
singer as yet unaware of them. Thus Bowles and Chivers, neither of whom
has very strong claim to the title of bard, yet were in a measure
responsible for the minor note in Coleridge's and Poe's description of
the typical poet.

Even when the voices of spurious bards have failed to chime with the
others, the resulting discord has not been of serious moment. A
counterfeit coin may be as good a touchstone for the detection of pure
silver, as is pure silver for the detection of counterfeit. Not only are
a reader's views frequently clarified by setting a poetaster beside a
poet as a foil, but poets themselves have clarified their views because
they have been incited by declarations in false verse to express their
convictions more unreservedly than they should otherwise have done.
Pseudo-poets have sometimes been of genuine benefit by their
exaggeration of some false note which they have adopted from poetry of
the past. No sooner do they exaggerate such a note, than a concerted
shout of protest from true poets drowns the erroneous statement, and
corrects the misleading impression which careless statements in earlier
verse might have left with us. Thus the morbid singer exhibited in minor
American verse of the last century, and the vicious singer lauded in one
strain of English verse, performed a genuine service by calling forth
repudiation, by major poets, of traits which might easily lead a singer
in the direction of morbidity and vice.

The confusion of sound which our critic complains of is not to be
remedied merely by silencing the chorus of echoic voices. If we dropped
from consideration all but poets of unquestionable merit, we should not
be more successful in detecting a single clear note, binding all their
voices together. When the ideal poet of Shelley is set against that of
Byron, or that of Matthew Arnold against that of Browning, there is no
more unison than when great and small in the poetic world are allowed to
speak indiscriminately.

Does this prove that only the supreme poet speaks truly, and that we
must hush all voices but his if we would learn what is the essential
element in the poetic character? Then we are indeed in a hard case.
There is no unanimity of opinion among us regarding the supreme English
poet of the last century, and if we dared follow personal taste in
declaring one of higher altitude than all the others only a small
percentage of readers would be satisfied when we set up the _Prelude_ or
_Adonais_ or _Childe Harold_ or _Sordello_ beside the _Republic_ as
containing the one portrait of the ideal singer worthy to stand beside
the portrait of the ideal philosopher. And this is not the worst of the
difficulty. Even if we turn from Shelley to Byron, from Wordsworth to
Browning, in quest of the one satisfactory conception of the poet, we
shall not hear in anyone of their poems the single clear ringing note
for which we are listening. When anyone of these men is considering the
poetic character, his thought behaves like a pendulum, swinging back and
forth between two poles.

Thus we ourselves have admitted the futility of our quest of truth, the
critic may conclude. But no, before we admit as much, let us see exactly
what constitutes the lack of unity which troubles us. After its
persistence in verse of the same country, the same period, the same
tradition, the same poet, even, has led us to the brink of despair, its
further persistence rouses in us fresh hope, or at least intense
curiosity, for what impresses us as the swinging of a pendulum keeps up
its rhythmical beat, not merely in the mind of each poet, but in each
phase of his thought. We find the same measured antithesis of thought,
whether he is considering the singer's environment or his health, his
inspiration or his mission.

In treatment even of the most superficial matters related to the poet's
character, this vibration forces itself upon our attention. Poets are
sofar from subscribing to Taine's belief in the supreme importance of
environment as molder of genius that the question of the singer's proper
habitat is of comparative indifference to them, yet the dualism that we
have noted runs as true to form here as in more fundamental issues. When
one takes the suffrage of poets in general on the question of
environment, two voices are equally strong. Genius is fostered by
solitude, we hear; but again, genius is fostered by human companionship.
At first we may assume that this divergence of view characterizes
separate periods. Writers in the romantic period, we say, praised the
poet whose thought was turned inward by solitude; while writers in the
Victorian period praised the poet whose thought was turned upon the
spectacle of human passions. But on finding that this classification is
true only in the most general way, we go farther. Within the Victorian
period Browning, we say, is the advocate of the social poet, as Arnold
is the advocate of the solitary one. But still our classification is
inadequate. Is Browning the expositor of the gregarious poet? It is true
that he feels it necessary for the singer to "look upon men and their
cares and hopes and fears and joys." [Footnote: _Pauline_.] But he
makes Sordello flee like a hunted creature back to Goito and solitude in
quest of renewed inspiration. Is Arnold the expositor of the solitary
poet? True, he urges him to fly from "the strange disease of modern
life". [Footnote: _The Scholar Gypsy_.] Yet he preaches that the
duty of the poet is

      to scan
  Not his own course, but that of man.
[Footnote: _Resignation_.]

Within the romantic period the same phenomenon is evident. Does
Wordsworth paint the ideal poet dwelling apart from human distractions?
Yet he declares that his deepest insight is gained by listening to "the
still sad music of humanity". In Keats, Shelley, Byron, the same
antithesis of thought is not less evident.

We cannot justly conclude that a compromise between contradictions, an
avoidance of extremes, is what anyone of these poets stands for. It is
complete absorption in the drame of human life that makes one a poet,
they aver; but again, it is complete isolation that allows the inmost
poetry of one's nature to rise to consciousness. At the same time they
make it clear that the supreme poet needs the gifts of both
environments. To quote Walt Whitman,

  What the full-grown poet came,
  Out spake pleased Nature (the round impassive globe
      with all its shows of day and night) saying, He
      is mine;
  But out spake too the Soul of men, proud, jealous
      and unreconciled, Nay, he is mine alone;
  --Then the full-grown poet stood between the two and
      took each by the hand;
  And today and ever so stands, as blender, uniter, tightly
      holding hands,
  Which he will never release till he reconciles the two,
  And wholly and joyously blends them.

The paradox in poets' views was equally perplexing, no matter what phase
of the poetic character was considered. A mere resume of the topics
discussed in these essays is enough to make the two horns of the dilemma
obtrude themselves. Did we consider the financial status of the poet? We
heard that he should experience all the luxurious sensations that wealth
can bring; on the other hand we heard that his poverty should shield him
from distractions that might call him away from accumulation of
spiritual treasure. Did we consider the poet's age? We heard that the
freshness of sensation possessed only by youth carries the secret of
poetry; on the other hand we heard that the secret lies in depth of
spiritual insight possible only to old age. So in the allied question of
the poet's body. He should have

                                 The dress
  Of flesh that amply lets in loveliness
  At eye and ear,

that no beauty in the physical world may escape him. Yet he should be
absorbed in the other world to such a degree that blindness, even, is a
blessing to him, enabling him to "see, no longer blinded by his eyes."
The question of the poet's health arose. He should have the exuberance
and aplomb of the young animal; no, he should have a body frail enough
to enable him, like the mediaeval mystic, to escape from its
importunatedemands upon the spirit.

In the more fundamental questions that poets considered, relating to the
poet's temperament, his loves, his inspiration, his morality, his
religion, his mission, the same cleavage invariably appeared. What
constitutes the poetic temperament? It is a fickle interchange of joy
and grief, for the poet is lifted on the wave of each new sensation; it
is an imperturbable serenity, for the poet dwells apart with the eternal
verities. What is the distinguishing characteristic of his love? The
object of his worship must be embodied, passionate, yet his desire is
for purely spiritual union with her. What is the nature of his
inspiration? It fills him with trancelike impassivity to sensation; it
comes upon him with such overwhelming sensation that he must touch the
walls to see whether they or his visions are the reality. [Footnote: See
Christopher Wordsworth, _Memoirs of Wordsworth_, Vol. II, p. 480.]
How is his moral life different from that of other men? He is more
fiercely tempted, because he is more sensitive to human passions; he is
shut away from all temptations because his interest is solely in the
principle of beauty. What is the nature of his religious instinct? He is
mad with thirst for God; he will have no God but his own humanity. What
is his mission? He must awaken men to the wonder of the physical world
and fit them to abide therein; he must redeem them from physical
bondage, and open their eyes to the spiritual world.

The impatient listener to this lengthy catalogue of the poet's views may
assert that it has no significance. It merely shows that there are many
kinds of poets, who attempt to imitate many aspects of human life. But
surely our catalogue does not show just this. There is no multiform
picture of the poet here. The pendulum of his desire vibrates
undeviatingly between two points only. Sense and spirit, spirit and
sense, the pulse of his nature seems to reiterate incessantly. There is
no poet so absorbed in sensation that physical objects do not
occasionally fade into unreality when he compares them with the spirit
of life. Even Walt Whitman, most sensuous of all our poets, exclaims,

  Sometimes how strange and clear to the soul
  That all these solid things are indeed but apparitions,
       concepts, non-realities.
[Footnote: _Apparitions_.]

On the other hand there is no poet whose taste is so purely spiritual
that he is indifferent to sensation. The idealism of Wordsworth, even,
did not preclude his finding in sensation

  An appetite, a feeling and a love
  That had no need of a remoter charm
  By thought supplied.

Is this systole and diastole of the affection from sense to spirit, from
spirit to sense, peculiarly characteristic of English poets? There may
be some reason for assuming that it is. Historians have repeatedly
pointed out that there are two strains in the English blood, the one
northern and ascetic, the other southern and epicurean. In the modern
English poet the austere prophetic character of the Norse scald is
wedded to the impressionability of the troubadour. No wonder there is a
battle in his breast when he tries to single out one element or the
other as his most distinctive quality of soul. Yet, were it not unsafe
to generalize when our data apply to only one country, we should venture
the assertion that the dualism of the poet's desires is not an insular
characteristic, but is typical of his race in every country.

Because the poet is drawn equally to this world and to the other world,
shall we characterize him as a hybrid creature, and assert that an
irreconcilable discord is in his soul? We shall prove ourselves
singularly deaf to concord if we do so. Poets have been telling us over
and over again that the distinctive element in the poetic nature is
harmony. What is harmony? It is the reconciliation of opposites, says
Eurymachus in the _Symposium_. It is union of the finite and the
infinite, says Socrates in the _Philebus_. Do the poet's desires
point in opposite directions? But so, it seems, do the poplars that
stand tiptoe, breathless, at the edge of the dreaming pool. The whole
secret of the aesthetic repose lies in the duality of the poet's desire.
His imagination enables him to see all life as two in one, or one in
two; he leaves us uncertain which. His imagination reflects the
spiritual in the sensual and the sensual in the spiritual till we cannot
tell which is the more tangible or the more meaningful. We sought unity
in the poetic character, but we can reduce a nature to complete and
barren unity only by draining it of imagination, and it is imagination
which enables the poet to find aesthetic unity in the two worlds of
sense and spirit, where the rest of us can see only conflict. There is a
little poem, by Walter Conrad Arensberg, which is to me a symbol of this
power of reflection which distinguishes the poetic imagination. It is
called _Voyage a L'Infine_:

  The swan existing
  Is like a song with an accompaniment

  Across the grassy lake,
  Across the lake to the shadow of the willows
  It is accompanied by an image,
  --as by Debussy's
  "Reflets dans l'eau."

  The swan that is
  Upon the solitary water--breast to breast
  With the duplicity:
  "The other one!"

  And breast to breast it is confused.
  O visionary wedding! O stateliness of the procession!
  It is accompanied by the image of itself

  At night
  The lake is a wide silence,
  Without imagination.

But why should poets assume, someone may object, that this mystic
answering of sense to spirit and of spirit to sense is to be discovered
by the imagination of none but poets? All men are made up of flesh and
spirit; do not the desires of all men, accordingly, point to the
spiritual and to the physical, exactly as do the poet's? In a sense;
yes; but on the other hand all men but the poet have an aim that is
clearly either physical or spiritual; therefore they do not stand poised
between the two worlds with the perfect balance of interests which marks
the poet. The philosopher and the man of religion recognize their goal
as a spiritual and ascetic one. If they concern themselves more than is
needful with the temporal and sensual, they feel that they are false to
their ideal. The scientist and the man of affairs, on the other hand,
are concerned with the physical; therefore most of the time they dismiss
consideration of the spiritual as being outside of their province. Of
course many persons would disagree with this last statement. The genius
of an Edison, they assert, is precisely like the genius of a poet. But
if this were true, we should be moved by the mechanism of a phonograph
just as we are moved by a poem, and we are not. We may be amazed by the
invention, and still find our thoughts tied to the physical world. It is
not the instrument, but the voice of an artist added to it that makes us
conscious of the two worlds of sense and spirit, reflecting one another.

Supposing that all this is true, what is gained by discovering, from a
consensus of poets' views, that the distinctive characteristic of the
poet is harmony of sense and spirit? Is not this so obvious as to be a
truism? It is perhaps so obvious that like all the truest things in the
world it is likely to be ignored unless insisted upon occasionally.
Certainly it has been ignored too frequently in the history of English
criticism. Whenever men of simpler aims than the poet have written
criticism, they have misread the issue in various ways, and have usually
ended by condemning the poet in so far as he diverged from their own

It is obvious that the moral obsession which has twisted so much of
English criticism is the result of a failure to grasp the real nature of
the poet's vitality. Criticism arose, with Gosson's _School of
Abuse_, as an attack upon the ethics of the poet by the puritan, who
had cut himself off from the joys of sense. Because champions of poetry
were concerned with answering this attack, the bulk of Elizabethan
criticism, that of Lodge, [Footnote: _Defense of Poetry, Musick and
Stage Plays._] Harrington, [Footnote: _Apology for Poetry._] Meres,
[Footnote: _Palladis Tamia._] Campion, [Footnote: _Observations in the
Art of English Poetry._] Daniel, [Footnote: _Defense of Rhyme._] and
even in lesser degree of Sidney, obscures the aesthetic problem by
turning it into an ethical one.

In the criticism of Sidney, himself a poet, one does find implied a
recognition of the twofold significance of the poet's powers. He asserts
his spiritual pre-eminence strongly, declaring that the poet, unlike the
scientist, is not bound to the physical world.[Footnote: "He is not
bound to any such subjection, as scientists, to nature." _Defense of
Poetry._] On the other hand he is clearly aware of the need for a
sensuous element in poetry, since by it, Sidney declares, the poet may
lead men by "delight" to follow the forms of virtue.

The next critic of note, Dryden, in his revulsion from the ascetic
character which the puritans would develop in the poet, swung too far to
the other extreme, and threw the poetic character out of balance by
belittling its spiritual insight. He did justice to the physical element
in poetry, defining poetic drama, the type of his immediate concern, as
"a just and lively image of human nature, in its actions, passions, and
traverses of fortune," [Footnote: _English Garner,_ III, 513.] but
he appears to have felt the ideal aspect of the poet's nature as merely
a negation of the sensual, so that he was driven to the absurdity of
recommending a purely mechanical device, rhyme, as a means of elevating
poetry above the sordid plane of "a bare imitation." In the eighteenth
century, Edmund Burke likewise laid too much stress upon the physical
aspect of the poet's nature, in accounting for the sublime in poetry as
originating in the sense of pain, and the beautiful as originating in
pleasure. Yet he comes closer than most critics to laying his finger
onthe particular point which distinguishes poets from philosophers,
namely, their dependence upon sensation.

With the single exception of Burke, however, the critics of the
eighteenth century labored under a misapprehension no less blind than
the moral obsession which twisted Elizabethan criticism. In the
eighteenth century critics were prone to confuse the spiritual element
in the poet's nature with intellectualism, and the sensuous element with
emotionalism. Such criticism tended to drive the poet either into an
arid display of wit, on the one hand, or into sentimental excess, on the
other, and the native English distrust of emotion led eighteenth century
critics to praise the poet when the intellect had the upper hand. But
surely poets have made it clear enough that the intellect is not the
distinctive characteristic of the poet. To be intelligent is merely to
be human. Intelligence is only a tool, poets have repeatedly insisted,
in their quarrel with philosophers. In proportion as one is intelligent
within one's own field, one excels, poets would admit. If one is
intelligent with respect to fisticuffs one is likely to become a good
prize-fighter, but no matter how far refinement of intelligence goes in
this direction, it will not make a pugilist into a poet. Intelligence
must belong likewise, in signal degree, to the great poet, but it is
neither one of the two essential elements in his nature. Augustan
critics starved the spiritual element in poetry, even while they
imagined that they were feeding it, for in sharpening his wit the poet
came no nearer expressing the "poor soul, the center of his sinful
earth" than when he reveled in emotion. We no longer believe that in the
most truly poetic nature the intelligence of a Pope is joined with the
emotionalism of a Rousseau. We believe that the spirituality of a
Crashaw is blent with the sensuousness of a Swinburne.

Nineteenth century criticism, since it is almost entirely the work of
poets, should not be thus at odds with the conception of the poet
expressed in poetry. But although nineteenth century prose criticism
moves in the right direction, it is not entirely adequate. The poet is
not at his best when he is working in a prose medium. He works too
consciously in prose, hence his intuitive flashes are not likely to find
expression. After he has tried to express his buried life there, he
himself is likely to warn us that what he has said "is well, is
eloquent, but 'tis not true." Even Shelley, the most successful of
poet-critics, gives us a more vivid comprehension of the poetical
balance of sense and spirit through his poet-heroes than through _The
Defense of Poetry_, for he is almost exclusively concerned, in that
essay, with the spiritual aspect of poetry. He expresses, in fact, the
converse of Dryden's view in that he regards the sensuous as negation or
dross merely. He asserts:

    Few poets of the highest class have chosen to exhibit the
    beauty of their conception in naked truth and splendor, and it
    is doubtful whether the alloy of costume, habit, etc., be not
    necessary to temper this planetary music to mortal ears.

The harmony in Shelley's nature which made it possible for his
contemporaries to believe him a gross sensualist, and succeeding
generations to believe him an angel, is better expressed by Browning,
who says:

    His noblest characteristic I call his simultaneous perception
    of Power and Love in the absolute, and of beauty and good in
    the concrete, while he throws, from his poet-station between
    them both, swifter, subtler and more numerous films for the
    connection of each with each than have been thrown by any
    modern artificer of whom I have knowledge.[Footnote: Preface
    to the letters of Shelley (afterward found spurious).]

Yet Browning, likewise, gives a more illuminating picture of the poetic
nature in his poetry than in his prose.

The peculiar merit of poetry about the poet is that it makes a valuable
supplement to prose criticism. We have been tempted to deny that such
poetry is the highest type of art. It has seemed that poets, when they
are introspective and analytical of their gift, are not in the highest
poetic mood. But when we are on the quest of criticism, instead of
poetry, we are frankly grateful for such verse. It is analytical enough
to be intelligible to us, and still intuitive enough to convince us of
its truthfulness. Wordsworth's _Prelude_ has been condemned in
certain quarters as "a talking about poetry, not poetry itself," but in
part, at least, the _Prelude_ is truly poetry. For this reason it
gives us more valuable ideas about the nature of poetry than does the
_Preface to the Lyrical Ballads_. If it is worth while to analyze
the poetic character at all, then poetry on the poet is invaluable to

Perhaps it is too much for us to decide whether the picture of the poet
at which we have been gazing is worthy to be placed above Plato's
picture of the philosopher. The poet does not contradict Plato's charge
against him. His self-portrait bears out the accusation that he is
unable to see "the divine beauty--pure and clear and unalloyed, not
clogged with the pollutions of mortality, and all the colors and
varieties of human life." [Footnote: _Symposium_, 212.] Plato would
agree with the analysis of the poetic character that Keats once
struggled with, when he exclaimed,

What quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in
literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously--I mean
_Negative Capability_, that is, when a man is capable of being in
uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after
fact and reason. Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine
isolated verisimilitude caught from the Pentralium of mystery, from
being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge--With a great
poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather
obliterates all consideration.

Plato would agree with this,--all but the last sentence. Only, in place
of the phrase "negative capability," he would substitute "incapability,"
and reflect that the poet fails to see absolute beauty because he is not
content to leave the sensual behind and press on to absolute reality.

It may be that Plato is right, yet one cannot help wishing that sometime
a poet may arise of greater power of persuasion than any with whom we
have dealt, who will prove to Plato what he appears ever longing to be
convinced of, that absolute ideality is not a negation of the sensual,
and that poetry, in revealing the union of sense and spirit, is the
strongest proof of idealism that we possess. A poet may yet arise who
will prove that he is right in refusing to acknowledge that this world
is merely a surface upon which is reflected the ideals which constitute
reality and which abide in a different realm. The assumption in that
conception is that, if men have spiritual vision, they may apprehend
ideals directly, altogether apart from sense. On the contrary, the
impression given by the poet is that ideality constitutes the very
essence of the so-called physical world, and that this essence is
continually striving to express itself through refinement and remolding
of the outer crust of things. So, when the world of sense comes to
express perfectly the ideal, it will not be a mere representation of
reality. It will be reality. If he can prove this, we must acknowledge
that, not the rationalistic philosopher, but the poet, grasps reality
_in toto_.

However inconclusive his proof, the claims of the poet must fascinate
one with their implications. The two aspects of human life, the physical
and the ideal, focus in the poet, and the result is the harmony which is
art. The fact is of profound philosophical significance, surely, for
union of the apparent contradictions of the sensual and the spiritual
can only mean that idealism is of the essence of the universe. What is
the poetic metaphor but the revelation of an identical meaning in the
physical and spiritual world? The sympathetic reader of poetry cannot
but see the reflection of the spiritual in the sensual, and the sensual
in the spiritual, even as does the poet, and one, as the other, must be
by temperament an idealist.


Addison, Joseph,
"A.E." (see George William Russell),
Akins, Zoe,
Aldrich, Anne Reeve,
Aldrich, Thomas Bailey,
Alexander, Hartley Burr,
Alexander, William,
Allston, Washington,
Ambercrombe, Lascelles,
Anderson, Margaret Steele,
Angelo, Michael,
Arensberg, Walter Conrad,
Arnold, Edwin,
Arnold, Matthew,
  his discontent;
  on the poet's death;
  loneliness;  morality;
  his sense of superiority.
Arnold, Thomas,
Asquith, Herbert,
Austin, Alfred,

Bacon, Josephine Dodge Daskam,
Baker, Karle Wilson,
Baudelaire, Charles Pierre,
Beattie, James,
Beddoes, Thomas Lovell,
Beers, Henry A.,
Benet, Stephen Vincent,
Benet, William Rose,
Bennet, William,
Binyon, Robert Lawrence,
Blake, William,
  later poets on;
  on inspiration;
  on the poet as truthteller;
  on the poet's religion.
Blunden, Edmund,
Boker, George Henry,
Borrow, George,
Bowles, William Lisle,
Branch, Anna Hempstead,
Brawne, Fanny H.,
Bridges, Robert,
Bronte, Emily,
Brooke, Rupert,
Browne, T. E.,
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett,
  _Aurora Leigh_;
  on Keats;
  on the poet's age;
  content with his own time;
  inferiority to his creations,
  resentment at patronage,
  other poets on,

Browning, Robert,
  on fame,
  on inspiration,
  on the poet's beauty,
  on Shakespeare,
  on Shelley,
  other poets on
Bryant, William Cullen
Buchanan, Robert
Bunker, John Joseph
Burke, Edmund
Burleigh, William Henry
Burnet, Dana
Burns, Robert,
  his self-depreciation,
  on the poet's caste,
  love of liberty,
  morals, persecutions,
  other poets on
Burton, Richard
Butler, Samuel
Byron, Lord,
  his body,
  escape from himself in poetry,
  friendship with Shelley,
  indifference to fame,
  later poets on,
  his morals,
  his mother,
  his religion,
  self-portraits in verse,
  on Tasso

Campbell, Thomas
Campion, Thomas
Candole, Alec de
Carlin, Francis
Carlyle, Thomas
Carman, Bliss
Carpenter, Rhys
Cary, Alice
Cary, Elisabeth Luther
Cassells, S. J.
Cavalcanti, Guido
Cawein, Madison
Cellini, Benvenuto
Chapman, George
Chatterton, Thomas
Chaucer, Geoffrey
Cheney, Annie Elizabeth
Chenier, Andre
Chesterton, Gilbert Keith
Chivers, Thomas Holley
Clare, John
Clough, Arthur Hugh
Coleridge, Hartley
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor,
  on Blake;
  on Chatterton;
  friendship with Wordsworth;
  on the poet's habitat;
  reflection in nature;
  later poets on
Collins, William,
Colonna, Vittoria,
Colvin, Sidney,
Conkling, Grace Hazard,
Cornwall, Barry (see Procter, Bryan Waller),
Cowper, William,
Cox, Ethel Louise,
Crabbe, George,
Crashaw, Richard,

Dana, Richard Henry,
Daniel, Samuel,
D'Annunzio, Gabriele,
  G.L. Raymond on;
  Oscar Wilde on;
  Sara King Wiley on;
Dargan, Olive,
Davidson, John,
Davies, William Henry,
Dermody, Thomas,
Dickinson, Emily,
Dobell, Sidney,
Dobson, Austin,
Dommett, Alfred,
Donne, John,
Dowden, Edward,
Dowson, Ernest,
Drake, Joseph Rodman,
Drinkwater, John,
Druce, C.J.,
Dryden, John,
Dunbar, Paul Laurence,
Dunroy, William Reed,
Dunsany, Lord Edward,
Dyer, Sidney,
Ehrman, Max,
Eliot, Ebenezer,
Eliot, George,
Emerson, Ralph Waldo,
  his contempt for the public;
  his democracy;
  his humility;
  on inspiration;
  on love of fame;
  on the poet's divinity;
Evans, Mrs. E.H.,

Fainier, C.H.,
Fairfield, S. L.,
Field, Eugene.,
Flecker, James Elroy,
Flint, F.S.,
French, Daniel Chester,
Freneau, Philip Morin,
Fuller, Frances,
Fuller, Metta,

Gage, Mrs. Frances,
Garnett, Richard,
Gibson, Wilfred Wilson,
Giddings, Franklin Henry,
Gilbert, Sir William Schwenek
Gilder, Richard Watson;
  on Helen Hunt Jackson;
  on Emma Lazarus;
  on the poet's age;
Gillman, James
Giltinan, Caroline
Gosse, Edmund
Gosson, Stephen
Graves, Robert
Gray, Thomas
Grenfil, Julian
Griffith, William
Guiterman, Arthur

Hake, Thomas Gordon
Halleck, Shelley
Halpine, Charles Graham
Hardy, Thomas
Harris, Thomas Lake
Harrison, Birge
Hayne, Paul Hamilton
Hazlitt, William
Hemans, Felicia
Henderson, Daniel
Henley, William Ernest
Herbert, George
Herrick, Robert
Hewlett, Maurice
Hildreth, Charles Latin
Hill, H.,
Hilliard, George Stillman
Hillyer, Robert Silliman
Hoffman, C. F.
Hogg, Thomas Jefferson
Holland, Josiah Gilbert
Holmes, Oliver Wendell
Hood, Thomas
Hooper, Lucy
"Hope, Lawrence" (see Violet
Horne, Richard Hengest
Houghton, Lord
Houseman, Laurence
Hovey, Richard
Hubbard, Harvey
Hubner, Charles William
Hughes, John
Hugo, Victor
Hunt, Leigh

Ingelow, Jean

Jackson, Helen Hunt
Jameson, Mrs. Anna Brownell
Johnson, Donald F. Goold
Johnson, Lionel
Johnson, Robert Underwood,
Johnson, Rossiter
Johnson, Dr. Samuel
Jonson, Ben

Kaufman, Herbert
Keats, John;
  his body;
  on Burns;
  Christopher North on;
  on his desire for fame;
  his egotism;
  on Elizabethan poets;
  on expression;
  on the harmony of poets
  Homer's blindness;
  on his indifference to the public;
  on inspiration;
  later poets on Keats;
  on love;
  quarrel with philosophy;
  on the poet's democracy,
  gift of prophecy,
  unpoetical character,
Keble, John
Kemble, Frances Anne
Kent, Charles
Kenyon, James Benjamin
Kerl, Simon
Khayyam, Omar
Kilmer, Joyce
Kingsley, Charles
Kipling, Rudyard
Knibbs, Harry Herbert

Lamb, Charles
Landor, Walter Savage;
  on Byron;
  confidence in immortality;
  on female poets;
  on Homer;
  on intoxication and inspiration;
  on the poet's age,
  on poetry and reason;
  on Shakespeare;
  on Southey
Lang, Andrew
Lanier, Sidney
Larcom, Lucy
Lazarus, Emma
Ledwidge, Francis
Le Gallienne, Richard
Leonard, William Ellery
Lindsay, Vachel
Lockhart, John Gibson
Lodge, Thomas
Lombroso, Cesare
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth;
  his democracy;
  on grief and poetry;
  _Michael Angelo_;
  on the poet's morals,
  on the savage poet;
  on inspiration
Lord, William W.
Low, Benjamin R. C.
Lowell, Amy
Lowell, James Russell;
  on Burns;
  on the poet's age,
Lytton, Bulwer, on Andre Chenier;
  on the female poet;
  on Milton;
  on the poet's appearance,

McDonald, Carl
Mackaye, Percy
Maclean, L. E.
"Macleod, Fiona" (see William Sharp)
MacNiel, J. C.
Mann, Dorothea Lawrence
Mansfield, Richard
Map, Walter
Markham, Edwin
Marlowe, Christopher,
  Alfred Noyes on,
  Josephine Preston Peabody on,
Marquis, Don,
Masefield, John,
Massey, Gerald,
Masters, Edgar Lee,
Meres, Francis,
Meredith, George,
Meredith, Owen,
Meynell, Alice,
Meynell, Viola,
Middleton, Richard,
Millay, Edna St. Vincent,
Miller, Joaquin,
Milton, John,
Mitchell, L. E.,
Mitchell, Stewart
Mitford, Mary Russell,
Montgomery, James,
Moody, William Vaughan,
Moore, Thomas,
Morley, Christopher,
Morris, Lewis,
Morris, William,
Myers, Frederick W. H.

Naden, Constance, Nash, Thomas,
Neihardt, John Gneisenau,
Nerval, Gerard de,
Newbolt, Henry,
Newman, Henry,
Newton, Sir Isaac,
Nicolson, Violet,
Nordau, Max Simon,
North, Christopher,
Noyes, Alfred,

O'Connor, Norreys Jephson,
Osborne, James Insley,
O'Sheel, Shaemus,
Otway, Thomas,

Pater, Walter,
Patmore, Coventry, on the
  poet's expression,
  indifference to fame,
Payne, John,
Peabody, Josephine Preston,
Percival, James Gates,
Percy, William Alexander,
Phillips, Stephen,
Phillpotts, Eden,
Pierce, C. A.,
Poe, Edgar Allan,
Pollock, Robert,
Pope, Alexander,
Pound, Ezra,
Praed, Winthrop Mackworth
Price, C. Augustus
Procter, Adelaide Anne
Procter, Bryan Cornwall

Rand, Theodore Harding
Raymond, George Lansing
Reade, Thomas Buchanan
Realf, Richard
Reno, Lydia M.
Rice, Cale Young
Rice, Harvey
Riley, James Whitcomb
Rittenhouse, Jessie
Rives, Hallie Erven
Robbins, Reginald Chauncey
Roberts, Cecil
Roberts, Charles George Douglas
Robinson, Edwin Arlington
Robinson, Mary
Rossetti, Christina
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel,
  on Chatterton,
  on Dante,
  on Marston,
  on the poet's age,
Rousseau, Jean Jacques
Ruskin, John
Russell, George William
Ryan, Abram J.

Sampson, Henry Aylett
Sandburg, Carl
  Alcaeus on,
  modern poets on her genius,
  on her passion
Savage, John
Saxe, John Godfrey
Scala, George Augustus
Schauffler, Robert Haven
Schiller, Johann Christoff Friedrich
Scott, Sir Walter
Seeger, Alan
Service, Robert
Shairp, Principal
Shakespeare, William
Sharp, William
Shelley, Percy Bysshe,
  and Byron,
  on female poets,
  his hostility to the public,
  his indifference to his body,
  on Keats,
  on the poet's early death,
  on prenatal life,
  on Tasso
Shenstone, William
Sidney, Sir Philip
Sinclair, May
Smart, Christopher
Smith, Alexander,
Smith, J. Thorne, jr.,
Soran, Charles,
Southey, Robert,
Spenser, Edmund,
Sprague, E.L.,
Stedman, Edmund Clarence,
Stephens, James,
Stickney, Trumbull,
Stoddard, Charles Warren,
Sullivan, Sir Arthur,
Swinburne, Algernon,
  chafing against moral restraints;
  on Victor Hugo;
  on Marston;
  on his mother;
  on the poet's age;
  love of liberty;
  on Christina Rossetti;
  on Sappho;
  on Shelley
Symons, Arthur,

Taine, Hippolyte Adolph,
Tannahill, John,
Tasso, Torquato,
Taylor, Bayard,
Teasdale, Sara,
Tennyson, Alfred,
  burlesque on inspiration in wine;
  his contempt for the public;
  on the poet's death;
  love of liberty;
  superiority to art;
Tertullian, Thomas, Edith,
Thompson, Francis,
  confidence in immortality;
  on inspiration;
  on love and poetry;
  on Alice Meynell;
  on Viola Meynell;
  on the poet's body;
Thomson, James,
Thomson, James (B.V.),
  his atheism;
  on Mrs. Browning;
  on inspiration;
  on pessimistic poetry;
  on Platonic love;
  on Shelley;
  on Tasso;
  on Weltschmerz
Timrod, Henry,
Tolstoi, Count Leo,
Towne, Charles Hanson,
Trench, Herbert,
Tupper, Martin Farquhar,

Van Dyke, Henry,
Verlaine, Paul Marie,
Villon, Francois,
Viviani, Emilia,

Waddington, Samuel
Ware, Eugene
Watts-Dunton, Theodore
Wesley, Charles
West, James Harcourt
Wheelock, John Hall
White, Kirke
Whitman, Walt;
  confidence in immortality;
  on expression;
  on the poet's idleness,
  protean nature,
  reconciling of man and nature;
  on the poet-warrior;
  his zest
Whittier, John Greenleaf
Wilde, Oscar, on Byron;
  on Dante;
  on Keats;
  on love and art;
  his morals;
  on the poet's prophecy;
  on the uselessness of art
Wiley, Sara King
Winter, William
Woodberry, George Edward;
  on friendship;  on the poet's love;
  on inspiration;
  on Shelley
Wordsworth, William;
  confidence in immortality;
  on female poets;
  his friendship with Coleridge;
  on James Hogg;
  on inspiration;
  Keats' annoyance with Wordsworth;
  on love poetry;
  on the peasant poet;
  on the poet's democracy,
  the _Prelude_;
  on prenatal life;
  quarrel with philosophy;
  repudiation of inspiration through wine
Wright, Harold Bell

Yeats, William Butler
Young, Edmund


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