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Sarah Orne Jewett occupies a position midway between Rose Terry Cooke and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman in her art and technique, just as her New England a sunny New England well into its silver age, looking back upon more spacious days - falls between the New England of youthful prime and of economic desuetude. Today, the tradition in which she worked is really more closely approximated by the poetry of Robert Frost than by the fiction of Mrs. Wharton or W. D. Steele. Simple folk ways, and folk themselves, the genre drama of spare, closely girt lives, these were the preoccupation of the delicate lady from South Berwick.
The art of Sarah Orne Jewett is not false because it is so limited. All art is selective, and each artist is free to govern his own selectivity by his own tastes and talents. Miss Jewett's success in the narrow field she cultivated was such that Miss Cather, who shows herself a fine and generous appreciator,
makes bold to classify "The Country of the Pointed Firs" with "The Scarlet Letter" and "Huckleberry Finn" as "three American books which have the possibility of a long, long life".
The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. Selected by Willa Cather. Houghton Mifflin Company.
E. A. ROBINSON AND SOME OTHERS
By Herbert S. Gorman
DWIN ARLINGTON ROBIN
SON (who must not be blamed at all for this departure from his usual routine) has won another prize. This time it is the Pulitzer award, and the book that induced the judges to their decision was "The Man Who Died Twice". The Pulitzer award would seem to be unlike lightning in that it strikes twice in the same place. This is the second of these prizes that Mr. Robinson has received, winning for him so signal an honor as a place in the same news column with Edna Ferber. And now Mr. Robinson, unabashed by the honors heaped upon him, has produced another book, this time a volume of shorter pieces. "Dionysus in Doubt", it is to be suspected, will grieve some of his readers and delight others. For lovers of poetry it will prove one of those rare treats which Mr. Robinson prepares so quietly and so well. Here are included eighteen sonnets, all of them distinguished and the cream of them to be placed among the poet's best work. Here, too, is that keen and effective short narrative, "Mortmain", which originally appeared in "Poetry" under the title of "Avenel Grey". Also to be found is the dramatic dialogue, "Genevieve and Alexandra”.
And here is where the grievances come in the reader will find "Dionysus in Doubt" and "Demos and Dionysus", two poems that are in themselves rather disconcerting accusations directed at an over-legislated land where the privilege of independent living has become a mean dependency of an organized Drive for Salvation. Reform bodies and evangelical dyspeptics will hardly grow enthusiastic over this presentation of a land where
In freedom's name invades the last alcove.
This Dionysus, "flame-born of Zeus and of a burning mother", who directs his keen and epigrammatic remarks against those Galahads in high hats whose
abrupt and arbitrary ways Of capturing and harnessing salvation With nets and ropes of words that never meant
Before so little as in these tiresome days
is the voice of an old and noble freedom speaking. It is not the explosion of a hasty and intemperate desire for license but a calm and deeply reasoned sociological examination. Unlike any of Mr. Robinson's other poems, both "Dionysus in Doubt" and "Demos and Dionysus" are grave and semidynamic descents into the crowded marketplace of our turbulent era. Because of this the reasoning in these two poems will find both adherents and opponents. One must turn to the sonnets to leave the vexed battlefield, for in those perfectly constituted, fourteen line structures of magic the unmistakable accents of a great poet are speaking. "The Sheaves", with its impressive ending, an ending that grows on the reader the oftener he peruses this poem, is a fair example of these sonnets that star "Dionysus in Doubt" like unflawed jewels:
Where long the shadows of the wind had rolled,
Green wheat was yielding to the change assigned;
And as by some vast magic undivined
So in a land where all days are not fair,
In turning from Mr. Robinson's book to the seven other volumes that wait patiently in their brand new little dusters for consideration, the reviewer is haunted by a dim line from Verlaine "et tout le reste est littérature". But is it? Of John Drinkwater's "New Poems" one may say with some degree of assurance that it is finely written, that it is impressive, that it is mature, and yet, and yet. . . . It is cold, cold. Mr. Drinkwater writes in a freezing temperature. His precision of technique and logical thought but emphasizes this fact. The hot untempered blood of inspiration is not to be found in his poetry, although one may read that poetry with some degree of pleas
It would be classical if the beat of life were in it. If Mr. Drinkwater could rise just a bit above that plane that limits him from unquestionably fine poetry, he would be one of the major figures in an England that is less starred with such phoenixes than the casual reader imagines. But Mr. Drinkwater cannot get so far. With perfected technique, with a balanced maturity and an assiduous application, he lacks that one little gift of the gods that might have established him for all time. Not even the lucky accident of "Abraham Lincoln" can save Mr. Drinkwater.
The jump to "The Venture" by Jean Kenyon Mackenzie is made with some relief, for there is a rippling lyrical note about her work that is unforced and charming in itself. "The Venture" is a book of distinct limitations, an unimportant offering, but it is both musical and pleasing. One likes Miss Mackenzie for what she is the much misused words "minor poet" fit her and because she pretends to offer no more than a series of personal moods and observations. When she writes:
She was the little wind that falls Before the falling of the rain; She was the one and early star We lose and see and lose again.
She was the pang of the caress That is too brief for our delight; She was the torch another bore And passed us in the night,
we are satisfied because we have expected no more. It is such spontaneous and unlabored poetry as this that creeps into anthologies and achieves an endurance that is not the good fortune of more ambitious labors.
Three more women remain to be considered before the two men who have published books of verse are ventured upon. There is no similarity between these three women. Margaret Tod Ritter, in "Mirrors", shows a precise touch, a melodic sense, and an adequate grasp of the sonnet form. She makes her mistake in writing pseudo-Irish poems about leprecauns, may, and witchcraft. For all the writer knows, Miss Ritter may be Irish, but that does not change the bogus quality of her attempts at Celtic expression. When she is at her best and simplest, however, she catches an authentic atmosphere and is well worth reading. Take "Sonata Appassionata", for instance:
Thou art my silver lyre, my lute of jade,
Of minor chords. Beloved, close thine eyes
That I may find what semi-tones of sleep Weigh down the moth-white lids. Thou
art the rise
Appassionata of a golden reed
Singing the songs of Pan, thou art the fall
In spite of all the irritating "thou arts" in this sonnet, in spite of its certain echoing of a thousand and one vanished bards, there is something pleasing about it.
Dorothy Dow is of a different school. "Will-o'-the-Wisp" is almost solely concerned with what for want of a better phrase we may call "sophisticated love poetry". It doesn't bite very hard. Lacking both depth and impressiveness, its sole appeal is implicit in a certain passionate earnestness of expression and a fair lyrical quality. Here are the usual stanzas about love vanishing overnight. The titles are an index to the book. "For a Man", "For Another Man", "The Crillon, 1924", "The Rose Grows Old", "Lost Lady", "Cabaret", "End of the Play", "Harlot", "Between Last Night and This", "End of Loveliness", "O, Let Death", "How Do I Love You", and so on to the last line where Beauty returns, as usual, on unreluctant feet, this is the measure of Miss Dow's book.
"The Wandering Eros" by Martha Dickinson Bianchi is another book that does not bite. It is archaic for the most part, repetitious in thought, and lacking in any fine elements of inspiration. The author is scholarly and evidently fully aware of the technical demands of verse, but she is far from
being touched by the fire that stirred that near relative of hers, Emily Dickinson.
And so we come to the two men who have been waiting patiently all this while. Frederick Niven is indubitably mature and "A Lover of the Land" is, on the whole, a charming book. Its only fault is the usual fault a prosaic inspiration. "The Dark Tower" by Albert Brush suffers from the wrong young man's coming to the tower. According to the last line on page 30"... brave Childe Harold to the dark tower came." This puts Childe Roland's nose out of joint with a vengeance, for that Dark Tower was his own particular tower, as any reader of Browning will bear witness. Now this error is symbolic of Mr. Brush's little book: he is hasty, writing too
DUSK IN THE LOW COUNTRY
By DuBose Heyward
LEAGUE of broomgrass, rose, and mauve, and umber,
Three heavy laden carts that groan and lumber
A line of scarlet, and a blur of madder
Behind the trees. The resting earth exhales
Warm, humid dusk; and infinitely sadder
Than death or birth, a lone marsh creature wails.
Land of wide beauty, and eternal waiting,
You have made loneliness a thing to seek.
How small our loving seems, how little hating,
How less than breath the scattered words we speak.
IN BRIEF REVIEW
HE little volume "Henry Cabot
Lodge" (Houghton Mifflin) by Bishop William Lawrence is a model of what such an appreciative biographical sketch should be. It is just that: an unpretentious tribute by a lifelong friend, a personal evaluation of its subject as man, as scholar and historian, and as statesman. But Bishop Lawrence is not uncritical: nor is he ever fulsome. He has nowhere overdone it, and he has managed to present in brief outline an extraordinarily comprehensive study, with adequate background, so that the book has solid value as a bit of contemporary history. Yet the chief thing that emerges is a strikingly clear, vivid portrait of the man: a portrait that gives the reader a feeling that this is a remarkable likeness. Senator Lodge's place in the history of the past fifty years is, of course, a matter for the critical appraisal of the future historian; pending that, one may naturally expect a complete, critical biography. But this brilliant personal sketch will not be superseded: it is entitled to a place of its own, both as a footnote to history and as a piece of literature.
In view of the flaring commercialism of our times, the materialism that threatens to smother the arts, the political corruption and the economic class rule that brings rigid objections to child labor amendments and minimum wage laws, it is somewhat surprising to be told that America is a "nation of idealists". It is particularly surprising when this announcement comes from one who has written the "History of the Great American
Fortunes" and the "History of Tammany Hall". Yet that Americans are fundamentally humane, benevolent and self sacrificing is the contention of Gustavus Myers in "The History of American Idealism" (Boni, Liveright). The author's method is a simple one: he painstakingly brings to bear numerous examples of American altruism, and quite as painstakingly omits the no less numerous examples of that which could hardly be mistaken for altruism. Quite in keeping with the tone of the book is the statement of Calvin Coolidge, quoted on the jacket: "The chief ideal of the American people is idealism." Mr. Myers himself is fully as original and perspicacious: he demonstrates that idealism is an ideal with us, but not that it is something attained.
In "Mere Mortals" (Doran), the inevitable sequel to "Post Mortem" of startling memory, Dr. C. MacLaurin of Sydney has done his bit in the contemporary psychophysical sweepstakes, and with a degree of fascination. His not to repeat the popular interpretation of great men that slowly broadens down from grandmother to grandmother. His to take a keen professional look at the hero of yesteryear and tell us what ailed him that he has grown so great. If it appears that the character of King Henry the Saint was largely the result of too many spankings in his infancy, that Dr. Johnson was frightened all his life at Queen Anne, that Luther's religious views grew from an earache-well, that is what appears. The Tudors, Ivan the Terrible, Frederick the Great,