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work as Charles Martin Loeffler's symphonic composition, A Pagan Poem, which was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall, Boston, in 1907. This delightful work is a musical presentation of the moods set forth by Virgil in the second half of his Eighth Eclogue, where Alphesiboeus sings of the charms used by a deserted maiden to win back her fickle Daphnis. Three trumpets obligato (très lointain) intone the familiar refrain:
Ducite ab urbe domum, mea carmina, ducite Daphnim. It is interesting to see how some of our critics still chafe at the continued subjection of letters to the spell of the past. They repeat the famous declaration of independence, first proclaimed by that “Lincoln of our literature," as he has been called, Walt Whitman:
Come, Muse, migrate from Greece and Ionia,
Parnassus . .
and demands you. It must now be admitted, however, that if the Muses ever did migrate from their ancient seats, they still pay frequent visits to those old haunts, where many a poet and prophet of today finds much inspiration :
Here there are no flowers to love;
Bent poppies and the deathless asphodel.4 Even Walt Whitman loved Homer's poetry, which of course he read only in translations, and it is an interesting fact that the first ones to recognize Whitman's genuine worth and overlook the folly of many of his utterances were men of that academic class whose sentiments he had done his best to shock. As John Bailey, Whitman's latest biographer, has said: “The class that he understood, has never understood him. The class which he never understood has, in a good many instances, vindicated the value of the culture he despised, by showing that by their very culture it has been enabled to perceive what has rarely been perceived by the class to whom he specially addressed himself, the essential poetry which lay in his work so often concealed under a surface of absurdity or vulgarity. This has been conspicuous all along and was so from the very beginning." Thus it was that immediately after the first publication of Leaves of Grass Emerson wrote a most complimentary letter to the unknown author, while, as soon as
4 Richard Aldington's "Captive.” 5 Walt Whitman, by John Bailey, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926, p. 22. the book appeared in England, such men as Bell Scott, Rossetti, Dowden, and York Powell gave it an enthusiastic welcome. John Addington Symonds, the Hellenist, confesses that Leaves of Grass influenced him perhaps more than any other book except the Bible, “more than Plato, more than Goethe"; and even the young Swinburne, though so deeply immersed in Greek lyric and tragic poetry, writing to Lord Houghton in 1862, asks: "Have you seen the latest edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, for there is one new poem in it, 'A Voice from the Sea,' about two birds on the sea-beach, which I really think is the most lovely and wonderful thing I have read for years and years? I could rhapsodize about it for ten more pages, for there is such beautiful skill and subtle power in every word of it—but I spare you!" Swinburne's own swift and sonorous verses, “To Walt Whitman in America,” are the noblest tribute that came across the Atlantic to the new poet:
Send but a song oversea for us,
Heart of their hearts who are free,
Sweet smelling of pine-leaves and grasses
And blown as a tree through and through
And tender as sun-smitten dew;
Wide-eyed as the sea-line's blue. That Hellenists like Symonds and Swinburne should be fascinated by the poetry of Whitman, whom the Boston Intelligencesa once called "an escaped lunatic,” and whom academic critics have often treated with mere contempt, is not to be wondered at, if we consider some—not all—of the qualities of his work. Much of it is concerned with emotions and experiences as old as the human race itself. There is an eminently Homeric tone in Whitman, who so often deals with those greatest and oldest of all the subjects of poetry-life and love, grief and death. In certain aspects of his attitude toward nature Whitman is almost more objective and more Greek than any other modern poet, and his verses on the brave soldiers who fell in the Civil War strike a peculiarly responsive note in the hearts of those who remember the elegiacs of Tyrtaeus or the funeral-speech of Pericles. There is no more incongruity in coupling Whitman with Simonides, as Mr. Bailey does, than in enshrining Whitman's "Captain" in that most beautiful of Doric temples, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
I am dwelling thus upon Walt Whitman, because he has become a common starting-point for the study of modern American poetry. “First hymn 5a See Bailey, p. 22.
we the father of all things”-a familiar verse going back to Aratus—is used by Bruce Weirick to open a chapter on Whitman in his book, From Whitman to Sandburg in American Poetry. There is indeed no question that Whitman has had a tremendous influence on the poetry of the twentieth century, especially in America, but also in England as well as on the Continent. He was a great genius, "the genius of America,” according to Bailey, and as such he will be read and studied in all lands as the mouthpiece of the American people in their formative period. He sang of the pioneers, and his is the loftiest and most earnest voice that democracy and the common man have ever found. His poetry is vibrant with truth and sincerity, and because of its splendid qualities at its best we may overlook the crudities and absurdities which crowd the pages of any complete edition of his work. The trash and rubbish found in him should not therefore make us blind to his greatness; yet we cannot but regret that his knowledge of literature in general was slight, and that he had no sense of comparative standards. It is, however, this unevenness of his work that makes Whitman an uncertain, and even a dangerous, guide for the young poets of today.
We are assured by Harriet Monroe, in the magazine, Poetry, of which she is editor, that in these United States there are today many thousands engaged in the writing of verse, and Bruce Weirick is quite confident that Whitman is still “the most stimulating influence” in contemporary literature. A vast amount of the poetry thus produced is of course sterile, for even where a writer has caught some of the spirit of Whitman, he often fails when he attempts to imitate Whitman's forms or formlessness; while if his free verse runs smoothly, it commonly falls flat from lack of sense or substance. Much of the verse of today is Whitmanesque and therefore uncon
ventional, but, unlike Whitman's, it has no distinction of thought. Whitman, — Me!
to be sure, was uncultured, but he had genius. What a figure he might have become, if to his native inspiration and power he had added the discipline imparted by a close study of other literatures ! Is it not conceivable that if in his early days he had had the guidance of men of discretion and learning, he might now rank as one of the greatest poets of the English-speaking world? As it is, when compared with the famous world-poets, he can never take more than a minor place.
I am well aware that this conclusion will be rejected by many—though none, I hope, in this audience—who will claim that the discipline and mental habits commonly associated with school, college, and university would probably have chilled the fervor of Whitman's inspiration and conventionalized his thoughts and utterance. But most of the world's great poets have passed through such a discipline. Even Shakespeare, the great exception, as commonly regarded, was far from ignorant of ancient literature even in the original languages, for though, in the eyes of his ardent admirer, Ben
Jonson, Shakespeare had "small Latin and less Greek," yet this very statement implies that the immortal poet had some Greek and more Latin, and a study of his plays, however superficial, en forces the conviction that their author had absorbed a marvelous amount of miscellaneous knowledge that could have been derived only from very extensive reading.
Look over a list of the outstanding poets in America today and you will find that most of them have had an academic training. Of the writers included by Louis Untermeyer in his American Poetry since 1900, the great majority are college-trained. Many of them have also lived abroad and some even write in a foreign language as well as in English.
Robert Frost studied at both Dartmouth and Harvard; Edwin Arlington Robinson at Harvard ; Carl Sandburg spent four years at Lombard College, and Vachel Lindsay three at Hiram College; Edgar Lee Masters is an alumnus of Knox College; Ezra Pound holds a degree from Hamilton College and became a Fellow in Romanics at the University of Pennsylvania ; Conrad Aiken is a graduate of Harvard, and Edna St. Vincent Millay of Vassar. Of the Benéts, William Rose is a graduate of the Albany Academy and also of the Sheffield Scientific School, while Stephen Vincent is an alumnus of Yale, where he was class poet and winner of the first John Masefield poetry prize. Witter Bynner graduated from Harvard; John Hall Wheelock, after taking a degree at Harvard, studied at Göttingen and Berlin. James Oppenheim spent two years at Columbia, and Charles Erskine Scott Wood graduated from both the United States Military Academy and Columbia University. George Santayana and William Ellery Leonard are, of course, men of conspicuous university attainments, as is George Edward Woodberry, author of, among other notable poems, Agathon, a drama based directly upon Plato's Symposium; Arthur Davison Ficke is a Harvard alumnus, and Anna Hempstead Branch, who is an alumna of Adelphi Academy, studied also at Smith College. H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) spent two years at Bryn Mawr; and John Gould Fletcher, who, like H. D., now lives in England, studied at Phillips Academy and Harvard; while Lew Sarett, an alumnus of Beloit, spent some time also at the Universities of Michigan, Harvard, and Illinois.
Among the few treated by Untermeyer who cannot be associated definitely with any particular college or university, are Amy Lowell, one of the most cultivated and learned women of her day; Sara Teasdale, whose beautiful lyrics are steeped in Hellenism; and Lizette Woodworth Reese, who for years was a teacher in the Western High School, Baltimore. I know nothing of the education of T. S. Eliot, who shares with a distinguished Yale alumnus, Leonard Bacon, author of Ph.D.'s and Animula Vagula, the honor of being the most conspicuous of living American satirists in verse; but he can cite Greek, German, and six other foreign languages, and in his first volume of twenty-four poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1920) five are in French.
o Ph.D.'s-Male and Female Created He Them: New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1925.
Much of our new poetry appears in various literary magazines, some of which, like the Gypsy and Contemporary Verse, are devoted to poetry alone. Of these, the most ambitious and most successful is the monthly Poetry, and from the biographical notes which it gives about authors we may learn how large a part is played by our colleges in the making of verse, for the majority of the writers represented are either students or instructors in such institutions. Many of our colleges have poetry clubs or societies, and many substantial prizes are offered annually for the best verse of the year. When nearly one thousand undergraduates contended in 1924 for the Witter Bynner prize of one hundred dollars, the Chicago Daily News thus commented: “Think of the American future! Poets will be as plentiful as radio-announcers, and every village will have one or maybe two."
The magazine Poetry itself announces four annual prizes, and in the lists of winners appear several of the names already mentioned. The most conspicuous reward offered in this country for verse is, of course, the Pulitzer annual prize of one thousand dollars. This was established in 1922, and the recipients have been Edwin Arlington Robinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, Robinson (a second time), and Amy Lowell.
In this great interest taken in the writing of poetry—especially in our colleges and universities—we see a strong reaction from Whitman's attitude toward formal culture. It was Whitman who once wrote of Goethe, that “he passes with the general crowd upon whom the American glance descends with indifference"; but the American of today is not indifferent to Goethe or to any other great figure in the history of human culture. We have become catholic in our literary tastes, and our poets may be attracted by any age, any figures in human history, any sphere of human thought. Mark Turbyfill is so thrilled by the discoveries of modern science that in "A Marriage with Space,” like a new Lucretius, he offers an interpretation of the universe. T. S. Eliot's prime interest seems to be anthropology, a fascinating subject, and there is no reason why it should not lend itself to poetical treatment. Marianne Moore harks back to ancient Byzantium, and Robert McAlmon has recalled the far-off Minoan civilization of Crete, giving us a picture of its merchants and sailors, its women and warriors, its skilful carvings and dainty impressionist frescoes. The Spoon River Anthology was first inspired, mirabile dictu, by epitaphs of the Greek Anthology. Ezra Pound, once devoted to Propertius, now styles himself "follower of Confucius and Ovid.” Joseph Auslander, George Meason Whicher, and Agnes Lee (the last-named, winner for 1926 of the Guarantors' prize offered by