ARNOLD WALL'S NEW POEMS.
It is a barren and hungry land in which tho finding of ono small loaf of bread is a pleasant and important circumstance. Such a hungry land, in. respect of literature, is New Zealand, arid such a welcome Ettlo loaf is the slim volume of "Now Poems" (London: Walter Scott), by Arnold Wall. There is not the slightest rea-eon_-why a patriotic Now Zcalander should hesitate to admit tho facts of his country's poetical case. Even tho politician, with his ear cocked at the hum of tho money market, will admit that stocks will not fall on a public intimation that his country is deficient in poets. "My country, right or wrong," is a motto that never was intended to embrace insistence upon tho excellence of the native drivel. Age for age, and size for size, no doubt, Now Zealand ,can challenge any country in tho matter of volume of poetical output. But in respect of value, New Zealand cannot challenge any country at all. No great poetry has ever issued from a New Zealand singer; even tho merely fine poetry is an infinitesimal fraction of the total production. But there has been a respectablo digging up of crude ore, and that is something to set against the simple clay, and tho fool s gold" of the mechanical players on tho threadbare strings of sex and weary love. Professor Wall is ouo of the' few New Zealand writers of verse in whom the lover of literature, as well, as the patriot, can take pride. . His work is immeasurably better than tho bulk of tho best current Australasian poetry. A lengthy review of his "Blank Verse Lyrics" appeared in Tub Dominion in November of 1907, and this we believe, was the first recognition of his work that appeared in a Now Zealand newspaper. But ho is becoming hotter known, and there aro other reasons than tho rights of merit why his poems should receive the attention of Now Zealandcrs. Nothing ' is more urgently required just now than°subBtantial assurances that poetry in Australasia is not, and need not necessarily be, what Professor Tucker, of Melbourne, recently called " turbid psychologi3ing." Such assurances wo havo had lately in Miss Baughan's "Shingleshort," in tho volumes of Ateasrs. Lawoon and Church, and oven in Mr. Jobannjs Andersen's uneven and muddled, but very wholesome, "Lamp of Psyche." , ' • ■ With Professor Wall, poetry is less a vehicle for fancy than for thought; his poems would often be merely sententious if it were not that the heat of his thought engenders a gloiv which sometimes flashes into a flame. What he says of the lady to whom he addresses so many adoring verses in his now volume might be said of his inspiration to write: And last ... Yon broko upon mo, rich in garnered beauty, And regally, like the sun, lit up my gloom, 60 tnat my dead mind rang, ns -with a stroke, Deep music, such as sunrise strikes from earth. Trim of his "Clank Verse Lyrics," this is more plainly truo of most of his hew poem?. _ The sudden beauties of phrase and simile aro less thickly strewn in the mass of his thought than thoy wore. He is distinct horn all other Australasian writers <it' poetry, in his keen sense.of the pity and beauty of tho fundamental things of life. His poeme are tho product of a philosophical habit superimposed upon a poetical temperament. Tho harshnesses and .softnesses of hitiifl conditions that the
average Australasian versifier never sees are tho staple of his thought. Tho result is stimulating: but ho will not please the people who want to bathe in scented emotions. You realise this when you look for quotablo fragments in his poems; usually you find that to avoid doing him injustice, it must bo the whole poem or nothing. His mind is keenly sensitive to natural beauties, whether sights or sounds, but it is only occasionally in his new volume that ho melt 3 into simplo feeling. Ho is now chielly a painter of moods and thoughts, and ono would almost forget tho landscapes and glints of colour in his earlier work but for tho occasional reminder of such lines as these, from "Comparisons":— Tho sparrows by my window every night Fill with their peevish noise a full half-hour Out of the green and golden sunset-time. When their last cheep has sounded from tho ivy, My blackbird lifts up his most musical voice, And threads with living song tho last green minutes.- • ' Tho most striking of the "Blank Verso Lyrics" was tho "Parable of Fiddles," and the fascination of the parable has grown on our poet. One can regret that be has not chosen to use the Eonnet, which is, of course, actually constructed for tho development of perfect similes, and which is rarely tolerable unless used to that end. He has the necessary power of condensation, and his work would gain from the constraints of tho sonnet form.. We quote on this page his " Picturo-Puzzle," for its own merit, and for tho light which it throws upon his method. In his " Napoleon of Notting Hill," Mr. G. K. Chesterton has a passage- illustrative. of the curious fashion in which a commonplace thing, often seen, and never much regarded, can suddenly appear full of magic. Wβ can imagine Wall looking at tho picture pusszlo abstractedly, with his mind full of idle thoughts about soirqthing elso. Gradually his reverie takes him to tho contrast between the vast mystery of the scattered puzzle T)icces and the compact clearness ot the whole picture, and, like a saturated solution of a certain chemical which crystallises suddenly, his unformt/l musings leap into crystal as tho solid thought for his poem. Most of his parables, it is quite certain, had thoir origin in this fashion. Sometimes, of course, the process is exactly the raverso, as in " The Koad-Makers ": tho thought is vaguely floating, and requires only some concrete vessel to hold and fix it. / In the change that has taken place in him,' he has lost none of his precision in choosing the satisfying word. In this mat-ter-of technique,-we can quote:—
"In the cool flight of gulls upon the wind, Or pigeon plunging on the summer woods. "Sharp crimson mountains marching as to rest, Etched on tho bronze of sunset."
"Alps and soaring forests and Falls of tho Sound; Heavily-plumed and bald-necked vulturous heights." "Or see the big steel globe of earth far off Hanging in Time (a3 if I wero a god), And mark a tempest stirring the Pacific As if one gently breathed against a mirror. "I see ono gold day shine in the beggarly throng— A drunken sun reels through a mist of chimes— The green earth is one music and one song. As a Professor of English, Wall naturally allows himself the pleasure of "trifles ,and experiments." But he keeps his poetry alivo even whilo ho tortures it. Here is " a study in slurs and reversals ":— Ocean and sky join hands deep down, far off— Both grey, heaving and dull, two tarnished mirrors— ~ ■ '■ ' A big brown storm, heavily hung in the West, Draws his dark brow far down like Jupiter glooming. ■ Chin in hand, and elbow on knee, at the ramp of Heaven, Moodily brooding on hia hives of men. . Wholly delightful is his Herrick imitation, "To a lady peeling an apple.". Some of tho stanzas are weakened by a twentieth century -note, but sprap .-pure. Herrick :— Lydia, lay by.,that .shining blade, .' :; ■ Thou needs gross-terrestrial aicL ■"■','■■('•■;,. • \ To peel yon'apple,''and to'slice;— The flashes of thine eyes suffice. Upon its,rind those'glances Test A moment, then into my brenst ■- . ■ They shoot reflected, bearing to't The sublest flavour of the fruit. • * ' * ■ . # . e Out of this core that thou hast left I'll pick the pips with fingers deft, And set them in a garden green; Where a small ortyard shall be seen, Whose several trees shall all cotcur To shade a Lover's sepulchre. , . . As • ten years have passed since "Blank Verse Lyrics" appeared, wo may give up, the hope that Professor Wall will turn back' towards. pure lyrism. But we may still hope that he will in time givo us another little volume. The country is so poor in its poets that it cannot afford to have silent any singer who has tho strength and grace, the sensitiveness to beauty, and, above all, tho sincerity and the capacity for noble thought, that make Professor Wall's work so welcome.
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Dominion, Dominion, Volume 2, Issue 449, 6 March 1909
ARNOLD WALL'S NEW POEMS. Dominion, Volume 2, Issue 449, 6 March 1909
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