THE POCKET SWINBURNE.* POPULARISATION OF A POKT. By Constant Reader. Will Swinburne <ivcr become a, popular poet' Probably not in tho sense in whichl ennyson at one time swayed tlio popular mmd and certainly not to tlio extent in which Shelley and Keats still dominate the world of poetry; but there is a likelihood that Swinburne may make a far wider appeal and ;eaeh a much larger audience than has hitherto lx-cu the caso. lo which end, the recent Issue of fivo volumes of his poems in a handy, woliprinted, neat little pocket edition should surely provo a great assistance, since the first essential to getting to know the work of any poet is to be ablo to curry iiis books conveniently in tho pockct, and to read his poetry in suitable surroundings. It is equally essential to be able to get to know tho poet himself, apart altogether from his poetry. For this purpose the best biography only too often fails. An autobiography is better, but this is seldom forthcoming, and best of all are his letters. It is safe to say that Stevenson, Byron Keats, Cowper. and the rest are better known by their letters than by anything written expressly for publication. Letters are so intimate; they let you right behind the scenes; one learns to know and understand and entor into tho life of the letter writer in a way that nothing else wiil accomplish. An additional aid to the popularisation of Swinburne is most oertainly provided m the volumes of letters, just published and promised for publication. Hitherto the only letters of Swinburne given to the public have been the extracts included by the poet's cousin, Mrs Disney •? ' f ln valuable little volume entitled "-The Boyhood of Algernon Charles Swinburne. These are self-revealing to a degree, and they provide a portrait of a lovablo and likeable boy, which the excesses and extravagances of later life can never altogether obb'terate. This littlo book is now being supplemented by a more pretentious volume, entitled " The Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne, With Some Personal Recollections," by Thomas Hako and Arthur Compton-Rickett. The letters in this, selection begm in 1869—when the poet was 32 years of age, and three years i Publication of "Poems and Ballads —and end some ten years before Swinburne's death. Hie earlier and more intcresting letters are addressed chiefly to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and reveal Swinburno as a careful and sagacious critic of poetry; but the 'greater part of the correspondence is with Watts-Dunton, and covers the years before they set up housekeeping together at "The Pines. Putney." This volume, however, 13 only the prelude to a more comprehensive work, the early publication of which is thus heralded: — Swinburne's Letters," in two volumes, edited and with an introduction by Edmund Gosse, are announced. The eorro spondence, now available to the public for the first time, forms a sort of running' commentary on the poet's life, ranging from February, 1858, to January, 1909, and covering every phase of his literary and social interests. It is especially rich m its reference to Elizabethan dramatists. It is quite natural that Mr Edmund Gosse should feel aggrieved at the forestalling of his own book of "Swinburne's Letters" bv the publication of the volume bv Messrs Ilake £tnd Compton-Rickett, and he gives vont to his grievance in an article in the Observer headed "Swinburne at Putney." There is a Swinburne legend, carefully preserved and handed down b*- Messrs Gosse and Wise, which apparently Messes Hake and Rickett have done their best to discredit. Mr Gosse's conclusion, however, puts the matter fairly:— It would perhaps be more than could be expected from human nature that I should be gratified by the publication of a book, the express purpose of which is to give an impression of the poet which is at variance wHh my own. I might even be pardoned if I murmured a complaint that so much of the biographical part goes merrily over tho same ground which I mapped out, vet without paying the least attention to the detail of my survey. But I will not be so absurd as to do so; the individual biographer is nothing and. the subject of his art is everything. Swinburne was one of the roost amazing human beings who ever flashed and glittered over literature; ho is tho fairy among poets, the dragon-fly. tho humming bird. He will be the object of unceasing curiosity, and coming ages will lay our various impressions side by side, and construct a portrait of him which will be, to the last, perpetually shifting its outlines. Posterity will twirl the donkey and tho chimney sweep between its finger and thumb, and a solid figure will gallop into immortality. Mr John Drinkwater, one of the ablest and most competent of Swinburne's critics, d-übs him "the supreme English poet of eloquence," and looking- through these five pocket volumes of "The Golden Pine Edition,' renewing acquaintance with old favourites, and digging up new ones, I kept this dictum steadilv in mind. I also took occasion to remember that Swinburne himself was his own severest critic, as -witness his parody of a chorus in "By the North Sea," which forms the concluding item in "Posthumous Poems":— THE GHOST OF IT. In my .poems, with ravishing rapture Storm strikes mo, and strokes me, and stings; But I'm scarcely the bird you might capture Out of doors in the thick of such things. I prefer to be well out of harm's way, When tempest makes tremble the tree. Ajid the wind with armipotent arm-sway Makes soap of the sea. Hanging hard on the rent rags of others Who before me did better, I try To believe them my sisters and brothers, Though I know what a low lot am. I. Truth dawns on time's resonant ruin Frank, fulminant, fragrant, and free, And apparently this is tho doing Of wind on the sea. Fame flutters in front of .pretension Whose flag-staff is flagrantly fine, And it cannot be needful to mention That such beyond question is mine. It's plain as a newspaper leader That a rhymester who scribbles like me May feci perfectly sure that his reader Is sick of the sea. When I reflect that these pocket volumes of Swinburne's poems may be purchased for 4s 6d per volume—the present price of a new novel in Dunedin,—and when I further reflect that tho average new novel read in an evening ia seldom, if ever, -re-read, whilst a volume of Swinburne, properly studied will prove a perennial source of there can be no question as to which is the better investment. If I be asked as to the best way to enjoy and appreciate Swinburne's poetry, I unheritatinglv answer: " Read it aloud and, if possible, within sight and sound of the sea." There is a chapter in Mr Coulson Kernahan s capital book, ' In Good Company " entitled " When Stephen Phillips Read " 'a short extract from which gees far to prove my point:— He would begin to read or recite with slow, unemotional deliborateness—the enunciation perfect, and the voice exquisitely modulated,—but at first thore was a suspicion of a chant, an incantation, as if by a spell to call up the spirit of poetry before us. It was beautiful, it was the perfection of elocutionary art, but for the timo being- it seemed cold and afar from, us and our lives, like the frozen marble beauty of G-reek statuary. Soon his voice would deepen and the room become strangely still. It was the listeners now who reminded one of statuary, for each sat unmoving, scarcely breathing, every sense, every thought, centred on the reader, who," his great eyes ablaze, yet all unseeing, sat as if in a trance. ... The little room, wherein the poet sat and read, while we listened, was so strangely transformed for us. that we saw the vision of Dante and Milton unfold themselves before our eyes. Tho poet could so speak a word as to make it seem like tho Spirit of God breathing upon tho face of tho waters and calling new worlds into being. He eonld so apeak that single word as to make it almost a world in itself. When in Swintburne's second chorus m " Atalanta in Calydon " Phillips came to the lines:— He wearves, and is clothed with derision, Sows, nnd he shall not reap, His life is a watch or a vision Botween a sleep and a sleep. With tho last word " sleep," as it oame from Stephen Phillips's lips, tho very * Swinburne's Poems i The Golden Pine Series (popular edition; handy pooket volumes). 1. " Poems and Ballads " (first series). 2. " Poems and Ballade" (eooond and Qiird series). 3. " Tristram of Lyon esse." 4. " Atalanta in Onlydon " and " ErooOieus." 0. " Songs Bafore Sanriec." London: William Hcinemann. (Oleth, 3s Ed Bet; Leather, 6s net, ea<fc volume.)
world itself Bcemod to close tired eyes, to wander away into unconsciousness, and finally to fall on sleep. Jaines Russell Lowell once said that, if Shakespeare bo read in tho very presence of the sea itself, his voice shall Lnit. scorn tho nobler, for the sublime criticism of ocean; and the words recall btephen Phillips to mo as I write, for in his voice, when ho was deeply stirred by poetry, there was something measured, •unhasting, majestic, like tlio vastneas of great waters, moving in flood of full tide under the 1110011. It will bo great joy to many Swinburne lovers tluit one of the five pocket volumes contains "Atalanta in Calydon" and " Erechtheus." The plays make an effective contrast, since tho poet's work of 1865 is placed side by side with that of 1875. All interested in tho F/uripides revival of a year or two since, during the visit of Miss Dorothea Spinney, will find strong affinity with these two plays, which are modelled on Greek tragedy, and contain many famous choruses. Of these the first chorus "Atalanta" is perhaps tho best known, rlio haunting musio of the verses, onco listened to, never utterly dies away: — For winter's rains and ruins aro over, And all the season of snows and sins; The days dividing lover and lover, The light that loses, the night that wins; And time remembered is grief forgotten, And frosts are slain and flowers begotten, And in green underwood and cover Blossom by blossom, the spring begins. Tlio full streams feed on flower of rushes, . grasses trammel a travelling foot, Tho faint, fresh flame of tho young year flushes From leaf to flower and flower to fruit; And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire, a" 1 i C oa ' ; ' s heafd above the lyre, "ie hoofed heel of a satyr crushes li.e chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root. It is Swinburne's immortal glory that he made the English language do what it had never aspired to do before, and thereby he has made a debtor of the numberless poets who have followed after him, giving them a new medium for their muse. Tho sense of allurement which all roust feel when under the influence of Swinburne's exquisite rhymed stanzas is .to a large extent lost when tho reader is confronted with the dignity and majesty of the poet's blank verse. rs Meynell, who is a severe critic of Swinburne in some of his manners and methods, gives the ppet his meed ?.™£5 ed,t r. in res l iect - Referring to When the hounds of spring are in winter's traces" . and " tho rest of the DiK>yant familiar lines,'' Mrs Meynell says: Dcbcate as they are. wo are convinced that it is the less delicate ear that most surely takes much pleasure in them, the dull ear that ehicfly thoy delight." She adds: — Compare with such luxurious canterings the graver movement of this " Vision of topnng in Winter" (Poems and Ballads, Second. Series). Sunrise it sees not, neither set of star, Large nightfall, nor imperial plenilune, Nor strong sweet shape of the fullbreasted noon ; But where the silver-sandalled shadows _ are, J. 00 soft for arrows of the sun to mar, Moves with tho mild gait of an ungrown mooci. Even more valuable than this exquisite rhymed stanza is the blank verse which Swinburne released into new energies, liberties, and new movements. Milton, it need hardly be said, is the master of those who knew ,how to place and displace the stress and accent of the English heroic line in epic poetry. His most majestic hand undid the mechanical bonds of the national line and made it obey the unwritten laws of his genius. His blank verse inarches, pauses, lingers, and charges. It feels the strain, it yields, it resists; it is all expressive. But if the practice of some of the poets succeieding him had tended to make it rigid and tamo again, Swinburne was a new liberator. ''Errchtliotis," which is perhaps the finest 01 Swinburne s performances in blank verse, merits study for a variety of reasons. It was well nigh the only finished work of the poet s barren middle years, and it displays throughout that prejudice against Euripides which Swinburne cherished from school time to the grave, a prejudice which, Air. Gosse suggests, was intensified because Swinburne, "was unable to forget that he was using a theme which had already passed through the. hands of Euripides.- 1 ' lhe poet was provoked to one of his most furious rages by a clumsy reviewer who described " Erechtheus" as "a translation from Euripides," ignoring the fact that the supposed original of the Greek play disappeared, with the exception of the fragment preserved by Lycurgus, before the Christian era. The crowning passages in both, plays, cannot be detached from their context without serious loss. It is, therefore, great gain that, thanks to this pocket volume, it now becomes possible to study "Atalanta" and .hreohtheus ' in their entirety. "Of the choruses throughout both plays," remarks Mr Drinkwater, "no more need be said than that they are among the best examples of Swinburne's ljric mastery, and among the supreme achievements of lyric poetry. And the final praise of these plays is that* notwithstanding an occasional indecision they grow before us, as by impulse and not example, into tho excellence and dignity of what may be called stanzaic form that was the presiding, beauty of the. moulds that helped to inspire them." The choruses of tho Athenian elders in "Erechtheus" are not so well known as the " catchier" choruses in Atalanta. but in reality they are of far finer quality. The closing cliorus in " Erechtheus," for example, is eloquent for to-day:— From the depth of the springs of my Spirit a fountain is poured of thanksgiving, My country, my mother, for theo. That thy dead for their death shall have lifo in thy sight and a name ever living At heart of thy people to be. In the darkness of change on the waters of time they shall turn from afar To the beam of this dawn for a beacon, the light of these pyres for a star. They shall seo thee who love and take oomfort, who hate theo shall see and take warning, Our mother that makest ua free; And the sons of thine earth shall have help of the waves that made wax on their morning, And friendship and fame of the sea. The issue of Swinburne's great epic, "Tristram of Lyonesse," as another of the pocket volumes, should serve to direct more widespread attention to an effort which the poet desired to make the cope-stone and crown of his poetic monument. The story had attracted him and engaged his attention from his early school days. He composed the Prelude to the poem as early ais 1871, and during the ensuing eleven years he occupied himself from timo to time with composing what he called "Parcels of Tristram." No more etrikin-g illustration of tho influence of Watts-Dunton upon Swinburne can possibly be cited than tho circumstances under which "Tristram" was first published. Mr Gosse says, the underlying reference, of course, being to the uproar which followed the publication of the first series of " Poems and Ballads " : It was not until 1881 that he (Swinburne) took it (Tristnam) vigorously rn hand, and in the following April he finished it. It vras published in July, 1882, in an unfortunate form. The one epio of a groat poet should, of course, havo made its undistraeted appeal to the public in a single handsome volume, but thero was groat alarm in Putney as to tho reception of a poom so amatory in tone. Watts, though he regarded Tristram as Swinburne's highest poetical effort, feared a repetition of the scandal of 1866. and fancied that the second and fourth oantos might foe challenged by the Public Prosecutor. To modify the dreadod effect of these passages, a very thick book was produced, in which Tristram was eked out and hatf-oooeealed by nearly 200 pages of ■ miscellaneous lyrics. Swinburne, who submitted to everything that Wa.tts suggested, acquiesced in this arrangement, but took a humorous' view of it. He told Lord Houston (June 6, 1882) that ho should " ex.poct the mothers of England to rally round tho book containing forty-five ' songs of innocence ' —lyrics on infancy and childhood." Bait there proved to be 110 enuEO for anxiety. Tho amatory oonipleocion of Tr-stmm was not. objected to by anybody. Wliat was objected to in the poem, alas 1 was rt6 lack of vital interest. To state the theory fairly and frankly, Swinburne, wonderful in tho ways of poetry, was no storyteller. This "Tristram," though abounding in fine descriptive passages, lacks sustained interest. Issued now, for tho first time, as a separate volume, it should be road in selections rather than as a whole. Swinburne had an unrivalled knowledge of literature, and '.Lis, topethel- with his facilitv in poetic expression, "led hid into tßaour-
sions which weakened his narrative and wearied the Teader. The aspect of this great epic which makes the strongest and most , popular appeal is pointed out by Mr Gosse.. "That ecstatic devotion to and observation of the various moods of the sea, which so remarkably distinguished Swinburne above all other poets, found its full scope in the story of the sailing of the Swallow across the perilous Cornish waters." One passage in the poem will ever live in the memory of all lovers of poetry and of the sea—namely, the description of the swim of Tristram in the dawn of tho Sun just before the battle in which he receives his. death wounds. Mr G. E. Woodberry writes:— The passage is fuller of pure natural beauty than, any other scene in the poet's verse, and it is besides unique in literature, sole by itself in its saturation with the sea and the dawn and the joy of the swimmer, made one joy of all; but no presentation of Swinburne's nature verse can spare the concluding lines, with tho glory of their physical delight: Till the sweet change that bids the sense grow sure Of deeper depth and purity more pure Wrapped him and lapped him round with clearer cold, And all the rippling green grew royal gold Between him and the far sun's rising rim. And like the sun his heart rejoiced in him, And heightened with a broadening flame of mirth; And hardly seemed its life a part of earth. But the life 'kindled of a fiery birth And passion of a new-begotten son Botween the live sea and the living sun. And mightier grew the joy to meet fulfaced Each wave and mount wtih upward plunge, and taste The rapture of its rolling strength, and cross Its flickening or own of snows thai flash and toss. Like plumes in battles' blithest charges and thence To match the next with yet more strenuous sense; Till on his eyes the light boat hard and bade His face turn west and shoreward through the glad Swift revel of the waters golden clad, And back with light reluctant lieart ho bore Across the broad-backed billows ki to shore. Thero are other three volumes in tho pocket edition —viz., Poems and Ballads (first series), Poems and Ballads (second and third series), and Songs Before Sunrise. The songs included in this last book were. written at a time when Swinburne was infatuated with the dream of Italian revolution, but with something nobler and higher behind the dream. In the light of to-day it is instructive to study the teaching embodied in " Mater Triumphalis," in the "Prelude," and the "Epilogue',' in "The Litany of Nations," and especially in " Hertha" and the " Hymn of Man," with a view of discerning to what extent the poet's idea of freedom inspired by the Spirit of Humanity squares with the struggle for freedom now engaging all the energies of all the nations. Of other numbers in the same volume, Mr Gosse truly says: " When Swinburne writes 'The Pilgrims,' 'The Oblation,' 'Quia Multum Amavit,' and so many others, he breaks the alabaster box of spikenard over the bowed head of the goddess of Liberty." The two volumes containing the three series of "Poems and Ballads" embrace all the best-known of Swinburne's numbers, and those who have condemned the poet almost unheard because of " Lans Veneris," "Faustine," "Dolores," and " Felise "—to name the four poems which, upon their first appearanoe, excited so great an uproar—cannot fail to be charmed by the lovely lyrics which embellish these pages. In partioular, the songß addressed to and about children will come aa a revelation to all unacquainted with Swinburne's adoration of childhood. It would be easy to go into ecstasy over tie well nigh flawless music of many of these but for th© nonce I content myself with quoting one most magical lyric:— A BALLAD OP DREAMLAND. I hid my heart in a nest of roses, Out of tho sun's way, hidden apart; In a softer bed than the soft white snow's is, Under the roses I bid my heart. Why would it sleep not? Why s&ould it start, When never a leaf of tie rose tree stirred? What made sleep flutter his wings and part? Only the song of a secret bird. Lie still, I said, for the wind's wing closes, And mild leaves muffle the keen sun's dart; lie still, for the wind on tho warm sea dozes, And the wind is unqoieter yet t.harv thou art. Does a thought in thee still aa a thorn's wound smart? Does the fang still fret thee of hop© deferred V What bids the lids of thy sleep dispart? Only the song of a secret bird. The green land's name that .a etann encloses, It never wss writ in the traveller's chart, And sweet 011 its trees as the frnit that grows is, It never was sold in the merchant's mart. The swallows of dreams through its dim fields dart, And sleeps aro the tunes in its tree tops ; No hound's note wakens the wildwood hart, Only tho song of a secret bird. Envoy. In tho world of dreams I havo chosen my part, To sleep for a season and hear no word Of true lovo's truth or of light love's art, Only the song of a secret bird. WADE'S WORM FIGS.—Won darfu! Worm Worriers. Price Is 6d.
NOTES ON NEW BOOKS. Two new books with interesting titles are "A Novelist on Novels," by W. L. George, and "The Women Novelists," by R. Brimley Johnson. Two new volumes by Sir Rabindranath Tagose just to hand are " Maehi and Other Stories," and a book containing two poems entitled "Love's Gift" and "Crossing." Miss Jessie Chapman is winning golden opinions from press and public with her delightful tiiory " The Foolishness of Lilian." .The latest issue of "Writers of the Day" series is Mrs Humphry Ward, by Stephen Gwynn. Admirers of the muse of Mr Herbert Trench, of "Blue. Bird" fame, will be glad to note the issue in two volumes of his " Poems, with Fables in Prose." In "A Poet's Pilgrimage" Mr W. H. Davies supplements his famous "Autobiography of a Super-tramp," and relates his experiences while tramping- through his native land of Wales—only, tfiis time, with money in his pocket. The Promise of the Air," Mr Algernon Blackwood's latest book, is the story of a middle-class family, written round the author's idea 'that we should take life as birds take, the air, and migrate as they do at a given time. ".In the Fourth Year of "War: Anticipations of a World Peace" will contain in expanded form Mr H. G, Wells's recentlypublished articles on the subject. Mr Darrell .Figgis, the poet, who has for the second time been arrested in connection with the trouble in ■ Ireland and has been deported to England, has a novel in the press entitled "Clii'.dren of Eajtli." There will shortly be published , a new long poem by Mr John Masefield entitled 'Rosa and Camilla," as well as a book by the same author on " Tho Sonraie Battles." as a companion to tho study of " The Old Front Line." Tho fifth and sixth volumes of " The Tales of Tchekoy,, translated by Constance Garnett, are announced. The first contains " The Wife, and Other Stories". and the second a series of the author's studies of Russian peasant life. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whoso third volume of the history of the war, containing a detailed account of the battle of the Somme, is now due, has also in preparation a full statement of his belief in Spiritualism. The latter will be entitled " The New Revelation." " New Paths" represents an attempt to provide a record of what is being done to-da*' in literature and art. It belongs to no school, but reflects modern tendencies. It contains, work hitherto unpublished. and divided into three sections— verse, prose, and pictures. Its contributors. who number nearly 50, include W. H. Davies, Walter de la Mare, Hugh de Selincourt. D. H. Lawrence, J. O. Squire, Robert Nichols, C. R, W, Nevinson, Augustus John, Mark Gatler, Walter Sickert. Jaoob Eastern, and Ivan Meshovic. A notable feature of tho volume is the discriminating bibiographies of poetry and fiction.
Permanent link to this item
LITERATURE., Otago Daily Times, Issue 17330, 1 June 1918
LITERATURE. Otago Daily Times, Issue 17330, 1 June 1918
Using This Item
Allied Press Ltd is the copyright owner for the Otago Daily Times. You can reproduce in-copyright material from this newspaper for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons New Zealand BY-NC-SA licence. This newspaper is not available for commercial use without the consent of Allied Press Ltd. For advice on reproduction of out-of-copyright material from this newspaper, please refer to the Copyright guide.