Vol 1 No 1
COLLECTED POEMS. Edmund Gosse. (Heinemann. us.)
THE poetry of Mr Gosse is neither major nor minor: it defies category or classification. In certain essential qualities he never fails: he is always clear, strong and deliberate, and he is very nearly, if not quite, always interesting. He seems not to have fallen into the snare of writing poetry for the mere sake of writing it; he never allowed himself to compose anything without first knowing exactly what he intended, and, having once focussed the object, he never took his eyes off it. In the matter of form, he is too exacting; he is, in fact, such a rigorous master, that his poems often seem mere literary exercises, the fire of imagination fizzling out in the cold precision of his manner.
The poets of the older generation were still overshadowed by what Mr Hueffer calls the “great figure.” They sang with fortunate reluctance, and were inapt at rushing into print. They had the virtue of recognizing their own limitations, though the vice of suffering themselves to be limited. Several, indeed, who might have written continuously and excellently, preferred rather to maintain the dignified silence of the true appreciator.
But the minor poets of to-day are minor almost by preference. They rush into verse; they race into print; they precipitate themselves to oblivion. They care too much for the title, poet. By their reserve alone, the older men are superior, and our generation may learn much from all of them, but particularly from Mr Gosse. He is always the master of poetry rather than the poet; his restraint is wonderful; he reveals, in every detail, the nature of correct verse.
Yet behind his cool manner is a magnificent passion, stronger than all the flood-gates of yesterday could stem. There is no doubt that his poetry is inevitable: he had to write it, and therefore he determined that nothing that was not perfectly finished should escape him into print. He cut himself a thin reed, carved it and polished it, made it into an instrument entirely his own. He must have practised and re-practised his melodies till he had them as perfect as might be. He was never weary, never satisfied, and the impression from his book is of a soft and lovely music fluted through a slender reed by moonlight.
Viewed as a whole, the book is like a weirdly vivid self-portrait. Personality glows through between the lines, and every verse seems but to add another touch to the picture. Indeed, however remote his subject, Mr Gosse never succeeds in treating it quite objectively. He assimilates everything. When he seeks to stand away outside his poem, or to hide close within it, he never actually escapes us, but only perhaps reveals himself yet a little more.
If he leaves us eventually rather unsatisfied, it is because he is too perfect an artist. His matter is even too well assimilated, his manner too inevitable, his epithets are too precise. He asks so little of our own imaginations; his grip is so light; he so seldom takes us the least by surprise. At moments he seems like a cooler and smaller Mathew Arnold, less fretful, far less exacting. We must not expect him to stimulate the mind. If we read him when we are already inclined to happiness, he may affect us with a delightful quiet seriousness, and complete our joy.
His more permanent value will perhaps be as exponent or master in the art of poetry. Young poets should read him, study his melodic rhythms, and practice, for a while at all events, his restraint. We look most in him for brilliant effects, methodically contrived. He is an Alma-Tadema in poetry, an expert in small most vivid word-pictures, such as these:
The peacock screamed and strutted in the court,
The fountain flashed its crystal to the sun,
The noisy life of noon was just begun,
And happy men forgot that life was short,
We two stood, laughing, at the turret-pane, ....
When Roman fields are red with cyclamen,
And in the palace-gardens you can find,
Under great leaves and sheltering briony-bind,
Clusters of cream-white violets, ....
....curled and scented sun-girls, almond-eyed,
With lotus-blossoms in their hands and hair.....
There in a white-walled garden full of trees
Through which there ran a deep cold water brook
Fringed with white tulips and anemones,
Among the tender grass he wrote the book
or this from that queer psychological study, “A tragedy without words”:
Hear, in a house of peaceful days and nights,
Full of sequestered virtues, cold delights,
How two young souls could, unsuspected, fashion
A long-drawn elfin tragedy of passion.
No vows were made, no sealed springs were broken,
No kiss was given, no word of love was spoken;
Among calm faces clustered round the fire,
These two played out their drama of desire.
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- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
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- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
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- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
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