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N compiling this anthology of
Nature poetry I have been guided entirely by my own taste in such matters ; I have here gathered together such poems as I myself prefer amid the material
at my disposal. This is according to the wishes of the publishers, who desired that the collection should be mine in a real sense, and thus carry with it such savor of originality as one man's preferences may give to such a work. I trust I have not carried my personal likings too far, or to the point of giving expression to any mere eccentricities of taste in my selections. To make the work individual and yet of a high average of excellence has been my hope.
In such matters it all comes back after all to one's likes or dislikes. One may think he is trying the poem by the standard of the best that has been done in this line while he is only trying it by his own conception of that standard. So much of that standard as is vital in his own mind, he can apply and no more. His own individual taste and judgment, clarified and disciplined, of course, by wide reading and reflection, are his
only guides. The standard of the best is not something that any man can apply, as he can the standard of weights and measures ; only the best can apply the best.
This collection represents on the whole my judgment of the best Nature poems at my disposal in the language. I am surprised at the amount of so-called Nature poetry that has been added to English literature during the past
fifty years, but I find only a little of it of permanent worth. The painted, padded, and perfumed Nature of so many of the younger poets I cannot stand at all. I have not knowingly admitted any poem that was not true to my own observations of Nature - or that diverged at all from the facts of the
Thus, a poem that shows the swallow perched upon the barn in October I could not accept, because the swallow leaves us in August; or a poem that makes the chestnut bloom with the lilac — an instance I came across in my reading
would be ruled out on like grounds ; or when I find poppies blooming in the corn in an American poem, as I several times have done, I pass by on the other side.
In a bird poem I want the real bird as a basis — not merely a description of it, but its true place in the season and in the landscape, and no liberties taken with the facts of its life history. I must see or hear or feel the live bird in the
verses, as one does in Wordsworth's “ Cuckoo,” or Emerson's “ Titmouse” or Trowbridge's “ Pewee."
Lowell is not quite true to the facts when in one of his poems he makes the male oriole assist at nest building. The male may seem to superintend the work, but he does not actually lend a hand. Give me the real bird first, and then all the poetry that can be evoked from it.
I am aware that there is another class of bird poems, or poems inspired by birds, such as Keats's “ Ode to a Nightingale,” in which there is little or no natural history, not even of the sublimated kind, and yet that take high rank as poems. It is the 66
It is the “waking dream” in these poems, the translation of sensuous impressions into spiritual longings and attractions that is the secret of their power. When the poet can give us himself, we can well afford to miss the bird.
The fanciful and allegorical treatment of Nature is for the most part distasteful to me.
I do not want a mere rhymed description of an object or scene, nor a fanciful dressing of it up in poetic imagery. I want it mirrored in the heart and life of the poet; true to the reality without and to the emotion within. The one thing that makes a poem anyway is emotion — the emotion of love, of beauty, of sublimity — and these emotions playing about the reality result in the true Nature poetry as in Wordsworth, Emerson, and
Bryant. The poet is not so much to paint Nature as he is to recreate her. He interprets her when he infuses his own love into her.
I have also avoided all poems in which the form was difficult. The form of the masters like Tennyson and Wordsworth is easy, easy as it is in organic Nature in her happy moods. I do not want to be compelled to expend any force upon the poet's form — I want it all for his thought
. A tortuous and difficult channel may add to the beauty of a mountain brook, but it does not add to the beauty of a poem. The mountain-brook quality must be in the spirit
, the conception. I have always been shy of the sonnet, because it so rarely flows; it is labored; it is arbitrary, with sentences cut in the middle and gasping out a feeble rhyme. But the sonnets of at least one of our younger poets
author of “ The Fields of Dawn” — actually flow, and one can read them without any mental contortion, as of course he can the great sonnets of Shakespeare and Milton and Wordsworth.
One of our young Southern poets has written many Nature poems that are based on real love and observation, and that abound in striking and beautiful lines, but his form is involved and difficult, and I have not been able to find in his numerous volumes one whole poem that I could take.
The standard New England poets are not more largely represented in my collection, because
of copyright restrictions. A few of our minor poets are also absent for the same reason.
I am indebted to Houghton, Mifflin & Company for special permission to use such poems as I have selected from the works of Long fellow, Emerson, Lowell, Whittier, Holmes, Bret Harte, Frank Bolles, Aldrich, Celia Thaxter, Thoreau, Miss Thomas, Trowbridge, Edgar Fawcett, Maurice Thompson, Samuel Long fellow, Helen Gray Cone, E. C. Stedman, Frank D. Sherman, Mary Clemmer Ames, Anna Boynton Averill, Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, Wilson Flagg, William Dean Howells, Charles Kingsley, Lucy Larcom, George Parsons Lathrop, Lloyd Mifflin, James Montgomery, Nora Perry, Charles G. D. Roberts, Henry Timrod, Jones Very, and A. West.
I am also indebted to D. Appleton & Company for five of the poems of Bryant; to the Century Company for four poems from Richard Watson Gilder's “ Five Books of Song,” and two poems by Robert Underwood Johnson; to Robert Clark Company for poems by William D. Gallagher; to Henry Holt & Company for the poem by Robert Kelley Weeks; to Lee & Shepard for the poem by David Atwood Wasson; to 7. B. Lippincott Company for Harrison Smith Morris's poem “ The Lonely Bird” from • Madonna and other Poems," and for the selection entitled “The Closing Scene” from Thomas Buchanan Read's Poems; to Longmans, Green & Company for the