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CHOSEN OUT OF POETS FROM
WYATT TO ARNOLD
HYD, ABSOLON, THY GILTË TRESSES CLERE ;
METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
THE volume here presented to the reader is a se
1 lection of complete poems from all or almost all that is worth preserving in English Lyric Poetry which has Love as its subject. And since Poetry is the one Art in which we have made a really indestructible success, in which we have really expressed ourselves, we may find here some hundreds of verses of an imperishable beauty. In any wide view of English Poetry it might seem as though all the vitality of the race, that desire for expression, the idealism and dreams of a great people who must create, always with joy, had passed into Verse, since in Prose we have not attained to the lucidity and perfection of the French ; nor in Sculpture to the immortal and precise beauty of the Greeks; nor in Painting to the loveliness and power of the Italians ; nor in Music to the profound rhythm of the Germans. It is really only in Poetry that we are as it were a world power, since we have produced indisputably the most beautiful Verse of the modern world, perhaps of all time, in Lyric as in Dramatic Poetry. Our extraordinary indifference to Art or Beauty of any sort has obscured much of the great dramatic litera
There are, I think, but three exceptions: only one, that of the songs from “The Song of Songs,” is of any importance.
ture of our race. Apart from the work of Shakespeare, who after all is but the highest peak in an innumerable and tremendous mountain chain, the Drama of the great age is never seen on our stage. And no long time since our Lyric Poets also were unknown to the mass of the English people. The Aldine Poets, the Muses' Library, the Anthologies of Mr. Palgrave, Mr. Henley, and Mr. Bullen have taken away that reproach from us, and to-day it is possible to obtain the work of almost any Lyric Poet at a small cost. But that extraordinary fear of beauty that has led us in the past to forget that which alone will give us immortality is by no
means dead. I number among my acquaintances a parson, a good Church of England man, full of good works, a man of the public schools and a graduate of the University of Oxford ; and the same man is the father of a family, so that I find in him all the echoing virtues of our
So characteristic is he of a people which has given the beautiful Masques of Ben Jonson to oblivion that he will tell me, without hesitation or shame, that he cannot read Shakespeare because he wrote in Verse. Now, since it is a commonplace of the schools that there is no virtue without music, this Master of Arts, who might seem to be so bourgeois, so excellently rectitudinous and harmless, is, it might seem, in reality anarchical in his influence, disorderly at least in the higher morality, and an enemy to those profound laws that govern that perfect state which lieth in the heavens seen there by Plato, and that St. Paul has told us is there eternal.
No one knows better than I that, as a people, we are now indifferent to beauty. This little book, which
is all of gold with scarcely enough alloy to make it current, will almost certainly become just a gift book from lover to lover, in which exquisite office may it be blessed, but how many, think you, will love it for its own sake, for its Beauty, its Verse, its Poetry, apart from its Love? Not the beauty of the words, nor the perfection of the expression, the Art of Poetry, but its subject, so banal, so outworn, one might think will be the reason of its popularity should it attain to that throne, so inevitably vulgar, that awaits success. But perhaps I am wrong; unlike some other less catholic collections of Love Poems, there is in this little book an element of profound passion that may frighten the philistine, who, while he sentimentalises the beautiful Sonnet of Cowper, cannot read with patience Andrew Marvell's poem, “To His Coy Mistress,” and who, while eager to agree with Tennyson that “the happy bridesmaid makes the happy bride,” will by no means read “Fatima".
“ Hard and abstract moralities,” writes Pater, in that strangely suggestive essay on Coleridge, in which he considers rather the philosophical than the poetical qualities of his work, “Hard and abstract moralities are yielding to a more exact estimate of the subtlety and complexity of our life. . Man is the most complex of the products of nature. Character
merges temperament: the nervous system refines itself into intellect.”
And, indeed, when we compare the earlier centuries of our Poetry with the work of to-day, it is perhaps just that change that we find, a transformation of character into temperament ; a profound complexity ; the nervous system under our very eyes as it were re