« AnteriorContinuar »
as something too deep to be accounted for by the schemes of Kaisers and the ambitions of general staffs. It is in truth an irrepressible conflict because it is a death-grapple between two utterly opposed groups of social tendencies and ideals. The German code has challenged the international code of the growing world eace group, and nothing but the ultimate arbitrament of arms ( n decide the issue. “The issue at its broadest is whether civilization is to go on developing the international peace group or to go over to the substitute set of variations fathered by Germany, and now thrust forward with power. There has to be a selection bere; and there never was any power short of the most strenuous selective factor ever developed, namely war, that has any remote chance of effecting the selection."
The only hope of permanent peace lies in the destruction of the German code and the substitution of the international code for it among the German people. This is, of course, no easy thing, for the Germans have made a fetish of their militarism. The fetish, however, is after all only a fetish and may be upset and its true nature ultimately disclosed to its worshippers. There is one way of doing this and only one: namely, to make the German people taste to the bitter end the natural consequences of their code; to make them understand that their idol has feet of clay and really brings them misery and dishonor instead of conquest and glory. To persuade ourselves that the Germans will spontaneously renounce their idol worship is fatuous and altogether without empirical basis. Nor is there any present utility "in telling a fanatical people that we are not fighting them but their prepossession and religion. Fancy announcing to a Mohammedan that we are not contending against him but against the Prophet and all his works. So long as the Germans fervently believe in their fetish they will hug it to them the more closely." The German people can be made to see the truth “only by the defeat of the supposedly invincible armies and the demonstration that militarism is not the master-key to the national and international destiny. It is when Mumbo Jumbo fails to make good that they take him out and beat him, or even pitch him into the river.'
Pacifism and sentimentalism are at present keeping fairly quiet; but before the war ends they will be making themselves heard once more. When they do, it will be well to get out Pro
fessor Keller's book and reread its concluding chapters. For it contains an answer for most of those who would becloud the issue, whether by emotion or irrelevance. Few writers on the war have gone to the heart of the matter with the directness and at the same time with the inclusive vision which are displayed in this
JAMES BISSETT PRATT. Williams College.
THREE IRISH POETS OF THE WAR The Spires of Oxford and Other Poems, by W. M. Letts, $1.85;
Soldier Songs, by Patrick MacGill, $1.00; E. P. Dutton & Co., New York. Songs of Peace, by Francis Ledwidge, with an Introduction by Lord Dunsany, Herbert Jenkins, Limited, London, $0.88. 1917.
Many people in this country still cling to the fallacious impression that the more significant poets of modern Ireland either perished in, or were associated with, the Rebellion of 1916. As a matter of fact, by far the greater number of the poets of Ireland have been in sympathy with the Allied cause in the present war, and have given of their work to show this sympathy. “A Little Book of Irish Verse,” edited by Albert C. White, and published in London in the first few months of the war to provide additional comforts for Irish troops wounded and in the field, contains poetry by such well-known writers as W. B. Yeats, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Katharine Tynan, and Stephen Gwynn. A survey of the monthly and weekly publications of Great Britain and Ireland will show much verse contributed by other Irish writers while within the last year three books containing Irish war verse of distinction should do much to correct the popular notion that Irish men and women have remained apathetic during the struggle for world liberty. These books are Miss W. M. Letts's “Spires of Oxford,” Patrick MacGill's “Soldier Songs," and “Songs of Peace" by Francis Ledwidge. Both “Soldier Songs" and "Songs of Peace” are the work of men who have seen active service at the front, Ledwidge having been killed in Flanders in July, 1917.
Miss Letts is not unknown to American readers, for a charming book of hers, “Songs from Leinster," which was published some four years ago, received an enthusiastic review in “The New York
Times.' Those who read this book found Miss Letts accomplished in technique, as well as possessed of true poetic imagination, qualities which, coupled with that maturity which comes with practice, are again in evidence in “Spires of Oxford.” Miss Letts has felicity of phrase, together with the power of choosing significant details, and that use of connotation which has distinguished Celtic literature from the earliest times. She writes in traditional forms rather than in free verse, and her poetry emerges from a background of the past; without obscuring her own individuality she has made use of her reading in a way that might well be imitated by some of our young American poets; she can move freely and easily within limits. The title poem of her new book has already been widely quoted, and deservedly, as one of the best war poems by a woman. Her power of connotation is here shown to the fullest extent, particularly in the last stanza:
God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Instead of cap and gown.
Than even Oxford town.
In the two Hallowe'en poems which gave their title to the first edition of Miss Letts's book, are the characteristic Celtic feeling for nature, and a strongly developed sense of the nearness of the unseen world. She is close to the homely side of war, whereby she reveals the temper of her time, and yet she has the spiritual exaltation which is creeping into modern poetry under the stress of circumstance. The poems “Chaplain to the Forces” and “To a Soldier in Hospital” are clear indications of the presence of this new force. The fourteen sonnets comprising the sequence “Ad Mortuum" are Miss Letts's most notable achievement, and I should not be surprised were they to attain a permanent place in sonnet literature. Pulsing with feeling, they shimmer with color, and carry the reader onward in a rush of loveliness, much as a swimmer is borne up a beach by a breaking wave. The sonnets are chiefly in the Elizabethan manner, but numbers one, five, nine, and thirteen are, nevertheless, unfamiliar in arrangement, if not positive innovations. The result, however, justifies them.
Contrasted with the poems of Miss Letts, Patrick MacGill's
"Soldier Songs” have a lightness and good humor astonishing when one reads that they were written in the trenches-clear proof of Matthew Arnold's assertion that the Celt is continually in revolt against the despotism of fact. Few others could have kept sufficiently aloof from their environment to write poems like “In Fairyland”:
If we forget the Fairies,
And tread upon their rings,
And think of other things.
Who guard our spirits' light:
And Day forget the Night. Perhaps, after all, what we are accustomed to regard as unreality is more real to the spirit of man than any of the contrivances which his hands have made-than war, or terrible engines of destruction. Yet there is no lack of seriousness in Patrick MacGill's verse; there is the consciousness of high purpose which convinces one that the soldiers of the Allied armies must in the end overcome all obstacles. This is shown most clearly in “I oft go out at Night-time,” “Letters,” and “A Soldier's Prayer."
In the greater number of his poems, Rifleman MacGill sings the common soldier, the comradeship of the trenches, with here and there a poem filled with that fineness of feeling which is the heritage of the Celt, and ever the mark of the genuine poet. The poems of home-longing are characteristic of the Irishman, ever destined to be some time away from his native land, and then more than ever certain to find Ireland the country of his dreams. “The Hipe” and “Straf' that Fly” are examples of soldiers' humor, and of the traditional Irish gaiety of heart.
With “Songs of Peace” comes the realization that in the death of Ledwidge Irish literature lost the most distinguished poet of recent years, one who even now is assured therein a permanent place. In the combination of poetic qualities he was the most gifted of the three poets under discussion; he had fineness of feeling, command of technique, vivid imagination, and a sense of the magic of nature, all so compounded that he has enriched not only Irish but English literature with many lovely lines and phrases.
He first came to the notice of American readers about two years ago with the publication here of “Songs of the Fields,” yet this book has only of late met the attention it deserves. No poet writing English has caught the charm of Irish landscape and interpreted it so beautifully as has this young Meath peasant; his poetry has the appeal of the nature poetry written in Gaelic by unknown scribes of long ago. He is the foremost Irish poet of landscape. Although Mr. Edward Lysaght's “Irish Eclogues” were published almost at the same time as “Songs of the Fields,” Mr. Lysaght devotes his attention chiefly to Irish country life, rather than to landscape, and his pictures, excellent though they be, have not the brilliancy of those of Ledwidge; they are like modern stained glass as compared with the windows of Chartres. Lord Dunsany chose the title “Songs of Peace” for Ledwidge's second book, because the poet, although he wrote many of these verses while in active service, was still preoccupied with landscape, whether an evening scene in Greece or Serbia, or the memory of evening hills in Ireland. The war is, however, reflected in the poems; there is the high resolve of the poet to play his full part as a soldier; he would put love aside until he has won "fame and other little things." There is a stronger consciousness of change than in “Songs of the Fields," and a truer realization of the insignificance of man, above whom brood the dark clouds of death:
Now the green ripples turn to gold
And all the paths are loud with rain,
And full of winter pain.
I roamed awhile
And they remember him with beauty caught
Heard in his heart with singing overwrought;
And still on Purley Common gooseboys sing.
NORREYS JEPHSON O'CONOR.