New York Evening Post Literary Review
November 28, 1925
HARDY’S FOUR LINES CALLED BEST IN POETRY ANTHOLOGY
Modern British Lyrics. An Anthology Compiled by Stanton A. Coblentz.
New York: Minton, Balch & Co. $2.
Reviewed by Eli Siegel
Author of “Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana”
Anthologies are very good things. Though they have been jested at, called a fine and inevitable means to literary superficiality, and a publisher’s device merely to add to the number of books in the world, they yet help one to have a sense of literature as a whole; and there is nothing more needed today than the possession of that sense. And the making of anthologies is a very important and meaningful occupation.
One cannot say that Mr. Coblentz’s “Modern British Lyrics” is among the few anthologies that are beautiful, aesthetically lovely in themselves. The anthologist may be called a practitioning critic, who says: “Here are my loves; they are made by my feelings; admire and enjoy my feelings if you can.” And one does not see in “Modern British Lyrics” that intensity, comprehensiveness and oneness of feeling anthologies ought to show. Mr. Coblentz’s book is too helter-skelter.
He does not show comprehensiveness, nor loveliness of poetic emotion, by saying in his preface: “And, as in “Modern British Lyrics” I have confined myself to verse in the traditional forms and meters.” Oh! This won’t do at all. Milton wrote beautifully in free-rhythmed, unrhymed lines in “Samson Agonistes”; and so did Arnold in his “Strayed Reveller”; and so did Henley in “Margaritae Sorori.” When one sees what Milton has done with free verse in some of the choruses in his “Samson,” one may say, just say, “Free verse is good.” And it is good even though some of the screambigest junk that ever was has been written in it and the silliest quarrels have been about it; and even though—yes—it has been, of late, forsaken by some of the writing persons, who once said they loved it.
The best lines in “Modern British Lyrics” are these four from Thomas Hardy’s “A Thought In Two Moods”:
I saw it—pink and white—revealed
Upon the white and green;
The white and green was a daisied field,
The pink and white Ethleen.
These lines are very different from most of those in the rest of the book. They have that elementalness, nakedness, and greatness of feeling that poetry must have. They are simple; they say something, and that something is much. See how man and the world become one in what may seem at first sight, merely a pretty and clever way. And the greatest poetry takes in cleverness. But along with cleverness Hardy shows in these lines that the world was seen by him in a needed way, in a new way and in a poetic way.
I am disposed to say that this quatrain of Hardy is worth at least three-fourths of the rest of the book. And yet in it modern British poetry is tolerably well represented. But British poetry, like American poetry, and, as far as I know them, German and French poetry, is made up, almost wholly, of attempts to make striking, or picturesque, or “poetic,” feelings not had poetically in the first place. And the Lord of poetry has said: “Thou must feel poetically first.”
It seems that the old standbys are really the best poets in this book. I must say that I enjoyed Thomas Hardy, Robert Bridges, Laurence Binyon, James Elroy Flecker, and Ralph Hodgson more than those writers whom Mr. Coblentz has so venturesomely—and so far praiseworthily—found in English magazines, and in books hardly known in America at all.