« 上一頁繼續 »
in 'Endymion' (published last year in the ‘Nineteenth Century') fewer still. These three poems have to be considered together, for they all conform more or less to a common type; they are idylls on the model of 'Enone;' and if Christ in Hades' showed by many passages a conscious and deliberate study of Milton, the other two betray the extent of the poet's debt to Tennyson. It was in these poems, working, as we have said, with material already subdued to beauty, where the subject did not struggle against him, that Mr. Phillips displayed his technical mastery of poetic form. He had achieved a style, and the style was bis own, but coloured at every turn with Tennyson's influence. Like almost every artist, he came from a school, and there was no mistaking his master; but there was no mistaking either the disciple's originality. In each case the poet's imagination had been at work adding beauty to what was beautiful already, reading, as Tennyson had done before him, a new significance into the old myth. • Tithonus' is more new than old in its import, and so is this ‘Endymion,' this poem of the dreamer, whose lips have been touched by the lonely barren spirit of night's beauty; by the cold orb that sheds not life but repose, not light but mystery. If there is sunlight there must be moonshine; if joy there must be sorrow; and when the moon stoops to earth for love, the ocean, unswayed by her, rushes from its limits. And so—as Mr. Phillips reads the legend—Diana shines for ever cold and unwedded ; and for those who are of her following there is no joy, but dreams; in dreams she kisses them; they are lonely, yet strangers to no sorrow or no joy; the grief with which she touches them is
Magical distress, Distaut delicious trouble and new pain.' To this poem, and to Endymion's cry,
• I must make music of my brother's pain,' we have referred, not as wishing to criticise what has not yet been finally issued in book form, and is at present open to censure on many points of detail, but because it holds, we imagine, Mr. Phillips's conception of the poet's soul. At all events, he himself in his work has not only sought, but celebrated the inspiration of sorrow. That is the central thought of Marpessa,' the idyll which tells how Marpessa
being given her choice by Zeus between the god Apollo and 'Idas, a mortal, chose Idas.' This poem, which upon the whole did most to convince critics that here at last was a man of whom greatness might confidently be predicted, if not actually affirmed, directly challenges comparison with «Egone.'
As in ‘Enone,' so here the arbitrament was to be decided at the deep mid noon.' It is Apollo who speaks first, urging his proffer to Marpessa. She, being born human, is destined to taste of the earth sorrow,' and the pity of it moves even him, 'a spirit sliding through tranquillity.' For, he cries:
* Thy life has been
Lately upon the summer wast disclosed,' Here one may pause in the quotation to call attention to the surpassing beauty of the verse where the words fall easily and inevitably into their places. “The history of a 'flower in the air '—the line is light as a blossom ; but springing from that soft cadence the verse gathers weight and majesty, a god's utterance. And everywhere there is the felicity of style, the perpetual slight innovation' where the word holds more than a simple meaning:
• Thou, indeed, Lately upon the summer wast disclosed.' The bud unfolds, the face opens upon the world its revelation. That is how great poets write.
Then the god paints the doom of roses and the sadder fading of souls, and against these he sets his offer, a partnership in the sun's joys :
And thou shalt know that first leap of the sea
And rapidly laugh till all this world is warm.'
myth grows real, not fantastic, in this vision of the world's response to light. And the words dance and sing together; the verse thrills and quickens till this passage of pure fancy excites like a battle song. Quotation must have a limit, and we can give no more of the god's pleading, nor dwell on the speech of Idas calling love to love. Yet this should be said here, that the special skill of Mr. Phillips in suggesting beauty is to render not only things, but the atmosphere of things. It is a point we must recur to, and bere we would only say that, in pleading, Idas pleads the magic of Marpessa's beauty, all it hints more than all it utters.
• Thy face remembered is from other worlds,
And of sad sea horizons.' To this mystery, to this soul of sadness in her, Idas makes appeal; and it speaks in her answer. Reciting the god's offer in all humility, she comes at last to his crowning gift of immortality, of exemption from the human lot; and she claims for herself her human completion in sorrow:
Out of our sadness have we made this world
This is the sting, the wonder.' That is her true answer; her claim to the human inheritance. But the poem does not stop there, and diverges into a passage beautiful indeed, but against the logic of the theme, when she pictures the life that should be hers with the god when her bloom should wane, and she be forced to woo her lover :
• Faded, not sure of thee, with desperate smiles
Most bitter to a woman that was loved.' Yet the god's proffer was of an ageless life such as his own, a life always at noontide. Mr. Phillips has been betrayed into the sin of irrelevancy, and has wasted noble verses instead of concentrating at once upon the contrast, the life
that is to be hers with Idas, a life passing from the first
sweet sting of love,' the sweet that almost venom was,' into
Beautiful friendship tried by sun and wind,
Durable from the daily dust of life,' And perhaps this wavering in the central conduct of the theme rather than any lapse in the quality of the verse leads one to think Marpessa's speech too long. Undue expansion is a fault that Mr. Phillips has learnt to avoid.
So far we have written of the work about which there are practically no two opinions. A man who does not think Marpessa' good poetry must have a very singular standard. But the case is quite different about the other poems in the first volume. As for the lyrics, there is not much to be said ; almost alone among recent poets, Mr. Phillips is at his worst in this kind, and the blank verse lines to Milton, though fine, are not extraordinary. There remain two long poems, The Woman with the Dead Soul' and The Wife, absolutely unlike the rest. To begin with, they are written in the heroic couplet, a metre which, we may say in passing, Mr. Phillips has since then handled repeatedly and with increasing success. But the theme and the treatment of the theme in each case are bold innovation. In each there is narrated the tragedy of a life, but a tragedy of the squalid life that passes us in the welter of London. Has tragedy a right to be sung when it is the tragedy of the public-house, the tragedy of the prostitute? Modern art has answered the question so copiously in the affirmative that there is no use in debating. If a man has vision he will see ; if he has with vision the poet's gift, he will certainly make us see. Only, we have a right to demand that he shall see deep enough, that his revelation shall be sincere. We do not blame even Swift for his terrible insight, we shudder and we pity the eye that could see nothing but rottenness. Yet from a poet we expect not the vision of the satirist, but a wider outlook that shall show us ugliness if need be, but only seen as an offence against beauty, so that the vision of ugliness is also a vision of beauty. The poet's business is not to lacerate, but to quicken, to thrill it may be with pity and terror, not to madden with despair, to wring somehow or other music and not discord out of his brother's pain. In allart, if it is to fulfil art's function, there must be some element of pleasurable emotion; and if a man sees and feels in the eyes of prostituted women in the streets or dazed drunkards in a tavern all the degradation of their lives, every act of the
sickening tragedy, and sees no more than that, why should we thank him for lending to us the curse of his faculty ? And yet, are we to wish that our poets should be deaf and blind to the world that is at our doors, gazing for ever at remote dim histories, noble and unrealised as far-off mountain shapes, listening only to the far-off murmur of lamentations that fall soft and deadened upon the ear? Scarcely that. One can only demand that the poet's art, which shows us his own vision, should set things in their true focus and not resolve the universe into one meaningless blur of pain. Whether Mr. Phillips has succeeded or not we can hardly decide, but there is no question but that his attempts in these tragedies of modern life were more significant and more original than his successes in the well-beaten track. He has faced the ugliest things in life and tried to make them fall into a harmony. This is how he begins his first poem, "The Woman with a Dead Soul:'
• Allured by the disastrous tavern light,
Some crazy fluttering and some half-burned.' It is the tragedy of moths at a candle, somehow more bearable when you look at it like that, yet not less tragic. And among the slow-tasting bargainers 'there was seen the face that beyond the rest appalled him, the face of a woman in whom there was no struggle either to fly or to return :
She turned her eyes on me; they had no ray,
Trembling ; it seemed to me that she was dead.' Yet she could speak, tell in her own way the dreadful placid tale :
'She with a soul was born: she felt it leap