Poets of Humanity
MANY readers will welcome the collected poems of these two writers, who, though their poetry is widely different, have certain fundamental affinities. Both of them are active workers in other literary fields, besides being indefatigable journalists. Yet both of them, though they have devoted but a fraction of their lives to the actual practice of verse, are essentially poets at heart, and have contrived, amid countless distractions, - to produce more substantial " collected " volumes than many poets whose whole careers have been spent in the cloistered garden of dreams. There are, of course, schools of poets and critics who favour the cloistered garden ; poetry, for them, is a detached and self-contained aesthetic activity. But, for ourselves, we are tired of exotic blooms, and it is with relief and pleasure that we turn to the work of Mr. Gould and Mr. Adcock, both of whom, being- passionate humanitarians, exhibit the vitality that comes only from eager contact with the world.
In their simplicity, spontaneity, and sincerity, their hatred of pretensions and shams, their pity for the poor and oppressed, and their Christian idealism that pierces impatiently through all the creeds to the figure of the historical Christ Himself, the two poets have much in common :-
" Ah, how regain the morning, how control The lost, the hunted and the haunted soul, Save by the light, the peace, that made me see Ev'n in the slave the spirit of the free- Ev'n for my sake my Master sacrificed, And, on the harlot's brow, the kiss of Christ ? Dear brothers, sisters, hating your own hearts Because you find it hard to bear your parts, Christ in the Garden knelt on common grass To pray that from His lips the cup might pass."
There Mr. Gould speaks ; but there, too, is the core of Mr. Adcock's inspiration. And " Victory," though it is by Mr. Adcock, might, both in idea and expression, be the work of Mr. Gould :- " Once, stumbling to his goal through dust and heat, Wounded and bleeding, slandered_and denied, The chief of Conquerors fell as in defeat : It was not Caesar whom they crucified."
There are, indeed, not a few of the miscellaneous lyrics in these two books that might be transplanted without undue violence to either author.
We must not, however, press the similarity too far. Though Mr. Adcock himself often attains real precision and beauty of form, Mr. Gould is, on the whole, the better craftsman. He has the wider and subtler range of music. He combines dignity and austerity with mellifluence to a rare degree, and there is a superb finish about his best work. While, again, Mr. Adcock is essentially a Londoner, who is moved especially by the humours and tragedies, the sufferings and heroisms of the-meaner streets, Mr. Gould is a countryman as well. There is-hardly less essential humanity in Mr. Gould, but there is more detachment and a greater variety of images. Mr. Adcock may see men as plain men, or as devils or angels ; but Mr. Gould sees them also as trees " In the green quiet wood, where I was used, In summer, to a welcome calm and dark, found the-threat of murder introduced -
By 'scars of white paint-on the wrinkled bari.
How few old friends were to be spared ! And now
I see my friends with new eyes here in town— Men as trees walking, and on every brow
A pallid scar, and all to be cut down."
-As a Nature poet Mr. Gould has not yet been adequately appreciated. There is almost a Shelleyan radiance in such passages as that heralded by " The big procession of the year begins."
But it is in the sonnet sequence, in which he philosophizes about love and seeks the unifying principle in life which underlies all its apparent contradictions and frustrations, that Mr. Gould has found his richest and most individual note. The note, indeed, is so individual that it is sometimes a little vague. But the cadences are of rare beauty and ase full of incidental illumination.
As a satirist Mr. Gould is less successful. It is here that Mr. Adcock scores. Sensitive and appealing as are many of Mr. Adcock's lyrics, wistful and whimsical by turns, it is in the combined anger and tenderness of his three long narrative poems that he shows to best advantage. One of them describes the career of Tod MacMammon, sweater and philanthropist, who, on leaving this world amid the plaudits of Press, pulpit, and public, meets with the just, but unex- pected, punishment of being granted the vision to sec his own soul—a truly miserable sight ! " Exit Homo " is dedicated to the memory of one of the author's friends, who, while professing no religious faith and no belief in immortality, manifested the true spirit of Christianity in his daily life. Dwelling upon the record of this good and brave and happy man, the poet is stung into indignation against the formalists who, protesting their allegiance to Christ, betray Him by their acts ; and it is to this theme, with new variations, that he returns in " The Divine Tragedy." here Christ is pictured as coining again to earth. The pagan gods laugh, " for the first time in exile," when they hear of His approaching descent ; and their laughter is justified. Working at first as a carpenter at Bethnal Green, Christ wins the affection of the humbler people. Then His fame spreads, and Society, keen on any novelty, invites Hint to its tea-parties. When, however, it realizes that, for all His fine courtesy, He is in deadly earnest in His teaching of love and brotherhood, He is rejected by the official and respectable world, though He finds one unexpected disciple in Sir Pomphrey Gauden, who, having begun life as a small grocer, has risen unwillingly to his present position and affluence through the masterful ambition of his wife. At last, while preaching in Hyde Park, Christ is violently attacked. He is wounded, arrested, and cast into prison, from which He mysteriously vanishes.
Mr. Adcock shows wise artistic restraint in his conclusion. It may be unsatisfactory to the reason ; but its implications arc clear enough. No honest reader can question the essential truth of the picture which Mr. Adcock, with epigrammatic satire that really " bites," gives us, in a series of vividly human scenes, of modern society ; and he leaves us in little doubt that, in some form or other, the tragedy of ancient Galilee might, if Christ appeared in modern London, he re-enacted. We cling to the dream ; but we are still not ready for the reality :- "When a blithe infant, lapt in careless joy, Sports with a woollen lion—if the toy
Should come to life, the child, so direly crost, Faced with this Actuality wore lost . . Leave us our toys, then ; happier we shall stay While they remain but toys and we can play With them and do with them as suits us Feat ; Reality would add to our unrest,
Disturb our game, our pleasure intermit— We could not play with It ! "
The world, no doubt, is better than it was, and the leaven of His influence has spread. Yet for the most part, even to His professed adherents, Christ remains a picture in a stained glass window, or, as Mr. Adcock puts it, " the eternal play- thing " :— " We do but ask to see - No more of Him below than is displayed In the dead plaything our own hands have made
To lull our fears and comfort us in loss—
The wooden Christ upon a wooden Cross ! "
Mr. Adcock's passionately sincere and. eloquent poem is none the less truly poetry because it is also a tract for the