GENIUS AND DREAM
ONE of the many ideas which a materialistic age has weakened and depressed is the idea of personality. This is reckoned nowadays in terms of difference, even of oddity. One can
become a personality by wearing two hats. Yet men of great personality are remarkable less for differing from their fellow- men than for resembling a very large number of them. They are unique in virtue of what they comprehend, not of what they exclude. Even if they display marked idiosyncrasy, it is not the idiosyncrasy that gives them their quality. It is the multitudes whom they contain. However spectacular their achievements, they show their value in quiescence even more than in activity. They ARE. T. E. Lawrence was loved by
people of all kinds, including numbers to whom his exploits could mean nothing. The luminous goodness of A. E. was apparent when he sat reading a newspaper.
In this way, Mr. de la Mare's genius is nowhere more strongly expressed than through this anthology. An antho- logy is an act of comprehension: and, when every guest has been chosen with a fine taste, the assembly is a clear portrait of the host. Here is what one of our shrewdest and most sensitive minds feels and thinks upon a subject which has no boundaries. What are dreams? What lies beyond conscious- ness, below and above it? To what tides does the mind's harbour open in sleep? Where does reverie come from? What is the time element in dream? Are we held between the limits of our own life, or do we get glimpses of the lives of others? There are a thousand questions, and here, in poetry and prose, we are shown what writers of the past few hundred years have thought about them. Mr. de la Mare himself, in an introduction of over a hundred pages, gives us his own speculations and experiences.
"This volume is rather a Survey—a panorama—of a wide theme, endlessly inviting, in much obscure, viewed from many different angles, by many diverse minds—and in differing states of the mind. It ranges fitfully over an immense area of human experience ; and of speculation concerned with it. Still its area is limited. All that relates in life to broad daylight, to what we call actuality, to the wholly wide-awake, and to complete conscious- ness, is outside its aim, although even 'If seven maids with seven mops had Swept it for half a year,' they would have failed to keep out every trace of that."
Mr. de la Mare asserts strongly from the first the reality of dream experience. "For my own part," he says, "I have
spent in sleep a far more exciting and adventurous existence than has been my outward lot in the waking day." The dream experiences which he quotes are of many kinds. They include dreams in which he has committed murder, and a number which suggest that he has shared in the experience of others. He pleads wisely that a dream be considered as a whole and
left in its proper form : wisely because, quite apart from the fact that so much professional dream-interpretation is ad hoc and arbitrary, an interpreted experience is never the same as the experience itself. Here, as might be expected, Mr. de la
Mare makes a parallel between dream and poetry. A dream cannot be interpreted any more than a poem can be para- phrased. Interpretation selects features, whereas the dream experience is a whole. A poet's first duty is to his Muse: his fellow-man comes second.
"A poem's supreme significance, like that of a child or a bird or a loved one or a saint, is purely its own beautiful pregnant self. If music 'is the most perfect of the arts because it is the least diluted, and if poetry most closely approaches music when it is
most poetic, when its sounds, that is, and the utterance of them, and when its rhythms rather than the words themselves, are its real if cryptic language, any other meaning, however valuable it may be, is only a secondary matter."
And a page later:
" All lyrical poetry beats with the heart, tells not of things coldly and calmly considered, but of things seen and felt in a sudden clearness of the senses, and with a flame in the thought. An insatiable delizht in life haunts it, and the keen mortal regret than stalks in life's shadow. It springs from a height of living, however transitory, a tension of spirit, a sense of wonder and mystery, a faith in all that is held most dear, a hope and hunger for an unknown that transcends the known. This can only he partially expressed in language, and in glimpses—only in 'a net of thoughtless delight,' perhaps. How, indeed, does the common- place and the obvious look, when the eye regarding it is haunted with passion or sorrow or despair?"
"For this reason," he goes on, "every imaginative poem,
as we allow it to use us, itself resembles in its onset and in its effect the experience of dreaming ": and he quotes with approval Mr. Herbert Read's assertion that all of his own poetry which he regards as authentic was written in a condition of trance.
This view will be unpopular in an age of outward activity and of tense nerves, as is the idea of personality expressed above it. The belief that relaxation achieves as much as effort, that a man of genius is not a dynamo but a funnel, and that the wider and more passively he can open himself to the unseen the greater his value, makes strong men spit with rage. It is none the less worth considering: and the wide embrace of this volume, the dreaming weight, the vast sug- gestiveness of what it contains, supply an experience com- parable to the glimpse and the certitudes we win from sleep.
Mr. de la Mare has never been happier or written better.
The book is beautifully produced, but I am shocked that a publisher of Messrs. Faber's standing should stoop to the practice of defacing reviewer's copies with a stamp.
L. A. G. STRONG.