6 JANUARY 1923, Page 22

[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] have long thought that

the section of the Spectator headed " Poetry " should on occasion have the superscription " Verse," though I have not been concerned to say so. But now that Mrs. Williams-Ellis has invited correspondence on the subject of obscure poetry I venture to express my views. Obscurity in poetry may arise from a dozen sources : the range of the poet's vocabulary, as with Francis Thompson ; his wealth of allusion (Milton) ; the width of his experience or observation (Dante, Shakespeare) ; his subservience to sound rather than sense (Swinburne). No poet has ever thought of using obscure language as a " device for concen- trating the reader's attention," or, indeed, with any other design. A poet's business is to utter his thoughts and feelings, and I am convinced that obscurity most often arises through his not having full command of his instrument. Moreover, clarity necessitates self-discipline. For one hour spent in the initial expression of an idea twenty hours may be required to make it clear to others. To artists of great creative power this presents a peculiar difficulty. Why, for instance, devote time to revising " Sordello " which might be given to pro- clacing a " Saul " or an " Andrea del Sart° " ? Why labour to remove obscurities from " Coriolanus " when one might be writing " The Tempest " ? For the greater poets it is an open question how much time should be spent on " blotting a line." It will, however, be generally admitted that, with three exceptions—Donne, Browning and Meredith—all the greater English poets from the time of Shakespeare to the end of the nineteenth century, though they have their moments of obscurity, are normally lucid. With Donne I do not propose to deal. He is often perfectly lucid and his contemporaries objected less to his obscurity than to his handling of rhythm.

Much of the obscurity in the early work of Browning arises from the fact that the poet had received practically no training in expression according to conventional, that is academic, standards, while at the same time he had amassed an unusual store of learning. It is instructive to contrast him in this respect with another highly original poet, T. E. Brown. Brown all his days was grinding at the scholastic mill, with great gain to his style ; even Brown's Manx is more easily read than Browning's English. When Browning, however, had obtained full command of his instrument, from the time of his " Dramatic Lyrics " onward, much of his work can be read with delight even by schoolboys. The obscurity of his latest work is of a different order from that of the early poems. He, like Meredith, was occasionally led into arid places of the intellect, far from the broad river of emotion by which true poetry is fed. Much of their later thought would be as well expressed in prose. Similarly, the intel- lectual feats of Paul the Apostle are dazzling, but when suddenly he writes : " Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels," &c., we become aware that he has risen into poetry. Mrs. Williams Ellis refers to the obscurity of Gerard (not Gerald) Manley Hopkins His case seems to me singularly simple. Some of his early poems are both

lucid and lovely. Later he tried to forge new rhythms for the expression of his urgent thoughts on religion and on life, but he died before he had done more than experiment with these new rhythms. His late work, though full of vigorous and beautiful lines, is mainly of interest to his fellow-craftsmen and to those whose religious attitude is akin to his own. It was left for Dr. Bridges (the most lucid of poets) to carry some of Hopkins's experiments in rhythm to perfection.—