BOOKS OF THE DAY
Progress of Poesy
The Weald of Youth. By Siegfried Sassoon. (Faber and Faber. 8s. 6d.)
HAD he lived in the eighteenth century, when some of his favourite nooks and prospects in the Weald were not entirely unlike what they were in Edwardian years, I believe that Mr Sassoon would have written one of the topographical poems in blank verse which then came to perfection. His elegiac, but far from gloomy, inter- pretation of landscape and the spirit of country life has often been seen in his verses, and alone would distinguish his volumes of prose reminiscence, of which this latest brings us to August, 1914. Yet this element, sometimes prominent in a particular description (he has one exquisite morning-piece) and seldom absent in a general manner, is only one of many which with mature ease of movement he assembles into his narrative.
He remarks that he is "shy of trespassing on Sherston's terri- tory," but the fox-hunting man and the cricketer are still on the scene, and those who like to find that Sheraton is (or was), after all, very Sassoonian will come on promising evidence. Yet in the series which The Weald of Youth Continues so happily, the growth of a poet's mind is the prevailing theme, though it.is not sounded out with philosophic state. The adventures of a young author into the world of literature, as a scene of eminent personalities, or queer ones, or practical ones, intertwine with that delicately revealed growth.
"Dear Sir, I have read with pleasure your Ode for Music." How remote the sentence seems from the present hour, and how venerable the notion of Odes? Yet it is all correct for the year 1910, and the writer of the letter was T. W. H. Crosland. It is not usual for his name to be recalled with much affection, yet, as chance had it, he was the first unmistakable Editor of a Literary Journal to give the poet Sassoon a chance to make the world listen. The transition from Crosland to Gosse is not one of the smoothest imaginable, but it happened to this young poet, and one way and another the newcomer from the Weald made his entry into the ever fascinating, ever illogical circle of contemporary authors. This phase is reflected with a fine freshness, but that quality is not scarce in Mr. Sassoon's notices of moments, seasons, humours and colloquies which happened a long time ago. Edmund Gosse was quick to perceive in a pamphlet in yellow wrappers, entitled The Daffodil Murderer, written by "Saul Kain," the development in his young friend from a composer of pretty verse into a poet with an eye on truth and Nature. Here, too, we are given, by the person best qualified to relate it, the story of a curious episode in a poet's progress. The Daffodil Murderer was the outcome of a rapt admiration, such as so many felt for Mr. Masefield's Everlasting Mercy. It began as a kind of parody ; it grew into a' serious dramatic tale. To quote Gosse: "It treats a Masefield subject exactly in Masefield's own manner, as if you had actually got into Masefield's own skin and spoke with his voice. There is nothing comic about it."
The conversation of Gosse is not parodied, but skilfully re- animated in other pages. Here, too, described in their own talk and setting, other authors, who astonished the boy from the Weald by being, after all, folks of this world, receive the tribute of his recollection. Rupert Brooke is among these though the meeting was a little short of a great event ; but if the details were faintly unsatisfying, "beyond that" (writes Mr. Sassoon) "was my assured perception that I was in the presence of one on whom had been conferred all the invisible attributes of a poet. To this his radiant good looks seemed subsidiary."
Towards the end of the period the lure of London and the glories of metropolitan poetry, theatre music began to outdo the melody of the little river Teise and the old kindliness of the hop- kiln and apple-plat. Yet there was never any final severing of the poet from those loves, and it was fitting that when the war of X914 bewilderingly confronted him among the millions he was in his old surroundings. What he then felt, with all the limitations of the day, of his tastes and circumstances and of human faculty, con- cludes the book in a moving and decisive manner—a book which may, like its title, appear tranquil and habitual, but which discloses
a truly remarkable inward odyssey. EDMUND BLUNDEN.