22 JANUARY 1921, Page 22



A FEW weeks ago, in reviewing the works of another American writer, we said that we hoped to return to the subject of Mr. Robert Frost. He is a poet who in style and outlook stands in sharp contrast to such American writers as Miss Amy Lowell, Mr. Ezra Pound, and Mr. Vachel Lindsay ; indeed, it might be said of these three writers that they resemble each other in nothing except their unlikeness to their compatriot.

Every one knows how, if you glance at the faces of two brothers, you are likely, in that brief look, to see family resemblance which a long scrutiny would persuade you was not there. So it is with comparison in the arts. If you take an " owl's glance" at Mr. Frost's work and then look quickly at Mr. Laurence Binyon's, you will probably realize that they have a good deal in common ; there is the same careful writing, the same staidness of thought and expression, a certain power of visualization and quick statement, and the same pleasure in psychological study. For Robert Frost is perhaps the more Wordsworthian of the two; that is to say, he takes pleasure in employing very simple lan- guage and in relating very simple occurrences—a man offering three cents each for young spruces for Christmas trees, a colt frightened by the first fall of snow. To English readers the urious flora and fauna and outward circumstances of his poems seem to stamp him with a difference that is only accidental. Incidentally, how much this little strangeness in illustration shows how necessary it is for America to have poets of her own, if to the simple people of her country poetry is ever to have any meaning ! It is difficult to imagine a greater bar to the popu- larity of poetry than the fact that you are familiar with hickory, pumpkins, and corn, while the poet persists in talking about hazel, vegetable marrows, and oath, if the poet will listen to the song of the nightingale when you know of nothing but the " Rachel Jane."

In Mr. Robert Frost's Mountain Interval we get poems which taste queerly under an English tongue—it is something unde- finable, in " A Time to Talk," for instance :- " When a friend calls to me from the road And slows his horse to a meaning walk, I don't stand still and look around On all the hills I haven't hoed,

And shout from where I am, What is it ? No, not as there is a time to talk. I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground, Blade-end up and five feet tall,

And plod : I go up to the stone wall For a friendly visit."

In this same book there are one or two narrative poems which are rather Browning-like. One is a very good description of getting into a new house by two town-dwellers ; they arrive at dusk with the furniture-movers, and the lady looks out of the window :— " Behind her was confusion in the room, Of chairs turned upside down to sit like people In other chairs, and something, come to look, For every room a house has—parlor, bedroom, And dining-room—thrown pell-mell in the kitchen. And now and then a smudged, infernal face Looked in a door behind her and addressed Her back.. She always answered without turning.

' Where will I put this walnut bureau, lady Y ' Put it on top of something that's on top Of something else,' she laughed. `• Oh, put it where You can to-night, and go. It's almost dark.' "

They feel they must at least get the stove up before night :— " Again.

The house was full of tramping, and the dark, Door-filling men burst in and seized the stove. A cannon-mouth-like hole was in the wall, To which they set it true by eye ; and then

Came up the jointed stovepipe in their hands, So much too light and airy for their strength It almost seemed to come ballooning up, Slipping from clumsy clutches toward the ceiling.

' A fit ! ' said one, and banged a stovepipe shoulder. ' It's good luck when you move in to bdgin

With good luck with your stovepipe.' "

" The Bonfire " is another longish poem, half-narrative, half reflective. It is about a man who nearly started a forest fire but managed at last to subdue it, and ever after had a fearful joy in helping boys to light bonfires. He urges the children to. " let the wild fire loose and scare themselves." But the children cannot understand why it should scare a grown man too:— "Why wouldn't it scare me to have a fire Begin in smudge with ropy smoke and know

That still, if I repent, .I may recall it, But in a moment not : a little spurt Of burning fatness, and then nothing but The fire itself can put it out, and that By burning out, and before it burns out It will have roared first and mixed sparks with stars, And sweeping round it with a flaming sword,

Made the dim trees stand back in wider circle—

Done so much and I know not how much more I mean it shall not do if I can bind it."

The reader has had an opportunity of seeing how pleasantly reflective Mr. Robert Frost can be and how competent is his workmanship. Quite probably he lies off the main line of what will lead to the development of a real American school of poetry, but the merit of a poet does not lie in his collective value as a sort of citizen of Parnassus. If a man writes what is intrinsically good, it does not affect his value whether it prove a misfortune or blessing when his example is followed by other poets. That is one of the things which it is peculiarly difficult for Englishmen —or rather Anglo-Saxons—to realize. Whether the " art for art's sake " theory has any meaning or not, it is certain that poetry must be judged as a Ding an sick. It is not fair to say, " But alas ! there was one reactionary voice, Mr. Spiffikins, who delayed the wheel of progress which should have brought US the Spiraliste half a century earlier by the abominable

successes of his poem ' In the Gloaming.' Here was the will-o'-the-wisp . . . "—this is politics, not poetry.