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'tame villatic fowl,' indeed, his muse is often a solitary robin, singing in winter upon a wall that scarce divides the cottage-garden from the familiar graveyard. Like the robin, the muse flits from headstone to window-sill, now whistling from cypress shadows, now sending her brightest note through the shut window of the glowing room. Childhood and age, alike low-voiced, inhabit the house, half-lit by the fire's embers, and animated only when dusk calls for candles. A noisy wind may bring the sound but never the air of the hills into the small room; and the gentle voices rise unvexed by what is outside, or at times are shut into an oppression of quiet: 'Unmoved it broods, this all-encompassing hush Of one who stooping near, No smallest stir will make Our fear to wake,
But yet intent
Upon some mystery bent
Hearkens the lightest word we say, or hear.'
Stories are told between the silences, songs sung to children, of Martha and Rachel and Ann, the rhymes and tales that brighten so deliciously the pages of 'Peacock Pie'; and the private, stirless air of the room is agitated with fantastic laughter. Sometimes the house is left for a singular landscape not far beyond the tombs, a forest where the kestrel screams, a small and secret English landscape or a fantastic Arabia, briefly visited and never forgotten. But the excursions are short, and never for long do you miss the voice singing a homely and lovely song, which, when it is ended, leaves the silence as quick and thoughtful as the words.
Of the beauty of this poetry it is impossible to speak. The description of true poetry is at best but a kind of foolish paraphrase—an injury to the poet, a slight to the reader. It is needful but to quote a single stanza, one of a hundred perfect things; and, if I choose 'The Song of Shadows,' it is not only because it seems to me the most beautiful of all, but because it is representative.
'Sweep thy faint strings, Musician,
With thy long lean hand:
Downward the starry tapers burn,
The old hound whimpers couched in sleep,
The embers smoulder low;
Come, and go.'
Our time has seen no finer lyric achieved in the desire to create a joy for ever; a lyric suggesting part of the secret of its beauty in the harmony of sound and hue. Simplicities flow from Mr de la Mare's muse, as surely as the most cunning elaboration, and of each kind examples are easily found:
'An apple, a child, dust
When falls the evening rain,
Nothing might be simpler than these four lines, nor anything more beautiful in another mode than this:
'Sweet is the music of Arabia
In my heart, when out of dreams
I still in the clear mirk of dawn
Descry her gliding streams:
Hear her strange lutes on the green banks
Of the dim-silked, dark-haired Musicians
In the brooding silence of night.'
Although it is proper, as I have said, to regard 'Motley' under the same aspect as earlier volumes, it is to be noted that a new element appears in that book and that the conjunction of old and new makes 'Motley' the best of all the poet's work. The art of the verse has attained another measure of perfection, for it follows more closely than ever a deeper impulse; but it is the deeper impulse itself that sounds the new note.
There are two worlds with which the imaginative mind may be concerned: one is the world which it creates by itself and of itself, the world which has no other reality than an immaterial reality; and the other is the common moral and material sphere with which all men are necessarily confronted. Most artists are concerned with one only of these worlds. Blake beheld and apprehended the imaginative and immaterial alone, Browning the moral and material alone. In his earlier
poetry Mr de la Mare was preoccupied-haunted, evenby the imaginative world, which he saw often as a bright, sometimes as a dark sphere, chequered with sunlight and moonlight falling between shadows, and peopled with those fantastic figures-in human shape or winged-which spring suddenly from the fulness of the mind. But in Motley' he dwells no longer utterly in that brilliant and flushing world; he is compelled by a new urgency to absent himself from felicity and breathe the air of commoner reality. He begins to meet the questions that we all meet, the difficulties, the desolation, the despair; he tries to apprehend the world in which we all move-what it is, who are they that throng it, and the eternal whence and whither of their passage. Part of the peculiar intimacy which Motley' allows to the reader comes from the fact that the poet is so sharply and so bitterly aware of the exile from the imaginative world. It is an intermitted exile; and so these departures and returns, despairs and renewals, yield him and us the solace of an exquisitely human tenderness. The painfulness is not yet prolonged, the edge of bliss resumed is not yet dulled; and in this alternation between the two spheres lies the open secret of the beauty of 'Motley.' So he passes from:
'When music sounds, all that I was I am
While from Time's woods break into distant song
to the sorrowfulness of:
'Some win peace who spend
The skill of words to sweeten despair
of finding consolation where
Life has but one dark end;
Who, in rapt solitude, tell o'er
Into the midnight air.'
Speech so plain as this makes interpretation vain; and not less vain when you read, in a poem itself called 'The Exile':
'Betrayed and fugitive, I still must roam
A world where sin, and beauty, whisper of Home.'
It is far from being a matter for disappointment or remonstrance that Mr de la Mare has won this painful freedom of passing between two worlds.
Although I have spoken of part of Mr de la Mare's mind being uttered in prose, it is not possible to survey his work in isolated fragments, and therefore a reference to the prose falls conveniently here. Henry Brocken,' indeed, is a prose exercise of his poetic instinct, unwisely diverted into this medium, rather than an exercise of powers which could find utterance in prose alone. It is an essay upon the eternal theme of the wanderer, a journey backwards through the imaginative kingdom of other writers-Poe, Charlotte Brontë, Cervantes, and so on; and thus is akin to the Characters from Shakespeare's Plays' which were found in his second volume of poems. Admirably written, with a fervid ingenuity and a fondness like that of a child for remembered stories, Henry Brocken' reveals its author only in that fondness. The Three Mulla Mulgars' followed for the delight of many children, but with a reminder that the literary preferences of the child are beyond prediction. Happy are they whose perfect childishness finds an equal wondering joy in 'The Pilgrim's Progress' and 'The Three Mulla Mulgars'! I cannot pretend to show why other children do not find satisfaction in either, and nevertheless slake their capricious appetites with 'Peacock Pie,' a tale of Tchehov, Mr Hudson's 'Purple Land,' and Mangan's Dark Rosaleen.' Maybe it is the slight allegorical hint, the touch of the emblem, that repels the graceless children who do not care for Mr de la Mare's story of the three monkeys; maybe it is an inexplicit but acute sense of the gulf between the fantastic and the imaginative.
When the third novel, 'The Return,' was published, there was found little of the merely fantastic and nothing that might have gone into verse. 'The Return was an essay in quite another manner, and suggested that the author had strayed into a field over which the spirit of Henry James had passed. There was no lack of welcome for this novel, but, for all its welcome, it slid very quietly into the minds of readers, and perhaps needed more than a single reading before its singular
beauty and strength could be realised. It is the story of a man who, recovering from an illness, strays one afternoon into a graveyard and sits by the unconsecrated grave of one Sabathier; drowsing there, and awakening into a sense of strangeness, he grows conscious of something akin to demoniacal possession, which touches not simply his mind but changes also his face into the abhorred likeness of the buried outcast. Consummate is the skill with which this incredible possibility is made convincing to the victim, his sceptical wife, his friends, and-most difficult of all-to the reader. The single, profound impression of interfusing spiritual and physical is not maintained equally throughout the book, but this metaphysic dominates the whole without rendering the story less than imaginative. The difficult abyss between imagination and invention might be surveyed in the first and second parts of The Return'; certainly, in the first, imagination is absolute. Spiritual horror peers through, and spiritual beauty expels the horror; and the story of that wrestling with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world pierces and dismays the reader. It is the more wonderful since this tragic battle is set within a commonplace suburban home, with a detestable wife and a too briefly seen, adorable child for witnesses. In one short scene there is an almost unendurable anguish of recognition, when poor Arthur Lawford is suddenly confronted with the child to whom, for her sake only, he shows his changed face as that of the doctor:
'Alice turned, dismayed, and looked steadily, almost with hostility, at the stranger, so curiously transfixed and isolated in her small old play-room. And in this scornful yet pleading confrontation her eye fell suddenly on the pin in his scarfthe claw and the pearl she had known all her life. From that her gaze flitted, like some wild, demented thing's, over face, hair, hands, clothes, attitude, expression; and her heart stood still in an awful, inarticulate dread of the unknown. She turned slowly towards her mother, groped forward a few steps, turned once more, stretching out her hands towards the vague, still figure whose eyes had called so piteously to her out of their depths, and fell fainting in the doorway.'
As tender, as perfect, is the later scene when the