Pagan Number of Monthly Praised
The January number of the Monthly is, despite some falterings, pagan in spirit as well as form. Not only do the faun and Bacchus sport upon the cover, but also there is keen sincerity in the written work. If the contributors are almost always conscious in their pose and if sometimes the strain is over-obvious, this is no fault of theirs: in our world sanity cannot be unconscious.
There is here much surprisingly good verse, better indeed than I remember to have seen in a single issue of any other American publication. The Sapphices of Mr. Cummings are very fine poetry: the thought is straightforward and clear, the wording is singularly euphonious--as in a Greek meter it should be--and the rhythm expresses, while restraining, mature emotion. Mr. Hillyer's second sonnet on Antinous is richly conceived and adequately expressed; the reading of it gives me intense pleasure, in particular the remarkable sestet with the "Imperial hosts upon disconsolate seas." "The Tree of Stars" and "A Renaissance Picture" by Mr. Poore are both of them charming poems. Perhaps the former is the more exquisite, but the latter rouses our critical attention. It is so strangely in the manner of Cuthbert Wright, youngest of the small group of real American poets, as to make me look again at the author's name. Have we here an example of that imitation of other artists so instinctive and so admirable in the beginner? Or is it possible that the same milieu is producing again the same type of art? Surely there is no suggestion of Harvard in the work of these two poets, but may they not both express an aesthetic revolt against their drab environment? The other verse-pieces, except for an odd word here and there, like Mr. Damon's 'tinsel-snow," so fortunate in his etching of Christmas-eve, are not distinguished. The cymbals and the castonets, even the slug-horns, of the Saturnalia fail to rouse me.
The prose in this unusual number of the Monthly is scarcely less notable than the verse. Best of all is "Temptation" by Mr. Watson, whose fantastic yet unadorned humor is a gift rare indeed. The saints stirring "uneasily in their thrones" shows the white flash of genius. Mr. Fay's "By Olympus," not-withstanding the "hymadryads" (this issue is defaced by misprints on almost every page), is another little master-piece of delicate comedy. A Bacchus that smiles in his sleeve is surely a god we may all worship. A pleasing prose-poem and Mr. Wright's severe indictment of Chesterton are the most worth-reading of the other prose-contributions.
What strikes me as the chief distinction of this number is the noble absence of the "interesting." That disordered curiosity to which almost every writer today panders is here ignored. The best criterion by which to determine the artistic worth of a narrative is the question, Are you eager to know the end? The best works of art are so inestimably satisfying in each particular as to inhibit curiosity. I give the Monthly the highest praise when I say that I find nothing dependent for its value upon any "interest," either that which seeks the solution of some fictitious plot or of some human problem. Interests are easy and perceptions difficult, yet to experience the present is the end of all culture.