THE CRIMSON BOOKSHELF CHRISTMAS 1921 POETRY BURLESQUE HISTORY BIOGRAPHY
Shafts of Song: by James Latimer McLane Jr. The Norman, Remington Co.: Baltimore, 1921, $2.00
When that specialization, which is one of the myriad results of industrialism, has so taken hold of the world that no one can be sure of recognition unless he produce in a certain field, it is more than pleasant to find one who defles the behest of the moment. Of the many younger poets now publishing almost all calim appreciation as specialists as poets of certain things or times or places. There is the poet of industrialism; the poet of the West; the poet of the Yukon; the poet of the Umpty-third regiment; the poet of Windy Peaches, Neb. Agter reading the works of such we are painfully impressed with the realization that the authors have never looked beyond their industrialist or Yukon noses, and we feel a sudden pessimism for the future of poetry. When we are in this state of mind it is, we repeat, more than refreshing to find a young poet who professes no field but the field of art. Such a one is Mr. McLane, if we can judge from his latest book of poems-"Shafts of Song". If he must have a little we suggest that of "a poety of beauty".
Mr. McLane is not bound, either by ignorance or inclination, to any one time or place or subject, and the best proof of this is in the excellent balance of his book. It contains one long poem, "Cassandra". a rather shorter one entitled "The Fig Tree", and many sonnets and miscellaneous poems of varying length. At the end of the volume is a sequence of poems some of which appeared in his previous work "Spindrift, forming an elegy.
The poem "Cassandra" is possibly the most interesting and arresting one in the book. It is the story of the Trojan priestess from a short while before her dedication to Apollo, until the coming of Agamemnon's hosts. The subject and the art are more nearly Greek than anything we have seen attempted in this country for many years. In the contrast between Cassandra's secret love for Corebus and her unwilling surrended to the God, the writer subtly shows the tryanny of those beings whom Homer certainly did not over-much respect. Greek too is the feeling, dimly sensed throughout the whole poem, of impending tragedy-the distant, silent, but steady approach of the Achaean ships. And it is in a Greek way, without the aid of short lines or expletive that Mr. McLane attains the dramatic, when Apollo, gazing on the priestess' beauty are he leaves, and sure of her love for him, hears her child cry.
Thenceforth, although clear-visioned and a God's evangelist, she must bear with the mockery of her countrymen. Only Coroebus, though he himself can not believe, does not mock. So alone with him upon the sands, . . . she lifted up her eyes Dimed with the tears of unborn prophecies, and spoke her knowledge, foretelling the ruin of her city, in words that lack neither dignity nor inspiration. And as she finishes they hear the ships. The passage that concludes the poem is filled with the very breath of Night, and the fearful charm of a faintly broken silence.
Cassandra and her lover stole away.
In "The Fig Tree" Mr. McLane retells the famous story of Christ's anger from the Fig Tree's point of view, as it were. No interpretation can ever rob the legend of its unfairness and its pettiness, and those who accept it must do so with blinded or winking eyes. Mr. McLane is the first to reject it openly and convincingly, but of course the logical answer to his poem is that the legend from its very incompatibility is patently a lie, and reproach should be directed not against the victim but against the fabricators of it. As a piece of art, however, the poem is smoothy done, and, like the "Cassandra", remarkably well contained. The verse-form-irregularly rhymed lambio pentameter-is a most difficult one, yet Mr. McLane manages his rhymes so skillfully that it attains the most desired object: it sounds line extraordinarily good blank verse. The description of Christ is curious, but would be true if the story were.
In his shorter poems Mr. McLane writes in a more subjective vein, yet all of them have an interest for the reader. This is chiefly because he touches other themes than personality, and always has something to say. This is true of Brooke's verses; but it is true of the work of few other younger writers. One definite feeling that might be considered almost a message, can be traced throughout the whole book; it is the sad acknowledgement of the power of winter, death and darkness, coupled with an absolute assurance in the eventual victory of spring and new love and morning. In "September", "Rain Before Day", "A Letter From England" and others is traceable this what might be called grief-taught optimism. It is far from joyous overconfidence, but rather a faith that has the freshness and clearness of a dawn wind after a night of storm.
Chiefly, perhaps, is Mr. McLane's poetry beautiful for its lyrical quality, attained, apparently, without the least effort. This quality is evident throughout the book, but in the short poems is particularly lovely and appealing; most of all, this one "To F-":
Still in my heart a fragrance lingers
Of far dew-quivering heather bolls
Stirred by the grey Wind's lonely fingers
To faery music-still there swells
The diapason of the Sea Moulding the alow Land's symmetry.
I can remember, as Love remembers,
The kestrel poised on hovering wings,
And the gorse that glowed like untrodden embers
On the forge of Summer's smithy; things,
Things that the thre eof us loved and know
Where the tides on Sillery Sands ebb blue.
A few final remarks might be made on the book as it appears in print. We cannot help feeling that the contents merited considerably more care and pains than the publishers have spent upon it. The errata-a long list for so small a book-attones in some measure for the errors in type, but the inartistic make-up remains painfully apparent.