An Outland Piper: by Donald Davidson. Boston. Houghton Mifflin & Co. 1924, $1.25.
A range varying from dreams to satire is not unusual among our present day versifiers. Donald Davidson's "An Outland Piper" has these two extremes and most of the intermediaries in the thirty-three short poems that comprise this small volume. But chiefly it has music.
"Must I have done with music?
These things would have it so.
But there is certain magic
For those who walk in woe.
The apple Eve has bitten
Is mortal sweet within,
And Cain was not quite smitten
To earth, because of sin.
Then if, upon my roof-tree,
The raven croaks too-long,
I'll sing a stave of Heaven
And put him in my song."
When Mr. Davidson is sad he listens to music, when he is joyous he sings or plays some old archaic song. His muse is not one of the Goddesses of Poetry; but rather he bows down before the musical one. For him nature is not a sight; it is a sound, and a melodious and harmonious sound it is. At times some echoes of this sweet soft music creep into his verse. At other times he thinks of it but cannot embody it. Indeed he tells us himself
"I am not what my lips explain,
But more devotedly inclined
Than these dry sentences reveal
That break in crude shards from my mind."
And the stanza quoted illustrates what he means.
Mr. Davidson belongs to a school of modern poets who are forever speaking in fairy tales, and dwelling on the horrors of death, and using exotic words, such as are classed in the dictionary as "obs," or "poet"--if indeed they are to be found in any dictionary. This musical bard uses many fairy tales, talks of dead skulls by the score, and uses dozens of strange words. But he puts music in his tales, puts hope into his talk of death, and chooses his vocabulary more for its sound, than for its meaning. Yet it is full of meaning, poignantly full, almost too full in some cases: for instance he calls a dance hall a "sudatorium." Look it up in a good large dictionary if you have one, or if you do not know your Latin roots.
Being more of a songster than a poet, Mr. Davidson can leave his music behind only at the cost of being prosaic. We want him to sing on.