Poetry and Criticism
THALIA. A Masque, by John Finley, Jr. Houghton Miffin Co, 1929, $2.00.
THE main stream of poetry in any period always has countless little counter-currents and side eddies that are interesting if only to point the contrast with the dominant tendency. "Thalia" is very much one of these off-shoots, and this in spite of the publishers' claim that it is "fresh and modern in its point of view."
Most obvious of the indications of the lack of sympathy between this author and the modern world is his vocabulary. It includes the frequent use of archaisms and unusual words such as "rathe," "sonant," "unimpasted," which are not found in the average abridged dictionary. The attempt to recover the idiom of another age so deliberate that the writer cannot have realized the many-times repeated truth that the Elizabethtn poets were not works with "thees" and "dosts" and "wilts." Among their contemporaries the words were in good and familiar usage, and a writer three hundred years later is not justified in using them in preference to the language of his own times.
Mr. Finley opposes twentieth century standards in another, more fundamental way. His book is steeped with a weariness, a languid longing for quiet, that has little in common with the more typical energy of such men as Sandburg. The plot of the masque is of little consequence, and consists of a series of wrangles by a group of characters fancifully entitled Rabbot, Porcupine, Fox, etc., about inconsequential topics and the efforts of Thalia, the Rustic Muse, to restore peace. Around this outline are massed a series of natural descriptions, almost everyone of which is filled with this longing for solitude and repose.
There is a pallid beauty in many of these passages, and the songs which interrupt the action and contain the best poetry have other effective bits. But they are not enough to disguise the fact that the whole tenor of the piece is that of an almost unhealthy shrinking from activity and the life of the world. It is perhaps significant that the writer's favorite adjective and one which appears on nearly every page is "wan". "Thalia" is wan; it exists in a dream world of its own and lacks the vitality that is an essential part of all really great poetry.