IT is now generally admitted that all educated men, at some time in their lives, write poetry. Many acquire the habit at an early age, and go about shedding blotted scraps of paper from their pockets with an infantile-Byronic air, to the delight of their mothers and to the horror of all reasonable people; others stave off the evil hour until they fall in love, when, inspired, I suppose, by the object of their sonnets, they often astonish every one but themselves by the excellence of their verses, just as madmen have been known to develop powers of which their hours of sanity showed no trace; others, again, are attacked by the passion for versification at an advanced, perhaps a senile age, when they make themselves happy and their friends miserable by long letters in doggerel. In a word, all men write poetry at some time, and a great many while in college. Of these latter it may be allowable for me to speak with all reverence, remembering that the unanswerable argument "Try it yourself" comes from the poets with peculiar force.
The first fact about college poetry which strikes one is that there is a great deal too much of it. The maxim "Write nothing in verse that can be written in prose" is entirely disregarded, or rather inverted. The would-be poet, thinking that passable poetry is to be preferred to good prose, expends his energies in putting his thoughts into verse, with more or less regard for metre, forgetting that really good prose is seldom written, and that poetry of a certain stamp is always forthcoming, be the occasion a golden wedding in the country, a military dinner in town, or anything else. The opposite fault - that of writing in the form of prose what would sound better in verse - is sometimes committed, though not often; there are certain ideas, or certain ways of treating subjects, which, we feel, properly belong to poetry, and which, though they would appropriately relieve a long work, appear out of place when put by themselves in the necessarily short space of a college article. This distinction between poetry and prose, whether they appear in the form of verse or not, is one universally acknowledged and easily felt, although hard to define. Bearing it in mind, it is easy to see that there may be good writing in verse which is not poetry, and poetry which is not good writing, - two possibilities which are often lost sight of, although examples of them are seen in the college papers more often, perhaps, than in any other periodicals. Of the various schools, the long-anapestic-line one has perhaps the least poetry in it, and naturally so, because the metre is less removed from prose than any other, and you can get in a good many words in each line before you have to make a rhyme. The writers who make the most use of this metre are usually those who furnish the most examples of good writing in verse, but without any of the other and more important characteristics of poetry. They are generally humorous or witty poets; for the long lines afford excellent opportunities for climax, and for that kind of wit which is dependent upon the use of big and high-sounding words in inappropriate connections. It is a melancholy fact that this school, if we may call it such, has found its chief supporters at Harvard. In marked contrast to it, is the school of the wild, the metaphysical, the intensely poetical poets, who commune with their shape-teeming grates, and draw deep thoughts from their beer-mugs. The poets of this school are carefully excluded - in their wild moods - from the papers of the Eastern colleges; but in the free and unbounded West they flourish like so many green bay-trees, and rack their brains for metaphors which would set Pope's teeth on edge could he hear them; but they have at least the poetic spirit, and are apt to make fewer metrical mistakes than their more sensible and prosaic compeers. From their number, too, it is not unlikely that those very few will come who will be poets outside of college as well as in it. For in a very young poet it is natural to find the imagination running away with the common sense, rather than a severe taste employing imagination as a tractable servant. There are many other schools, - that of the fireside dreamers, the easy rhymsters (who are closely connected with the babblers), and others, - but there is not room to speak of them, or of the really fine poets, who usually have something of the good qualities of all schools, and to whom the college papers are indebted for a large part of their popularity.
M. C. H.