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Bohemia And Verlaine
by [?]

It is one of the pleasures of my life that I never saw Tennyson. Hence I am still able to think of him as a poet, for even his photograph is not disillusionising, and he dressed for the part almost as well as Beerbohm Tree would have done. Why one’s idea of a poet is a fine frenzied being, I do not quite know. One seems to pick it up in the very nursery, and even the London gamin knows a poet when he doesn’t see one. Probably it rests upon the ancient tradition of oracles and sibyls, foaming at the mouth like champagne bottles. Inspiration meant originally demoniac possession, and to “modern thought” prophecy and poetry are both epileptic. “Genius is a degenerative psychosis of the epileptoid order.” A large experience of poets has convinced me as little of this as of the old view summed up in genus irritabile vatum. Poets seem to me the homeliest and most hardworking of mankind–‘t is a man in possession, not a daimon nor a disease. Of course they have their mad moods, but they don’t write in them. Writing demands serenity, steadiness, patience; and of all kinds of writing, poetry demands the steadiest pen. Complex metres and curious rhyme-schemes are not to be achieved without pain and patience. Prose is a path, but poetry is a tight-rope, and to walk on it demands the nicest dexterity. You may scribble off prose in the fieriest frenzy–who so fiery and frenzied as your journalist with the printer’s devil at his elbow?–but if you would aspire to Parnassus, you must go slow and steady. Fancy inditing a sonnet with the compositors waiting for “copy”! Pegasus were more truly figured as a drayhorse than a steed with wings; he jogs along trot-trot, and occasionally he stands at an obstinate pause. The splendid and passionate lyrics of Swinburne, with their structural involutions and complicacies, must have been “a dem’d grind.” The English language does not easily lend itself to so much “linked sweetness long drawn out.” Even the manuscript of Pope’s easy meandering verse is disfigured by ceaseless corrections. As he himself says:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.

Probably these very lines run in the original manuscript somewhat as follows:

Shelley is the ideal of a poet, a soul of white fire, fed by bread and raisins; yet Shelley’s last manuscripts are full of lacunae and erasures, some of which have had to be reproduced perforce in the printed editions.

Clothed with the … as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like … next, Hypocrisy,
On a crocodile rode by.

It reads like a puzzle set by a Competition Editor. Here is another one, which begins as beautifully as Hedda Gabler could desire, and ends in blankness.

Within the surface of the fleeting river
The wrinkled image of the city lay,
Immovably unquiet, and for ever
It trembles, but it never fades away;
Go to the [ ______ ]
You, being changed, will find it then as now.

The fact is, of course, that inspiration is no guarantee of perfection. The limitations of inspiration vary with the limitations of the writer–a proposition that may be commended to the theologians. Genius can no more safeguard a man against his own ignorance than it can find a rhyme to “silver.” Inspiration could not save Keats from his Cockney rhymes nor Mrs. Browning from her rhymeless rhymes. I met a poet in a London suburb–it seemed odd to see one out of Fleet Street–but after a few bewildered instants I recognised him. There was on his brow the burden of a brooding sorrow. I sought delicately to probe the cause of his grief, and he confessed at last that in a much-praised poem just published he had made a monosyllable dissyllabic. He had never got over a youthful mispronunciation, and in an unguarded moment of inspiration it had slipped in.