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I do not believe that one poet can or does efface another, as Arnold suggests. As every gas is a vacuum to every other gas, so every new poet is a vacuum to every other poet. Wordsworth told Arnold that for many years his poems did not bring him enough to buy his shoestrings. The reading public had to acquire a taste for him. Whitman said, “I am willing to wait for the growth of the taste of myself.” A man who likes a poet of real worth is going to continue to like him, no matter what new man appears. He may not read him over and over, but he goes back to him when the mood is upon him. We listen to the same music over and over. We take the same walk over and over. We read Shakespeare over and over, and we go back to the best in Wordsworth over and over. We get in Tennyson what we do not get in Wordsworth, and we as truly get in Wordsworth what we do not get in Tennyson. Tennyson was sumptuous and aristocratic. Byron found his audience, but he did not rob Wordsworth.

It seems to me that the preeminence of Wordsworth lies in the fact that he deals so entirely with concrete things–men and objects in nature–and floods or saturates them with moral meanings. There is no straining, no hair-splitting, no contortions of the oracle, but it all comes as naturally as the sunrise or the sunset.

* * * * *

Things not beautiful in themselves, or when seen near at hand, may and do give us the sense of beauty when seen at a distance, or in mass. Who has not stood on a mountain-top, and seen before him a wild, disorderly landscape that has nevertheless awakened in him the emotion of the beautiful? or that has given him the emotion of the sublime? Wordsworth’s “Daffodils,” “Three Years She Grew,” “The Solitary Reaper,” “The Rainbow,” “The Butterfly,” and many others are merely beautiful. These lines from Whitman give one the emotion of the sublime:

“I open my scuttle at night and see the far-sprinkled systems,
And all I see multiplied as high as I can cipher edge but the rim of
the farther systems.

“Wider and wider they spread, expanding, always expanding,
Outward and outward and forever outward.

“My sun has his sun and round him obediently wheels,
He joins with his partners a group of superior circuit,
And greater sets follow, making specks of the greatest inside them.”

All men may slake their thirst at the same spring of water, but all men cannot be thrilled or soothed by beholding the same objects of nature. A beautiful child captivates every one, a beautiful woman ravishes all eyes. On my way to the Imperial Valley, I recently drove across a range of California mountains that had many striking features. A lady asked me if I did not think them beautiful. I said, “No, they are hideous, but the hideous may be interesting.”

The snow is beautiful to many persons, but it is not so to me. It is the color of death. I could stand our northern winters very well if I could always see the face of the brown or ruddy earth. The snow, I know, blankets the fields; and Emerson’s poem on the snowstorm is fine; at the same time, I would rather not be obliged to look at the white fields.

* * * * *

We are the first great people without a past in the European sense. We are of yesterday. We do not strike our roots down deep into the geology of long-gone ages. We are easily transplanted. We are a mixture of all peoples as the other nations of the world are not. Only yesterday we were foreigners ourselves. Then we made the first experiment on a large scale of a democratic or self-governing people. The masses, and not a privileged few, give the tone and complexion to things in this country. We have not yet had time to develop a truly national literature or art. We have produced but one poet of the highest order. Whitman is autochthonous. He had no precursor. He is a new type of man appearing in this field.