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New Poetry And The Lingering Line
by [?]

I have one grave objection to the “new poetry”–I cannot remember it. Some, to be sure, would say that is no objection at all, but I am not of the number. It would hardly become me, in fact, since I have, in a minor pipe, committed “new poetry” myself on various and sundry occasions, or what I presume it to be, particularly when I didn’t have time to write in rhyme or even metre. The new poets may object all they like, but it is easier to put your thought (when you happen to have one) into rhythm than into rhyme and metre. If, indeed, as the vers libre practitioners insist, each idea comes clothed in its own inevitable rhythm, there can be very little trouble about the matter. The poem composes itself, and your chief task will be with the printer! I don’t say the rhythmic irregularity is not, perhaps, more suitable for certain effects, or at any rate that it cannot achieve effects of its own; I certainly don’t say that it isn’t poetry because it does not trip to formal measure. Poetry resides in deeper matters than this. I recall Ibsen’s remark when told that the reviewers declared Peer Gynt wasn’t poetry. “Very well,” said he, “it will be.” Since it now indubitably is, one is cautious about questioning the work of the present, such work as Miss Lowell’s, for instance. Of course the mere chopping up of unrhythmic prose into capitalized lines without glow, without emotion, is not poetry, any more than the blank verse of the second-rate nineteenth-century “poetic drama,” which old Joe Crowell, comedian, described as “good, honest prose set up hind-side foremost.” We may eliminate that from the discussion once and for all. But the genuine new poets, who know what they are about, and doubtless why they are about it, I regard with all deference, hailing especially their good fight to free poetry of its ancient inversions, its mincing vocabulary, its thous and thees, its bosky dells and purling streams, its affectations and unrealities, both of speech and subject. But I do say they miss a certain triumphant craftsman’s joy at packing precisely what you mean, hard enough to express in unlimited prose, into a fettered, singing line; and I do say that I can’t remember what they write.

At least, nobody can dispute this latter statement. He may declare it the fault of my memory, which has been habituated to retain only such lines as have rhyme and metre to help it out. But I hardly think his retort adequate, because, in the first place, the memory is much less amenable to training and much more a matter of fixed capacity and action than certain advertisements in the popular magazines would have the “twenty-dollar-a-week man” believe, and in the second place, because my case, I find, is the case of almost everybody with whom I have talked on the subject. The solution, I believe, is perfectly simple. Nearly anyone can remember a tune; even I can, within limits. At least, I can do better than Tennyson, who could recognize, he said, two tunes; one was “God Save the Queen” and the other wasn’t. But when music is broken into independent rhythms, irregular and oddly related phrases, it is only the person exceptionally endowed who can remember it without prolonged study. The very first audience who heard Rigoletto came away humming “Donna e mobile.” And the very last audience who heard Pelleas et Melisande came away humming–“Donna e mobile.” It is the law. Needless to say, I enjoyed Pelleas et Melisande, but I cannot whistle it. What I recall is a mood, a picture, a vague ecstasy, a hushed terror. It was James Huneker, was it not, who, when asked what he thought of the opera, replied that Mary Garden’s hair was superb.