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The Autogenesis Of A Poet
by [?]

The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion
The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarionet
Affray his ears, though but in dying tone–
The hall-door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.

It did not take very long for J—- to work through the fifty pages of Keats reprinted in Professor Hidden Page’s anthology; and then he, a lone and laughing faun among that pack of stern sophomores–so flewed, so sanded, out of the Spartan kind, crook-knee’d and dewlapped like Thessalian bulls–sped away into thickets of Landor, Tennyson, the Brownings. There I, an unprivileged and unsuspected hanger-on, lost their trail, returning to my own affairs. For some reason–I don’t know just why–I never “took” that course in Nineteenth Century Poets, in the classroom at any rate. But just as Mr. Chesterton, in his glorious little book, “The Victorian Age in Literature,” asserts that the most important event in English history was the event that never happened at all (you yourself may look up his explanation) so perhaps the college course that meant most to me was the one I never attended. What it meant to those sophomores of the class of 1909 is another gentle speculation. Three years later, when I was a senior, and those sophomores had left college, another youth and myself were idly prowling about a dormitory corridor where some of those same sophomores had previously lodged. An unsuspected cupboard appeared to us, and rummaging in it we found a pile of books left there, forgotten, by a member of that class. It was a Saturday afternoon, and my companion and I had been wondering how we could raise enough cash to go to town for dinner and a little harmless revel. To shove those books into a suitcase and hasten to Philadelphia by trolley was the obvious caper; and Leary’s famous old bookstore ransomed the volumes for enough money to provide an excellent dinner at Lauber’s, where, in those days, the thirty-cent bottle of sour claret was considered the true, the blushful Hippocrene. But among the volumes was a copy of Professor Page’s anthology which had been used by one of J—-‘s companions in that poetry course. This seemed to me too precious to part with, so I retained it; still have it; and have occasionally studied the former owner’s marginal memoranda. At the head of The Eve of St. Agnes he wrote: “Middle Ages. N. Italy. Guelph, Guibilline.” At the beginning of Endymion he recorded: “Keats tries to be spiritualized by love for celestials.” Against Sleep and Poetry: “Desultory. Genius in the larval state.” The Ode on a Grecian Urn, he noted: “Crystallized philosophy of idealism. Embalmed anticipation.” The Ode on Melancholy: “Non-Gothic. Not of intellect or disease. Emotions.”

Darkling I listen to these faint echoes from a vanished lecture room, and ponder. Did J—- keep his copy of the book, I wonder, and did he annotate it with lively commentary of his own? He left college at the end of our second year, and I have not seen or heard from him these thirteen years. The last I knew–six years ago–he was a contractor in an Ohio city; and (is this not significant?) in a letter written then to another classmate, recalling some waggishness of our own sophomore days, he used the phrase “Like Ruth among the alien corn.”

In so far as one may see turning points in a tangle of yarn, or count dewdrops on a morning cobweb, I may say that a few evenings with my friend J—- were the decisive vibration that moved one more minor poet toward the privilege and penalty of Parnassus. One cannot nicely decipher such fragile causes and effects. It was a year later before the matter became serious enough to enforce abandoning library copies of Keats and buying an edition of my own. And this, too, may have been not unconnected with the gracious influence of the other sex as exhibited in a neighbouring athenaeum; and was accompanied by a gruesome spate of florid lyrics: some (happily) secret, and some exposed with needless hardihood in a college magazine. The world, which has looked leniently upon many poetical minorities, regards such frenzies with tolerant charity and forgetfulness. But the wretch concerned may be pardoned for looking back in a mood of lingering enlargement. As Sir Philip Sidney put it, “Self-love is better than any gilding to make that seem gorgeous wherein ourselves be parties.”