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Richard Aldington celebrates the healing gentleness and quietude of death, in "Choricos."
Rupert Brooke sings its enobling, purifying effect, in various Bonnets.
Witter Bynner in three poems "To Celia" bids our thoughts of death turn,
"To deeper beauty than appears."
Adelaide Crapsey, in one of her exquisite "Cinquains," depicts the utter silence of the dead.
Mary Carolyn Davies, in the "Songs of a Girl" finds the beauty of flowers and of the sinking sun an aesthetic consolation for her own fate.
Walter de la Mare's "Epitaph" laments that even the most beautiful, once dead, are forgotten.
Louise Driscoll's verse play, "The Metal Checks," grimly depicts death as counting, like the miser, the identification discs of those killed on the battlefield.
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson voices the horror of awaking to find oneself dead, in "The Fear."
Helen Hoyt's "The New-Born" would persuade us that children crying in the night already anticipate the darkness and cold of death.
In one of the "Songs of Deliverance," by Orrick Johns we find a bravado and egoism suggestive of Henley and Whitman:
"How often I have intercepted thee, O Death!
O windy liar!
Thou canst do nothing against me;
If I command thee to stand back thou art afraid and cowerest,
D. H. Lawrence in "A Woman and Her Dead Husband" gives a picture of a bereaved woman proclaiming that God has deceived her in everything because she believed that her husband was a living thing and now she finds him dead and unresponsive.
Vachel Lindsay's poem on John P. Altgeld asserts that,
"To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name." Edgar Lee Masters has a fine thing on "Silence" which concludes:
Do not tell you of death?
Their silence shall be interpreted
John G. Neihardt's "Envoi" finds comfort in the thought that after death the elements of his body will again mingle with indestructible particles of matter.
Carl Sandburg's "Joy" counsels,
"Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths."
George Sterling asserts, in "Omnia Exeunt in Mysterium,” that he is
"A dim and solitary traveller
On ways that end in evening and the waste."
Charles Hanson Towne, in "Beyond the Stars," seeks the same consolation as Neihardt.
Louis Untermeyer's "Irony" bewails what seems to him a fact: that matter is eternal, but man is not.
These superficial indications are not entirely representative. They are untrue as any extract must be from a fragile and integral beauty like that of these lyrics. Yet these poets are the foremost witnesses and interpreters of our day, revealing what the spirits most alert and most keenly perceptive have to say on the ultimate issue. These are the prophets to whom we look for the prophetic word.
Hardly can any words be more profoundly melancholy, more laden with intolerable grief than those of an elder poet:
"Thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment, every man therefore is but vanity."
Yet there is after all piteously absent from the voices that now soar highest, moving our hearts with their loveliness and power, something of substantial conviction and piercing truth, a fitting resolution of this so tragic theme. Perhaps I am demanding too much of those whom I revere, but I cannot persuade myself that I do. Inevitably I hear the surging melody of old prophetic song, the words of one learned in the poetry of Israel and of Greece, no mean poet himself:
"So when this corruption shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in vistory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?"
Concerning Main Street
CHARLES C. MARSHALL
HE truth of a caricature may often be determined by the resentment it excites. The public resents "Main Street." This is encouraging, for a sensitiveness to criticism indicates regenerative qualities. In Pekin or Bagdad, Mr. Lewis's story would not have made anybody mad.
As places go, Gopher Prairie was not altogether bad. There are hints of depths of vice, but examination of its purlieus discloses no place so vicious as Bottle Alley, no character so brutal as Bill Sykes. Any school in town had a better standard than Dotheboys Hall. Any one of its seventeen churches would have outshone in morality certain religious communities of the PreReformation Period. Old Rauskuckle had unquestionably a better reputation and quite as much wealth as the Borgia Pope. Benvenuto Cellini would not have had "to turn his corners wide" in Gopher Prairie to escape the assassin's knife, and we may venture to assume that if Oliver Twist at the almshouse asked for more, he got it. Why then should the public be so disturbed?
The author describes Main Street as stretching from San Diego to Albany. Spatially this is true, but in duration it extends from Nineveh to New York. If the heroine, Carol, could have realized her dream and found herself in diaphanous gauze in ancient Babylon, she would have been the same Carol on the Babylonian Main Street with the same unsatisfied longing in her soul. There has always been a Main Street. Mr. Lewis, in his opening pages, refers to Sappho, Zenobia, and the women of the Stone Age as having passed that way long before Carol. It has varied in incident and episode. The particular section of it disclosed by Mr. Lewis is characterized by excessive ugliness, but we must not condemn developments in human life merely because they are ugly. Bunyan would have impressed an observer as ugly compared with a Stuart prince, but one gave the world "Pilgrim's Progress" and the other "Nell Gwyn." The Catacombs in all their subterranean ugliness have given Christianity more than the Kremlin or Notre Dame. The Romans of the Decadence were surrounded with all the beauty that art or wealth could produce, but the moral values in the scene depicted in Couture's famous
picture would register no higher than the moral values in an afternoon audience of Main Streeters at the movies.
Debauchery enshrined in beauty does not register higher in spirit than sloth and pruriency in naked ugliness. Carol's scheme to appropriate the art of all the ages to the redemption of Main Street is harmonious with the schemes of many of our reformers, but Main Street arrayed in the habiliments of Athens or Thirteenth Century Nuremberg would but add the ridiculous to the pathetic. There is no essential relation between the spirit of a community and the art it buys. Main Street evolving Ionic colonades or Flemish tapestries is one thing and Main Street buying them is another.
So far as Main Street has ever had beauty it has borrowed it, plundered it, or bought it, and its acquisitions have never redeemed its inherent ugliness of spirit. Fortunately, Main Street is not the only street in history. It is but one of many. It has often shrunk into utter insignificance compared with certain lanes and alleys. The back street on which St. Paul dwelt in Rome possessed more prestige than the imperial Main Street. But in Mr. Lewis's book, Main Street is shown not as a street but as the street-not as incidental to but as representative of present development. We are asked to see in Gopher Prairie our micro
It was Richter who commended the wisdom of regarding a book as a whole library, a library as a book, a city as a village, a village as some dark alley in a great city ("and" he added, "God as all in all"). Gopher Prairie then may be New York and Main Street may be Broadway or Fifth Avenue.
We are told that the people of Gopher Prairie "were a savorless people, gulping tasteless food, and sitting afterwards coatless and thoughtless, in rocking chairs prickly with inane decorations, listening to mechanical music, saying mechanical things, about the excellence of Ford automobiles, and viewing themselves as the greatest race in the world." But were they eating terrapin and truffles at the Plaza, scrupulous in tailor-made clothes, sitting in plush and gold chairs on Rubberneck Alley or in boxes at the opera, and talking about Pierce-Arrows instead of Fords, would it be so very different?
Gopher Prairie is a center of Twentieth Century life, the "Four Corners" where the political, the religious, the aesthetic, and social combine in the complex of human society. Mr. Lewis
studies it through the eyes of a heroine rather than a hero-a reasonable course in the study of what from present indications must be known in history as the Feminine Age. When Carol attended the Chautauqua she was "impressed by the audience of women in skirts and blouses, eager to be made to think, the men in vests and shirt sleeves, eager to be allowed to laugh." Here is our disturbance in sex equilibrium concretely expressed. Man has given up thinking. The poor fellow pegs away for salary or wages, plus the profits of an occasional speculation, provided only that he may be allowed to laugh in the evening at the movies. His helpmeet aspires to be made to think. She is to take the torch that has fallen from his weary hand and to guide where he has failed. Of course all depends on the success of her being made to think. Her eagerness is conceded, but her notion of thought is dubious. I think it is Mr. Galsworthy who has something to say as to the female mind being provided with dimmers which are carefully pulled down when a flood of light threatens to reveal things it does not care to see. Carol is an adept in the use of dimmers. She advances boldly into all fields and assumes to sound all depths, but, alas, at the moment when she is face to face with reality, down come the dimmers and she is rid of surrendering to embarrassing conclusions or of registering discomfiting intuitions. But in any event woman's eagerness to be made to think has advantages over man's abandonment of the process, and the use of Mr. Galsworthy's dimmers is really not limited to one sex.
We are told by M. Bergson that the mind of man discards all intuitions that have no interest for his bodily life. But the tendency of man to discard all data that do not minister to his material needs is not confined to his intuitional life. A similar process makes history and religion as lopsided and materialistic as M. Bergson claims intuitional life to be. History becomes "bunk," as Mr. Henry Ford has late pronounced it, and religion becomes "social service," a sentimental humanitarianism. Main Street seizes with avidity on the episode of the loaves and fishes, but discards the episode of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. His confession of faith in the descent of the angel into the pool is too naive for Main Street, although it won the miraculous intervention of our Lord. Main Street rejects the supernatural.
Plato compared the interests of truth in a "free" society with the trial of a pastry cook and a doctor of physic before a jury