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MISS NORA HOPPER
A VERY frank, free, imaginative and melodious talent is that of Miss Nora Hopper. She has in full measure all the poetic qualities of her Celtic race, without the metaphysical fanaticisms which sometimes accompany them. There is nothing morbid, nothing overstrained about her work, unless it be a too constant dwelling on the melancholy aspects of Irish folk-lore. This is especially notable in her first book, Under Quicken Boughs (1896). Here we have really too much keening over the "dear black head," which has become a sort of stereotype among Irish singers a too frequent return to such themes as A Drowned Man's Sweetheart, A Drowned Girl to Her Lover, and so forth. When this vein of sentiment is overworked, it begins to seem conventional and consequently tedious. The same remark applies to such verses as Roisin Dubh, Ma Bouchaleen Bwee, The Passing of the Shee, and the like. However pretty they may be in themselves (and Miss Hopper never writes otherwise than prettily), we feel, in the long run, that there is something factitious and even fictitious about them that they are exercises on traditional themes rather than genuine utterances of feeling. How often, for instance, do we seem to have read, if not these very lines (from The Fairy Music), at least equally felicitous treatments of the same motive:
There's many feet on the moor to-night, and they fall so light as they turn and pass,
So light and true that they shake no dew from the featherfew
and the Hungry grass.
I drank no sup and I broke no crumb of their food, but dumb at their feast sat I,
For their dancing feet and their piping sweet, now I sit and greet till I'm like to die.
Oh kind, kind folk, to the words you spoke I shut my ears and I would not hear,
And now all day what my own kin say falls sad and strange on my careless ear
For I'm listening, listening, all day long to a fairy song that is
blown to me,
Over the broom and the canna's bloom, and I know the doom of the Ceol-Sidhe.
The metrical movement of these verses (and of the two other stanzas which complete the poem) is very pretty, but their effect is discounted by our feeling that they are as conventional as a troubadour's aubade or a sixteenth-century sonnet. Even when Miss Hopper leaves Ireland behind, and betakes herself to Greece or Norway, one cannot but suspect that in her Hymns to Pan, and her rhapsodies on Phaacia and the land East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon, she is expressing a somewhat superficial romanticism, with no great depth of feeling behind it. Her imagination is rather too easily kindled; and though her work is not verbally imitative in any marked degree, yet it lacks spiritual individuality. She has always great fluency and sweetness of diction, and often real charm. But this first book must, on the whole, be regarded as immature-a volume of experiments. It is in Songs of the Morning (1900) that she gives the true measure of her talent.
Though there is much less untranslated Erse in Miss Hopper's second book than in her first, the influence of race, or rather of environment (for the odds, in any given instance, are greatly against purity of race), is none the less clearly discernible. It appears in the freshness and coolness
of her diction, her sense of nature as a living thing, and her unabashed, yet never indiscreet, utterance of passion. The Keltic character, I take it, is, more clearly than any other race-character, a product of geographical conditions. The Kelt has for ages inhabited the western fringe of the world, from the mouth of the Loire to the outermost Hebrides. He has been pent between the devil and the deep seabetween hostile races to the eastward, and the haunting enigma of the trackless ocean to the west. He has dwelt in a land of mountains, of wide, windy estuaries, of clear and rushing rivers. The shifting pageantry of sky and sea has from of old encompassed him. His soul has been alternately swathed in fantastic mists and bathed in great billows of pure colour. He has for centuries seen the sun plunge, day after day, over the very edge of the world, into an abyss of waters as mysterious as the grave. And his mind has taken its imprint from this region of mountain and river and firth, of coolness and moisture and briny fragrance, bounded on the one hand by hostility, and by mystery on the other. Nature can never be the same thing to an inland as to a seaboard people. The plain-dweller, and even the mountain-dweller, knows nothing of the reduplication and etherealisation of colour that the great waters alone can give. The Kelt is the child of a volcanic coast-line and the Atlantic, as the Saxon is the child of alluvial prairies and the narrow seas. If it be objected that by this reasoning the Norseman ought to be the spiritual brother of the Kelt, I reply that he is, as a matter of fact, his spiritual cousingerman, and that such differences as exist may be clearly referred to differences in geographical and political conditions. In the first place, the Norseman has not been subjected in anything like the same degree to the pressure of hostile races from behind; in the second place, his "Ultima Thule" was not really ultimate. He had always something more than the mere dim ocean to the west and south-west of him: he had Iceland, the Faroe Isles,