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HEINE, in that part of his Pictures of Travel which treats
of Italy, gives us a parable in a single paragraph of mingled eloquence and satire, which may aptly preface a collection of poems by living writers. When the sun comes forth, he says, the eagle flies up towards it and, as he draws near to it, sings his joy and his pain. "His fellow-creatures, especially men, believe that the eagle cannot sing, and know not that he only lifts his voice in music when far from the realm which they inhabit, and that in his pride he will be heard only by the sun. And he is right, for it might occur to some of the feathered mob down below there to criticise his song. I myself have heard such critics. The hen stands on one leg and clucks that the singer has no 'soul'; the turkey gobbler that he needs ' earnest feeling'; the dove coos that he cannot feel true love; the goose quacks that he is 'ignorant of science'; the capon chuckles that he is 'immoral'; the martin twitters that he is 'irreligious'; the sparrow pipes that 'he is not sufficiently prolific'; hoopoes, popinjays and screech-owls all cackling and gabbling and yelling;-only the nightingale joins not in the noise of these critics. Caring naught for her contemporaries, the red rose is her only thought and her only song."
It is, indeed, always easier to notice the shortcomings, than to perceive-if I may say so-the longcomings and the great qualities, in a contemporary poem. When we look back, the conditions are exactly reversed. The perspective of time, in
the world of literature, instead of diminishing important objects, as the perspective of line and space does in the physical world, appears to magnify them. Or is it perhaps that we cultivate what may be called an intellectual astigmatism, which causes us to exaggerate the lines of height, in things past, completed and viewed from a distance? We discern the great qualities, more readily than the faults, in works of a former time, because we have been taught to do so. But years of thought, a wise self-discipline and a reverent impartiality are needed, in order to detect the weak places in a recognized classic. Admiration for the excellent performances of earlier generations has been much insisted upon, and for a long time. What we require just now, for the recovery of our balance, is something that the world will doubtless need always; a better ability to discover and respond to the elements of greatness in the work of modern poets. We extend any amount of charity to the meritorious singers of the past, for their partial failures, when our eyes are opened to these failures at all. But the charity is quite thrown away. They do not need it now, being dead. On the other hand, living poets, who are human in their moods, as well as in the imperfections of their art, would be greatly benefited and encouraged, if we treated them to a share of the effusive generosity which we bestow on those whose tuneful lips are dust, and the echoes of their last chanting are mingled with the winds.
Dryden said, "If a poem have genius, it will force its own reception in the world. For there's a sweetness in good verse, which tickles even while it hurts, and no man can be heartily angry with him who pleases him against his will." His reference was especially to a satirical poem by himself; but the generalization has been reasserted by many voices. It is a complacent idea, in keeping with the natural belief of a prospering author. Yet what competent person will deny that there is genius in the poems of Landor, or, of another kind and degree, in William Blake's unstudied Songs of Innocence and