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William H. Davies, John G. Neihardt, Donald Evans


James H. Wallis, Conrad Aiken


Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1916








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NEED I say a word for the plan and substance of this book? One moment I think I ought, and the next that I ought not. But since the beginning is made, the end ought to be reached. It might be reached by simply saying- here's the book! Still, there's more than the book here, I think. There's an experiment—and that is always a dangerous thing in literature. Then, there's myself in the experiment, and this ego is an aggravation to some critics of American poetry. In every book, the ego is the dominant note—or else there would be no books, no literature, really no life. The world is a clash of egos thin as air, others as solid as water. Both types are necessary and the old world goes its way.

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I suspect, some day, it will be said of me that "he was that ineffectual critic who beat his pen in the luminous void of appreciation." I should like nothing better, for an epitaph. The one worthwhile thing in life is to have a passion. If you have that, intuition is a surer guide to wisdom than philosophy. It may lead to destruction, but the path will be strewn with dreams, and dreams are the only seeds of human aspiration. If it arrives at the goal, which it very often does, the fabric of

success will be mostly woven with the gray threads of failure. Nothing is perfect but the will to do. We will to do from some divine and eternal impulse: that is our passion. What follows in action or method, is the attempt of our humanity, with its checks and limitations, to embody in the terms of the world the realities of the spirit. Thus life is all-and always a mystical venture.

And the symbols of this mystical venture are more clearly defined in the art of poetry than in any other form of human expression. Art is not the end, but the means of this expression. Art changes, but the aims of art never do. The important thing in all this is not to engage the greater part of one's energies upon the means of art but upon the ends for which the art exists. It is a straight and narrow path to follow, because upon both sides of the way the walls of prestige and tradition restrict the discernment of new values. Contemporary achievement has always labored, and will always continue to labor, under the tyranny of the past. But it is not the tyranny of substance; it is the tyranny of form, which puts the present at a disadvantage with the past. Art is one, and the highest, form of the manifestation of the spirit of life. The spirit of life, whatever its mode or quality, never changes, but its manifestations do, and the art which embody those manifestations must be rendered in terms of contemporary experience.

Experience is what I have most tried to disen

gage from the embodiments of a particular art, in this book. Let us suppose this experience is a kind of fabric-woven of dream, vision, imagination, observation, of physical and spiritual emotion- and ask if, being an abstraction, like spirit, the world has worn it threadbare, as we wear a garment on the body? Take the common experience of love: does it really differ more in spirit in the twentieth century than it did in the sixteenth? No; but the social environment having changed, men and women conform to it in their external, emotional relationships. And what I mean to insist upon is, that except for a few supreme recitals, the contemporary poet has an original substance to deal with, and can deal with it with all the intensity and passion, as any poet of the past. It is the function of the critic to acknowledge the achievement not with the tape-measure of rules and formulas, but as a personal discovery of the secrets and mysteries of life being expressed through art. If the art is not adequate, they will remain hidden. And this same point of view applies to the interpretation of every other human experience.

This is what I have tried to do in the following pages; how crudely sometimes, how successfully at others, I am well aware. What I have most tried to avoid, in any view expressed, is dogmatism. I have been absolute in my point of view time and again: but then I have merely held the position, and not attempted to advance it ruthlessly. I am perfectly willing to surrender the position to any


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one who can take it on the same terms of spiritual interpretation but they must be bold enough to attack me in front, and not from the rear.

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The conversational scheme of the book may, or may not, interest some readers. Poetry is a human thing, and it is time for the world and especially our part of the world to regard it as belonging to the people. It sprang from the folk, and passed when culture began to flourish into the possession of a class. Now culture is passing from a class to the folk, and with it poetry is returning to its original possessors. It is in the spirit of these words that we discuss the poetry of the year. There are omissions from the year's publications, which I regret, and hope to make up if this work continues as a supplementary volume to the "Anthology of Magazine Verse." No inference of depreciation must be drawn because certain volumes are excluded from examination. Time and circumstances have had something to do with what may seem to many an arbitrary selection of titles. W. S. B.

Cambridge, Massachusetts,

March 2, 1917.

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