Fourteen sonnets and poems/A Tribute

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Fourteen sonnets and poems by Maud Menefee
A Tribute


A Tribute

IT is with deep reverence and scruples, holding in mind the many-sided delicacy of a nature to be respected, that I comply with the request to speak a word of my master and teacher, which word, for reverence and humility, was never spoken in his hearing.

With many another, who through the half-formed thoughts of youth sat to ask alms at the Gate Beautiful, was it given me to receive, through the power of his word, that quickened consciousness of life and art which set us young "walking and leaping and praising."

He was never the pedagogue, rather the embassador of some high message which he rejoiced to deliver; that it fell upon dulled ears, or ears still birth-muffled in unheeding youth, was no stop to him. He had the look of one who dwelt in the upper air of hopes and loves that breathed free of the personal, his very presence rebuke to selfish ends, petty standards, and the compromise of a time-serving day. A strenuous radical, bound by no creed of church or party, he was a two-edged sword for what would exalt itself above the spirit of simple righteousness. An old note-book yields the following naive stroke: "Orthodoxy is too worldly and too narrow," and to those who confounded dogma with Christianity he was an offence, and not altogether understood; but on the same page we find him saying: "Christianity is greater and more universal than any of us have as yet been able to see or realize. God builds his temple in the human heart on the ruin, if need be, of the churches and every other institution of man."

"If I were asked the veritable purpose of this life, I should answer, To develop within ourselves a consciousness of immortality.

"As the American republic was to exemplify in itself the last analysis of politics as a science of government, so it was also to make known and emphasize the last analysis of religion. Transcendentalism is that analysis. It is the world merged in spirit; matter subordinated to mind.

"We should never forget that we belong to the Infinite. The only right use of this world is to use it as a means, never as an end. This world is simply the soul's rescue from nonentity.

"Moved by our higher impulses, we are always in a state of elevation. I have as much right to ecstasy as to rheumatism. Why not assert it?"

He adds a new beatitude in recognition of the unsung service of teaching when he writes to a friend who had given her gifts and art to the teaching of the young—

"Blessed is that teacher who in the midst of incessant rudimental humdrum and petty repetition is still able to suggest and embody in himself the sublime summit of a perfected science."

Regarding friendship between men and women, he writes:

"The man who loves his wife deeply and truly must necessarily be something of a lover of all women, and vice versa. As a man looks upon his wife, so he looks in a measure upon women in general. Not to love is equivalent to being dead. I would not exchange the friendship of one good woman for "the wealth of Ormus and of Ind." If I were necessitated to improvise my own deity, it would be woman. She alone is worthy of intimation as substitute, if we had to have one, for God. The man who has no friend among women, he of all others is most alone."

The halo of a love which had grown with him from boyhood crowned his own life; we catch some hint of its fine reserve and poetry in the verses to I. D. H. He seemed never to outgrow the youth; there remained to the very end something of the boy's extravagance of feeling and speech, with the child's uncompromised loyalities. It was a nature in which self-interest was so small an element, that notwithstanding its full measure of rich gifts, failed to crystallize in what the world recognizes as success. He was more wonderful than anything he ever spoke, embodying in his own person such a gracious loveliness that people in crowded thoroughfares were constrained to look after him, reminded of high things, himself implying what all true poems imply,—himself the best poem.

Maud Menefee.