Page:John Masefield.djvu/24

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spells Beauty with a capital letter; that the introduction of"closhy puts" and bar-room oaths into verse is no great feat once the trick has been suggested; that the tragedies are melodramatic through inadequate characterization; that the narratives are prolix; that the verse is padded with moral platitudes; that "lasted" is rhymed with "Bastard," as it is by many speakers; and that throughout the works there is a culpable indifference to the poetic uses of the file, just as there is in the works of the Master of all Makers.

Some of this critical pawing is captious. Masefield's apprentice debt to Kipling in Salt Water Ballads and to Synge in The Tragedy of Nan was soon stricken off the score. The mature Masefield is nobody's echo. He is a figure as independent and original as any man can be who works, as all the great English poets have done, for the vital continuation of an ancient and splendid tradition. Obviously, he learned his craft of the masters. For the forms and instruments of his music his debt is immense to Burns, Byron, Shakespeare, Spenser, and Chaucer. The Everlasting Mercy is, if you please, an English Tarn O'Shanter; The Widow in the Bye Street, a modern Troilus and Cressida; Reynard the Fox, a resuscitation of the Canterbury Pilgrims; Dauber is Childe Harold or Don Juan gone on a fresh pilgrimage; and the chief sonnet sequence carries on the Elizabethan quest for the soul and the divine idea behind the shadows of things. But that a poet suggests such comparisons, while writing with sharp realism of his own times and out of his own experience, marks him not a slave but an heir.

Some of these exceptions, however, are well taken, and Mr.Masefield himself would probably sustain them. In the heat of the race, he has not always avoided knocking the top-rail off the fence. In his brief introduction to this edition, glancing back over the performance of his generations, he says: "Often their work has been harsh, violent, and ill-considered." But their mission, he intimates, was not to gild the refined Tennysonian gold nor to paint the late Victorian lily white. Tennyson himself had kept an even balance between the native English tendency toward a robust rendering of life and the imported cult of artifice and technical finish. His imitators declined into a mere respectability, devoid of poetic courage or hope. The mission of Masefield's generation was to sally boldly into nature and restore vitality by reemphasizing the native qualities: "character-drawing, humor, liveliness, and truth."