Page:John Masefield.djvu/25

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


Certainly the apologist for Masefield should frankly concede his flaws and foibles to Mr. Squire and other parodists. He should take positive ground and defend him for the passionate expression of his tragic realism, his strength, and his sincerity. An English critic, Dixon Scott, moved to comment by The Daffodil Fields, began with a protest against the solemnity with which people take their poets. They, the poets, are just like other people, he would have us believe, not a race of "wilted priests," but "simple, jolly, frank, and friendly souls . . . engrossed in the grubby, glorious work of growing flowers." Well, a good many contemporary poets are like that. That is the trouble with their poetry. It is a kind of passionless floriculture. But John Masefield stands out as not in the least like that. Poetry has been in the place of religion to him; and he has served it like a priest not—with a linen ephod, but with Carlyle's "baphometic fire-baptism."

In that interesting novel of his, Multitude and Solitude, there are many cutting observations on contemporary literature, and, in Roger Naldrett, there is a portrait of the poet's mind which we may accept as strikingly similar to that of its author. Roger declares that the Celtic love of the beautiful is "all bunkum." He finds the distinctive quality of Irish verse "in that kind of windy impersonality which one hears in their talk." "I maintain," he says, "that the Irish have no imagination. Imagination is a moral quality." Before he settles down to a literary life, Roger wishes to get the whole of himself involved and incandescent in the flame of his imagination. "I begin to think that a writer without character, without high and austere character, in himself, and in the written image of himself, is a panderer, a bawd, a seller of Christ. . . . Good God, Heseltine, it seems to me that a man should not be permitted to write a play before he has risked his life for another, or for the state."

Masefield's long narrative poem, Dauber, is ordinarily praised as a superb picture of the sea. It is that, but it is more than that. It is a superb picture of artistic dedication. It illustrates the author's sense of the means by which a moribund art may live again. Here is a man who desires to paint the "windy, green, unquiet sea," ships scudding before the wind, and the destinies of men whose ways are on the great deep. Nautical pictures he might make from models in his studio. To know the might and mystery of the sea, he must give himself to it as the saint gives himself to God. Three years before the mast,