Page:John Masefield.djvu/33

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JOHN MASEFIELD'S PLACE IN ENGLISH POETRY


Not until the publication of The Everlasting Mercy in the English Review in 1911 did the critics prick their ears. No volume of poetry published in this century has made a stir comparable to the effect it produced. From that day poetry took a new lease of life. At the risk of being accused of uttering blasphemy, let it be set down here that this was an event fully as decisive as the publication of Lyrical Ballads a century before. The Everlasting Mercy, whatever its defects, poured vitality back into English verse. Poetry was again the provoker of hot argument, not merely matter for languid appraisal.

That event, in reality only a few years past, now seems far off. Many new voices have since been raised, both in America and in England. Of them all, to this reviewer, Masefield's is the fullest-toned, the deepest. He has remained sensitive to the tradition of English poetry, but he has never been circumscribed by it. His foundations rest unshakably upon it, but he has done his own building. None knows better than himself how much he owes to the great singers who have preceded him; he does not pose as the beneficiary of a special dispensation. But what he has drawn from them he has made unmistakably his own.

One can think of no other poet since Chaucer so purely English in derivation and in spirit. His intense nationalism has no doubt contributed to the marking down of his talents in some critical quarters, for nationalism nowadays receives a cold scrutiny. Masefield's is of the kind that will not be stared down. Its basis is spiritual, in

. . . the heartfelt things past-speaking dear
To unknown generations of dead men.

Out of that nationalism of his came the noblest utterance in poetry that the War brought forth. If Masefield had written nothing else besides "August, 1914," his name would be remembered among the English poets. No blustering patriot, no facile