Page:John Masefield.djvu/9

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in three acts, was published. Many critics have agreed that this is a masterpiece. It is an intense portrayal of tragic events in the life of simple country folk, and has been successfully performed in England. In his preface to the play Masefield says: "Tragedy at its best is a vision of the heart of life. The heart of life can only be laid bare in the agony and exultation of dreadful acts. The vision of agony or spiritual contest pushed beyond the limits of the dying personality is exalting and cleansing. It is only by such vision that a multitude can be brought to the passionate knowledge of things exulting and eternal." The Campden Wonder and Mrs. Harrison, sombre tragedies of a gruesome nature; The Sweeps of Ninety Eight, a little rebel comedy; and The Locked Chest, favorite one-act plays for amateur productions, were written and performed at this time.

In 1910 The Tragedy of Pompei the Great appeared. Tense in situation and impressive in its poetry, it conveys Masefield's genius in the handling of the dramatic form. "He is no statutesque Pompey, spouting prose lines masquerading as poetry; Masefield has given us Pompey the man," wrote a reviewer.

But it was in 1911 that John Masefield startled England and occasioned intense excitement and hot discussion over his now world-famous poem, The Everlasting Mercy. Telling of this event, W. H. Hamilton, in his critical study of John Masefield, writes: "I shall never forget the torrid day in 1911 when I languidly picked up a blue-covered copy of the English Review in a smoker-room, sank with it into a basket-chair, lit my pipe, leisurely opened the magazine, and got one of the shocks and surprises of my life. . . . The 'room was sudden with horror.' At first we gasped 'Oh! What blasphemy! What indecency! Phew!' Then, dazed and unbelieving, one read the poem again—and again—and again. It began to dawn on us ... that here was one more of the world's great, sudden original poems and one of the greatest religious poems ever born." Vivid and powerful, written in virile, at times lurid,