Talk:Poems (1898)

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1898 1st edition of Poems
1905 reprint edition of Poems


Mrs. Coates is widely known as one of the most acceptable writers of poetry in the best periodicals. She has not been a voluminous writer, but those who are best acquainted with American magazines and who are also the most competent judges of poetry have come to value as quite above the average those poems which bear Mrs. Coates's name. She has gathered into a volume those which seem to her most likely to be valued by lovers of poetry, and it is altogether probable that this book will take rank with the best the year will produce. The poems are at once thoughtful and lyrical; they appeal to the cultivated and the aesthetic reader; and the variety and poetic charm of the volume may well secure for it a hearty welcome and a permanent place in American verse. [The Publisher's Weekly, 12 March 1898.]
Poetry is an art, and it is not the art of gush. This Mrs. Coates has learned thoroughly and well. Whatever faults she may have, she maintains everywhere the equilibrium of the true Philadelphian. The slipshod versifying of very errant genius is completely absent in these poems, dedicated "to the dear and honored memory of Matthew Arnold."

They are dedicated to him not only in the title-page, but also, by suggestion, in many a line of sweet and lofty sadness. Often, as one reads, the dignity of his personality seems to be breathing through the verse and to inspire it. The similarity, however, is not that of a copyist, nor even of a pupil to her master. It is caused alone by sympathy, by similarity of outlook. Only once, in the following passage from "Hylas," is the resemblance so close as to recall special lines trom Arnold... Mrs. Coates certainly must have been reading "The Forsaken Merman."

At the same time, admirable as are these lines, one feels in certain other of the more elaborate verses, notably the sonnets, a strained reserve that cannot but detract from their poetic value. It speaks of careful, conscientious work, no doubt, but it oppresses and fails to carry conviction. However well she may fall transiently into the mood of a greater poet than herself, her best work is in a different and less stalely line. The cause for this seems to lie in the rather slight substance of most of the poems. There are no great, half hidden nuggets under the musical flow, only honest, unpretentious, and very pretty pebbles. She sees accurately, feels keenly, and transcribes with delicacy and a certain vivacity, and so the pleasantest part of the serviceable, summer-green volume is in the slighter verses. "Perdita," for example, is delightful... "Through the Rushes," "A Descant," "A Valentine," all are delicately sweet and natural. The following "Song," in the same vein, is perhaps better adapted to quotation...

We have given no quotations from the many verses of mythological subjects simply because they are so evenly admirable it is impossible to choose. Wherever she touches upon Nature alone, fauns, loves, dryads, all the exquisite conceptions of old mythology come dancing to the rhythm, and are unendingly delightful. [The Literary World, 14 May 1898.]

Few new volumes of poetry have recently been more heartily welcome by competent judges than the poems of Mrs. Florence Earle Coates. The Friends Intelligencer pronounces the volume "an addition not merely to the company of books, but to the world of poetic thought and refined literary expression." The Public Ledger, of Philadelphia, says: "Mrs. Coates within the limits of one hundred and thirty pages has given us almost as many poems, each one enclosing a distinct and individual thought which she has mastered, and which, with consummate art, she has shaped to reality and definite expression... Mrs. Coates displays a felicitous touch in varied metrical forms, and in delightful contrast to the severer sonnets are love lyrics and fragments of song, scattered through these pages. One should, above all, not omit the verses to Mary Anderson, entitled 'Perdita,' for an entrancing vision of youth and grace moved by the spirit of dancing mirth.

"In short, the quality of this entire collection of verses can only be described by the word 'distinction.' Upon this supreme quality, as rare as it is indefinable, Mrs. Coates may safely base her high rank as a poet." [Literary Bulletin of New Books, as published in The Atlantic Monthly, June 1898.]

Among our later-day lyrists none writes more graceful verse than Florence Earle Coates. Her words and her rhythms flow easily and spontaneously, and harmony falls upon the ear and pleasure upon the soul, that the lyric muse can verily still sing, can make music with words well chosen, but not affectedly sought, and rhythms that seem to reflect the very pulse of the emotion.

During the past year her collected poems were published in a dainty volume, and, brought together in this way, one perhaps for the first time realizes what a wide range is covered by her poetical fancies, while the full flavor of her delicate workmanship may be the better tested. There is a perfume as of Herrick about the charming sonnet called 'Before the Hour'...

Many others as charming might be cited, such as 'Perdita Dances,' which will always bring up a delightful memory to those who saw Mary Anderson dance in the 'Winter's Tale.' Among the longer poems in the volume, 'The Dryad Song' and 'Hylas' are especially noticeable for their facile rhythms, as well as for their happy reflection of classic myths. [Poet Lore, 1898; Vol. X No. 4; p. 598.]

The Sentimentalist remarked one day to the Philologist—they were at the university then, and had much talk together concerning letters and life, before they realized how far apart their paths must lie as the years lengthened— the Sentimentalist said to the Philologist that there was plenty of verse written in these days, but nothing that one would be justified in calling poetry. And he went on to lament that we had passed the golden age of English poetry, the spacious times of great Elizabeth, when England was a nest of singing birds. But the Philologist rebuked him, telling him that the verse of this age surpassed both in quantity and in quality that of the sixteenth century. The Sentimentalist was silenced, as he commonly was in discussion with the man of science and hard facts, but he was not satisfied. With a faith that is feebler and an eye that is dimmer with each disappointment, he is still waiting the advent of the true poet. Meanwhile his humbler and more practical friend works on, gathers whatever of good in art or science the passing day has to offer, and is thankful. He is thankful for the skill, the grace and sweetness, the broad culture, shown in Mrs. Coates's volume.

The author has evidently read well and widely. She has lived with the world's great poets and learned to think their thoughts; she has even learned much of their lofty and harmonious utterance. Sometimes she is misled into an attempt to amplify what has already been said for all time, and then of course the result is failure; as in the poem 'Cora', where the single line of Shakspere's greatest sonnet, "Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang",

is drawn out as follows:

"When through thy arching aisles,
   О Nature, I perceive
What brooding stillness fills the lonesome choirs
Where, heaven'd late, thy sweet musicians sung—"

These are good lines, but it is impossible to read them without remembering and contrasting with them Shakspere's single perfectness. In a similar adaptation of Poe's 'Israfel' Mrs. Coates has been more successful. I said adaptation, when I should have said interpretation; for Mrs. Coates has done what Poe's poetic principles forbade him to do, she has moralized her song. Indeed, with all her study of the old masters the author is thoroughly modern, and in nothing more so than in her fondness for the symbolical meaning of a poetic thought. A large number of the poems in the book are applications of pleasing fancies to the actual problems of life. Poetry, whatever it may have been, is now the interpretation of life. Everything is moralized. Yet there is occasional escape from this atmosphere. Besides the many sonnets of excellent workmanship, the numerous vers d'occasion, the captured fancy and the moralized conceit, there are some half dozen songs in this volume that ring with the simple joy of living, that sing of themselves. The musician's ear is not deceived, and at least one of them has already received admirable musical setting. Perhaps the best of them all is 'In April.'

The best of the sonnets—one that is better at each successive reading, and grows into the heart like a treasured memory—is that entitled 'Autumn'... Such a poem is enough to refute the Sentimentalist, a sign of promise to cheer the soul of every watcher on the heights. [Henry Marvin Belden, The Citizen, July 1898.]