The collected poems of James Elroy Flecker/Introduction
James Elroy Flecker was born in London (Lewisham) on November 5, 1884. He was the eldest of the four children of the Rev. W. H. Flecker, D.D., now Head Master of Dean Close School, Cheltenham. After some years at his father’s school he went in 1901 to Uppingham, proceeding to Trinity College Oxford, in 1902. He stayed at Oxford until 1907 and then came to London, teaching for a short time in Mr. Simmons’ school at Hampstead. In 1908 he decided to enter the Consular Service, and went up to Cambridge (Caius College) for the tuition in Oriental languages available there. He was sent to Constantinople in June 1910, was first taken ill there in August, and in September returned to England and went to a sanatorium in the Cotswolds. He returned to his post, apparently in perfect health, in March 1911; was transferred to Smyrna in April; and in May went on leave to Athens, where he married Miss Helle Skiadaressi, a Greek lady whom he had met in the preceding year. He spent three months’ holiday in Corfu, and was sent to Beyrout, Syria, in September 1911. In December 1912 he took a month’s leave in England and Paris, returning to Beyrout in January 1913. In March he again fell ill, and after a few weeks on the Lebanon (Brumana) he went to Switzerland, where, acting on his doctors’ advice, he remained for the last eighteen months of his life. He stayed successively at Leysin, Montreux, Montana, Locarno, and (May 1914) Davos, where on January 3, 1915, he died. He is buried in Cheltenham at the foot of the Cotswold Hills.
His published books include:
Verse: "The Bridge of Fire " (Elkin Matthews, 1907), "Forty-two Poems" (Dent, 1911), "The Golden Journey to Samarkand" (Goschen, 1913, now published by Martin Secker), and "The Old Ships" (Poetry Bookshop, 1915).
Prose: "The Last Generation" (New Age Press, 1908), "The Grecians" (Dent, 1910), "The Scholar’s Italian Grammar" (D. Nutt, 1911), and "The King of Alsander" (Goschen, 1914, now published by Allen and Unwin). He left also two unpublished dramas, "Hassan" and , "Don Juan," and a number of published and unpublished short stories, articles, and poems. Of the last all the most important will be found in the present volume.
That is the bare outline of Flecker’s life and work. The present Introduction does not pretend to supply a "personal memoir," for which materials have not been collected; and the work of estimating Flecker’s art and "placing" him in relation to his contemporaries may be left to others. But one may usefully give a few more biographical details and a short analysis of the poet’s artistic attitude and methods of work. In person Flecker was tall, with blue eyes, black, straight hair, and dark complexion. There was a tinge of the East in his appearance, and his habitual expression was a curious blend of the sardonic and the gentle. Until illness incapacitated him he was physically quite active, but his principal amusement was conversation, of which he never tired. He felt acutely the loss of good talk during his years abroad, in Syria especially. He was sociable, and enjoyed meeting and talking with crowds of people; but he had few intimate friends at Oxford, and, after he left England, little opportunity of making any. One of the few, Mr. Frank Savery, now of the British Legation, Berne, sends the following notes:
"My acquaintance with him began in January 1901, when he was a lanky, precocious boy of sixteen, and lasted, with long interruptions, until his death. His fate took him to the Near East, mine took me to Germany: for this reason we never met from 1908 to 1914, though we never ceased to correspond. Largely because our intercourse was thus broken, I believe that I am better able to appreciate the changes which his character underwent in the latter years of his life than those who never lost sight of him for more than a few months at a time.
"It was at Oxford that I first came to know him intimately. He was extraordinarily undeveloped, even for an English Public School boy, when he first went up in 1902. He already wrote verses—with an appalling facility that for several years made me doubt his talent. He imitated with enthusiasm and without discrimination, and, the taste in those long-gone days being for Oscar Wilde's early verse and Swinburne's complacent swing, he turned out a good deal of decadent stuff, that was, I am convinced, not much better than the rubbish written by the rest of his generation at Oxford. What interested me in Flecker in those days was the strange contrast between the man—or rather the boy—and his work. Cultured Oxford in general, I should add, was not very productive at that time: a sonnet a month was about the maximum output of the lights of Balliol. The general style of literature in favour at the time did not lend itself to a generous out-pouring. Hence there was a certain piquancy in the exuberant flow of passionate verse which issued from Flecker's ever-ready pen in spite of his entire innocence of any experience whatever.
"Furthermore, he was a wit—a great wit, I used to think, but no humorist—and, like most wits, he was combative. He talked best when some one baited him. At last it got to be quite the fashion in Oxford to ask Flecker to luncheon- and dinner-parties—simply in order to talk. The sport he afforded was usually excellent…. Looking back on it now, I believe I was right in thinking that in those days he had no humour (there is very little humour in Oxford); nor am I so entirely sure that his wit was bad. I had, at any rate, a growing feeling that, in spite of his immaturity and occasional bad taste, he was the most important of any of us: his immense productiveness was, I vaguely but rightly felt, better and more valuable than our finicky and sterile good taste.
"By 1906 he had developed greatly—largely thanks to the companionship of an Oxford friend whom, in spite of long absence and occasional estrangements, he loved deeply till the end of his life. Even his decadent poems had improved: poor as are most of the poems in "The Bridge of Fire," they are almost all above the level of Oxford poetry, and there are occasional verses which forecast some of his mature work. Thus I still think that the title-poem itself is a rather remarkable achievement for a young man and not without a certain largeness of vision. The mention of this poem reminds me of an episode which well illustrates the light-heartedness which at that time distinguished the self-styled 'lean and swarthy poet of despair.' I was sitting with him and another friend in his rooms one day—early in 1906, I think—when he announced that he was going to publish a volume of poems. 'What shall I call it?' he asked. We had made many suggestions, mostly pointless, and almost all, I have no doubt, indecent, when Flecker suddenly exclaimed: 'I'll call it "The Bridge of Fire," and I'll write a poem with that name and put it in the middle of the book instead of the beginning. That'll be original and symbolic too.' We then debated the not unimportant question of what 'The Bridge of Fire' would be about. At midnight we parted, the question still unsettled. Flecker, however, remarked cheerfully that it did not much matter—it was a jolly good title and he'd easily be able to think of a poem to suit it.
"Flecker always cherished a great love for Oxford: he had loved it as an undergraduate, and afterwards not even the magic of the Greek seas, deeply as he felt it, ever made him forget his first university town. But on the whole I think that Cambridge, where he went to study Oriental languages in preparation for his consular career, did more for him. I only visited him once there—in November 1908, I think—but I had the distinct impression that he was more independent than he had been at Oxford. He was writing the first long version—that is to say, the third actual draft–of the 'King of Alsander.' Incidentally he had spoilt the tale, for the time being, by introducing a preposterous sentimental conclusion, a departure to unknown lands, if I remember rightly, with the peasant-maid, who had not yet been deposed, as she was later on, from her original position of heroine.
"And now follow the years in which my knowledge of Flecker is drawn only from a desultory correspondence. I should like to quote from some of the letters he wrote me, but, alas, they are in Munich with all my books and papers. He wrote to me at length whenever he had a big literary work on hand; otherwise an occasional post card sufficed, for he was a man who never put either news or gossip into his letters. I knew of his marriage; I knew that his literary judgment, as expressed in his letters and exemplified in his writings, had improved suddenly and phenomenally. That was all.
"At last his health finally collapsed and he came to Switzerland. It was at Locarno, in May 1914, that I saw him again. He was very ill, coughed continually, and did not, I think, ever go out during the whole fortnight I spent with him. He had matured even more than I had expected….
"He was very cheerful that spring at Locarno—cheerful, not extravagantly optimistic, as is the way of consumptives. I think he hardly ever mentioned his illness to me, and there was certainly at that time nothing querulous about him. His judgment was very sound, not only on books but also on men. He confessed that he had not greatly liked the East—always excepting, of course, Greece—and that his intercourse with Mohammedans had led him to find more good in Christianity than he had previously suspected. I gathered that he had liked his work as Consul, and he once said to me that he was very proud of having been a good businesslike official, thereby disposing, in his case at any rate, the time-honoured conception of the poet as an unpractical dreamer. He was certainly no mere dreamer at any period of his life; he appreciated beauty with extraordinary keenness, but, like a true poet, he was never contented with mere appreciation. He was determined to make his vision as clear to others as it was to himself.
"I saw Flecker once more, in December 1914. He was already visibly dying, and at times growing weakness numbed his faculties. But he was determined to do two things—to complete his poem, 'The Burial in England,' and to put his business affairs into the hands of a competent literary agent. The letters and memoranda on the latter subject which he dictated to me were admirably lucid, and I remember that, when I came to read them through afterwards, I found there was hardly a word which needed changing.
"One evening he went through the 'Burial' line by line with Mrs. Flecker and myself. He had always relied greatly on his wife's taste, and I may state with absolute certainty that the only two persons who ever really influenced him in literary matters were the Oxford friend I have already mentioned and the lady whose devotion prolonged his life, and whose acute feeling for literature helped to a great extent to confirm him in his lofty ideals of artistic perfection.
"Although he never really finished the longer version of the 'Burial' which he had projected, the alterations and additions he made that evening—'Toledo-wrought neither to break nor bend' was one of the latter—were in the main improvements and in no way suggested that his end was so near. To me, of course, that poem must always remain intolerably sad, but, as I re-read it the other day, I asked myself whether the casual reader would feel any trace of the 'mattrass grave' on which it was written. Candidly I do not think that even the sharpest of critics would have known, if he had not been told, that half the lines were written within a month of the author's death."
His letters, as is remarked above, were generally business-like and blunt. I have found a few to myself: they are almost all about his work, with here and there a short, exclamatory eulogy of some other writer. He observes, in December 1913, that a journal which had often published him had given "The Golden Journey" "an insolent ten-line review with a batch of nincompoops"; then alternately he is better and writing copiously, or very ill and not capable of a word. In one letter he talks of writing on Balkan Politics and Italy in Albania; in another of translating some war-poetry of Paul Deroulède's. Another time he is even thinking of "having a bang at the Cambridge Local Examination… with a whack in it at B. Shaw." Then in November 1914 he says: "I have exhausted myself writing heroic great war-poems." He might comprehensibly have been in low spirits, dying there in a dismal and deserted "health resort" among the Swiss mountains, with a continent of war-zones cutting him off from all chance of seeing friends. But he always wrote cheerfully, even when desperately ill. The French recovery filled him with enthusiasm; he watched the Near Eastern tangle with the peculiar interest of one who knew the peoples involved; and in one delicate and capricious piece of prose, published in a weekly in October, he recalled his own experiences of warfare. He had had glimpses of the Turco-Italian War: Italian shells over Beyrout ("Unforgettable the thunder of the guns shaking the golden blue of sky and sea while not a breath stirred the palm-trees, not a cloud moved on the swanlike snows of Lebanon") and a "scrap " with the Druses, and the smoke and distant rumble of the battle of Lemnos, "the one effort of the Turks to secure the mastery of the Ægean." ' These were his exciting memories:
“To think that it was with cheerful anecdotes like these that I had hoped, a white-haired elder, to impress my grandchildren! Now there’s not a peasant from Picardy to Tobolsk but will cap me with tales of real and frightful tragedy. What a race of deep-eyed and thoughtful men we shall have in Europe—now that all those millions have been baptized in fire!"
Then in the first week of January 1915 he died. I cannot help remembering that I first heard the news over the telephone, and that the voice which spoke was Rupert Brooke’s.
Flecker began writing verse early, and one of his existing notebooks contains a number of poems written whilst he was at Uppingham. The original poems composed, at school and at Oxford, up to the age of twenty are not very remarkable. There is nothing unusual in some unpublished lines written on the school chapel bell at the end of his last term, and little in "Danae's Cradle-Song for Perseus" (1902). A typical couplet is
- Waste of the waves! O for dawn! For a long low level of shore!
- Better be shattered and slain on the reef than drift evermore.
Both rhythm and language are Tennysonian, and the alliterative Tennysonianism at the end of the first line is repeated in a "Song" of 1904 beginning:
- Long low levels of land
- And sighing surges of sea,
- Mountain and moor and strand
- Part my beloved from me.
A "Dream-Song" of 1904 is equally conventional, though in the lines
- Launch the galley, sailors bold,
- Prowed with silver, sharp and cold,
- Winged with silk and oared with gold,
may be seen the first ineffective attempt to capture an image that in various forms haunted Flecker to the end of his life. But the most numerous and, on the whole, the best of his early poems are translations. And this is perhaps significant, as indicating that he began by being more interested in his art than in himself. Translating, there was a clearly defined problem to be attacked; difficulties of expression could not be evaded by changing the thing to be expressed; and there was no scope for fluent reminiscence or a docile pursuit at the heels of the rhyme. In 1900–1, æt. 16-17, he was translating Catullus and the "Pervigilium Veneris," and amongst the poets he attacked in the next few years were Propertius, Muretus, Heine, Bierbaum, of whose lyrics he translated several, one of which is given in this volume. This habit of translation, so excellent as a discipline, he always continued, amongst the poets from whom he made versions being Meleager, Goethe, Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire, H. de Régnier, Samain, Jean Moréas, and Paul Fort. In the last year or two his translations were mostly made from the French Parnassians. What drew him to them was his feeling of especial kinship with them and his belief that they might be a healthy influence on English verse.
He explained his position in the preface to "The Golden journey to Samarkand." The theory of the Parnassians had for him, he said, "a unique attraction." "A careful study of this theory, however old-fashioned it may by now have become in France, would, I am convinced, benefit English critics and poets, for both our poetic criticism and our poetry are in chaos." Good poetry had been written on other theories and on no theories at all, and "no worthless writer will be redeemed by the excellence of the poetic theory he may chance to hold." But "that a sound theory can produce sound practice and exercise a beneficent effect on writers of genius" had been repeatedly proved in the history of the Parnasse.
"The Parnassian School [he continued] was a classical reaction against the perfervid sentimentality and extravagance of some French Romantics. The Romantics in France, as in England, had done their powerful work and infinitely widened the scope and enriched the language of poetry. It remained for the Parnassians to raise the technique of their art to a height which should enable them to express the subtlest ideas in powerful and simple verse. But the real meaning of the term Parnassian may be best understood from considering what is definitely not Parnassian. To be didactic like Wordsworth, to write dull poems of unwieldy length, to bury like Tennyson or Browning poetry of exquisite beauty in monstrous realms of vulgar, feeble, or obscure versifying, to overlay fine work with gross and irrelevant egoism like Victor Hugo, would be abhorrent, and rightly so, to members of this school. On the other hand, the finest work of many great English poets, especially Milton, Keats, Matthew Arnold, and Tennyson, is written in the same tradition as the work of the great French school: and one can but wish that the two latter poets had had something of a definite theory to guide them in self-criticism. Tennyson would never have published 'Locksley Hall' and Arnold might have refrained from spoiling his finest sonnets by astonishing cacophonies."
There were, he naturally admitted, "many splendid forms of passionate or individual poetry" which were not Parnassian, such as the work of Villon, Browning, Shelley, Rossetti, and Verlaine, "too emotional, individual, or eccentric" to have Parnassian affinities:
"The French Parnassian has a tendency to use traditional forms and even to employ classical subjects. His desire in writing poetry is to create beauty: his inclination is toward a beauty somewhat statuesque. He is apt to be dramatic and objective rather than intimate. The enemies of the Parnassians have accused them of cultivating unemotional frigidity and upholding an austere view of perfection. The unanswerable answers to all criticism are the works of Hérédia, Leconte de Lisle, Samain, Henri de Régnier, and Jean Moréas. Compare the early works of the latter poet, written under the influence of the Symbolists, with his 'Stances' if you would see what excellence of theory can do when it has genius to work on. Read the works of Hérédia, if you would understand how conscious and perfect artistry, far from stifling inspiration, fashions it into shapes of unimaginable beauty. . . . At the present moment there can be no doubt that English poetry stands in need of some such saving doctrine to redeem it from the formlessness and the didactic tendencies which are now in fashion. As for English criticism, can it not learn from the Parnassian, or any tolerable theory of poetic art, to examine the beauty and not the 'message' of poetry."
"It is not [he said] the poet's business to save man's soul but to make it worth saving. . . . However, few poets have written with a clear theory of art for art's sake, it is by that theory alone that their work has been, or can be, judged;–and rightly so if we remember that art embraces all life and all humanity, and sees in the temporary and fleeting doctrines of conservative or revolutionary only the human grandeur or passion that inspires them."
His own volume had been written "with the single intention of creating beauty."
Though many of his own poems show the "tendency to use traditional forms and even to employ classical subjects," Flecker did not, it must be observed, dogmatize as to choice of subject or generalize too widely. The Parnassians were not everything to him, nor were those older poets who had resembled them. It was as a corrective that he recommended the study of this particular group to his English contemporaries. It is arguable that most of his major contemporaries–one might instance Mr. Bridges and Mr. Yeats–are anything but chaotic, extravagant, careless, or didactic. References to "the latest writer of manly tales in verse" and "formlessness" might certainly be followed up; but formlessness and moralizing are not so universal amongst modern English writers as Flecker, making out his case, implied. It does not matter; there is not even any necessity to discuss the French Parnassians. Flecker had an affinity with them. He disliked the pedestrian and the wild; he did not care either to pile up dramatic horrors or to burrow in the recesses of his own psychological or physiological structure. He liked the image, vivid, definite in its outline: he aimed everywhere at clarity and compactness. His most fantastic visions are solid and highly coloured and have hard edges. His imagination rioted in images, but he kept it severely under restraint, lest the tropical creepers should stifle the trees. Only occasionally, in his later poems, a reader may find the language a little and the images heaped so profusely as to produce an effect of obscurity and, sometimes, of euphuism. But these poems, it must be remembered, are precisely those which the poet himself did not finally revise. Some of them he never even finished: "The Burial in England," as it appears, is the best that can be done with a confusing collection of manuscript thoughts and second thoughts. He was, as he claimed, constitutionally a classic; but the term must not be employed too rigidly. He was, in fact, like Flaubert, both a classic and a romantic. He combined, like Flaubert, a romantic taste for the exotic, the gorgeous, and the violent, with a dislike for the romantic egoism, looseness of structure, and turgidity of phrase. His objectivity, in spite of all his colour, was often very marked; but there was another trend in him. Though he never wrote slack and reasonless vers libres, the more he developed the more he experimented with new rhythms; and one of his latest and best lyrics was the intensely personal poem "Stillness." He ran no special kind of subject too hard, and had no refined and restricted dictionary of words. A careful reader, of course, may discover that there are words, just as there are images, which he was especially fond of using. There are colours and metals, blue and red, silver and gold, which are present everywhere in his work; the progresses of the sun (he was always a poet of the sunlight rather than a poet of the moonlight) were a continual fascination to him; the images of Fire, of a ship, and of an old white-bearded man recur frequently in his poems. But he is anything but a monotonous poet, in respect either of forms, subjects, or language. It was characteristic of him that he should be on his guard against falling into a customary jargon. Revising "The Welsh Sea" and finding the word "golden," which he felt he and others had overdone, used three times (and not ineffectively) in it, he expunged the adjective outright, putting "yellow" in the first two places and "slow green" in the third. His preface on Parnassianism was whole-hearted; but any one who interpreted some of his sentences as implying a desire to restrict either the poet's field or his expression to a degree that might justifiably be termed narrow would be in error. In one respect, perhaps, his plea was a plea for widening; he did not wish to exclude the classical subject. And his declaration that poetry should not be written to carry a message but to embody a perception of beauty did not preclude a message in the poetry. His last poems, including "The Burial in England," may be restrained but are scarcely impersonal, may not be didactic but are none the less patriotic. He need not, in fact, be pinned to every word of his preface separately. The drift of the whole is evident. He himself, like other people, would not have been where he was but for the Romantic movement; but he thought that English verse was in danger of decomposition. He merely desired to emphasize the dangers both of prosing and of personal paroxysms; and, above all, to insist upon careful craftsmanship.
This careful craftsmanship had been his own aim from the beginning. "Libellum arida modo pumice expolitum" is a phrase in the first of the Catullus epigrams he translated at school; and, whilst the content of his poetry showed a steadily growing strength of passion and thought, its form was subjected to, though it never too obviously "betrayed," an increasingly assiduous application of pumice-stone and file. His poems were written and rewritten before they were printed; some were completely remodelled after their first publication; and he was continually returning to his old poems to make alterations in single words or lines–many of his recent MS. alterations are now incorporated for the first time. His changes at their most extensive may be seen in the development of "The Bridge of Fire," in that (both versions are given in this volume) of "Narcissus," and in that of "Tenebris Interlucentem." As first published this ran:
- Once a poor song-bird that had lost her way
- Sang down in hell upon a blackened bough,
- Till all the lazy ghosts remembered how
- The forest trees stood up against the day.
- Then suddenly they knew that they had died,
- Hearing this music mock their shadow-land ;
- And some one there stole forth a timid hand
- To draw a phantom brother to his side.
In the second version, also of eight lines, each line is shorter by two syllables:
- A linnet who had lost her way
- Sang on a blackened bough in Hell,
- Till all the ghosts remembered well
- The trees, the wind, the golden day.
- At last they knew that they had died
- When they heard music in that land,
- And some one there stole forth a hand
- To draw a brother to his side.
The details of this drastic improvement are worth studying. The treatment of the first line is typical. The general word "song-bird" goes, the particular word "linnet" is substituted; and the superfluous adjective is cut out, like several subsequent ones. "Gravis Dulcis Immutabilis" was originally written as a sonnet; the "Invitation to a Young but Learned Friend" was considerably lengthened after an interval of years; and the poet's own copies of his printed volumes are promiscuously marked with minor alterations and re-alterations. One of the most curious is that by which the sexes are transposed in the song printed first as "The Golden Head" and then as "The Queen's Song." The last four lines of the first stanza originally ran:
- I then might touch thy face
- Delightful Maid,
- And leave a metal grace,
- A graven head.
This was altered into:
- I then might touch thy face
- Delightful boy,
- And leave a metal grace,
- A graven joy.
The reasons for the alteration are evident. The sounds "ace" and "aid" are uncomfortably like each other; the long, lingering "oy" makes a much better ending of the stanza than the sound for which it was substituted; and the false parallelism of "metal grace" and "graven head" was remedied by eliminating the concrete word and replacing it by another abstract one on the same plane as "grace." Such a substitution of the abstract for the concrete word, sound enough here, is very rare with him; normally the changes were the other way round. He preferred the exact word to the vague; he was always on his guard against the "pot-shot" and the complaisant epithet which will fit in anywhere. With passionate deliberation he clarified and crystallized his thoughts and intensified his pictures.
He found, as has been said, kinship in the French Parnassians: and, though he approached them rather as a comrade than as a disciple, traces of their language, especially perhaps that of de Régnier and Hérédia, may be found in his later verse. A reading of Hérédia is surely evident in the "Gates of Damascus": in
- Beyond the towns, an isle where, bound, a naked giant bites the ground:
- The shadow of a monstrous wing looms on his back: and still no sound.
and the stanzas surrounding it. An influence still more marked is that of Sir Richard Burton. Flecker, when still a boy, had copied out the whole of his long "Kasidah," and its rhythms and turns of phrase are present in several of his Syrian poems. It was in the "Kasidah" that Flecker found Aflatun and Aristu, and the refrain of "the tinkling of the camel-bells" of which he made such fine use in "The Golden Journey." The verse-form of the "Kasidah" is, of course, not Burton's, it is Eastern; and the use Flecker made of it suggests that an infusion of Persian and Arabic forms into English verse might well be a fertilizing agent. He always read a great deal of Latin verse: Latin poetry was as much to him as Greek history, myth, and landscape. Francis Thompson, Baudelaire, and Swinburne were all early "influences." He learnt from them but he was seldom mastered by them. He did not imitate their rhythms or borrow their thought. The Swinburnian "Anapæsts"—in the first volume—written in a weak moment, were an exception. In Flecker's printed copy the title has first, in a half-hearted effort to save the poem whilst repudiating its second-hand music and insincere sentiments, been changed to "Decadent Poem"; and then a thick pencil has been drawn right through it. From his English contemporaries Flecker was detached. He admired some of them—Mr. Yeats, Mr. A.E. Housman, Mr. de la Mare, and others; and with some he was friendly, especially Rupert Brooke, with whom he had been at Cambridge. Of Mr. Chesterton's "Flying Inn" he writes in January 1914: "A magnificent book—his masterpiece; and the humorous verse splendid." But his physical absence, first in the Levant and then in Switzerland, in itself prevented him from getting into any literary set, and his temperament and opinion of current tendencies was such that, even had he lived in England, he would probably have escaped "infection" by any school or individual. Flecker's vision of the world was his own; his dreams of the East and Greece were born with him. He knew the streets of Stamboul and the snows of Lebanon, and the caravans departing for Bagdad and the gates of Damascus, and the bazaars heaped with grapes and "coffee-tables botched with pearl and little beaten brassware pots"; but his hankering long antedated his travels. There is an unpublished poem written when he was twenty in which voices call him "to white Ægean isles among the foam" and the "dreamy painted lands" of the East. In the same year he translated Propertius I, xx. His life-long love of Greek names is shown by his enunciation of them even then:
- But Oreithyia's sons have left him now:
- Hylas, most foolish boy, where goest thou?
- He is going to the Hamadryades,
- To them devoted I will tell you how.
- There's a clear well beneath Arganthos' screes
- Wherein Bithynian Naiads take their ease,
- By leafage overarched, where apples hide
- Whilst the dew kisses them on the unknown trees.
This poem is dated 1904. It is the year of the Glion stanzas, the sonnet on Francis Thompson, and (probably) the fragmentary "Ode on Shelley." It is the year, that is, when Flecker began to show marks of maturity. The translation, like a number of other early poems quoted above, has not been included in the present collection, as it is certain that Flecker would not have wished it. Just enough of his unpublished "Juvenilia " have been included to illustrate his development, and it may be alleged without rashness that those selected are the best of their respective periods.
Whatever may be said about the poems which follow, there are few which are not characteristic of the poet. His rigorous conception of his art and his fidelity to his own vision prevented many lapses, and he suppressed those which he did commit. One unrepresentative phrase there is which might be seized on to give a very untrue description of him. In the Envoy to "The Bridge of Fire" he speaks of himself as "the lean and swarthy poet of despair." It meant nothing; the first poem in the same book, with its proclamation that "the most surprising songs" must still be sung, and its challenge to youth to turn to "the old and fervent goddess" whose eyes are "the silent pools of Light and Truth" is far more characteristic of him, first and last. "Lean and swarthy poet" may stand; but not of despair. The beauty of the world was a continual intoxication to him; he was full, as a man, if not as a poet, of enthusiasms, moral and material, economic, educational, and military. Neither the real nor the spurious disease of pessimism is present in his verse; and in his last autumn he was writing, with an energy that sometimes physically exhausted him, poems that blazed with courage, hope, and delight. Like his "Old Battleship,” he went down fighting.
The value of what he has left it is not, as I have said before, my intention to discuss here. My only object in writing this necessarily rather disjointed Introduction is to give some information that may interest the reader and be useful to the critic; and if a few personal opinions have slipped in they may conveniently be ignored. A vehement "puff preliminary" is an insolence in a volume of this kind: it might pardonably be supposed to imply either doubts about the author or distrust of his readers.