to restore the primitive singing of poetry?' I find what Mr. Yeats means by
`the primitive singing of poetry' in Professor Edward Bliss Reed's new volume
on `The English Lyric'. He says in his chapter on the definition
of the lyric: `With the Greeks "song" was an all-embracing term.
It included the crooning of the nurse to the child . . .
the half-sung chant of the mower or sailor . . . the formal ode
sung by the poet. In all Greek lyrics, even in the choral odes,
music was the handmaid of verse. . . . The poet himself
composed the accompaniment. Euripides was censured because
Iophon had assisted him in the musical setting of some of his dramas.'
Here is pictured a type of Greek work which survives in American vaudeville,
where every line may be two-thirds spoken and one-third sung,
the entire rendering, musical and elocutionary, depending upon
the improvising power and sure instinct of the performer.
"I respectfully submit these poems as experiments in which I endeavor
to carry this vaudeville form back towards the old Greek precedent
of the half-chanted lyric. In this case the one-third of music
must be added by the instinct of the reader. He must be Iophon.
And he can easily be Iophon if he brings to bear upon the piece
what might be called the Higher Vaudeville imagination. . . .
"Big general contrasts between the main sections should be the rule
of the first attempts at improvising. It is the hope of the writer
that after two or three readings each line will suggest
its own separate touch of melody to the reader who has become
accustomed to the cadences. Let him read what he likes read,
and sing what he likes sung."
It was during this same visit in Chicago, at `Poetry's' banquet
on the evening of March first, 1914, that Mr. Yeats honored Mr. Lindsay
by addressing his after-dinner talk primarily to him as "a fellow craftsman",
and by saying of `General Booth':
"This poem is stripped bare of ornament; it has an earnest simplicity,
a strange beauty, and you know Bacon said, `There is no excellent beauty
This recognition from the distinguished Irish poet tempts me to hint
at the cosmopolitan aspects of such racily local art as Mr. Lindsay's.
The subject is too large for a merely introductory word,
but the reader may be invited to reflect upon it. If Mr. Lindsay's poetry
should cross the ocean, it would not be the first time
that our most indigenous art has reacted upon the art of older nations.
Besides Poe -- who, though indigenous in ways too subtle for brief analysis,
yet passed all frontiers in his swift, sad flight -- the two American artists
of widest influence, Whitman and Whistler, have been intensely American
in temperament and in the special spiritual quality of their art.
If Whistler was the first great artist to accept the modern message
in Oriental art, if Whitman was the first great modern poetDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>