NEW edition of the Poetical Works of Gerald Massey, the son of
the canal boatman in Herts, and himself successively silk-mill worker,
errand-boy, and journalist, will be welcomed by the less fastidious readers of
poetry. Those who sympathize with fine feelings and delicate susceptibilities,
who delight in profuse imagery and florid diction, will assuredly find much in
this volume which they will regard, and which in some sense they will rightly
regard, as poetry. But those who demand imaginative conception, who require,
first, that the poet have something to sing, and then that he sing it with
purity, simplicity, and proportion, will not find here the poetry which they
seek. Mr. Massey is not an original writer. He is scarcely a copyist
indeed, but he reproduces, perhaps unconsciously, the impressions which the
poetry he admires have left on his sensitive nature. In the very first page of
his book we read,
DanaŽ-earth bares all her charms,
And gives the God her perfect flower
surely an echo of a line in The Princess, "Now lies the Earth all
DanaŽ to the stars." In fact, the whole of the Ballad of Babe Christabel,
from which these verses are taken, perpetually suggests its great precursor, the
In Memoriam of Tennyson, which we cannot but regard as, in this instance,
the immediate source of inspiration to Mr. Massey's muse. We are
far, however, from saying that this very poem is not instinct with beautiful
thoughts and fancies clothed in melodious language. For instance,ó
beauty walks in bravest dress,
And, fed with Aprils mellow showers
The earth laughs out with sweet May-flowers,
That flush for very happiness;
"And Puck his web of wonder weaves
O' nights, and nooks of greening gloom
Are rich with violets that bloom
In the cool dark of dewy leaves."
In this last verse the picturesque expression of "greening gloom"
would be more admired if it did not remind us of the "greening gleam"
of one of Mr. Tennyson's fine psalms. And a little below, Mr. Gerald's
"Song like a spirit sits i the trees" is too like the greater poet's
"The lark became a sightless song" for us to feel satisfied that it is
not a resetting of the same thought.
Perhaps Mr. Massey's best poem is that which idealizes a sad
experience, "The Mother's Idol Broken." It is graceful and touching; and
once at least nobly pathetic.
"This is a curl of our poor Splendid's hair!
A sunny burst of rare and ripe young gold,"
is a true and natural introduction to the "babe-wanderings and little
tender ways," to "the wee wax face that gradually withdrew and
darkened into the great cloud of death," to the three words of human speech
"One for her mother, one for me, and one
She crowed with for the fields and open heaven.
That last she sighed with a sweet farewell
A minute ere she left the house of life,
To come for kisses never any more.
And there our darling lay in coffined calm:
Beyond the breakers and the moaning now!
And o'er her flowed the white eternal peace:
The breathing miracle into silence passed
Never to stretch wee hands, with her dear
As soft as light-fall on unfolding flowers:
Never to wake us crying in the night
Our little hindering thing forever gone,
In tearful quiet now we might toil on.
All dim the living lustres motion makes
No life-dew in the sweet cups of her eyes,
Naught there of our poor Splendid but her
We doubt if Mr. Massey has written any thing better
than that. His Craigbrook Castle is often musical, and is prodigally fanciful. Fancy indeed is his most prominent attribute. The third section of the poem last
mentioned contains a succession of mental coruscations that dazzle, rather than
delight, "the wondering eyes of men."
Of Mr. Massey's political poems we say nothing. He does not value them highly himself, retaining them only "as memorials of
the past, as one might keep some worn-out garment because he had passed through
the furnace in it." One or two of his rhyming compositions are slightly
humorous, that for example about the lion who shook his incredulous head, and
wagged his dubious tail. There is one, too, on England and an illustrious living
personage, which, without going the whole way with the sarcastic poet, we can
read with some degree of satisfaction. It begins,ó
"There was a poor old woman once, a daughter
of our nation,
Before the Devils portrait stood in ignorant
You re bowing down to Satan, maam, said
some spectator civil,
Ah sir, it s best to he polite, for we may go
to the Devil,
Bow, how, bow,
We may go the Devil, so it is just as well to
The edition of Mr. Gerald Massey's poems from which we
are now quoting contains a biographic sketch, which is not without interest, and
the poets own preface to the third issue of "Babe Christabel."
This poem, as now published, thus appears for the fourth timeóa
proof of the author's popularity. If we admire his productions less than others,
it is that our standard is higher than that of others. Let Mr. Massey write more
slowly, take more pains with his versification, be less with Queen Mab, and
dwell more among the great central facts of human life, with its perennial joys
and griefs, and we shall not be backward to recognize his superiority. But let
us have no more stars and flowers, no more "Titan pulses" and "purple rondures." The highest poetry can afford to dress plainly.