My Lyrical Life

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EXPLANATORY.

 
    I SAW myself described the other day as being the most unpublished of Living Authors.  There were reasons for this.  It happens that I have not hitherto had a Publisher to keep my books before the public. There has never been a collected edition of my poems; and the four separate volumes have been out of print for many years.  Thus their old friends have been passing away without the chance of my making new ones.  Meantime another generation of readers has arisen to whom my poems may prove to be "as good as MS."  To these I have to introduce myself, or rather the writings of my other, earlier, self, who is now almost a stranger to myself !

    These two volumes contain the better part of the earlier four, together with a hundred pages of additional matter.  I give them the title of

"MY LYRICAL LIFE,"

because that only includes one half of my literary life.

    By "Poems Old and New" it is not meant that all the new ones are recently written, but that they will be new to the readers of the Volumes previously printed.


     With some obvious exceptions the poems earliest written are collected in the Second series, whilst those that were written latest appear in the First volume.  They are not rigidly arranged upon any set plan or system, although there is at times a sort of sequence in the grouping, either of subjects or in accordance with the chronology.

     I have done what I could in that way to eke out the reader's interest by giving as much variety as was possible within the limited scope of lyrical poetry, which cannot have the advantage of a cumulative interest.

     It should be remembered, that the writer of lyrical poems is not always the speaker of them!  The Lyrist has the liberty if not the latitude of the dramatist in representing other characters, situations, standpoints, or moods, than those which may be strictly personal to himself.  Hence Robert Browning's descriptive title of "Dramatic Lyrics."  Many of my Lyrics are also dramatic in the sense of the writer being moved and the poetry written on behalf of other people.  As a matter of fact, the poem of "Babe Christabel" was not founded on a personal sorrow of my own.  But I do not say this with the object of shirking any personal responsibility for the contents of these volumes.  Nor am I about to put forth a private theory of poetry such as might supply the most suitable frame for my own portrait.

     I am, as a matter of course, aware that in the estimation of some readers, including a few personal friends, the "Last Lyrics" in these volumes may suffice to damn all the rest!  But that cannot be helped.  It has been my luck all along the line of my Lyrical Life to fight upon the weaker side—the side, however, that I have lived to see at times victorious.

     I was a Home-Ruler thirty years ago!  Also it was my lot to start in life with something of

The spirit that can stand alone
As the Minority of one;
Or with the faithful few be found
Working and waiting till the rest come round.

No one will dare to impugn my patriotism, or doubt that I am English to the heart-roots, even though my latest lyrics are devoted to the cause of another nationality than ours—even though I do think there are other ways of wooing and winning than by brute conquest and brutal coercion, whether in the individual, social, or national life; and that the time has come for humaner methods to be applied.  Still, it is possible that if we have no sympathy with the subject-matter, be it political, patriotic, domestic, or spiritualistic, we are more or less incapable of justly appraising the poetry.

     Much of my verse is bound up with the political and patriotic life of our time.  Some of the pieces, such as "Havelock's March," published in 1860, and others on the "Second Empire," are more properly historic photographs, rather than Poems in the Esthetic sense.  But they are national; and such things may have their place as illustrations in historic records.  Whatsoever the matter might be, I have always written for the subject with all my heart.

     Also, for the truth's sake I ought to explain that the kind of Spiritualism, Gnosticism, or Neo-Naturalism to be found in my poetry is no delusive Idealism derived from hereditary belief in a physical resurrection of the dead! Neither am I making a new attempt to cheat the ignorant by false pretences of knowledge. My faith in our future life is founded upon facts in nature and realities of my own personal experience; not upon any falsification of natural fact.  These facts have been more or less known to me personally during forty years of familiar face-to-face acquaintanceship, therefore my certitude is not premature; they have given me the proof palpable that our very own human identity and intelligence do persist after the blind of darkness has been drawn down in death.  The Spiritualist who has plumbed the void of death as I have, and touched this solid ground of fact, has established a faith that can neither be undermined nor overthrown.  He has done with the poetry of desolation and despair; the sighs of unavailing regret, and all the passionate wailing of unfruitful pain.  He cannot be bereaved in soul!  And I have had ample testimony that my poems have done welcome work, if only in helping to destroy the tyranny of death, which has made so many mental slaves afraid to live.

     I see myself referred to at times as a poet who has not fulfilled the promise of his early work!

     It is true that some twenty years ago my singing on the old lines ceased.  First, there was the insuperable difficulty of living by the poetry that one would gladly have lived for!  No one lives by poetry in England except the Laureate.  Not even those who have been most generously assisted by such a Prince amongst publishers as was Alexander Strahan, who did his best (I fear) to ruin his own business in trying to help poets and others to live by their writings.  Independently of this difficulty I had then almost ceased to look upon the writing of poetry as the special work of my literary life; and since that time, instead of nursing ancient delusions by poetizing mis- interpreted Mythology, I have been strenuously seeking to get rid of them by Explanation.

     Hence it has been said of me, my life and work, by a friendly singer—

"Behold a Poet who could even forego
 The joy peculiar to the Singer's Soul,
 His pleasant dream of fame, his proffered seat
 Upon the heights to which his Spirit soared,
 To dive for treasures where but few could breathe,
 And dredge the, old sea-bottoms of the Past.
 Lover of Beauty who gave up all for Truth!
*            *            *            *            *            *            *
 And having wrought through gears of sacrifice,
 And brought his message to the unwelcoming world,
 He, calm, contented, leaves the rest with God;
 As if he, reeked not, though the Bark were wrecked,
 The treasure being landed safe on shore."1

1 Sheen and Shade, by J. R. and B. M. R. Printed by Richard Clay and Sons, 1887.


    The result of this change, which I hope to fully justify before my day's darg is done, is that these volumes contain the lush-leafiness of the Spring- time, alluded to so warmly by Walter Savage Landor, with something of the Summer's bloom, but do not show the ripened tints of Autumn's gold.  My "Lyrical Life" may contain the flower, but the fruit of my whole life has to be looked for elsewhere by those who are in sympathy with my purpose.

    I had not attained the larger, more objective outlook of my later life when called away from poetry to "prospect" for other treasures in my search for truth.  Possibly this fact of my breaking -off midway in life may be thought to give me a kind of right to rank with those Poets who died young, and thus invited a gentler judgment for their verse.

    It was not that I felt the fount and source of song had dried up within or without.  Nor was it owing to any spiritual lassitude from lack of faith in man, or woman either.  I had neither lost heart in the present, nor hope for the future; nor had I begun to think that human life had come to the dregs of its days.  Although I am growing old myself—at least the years say so—I cannot bewail the changes going on around us fast and faster, for it is by change the world renews and must renew its youth, unheeding all the lamentations of old age, the cries of warning and prophecies of woe that proceed from those who keep on calling for double drags to be put on, whilst we are ascending the hill, because they fear lest the summit ahead of us should only reveal a precipice beyond.

    We are in the pangs of sloughing;  but we are getting good riddance of much impedimenta bequeathed to us as the burden of the past, which the race has been so painfully, and, as was thought, most dutifully, lugging along!

    The false faiths are fading; but it is in the light of a truer knowledge.  The half Gods are going in order that the whole Gods may come.  There is finer fish in the unfathomed sea of the future than any we have yet landed.

    It is only in our time that the data have been collected for rightly interpreting the Past of Man, and for portraying the long and vast procession of his slow but never-ceasing progress through the sandy wilderness of an uncultivated earth into the world of work with the ever-quickening consciousness of a higher, worthier life to come.  And without this measure of the human past we could have no true gauge of the growth that is possible in the future!

    Indeed it seems to me that we are only just beginning to lay hold of this life in earnest; only just standing on the very threshold of true  thought; only just now attaining a right mental method of thinking, through a knowledge of Evolution; only just getting in line with natural law, and seeking earnestly to stand level-footed on that ground of reality which must ever and everywhere be the one lasting foundation of all that is permanently true.

    It is only of late that the Tree of Knowledge has begun to lose its evil character, to be planted anew, and spread its roots in the fresh ground of every Board-School, with its fruits no longer accursed, but made free to all.

    I sometimes think the genuine passion for essential truth is growing, with our keener moral sense, so that one may almost expect to see the time when the Writer can earn his living by telling the truth!

    We are beginning to see the worst evils now afflicting the human race are man-made, and do not come into the world by decree of Fate or fiat of God; and that which is man-made is also remediable by man.  Not by man alone! For Woman is about to take her place by his side as true help-mate and ally in carrying on the work of the world, so that we may look upon the Fall of Man as being gradually superseded by the Ascent of Woman.  And here let me say parenthetically, that I consider it to be of the first necessity for women to obtain the Parliamentary Franchise before they can hope to stand upon a business footing of practical equality with men; and therefore I have no sympathy with those would-be abortionists, who have been somewhat too "previously" trying to take the life of Woman -Suffrage in embryo before it should have the chance of being brought to birth.

    Some of the most generous critics of my early volumes prophesied that they contained immortal verse.  Whether they did or not remains to be tested by that fierce furnace and crucible of the future, which await the work of all.  Doubtless these will reduce to cinders much of the poetry of the present, and consume to ashes many of the artificial Immortelles that friendly hands have fondly placed upon the brows of the

"Immortals prematurely brought to birth."

Personally I form no overweening estimate of the value of my verse.  The Prefatory lines of twenty years ago were written in all sincerity. I think the poems real so far as they go, but their range is very limited.  They will not let me speak proudly of them; yet I do not think they are outgrown and superseded, or I should not have reprinted them.

    On looking back at these Writings of my more youthful years, I cannot help wishing that they had been worthier, but I also feel thankful to find they are no worse.  I am glad to know the ghost of my former self, now raised, is not appalling as it might have been.  And after all the brooding patience of long research, and the painful labour spent in writing big books to stand on library shelves, I feel no shame in confessing the fact that it is very pleasant to come at last and nestle near the warm heart of one's lovers and friends in a Pocket Edition of one's poetry.

GERALD MASSEY.

July, 1889.

 

 



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