Lyra Celtica Notes, cont'd

CONTEMPORARY ANGLO-CELTIC POETS (MANX)

THOMAS EDWARD BROWN.     PAGE 307

Was born at Douglas, in the Isle of Man, in 1830. After a career of exceptional distinction at Oxford, he was appointed Vice-Principal of King William's College in the Isle of Man (1855). Since 1863 he has been assistant-master of Clifton College. The book by which Mr Brown is best known is his admirable Fo'c'sle Yarns (Macmillan, 1881 and 1889), though the first of his tales in verse included therein, "Betsy Lee," appeared in Macmillan's Magazine in 1873 where it at once attracted wide attention. He has also published The Doctor (1887) and The Manx Witch (1889). The author of Fo'c'sle Yarns is by far the most noteworthy poetic representative of the Isle of Man. In range, depth of insight, dramatic vigour, keen sympathy, and narrative faculty, all transformed by the alchemy of his poetic vision, he is not only the foremost Manx poet, but one of the most notable of living writers in verse. It is probably because most of his poems deal almost wholly with Manx scenes and characters, and are for the most part written in the Manx dialect, that he is so little talked of by literary critics and so little known to the reading world at large. Than "Betsy Lee" (Fo'c'sle Ya,rns) there is no more moving, human, and beautiful poem, of the narrative kind, written in our time. The fragmentary lines by which the author is represented here were selected from one of his most characteristic Manx poems, and give a good idea of the common parlance of the islanders of to-day. It is from The Doctor: and Other Poems (Swan Sonnenschein, 1887).

HALL CAINE. PAGE 309

This fine Manx ballad of "Graih my Chree" appeared this year in the first number of London Home, to the editor and proprietor of which, as well as to Mr. Hall Caine, I am indebted for the permission to include 'Love of my Heart" here. Mr Caine, so celebrated as a novelist, has published no volume of poems; but at rare intervals something of his in verse has appeared. I think that his earliest appearance as a poet was in Sonnets of this Century (1886, and later editions), where he is represented by two fine sonnets, "Where Lies the Land to which my Soul would go?" and "After Sunset." Mr Caine's own first acknowledged book was an anthology of sonnets (Sonnets of Three Centuries, Stock, 1882), published in the author's twenty-seventh year. Of his many books, the best known are his Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and his romances, The Shadow of a Crime, The Deemster, The Bondman, The Scapegoat, and The Manxman. Mr Hall Caine is himself a Manxman, crossed with a strong strain of Cumberland blood. Both in his strength and weakness he is eminently Celtic, after his own kind; for he could belong to no other Celtic people than either the Manx or the Welsh. He has, and not without good reason, been called the Walter Scott of Man. Certainly, The Deemster and The Manxman alone have revealed Manxland and Manx life and character to the great mass of English readers.

CONTEMPORARY ANGLO-CELTIC POETS (CORNISH)

ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER COUCH.      PAGE 317

So well known as " Q," was born at Bodwin, in Cornwall, of an old Cornish family, in 1863. He left Trinity College, Oxford, for London; but, after a brief experience of literary life in the metropolis, returned to the "Duchy," and has since resided there, mainly at Fowey. He is not only the most noteworthy living Cornishman of letters, and the romancer par excellence of contemporary Cornwall and Cornish life, but is acknowledged as one of the best story-tellers of the day. His first book was The Splendid Spur (1889), a stirring romance, which was followed by The Delectable Duchy, Noughts and Crosses, and I Saw Three Ships. He has published little poetry; and even in his slender volume, Green Bays (1893), there are not more than one or two poems, the other verses being for the most part what are called "occasional." If, however, he had written nothing in verse except the lyric called "The Splendid Spur," he would be accounted a poet for remembrance. "The White Moth" is the most distinctively Celtic poem he has written. In the main, he is more Cornish than Celtic--in this a contrast to Dr Riccardo Stephens, who is far more distinctively Celtic than Cornish.

ROBERT STEPHEN HAWKER. (1804-1875.)     PAGE 319

The celebrated vicar of Morwenstow (born at Plymouth) came of an old Cornish family, and spent the greater part of his life in the Duchy. In 1834 he became Vicar of Morwenstow, a remote parish on the Cornish sea-board. His best-known book is Cornish Ballads (1869); but the reader who may not be acquainted with his writings should consult the Poetical Works, and Other Literary Remains, with a Memoir (1879). Hawker has much of the sombre note which is supposed to be characteristic of Celtic Cornwall.

RICCARDO STEPHENS.    PAGE 321

Dr Stephens is a Cornishman settled in Edinburgh, where he practises as a physician. He has not, as yet, published any of his poems in book form; but, none the less, has won (if necessarily, as yet, a limited) reputation by his exceedingly vigorous and individual poems. He has written several "Castle Ballads" (of which the very striking "Hell's Piper" given here is one)--poems suggested by legend episodes connected with Edinburgh Castle, or perhaps only vaguely influenced by that romantically picturesque and grand vicinage--for Dr Stephens is one of the many workers, thinkers and dreamers who congregate in the settlement founded by Professor Patric Geddes on the site of Allan Ramsey's residence-"New Edinburgh, as University Hall is sometimes called, an apt name in more ways than one. Dr Stephens is a poet of marked originality, and his work has all the Celtic fire and fervour, with much of that sombre gloom which is held to be characteristically Cornish. "Hell's Piper" has lines in it of Dantesque vigour, as those which depict, among "the shackled earthquakes," the "reeking halls of Hell," and the torture-wrought denizens of that Inferno. "The Phantom Piper" w ill never be forgotten by any one who has once read and been thrilled by this highly-imaginative poem.

MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY BRETON

THE POOR CLERK (IN BRETON, "AR C'HLOAREK PAOUR")   PAGE 331

is rather a mediaeval than a modern folk-poem. The translation is that of the late Tom Taylor (Ballads and Lyrics, Macmillan), who has the following note upon it: "The Klöarek is a seminarist of Tréguier, a peasant who has a turn for books, or shows some vocation for the priesthood. Their miserable life, hard study, and abnegation of family life are provocative of regretful emotion, passionate and mystic asceticism. The Klöarek is the poet and hero of most of the Breton Sônes ; Tréguier, therefore, is the nursery of the elegaic and religious popular poetry of Brittany."

THE CROSS BY THE WAY (KROAZ ANN HENT).     PAGE 332

Vide preceding Note. This translation is from the same source as last.

THE SECRETS OF THE CLERK, AND LOVE SONG.     PAGES 335-337

See Note to"The Poor Clerk." The first of these poems was probably composed in the transition period-late mediaeval or early modern. Both are given in the rendering of Mr Alfred M. Williams (vide "Folk-Songs of Lower Brittany" in Studies in Folk-Song and Popular Poetry (1895)). "The Love Song" is modern-probably circa 1800, or even 1750.

HERVË NOËL LE BRETON. PAGE 338

For all particulars concerning this poet I must refer interested readers to Mr W. J. Robertson's brief memoir in that most delightful of all books of translation, A Century of French Verse (A. D. Innes & Co., 1895). This is without exception the ablest work of its kind we have. It is the production of one who is unmistakably himself a poet, who has the rare double power to translate literally, and at the same time with subtle art and charm, so that the least possible loss in translation is involved. In addition to these often exquisitely felicitous, and always notably able and suggestive renderings, Mr Robertson has prefixed to each representative selection a brief critical and biographical study of the poet represented--short etudes of remarkable insight and critical merit. Of Hervë Noël le Breton he gives some interesting particulars. The poet is of the ancient Armorican race, and was born in Nantes in 1851. He has not yet published any volume; and it is from an unpublished collection, Rèves et Symboles, that Mr Robertson has drawn. Strangely enough, neither in Tiercelin's Breton Anthology nor anywhere else can I find any allusion to  Hervë Noël  le Breton: and his name is unknown to M. Louis Tiercelin, M. Anatole le Braz, and M. Charles Le Goffic, respectively the most eminent living Breton anthologist, Breton folklorist, and Breton poet-romancist and critic. For several reasons I take it that Le Breton is an assumed name; and it is even possible that the Armorican blood is only in the brain, and not in the body of the author of  Rèves et Symboles. "The Burden of Lost Souls" is in three parts, of which that given here is the first. Here is the second:

THE BURDEN OF LOST SOULS.

II.

This is our doom. To walk for ever and ever
The wilderness unblest,
To weary soul and sense in vain endeavour
And find no coign of rest;
To feel the pulse of speech and passion thronging
On lips for ever dumb,
To gaze on parched skies relentless, longing
For clouds that will not come;
Thirsty, to drink of loathsome waters crawling
With nameless things obscene,
To feel the dews from heaven like fire-drops falling,
And neither shade nor screen;
To fill from springs illusive riddled vessels,
Like the Danaïdes,
To grapple with the wind that whirls and wrestles,
Knowing no lapse of ease;
To weave fantastic webs that shrink and crumble
Before they leave the loom,
To build with travail aëry towers that tumble
And temples like the tomb;
To watch the stately pomp and proud procession
Of splendid shapes and things,
And pine in silent solitary session
Because we have no wings;
To woo from confused sleep forlorn the dismal
Oblivion of despair;
To seek in sudden glimpse of dreams abysmal
Sights beautiful and rare,
And waking, wild with terror, see the vision
Cancelled in swift eclipse,
Mocked by the pallid phantoms of derision,
With spectral eyes and lips;
To turn in endless circles round these purlieus
With troops of spirits pale,
Whose everlasting song is like the curlew's,
One ceaseless, changeless wail.

Mr Robertson gives four poems by this poet: "La Plainte des Damnés," "Vers les Etoiles", "Le Tombeau du Poéte," and "Hymne au Sommeil." His translation of the last named also appears in this anthology.

VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM. (1838-1889.)    PAGE 342

This famous French novelist and poet was born at St Brieuc, in Brittany, of parents who were each of old Breton stock. The full details of the life and work of Philippe-Auguste-Mathias de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, son of the de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam and his wife Marie Françoise de Carfort, can be read in the recently published Life by the late Vicomte Robert du Pontavice de Heusse--an English translation of which, by Lady Mary Lloyd was issued last year by Mr Heinemann. This distinguished writer lived in misfortune, and died amid darker shadows than those he had too long been bitterly acquainted with. His first volume of poems was published when he was little more than twenty years old--as Mr Robertson says, "one of the most remarkable ever written by so young a poet." The young Breton poet came under the strong personal influence of Baudelaire, and in the process he lost much of his native Celtic fire and spirituality. Besides the poems given here, "Confession" ("D'aveu") and "Discouragement" ("Découragement"), Mr Robertson translates, in his Century of French Verse, "Eblouissement" and "Les Présents."

LECONTE DE LISLE. (1818-1894.)     PAGE 344

"The great Creole poet, Charles Marie René Leconte, known as Leconte de Lisle, was the child of a Breton father and a Gascon mother, and was born at St Paul, in the isle of Bourbon (Reunion) in 1818. He had the Celtic clearness of vision and love of beauty, and the vigour and courage of the Pyrenean race. In his youth he travelled through the East Indies, and the vivid impressions of tropical colour and warmth which are visible in his poetry derive their value from the personal observation of Nature in those regions" (W. J. Robertson, A Century of French Verse). Leconte de Lisle, one of the greatest of modern French poets, is assured of immortality by his beautiful trilogy:  Poémes Antiques (1852), Poémes Barbares (1862), and Poémes Tragiques (1884). The reader who, unfamiliar with this poet, wishes to know more of Leconte de Lisle and his work, cannot do better than turn first to Mr Robertson's biographical and critical memoir in A Century of French Verse. There, too, he will find five poems from Poémes Antiques, including the long "Dies Iræ;" two from Poémes Barbares, and two from Poémes Tragiques. Of the two given here, the first ("The Black Panther") is from Poémes Barbares, and "The Spring" ("La Source") from  Poémes Antiques. Leconte de Lisle strove after an ideal perfection of form. The spirit of that almost flawless work of his, is of intellectual emotion rather than of passion; but in colour, and splendour of imagery, no romanticist can surpass him. He is of the great minds who create, calm and serene. He is often classed with the two great master-spirits of modern German and French literature; but, while he has neither the lyric rush nor epic sweep of Victor Hugo, nor the philosophical modernity and innate human sentiment of Goethe, he is much more akin to the latter than to the former. For the rest, to quote Mr Robertson, "he gives the noblest expression to human revolt and desire, to ideal dreams, and to the pure and sometimes pathetic love of external nature."

LEO-KERMORVAN.     PAGE 348

Leo-Kermorvan has been represented here as one of the most distinctively Celtic of the contemporary Breton poets. In translating his "Taliesen," as well as Louis Tiercelin's "By Menec'hi Shore," I have endeavoured to convey the atmosphere, as well as to be literal; and, partly to this end, and partly because of a personal preference for unrhymed metrical translation, have not ventured to make a rhymed paraphrase. M. Kermorvan is a poet worthy to be named with his two most notable living compatriots, Tristran CorbiEre and Charles Le Goffic.

LOUIS TIERCELIN.     PAGE 351

(See foregoing note.) M. Tiercelin is a Breton poet and critic, perhaps best known as co-editor of the Parnasse de la Bretagne. No more characteristic Breton poem, apart from folk-poetry, could close Lyra Celtica. It is the keynote of the poetry that is common to all the Celtic races.

THE CELTIC FRINGE

BLISS CARMAN.          PAGE 355

Mr Bliss Carman, the trans-Atlantic poet who, it seems to me, has the most distinctive note of any American poet (and the word "American" is used in its widest sense), is of Scoto-Celtic descent through his father's side, and of East-Anglian through the maternal side; but was born of a family long settled in Canada--viz., at Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 1861. His poetry is intensely individual, and with a lyric note at once poignant and reserved. Work of very high quality is expected of him, on both sides of the Atlantic; for his beautiful lyrics and poems have appeared in the periodicals of both countries. His slight volume, Low Tide on Grand-Pré (1893), is published in this country by Mr Nutt. About half of the Songs from Vagabondia (written in collaboration with Mr Richard Hovey) are of his authorship. This book, published in 1894 by Messrs Stone & Kimball of Chicago, is to be had here through Mr Elkin Mathews. It is from the Songs that the stirring war-chant of "Gamelbar" comes.

ELLEN MACKAY HUTCHINSON.    PAGE 361

This distinguished American lady is descended from old Highland stock. I know of no other book by her than Songs and Lyrics (Boston, Osgood & Co., 1881), but that is one which all lovers of poetry should possess. Miss Hutchinson's name is best known in connection with that colossal and invaluable work, the Cyclopedia of American Literature (eleven vols.), in which she was the collaborator of Mr Edmund Clarence Stedman.

HUGH M'CULLOCH.     PAGE 364

This descendant of an old Highland family is the author of The Quest of Heracles (Stone & Kimball, Chicago, 1894).

DUNCAN CAMPBELL SCOTT PAGE 365

Mr Scott is a member of one of the many Scoto-CeItic families settled in Canada. He was born at Ottawa in 1862, and is the author of The Magic House (1893).

THOMAS D'ARCY M'GEE.     (1821-1868.)     PAGE 366

This distinguished Irishman is to be accounted only an adopted American. He emigrated to the States in 1842, edited The Boston Pilot, and in 1857 went to Montreal and entered the Canadian Parliament. It was when returning from a night-session that he was assassinated in Ottawa by Fenian malcontents.

MARY C. G. GILLINGTON    (MRS BYRON)

AND ALICE E. GILLINGTON.              PAGES 368-373

These two sisters, whose names have become so deservedly well-known by their contributions to British and American periodicals, are of Celtic blood, though born and resident in England. They are included here as representative of the Anglo Celtic strain so potent in England itself. The elder, Mrs Byron, was born in Cheshire in 1861. Their joint volume, Poems, was published in 1892. Mr Elkin Mathews has just published a volume entitled, A Little Book of Lyrics, by Mrs Byron.

 

 

 Return to Lyra Celtica, Contents