PART I

Vistas

FOREWORD

To H. M. Alden

In dedicating to you this American edition of "Vistas" I am in the position of one of those islanders of old who offered their rude iron in exchange for wrought gold. They, however, bartered in all innocence: while I, for my part, know too well that nothing you can find herein can give you the same deep and lasting pleasure I have had in your beautiful and moving book,--the book of a lifelong dream, of a lifetime reverie, full of strange beauty, spiritual, wrought out of lovely thoughts into lovely words.

How well I remember the day when I first saw the Hudson in its autumnal glory! But memorable as that day is, shared with you and a dear common friend, poet and veteran critic,--in the "sixties" now, so far as years go, but in the wonderful "twenties" in all else,--my most living memory is of those proof-sheets of " The Following Love which were entrusted to me, and made upon my mind so indelible an impression
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š Now, and so far less happily, surely, called "God in his World" (Harpers).
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Two years later I was with you again, when the shadow of ill lay almost more darkly upon you yourself than upon the blithe, heroic sufferer: and by that time I knew your book intimately, and had learned much from it. Then, too, I was able to show you one of these "Vistas," and to hear generous words in praise of what at best was a passing breath of music, as fugitive, and perhaps as meaningless to most people, as those faint airs heard by my charcoal-burner in the forest, as intangible as that odour of white violets which came and went with each delicate remote strain.

You asked me then what my aim was in those "dramatic interludes" which, collectively, I call " Vistas.' I could not well explain: nor can I do so now. After all, I could make only a redundant use of the title. All are vistas into the inner life of the human soul, Psychic episodes. One or two are directly autopsychical, others are renderings of dramatically conceived impressions of spiritual emotion; to two or three no quotation could be more apt than that of the Spanish novelist, Emilia Pardo Bazān: "Enter with me into the dark zone of the human soul." These "Vistas" were written at intervals: the most intimate, in the spiritual sense, so long ago as the spring of 1886, when, during recovery from a long and nearly fatal illness, "Lilith" came to me as a vision and was withheld in words as soon as I could put pen to paper. Another was written in Rome, after a vain effort to express adequately in a different form the episode of death-menaced and death-haunted love among those remote Scottish wilds where so much of my childhood and boyhood and early youth was spent. Some of my critics say that "Vistas" is but an English reflection of the Maeterlinckian fire. Two of the most Maeterlinckian are, by those critics, held to be "A Northern Night" and "The Passing of Lilith,"--creations, if such they may be called, anterior to the fortunate hour when I came for the first time upon "La Princesse Maleine" and "L'Intruse."

I say "the fortunate hour," for almost from the first moment it seemed clear to me that the Belgian poet-dramatist had introduced a new and vital literary form. It is one that many had been seeking,--stumblingly, among them, the author of "Vistas,"-- but Maurice Maeterlinck wrought the crude material into a form fit for swift and dexterous use, at once subtle and simple. The exaggerations of his admirable method were obvious from the first; in "L'Intruse" even, more markedly in "Les Aveugles," unmistakably in "La Princesse Maleine:" and, it must be added, still more prominently in his later productions. But he saw that there was a borderland for the Imagination, between the realms of Prose and Poetry. He discerned the need, even though it should be but the occasional need,--for after all it is only an addition to the old formulas that we seek,-- of a more elastic method than any exercised in our day, one that would not restrict the elusive imagination nor yet burden it with verbal juggleries and license. There is room for the Imagination in Prose: there is room for the Imagination in Verse: there is room, also, for the Imagination in the vague, misty, beautiful borderlands. Of course there is nothing radically new in M. Maeterlinck's method. The Greek dramatists, the French, and, among others, Calderon notably, have all preceded him: the miracle-plays are "Maeterlinckian:" the actual form as now identified with his name was first used by his contemporary, Charles Van Lerberghe, in "LesFIaireurs." Probably there is never any quite new literary method. Certainly the greatest writers were not creators of the form or forms they adopted: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Shakespeare, Racine, Goethe, Hugo. But after all, these things matter little. The form,"be it what it may, is open to all. Our concern should be, not with the accident of formal similitude, but with the living and convincing reality behind the form, created or adopted or frankly adopted. No one would dream of an imputation upon a Poet's originality if he choose to express himself in the sonnet form, the most hackneyed of all verse-formulas and yet virginal to each new wooer who is veritably son to Apollo.

A great creative period is at hand. Probably a great dramatic epoch. But what will for one thing differentiate it from any predecessor is the new complexity, the new subtlety, in apprehension, in formative conception, in imaginative rendering.

William Sharp.

1894.

 


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