A MEMORY OF FREDERIC MISTRAL
There are many signs that poetry is coming into its own again—even here in America, which, while actually one of the most romantic and sentimental of countries, fondly imagines itself the most prosaic.
Kipling, to name but one instance, has, by his clarion-tongued quickening of the British Empire, shown so convincingly what dynamic force still belongs to the right kind of singing, and the poet in general seems to be winning back some of that serious respect from his fellow-citizens which, under a misapprehension of his effeminacy and general uselessness, he had lost awhile. The poet is not so much a joke to the multitude as he was a few years ago, and the term “minor poet” seems to have fallen into desuetude.
Still for all this, I doubt if it is in the Anglo-Saxon blood, nowadays at all events, to make a national hero of a poet, one might say a veritable king, such as Frederic Mistral is today in Provence. In our time, Bjoernson in Norway was perhaps the only parallel figure, and he held his position as actual “father of his people” for very much the same reasons. At once a commanding and lovable personality, he and his work were absolutely identified with his country and his countrymen. He was simply Norway incarnate.
So, today in Provence, it is with Frederic Mistral. He is not only a poet of Provence. He is Provence incarnate, and, apart from the noble quality of his work, his position as the foremost representative of his compatriots is romantically unique. No other country today, pointing to its greatest man, would point out—a poet; whereas Mistral, were he not as unspoiled as he is laurelled, might, with literal truth, say:
We had hardly set foot in Provence this last spring, my wife and I, before we realized, with grateful wonder, that we had come to a country that has a poet for a king.
On arriving at Marseilles almost the first word we heard was “Mistral”—not the bitter wind of the same name, but the name of the honey-tongued “Master.” Our innkeeper—O the delightful innkeepers of France!—on our consulting him as to our project of a walking trip through the Midi—as Frenchmen usually speak of Provence—said, for his first aid to the traveller: “Then, of course, you will see our great poet, Mistral.” And he promptly produced a copy of Mireio, which he begged me to use till I had bought a copy for myself.