We are moving up to-night into the battle of the Somme. The bombardment, destruction, and bloodshed are beyond all imagination, nor did I ever think that the valour of simple men could be quite as beautiful as that of my Dublin Fusiliers. I have had two chances of leaving them—one on sick leave and one to take a staff job. I have chosen to stay with my comrades.
There at the end you have the grand gesture. There you have the “good lines” that Kettle had always desired.
MR. J.C. SQUIRE
It would not have been easy a few years ago to foresee the achievement of Mr. Squire as a poet. He laboured under the disadvantage of being also a wit. It used to be said of Ibsen that a Pegasus had once been shot under him, and one was alarmed lest the reverse of this was about to happen to Mr. Squire, and lest a writer who began in the gaiety of the comic spirit should end soberly astride Pegasus. When, in Tricks of the Trade, he announced that he was going to write no more parodies, one had a depressed feeling that he was about to give up to poetry what was meant for mankind. Yet, on reading Mr. Squire’s collected poems in Poems: First Series, it is difficult not to admit that it was to write serious verse even more than parody and political epigram that he was born.
He has arranged the poems in the book in the order of their composition, so that we can follow the development of his powers and see him, as it were, learning to fly. To read him is again and again to be reminded of Donne. Like Donne, he is largely self-occupied, examining the horrors of his own soul, overburdened at times with thought, an intellect at odds with the spirit. Like Donne, he will have none of the merely poetic, either in music or in imagery. He beats out a music of his own and he beats out an imagery of his own. In his early work, this sometimes resulted in his poems being unable to rise far from the ground. They seemed to be labouring on unaccustomed wings towards the ether. What other living poet has ever given a poem such a title as Antinomies on a Railway Station? What other has examined himself with the same X-rays sort of realism as Mr. Squire has done in The Mind of Man? The latter, like many of Mr. Squire’s poems, is an expression of fastidious disgust with life. The early Mr. Squire was a master of disgust, and we see the same mood dominant even in the Ode: In a Restaurant, where the poet suddenly breaks out:—
Soul! This life is very
And circumstances very foul
Attend the belly’s stormy howl.
The ode, however, is not merely, or even primarily, an expression of disgust. Here, too, we see Mr. Squire’s passion for romance and energy. Here, too, we see him as a fisherman of strange imagery, as when he describes the sounds of the restaurant band as they float in upon him from another room and die again:—