At the same time, I do not wish to suggest that his poetry of illusion is the less important part of his work. The perfection of his genius is to be sought, as a matter of fact, in his romantic eastern work, such as The Ballad of Iskander, A Miracle of Bethlehem, Gates of Damascus, and Bryan of Brittany. The false, fair tale of the East had, as it were, released; him from mere flirtation with the senses into the world of the imagination. Of human passions he sang little. He wrote oftener of amorousness than of love, as in The Ballad of the Student of the South. His passion for fairy tales, his amorousness of the East, stirred his imagination from idleness among superficial fancies into a brilliant ardour. It was these things that roused him to a nice extravagance with those favourite words and colours and images upon which Mr. Squire comments:
There are words, just as there are images, which he was especially fond of using. There are colours and metals, blue and red, silver and gold, which are present everywhere in his work; the progresses of the sun (he was always a poet of the sunlight rather than a poet of the moonlight) were a continual fascination to him; the images of Fire, of a ship, and of an old white-bearded man recur frequently in his poems.
Mr. Squire contends justly enough that in spite of this Flecker is anything but a monotonous poet. But the image of a ship was almost an obsession with him. It was his favourite toy. Often it is a silver ship. In the blind man’s vision in the time of Christ even the Empires of the future are seen sailing like ships. The keeper of the West Gate of Damascus sings of the sea beyond the sea:
no wind breathes or ripple stirs,
And there on Roman ships, they say, stand rows of metal mariners.
Those lines are worth noting for the way in which they suggest’ how much in the nature of toys were the images with which Flecker’s imagination was haunted. His world was a world of nursery ships and nursery caravans.
“Haunted” is, perhaps, an exaggeration. His attitude is too impassive for that. He works with the deliberateness of a prose-writer. He is occasionally even prosaic in the bad sense, as when he uses: the word “meticulously,” or makes his lost mariners say:
How striking like that boat
In the days, sweet days, when we put to sea.
That he was a poet of the fancy rather than of the imagination also tended to keep his poetry near the ground. His love of the ballad-design and “the good coloured things of Earth” was tempered by a kind of infidel humour in his use of them. His ballads are the ballads of a brilliant dilettante, not of a man who is expressing his whole heart and soul and faith, as the old ballad-writers were. In the result he walked a golden pavement rather than mounted into the golden air. He was an artist in ornament, in decoration. Like the Queen in the Queen’s Song, he would immortalize the ornament at the cost of slaying the soul.