The fact is, in war time more than at any other time, people dread the vision of the satirist and the sceptic. It is a vision of only one-half of the truth, and of the half that the average man always feels to be more or less irrelevant. And, even at this, it is not infallible. This is not to disparage Mr. Shaw’s contributions to the discussion of politics. That contribution has been brilliant, challenging, and humane, and not more wayward than the contribution of the partisan and the sentimentalist. It may be said of Mr. Shaw that in his politics, as in his plays, he has sought Utopia along the path of disillusion as other men have sought it along the path of idealism and romance.
MR. MASEFIELD’S SECRET
Mr. Masefield, as a poet, has the secret of popularity. Has he also the secret of poetry? I confess his poems often seem to me to invite the admirably just verdict which Jeffrey delivered on Wordsworth’s Excursion: “This will never do.” We miss in his lines the onward march of poetry. His individual phrases carry no cargoes of wonder. His art is not of the triumphant order that lifts us off our feet. As we read the first half of his narrative sea-poem, Dauber, we are again and again moved to impatience by the sheer literary left-handedness of the author. There are so many unnecessary words, so many unnecessary sentences. Of the latter we have an example in the poet’s reflection as he describes the “fiery fishes” that raced Dauber’s ship by night in the southern seas:—
What unknown joy was in those fish unknown!
It is one of those superfluous thoughts which appear to be suggested less by the thing described than by the need of filling up the last line of the verse. Similarly, when Dauber, as the ship’s lampman and painter is nicknamed, regards the miracle of a ship at sea in moonlight, and exclaims:—
My Lord, my God, how beautiful it is!
we feel that he is only lengthening into a measured line the “My God, how beautiful it is!” of prose. A line like this, indeed, is merely prose that has learned the goose-step of poetry.
Perhaps one would not resent it—and many others like it—so much if it were not that Mr. Masefield so manifestly aims at realism of effect. His narrative is meant to be as faithful to commonplace facts as a policeman’s evidence in a court of law. We are not spared even the old familiar expletives. When Dauber’s paintings, for example—for he is an artist as well as an artisan—have been destroyed by the malice of the crew, and he questions the Bosun about it,
The Bosun turned: “I’ll
give you a thick ear!
Do it? I didn’t. Get to hell from here!”
Similarly, when the Mate, taking up the brush, makes a sketch of a ship for Dauber’s better instruction,
“God, sir,” the
Bosun said, “You do her fine!”
“Aye!” said the Mate, “I do so, by the Lord!”