You know the story, how “She fell in love with a false priest, and rued it ever mair”? The priest followed her “butt and ben,” and gave her no peace. They took horses and money and rode out together “Until they came to a rank river, Was raging like the sea.” There the priest declared his purpose:
“Light off, light off now, May Collin,
It’s here that you must dee;
Here I have drown’d seven kings’ daughters,
The eighth now you must be.”
So her torture begins. He bids her cast off “her gown that’s of the green,” because it is too good to rot in the sea-stream; next her “coat that’s of the black “; next her “stays that are well-laced”; lastly her “sark that’s of the holland”—all for the same reason. Then the girl speaks:
“Turn you about now, false Mess
To the green leaf of the tree;
It does not fit a mansworn man
A naked woman to see.”
The point is that he obeys her. She catches him round the body and flings him into the tide. Women were listening to that tale.
If I am to deal with life it must be in my own way, for there’s no escape from one’s character. I may be a good poet or a bad one—that’s not for me to say; but I am a poet of sorts. Now a poet does not observe like a novelist. He does not indeed necessarily observe at all until he feels the need of observation. Then he observes, and intensely. He does not analyse, he does not amass his facts; he concentrates. He wrings out quintessences; and when he has distilled his drops of pure spirit he brews his potion. Something of the kind happens to me now, whether verse or prose be the Muse of my devotion. A stray thought, a chance vision, moves me; presently the flame is hissing hot. Everything then at any time observed and stored in the memory which has relation to the fact is fused and in a swimming flux. Anon, as the Children of Israel said to Moses, “There came forth this calf.” One cannot get any nearer, I believe; and while I do not pretend that I have said all there is to say about anything here, I shall maintain that I have said all that need be said about the things which I touch upon. In an essay, as in a poem, the half is greater than the whole, if it is the right half. If it is the wrong half, why, then the shorter it is the better.