So fares the commuter: a figure as international as the teddy bear. He has his own consolations—of a morning when he climbs briskly upward from his dark tunnel and sees the sunlight upon the spread wings of the Telephone and Telegraph Building’s statue, and moves again into the stirring pearl and blue of New York’s lucid air. And at night, though drooping a little in the heat and dimness of those Oyster Bay smoking cars, he is dumped down and set free. As he climbs the long hill and tunes his thoughts in order, the sky is a froth of stars.
THE PERMANENCE OF POETRY
We heard a critic remark that no great sonnets are being written nowadays. What (he said morosely) is there in the way of a recent sonnet that is worthy to take its place in the anthologies of the future beside those of Sir Philip Sidney, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Mrs. Browning, Louise Guiney, Rupert Brooke, or Lizette Reese? (These were the names he mentioned.)
This moves us to ask, how can you tell? It takes time for any poem to grow and ripen and find its place in the language. It will be for those of a hundred or more years hence to say what are the great poems of our present day. If a sonnet has the true vitality in it, it will gather association and richness about it as it traces its slender golden path through the minds of readers. It settles itself comfortably into the literary landscape, incorporates itself subtly into the unconscious thought of men, becomes corpuscular in the blood of the language. It comes down to us in the accent of those who have loved and quoted it, invigorated by our subtle sense of the permanent rightness of its phrasing and our knowledge of the pleasure it has given to thousands of others. The more it is quoted, the better it seems.
All this is a slow process and an inscrutable. No one has ever given us a continuous history of any particular poem, tracing its history and adventures after its first publication—the places it has been quoted, the hearts it has rejoiced. It could only be done by an infinity of toil and a prodigal largesse to clipping bureaus. It would be a fascinating study, showing how some poems have fought for their lives against the evaporation of Time, and how they have come through, sometimes, because they were carried and cherished in one or two appreciative hearts. But the point to bear in mind is, the whole question of the permanence of poetry is largely in the hands of chance. If you are interested to observe the case of some really first-class poetry which has been struggling for recognition and yet shows, so far, no sign of breaking through into the clear light of lasting love and remembrance, look at the poems of James Elroy Flecker.
Generally speaking, one law is plain: that it is not until the poet himself and all who knew him are dead, and his lines speak only with the naked and impersonal appeal of ink, that his value to the race as a permanent pleasure can be justly appraised.