Twenty years ago a young Cornishman of superior education tried his prentice hand at literary work. His first stories were more ornate and didactic than natural and alive, but many a success has been broad-based on early failure. He drifted to London and was swallowed up in the maelstrom of business and traffic. Years passed and there emerged a new novelist, one Charles Granville, who displayed divers gifts - commercial as well as literary -, which actually led to his controlling capital and being the patron of some of the best known litterateurs of the day.
This young Cornishman has been described as 'the English Tolstoy'. Dowered with the artistic temperament, cursed with its waywardness and instability, he has proved himself to possess exceptional talents, with flashes of real genius. We all know sculptors, artists, musicians, poets, who by fits lead others and by fits are tossed by gusts of passion hither and thither, like a full-rigged sailing ship on tempestuous seas. Occasionally, it is true, you find a Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet and sage, whose life is a tranquil and gleaming poem: but more often the poet is an Edgar Allan Poe or a Byron or Shelley, a John Davidson, a Walt Whitman or a Francis Thompson, who frets and chafes, plunges and chafes, plunges and rebels against the barricades of law and order - sometimes even against those of health and sanity and morality. Yet how beautiful are some of the utterances of these storm-tossed souls; how haunting their music, how poignant the songs they sing, even though, like Oscar Wilde, they sing in the solitude of a jail; or, like Davidson, utter an exquisite swan-song before seeking nepenthe in the deep waters of a Cornish bay.
'Vagaries' is a little volume of poems by 'Charles Granville' and shows the evolution of taste and craftsmanship in the twenty years that have passed since I knew the author and his earliest work. I will not pretend that all these poems are wrought with equal power or equal felicity. There are lines one could cavil at, poems marked by a morbidity which is unwholesome, and sometimes artificial, poems which leave me cold and indifferent, even in this slim little volume of fifty pages. But the test is not the inequality, not the waywardness of man or poem, but whether there is the nugget of gold sticking out of the dull earth. And the nugget is there.
Somehow the author of 'Vagaries' reminds me of the late Henry Dawson Lowry, who was also an artist, also morbid, while there is something of the pessimism of Thomas Hardy's 'Life's Ironies' in some of these expressions of a tortured soul. The author does not burke the difficulty of the harmony or discord in the poet and his poems. In 'The Poet's Apology' he says:
One said - in vestment stoled of priestly mode -
What value holds your song whose soul hath stain!
The poet said: Once, on a holiday,
And on a night of June, I lodged within
A wood, and by an open casement lay
Listening the melodious floods of long-pent pain
A nightingale was pouring on the gloom;
I asked not whether sin had caused her woe,
Nor why old themes engaged her trembling songs
Content her living voice could thrill me so -
As these poor notes do one that waits and longs
By a lone lattice, in a dim, sad room.
Now a man who writes in this strain may have lacked moral fibre and have paid dearly for wandering down forbidden ways, but if you do not vary your standard for the artist-man you will miss his measure altogether and expect the unattainable. He must alternate between Eden and Gehenna; and change from the feast-fire to the pouring of dead ashes on his head. In one poem at least, 'The Better Lot', he realises that the vagrant mind must find its comfort among the wildlings of field and lane and moor:-
Will you shed tears
Because old friends - you called them so -
Who flattered but a week ago
Purse lips of scorn, drop for your ears
The jest of mockery - indeed,
Impersonate the lowest breed,
Since you've become the friend in need?
Go make you whole!
Your heart bathe in the healing light
Of day, in the soothing shine of night:
Let the winds of heaven thro' your soul;
And make companions of the road
Creatures that in their lustihood
Of bloom and song fulfil their God -
These are your peers, and this is your role.
'The Feast of Grief' is the sort of poem from which I turn my head as from a carcase by the roadside; but in 'May Within Walls' there is beauty and sadness linked by a lyrical chain of refined gold. Once read who could forget these lines: -
AFTER MORIKE'S 'DENKES, O SEELE'**.
In some coppice - who knows where?
Proudly grows a yew;
In some garden - who can tell? -
Springs a rosebush new:
One of these is writ to be,
Man, when you are dead,
Rooted in the darkling mould
Just above your head.
Somewhere in the meadows fair,
Two black colts content,
Graze and frolic as were life
But to pleasure lent:
Soon with slow and solemn step
With your corpse they'll go,
Ere, perhaps the striplings have
Cast a single shoe.
But I reserve the gems of the book until last. In 'What Will'st Thou?'
A summer day; one more; 'tis all I crave
Of life that phantom bar on a death-bound wave;
A day that slips 'tween sun-filled scent of clover
And pleasant cool of sea-resounding cave;
I, once again an idle, dreaming lover,
Whose thoughts turn never, never to the grave,
Is all I crave.
Live in this summer day all summers gone,
With roses red of promise at the dawn,
Through dappled foliage at my window peeping,
And roses white at dusk to lead me on,
Like waxen lights, to quiet place of sleeping;
And cornfields faintly echoing through the noon
All summers gone.
And see upon this fragrant summer day
The world of men agape upon the way,
Each heart fresh-thrilled with each created wonder;
And children wading shallow waves and spray,
Or garlanded with various meadow plunder,
Pulsing the air with laughter - all as gay
As the summer day.
And through each golden hour that glides tonight,
Make fellowship with many a wandering mite
That stays with mother-earth a day in passing,
To raise an altar to the Infinite Light:
And join the million happy creatures massing
Their voice in praise of summer, ere each sprite
Glides into night.
That will test whether you can recognise true poetry when you see it. If you are still at my elbow you shall now have this nugget of rare gold I have chanced upon. It alone would suffice to earn 'Charles Granville' the right to be intituled a Poet and a Poet of Cornwall, for it will surely be treasured in Anthologies to be compiled when the poet and the reviewer have long laid aside their pens and their pursuits. Here is the poem: -
Pack up the evidence! I will no more
The clash and din of vain contending,
But to my God, my own soul-kissing God,
Discoursing through the lake and margent reeds,
And in the woodland's multi-pillared gloom,
And silvern hawthorn censers of the brake,
In the wild rose and gladding iris bloom,
Or gaily patterned floors that cornfields make;
Not less, in distant hells that chime or boom
On summer eves, with heaven in their wake.
The little volume is priced at half-a-crown by the Dryden Publishing Co of 10 Essex Street, London WC.