Alfred Bruce Douglas.

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To your fierce seal. I clutched an ebbing wave.

Fool that I was, I loved you ; your harsh soul
Was sweet to me : I gave you with both hands
Love, service, honour, loyalty and praise ;
I would have died for you ! And like a mole
You grubbed and burrowed till the shifting sands
Opened and swallowed up the dream-forged days.


Lighten our Darkness

England, 1918.

In the high places lo ! there is no light,
The ugly dawn beats up forlorn and grey.
Dear Lord, but once before I pass away
Out of this Hell into the starry night
Where still my hopes are set in Death's despite,
Let one great man be good, let one pure ray
Shine through the gloom of this my earthly day
From one tall candle set upon a height.

Judges and prelates, chancellors and kings,
All have I known and suffered and endured,
(And some are quick and some are in their graves),
I looked behind their masks and posturings
And saw their souls too rotten to be cured.
And knew them all for liars, rogues and knaves.

1 10

English Benedictines

Chaste poverty, obedience, cloistered peace
And all the trappings of pure holiness,
Faces that smile and hands stretched out to bless,
From Prime to Compline prayers that never cease,
And (flock of lambs with penance whitened fleece)
Troops of fresh boys who pray and sing no less
Devoutly than young angels ; these express
Your conquered flesh and sanctity's increase.

But one child's soul bartered for worldly ease

While Judas fingers pointed the broad road,

One heart bereft, one house made desolate —

Abbot, I tell you, trifles such as these,

Now light as air, shall be a fearful load

When with your monks you stand at heaven's locked gate.

Shelley^ s Folly, 191 9.


On a Showing of the Nativity

See where she lies pale and serene and mild.
Our little Virgin meek and innocent,
The wistful oval of her face down-bent
Upon the wonder of her new-born child.
How frail the stable seems, how fierce and wild
(Outside the intangible angel circle) blent
In fearful hordes the infernal armament.
The dark battalions of the unreconciled !

I saw the vision of our House of Bread,

In liquid fire it floated on the air.

In the blue deeps of night its shining trail

Was suddenly in milky radiance shed,

Against the hope which God hath planted there

Even the gates of Hell shall not prevail.


Before a Crucifix

What hurts Thee most ? The rods ? the thorns ? the nails ?
The crooked wounds that jag Thy bleeding knees ?
(Can ever plummet sound such mysteries ?)
It is perchance the thirst that most prevails
Against Thy stricken flesh, Thy spirit quails
Most at the gall-soaked sponge, the bitter seas
O'erflow with this ? " ISiay, it is none of these?''
Lord, Lord, reveal it then ere mercy fails.

Is it Thy Mother's anguish ? " Search thine heart.

Didst thou not -pray to taste the worst with Me,

O thou of little jaithP Incarnate Word,

Lord of my soul, I know, it is the part

That Judas played ; this have I shared with Thee

(By wife, child, friend betrayed). " Thy -prayer was heard."



GOOD poetry is made up of two things : style and
sincerity. Both are requisite in equal degrees.
As against this proposition we have two main
heresies which, roughly speaking, take in all the
bad poetry which is being constantly held up to our admira-
tion by our self-styled critics in ^he Morning Post and
elsewhere. There is the " Art for Art's sake " heresy, which
upholds style at the expense of sincerity, and there is what I
shall denominate the anti-formal heresy, which because its
exponents cannot acquire or will not take the trouble to
acquire the technique of poetry, claims that strict forms
and rules in poetry are inimical to it and may and should
be broken whenever it suits the " poet " to break them.
The real poet repels both these heresies with equal force.

The average alleged poet of to-day wobbles from one
heresy to the other. Occasionally and by accident he may
stumble into writing a good poem and this accounts for the
rare oasis of poetry which occasionally rewards the weary
traveller through the arid desert of rhymed or unrhymed
verse which spreads its dismal expanse all round us.

Nowadays we have the phenomenon of an enormous
quantity of bad poets writing interminable reams of in-
different verse. There is not a good poet among the lot,
but from time to time one or other of them writes a good
poem by accident.

The result is that never before in the history of English
literature has poetry sunk so low. When a nation which
has produced Shakespeare and Marlowe and Chaucer and
Milton and Shelley and Wordsworth and Byron and Keats
and Tennyson and Blake can seriously lash itself into enthu-
siasm over the puerile crudities (when they are nothing worse)
of a Rupert Brooke, it simply means that poetry is despised
and dishonoured and that sane criticism is dead or moribund.


The anti- formal heresy can be briefly dismissed. Carried
to its logical conclusion it denies the difference between
poetry and prose. Its most extreme exponent was Walt
Whitman, who wrote ejaculatory prose and chose to call it
poetry. Walt Whitman has been faithfully dealt with by
Swinburne, the last of the great poets in the succession of
poets, so I need not waste space over him.

The average " poet " who is infected with the anti-
formal heresy does not carry it so far as Whitman. He is
content to write decasyllabic lines with an occasional eleven-
syllabled line or an Alexandrine thrown in between them,
and when remonstrated with he will say that he has done it
on purpose to produce a certain effect, as who should say
" I always play a few false notes in a Chopin concerto, I do
it on purpose to produce a certain effect." Or he will write
a " sonnet " and break all the rules or some of them and
will tell you that he did it on purpose and because he
" prefers it that way," the real truth being probably that
either he did not know any better, or was gravelled for a
rhyme, or is afflicted with a faulty ear for rhythm. The
" Irish " school of poetry, with Mr. Yeats at its head, is
particularly infected with the anti-formal heresy.

As to the Art for Art's sake heresy, its chief exponent was
Oscar Wilde ; and the school of Wilde and his imitators and
admirers, rampantly in the ascendant to-day among our
" poets " and their " critics," may safely be said to hold
the field ; though it is an undoubted fact that many of the
victims of Wilde's fallacies in the literary line are quite
unconscious of the source of their own convictions con-
cerning the now generally accepted axioms of their art.
Wilde's literary gospel can be summed up by saying that
he preached all through his writings that in all art style is
of more importance than sincerity, and this theory is


simply another way of expressing the Art for Art's sake

Style is the technique of the art of writing, the form
into which the artist moulds his ideas. Two persons may
have exactly the same idea, and the words by which they
respectively express that idea will necessarily fall into the
mould of their style. To take a concrete example, the idea
expressed by Wordsworth in the first three lines of his
" Sonnet on Westminster Bridge," baldly expressed in
prose might be represented as follows :

" It is impossible to conceive any earthly scene which
would be more beautiful than this ; a man who could fail
to be impressed by such a majestic spectacle would indeed
be dull and soulless." This is how Wordsworth puts the
same idea :

Earth hath not anything to show more fair,
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty. . . .

He takes the idea which might occur to any ordinary
man passing over Westminster Bridge on a fresh and beauti-
ful morning, and transmutes it by the alchemy of his style
into pure gold. Quite evidently and indisputably then if
one wishes to write finely either in prose or poetry, style is
of the utmost importance ; but after all that is no more
than to say that it takes a poet to write poetry. However
sincere a man might be in feeling the beauty of the morning
on Westminster Bridge, he could not turn his feeling into
poetry unless he had mastered the technique of poetry ;
and surely it is equally certain that unless he sincerely felt
the beauty, it would never even occur to him to write a
poem about it at all. Further, unless a man is so sincere in
his feelings of admiration for beauty as to live for a great


part of his life under the impulse of such feelings, he would
not and could not take the necessary pains to acquire such
a difficult art as the art of poetry. When we say that a
poet is " born, not made," we simply mean that certain
persons have a natural deep instinct about beauty not
possessed by other people, which urges them with an irresis-
tible impulse to strive to express what they feel by means
of an extraordinarily difficult and complicated art which
can only be acquired by taking an enormous amount of
trouble. Nobody, I imagine, really believes that a poet is
" born " in the sense that he suddenly finds himself in early
youth fully equipped with all the power to express himself
in flawless verse without taking any trouble about it.

The poet, therefore, is one who puts into a beautiful
form the expression of an overpowering emotion, and it
follows that his emotion must be quite exceptionally deep
and sincere, and that it is the motive power of his style
which without the emotion to inspire it would be as
useless and dumb as an unplayed violin. To write poetry
without sincerity is merely to play with words.

But poetry is an affair of the spirit and people who imagine
that they are going to turn themselves into great poets by
an inordinate admiration of beautiful material things or
beautiful people are fostering the most puerile of delusions.
It follows that when I talk of the preoccupation with beauty
as being absolutely necessary to the poet, I mean spiritual
beauty and nothing else.

The reason of this is that ethical beauty is at the back of
all beauty. Beautiful forms, beautiful sounds, beautiful
colours, beautiful faces are simply the channels by which
spiritual perfection is suggested to our spirit, and the
resulting yearning, the desperate struggle upwards of the
soul towards the Supreme Beauty, however dimly and darkly


felt, is what produces all great art whether in poetry or in
music, or in sculpture, or in painting.

That is why all really great Art is founded on and springs
from morality. Beauty in the sphere of the spirit is simply
goodness in a greater or less degree. The difference between
the highest Art and " Art for Art's sake " corresponds to
the difference between Philosophy and Sophistry.

Having thus defined my conception of Poetry and the
Poet and having indicated what I take to be the two main
heresies against which they are essentially opposed, I shall
not, in the limited space at my disposal, attempt to follow
those heresies into all their ramifications. To do justice
to the subject would require a fairly lengthy book. I shall
confine myself to making a few remarks about the sonnet
because it has always been my favourite instrument of ex-
pression in poetry and because I may safely say that no
other English poet with the exception of Rossetti (a master
of foim but to my mind distinctly infected with the " Art
for Art's sake " heresy) has devoted so much laborious work
to it. Incidentally in passing I will quote my own words
and postulate that poets, except in penny novelettes, do
not pour out words like inspired gramophones. All good
poetry is written slowly and cautiously, with great effort
and " unspeakable groanings " of the spirit. It is forged
slowly and painfully, and link by link with sweat and blood
and tears. The writing of a great poem leaves a poet
exhausted. Persons who " pour out words " are rhetoricians
and not poets at all.

A recent writer on the English sonnet has taken as the main
thesis of a valuable and, in spite of blunders and blemishes, a
stimulating book the theory that " the sonnet is the corner-
stone of EngHsh poetry," and that " all the finest poets have
been either fine sonneteers or unconscious workers in the


sonnet movement " and that " there is no poetry of the
highest that does not in some sort distinguishably ally itself
with sonnet poetry." I dissent altogether from these
propositions. I think they are fantastic and not in any way
borne out by the facts. So far from the sonnet being the
corner-stone of English poetry, it would, I think, be very
easy to prove that it has always been a somewhat forlorn
exotic and that very few of the great English poets have
thoroughly understood it. However, as the author of the
book to which I am referring has made his theory the vehicle
for a fine and spirited appreciation of poetry and the sonnet,
and as his theory does not involve any fundamental heresy,
I shall not here further join issue with him, having said
what I had to say on the matter in another place. It is
otherwise when I come to consider the attack which he has
made on the rhyming of words ending with the e or ee sound
and words ending in " y." Such an attack is dangerous to
poetry, and unless it is answered, in view of the fact that
the writer of the book speaks with a certain amount of
authority and is himself .(though tainted with the anti-
formal heresy) a not inconsiderable poet, it might have a
very disastrous effect on those aspiring youths who may
take him as an infallible guide. I am the more concerned
to answer him inasmuch as he has done me the honour of
taking fourteen rhymes of my own out of my " Sonnets "
published in 1909 and putting them in a pillory as examples
of careless rhyming. It is to be remarked that he does not
mention my name, and in discussing his charge against me
I am returning the compliment — if it be a compliment. I
now quote what he says.

" A collection of nineteen otherwise excellent sonnets
published recently has the following rhymes : me, memory,
colloquy, thee ; hostility, me, knee, hypocrisy ; Italy,



memory, be, minstrelsy ; loyalty, me ; ecstasy, eternity ;
grudgingly, immortality ; thee, symmetry, sea, immor-
tality ; curiosity, thee, tree, flee ; inconstancy, thee. Thus
is poetical indolence justified of her children, and thus is
the writing of sonnets reduced to a species of Kindergarten
entertainment. Of course we must still love and be thank-
ful for these easy and inspired purveyors of easy and unin-
spired rhyming ; but how much more closely we could
have loved them, and how much more thankful could we
have been for them, if they had toiled a little as well as

I cannot do better in reply to this somewhat spiteful
onslaught than to reproduce the appended extracts from a
letter which I sent the gentleman in question as soon as I
noticed the passage above quoted from his book.

Shelley's Folly,

Feb. 25, 1918.


Cast your eye over the following rhymes taken from
Shakespeare's sonnets : die, memory, husbandry, posterity,
legacy, free, usury, thee, thee, posterity, (these last two
in the same sonnet). Eye, majesty, astronomy, quality,
sky, memory, eye, alchemy, poverty, injury, thee, melan-
choly, eye, gravity, dye, wantonly, eternity,* posterity.*
liberty, injury, pry, jealousy, eye, remedy, antiquity,*
iniquity.* (last two in same sonnet), fortify, memory, cry,
jollity, authority,* simplicity, (last two in same sonnet).
Impiety,* society.* memory, eternity, fly, majesty, eye,
history, die, dignity, idolatry, be. prophecies, eyes, flattery,
alchemy, tyranny, incertainty. canopy, eternity, lies, subtil-
ties, constancy,* see.* by, remedy.


I have left out the inmimerable rhymes of " thee "
" me," " be," " sea," etc. The rhymes I have marked
with an * are bad rhymes because there is the same consonant
sound in them. Nowhere in my sonnets have I used such
rhymes,! and my rhymes which you " pilloried " in your
book (page 260) are, every one of them, correct and, in
most cases, beautiful and carefully sought out. Also, it is
to be noted that I have written all my sonnets in the
strictest Petrarchan form which makes much greater de-
mands on rhymes than the easy Shakespearian sonnet (which,
since it avoids all the technical difficulties, is not really a
sonnet at all.) I have no time to wade through Words-
worth's sonnets, but the two best, quoted in your book,
have : by, majesty (a beautiful rhyme), and free, tran-
quillity (equally good). In short, what you try to impute to
me as a blemish is an ornament. • • • .^

The truth is, of course, that rhymes of this character
belong to the genius of the Enghsh language and form one
of its greatest beauties. The frequency with which they
have been used by all our greatest poets, without any ex-
ception whatever, is accounted for partly by their beauty
and partly by the great quantity of words in our language
which end with the e and y sounds.

In conclusion, I should like to point out that what I and
the author of the book I have referred to caU " the strict
Petrarchan form " of the sonnet, is, in my opinion, the best
and the most beautiful. Personally I have never used any
other and I was using it at least fifteen years before the
gentleman in question had either written a sonnet himself
or set up as an ^thority on the subject. At the same time

+ This statement is not quite correct. In some of my earlier Sonnets I have
been occasionally guilty of this lapse.


it must be observed that there is no real authority for
calling it the best form. The author of the book I have
referred to is, apparently, not aware that Petrarch was not
the inventor of the sonnet in Italy and that even he
(Petrarch) himself occasionally has a rhymed couplet at the
end of his sestets. A little knowledge is a dangerous

As regards my own poems which are now collected to-
gether in this volume, I should like to say that they com-
prise work scattered over a period of nearly thirty years.
For the childish egoism and the dubious morality of such
pieces as " Apologia " and " Ode to my Soul," and one or
two of the earlier sonnets I hold no kind of brief, but at
the same time I have felt that while I might be justified
in altering and revising faults of technique, it would be
foolish to change the essential character of pieces which are
representative of various stages of my development as a
man and as a poet. Accordingly I have left them exactly
as they were written.

Certain other poems of mine which appeared in an edition
published in Paris in 1896, with a French translation, I
have refrained from putting into this collected edition for
the same reason which caused me to refuse to include them
in " The City of the Soul," published in 1899 (third edition
published 191 1) and which impelled me to withhold per-
mission for the republication of the entire Paris edition
which has been more than once urged on me by the Mercure
de France, who were my first publishers. I am well aware
that having written these poems I cannot escape respon-
sibility for them, and I have no kind of doubt that after
my death they will eventually be reprinted. My reason
for omitting them from this edition is that, although there
is no actual harm in them, they lend themselves to evil in-


terpretations, and the fact that they have so been interpreted
by those whose interest it has been to attack and defame
me and that they have actually been used against me in
the law courts by the very persons who most applauded
them at the time they were written, has given me a distaste
for them which such poetical merits as they may possess
are insufficient to dispel.

Alfred Bruce Douglas.

Shelley's Folly, Lewes,
February, 1919.


Henry James

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Guy and Pauline

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Poor Relations

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Online LibraryAlfred Bruce DouglasThe collected poems of Lord Alfred Douglas → online text (page 4 of 4)