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And oh, her happy queenly tread,
And oh, her queenly golden head !
Her woman's heart for me!
Another swinging lyric is the maritime ballad in the Poems volume, called the “Britain's Pride,” the only ballad which Mr. Watson has yet attempted. He has also but sparingly attempted satire, although the “ Sketch of a Political Character,” in the same volume, exhibits unquestionable power. He begins by sketching a class of men, who,
doing nothing, never do amiss; But lapt in men's good graces live, and die By all regretted, nobody knows why.
From this he proceeds to the specific object of his satire :
Cast in this fortunate Olympian mould,
Already, in this Father of the Forest volume, we find a sonnet on the Armenian question : it is dated March 2nd, 1895, and is entitled “The Turk in Armenia.”
What profits it, О England, to prevail
Of maidens martyred by the turbaned crew,
Other sonnets followed, mostly in the Westminster Gazette, and in January of last year a collection of them was issued by Mr. Lane under the title of The Purple East. In December this collection was superseded by an enlarged and revised collection, called The Year of Shame. This is the last new volume which we have received from Mr. Watson's pen, and its purport is entirely political.
It was inevitable that Mr. Watson should write political poetry. It is both his strength and weakness to be in intimate touch with the life around him and with the uppermost emotion of the hour. Already he was no beginner in this kind of composition, as witness the Gordon sonnets, the two poems on Ireland (Feb., 1888, and Dec., 1890), and the appeal to the Colonies, which ends
O ye by wandering tempest sown
’Neath every alien star,
That wafted you afar!
On younger soil let fall-
Perchance may one day call.
Of all literary work the most difficult to estimate with justice is contemporary political poetry. It proceeds upon beliefs and hopes which the future may or may not hold to have been really justified. Those of the sonnets which, like that already quoted, deal with the broad facts and principles of the matter, will be immortal in their own right; and they are enough to confer a derivative immortality on the remainder. But when the poet takes passing phases and uncertain reports for his groundwork, he runs the risk, like any other man, of being irretrievably mistaken; and we get down at last to journalism in verse, such as that contained in the attempted rejoinders of Mr. Alfred Austin. We see already the Nemesis which waits upon this kind of composition in the contrast between the portraits drawn of Mr. Gladstone, as The Political Luminary in the Gordon sonnets, and as The Tired Lion in the Armenian series. Posterity will weigh Mr. Watson's political poems in other and exacter scales than ours. Some will doubtless take their place among all true and noble utterances; others will be put aside, perhaps with a smile. But the same thing has happened to others, and even to Milton; and yet we would not wish Milton to have refrained from being at times a political poet. In fact, it would be difficult to draw an indictment against Mr. Watson for these poems which would not necessarily also include the prophets of the Hebrew monarchy. For these poems breathe a strong though vague religious spirit, and are passionate for international righteousness. One sonnet, from The Year of Shame, shall serve to illustrate this :
I had not thought to hear it voiced so plain,
“ Am I my brother's keeper?" Yet full near
It sounded, and the syllables rang clear
As the immortal rhetoric of Cain.
Unto these helpless reach a hand to save ? "
In domestic politics Mr. Watson nurses democratic ideals of a lofty order. This may be seen from his sketch of the Ideal Popular Leader (Odes, p. 68).
Born, nurtured of the People ; living still
I have purposely refrained until now from saying much about Mr. Watson's religious opinions, because the consideration of them arises inevitably in connection with the poem which he published last month in the Fortnightly Review, called “ The Unknown God.” We all remember Mr. Kipling's “Recessional,” the poem in which, after the pomps of the Jubilee, he recalled us to a sense of our dependence upon God. We remember its solemn refrain
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
This faith in the Divine call of the British empire is too much for Mr. Watson. He conceives that it is oftenest by the help of unrighteousness that we have prospered :
Best by remembering God, say some,
We keep our high imperial lot.
When we forgot—when we forgot!
Nor does he think that the counsels of the Highest will be much altered, however much we pray. There can be no doubt that this poem was prompted by that of Mr. Kipling; and yet it is seriously injured by that very fact. In the desire to deal a blow at Mr. Kipling's too British divinity, Mr. Watson loses his balance, and tumbles into a position which has little foundation in fact, and none at all in morality. Let us endeavour to be a little juster to Mr. Watson than he has here been to himself, by trying to give, in a brief conspectus of passages, some notion of Mr. Watson's usual outlook upon the world.
But before doing so, let me quote another stanza of the same poem, which again illustrates the sensitiveness of Mr. Watson's mind to every current of contemporary thought. We have all heard of that small, but very ancient collection of the sayings of Jesus, which has recently been deciphered from an Egyptian papyrus. One of these sayings seems to express that immanence of the Divine essence in all things which is part of Mr. Watson's creed; and here we have it, embedded in the middle of one of his stanzas :
The God I know of, I shall ne'er
Know, though He dwells exceeding nigh.
Cleave thou the wood, and there am I.
Too near, too far, for me to know.
This stanza reminds me that Mr. Watson, fully nine times out of ten, scans the word “spirit” as a monosyllable.