The personal odes do not quite escape the pitfall of overstrained laudation; the juxtaposition of the names of Shakespeare and Mr. R. H. Hutton is a tribute from which the latter might well have prayed to be spared. The ode To A. C. Benson concludes with two splendid stanzas on Milton :

Well if the coming time,

With loud and strident tongue,
Hush not the sound of rhyme,

Drown not the song half sung,
Ev'n as a dissonant age

Choked with polemic rage
The starriest voice that e'er on English ears hath rung,

And bade her seer awhile

Pause and put by the bard,
Till this tormented isle,

With feuds and factions jarred,
Some leisure might regain

To hear the long-pent strain
Re-risen from storm and fire, immortal and unmarred.

Mr. Watson's muse, unlike that of Milton, suffers not her polemic rage to impede her utterance. She employs it rather as a fiery engine to hurl blazing sonnets at the heads of political adversaries. But of this later; it is only one aspect of what is, perhaps, Mr. Watson's most distinguishing mark among our greater poets. This is what I will venture to describe, in one word, as his occasionalism.

In calling Mr. Watson an occasional poet, or a poet of occasion, I mean nothing essentially derogatory, but simply to put into one epithet what he himself has repeatedly expressed about himself. We have already had the second Epigram. In the ode To H. D. Traill we read :

The poem, well the poet knows,
In ambush lurks where'er he goes,
Lisps hidden in each wind that blows,

Laughs in each wave,
Sighs from the bosom of the rose,

Wails from the grave.

Mr. Watson is always on the watch for occasions to write; but never since he wrote the Prince's Quest does he seem to have made an occasion for himself. No wonder, then, that he tells us in the Prelude to the Poems

Not mine the rich and showering hand, that strews,
The facile largess of a stintless Muse.
A fitful presence, seldom tarrying long,
Capriciously she touches me to song-
Then leaves me to lament her flight in vain,
And wonder will she ever come again.

Or that in the Hymn to the Sea he calls himself

A tarrying minstrel, who finds, not fashions his numbers, Who from the commune of air, cages the volatile song.

Another passage in the Odes volume illustrates further Mr. Watson's principles of composition :

Forget not, brother singer! that though Prose

Can never be too truthful or too wise,
Song is not Truth, not Wisdom, but the rose

Upon Truth's lips, the light in Wisdom's eyes.

In other words Mr. Watson claims for poetry that it shall not be judged precisely by the rules of logic; the poet is at liberty to swerve a little from literal truth and literal consistency, so long as he swerves gracefully.

Mr. Watson's life-long cultivation of the sonnet has bred in him that fine feeling of gradation, unity and climax, which that kind of composition imperatively demands. He excels also, for the same reason, in finely sonorous single lines. He has attained to this excellence by steps ; we have already seen an early poem with no climax at all ; in the Angelo the climax is terribly abrupt and forced. As an example of maturer art, I cull from the Odes volume the ending of A Legend of the Early Church. St. Peter, in a time of terrible persecution at Rome, is divided between loyalty to his flock and the earnest solicitations of the other Christians that he will save himself by flight. He reluctantly yields, but as he is hurrying by night through the Campagna, he is shaken by horrible doubts, and prays to God for guidance :

Lo, on the darkness brake a wandering ray:
A vision flashed along the Appian Way.
Divinely in the pagan night it shone-
A mournful Face-a Figure hurrying on-
Though haggard and dishevelled, frail and worn,

A King, of David's lineage, crowned with thorn,
“Lord, whither farest ? ” Peter, wondering, cried.
To Rome,” said Christ, “ to be re-crucified.”

Into the night the vision ebbed liked breath;
And Peter turned and rushed on Rome and death.

Mr. Watson garnered his next year's harvest in the little volume called the Father of the Forest, and other Poems, which was issued by Mr. John Lane in Nov., 1895. In this collection, the poet shews more disposition for sustained effort than he has done since his early days. Four pieces, namely, the title-poem, the Hymn to the Sea, the Tomb of Burns, and the Apologia make up the bulk of the volume. Two of these have been already quoted. In the Tomb of Burns, Mr. Watson once more displays his genius for elegiac poetry. It happily embodies, in a metre beloved by Burns himself, a generous, though true and searching criticism of the great peasant-poet. I quote a stanza here and there by way of illustration :

He came when poets had forgot
How rich and strange the human lot;
How warm the tints of Life; how hot

Are Love and Hate;
And what makes Truth divine, and what

Makes Manhood great.

He saw what all men see-no more

In heaven and earth :

But as, when thunder crashes nigh,
All darkness opes one flaming eye,
And the world leaps against the sky,

So fiery clear
Did the old truths that we pass by

To him appear.

Not ours to gauge the more or less,
The will's defect, the blood's excess,
The earthly humours that oppress

The radiant mind.
His greatness, not his littleness,

Concerns mankind.

To him the Powers that formed him brave,
Yet weak to breast the fatal wave,
A mighty gift of Hatred gave,-

A gift above
All other gifts benific, save

The gift of Love.

This is not only fine poetry but also fine criticism.

In the same volume there are some lyric poems, or songs, apropos of which something may now be said about Mr. Watson as a lyric poet, or songwriter. There was a time when a lyric poem and a song meant exactly the same thing. The poet wrote his poem with the intention of singing it, or at least with the intention that it should be sung. But now-a-days the poet writes his lyric or his drama first, and only afterwards, if ever, considers whether it is suitable for acting or for singing. Mr. Watson has written nothing at all in the way of drama, but he has written a good many lyrical pieces, and we are obliged to rank most of them as lyric poems rather than songs. This is not to deny them frequent high merit as poems; but many of them are too short for singing, and they often lack that imperative rhythm which seems to hunger and cry out for musical expression. Take, as an example of the former class, the bright little love-song from an earlier volume :

Well he slumbers, greatly slain,

Who in splendid battle dies ;
Deep his sleep in midmost main

Pillowed upon pearl who lies.

Ease, of all good gifts the best,

War and wave at last decree :
Love alone denies us rest,

Crueller than sword or sea.

But in the Father of the Forest volume Mr. Watson gives us a far more singable song than this :

Oh, like a queen’s her happy tread,
And like a queen's her golden head !
But oh, at last, when all is said,

Her woman's heart for me!
We wandered where the river gleamed
’Neath oaks that mused and pines that dreamed.
A wild thing of the woods she seemed,

So proud, and pure, and free!
All heaven drew nigh to hear her sing,
When from her lips her soul took wing;
The oaks forgot their pondering,

The pines their reverie.

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