T HESE are primarily the poems of youth and a simple heart. They are the poems of a mind that reacts directly to sunlight and trees and skies and blue hills, reacts without evasion or self-consciousness. They are drenched in sunlight and color as is the land in which they were written, the land which gave birth and sustenance to their author. He has roots in this soil as surely and inevitably as has a tree.
They are the poems of youth. One has to be at a certain age to write poems like these. They belong inevitably to that period of uncertainty and illusion. They are as youthful as cool spring grass.
They also have the defects of youth—youth’s impatience, unsophistication and immaturity. They have youth’s sheer joy at being alive in the sun and youth’s sudden, vague, unreasoned sadness over nothing at all.
It is seldom that much can be truthfully said for a first book beyond that it shows promise. And I think these poems show promise. They have an unusual feeling forwords and the music of words, a love of soft vowels, an instinct for color and rhythm, and—at times—a hint of coming muscularity of wrist and eye.
The author of these poems is a man steeped in the soil of his native land, a Southerner by every instinct, and, more than that, a Mississippian. George Moore said that all universal art became great by first being provincial, and the sunlight and mocking-birds and blue hills of North Mississippi are a part of this young man’s very being.
He is a man of varied outdoor experience, of wide reading, of quick humor, of the usual Southern alertness and flexibility of imagination, deeply schooled in the poets and their technical trials and accomplishments, and—above all—of rigid self-honesty. It is inevitable that this book should bear traces of other poets; probably all well-informed people have by this time learned that a poet does not spring full-fledged from the brow of Jove. He does have to be born with the native impulse, but he learns his trade from other poets by apprenticeship, just as a lawyer or a carpenter or a bricklayer learns his. It is inevitable that traces of apprenticeship should appear in a first book but a man whohas real talent will grow, will leave these things behind, will finally bring forth a flower that could have grown in no garden but his own. All that is needed—granted the original talent—is work and unflinching honesty.
On one of our long walks through the hills, I remarked that I thought the main trouble with Amy Lowell and her gang of drum-beaters was their eternal damned self-consciousness, that they always had one eye on the ball and the other eye on the grandstand. To which the author of these poems replied that his personal trouble as a poet seemed to be that he had one eye on the ball and the other eye on Babe Ruth. Surely there must be possibilities inherent in a mind so shrewdly and humorously honest.
September 23, 1924
The poplar trees sway to and fro
That through this gray old garden go
Like slender girls with nodding heads,
Whispering above the beds
Of tall tufted hollyhocks,
Of purple asters and of phlox;
Caught in the daisies’ dreaming gold
Recklessly scattered wealth untold
About their slender graceful feet
Like poised dancers, lithe and fleet.
The candled flames of roses here
Gutter gold in this still air,
And clouds glide down the western sky
To watch this sun-drenched revery,
While the poplars’ shining crests
Lightly brush their silvered breasts,
Dreaming not of winter snows
That soon will shake their maiden rows.
The days dream by, golden-white,
About the fountain’s silver light
That lifts and shivers in the breeze
Gracefully slim as are the trees;
Then shakes down its glistered hair
Upon the still pool’s mirrored, fair
Why am I sad? I?
Why am I not content? The sky
Warms me and yet I cannot break
My marble bonds. That quick keen