Winifred Virginia Jackson: A Different Poetess

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Szerző: Howard Phillips Lovecraft • Év: 1921

In these days of unrestrained license in poetry, it would at first sight seem difficult to single out any one bard as the possessor of ideas and modes of expression so unique and original that the overworked adjective “different” is merited. Every poetaster of the modern school claims to be “different,” and bases his claim to celebrity upon this “difference”; an effect usually achieved by the adoption of a harsh, amorphous style, and a tone of analytical, introspective subjectivity so individual that all the common and universal elements of beauty and poetry are excluded. Indeed, eccentricity has come so completely into fashion, that he who follows up the wildest vagaries is actually the least different from the hectic scribbling throng about him.

But notwithstanding this malady of the times, there does remain among us an ample field for genius and artistic distinctiveness. The laws of human thought are unchangeable, and whenever there is born a soul attuned to real harmony, and inspired by that rare sensitiveness which enables it to feel and express the latent beauty and hidden relationships of Nature, the world receives a new poet. Such an one will of necessity break through the decadent customs of the period; and falling back to the forms of true melody, sing a spontaneous song which can not help being original, because it represents the unforced reaction of a keen and delicate mind to the panorama of life. And when this reaction is enabled to bring out in the simplest and most beautiful style fancies and images which the world has not received or noted before, we are justified in claiming that the bard is “different.”

Such a bard is Winifred Virginia Jackson, whose poetry has for six years been the pride of the United Amateur Press Association. Born in Maine, and through childhood accustomed to the mystical spell of the ancient New-England countryside, Miss Jackson for a long period quietly and unconsciously absorbed a prodigious store of beauty and phantasy from life. Having no design to become a poet, she accepted these ethereal gifts as a matter of course; until about a decade ago they manifested themselves in a burst of spontaneous melody which can best be described as a sheer overflowing of delightful dreams and pictures from a mind filled to the brim with poetic loveliness. Since that time Miss Jackson has written vast quantities of verse; always rich and musical, and if one may speak in paradox, always artless with supreme art. None of these poems is in any sense premeditated or consciously composed; they are more like visions of the fancy, instantaneously photographed for the perception of others, and unerringly framed in the most appropriate metrical medium.

When we peruse the poetry of Miss Jackson we are impressed first by its amazing variety, and almost as quickly by a certain distinctive quality which gives all the varied specimens a kind of homogeneity. As we analyse our impressions, we find that both of these qualities have a common source—the complete objectivity and almost magical imagination of supreme genius. Objectivity and imagination, the gifts of the epic bards of classical antiquity, are today the rarest of blessings. We live in an age of morbid emotion and introspectiveness; wherein the poets, such as they are, have sunk to the level of mere pathologists engaged in the dissection of their own ultra-sophisticated spirits. The fresh touch of Nature is lost to the majority, and rhymesters rant endlessly and realistically about the relation of man to his fellows and to himself; overlooking the real foundations of art and beauty—wonder, and man’s relation to the unknown cosmos. But Miss Jackson is not of the majority, and has not overlooked these things. In her the ancient and unspoiled bard is refulgently reincarnated; and with an amazing universality and freedom from self-consciousness she suppresses the ego completely, delineating Nature’s diverse moods and aspects with an impersonal fidelity and delicacy which form the delight of the discriminating reader, and the despair of the stupid critic who works by rule and formula rather than by brain. There is no medium which the spirit of Miss Jackson can not inhabit. The same mind which reflects the daintiest and most gorgeous phantasies of the faery world, or furnishes the most finely wrought pictures or refined pathos and sentiment, can abruptly take up its abode in some remote Maine timber region and pour out such a wild, virile chantey of the woods and the river that we seem to glimpse the singer as the huskiest of a tangle-bearded, fight-scarred, loud-shouting logging crew sprawling about a pine campfire.

A critic has grouped the poetical work of Miss Jackson into six classes: Lyrics of ideal beauty, including delightful Nature-poems replete with local colour; delicate amatory lyrics; rural dialect lyrics and vigorous colloquial pieces; poems of sparkling optimism; child verse; and poems of potent terror and dark suggestion. “With her,” he adds, “sordid realism has no place; and her poems glow with a subtle touch of the fanciful and the supernatural which is well sustained by tasteful and unusual word-combinations, images, and onomatopoetic effects.” This estimate is confirmed by the latest productions of the poetess, as we shall endeavour to show by certain specimens lately published or about to be published, selected almost at random:

“The Bonnet” is a characteristic bit of Jacksonian delicacy and originality. We here behold a sustained metaphor of that striking type which the author so frequently creates; a metaphor which draws on all Nature and the unseen world for its basis, and whose analogies are just the ones which please us most, yet which our own minds are never finely attuned enough to conceive unaided. The swain in the poem tells of his intention to make a bonnet for his chosen nymph to wear. He will fashion it with “golden thimble, scissors, needle, thread”; taking velvet from the April sky as a groundwork, stars for trimming, moonlight for banding, and a web of dreams for lining. He will scent it with the perfume of “the reddest rose that the singing wind finds sweetest where it farthest blows,” and “will take it at the twilight for his love to wear.” Here we have nothing of the bizarre or the conspicuous, yet in the six little stanzas of quaintly regular metre there is suggested all of that world of faery beauty which the eye can glimpse beyond the leaden clouds of reality; a world which exists because it can be dreamed of. The poem is “different” in the truest way; it is original because it conveys beauty originally in an inconspicuous and harmonious vehicle.

But turn now to “Ellsworth to Great Pond” and marvel! True, we still find the vivid delineation of human feelings, but what a distance we have travelled! Gone is the young dreamer with his world of moonshine, for here roars the Maine lumberjack with all the uncouth vigour and rude natural expressiveness of the living satyr. It is life; primal, uncovered, and unpolished—the ebullient, shouting vitality of healthy animalism.

 

“Drink hard cider, swig hard cider,

   Swill hard cider, Boys!

Throw yer spikers, throw yer peavies,

   Beller out yer noise!”

 

We have drifted from the aether of Keats to the earth of Fielding, yet under the guidance of the same author. Greater proof of Miss Jackson’s absolute objectivity and marvellous imagination could not be produced or asked.

Yet who shall say that the Jackson pendulum is powerful only at the extremes of its sweeping arc? In “Workin’ Out” we discover a pastoral love-lyric which for quaintness and graphic humanness could not well be surpassed. Here the distinctive and spontaneous inventiveness of Miss Jackson’s fancy is displayed with especial vividness. The rural youth, “workin’ out” far from his loved Molly, enumerates the prosaic chores he can perform with easy heart; but mentions in each case some more poetic thing which stirs his emotions and gives him loneliness for the absent fair. He can cut and husk corn, but the golden-rod reminds him of his Molly’s golden hair. He can milk cows, but the gentian reminds him of his Molly’s blue eyes. Aside from their intrinsic ingeniousness, these images possess an unconscious lesson for the poet who can read it. They expose with concrete illustrations the fallacy of the so-called “new poetry,” which disregards the natural division between beautiful and unbeautiful things and rhapsodises as effusively over a sewer-pipe as over the crescent moon.

“The Token” exhibits Miss Jackson in her airiest lyrical mood; a mood original because it possesses the rare lyrism of pure music and fancy rather than the common lyrism of unsubtilised emotion. There is bounding music in thought and medium alike, whilst the naive plunge into the theme without introduction or explanation is a stroke savouring of the simplicity of genius. Equally effective is the simple metrical transition whereby the chorus assumes the trochaic measure of a childhood chant or carol:

 

“Lightly O, brightly O,

   Down the long lane she will go!

Dancing she, glancing she,

   Down the lane with eyes aglow!”

 

In “Assurance” and “It’s Lovetime,” the author displays a lyrical fervour of more conventional type; adding the touch of originality by means of melodious simplicity and reiteration in the one case, and pure lyric ecstasy in the other.
The metrical originality of Miss Jackson, displayed in all classes of her work, should not be slighted amidst the enthusiasm one entertains for her magical mastery of thoughts and images. No other conservative[133] poet of the period is more versatile and individual in choice of numbers, or in adaptation of measure to mood. “Driftwood,” a wonderfully original poem of imagination describing the fancies which arise from the smoke of logs wafted from far mysterious lands where once the trees grew under strange suns, moons, and rainbows, is as remarkable in form as in idea. One may judge by a sample pair of stanzas:

 

“You warm your hands

   And smile

Before the fire of driftwood.

 

“I feel old lands’

   Wan guile

That writhes in fire of driftwood.”

 

We have so far viewed poetry which would lead us to classify Miss Jackson as a delineator of moods rather than of character; yet knowing her versatility, we naturally expect to find among her works some potent character studies. Nor are we disappointed. “Joe,” a song of the Maine woods, describes in admirably appropriate verbiage—as simple and as nearly monosyllabic as possible—the typical Anglo-Saxon stoic of far places, who faces comfort and disaster, life and death, with the same unemotional attitude which Miss Jackson sums up so skilfully in the one ejaculatory bit of colloquial indifference—”Dunno!”

“The Song of Jonny Laughlin” is a highly unusual ballad relating the history of a peculiarly good and self-sacrificing river character. The story is simple, but the piece gains distinctiveness from its absolutely faithful reproduction of the spirit of frontier balladry. In words, swing, and weird refrain, there exists every internal evidence of traditional authenticity; and that such a bit of Nature could be composed by a cultivated feminine author is an overwhelming testimonial to Miss Jackson’s unique gifts.

That Miss Jackson can reflect the spirit of the most dissimilar characters is further proved by the two immensely powerful studies of the vagabond type entitled “The Call” and “John Worthington Speaks.” These things are masterpieces of their kind; the self-revealing narratives of restless wanderers by land and sea, crammed to repletion with details and local colour which no one but their author could command without actual experience as a derelict of five continents and as many oceans. They leave the reader veritably breathless with wonder at the objectivity and imagination which can enable a New-England poetess to mirror with such compelling vividness in thought and language the sentiments of so utterly opposite a type. Not even the narrowly specialised genius of such rough-and-ready writers as Service and Knibbs, working in their own peculiar field, can surpass this one slight phase of Miss Jackson’s universal genius.
It remains to speak of the singular power of Miss Jackson in the realm of the gruesome and the terrible. With that same sensitiveness to the unseen and the unreal which lends witchery to her gayer productions, she has achieved in darker fields of verse results inviting comparison with the best prose work of Ambrose Bierce or Maurice Level. Among her older poems the ghastly and colourful phantasy “Insomnia” and the grimly realistic rustic tragedy “Chores” excited especial praise, a critic referring as follows to the latter piece:

 

“It has all the compelling power which marks Miss Jackson’s darker productions, and is conveyed in an arresting staccato measure which emphasises the homely horror of the theme. The phraseology, with its large proportion of rural and archaic words and constructions, adds vastly to the general effect and atmosphere.”

 

This reference to Miss Jackson’s unusual vocabulary deserves elaboration, for one of the secrets of her effective poetry is the wide and diverse array of words and word-combinations which she commands. Recondite archaisms and ruralisms, together with marvellously apt and original descriptive compounds, are things which perpetually astonish and delight her readers. Of recent specimens of Miss Jackson’s darker verse, “Finality,” “The Song” and “Fallen Fences” deserve especial praise. The horrible picture conjured up in the closing lines of the first named piece is one well calculated to haunt the dreams of the imaginative.

As we conclude this survey of rich and varied poetry, our dominant impression aside from admiration is that of wonder at the tardiness with which the author has been recognised by the non-amateur public. As yet the name of Jackson is a comparative novelty to the literary world, a thing explainable only by the reluctance of its possessor to adopt that species of trumpeting which helps less modest and less genuine poets into the glare of celebrity. But genius such as Miss Jackson’s can not remain forever hidden, however slight be her striving for fame; so that we may reasonably expect the next few years to witness her establishment among the leading literary figures, as one of the ablest, broadest and most original of contemporary bards.

Legújabbak

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