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IN A GARDEN OF DREAMS
(The Coleman Garden, Williamsburg, Virginia)
HERE'S a garden of dreams where the crepe myrtle
And the roses are white in the gloaming,
There a tiny swing hangs from a gnarléd old tree,
There time holds its breath. There shrubs grow to trees,
And the garden dreams on in its fragrance-hung calm
EN of accomplishment are looked upon with wonder and admiration; and it seems incredible to the public mind that some of these men of unusual talent are in a great measure self-developed. Particularly is this true in the case of the man of literary ability, a man whom we sometimes call a literary genius. Not all men awake suddenly one morning to find themselves famous, but in most instances ultimate fame represents continuous and untiring energy, with incidental failures, much anxiety, and innumerable changes; in some cases even misfortunes and suffering. Finally, a full development is attained, accompanied by what the world calls success. It is true that one may have innate ability, real stuff of which genius is made, and yet die without having attained any great amount of success, as success is measured in this life. Again, a man may work indefatigably and finally give to the world that which it needs and even demands, and yet die unwept, unhonored, and unknown. Nevertheless, it is certain that many men have become successful, having within them, of course, the spark of talent which, with labor, energy, perseverance, and sacrifice, has made of them literary geniuses, in the garb of which they are finally presented to the world. Robert Louis Stevenson was such an author. He tells us that he himself created his inimitable style through copying others. He would copy and recopy word for word the work of his favorite authors; he would model his stories and sketches upon their work; and finally, after absorbing the style of many good authors, he so adapted his own ideas and originality to the writings which he had thus intensely studied that he gave to the world not a plagiarized conglomeration of many styles but an unequalled style of his own. This is true also of art. The true artist who is early taught to copy color and form may at first merely imitate, but later he absorbs and adapts that which he has copied to his own original talent.
In much the same manner such has been the development of lyric poetry in England. In reading the intellectually emotional
ized lyric poems as presented to us to-day in Kipling's Recessional and McCrae's In Flanders Fields, few of us stop to consider that these exquisite poems have a long history of development behind them. The development of lyric poetry followed slowly in the path of the folk ballad. Several hundred years after the Norman Conquest, during the Age of Chaucer, as the period from 1350 to 1400 is usually called, social, economic, and religious conditions were such as to make for the beginning of a great form of literature. It was a time when England was beginning to expand, when England began to feel that some day there might be a possibility of her having an empire. During the period that followed, from 1400 to 1550, England was in a very unsettled condition. This was an age of war, exploration, adventure. Very little English literature was written at this time, because the people were interested in other countries—in America, Italy, and France. The Anglo-Saxon became ashamed of his poor prose, and he sought to express himself in the classic languages and the languages of the people with whom he was now coming into contact. For England it was the age of the revival of classic learning. The English soldiers in time of war came in contact with the people of other countries and brought back with them Greek, Italian, and French culture. For one hundred and fifty years England did nothing original in the way of literature; for she was finding herself; but in the period from 1550 to 1620 she fully recognized where she was. With the success in wars, with the spirit of adventure and exploration that was spurred on by the wonderful tales about America, with a new feeling of love for country, with the general contentment of the people, with the religious toleration afforded by Queen Elizabeth after the terrible times of Bloody Mary, the nation at large entered into such prosperity as it had never before experienced. The people had seen the dazzle of other countries, it had brought back foreign treasures, it had experienced its adolescence, and now it was attempting to settle down for once and all to the essentials of living. There was a general growth and advancement in religion, in industries, and in culture; and with culture came the flourish of literature. If there was to be a great liter
ature, there must be many writers. England had at this time such an outburst of poets as never before, chief and master of whom was Shakespeare.
Out of this age of wealth and general good feeling and contentment was born the lyric. Its very beginning, however, dates back even to Chaucer's day. Chaucer was influenced, of course, by the age in which he lived. In his early life, Chaucer imitates in his writing the Italian and French, and in his maturity, to be sure, we still have the product of his age, but there is something of the individual in his Canterbury Tales. In Spenser's work we have not only the imitation of the Italian and French, but some poetry in which he expresses what he felt individually. He writes his wedding hymn, in which we have his personal feeling. In his Faery Queen, we have an allegory in which Spenser, in his great admiration for the Queen, symbolizes her as certain virtues. Nevertheless, the spirit of his poetry is not so sweeping as to make us forget its imitative and artificial form. But during the age of Elizabeth, with the spirit of independence of the country, came the spirit of independence in the individual. The individual begins to feel life within himself as he had never felt it before. He begins to develop his own way of doing, his own way of expression. Where the poetry had been impersonal, a communal affair, first in the epic and then in the ballad, it now becomes personal in the lyric. Where once it had been sung by the poets in their ballads as appealing to the community, it now becomes the thought of the individual as relating to others. He now begins to tell stories of himself rather than about others. He begins to express his love and adoration for his sweetheart; and, when love becomes the theme for story-making and poetry, it immediately supersedes the community spirit; for love is, above everything else, a most individual matter. These love poems by the very nature of the expression of the relation of man to woman became the voice of individuals. Naturally in the expression of love, there will be some very sentimental and sensuous lyrics that should be discarded. It is to be remembered that the lyric was developed after the ballad in which the very thought of the
common people found expression. It is not strange then that some of the lyric poetry, especially in its early development, will be quite low and vulgar. On the other hand, there will be some among the lyrics that will not only be worth the attention of the generation for which they were written, but will be read and appreciated by generations of all times, so general in appeal are the best of our emotions as expressed by these early poets. But these first lyric poems were not written for the consumption of the common people, but for the ladies and gentlemen at the court, a very small group, in fact; and the more refined the emotion expressed in the lyric and the more thought it contained, the narrower became the circle of its readers even among the courtiers.
The lyric stands out as a distinct form of literature. The epic is a whole cycle of tales which have been told and retold by many generations, and which is finally recounted in serious fashion by an unknown author, concerning some great crisis in the life of a people; the ballad is the communal song, purely impersonal, telling of the likes, dislikes, and admirations of the common people; the geste is the ballad well developed, fairly well on its way towards the epic, but the singers fashioned it according to their needs and desires and put it into print; the lyric is the song of the individual, expressing his own personal feelings and emotions. The epic may represent events thousands of years prior to the time of its composition. The folk epic and ballad represent memories, memories set down and related as things of the past, but never as an individual feeling or personal experience. In the lyric, however, there is the feeling of the present, as opposed to the feeling of half-forgotten memories: the feeling in the lyric is imminent. It is true that in the lyric quite often the feeling is fleeting, evanescent; but the experiences even though past are brought down to the present moment.
It is not to be wondered at, then, that the CHIEF subject of the lyric was love. One of the criticisms of the Elizabethan lyric poetry is that the subject of practically all the poetry is love. Even the great Shakespeare in his sonnets confines himself en