Prose from Poetry Magazine

Moody's Poems

by Harriet Monroe
The Poems and Plays of William Vaughn Moody will soon be published in two volumes by the Houghton-Mifflin Co. Our present interest is in the volume of poems, which are themselves an absorbing drama. Moody had a slowly maturing mind; the vague vastness of his young dreams yielded slowly to a man's more definite vision of the spiritual magnificence of life. When he died at two-score years, he was just beginning to think his problem through, to reconcile, after the manner of the great poets of the earth, the world with God. Apparently the unwritten poems cancelled by death would have rounded out, in art of an austere perfection, the record of that reconciliation, for nowhere do we feel this passion of high serenity so strongly as in the first act of an uncompleted drama, The Death of Eve.

Great-minded youth must dream, and modern dreams of the meaning of life lack the props and pillars of the old dogmatism. Vagueness, confusion and despair are a natural inference from the seeming chaos of evil and good, of pain and joy. Moody from the beginning took the whole scheme of things for his province, as a truly heroic poet should; there are always large spaces on his canvas. In his earlier poetry, both the symbolic Masque of Judgment and the shorter poems derived from present--day subjects, we find him picturing the confusion, stating the case, so to speak, against God. Somewhat in the terms of modem science is his statement—the universe plunging on toward its doom of darkness and lifelessness, divine fervor of creation lapsing, divine fervor of love doubting, despairing of the life it made, sweeping all away with a vast inscrutable gesture.

This seems to be the mood of the Masque of Judgment, a mood against which that very human archangel, Raphael, protests in most appealing lines. The poet broods over the earth-—

The earth, that has the blue and little flowers—


with all its passionate pageantry of life and love. Like his own angel he is

a truant still
While battle rages round the heart of God.


The lamps are spent at the end of judgment day,

and naked from their seats
The stars arise with lifted hands, and wait.


This conflict between love and doubt is the motive also of Gloucester Moors, The Daguerreotype, Old Pourquoi—those three noblest, perhaps, of the present-day poems—also of The Brute and The Menagerie, and of that fine poem manqué, the Ode in Time of Hesitation. The Fire-Bringer is an effort at another theme-redemption, light after darkness. But it is not so spontaneous as the Masque; though simpler, clearer, more dramatic in form, it is more deliberate and intellectual, and not so star-lit with memorable lines. The Fire-Bringer is an expression of aspiration; the poet longs for light, demands it, will wrest it from God's right hand like Prometheus. But his triumph is still theory, not experience. The reader is hardly yet convinced.

If one feels a grander motive in such poems as the one-act Death of Eve and The Fountain, or the less per-fectly achieved I Am the Woman, it is not because of the tales they tell but because of the spirit of faith that is in them—a spirit intangible, indefinable, but indomitable and triumphant. At last, we feel, this poet, already under the shadow of death, sees a terrible splendid sun-rise, and offers us the glory of it in his art.

The Fountain is a truly magnificent expression of spiritual triumph in failure, and incidentally of the grandeur of Arizona, that tragic wonderland of ancient and future gods. Those Spanish wanderers, dying in the desert, in whose half-madness dreams and realities mingle, assume in those stark spaces the stature of universal humanity, contending to the last against relentless fate. In the two versions of The Death of Eve, both narrative and dramatic, one feels also this wild, fierce triumph, this faith in the glory of life. Especially in the dramatic fragment, by its sureness of touch and simple austerity of form, and by the majesty of its figure of the aged Eve, Moody's art reached its most heroic height. We have here the beginning of great things.

The spirit of this poet may be commended to those facile bards who lift up their voices between the feast and the cigars, whose muses dance to every vague emo-tion and strike their flimsy lutes for every light-o'-love. Here was one who went to his desk as to an altar, resolved that the fire he lit, the sacrifice he offered, should be perfect and complete. He would burn out his heart like a taper that the world might possess a living light. He would tell once more the grandeur of life; he would sing the immortal song.

That such devotion is easy of attainment in this clamorous age who can believe? Poetry like some of Moody's, poetry of a high structural simplicity, strict and bare in form, pure and austere in ornament, implies a grappling with giants and wrestling with angels; it is not to be achieved without deep living and high think-ing, without intense persistent intellectual and spiritual struggle.
Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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This prose originally appeared in the November 1912 issue of Poetry magazine

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 Harriet  Monroe

Biography

As founder and editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Harriet Monroe became instrumental in the "poetry renaissance" of the early twentieth century by managing a forum that allowed poets and poetry to gain American exposure. In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Daniel J. Cahill and Laura Ingram wrote: "The abundant richness of this movement might well have been less spectacular without the encouragement and vitality which . . .

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