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The Bibelot




From The Bibelot, A Reprint of Poetry and Prose for Book Lovers, chosen in part from scarce editions and sources not generally known, Volume X, Testimonial Edition, Edited and Originally Published by Thomas B. Mosher, Portland, Maine; Wm. Wise & Co.; New York; 1904; pp. 271-74.



The Bibelot

SOME five years ago, speaking with a knowledge of what the heart and brain of the poet promised for future work, one of Richard Hovey’s intimate friends publicly ventured the prediction that in twenty-five years his name would be counted as one of the three chief names in American poetry. Only a few months later, the poet’s death at the early age of thirty-five interrupted his work, leaving an edifice of verse half finished,* which yet [272] shows such consistent and steady development in power and technique that, could the same progress have continued, the daring prediction might have been justified.

The work he has left, slender and incomplete as it is, must certainly entitle him to very serious consideration as a poet, and while a larger body of his maturer work might have made his position in American letters a more commanding one, it is an open question whether he could ever have achieved more perfect poetry than some of the verse which he had already written. With only four dramas completed, out of a projected series of nine, in his Launcelot and Guenevere, Hovey himself expressed doubt whether he would ever be able to write anything to surpass Taliesin and although his juvenilia were as bad as those of most writers it is doubtful if, at the time of his death, any one except Poe among the American poets had surpassed him in those specially poetic qualities which produce magic and charm and cadence in verse.

From Poe to Whitman would seem a far cry in the matter of poetic qualities, and yet Hovey seems in many ways to show kinship [273] with each of these most dissimilar but pre-eminently great masters. His personality was like that of Whitman in many ways. He had the same love and complete acceptance of Nature, knowing the full joy of physical life, — “The glory of living, exultant to be.” He had the same confident and imperturbable optimism and the same large sanity in religion. He knew that

“. . . . the end is glorious
And the goal a golden thing,
And that God is not censorious
When his children have their fling.”

He knew as well as Whitman what true comradeship signified and his Vagabondia was akin to Whitman’s mood when he “loafed and invited his soul.” He comprehended the purport of Whitman’s revolt from the fetters of formal metre and he wrote much in vers libre, but, with a delicacy of poetic sense which is like to that of Poe, he added the melody of rhyme without in any way hampering the power of free metre. And surely his technical skill in the most exact rhythms and the pure lyric quality in his work shows a decided kinship to the poetic nature of that one matchless name in our literature.

In the present group of selections no attempt has been made to include any [274] specimens of his purely dramatic poetry, although in his lyrics and even in his sonnets the dramatic quality is not absent. It is believed, however, that the poems which follow, selected from Along the Trail and the three volumes of Songs from Vagabondia, few as they are, will give some idea of the breadth and versatility of his powers and suffice to indicate something of the nature of this “the most serious of our younger American poets” of whom Mr. Stedman has written “this work of his** is sheer poetry or nothing — the proof of an ear and a voice which it seems ill to have lost just at the moment of their complete training.”



*   The list of Hovey’s books is as follows:

(1) Poems, wrappers, 1880; (2) The Laurel: An Ode to Mary Day Lanier, wrappers, 1889, [both of the foregoing privately printed]; (3) Launcelot and Guenevere, A poem in Dramas, 1891, [containing the Quest of Merlin and The Marriage of Guenevere]; (4) Seaward, An Elegy upon the Death of Thomas William Parsons, 1893; (5) The Marriage of Guenevere, second edition, 1895; (6) Launcelot and Guenevere, A Poem in Dramas, published in four volumes uniform, (I) The Quest of Merlin, second edition, 1898, (II) The Marriage of Guenevere, third edition, 1898, (III) The Birth of Galahad, 1898, (IV) Taliesin, 1900; (7) Along the Trail, 1899, second edition 1900, third edition 1903.

In joint authorship with Bliss Carman:

(8) Songs from Vagabondia, seven editions, 1894-1903; (9) More Songs from Vagabondia, five editions, 1896-1903; (10) Last Songs from Vagabondia, three editions, 1900-1903.

**  Taliesin, A Masque.

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