THE CONGO AND OTHER POEMS -
THE CONGO AND OTHER POEMS -
With an introduction by
Editor of "Poetry"
Introduction. By Harriet Monroe
When `Poetry A Magazine of Verse' was first published in Chicago
in the autumn of 1912 an Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay
was quite appropriately one of its first discoveries.
It may be not quite without significance that the issue of January 1913
which led off with `General William Booth Enters into Heaven'
immediately followed the number in which the great poet of Bengal
Rabindra Nath Tagore was first presented to the American public
and that these two antipodal poets soon appeared in person among the earliest
visitors to the editor. For the coming together of East and West
may prove to be the great event of the approaching era
and if the poetry of the now famous Bengali laureate
garners the richest wisdom and highest spirituality of his ancient race
so one may venture to believe that the young Illinois troubadour
brings from Lincoln's city an authentic strain of the lyric message
of this newer world.
It is hardly necessary perhaps to mention Mr. Lindsay's loyalty
to the people of his place and hour or the training in sympathy
with their aims and ideals which he has achieved through
vagabondish wanderings in the Middle West. And we may permit time
to decide how far he expresses their emotion. But it may be opportune
to emphasize his plea for poetry as a song art an art appealing to the ear
rather than the eye. The first section of this volume is especially an effort
to restore poetry to its proper place -- the audience-chamber
and take it out of the library the closet. In the library it has become
so far as the people are concerned almost a lost art
and perhaps it can be restored to the people only through
a renewal of its appeal to the ear.
I am tempted to quote from Mr. Lindsay's explanatory note
which accompanied three of these poems when they were first printed
in `Poetry'. He said:
"Mr. Yeats asked me recently in Chicago `What are we going to do
to restore the primitive singing of poetry?' I find what Mr. Yeats means by
`the primitive singing of poetry' in Professor Edward Bliss Reed's new volume
on `The English Lyric'. He says in his chapter on the definition
of the lyric: `With the Greeks "song" was an all-embracing term.
It included the crooning of the nurse to the child . . .
the half-sung chant of the mower or sailor . . . the formal ode
sung by the poet. In all Greek lyrics even in the choral odes
music was the handmaid of verse. . . . The poet himself
composed the accompaniment. Euripides was censured because
Iophon had assisted him in the musical setting of some of his dramas.'
Here is pictured a type of Greek work which survives in American vaudeville
where every line may be two-thirds spoken and one-third sung
the entire rendering musical and elocutionary depending upon
the improvising power and sure instinct of the performer.
"I respectfully submit these poems as experiments in which I endeavor
to carry this vaudeville form back towards the old Greek precedent
of the half-chanted lyric. In this case the one-third of music
must be added by the instinct of the reader. He must be Iophon.
And he can easily be Iophon if he brings to bear upon the piece
what might be called the Higher Vaudeville imagination. . . .
"Big general contrasts between the main sections should be the rule
of the first attempts at improvising. It is the hope of the writer
that after two or three readings each line will suggest
its own separate touch of melody to the reader who has become
accustomed to the cadences. Let him read what he likes read
and sing what he likes sung."
It was during this same visit in Chicago at `Poetry's' banquet
on the evening of March first 1914 that Mr. Yeats honored Mr. Lindsay
by addressing his after-dinner talk primarily to him as "a fellow craftsman"
and by saying of `General Booth':
"This poem is stripped bare of ornament; it has an earnest simplicity
a strange beauty and you know Bacon said `There is no excellent beauty
This recognition from the distinguished Irish poet tempts me to hint
at the cosmopolitan aspects of such racily local art as Mr. Lindsay's.
The subject is too large for a merely introductory word
but the reader may be invited to reflect upon it. If Mr. Lindsay's poetry
should cross the ocean it would not be the first time
that our most indigenous art has reacted upon the art of older nations.
Besides Poe -- who though indigenous in ways too subtle for brief analysis
yet passed all frontiers in his swift sad flight -- the two American artists
of widest influence Whitman and Whistler have been intensely American
in temperament and in the special spiritual quality of their art.
If Whistler was the first great artist to accept the modern message
in Oriental art if Whitman was the first great modern poet
to discard the limitations of conventional form: if both were more free
more individual than their contemporaries this was
the expression of their Americanism which may perhaps be defined
as a spiritual independence and love of adventure inherited from the pioneers.
Foreign artists are usually the first to recognize this new tang;
one detects the influence of the great dead poet and dead painter
in all modern art which looks forward instead of back;
and their countrymen our own contemporary poets and painters
often express indirectly through French influences
a reaction which they are reluctant to confess directly.
A lighter phase of this foreign enthusiasm for the American tang
is confessed by Signor Marinetti the Italian "futurist"
when in his article on `Futurism and the Theatre' in `The Mask'
he urges the revolutionary value of "American eccentrics"
citing the fundamental primitive quality in their vaudeville art.
This may be another statement of Mr. Lindsay's plea for a closer relation
between the poet and his audience for a return to the healthier
open-air conditions and immediate personal contacts in the art of the Greeks
and of primitive nations. Such conditions and contacts may still be found
if the world only knew it in the wonderful song-dances of the Hopis
and others of our aboriginal tribes. They may be found also in a measure
in the quick response between artist and audience in modern vaudeville.
They are destined to a wider and higher influence; in fact
the development of that influence the return to primitive sympathies
between artist and audience which may make possible once more
the assertion of primitive creative power is recognized as
the immediate movement in modern art. It is a movement strong enough
to persist in spite of extravagances and absurdities; strong enough
it may be hoped to fulfil its purpose and revitalize the world.
It is because Mr. Lindsay's poetry seems to be definitely in that movement
that it is I think important.
Table of Contents
Introduction. By Harriet Monroe
Poems intended to be read aloud or chanted.
The Santa Fe Trail
The Firemen's Ball
The Master of the Dance
The Mysterious Cat
A Dirge for a Righteous Kitten
The Black Hawk War of the Artists
The Jingo and the Minstrel
I Heard Immanuel Singing
A Rhyme about an Electrical Advertising Sign
In Memory of a Child
Galahad Knight Who Perished
An Indian Summer Day on the Prairie
The Hearth Eternal
The Soul of the City Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit
By the Spring at Sunset
I Went down into the Desert
Love and Law
The Perfect Marriage
Darling Daughter of Babylon
The Alchemist's Petition
Two Easter Stanzas
The North Star Whispers to the Blacksmith's Son
A Miscellany called "the Christmas Tree"
This Section is a Christmas Tree
The Sun Says his Prayers
Popcorn Glass Balls and Cranberries (As it were)
I. The Lion
II. An Explanation of the Grasshopper
III. The Dangerous Little Boy Fairies
IV. The Mouse that gnawed the Oak-tree Down