[Review of November Boughs]
"November Boughs" is a title due to the same sense of literary fitness as that which inspired the naming of Landor's1 "Dry Sticks" and "The Last Fruit off an Old Tree." Indeed, paradoxical as the statement may seem, a sense of fitness is the predominant impression remaining from the study of Whitman's work, and this in spite of its indefensible rhythmic and verbal vagaries. It is the fitness, in the large sense, of thought and language to the character and mood of the writer. "Unstopp'd and unwarp'd by any influence outside the soul within me, I have had my say entirely my own way, and put it unerringly on record"—this is what Whitman tells us in the "Backward Glance o'er Travel'd Roads" which prefaces the new volume. The absolute honesty of his work, coupled with the genius for style which it displays, ensure for it both permanence of influence and the respectful consideration of future years. Enlarge upon its faults as we may, the work still has rare qualities of power and beauty which it takes no extended search to discover. Let us quote the two poems entitled "Halcyon Days" and "Queries to my Seventieth Year." He must be dull of soul who has no sense of the beauty of the one or the power of the other.
It is the reverse of the shield that comes to view in the other poem:
The poems in this volume fill but a score of pages, but every page has its charm. Upon one we find this faultless epigram on "The Bravest Soldiers":
Upon another we are greeted with this word for Lincoln's birthday:
Still another gives us this picture of the resurrection that comes with the springtide:
We find verses like these, scattered in rich profusion through the songs:
It is the very magic of style that informs these lines. For the rest, these "Sands at Seventy" contain no word that is objectionable as certain passages of the "Leaves of Grass" were objectionable. Nor do we find in them the violent distortion of speech—the "barbaric yawp,"—or the endless catalogues of attributes and things which made the poet's earlier work æsthetically offensive. Of the prose work which makes up the greater part of the volume, this is not the place to speak at length, and we will only remark that much of it seems to us as suggestive and beautiful as the poetry. The writer takes occasion, in his preface, to justify the passages in the "Leaves of Grass" which have been the subject of so much discussion, and "to confirm these lines with the settled convictions and deliberate renewals of thirty years."
William Morton Payne. "[Review of November Boughs]." The Dial 9 (April 1889): 323-4.
1. Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) was an English poet most noteworthy for his Imaginary Conversations, imagined prose dialogues between historical figures published between 1824 and 1829. (Back)
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