Mr. J. C. Squire
( Originally Published 1919 )
IT would not have been easy a few years ago to foresee the achievement of Mr. Squire as a poet. He laboured under the disadvantage of being also a wit. It used to be said of Ibsen that a Pegasus had once been shot under him, and one was alarmed lest the reverse of this was about to happen to Mr. Squire, and lest a writer who began in the gaiety of the comic spirit should end soberly astride Pegasus. When, in Tricks of the Trade, he announced that he was going to write no more parodies, one had a depressed feeling that he was about to give up to poetry what was meant for man-kind. Yet, on reading Mr. Squire's collected poems in Poems: First Series, it is difficult not to admit that it was to write serious verse even more than parody and political epigram that he was born.
He has arranged the poems in the book in the order of their composition, so that we can follow the develop-ment of his powers and see him, as it were, learning to fly. To read him is again and again to be reminded of Donne. Like Donne, he is largely self-occupied, examining the horrors of his own soul, overburdened at times with thought, an intellect at odds with the spirit. Like Donne, he will have none of the merely poetic, either in music or in imagery. He beats out a music of his own and he beats out an imagery of his own. In his early work, this sometimes resulted in his poems being unable to rise far from the ground. They seemed to be labouring on unaccustomed wings towards the ether. What other living poet has ever given a poem such a title as Antinomies on a Railway Station? What other has examined himself with the same X-rays sort of realism as Mr. Squire has done in The Mind of Man? The latter, like many of Mr. Squire's poems, is an expression of fastidious disgust with life. The early Mr. Squire was a master of disgust, and we see the same mood dominant even in the Ode: In a Restaurant, where the poet suddenly breaks out:
Soul ! This life is very strange,
The ode, however, is not merely, or even primarily, an expression of disgust. Here, too, we see Mr. Squire's passion for romance and energy. Here, too, we see him as a fisherman of strange imagery, as when he describes the sounds of the restaurant band as they float in upon him from another room and die again:---
Like keen-drawn threads of ink dropped into a glass
The Ode: In a Restaurant is perhaps the summit of Mr. Squire's writing as a poet at odds with himself, a poet who floats above the obscene and dull realities of every day, " like a draggled seagull over dreary flats of mud." He has already escaped into bluer levels in the poem, On a Friend Recently Dead, written in the same or the following year. Here he ceases to be a poet floating and bumping against a ceiling. He is now ranging the heaven of the emancipated poets. Even when he writes of the common and prosaic things he now charges them with significance for the emotions. He is no longer a satirist and philosopher, but a lover. How well he conjures up the picture of the room in which his friend used to sit and talk
Capricious friend !
How much richer, too, by this time Mr. Squire's imagery has become 1 His observation is both exact and imaginative when he notes how--
the frail ash-tree hisses
Elsewhere in the same poem Mr. Squire has given us a fine new image of the brevity of man's
And I, I see myself as one of a heap of stones,
It was not, however, till The Lily of Malud appeared that readers of poetry in general realized that Mr. Squire was a poet of the imagination even more than of the intellect. This is a flower that has blossomed out of the vast swamps of the anthropologists. It is the song of the ritual of initiation. Mr. Squire's power in the sphere both of the grotesque and of lovely imagery is revealed in the triumphant close of this poem : --
And the surly thick-lipped men, as they sit about their huts
But each mother, silently,
It is easy to see in the last lines that Mr. Squire has escaped finally from the idealist's disgust to the idealist's exaltation. He has learned to express the beautiful mystery of life and he is no longer haunted in his nerves by the ugliness of circumstances. Not that he has shut himself up in an enchanted world : he still remains a poet of this agonizing earth. In The Stronghold he summons up. a vision of " easeful death," only to turn aside from it as Christian turned aside from the temptations on his way;---
But, O, if you find that castle,
And these later poems are not only nobler in passion than the early introspective work they are also more moving. Few of the " in memoriam " poems of the war touch the heart as does that poem, To a Bulldog, with its moving close : ---
And though you run expectant as you always do
Nor in any crowd : yet, strange and bitter thought,
And your brown eyes would look to ask if I was serious,
I must sit, not speaking, on the sofa,
Of the new poems in the book, one of the most beautiful is August Moon. The last verses provide an excellent example of Mr. Squire's gift both as a painter of things and a creator of atmosphere; --
A golden half-moon in the sky, and broken gold in the water.
In the water, tranquilly severing, joining, gold :
I have always known all this, it has always been,
I heard a story, a crazy and tiresome myth.
Listen ! Behind the twilight a deep, low sound
Doors that are letting people over there
The contrast between the beauty of the stillness of the moonlit world and the insane intrusion of the war into it has not, I think, been suggested so expressively in any other poem.
Now that these poems have been collected into a single volume it is possible to measure the author's stature. His book will, I believe, come as a revelation to the majority of readers. A poet of original music, of an original mind, of an original imagination, Mr.: Squire has now taken a secure place among the men of genius of to-day. Poems: First Series, is literary, treasure so novel and so abundant that I can no longer regret, as I once did, that Mr. Squire has said fare-well to the brilliant lighter-hearted moods of Steps to Parnassus and Tricks of the Trade. He has brought us gifts better even than those.
Old And New Masters:
Mr. Cunninghame Graham
The Work Of T. M. Kettle
Mr. J. C. Squire
Mr. Joseph Conrad
Mr. Rudyard Kipling
Mr. Thomas Hardy
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