Alfred Noyes

(16 September 1880 – 25 June 1958 / Wolverhamton)

Five Critcisms


I.

(_On many recent novels by the conventional unconventionalists_.)

Old Pantaloon, lean-witted, dour and rich,
After grim years of soul-destroying greed,
Weds Columbine, that April-blooded witch
'Too young' to know that gold was not her need.

Then enters Pierrot, young, rebellious, warm,
With well-lined purse, to teach the fine-souled wife
That the old fool's gold should aid a world-reform
(Confused with sex). This wrecks the old fool's life.

O, there's no doubt that Pierrot was clever,
Quick to break hearts and quench the dying flame;
But why, for his own pride, does Pierrot never
Choose his own mate, work for his own high aim,

Stand on his feet, and pay for his own tune?
Why scold, cheat, rob and kill poor Pantaloon?


II.

(_On a certain goddess, acclaimed as 'new' but known in Babylon._)

I saw the assembled artists of our day
Waiting for light, for music and for song.
A woman stood before them, fresh as May
And beautiful; but, in that modish throng,

None heeded her. They said, 'In our first youth
Surely, long since, your hair was touched with grey.'
'I do not change,' she answered. 'I am Truth.'
'Old and banal,' they sneered, and turned away.

Then came a formless thing, with breasts dyed scarlet.
The roses in her hair were green and blue.
'I am new,' she said. 'I change, and
Death knows why.'

Then with the eyes and gesture of a harlot
She led them all forth, whinneying, 'New, how new!
Tell us your name!' She answered, 'The
New Lie.'


III.

(_On Certain of the Bolsheviki 'Idealists.'_)

With half the force and thought you waste in rage
Over your neighbor's house, or heart of stone,
You might have built your own new heritage,
O fools, have you no hands, then, of your own?

Where is your pride? Is this your answer still,
This the red flag that burns above our strife,
This the new cry that rings from Pisgah hill,
'_Our neighbor's money, or our neighbor's life_'?

Be prouder. Let us build that nobler state
With our own hands, with our own muscle and brain!
Your very victories die in hymns of hate;
And your own envies are your heaviest chain.

Is there no rebel proud enough to say
'We'll stand on our own feet, and win the day'?


IV.

(_On Certain Realists._)

You with the quick sardonic eye
For all the mockeries of life,
Beware, in this dark masque of things that seem,
Lest even that tragic irony,
Which you discern in this our mortal strife,
Trick you and trap you, also, with a dream.

Last night I saw a dead man borne along
The city streets, passing a boisterous throng
That never ceased to laugh and shout and dance:
And yet, and yet,
For all the poison bitter minds might brew
From themes like this, I knew
That the stern Truth would not permit her glance
Thus to be foiled by flying straws of chance,
For her keen eyes on deeper skies are set,
And laws that tragic ironists forget.

She saw the dead man's life, from birth to death,--
All that he knew of love and sin and pain,
Success and failure (not as this world sees),
His doubts, his passions, inner loss and gain,
And borne on darker tides of constant law
Beyond the margin of this life she saw
All that had left his body with the breath.
These things, to her, were still realities.

If any mourned for him unseen,
She saw them, too.
If none, she'd not pretend
His clay were colder, or his God less true,
Or that his grave, at length, would be less green.
She'd not deny
The boundless depths of her eternal sky
Brooding above a boundless universe,
Because he seemed to man's unseeing eye
Going a little further to fare worse;
Nor would she assume he lacked that unseen friend
Whom even the tragic ironists declare
Were better than the seen, in his last end.

Oh, then, beware, beware,
Lest in the strong name of 'reality'
You mock yourselves anew with shapes of air,
Lest it be you, agnostics, who re-write
The fettering creeds of night,
Affirm you know your own Unknowable,
And lock the wingéd soul in a new hell;
Lest it be you, lip-worshippers of Truth,
Who break the heart of youth;
Lest it be you, the realists, who fight
With shadows, and forget your own pure light;
Lest it be you who, with a little shroud
Snatched from the sightless faces of the dead,
Hoodwink the world, and keep the mourner bowed
In dust, real dust, with stones, real stones, for bread;
Lest, as you look one eighth of an inch beneath
The yellow skin of death,
You dream yourselves discoverers of the skull
That old _memento mori_ of our faith;
Lest it be you who hunt a flying wraith
Through this dissolving stuff of hill and cloud;
Lest it be you, who, at the last, annul
Your covenant with your kind;
Lest it be you who darken heart and mind,
Sell the strong soul in bondage to a dream,
And fetter us once more to things that seem.


V

(_An Answer_)

[After reading an article in a leading London journal by an
'intellectual' who attacked one of the noblest poets and greatest
artists of a former century (or any century) on the ground that his
high ethical standards were incompatible with the new lawlessness.
This vicious lawlessness the writer described definitely, and he paid
his tribute to dishonour as openly and brutally as any of the Bolsheviki
could have done. I had always known that this was the real
ground of the latter-day onslaught on some of the noblest literature
of the past; but I had never seen it openly confessed before. The
time has now surely come when, if our civilization is to make any
fight at all against the new 'red ruin and breaking up of laws,' we
must cease to belaud our slack-minded, latter-day 'literature of
rebellion' for its cleverness in making scraps of paper out of the
plain laws of right and wrong. It has been doing this for more than
twenty-five years, and the same has become fashionable among
those who are too busy to read carefully or understand fully what
pitfalls are being prepared for their own feet and the feet of their
children.]


I

If this were true, England indeed were dead.
If the wild fashion of that poisonous hour
Wherein the new Salome, clothed with power,
Wriggled and hissed, with hands and feet so red,
Should even now demand that glorious head,
Whose every word was like an English flower,
Whose every song an English April shower,
Whose every thought immortal wine and bread;
If this were true, if England should prefer
Darkness, corruption, and the adulterous crew,
Shakespeare and Browning would cry shame on her,
And Milton would deny the land he knew;
And those who died in Flanders yesterday
Would thank their God they sleep in cleaner clay.


II

It is not true. Only these 'rebel' wings,
These glittering clouds of 'intellectual' flies
Out of the stagnant pools of midnight rise
From the old dead creeds, with carrion-poisoned stings
They strike at noble and ignoble things,
Immortal Love with the old world's out-worn lies,
But even now, a wind from clearer skies
Dissolves in smoke their coteries and wings.

See, their divorced idealist re-divorces
The wife he stole from his own stealing friend!
And _these_ would pluck the high stars from their courses,
And mock the fools that praise them, till the end!
Well, let the whole world praise them. Truth can wait
Till our new England shall unlock the gate.


III

Yes. Let the fools go paint themselves with woad,
For we've a jest between us, Truth and I.
We know that those who live by fashion die
Also by fashion, and that mode kills mode.
We know the great new age is on the road,
And death is at the heart of every lie.
But we've a jest between us, Truth and I.
And we have locked the doors to our abode.

Yet if some great new 'rebel' in his pride
Should pass that way and hear us laughing low
Like lovers, in the darkness, side by side,
He might catch this:--'The dullards do not know
That names are names. New 'rebel' is old 'thrall.''
And we're the lonely dreamers after all.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

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