I realize that I am constructing a dream-world: how can I possibly say that I have been in "a vague 1920s mood this week" when I have no conception of what the 1920s were like in England, across the sea? But escapism is what it is. I confess: at times I long for a different world entirely.
Yes, I know that human nature was no different then, that a horrific war had just ended, and that economic calamity and another war were on the horizon. Yet there is something fundamentally decent, restrained, circumspect, and seemly about the poems one encounters in Marsh's anthologies. Something that is the exact opposite of the world in which we now find ourselves.
Richard Eurich, "Dorset Cove" (1939)
Earlier this year I posted poems by William Kerr and J. D. C. Pellow that appeared in Georgian Poetry, 1920-1922. A few days ago, I discovered this poem in the same volume.
When little lights in little ports come out,
Quivering down through water with the stars,
And all the fishing fleet of slender spars
Range at their moorings, veer with tide about;
When race of wind is stilled and sails are furled,
And underneath our single riding-light
The curve of black-ribbed deck gleams palely white,
And slumbrous waters pool a slumbrous world;
-- Then, and then only, have I thought how sweet
Old age might sink upon a windy youth,
Quiet beneath the riding-light of truth,
Weathered through storms, and gracious in retreat.
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962). The poem was originally published in Orchard and Vineyard (1921).
The image of the lights of the village "quivering down through water with the stars" is particularly fine. As is "slumbrous waters pool a slumbrous world." And, at my age, I find the concluding lines something to aspire to. (Although I have no illusions about "the riding-light of truth" beaming overhead! But, as for "gracious in retreat": one would hope so.)
Richard Eurich, "Robin Hood's Bay in Wartime" (1940)
I have a soft spot for poems set in peaceful harbors at night. Hence, "Evening" brought this poem to mind (which, coincidentally, was also published in 1921).
Boats at Night
How lovely is the sound of oars at night
And unknown voices, borne through windless air,
From shadowy vessels floating out of sight
Beyond the harbour lantern's broken glare
To those piled rocks that make on the dark wave
Only a darker stain. The splashing oars
Slide softly on as in an echoing cave
And with the whisper of the unseen shores
Mingle their music, till the bell of night
Murmurs reverberations low and deep
That droop towards the land in swooning flight
Like whispers from the lazy lips of sleep.
The oars grow faint. Below the cloud-dim hill
The shadows fade and now the bay is still.
Edward Shanks (1892-1953), The Island of Youth and Other Poems (1921).
Think of it: T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land would be published in the following year. I was once entranced by it, and I still find it . . . interesting. But it now seems overwrought. And Eliot seems full of himself. When it comes to "modernism," I suppose I am an apostate. "Evening" and "Boats at Night" seem more, well, human. These sorts of poems may not be ironic enough, or unillusioned enough, for some "modern" tastes. They certainly do not pass muster for the avant-garde. They are unashamedly "old-fashioned." All the better.
Richard Eurich, "In Falmouth Harbour" (1935)
Finally, a poem which (for me, at least) has the same evocative feeling as the poems by Sackville-West and Shanks.
A Ship, an Isle, a Sickle Moon
A ship, an isle, a sickle moon --
With few but with how splendid stars
The mirrors of the sea are strewn
Between their silver bars!
* * *
An isle beside an isle she lay,
The pale ship anchored in the bay,
While in the young moon's port of gold
A star-ship -- as the mirrors told --
Put forth its great and lonely light
To the unreflecting Ocean, Night.
And still, a ship upon her seas,
The isle and the island cypresses
Went sailing on without the gale:
And still there moved the moon so pale,
A crescent ship without a sail!
James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915), in John Squire (editor), The Collected Poems of James Elroy Flecker (1916). The ellipses are in the original.
Flecker was of a romantic bent, which was further colored by the time he spent in the Mediterranean and the Middle East as a consular official. In tone and diction, his poetry often has a Romantic-Victorian feel to it. However, in a number of poems he adopted a more direct, less florid approach, while still retaining his distinctive sensibility. (In this regard, I recommend a perceptive essay (unfinished) that he wrote about A. E. Housman. Flecker remarks of A Shropshire Lad: "[T]here are no cacophonous lines. Mr. Housman has achieved this fine result mainly because he has used pure spoken English with hardly any admixture of poetic verbiage." James Elroy Flecker, Collected Prose (1920), page 226.) It is a pity he died so young.
Richard Eurich, "Whitby in Wartime"