By HENRY WILLIAMSON
Strange Harp, Strange Symphony, The Life of Francis Thompson by John Walsh (W. H. Allen 63s.).
THE TITLE is not from a film, but from Shelley's Aluster, an autopsychical poem of the kind, whether in verse or prose, most young poets born with the seeds of creation begin their literary careers by absorbing. Sequent poets fasten on such works by their famous relations (in the world of the spirit) affirming thereby their own identities.
Poets usually begin clumsily, by imitating, as a child its parent, in speech. ideas, customs etc. A natural process of growth, and not, as the author of this comprehensive and possibly definitive biography seems almost to think. merely plagiarizing. They live with their god, night and day: a celestial presence companioning them.
Thompson is perhaps the greatest Catholic poet of the English 'language. He is generally dismissed, if not derided in this age, by many minor and minimus poets who lack the seeds of creation. And, even now, not entirely accepted by some Catholics of the hierarchy—to their, and our loss. Which is a pity; there are many mansions and even cots in the unseen world, which is the true world.
This is easily demonstrable, for as Blake wrote, "What is now achieved was once only imagined." Look about anywhere; every material object visible now was once only imagined. Keats wrote of the Imagination : from which all material objects have arisen. The Imagination, ever striving for beauty, and to create order out of chaos—an evolutionary process, to all inspired artists —is surely God, Here is Thompson, writing in 1890:
It would be a mistake to suppose that literature makes for good through the comparatively narrow medium of professedly religious writing. On the contrary the most powerful moralising influence is exercised in the long run by purely secular literature which is widely read, which never makes direct reference to either religion or morals, but which insensibly insinuates the ethos that laves it, as our bodies are insensibly permeated by the viewless constituents of the air that we breathe.
This passage was deleted in a book first published in 1948, entitled "Essays I" by the
book's editor, the Rev. T. L. Connolly. Thank heaven that Mr. John Walsh, in 1968, has included it in his book which is full of authentic details of his hero's material and unseen life.
The reviewer has not been able to read all this new book, but will spend many an evening between now and the Spring in going through it, word by word, with the same care with which it was "researched" during the past four years in American libraries and also those in England, when many hitherto unpublished poems came to the light, with fragments of the poet's notes and essays.
first read Francis Thompson in 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres, while, in the words of my superior officer, "the slums are dying in Flanders." He meant not only that the old world was such that 1914-18 in Europe perforce must bleed upon the battlefields, but that a new vision was born there.
And Thompson's poetry was of the dereliction as that which had made the slums in "darkest Britain." A brave vision; an equally lonely one for the infantrymen of Europe who died there, in what to them was "No Strange Land."
"Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,