El 'Catholic ook of the Month for November -z. = . I DELIGHTFUL .
2 a By Fr. C. C.
E hope that the welcome given to this book* will in some measure console the veteran poet for the all-but total loss of his eyesight-he can no more read.
From boyhood he was an omnivorous reader-not only of "boys' books" but of poets like Spenser, many 18th century books-indeed, when surreptitiously reading Spenser under cover of a "Euclid" and his schoolmaster discovered this, he was met, not with punishment, but by the delighted exclamation of his master who regarded him as a sort of miracle. unusual school-boyl but also. unusual pedagogue!
Not that he had no healthy taste for the macabre. When he was seven. 'They" gave him the Fairchild Family which now he (as I do) considers a very wicked book. But he "thoroughly enjoyed" the episode of Mr. Fairchild seating his small children under the gallows from which hung a corpse (ghoulishly described), so as to teach them (I think) not to steal. This scene sent me into a hysterical panic for a week.
Sense and fancy
IF a man is "born a poet" he ican't be made into one; still, a child needs to be fed, and Mr. Noyes was from very early days nourished by meeting a great variety of stimulating personsAsquith, Swinhurne, Gosse and very many others; and perhaps if "de-bunking" people is a legitimate occupation, Gosse (together with H. G. Wells and Hugh Walpole) is a good candidate for that operation.
But instead of becoming a mass of contradictions like Swinburne, or allowing life to clash with letters, Mr. Noyes maintained his personality.
Hence, to start with, his poetry makes sense; further, it is melodious; it does not seek extraordinary words nor yet descend to the modern trick of inserting some hideous expression to prove (I suppose) that a poet is not "poetic."
Not that a poet always fully understands himself; indeed, at his best, he should not.
Mr. Noyes is a realist in so far as he sees every detail and describes it without, for example, the tortuosity of Gerard Hopkins; yet he is a mystic" in so far as, like Browning. he often has "fancies that broke through language and escaped"-indeed, he always was, since while still a little boy he wrote of "The first note that 1 heard-a magical undertone," and was in ecstacy over the colours of a butterfly, "exquisitely organised in a complicated pattern." Books might say it was a Fritillary, or a Tiger Moth (no; he wouldn't have seen that moth in "blazing sun"light!)-"but they never could explain what first 1 saw there." (I hope he attended not least to the underwings, often far more intricate and elusive than what those insects as a rule exhibit!) But that is the life-long torment and sorrow of the poet, and the point at which he meets the religious mystic. Neither sense and words, nor intellect and ideas, are any more at his service. But Mr. Noyes quotes much of his own poetry, so you can judge for yourselves.
HE is not a "difficult" poet; but doubtless many will be more easily caught by the lavish gift he makes of anecdotes-of W. E. Henley hurling his crutch at Oscar Wilde : of Mrs. Wilfrid Ward making public (but very polite) mince-meat of Wickham Steed and his purely mythical 'recount of her husband's secret mission-"entrusted to him by the then Duke of Norfolk" -to the Pope: of Dean Inge (every page about the Dean is as remorseless as affectionate) who, it appears, preached annually at Pusey House in Oxford : I liked the Catholic's view of the Puseyite "High Mass--"It was very well done. but I prefer the simplicity of our own ritual."
Who could compete with the story of the Papal election, known in New Yolk half an hour before it was announced in Rome, since a journalist had kept his rival's line blocked by a man reading the Old Testament Over the air-he had got as far as Exodus; or that of Lady Jellicoe who, unveiling a memorial window, found it was in honour of a Maria Williams, and, forgetting the microphone, remarked. "Who in hell is Maria Williams?" (Well. I can just approximate to this! Speaking in Sydney Town Hall. I saw that I could perfectly well be heard in all of it. But my neighbouring Bishop kept pushing an unaccustomed microphone before me. Forgetting its powers. at last I pushed it back. barking. "I hate this damned thing!" The hall exploded, and the rest of the speech went well.) . NOYES ,:.::: -2
Poet US IN this book you will find a most unusual combination of a poet, an admirable prose writer, a travelled man (he has much.to say of the U.S.A., not least valuable just at present), and, in short, it is hard to find so "all-round" a man, so amusing, so generous, so musical and inaginative, and so Catholicallyspiritual as the author of this biography, of which we wish that every chapter-almost every paragraphcould be expanded.
Thus we would he able to understand not only himself. but the muchmaligned Victorian epoch and its transition into ours. in which the most formidable task may weigh upon the shoulders of our Queen, certainly the most important woman, for good or ill, in the World today.
*9'wo Worlds for Memory," by The latest Alfred Noyes (Sheed & Ward, 21s.).