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from the "dishonor of the grave,” who knew the face of Nemesis and were, above all, disciples of the law of Aidôs, the negation of
In the rich exposition of Gilbert Murray:
“Aidôs implies that, from some subtle emotion inside you, some ruth or shame or reflection, some feeling perhaps of the comparative smallness of your own rights and wrongs in the presence of the great things of the world, the gods and men's souls and the portals of life and death, from this emotion and from no other cause, amid your ordinary animal career of desire or anger or ambition, you do, every now and then, at certain places, stop.”
Now this, of course, concerns emotion, conduct. But the same sense of just limit concerns also art. Your emotion must be "recollected in tranquillity" lest it drag the hysteric Muse into frenzied measures. We must-stop. Louise Guiney knew this through a flawless intuition, but she went pace by pace with the Greeks while they counselled her anew.
It is not merely her choice of
Attic subjects, like Simoisius, or the Alexandriana that are, we are told, so faithful in spirit, though she had no Greek. It is that in this book we are renewedly conscious of the oneness of mortal longing and earth loveliness, so tightly are they entwined. Here is a sentience to the throes of that earth which is not solely the earth set to man's uses, but mysteriously made and mysteriously continued, with its uncomprehended language of light and dark and its ebb and flux eternally
Christian in belief, she was pagan in her listening nerves. And her harp, hung in the window opening on what we call eternity, thrilled to many breezes. Being Christian, she was, as in her life, all devotion, all pure obedience, rapt celebrant of the story of the Birth and the Cross, a vowed Eremite to the belief that counts all things loss, save One. Hands of diverse angels reached out of the sky and touched her harp to song or Litany. There was the spirit of an assured immortality. There was, too, the voice of Erda, the Earth, crooning from the root caverns in abysses of time past. The pagan
heart of her, the heart that was still immovably centred in the gentle certainties of Christ, is embedded in The Still of the Year. She knows the earth, because she has entered into the very spirit of created things and her mortal part suffers the pang of awakening which, to the earth, is spring. But what is it to the soul?
“Up from the willow-root
Some of the verse from this middle period is so fragile and austerely tremulous, like bare boughs moved by a not unkindly wind, that you are aware of what has, in another sense, been called "scantness.” Not only does she adventure delicately in her shallop, she is fain of archaic brevity and pauses that do unques
tionably halt the accompanying voyager, to his discomfiture. A Ballad of Kenelm was such as they chanted "on a May morning" in other days than ours. It has the consonance of prose trembling into verse. We are too luxurious for it. We want to be borne along on a lilting wave, we who have not found it possible to accommodate ourselves to the pegleg-to-market of free verse (what our poet herself once called, in a mischievous snapshot of judgment, “the rag-tag of vers libres”). Even the loving apostrophe to Izaak Walton is more chant than song, justified rather by the spirit than the form. One who knew her unceasing pains with verse and prose, how a stanza could never count itself finished beyond possibility of being smashed into unrecognizable fragments and remade, remembers this as an instance of her ruthlessness to her children even after they had grown up and gone their ways into the ultimate stronghold of the printed page. Here the opening lines run:
“What trout shall coax the rod of yore
Months after printing, the incorrigible dissonance of the two opening words struck her and, having no smallest modicum of professional vanity, she must needs admit a friend immediate to her to the excellent fool. ing of the discovery, and went about shouting, between gusts of mirth: "What trout! what trout!"
The harsher the discord she could lend the unfortunate twain, the more gustily she laughed, and in Happy Ending the choppy sea subsided into unimpeachable cadence:
“Can trout allure the rod of yore
In Itchen stream to dip?" But in The Roadside Harp, though her metres were sometimes inhospitable to the ear unprepared, she did attain the topmost reaches of the hills of words' delight. The Two Irish Peasant Songs ran with a light step, and a breath as sweet as the whispers over Ireland's harp. Here also is an imperishable beauty of a lyric, fit for some ecstatic anthology, so rare in form and color that the listening ear scarce cares for the meaning, so its music may go on and on.