The Poets in the Nursery. by Charles Powell with an introduction by John Drinkwater
London: New York: John Lane Company, 1920. Second edition.
p. 9-12, 20-21


Introductory Note

Common parody, skilled though it be, is a defilement of poetry, and contemptible. It springs rather from restentment than from affection and understanding, being the attack of mere cleverness upon beauty. The jealous touch is unmistakable, and though it may sometimes force a laugh, it is always, for any generous reader, a laugh without comfort. It remains vulgar, lacking the last saving grace of tenderness. But the parodist of fine temper never outrages our love of poetry; indeed, he exercises it, not passionately, but in a very friendly intimacy.

Such a one is Mr. Charles Powell, and his book belongs to the aristocracy of his art. Just as a lover will rally the beloved and yet be fiercely intolerant of an ill word against her, so Mr. Powell makes fun of his poets and leaves us assured that he would spare nothing in poetry's defence.

So admirable are these verses that the critic wants to follow the parodist through each, for no better purpose than to explain upon their obvious merits. I will merely give myself the pleasure of anticipating the reader, who troubles to wait upon this formality, in a few of his delights. It will be observed that while Mr. Powell invariably catches his subject's external manner with easy precision, this is but the beginning of his art. The underlying spiritual force never evades him, and he measures himself successfully against the poet's impulse as well as against its formal expression. He can recreate not only the elegance of Mr. Dobson's muse, but also the secluded fragrance, and under his sensitively humorous figure of Mr. Hardy's fibrous verse lies the equivalent of Mr. Hardy's sifting intelligence. Here and there, perhaps, as in the Robert Browning and Thompson parodies, the result remains something of a tour de force, but in almost every case it rises above this to revelation. Mr. Noyes, we cannot but think, would like to have written the poem that is here put to his credit, and the worst that malic can induce Mr. Powell to do is to add a distinction to the celebration of Master Tom Tucker that might not have been there had Miss Wilcox really been the poet.

Faithful as the parodist is to his occasion, his work has continual touches of his own personal quality.

This centre of ravishment
Teeming with, whatever else, mischance,
owes nothing to Henley's humour, and Sir Henry Newbolt cannot claim the invention, or even the inspiration, of
Tabby was fretting his sires' heart-strings.
But these notes are never out of key with the main intention. This book, in its own urbane province, has the unity of an accomplished work of art, and it is a book obliquely but truly in praise of poetry. Mr. Powell never forgets his fun; but neither does he forget the significiance of his poets, and poets are not always so happy in their more accredited ministers.

JOHN DRINKWATER



LITTLE TOM TUCKER

     Ella Wheeler Wilcox

It's easy enough to sing paeans
   To a Royal Hotel cuisine,
But the uncrowned king is the man who can sing
   To the loaf and the margarine.
For the key to the life is the palate:
   Pampered, it starves the soul;
But a life on air and homely fare
   Is a life lived high and whole.

The life shows whole, but in segments,
   Buttered, the loaf goes down--
In segments made with a Sheffield blade,
   Stamped with the King's own crown.
And the whole is but half, lived lonely:
   It's a woman's plighted troth
That gives man a wife for the rest of the life
   Of the one, or the other, or both.

p. 20-21