Page images
PDF
EPUB

ton," and the lamented William Larminie. He also contributed to * Ideals in Ireland' (1901) that charming book so ably edited by Lady Gregory, an essay called 'Nationality and Imperialism,' one of the most eloquent and moving, one of the noblest, appeals for the preservation of Irish ideals uttered in Ireland since the death of Thomas Davis. He is of course an ardent Nationalist, and it is said of him that once during an impassioned appeal for the preservation of the true ideals of Irish national life he exclaimed : “The Irish harp was never made to be played to the tune of The Absentminded Beggar' nor can the Irish wolf-dog be trained to hunt down the enemies of the Empire."

He is also the author of two fascinating essays, now long out of print and difficult to obtain, The Future of Ireland and the Awakening of the Fires,' and 'Ideals in Ireland : Priest or Hero ?' In 1899 he contributed to a Dublin paper a number of charming poems in prose : “The Childhood of Apollo,' «The Mask of Apollo, The Cave of Lilith,' 'The Meditation of Parvati,' 'The Midnight Blossom, The Story of a Star,' and other fascinating prose fancies, which have unfortunately not been republished. He has also written ‘Deirdre,' a beautiful prose drama in three acts, founded on one of the legends of the Irish heroic age. It has frequently been performed by the Irish National Theater Society. And he has written the essays on William Butler Yeats and Standish O'Grady for the present work.

He is a man of rare nobility of character and an inspiring influ. ence to the younger Irish writers of to-day, and has recently edited • New Songs,' a lyric selection from the work of eight young Irish writers whose names may be well known hereafter.

But it is as a lyric poet, as the author of beautiful songs, full of intense and high vision, of touches of perfect simplicity and pathos and fire, that he is best known. Of his work W. B. Yeats has written : “ The poetry of “ A. E.,' at its best, finds its symbols and its stories in the soul itself, and has a more disembodied ecstasy than any poetry of our time”; and he“ repeats over again the revelation of a spiritual world that has been the revelation of mystics in all ages, but with a richness of color and a subtlety of rhythm that are of our age. ... These poems, the most delicate and subtle that any Irishman of our time has written, seem to me all the more interesting because their writer has not come from any of our seats of literature and scholarship, but from among sectaries and visionaries whose ardor of belief and simplicity of mind have been his encouragement and his inspiration.”

Mr. Stephen Gwynn says of the poetry of " A. E.”: “In this poet's philosophy the way to the highest beauty is through pain, the loveliness of earth and sky, of flowers and mankind, being only the phantoms of illusion. And, since no poet was ever more alive to external beauty, there are poems in which the lower, more human beauty is chosen before the cold heights and the primeval stream of quiet. But the essential characteristic of them all, whatever their tenor, is a sense of living power that pervades and permeates the earth. For ‘A. E.' the dumb universe, bruta tellus, is charged with unspeakable properties, rife with voices. Sometimes we catch sight in his verse of a belief that all the pageant of past life is again enacted by shadowy forms, visible to the eyes that can see. The conception is one essentially Celtic, for to the Celt's mind earth and sea have always been quick with life, whether he puts that feeling into the shape of fairy myth, or merely is conscious of it in the drawing back again to the hills and waters that he first knew. And perhaps no Celtic poet has given to the soul of his race an expression more beautiful or more characteristic than this anonymous singer.”

At its highest and best moments his poems are worthy to be named among the most beautiful poetry written in modern days. His verse combines the gifts and the beauties of the painter, the musician,and the seer. He sees nature with the loving eye of an artist who is also a worshiper. He takes the ancient legends of Ireland and shows us their spiritual meaning. 'A Call of the Sidhe,' ‘Nuts of Knowledge,' 'The Divine Vision, The Secret,' “ The Earth-Breath,' 'Aphrodite,'' Babylon,' • The Vision of Love,'' The Gray Eros, 'The Memory of Earth,” • Reconciliation,'' By the Margin of the Great Deep,' The Gates of Dreamland,''The Master Singer,' The Twilight of Earth,' ' A Farewell,'_ Children of Lir,' ' A Summer Night,' . In Connemara, ''An Irish Face,' and 'Hope in Failure' are among the most perfect short poems in the language, each in its own way beautiful and admirable, full of tenderness and hope, of the nobility of love and sacrifice and of ecstatic beauty. By virtue of his imaginative qualities and his mastery of the lyric form this Irishman of genius holds a place apart which cannot be taken from him. He has, because of his gift of vision, been called the Irish Swedenborg, but unlike Swedenborg everything he sees is beautiful. He has been compared to Emerson, but he possesses all the ardor and warmth of feeling and sympathy that Emerson sometimes seemed to lack. Like William Blake, he is a mystic and a seer of far-off and visionary things, but he is always in his highest flights a master of his art. His human sympathy is as boundless as was Walt Whitman's, but he is entirely without any of Whitman's too frequent grossness. He is a spiritual leader and teacher, a great moral force, and the counselor and guide of many of the most promising young Irish writers of to-day. His belief in the soul, in immortality, in the spiritual life, is no mere intellectual apprehension, but the great vital fact of his being and the inspiration and consolation of his life. This belief in the spiritual life cannot be better expressed than in the few words prefixed to his first volume of poems : “I moved among men and places, and in living I learned the truth at last. I know I am a spirit, and that I went forth in old time from the Self-ancestral to labors yet unaccomplished ; but, filled ever and again with homesickness, I made these homeward songs by the way.'

In his paintings, he gives us a sense of the tenderness of love in children, of the wonder and mystery of the earth, of the fullness and abundance and warmth of life. He also paints pictures of his own visions, of the Enchanted Ground, of the Great Ones in Tir-nan'Ogue, and of the spirits of the ancient gods and great kings and queens of Ireland. Like William Blake, he never paints his pictures from models, feeling perhaps as Blake did that models "enslave one" or efface from one's mind a vision or reminiscence which was better. He has sought to paint landscape as if it had no other existence than as an imagination of the Divine Mind ; to paint man as if his life overflowed into that imagination ; and to paint the Sidhe as mingling with his life-the unity of God and man and nature in one single being ; an almost impossible idea to convey in paint.” He has the vision of a Corot, and if he had devoted himself wholly to the study and practice of his art he might well be named as an artist among the greatest.

He is no mere dreamer. He is an idealist in real life. He presents the unusual combination of a mystic, an artist, a poet, and a most practical man of affairs. He is one of the most skillful organizers of the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, the body founded by Sir Horace Plunkett, which has, with the aid of patriotic Irishmen in Ireland and the United States, undertaken to do for the Irish farmers what governmental departments of agriculture do for the farmers of self-governing countries. Mr. Russell's work is chiefly concerned with the founding of co-operative banks under the supervision of the Agricultural Organization Society, and in this work he has been extraordinarily successful. Sir Horace Plunkett is said to have once declared that this movement would not have been a success if it had not been for the invaluable labors of Mr. Russell. With his gifts as a speaker and his power to appeal to the imagination and emotions of his hearers, he has been able to arouse hope in the almost hopeless peasants and small farmers and to bring them into the movement which is doing so much to prepare the way for a better and more prosperous Ireland. In this work he has been in almost every part of the country, and he knows Ireland better perhaps than any other Irishman of to-day.

His heart is aglow with unshaken faith in the reality of the spiritual world and with zeal for the cause of Ireland. His poems enable us to share his dreams, and his pictures shadow forth the beautiful visions that are his. He is not a great philosopher-he is not a philosopher at all in the just sense of the word ; but he is a seer, a great exponent of spiritual truth, an inspiring teacher and a friend of those who seek to live in the spirit. This is why he is admired as an artist and poet and beloved as a man.

NATIONALITY AND IMPERIALISM.

From Ideals in Ireland.'

The idea of the national being emerged at no recognizable point in our history. It is older than any name we know. It is not earth born, but the synthesis of many heroic and beautiful moments, and these, it must be remembered, are divine in their origin. Every heroic deed is an act of the spirit, and every perception of beauty is vision with the divine eye, and not with the mortal sense. The spirit was subtly intermingled with the shining of old romance, and it was no mere phantasy which shows Ireland at its dawn in a misty light thronged with divine figures, and beneath and nearer to us demigods and heroes fading into recognizable men.

The bards took cognizance only of the most notable personalities who preceded them; and of these only the acts which had a symbolic or spiritual significance; and these grew thrice refined as generations of poets, in enraptured musings along by the mountains or in the woods, brooded upon their heritage of story until, as it passed from age to age, the accumulated beauty grew greater than the beauty of the hour, the dream began to enter into the chil. dren of our race, and their thoughts turned from earth to that world in which it had its inception.

It was a common belief among the ancient peoples that each had a national genius or deity who presided over them, in whose all-embracing mind they were inclosed, and by whom their destinies were shaped. We can conceive of the national spirit in Ireland as first manifesting itself through individual heroes or kings; and, as the history of famous warriors laid hold upon the people, extending its influence through the sentiment engendered in the popular mind until it created therein the germs of a kindred nature.

An aristocracy of lordly and chivalrous heroes is bound in time to create a great democracy by the reflection of their character in the mass, and the idea of the divine right of kings is succeeded by the idea of the divine right of the people. If this sequence cannot be traced in any one respect with historical regularity, it is because of the complexity of national life, its varied needs, and its infinite changes of sentiment; but the threads are all taken up in the end, and ideas which were forgotten and absent from the voices of men will be found, when recurred to, to have grown to a rarer and more spiritual beauty in their quiet abode in the heart. The seeds which are sown at the beginning of a race bear their flowers and fruits towards its close; and those antique names which already begin to stir us with their power, Angus, Lir, Deirdre, Finn, Ossian, and the rest, will be found to be each one the symbol of enduring qualities, and their story a trumpet through which will be blown the music of an eternal joy, the sentiment of an

« PreviousContinue »