The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview
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XIV -- GEORGE SANT AY ANA
[1863- ]

WHEN a new edition of Santayana's sonnets and shorter poems was published a few years ago, Philip Littel, the critic, wrote: "For me, as for many other men who were young and at Harvard in the later eighteeneighties, it is impossible to regard these selected poems as a reprint. It is almost impossible to regard them as a book. They are the first moves, watched by us long ago from the sidelines, in a beautifully played game. They remind us of days when the earliest among them were appearing in the Harvard Monthly, leaving us now doubtful whether a talent could grow which had an air of being so full-grown in youth, and now wondering for what conquests of the upper regions these wings were being disciplined. Rather enigmatic he seemed to us, who were his juniors by a few years, and who could not understand his blending of sincerity and reserve. We were puzzled and we were fascinated, as if by something feline, by something colubrine, at the core of his loneliness. We did not know -- how could we? -- what this solitary thinker was about."

Yet in that first series of sonnets, written between his twentieth and thirtieth years, Santayana disclosed as much of himself as he ever has since; he confessed the color of his mind, sketched his spiritual apprenticeship, and set more or less definitely the themes for all his work to come. The subject of his poems is, as he has said, simply his philosophy in the making. "Of impassioned tenderness or Dionysiac frenzy" they have nothing, but they represent "a true inspiration, a true docility."

If Santayana was born contemplative and unsurprised, he had loneliness thrust upon him when he was moved from his native Spain to the alien air of Boston at the age

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