The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield

By Jan Pilditch | Go to book overview

Edmund Blunden, "A Prose-Writer's Poems"

Though the prose writings of Katherine Mansfield revealed qualities which might identify her as a writer of poetry also, she chose to waive any public ascertainment upon the "might". It looked probable that so perceptive and innovative an interpreter of life would be given to experiments in verse, but only a small circle can have known that it was the fact. Why this secrecy? Even the most austere and other-worldly poet gives the ass of a public something to know him by. But it was not, apparently, an admirable if lofty view of poetry as holy ground which held Katherine Mansfield's poems from us. 'I remember her telling me,' we now read, 'when first we met, that the beautiful pieces now gathered together as Poems, 1911-1913 had been refused, because they were unrhymed, by the only editor who used to accept her work. He wanted her to write nothing but satirical prose. This treatment made her very reserved about her verses.'

Standing in ignorance of that editor's name, the present reviewer makes bold to respect him for the stated reason of rejecting those contributions. I am far from girding, let me add quickly, at unrhymed verse as a whole. Apart from the Miltonic and Keatsian, I would go down to the deep repeating my steady delight in those English worthies Isaiah and Job, and, provided the subject be not too wonderful, modern vers libre finds me willing. May it grow like a green bay tree! But I comprehend the aforesaid editor; he briefly summed as 'unrhymed' what was in general undirected; his word was the innocentest hint of a 'can't make much of this' verdict:

Across the red sky two birds flying,
Flying with drooping wings,
Silent and solitary their ominous flight.
All day the triumphant sun with yellow banners
Warred and warred with the earth, and when she yielded
Stabbed her heart, gathered her blood in a chalice,
Spilling it over the evening sky.
When the dark-plumaged birds go flying, flying,
Quiet lies the earth wrapt in her mournful shadow,
Her sightless eyes turned to the red sky
And the restlessly seeking birds.

Where is the potent word, though to be sure there are words enough for a fancy so unattached? What clear vision controls these thin metrical wanderings? The evening, to be sure, is not that which Collins sang and man sees; but grant invention--this is chimerical, pallid, and toyish. It is not the choice spirit of Katherine Mansfield.

Nor, at that period, is it evidenced that the use of a regular form, with its tendency to crystallize and impower the thought of the writer, assisted to distinguish her poetry. The sonnet "Loneliness" might have appeared in almost any tasteful volume of verses:

-14-

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