A Book Of Beauty
The Poems of Nora May French have been collected and published (The Strange Company, San Francisco). Ninety slim pages suffice to hold all the work that the editor of the little volume deemed worthy to represent the young, beautiful girl who killed herself in Carmel, California, three years ago. But nearly every line of these poems achieves the aim of poetry--which is, Beauty. Hence, in a time like this, when the printing press spews forth countless objects of no account, true ineptitudes, together with many poisonous and evil things, but so rarely gives birth to real objects of true art, the appearance of this little book of naive-yet art-created-beauty is a matter of importance to all those who care for poetry and are concerned regarding America's contributions to the greatest of the arts.
Nora May French was twenty-six years old when she drank poison and died, leaving directions that her body be burned and the ashes cast into the sea from the granite cliffs of Point Lobos. This is not the occasion to study the sad history of a temperament that could not achieve harmony with its environment; more than to say that her temperament was poetical in excelsis, and her environment constituted of modern Mammon's worse conditions. Poverty and sickness, and ever-baffled yearnings for a life of romance and beauty impossible for her to live, at last brought this victim of a horrible civilization to her knees in "the outer court" of death. She wrote a distinctly prophetic sonnet a year and four months before she died :
THE OUTER GATE
Life said: "My house is thine with all its store;
Behold, I open shining ways to thee-
Of every inner portal m a l e thee fret:
O child, I may not bar the outer door.
Go from me if thou wilt, to come no more;
But all thy pain is mine, thy flesh of me;
And must I hear thee, faint and woefully,v Call on me from the darkness, and implore?"
Nay, mother for I follow at thy will.
But oftentimes thy voice is sharp to hear,
Thy trailing fragrance heavy on the breath;
And on my face a pleasant wind and clear
Blows straitly from the narrow gate of Death.
This young girl-for even at twenty-six she was still in some respects a child, and many of her poems were written years before her death-this young girl had at her command a creative magic of a poignantly beautiful and haunting quality; a magic for which the only word seems to be "spiritual." For while the allure and beauty of material things were always near and dear, yet something concealed for most people within the outward semblances ever thrilled her most sensitive apprehension of inner things-of the spirit and the soul. Yet, unhappily, it was the inner appeal, and the haunting soul, of sadness, of hopelessness (for all souls are not happy and satisfied and good), that ever weighed upon Nora May French.
She lay so unguarded and open to spiritual impressions that at times it would almost seem as if the spiritual world had become objectified t o her. In dreams, at least ("dreams " is the word by which we speak of a life impossible to speak of intelligibly), she must have had singular adventures ; for here are some prose words which she brought back i n memory from a dream :-
L Think not, O Lilias, that the love of this night will endure in the sun. Hast thou beheld fungi, white, evil. rosy-lined, poisonous, shrivel in the eyes of day?
"In this wilderness of strange hearts it is not thine alone that concerns me. Many brave hearts of men arc more to me than thine. The hearts of men breathe deeply. A. for thy heart, it runs from me, it is quicksilver, it does not concern me greatly."
The soul of this wonderful girl--who was obliged to earn her bread for a period by the flesh and nerve- destroying toil of a " hello girl " at a telephone exchange switchboard-had a magical gift of transmuing impressions from the ethereal vibrations of Nature's finer forces, a s manifested in beautiful land- and-sea-and-skyscapes especially, that gives to her poetry a quality most exquisite and memorable- memorable, not as rhetoric is, memorable, in static phrases, but memorable rather as music is memorable: in haunting cadences and evocations of an atmosphere of mystical suggestions-suggestions of beauty, of sorrow, and pain; with occasional radiations of a pure lyrical joy.
Now all my thoughts were crisped and thinned
To elfin threads, to gleaming browns.
Like tawny grasses lean with wind
They drew your heart across the downs.
Your will of all the winds that blew
They drew across the world to me
To thread my whimsey thoughts of you
Along the downs, above the sea.
Beneath a pool beyond the dune-
So green it was and amber-walled
A face would glimmer like a moon
Seen whitely through an emerald-
And there my mermain fancy lay
And dreamed the light and pou were one,
And flickered in her seaweed's sway
A broken largesse of the sun.
Above the world as evening fell
I made my heart into a sky,
And through a twilight like a shell
I saw the shining seagulls fly.
I found beneath the sea and land
And lost again, unwrit, unheard,
A song that fluttered in my hand
And vanished like a silver bird.
The chief "work" contained in the little book is "The Spanish Girl," a love tale told in separate poems of uneven quality; some of them are perfect. A strong and subtle sense of passion throbs in this lyric sequence. To quote adequately were to copy all, or nearly all.
But I cannot forbear to copy the sonnet, written for a friend on the occasion of his marriage, entitled, rather too vaguely, "The Rose " :-
Ay, pluck a jonquil when the May's awing!
Or please you with a rose upon the breast,
A sweeter violet chosen from the rest,
To match your mood with blue caprice of spring-
Leave windy vines a tendril less to swing.
Why, what's a flower? A day's delight at best,
A perfume loved, a faded petal pressed,
A whimsey for an hours remembering.
But wondrous careful must he draw the rose
Frorn jealous earth, who seeks to set anew
Deep root, young leafage, with a gardener's art-
To plant her queen of all his garden close,
And make his varying fancy wind and dew.
Cloud, rain, and sunshine for one woman's heart.
The editor of the book--Mr. Henry Anderson Lofler, who was aided by Mr. George Sterling and Mr. Porter Garnett-has well achieved his part, for the volume is excellently printed and the verses arranged with pleasing art, while the notes are simply those called for to explain a few points in the text.
Oh, little book of beauty !--vibrant message from one lonely woman's inmost heart-may you find your way to beauty's friends in the world !
From: The New Age: A Weekly Review Of Politics, Literature And Art. Vol. VII. No. II. Thursday, July 14, 1910.