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June 07, 1936 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1936-06-07

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A Contemplative Poet

Malraux Revealed As One Of
Decade's Important Writers

le Went

To NMicliigart

Reflects Social Change
Without Blatant
Frost. New York, Henry Holt and
Company. $2.50.
(Of the English Department)
The appearance of a new volume of
poems from the pen of the foremost
and best loved of America's living
poets is an event of the first import-
ance in our literary annals. This col-
lection, Book Six in the series of Mr.
Frost's publications, is a notable ad-
dition to what already seemed a life-
work and a major contribution to our
national literature. When, after the
lapse of a few years, North of Boston
followed A Boy's Will, Robert Frost's
high place in contemporary letters
was securely established, his bid for
enduring fame at least recognized.
The succeeding volumes, each with
its charming and su'ggestive title,
have broadened the range, deepened
the content, and confirmed the high
quality of the poet's product, reveal-
ing bit by bit the expansion to rich
maturity of a genius as uniquely in-
dividual as it is authentically Ameri-
can. If readers who regret the in-
frequency of his slender volumes
could know the merciless self-criti-
cism to which he subjects his work
and the reluctance with which he
affixes his imprimateur to the least of
his poems, and would bestow a com-
mensurate care upon their reading,
they would assuredly discover a Rob-
ert Frost previously unknown to
Robert Frost is always Robert
Frost: but what does this mean? Un-
til his last line is written-probably
not then-no one dare say that he
knows the poet or the man, for each
new volume has revealed new depths
of his nature. If I understand it
rightly I can not subscribe to a recent
'critical judgment as to Frost's keep-
ing to his center and never quite
crossing any line. Such a dictum,
with its implication of drab neutral-
ity, seems to rest upon the poet's clear
preference for country life, his status
as an "amateur farmer," his absten-
tion from active participation in so-,
cial or political movements or bring-,
ing poetical support or opposition to
the same. Those who have had the
inestimable privilege of the poet's
friendship know that he follows
closely and reflects profoundly upon
all vital issues in the life of our time.
In his conversation upon them (and
no one loves free converse more than
he) he is shrewd, wise, and far-see-
ing, and as uncomprisingly honest as
he invariably is in his poetry. It is
not unreasonable to believe that this
interest in affairs has always been
more implicit in his poetry than7
readily appears, and that the per-
spective of later times, turning back
upon the present, will discern a social
insight none the less impressive for
the absence of blatant propagandism.
The present volume, with the new
facets of poetic thought and char-
acter it displays, points distinctly in
this direction. The dedication sug-
gests an adventuring forth of the
spirit beyond the confined horizons
of Mountain Interval-"range beyond
range even into the realms of govern-
ment and religion." We still have the
old familiar Robert Frost, one whoi
"Would gaze on a wind-shaken
By the hour, nor count time
A contemplative poet who lets Nature
impinge upon his consciousness and
work her magic upon the dream-stuff
of his imagination: but a poet, equal-
ly, who observes and communes with
his neighbors, the hired man, the
tramp, the itinerant, preacher, the
striker. He is at all times receptive
to whatever life has to offer, pas-
sively so to a degree, and why not?
for he may well say with the mythical

"The lowest hind should not possess
a hope,
A fear, but I'd by him, saying better
Than he his own heart's language.
For clay, once cast into my soul's rich
mine, z
Should come up crusted o'er with
But in this new volume we find as
well a poet who reacts strongly upon
his world. Space forbids my at-
tempting to indicate the various

points at which contemplation passes
over into active criticism: most ob-
viously, perhaps, if not most effect-
ively, in Build Soil, in which the be-
wildering complexities of our present-
day social, political, and economic
fabric are controversially mirrored in
a dialogue between the city and the
country poet. In the end the country
bard must retire to his fence-mend-
ing and post-cutting to think it all
out. He must escape from the social
trammels that hinder breathing and
"I agree with you
We're too unseparate, and going
From company means coming to
our senses.''
Never, I think, has Mr. Frost more
richly combined in a single poem his
characteristic warmth of humanity,
profound sense of social justice, keen
responsiveness to Nature's moods,
and quaint, whimsical humor than in
Two Tramps in Mud Time.
"The sun was warm but the wind was
You know how it is with an April
When the sun is out and the wind is
You're one month on in the middle of
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in .the
middle of March.
A bluebird comes tenderly up to
And fronts the wind to unruffle a
His songs so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to
Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their
And all their logic would fill my
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man's work
for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right-agreed.
Could more than this be needed toa
dispel (pace, Mr. Van Doren!) the
idea that Frost's poetry is speech
rather than song? It is true that, in
the main, his idiom is more nearly
that of conversation than of conven-
tional poetic diction. In the homely,
direct honesty of his thought and
imagery he is as near to realism as
true poetry has ever been. But if
tenderness of feeling, delicacy of
fancy, vivid coloring, charm of hu-
mor, vigorous aliveness, and a mys-
tical insight energizing all these and
their various cognate qualities can
transmute the leaden realities of life
into lyrical beauty Robert Frost has

DAYS OF WRATH by Andre Mal-
raux. Random House 1936. $1.75.
I do not know whether I can in-'
licate within the space of a short re-
view why I believe the author of
Days of Wrath is one of the most im-
portant writers of our decade. His
mportance lies not only in the in-
.rinsic quality of his novels as novels
out also in the point of view which
'e brings tothis material and the in-
tegration he achieves. The artistic
power of Man's Fate the critics have
generally recognized, but to what de-
gree this achievement was made pos-
sible by Malraux's outlook and by
his conception of his function as ar-
tist, they have not clearly sensed and
realized. Malraux's integration I be-
lieve is directly responsible for the
dignity and intensity of his writing,
and it is one which other writers of
our confused decade may well con-
In his brief and illuminating pre-
face to Days of Wrath, Malraux
states that the word Art may mean
an attempt to give men a sense of
their hidden greatness ,and rightly
attributes this notion to such au-
thors as Aeschylus and Racine. Such
a position implies a clear concept of
the dignity and meaning of being
man. In indicating his concept of
humanity, Malraux writes: "It
is difficult to be a man. But it is not
more difficult by enriching one's fel-
lowship with other men than by cul-
tivating one's individual peculiarities.
The former nourishes with at least as
much force as the matter that which
makes man human, which enables
him to surpass himself, to create,
invent, or realize himself."
Malraux, in other words, makes the
brave if difficult attempt to give to a
confused and disintegrating world a
concept of the human spirit. And
he attempts to demonstrate it in
terms of the important mpral issues1
of our time. "The world of a work'
like this," he says of Days of Wrath,
"the world of tragedy, is the ancientE
world still-man, the crowd, the ele-
ments, destiny. It reduces itself to
two characters, the hero and his sense
of life; individual antagonisms which
make possible the complexity of the
full length novel, do not figure here."
Man's Fate differs from Days of
Wrath in that it includes these
individual antagonisms. It con-
sequently gives a deeper and
richer experience; it is more com-
prehensive because Malraux not only
presents his human ideal but also!
brings before us the various demons
which dominate men of the modern
world. He thus presents our world as
it ordinarily is and as it is and can be
at its best. Kyo, the incarnation of
the ideal, is willing to die in order
that man may become man, in order
that a human world may come into
- ____________ t__

being. He is the rare, heroic man
who is able "to endure his condition,
his fate as a man," the rare, heroic
man who does not sentimentally defy
the fates for the conditions which
they impose upon him as the price
for life,
Days of Wrath, a slender volume of
174 pages, limits itself to the repre-
sentation of the ideal man. The
plot is simple but stirring. Kassner,
the communist hero, allows himself
to be arrested and to undergo the
tortures of a Nazi concentration camp
because it is the only means by which
he can prevent the Nazis from ob-
taining a list of names. The intercep-
tion of this list would mean the de-
struction of important communist
leaders whose continued survival is
necessary to the cause of humanity.
The sections which delineate Kas-
sner's nine-day incarceration-days
which seem an eternity-are (but for
some occasional excessive lyricism)
evidence of Malraux's powers as an
artist. Kassner's reaction to the tor-

Right Bodacious Novel
Wrote By Hopwood
Winner I
Hubert Skidmore. Doubleday Dor-
an. $2.00.
This hyar's the best book to come
)ut of them thar hills in many a yar.
It's got the honest-to-God flavor of
;orn pone, with a smack of Red Apple
mHuff, and the Hopwood committee
should be pleasured out of all reason
by its reception thus far.
The Cutlips are a family of moun-
'aineers who neither live by the tra-
ditional liquor still nor pop at their
neighbors with shot-guns nor speak
.he mucky obscenity which Caldwell
makes so picturesquely American-
)rovincial. They are a dignified and
an earnest folk living in their remote
cabin on Cherry Knob, until a fam-
;shed crop forces Nat to seek work in
:,he mill town of Turkey Trot. When
'ie moves his family down to the Bot-
'oms, against the better judgment of
Maw, troubles beset the Cutlips. The
-ramped and evil ways of the settle-'
:nent worm into the family while
,taw's nostalgia for the lonely Knob
aches in vain.. The eldest boy John
's forced to marry a village girl whom
he gets into trouble, and the tragic
climax comes in Nat's death in a log
The frugal outline of the plot hard-
ly suggests the moving quality of the

they live and act as they must; of
the men who are willing to die for one
another to realize their common hu-
man objective.
Malraux has an epical theme. He
is not content, in naturalistic fashion,
to describe and enumerate the hor-

narrative and the richness of the
characterization-Maw, who always
reckons that "we uns can git along
someway"; Ben the moody lad with
a pathological streak, who takes to
book larnin and reads Paradise Lost;
Aunt Binny Harless, the wizened pro-
fane old midwife; Jewell, the sprawly
half-wit girl, whose mother "lows hit
was on count o me putten # hat on
her afore she was a year old. Some
says the'll do hit"; and the con-
sumptive school-master, Mr. Gumm,
who had "eyes like bullet-holes in a
dried animal's hide, and his- mouth a
slit where the skinning knife slipped."
A fine grasp of the dramatic makes
for vivid story-telling. The Christ-
mas scene on the Knob, the death of
the child Blossom from a rattle-snake
bite, and the wake over the corpse of
Nat are instances of that vitality and
sense of life which is the most prom-
ising feature of this first novel. Only
occasionally does the author disturb-
ingly wax adjectival in his narrative,
as if he were dressing up in store-
Sinclair Lewis' prognostication last
year as one of the Hopwood judges
who awarded this novel first prize
apparently was not far wrong. He
said, "I have every confidence that
the book will be accepted and go well.
It has real quality such as I rarely
find anywhere." Last week I Will
Lift Up Mine Eyes was named by a
New York, paper in their list of the
best books of the year, and it has
also been chosen one of the Book
League selections for July. Certainly
it is the best Hopwood work published
to date, and so God bless Avery Hop-

1 (

tures which his fellow prisoners un- rors of torture chambers or the ob-
dergo is effectively illuminated by his vious effects of poverty and oppres-
fear that imminent insanity will sion, with an implicit or explicit mor-
make him divulge important secrets, al of an empty humanitarianism. His
and by his consequent determination hero is not one who weakly is tossed
to die by his own hand, to give up about by the forces around him. Nor
voluntarily all the positive values for does he talk in slogans, strike poses,
which he wishes to live-the cause undergo hysterical emotional gyra-
of humanity, his wife, his child. tions because the world does not com-
But Kassner does not die, because ply with the desires of his ego, be-
an unknown fellow prisoner, at the cause the world does not allow him
expense of his own life, keeps him to live an empty freedom.
from insanity by tapping on the wall- Such a concept of character may
in code a word of encouragement; be- seem strange to those of us who have
cause an unknown comrade is willing been taught to think of the individual
to die by giving himself up as Kas- in a Rousseauistic or in a Faustian
sner in order that the more valuable sense. But it is a concept of per-
man may be available for the cause; sonality which would have been com-
and because a pilot is willing to risk prehensible to the Greeks, to men of
his life by flying in a storm to bring the Middle Ages, to Shakespeare. It
Kassner to his home in Prague that! is a concept which is conducive to
he may be able to continue his work. depth in literature, which makes
Kassner, thus, is no individual; he is tragedy possible, which gives dignity
the incarnation of all the men who I and power to the slender novel I have
suffer in torture chambers becausebeen discussing.

GIFTS Silks"Ivory



Metal Work










wrought this miracle. To do this
has been his authentic mission.
In A Further Range I find a notable
advance in the poet's art and a dis-
tinct gain in power and vision. He
has not ceased to grow. His touch
is surer, his tone more confident and
serene. The happy title of the vol-
ume suggests at once a fulfilment
and a prophecy
Charming Hamadans
2.6x4.6 $ 99
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