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Evans, Mildred (ed.) / Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVIII, Number 2 (November 1918)

Evans, Mildred
Dirge in woods,   p. 45

Page 45

Dirge In Woods
A wind sways the pines,
And below,
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.
The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so.
Meredith's lyric, the Dirge in Woods is successful
since it affords a singular amount of intellectual pleas-
ure. It is a delight from beginning to end; unified in
tone and spirit, exquisitely balanced; fulfilling, I be-
lieve, the highest mandates of imaginative poetry.
The poem has, consistent of course with its brevity,
homogeneity of spirit. There are no divergences of
feeling, no awkward interruptions of style. The calm
philosophical tone flows evenly through it, bound
closely with the rhythm-a measured suggestion of
life, and death sudden and hushed in nature; then
man's quick fevered breath of life and his equally sud-
den death. Meredith displays philosophical insight in
his reading of life, his portrayal of the universal bond
of death among living things and the consequent in-
evitable bond of life. In this philosophy, however,
there is no sign of hope, merely a swift glimpse of life's
essential unity is shown through the blending of distant
with near; the pine cone and man.
We feel a pleasing sadness from the poem, the sad-
ness of Meredith's impassioned reflection, transmitted
to ,us through the imaginative beauty of his figures.
His reality, according to the principles of Coleridge, is
imaginative rather than actual. It is realized from an
inward reflection concerning the object rather than from
direct contact with the object itself; thus producing in
the reader a deeper appreciation of the philosophical
unity and relationship existing in the cosmos.
"A wind sways the pines,
And below
Not a breath of wild air;"
"Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase
And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
Even we,
Even so."
Compare the effect of this poem with that of Mere-
dith's poem, Society.  Here he clings to the real and
displays his philosophical fact by means of the actual
reality almost entirely barren of figures.
"Historic be the survey of our kind,
And how their brave Society took shape.
Lion, wolf, vulture, fox, jackal and ape,
The strong of limb, the keen of nose, we find,
Who, with some jars in harmony, combined,
Their primal instincts taming, to escape
The brawl indecent, and hot passions drape.
Convenience pricked conscience, that the mind.
Thus entered they the field of milder beasts.
Which in some sort of civil order graze,
And do half-homage to the God of Laws.
But are they still for their old ravenous feasts,
Earth gives the edifice they build no base:
They spring another flood of fangs and claws."
The external manifestations of imaginative power
are also evident in the Dirge in Woods. Swinging
meter and uneven lines are fortunately adapted to the
"Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,"
The lines are characteristically oanamatoapoetic.
Again, compare the light meter of this poem with the
consistently harsher meter of Society. Thus Mere-
dith displays his keen sensibility to beauty; by fitting
the outward symbols of his poem to the inner mean-
ing. There is an aesthetic delight, a unique fitness in
the arrangement of lines on the page: the poem ap-
proaches a free verse form.
Meredith is sincere in the emotions of this poem.
The lines are not forced to fit the rhythm, nor are the
figures fancifully played with and extended beyond
their proper use for the author's delight. There is no
"filling in" for lack of a thought, but unconscious
smooth flowing verse constantly suggesting the dirge
quality of the poem.         MILDRED EVANS.
November., 1918

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