May Sinclair (essay date 1906)
SOURCE: “Three American Poets of Today,” in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XCVIII, September 1906, pp. 333-5.
[In the following excerpt Sinclair traces the progress of Torrence's poetry, predicts “a brilliant future” for him, and cautions lest “preciosity” undermine his art.]
Nobody who comes fresh from El Dorado and “The Lesser Children” (a poem published in The Atlantic Monthly) can say that Mr. Ridgely Torrence has not achieved, and achieved excellently; but he has not yet found himself and his place in literature. He has as yet put forth little. His first published work, The House of the Hundred Lights (his Rubáiyát), a slender volume of quatrains written in frank imitation of Omar Khayyám, has no note of his originality, but displays a certain aptitude in assimilating style. Each verse has the neatness of an epigram:—
Yes, he that wove the skein of Stars and poured out all the seas that are Is Wheel and Spinner and the Flax, and Boat and Steersman and the Star.
What! doubt the Master Workman's hand because my fleshly ills increase? No; for there still remains one chance that I am not His Masterpiece.
Though man or angel judge my life and read it like an open scroll, And weigh my heart, I have a judge more just than any—my own soul.
Mr. Torrence has definitely essayed the poetic drama. His El Dorado has much in it besides the mere facile exuberance of youth; there is color and vision and the sweep of action. The characters are nobly planned, and there is one fine tragic figure, Perth, the prisoner released after thirty years in a dungeon. He desires to recapture his lost youth, as the adventurer Coronado desires to capture the Seven Cities of Gold. Over the whole drama there is the golden light and rosy mist of youth; it is the drama of youth and of youth's disillusionment. There is a fine scene where Coronado and his host come within sight of the enchanted cities:—
Perth. The veil seems slowly to withdraw. Cor. I see it! A Voice. What? Cor. (To Perth) Look—far down! Perth. The mist seems coloured there. Cor. It glows! It is no mist! Can you not see The gem which is the mother of all dawn? Perth. There is some gleam. Car. It waits one moment yet Before it thunders upon our blinded sight! (To Soldiers) Choose what you will, O you whose blood has bought it! Out of all that which waits our famished eyes! Bright, barren sands of gold, which shall be fertile! Jewels that welter like great fallen suns! The living heat that smoulders in deep rubies, The endless April of cool emeralds And chrysoprase within whose heart the sky Kisses the sea! The sullen mystery Of opals holding captive sunsets past! And diamonds fashioned from the frozen souls Of lilies once alive!
The structure of the verse is sonorous and correct; there is the promise of that gift of phrasing which Mr. Torrence has developed so admirably in “The Lesser Children:”—
“And now, in that far edge, as though a seed Were sown, there is a hint of budding grey, A bud not wholly innocent of night And yet a colour.”
(The entire section is 1391 words.)