Our new selection of Arthur Symons's Selected Early Poems, edited by Chis Baldick and Jane Desmarais, has been published as Jewelled Tortoise 3. Symons is overdue for a rediscovery: assured of a place in literary history for the key role he played as a sort of ambassador for Symbolism, or an acolyte of decadence, he is the sort of writer always bracketed with other writers. Important for his influence on T. S. Eliot, etc. Mallarmé's apostle, etc. But this is to overlook that he led by example as well as exhortation: he was a significant poet in his own right.
'An ingenuous reviewer', Symons writes in his questionably wise preface to Silhouettes, 'once described some verses of mine as "unwholesome," because, he said, they had "a faint smell of Patchouli about them.".. If he had only chosen Peau d'Espagne, which has a subtle meaning, or Lily of the Valley, with which I have associations!' Well, quite. And a certain aesthetic does seem to prevail over the poems which follow. Here's the entirety of After Sunset:
The sea lies quieted beneath
The after-sunset flush
That leaves upon the heaped grey clouds
The grape's faint purple blush.
Pale, from a little space in heaven
Of delicate ivory,
The sickle-moon and one gold star
Look down upon the sea.
This is a miniature landscape, which few poets could manage so concisely (compare perhaps Jean Follain). On the other hand stars are not gold, and no amount of poetry will make them so. More durable, less conventional, more arresting, are Symons's psychological lyrics. Here's the last verse of The Quest, which seemed originally to be some kind of love poem:
The shadow leads me through the night
To the grey margin of the sea;
Out of the dark, into the light,
I follow unavailingly.
At any rate, the quest for Symons himself will be more availing now. It's good to read Symons in his own words.