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COMMENTS AND REVIEWS 

THE AUDIENCE 
I 

J^HAVE protested in private, and I now protest 
more openly, against the motto upon the cover 
of Poetry. The artist is not dependent upon 
his audience. This sentence is Whitman tired. 
You have only to compare Whitman to my 
mutton-headed ninth cousin, or to any other American of 
his time who had the "great audience," to see the difference 
of result. 

And for all that, Whitman was not such a poet as Dante, 
who never gave way, and from whom we have the tradition 
of an answer more becoming to genius : "Quern stulti magis 
odissent." When they asked him who was wisest in the city 
he answered, "He whom the fools hate worst." 

The artist is not dependent upon the multitude of his 
listeners. Humanity is the rich effluvium, it is the waste and 
the manure and the soil, and from it grows the tree of the 
arts. As the plant germ seizes upon the noble particles of 
the earth, upon the light-seeking and the intrepid, so does 
the artist seize upon those souls which do not fear transfusion 
and transmutation, which dare become the body of the god. 
I ask you, had Synge an audience in his life-time? He 
was hounded or despised by a half-educated, Zoroastrian 
rabble of "respectable" people more stupid and sodden than 
is to be found even in America. He had a scant handful 

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POETRY: A Magazine of Verse 

of friends. Had Dante the popular voice? He had his 
youthful companionship with Guido, and correspondence 
with a man from Pistoja and with the latinist De Virgilio. 

Must we restrict this question to poets? I ask the 
efficient man in any department of life. Can we have no 
great inventors without a great audience for inventors? Had 
Curie a great audience ? Had Ehrlich for his bacilli ? Can 
we have no great financier without a great audience? Had 
the savior of the world a great audience? Did he work 
on the magazine public? 

Is there any use carrying it further? Did not the 
disciples of Confucius beg him to do something popular? 
Have we not his imperturbable answer? "So you wish me 
to become famous — shall I take up archery or charioteering? 
I shall take up charioteering." 

It is true that the great artist has in the end, always, his 
audience, for the Lord of the universe sends into this world 
in each generation a few intelligent spirits, and these ulti- 
mately manage the rest. But this rest — this rabble, this 
multitude — does not create the great artist. They are aimless 
and drifing without him. They dare not inspect their own 
souls. 

It is true that the great artist has always a great audi- 
ence, even in his life time; but it is not the vulgo but the 
spirits of irony and of destiny and of humor, sitting within 
him. Ezra Pound. 



[30] 



The Audience 

II 

Controversy is good for the soul, and the magazine 
which expresses but one opinion is doomed. 

Of course, as Mr. Pound says, there is a sense in which 
a "great audience" may be a very small one. That was 
hardly Whitman's meaning, however, nor is it the hint we 
intend to convey by our motto. Modern inventions, forcing 
international travel, inter-racial thought, upon the world, 
have done away with Dante's little audience, with his con- 
tempt for the crowd, a contempt which, however, disregarded 
the fact that his epic, like all the greatest art, was based 
upon the whole life of his time, the common thought and 
feeling of all the people. No small group today can suffice 
for the poet's immediate audience, as such groups did in 
the stay-at-home aristocratic ages; and the greatest danger 
which besets modern art is that of slighting the "great audi- 
ence" whose response alone can give it authority and volume, 
and of magnifying the importance of a coterie. 

In an essay on The Bigness of the World {Atlantic 
Monthly, September, 1911) I discussed this question of the 
poet and his audience at greater length than poetry has 
space for. The concluding paragraphs were: 

Great art, the highest art, comes only when profound energy 
of creation meets profound energy of sympathy. The leader 
must have his army behind him, the votes must hear an outcry of 
passion and understanding from all his world. Of old, when the 
poet spoke for a few, the response of the few was enough. To- 
day, when he must speak for the many, the many must hear 
him, must not only hear but understand him in their profoundest 
secret instincts of sympathy or rebellion; else he can not utter 

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POETRY: A Magazine of Verse 

the truth that is in him, and modern democracy must go unin- 
spired. 

Thus we shall hardly have our votes until our huge hetero- 
geneous crowd becomes as aware of the spirit as it is today of 
the flesh, as keen for truth and beauty as it is today for comfort. 
. . . The inventors have had their world behind them ; modern 
democracy is still giving them its commands. Science takes no 
step forward that the man in the street does not know : he thrills 
over X-rays and radium, he is eager to test the mono-rail, he 
jokes about the inhabitants of Mars. In this direction lies in- 
crease of comfort and knowledge ; here the creative energy of 
our age meets equal energy of sympathy, and each day records a 
new miracle. And all these are glorious deeds, necessary to the 
making of a larger world. We live in a great age, but a greater 
age must come. 

Already there are many signs of an awakening of spiritual 
consciousness in the crowd — confused and scattered signs of far- 
blown sympathies, exaltations, ideals. Democracy is becoming 
awake and aware, is discovering a deeper need than the need of 
food and raiment. At present this instinct is vague and form- 
less, voiced in dim and clouded questionings, almost world-wide 
political doubt, spiritual unrest. The new democracy must grope 
and wander, lingering among vast uncharted uncertainties. It 
must search long for its poet-prophet who shall sing the old era 
away and usher in the new. And when he comes he must be of 
spiritual stature great enough to stand fitly on mountain-tops and 
speak for a world more vast than man has ever known. 

Art is not an isolated phenomenon of genius, but the 
expression of a reciprocal relation between the artist and his 
public. Like perfect love, it can be supreme only when the 
relation is complete. There is a magic in it beyond the reach 
of reason, a magic which Whitman felt when he wrote the 
sentence printed on our cover. Science is explaining more 
and more the reactions and relations of matter, of life. It 
becomes increasingly clear that nothing can stand alone, 
genius least of all. H. M. 

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