[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 5, 1535.]
To William Sharp [E. Sharp, W. Sharp, a Memoir, 1910, pp. 116-118]
Skerryvore [Early February 1886]
Having at last taken an opportunity to read your pleasant volume, it has had an effect upon me much to be regretted and you will find the consequences in verse.
I had not written a serious sonnet since boyhood, when I used to imitate Milton and Wordsworth with surprising results:
and since I have fallen again by your procuring (a procuration) you must suffer along with me. May I say that my favourite sonnet in the whole range of your book is Tennyson Turner’s “The Buoy-Bell”?
Possibly there is a touch of association in this preference; but I think not. No human work is perfect; but that is near enough.
Robert Louis Stevenson
The form of my so-called sonnets will cause you as much agony as it causes me little. I am base enough to think the main point of a sonnet is the disjunction of thought coinciding with the end of the octave: and when a lesser disjunction makes the quatrains and sestets I call it an ideal sonnet; even if it were rhymed anyhow. But the cross rhyme, tears—fear, in the second is, even in my base eyes, a vile flaw.
THE ARABESQUE (Complaint of an artist)
I made a fresco on the coronal,
Amid the sounding silence and the void
Of life’s wind-swept and unfrequented ball.
I drew the nothings that my soul enjoyed;
The pretty image of the enormous fact
I fled; and when the sun soared over all
And threw a brightness on the painted tract,
Lo, the vain lines were reading on the wall!
In vain we blink; our life about us lies
O’erscrawled with crooked mist; we toil in vain
To hear the hymn of ancient harmonies
That quire upon the mountains as the plain;
And from the august silence of the skies
Babble of speech returns to us again.
THE TOUCH OF LIFE
I saw a circle in a garden sit
Of dainty dames and solemn cavaliers,
Whereof some shuddered at the burrowing nit,
And at the carrion worm some burst in tears;
And all, as envying the abhorred estate
Of empty shades and disembodied elves,
Under the laughing stars, early and late
Sat shamefast at this birth and at themselves.
The keeper of the house of life is fear:
In the rent lion is the honey found
By him that rent it; out of stony ground
The toiler, in the morning of the year,
Beholds the harvest of his grief abound
And the green corn put forth the tender ear.