AFTER retirement, many men turn to a hobby or avocation to supplement their income. For a man to end gladly and voluntarily a lucrative and exciting career which had brought him power and international prestige, in order to pursue one of the most exacting but least financially rewarding of the arts, is unusual enough to make news. Paul Scott Mowrer is such a man.
He was born on July 14, 1887, in Bloomington, Illinois. His family later moved to Chicago, where Paul graduated from high school in 1905. He must have puzzled many of his fellow students, for already he was writing verse. He even wrote poems during classes and study hours! His teachers not only tolerated this, but some of them thought that he showed promise as a poet.
Since even a teen-ager with a high school diploma could not eat poetry, Paul got a job as reporter on the Chicago Daily News. He liked the work, even with its low pay; but there were many things he still wanted to learn. So in 1906 he enrolled as a "special student" at the University of Michigan. Young Mowrer was a "special" because he chose to take the subjects he wanted, instead
of conforming to the requirements for a degree. He left the University in i 908 and went back to work for the Daily News. Michigan did not forget the non-conformist young student, however, and much later (in 1941) bestowed on him the honorary degree of LL.D. But many exciting events were to fill those intervening years.
In 1910 the paper sent Paul Scott Mowrer to Europe as Paris correspondent. He did not suspect that it would be some twenty-four years before he resumed residence in the United States. Those years were active ones. He served as accredited correspondent with the Allied Armies in the first Balkan War ('9 12-13), and he set up in France and directed the Daily News war service (1914-18). He was officially accredited as war correspondent to the French Armies from 1917 to the end of the war. He directed the Peace Conference Bureau of the Daily News (1918-19), and in 1924-25 covered the Moroccan campaigns in Africa.
Recognition was not lacking. In 1918 the French awarded Mowrer the Legion of Honor, promoting him to Officer in 1933. In 1929 he received the Pulitzer Prize as the best foreign correspondent of the preceding year. He was the first person so honored in this division of the distinguished awards.
Throughout his long residence abroad, Mowrer always had intended to return to the United States to make his permanent home. And when he was called back to Chicago in 1934, to become associate editor and also chief editorial writer of the Daily News, he was not too hard to persuade. He was promoted to editor in 1935 and held this post until 1944. In 1945 he began a stint as European editor for the New York Post.
But retirement was beckoning more and more alluringly. Paul Scott Mowrer had devoted what often are called erroneously "the best years" of his life to public service. Now he longed to concentrate on a more intensive study and practice of poetry, his first and most enduring preoccupation in the field of written expression. Other men could continue the collection and publication of facts. He wanted freedom to devote himself to the more metaphysical consideration of the meaning behind men's deeds, and to the interpretation of their spiritual aspirations. He retired in September, 1949. At sixty-two, he was free to become a full-time poet.
Throughout his years as a newspaperman, Mowrer frequently had interrupted, but never abandoned, his poetic efforts. As early as 1918, Hours of France in Peace and War, his first book of poems, had been published back in the United States. Then he took time out to do a serious prose
study of contemporary European political conditions. This book, Balkanized Europe, came out in 1921. It added to his reputation as a political analyst, but little to his bank account. In 1923 his second book of poetry, The Good Comrade and Fairks (bound as one volume), was published. Another prose work, Our Foreign Affairs, followed in 1924. This was a searching study of American foreign policy.
No more books were published by Paul Mowrer until quite a while after his return to the United States. Poems between Wars, his third volume of poetry, appeared in 1941. It was followed in 1945 by another venture in prose, The House of Europe. This book of memoirs throws much light on the author's early life, but it stresses particularly his long and intimate association with the European political scene. Four additional volumes of poetry followed in fairly close succession: On Going to Live in New Hampshire (i53); And Let the Glory Go (i955); Fifi, or Something Entirely New, a sprightly one-act comedy in verse (1956); and Twenty-one and Sixty- five (1958).
Even a rapid examination of Paul Scott Mowrer's poetry should prove rewarding. The poet and his poems are bound indissolubly together. And since his is a many- faceted personality, the author's self -analyses frequently apply not only to himself but to mankind as well. Much that is universal in its implications can be found here. Some references to (and occasional quotations from) selected poems may afford a better understanding of the significant contribution which their creator has brought to contemporary poetry in English.
In his first volume of verse, Hours of France in Peace and War, the poet strikes certain notes which will be emphasized again and again in his later poetry. A deeply perceptive love of nature is much in evidence, and a feeling of kinship with all living creatures. "Spring Night" sums up the sentiment very well in the closing five lines:
I would be wandering whither the wild in me will-
Breathing the perfume of earth, of the rain- flooded grass,
Merging my life in the life of all creatures that pass,
Winging with birds, drinking deep with the oak by the nil-
Lost in the ache and the urge of the night and the wind.
"Harvest Moon" reveals a sensitive understanding in tune with wild things, exemplified by a pair of rabbits which the
poet is careful not to disturb in their nocturnal rendezvous. Quite often a feeling of reverence in the presence of nature is shown, as in the last stanza of "Twilight":
Kneeling among the prayerful reeds,
I watched the evening dim the air,
I heard the waters telling their beads,
And night came down, and found me there.
The poet's preoccupation with folklore and myth, at times touching on the supernatural, is evidenced in "The Phantom Washer-Woman," "The Old Women of the Moor," and "Corrigans," the latter a sort of folklore fantasy. There is an easy swing, a sort of tripping rhythm which suits admirably the theme in each of these poems.
THE POEMS on war are fashioned with tenderness and compassion. The factual accuracy of the war correspondent is manifest here, coupled with the interpretive inner responses of the poet. "A Wind That Blows from Picardy" is one of the most appealing of these poems-its effectiveness heightened by the disciplined emotional restraint.
It would be unfair to turn away from Hours of France in Peace and War without mentioning the author's effective use of figures of speech. Two examples will suffice. The first is a metaphor from "Harvest Dance," where ground grain (presumably wheat) is referred to as "the silver dust." The second illustration is a simile, "Soft as the voice of love is the voice of the dead," taken from "The Voice of the Dead."
The Good Comrade and Fairies, the second book of poems, continues with new evidence of affinity with nature, which may be expressed with tender whimsy, as in these lines from the title poem:
Have you ever nibbled grasses,
Tasted herbs, and smacked the air,
Laid your cheek to violets,
Or smelled with joy the sea's wet hair?
Have you felt the lusty sea-wind,
Warm as kisses on your lips,
Press your shoulders, touch you gently, With its unseen finger-tips?
ODDLY enough, the first volume of Paul Scott Mowrer's poems held little of love of man for woman, and that seldom personal and more often implied than ex- pressed. Suddenly, in "The Good Comrade" section of the new book, there is much about the love of a man for a maid, though treated with a delicacy that often might be termed "classic restraint."
"Whisperings" is a very fine combination of physical and spiritual description, implying much more than actually is said. The very restraint strengthens the picture tremendously. "Rivals" poses the poet and the sea in amorous rivalry. "Not Yet, Pale Death" has for its theme the age-old yearning, however fruitless, for the perpetuity of love. The first and last stanzas follow:
Not yet, pale death; we have not loved enough;
The deep red flower's rich perfume still enthralls;
Not one tint fades, not one least petal falls,
However time may lower, or fate rebuff.
* * *
None have been happier, and surely none
Have worshipped more devoutly at love's flame;
But ask of her; the words will be the same:
Not yet, pale death; our love has just begun.
"If, in the Groves of Dis…" contains hauntingly beautiful lines, three of which may serve as examples:
Her mind is like an autumn afternoon, all dreams and stories;
A summer glade is not more shy and tender, wild and sweet,
Than is her heart.
Such lines may seem a bit "old hat" to many readers of contemporary verse. So be it they still are lovely and arresting in their simple sincerity.
"Fairies," the second section of the volume, lives up to its title. It concerns itself with the "little people," with magic, and with lore. For the most part, however, the poems are shorter, and often more whimsical than those of similar theme in Hours of France in Peace and War.
Throughout The Good Comrade and Fairies, the poet shows an increasing preoccupation with, and striving for, technical improvement. He is not content with halfway achievements; and perfection, though not always attained, is the goal toward which he climbs.
Poems between Wars, as the title implies, is chiefly transitional in character. There is an Appreciation by Carl Sandburg and a Preface by Donald Culross Peattie. The book is divided into two parts, "Hail Illinois!" and "France Farewell." The first section is taken up largely with unrhymed poem-impressions of Illinois, the poet's ancestry, early life in America, and occasional vivid portraits from frontier life and customs.
"France Farewell," the second part of the volume, is devoted largely to personal reminiscences, more lyrical than the poems of the first part, and with a frankly classical evocation from mythology in the rather long "Nymph and Faun." Here the treatment is delicate and somewhat nostalgic. The fondness for France, particularly for her countryside and village color and customs, pervades the poetry of Paul Scott Mowrer, and this affection is emphasized strongly here. Yet the poet makes it clear that he returns gladly to resume residence in his native land.
The next book of poetry, On Going to Live in New Hampshire, reaffirms and emphasizes certain tendencies shown in the earlier volumes. The devotion to the classics is confessed by the inclusion of poems dedicated to a number of the ancients. "To Heraclitus," "To Socrates," "To Theocritus," and "To Zeno and Epicurus" are typical and sincere tributes.
The author's devotion to nature again is shown clearly in such poems as "The Deer," "An Invitation," and "Therapy."
The last-named poem poses a natural question, perhaps discerned intuitively by the mind of the reader; and the spirit, at least, of the final answer is given-all in four compact lines:
What soothed away the cloudy sullen mood
Left by the fabled arrow's latest pang
A thrush was hymning twilight in the wood,
And even the brook ran softer while he sang.
Mowrer has shown throughout his poetic production a prevalent interest in religion, although his personal beliefs are not confined within the rigid limits of conventional orthodoxy in the more narrow sense. "Theology" is a simple, sincere expression of the creed of the poet. A practical part of his religious conviction is revealed in his compassionate feeling toward his fellow man. "The Reporter" is a realistic but moving presentation of what must be the most difficult assignment given to a newspaperman, the stern necessity of telling an unsuspecting wife and mother that her husband is dead.
The feeling of the journalist who voluntarily renounces the power and the glamour of the editorial chair for the quieter, but to him more rewarding, devotion to poetry is simply and graphically revealed in "On Retiring from Active Newspaper Work." The poem is quite Stoic in its restraint, yet so revelatory of the spirit of the author that it is quoted in full.
A hated tyrant falls; a fierce plot tears
The webs of power; war rumors cross the sea:
A crisis-yet my fingers tap no key.
After a life well crammed with public cares,
How strange to stand apart from world affairs
And let, like other men, what is to be
Occur without one warning word from me!
No more to deal in daily threats and scares,
Cluck round events like anxious, brooding hen;
No more snatch headlines, seize the jigging tape,
Dash comment out, explain, or analyse!
I sit and muse at last, like other men,
Read books, walk forth and watch the clouds take shape.
The great may do or die; I poetize.
THE FIFTH book in the poetry series, And Let the Glory Go, lives up to its title, unpretentiously but positively. The poet is relaxing, learning to enjoy again the simple pleasures so seldom attainable in his former hurried life. And this is a kind of memory book, a sampling of many things long dear and now savored even more appreciatively. Life as he now lives it seems well worth letting "the glory go." Love of nature is stressed, of course, and appealingly so, as in "The Beaver," "The Masterpiece," "A Woodland Psalm," the melodic "Sonata," and "Dialogue in an Ego."
There are war-time poems, too, and verbal souvenirs from the years of foreign residence and travel. Throughout the book, like the subdued but recurrent theme of a softly-played melody, runs the deep sense of peace and contentment of the poet in his retirement. Paul Scott Mowrer is home at last, spiritually as well as physically.
IN 1956 yet another facet of the poetic personality of the retired journalist was displayed in Fifi, or Something Entirely New. This "entirely new" departure is a merry, gently satiric, and quietly humorous one-act play in verse. Here the poet, a believer in tradition in the broader, more artistic sense, indulges in some urbane innuendo at the expense of the serious but misguided devotees of self-expression, unhampered by either knowledge or sensitivity. Although the satire is kindly, it is based on sound conviction.
Twenty-one and Sixty-five is the latest volume of poetry produced by Mowrer. The title poem presents a dialogue between the author as a young man, and himself grown older. The contrasted characterization is handled with skill and quiet assurance. Ironically, but inevitably, neither the younger nor the older ego quite approves of the other!
The feeling for nature persists, the sentiment none the less sincere for having mellowed a bit. And the interpretive sharpness of observation can portray a landscape with the pinpoint accuracy of an etching done by a master. "A Winter's Day in New Hampshire" is just such a landscape, so vivid that it stirs the reader as though he, too, were viewing the scene from the poet's snug indoor shelter. "In the Saw-Grass" is a fast-moving narrative of wild-pig hunting in the Florida Everglades. The action moves swiftly, the descriptions come alive, and there is an occasional penetrating insight into the psychology of the avid hunter. Most outdoorsmen would agree with the sincerity of the following two lines, where much is said in little space:
Men do not hunt in hate. Most hunters love,
In some mysterious way, the game they chase.
As one would expect, the poet's love for France is shown in various poems recalling once-familiar scenes. The final section of the book is made up of translations from Victor Hugo, done with an arresting delicacy and attentiveness to the phrasing and the thought of the French master.
As always, Mowrer is concerned with, and sympathetic toward, mankind in the aggregate and in the individual. "In the Cool of the Wood" is a fine example of the expression of this preoccupation. The last four lines are quoted:
So not for the dead we grieve, but the inachievement,
Ourselves, vain pity of self, misgiving of fate,
Regret for the warmth withheld, our own bereavement,
Remorse for the might-have-been; too late, too late.
Mention has been made of Mowrer's link to the classics and to the traditional values of poetry, those ageless virtues which have persisted through centuries, despite the attacks of irreverent and incompetent would-be practitioners of poetry. Eloquent testimony of this adherence to time-tested verities is given in the sonnet, "On Thumbing Over an Old Book Stall":
Did eager youth once hail such lines as these
With bursts of hope and praise, and high delight?
How changeful are the modes that move or please!
Can any now recall these names aright?
The future, once vowed theirs, is now the past.
Must no lamp shine athwart oblivion's night?
Shall even the proudest laurels fade at last,
Fade, fall, be trampled on, and die from sight?
A few, forgotten now, wise time will touch
With his gold wand, and wake to life again.
The rest? For them, let none grieve overmuch;
To lute and lauds although they bid adieu,
Their impulse flames afresh in younger men:
Each age must make the old songs over, new.
So much for the man who preferred poetry to power, and meter to money. Poetry has repaid his devotion. Through the years, he has grown in stature as a poet. And he is at peace with himself and with life. Now in his early seventies, he continues his quest with vigor and enthusiasm. At present, he is working on a book of new poems, and also shaping up a compilation of selected poems. When the time comes for the publication of the collected poems of Paul Scott Mowrer, the following sonnet, from On Going to Live in New Hampshire, would be a fitting choice as the final poem of the volume:
For no odd quirk these verses will be read, Or cult of arts obscure to tease the time.
My deathless masters are the lyric dead
Whose voice yet dowers our years with song sublime.
Heart-pulse and wave-break have so filled my head
With rhythmic flow of words that march and chime,
What share of earth's fair secret may be said
Through me, in meter throbs, well girt with rhyme.
Compelled on beauty's mysteries to brood
With anxious pride of craft and prayerful breath,
By what of light and skill the gods allow,
I weld in lines the gushing lyric mood;
So destined, till the hour when gentle death
Shall still at last the drum-beat in my brow.