William Ernest Henley
Biography of William Ernest Henley
William Ernest Henley (August 23, 1849 - July 11, 1903) was a British poet, critic and editor.
Henley was born in Gloucester and educated at the Crypt Grammar School. The school was a poor relation of the Cathedral School, and Henley indicated its shortcomings in his article (Pall Mall Magazine, Nov. 1900) on T. E. Brown the poet, who was headmaster there for a brief period. Brown's appointment was a stroke of luck for Henley, for whom it represented a first acquaintance with a man of genius. "He was singularly kind to me at a moment when I needed kindness even more than I needed encouragement." Brown did him the essential service of lending him books. Henley was no classical scholar, but his knowledge and love of literature were vital.
After suffering tuberculosis as a boy, he found himself, in 1874, aged twenty-five, an inmate of the hospital at Edinburgh. From there he sent to the Cornhill Magazine where he wrote poems in irregular rhythms, describing with poignant force his experiences in hospital. Leslie Stephen, then editor, visited his contributor in hospital and took Robert Louis Stevenson, another recruit of the Cornhill, with him. The meeting between Stevenson and Henley, and the friendship of which it was the beginning, form one of the best-known episodes in English literature (see Stevenson's letter to Mrs Sitwell, Jan. 1875, and Henley's poems "An Apparition" and "Envoy to Charles Baxter").
In 1877 Henley went to London and began his editorial career by editing London, a journal written for the sake of its contributors rather than the public. Among other distinctions it first gave to the world The New Arabian Nights of Stevenson. Henley himself contributed a series of verses chiefly in old French forms. He had been writing poetry since 1872, but (so he told the world in his “ advertisement” to his collected Poems, 1898) he “found himself about 1877 so utterly unmarketable that he had to own himself beaten in art and to addict himself to journalism for the next ten years.” When London folded, he edited the Magazine of Art from 1882 to 1886. At the end of that period he came into the public eye as a poet. In 1887 Gleeson White made for the popular series of Canterbury Poets (edited by William Sharp) a selection of poems in old French forms. In his selection Gleeson White included many pieces from London, and only after completing the selection did he discover that the verses were all by Henley. In the following year, HB Donkin in his volume Voluntaries, written for an East End hospital, included Henley's unrhymed rhythms quintessentializing the poet's memories of the old Edinburgh Infirmary. Alfred Nutt read these, and asked for more; and in 1888 his firm published A Book of Verse.
Henley was by this time well known within a restricted literary circle, and the publication of this volume determined his fame as a poet, which rapidly outgrew these limits, two new editions of the volume being printed within three years. In this same year (1888) Fitzroy Bell started the Scots Observer in Edinburgh, with Henley as literary editor, and early in 1889 Bell left the conduct of the paper to him. It was a weekly review on the lines of the old Saturday Review, but inspired in every paragraph by the vigorous and combative personality of the editor. It was transferred to London as the National Observer, and remained under Henley's editorship until 1893. Though, as Henley confessed, the paper had almost as many writers as readers, and its fame was mainly confined to the literary class, it was a lively and influential feature of the literary life of its time. Henley had the editor's great gift of discerning promise, and the "Men of the Scots Observer," as Henley affectionately and characteristically called his band of contributors, in most instances justified his insight. The paper found utterance for the growing imperialism of its day, and among other services to literature gave to the world Rudyard Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads.
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William Ernest Henley Poems
Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.
A Love By The Sea
Out of the starless night that covers me, (O tribulation of the wind that rolls!) Black as the cloud of some tremendous spell,
O Gather Me The Rose
O gather me the rose, the rose, While yet in flower we find it, For summer smiles, but summer goes, And winter waits behind it.
I Am The Reaper
I am the Reaper. All things with heedful hook Silent I gather. Pale roses touched with the spring,
It Came With The Threat Of A Waning Moon
It came with the threat of a waning moon And the wail of an ebbing tide, But many a woman has lived for less, And many a man has died;
Madam Life's A Piece In Bloom
Madam Life's a piece in bloom Death goes dogging everywhere: She's the tenant of the room, He's the ruffian on the stair.
Between The Dusk Of A Summer Night
Between the dusk of a summer night And the dawn of a summer day, We caught at a mood as it passed in flight, And we bade it stoop and stay.
The Rain And The Wind
The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain -- They are with us like a disease: They worry the heart, they work the brain, As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,
A Wink From Hesper
A wink from Hesper, falling Fast in the wintry sky, Comes through the even blue, Dear, like a word from you…
A child, Curious and innocent, Slips from his Nurse, and rejoicing Loses himself in the Fair.
There's A Regret
There's a regret So grinding, so immitigably sad, Remorse thereby feels tolerant, even glad. ... Do you not know it yet?
A LATE lark twitters from the quiet skies: And from the west, Where the sun, his day's work ended, Lingers as in content,
Let Us Be Drunk
Let us be drunk, and for a while forget, Forget, and, ceasing even from regret, Live without reason and despite of rhyme,
Ballade Of Dead Actors
Where are the passions they essayed, And where the tears they made to flow? Where the wild humours they portrayed For laughing worlds to see and know?
Though, if you ask her name, she says Elise,
Being plain Elizabeth, e'en let it pass,
And own that, if her aspirates take their ease,
She ever makes a point, in washing glass,
Handling the engine, turning taps for tots,
And countering change, and scorning what men say,
Of posing as a dove among the pots,
Nor often gives her dignity away.
Her head's a work of art, and, if her eyes