The Martyr

By James Hopper

I have been asked by the editors of Overland to contribute to the number dedicated to George Sterling. And sitting down gladly to what promised to be a delicious task, I find myself strangled by a strange impotence.

I want to write of George Sterling, and I will some day. But I am not ready: I will not be ready for a long time: the subject set before me is as heavy and massive as one of the pyramids, or the Hymalayas, and at the same time delicate as an iridescence, muffled-gentle as the flutter of a moth at night.

This I can say. It has been my good fortune to be very close to a Poet for many years, and I know now what a Poet is. He is a martyr.

A concentrated fury drove George Sterling to a distillation of beauty for our careless delectation, and that beauty—this seems to be the law—must be distilled out of the vinegar and bitterness of acrid living. The same implacable urge which drives the Poet to the fashioning of the cool opals of perfect beauty hurls him periodically into the lonely and terrible depths where alone exists the material for his mysterious transmutations.

And George knew this, and accepted perfectly. His was not the austerely stoic nature that appeared to some, nor was he the gladsome child others believed him to be; he was a compact of exquisite nerves agonizingly sensitive. And that quivering sensibility, raw and palpitant, he unhesitatingly plunged again and again—for us, the fashioning of his opals and pearls and emeralds and rubies—into the torture pit. Thus is it we have now the divine coolness of his created beauty, forged out of his ineffable terrors, pangs and alarms.

In that sense was he—as all great poets are—a martyr. If he were here he would not like the world. The stoic who was one of his several personalities would rebel, the beloved humorist would laugh. But a Martyr he was.

Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine (1868-1935); Nov 1927; Vol LXXXV, Number 11; pg 335.