10 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 24



A CORRESPONDENT has favoured us with some comments on the attempt that has been made in this column to define those characteristics which we all feel instinctively differentiate the

new style of poetry from the old. Though he is good enough to applaud certain parts of the analyses, he at the same time complains that the general tone of the articles seemed to him too little technical, and that in fact the whole treatment of the

subject was metaphysical rather then literary. He suggested that to complete even the modest plan according to which the articles were framed a further article was necessary,

which should deal with the technical aspects of the subject. Tho present writer fully admits that his mentor is in the mail right, and can only plead that in his conscious exclusion of half his subject he was actuated by the following considerations. Directly we turn from the general to the particular—as we must in dealing with technique—the subject becomes so large as to be fitter for the pages of a treatise than for the columns of a newspaper. Secondly, that directly we are to write, of even the technical ideals, let alone the practice, of two men as diverse as, say, Mr. Walter de Is Mare and Mr. Vachel Lindsay, it becomes impossible any longer to treat Modern Poetry as an entity. We seem to see that a sort of multiple fission has taken place, and there lies before us no longer " Modern Poetry," but half a dozen allied tendencies and schools of writing. All these schools are, we believe, united by the—if you will—metaphysical bonds which we have already endeavoured to define. To find strictly technical and literary common articles of faith is a more doubtful quest. We believe that there are in fact but two technical peculiarities common to all reasonably good modern verse. We have already briefly considered the first. It is a difference of vocabulary. Poetry has come back to what is something like a Wordsworthian care and meticulousness in the matter of language.

Wordsworth's confessed aim was " to bring my language near to the real language of men." The moderns are no more afraid than was Wordsworth of the type of criticism embodied in Dr. Johnson's famous lines which Wordsworth quotes in connexion with his own defence of simple language :- " I put my hat upon my head And walked into the Strand, And there I met another man, Whose hat was in his hand."

They do fear—to quote Wordsworth again—" What is usually

called poetic diction, a language differing materially from the real language of men in any situation . . . and characterized by various degrees of wanton deviation from good sense. . . .

With the progress of refinement this diction became more and more corrupt, thrusting out of sight the plain humanities of nature by a motley masquerade of tricks, quaintnesses, hiero- glyphics, and enigmas." He proceeds to give several instances

of poetic diction, among' them Prior's: "Did sweeter sounds adorn my flowing tongue," which that poet in a paraphrase substituted for : " Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels," and the " hubbub of words," in which Dr. Johnson versified, " Go to the ant, thou sluggard." Wordsworth brought speech and verse together again after a separation of a hundred and fifty years, but, inevitably, they again diverged, and by 1860 the poets were at it again, having substituted the influence of " Romance " for that of Cicero. In considering the modern and Wordsworthian revolts, we are to remember that Wordsworth was reacting from the late unworthy followers of Pope and Dryden, and that the moderns are on the rebound from a less nonsensical use of verbiage. Consequently they are able to allow gorgeousness of language its true place which Wordsworth could not. They, in fact, demand no more than that every word should be used with intention and a sense of both its meaning and colour, and that no word should be slopped about.

This sounds very simple, and we might think that, whatever their practice, all poets in theory used words with nicety. That this is not the case can be proved by five minutes' perusal of such a book as Swinburne's Poems and Ballads, where the highest place is intentionally given to matters of rhythm and an extraordinary number of rhetorical syllables can be found. A modern writer will almost always handle his words with extreme respect, however great the levity with which ho may confront his subject. This is probably largely due—if we may be allowed to turn again to the borderlands of what our correspondent calls metaphysics—to the fact that the poet is now almost always a conscious artificer. He is so because he is no

longer distracted from the obvious convenience of not doing all his work in a kind of trance by the " Art for Art's sake " cou• troversy, a burning question which, as we hinted before, has quite peacefully solved itself.

The second of our two peculiarities concerns the architecture of modern poetry. Every poet, as Mr. Sturge Moore has observed, when he comes by a bit of the true gold, has to piece his treasure out with a greater or less proportion of " any material that comes handy " before he can make a poem out of it, because we do not demand that a poet should be a jeweller. We want an architect or at least a sculptor. The modern poet must still add his bits here and there to piece out the results of his first poetic impulse. But whereas Wordsworth, for instance, now and then, almost, so to say, buried his gold idol under its feet of clay, the modern poet, even where his gold is rather scanty, adds as little as possible and—when his poem is a failure— often produces an idol not only with no feet at all, but without anything whatever to stand upon. On the whole, however, the impulse—a horror-struck flying from the long and the tiresome —is a good one. It certainly enables a poet to speak to a larger audience. The vast tomes of what we may call secondary material produced by some of our greatest poets form a serious barrier to many readers. It is often a barrier which the most careful anthologizing cannot surmount, for the gold and the clay may be absolutely inseparable. On the other hand, of course, the modern poet's self-denying ordinance cuts him off from a certain sort of reader who desires narrative. It is probably as much because he writes narrative poems as because on the whole he remains the best modern poet that Mr. Masefield is the most widely read of his contemporaries.


A. Wits.rAms-Eurs.