6 AUGUST 1921, Page 25



IN reviewing Mr. Squire's anthology of the work of modern poets we remarked how difficult it was to say what were the characteristics suggested by the term " Modern Poetry "—a term which we all bandy about so freely. Yet it is in vain to plead that modern poetry has really no definite characteristics, because of two facts. rust, there certainly exist poems which are definitely non-modern. No critic, however inexperienced, could pick up new editions of The Song of the Shirt, Enoch Arden, or The Highland Reaper and take them to be modern poems. They might all have been -written yesterday, of course, but obviously much verse produced at the moment is non-modern. Secondly, there exist poems—Flecker's " Pillage," Mr. Bassoon's " Every One Singing," Mr. Masefield's sonnet sequence from " Enslaved," Mr. Robert Graves's " Blackhorse Lane "- which have something in them which makes it clearly impossible that they should have been produced in any literary period but the present.

We have, then, succeeded in dividing our subject-matter into two rough heaps. There is a heap of moderns and a heap of non-moderns. The heaps are adjacent, and there are poems from each which have slipped down,'and-these almost cover the debatable ground in the middle. In John Clare's, Donne's, Blake's, Mr. Freeman's, and Mr. Sturge Moore's poems we are conscious of this slipping tendency. What shall we find if we examine a handful of specimens from the top of the modern heap ? To take the broadest characteristics first, we shall find that these poems are the expression of an attitude of mind which is strongly contrasted with that of the Victorians. These modern writers were, we are to remember, brought up to believe in certain truths and in certain virtues. Those who had the breedng of them taught them unquestioningly the value of such qualities as courage, discipline, patriotism, and the sub- ordination of self to the good of the State. They lived to see these virtues, embodied in the Prussian citizen, produce the late war. Some of them are now maimed and blind. They thus learned the horrors of a taken-for-granted morality.

They had been further brought up to a belief in the efficacy of certain literary doctrines. For instance, the suitability of certain poetic forms to the treatment of certain subjects ; the suitability of a special sort of poetic diction or, alternatively, of " dialect " to poetic subjects in general ; the absolute fatality to the success of a poem of certain poetic solecisms (rhymes like " morn " and " dawn," for example). They lived to see these taken-for-granted poetic formulae produce—abso- lutely nothing. The late Victorian and Edwardian Muse was quite efficaciously buried beneath a vast heap of "thou shalts" and "thou shalt note." She was scarcely able to emit a squeak. If moral right and wrong had been completely obscured by formulae, was it not possible that so had aesthetic right and wrong ? This the younger generation of writers set them- selves to find out. It was thus in a spirit of conjecture, experi- ment, and doubt that the new poetic age began. For the first time for fifty years poets—and other people too—began to believe it possible they might have been mistaken.

Unfortunately for the critic, events never actually occur with the diagrammatic clearness which we have suggested. Some Bernard Shaw or "Shropshire Lad" will always write without proper regard for our systems of chronology, either in morals or aesthetics. We can only reply that it is sometimes convenient, for the sake of suggesting a point clearly, to regard as the causes of certain effects events which were only in fact their precipi- tants, events that convinced a great number of people of the truth or utility of doctrines which a small number of people had long enunciated.

go be continued.)