American Poetry in the Eighteen Nineties: A Study of American Verse, 1890-1899, Based upon the Volumes from That Period Contained in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays in the Brown University Library

By Carlin T. Kindilien | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER III
THE NEW TRADITIONALISM

THERE were poets writing for the first time during the Nineties who, although they must be tagged traditionalists, were dearly distinguished from the conventionalists of the continuing tradition by finer talents and, almost as significantly, by greater integrity. Their respect for a literary heritage did not prescribe mere imitation, although they were as susceptible to influence as the conventionalists. While their work was marked by a familiarity with great poetry, they were unwilling merely to rephrase and rehash. Desiring to make American poetry a component part of the body of world poetry (the unity of all poetry and all poets as it had been visualized by Walt Whitman and would be by T. S. Eliot), traditionalists like DeWolfe Howe, E. A. Robinson, Lizette Reese, and George Santayana stated again the great problems and solutions of the past in a way that did not destroy all sense of the individual. With such a consciousness of the past and a feeling for the whole literature of their race, these poets were able to express a traditionalism that was "new" in this scene. With varying emphases, these new traditionalists accepted the spiritual and aesthetic values of the past after a searching personal scrutiny that discovered their value for a new society. Theirs was a traditionalism that real poets have always comprehended --a traditionalism that the conventionalists of the Nineties had lost sight of.

A Concord idealist, a Proper Bostonian, and a San Francisco natural scientist met on common ground during the Nineties to defend the idealist's position in a world that was witnessing the triumph of science and materialism. Called to Memorial Hall in 1897 to address the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard, Edward Waldo Emerson, the youngest son of Ralph Waldo Emerson, presented a poem, "The Winning Game," in which he recalled the achievements and the failures of "the waning century." A Concord idealist spoke

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American Poetry in the Eighteen Nineties: A Study of American Verse, 1890-1899, Based upon the Volumes from That Period Contained in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays in the Brown University Library
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