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 IV
THE POET-CRITICS OF SOCIETY AND RELIGION

THE philosophic conflicts of the Nineties were challenges to many poets, and even more--and louder--writers were troubled by the whole prospect of the American scene: its politics, its economic system, its social laws, and its religions. Critics and defenders of society and its institutions expressed their views in poetry which ranged from the forms of Alexander Pope to those of Walt Whitman. Under the prodding of American reformers, the new generation awoke to the fact of social problems. Henry George restated his principles for the last time in 1897; Hamlin Garland suggested in Main-Travelled Roads the growing anger of the Populists; and Lincoln Steffens was gathering material for the era of the muckrakers. The frontier safety-valve was gone by the Nineties; and crowded in their cities, Americans saw the need of adjusting to the great social forces at work. The labor-capital honeymoon had ended during the Eighties with the first round of serious strikes. The jargon of industry began to enter American literature when writers became aware of the social ills of the nation. William Dean Howells and Stephen Crane exposed a new side of city life in their novels and then wrote a poetry which encompassed a broader field of human problems. The immigrant and the underdog became subjects of American poetry, and the evils of trusts and monopolies were exposed in pentameter couplets and free verse. The poet-reformer either agreed with the traditionalists that idealism was very well and good or denounced it as meaningless; but he was interested first of all in what America was going to do about materialism, slums, wars, corrupt politicians, and Socialism. Although some of these poets had begun as conventional romanticists of the genteel school, they all finally refused to admit that the problems of man and his society and of man and his religion had no place in poetry. Either as a result of their awareness of social and religious insecurity or of their realization that a

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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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