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A Key to Modern British Poetry

By Lawrence Durrell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
POETRY IN THE NINETIES

THE year 1890 makes a convenient point of departure for the student of modern writing in general--and the student of modern poetry in particular. It marks the twilight age of the greater Victorian poets. Browning died in 1889 and while Tennyson, Ruskin and Pater were still alive and producing, their influence was beginning to show a gradual decline upon the graph. Swinburne and William Morris were firmly established but had little more to add to the work which had brought them their well-deserved reputations. New voices were beginning to be heard and new movements to stir below the placid surface of Victorian life. A critic of tendencies, faced with dissimilar and overlapping talents, might discern three types of influence at work in this period.

Among those whose choice of subject-matter and attitude indicated a lively belief in the Empire and all it stood for, side by side with a conviction that the English mystique was built upon chivalry and a taste for adventure, he might list the names of Kipling, Henley, Watson and Newbolt. These were the poets of the white man's burden and Imperial Preference. They were not, of course, exactly contemporaneous from the chronological point of view. The second group might be labelled 'Symbolists and Decadents'. It would include the names of Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, and it drew much of its intellectual nourishment from the French schools. The third section--that of the 'Ironists', would be headed by the name of A. E. Housman and would most probably include Thomas Hardy.

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