A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview
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Chapter Thirty-nine
TWENTIETH-CENTURY POETRY

(1) THE PRE-WAR YEARS, 1901-1914

THE period on which we now enter begins and ends in war, and the war of 1914-1918 lies black across the middle of it. The Boer War, in which it begins, marked an epoch in our public life: it dispelled the dream of security with had lulled us since Waterloo, revealed that we had no friends in Europe, and that Germany hated us. Incident after incident evinced that hatred in the years which followed. But none of the poets except Doughty and Binyon showed any apprehension of the approaching storm. Meanwhile at home the Liberal victory of 1905 promised an era of peace, retrenchment, and reform; instead of which came the suffragist agitation, the Coal Strike of 1912, and unrest in Ireland boiling up to mutiny and rebellion. But of these things also poetry took no heed, withdrawing from public issues into a kind of pastoralism.

In fine, the new century inaugurated no revolution in English poetry. The decadent strain of the nineties died out, and so presently did the Imperialist strain, when Kipling settled down in England and beat his sword into a ploughshare. Otherwise the Victorian Age passed unbroken into the Edwardian. The great names of these fourteen years, and indeed of the next fourteen, were still those of Hardy, Bridges, and Yeats. Among younger poets Binyon had already shown himself the true heir of the great classical tradition; Mr. Sturge Moore was a classicist also, in a narrower sense; Mr. Masefield harked back to Crabbe and Chaucer, Mr. Gibson to Wordsworth; even in the highly original work of Mr. de la Mare one heard faint echoes of earlier dreamers. The Catholic tradition was continued by Mrs. Meynell, the pre-Raphaelite by Mr. Bottomley and Mrs. Annand Taylor; while both these traditions combined in the work of the two poetesses who called themselves conjointly "Michael Field."

Charles Montagu Doughty ( 1843-1926) stood alone, as kinless

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