A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Forty-one
TWENTIETH-CENTURY POETRY

(3) BETWEEN THE WARS, 1919-1939

WE have reached the last lap of our long course. We enter on it with some trepidation, partly because Time has not yet sifted the wheat of recent poetry from the chaff, partly because we are not conscious of possessing that "modern sensibility" which the young poets arrogate to themselves and demand of their critics.

When the war ended in 1918, most of us hoped that we should emerge a better and stronger nation, "purged by its dreadful winnowing-fan." It was not to be. A year or two of elation and inflation was followed by a psychological and economic slump, in which the poets wandered confusedly, and are still wandering. Most of the older men kept the faith. Hardy, as we saw, despaired for a time, and perhaps felt back into despair at the last; but the rest clung to the belief that "the great soul of the world is just," and continued to write in that spirit. And for our part we are convinced that when the first post-war decade comes to be seen in true perspective Hardy Late Lyrics, Yeats Tower, Bridges Testament of Beauty, with Binyon's two great odes, will stand out as its chief monuments in poetry. Of Hardy, Bridges, and Yeats enough has been said. The Sirens and The Idols are Binyon's greatest poems. Odes he calls them, but in scope and structure they are unlike any other English odes, even his own. They are symphonies in verse, each developing a theme in successive movements in different measures. The theme of The Sirens was originally suggested by the first transatlantic flight, made by Messrs. Brown and Alcock; then it expanded into a hymn to the spirit of adventure, which lures man on to conquer Nature and his fellow-men, to defy Space and the old opposition of Time, till he achieves the last conquest of all, to stand erect before utter calamity, and, having nothing, is free of all the Universe,

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