Modern Poetry as a Religion
A CLEVER FRENCH CRITIC once said the nineteenth century began with the poetry of religion and ended with the religion of poetry. This saying sticks in my mind; it is one of those epigrams which would be fascinating for somebody to document and even write a book about. One can see the plan of strategy at once: the nineteenth century begins in France with the Romantic Catholicism of Chateaubriand and ends with the poet-priests Mallarmé and Valéry. It begins in England with the religious mysticism of Blake and Wordsworth and ends with the poetic high seriousness of Arnold, Pater, and Yeats. Even in America the equation works, with the poetic mysticism of Emerson and Whitman turning into the cultural priestliness of T. S. Eliot. Anywhere you look, in fact, it appears that "Poetry of religion" resolves into the "religion of poetry."
The trouble with epigrams like the one I mentioned is not that they are false but that they are misleadingly true. And when we analyze such a saying, which is made in good faith certainly, we find that it