Poetry in the Twentieth Century
Poetry in the first sixty years of the twentieth century is a segment of literary history so near to us that only the first two or three decades are sufficiently eroded by time for us to distinguish between the rock formations and the landslides. The closer we approach the present, the more confused becomes the picture, and there is the danger of subsiding into mere lists of names and evaluations more appropriate to a book review than a considered judgment set against the whole sweep of the poetic tradition. Having been a lively observer of much that has taken place during the past half century, and having early established definite criteria, my own reactions to these fifty years of poetical activity include admiration, amusement, and some disgust, all of which will be reflected in the account that follows.
At the beginning of the century, England and Ireland were poetically awake and vigorous. America was sunk in lethargy. Hence, the stir of revolt and experiment took place among Americans. There was no reason for it in England or Ireland, and it had almost no effect among British writers, although its course happened to be directed from England by the expatriate partners T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.
We shall deal first with the English and Irish poets.
Thomas Hardy Poems Past and Present appeared in 1902 and his long epic drama, The Dynasts, in 1904. In considering his poetry, we must speak of pessimism of two kinds: local, in which the human race is excoriated, as in Gulliver's Travels, and cosmic, in which the whole scheme of the universe is shown to be adverse to man, who is scarcely more than a tragic accident or a plaything