American Poetry since 1900

American Poetry since 1900

American Poetry since 1900

American Poetry since 1900

Excerpt

To appreciate the variety which has distinguished American poetry since 1900, it is necessary to understand not alone the immediate conditions that created it, but the preceding period which was both its impulse and point of departure. If Whitman acted as a sharp precipitant upon American literature, he himself was precipitated by the conventions of his day. The New England poets had withdrawn into their libraries; Longfellow, Bryant, Taylor turned their tired eyes from the troubled domestic scene to a rose-tinted Europe, transported themselves to a prettified past, abandoned original writing for translation and other methods of evasion. Here was an effort to escape a reality they could neither understand nor express; a retreat, in the midst of political and industrial reconstruction, to a tempered Hellenism, to a comforting, devitalized Orient. "My soul to-day Is far away, Sailing the Vesuvian Bay," crooned Thomas Buchanan Read; "From the Desert I come to thee, On a stallion shod with fire," sang Bayard Taylor; "Thou little girl of Astrakhan, I join thee on the silk divan," responded Richard Henry Stoddard; "O Love, if you were only here, Beside me in this mellow light, 'Twould be a true Arabian night!" echoed T. B. Aldrich. Into this musty, middle-aged Arcadia, the breath of Whitman blew like a stinging wind, bringing the salt of tossing seas, the dark tang of the earth. It was a more vigorous Muse, lovelier as well as livelier, that Whitman invoked when he cried out in protest against those who were seeking glamour not in man's life but in other men's books:

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