Modern Poetry and the Tradition

Modern Poetry and the Tradition

Modern Poetry and the Tradition

Modern Poetry and the Tradition

Excerpt

Every poet that we read alters to some degree our total conception of poetry. Most poets, of course, modify it in only a minute degree, and we continually talk as if our conception were not modified at all. We assume that poetry is something quite fixed and absolute, a stable world in the light of which we can judge whatever particular poet is to be considered.

This is probably as it should be. If literature exists at all in any universal sense--if there are qualities shared by Homer and Webster, Keats and Auden, which allow us to compare all poetry, and rank it under a standard --then it is proper that we should speak of poetry as we do. But even so, we are, as fallible human beings, constantly modifying our conception of poetry as we try to approximate the remote criterion. But most poems, as we have said, call for no major revisions. A reader brought up on Dryden may pass on to a reading of Pope with no drastic reordering of his basic conceptions. And a century ago, readers acquainted with the Romantic poets, did, as a matter of fact, see in the poetry of the Victorians which was familiar and explicable. But from time to time poets appear, who, if they are accepted at all, demand a radical revision of the existing conception of poetry.

Of this sort are our modern poets, and herein lies the difficulty of accepting them, or, if they are accepted, the difficulty of accommodating them in the traditionally accepted . . .

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