The Mentor Book of Major American Poets: From Edward Taylor and Walt Whitman to Hart Crane and W. H. Auden

The Mentor Book of Major American Poets: From Edward Taylor and Walt Whitman to Hart Crane and W. H. Auden

The Mentor Book of Major American Poets: From Edward Taylor and Walt Whitman to Hart Crane and W. H. Auden

The Mentor Book of Major American Poets: From Edward Taylor and Walt Whitman to Hart Crane and W. H. Auden

Excerpt

There are several useful anthologies representing American poetry from Colonial times to the present. But they invariably include much secondary material, for where the aim is comprehensiveness anywhere between sixty and a hundred poets must be exhibited. The same thing often happens when the anthologist limits himself to American poetry of the past hundred years: too many poets are included, so that the bulk of those barely in mid-career tend to crowd out the few older poets who really count. Profusion brings confusion, and the reader who makes his way through such a book feels like the circus spectator who has been distracted from the superb highdiving acrobats by the white mice or the lewd mandrills: he goes off wondering what the cheering was all about. There is some need, then, for a compact anthology restricted to sizable selections from the works of only the proven and best American poets.

To make such a collection, the editors had free range, at least hypothetically, over a period of three centuries. In English literature this is the period from 1660, which began as the metaphysical poets and the taste for their flamboyant style were being displaced by the makers of the boxed couplet and the rule of decorum. After a hundred years of the Augustan age, a renewed interest in landscapes and external nature emerged, leading to the Romantic revival. Then came the long Victorian age with its incredible appetite for didactic, historical, and sentimental verse. Around 1900 this was succeeded by a movement of reaction and revolt -- soon dominated by the young transplanted Americans, Eliot and Pound, and by a middle-aging Irishman, W. B. Yeats -- which introduced a new poetry, stripped of pieties, rhetoric, and rhyme, that we have been calling the modern style for sixty years. In Puritan America there was little time and less occasion for the practice of poetry, so that during Colonial times and for several decades after the Revolution not much first-rate poetry was or could be written. Until Whitman, in fact, what was thought to be of any merit usually reflected the prevailing tastes in London -- or Boston, which looked to London for approval. Consequently one cannot expect to distribute equally among the centuries major poets who did not begin to appear in force . . .

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