An Anthology of the Younger Poets

An Anthology of the Younger Poets

An Anthology of the Younger Poets

An Anthology of the Younger Poets

Excerpt

A great change in the world is to the poet a very great danger. It is not necessarily a danger to the rest of us. The great majority of people can go on living in a world which has ceased to exist with no inconvenience whatever. Lawyers and politicians are adepts at the practice. They can go in and out of doors that have been down for generations. And even the hardest-headed industrialists will go on vaulting at an imaginary hurdle like a file of sheep--until one of them accidentally walks through and the rest of them take the short cut after him. But the poet lives in a very curious relation to the world. He is condemned to prefer the imitation of life to life itself. He can satisfy the needs of his nature only by laboring to fix in some artificial substance of sounds and signs a moment, an aspect, of the flowing away of the world. Like the fabulous gorgons he can seize only by turning to stone. Only in its images can he possess his life. If he attempts to take it at first hand, to live it himself, to go along with it, to lose himself in it, he is eaten with shame and remorse. His conscience wakes him. He feels that he and everything about him are crumbling and dissolving away to no purpose and with no end. His whole life is like those moments we all endure in the spring and the fall of the year when the change of the earth is so apparent to us and so poignant that we cannot watch it--that we try to arrest it for ourselves by calling others to see it, to stand looking at it, to be still beside us seeing it. All the poet's art is the product of that relation of a man to a world--good as that relation is close and is actual, bad as that relation is loose and false. Consequently the poet who goes on living in a world which has stopped is merely and precisely a fool. He is arresting with a great flourish of eloquence the fleeting gesture of an iron deer. He is throwing open the windows of the soul upon a stage drop. He is imitating the imitation of an imitation. He is doing the one thing that it is not lawful for him to do.

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