New Poets from Old: A Study in Literary Genetics

New Poets from Old: A Study in Literary Genetics

New Poets from Old: A Study in Literary Genetics

New Poets from Old: A Study in Literary Genetics

Excerpt

My point of view in this book can be very simply and pragmatically expressed. If anyone selects at random a dozen books from the copious literature on contemporary poetry, he will probably find that most if not all of them deal with this poetry virtually as a new thing quite unrooted in the past. If, on the contrary, a reader at all familiar with the history of English poetry reads carefully a dozen leading modern poets, he will presumably find that most if not all of them stand greatly indebted in their own art and thought to poetry of earlier periods. My object is to examine this largely neglected theme, to appraise the character, quantity, and worth of our poetical heritage in terms of its active use by our contemporaries.

My underlying assumption has seldom been expressed more wittily than by that sagacious master of metaphor, Robert Frost. He likens a poem to the pillar of a waterspout. Its top, which rests in the clouds, signifies the tradition of verse; its bottom, rising from the ocean, symbolizes the poet's direct contact with life.

This viewpoint will, I hope, prove refreshing to those who find that where critics are aware exclusively of either the moderns or the ancients the atmosphere not infrequently tends to become stuffy. There are numerous analogies. The typical picture gallery is academically arranged in chronological and geographical schools. Such is the great Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. How refreshing, by contrast, we find a visit to the neighboring Frick Collection, where in one of the rooms hang masterpieces from modern painting and from at least four preceding centuries. Good art always clashes with bad . . .

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