Mid-Century American Poets

Mid-Century American Poets

Mid-Century American Poets

Mid-Century American Poets

Excerpt

As the mid-century comes upon us, it must be evident to an who care to look that America has achieved an important body of poetry. It must also be reasonably evident in retrospect that the nineteenth century in America failed to do so. There were beginnings in the nineteenth century-all of them achievements of historical interest, a small handful of them works that were poetry in their own right-but only the blindest partisan would argue that the American nineteenth century produced a body of poetry remotely comparable with that produced in England through the Romantic triumph and its Victorian sequel. Aside from the works of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, it is not too gross an exaggeration to claim that the nineteenth-century American product amounted to a very slim volume of authentic poems, a library of English imitations, and a regrettably limited (or lost) body of folk balladry, mostly American Negro. And it must then immediately be added that the balladry--probably the most authentic poetry of the period --did not emerge into literary awareness until the twentieth century.

The golden periods of poetry have always been those in which the poets possessed a sense of being firmly rooted in a native tradition. But America in the nineteenth century was still largely a cultural colony of England. The American had yet to learn his own attitudes toward his continent, toward his new nation, and toward the rest of the cultural world. In prose, even as sophisticated a writer as Henry James made a career of his provincialism. In poetry, the American--even when he asserted his Americanism most strongly--usually betrayed that he was on the cultural defensive. The Genteel Tradition was a primary symptom of that cultural insecurity of which few literate Americans were wholly free. Now and then, as in the best of Longfellow and in such native idylls as Whittier "Telling the Bees" (and certainly in parts of "Snowbound") the richness of a native feeling emerges whole and unselfconsciow. More often, however, the American poets seemed . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.