The dominant note of the present age is industrialism. To convince yourself of this, it is only necessary to read any history of modern civilization, or to study the output of the Ford factory, or, best of all, to try to do for ten minutes without anything produced by machines. Industrialism is not confined to the cities. The wheat that makes our bread is cut and bound by mechanical harvesters. No modern farmer can get on without a tractor and a Ford car. In fact, there is no phase of life in American today which has not known the inroad of the machine.
What is the place of poetry in this world of steam and steel? Can you write a sonnet to a city? May the hero of the epic travel in the subway? Or, on the other hand, may poetry disregard the present day, fleeing to nature or the past? Can a city dweller write convincingly of flowers, or a man of the twentieth century praise Greek gods? How may poetry deal with a machine age?
Great poetry must have reference to the great movements of its time. When kings ruled the world in power as well as name, tragedy could deal with the fall of kings. A complete study of either Shakespeare or Chaucer would give a better idea of his time than many a history book, as no important elements would be found missing. The flowers of the fields are still beautiful, but since they are not a part of the dominant movement of modern times, no poet can make from pure descriptions of them truly great verse. His work, however finely wrought, would represent only a minor phase of life; it would not be universal.
Still, most of our contemporary poets make man a background for nature, rather than nature a background for man. Their verse, though never great, is often pretty. The secret of such success as they have lives in the fact that they are using words which have already been impregnated with poetic feeling. It has been asserted that candles lend them