Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

By Mark Schorer; Gordon McKenzie et al. | Go to book overview

his ill-digested philosophy--a mélange of Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Spencer, against a cosmological background of eighteenth-century Deism that he could not project imaginatively into his immediate experience.

Is this not the common situation of the Victorian poets and, with some differences, our predicament today? Our chief difference seems to consist in a greater awareness of the problem--not in its solution. Hardy's philosophical limitations permitted him to accept as "truth" Spencer Synthetic Philosophy, with the result that he held to the mechanistic theories of his time with greater single-mindedness than Spencer or Browning ever achieved. This single-mindedness probably kept him immune to the eclectic miscellany of easy solutions and speculations that his more sensitive contemporaries succumbed to. There can be no doubt that the poetic language of Hardy, particularly in poems like "God's Funeral" and "The Convergence of the Twain", achieves a weight and solidity that only Arnold of the Victorians--and then only in his best moments--could rival: perhaps his lack of a university training in literature permitted him to seize the language afresh, so that even his heavily Latinized vocabulary is capable of effects that a better educated poet in his age would have missed. It is as dangerous as it is meaningless to wish that a great poet might have either made up or suppressed his deficiencies. Had he been "better educated" he might have been like Browning or Swinburne-- both men his inferiors; had he been worse educated, it is not inconceivable that he should have been even more like James Thomson (B.V.) than he was; but fortunately he was Thomas Hardy.


STEPHEN SPENDER: The Making of a Poem*

Apology

IT WOULD be inexcusable to discuss my own way of writing poetry unless I were able to relate this to a wider view of the problems which poets attempt to solve when they sit down at a desk or table to write, or walk around composing their poems in their heads. There is a danger of my appearing to put across my own experiences as the general rule, when every poet's way of going about his work and his experience of being a poet are different, and when my own poetry may not be good enough to lend my example any authority.

Yet the writing of poetry is an activity which makes certain demands of attention on the poet and which requires that he should have certain qualifications of ear, vision, imagination, memory and so on. He should be able to think in images, he should have as great a mastery of language as a painter has over his palette, even if the range of his language be very limited. All this means that, in ordinary society, a poet has to adapt himself, more or less consciously, to the demands of his vocation, and hence the peculiarities of poets and the condition of inspiration which many people have said is near to madness. One poet's example is only his adaptation of his personality to the demands of poetry, but if it is clearly stated it may help us to understand other poets, and even something of poetry.

Today we lack very much a whole view of poetry, and have instead many one-sided views of certain aspects of poetry which have been advertised as the only aims which poets should attempt. Movements such as free verse, imagism, surrealism, expressionism, personalism and so

____________________
*
"The Making of a Poem" appeared in Partisan Review, Summer 1946, and is reprinted here by courtesy of the editors and Mr. Harold Matson. Mr. Spender (b. 1909) is the author of The Destructive Element: A Study of Modern Writers and Beliefs ( 1935), Forward from Liberalism ( 1937), and European Witness ( 1946), and editor of A Choice of English Romantic Poetry ( 1947).

-187-

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