Medici manuscripts have told of places
Where common sense was wedded to the graces,
Doric temples and olive-trees and such,
But broken marble no longer goes for much.
So LOUIS MACNEICE has written in explaining why W. H. Auden and he chose some years ago to visit Iceland rather than the shores of the Mediterranean in search of both poetry and pleasure.1 Broken--or, for that matter, unbroken--marble of Greece and Rome apparently "goes for" little among contemporary poets. Yet MacNeice's phrase "no longer" rightly indicates that in the past ancient marbles went for a very great deal among the poets. With the "much" that Greek sculpture has meant to English poets, particularly in the Romantic period, this study is concerned.
The poetry which in some measure takes its origin from the finished works of the fine arts is somewhat unusual and specialized poetry, perhaps. But who shall say that poets may not be inspired by statues and paintings as well as by sunrises, daffodils, or deserted lovers? Furthermore, who can confidently assert what the poetic potentiality or content of any object is, or arbitrarily announce what use poets can, or should, make of works of art in other media?
From the history of literature it is clear that, while most poets have been moved to write primarily by the infinitely varied feelings and activities of mankind and by "nature" (mountains, fringed gentians, nightingales, and so forth), a surprisingly large number of them have also drawn inspiration from paintings, statues, books, and buildings. Moreover, separate works by an individual poet have variously sprung from his physical surroundings, his observation and com-____________________