HE SIMILARITIES on which generalization may be based are difficult to discern in work so close to us as the poetry of the 1940's. Not because the similarities are fewer than in other eras, but because our expectations and consequent observations are more various, the discernment is difficult. If self-knowledge is important to artist or society, then I think some descriptive generalizations about contemporary poetry are important to make. One of the simplest to arrive at should be a description of the primary materials of the poetry. The language medium provides the sorts of materials: accent and tone in sound; reference, connection, sentence structure in meaning. In their most obvious, unanalyzed appearances, prior to interpretation, prior to linguistic or stylistic study, subject only to the simplest formalities of repetition established by their use in art, these materials should reveal some of the what of poetry and provide a clue to its why and how.
Therefore I have extended into the present century the study of primary terms in contexts of sound and sentence structure. "Primary" I take to mean most frequently used, in representative texts by representative poets in representative eras. By this assumption of representativeness, which is tentative and provisional, dependent upon much further study, the work is barred from the realm of statistical, scientifically established sampling. For the texts chosen, the count is complete, so that even if certain assumptions of representativeness turn out to be mistaken, the frequencies in the text themselves have been reported. Frequency of usage I take to be but one of the traits of evaluative selection and formal repetition, one part of that complex of choice and order which is the art, the poem.
The poetry of the 1940's focuses the extremes of other centuries, tempering both the argumentative predicates of the seventeenth century and the descriptive modifiers of the eighteenth to a poise and balance upon the base of its own strong nouns. Lines grow short or long, syllables multiply, rhymes break away from the exteriors of