Purity of Diction in English Verse

By Donald Davie | Go to book overview

V
LANDOR'S SHORTER POEMS

To C. H. Herford, in 1897, it seemed that " Landor was . . . on the whole the greatest prose-writer of the age of Wordsworth; and, after Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats, he was its greatest poet".1 Whatever may be thought of Landor's prose, it would be hard to find anyone to-day to endorse the claim that, as a poet, he was greater than Scott, Clare, Crabbe, Hogg or Darley--all poets with whom Herford deals. I find him inferior to every one of these poets; but my intention here is not to gird at Herford or to sneer at Landor. For the latter has an importance out of proportion with his meagre achievement. At a crucial stage in the English poetic tradition he struck out alone a path of interesting and sensible experiment; and in deciding what chance there was of success, and where and how the experiment failed, we touch upon matters of importance for the writing of poetry at any time.

What Landor stood for in the writing of poetry can be seen from one of his more distinguished poems, "To Wordsworth":

He who would build his fame up high,
The rule and plummet must apply,
Before he try if loam or sand
Be still remaining in the place
Delved for each polisht pillar's base.

____________________
1
C. H. Herford, The Age of Wordsworth, p. 283.

-183-

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