The Present Age in British Literature

By David Daiches | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
POETRY

1

THE first half of the twentieth century saw a revolution in poetic taste in England comparable to that which occurred at the end of the seventeenth century or at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth. The result of that revolution was the ousting of the view of poetry represented by Palgrave Golden Treasury in favour of a poetic practice and a critical theory which exalted cerebral complexity, allusive suggestion, and precision of the individual image. The poet was no longer the sweet singer whose function was to render in mellifluous verse and a more or less conventional romantic imagery a self-indulged personal emotion; he was the explorer of experience who used language in order to build up rich patterns of meaning which, however impressive their immediate impact, required repeated close attention before they communicated themselves fully to the reader. A core of burning paradox was preferred to a gloss of surface beauty. It was not the function of poetry to pander to the languid dreams of a pampered sensibility, to revel in the sweetness of a cultivated nostalgia or the sad plangency of controlled self-pity. Tennyson's 'Break, break, break' and Arnold's 'Dover Beach' show, in very different ways, how Victorian poetry always tended to run to elegy. Eliot The Waste Land, published in 1922, was worlds apart from that skilful alternation of worry and elegy which constituted Tennyson In Memoriam. Complex, allusive, drawing on a great variety of both occidental and oriental myth and symbol, using abrupt contrasts and shifting counter-suggestions

-22-

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The Present Age in British Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter I- General Background 1
  • Chapter II- Poetry 22
  • Chapter III- Fiction 85
  • Chapter IV- Critical and General Prose 119
  • Chapter V- Drama 148
  • Bibliography 169
  • Index 369
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