Rather than discuss the poems selected for inclusion here, I should like to put down a few things which seem to me to be true about the condition of the art of poetry in our time. Specifically about its relation to our time.
The general opinion undoubtedly is that, whatever poetry may have been in the past, it is not now a matter of principal concern to a troubled and tragic generation. The truth I believe to be precisely the opposite.
The relation of poetry to life is the relation Aristotle described-- the relation to which Wordsworth returned, though with a difference. Poetry, that is to say, is a means to knowledge of a certain kind: to Aristotle a means of revealing that coherence which life, in his world, possessed; to Wordsworth an instrument of intuitive apprehension, capable of carrying the truth, "not individual and local but general and operative . . . alive into the heart by passion." Poetry, until the psychologists make good their claims, is the one instrument by which a man as an individual, as a person, as a man alone, trusting and compelled to trust what he himself encounters, can know his experience and thus know himself. Religion, to those who possess it, may reveal reasons beyond the reasons, and ethics and philosophy may dictate their generalizations, but only poetry can admit the individual man as man directly into the individual and living experience of life.
The constant heart of the shifting crisis with us is the dilemma of the individual human being in an increasingly institutionalized world. In such a time the true importance of poetry necessarily increases. Increases at least to those who believe in, and hope for, the survival of a society based upon individual life--which is to say upon life, for there is no other. What is essential to the survival of such a society is the constant perception of the validity of that direct and personal relation to life and to experience--a man's own life, a man's own experience--upon which true individuality rests. Unless a man's perceptions are his own and are related to his experience of life, he cannot possess his life except at second hand. He cannot possess himself. He has no self.