The Romantic Survival: A Study in Poetic Evolution

By John Bayley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Prose or Poetry

IT IS arguable that the novelists rather than the poets of the nineteenth century are the real beneficiaries of the great Romantic endowment. Certainly the novel, and not the long poem, was to become the dominant literary form of the century, and the novel went on to success in a field in which poetry virtually ceased to compete--the relationship between the individual imagination and the problems and complications of society. Those who deplore the plight of contemporary poetry often ignore the fact that many of the former functions of the poet have been taken over by the novelist: the change is simply one of form.

Nor would Coleridge and Wordsworth, who always refused to make any qualitative distinction between prose and poetry, have been disconcerted by this change, one imagines. The technical requirements made verse more exacting, that was all, and the forms and technique of verse were not equal to the immense expansion of the imagination into regions which it would take prose fiction to settle and colonise. If their Romantic responsibilities were a source of difficulty and inhibition to many Victorian poets, they were to novelists like George Eliot a challenge and a joy. And the mechanism of the novel gave ample scope for dealing with them. But in verse the Romantics developed no new form; they drew heavily on the eighteenth century and on Milton,

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The Romantic Survival: A Study in Poetic Evolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Part One- The Romantic Dilemmas 1
  • Chapter I- Annex or Survive? 3
  • Chapter II- Prose or Poetry 15
  • Chapter III- Romance or Reality? 24
  • Chapter IV- The World or the Mind? 41
  • Chapter V- Romantic or Classic? 49
  • Chapter VI- Organisation or Dispossession? 59
  • Chapter VII- Ghost or Machine? 67
  • Part Two- The Romantic Survival 75
  • Chapter VIII- W. B. Yeats 77
  • Chapter IX- W. H. Auden 127
  • Chapter X- Dylan Thomas 186
  • Index 229
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