Renaissance, Eighteenth-Century, and Modern Language in English Poetry: A Tabular View

By Josephine Miles | Go to book overview

RENAISSANCE, EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY, AND MODERN LANGUAGE
IN ENGLISH POETRY

By Josephine Miles


INTRODUCTION

In the belief that one good way to characterize the work of a poet is to distinguish his recurrent refer®ences, as one distinguishes his recurrent measures, I undertook some years ago to analyze the recurrences of terms of content, of adjectives, nouns, and verbs, in the work of a few poets in mid-seventeenth century. The agreement between these poets so surprised me that I compared them with poets of other mid-centuries, and described the discovered likenesses in The Continuity of Poetic Language in 1951.

With this continuity appeared two kinds of poetry, with two extremes of emphasis in proportions: the mid seventeenth century's on verbs, with consequent complexity of clausal structures; the mid-eighteenth century's on adjectives and nouns with consequent phrasal, especially participial, emphasis. Looking at the poetry written between these mid-points, I found that much of it was a third kind -- not merely a balance between the other two, with the numbers of verbs and adjectives nearly equal, but also with a distinct vocabulary and typifying formal measure. In Eras and Modes in English Poetry ( 1957), I attempted to show the sequence of the three modes as they developed through five centuries of English poetry.

Now I have tried to bring together all the information I have gathered for two hundred poets, one hundred and fifty British and fifty American, from Chaucer to the present, in such a way as to suggest the basic patterns of relation between poet and poet in the use of language, and at the same time to provide the most straightforward chronological arrangement of materials for those who may have other questions to ask, about single poets, single eras, single types, or single terms.

Some believe that only for the individual poet can the facts be significant. But rather, it seems to me, the individual is most singular in the way he makes use of the materials available to him; in his peculiar combination of traits rather than in the traits themselves. Therefore, the way to see the individual whole is in the pattern of his work, and in his relation with other poets, other writers, other artists, other people, in time and in type.

These tables suggest some of the relationships evident in the use of language, the medium to which the poet gives form by the forces of repetition. Tables 1 and 2 together show the major uses of measure, proportions of reference, and repeated terms, of two hundred poets in order of birth date. Tables 3, 4, and 5 show some of the patterns to be seen in this basic material -- the types of interrelated content, structure, and sound which recur for the poet as he composes, and which seem to be related most strongly to the time in which he lives. I hope that the reader, looking at these materials (especially the simplest ones, in Tables 1 and 2) with his own interests in mind, will see new questions to be asked and forms of answers other than those which have occurred to me.

There is also the warning that no complete reliance should be put on any single item listed, inasmuch as the whole collection has been made by a number of different people, including me, for a number of different purposes, so that all sorts of misreadings must have come into existence despite efforts to avoid them. At least, within the suggested scope of pattern of usage, the reader can locate his own interest and establish his own greater accuracies, granting if he will my premise that an important part of the history of English poetry is the history of its language.

The assistants who through the generosity of the Faculty Committee on Research have aided in this study are: Michael Cooke, Philip Damon, Mary Emma Elliott, George P. Elliott, Elizabeth Kaupp, Jean Lynch, Harriet Polt, John and Muriel Ridland, Jack Thornburgh, Robert Smutny, W. L. Stover, Beverly Wilson, and Jean Wirth. I also owe special thanks for advice to Professors Edgar Anderson, F. W. Bateson, James R. Caldwell, Alfred Kroeber, Benbow Ritchie, and Hanan Selvin.

Six terms in this study I use with special limitations of meaning: poet,era,mode,proportion,major word or use, and innovation.Poet, I use to stand for the major text studied. Sometimes it is indeed almost all the poet's work, being about a thousand lines; sometimes it is only a small part of his work, but, so far as I know, characteristic. Generalizations are pertinent only to the text here named. For Wordsworth and Yeats, as distinguished from Donne, Dryden, and Eliot, for example, the change from one mode to another is a characterizing fact of biography, and for such poets particular care should be taken to note which text is referred to.

About poets to be included there is not much possible disagreement, although every reader will miss among the two hundred some he believes to be more important than those included: Fulke Greville, perhaps, or Henry King, or Christopher Smart, or John Clare, or Kipling, with more coming to mind for the recent years. But because I have been concerned with all eras, not just those now in favor, I have tried to include ten poets for every thirty or forty years, that is, thirty poets for every century, with the consequent inclusion of more so-called minor writers in early eras. Ghosh's chronological handbook, The Annals of English Literature, has provided a reasonably objective basis for inclusion; indeed, only about fifty poets listed by Ghosh are not included here, and they are mostly recent -- Dobson, Dowson, Lang, for example.

Era is a concept for which theorists have had little clear basis of distinction. We take century lines as marks of convenience. With the suggestion in mind that about thirty years represents a generation, I found the first clear and ample generation of poets after Chaucer's time to be those born about 1470 and beginning publication in 1500, the "early sixteenth-century" poets. So Dunbar, Hawes, Skelton, with the Ballads, begin the

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Renaissance, Eighteenth-Century, and Modern Language in English Poetry: A Tabular View
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  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Renaissance, Eighteenth-Century, and Modern Language in English Poetry 1
  • Table 1 3
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