Poetry: Before 1960.
Neither point is unexpected when one considers the cultural milieu of the English colonies. The highly cultivated strata of British society did not emigrate to America--there were a few brilliant adventurers, gentlemen like Raleigh, but very few. Most of the colonists, north and south, were literate but far from intellectual--sufficiently interested in reading to follow the literary fashions but rarely knowledgeable in the technical aspects of literary theory. Hence their taste was often second-rate. They imported books, including some good books, but the biggest trade, outside purely doctrinal materials, was in the works of inferior poets, and this continued until well after the Revolution. In 1732, for instance, the Bostonian bookseller Richard Fry imported twelve hundred copies of the works of Stephen Duck, the Wiltshire poet; and <IR> ANNE BRADSTREET </IR> , whose poetic talent and devotional fervor ought to have brought her close to John Donne or George Herbert or Richard Crashaw, or at least to Giles Fletcher or the honest Puritan George Wither, seems instead to have chosen as her models the labored conceits of Francis Quarles and Josuah Sylvester's uninspired translations from the uninspired French verse of Seigneur Du Bartas. Shakespeare was well known in America, though the Bay colonists were generally unfriendly to the theater, but Paradise Lost was apparently and surprisingly not known to more than a handful of colonists until well after 1700. The most popular work of versification by far among those written by colonists was Michael Wigglesworth's <IR> DAY OF DOOM </IR> (1662), an execrably written tract on damnation, the government of hell, and allied horrors. Terrified children were still required to memorize its choice bits in the 19th century.
Nevertheless, Mistress Bradstreet was a talented poet. Some of her poems were published in London in 1650 as <IR> THE TENTH MUSE LATELY SPRUNG UP IN AMERICA </IR> , a title she had no part in choosing. Occasionally, the sense of her religious conviction comes to us through her verses with genuine force, and if her metaphors were not notably original in conception, her imagination at least found turns of phrase that could give them the appearance of independent generation. But although she was a colonial housewife who lived with the wilderness scarcely a stone's throw from her back door, not much in her work betrays an American origin. The poems could have been written in any dissenting household of Dorset. Today Mistress Bradstreet--heroine of novels and tutelary spirit of poets (see <IR> John Berryman's HOMAGE TO MISTRESS BRADSTREET </IR> , 1956)--is well known primarily because her poems were the first to be published by an American author.
<IR> EDWARD TAYLOR </IR> enjoyed the advantage of being discovered 250 years after his death in 1729. A preacher at Westfield, Massachusetts, he wrote verses for private ends alone and kept them in a manuscript that his heirs were enjoined to leave unpublished. He wrote in the metaphysical manner, notably after Donne, and got into his poems a sensuousness of feeling that Donne would have recognized. Perhaps this explains Taylor's reticence about publication--fear that the poems, though mostly religious in theme, were still too agreeable to accord with the reputation of a dissenting minister. What is more important, Taylor also got into his poems a certain amount of detail--for us the local habitation without which no poetry can endure. Taylor's manuscript turned up in the Yale Library in 1937 and was promptly published (The Poetical Works of Edward Taylor, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., 1939). Kenneth Murdock called Taylor the "greatest poet of New England before the nineteenth century." This still isn't saying much: against the crushing dullness of most of the rest, the slightest talent would stand out. But in fact Taylor deserves a place with his colleagues overseas, the minor English poets of the 17th century who wrote much that we now consider the best the language affords, and beyond this he was the first poet to capture anything at all of the local temper in America.
As the 18th century wore on, American poets became somewhat less preoccupied with doom and somewhat more aware of the new spirit in English poetry, represented by Dryden and Pope. Suppose, for the sake of the narrative, that the classical impetus in modern literature reached its height, its moment of splendid poise, in 1666, the year of Le Misanthrope. It is impossible to say precisely when the moment broke upon America, but certainly not before 1745, when Poems on Several Occasions by <IR> JOHN ADAMS  </IR> (not the future President) appeared; these contained a trace of classical delicacy and regularity. Hence there was a lag of at least seventy-five years; and it would be possible to write the whole cultural history of North America in terms of the progressive means by which this lag was shortened. In 1747 William Livingston, later a prominent Revolutionary figure, published his Philosophical Solitude, a poem in tolerable heroic couplets. The young Philadelphian <IR> THOMAS GODFREY </IR> also showed talent in classical meters, though he died too young to develop them; his friend Nathaniel Evans, also a poet, edited a posthumous edition of Godfrey's Juvenile Poems on Various Subjects (1765). In Boston, <IR> PHILLIS WHEATLEY </IR> published at nineteen her Poems on Various Subjects (1773), mostly in heroic couplets. In all these poets, however, classicism was never more than a password to the haut ton, sincerely as it may have been imitated on occasion. In America the taste for classicism existed, but never the need; the land itself did not ask for it, so its meaning for the pre-Revolutionary American mind must have been--in the full sense--problematical.
As Revolutionary sentiment grew in strength, however, one element of the English classical movement was seized by American poets and put to an immediately practical use--the element of satire, turned inevitably against the country of its flowering. Even in this case American poets preferred, not the toughness of Dryden or the suavity of Pope, but the boisterousness of Charles Churchill and the bathos of Mark Akenside. The type can be seen in its full vigor among the <IR> HARTFORD WITS </IR> , a group of poets led by <IR> JOHN TRUMBULL </IR> , <IR> TIMOTHY DWIGHT </IR> , and <IR> JOEL BARLOW </IR> , the authors respectively of <IR> M'FINGAL </IR> (1775), <IR> THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN </IR> (1785), and <IR> THE COLUMBIAD </IR> (first version 1787, final version 1807). These were patriotic verses, as fiery in their way as any oration by John Adams or Patrick Henry, and as full of bad rhetoric. But they were popular and they served their purpose admirably; moreover, they constituted the first effective, large-scale adaptation of native materials to the ends of selfconscious literary composition in verse. The mark of provincialism is still abundantly on them, but it was now definitely provincialism, not colonialism. Nor should the Wits be downgraded on account of their rough technique; they were outstanding men--Barlow a diplomat, Dwight a president of Yale, and Trumbull a prodigy and one of the most brilliant men in America.
The Wits by no means exhaust the topic of Revolutionary poetry, for a finer talent than any of them was also producing patriotic verses. <IR> PHILIP FRENEAU </IR> was the first American poet who pointed the way toward a genuinely poetic solution to the dilemma of provincialism. He was a soldier, politician, and journalist; much of his verse was written for patriotic or political ends. But there remains a body of work poetic in the fullest sense, a personal amalgam of experience and feeling. After the Revolution, Freneau continued to write poetry--nature poems, love poems, and some important experiments with themes from Indian life. Beginning with a neoclassical metric, he loosened his verse, made it a personal vehicle, and introduced natural diction (independently of Wordsworth). Neither Romantic nor Gothic, Freneau drove his technique before him toward the goal of style. Here is the opening of his <IR> THE HOUSE OF NIGHT </IR> :
Trembling I write my dream, and recollect A fearful vision at the midnight hour; So late, death o'er me spreads his signal wings, Painted with fancies of malignant power!
To the present day, much in American poetry stems from this plain line. Not another major poet in America before Emily Dickinson, not even Edgar Allan Poe, would have resisted the temptation to rhyme the first and third lines--a significant resistance. In America, Freneau occupies something like the stage that Chatterton, Smart, Gray, and Blake occupy in England: pre-Romantics freed of neoclassical academicism. Freneau did not go as far in most respects as his English contemporaries--this would have been impossible in the circumstances--but he did well. Americans should honor his work by reading it more than they do.
Freneau leads directly into the Romantic movement and the American 19th century in general with its two great figures, Poe and Walt Whitman, whose influence extends throughout world literature, and a third, Emily Dickinson, who in a less direct way has exerted an equal force. But a word or two must be said first about literary activity below this level. In the eastern cities the beginning of the 19th century was a time of relaxation and refinement; the wilderness was tamed, independence was won, the great urban fortunes had been founded. Women, emancipated from domestic chores by their husbands' wealth, became the poet's chief readers--a condition from which American poetry has yet to emerge. The romantic, subjective poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and more especially of Shelley, Byron, Leigh Hunt, Joseph Blanco White, Thomas Moore, Thomas Hood, and others found an ardent audience among such readers, as did a number of American versifiers ready to embark on imitation. <IR> FITZ-GREENE HALLECK </IR> wrote mainly sentimental verses, though a Byronesque satire, <IR> FANNY </IR> (1817), was praised rather unaccountably by Ezra Pound. Halleck's friend <IR> JOSEPH RODMAN DRAKE </IR> wrote technically unobjectionable verses full of fays and sprites. Eaglesfield Smith wrote verse romances in the manner of Scott, fake dialect and all, and Samuel Woodworth wrote <IR> THE OLD OAKEN BUCKET </IR> (1826). Gothic melodrama flourished on the stage in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston--Boston still took a dim view of theatrical entertainments--and the mood was sustained in architecture by Joseph Latrobe and his followers.
In 1820 the English critic and wit Sydney Smith asked: "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue?" The taunt was widely circulated in America and widely approved by citizens who comprised the self-appointed elite. When <IR> JAMES N. BARKER </IR> dramatized in 1812 Scott's Marmion for production in a New York theater, the playbill read, "By Thomas Mortan, an Englishman." The public took well to the play, but when word leaked out that the adapter was really Barker, an American, the production folded in three weeks. In the face of this, no wonder American poets seldom were able to take their own work seriously.
Yet some of these poets possessed genius. <IR> WASHINGTON ALLSTON </IR> , for instance, rebelled against his family's decision that he become a doctor, and ran off to London to study. The British acclaimed him. Clearly he was one of the most brilliant young men of the age, both a painter and a poet, but in the long run he was paralyzed by his sense of being an American, and he failed to produce anything like the important work that was expected of him, though he left some charming fugitive pieces. <IR> WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT </IR> is another case in point. His <IR> THANATOPSIS </IR> (1817), written when he was seventeen though not published until six years later, leaves no doubt of his high gift, and a few of his later poems are unequivocally good. But these few are scarcely vigorous enough to clamber above the dull, pedantic mishmash of the rest--imitative works written under a compulsion to bring European culture to America. As lifelong editor of the New York Post, Bryant made this his main concern; no doubt his learned, fluent editorials, articles, and reviews did a good deal to elevate the cultural tone of 19th-century America, but the same energy put into the shaping of American experience in verse might have resulted in something more important. Finally, there is the case of <IR> HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW </IR> . Longfellow's genius was enormous. Some of his love poems and other personal lyrics are good enough to deserve more readers than they have today. Moreover, he obviously did not shirk his responsibility toward the American scene: his verse narratives almost all sprang from native sources. Yet in nearly everything he wrote one detects a weakness, a failure of aesthetic daring or aesthetic faith at the heart of the poem; the poet retreats at the point where a bold word or exceptional meter might win victory, that is, in a full, unified poem. Longfellow was an assiduous scholar, particularly attracted to German and Scandinavian literatures. Too much of his work is imitative and lacks realism: the spirit of locality is not much in evidence in <IR> EVANGELINE </IR> (1847), for instance, or <IR> HIAWATHA </IR> (1855), though both purport to be American experiments in American mythology. His best effort in narrative was no doubt his slightest, Paul Revere's Ride (1861), tossed off quickly and with no thought of foreign models. In the end Longfellow became the most popular American poet of the century and the cultural arbiter of the American middle class, deeply committed to gentility. He presided in Cambridge, the leader of the New England school of poets--prosperous, gentle, kindly, and conventional; and he ended as a bearded countenance gazing benignly down from ten thousand classroom walls. Bryant and Longfellow achieved fame as poets, but judged by strict critical standards they lost their way. To what extent their provincialism can be blamed for the misadventure, no one will ever determine precisely, but aside from any other historical or biographical considerations, the texts of their poems alone give plenty of evidence that provincialism was an important factor. Nor was the loss to American poetry limited to these two.
"What does the poet make and what does his work create?" The question was asked by I.A. Richards, and he supplied his own answer: "Himself and his world first, and thereby other worlds and other men." Clearly no poet who has been considered here so far thought of his role in such terms as these. On the contrary, these poets took themselves and their worlds as given, inalterable, fixed, in a sense the reliable components of an existence fraught with the contingency of God's will, certainly not in need of self-creation; and for this reason, perhaps, they failed largely to affect the selves or worlds of their readers. Richards' statement of the poet's office is crucially modern, the base of modern literary theory; and it is significant that the first American poet who regarded himself as in any sense a "maker" or "creator" was also our first modern poet, <IR> EDGAR ALLAN POE </IR> . No one who has studied Poe's poems in relation to his life can doubt that the latter was as deeply influenced by the former as the other way round. Experience was meaningless for Poe until it had been poeticized; poetry was valueless until it had been lived. Beyond this, he buttressed his poetry with a critical theory that was both personal and prescriptive. No American writer before him had attempted anything so comprehensive. Poe hadn't the integrative sensibility that has become almost second nature for poets today. His verse and criticism were not always congruent, but both were illuminating and both--especially the critism--produced effects that have been pervasive in all Western literature.
Coleridge defined the twofold force of poetry as "the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination." Conceivably, Poe read these words as a boy, for he attended school in England not long after publication of Biographia Literaria. In any case, he was an admirer of Coleridge, and in theory subscribed to the sound Romantic doctrine contained in the elder poet's critical precept. In practice, however, Poe was attracted more by the second half of Coleridge's definition than by the first. Poe's criticism says little about nature, but much about the use of language to sustain a mood, both through the meanings of words, considered primarily under their connotative aspects, and through the sounds of words. He came close to advocating automatic writing. If he fell short of that, he at least insisted on the primacy of the subconscious mind as the source of poetry's images and symbols, and he was an unquestioning believer in the efficacy of affective form. His trouble was that he failed to achieve in his poetry the spontaneity that his critical precepts required. His mood in verse was generally narrow, confined at one limit by melancholy and at the other by the macabre, and he attempted to sustain this mood in studied meters and assonances that too often strained his technique. Modern readers are likely to find his effect more a contrived euphoniousness than a genuine liberation of feeling, with the result that they prefer his short stories to his poetry. Even so, a dozen or more of Poe's lyrics succeed marvelously and are probably the best things of their kind in Anglo-American literature. Together with his stories, they have become so deeply ingrained in American culture that they are touchstones of the historical consciousness.
Poe's theories of language and symbolism were almost completely ignored by succeeding American poets for a hundred years, and the art of symbolism, so natural to American temperament and civilization, was left in the hands of the novelists, particularly Hawthorne and Melville. In part this was owing to the ascendancy of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England and its consequent acceptance in America. The failure of the Rossettis and their friends to understand the real nature of the symbol in art allowed them to neglect Poe. But Baudelaire was more receptive--and more astute. He read and translated Poe's work and expanded Poe's concepts of the poetic act. Thus Poe's theories passed into French literature at a point where they could be most usefully absorbed, combining with the effects of Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal (1857) and Gautier's Emaux et camees (1852) to produce, in the ensuing works of Mallarme, Rimbaud, the Parnassians, and the Symbolists, a literary development of great intrinsic vitality. In the course of time, the Pre-Raphaelites declined, the Rhymers ascended; and when Arthur Symons brought the French poets to the Anglo-American audience in his The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899), which was widely read by young poets in the first years of the 20th century, Poe's influence reentered American literary life. At the same time it was spreading elsewhere by analogous means, until today the Poesque element in Western poetry taken as a whole is incalculably large.
Behind Poe, in a manner of speaking, the ordinary work of literary production went on, centered chiefly in New England. The transcendentalists and abolitionists used verse for their lucubrations when the mood to do so overtook them, and <IR> RALPH WALDO EMERSON </IR> turned out occasional poems of a certain intellectual vividness, though his verse-writing technique was slapdash; his friend <IR> HENRY DAVID THOREAU </IR> did little in poetry of any account. Probably the best of the transcendental poets was <IR> JONES VERY </IR> , whose brilliant, anxiety-ridden, intense mind was capable of only a small output of compressed and tightly formal poems, testimonials of ecstatic mysticism less akin to Emerson's religion than to the Mathers' <IR> JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER </IR> , a low-born New Englander, wrote crudely but with an attention to homely detail, as in his minor masterpiece of descriptive verse, <IR> SNOW-BOUND </IR> (1866), but much of his ability was submerged in volatile antislavery diatribes. <IR> JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL </IR> was the epitome of Brahminism, urbane and learned. These men formed a close and usually closed circle, the Academy of their day, headed by Longfellow, deriving a locus from Longfellow's graciously appointed home in Cambridge. ( <IR> See BRAHMINS </IR> .) Among them, they controlled the editorial policies of the <IR> NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW </IR> and <IR> ATLANTIC MONTHLY </IR> , and hence the literary tastes of most of cultivated America. Their reviews could make or break young writers. Probably the most genial of them was <IR> OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, SR </IR> ., who wrote entertaining essays and several novels that remain interesting for their pre-Freudian excursions into psychotherapeutics, but he wrote primarily occasional poetry. When <IR> WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS </IR> came East as a young man to seek his literary fortune, he went to Cambridge, for he knew his career hung in the balance until Lowell had condescended to pronounce judgment. A favorable judgment was given, as it turned out, and eventually Howells succeeded to Lowell's kingdom. But the American writer who most needed and most deserved the help of the Cambridge circle never got it. <IR> HERMAN MELVILLE </IR> worked all his life in a state of almost total critical neglect, and his poems, highly regarded today, were mainly published at his own expense and read by only a few people during his lifetime.
Meanwhile, Southern poets of the middle 19th century wandered into an attenuating dilettantism. As the crisis of Fort Sumter approached, the patriarchal planters and their more or less humanistic, later 18th-century culture gave way to the newly rich cotton kings, western farmers, and red-necked politicos. "The southern farmer of this period had neither the culture, the breadth of view, nor the tolerance of the Virginia planter of the eighteenth century," wrote Jay B. Hubbell, the eminent Southern literary historian. It can be argued that culture, breadth of view, and tolerance are no guarantors of good writing and may even be inimical to it, but in the South of 1830 to 1865, at any rate, the point seems well taken. By and large, Southern taste of the period, like Western taste, was subliterary--there was no one for poets to write for. Southern scholars usually claim Poe as their own, on the strength of his having been brought up in Richmond, but the claim is tenuous; and aside from Poe what was there? <IR> JAMES RYDER RANDALL </IR> , <IR> HENRY TIMROD </IR> (the most popular proslavery poet), <IR> FRANCIS ORRAY TICKNOR </IR> , <IR> ABRAM JOSEPH RYAN </IR> , Innes Randolph, <IR> WILLIAM J. GRAYSON </IR> --for the most part are forgotten figures. This is not to say that there was no vigorous writing in the South, but most of it was prose, the work of <IR> WILLIAM GILMORE SIMMS </IR> , <IR> JOHN PENDLETON KENNEDY </IR> , <IR> WILLIAM ALEXANDER CARUTHERS </IR> , <IR> JOHN ESTEN COOKE </IR> and Philip Pendleton Cooke, and others, strong writers who contributed to the progress of fictional realism in America. Nor should the Western Southerners and the humorists be forgotten-- <IR> DAVY CROCKETT </IR> , <IR> AUGUSTUS B. LONGSTREET </IR> , and <IR> GEORGE W. HARRIS </IR> . But it is difficult to find still readable Southern poetry from this period.
<IR> WALT WHITMAN </IR> was thoroughly individual. He said his "God be with you" to the European poets and parted company with them irrevocably, at the same time and in consequence parting company with his American colleagues, too. He sang no sweet songs, but long, loosely metered chants. He put no history in his poems, but only the broad democratic present and the radiant future. He cared nothing for empire, unless it was the empire of free men--and women. Yes, sex was overt in Whitman's poems--not the coy naughtiness of most previous erotic poetry, but an open, even naive acclamation of joy in sexual love, accompanied sometimes by an implicit recommendation of indiscriminateness. His aim was the perfection of the individual person through immersion in the commonalty of persons, and the anointing oil of the ritual was love. Whitman dealt more frankly with the physiological aspects of existence than any poet had before. With him, universal nature was a generative force, moving confidently forward toward the realization of Democratic Man. Even in death, nature retained its somewhat inscrutable elan. Of all the optimistic philosophies and literatures that derived from the general 19th-century ferment over evolutionary theory, Whitman's was by and large the happiest, and perhaps also the most successful. Spencer fell into confusion, Nietzsche into shameless posturing, Huxley into witticism, and Marx into wardheeling pettifoggery. Whitman, with only the flimsiest conceptualizing apparatus, outlives them all--read today not only with pleasure but with a sense of shared conviction by millions of like-minded people in every part of the world. This fact does not by any means place Whitman above the flaws of his own insight, the shortcomings of his historical consciousness. Whitman's zeal, enthusiasm, fervor, his grand cadences and liturgical phrasings, his irrepressible, highhanded love of word-making, cannot entirely conceal his shallowness. In spite of his tender, moving funeral song for President Lincoln, in spite of his invocations to nature's darker forces, Whitman lacked the tragic sense, and to the extent that knowledge of tragedy is prerequisite to composing genuinely and humanly affective poetry, Whitman failed. But in the context of 19th-century American optimism and expansionism, the failure seems slight.
Whitman published his poems first in 1855 as <IR> LEAVES OF GRASS </IR> , a small pamphlet he printed and sold himself. It did not attract much notice. Most people who did read it didn't like it. Nevertheless, Whitman persevered, and in the course of his life published a number of further editions, each an expansion and revision of its predecessor. Gradually his audience formed. Before his death he had acquired a gratifyingly enthusiastic following at home and abroad. Other poets began imitating him. To what extent his unmetered but highly rhythmical lines affected later experiments in vers libre it is difficult to say, for other poets during Whitman's lifetime were writing unmetered verse, especially in France. Perhaps in the long run Whitman's influence has been less than Poe's. But influence is not the only measure of a poet's success, nor even the chief one, and there is no doubt that Whitman's acceptance throughout the world has been wide and appreciative. Considering the nature of Whitman's poetic materials, this is nothing less than astonishing. For what personality was Whitman offering to view? Precisely that which had been the butt of the world's ridicule for decades--the naive, optimistic, self-assured, democratic American, the Yankee Doodle. One measure of Whitman's genius is the degree to which he--Walt Whitman, the singer, the poet, the public personality, the collective "I"--converted this image of ridicule into one of the modern world's most compelling identities: Everyman as the principle of promise and faith.
The difference between Whitman's poetry and that of <IR> EMILY DICKINSON </IR> is so great that it scarcely seems possible the two were contemporaries. Perhaps the fact that they lived and worked at about the same time is as good an indication as any of the floundering quality of American literature before the 20th century. No conceivable movement or school or even period (in the usual literary sense) could unite two so dissimilar poets. Where Whitman was the democratic poet, the public poet, the celebrator of men's collective motives, Dickinson was personal, introspective, private. Where Whitman was optimistic, Dickinson was wryly pessimistic. Where Whitman was credulously pantheistic, Dickinson was apprehensively Calvinistic. Where Whitman rewrote and polished his poems continually, and did all that he could to secure their acceptance, Dickinson jotted down her poems on odd scraps of paper, scarcely ever went back to them, and left them concealed in a drawer, where they remained until after she died. Where Whitman was expansive, rhetorical, long-winded, Dickinson was lyrical, cryptic, compressed. Where Whitman acclaimed sex and freedom, implying at least that the two were necessary concomitants, Dickinson was so disturbed by her one mildly incorrect attachment to a married man that she buried herself in neurotic seclusion for the rest of her life. And so on and so on--the disparities are almost endless.
In an important sense, Emily Dickinson was a profoundly American poet, although she seldom incorporated any explicitly American materials in her poems. But, owing to her spiritual locus in the center, so to speak, of the conflict between New England's early and later theologies, she felt and expressed, often in dimly realized terms, a characteristically American anguish. She lived in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a child learned the Calvinist creed and the Calvinist morality of her forebears, but she also picked up in her adolescent reading a smattering of the 19th-century revolt. Not enough of it, clearly, to fix her unequivocally with the transcendentalists or the Unitarians, but enough to turn her mind toward problems of doubt, guilt, purpose, and all the rest. Her neurotic anxieties gave her general quest a driving personal force. Without much formal education and with few intellectually disposed friends, she lacked the means of conceptualizing these cultural and moral conflicts as they were conceptualized by other troubled New Englanders--Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Henry Adams. Hence, she never attempted anything on the grand scale, but instead captured her fears and resolutions in fugitive scraps of verse, shaped on the rhythms of the hymn tunes she remembered from childhood, cast up in images taken from her garden, her house, her reading. The result was a large body of mediocre verse surrounding twenty or thirty poems of shattering brilliance. The faults of the poems are easy to pick out: huge abstractions left unwedded to the context; allegories either flatly obvious or unanchored and cryptic; exoticisms (from her reading) tagged on without meaning or necessity; and, worst of all, what the critic Yvor Winters called her "quality of silly playfulness," and apparently deep need to meet questions of ultimacy with an attitude of childish irresponsibility and coquetry. Yet, in the twenty or thirty brilliant poems--some critics would say thirty or forty; the number is open to dispute, though the general proportion of good to mediocre is not--she transcended these defects of poetic skill and temperament with an accession of genius probably greater than anything of its kind elsewhere in literature written in English. These poems offer much of value to readers and critics, but the manner of their composition offers even more to those who are willing to speculate about the psychology of the procedural imagination.
After Dickinson's death, a considerable tangle developed in respect to the publication rights to her literary remains, and in consequence the poems were published only gradually, a little at a time, in a number of succeeding volumes, and sometimes the texts were inaccurate. A scholarly, variorum edition didn't appear until early in the 1950s. But the main impact of her poems on readers and other poets was immediate. Her influence spread through American poetry like--for once the simile is not exaggerated--wildfire, especially among poets who came to prominence after World War I and more especially among female poets--Leonie Adams, Louise Bogan, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie, and many others. Her style became widely disseminated through American poetry--the figure is apt though bizarre--that it became virtually indistinguishable from the American style, and Whitman's chanting sentences for a while almost vanished from the poetic consciousness. Styles wear out, but we may be confident that twenty or thirty or forty of Emily Dickinson's poems will remain classics of American literature as long as American literature exists.
Southern intellectual life was seriously disrupted by the Civil War. The main intellectual and artistic currents in the United States during the first half of the 19th century-- <IR> TRANSCENDENTALISM </IR> , Unitarianism, Owenism, the various other ramifications of Romantic theory--had been closely and doubtless inevitably tied to abolitionism, while at the same time abolitionism itself had been driven into such an uncompromising position by its radical wing, men like Whittier, Garrison, and the supporters of John Brown, that Southern intellectuals who might have desired to align themselves with a less bellicose but nevertheless progressive program of national development in the arts were prevented from doing so and were left instead to cultivate their own turnip patches. In some respects these turnip patches turned out to be remarkably fertile. But not for poetry. After 1865, prose was able to break from the 18th-century sentimentalism that dominated Southern taste, and the new prose writers who sought their inspiration in the language they heard around them, instead of in Addison or Walpole, gave to American literature a necessary infusion of local color and folk symbolism. This ranged from the subliterary, though culturally important, dialect tales of <IR> JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS </IR> and <IR> THOMAS NELSON PAGE </IR> to such formal masterpieces as <IR> HUCKLEBERRY FINN </IR> and <IR> THE GRANDISSIMES </IR> . Even in music Louis Gottschalk could make something like the same break, introducing Creole materials into his highly sophisticated compositions. But poetry, bound in a tight prosodic heritage, could not manage it. With one exception, the South produced not a single important poet between 1860 and 1900, and it is significant that a poet who did succeed in creating, in a few poems, a serious modern Southern style was a Northern African American, <IR> PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR </IR> . These forty years of Southern literary history form a lucidly heightened illustration of the predicament of provincial culture--provincialism with a vengeance--for the South was, during this period, a provincial culture within a provincial culture.
Of course the exception was <IR> SIDNEY LANIER </IR> . In the 20th century his poetry, with its Pre-Raphaelite and Swinburnian affinities, became unpopular. Many readers would be inclined to deny that Lanier actually is an exception to the run of Southern mediocrity. The last popular edition of his poems was issued in 1915. Nevertheless, Lanier must be accorded respect for the quality of his mind and the seriousness of his intent, since both of these, aside from his poems themselves, have entered and augmented the main current of American poetry. It is tempting to say that Lanier was a kind of second-rate Poe, since like his predecessor he was deeply interested in the musical elements of verse and the techniques by which they are manipulated. But in reality he pursued a highly individual course. In the first place, he was both a professional musician and a creditable literary scholar and was able to give to his essays in criticism an authenticity that Poe's more fanciful cerebrations might never have achieved on their own. In the second place, Lanier was more deeply committed than Poe to the content of his work, at least in the sense that he was concerned not only for its emotional coherence but for its social and philosophical utility. Charles Anderson, editor of Lanier's Works (1945), observed that Lanier inclined toward the Emersonian conception of the poet as a religious seer "in charge of all learning to convert it into wisdom." This conversion, provided we use "learning" in the philosophical sense to mean all perceived experience, lies also at the heart of the modern or symbolist conception of the poet's role, and it seems fair to say that Lanier, however oldfashioned his poems may seem now, came close to our view of the poetic act. But, working apart from the center of literary activity, he gave much of his energy to poetically tangential enterprises. He was convinced that poetic technique could be reduced to a science if prosodists only would apply the analogy of music, and he wrote two books, The Science of English Verse (1883) and Music and Poetry (1889), to prove his point. They are tedious books, though here and there they contain interesting technical analyses. In his own poetry he applied his principles as well as he could, ending up too often with an exaggerated onomatopoeia that obscures his metrical experiments and novel imageries. In spite of this, however, there is enough substance in some of his poems to suggest that they may come into favor again as taste in literature continues on its spiral course.
In the North, meanwhile, affairs were not much better. The old Cambridge school declined and was replaced by a new one, more cosmopolitan, more refined, and occasionally more daring. William Dean Howells advocated a judicious realism in prose fiction. <IR> WILLIAM VAUGHN MOODY </IR> faced up intelligently to sexual taboos, as in <IR> THE GREAT DIVIDE </IR> (1906), a drama that won considerable success. But he didn't really go far in this direction; neither did <IR> TRUMBULL STICKNEY </IR> nor <IR> GEORGE SANTAYANA </IR> , who were the two other most distinguished members of the group. These men were without question excellent poets and truly critical intellects--they were perhaps the first Americans who constructed literary careers exhibiting in some degree the qualities we attach to the great Europeans, men like Arnold, Leconte de Lisle, and Carducci; in other words, they were the first American men of letters. Moreover, they may have had more influence on their successors than most readers suspect. The intense originality of the poetry of <IR> WALLACE STEVENS </IR> , for instance, has led critics to seek its origins, no doubt with reason, in distant sources--Rimbaud and Laforgue--but the movement of his verse is often prefigured in passages from the works of Moody, whose poems were popular when Stevens was a young man. This is not to insinuate that the end of the century in America brought forth much memorable poetry: it didn't. Moody, Stickney, and Santayana were gifted poets, they gave American readers a touch of salutary professionalism at a high level, and they dealt often enough with themes from American life. Good writers in certain circumstances can make themselves useful by other means than the production of masterpieces. If these poets had not yet found the combination of matter and manner that could raise American poetry to the level of English poetry, this is to say that beneath their veneer they were still provincial poets.
There were poets residing in the rest of the country too, of course. But most of them contributed little to the main task at hand. Indiana had <IR> JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY </IR> , Chicago had <IR> EUGENE FIELD </IR> , Kentucky had <IR> MADISON CAWEIN </IR> ; <IR> BLISS CARMAN </IR> and <IR> RICHARD HOVEY </IR> worked mainly in the East; in California a curious mixture of frontier roughhouse and yellow-book preciosity, stemming from <IR> AMBROSE BIERCE </IR> , issued in the poetry of <IR> GEORGE STERLING </IR> , <IR> JOAQUIN MILLER </IR> , <IR> C.W. STODDARD </IR> , <IR> EDWIN MARKHAM </IR> , and others; two women whose poems remain readable were <IR> LIZETTE WOODWORTH REESE </IR> and <IR> ANNA HEMPSTEAD BRANCH </IR> ; other poets who were notable for one reason or another were <IR> EDWARD ROWLAND SILL </IR> , Philip Henry Savage, <IR> JOHN B. TABB </IR> , <IR> FRANK DEMPSTER SHERMAN </IR> , Louise Chandler Moulton, and Henry Jones; and <IR> PERCY MACKAYE </IR> wrote admirably for the verse theater and the opera. By the end of the 19th century, cultural life in the United States, in its aspects of organization and management, had become as extensive as cultural life anywhere. But although these poets and others produced works that have value as folklore, history, entertainment, social commentary, or occasionally as still valid poems in their own right, none made an enduring contribution to the development of a soundly based and balanced American poetry.
Success in removing the burden of provincialism from American poetry fell finally to the men and women who created the "revolution of the word," as it has been called, or more simply the "modern poetry," as we still refer to it. Conventionally, the date of the revolution is given as 1912, when <IR> HARRIET MONROE </IR> founded <IR> POETRY: A MAGAZINE OF VERSE </IR> in Chicago; the magazine quickly became the principal organ of the new poetry (another common designation). But without in the least diminishing the importance of Poetry or extenuating the genuinely revolutionary effects of much that the new poets did, one may believe that the movement did not occur overnight. The old turn-of-the-century poets in America, as noted already, were sophisticated writers, like their contemporaries in England, and they were aware of Baudelaire and the Symbolists. At the same time, the new poets did not acquire much following until after World War I. Thus, the period of emergence for the new poetry lasted at least fifteen years, probably longer. Moreover, one important transitional poet, like Yeats in England, spanned the whole era, and one protorevolutionary preceded it. <IR> EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON </IR> 's first book was published in 1896, his last in 1935. In toughness and psychological daring, his verse foreshadowed many elements of the revolutionary poetry, while his metric remained fixed in conventional usage. He wrote with power, often of themes from New England history and society. His work has been dimmed by Robert Frost's success with similar themes, which is an unfortunate outcome, for whereas Frost's attitudes have generally been ironic and metaphysical and touched with Emersonian softness, Robinson conceived his subjects in terms of tragic purity. No poet has brought lyrical narrative, that difficult form invented by Wordsworth, to a tenser development, and such poems of Robinson's as "Luke Havergal" and "Eros Turannos" should not be forgotten. <IR> STEPHEN CRANE </IR> , whose poems embodied a tough, realistic content in an ironic free verse that owed something to Whitman and something to journalese, would not have earned much of a reputation on the ground of his verse alone: he didn't write enough of it and his technique was primitive. But there is no doubt that he anticipated many innovations of the new poetry in the small number of poems he did write and publish, all before 1900. Moreover, because his novels attracted widespread attention and were praised by Howells, Huneker, and other influential critics, his verse undoubtedly was read and studied by the young writers who came along in the early years of the new century.
The new poets began their revolution as a rebellion against poetic practices and purposes that had gone stale. Their motives were for the most part negative rather than affirmative. They reacted against Victorianism, Georgianism, genteelism, the academy, the establishment, the rules and conventions, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Swinburne, Bridges--the whole suffocating past. Off they went, hellbent for leather, unfurling their banners as they rode--female emancipation, abolition of sexual taboos, down with American commercialism, abolition of deans and professors and, at the head, resplendent in gory hues, vers libre! As the ranks swelled, some banners were torn down and replaced by others, divisive (not to say derisive) slogans were hurled back and forth, squadrons wheeled away on new lines of march, platoons were lost and never heard from again, and the scene took on the appearance of a melee. Anything like a complete disentanglement of the conflicting elements is beyond the scope of an encyclopedia article. From here on, these observations will be abbreviated, exclusive, and general.
In geographical terms, the charge of the revolutionaries was more in the nature of an exodus--away from the former centers of culture in the East, particularly Cambridge and New York. The new poets were fed up with the conservative policies of the established publishing firms and the universities. The new centers of American poetry were two: Chicago and Europe. They represented two broadly divergent forces in American poetry; and for a quarter of a century a conflict between them invigorated the literary scene, though the two parties were so equally drawn that much of the time the conflict was subdued and antagonists from either side could mingle together on terms of mutual respect. Only when the Chicagoan school finally succumbed to the European were cries of triumph, anger, and misery plainly heard.
In Chicago, <IR> HARRIET MONROE </IR> ruled. Although she welcomed members of the European school to the pages of Poetry, it is clear in retrospect that her sympathies lay first with the Westerners, the Whitmanians, the ebullient democrats. Monroe was a good editor and a sensitive reader, she recognized the great verbal talents of Ezra Pound and his friends; but she lacked their erudition. Like many others in the same fix, she was unwilling to commit herself to an unreserved judgment--which was of course what the Poundians wanted. <IR> CARL SANDBURG </IR> was the leader of the Chicago group; others were <IR> EDGAR LEE MASTERS </IR> (whose candid <IR> SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY </IR> , 1915, used to be cited as a liberating force for American letters, though today its importance seems less decisive), <IR> VACHEL LINDSAY </IR> , <IR> LEW SARETT </IR> , <IR> STEPHEN VINCENT BENET </IR> , and <IR> FLOYD DELL </IR> . The historical importance of these poets, together with that of their colleagues who wrote in prose-- <IR> HAMLIN GARLAND </IR> , <IR> FRANK NORRIS </IR> , <IR> THEODORE DREISER </IR> , <IR> SINCLAIR LEWIS </IR> , <IR> ERNEST HEMINGWAY </IR> --cannot be overemphasized. In a real sense they were the van of the avant-garde, without whom the less aggressive combatants could have made no headway. Besides, they represented an aspect of the American character, its expansive and progressive mood, that is never submerged for long.
But a significant omen of the future was the migration of <IR> THE LITTLE REVIEW </IR> , founded in 1914 by Margaret Anderson, from Chicago to New York and then to Europe. Anderson took a more esoteric line than Monroe, and soon she was attracting away from Poetry the American writers of the European branch whose sophisticated nostrils had begun to detect the aroma of prairie dust that clung to some of Monroe's proteges. The most important were <IR> EZRA POUND </IR> , who had been Poetry's foreign editor, and <IR> T.S. ELIOT </IR> . Pound had gone to Europe in 1908, had settled in London; there he and T.E. Hulme, a minor English philosopher, had established the imagist movement, advocating extreme precision of imagery and realism of outlook, together with free metric. They chose as models the verse of Greek antiquity, the ideographic poems of the Orient, the song forms of the troubadours and Villon, and the associative and evocative techniques of the symbolists. They attracted to their group such poets as <IR> H.D. (HILDA DOOLITTLE) </IR> , <IR> JOHN GOULD FLETCHER </IR> , <IR> WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS </IR> , and <IR> MARIANNE MOORE </IR> . Soon <IR> IMAGISM </IR> was taken over by <IR> AMY LOWELL </IR> and turned into a universal society for vers-librists, and Pound, a fast-moving young man, went on to other affairs. Eliot, also in London, found himself attracted to the older man's tough intellectuality, and the two became friends and collaborators.
Two main points should be emphasized about these American poets who lived in London and Paris during the years immediately before and after World War I. First, Pound had a knack of attracting to himself some of the finest writers who have ever appeared in the English-speaking world, and he had the further knack of bringing out their best and publicizing it to any part of the literate community that would listen. Besides the poets already mentioned, Pound worked with such writers as Hemingway, Joyce, and Cummings; even older writers--Frost, Yeats, Ford Madox Ford--have acknowledged his example. Pound insisted on clarity, precision, a reasoned technique; it wasn't so much that he enforced these notions on unwilling followers as that he gave other writers who already shared his ideas an aggressive sense of solidarity and support, which was just what they needed at that point. Secondly, many of these poets and novelists were fine critics too, and here they enjoyed a considerable advantage over the Chicagoans. Pound and Eliot especially were important. Between them they had produced by 1925 a core of critical theory, announced chiefly in short essays and reviews, which established not only the tone but the main areas of interest for the next three decades of literary activity. It has been called by its enemies the cult of form. This is unfair so far as it suggests a denial of feeling, but it is true that Pound and Eliot and the critics who followed their example were profoundly interested in the way the poem works on the page, and hence insisted on close textual analysis as the beginning of all literary appreciation, however it may be followed up by ancillary methods of interpretation.
By 1920 or thereabouts the main lines were drawn, and the rest may be quickly sketched in. Back in the United States various writers, mostly in the East, were following in the footsteps of the European school. <IR> ROBERT FROST </IR> , who had published his first book in England in 1913, soon returned to the United States, where he found an appreciative audience for his work, and took up a career that led ultimately to the popular leadership of American letters, <IR> WALLACE STEVENS </IR> entered on his determinedly individualistic course. William Carlos Williams also refused to be classified; admiring Pound but detesting Eliot, he used the symbolist and imagist techniques to develop an ideologically American aesthetic, which had a very wide influence on younger poets. The female poets who became popular in the 1920s mostly favored the formalists-- <IR> EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY </IR> and <IR> ELINOR WYLIE </IR> , both of whom successfully feminized the decade's attitude of sentimental bitterness, and <IR> LOUISE BOGAN </IR> and <IR> LEONIE ADAMS </IR> , who came later and were more reserved. The expatriate groups in London and Paris included <IR> CONRAD AIKEN </IR> , who had begun publishing his poems before the war and was now clearly a leader of the new movement; <IR> E. E. CUMMINGS </IR> , whose lyric intensity and formal eccentricity quickly attracted an audience; and <IR> ARCHIBALD MACLEISH </IR> , whose early poems were gently metaphysical in tone. In the South a considerable renaissance was under way, particularly in Nashville, where the group variously known as the <IR> FUGITIVES </IR> , the Secessionists, and the Southern Agrarians was active in literature and political philosophy. The literary branch included <IR> JOHN CROWE RANSOM </IR> , <IR> ALLEN TATE </IR> , <IR> ROBERT PENN WARREN </IR> , and the novelist <IR> CAROLINE GORDON </IR> . These were writers of the first rank, who put not only learning but good tough thinking back into Southern poetry, and their reputations quickly ascended from the regional to the national plane. In criticism they exerted an enormous influence, especially Ransom, Tate, and Warren, who extended and refined the policies of Pound and Eliot, working closely with such British critics as I.A. Richards, William Empson, and F.R. Leavis. In politics, under the leadership of <IR> DONALD DAVIDSON </IR> , the group took a frank stand for the social values of the Old South, advocated reestablishment of an agrarian aristocracy, and then gradually relaxed its dogmatism. Two more strong personalities of the decade were <IR> HART CRANE </IR> , whose stormy, dense, splendidly eloquent poems attracted much attention, and <IR> YVOR WINTERS </IR> , a young Chicagoan living in California who turned from Chicagoesque experiments in imagist technique to a strict classical form, in which he composed poems of great perspicuity and force. At the same time Winters devoted himself to hot-tempered, trenchant criticism of his contemporaries, making Crane his special anathema, and he bore down heavily on what he called the fallacy of expressive form, which he found infecting the work of virtually every major 20th-century poet.
In the 1930s, the proletarian impulse turned many poets away from narrow concern with form and expression. Such expatriates as Archibald MacLeish and <IR> MALCOLM COWLEY </IR> returned home and put their poetic skill to the service of frankly political ends. New poets like <IR> MURIEL RUKEYSER </IR> and <IR> ALFRED HAYES </IR> took up proletarian themes, betraying in their style the great influence of <IR> W.H. AUDEN </IR> on American literature. Others, like <IR> KENNETH FEARING </IR> , leaned toward Whitman and Sandburg in their use of language. <IR> LOUIS ZUKOFSKY </IR> and the objectivists followed Pound and Williams in treating social themes in the larger context of cultural history. A group of young California poets, associated with Winters, included <IR> J.V. CUNNINGHAM </IR> and Howard Baker, whose formally quiet poems often conveyed acute social bitterness. The older poets, of course, continued their work. Eliot's <IR> ASH WEDNESDAY </IR> (1930) was received with mixed feelings by many admirers who found his acceptance of church dogma too easy, and the new installments of Pound's Cantos aroused considerable debate. <IR> MARIANNE MOORE </IR> found among younger poets many who praised her elegant, intricate poems.
The 1940s introduced two fine Jewish poets, <IR> DELMORE SCHWARTZ </IR> and <IR> KARL SHAPIRO </IR> , who dealt with urban themes in a clipped rhetoric that owed at least something to the style of political writing adopted by the Anglo-American left. Other poets who chose somewhat the same tone were <IR> RANDALL JARRELL </IR> , <IR> JOHN FREDERICK NIMS </IR> , <IR> HARRY BROWN </IR> , <IR> RICHARD EBERHART </IR> , and <IR> JOHN MALCOLM BRINNIN </IR> , and bitter war poems predominated in the early part of the decade. <IR> THEODORE ROETHKE </IR> became one of the few poets who successfully cultivated two distinct styles, in his case a freely metered, highly metaphorical, Rimbaud-like abstractionism, used for the evocation of dream states and the psychology of children, and a more formal, metered and rhymed lyricism, recalling Waller or Sir John Davies and used for expressions of selfconscious feeling. After the war <IR> ROBERT LOWELL </IR> marked a return to the strict metaphysical style of Tate and Eliot. <IR> ELIZABETH BISHOP </IR> revealed the influence of Marianne Moore, and <IR> JEAN GARRIGUE </IR> of the Surrealists. <IR> RICHARD WILBUR </IR> pushed the classical motif in the direction of rococo minuteness, and at the other end of the scale <IR> KENNETH PATCHEN </IR> and <IR> KENNETH REXROTH </IR> worked in strictly ametrical forms, often very beautifully. But after World War II there could be no doubt that the European element in modern American writing had triumphed over the Chicagoan. The examples of Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Yeats, and Ford Madox Ford--to name only English-speaking contemporaries--were too powerful to be overcome or denied. The internationally oriented criticism of John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate was supreme in the country, and the <IR> KENYON REVIEW </IR> , edited by Ransom, was regarded as the fount of authority, though its editor was actually a good deal more openminded than many of his admirers and detractors liked to believe.
This disposition of forces persisted in the 1950s, a decade of academicism. Ransom's prosy style in verse was imitated by <IR> ANTHONY HECHT </IR> and <IR> HOWARD NEMEROV </IR> , his lighter moods by <IR> DANIEL HOFFMAN </IR> and <IR> W.S. MERWIN </IR> , his moral vigor by <IR> DONALD JUSTICE </IR> and <IR> W.D. SNODGRASS </IR> . <IR> REED WHITTEMORE </IR> turned to openly mock-critical verse (on the analogy of Dryden's mock-heroics) with considerable success. <IR> DONALD HALL </IR> , who edited the Paris Review, an American magazine in spite of its name, became a leader of the young academicians. By the end of the decade a strong reaction set in against academicism, chiefly among the Beats, as they proclaimed themselves ( <IR> see BEAT GENERATION </IR> ). This was a vestigial outcropping of Chicagoism, but debilitated by bad writing and false sentimentality though some gained celebrity, a few produced good poems, and they had a widespread influence. Other poets who had already been working successfully in the broadly Williamsesque tradition were for a while attracted to the Beats by their claim to marshal the forces of anti-academicism, but it is significant that the best of these writers-- <IR> KENNETH REXROTH </IR> , <IR> DENISE LEVERTOV </IR> , <IR> ROBERT CREELEY </IR> , <IR> ROBERT DUNCAN </IR> --had renounced the association, openly or privately, by the end of the decade.
At the end of so brief an account of the American poetry written since 1920, one thinks of names, a great many, that ought to have been included if simple justice were to be served--such individualists as <IR> ADELAIDE CRAPSEY </IR> , <IR> ROBINSON JEFFERS </IR> , Jose Garcia Villa, Samuel Greenberg, <IR> R.P. BLACKMUR </IR> , <IR> MINA LOY </IR> ; such important poets as <IR> STANLEY KUNITZ </IR> , <IR> WITTER BYNNER </IR> , <IR> MARK VAN DOREN </IR> , <IR> THOMAS MERTON </IR> , <IR> MARYA ZATURENSKA </IR> ; such minor but often marvelous poets as Norman Macleod, <IR> JOHN WHEELWRIGHT </IR> , <IR> THEODORE SPENCER </IR> , <IR> PAUL ENGLE </IR> , <IR> JESSE STUART </IR> , <IR> JOSEPHINE MILES </IR> , <IR> JOHN PEALE BISHOP </IR> , Phelps Putnam, <IR> GENEVIEVE TAGGARD </IR> , <IR> WINFIELD TOWNLEY SCOTT </IR> , <IR> COUNTEE CULLEN </IR> , <IR> WILLIAM ELLERY LEONARD </IR> , <IR> ROBERT FITZGERALD </IR> , <IR> LANGSTON HUGHES </IR> , <IR> EUNICE TIETJENS </IR> , <IR> ALFRED KREYMBORG </IR> , <IR> SARA TEASDALE </IR> , <IR> EDMUND WILSON </IR> , Henry Rago, Marsden Hartley, Rosalie Moore, <IR> GEORGE DILLON </IR> , Barbara Howes, <IR> ROLFE HUMPHRIES </IR> , Ruth Stone, <IR> BABETTE DEUTSCH </IR> , <IR> ELDER OLSON </IR> , Reuel Denny. Even in the earlier periods, many poets who merit discussion have been omitted; <IR> RICHARD ALSOP </IR> , <IR> THOMAS FESSENDEN </IR> , <IR> EMMA LAZARUS </IR> , <IR> FREDERICK TUCKERMAN </IR> , <IR> STEPHEN FOSTER </IR> --these names must at least be set down.
May anything be added about the point raised at the beginning--had the poets of the modern era overcome American provincialism by the decade of the 1950s? The answer must be no and then yes. No, provincialism will never be overcome, if by this one means eradicated: it is as much a part of American culture as our accent. But yes, provincialism was overcome, if one means that the poets of the 20th century turned all American culture, and specifically its provincialism, into material for a mature, authentic literature. Some poets, for example, Wallace Stevens, virtually eradicated provincialism by being denationalized personalities, ignorant of cultural relativity. Such is the ingenuousness of total cosmopolitanism. Others, like William Carlos Williams, were determinedly provincial, aggressively aware of national cultural values. But most, like Tate and Jarrell and Bogan, simply assumed that the American is what he is, that he must write about himself, and that he may do so without hostility and in self-confidence and self-respect. They created a national, not a provincial, poetry--and this makes all the difference. A national poetry is one, equal, indwelling, receptive. The poets were not the first to secure such a cultural identity. Henry James in the novel, Edward A. MacDowell and Charles Ives in music, Louis Sullivan in architecture, and Charles Sanders Peirce in philosophy--all these came before the poets. But a good case could be made for the hypothesis that the poets did more than the rest to consolidate the position. In any event, the pleasure of reading American poetry need not be diminished by the fear that it betrays an inferior national genius. This was the fear that distorted much of the cultural life of our forefathers.
Histories and critical studies of American poetry include Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska, A History of American Poetry, 1900-1940 (1946, 1969); Louis Bogan, Achievement in American Poetry, 1900-1950 (1951); Roy Harvey Pearce, The Continuity of American Poetry (1961); Robert H. Walker, The Poet and the Gilded Age: Social Themes in Late Nineteenth-Century Verse (1963); L.S. Dembo, Conceptions of Reality in Modern American Poetry (1966); Hyatt H. Waggoner, American Poets from the Puritans to the Present (1968); Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (1971); David Perkins, A History of Modern Poetry (2 v. 1976, 1987); James E. Miller, Jr., The American Quest for a Supreme Fiction: Whitman's Legacy in the Personal Epic (1979); William H. Pritchard, Lives of the Modern Poets (1980); R. Baxter Miller, ed. Black American Poets Between Worlds, 1940-1960 (1984); Alicia Ostriker, Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (1986); M.L. Rosenthal and Sally M. Gall, Modern Poetic Sequence: The Genius of Modern Poetry (1986); Mutlu Konuk Blasing, American Poetry: The Rhetoric of Its Forms (1987); William Drake, The First Wave: Women Poets in America 1915-1945 (1987); and Albert Gelpi, A Coherent Splendour: The American Poetic Renaissance, 1910-1950 (1988).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Carruth, Hayden; Perkins, George|
|Publication:||Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature|
|Article Type:||Reference Source|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1991|
|Previous Article:||Poetic Principle, The (1850).|
|Next Article:||Poetry: Since 1960.|