YEATS HATES KEATS: WHY DO THE MODERNS DESPISE THE ROMANTICS?

They don’t have Yeats!  Only Keats!  The Modernists don’t sell candy. 

Yeats on Keats:

His art is happy, but who knows his mind?
I see a schoolboy when I think of him,
With face and nose pressed to sweet-shop window…
Shut out from all the luxury of the world,
The coarse-bred son of a livery stablekeeper…

Here’s the whole poem which makes it quite clear this is unfortunately Yeats’ actual opinion of Keats.

Yeats, also wrote, “A line will take us hours maybe; yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, our stitching and unstinting has been naught.” 

The key here is “A line will take us hours…”

This puts Yeats (despite some Romantic impulses) squarely in the Modernist camp—he was closer to his friend Pound than he was to any Romantic.

Keats, on the other hand, said writing poetry should “come like leaves to a tree.”  He didn’t say, ‘the poet should make it look like his poetry comes as naturally as leaves to a tree.’  No, Keats meant the poetry should, in fact, come as naturally to the poet as leaves to a tree, and Keats added that the poetry should appear almost as a “remembrance.”   

The Modern poet sees, then consciously and unsentimentally presents what he sees (“no ideas but in things”).  

Keats, on the other hand, says poetry should express the poet’s “highest thoughts.” 

If high thoughts, memories, prodigious natural talent, youth, luxury, desires, and passion belong to the Romantics and the neo-Romantics, what is left for the poor, bitter Moderns?

Snobbery.  Elitism.  Puritanism.  Jealousy.  

We see these qualities in Yeats’ indictment of Keats.  

“Who knows his mind?”  asks Yeats of the “coarse-bred” Keats. 

Here is the (supposedly) conscious artist, Yeats mocking the (supposedly)unconscious one, Keats.  

The modern mind mocks the romantic mind, finding it vague, sentimental, inexact and invisible.

The youth in today’s MFA, the neo-Romantics who celebrate their frenzied exstence in a luxurious world, are hated by the ‘new Modernist’ old farts, who, ostensibly of animistic zeal in their avant impulses, in reality, resent all that animism stands for: joyous Romantic frenzy.  Or so a certain current theory goes.

Those who love the best of the Romantic poetry cannot stomach most modernist poetry; the former, at its best, had philosophy, while the latter, at its best, had mere manifesto.   Keats was highly conscious, but his conscious was in dialogue with his subconscious, and we suggest that all great artists carry on this inner conversation.   We only know the existence of subconscious and conscious by this dialogue, which spills out and forms the poetry: the reader overhears the two talking.   How can the unconscious exist to us but when the unconscious makes itself known to our conscious? 

The Moderns rejected this, thinking to give the conscious mind control of things (literally control of things, or things in control, which is animistic, come to think of it).  But the drab, inartistic nature of this Imagiste experiment quickly became apparent as High Modernism withered in its ‘little magazine existence,’ pretty much unread.

Who knows his mind? indeed.

The English Romantics woo’d, assimilated, and mated with  previous eras, courting the Greeks, the Enlightenment, the earlier German Romantics, the East, Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, while the Moderns cut off history like a furious murderer with a knife.  One can see it in Tate and Ransom’s essays ridiculing the keepers of history in the English Departments, who, according to them, paid scant attention to objective poetic forms—but was Modernism really a formalist enterprise?   Of course it wasn’t.  Tate and Ransom’s prose has a certain steely, Sadean power.  But who reads their poetry?

To understand the Modernists, one simply has to read the New Critics, starting with perhaps the most important critical document of the 20th century, Eliot’s “The Sacred Wood” (1920).  

On the very first page of the introduction to that book, what does Eliot do?  What the Modernists and the New Critics made a career of doing, of course.  He attacks the Romantics. 

“To anyone who is at all capable of experiencing the pleasures of justice, it is gratifying to be able to make amends to a writer whom one has vaguely depreciated for some years.” 

Eliot begins as nobly as one can begin, talking of the “pleasures of justice” and reaching out to a writer from the past, the 19th century poet and critic Matthew Arnold.  But after saying he’s re-read him and is starting to appreciate him more, here’s what Eliot then quotes from Arnold:

it has long seemed to me that the burst of creative activity in our literature, through the first quarter of this century, had about it in fact something premature; and that from this cause its productions are doomed, most of them, in spite of the sanguine hopes which accompanied and do still accompany them, to prove hardly more lasting than the productions of far less splendid epochs.  And this prematureness comes from its having proceeded without having its proper data, without sufficient material to work with.  In other words, the English poetry of the first quarter of this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not have enough.  This makes Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth, even, profound as he is, yet so wanting in completeness and variety.

Eliot then adds to Arnold’s words, “This judgment of the Romantic generation has not, so far as I know, been successfully controverted…”

No “justice” for Byron and Shelley, apparently.  (Wordsworth, the dullest of the Romantics, and the most resembling a Modernist, at least is called “profound.”)

The dismissal of whole swaths of literary history, especially the Romantics, by Pound, the Moderns, Winters, and the New Critics is well known.  And here we see T.S. Eliot choosing to lead off his most important critical work by quoting Arnold calling Shelley “incoherent,” Byron “empty,” and strangely damning one of the greatest literary periods in human history.

Yeats hates Keats.

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42 Comments

  1. Diana Manister said,

    May 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Firstly, each avant-garde stages a palace revolution against the previous generation of artists. Despite his statements and the influence of Donne, Baudelaire, Jules Laforgue, Jacobean drama and the philosophy of Brady, Eliot was a Romantic who is not often seen as such because he avoided the direct confessional style of the Romantics but he wrote from their subject position. Unfortunately MFA grads bathe in subjectivity, producing the boring I-centered poetry that fills journals.

    Eliot’s subjectivity does not depend on a single voice; he was a premature postmodernist in the way he employed the polyvocality, distributing Romanticism among multiple dictions and speakers.

    Your article is guilty of damning modernism based on a superficial analysis. Eliot was not a New Critic and he commented unfavorably on it. He admired Shelley’s poetry.

    Don’t blame the current flood of crap poetry on Eliot, Pound and Yeats. They had nothing to do with it. If MFA students were as non-conforming as they were American poetry might not be moribund.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 19, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      Diana,

      The documentary evidence is extremely clear and it damages our Letters to keep pushing this under the carpet.

      Eliot called Shelley a “blackguard.” How can you call my analysis “superficial” when you ignore Eliot’s revilement of Shelley? How can you ignore the Introduction to The Sacred Wood” where the first thing Eliot does is pronounce, through Arnold, Shelley “incoherent,” and Byron “empty?”

      If one picks up “The Sacred Wood,” the first thing one finds is Eliot damning Shelley. And I’m being “superficial?” I’m not sure why you are sticking your head in the sand over this. If you don’t like Shelley, say so; but don’t pretend that Eliot admired Shelley. The documentary evidence is all against you.

      Do you remember that new book you recommended for me? “Praising It New; The Best of the New Criticism,” and the editor Garrick Davis writes, “The New Criticism as a critical movement begins with one of the founding documents, the introduction to T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Sacred Wood.'” which is the first work in this book.

      As to your point, “each avant-garde stages a palace revolution against the previous generation of artists…” this might sell well among undergraduates who don’t know very much, but as I pointed out above, the Romantics woo’d and courted previous eras; they didn’t take poets of the past out back and shoot them in a palace revolt, they learned from them. So your point is true only narrowly; there is a difference between a Renaissance and an avant-garde, between beautiful philosophy and thuggish manifesto.

      These are the crucial, over-arching facts.

      We can argue until we’re blue in the face over what to “call” T.S. Eliot, Romantic, conservative, rebel, creep, god, Catholic, bigot, avant-garde, Modernist, Pre-Raphaelite, Classicist, New Critic, Tory, priest, organ-grinder, dance-hall m.c., New Englander, banker, depressive, comic, gentleman, blackguard, postmodernist, etc but if we stick to what he and his colleagues actually wrote, we’ll get a more accurate picture of the truth.

      Tom

  2. Yeats said,

    May 20, 2010 at 12:09 am

    I have been talking of the literary element in painting with Miss E.G. and turning over the leaves of Binyon’s book on Eastern Painting, in which he shows how traditional, how literary that is. The revolt against the literary element in painting was accompanied by a similar revolt in poetry. The doctrine of what the younger Hallam called the Aesthetic School was expounded in his essay on Tennyson, and when I was a boy the unimportance of subject was a canon. A French poet had written of girls taking lice out of a child’s hair. Henley was supposed to have founded a new modern art in the ‘hospital poems’, though he would not have claimed this.

    Hallam argued that poetry was the impression on the senses of certain very sensitive men. It was such with the pure artists, Keats and Shelley, but not so with the impure artists who, like Wordsworth, mixed up popular morality with their work. I now see that the literary element in painting, the moral element in poetry, are the means whereby the two arts are accepted into the social order and become a part of life and not things of the study and exhibition. Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandonned.

    The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead. Classical morality – not quite natural in Christianized Europe – dominated this tradition at the Renaissance, and passed from Milton to Wordsworth and Arnold, always growing more formal and empty until it became a vulgarity in our time – just as classical forms passed from Raphael to the Academicians.

    But Anarchic revolt is coming to an end, and the arts are about to restate the traditional morality. A great work of art, the Ode to a Nightingale not less than the Ode to Duty, is as rooted in the early ages as the Mass which goes back to savage folk-lore. In what temple garden did the nightingale first sing?

  3. Anonymous said,

    May 25, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Tom, you’re an idiot, poorly read and prone to sloppy thinking.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 26, 2010 at 2:01 am

      way to support your ‘argument,’ anonymous…bravo!

  4. Marcus Bales said,

    May 25, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    And you, Anonymous, are self-evidently a coward. And if I find out who you are, I’ll write a poem about just what a coward you are. So let me know, will you? This’ll be fun!

  5. Aardworks said,

    August 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Roses are read
    Blue are violeats
    Reading pros in my bed
    Learnin’ Keats vs. Yeats.

  6. March 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Diana Manister makes a lot of sense, and her brief response to Thomas Brady is even-toned, coherent, articulate, smart, and lacks pretentiousness and bombastic puffery. Brady use a lot of pretentious phrases like “crucial, over-arching,” “the documentary evidence is extremely clear,” “it damages our Letters,” and “you ignore Elito’s revilement.” This is pretentious language, spoken by an apparently angry person. The article that starts this whole exchange is not an article; it is a rough draft.

  7. thomasbrady said,

    March 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Mr. Keller,

    In my article and in my reply to Ms. Manister, I quote Yeats, Keats, WC Williams, Eliot, and Garrick Davis.

    In your responses, Ms. Manister quotes no one—and you quote me. No evidence, no proof of any kind, no engagement with the topic from you guys at all.

    And Ms. Manister condemns all MFA grads and their “flood of crap poetry.”

    Who is “pretentious” and “angry?”

    Not me. I am factual, insightful—and having the time of my life.

    Oh, and yes, it’s a “rough draft.”

    I am “one of the roughs.” (Walt Whitman)

    Thomas Brady

  8. Anonymous said,

    July 25, 2011 at 11:31 am

    The envy of Modernists never ceases to amuse!

    Those poor fools!

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      But, according to Edward Keller, “Diana Manister makes a lot of sense!”

      How can I argue against that?

  9. David said,

    May 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Tom,

    Who are the contemporary poets who you think come closest to carrying forward the legacy of Keats and Shelley?

    David

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm

      David,

      Good question. If there are none who come close to Keats and Shelley, it supports the view that they belonged to a ‘separate age’ which can never come again—and therefore how can the Modernists hate what doesn’t exist, or can’t exist, in their time. My point is lost, because the door to Keats and Shelley is closed forever.

      I don’t know that I buy this, even as I struggle to think of contemporary poets who can be said to carry forward the legacy of Shelley and Keats.

      In the 20th century, Edna Millay in her sonnets, Philip Larkin at times, and perhaps the still-living Richard Wilbur.

      I don’t quite know what it means to say you can’t write like them anymore.

      If an age believes ‘you can’t,’ perhaps that’s enough to ensure ‘you won’t,’ especially since Keats and Shelley cannot simply be copied on a whim.

      Tom

  10. David said,

    May 18, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    Tom,

    What about Ben Mazer? Scarriet appears to hold his poetry in very high regard.

    David

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 19, 2012 at 1:02 am

      Mazer is talented; I wouldn’t call him a Shelley or a Keats; he’s more in the tradition of TS Eliot or John Ashbery…

  11. Rob T. said,

    August 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    It’s proof enough of just how thorough the Modernist hatchet-job on the Romantics has been that, when someone asks who in the 20th-Century might bear the mantle of Shelley or Keats, no one mentions Clark Ashton Smith.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Thank you, Rob T. Good question: why is a poet like this ignored, who obviously writes better than Pound or Williams (see below). He’s ignored because he’s an embarrassment to those poets, like Pound and Williams, who could never write something like this. And why? Because, honestly, Pound and Williams were going for something else. Which is fine—to go elsewhere. But why can’t there be a bigger tent? Why can’t we enjoy whatever Pound is doing alongside whatever C.A. Smith is doing? Why must it be one or the other? Is it because there can only be one canon, and the work of Pound and Smith subtlely ridicule one another—and so a scholar must choose one or the other? A harsh critic would say Smith’s poetry is “word-perfect but emotionally not; machine-written and full of rot.” Poe said—with the wisdom of the ages on his side—that the poem’s province is beauty. Not because other sorts of poems could not be written, but because those other sorts of poems would succeed better on the prosaic level—in prose. The emotional reaction to a poem is brought about in the reader by all the elements in the poem combining to produce the one resulting “effect” that Poe reasoned was all-important. Even formalists like our friend Marcus Bales miss this crucial point, because they think poetry should have no province but clever and inventive versification and any subject, if it’s treated well in verse, will do. These formalists, who admire Poe, yet miss the rigor of what Poe’s saying: the one effect of the poem involves more than just a reaction to clever versification; the reader’s reaction hinges on all the elements which the poem combines to produce the one effect. Clever versification can produce humor as its mood, and only in the humorous mode can the verse-element produce a mood, per se—otherwise serious verse produces harmony as in the poem below—which belongs to a colder realm, but we still might call ‘a mood’ if we mean a cold and pale one. Music produces moods and thus the emotional sound-serving-sense aspect of verse is very real, and it takes considerable talent to use sound-serving-sense towards that one effect mentioned earlier. This is what must be understood: no matter how many elements are in a poem, it will always end up in the reader’s mind in the final analysis as one effect, and the more perfect the poem, the more pure and singular this effect. The poem below, which shows great skill and unity, falls short of Poe and Keats only on the account of its desolate quality—Smith’s poem covers the mind with inescapable gloom; its beauty is the beauty of sadness and horror and thus its one effect fails to acheive what Poe and Keats produce. Smith’s mind is not healthy; his was a diseased mind writing with precepts learned from Poe: the result is something remarkable, and worthy of attention and study and readership, but the failure at the same time is apparent. This is not meant to be a complete judgment on Smith, since we have only selected one poem. But one is usually enough, the one always being more important than the many.

      Alexandrines

      Knowing the weariness of dreams, and days, and nights,
      The great and grievous vanity of joy and pain;
      Frail loves that pass, where languors infinite remain,
      Fervors and long despairs and desperate, brief delights;

      Knowing how in the witless brains of them that were,
      The drowsy, wiving worm hath prospered and hath died;
      Knowing that, evermore, by moon and sun abide
      The standing glooms made stagnant in the sepulcher;

      Knowing the vacillant leaves that tremble, flame, and fall,
      The sweetly-wasting rose, the dawns and stars that wane–
      Knowing these things, the desolate heart and soul are fain
      Of the one perfect sleep which filleth, foldeth all.

      • Al Pal said,

        May 5, 2013 at 8:59 pm

        Dismissing C.A. Smith for one poem is incredibly ignorant. The fellow was a multi-talented, multi-careered artist who created genius level masterpieces in almost every mode he attempted.

        • thomasbrady said,

          May 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm

          Al,

          I agree one should not judge a man on one poem; but that does not mean one cannot.

          C. A. Smith is a great and neglected artist. I hope you’ll share more of your love for him here! Scarriet is certainly in the position to appreciate him–we have and we do.

          Tom

  12. Rob T. said,

    August 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Thomas:

    Many thanks for your thorough and considered reply.

    Having read hundreds of Ashton Smith’s poems, I’d have to disagree with your overall assessment of him, as he hits many notes, but his predominant note is horror, without question. Ashton Smith has ably defended himself against the accusation of “unhealthiness” in the past, so I’ll leave that to him. It’s interesting, however, that Ashton Smith’s mentor, George Sterling–a poet even more deeply buried than Ashton Smith beneath Modernist offal–cautioned and critiqued Ashton Smith about his often dark subject matter. Consider, though, the fine sonnet “Transcendence”:

    To look on love with disenamored eyes;
    To see with gaze relentless, rendered clear
    Of hope or hatred, of desire and fear,
    The insuperable nullity that lies
    Behind the veils of various disguise
    Which life or death may haply weave; to hear
    Forevermore in flute and harp the mere
    And all-resolving silence; recognize
    The gules of autumn in the greening leaf,
    Any in the poppy-pod the poppy-flower:—
    This is to be the lord of love and grief,
    O’er time’s illusion and thyself supreme,
    As, half-aroused in some nocturnal hour,
    The dreamer knows and dominates his dream.

    My own view is the Ashton Smith’s main weakness is his intransigent use of Romantic-era forms, and, especially, the era’s diction (“thees”,”thous”, archaisms, and exclamations abound). Even with that handicap, however, he towers over the pismires of 20th-Century “poetry”, in my view.

    In the end, a better comparison even than Poe, I think, would be to Beddoes, himself an ardent, if paradoxical, admirer of Shelley’s–and thus we come full circle. Beddoes and Ashton Smith are also both criminally underrated as poets.

    With all that said, the point remains, as you mention, that Ashton Smith deserves a spot at the table. Believe it or not, he actually published a few early poems in Poetry magazine, before Harriet Monroe had decided not merely to crawl into bed with Pound, but to stay there and share his shabby, stained mattress. Soon, though, the rejection slips mounted, and Ashton Smith is now noted, if at all, mostly as a writer of weird tales and as a friend and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft’s. That isn’t how he ought to be remembered, but it’s the reality, and we have the Modernists, among others, to thank for that.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 19, 2012 at 12:15 am

      “Transcendence” is poetry of a very high order. The theme is large—yet unique, felt and understood universally, transparently and artistically expressed, and a beauty and a thrilling urgency covers all. Williams and Pound were simply incapable of this; their ruling ideas were pitifully small and their work trivial and obscure by comparison.

      I don’t really care for Lovecraft—all that ‘crawling chaos’ stuff… Poe is labeled as ‘macabre’ by his detractors, but of course Poe is as broad as Shakespeare—we don’t characterize the Bard by his “Macbeth.” Poe was too big to bury—he had invented detective fiction, after all, but Smith was unfortunately labeled middlebrow and his association with Lovecraft probably didn’t help.

      The Modernists were a gang run by Pound, Eliot, and a little known but very important figure: Pound & Eliot’s lawyer/modern art promoter/British intelligence agent John Quinn. Quinn was a double agent working for England and against the Irish. One of his associates was Aleister Crowley.

      The dirt that buried Smith was thrown by the same clique who tried to bury Poe. The Modernist clique of Ford Madox Ford and Pound and later Eliot was born in London and Oxford and Cambridge—which included the New Critics, who all studied in England as Rhodes Scholars and ridiculed Poe’s “Ulalume” via Aldous Huxley in their poetry textbook, while promoting in that same textbook the poetry of Williams & Pound.

      The bad blood goes all the way back to anglophilic Emerson and Irish-American Poe’s war in the previous century over America’s literary independence. Emerson was wined and dined in England, while Poe lobbed journalistic bombs England’s way.

      Just as many Modernists like Pound banked on the Axis powers winning World War II, Emerson banked on America’s collapse during the Civil War period. One has to read Emerson’s “English Traits” to see this.

      Tom Eliot’s family had roots in not only 19th century New England, but in the transcendentalists associated with Emerson. Eliot’s grandfather knew Emerson.

      Read American-turned-English Eliot’s vicious attack on Poe in “From Poe to Valery,” where he calls Poe “adolescent,” the same attack made on Poe by the teacup author Henry James. The James family knew Emerson, too, and Henry’s brother William James taught Modernists like Stein at Harvard.

      The connections are rather fascinating.

      Anyway, the documentary evidence shows that Poe was a target of the Modernist clique and it was merely a continuation of the bad blood between Poe and Emerson a hundred years earlier. Poe in a review slammed the poetry of Emerson’s friend William Ellery Channing—Emerson championed Channing as the next big thing, even giving him money and the fury was still alive long after Poe’s death when Emerson, recalling the review, uttered his ‘jingle man’ slur—the only words known to have been spoken by Emerson on Poe, his famous contemporary.

      Anyway, in the early 20th century along comes Clark Ashton Smith writing poetry in the tradition of Poe: beautiful, accessible, etc Clark didn’t stand a chance. The ‘difficult’ elitist chums and their modern art/Harvard clique were now the only show in town. The Modernist clique had to endure the popularity of Edna Millay, but even that was relatively short-lived; Millay was attacked, by the way, by Hugh Kenner, the Pound toady who wrote “The Pound Era.” Yea, unfortunately it was the Pound era.

  13. Rob T. said,

    August 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Many thanks again for the fascinating and historically informed reply, which contains much information of which I was unaware.

    Lovecraft’s work is a matter of taste. I like Lovecraft very much, myself, as he does what he does extremely well, but he died just as he was approaching his literary maturity. He could hit a few additional notes, as well. For instance, you might enjoy Lovecraft’s excellent parody of The Waste Land., if you don’t know it, already:

    http://www.hplovecraft.narod.ru/book/waste.htm .

    As to Poe (and the parallels with the case of Ashton Smith), I agree with every syllable you write. Poe contains multitudes, and those who condemn him in the ways you mention show merely their own superficiality and immaturity, and not Poe’s, at all (by the way, both Ashton Smith and Lovecraft would have been the first to admit that they are not authors of Poe’s rank, but interestingly, I have debated other admirer’s of Ashton Smith’s who insist on his superiority to Poe).

    Also by the way, you might be interested in a Clark Ashton Smith scholar’s take on Ashton Smith and Modernism, It’s available online here:

    http://www.eldritchdark.com/articles/criticism/6/gesturing-toward-the-infinite%3A-clark-ashton-smith-and-modernism .

    In this context, I’d be curious as to your thoughts about Walter de la Mare. Eliot and Pound seem to have liked his work, a fact that I find very odd. What’s that old saying about the broken clock?

    Just for fun: When I applied to Johns’ Hopkins English doctoral program in the early ’80’s, a professor of mine who’d gotten his doctorate there warned me away, saying, “You will not get along with Hugh Kenner”.

    And finally, my own little tribute to Modernism and Williams:

    oRIGINS oF mODERN pOETRY

    (for william carlos williams)

    so much
    dreckish modern
    “poetry”
    depends
    uponthefactthat

    no one dared to
    drown william carlos
    williams
    in a pool of
    rain water,
    cart away his corpse
    with a
    red
    wheelbarrow,

    and feed his body
    to the white
    chickens

    while he was still
    unpublished.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 23, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      Thanks, Rob. A lot here.

      Hugh Kenner! LOL

      Nice Williams satire!!

      I have one on “Plums” where I substitute toilet paper.

      “Waste Paper” is a great satire by Lovecraft; captures the essence of Eliot’s twaddle.

      Walter de la Mare: I don’t know a lot about him; his 1923 “Come Hither” anthology collects a lot of Shelley and Poe, who Eliot came more and more to revile, but it’s important to note that this collection, heavy on the ballads, was pitched to children—which is how the Modernists cleverly tried to write the Romantics and Poe out of the canon, arguing they appealed to the immature mind. Henry James and Eliot both called Poe immature (boyish) for liking puzzles and science, etc. de la Mare also includes in “Come Hither” Robert Frost, but no C.A. Smith. He also includes Yeats, a friend of Pound’s and T. Sturge Moore, a friend of Yeats and a brother of G.E. Moore an important part of the Bloomsbury/Cambridge U. Analytic Philosophy clique from which Modernism/New Criticism/Language Poetry sprang.

      I like de la Mare, but he probably flew under the radar as a “children’s author,” and a “tall tale teller,” and therefore the Modernists were happy to leave him alone. The Modernists were threatened by Poe because he was a towering genius and simply made them uncomfortable. The Modernists were little men who were trying to find a niche for themselves and their pals. Their actual theories and ideas are of little consequence. Eliot was smart; the rest of them were all pretty dumb. Eliot secretly read his Poe. The fight wasn’t really about ideas; it was all about personalities and ambition and reputation. Pound and Williams had little minds. They were looking about for “the new” simply because “the old” was beyond their reach. Poe’s “The Philosophy of Compositon” is rigorous. By comparison, Pound & Williams are just blah, blah, blah. Trash poetry isn’t “new.” It’s trash.

      The link to the C.A. Smith scholar I found very interesting, and I’ll post more on it later. Santayana taught at Harvard and mentored Wallace Stevens. I have an anthology at home with some Santayana poems, one which resembles the C.A. Smith poem you posted, another which refutes the ‘star philosophy.’ Santayana ended up living in fascist Italy. I don’t how close he was to William James or T.S. Eliot who were at Harvard at the same time. I’d like to research more on him.

      The whole question of poetry as a gentile art is fascinating. Poetry and literature as something for Sundays, for women, for children. I don’t think it’s altogether a bad thing, actually to put poetry in that box, for after all, to make poetry too large a thing is silly. As Poe said, prose and science are worthy pursuits, and why should we make poetry larger than it is? Shelley, of course was speaking of poetry in the larger sense. The Modernists hated poetry for women and children, that’s why they hated the Romantics and Poe and tried to diminish all that populist literature under the rubric, “Children’s Literature” and tried to snobbily classify Poe and all fantasy and SciFi with the juvenile. Of course we have to judge each work on its merits. The Modernists were not interested in this. They ran in cliques.

      Tom

  14. thomasbrady said,

    August 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

    On the Death of a Metaphysician —George Santayana

    Unhappy dreamer, who outwinged in flight
    The pleasant region of the things I love,
    And soared beyond the sunshine, and above
    The golden cornfields and the dear and bright
    Warmth of the hearth,—blasphemer of delight,
    Was your proud bosom not at peace with Jove,
    That you sought, thankless for his guarded grove,
    The empty horror of abysmal night?
    Ah, the thin air is cold above the moon!
    I stood and saw you fall, befooled in death,
    As, in your numbed spirit’s fatal swoon,
    You cried you were a god, or were to be;
    I heard with feeble moan your boastful breath
    Bubble from depths of Icarian sea.

    This appears to be an explicit rebuke of C.A. Smith, Lovecraft, “Cosmicism,” etc. Perhaps even Poe. Is it a gentle rebuke, though? Is Santayana just having fun? Is he hedging his bets? Is he not sure? Was he too cautious and not modern enough? After all, compared to Pound and Wallace Stevens and WCW Williams, Santayana’s all but forgotten…

    “Jove’s guarded grove” bespeaks volumes: it perhaps refers to the Harvard U./Cambridge U./London clique of Modernist status quo?

  15. Rob T. said,

    August 26, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    First, I am glad that you enjoyed both my take on Williams and Lovecraft’s satire on Eliot–although I often think that The Waste Land is really its own self-satire.

    That’s interesting, about the connection between de la Mare’s interest in children and in the child-like (typical of the Romantics, as well), and the Modernists’ dismissal of Romanticism on those very grounds. Of course, the Modernists’ understanding of the Romantics on this point is every bit as faulty as their understanding of the Romantics, in general.

    According to Teresa Whistler’s biography of de la Mare, however, Pound’s admiration for de la Mare, both personally and professionally, was completely sincere. Pound even solicited de la Mare to contribute to Poetry magazine! De la Mare, of course, had the perspicacity to loathe Pound. His comment on Pound in a letter is priceless:

    “What an unspeakable sixteenth he is, with his patchoulied fallaleries”.

    (Later in life, de la Mare did feel sorry for Pound in his estate as circus animal, and signed a letter, at Eliot’s urging, attesting to Pound’s service to literature, though I doubt he believed a word of it).

    As to Eliot, he and de la Mare were on cordial, if sometimes frostily polite, terms, but that was the extent of their acquaintance. Like Pound, Eliot seems to have enjoyed de la Mare’s work very much early in life, but that enthusiasm appears to have cooled as Eliot pursued his own disastrous “poetic” course. Eliot later patronizingly referred to de la Mare’s verse as “chamber music, but of the best kind”. (If we want to extend the music metaphor to Eliot’s work, then we might call it “a Callithumpian concert, but of the best kind”).

    And now, the punch line: One of the greatest formative influences on de la Mare’s writing was the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

    As to Ashton Smith, I doubt the de la Mare had ever heard of him. The latter attained a “nine days’ wonder” status at the age of nineteen when he published his first volume of poetry, The Star-Treader, in 1912–that same ill-starred year that marked the launch of Harriet Monroe’s little subsidized collections of bird cage liner. The acclaim, however, quickly subsided (and was limited mostly to the West Coast, anyway).

    On the other hand, Ashton Smith’s volume was favorably reviewed in England by an interesting personage, Arthur Machen, but it’s unlikely that de la Mare would have noticed. And later in life, when Ashton Smith commented on de la Mare, it was almost always as a writer of weird tales, and not as a poet.

    The Santayana references and poem are very interesting. It reminds me of Wittner Bynner’s dismissal of Sterling and Ashton Smith as “the star-dust twins”. Of course, the Icarian figure in the sonnet is a bit of a straw-man, if the intent is to reject the cosmic perspective as actually advocated and practiced by the likes of Lovecraft and Ashton Smith. Far closer to what they had in mind was the cosmicism of Marcus Aurelius. As John Sellars observes,

    “The most striking passages in the Meditations express [the urge] to approach human life – and, in particular, human vanities – from a much wider cosmic perspective. Everyday human concerns and ambitions seem trivial and inconsequential when seen against the background of the vast impersonal flows of matter that constitute the Cosmos. By embracing this sort of cosmic perspective Marcus wants to emphasize that everything that is apparently stable is in fact in a process of continual transformation. The Cosmos is an endless cycle of birth and death, creation and destruction. Human life – indeed all of human civilization – is merely a momentary slowing down of these larger impersonal cosmic processes.”

    Add to that a sense of awe, mystery, wonder and terror, and that captures Ashton Smith’s perspective far better than Santayana’s verse, but the questions you pose are intriguing ones.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Since de la Mare was an anthologist, that alone would make Pound and Eliot respectful towards him, and yes, I’m sure de la Mare signing that letter in support of Pound was a fait accompli.

      It was after Eliot won the Nobel in 1948 that he dared to launch his vicious attack on Poe in “From Poe to Valery” (1949). Poe and Romanticism had to be trivialized and ridiculed for the Modernists to muscle their way into the canon: it is a law of poetic reputation that either the good chases out the bad or the bad chases out the good.

      Poetry now has no public—and exists as a school subject or an MFA degree; the same Modernists who invented loony “difficulty” and “experimentation” as a criterion for poetry were also those who de-historicized it and turned it into a creative writing subject; creative writing and modernism go hand in hand.

      There are no college-level creative writing students who study the masters like Shakespeare, Tennyson, Poe and Keats; they study instead Williams, O’Hara, Spicer, their poet-teachers and themselves.

      The Modernist pedagogy goes something like this: take a can of soda; make sure it has a very recent date; open it after shaking vigorously.

      The idea that there always has to be something “new” will always bedevil us. Rather, I say, make it good, make it as good as the good has been. Do this and the new will naturally follow. If you only seek to make it “new,” though, there is no guarantee the good will naturally follow. One can see this in Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition,” where he says “originality” is a “source of interest” that is “easily attainable.” But how does Poe arrive at an original poem? By establishing the “province” of the poem, by taking the universal interest of “the refrain” and adding to it. By contemplating the proper “extent” of the poem, and all sorts of specific and physical properties, Poe finds originality, in fact, not ‘what the hell ugly thing is this?’

      Poetry might still have an audience if it had remained as a end-of-the-week diversion, which is all it has a right to be, given the circumstances of the world; by trying to make poetry very, very grown-up and very, very nuanced, and very, very important, and something we live our lives by 7 days a week, etc etc it simply dropped off the radar screen, blinded by its own pretence. The ego of someone like Mr. Pound sums up the project of modern poetry. Great art requires a certain simplicity, a certain humility, a certain child-like appeal which slimy, well-read types like Pound never “get.” This is why Henry James and T.S. Eliot accused Poe, the genius, of having the imagination of a “boy,” and of being “immature.” The Modernists felt the absurd need to mark Poe as juvenile, and this only marks the markers as marked themselves. Poe just happens to be the litmus test—the glasses which detect the snobby, modernist, fraud.

      Santayana is out-of-print, I imagine. Interesting figure. I’ll post a couple more of his poems.

      Modernism could be so much more interesting if it included figures like C.A. Smith.

      Tom

  16. Rob T. said,

    August 29, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    “Modernism could be so much more interesting if it included figures like C.A. Smith.”

    Ashton Smith was very modern, in his way–at least, in his early poetry. What could be more modern in theme than astronomical poetry? It is interesting that even Harriet Monroe reviewed Ashton Smith’s first poetry volume semi-favorably, albeit with the condescension and the incomprehension of the poet’s “cosmic-mindedness” that one would expect of her:

    “Life will bring him down to earth, no doubt, in her usual brusque manner, and will teach him something more intimate to write about than winds and stars and forsaken gods. [...] In spite of the sophomoric quality in many of these poems we have here a rare spirit and the promise of poetic art.”

    Note the tell-tale Modernist accusation of puerility, which masks incomprehension, and even, I would say, fear of those who look outside the navel-gazing “human aquarium”, to use Ashton Smith’s term.

    And so, by contrast, we are left with the faux innovation of the Modernists, which consists of innovation in form and surface only. As Conrad Aiken wisely observes in the article on Ashton Smith and Modernism cited above,

    “[...] Miss Monroe, if she is really a radical at all, is chiefly so as regards form; as regards the material of poetry (and to any genuine well-wisher of poetry this is the important thing), she suffers from many of the curious inhibitions, for the most part moral, which played havoc with the Victorians. The truth must not be told when it is disagreeable or subversive. One’s outlook on life must accord with the proprieties. Above all, one should be a somewhat sentimental idealist–anthropocentric, deist, panpsychist, or what not, but never, by any chance, a detached or fearless observer.”

    So, yes, the Modern era in poetry would have been far richer had it engaged more intelligently and honestly the poetry, and the challenge, of Clark Ashton Smith.

  17. thomasbrady said,

    August 31, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Rob,

    “Modernist accusation of puerility” Exactly.

    Henry James Jr. (novelist son of the fabulously wealthy Henry James Sr., good friend of Waldo Emerson) accused Poe of being puerile (recall the Emerson/Poe war). Here is a sample of Henry James, the novelist, just quoted in The New Yorker magazine by their film critc Anthony Lane, saying “I have never read anything as beautiful as that.”

    She had been looking all round her again,—at the lawn, the great trees, the reedy, silvery Thames, the beautiful old house; and, while engaged in this survey, she had also narrowly scrutinized her companions; a comprehensiveness of observation easily conceivable on the part of a young woman who was evidently both intelligent and excited. She had seated herself, and had put away the little dog; her white hands, in her lap, were folded upon her black dress; her head was erect, her eye brilliant, her flexible figure turned itself lightly this way and that, in sympathy with the alertness with which she evidently caught impressions. Her impressions were numerous, and they were all reflected in a clear, still smile. “I have never seen anything so beautiful as this,” she declared.

    Really, Mr. Lane? This is turgid muck.

    Tom

    • noochinator said,

      September 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      A young woman, vibrant,
      Attuned, loving life,
      With so many joys yet to come—
      Vot’s not to like?

      Perhaps Lane once loved,
      Or was himself, such a young’un,
      With life’s disappointments far far off—
      Just thought I’d stick my tongue in.

      • thomasbrady said,

        September 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm

        “vot’s not to like?”

        I dunno, the cliched verbosity, without one interesting detail, insight, charm, painting, or truth?

        “silvery Thames..”

        “comprehensiveness of observation easily conceivable”

        “had put away the little dog..”

        “…with which she evidently caught impressions…”

        “Her impressions were numerous, and they were all reflected in a clear, still smile.”

        Gag! LOL!! Worst writing EVER.

        Mark my words, one day Henry James will replace Bulwer-Lytton as Bad Writing Example Numero Uno.

        Yes, Nooch, Anthony Lane was young once. This fact is the one fact that may possibly explain why Lane sets aside for special praise this ungainly piece of writing. As usual, Nooch, you are spot on.

  18. thomasbrady said,

    September 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Rob,

    Some more observations: Aiken was close to T.S. Eliot, but evidently he was too critical of certain elements of modernism—as in your Harriet Monroe example—and he was cut off: Aiken, unlike Eliot, Pound, etc. is nearly forgotten today. Aiken had a truly tragic background (his parents’ murder/suicide which he discovered as boy) and thus surely was able to understand a writer like Clark Ashton Smith, and not quite so eager to say all the right things to make Eliot’s little circle happy. His accusation of Monroe’s Victorianism is spot on; I always thought the famous Modernists, far from being revolutionary, were actually much closer to being less-than-talented-but-highly-ambitious and boring-in-a-slightly-vulgar-way Victorians.

    The Victorian era, in terms of art and poetry, was actually much more radical and exciting and international and just plain eccentric and crazy than the Modernist era: think of the American painter Whistler, friends of Baudelaire and Mallarme, his Symphony in White, No. 1, his Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother, the latter painting sold by Whistler to France, he was so in love with that country, even though he lived in England; his father having built the first railway between Moscow and St. Petersburg; his famous “Ten O’Clock Lecture,” his lawsuit against Ruskin; his excelling in Symbolism, Realism, and Impressonism, winning fame at the “Salon des Refuses in 1863, the numerous American female painters who traveled to Paris, led by Mary Cassatt, at this time, disgusted by the treatment of women in France compared to America, but traveling in Europe anyway, to paint the great European art…how dull and provincial and party-ass inane seems the Modernist era, by comparison… By focusing so much on dullards like Williams and Pound and the boring art theories of Bloomsbury, and the ponderous linguistic theories around London, Modernism is boring…that era is boring…because writers like C.A Smith didn’t fit into a certain moldy mold of avant-garde elitism, they were cast aside…

    Tom

  19. Rob T. said,

    September 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    All true. And by the way, given the Moderns’ love of word-play, surely we’re not amiss in noting how apt it is that:

    1. “Ezra” is an anagram for “raze”; and;

    2. “T.S. Eliot” is an anagram for “toilets”.

  20. Rob T. said,

    September 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    One last note: Fond as I am of the English Romantics, they are in part responsible for the dire state of poetry today. Brilliant as his youthful work (mostly) is, Wordsworth is the ancestor of Whitman, who is the ancestor of Williams, and of all that this last leads to.

    Of course, not all Romantics descend to the demotic. Despite the foul fooleries about his “low birth”, Keats ironically has less to say to the “common reader” than perhaps any of the other major Romantics. Still, the origin of the modern pest rests largely at their doorstep–although I have no doubt that the worship of Williams’s little red wheelbarrow, and the asthenic spiritual vulgarity of the likes of Eliot, would horrify the lot of them, if they could come back today and see the state of contemporary “poetry”.

    Finally, and to come full circle, here’s a little comment by Ashton Smith himself on the old Tom cat;

    “There is a bard named T.S. Eliot
    (Perhaps the British call him Heliot).
    He writes a rather untoothsome line;
    I’d rather read a Valentine”.

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      “Demotic” is a great word.

      The other major Romantics all had issues with Wordsworth—the one Romantic who is usually embraced by the Moderns.

      Keats:

      The House of Mourning written by Mr Scott,
      A sermon at the Magdalen, a tear
      Dropped on a greasy novel, want of cheer
      After a walk uphill to a friend’s cot,
      Tea with a maiden lady, a cursed lot
      Of worthy poems with the author near,
      A patron lord, a drunkenness from beer,
      Haydon’s great picture, a cold coffee pot
      At midnight when the muse is ripe for labour,
      The voice of Mr Coleridge, a French bonnet
      Before you in the pit, a pipe and tabour,
      A damned inseparable flute and neighbour —
      All these are vile. But viler Wordsworth’s sonnet
      On Dover. Dover! Who could write upon it?

  21. Nanette Ackerman said,

    June 24, 2014 at 11:18 am

    When twilight moves not man, dry rain shall fall –
    When dry rain falls, springs of all life shall die.

    Charles Ackerman Berry – the lost romantic (Wilderness Poet)

    Isn’t it time for a re-surge in inspirational poetry? Enjoy your modernist/post-modernist work – but in the name of justice, let those who don’t, enjoy theirs.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 24, 2014 at 11:44 am

      Nanette,

      I agree. Inspirational poetry, so-called, deserves a place at the table. But is it any wonder that poetry killed poetry? For truth abhors mere naming—and poetry’s duty is to lead us away from naming towards truth—but poetry, the process, is very caught up in naming. Naming blocks truth. We call something something and all curiosity ends.

      I love this line: “When twilight moves us not…”

      • Nanette Ackerman said,

        June 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm

        Thank you Thomas.


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