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.