NINE POEMS AND THREE EPIGRAMS OF THE NEW ROMANTICISM

John Milton is John Keats.

Samuel Johnson is T.S. Eliot.

Literature repeats, just as happy thoughts commonly intrude upon sad ones.

Vermilion beauty is reached, but the sun brings a new day. New philosophers congratulate themselves. A shadowy sage announces, “You are not enjoying the spring! You are someone else!” Philosophy vomits a new stone. A city shudders. Romanticism and youth, together with Conscience panting after the Good, are mocked and overthrown at last. Or this is only hyperbole getting the last word.

Milton, writing an elegy for his college friend, Edward King, drowned, spends most of the following passage asking “valleys low” to do something. The educated will have no trouble understanding and enjoying poetry like this—resembling a race horse able to burn for the entire course. It is excellent, whether or not you “like” it. It is too fanciful for Modernists—the same ones who lament that modern life is estranged from nature, so how dare Milton commune with nature. Ah the intricacy of modernity. Eliot and Pound were not high on Milton.

Every poetry has faults—Poe pointed out for America’s readers that Milton babbling to, and with, the non-human was annoying. It was. Poe said Paradise Lost was too long—and he was not blaming Milton, exactly, but ourselves, since none of us, limited as we are physically, can be entranced by a poem for very long.

The old will influence, even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s sheared by modern shepherds. Keats learned from Milton. To learn from (and improve on) the past is a truism, which some damn, anyway, like the avant-garde, which prepares its feast on a very little table—or makes a large table for a small feast.

Here is the passage from Milton’s “Lycidas”—as far from the avant-garde as possible:

Return, Alphéus; the dread voice is past
That shrunk thy streams; return, Sicilian Muse,
And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues.
Ye valleys low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades and wanton winds and gushing brooks
On whose fresh lap the swart star sparely looks,
Throw hither all your quaint enameled eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honied showers
And purple all the ground with vernal showers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies,
The tufted crow-toe, and pale Jessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk-rose, and the well-attired woodbine,
With cow-slips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears;
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffadillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.
For so, to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with false surmise,
Ay me! whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurled…

Keats could not have written “Ode To A Nightingale” but that he saw this passage—which is Romantic before any scholar said it was. The Metaphysical Poets had the silliness knocked out of them by their successors and self-conscious Romanticism kept the Miltonic luxury—even as the 18th century, in a bizarre detour through Johnson, condemned it. Just as the 20th century, in a harrowing road through T.S. Eliot, condemned it.

Is the following by Johnson or Eliot? It’s hard to tell.

“One of the poems on which much praise has been bestowed is Lycidas of which the diction is harsh, the rhymes uncertain, and the numbers unpleasing. What beauty there is we must therefore seek in the sentiments and images. It is not to be considered as the effusion of real passion, for passion runs not after remote allusions and obscure opinions. Passion plucks no berries from the myrtle and ivy, nor calls upon Arethuse and Minicus, nor tells of rough satyrs and fauns with cloven heel. Where there is leisure for fiction there is little grief.”

Dissociation of sensibility, in other words.

The writer continues:

“In this poem there is no nature, for there is no truth; there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is that of a pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting; whatever images it can supply are long ago exhausted, and its inherent improbability always forces dissatisfaction on the mind.”

What was thought to be the greatest lyric in English gets an ‘F.’

It is Johnson who tramples Milton’s flowerets, not Eliot, but it could have been either one.

It is not our intention to defend Milton.

No one needs to defend Milton—or Johnson.

I am not here to defend Romanticism—only to point out that literature is a roller coaster ride and Romanticism is now ready to trample Johnson—the Enlightenment genius and contemporary of Mozart—who dared to call John Milton’s exquisite lyricism in Lycidas “disgusting.”

Who else would dare? The amusement park of Letters is for your pleasure, but you don’t own the rides—only guys like Johnson do. You don’t know anything about this. You own an opinion the way you own a book—you bought the book; you did not write the book. You think what everyone else thinks.

But Scarriet is here to guide you.

Poe, unafraid to trash Milton, writes the following on the man who dared to trash Milton, Dr. Johnson:

“What is Poetry? — Poetry! that Proteus-like idea, with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra! Give me, I demanded of a scholar some time ago, give me a definition of poetry? “Tres- volontiers,” — and he proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr. Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal Shakspeare! I imagined to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear B—, think of poetry, and then think of — Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then — and then think of the Tempest — the Midsummer Night’s Dream — Prospero — Oberon — and Titania!”

It would be silly for any of us to censor Poe as he damns Johnson—we are in a war, you twits!

Whether Poe is correct, or not, is beside the point.

Your opinion doesn’t matter to the gods. You collect only.

Dismissing Poe’s “elephant passage” on Samuel Johnson would be as useless as dismissing Lycidas, or dismissing what Johnson said about Lycidas—one hundred years before Poe and one hundred years after Milton. Poe was dismissed by Eliot one hundred years later. And now you cannot stop, one hundred years on, what is going to happen to Eliot, who used Johnson as a cudgel and now in turn will be beaten to a pulp by a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For it is a dream—all literature is a dream! You cannot defend the poet who writes “honied showers” against the poet who writes about beefsteaks; but one day the spell will wear off and the poet who proudly rejected showers and wrote on ham will seem an ass.

It doesn’t matter who is winning the Pulitzer Prize these days, or what anyone is saying about anything.

In Letters, whatever Johnson and Eliot represent is now plummeting, and whatever Milton and Keats represent is on the rise—tempered, of course, by adjustments made over the centuries; the Romantics were not as artificial as Milton, but preferred him to Johnson, finding Milton thrilling, Johnson, pedantic.

Eliot turned his Samuel Johnson-Laser on Romanticism. Eliot, in turn, must fall, and we can see the nature of his destruction simply by looking at what Johnson wrote—and putting it in reverse.

“Where there is leisure for fiction there is little grief.” Here, in a nutshell, is Eliot’s Object Correlative, a theory (obviously cribbed from Dr. Johnson) Eliot used to condemn “Hamlet.” This is what the genius dares—and you do not—in the service of these hundred year- swings. Shakespeare, himself, is censored.

Remember, Shakespeare’s poetry was not appreciated much in the 18th century (he was converted to a story-teller)—and there came a revival in the 19th century, and to be honest, Shakespeare as a playwright found popularity in the 20th century, but as a poet, his Sonnets were turned into soap opera; T.S. Eliot, as we just mentioned, damned him; and if we look at Understanding Poetry, the leading poetry textbook of the 20th century, Frost gets more attention than Shakespeare, Yeats just as much, and Shakespeare is discussed in many places as if he were a Modern—his “imagery” held aloft, the immortal Bard just a more emotional version of WC Williams. Even genius goes up and down every century, so inevitable are trends.

Romanticism has plenty of “leisure for fiction.”

And all the “grief” they want.

And why not?

Think about it.

What literary “theory” (the “Objective Correlative” or any one you choose) can possibly prevent words of the imagination—literature—from doing whatever it wants?

Let Milton be Milton—but not for one hundred years.

It’s time to be Milton again. Modified, of course. “Lycidas” perfected into the Odes of Keats, and then further modified.

The new Romantic poets of the middle 21st century may not be that great. That’s not the point.

Whenever has “the green turf suck the honied showers,” “beside the white chickens,” “angry fix,” “bag full of God,” or “Does my sexiness upset you?,” been good enough that the new cannot mock it?

The New Romanticism is even now arriving.

Think of the distinguished and praised poems of the 20th century—they had no time for “leisure of fiction;” they were anxious to give us the real—and with it, tremendous grief.

Let’s take three: “Prufrock,” “The Waiting Room,” and “Supermarket in California.”

In Lycidas, Milton describes “grief” with the “leisure of fiction.” Here is the sorrowful delight of Milton’s extended “leisure:” it includes flowers of “white pink.”

In all three of the 20th Century poems we get darkness as the impulsive force. The 20th century played in a grave.

Eliot: “the wind blows the water white and black.”
Bishop: “The waiting room was bright/and too hot. It was sliding/beneath a black wave…”
Ginsberg: “…and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?”

Eliot’s poem has a “patient etherised upon a table” and a “bald spot.”
Bishop’s poem features the “horrifying” breasts in National Geographic and pain in a dentist’s chair on a dark winter day during World War One.
Ginsberg gives us a “headache” and a homeless guy “eyeing the grocery boys” in a supermarket.

Some say this is “progress.” But is it?

It’s poetry writing as far away from Milton as possible.

There’s no progress in poetry.

What we choose to include in a poem can only be a matter of taste, not science, since what exists outside the poem is not impacted by the poem. Has there ever been a headache, in Milton’s or Ginsberg’s day, which knew a poem, or was known by a poem, or was cured by a poem? We cannot remove the “headache” from Ginsberg’s poem without changing it irrevocably—what is essentially a meaningless bridge between life and poetry (a “headache”) is, no one can deny, essential to the poem. Therefore it follows that poetry exists as its own product, within its own rules and influences, within a “tradition”—not in the world—which the moderns were more adept at superficially recording, but only as it affects the poetry; any other conclusion by the modern poet is vanity.

Any poetry can be denied.

A movement cannot.

Romanticism can be defined simply, then. It is poetry not afraid of the “leisure of fiction.” Johnson, the anti-Romantic, says the “leisure of fiction” cannot have “grief,” and Eliot, with his Objective Correlative, agrees. But Romanticism finds nothing preventing “grief” from attending the “leisure of fiction.” It isn’t science. It’s literary taste—which, for scientific reasons, comes and goes.

The New Romanticism is proving the Moderns wrong. This is happening right now.

One hundred years from now, the New Romanticism will be wrong, again, for reasons no one will quite understand—even as long lines of “prophetic” PhDs and their theories will pretend they do.

Romanticism and its Samuel Johnson counterpart—which trade fashionable places every hundred years can also be looked at this way:

Romanticism: the World is newly and differently Glorious—my poetry will demonstrate this fact.

Dr. Johnson-ism: the World is Wretched—no artificiality can change that fact. Perhaps some glory will be glimpsed among the bald spots and the headaches, but we will know that glory is earned and legitimate, for that very reason.

Romanticism responds: poetry succeeds on its own merits and it doesn’t matter whether you add the flaws of the world or not—it’s the poetry that matters; the tedious pedantry that makes rules about what should be “put in” poetry to make it “less artificial,” will only in the long run, inhibit poetry.

Back and forth it goes. The argument is not as important as the back-and-forth.

The courting world brings flowers to the home of the poem. Then gets tossed out.

Every one hundred years.

It was no good writing Romantic poetry, as some did, in the 1980s. It was still the 20th century. Pound lived until 1972. Many of us can remember 1972.

But something is going to happen in 2022.

Because it’s 2022—100 years since “The Waste Land.”

But Eliot won the Nobel in 1948. That’s only 75 years ago.

So we may need to wait another 25 years for the true New Romanticism. Poems on headaches, however, don’t seem to be the thing right now. The shift appears to be happening.

Here is a sampling of nine New Romantic poems and three epigrams, a hint of what will emerge with even greater force in the next few years. Scarriet guarantees it. The content is more or less modern; it’s the delicate formalism, the chaste emotionalism, combined with Romantic-philosophical sensitivity, which is the difference.

One could say what follows is really nothing more than Edna Millay or Edward Arlington Robinson or Donald Justice—the sort of earnest, tasteful, non-pretentious poetry that was appreciated in the 20th century, in spite of Romanticism on the wane. Fireworks and trumpets don’t necessarily accompany these one hundred years shifts; sometimes the archeological alteration appears after the fact, in the midst of scholarly digging. The distinction could be as subtle as this: Edna Millay and Donald Justice considered as major 20th century poets—rather than let’s say, Ezra Pound and WC Williams. Romanticism very well could be accused of saying, “It’s only poetry, and once you admit this, poetry is saved.” The shifts are not necessarily earth-shaking. Poe and Emerson were contemporaries—they reviled each other; it was Emerson, precursor of Nietzsche, who insisted, seer-like, the poet is a god; Poe, herald of detective fiction, was merely the better poet. And yet…something unmistakably human—not watered down by fetish, politics, or pretense, of the low or high kind—stains the writing of the New Romanticism.

DAN SOCIU (trans. Thomas Graves, Ana-Maria Tone, Alexandra Gaujan)

AFTER SOME DAYS OF BEING DEAD

This tomb was built like a fort
but he still pushed out of it
and feverish, Lazarus stumbled to Earls Court
for some lemons and sparkling water.

The drizzling air was a fresh kiss
he breathed in greedily—
in the crowd he smiled stupidly, like me,
because I went thru something like this.

A man just risen has a special gravity.
Women, kids, feel it—even dogs pulled
their owners closer and it was remarkable—
the vending machine gave him water for free.

NIMIC NU MAI E POSIBIL

Nothing is possible anymore between me
And a nineteen year old girl, just as nothing
was possible when I was nineteen
years old. I listened to them carefully, they ruffled my hair,
they’d gently reject my touches, no, Dan,
you are not like this, you are a poet. They came
to me for therapy, they’d come with their eyes in tears
to the poet. I was a poet and everyone was in love
around the poet and none with him.
The poet would go out every evening
quaking like a tectonic wave and
in the morning he’d come back humiliated
in his heart—the quakes moving
for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

TWO PAPER LANTERNS

two paper lanterns
flying over the sea
one is lost
beyond the horizon
into the unknown
where only planes
fly on

two paper lanterns
one near the shore
still shimmering
the other far
barely in sight
which one is
the finer lantern

the one you see
or the one lost
where only planes
flew on?

THOMAS GRAVES

CLOUDY IN THE CITY AND EVERYTHING IS COLD AND GREY

You are superior to me because you are obscure.
No one quite knows what your poetry means
and this gains you sophisticated followers,
nonetheless shy when questioned.
Rattling the New York Times in the beginning of the day,
they feign surprise when I accost them with tears.
Is this a bullet train? Or is the driver drunk?
When do we arrive in Swampscott?
The commute home, when you are tired,
calmly surrendering to the motion of the train—
a mass of hurry—is a rich feeling. Out of the corner of your eye,
a torn ticket. A slightly windy sky.

THE HUG

When we finally hug I know
It will hurt you, even as you love
In the forgiveness of the hug,
Because, to forgive, you were so slow.
Maybe there will be no hug,
Since friendship and forgiveness are as irrational as love.
Maybe we waited too long;
Now we are weak in ratio to how much our love was strong.
You miss my friendship. I know
You miss my friendship, the hug
Will be that; our passionate love
Hid the friendship, so the hug
Will be a feeling and a symbol of that,
Yet who knows that friendship and sex are not exactly the same
When, after years, you hug the one who broke your heart, and call them by their name.

A SIGH SINCERELY SIGHED

I saw a lady in an emptying train, sighing.
Troubles are infinite,
But when you see someone sigh, sometimes you know why.
The exiting passengers filed past the lady;
She was in no hurry to leave her seat.
She was sitting there sighing, this lady;
Had she sighed to her lover, it might have been sweet.
But this was no sigh of love. The lady
Was no longer young, and the lines
On her face, I could see, had come
Only in the past few years.
Everyone wants to be beautiful and young.
This is why she remains in her seat,
And the sigh she sighs is more sad than sweet.
She knew she would never be young, again.
Some miseries are greater than others.
Age is the worst thing that happens to us.
But something tells me, I don’t know why,
I stopped for a moment, when I heard her sigh,
When I sighed, because she sighed, I thought,
As I left the train, in the station, I thought,
The world is going to happen again,
With the very same ladies, and the very same men.

BEN MAZER

DELIRIUM

I hear my mother rattling in the sink,
though I am loose in dreamy marble halls,
my sense of time is present, and I think
that comfort ravages the castle walls.
Night is as tall as those who are within
should wish to speak, of anything at all,
with fever burning underneath the skin,
to whom infinity could be so small.
I fall to earth in my delirium,
and wake to life to find I’m being shot
by someone who was real but now is not,
a skinny robber, canceling out the sum.
Dad’s in his parka in the cold garage;
I’m strangely comforted by this barrage.

THE SUN BURNS BEAUTY

The sun burns beauty, spins the world away,
though now you sleep in bed, another day
brisk on the sidewalk, in your camel coat,
in another city, wave goodbye from a boat,
or study in an archival library,
like Beethoven, and thought is prodigy.
Do not consume, like the flowers, time and air
or worm-soil, plantings buried in the spring,
presume over morning coffee I don’t care,
neglect the ethereal life to life you bring.
O I would have you now, in all your glory,
the million-citied, Atlantic liner story
of what we were, would time come to forget
being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.

ST. MARTIN’S LANE

Remember when we went to see St. Martin’s Lane?
We huddled in Charles Laughton’s room
just as I huddled there with you,
shivering. Popcorn for dinner. Breath like fog.
We followed Charles out to the London streets
without ever stirring from our seats.
We could have worked an act up for busking,
I might have even kissed you for the asking.
You were so still, sitting next to me,
covered by the flickering reflections
of the inhuman mechanical projections
of the original camera’s inspections.
The darkened rain, the poverty of gloom,
were only ours, stuck in a little room.
But when the film ends, and we leave our seats,
it’s pouring outside, and the whole film repeats.
(I too have often followed Sylvia Sidney
to a small diner for some beans and kidney.)
These fantasies are real. Our life is real.
Our quiverings half-concealing when we feel.
Our waverings aligned with electricity and steel.
Who do we thank for bringing things to order?
Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh, Alexander Korda.
When the film’s over, we have grown up too fast,
like Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in Stella Dallas.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ache to kiss her like the ache to kick the ball found on the path

—Dan Sociu

Intelligence is panic. Imagination is panic that sleeps well.

—Thomas Graves

A greater amount of emotion is the effect of a greater work of art.

—Ben Mazer

The sampling could have included others (who have appeared in Scarriet, or poets you like) but the above features what must be considered the core of the New Romanticism right now, its Shelley, Coleridge, and Byron. Sociu, Graves, and Mazer.

Salem, MA 5/14/22

MODERNISM, OR COLLAPSE-CHIC

John Quinn: Contemporary Collector Extraordinaire - American Book Collecting
Joyce, Pound, QUINN, Ford Madox Ford, Paris 1923

John Quinn (1870-1924) attorney for Pound and Eliot, modern art collector, and the guy who made the Armory Show (1913) happen, is a neglected but important figure from the American Midwest who ended up working for British intelligence and upon his death was in possession of the original manuscript of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with all the valuable cross outs and edits. The following is a conversation with my literary friend, X___ and you can see how it inspired this Scarriet article; I’ve decided to let the inspiration be seen in its raw form. I came up with the phrase “Collapse Chic” during the conversation with my brilliant acquaintance. Some things are best dropped right from the tree onto the grass:

He must have meant something to TSE for Tom to give Quinn the ms. The Reid bio of Quinn won the Pulitzer, talks of British intelligence and Aleister Crowley and Tammany Hall (Horace Greeley, Poe’s enemy, was also mixed up with Tammany corruption). The book of all books on Modern Letters 1850 to 1950 waits to be written. I’m too lazy to write it.

“No, it is simply a financial transaction. Quinn was collecting, and the ms. obviously meant less to TSE than the dough. Back then, collecting mss. of living authors was somewhat rare.”

Do we know how much, or whether money even changed hands? We always focus on the authors themselves in terms of making their own reputations, but I see it differently. I believe it’s people like Quinn “behind the scenes” with money and connections and legal expertise who are driving the car, not TS Eliot. My guess is that timid and doubtful Eliot was only too happy to give the ms. to Quinn as the best guarantee of his legacy. It was Quinn who negotiated deals for Pound and Eliot. Pound was still editing The Waste Land when it won the Dial Prize. It was a fait accompli. And these sorts of things happened because guys like Quinn know how to stack the deck. Quinn wasn’t collecting modern art out of love. Nor was John Dewey. “Love” of the “new” in Modernist circles was simply what they call “buy low and sell high.” Quinn was not purchasing the ms. from Eliot as some starry-eyed fan. Eliot was beholden to Quinn. Of course literary professors with 20/20 hindsight will disagree with me. But they might be wrong…

…I just looked it up. Eliot wanted no money—he gave his ms. to Quinn as a means to “preserve” it (Pound’s edits needed to be preserved was Eliot’s “reason”—I think it was probably more so that one could see some beautiful lines by Eliot which Pound nixed. Eliot trusted the worldliness of Quinn; he was hedging his bets.) Quinn as a matter of honor nevertheless gave Eliot $140.00. It was later sold by Quinn’s niece for much more.

“I think Eliot could easily have entertained both reasons. He had a complicated and many-layered mind–and he was not above naivete. Remember, too, that he was shocked and appalled by Pound’s scheme to have a bunch of people back Eliot with the equivalent of his salary for five years. Remember, too, that the manuscript was of the greatest poem of the Moderns.”

It was clear Eliot had talent, but I doubt anyone thought The Waste Land was going to be a best-seller. It was either Pound’s way (hitting up wealthy dames) or the American way—teaching writing, a career European literati thought beneath them. Turned out the Americans knew best: the New Critics getting the new writing (and Frost) into the schools was a fortuitous path, probably easier than getting Duchamp and modern art into museums. Looking back it’s hard to know what was inevitable and what took real work and scheming.

“Of course many plans for plumping this author or that have come to nothing. (Delmore Schwartz thought Genesis was surefire and kept warning [James] Laughlin that there was a “conspiracy” against him.) The Waste Land, however, had fairly robust criticism against, but college students took to it rapidly. Probably it spoke to their feelings about the collapse of culture after the war. Now we have Amanda Gorman for that.”

Who prevents the “collapse of culture,” though? If The Waste Land deftly reflects “collapse;” like the dyer’s hand, it participates in it. And should all poets & artists go on reflecting & recording the “collapse of culture,” until the “collapse of culture” accelerates the world into Gorman and illiteracy? My problem with Modernism (as brilliant as guys like Eliot were) is that it finally marks collapse and collapse only, unless you think the Cantos or 4 Quartets or Finnegans Wake will save us (I doubt it). Schwartz, like my parents, were haunted by Adlai Stevenson’s loss. Delmore was also angered by Pound’s Bollingen, but to me Schwartz (with Berryman, Jarrell, Lowell) represents the next generation dragged down by Modernist “collapse-chic.” There was nothing great or noble to inherit, just estrangement, and not a good, revenge-of-hope, Romantic kind of estrangement, just undisciplined, resigned, half-hearted Marxist, literary-pretentious, estrangement.

“I don’t think anyone can stop a Gorman, who answers a felt need. There have always been poets like her, and they’ve usually been forgotten very quickly. / Honestly, I don’t worry about whether poetry is or isn’t contributing to collapse. It can only reflect its times–well, or badly. Im glad to have Frost to appreciate, and glad to have TSE, EP, Moore, Stevens, and WCW.”

“Collapse-Chic,” which grew out of our Quinn conversation will be the next pro-Romantic, anti-Modernist Scarriet rant. Collapse-chic propelled the Modernists and their Waste Land flagship— but conflagration followed in its wake, a “burnt ends” prophecy. The only public splash poem since has been “Howl.” Talk about Collapse-chic. Plath/Sexton. The gibberish of Ashbery and Black Mountain, Jorie Graham, billions of forgettable workshop poems. Surely I can’t deny your “what is, is” philosophy; I embrace it every day. TSE is miles better than EP (who had his translating, lyric moments) Moore (meh) Stevens (Keats-lite, fun sometimes, I’ll admit) WCW (never liked). Tending that coterie will be a progressively lonely island in the years ahead, a black mountain head sticking out of a vast, politically correct, sea. I’m putting my money in Plato-Dante-Shelley (Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Pushkin, Heine, Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson, TSE, Millay, Bishop, Justice, Larkin, Mazer).

“Can’t argue with many on that list at the end, though my mansion has more flats.”

And there ends the essential conversation which produced Collapse-Chic. I could have added hundreds more poets to my list and my literary friend many, many more, obviously.

Who is my literary friend? I will never tell. He might be English, you say?

Romantic poems by the dead have been my tarot cards, telling me how to act.

Books have been nearly my all. But the living occasionally amuse. I amused myself by handing Camille Paglia a poem of mine out of respect for her; what an idiot I could be!

Has poetry made me an idiot?

Am I part of this “collapse” which I am perhaps too arrogantly advertising? Yes, indeed. I think we are all in its net. Letters has become primitive. Don’t let the “sophistication” of a Charles Olson or any avant poet, or long-winded novelist, fool you. Letters is primitive now compared to the 19th century. Maybe this “collapse” is a good thing, or something necessary to go through for the sake of a “revolution.” I doubt it. I just think it’s a collapse. We may as well admit it.

I have had the good fortune to interact with the best literary minds of the last 100 years, all by accident, really. Paul Engle. I remember him quoting Yeats to me, “If it doesn’t sing, it doesn’t talk!” Paul Engle was a man of great energy and force. Donald Justice was sensitive and kind. Engle, when I knew him, was at Iowa’s International Writing Program—where I interned as an Iowa student. Engle retired and left the famous Iowa Workshop to poets like quick Marvin Bell and calm Donald Justice, among others; Engle confided to me he wasn’t impressed by the new generation; Paul hosted 30 writers lavishly in Iowa City (including stipends to travel the U.S.) every year: dignified female writers from Norway, slovenly writers, European frankness, Egyptian cigarettes, Indian song moments, at the Mayflower hotel in Iowa City! In Harvard Square, Helen Vendler laughing in my face when I asked her about Poe. I told Galway Kinnell after a reading at the Longfellow House that his poem on Shelley was mean, after I told him “When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone” was his best poem. I informed Harold Bloom at a book signing he was unfair to Poe and surprised when he said, in a melancholy tone, “yes I was intolerant.” I witnessed Philip Nikolayev politely destroy the great critic Marjorie Perloff in a concrete poetry debate at the Hong Kong restaurant. Life moves fast, but so does Letters. Be careful what you say. There are so many reasons to be forgotten.

The Collapse may include the collapse of you, as infinitely chic as you are.

THE TEXTBOOK WHICH CHANGED IT ALL—UNDERSTANDING POETRY

Yale University Staff - YACOLF19 Understanding Poetry

“The subject is exceedingly simple; one tenth of it, possibly, may be called ethical; nine tenths, however, appertain to the mathematics” –The Rationale of Verse- EA Poe

If you are reading this, it is almost a certainty that your ideas on poetry have been directly or indirectly shaped by this book. If you have anything to do with American poetry, this brief essay is about you.

England produced some pretty good poets—Milton, Byron, Keats—at a time when Greek and Latin was the only literature taught in school. It wasn’t until Matthew Arnold’s advocacy in the late 19th century and the publication of the widely used school textbook Understanding Poetry (Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, 1938, 1950, 1960, 1976) in the United States, that anything like contemporary poetry actually entered school rooms. In the wake of this crude, hysterical, pistol-shootin’, Southern boy, bombastic, textbook, the most force-fed canon in the history of Letters since the King James bible, the poetry of Longfellow, Poe, Dunbar and Millay, which the public adored, was chased from the academy forever.

The only “professional” poetry, after the appearance of Understanding Poetry, was poetry stamped with the approval of the textbook’s authors and their friends.

The term, “professional,” as used by CIA funded John Crowe Ransom in his essays on what he termed “Criticism, Inc.” or “Criticism, Ltd.,” published at this time, was not meant to elevate the vocation of poetry in general, but to pave the way for a clique’s attempt to separate themselves out as the only authority.

It is a cliché by now to say that everything is political. I will show that the textbook Understanding Poetry was nothing but an embarrassing, slipshod, power grab by a connected bunch of radical cowboys. Understanding Poetry, a nicely-sewn hardcover from Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, is anti-historical, extremely judgmental, and illogical. Nothing about it is actually “professional.”

Understanding Poetry looks at only one poem by Edgar Poe—to mock it.

Here is what it says about “Trees,” Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem: “This poem has been very greatly admired by a large number of people. But it is a bad poem.”

Adelaide Anne Procter—one of only a few women selected for analysis by the authors (the book is at least 95% male)—is treated this way:

Even though the work of Adelaide Procter, who is known now only as the author of “The Lost Chord,” was once greatly admired by Charles Dickens, most modern readers of poetry would find this poem bad. Most readers who admire it probably do so because they approve of the pious sentiment expressed in it. Such readers go to poetry merely to have their own beliefs and feelings flattered…

The authors are anxious to create a schism in poetry.

The “Red Wheel Barrow” (which they unequivocally praise) contains nothing so obvious as a sentiment or an idea—therefore it is now, within the context of the textbook authors’ mandate, safe to like. It is the authors who sniff out a “pious sentiment” in Procter’s poem, “The Pigrims,” which as a poetry textbook subject, deserves to be treated as a poem. Procter’s poem uses a number of literary elements—rhythm, rhyme, imagery, and contrast in a perfectly competent manner. The problem the “professional” authors have with this poem is their problem: as New Critics, they cannot get beyond the simple fact that every poem under the sun will express either some kind of sentiment (which can be summarized or paraphrased) or none at all. The theme of “The Pilgrims” is: Do not despair: others with God-like stature have it worse than you. The textbook authors go on to call Procter’s poem, and anyone who might enjoy it, “stupid” because the poem, according to them, is not fresh or new.

The problem, however, is that the authors are raising the bar impossibly high. Some themes will always be popular. No completely original poem is possible—the imagination does not create; it must use old material. The complete absence of any sentiment or theme whatsoever, like we find in “The Red Wheel Barrow” or “In a Station of the Metro” (this little poem by Pound is lauded as “new and surprising”) is treated by Brooks/Warren as achieving a transcendence of sorts—nothing is preferable to something, due to the New Critics’ hostility to paraphrase. For Brooks/Warren, random imagery sans theme wins them over (especially when produced by a member of their clique) as “new” and “fresh.” Most everything else is cliché or doggerel.

Rhythm gets no close analysis from the authors, even though this element divides poetry from prose; they only express the opinion that too much of it is a bad thing (their reason for condemning “Ulalume”).

The poems they champion are those which are as close as possible to prose—and have no discernible sentiment—thus their keen interest in poems of mayhem and gore treated disinterestedly. The poetry of Poe these critics of poetry reject, while, ironically, embracing the popular trope of Poe’s fiction.

The authors bar most of the poetry canon and replace it with examples written by their friends. The safe filler of the book consists of misplaced canon-material tucked away into chapters in a way that fails to tease out what is most important about them. Poems of metrical excellence are put into chapters on “Tone” and “Descriptive Poems.”

We might conclude that by dismissing Adelaide Procter’s Christian poem, the authors felt too many Christians were reading too many bad Christian poems—one can surely understand this as a legitimate concern; the authors, however, don’t print good Christian poems in the canon by way of comparison; their sincerity extends only as far as scorning “pious sentiment” in a single poem and leaving it at that. Dante, Petrarch, and the entire “Divine Eros” tradition—and all romance, love or religious poetic traditions—are left out of the book altogether.

The question one expects a textbook to ask is: how should a poem best express a sentiment? A poetry textbook shouldn’t be involved in policing or curbing the sentiments themselves—especially those which are world historical and immensely popular. The authors, crusty, secular, and outspoken in the extreme, cannot help themselves. They plead for neutrality, as a matter of principle, but cheer for some sentiments over others throughout the book—and the problem is compounded by their failure to recognize that sentiment manifests itself in a host of unspoken ways. They seem to think poems are able to escape sentiment (which they generally believe is bad) simply by not being overtly sentimental. Thus they think depicting a red wheel barrow is not sentimental—which it horribly is. This particular error in taste infects nearly all of their judgments.

Curiously, they don’t even mention haiku—dare I assume it’s because they’re anxious to champion their friends Pound and Williams and their haiku-like poems, lavished with epithets “fresh” and “new?”

The book as a whole is not only filled with strange hit-and-miss assertions, it reeks of chummy provincialism. The advertising is deeply off—they call their text Understanding Poetry, not, as they should, Understanding the New American Poetry.

In their introduction, the authors, a couple of yahoos from the South (members of a Tennessee gang called the Fugitives, and later the New Critics) quote a Longfellow poem, and in the spirit of Poe, without mentioning the master, fault the Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” as crudely didactic. These boys, Brooks and Warren, ain’t playin’ around.

“This poem seems to give a great deal of good advice.”

Imagine this said in a bar somewhere in the deep South after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Massachusetts has taken a seat and is looking around.

“But granting that the advice is good advice, [here Brooks and Warren look at each other and grin] we can still ask [they move closer to Longfellow] whether or not the poem is a good poem.”

After appearing on pg. 8 of this 584 page textbook (third edition) with this one poem, America’s favorite poet, Longfellow, is never seen again.

Edna Millay, Dorothy Parker, and all the women who dominated English and American poetry after Byron, out-selling the men during those decades, never quite appear in Understanding Poetry. Not so, H.D., Pound’s one-time girlfriend—she has two of her poems discussed. The Pound clique is carefully promoted, side by side, with the New Critic circle—the American wing of Pound’s Modernist operation.

“The poet is a man speaking to men.” Wordsworth, a tough son of a bitch who hiked a lot, states the central theme of the book’s introduction.

After the “message-hunting” of Longfellow readers is dismissed, the authors quickly deny the “emotion and sensation” school. The taste of an apple, or a good cry, is better in real life. Poetry can’t compete with these, the authors say. Fair enough, and so far within their introduction the authors are doing okay.

What about “fine sentiments in fine language?” Now we are in the realm of their fellow southerner, Poe. In a word, Beauty. Or as Brooks and Warren put it, “a poem as simply a bundle of melodious word-combinations and pretty pictures.”

The authors straighten their spines and lift up their chins.

No.

Brooks/Warren are sure of that. None of that pretty, elegant stuff.

The authors quote Hamlet: “whips and scorns of time…the law’s delay…To grunt and sweat under a weary life…”

For Brooks and Warren “grunt and sweat” demonstrates that “great” poetry doesn’t need to be pretty or elegant. This proves it.

No doubt the entire passage (Hamlet’s famous To Be or Not To Be speech) taken as a whole, could be called an example of “fine sentiments in fine language,” even if some parts are not absolutely beautiful; certainly the Hamlet speech meets the standard of the sublime—which Poe would gladly substitute for beauty, as would all his Romantic brothers and sisters.

But the authors are adamant: Get the pansies out of here. Poetry ain’t got no part of the ‘greeable and we have shown that to everyone’s satisfaction!

Once they have acquainted their readers with the rude depictions and harsh emotions of “drama” in the hands of Master Grunt & Sweat Will Shakespeare, there is no turning back for these gentlemen from Tennessee. The die is cast. They fire their pistols not only into the ceiling but into the gas lamps—and burn down the tavern. Official Verse Culture is leveled—thanks to Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. A genuine American poetry (something resembling the prose poems of William Carlos Williams and the newspaper clipping rants of Whitman and Pound) will be erected in its place.

Poetry, per the violence of these professors, will do violence to the old order and every sensitive mind.

Brooks/Warren go on to assert: “The relationship of the elements in a poem is what is all important,” a truism, really—a piece of pedantry intended to soften their final conclusion:

Poetry isn’t poetry. According to the authors it’s “drama.” Woo hooo! Damn straight!

The summary to their introduction over the dead bodies of Beauty, Message, and Sensation, in their own words:

“But the fundamental points, namely, that poetry has a basis in common human interests, that the poet is a man speaking to men, and that every poem is at center, a little drama, must not be forgotten at the beginning of any attempt to study poetry.”

Admittedly, at first blush, this does sound pretty sensible. Poetry as dramatic speech. Even Dana Gioia, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Samuel Johnson, and lords Tennyson and Byron might agree.

The “drama” does have much to recommend it; however, the erosion of poetry begins with the assigning of elements to poetry—which exist and can be much better developed or made the object of applause—elsewhere. Can poetry compete with mediums or genres better equipped to envelop audiences in the dramatic—whether it’s videos of street fights on You Tube, popular music, TV, film, or Drama (theater) itself?

The introduction must be judged largely a failure. Yes, it does make sense that one cannot eat a poem like an apple, and a poem should belong to “common human interests” (as opposed to the interests of turtles) and speech does play a large role, obviously, in poetry.

And “drama,” if we stretch out the definition, (recall the authors praise the ‘Red Wheel Barrow’ at some length) can certainly vaguely denote the art.

But why exclude, as the authors do, emotion? Or “fine sentiments in fine language?”

Elsewhere in the book’s introduction, a close reading of Troilus and Cressida—naturally calling on Shakespeare as often as possible to prove their poetry-as-drama thesis—Brooks/Warren write:

“The images of the first five lines, as we have seen, are closely bound together to define a certain attitude.”

Notice how they are precisely imprecise. Defining poetry as “drama,”—and yet eschewing both emotion and what they call “beautiful statement of some high truth,”—they walk an insane tightrope of delicate inference: “images….which define a certain attitude” is how they manage to evade both strong feeling and truth— neither of which, apparently, is allowed.

But “drama” without “fine language or sentiment” is the trope they are going with.

Introducing the first chapter of the book, Narrative Poems, they begin in the following way—and notice the examples they provide:

“We have said that the ‘stuff of poetry’ is not something separate from the ordinary business of living, but itself inheres in that business. We hear someone say that a farm boy has suffered a fatal accident while cutting a block of wood with a buzz-saw; or we read in the newspaper that a woman has shot her sweetheart; or we remember that there was once an outlaw from Missouri named Jesse James who was killed by treachery.”

Poetry instruction as Texas Chain-Saw Massacre.

Imagine millions of HS and college students introduced to poetry defined this way.

Dante compared poetry to a love letter.

The Understanding Poetry authors want poetry to compete with murder stories in newspapers.

Good luck with that.

They are determined to rid poetry, once and for all, of “fine sentiments and fine language.”

These are some scary New Critic outlaws who have rolled into town!

Robert Frost, fresh with a host of Pulitzer prizes, is all too ready to assist them.

Understanding Poetry, for the first time in Academia, makes the swimming pool safe for living poets, as friends of the authors are welcomed into the canon of their textbook, provided with free towels and bathing suits. Come on in, Wheel Barrow! The water’s fine!

If you are Edward Arlington Robinson, Joyce Kilmer, Edna Millay, Edgar Poe, or any number of classic poets from outside England or New England, careful. There’s sharks.

Frost is a perfect guest: old, respectable, a genuinely good poet, and, most importantly, still alive. Living poets (even if they are mediocre) can now be read next to the dead greats. As long as they are fortunate enough to know the textbook authors. The living Robert Frost was iconic enough to make good cover for this move. Today we take such gambits very much for granted, since “the new” is now the pragmatic norm in poetry studies.

There are 6 Chapters in Understanding Poetry; the first one, as mentioned, is Narrative Poems, (murder ballads, mostly) followed by 2. Descriptive Poems, (the silliest kind of poetry is descriptive—strange this gets its own chapter) 3. Metrics, 4. Tone (this is where Ulalume is savaged), 5. Imagery (another word for Descriptive. By now it feels the chapter categories of Understanding Poetry lack a certain sense), and finally, 6. Theme: Statement and Idea.

The theme of Understanding Poetry itself: real life horror, articulated plainly and without sentiment, steps to the fore in the first chapter—Narrative Poems.

The first poem under observation is Robert Frost’s “Out, Out—” a poem I never wish to read again; the poem concerns a Vermont village boy’s buzz-saw accident in front of his sister as she calls him into supper; the boy dies that night in the hospital; the whole thing is described in a chillingly matter-of-fact manner, for the maximum horror-effect, apparently. Frost was experimenting with something—will simple description heighten the horror of a horrible event? Whether or not it succeeds as a poem, the authors only know it is the one they want to set the tone of their book.

The last four lines of “Out, Out—“, a poem of 35 lines:

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

Whatever stoic virtue the poem has doesn’t save it. The poem is a monstrosity; but in their mission to define poetry as whatever lacks feeling, while cultivating general human interest with just the right combination of images, the authors consider this poem pure gold.

After “Out, Out—,” we get a bunch of anonymous murder ballads, in which the authors praise the ballad’s ability to condense a story—as it “shows” instead of “tells,” a great virtue, according to the authors, who forget they have defined poetry as “speech.” Poetry can only “show” by telling—the truism that it is better for poems to “show” is a nullity. To tell ironically is the closest a poem can come to “showing,” which it never actually does. Imagists fall into great error on this point.

The Narrative Poem chapter also includes 3 poems by A.E. Housman—the authors seem to prefer him to Longfellow because Housman is a secular Longfellow; “Farewell to Barn and Stack and Tree” is a decent ballad, meeting the authors approval with plenty of tragedy, blood, and stoicism. “Hell Gate” by Housman has nothing to recommend it; the story is muddled and its music uninspired. The authors write, “We feel immediately that we are not dealing with salvation in the Christian sense.” Perhaps this is why they selected this mediocre poem? The third Housman poem, “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries” is praised because the authors recommend its cynical message (every soldier only fights for “pay;”). Longfellow is not allowed to articulate a theme, but apparently Housman is.

I’m not sure why the authors don’t include Poe’s ballad “Ulalume” in the “ballad” chapter; they confine themselves almost entirely to anonymous ballads, and when they briefly discuss “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” at the end of the chapter, they make the mistake of saying that Keats is “using the pretense of ballad simplicity,” as they assume that here we have a “modern poem” pretending to be an authentic ballad. Keats died in 1822. When do the authors think “Frankie and Johnny” was composed? The very essence of the subject seems to elude them.

A naval engagement from “Song of Myself” is the soaring highlight of Chapter One. There’s not much of a story told, but the authors enthuse over seemingly irrelevant “details,” and the following makes them especially happy:

“The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,/Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan…”

In the Afterwards to Chapter One the authors admit they have a problem:

“Indeed, it is not easy, except in regard to the use of verse, to make an absolute distinction between poetry and prose fiction.”

Poetry, they say, has “concentration,” “sharpness of selected detail,” “appeal to the imagination” and “intensity.”

These are too vague to mean very much.

What can be going through the minds of the students forced to read this textbook?

Chapter Two, Descriptive Poems, begins with an assault on a chestnut by Robert Browning, as the authors continue their scorched earth policy against “Official Verse Culture.” Actually, they do make an interesting observation: “mood” and “thought” are often the same. Whether Browning brought the authors into a temporary state of sanity, it is not certain. In the last comment on the Browning, the authors write: one critic felt this poem sucks. Do you agree? It’s OK. Browning will survive.

The Descriptive Poems chapter (Two) is a nod, after the “ballads” chapter (One) to poetry as a rather simple art form—resembling fiction, just more condensed.

Language does not interest our authors, nor aesthetics, nor the Socratic, nor epistemology, nor philosophies of composition, nor fancy v imagination, nor cultural or social content, nor anything beyond things like:

“A lively sense of the perceptible world with its sights, sounds, and smells, is fundamental to poetry.”

Chapter Two devolves into poems about the seasons; Shakespeare, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, and T.S. Eliot (“The Preludes”) go to kindergarten. Along the way, a couple of H.D. poems, Pound’s petals on a bough poem (lovingly discussed) and the following poem (quoted in full) by James Stephens, “The Main-Deep:”

The long rolling,
Steady-pouring,
Deep-trenched
Green billow;

The wide-topped,
Unbroken,
Green-glacid,
Slow-sliding,

Cold-flushing,
On—on—on—
Chill-rushing,
Hush-hushing,

Hush-hushing…

This poem fills the authors with wonder. They discuss it at length, quoting approvingly the line “Hush-hushing.” They consider the poem splendid—and write solemnly on it. The author was a close friend of Joyce.

By the time we reach page 119 and chapter 3 Metrics, it is no surprise that Brooks/Warren embrace T.S. Eliot’s strange assertion that prose scans—and therefore poetry and rhythmical language really don’t have much to do with each other.

“What is poetry?” we might ask at this point.

The authors only know what it is not. It is not iambic pentameter. The following, they say, is iambic pentameter, and this is not poetry:

A Mr. Wilkerson, a clergyman.

This pretty much sums up the metrics lesson of Chapter Three.

I’d like to end this look at Understanding Poetry with their take on Metrics, because I think their attitude towards formalism is where they do the most damage, but I’ll sum up Chapters Four, Five, and Six, first.

Chapter Four, “Tone,” is the chapter where we find things by E.E. Cummings and the textbook’s comedic poems (Ogden Nash); and this is where “Ulalume” is treated comically and slaughtered. After “Ulalume” is killed off, the authors reprint “Luke Havergal” by Edwin Arlington Robinson and “Voices” by Walter de La Mare with little comment, implying these two poems are failures as well, mostly because of their exaggerated rhythm, and then, accompanied by a great deal of earnest laudation, Brooks/Warren offer their colleague Jonh Crowe Ransom’s poem, “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter,” a poem which revels in a child’s death—describing her in its final (rhyming with “stopped”) line: “Lying so primly propped.”

The next poem is “After the Burial” by James Russell Lowell (the 19th century is generally not favored by the authors). The end of Lowell’s poem:

That little shoe in the corner,
So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
And argues your wisdom down.

Here’s what the authors say about Lowell’s poem: “Many readers have found this poem disturbing. They find it disturbing because, on one hand, they know that it was written as the expression of a deep personal grief, and on the other hand, they think it is a bad poem.”

Chapter Five (Imagery) is where they put Tennyson, Hart Crane, Marvell, Donne, Auden, and Dickinson—who seems to be the only woman poet the authors can stomach, besides H.D. and Marianne Moore—she was included in the final “Poems for Study” section—no commentary)—two women belonging to Pound’s clique.

Chapter Six—“Theme: Statement and Idea” features still another poem by Housman, George Meredith, Donne, and finishes up with heavy-hitters: 3 well-known poems by Frost, Gray’s “Elegy,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Blake’s “London,” Emerson’s “Brahma,” “The Force That Through the Green Fuse” by Dylan Thomas, Eliot’s “Prufrock,” (with a long, respectful, discussion), Melville, Jarrell, Yeats (and a long discussion), “Shine, Perishing Republic,” by Robinson Jeffers, “The Return” by John Peale Bishop (similar in theme to the Jeffers—no patriotic songs or poems in this book!) and finally “Kubla Kahn,” “Lycidas,” and “Nightingale” (a long discussion) and “Urn” by Keats.

Our New Critic authors do select some powerhouses of “Official Verse Culture,” (necessary if their textbook is to have any weight at all) but it’s clear their intention is to destroy it—by their omissions, their commentary, and the careful organization of their themed chapters. All in all, a very clever hit job. The book also had to make their friends, such as Ezra Pound, WC Williams, and John Crowe Ransom, very happy, indeed.

On page 151, a single line by the otherwise excluded Millay, in a onomatopoeia discussion in the Metrics chapter, is mocked by John Crowe Ransom. This must have given the boys in the office a good chuckle.

Millay’s line: “Comfort, softer than the feathers of its breast.”

Ransom: “Crumpets for the foster-fathers of the brats.”

The first purpose of Understanding Poetry is to prove the authors’ paramount notion—poetry is 95% prose meaning and 5% poetic effect. An interesting idea—like saying a person missing a face is still a person.

Their higher purpose seems to be to replace poetry of the working and middle classes and esteemed by professorial verse-expertise and inspired by a love of verse in general, with the “new” poetry written by their friends. This intent is perhaps more difficult to prove—though it coincides with the first purpose above—and reading this book, what is one to think?

“The Blindness of Samson” by Milton is quoted—the metrical variation of iambic and trochee in the first five lines is pointed out—but I still can’t help but laugh at the ‘buried alive’ (in blindness) theme—the authors, throughout the book, in their poetry selections, are uncommonly fixated on macabre fiction strategies of Poe—even as they reject Poe, the poet.

Brooks/Warren, in the Metrics chapter, fully quote another Milton poem, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont,” featuring “martyred blood” and “Mother and infant” tossed from cliffs—pointing out this poem has “precisely the same rhyme scheme” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”

Really? One has to wonder: are the authors critics or sadists?

They don’t discuss stanza forms—the pinnacle of verse mastery. They do, at least, because it is such a popular trope—thanks to poets like Shelley, Poe, and Alexander Pope—pay some attention to “sound and sense,” but why they feel compelled to compare a famous love poem with a massacre poem simply due to a similar rhyme scheme is just bizarre.

There is more torture of sorts when they discuss the metrics of Milton and Barrett in the following manner:

“To sum up, we may say that the relation of rhetorical pauses to the line pauses of a stanza provides a principle of vital vibration analogous to that provided by the relation of rhetorical accent to metrical accent.”

Got that?

There are different kinds of pauses.

Actually, no. Verse contains only one kind of pause. Speakers, yes, can interpret pauses as wildly as they choose—but this does not alter the verse as written.

“Vital vibration” sounds like something which might inspire the daft Charles Olson and the whole nutty avant school, which hears things in the ether– poetry to neither you nor I, but to them alone.

“After Long Silence” by Yeats (a rare modern who could pull off verse—Auden and Larkin the youngest poets who fit that mold) is reprinted, followed by two difficult sonnets of Shakespeare, Hardy, Ben Johnson,Cowper, Hopkins—not the greatest examples of metrical excellence, frankly, especially for a student exposed to the blurry pedagogy of the authors, but this is all in preparation, no doubt, for the final act of the Metrics chapter: a lengthy commentary on two free verse poems by William Carlos Williams. “By the road to the contagious hospital” and “The Red Wheel Barrow,” including a revisit of “Pear Tree” by H.D.

The authors’ conclusion is that “free verse” is, indeed “verse”—in every sense of the word.

Need I say more?

Thomas Graves, Salem MA

PITCHING, PITCHING, PITCHING. SEPTEMBER DIVISION RACES

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and the Mao factor - CNN

Rally for the Beijing Waves—Mao’s team is tied for first in the Peoples Division with 10 games to go.

MODERN DIVISION—UNIVERSE HAS THE EDGE!

Universe 77 67  Manager Billy Beane Harriet Beecher Stowe and mid-season additions MLK Jr and Raymond Carver lead Spielberg’s club into first.
Buyers    73 71  Manager Charles Darwin The solid pitching of Twain, Freud, and Whitman stumbles, Paul Engle out, as Rockefeller’s team tumbles into second.
Crash     72 72   Manager Paul Cezanne Another losing streak from ace John Crowe Ranson; John Dewey digs deep and keeps Philadelphia and owner A.C. Barnes alive.
Printers  68 76  Manager Brian Epstein Warhol’s club did not have a reliable closer; Rothko, terrible, Marjorie Perloff fine, late addition Hans Holbein the Younger dominates, but is not enough.
Dreamers 67 77  Manager Averell Harriman Mid-season additions Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft lift Pamela Harriman’s team, but mainstay Margaret Atwood never found her groove.

PEOPLES DIVISION—A FOUR TEAM RACE TO THE END!

Cobras 76 68 Manager Rupi Kaur Hermann Hesse and Rumi keep Satyajit Ray’s team in it, as Tagore and Gandhi falter; Kabir Das rebounds in relief.
Waves  76 68 Manager Jack Dorsey Voltaire and Rousseau finally start to win for Mao’s team, Confucius solid in bullpen; Lao Tzu and Lucretius slumping.
Gamers  75 69  Manager Bob Hope Merv Griffin’s club climbed from last to first, adding Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, and Muhammad Ali. Lewis Carroll and Democritus will be key.
Laws 73 71 Manager Moshe Rabbenu Dick Wolf’s team briefly alone in first as Aristotle no-hit Gamers, Horace won 4 straight, Saussure brilliant in relief, but suddenly Santa Barbara lost 11 straight.
Mist  58 86 Manager Eiji Yoshikawa Movie icon Kurosawa’s club most inconsistent in league. Recently played spoiler against the Laws, sweeping them in Tokyo. Haiku aces Basho and Issa big disappointments.

SOCIETY DIVISION—BOSTON SECRETS CLINCH DIVISION!

Secrets 91 53 Manager George Washington The pitching of Plato (23-7), Pushkin (18-4), and Poe (13-9) with great bullpen overpowers division as Benjamin Franklin’s team, with best record in league, romps.
Animals  77 67 Manager Walt Disney Ovid (18 wins, a no-hitter) proves himself a real ace, but no one knew Amy Lowell (21-4) would pitch like this. A.A. Milne solid in bullpen, poor season for Melville.
War  72 72 Manager Niccolo Machiavelli Jack London helped JP Morgan’s bullpen; Remarque, Walter Scott are horses, Hume, big disappointment, Shakespeare pitched hurt, now out for season.
Actors 61 83 Manager Johnny Depp Relief pitching of Sade and Gide a disaster—made aces Byron, Chaucer look worse than they were. Rumors are manager Johnny Depp drinking heavily.
Strangers  61 83 Manager Bram Stoker Kafka replacing Camus good move, but too little, too late; Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson ineffective in relief; Pope and Nietzsche out-dueled too many times.

GLORIOUS DIVISION—LAUREATES PULLING AWAY FROM BANNERS!

Laureates 87 57 Manager Ronald Reagan Jonathan Swift is 22-3, Livy has 12 wins in relief, and Robert Louis Stevenson has won 13 since replacing Thomas Peacock in June for Dublin. Second best record in league!
Banners  81 63  Manager Desiderius Erasmus Lorenzo de Medici’s team has no weaknesses, led by Shelley’s work on the mound. But Virgil missed a month in mid-season; Dante, da Vinci lack run support.
Carriages  70 74 Manager Prince Albert Andrew Marvell was 12-3, but 4-9 since; flashes of brilliance by Virginia Woolf, Hazlitt, Henry James, and Descartes (relief ace) has not been enough.
Sun   63 81 Manager Winston Churchill Ralph Emerson and Thomas Carlyle have lost too many games. Huxley and JS Mill, too. Ruskin, starter/reliever, brilliant at times, Bert Russell reliable in the pen.
Pistols 60 84 Manager Randolph Churchill Wagner gradually became Berlin’s bullpen ace; no. 4 starter position—Pound, and 3 replacements, not effective. TS Eliot great since May (0-5 in April), Santayana, William James, not.

EMPEROR DIVISION—CEILINGS AND CRUSADERS VIE FOR THE CROWN!

Ceilings 79 65 Manager Cardinal Richelieu The pitching of Milton (17-10), Dryden (5-0 since Aug 20), Ariosto (14-11) and Bach (10 wins in relief) might be enough for Rome.
Crusaders 77 67 Manager Miguel de Cervantes Beethoven has 13 wins since joining Madrid in June; Handel has won 19; Aquinas managed 10 wins before injury in August. Scarlatti added.
Goths 73 71 Manager Arthur Schopenhauer Since their successful home stand in July, Paris has lost 20 of 33; Goethe is 1-4 with 5.10 ERA in recent slide; only Wilde (15 wins since June 1) has kept them alive.
Codes 72 72 Manager Alexander the Great  Homer and Hegel have each won 16 for Napoleon; Cicero, Hesiod, Balzac have struggled; Kant, 12 wins in relief; Tolstoy added to bullpen; hard to believe they’re only a .500 team.
Broadcasters 63 81 Manager Tiberius Claudius Hard-throwing George Orwell, reliever/spot starter, is 12-10, Coleridge is 11-7, but Valery and Hitchcock in ‘pen, starters Leopardi, Nabokov, Lacan, and Ben Johnson, subpar.

~~~

Scarriet Poetry Baseball reporting

WHAT IS ROMANTICISM? MORE THAN YOU THINK.

Romanticism is the attempt to bring what is important in life into poetry.

It is about love and romance only indirectly.

Take the following poem. The author is Edmund Waller, imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London for a political plot; born in 1606, he does not belong to the group of 19th century poets known as “the Romantics,” advertised as rebelling against 17th and 18th century poetry. The poem, however, is pure Romanticism—the much anthologized “Go, Lovely Rose:”

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me

That now she knows

When I remember her to thee,

How sweet and fair she  seems to be.

*

Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

*

Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.

*

Then die, that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share,

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

~~~

In examining this poem, we need to recognize some important things which will be missed if we merely list its formal properties—the worst way, obviously, to understand the essence of anything.

Facts defeat the fact, and this is why Socrates belongs to poetry’s wisdom more than Aristotle.

Moderns will be put off immediately by “Go, lovely rose!” But this is to fall into the error just mentioned—the facts cloud the fact.

“Go, lovely rose!” is, in its essence, a fact which eclipses the facts.

The facts are these: Poems say “Go, lovely rose!” but people, especially people today, do not.

The sounds of “go” and “lovely” and “rose” placed together are no accident, and therefore contrived, therefore limiting, and therefore insincere. It is a person speaking through a poem, and not a poem speaking as a person. So say the scholars, with their facts, today.

The facts of “Go, lovely rose!” point to technique—forced resemblances viewed throughout the poem, a damning list of rhythms and rhymes.

But the mystery is this. The following, too, is from another 17th century poet, James Shirley, from his book, Poems, published in 1646—when poets called their books “poems,” since this is what everyone happily understood them to be:

Within their buds let roses sleep,

And virgin lilies on their stem,

Till sighs from lovers glide and creep

Into their leaves to open them.

(from “The Garden”)

The facts, here, point to poetic language, too—sound similarities of great beauty. The rhythm of “into their leaves to open them” is exquisite. Whole libraries of 21st century poems don’t contain poetry like this.

Romanticism, as generally understood, began with Wordsworth’s revolutionary decree that poetry should speak as people do; but looking back, this is confusing, because Wordsworth’s poetry has much more in common with the 17th century poets than with poets of the 20th century.

OK, the scholars admit, Wordsworth said it, but didn’t do it; that came later.

And since poetry of the moderns established itself in the universities, as poets in the 20th century began to teach creative writing, poetry gained an educated sheen surpassing even the 17th century bards (think of Eliot’s footnotes, etc) before poetry finally succumbed to Wordsworth’s homely advice—in the far looser, award winning, efforts published under the name of “poetry” today.

So again, what is Romanticism?

Is Romanticism finally rhyming about flowers?

And if so, how can such a narrow definition even concern us today?

Well, here’s the fact that defeats the fact.

Romantic poetry is poetry which imitates life.

Modern poetry has only an accidental connection to life—for modern poetry is an activity in which self-expression is primary; and the individual, to be an individual, owes nothing to life—within any framed expression (poem) of an individual as an individual. Life, here, is meant in the sense in which it is always meant—life for everybody, and not for the individual. Not everyone is romantic. But life is romantic. Life is a set of conditions which furthers itself. Just as romantic conditions are necessary for romance, so the romantic poem is a set of conditions for romantic responses. The conditions created by romantic poems—beauty, the awareness that beauty quickly dies—are therefore sincere; they reflect life.

The connection between life and poetry is important. Why? Because we have seen, in the last 100 years or so, how poetry can get away with all kinds of shit—and this is one of the things we moderns admire about poetry: it can do whatever the hell it wants. It can be disorderly, and be simply for itself, and not a condition for anything. It can raise its voice. It can be vulgar. It can attempt to frighten, or shock. And it pretty much does this all the time now, even in, and especially in, the academically lauded sphere.

Once license becomes licensed, license tends to become all there is. And nothing will be protected once license is king, except license, since license is the end of all activity qua activity. Poetry is an activity. Life, which completely surrounds us, is not. The moderns are acutely aware of how efficient, modernized existence is a nexus of supporting activities—oil drilling is an activity which supports driving cars, and driving is an activity which supports commuting to work. Protesting oil drilling is also an activity, caught in the great activity nexus, a corrective response to oil drilling—and the correction itself is an activity. Education is an activity which carefully separates itself out into other activities, and one of these activities is poetry. And so on.

The activity, separated out from life, becomes, by the further activity of advertising in the modern world, an activity which is an end in itself. Advertisements for automobiles do not include scenes of cars being driven to work, or for errands—though this is what automobiles are mostly for; no, the advertisements always show driving as a beautiful and exciting activity, reveling in the self-contained activity of driving itself. This is how the advertising industry (the new poetry) depicts driving. Advertising, like any other activity, is not life.

Poetry, then, or modern poetry, is an activity, and known, and defended as such, as an activity which is for itself, just like any virtuous activity, such as driving, of which modern society tacitly approves. It is not quite accurate, then, to say “poetry can get away with all kinds of shit.” Poetry is free, as a modern activity, to be free within its identity as the activity which defines it as a modern activity, supporting, in otherwise unrelated ways, other activities which comprise the modern world. Poetry is an educational activity which promotes linguistic self-expression, and just as a car in an advertisement is never depicted as a commuting tool stuck in traffic, poetry advertised as such by those who nurture its existence in the university, present poetry as an activity which seeks license for its activity: linguistic self-expression in the free and experimental mode. The poetry is not “doing whatever it wants,” but is free in a different manner. It is by the approved nature of its activity qua activity, defined as self-expression in words, practiced experimentally and freely, that it can do anything at all. And since within this framework, it pursues license as an end in itself—which all activities, as advertised, do, and since license always promotes more license, poetry has become increasingly disorderly, since only life is truly conditional and contingent in a manner which requires order (intra-semblance) as a necessity.

Poetry today is highly disordered. It no longer has specific conditions, because this would get in the way of its hard-earned freedom. Romantic poetry, however, is a condition, and this is the whole point of Romantic poetry, and why it does not resemble license-seeking modern poetry.

I don’t like disorderly poetry.

Even if its disorderliness allows it to be about anything it wants.

Orderly and comely poetry is the effect which literary Romanticism promotes, and this orderly condition, like a pleasant bedroom with a fireplace, this atmosphere (merely atmosphere to the modern reader who is quick to find overt romanticism superficial) belongs to the very process which makes conditions infinitely multiply, which makes romantic poetry a reflection of life—due to that very conditionality.

I like beautiful lines of poetry intentionally made, thus made with greater frequency than in colloquial poetry, in which poetic lines emerge accidentally from the prose—and I read entire books recently published in which not one line of poetry can be found, so dense is the book with the honest and colloquial prose of self-expression.

But the Romanticsm we are seeking in this essay is not merely what might be called the sonorous, superficial beauty of “Go, lovely rose!” Once we reject license in self-expression, which includes the commandment to sound how “real” people talk, as the primary criterion of poetry, the poem is now, ironically, free to imitate life, with all its contingencies, with greater facility.

Life, after all, continually alters things, enforces things, and imposes conditions, from without, on what we are doing; it isn’t Waller, then, who artificially approves of “Go, lovely rose!” Life  demands it; Waller isn’t permitted to speak colloquially (though he could) because a higher end is demanded—and higher ends are hidden within the conditions necessary to life. The concision of the poem’s opening, the lovely concision of its drama, like a simple pawn move in chess, operates beyond self-expression and towards conditionality itself. In order for the poet to speak, he sends “a lovely rose” to speak for him. The single word, “rose,” becomes a character in a drama. Self-expression, by any means possible, is replaced by a concise imitation of life, by any means possible. The poem’s message is enforced by the poet telling the rose what to say to his potential beloved. Waller is not expressing himself. He is writing a poem. “Go, lovely, rose!” achieves three things quickly and simultaneously; the swift expression of: beauty, drama, and theme. Mathematical expression annihilates self-expression. Romanticism is not the point at all. Conditionality is. The wooed, in every instance, must be won. The poet is presenting the example of the rose to the reader, by comparing rose and beloved; the alacrity of the expression itself matches the urgency of the message: beauty (rose, person) fades. One aspect of the poem is necessitated by other aspects of the poem, and all of these aspects are dependent on life, or wisdom about life, which gives rise to the poem as poem.

To illustrate Romantisicm from another angle, let’s look at its typical pejorative treatment by a 20th century critic: Delmore Schwartz on the romantic Yeats.

“…some of Yeats’s poems are full of a wisdom which must commend itself to and convince every man, Buddhist to Seventh Day Adventist. The second part of “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” is a passage the equal of Dante and Shakespeare at their best. But in general, the point of view of Yeats’s verse is romantic in its assumptions and its conclusions.”

Note the assumption that “romantic” is bad, while the authors who gave the world Beatrice, Juliet, and Ophelia are held aloft as the highest standard.

Schwartz continues:

“Even when he sees and understands much more than the romantic poet, the lurid glow of romanticism nevertheless hangs over the scene.” …

“An easy instance is such a poem as “The Scholars.” These academic figures, bald-headed, coughing and respectable, would be dumbfounded, the poet suggests, if they met Catullus or the other poets whom they edit and annotate, making a learned text of the lines

“That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love’s despair

To flatter beauty’s ear”

“How utterly banal a view! No doubt, some scholars are worthy of contempt for the reasons advanced by the poet. It is not a question of the character of the scholar, past or present, nor is it necessary to suppose that scholars are handsome and heroic figures. What one finds essentially wrong here is the romantic triteness and stupidity of the attitude, the implied contempt for learning because it is painstaking and not spontaneous, the schoolboy’s view of the absentminded professor, and the Bohemian’s notion of academicism: ‘All (that is, all the scholars) think what other people think,’ Yeats wrote, thinking what other people think.”

—Delmore Schwartz, “An Unwritten Book,” from Selected Essays; originally published 1942, The Southern Review

Schwartz, the Modernist, thinks of scholars as contributing to an important and valued activity, complete and worthy in itself. He concedes there might be some inferior scholars, as Yeats depicts them, but not all of them can possibly be that way—otherwise the “activity” of scholarship would be invalid, which, as Schwartz understands it, is impossible.  But when Socrates said he could not automatically transfer his wisdom to another person who happened to sit down beside him, the Athenian did not mean some, he meant all. The romantic poet, according to “The Scholars,” owes his poetry to desire, not scholarship—the former writes the poem; the latter merely edits it.

The “spontaneous” is the immediacy of beauty, the glory of unhindered free speech, the brevity of wit, the quickness and certainty of love, the leap of understanding (eureka) by the  scientist, and yet this term is the object of Schwartz’s scorn; the “painstaking” is a scholarly virtue, for Schwartz, attempting at a young age to please his New Critic masters, as he calls Yeats’ theme “trite” and “stupid.”

Here’s the thing. The “activity” is always “painstaking,” and sometimes evil, whereas romanticism never is. Schwartz, a brilliant short story writer, poet, and critic, currently enjoying a revival thanks to Ben Mazer and others, is nevertheless wrong in this instance, poisoned by the Modernism of his time.

It is true that the “painstaking” is often for the good—laying transatlantic cable, Mozart hand-writing his music, etc—but life in poetry is always a good, while any painstaking activity, weighed in the balance, is always, in itself, bad. “The Scholars” is a great poem.

The romantic poet participates in life, which includes love. The scholar belongs to an activity—which is different. This Schwartz view sees only a series of activities, with practitioners sometimes more, or sometimes less, skilled at the activity at hand. Romanticism is not an activity, however; it is life. Yeats does not say there should be no more scholars—there will always be scholars, just as there will always be cakes and ale.

Even as the occasional poet will avoid cakes and ale—and be the much better poet for it.

Life is finally the critic. Life is finally the poet.

Romanticism, a term which arose, in fact, as a subtle form of abuse by modernist scholars, happens to describe, quite often, the true poetic effect—which the painstaking, modernist scholar is unable to grasp.

Sometimes the light does not go on.

 

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