Early Modernist Poetry and its Competition

Minor Poets

Most surveys acknowledge that Modernism was a complex affair with different themes and personalities playing a changing role over the half century to its formal acceptance by English literature departments on both sides of the Atlantic. But behind many studies and courses is the unspoken assumption that Modernist poetry was self-evidently superior — broader-based, more relevant, better written — than the poetry it displaced. Even the best of critical histories {1} seem to say: 'Yes, traditional poetry was good enough in its way, and had a wide audience, but it was rather outmoded in diction, style and content. It wasn't relevant, wasn't the way forward, and doesn't help us understand the serious poetry written today.'

Survey Aims

I am not trying to set up an aunt Sally by over-simplifying matters, but it may help to see what Modernism was avoiding by looking at what the parties to the contest were actually producing. To keep the subject manageable, I shall survey only the first two decades of the twentieth century, and compare the best work of the Modernists with the best work of the minor poets, or those we consider minor today. For the present I shall leave out of account the major voices of Hardy, Yeats, Frost, de la Mare, Masefield, Bridges and Housman.

First the traditionalists, in no particular order. I have taken representative names from David Perkin's survey {1}, and will omit biographies and critiques as these can now be looked up on the Internet.

Maurice Baring

Dostoyevsky {2}

You healed the sore, you made the fearful brave,
They bless you for your lasting legacy;
The balm, the tears, the fragrant charity
You sought and treasured in your living grave.
The gifts you humbly took you greatly gave,
For solace of the soul in agony,
When through the bars the brutal passions pry,
And mock the bonds of the celestial slave.
You wandered in the uttermost abyss;
And there, amidst the ashes and the dust,
You spoke no word of anger or of pride;
You found the prints of steps divine to kiss;
You looked right upwards to the stars, you cried:
"Hosanna to the Lord, for He is just."

A traditional sonnet, but some inversion of usual word order and elevated language: not unusual for its time but rather dated now.

Stephen Phillips

from Orestes {3}

Me in far lands did Justice call, cold queen
Among the dead, who after heat and haste
At length have leisure for her steadfast voice,
That gathers peace from the great deeps of hell.
She call'd me, saying: 'I heard a cry by night!
Go thou, and question not; within thy halls
My will awaits fulfilment. Lo, the dead
Cries out before me in the under-world.
Seek not to justify thyself: in me
Be strong, and I will show thee wise in time;
For, though my face be dark, yet unto those
Who truly follow me through storm or shine,
For these the veil shall fall, and they shall see
They walked with Wisdom, though they knew her not.

Similar to the Baring piece, but also ending strongly. This is 'civic' or 'uplifting' poetry, of course, and with a vengeance, but with strongly modeled lines.

R.C. Trevellyan

from The Thrush's Song {4}

To yon thicket hind and hart go rarely.
(Flower of the bramble!)
Green have grown the woods early, so early.
Tell me, maiden, whom seek'st thou here?
Through the leaves why dost thou peer?
In these green woods wherefore dost thou ramble?
Oh beware, beware
Thorns that catch and tear!
Between the briars the primrose spreads so sweetly.

Outdated in diction of course, but comparable in sentiment to the 1899 Yeats's poem Down by the Sally Gardens. {5}

Alfred Noyes

from A Song of Sherwood {6}

Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake;
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a shadowy man that winds a shadowy horn.

Robin Hood is here again: all his merry thieves
Hear a ghostly bugle-note shivering through the leaves,
Calling as he used to call, faint and far away,
In Sherwood, in Sherwood, about the break of day.

Rather weakly adjectival, again not unlike early Yeats, but without the dreamy tone and Irish mythology.

William Watson

April Song {7}
April, April,
Laugh thy girlish laughter;
Then, the moment after,
Weep thy girlish tears!
April, that mine ears
Like a lover greetest,
If I tell thee, sweetest,
All my hopes and fears,
April, April,
Laugh thy golden laughter,
But, the moment after,
Weep thy golden tears!

Watson is better known for his patriotic odes, but could also turn his hand to lyric trifles.

So far the traditional poetry is rather tame and disappointing.

Maurice Hewlett

To The Belgians {8}

O men of mickle heart and little speech,
Slow, stubborn countrymen of heath and plain,
Now have ye shown these insolent again
That which to Caesar's legions ye could teach,
That slow-provok'd is long-provok'd. May each
Crass Caesar learn this of the Keltic grain,
Until at last they reckon it in vain
To browbeat us who hold the Western reach.
For even as you, so we are, ill to rouse,
Rooted in Custom, Order, Church and King;
And as you fight for their sake, so shall we,
Stubbornly, inch by inch, and house by house;
Seeing for us, too, there's a dearer thing
Than land or blood — and that thing Liberty.

A traditional sonnet, but note how terse and exact is the language.

Sara Teasdale

The Broken Field {9}

My soul is a dark ploughed field
In the cold rain;
My soul is a broken field
Ploughed by pain.

Where windy grass and flowers
Were growing,
The field lies broken now
For another sowing.

Great Sower, when you tread
My field again,
Scatter the furrows there
With better grain.

Sara Teasdale was not a Modernist but her simple poems were direct and deeply felt.

Rupert Brooke

The Soldier {10}

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust conceal'd;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air.
Wash'd by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

An accomplished piece, famous in its day. Note the quiet tone and varied phrasing.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ashes of Life {11}

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will, — and would that night were here!
But ah! — to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again! — with twilight near!

A free spirit and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the most respected and famous poets of her day.

Wilfred Owen

from Anthem for Doomed Youth {12}

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Another famous poem of WWI, with an ending that expands across the country homes that sent their sons to fight.

Edgar Lee Masters

Doc Hill {13}

I went up and down the streets
Here and there by day and night,
Through all hours of the night caring for the poor who were sick.
Do you know why?
My wife hated me, my son went to the dogs.
And I turned to the people and poured out my love to them.
Sweet it was to see the crowds about the lawns on the day of my funeral,
And hear them murmur their love and sorrow.
But oh, dear God, my soul trembled, scarcely able
To hold to the railing of the new life
When I saw Em Stanton behind the oak tree
At the grave,
Hiding herself, and her grief!

Enormously popular in their day were these 243 pen-sketches of characters from the fictional town of Spoon River, a composite of Lewistown and Petersburg. As poems the pieces barely lift above prose, but they are alive, unsparingly realistic in the American rural tradition.

Carl Sandburg

from Chicago {14}

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,

No one could call this piece irrelevant: such directly-phrased portraits of the contemporary world were a shock to readers brought up on more genteel traditions.

Vachel Lindsay

from General William Booth Enters Into Heaven {15}

Booth led boldly with his big bass drum-
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
The Saints smiled gravely and they said: "He's come."
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
Walking lepers followed, rank on rank,
Lurching bravoes from the ditches dank,
Drabs from the alleyways and drug fiends pale —
Minds still passion-ridden, soul-powers frail: —
Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death —
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

Such poems demand to be acted out, and Lindsay did just that, making him enormously popular, indeed famous.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

from The Growth of Lorraine {16}

While I stood listening, discreetly dumb,
Lorraine was having the last word with me:
"I know," she said, "I know it, but you see
Some creatures are born fortunate, and some
Are born to be found out and overcome, —
Born to be slaves, to let the rest go free;
And if I'm one of them (and I must be)
You may as well forget me and go home.
"You tell me not to say these things, I know,
But I should never try to be content:
I've gone too far; the life would be too slow.
Some could have done it—some girls have the stuff;
But I can't do it: I don't know enough.
I'm going to the devil."—And she went.

Again, this is straight-talking. Robinson was probably the most under-estimated American poet of his day — innovative, independent and determined, but also, especially in his narrative and philosophic works, hopelessly prolix. No one can read poems that go for eighty or a hundred pages at a stretch.

James Elroy Flecker

from The Old Ships {17}

I have seen old ships like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men call Tyre,
With leaden age o'ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

A well-known poem, outstanding in its rhythmic control and telling imagery.

G. K. Chesterton

from Lepanto {18}

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Only verse, but good verse, with an infectious rhythm.

Hilaire Belloc

from The South Country {19}

When I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.

Like Chesterton, Belloc was not a poet but an occasional verse writer, yet this is a piece of haunting nostalgia uses adjectives ostensibly simple but in fact operating on several levels.

Modernist Poets

I am taking examples of Modernist poetry from that most useful of anthologies: The New Poetry by Harriet Monroe (1917, enlarged in 1923). {20} Several points should be made. To an extent that will surprise a reader familiar only with only standard accounts, our appreciation, and even our understanding, of poets very much depends on the selections presented by the more influential anthologies. Those by Harriet Monroe and Louis Untermeyer {21} helped to define what was meant by 'Modernism', while others, such as the popular Verse of Our Day by Gordon and King (1923) have a much more traditional and homely air.

{22} But even Monroe can represent William Carlos Williams with:

William Carlos Williams

from Sicilian Emigrant's Song {23}

O-eh-lee! La-la!
Donna! Donna!
Blue is the sky of Palermo;
Blue is the little bay;
And dost thou remember the orange and fig,
The lively sun and the sea breeze at evening?
Donna! Donna! Maria!

The thirteen other pieces by Williams in the anthology are equally descriptive pieces but with less dated diction. Some poets mature slowly, or, conversely, the promise falls off, or is overtaken by other aims. Did Ezra Pound, for example, write anything more evocative than the 1910 'The Coming of War: Actaeon, also in the Monroe anthology?

Ezra Pound

from The Coming of War: Actaeon {24}

An image of Lethe,
        And the fields
Full of faint light
         But golden,
Gray cliffs,
         and beneath them
A sea

The second point concerns 'tone' or the poet's 'voice' Modernist poems are generally more sophisticated, elitist and given to allusion. Put another way, the poetry becomes less heartfelt, less elevated and less rooted in a recognizable landscape. Much of the imagery of poems by Pound, Eliot and others derive from French models, of course, especially the Symbolists, but poets also took to distancing themselves from readers by using persona that could serve as teasing or unreliable narrators, i.e. could comment on their own responses, as Pound was to do so in his contentious 'Homage to Sextus Propertius'. {25}

T.S. Eliot

from Portrait of a Lady {26}

And I must borrow every changing shape
To find expression . . . dance, dance
Like a dancing bear,
Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape.
Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance . . .
Well! and what if she should die some afternoon,
Afternoon gray and smoky, evening yellow and rose;
Should die and leave me sitting pen in hand
With the smoke coming down above the house tops;
Doubtful, for quite a while
Not knowing what to feel or if I understand
Or whether wise or foolish, tardy or too soon . . .
Would she not have the advantage, after all?
This music is successful with a "dying fall"
Now that we talk of dying —
And should I have the right to smile?

Eliot is here adopting the self-conscious, troubled persona he would extend in his famous 'Wasteland'.

The third point to make is that the Modernist poets had largely found their individual voices before 1920. Wallace Stevens's poems were to grow more enigmatic (and problematic), but they started as pieces firmly rooted in sensuous experience.

Wallace Stevens

Pecksniffiana {27}

Barque of phosphor
On the palmy beach,

Move outward into heaven,
Into the alabasters
And night blues.

Foam and cloud are one.
Sultry moon-monsters
Are dissolving.

Fill your black hull
With white moonlight.

There will never be an end
To this droning of the surf.

The real exception to such conformity is Ezra Pound, who was to make important detours with the Seafarer {28}, Cathay {29} and Homage to Sextus Propertius, {30} before taking up his life's mission in the Cantos. Eliot already had his half verse-half prose style, and the themes he would explore in The Four Quartets and verse plays. William Carlos Williams' diction gradually grows more America and natural, indeed colloquial.

The fourth point is that, by the showing of the Monroe anthology, Eliot and Pound have by far the most thought-provoking poems. But they are not necessarily the most accomplished work. As poems, I'd have thought the pieces by Flecker, Owen, Brooke and Belloc were their equal. That 'thought-provoking', for want of a better term, lies not entirely in what they say, moreover, but what they point to, that depth of importance which Eliot and then a vast critical industry sought to attach to poetry.

A fifth point is the 'unspiritual' nature of Modernist verse. Traditional American poetry in the early years of the twentieth century was popular and profitable, having, its supporters declared, the ability to ‘beget spiritual sensibility, to build character, and to refine one's sense of beauty, truth, or morality.’ {31}

Wider Comparisons: Major British Poets

Some of the better poems represent a level only occasionally achieved, however, and a fairer comparison needs to bring in the major poets of the time. Yeats I have considered elsewhere, and I will leave Frost out of consideration because of doubts as to whether he should be put in the Modernist or conventional tradition. Both Hardy and Bridges really belong to an earlier generation, but were much read during this period. It's exceptionally difficult to represent the best as brief snippets, of course, but readers can search further and make their own choices:

Thomas Hardy

from Castle Boterel {32}

And to me, though Time's unflinching rigour,
In mindless rote, has ruled from sight
The substance now, one phantom figure
Remains on the slope, as when that night
Saw us alight.

I look and see it there, shrinking, shrinking,
I look back at it amid the rain
For the very last time; for my sand is sinking,
And I shall traverse old love's domain
Never again.

Robert Bridges

from London Snow {33}

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.

Walter del la Mare

from Collected Poems {34}

When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Perishing be?

 Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller's Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.

John Masefield

from Sea Fever {35}

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

A.E. Housman

Into My Heart An Air That Kills {36}

Into my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

If we can set aside our contemporary prejudices, I think we will have to conclude that the best work by the traditionalists outdistances what the Modernists were achieving. Bridges shows close observation missing from William Carlos Williams. There is nothing to match the sense of personal loss in At Castle Boterel, the sadness of Owen's piece, or the piercing desolation of Housman's. The rhythm of Sea Fever was new to English poetry. I like the Wallace Stevens piece, but it's nothing beside Walter de la Mare's Fare Well.

Strategies of Modernism

At their best — and they're often not at their best: poetry is a very difficult medium — the traditional poems seem 'given' to their authors, to have a dimension of truth that's found more than created. In contrast, Modernist poems have a manufactured air: clever but somewhat portentous, promising more than they quite deliver. The minor Modernists are even less successful, of course, and the reason was probably the fad for novelty. What they tried was novel and refreshing, but in verse terms rather limited.

Let's return to Pound's enigmatic poem and see what literary criticism has made of the piece. Scott Hamilton {37} notes the musicality of the verse in its broken lines, drawing attention to the similar way the hard landscape of some of Tristan Corbiére's poems dissolves in the pale moonlight. Pound had included Corbière in his 1918 Study of French Poets, and Dr Hamilton draws parallels between the poets's 'La Rapsode foraine et le pardon de Sainte Anne' and Virgil's 'incertum lunam sub luce maligna'. Above the moon there is order ; below the moon there is only uncertainty. Pound's Actaeon has crossed the Stygian marsh and entered the underworld. Pound invokes the image of Diana-Hecate-Artemis of the Hellenic and Celtic worlds where Actaeon was punished simply because of ill-fortune, just as Corbière's drowned sailors and Pound's dead soldiers are punished for being caught at the mercy of fate. Pound does not ignore the horrors of war, or glorify its casualties as traditional poets were doing, but sees death and misfortune in a larger, mythic setting that gives meaning without a sentimentalizing matters. Pound's enigmatic lines are therefore like those Japanese paper flowers that expand from tiny fragments into their full shape when immersed in water, and they also need critical treatment as much as the flowers need water to display their beauty.

Does this help us to appreciate Pound's poem? Immensely so, but there is an important qualification. Traditionally in poetry, the expression is as important as the content. The poem is expected to spell out what it is saying in a beautiful and moving way. Pound's approach side-steps that need, through what would be called in programming a subroutine. The work is done outside the main program, in repeated calls on a subsidiary elements that work in another dimension. Pound's piece happens to be beautiful, but the beauty is not part of the message relevant to this world, and emotion is only released vicariously, on extensive reading of other poems in other languages. Much of the Cantos are written in this way, where the images, often puzzling, do not directly further the meaning, even when deciphered. Some would call this less than honest, since it's perfectly possible to come up with some poetic doodle, which really makes no sense in this world, but which could nonetheless be elucidated by scholarly erudition. I'd better give an example:

We came to the land of Cronus, fat
with sheep and divinations.
Dwindle into dry offerings. I
Have seen too much
dust, weeping and lamentation

What does this doodle I've written mean? I couldn't say, but would have no difficulty in writing long paragraphs on man's overweaning pride, on spiritual aridity, on the Jewish and Hellenic conceptions of repentance, and the like. And with poetry so created, by intellectual diversions, I could be entirely sincere in the matter, allowing each explanation to suggest new lines and new insights. No doubt, with a little confused reading in associated matters, I could warm to the enterprise, indeed become quite excited. Let's try to get Pound's truncated musicality, remembering that Cronus devoured his children to evade the prophecy that he would be overthrown by them.

Into the land of Cronus,
fat with cattle and inscrutable divinations
       we came. Bones
dwindled into dry offerings. I
        who had seen much,
much of weeping and lamentation,
of towers of dust in the conifer heat,
only the haze and a cool wind at evening
that came with quietness at each
       resettlement of earth.

That's easily done: no rhymes to meet, or metre, or line length constraints: about ten minute's work. (And, because easily done, disallowed by Modernism under charges of plagiarism: poets must find new pastures rather than enrich the already existing.)  But note the strategy. We have moved the setting to a vaguely classical and/or Mediterranean one, left a few conundrums for academics to get their teeth into, and opened a parallel universe in which the poem 'works', if it works at all. Is that what Pound and Eliot were doing? It was one thing to assert, no doubt correctly, that minor English poetry at the turn of the century was hopelessly ingrown, self-congratulatory and provincial, but quite another to replace the workaday world of most people, which poetry, at some removes, has to make emotional sense of, with detours into the classical world, Provencal song or Paris city life. Let's look again at the Pound poem, which is short enough to be quoted in its entirety:

An image of Lethe,
        And the fields
Full of faint light
         But golden,
Gray cliffs,
         and beneath them
A sea

Harsher than granite,
         unstill, never ceasing;

High forms
         with the movement of gods,
Perilous aspect;          And one said:
"This is Acaeon."          Actaeon of golden greaves!

Over fair meadows,
Over the cool face of that field,
Unstill, ever moving,
Host of an ancient people,
The silent cortège.

To understand the poem we need to know more than the familiar story of Actaeon and Diana, that in fact the man was a Theban hero and that his death can be seen as a ritual human sacrifice to please the gods or goddesses. But it's a very oblique comment on the horrific slaughter of WWI, and surely even more escapist than the stirring poems of patriotic heroism the literary establishment were promoting.

When literature courses expanded in the flood of educational spending that followed economic recovery from WWII, Modernist poetry became an accepted field of study in which academics could employ their customary wide reading, intelligence and steady application. In that new setting, poetry would still be made by skill, sensibility and inspiration, but its frames of reference had shifted to include a good deal of theory. How that theory came to substitute for poetry itself can be found in other webpages here.

More generally, what I am suggesting is this: Modernist poetry set out to be different — to challenge the old regime that had led to WWI, to focus on more mundane, urban and even uninspiring themes, and to replace verse with a democratic though deftly-fingered prose. Yet, against the odds and doubtful theory, {38} despite the 'innovations', a poetry of sorts did still survive, though one that became increasingly unread.  Today an unnecessarily difficult and often crippled poetry has morphed into the 'serious stuff', the poetry that schools and colleges promote as the only way forward, despite its thinning subject matter and declining readership.

Modernism slowly went off the rails, in short, and now caters for specialist interests. Where are the everyday affections, the 'human interest angle' that magazines and newspapers need for decent circulation figures? Where in today's 'serious poetry' do we find the larger issues of mankind discussed or alluded to — our common humanity, pride in home, country and its institutions, political affiliations, apprehension of truth and beauty, the matters that give dignity and purpose to lives? Victorian poetry was no doubt escapist, but not as wholly ingrown as ours. Literary histories denigrate The Georgians, but their Modernist contemporaries were even less palatable to the general reading public. Scan the small presses: how much of the material would serve for even a modestly entertaining letter?  All that once made poetry worth reading has been delegated to 'amateur' status, beneath the notice of academia and the small presses.

Traditional themes will return, I'll venture to predict, however unlikely that must now seem. Nothing resists honest enquiry for ever, and even historical matters as settled as the causes of the Russian Revolution, for example, are receiving sustained attention. Economic breakdown, war weariness, and discontent with the autocratic system of government overthrew the tsarist government, certainly, but that government was not so incompetent as supposed, argue the revisionist Russian historians. {39} Russia coped very well in the early stages of the war, and, by tying up troops on the Russian front, in fact denied the Germans victory at the Marne and thereafter.  Russia did not so much collapse as suffer a violent coup by the Bolsheviks.  'The Soviet government had little support and no moral base, so it came to rely on coercion and violence to retain power and push through policy changes.' {40} Something similar happened in the genteel world of poetry, I'd surmise, and not necessarily for the better. But, like the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, the unthinkable may still happen.

 I have only briefly touched on the competition to Modernist poetry, but perhaps we should keep the alternatives in mind when examining the work of Eliot, Williams, Stevens and others on this site.

References and Resources

References can now be found in a free pdf compilation of Ocaso Press's Modernism articles.