The Public Voice: Remarks on Poetry Today
The Reality of Verse
THE prototypes of current American poetry are well known: William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, William Empson, W. H. Auden; to a lesser extent, Robert Frost and Marianne Moore. Readers will differ as to the value they place on any one of the poets on our list. Yet few will deny that it was these poets-rather than E. A. Robinson, Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Edna St. Vincent Millay-who have helped determine the style of our epoch. Both groups of writers are distinguished by a consistent attitude toward experience and by strong moral and aesthetic prepossessions. But while the members of the first group have succeeded in becoming exemplars, those of the second have not. Why this should be so it would certainly be worth while to inquire. Our own inquiry must take the actual situation for granted and ask a different question: what has been the effect of these exemplary writers on a succeeding generation? What have they been able to hand down in the way of formal and intellectual discipline, of moral insight, of human scope or passion? And one further question: has their influence been on the whole liberating or restrictive?
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