Washington Gladden



The Poetic Outlook. *


Literatur: Gladden
Literatur: The Century Magazine


FROM the coal-fields and the oil-regions the reports are reassuring. There seems to be no doubt that the supply is ample for the wants of the world yet these many years. Whatever comfort there may be in physical light and heat we may have without scrimping. But what of poetry? Is the supply of that running short?

Of verses there is no lack. Never before was there a time when so many people of both sexes had the knack of garnishing some sort of measure with some sort of rhymes. But is not the dearth of poetry somewhat alarming? Of our own leading poets (Bryant and Longfellow and Emerson and Whittier and Lowell and Holmes), three have gone over to the majority, and although the voices of the others are yet heard among us, and will be, we trust, for many days, the youngest of them is above three-score. In England the names that stand out with like distinctness are those of Tennyson and the Brownings; of these, one has been silent now for twenty-four years, and the others are gray-haired men, to whom the solemn chant, "Morituri Salutamus," is already familiar. Who are rising up to take the places of these poets of the people on both sides of the sea? It is a strange but not a singular fact that they have no successors by natural descent. What great English poet was the son or daughter of a great poet? Great engineers, great lawyers, great statesmen, transmit their power to their children; but poetry seems to defy the laws of heredity. In other paths of mental activity the children of poets are often eminent, but not in the path by which their parents climbed to glory.

The biologists say that traits often skip a generation, appearing in the third and fourth, though wanting in the second. The commandment of the decalogue which threatens calamities upon "the third and fourth generation," and says nothing about the second, is thus sometimes supposed to follow a physiological law. That notion is probably more curious than scientific. But even on this theory poetical genius does not appear to be hereditary. A glance over a chronological list of English poets shows that the great names do not reappear. Neither Chaucer, nor Spenser, nor Ben Jonson, nor Shakspere, nor Milton, nor Dryden, nor Pope, nor Wordsworth, nor Scott, nor Byron, nor Shelley left any near progeny who have been distinguished as poets. Mental power can be transmitted, but poetical genius seems to be an individual possession, not subject to physiological laws.

But not only is it true that the sons of the poets do [317] not take the places of their fathers; it is much to be feared that few successors are arising to them from any other source. In England who are the coming poets? William Morris and Swinburne and Robert Buchanan and Matthew Arnold – these are names somewhat noted, but which of them holds any such rank, or has won any such fame as Tennyson and the Brownings had won, and were holding, twenty-five years ago? In our own country it is not best to particularize; sweet and inspiring singers are among us; of the tuneful women, especially, there are not a few; but the fact remains that the places of our elder bards are not likely to be filled when they have passed away. The younger poets of this generation have gained no very strong hold on the multitude of their contemporaries. There is not one of them whose name is now known as Longfellow's or Bryant's name was known in a past generation; not one of them who is, in any large sense of the word, the poet of the people.

Is this because the present generation is less hospitable than the past generation to this high art? Something of this, no doubt. The arts of design and decoration, the arts that deal with things rather than with words, are occupying the thoughts of our contemporaries, to the exclusion of the finer art of rhythmic speech. Whether this change in the direction of the artistic motive is sufficient to account for the decadence of poetry may, however, be doubted.

It was sixty-four years ago that Mr. Bryant read his Phi Beta Kappa poem on "The Ages" at Harvard Commencement, and one of the seniors who listened to the poem was Ralph Waldo Emerson; it was fifty-four years ago that Mr. Whittier's "Legends of New England" was published; forty-six years ago that Longfellow's "Voices of the Night" appeared; forty-four years ago that Lowell's "A Year's Life" first saw the light. The times of which these poems were the product were different times from ours. They were times in which certain great questions of human welfare began to be hotly discussed. At the time when Bryant's first considerable poem appeared, a movement in church and in state was beginning to gain some headway, into which a large number of young men threw themselves with all the ardor of their nature. It is not necessary to describe all the phases of this revolution; it may be shortly characterized as the uprising of the sentiment of justice against certain long-cherished political and theological ideas. It was an ethical revolution; its strength was in its appeal to the hatred of wrong, to the love of equity and fair play. So far as the statement applies to the anti-slavery reform, it needs no argument; but it is equally true of the theological reforms simultaneously urged in various quarters. When Dr. William E. Channing wrote his critique on "Calvinism" in 1820, and when Dr. Nathaniel W. Taylor preached his Concio ad Clerum in 1828, the two men were far enough apart in their theology, no doubt; but the plea of both was a plea for justice against injustice; for equity against absolutism. They agreed in declaring that God had been represented to men as a tyrant, in protesting indignantly against this representation; and in insisting that the Judge of all the earth would do right. The root out of which the new theology grew was an ethical conviction; and this was true of it in all its varying phases. Whether this protest against the old theology was justified by the facts or not is a question into which we do not enter; it is enough to say that the men who made it believed it to be just; that the impulse that led them on was a passionate love of righteousness. Certain philosophical notions became entangled in this debate, and it was round these, at length, that much of the battle raged; but it still remains true that the theological revolutions of fifty years ago had their source in a revolt of the moral sense of men against what was believed to be immoral in certain theological dogmas.

It was this battle against injustice, organized into the institutions of the state and framed, as some thought, into the creeds of the church, that was raging when these great poets of ours began to find their voices. It is not necessary to tell on which side of this battle they enlisted. From their earliest years all of them were witnesses for righteousness. They are all endowed with vision, music, sense of beauty; they know how, as Mr. Austin has lately said, to transfigure life; but the fire by which all their gifts were kindled was the love of righteousness. Vassals they gladly owned themselves, not first of beauty, but of all highest Truth; and they hastened, in words of one of them, to

"Lay on her altar all the gushings tender,
  The hope, the fire, the loving faith of youth."

The poet, as the same voice in the same ode bears record, is one

"Who feels that God and heaven's great deeps are nearer
    Him to whose heart his fellow-man is nigh;
Who doth not hold his own soul's freedom dearer
    Than that of all his brethren, low or high;

Who to the Right can feel himself the truer
    For being gently patient with the wrong;
Who sees a brother in the evil-doer,
    And finds in Love the heart's-blood of his song."

Such was the inspiration of our greatest poets; such the passion that mastered them; it is not possible to conceive of any of them as existing without this enthusiasm of humanity, this genius of righteousness.

Their brethren on the other side have been of the same mind. In the last great singers of the English tongue the ethical temper and the Christian spirit have found full and masterful utterance.

Unhappily no such strenuous strife for moral values enlists the energies of our contemporaries. The particular causes to which we have referred no longer call for championship; slavery is dead and the protest against absolutism in theology has done its work, – overdone it, no doubt; for while no one now believes that God is a tyrant, there be many who seem to doubt whether he has any authority at all. The "advanced thought" of fifty years ago found expression in the doctrines of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men; what is regarded as the advanced thought of to-day finds expression in the dismal negations of a materialistic pessimism. The poetry that exhales from this abyss is of a clammy and spectral sort; the breath of life is not in it.

It is plain that the conditions are not favorable at present for the production of great poetry. A stronger faith in spiritual realities and a broader and more genuine humanity are needed for the nourishing of high poetic inspirations. There are some signs of a resurrection of faith, and there are great questions of human rights yet to be settled, not, there is reason to fear, with[318]out the confused noise of the warrior and garments rolled in blood. The Christian law has been roughly applied to the distribution of political power; it is. yet to be much more fully applied to the distribution of property. Before that thought and that fact are wedded, there is likely to be "a bridal dawn of thunderpeals," and the bard will not be wanting to sing the nuptial song.



[Redaktionsnotiz, S. 316]

* It should be stated that this paper was written before the publication of Mr. Stedman's essay in the September CENTURY, on "The Twilight of the Poets." – EDITOR.   zurück






The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine.
Bd. 31, 1885, Nr. 2, Dezember, S. 316-318.

Gezeichnet: Washington Gladden.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Century Magazine   online
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URL: https://www.unz.com/print/Century







Literatur: Gladden

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Décaudin, Michel: Being Modern in 1885, or, Variations on "Modern," "Modernism," "Modernité". In: Modernism. Challenges and Perspectives. Hrsg. von Monique Chefdor u.a. Urbana u.a. 1986, S. 25-32.

Hart, Julius (Hrsg.): England und Amerika.
Fünf Bücher englischer u. amerikanischer Gedichte von den Anfängen bis auf die Gegenwart.
In deutschen Uebersetzungen.
Chronologisch geordnet mit litterarhistorisch-kritischen Notizen und einer Einleitung:
Ueber Geist und Entwickelung der englischen Poësie von Julius Hart.
Minden i. W.: Bruns 1885.
PURL: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:hbz:6:1-124617
URL: https://archive.org/details/englandundamerik03hart

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Renker, Elizabeth: The "Genteel Tradition" and Its Discontents. In: The Cambridge History of American Poetry. Hrsg. von Alfred Bendixen u.a. Cambridge 2015, S. 403-424.

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Literatur: The Century Magazine

Bacot, Jean-Pierre: The Iillustrated London News et ses déclinaisons internationales: un siècle d'influence. In: L'Europe des revues II (1860-1930). Réseaux et circulations des modèles. Hrsg. von Évanghélia Stead u. Hélène Védrine. Paris 2018, S. 35-47.

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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer