Ford Madox Hueffer



A Literary Causerie:
On Some Tendencies of Modern Verse



Literatur: Hueffer
Literatur: The Academy


I know now, because I have heard critics to say so, that Mr. Sturge Moore is by decent one of the pre-Raphaelite poets; that he has worked at woodcutting, has made designs; is a thoughtful critic of the plastic arts – that in all probability he is, temperamentally or by accident, an æsthete. I am glad upon the whole that I did not know this until comparatively recently, since the ignorance had let me approach his work with a quite clear mind. But, of course, every man must have a parentage and a jumping-off place; and the question is how far Mr. Moore will jump. It is for that that one examines his verse anxiously – for that and because he represents, typifies, and stands for most of the tendencies of the Modern Poet. One may, I mean, see in his verse at its least good pretty clearly, why Modern Poetry makes so little appeal to the modern world; and, in his verse at its really best, one may see some hope for an approaching renascence of appeal.

The pre-Raphaelite poets – from whom nearly all the poets of to-day, including Mr. William Watson and Mr. Rudyard Kipling, in one way or another descend – put back the clock of British verse so woefully not because they sought their "subjects" in the mediævil world but because they tried to identify themselves with the mediævil point of view. They could not, I mean, see that per se a sewing-machine is as romantic an object, or as poetic a symbol of human destinies, as an embroidery frame. But all the really great poems of the world have been expressed in terms of thought modern to them. It has never been the "documenting" of a poem that has been the important matter. "Paradise Lost" made its appeal because of its reading of live in terms of the seventeenth century; because it voiced the thought of its time and not because it was a fine projection of the mental state of the Garden of Eden. But the verse of the present day is almost entirely derived from the thought of the present day. It goes searching, as it were, the hidden graves, ruined temples, or golden closets of forgotten worlds. In consequence it deals almost entirely in "pictures"; and, at the best, the appeal of the "picture-poem" must be limited.

To a large extent it is a matter of the very bed-rock of all verse – of vocabulary. Imagine a modern poet lying on the beach at, say, Hastings. There is the hot shingle, a dove-coloured sea, a sky half silver half gold, and that most pathetic, suggestive and bewildering of all modern objects – the immense crowd. If we can imagine our modern poet being there at all and not hiding in an Italian cloister, what words will he have to describe the scene, what "tone" will he get into his poem? How will he avoid making it wholly vulgar, or how will he avoid sudden contrasts of "poetic" words with everyday objects? Yet assuredly such a "subject," poetically viewed – the great crowds pouring out of the vast towns in search of some sort of Island of the Blest, in search of some sort of Ideal, Joy, Love, Health, New Youth, or whatever it be they seek – such a subject is worthy of treatment. Are there no classical Idylls that treat of lower middle-class people waiting to view the opening of temples? And are these Idylls not Poetry?

Such subjects are almost barred to the modern poet – by his "poetic" dialect. He finds it, in fact, easier to ransack Chaucer or Spenser for archaic words that gain a certain glamour from their remoteness; he shirks the labour of selecting such modern words as should give his page aloofness from mere colloquialism, and instead of trying to form a modern language that shall be at once vived and delicate as an instrument he goes further and further in the direction of evoking a literary dialect from dead languages. And the difficulty of understanding him, however slight, induces a weariness in his reader and a general distaste for attacking new verse, since the appreciation of each new poet means for the reader learning a new dialect in addition to getting into touch with a new personality. We wait, in fact, for the poet who, in limped words, with clear enunciation and, without inverted phrases, shall give the mind of the time sincere frame and utterance.

It is not, let it be repeated, the choice of subject that is at fault. There is no reason why the poet should write solely of the Housing Question, the Sex Problem, or the new forms of locomotion, nor is there any reason why he sould not set his story in Persia or in Verona before the Renaissance. There was no reason why Webster should not write of Amalfi or Shakespeare of Elsinore – a dim antiquity; the point is that the mind of the poet should be modern. The appeal of Webster's Dance of Madmen was Cockney of the sixteenth century; and the soliloquy commencing "To be or not to be ..." was written by a man alive to the problems of his fellow men of the day. And, too, it is not necessary that the poet should regard himself as a teacher. But, whether he write lyric or epic, drama or contes in verse, it is necessary, if he is to appeal, that he should promote vital thought. He must rouse ideas in the minds of his fellow mortals; and, to that extent, he must voice his time.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Academy.
1905, Nr. 1742, 23. September, S. 982-984.

Unser Auszug: S. 983.

Gezeichnet: Ford Madox Hueffer

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

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Literatur: The Academy

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DOI: 10.14361/9783839451137-018



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer