Disjecta Membra. A review of Tendencies in Modern American Poetry, by Amy Lowell
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[ 695 Disjecta Membra1 A review of Tendencies in Modern American Poetry, by Amy Lowell New York: Macmillan, 1917. Pp. 349.2 The Egoist, 5 (Apr 1918) 55 Miss Lowell, who not very long ago discovered six poets in France, has now musteredsixpoetsfromamongherownnation.3 ThesixareE.A.Robinson, Frost, Masters, Sandburg, H. D., and Fletcher.4 In this book Miss Lowell has included much biographical information which casts new light upon the poets treated, and she further illuminates the subject with sentences on Life and Art which are pregnant with meaning. I say “pregnant” advisedly, for Miss Lowell herself is not averse to the obstetrical metaphor. Here is her summary of the three stages of poetry: In the first stage, beauty is a thing remembered and haunting; in the third stage, it is re-discovered and intoxicating; but in the second, it is crowded out by the stress of travail, by the pangs of a birth which has not occurred. [141] This painful second stage is “embodied,” we are told, by Mr. Masters. As Miss Lowell herself says, “Words are stubborn things, it requires much training to make them docile to one’s purpose” [288-89]. But Miss Lowell’s words are well trained; and fly obediently from trope to trope at her bidding. Thus Poetry was to be “a forum in which youth could thrash out its ideas, and succeed or fail according to its deserts, unhampered by the damp blanket of obscurity” [159].5 *  *  *  *  *  * But what makes the particular delight of Miss Lowell’s book is the personal tone. Her method is as remorselessly intimate as Sainte-Beuve’s. Only quotation is adequate: Mr. Robinson, as his name implies, comes of good Anglo-Saxon stock. [10] 1918: Journalism 696 ] Mr. Frost . . . entered Dartmouth College. College, however, did not agree with his state of mind. . . . He stayed at Harvard for two years. . . . He was too old for college curriculums [sic], for one thing, for another, a married undergraduate is naturally set apart from his fellows and cannot, by the nature of things, get all that a university has to offer. [89, 91; TSE’s brackets] The whole farming industry of New England had been knocked on the head by the opening up of the West. [95] When Mr. Masters was about fourteen years old there came to Lewiston as assistant to the Principal of the High School, a certain Mary Fisher. [148] Carl Sandburg’s father was a Swedish immigrant whose real name was August Johnson. [204] In 1911, Miss Doolittle went abroad. . . . She had known Ezra Pound years before. [251] Mr. Pound’s connexion with Imagism is briefly mentioned on page 254, inthewords:"Mr.PoundwithdrewfromthegroupandjoinedtheVorticists.” He would not appear from Miss Lowell’s words to have had anything more to do with the inception of the Imagist movement than having been a member of “that small band of insurgent poets” [252]. Miss Lowell does not appear so well informed about Mr. Pound as about the poets with whom she is dealing. *  *  *  *  *  * As for criticism, I need only observe that Miss Lowell considers Fletcher “a more original poet than Arthur Rimbaud” [295], and affirms that Spoon River is the “great blot upon Mr. Masters’ work” [175]. And I observe that although Puritanism is a “virulent poison,” Miss Lowell exclaims: How many excellent books of a past age are neglected because of this over-insistence upon sex! . . . The plays of Congreve would be as well known as those of Sheridan were it not for this. It is slow suicide for an author to commit this blunder. [175] But the important point is this. Miss Lowell says that art is like politics. Her own rôle is thus Director of Propaganda. It strikes me as a most unfortunatethingthatthisall -Americanpropagandashouldcontinue.Amongthesix victims of Miss Lowell’s enthusiasm, only one, Mr. Robinson, is negligible; [ 697 Disjecta Membra and two, H. D. and Mr. Fletcher, have done work which entitles them to international standing. If one had only Miss Lowell’s text, without the long excerptswhichsavethesituation,onewouldenvisagethesepoetsasLaureates of some provincial Lycaeum. Literature must be judged by language, not by place. And standards may come from Paris, or even Rome or Munich, which London as well as Topeka must respect. Provinciality of material may be a virtue, as in the Sportsman’s Sketches;6 provinciality of point of view is a vice. T. S. E. Notes 1.disjectamembra:scatteredremains(literary);fromHorace,“disjectimembrapoetae”(limbs of a dismembered poet), in Satires I.iv.62. TSE’s annotated copy of...