restricted access The Post-Georgians. A review of Wheels: A Third Cycle, ed. Edith Sitwell
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16 ] The Post-Georgians A review of Wheels: A Third Cycle, ed. Edith Sitwell Oxford: Blackwell, 1918. Pp. 103. The Athenaeum, 4641 (11 Apr 1919) 171-72 If we are passionately devoted to good literature, we look for individuals; but people who are keen on literature look for groups. They are easier to find, easier to talk about, and their multiplied activity is more inspiriting to watch than the silent struggles of a single man. Within limits, a group is even a useful thing. Its purpose and justification is advertisement; and the best work requires the best advertisement; and a dozen people can attract more attention together than dispersedly; and if they can attract enough attention, some of them may be able to make a living. But when writers gather together not for advertisement, or forget that it is for advertisement, and believe that they really like each other’s company between covers, then their souls or the actualities of their bodies are in danger. They come to resemble each other more and more, and, like members of a family in old age, they become simply instances of a type. All that is now left of the Georgian Poets is what we may call the family features.1 Wheels, qua anthology, has assuredly made an impression from the start.2 It somehow or other, and without the actual accomplishment of any of the performers exciting much astonishment, indicated that an hour had struck, a mode had passed, that a new fashion had arrived. The new fashion was not in all respects so very new, but the most unexpected, and therefore the newest mode is to take the last but one and remake it. So the daffodil and the rainbow and the cuckoo were to be put away, and the Harlequinades of the harlotry players and the Columbines of Verlaine and Symons to be had out again.3 We are all relieved from a certain tension, as at the accession of Charles II.4 Wheels affected us as the painted furniture at Messrs. Heal’s affected those who were weary of the furniture of William Morris, and as the furniture of Morris must have affected people coeval with Morris.5 Wheels marked a change in fashion. Vers libre and Cubism already existed, but Wheels at least acknowledged the fact; it showed a willingness to experiment, a tolerance of various emotions, and a complete [ 17 The Post-Georgians indifference to simplicity. This last item is most important: for the previous literary mode had been wholly corrupted by simplicity. Great simplicity is only won by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort, or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit: the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language. The triumph may be of greater or less importance: in Gautier it is a triumph of technique – Le squelette était invisible Au temps heureux de l’art païen;6 in greater poets a triumph of simple vision – Dans l’hiver, la morte saison Lorsque les loups vivent de vent;7 or in Dante the Poi si rivolse, e parve di costoro Che corunno a Verona il drappo verde Per la campagna; e parve di coloro Quegli che vince e non colui che perde.8 Here the image and the syntax are quite simple: the feeling is infinitely complex. Simplicity is merely a means, a means of direct contact. It is a virtue of expression. Simplicity was not hard won by the Georgians, it was giventhembythefairy,andso,securelysimpleintheirhearts,theyneglected the more pharisaical virtue of simplicity in expression. Wheels, by contrast, has stood on the side of intelligence. It recognized that there are some pretty complicated feelings in life, which are worth a little pains to express. None of its members has yet found the great simplicity. They have found a formula;thepoetsresembleeachothertooclosely,andthatisapitybecause they do not really resemble each other at all. Mr. James and Mr. Vines are negligible. Miss Tree becomes tiresome, and shows no gain in technique. Don Alvaro de Guevara’s two small poems are not sufficient basis for searching criticism.9 Mr. Huxley is one of the few younger poets who have written a few interesting poems, which express very well feelings characteristic of adolescence. But his exhibits in this Wheelsthreatenhim–ifnotwiththegrave–atleastwiththeBloomsburial of his genius.10 His French poem is a private exercise, like a set of upper-form hexameters. In his prose poems, which occupy the...