restricted access Murmuring of Innumerable Bees. An unsigned review of Coterie: An Illustrated Quarterly, 2 (Sept 1919). Pp. 64.
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[ 129 Murmuring of Innumerable Bees1 An unsigned review of Coterie: An Illustrated Quarterly, 2 (Sept 1919). Pp. 64.2 The Athenaeum, 4666 (3 Oct 1919) 972 It is impossible to criticize in detail the assembled work of sixteen poets in a quarterly; especially in a quarterly so little tendencieux as Coterie – in spite of its alarming name.3 The intention of the editors appears to have been merely to collect the best poems which the best poets of a certain generation (and there is a certain generation) had at their disposal during the two or three months in which material for a quarterly can be collected. The attempt has been decidedly successful; the reviewer’s epithet “representative ” must be bestowed. The only poets of whose verse we notice the absence are those whose names we confidently expect to appear in following issues. That these issues will appear is warmly to be hoped for; and we may hope that, besides poetry, they will contain also some prose expressions of the poets’ opinions of each other, their views on the art of poetry and on the state of English literature in general. Even as it is, Coterie forms a current document which is not duplicated in the periodical press. The verse-producing units circulating on the surface of Great Britain may be reduced roughly to four generations: the first, the aged, represented by the great name of Hardy, but including several figures in process of oblivescence ; the middle-aged, including Mr. Yeats and a small number of honoured names; the ageing, including the Georgian poets and the curious shapes of Mr. Eliot and Mr. Pound: all these ages have already lined their nests or dug their graves. We could, at will, pronounce a fitting obituary over any one of these writers except the first mentioned. But anything we say about the present generation must be revised in the stop press to-morrow . Yet we think we can perceive two currents, travelling in opposite directions (or perhaps it is from two opposite directions), in one or the other of which most of these poets float. In or from one direction come Mr. Chaman Lall, Mr. Russell Green, and notably Mr. Conrad Aiken. The last of these three has steadily throughout his later work pursued a consistent direction; which is, briefly, to express the inexpressible by expressing the 1919 130 ] impossibility of expression. He is always just on the point of success; and when he does succeed it will be a notable triumph and a big haul. He is interested in pure feeling for which there is no equivalent in the visible world. But in his attempts he is brought, as are the other poets mentioned with him, and sometimes (not here) Mr. Huxley, to the point of merely asking questions (“Priapus? who was he?”).4 We believe that when he finds what he wants he will stop asking questions and provide answers to the questions we are never conscious enough to ask. The opposite current is that of the Image. Here Mr. Aldington and Mr. Read leap out, and present us each with his own kind – the kinds are very different. With Mr. Aldington it has always been true (as we should expect from the theory) that nine out of ten, being merely images, pass like clouds: and the tenth, because it is more than an image and has some other seriousness , arrests attention.5 His “In Via Sestina” is not to be forgotten. The present offerings are not as good as those in a recent Art and Letters;6 but if they are not presumed to be “permanent poetry,” then they are good for what they are. Mr. Read is apt to force his images; he uses big words: “ultimate ” for “final,” “cancroid,” “serrated,” “vitreous,” but his second image would be very good if it meant something more than it does.7 From both of these directions we find that we turn with relief to the neat, firm, if strictly limited work of Miss Sitwell. Mr. Huxley’s “Leda” is a long poem (it is creditable to the editors that they print such a long poem), which outdoes in literary sultriness Mr. Aldington’s frequent natural sultriness . The first six lines are a signal success in versification; the last part of the poem gets the suspense it is meant to get; the middle is injured by a learned titter. But the author’s erudition in his generation is comforting. It is a...