Why Rural Verse. A review of Spring Thunder and Other Poems, by Mark Van Doren
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[ 589 Why Rural Verse1 A review of Spring Thunder and Other Poems by Mark Van Doren New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1924. Pp. 69. The Nation (New York), 120 (15 Apr 1925) 432 Racial migrations and the economic conditions of modern life have had one consequence which, among so many others, has been neglected. The universal and rapid growth of the reading public has produced a variety of cultures existing side by side in the same village, in the same street, exhibiting differences even between members of the same family. How much more difficult to establish principles of literary criticism than in the eighteenth century, when there still existed a certain unity of the educated classes both in town and country, in England and America! Now we are divided by space, by taste, by faction; and here in England, in London, different groups of poets are almost unintelligible to each other. One of the points of division is that between urban and rural poetry. I myself – to make a personal confession – have never criticized, because I never understood, a well-known type of contemporary poetry which is occupiedalmostexclusivelywiththeEnglishcountryside.2 Mr.VanDoren’s poems have, incidentally, but not without cause of their merit, helped me to understand this defect. Moreover, literature has – partly for economic reasons, i.e., the necessity for grinding journalistic axes – tended to concentrate its activities in a few international capitals. There it becomes occupied chiefly with metropolitan emotions and sensations. And the metropolitan public, composed of various races and various social origins, has in common only these metropolitan feelings and emotions. Here too the metic plays a large part; for the metic, like the Jew, can only thoroughly naturalize himself in cities.3 Hence we find: first, that the most sensational and (internationally) successful poetry is of the metropolitan type; and second, that poetry dealing with nature has always a limited, but still a very strong appeal. I have no solution to offer for the problems of modern life. But, while we wait, I know that it is a good thing that rural verse should be written. We 1925 590 ] cannot hope for the comparative unity of Virgil’s or Dante’s Italy or of Chaucer’s or Shakespeare’s England, but we can preserve the fragments. Which is what verse like Mr. Van Doren’s helps us to do. I – to return to the confessional vein – cannot enjoy poetry about the English country, though I admire the beauty of that country itself; I do not so consciously admire the beauty of the American country (for me, Northeastern America), but it must have a profound significance for me, because I enjoy Mr. Van Doren’s poems in the same way, I think, that English readers enjoy the poetry of Mr. De la Mare and Mr. Blunden.4 I believe that it is of at least the same excellence; but I do not believe that anyone exists who could decide this question; the two languages have no absolute equivalence. So great is the importance of association, and so chimerical the ideal of “pure art.” Mr. Van Doren seems to me the more meditative, the more introspective; but it is difficult to analyze differences of mind, when differences of material are already so great (yet so intangible). It is not that I am treating any of these poets as “descriptive” writers; it is what they evoke that is to me so different. Mr. Van Doren’s verse is well written. (I question only his use of “intervene ” as a transitive verb on page 61.)5 It has an atmosphere like the clear, sharp air of mon pays.6 Although, in a review, it is unfair to the book not to do so, I do not wish to distract attention from my generalization about his work by quoting particular passages. I wish only to repeat that poetry like that of Mr. Robert Frost and that of Mr. Van Doren is a valuable antidote to the Manhattan brilliance and often sham originality by which American poetry has lately come to be known. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. Written between 7 Jan and 26 Feb 1925. Mark Van Doren, then literary editor at the Nation(NewYork),askedTSEtoreviewhisbookon28Nov1924.WhenTSEsentthetypescript of the present review on 26 Feb, he wrote: “I feel that my review fails to express the pleasure which your book gave me, but I was tempted by the fact that it proved such an excellent instance of a thesis. There is very little...