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The Gospel According to Norton "When you -write mystery stories,you have to know something; to be apoet,you don't have to know anything." —Richard Hugo (NAMP, 1121) Once upon a time, there was a great, great poet named Yeats [55].' Yeats was so great, in fact, that he "dominates this century's verse as Wordsworth dominated that of the last." Indeed, ayear before this century even began, with The Wind Among the Reeds, Yeats "set the method for the modern movement." Drawing upon the discoveries of Romanticism —"diversified expression of the self," "the primacy of the imagination ,"—as well as upon French Symbolism—"truth in mental operations rather than in the outside world"—Yeats became the poetic overlord of the twentieth century. Furthermore, he inserted his own symbology, as well as his mortal body, into his second, or mature, phase, and dwelling "boldly upon lust and rage, mire and fury, he envisaged more passionately the state of completeness to which incompleteness may attain." In the shadow of what might be called French-Symbolism-becomeYeatsean -Symbology, several other great but clearly (and unexplainedly ) lesser poets were picking around the ruins, trying to make sense out of the new (though from a Yeatseanviewpoint, finished) century. Both Pound [31] and Eliot [28] "wrote about the modern world as a group of fragments." Pound believed in "'direct treatment of the thing,'" and in this way he was an allyof Williams [34]and his "no ideas but in things." Since "the general framework within which modern poets have written is one in which the reality of the objectiveworld is This essay first appeared in American Poetty Review, September/October 1990. 2 3 2 C O M P A N I O N S P I D E R fundamentally called into question," the reader is to understand that Pound, Eliot, and Williams were unable to achieve the completeness achieved by Yeats. Eliot's "sifting and fusion ended in a surprisingly orthodox religious view." Pound ceases to be of much interest after being found mentally incompetent to stand trial for treason after WWII, and in spite of his attempt in the Cantos to find a pattern, "the total impression may rather be one of shifting, intersecting forms, coming into being and then retreating on the page." Williams, who "agreed with the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud in opposing 'literature' as a phenomenon created by the 'establishment,'" felt that the poem should be "allowed to take its own shape." "He sees most writing as having taken a wrong turn and regards his own efforts, even if stumbling, as at least in the right direction." The few British poets "who followed the lead of Eliot and Pound made relatively little impact on their readers." Exceptions are Sitwell [5],MacDiarmid [4],Jones [10], and Bunting [6]—but they are all of minor importance and worth only a handful of pages. "For in England as in America, the influence of strongly programmatic poetry" (Pound, Eliot, Williams, or anyone with a new poetics) "wasbalanced by much more traditional modes of verse." Thus not only was 1922 "the year of The Waste Land and of Joyce's [8] Ulysses... it was also the year when a group of teachers and students at Vanderbilt University brought out a literary magazinecalled The Fugitive ." Up to this point, all the poets have been introduced under the Yeatsean canopy called "Symbolism." We are now in a period described as "Elegant and Inelegant Variations," presumably on Yeats and his lessers. While Lawrence [22] "centered his own verse in the passions of tortoises and elephants," and Frost [24] "converted his self-disgust and loneliness into verses of Horatian dignity," such Georgians as de la Mare [3], Graves [10], Sasson [5], and Edward Thomas [5] "wished to preserve rural England in traditional prosody." In this regard, they were compatible with TheFugitives (Ransom [i i], Tate [i i], and Warren [i i]), "who hoped to keep for the South some of its traditional values ." Fugitive ramifications are Empson's [5] Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), Ransom's The New Criticism (1941), and Warren and Brook's Understanding Poetry (1938), the latter of which "had a vast influence on the teaching of verse at American colleges in the forties, fifties, and early sixties; the influence was even greater on the many imitative textbooks it spawned." "In England during the late twenties and early thirties , the most important young poets were W. H. Auden [22], Stephen The Gospel According to Norton...


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