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BOOK REVIEWS The Edwardian Poets Revised Kenneth Millard. Edwardian Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. 199 pp. $49.95 HENRY NEWBOLT, John Masefield, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman , Edward Thomas, John Davidson, and Rupert Brook are the subjects of the seven chapters in Kenneth Millard's Edwardian Poetry. To include the seven Millard extends a little the boundaries of Edward's reign, pushing them back into the last decade of the nineteenth century and forward into the second decade of the twentieth. The literary territory, thus expanded, accommodates Housman's A Shropshire Lad (1896), Newbolt's Admirals All and Other Verses (1897), Davidson's early poems, Masefield's Dauber (1913), and many of the poems of Thomas and Brook. Only Hardy is limited by the strict definition of the period, The Dynasts (1904-1908) being the single volume of his under consideration here. Millard is, of course, quite right in refusing to bind literary history to the lives of monarchs. Poets who share much in common should not be separated simply because they happened to be writing during different reigns, whether they be of Victoria or Edward or George. Edwardian Poetry emphasizes what these seven poets have in common, and in doing so attempts a revision of literary history, not so much by the slight expansion of the period as by viewing the seven all together, in a group, rather than individually. And this revision, in turn, leads to yet another, which argues that these seven are better poets than they have been given credit for. Readers of .ELTwUl surely agree with this goal, but they will just as surely be disappointed in the book's failure to accomplish it. The common elements uniting these Edwardian poets include patriotism , a distrust of the artistic imagination, an authorial impersonality, an epistemological anxiety (the difficulty of knowing), and, most important , a loss of faith in the connection between words and things, in the ability of the poet to say what he means. Millard uses these elements not only to establish the poets as a group but also to rehabilitate their reputations, for by means of them, and of the last one in particular, he can show that their poetry is both more complex and more in keeping with contemporary taste and literary theory than we have previously thought. So it is that he takes a different approach to the poetry of Housman, an approach "which examines the text as an autonomous written docu91 ELT 36 : 1 1993 ment, liable to the corruption and duplicity which is the inheritance of the poet's medium, language." It seems that there is a lot of duplicity in Housman's poems, which is a good thing, because it makes the poems more complex and therefore more respectable. Lacking this duplicity many of the poems would be relatively uncomplicated expressions of stoicism, rather stupid stuff. In A Shropshire Lad LI ("Loitering with a vacant eye") the poet learns a lesson in stoic endurance from a Greek statue. Or so it seems, but this is too simple, too naively trusting in the meaning of words, too unaware of Housman's duplicity. The poem's last two lines—"And I swept out in flesh and bone/Manful like the man of stone"—are ironic, thus undermining the lesson learned from the statue. Or again, A Shropshire Lad XLIV ("Shot? so quick, so clean an ending?") purports to commend the stoicism of a suicide, but in fact ironically commemorates the homosexual guilt that caused the death. In Last Poems XL (Tell me not here, it needs not saying") Millard shows us how an interpretative approach based on the notion that language is corrupt and duplicitous can provide new readings of individual lines. We find, for example, that in the first two lines of the fourth stanza—"Possess, as I possessed a season,/The countries I resign"—"the word 'season' is appropriate to describe a mistress who is systematically identified with Nature." Most readers, I suspect, would read "season" as the object of the missing preposition "for," omitted in this elliptical phrase so that the line has nine syllables, as do all of the other odd-numbered lines. Thus, the clause would...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 91-93
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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