In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ELT 37:2 1994 judge him by that. He is, to borrow a phrase, dependable as they come. Just like Mr. Hecht. Michael Bright _____________ Eastern Kentucky University Consciousness in Modern Poetry Hugh Underhill. The Problem of Consciousness in Modern Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 341 pp. $59.95 THE TROBLEM of consciousness" in Hugh Underbill's title is a tendency toward, or an advocacy of, "inertia and inaction" in modern poetry. Poets since the beginning of the nineteenth century, Underhill argues, have in various ways pursued a reality beyond space and time. This pursuit of the transcendent has gone hand in hand with an obsession with consciousness and subjectivity. In this, Lawrence and Eliot are similar. "A completed thought was a plumbing of a depth, like a whirlpool, of emotional awareness, and at the depth of the whirlpool of emotion the resolve formed," wrote Lawrence of the ancients in Apocalypse. And Eliot—who "perhaps more than any other poet . . . presents a case of loss of trust in the fruits of experience, a sense of the futility of action, of intervention in history; a turning elsewhere in quest of meanings"—says of the "auditory imagination" that it is a "sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end." In both cases, as different as Eliot and Lawrence are in other respects, the poetic quest is one which moves inward and toward the past, so that poetry is seen as a recovery. For Underhill, a number of problems arise from this, not the least of which is that poets have not only insisted "in extreme and even perverse ways on their difference from 'ordinary' people but on their difference from each other." Although Underhill sees some value in this, because "writers should resist the depersonalizing uniformity which societies are always foisting upon themselves," he is more taken by the negative consequences: "in the modern period the result... is an unprecedented isolation and fragmentation in our cultural life, and of the artist from the population at large." More pointedly, the poetic valuing of inner experience with which Underhill is here concerned "entail[s] the notion that social action and involvement with history are without meaning." This "often leads to misrepresentation of our modern situation, to exaggeration of the valuelessness in the modem world of public and 234 BOOK REVIEWS social roles. ... In such poetry, there is indeed a dissociation of sensibility; self realization outweighs engagement with Tiistory.'" I have been quoting from Underbill's introduction, which sets out the scope and terms of reference of his study. In subsequent chapters, he focuses on these issues in relation to the work of several British poets: Hardy; the Georgians, especially Lawrence and Graves; modern nature poets, chiefly Andrew Young and R. S. Thomas; Edward Thomas; Yeats; Eliot; MacNiece and Auden; and, finally, Ted Hughes. Underbill's reading of this landscape differs from that of other books which examine the same ground in a different light. In Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (1973), Donald Davie examined what he called the two traditions of modern British poetry, one stemming from Yeats, the other from Hardy. Davie had severe reservations about Hardy's poetic of the quotidian; Underhill, in many ways, tries to overturn that judgment . On the other hand, Underhill does not distinguish Hardy sharply from his younger contemporaries, whether Georgian or modernist. For Underhill, in the context of this discussion at any rate, it is W. H. Auden, especially but not exclusively the "English Auden," who "explores a way through" the "impasse" met by his predecessors by "implicitly recognising that there is no 'real nature of things' but that we give sense to things." Auden, unlike the other poets Underhill discusses, who are caught in the impasse that results from what Underhill terms Romantic "psychopathology," engages with "the dangerous flood/ Of history, that never sleeps or dies'" which makes "action urgent and its nature clear." Auden's sympathies are with the "ordinary," the "average person"; his poetry is not inward and pastward, but outward and forward; it moves not to a passive and subjective valuing of consciousness but to "objective" choice...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 234-237
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Will Be Ceasing Publication
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.