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CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH POETRY* WILFRID GIBSON .TOme, as a writer of the older generation, it is a piece of good' fortune that the Editor, when he suggested the preparation of this article, did not stipulate that its scope should be restricted to a consideration of what is known, specifically, as "modern" poetry. Not that I, personally, am out of sympathy with even the latest movement at a time when the younger poets are displaying an exceptional vigour and enterprise -only that the term "contemporary" allows me a wider latitude of appreciation, enabling me to make a more catholic survey inclusive of a greater number of writers. I must admit to an aversion from the consideration of any artistic activity as a mere matter of mode: and the labelling of the latest manifestations of the creative spirit as "modern" is not only distasteful, but seems to me an unnecessary and slightly absurd practice. I have always disliked the customary expedient of classifying poetry in periods, a plan that, for all its convenience, is liable 'to separate into groups, by means of arbitrary divisions, writers who really follow each other in an unbroken line of succession. What the significant writers of any age have in common is usually a mere matter of superficial manners which obscure, rather than reveal, their essential individuality. There is, for instance a "period" resemblance in the verse of Byron, Keats, Shelley, and Mooreenough , at least, to date those writers-mainly a matter of diction and of a current pseudo-Oriental romanticism; and yet what poets could be fundamentally more diverse?·At the · end of the article will be found. a' list of the works to which the author refers. lEDITOR'S NOTE.] 1 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Poetry is no mere freak of fashion; and surely there can be no such thing as "modern" poetry, any more than there can be such a thing as "modern" life, if we would imply by the term "modern" a poetry or life that has , little or no connection with the past. Poetry and life are ever-Rowing streams, not to be frozen into periods and sharply divided, cut into blocks of ice for easy' h andli~g. Indeed they are one and the sil-me stream, a stream that everwelcome~ new tributaries; and in poetry the most daring innovator is merely an eddy, however much he may seem to trouble the waters, in the living curren t of tradition. True, there is a regrettable tendency at the moment to talk as if tradition and experiment in poetry were antagonistic to each other: but experiment has always been in, and of, the tradition of English poetry, the constant source of its re-invigoration; and the alleged conRict between the older and the younger writers, as such, can, at most, be only something in the nature of a sham-fight. And so, in this paper, I propose to write, quite uncontroversially, of current English verse as a whole, and ' to consider con temporary writel'S, not as "traditionalists" or as "modernists," but merely on their merits as poets, without the qualification of any arbitrary epithet: There is, of course, a sense in which all poetry is contemporary: but the commentator being subject to the limitations of time and space, I am obliged to draw the line somewhere, and on this occasion must confine my tentative appraisements to the work of living writers. Nevertheless, although the tradition of English verse-not even in the age of the Augustans, who so complacently made a deliberate attempt to stabilize their own particular formula, to petrify poetry for 'all time by confronting it with the Gorgan-stare of Propriety-although, as I was saying, the tradition has never been static, it cannot be 2 CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH POETRY denied that, at the moment, we are passing through an exceptionally disturbed transitional stage, and that, for the lover of poetry, the immediate prospect is full of exciting possibilities. The waters are troubled, and running a little turbidly; but at all events there are no signs of stagnation. I t is not so much that almost every other day a new school of poets would seem to be discovered...


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