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The Egoist, 5 (June / July 1918), 84–85

The February number of the Little Reviewanthology of modern French poets beginning with Laforgue, Corbière, and Rimbaud, has made sufficient impression to enforce some comment by the literary press in England and America. 2 It would seem from two of these notices that the struggle for civilization has not yet perceptibly affected the Anglo-Saxon point of view. Neither the New Agenor Poetryappears particularly pleased at having French verse called to its attention. The Egoist, having always insisted upon the importance of crossbreeding in poetry, and having always welcomed any writer who showed signs of international consciousness, is interested in this issue, and in the state of mind of the critics. The observer in Poetryis the more naïve of the two, and the less certain of his own opinions in French literature. 3 He appears to have studied at the graduate school of Chicago University, as he remarks that Rimbaud’s “Chercheuses de Poux” is a “beautiful adventure in child psychology” and identifies Corbière’s “Rhapsode Foraine” as an exploration “of folk-religion.” 4 He notes further that poetry in French and English seems “in general” to have never been farther apart than now, and finds Corbière, Laforgue, Rimbaud, Gourmont, Régnier, Verhaeren, Tailhade, Jammes, Moréas, Spire, Vildrac, Romains a “characteristically random list.” 5 The reviewer of the New Ageis more positive. 6 He concludes that as “so good a French scholar as Mr. Pound” cannot interest himself in “the A B C of French culture” (the mute “e” in verse), America’s affairs of culture will need to be conducted on a unilingual basis: if we cannot grow the grape, let us not import the wine.

There are two distinct points. One is the merit of the anthology as a representation of French poetry since the ’seventies. There are one or two contemporaries–perhaps Henri Franck–who might have been included; there might have been a little more Corbière; there is one side of Rimbaud not illustrated. I cannot think of any more drastic criticism than this. Laforgue, a difficult writer to select from, is very well presented. I know of only the van Bever and Léautaud collection in two volumes; and this is too big, too indiscriminate, and does not display the most important of the poets so adequately as the Little Review. 7 The latter does give in sixty pages the essentials of modern French verse for Anglo-Saxons.

The other point is the application of the anthology. It is not to be expected that any very large public in either England or America will ever take the trouble to read and understand verse in any other modern language. But it is necessary that any one who is writing or seriously criticizing indigenous verse should know the French. We insist in the face of a hostile majority that reading, writing, and ciphering does not complete the education of a poet. The analogy to science is close. A poet, like a scientist, is contributing toward the organic development of culture: it is just as absurd for him not to know the work of his predecessors or of men writing in other languages as it would be for a biologist to be ignorant of Mendel or de Vries. It is exactly as wasteful for a poet to do what has been done already, as for a biologist to rediscover Mendel’s discoveries. The French poets in question have made “discoveries” in verse of which we cannot afford to be ignorant, discoveries which are not merely a concern for French syntax. To remain with Wordsworth is equivalent to ignoring the whole of science subsequent to Erasmus Darwin. 8

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The Englishman coddles his conception...

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