Raymond Macdonald Alden



The New Poetry.


Literatur: "1913"



SIR: In various current discussions of the work of the cubist and futurist painters it has been remarked that there are signs of similar efforts in the field of literary composition. Thoughtful observers are beginning to be conscious that in poetry as in music, the principles of Futurism have come to be accepted in theory and attempted in practice by a significantly respectable number of persons, and that their effect upon the present and future of these arts cannot be left without consideration. In saying this I do not venture to assume any complete understanding of what the principles in question are. Judged by their fruits, however, they may be summed up under the several formulæ which students of literary history recognize in connection with the familiar types of the morbid hypertrophy of romanticism – for example, these: (1) the exaggeration of the importance of a personal emotion; (2) the abandonment of all standards of form, and (3) the suppression of all evidence that a particular com[387]position is animated by any directing intelligence.

These remarks are suggested by a rather painful bit of recent evidence in the field of poetry. A year ago there appeared a new periodical, called Poetry, a Magazine of Verse, which was heralded as an organ which should at once prove that poetry still lives in these United States and help to make it live the more. It was said to be endowed; it was to pay all contributors; it was to emanate from Chicago – all these things suggested a fine hopeful vigor. A year has passed, and the magazine has seemed, on the whole, to maintain the hopes it excited; it has, at least, been able to present a considerable amount of new poetry from writers both known and unknown. But at the end of the twelvemonth the editor expresses some discouragement with the offerings that have come to view. The causes of this discouragement deserve attention. The young poets, it seems, are "pathetically ingenuous" in their attitude; they seem "as unaware of the twentieth century as if they had spent these recent years in an Elizabethan manor-house or a vine-clad Victorian cottage." And by this it is not meant that they are not alive to the current interests of the race, but that they write "in old forms which have been worn thin by five centuries," instead of forging new "chains for the English language," as if it had never before been subdued to poetry. Even Mr. Alfred Noyes tries to keep alive epic and ballad measures, and even Mr. Masefield swings into the stride of Byronic verse. The younger generation, we may infer, has not yet been made suffciently immune to the stimuli of the poetry of the past. They cannot, to be sure, read Greek – there is no complaint of sapphics and hexameters, as there would have been in other days – but they do seem still to read their Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, and to have lighted their fire from these poets, instead of viewing them as a builder of a modern casino ought to view "an Elizabethan manor-house or a vine-clad Victorian cottage."

In order that we may be in no doubt as to what the editor of Poetry welcomes, in contrast to these trite effusions, the same number gives more than half of its poetic pages to a collection of what may safely be called futurist verses. They open thus:

Will people accept them? (i. e., these songs);

they refer with elaborate indecorousness to the reporters, professors, and pretty ladies who will not accept them; they flaunt occasional indecencies which are at once harmless and inexcusable, because unconnected with passion; they are guiltless of form, as form is known to masters or students of the art of poetry – in short, they exhibit with wanton richness all the signs of what I have called the morbid hypertrophy of romanticism. That they are not without certain merits is not to the point just here.

I am firmly of the opinion that the morbid banalities of Futurism are better ignored than attacked, and should not think of addressing this letter either to the editor or the constituency of Poetry. But for those of us interested in the present state of the arts, and still in allegiance also to the old laws, it cannot fail to be a matter of concern that the younger generation, aspiring – as always – to do for us what others have done for other ages, should be nurtured in part upon the undoubtedly sincere nonsense of the editorial I have outlinded, and probably insincere nonsense of the verses that form its background; There is a moral here, of some sort, for all who can exert any influence upon the young. As I have already hinted, I do not think it is to the effect that we should raise the cry against the false prophets and their art – "Tear them! Ho! fire-brands! Burn all!" – but rather that we should renew our energies in teaching the right principles on which all true art is founded, and so enable our children to test and throw aside the products of distorted imaginations, even if they are fascinatingly novel and full of color and noise.

I have one other humble aim in writing this letter. Being at present an eligible witness from the great Middle West whence the magazine Poetry arises, I wish to offer my testimony that hereabouts, as elsewhere, the old poetry is still what is wanted by the two kinds of readers that alone count in the long run; the great mass of the plain people, and the great mass of the truly cultivated – the readers and teachers of literature. When Mr. Noyes was lately here, his Elizabethan ballads and Victorian lyrics were received with really notable enthusiasm – not because he is a great poet (whether he is or no is not implied), but because he speaks the language, metrical, emotional, and ethical, of our race. If the contributor to Poetry were to appear among us, urging his songs to

Dance and make people blush,

without the riot of advertising which preceded the paintings of the kindred school, his work would also attract two classes of admirers, but two classes which are fortunately small in number – the frankly lascivious and the devotees of art nouveau. "So hath it been, so be it." whether in the vicinity of Chicago or the antipodes.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Nation.
A Weekly Journal.
Devoted to Politics, Literature, Science, Drama, Music, Art, and Finance
Bd. 96, 1913, Nr. 2494, 17. April, S. 386-387.

Gezeichnet: Raymond Macdonald Alden.
The University of Illinois, March 11.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Nation   online
URL: http://www.unz.org/Pub/Nation/
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000495577
URL: http://opacplus.bsb-muenchen.de/title/339701-4
URL: https://digipress.digitale-sammlungen.de/calendar/newspaper/bsbmult00000681





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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer