by Edward C. “Ted” Hayes


A Prefatory Poem (or a Gaggle of Goosefeathers)

Some will judge this essai the exact thing it’s not –
Distilled, unvarnished, contemned tommyrot
For asserting mod poets’ sad lack of discernment
And non-Sense of Craft – for expressing concern, meant
To blow a loud trumpet, to unveil a pose
To reveal the false emperors, stripped of all clothes
And rescue dear children, deceived by their ramblin’,
And led over cliffs by new Pipers of Hamelin
By a gaggle of goosefeathers, fluffed up in down
Patent-med poets of rhymeless renown
Who croon to us coyly, iPhones in hand,
A slithy-toved, saboteur, ill-gotten band
Of choristers brash, in fortissimo praise
For heralds mediocre, screeds untimely raised
All, scribes without vision, purveyors of the odious
Sacking the savory, inspired, melodious
Whose canon is aimless, whose object, despair
Whose howls make my cat run under the chair!
Ah, rhyme! How you’ve fallen on times unpropitious!
And meter! Your death, at a pace surreptitious
Is traced to the doors of these cardboard imposters
Who must never be named to Art’s glorious roster!
An example: from scratchings which endlessly pour
Out Academe’s window, and in at its door
John Donne is “examined” – his pow’r, undetected
Like a bug under glass, a man wholly dissected
‘Til nothing is left but pure Academese –
While the author reaps Tenure for speaking Chinese!
Think ye, these unvarnished lines are unfair?
Then say, why did Keats leave T.S. in despair?
Of this limning caterwaul I now make an end
Yet before I step down, there’s one fence I would mend
There are certain poets whose work is redeeming –
Can you find, in what follows, the which are the seeming?

For a gloss of the above prefatory poem see the end of this essay.



Forward and Overview

Most poetry in the English-speaking world, and virtually all that is professionally recognized, is produced by university faculty who publish in scholarly and purely academic journals for public enjoyment and their own advancement. It is “modern”meaning, generally, lacking in meter and rhyme.

In contrast, the poetry written prior to the 1920slyrical, high-minded, and authored by writers with little or no university affiliationhas all but disappeared, its place taken by poetry “slams” for the masses, and by something hard to categorize, but decidedly less than lyric, formally entitled modernism and post-modernism (roughly, 1920 – 1945 and 1946 to the present), two terms which encompass both the simply non-rhyming, non-metered style, but also a host of other styles, including obscurantism, word-inversion, and thought-jumping from line to line, all hiding under the impressive titles of imagism, symbolism, surrealism, dadaism, minimalism, and more.

The leading lights of these formats were literary revolutionaries who enthusiastically trashed the poetic canon of the preceding centuries. Under their influence metered poetry gave way to free verse, disciplined thinking to stream of consciousness, fundamental optimism to fundamental pessimism or neutrality, belief in a divine orderand with it, a clear moral orderto belief in self, nature, language itself, the occult, or nothing, while elevated themes gave way to personal confession, stark cynicism, and deliberate ugliness.

Beauty, the great single standard of art for the classical world and for the West, was removed as an aesthetic requisite.

And yet, great poetry has never had to win popularity contests. Its exemplars have their place in a pantheon far from the keyboards of the moment. Nor has the historic canon of the visual arts fully surrendered to the century just past, despite the efforts of a host of unpainters and unsculptors, who see heaven in an overblown image of a Campbell soup can. But now we are well into a new century. The time is at hand—no slouching beast at all—when poetry can again be written according to the aesthetic ideals, and toward the aspirations, which have given Western civilization its enduring worth.

Ring out, wild bells! “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”


1. An Outline of History

After a magnificent run of five centuries, much of English poetry by the third decade of the twentieth century had run off the road and over a cliff.

(For a modestly-stated critique of this decline see Joseph Epstein, “Who Killed Poetry?” Commentary August 1988. The present author decided on the same title before his awareness of the Epstein piece. For an exposition harsher than Epstein see Elizabeth Kantor, The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature [Washington DC: Regnery, 2006], a book described by the publisher as an expose of “the professors who have hijacked syllabuses to obliterate the great literature in the English language” and “a crash course on the classics you may have been denied in school.” For the contrary view, see Donald Hall, onetime U.S Poet Laureate, Death to the Death of Poetry [University of Michigan Press,1995].)

Why high-minded poetics suffered this fatehaving survived centuries of scientific and technological advance, the Reformation and the Renaissance, the emergence of global empires and the invention of both symphonic and operatic forms in musicis a fair question, and all the better for being so rarely asked.

But to professors with, or aiming for, tenure, who now produce the bulk of contemporary poetry, the question of who killed poetry is not stimulating or interesting. It is not even ridiculous.

It is inconceivable.

Nor do most contemporary writers find the question blasphemous, for they have long since  discarded the West’s foundational religion, a reversal which helps explain, as much as any other factor, their newfound interest in the commonplace, the undemanding, the complaining, the pleasurable, and—to complete the list—the scatological and morbid.

True, not all have gone this direction, and the infatuation with the worst of these styles has, since the mid-decades of the twentieth century, declined. There is a small but increasing band of New Formalists, discussed briefly here and at length in Part II of this essay, who are keen on reviving the old standards. Some poets never quite let those standards go, and some held onto traditional forms before making their reputations as modernists. All these will be considered anon. But taken together these writers remain the minority, rarely if ever appearing in respected journals. Creative poetry’s true north is still set by “culturally liberated” thinkers.


2. The Influence of World War I

How and why did this seismic shift in acceptable poetic themes and style come about?

The nineteenth century provided a foretaste. The poetry of Verlaine and Whitman, the somewhat raucousand uproariousplays of Oscar Wilde, and the more familiar writing-styles of novelists Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson can be seen, in retrospect, as a prelude, but no more, for the coming cultural thunderclap.

The thunderclap was triggered by an event: World War I.

Sometimes called The Great War or The War To End All Wars, World War 1 (1914 -1918) was an event of unparalleled material and human destruction. Previous to it, the largest number of casualties in a single battle had occurred during the American Civil War at Gettysburg. During that three-day battle in July of 1863 some 7,863 died. The total casualty figure, including dead and wounded, numbered over 51,000.

Those figures were cataclysmic at the time and remain harsh today. But they were dwarfed by the war which followed just forty-nine years later. During the year-long battle at Verdun in 1916, the total of dead and wounded numbered 750,000a single, prolonged battle in which casualties equaled three quarters all the casualties of the four-year Civil War. In the closing months of 1918, the final “Hundred Days Offensive” of the Allies which led to victory, resulted in a casualty figure of 1,856,000three times the death toll of the Civil War.

It was the most horrific conflict in Europe’s history, one which introduced the use of poison gas, rapid-fire machine guns able to kill hundreds of onrushing infantry with a few bursts, hand grenades, armored vehicles with steel treads delivering death from guns mounted in rotating turrets, bombs dropped from the sky, and the deliberate killing of civilians. The daily press introduced these horrors, in words and pictures, to an astonished public, along with the phrase “no man’s land”—a phrase denoting the killing grounds between stalemated front lines, outdoor cemeteries on which lay the decaying bodies of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of just-killed men, mutilated and stinking, with some pulled back as barricades to protect the next wave of soldiers before their charge into bloodshed.

The slaughter was front page news. Stories and pictures flooded the streets and living rooms of the world, with harsh facts made harsher by the sensationalist proclivities of the Hearst-style press and accompanied by effects both unexpected and unexampled. The Western world’s basic beliefs in a superintending Divinity of love and goodness, indeed in its understanding of history and life itself, were shaken to the core. From this intellectual and spiritual bouleversement, salted for many by the philosophy of the Bolshevik revolution in Moscow, came the culturally unbounded intellectuals who redefined the course not only of poetry but of Western civilization itself.

For a brief period the traditional—read, lyrical—poetic form held on. It was still the style among the British “War Poets,” so named for their support of the war, a group which included Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling, and Wilfred Owen; among Georgian poets Hilaire Belloc, Walter de la Mare, and Siegfried Sassoon; and with John McCrae, author of “In Flanders Fields.” The poems of these writers brought them deserved rank among the great poets in the language. But they also represented the dying gasp of that form’s monopoly on poetic style. N

(Brooke, author of “The Soldier” and other heroic war sonnets, served as a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy and died in uniform while sailing to a major battle at Gallipoli. Kipling, too old for service when the war broke out, reported on the war, arranged for his son’s enlistment, and of it penned his lesser known “Epitaphs of the War, 1914-1918.” McCrae, Canadian born lyric poet, physician, and professor of English and mathematics, served as surgeon on the front lines and died of pneumonia in the war’s last year while commanding a Canadian hospital in France. His poem “In Flanders Fields” was published in the London magazine Punch in 1915 and was used in countless campaigns to raise wartime funds.)


3. The Intellectuals’ Response

The war provided intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic a license for revolution in aesthetic standards. Ante-bellum poetry and literature had been sedately or profoundly sentimental, wholly grammatical, elevated in tone, clear in meaning and within standard bounds of rectitude. After 1918 the bulk of celebrated poetry went the other way. The adjective “Victorian” became a pejorative. Not all writers moved exclusively to offbeat themes or innovative techniques, but the underlying absolutes of Western poetic and literary aesthetics—which, time immemorial, had ruled all such novelty off limits—were gone, as absolutes, forever.

Consider, for example, the cultural contributions of the following poets:

Ezra Pound (1885-1972): “’We ought I think, to say in civil terms: you be damned’ (Palmerston to Russell, re / Chas H. Adams)”
Hilda Doolittle, pen name H.D. (1886-1961): “In me (the worm) clearly / is no righteousness”
E.E. Cummings (1894-1962), punctuation in the following follows the original: “while in the battered / bodies the odd unlovely / souls struggle slowly and writhe / like caught. brave: flies”
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930): “How beastly the bourgeois is”
Theodore Roethke (1908-1963): “I know the purity of pure despair”
A.R. Ammons (1926-2001): “Nothing useful is of lasting value”
Frank O’Hara (1926-1966): “there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that / ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it”
Anne Sexton (1928-1974), on the death of her mother: “And what of the dead . . . They refuse / to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone”
Thom Gunn (1929-2004): “Nightmare of beasthood, snorting, how to wake. / I woke. What beasthood skin she made me take?”
Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016): “The raw magi, part barbarians, / Entranced by demons and desert frost, / By the irregular visions of a god, / Suffragens of the true seraphs. Lust / Writhes …”
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963): “The vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year.”

Isnt’ that inspiring?

(The above list is only a small sample. Some English poets after World War II, known as “The Movement,” made a return to traditional rhyme and meter, but with the same disenchanted outlook. These include the much-praised Philip Larkin (1922-1985), declared by The Times to be Britain’s greatest post-war writer and in 2016 the recipient of one of the highest honors British society can bestow on a poet: a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner. Larkin achieved this recognition with four slim post war volumes known for traditional poetic style, a generally dolorous tone, and four-letter words, including the following: “They f___ you up, your mum and dad.” Larkin was praised by poet-critic Adam Kirsch (Invasions, Ivan Dee 2008): “There was no purer genius: / philistine, uncompromising, foul mouth stuffed with rust.”

After World War II rule-smashing continued in America with the beat generation in San Francisco, whose notables included Alan Ginsberg (1926-1997) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919 -). Member of the pedophile advocacy group NAMBLA, Ginsberg begins “Love Poem on a Theme by Whitman” with the following: “I’ll go into the bedroom silently and lie down between the bridegroom and the bride . . . bury my face in their shoulders and breasts, breathing their skin . . . ” Ferlinghetti established fame through an uninterrupted stream of nontraditional, anti-establishment diatribes in a variety of formats, including “Pity the Nation”: “Pity the nation whose people are sheep / And whose shepherds mislead them / Pity the nation whose leaders are liars / Whose sages are silenced . . . ”


4. More on Postwar Gore: Joyce and Eliot

James Joyce

Among the best known of this new breed was Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882 – 1941), best known for Finnegan’s Wake (1939) and Ulysses (1922). The latter is an experimental-style novel in which Joyce rewrites, to his own taste, several of the episodes in classical Greek poet Homer’s dramatic poem The Odyssey (c. 700 BC). Joyce’s narrative includes the following:

“It soared, a bird, it held its flight, a swift pure cry, soar silver orb it leaped serene, speeding sustained, to come, don’t spin it out too long long (sic) breath he (sic) breath long life, soaring high, high resplendent, aflame, crowned, high in the effulgence symbolistic, high, of the ethereal bosom, high, of the high vast irradiation everywhere all soaring all around about the all, the endlessness (sic) . . .”

And this:

“God! He said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a great sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. EPI OINOPA PONTON. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks! I must teach you. You must read them in the original. THALATTA THALATTA ! She is our great sweet mother . . . .”

In 1917 Joyce penned “A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight,” which begins: “They mouth love’s language / Gnash / The thirteen teeth / Your lean jaws grin with / Lash / Your itch and quailing, nude greed of the flesh . . . .”

The critics refused to label any of this either tasteless or incomprehensible.

T.S. Eliot

The well-known American-turned-Englishman T.S. Eliot was, during the 1920s, while remaining discretely out of the limelight, very much a part of this cultural realignment. Consider the following lines

“Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc’d. Tereu”

from his “The Fire Sermon,” a section of his celebrated long poem “The Waste Land” published in England and America in 1922. The poem, faithfully reproduced in whole or part in countless anthologies and school texts, begins with a section entitled “The Burial of the Dead.” In mockery of Biblical content and cadence an unnamed voice speaks to the “son of man”—Jesus’ phrase to describe himself in the New Testament—and asks him “what are the roots that clutch” and the “branches that grow. . . Out of this stony rubble?” Poet Eliot then gives answer:

“Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images . . . ”

Here is articulate, and complete, disillusion with Christian orthodoxy, written by a man who would soon become an icon of Western writers. Nine years after “The Waste Land” Eliot published his essay “Thoughts After Lambeth,” arguing that “The Waste Land” was not an expression of disillusion. But this seems more advocacy than fact. The poem, helped to its conclusion by ultra-modernist Ezra Pound and dedicated to him by Eliot, helped powerfully in establishing the legitimacy of the stream-of-consciousness, meter-and-subject-hopping, spiritually nihilistic style as an archetype for modern poetry, while consigning the heretofore requirements of poetic form and spiritual optimism to the circular file.

In 1923, after Joyce had written Ulysses and “A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight,” Eliot confirmed his own artistic identity by describing Joyce’s technique as “a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history . . . .”

Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” (1930) is further evidence. The poem takes its title from the Christian holy day during which believers have their foreheads rubbed with ashes in repentance. Published when his marriage was coming apart and the decade of the 20s behind him, it is often defined as Eliot’s turn towards religion. Eliot by then had begun describing himself as a “catholic-anglican” (sic) after an official conversion to the church. The poem both invokes God—capital G—and expresses a vague hope of finding something to hope for, thus representing something of a new start in Eliot’s views. But a start is not an arrival. Written in stream-of-consciousness form, without regular meter or cadence and with almost no rhyme, it begins with the following: “Because / Because I do not hope to turn again / Because I do not hope / Because I do not hope to turn,” and continues later with the following image: “The same shape twisted, on the banister / Under the vapour in the fetid air / Struggling with the devil of the stairs . . . .”

Perhaps the reader can find the Christian convert in this.


5. Ground Zeros: London, Paris, New York, Moscow

The leading lights of the new outlook congregated in various locales across Europe and North America, most famously in Paris, London, and New York. There they reinforced their new-found literary and social science theories and enjoyed both fleeting and lasting sexual relationships with their own and the opposite sex, often without the hindrance of marriage.

In London, the movement was led by the Bloomsbury Group (or Bloomsbury set), formally so named for the area in the city where the cultural banditti lived and socialized; in Paris at the salon of Gertrude Stein, meeting first at 27 rue des Fleurus and later at rue Christine, and at the bookstore at 12 rue de l’Odeon; and in Greenwich Village, New York, close to the intersection of Waverly Place and Gay Streets and at the historic Hudson Hotel.

(In the late 19th and first decades of the twentieth century Greenwich Village was already known as a mecca for the then-avant garde, including poet Walt Whitman, distinguished Beaux-Arts sculptor August St. Gaudens and writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Samuel Clemens [Mark Twain], and Hart Crane. After World War I the Village hosted a wholly different breed of artistes including novelist William Faulkner, abstract impressionist painter Jackson Pollock, dancer Isadora Duncan, surrealist painter Salvador Dali, and communist-in-training John Reed. In the war’s last year a group of enthusiastic residents declared the area “The Independent Republic of Greenwich Village.” By the 1930s it had a national reputation for its Bohemian life style.)

The Bloomsbury set had begun meeting a good decade before the war and for some time had been known, not for poets, but for writers, critics, and painters, all on the long march away from traditional guidelines. In personal relations many exemplified and justified sexual “liberation,” while the majority, in writing and pronouncements, opposed the Great War. Some of the better-known include avant-garde fiction writer and essayist Virginia Woolf, defender of pacifism, feminism, and lesbianism. She and husband Leonard Woolf formed Hogarth Press in 1917 which two years later published T.S. Eliot’s early poetry. Ezra Pound, the modernist’s modernist, whose injunction to poets “Make it new” became the simple explanation of poetry’s new direction, spent time with both the London and Paris groups. Robert Lowell, American Poet Laureate-to-be, writer in both formal and free verse and putative founder of the “confessional” style of poetry, and mid-century modernist Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Bishop, both made literary pilgrimages to Bloomsbury as did dozens of lesser lights.

In Paris, the disillusioned and the ambitious gathered at 27 rue des Fleurus and 12 rue de l’Odeon. Paris was a chosen site because of its relaxed sexual codes, acceptance of experimental writing, and inexpensive living. Rue des Fleurus was the home of French modernist and American expatriate Gertrude Stein. Visitors included Spaniard Pablo Picasso, co-founder of the new school of art, Cubism, painter of the famous war-protest picture “Guernica,” World War II member of the French Communist Party, and recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize. 12 rue de l’Odeon included the free-living, but not fully modernist, American writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and World War I ambulance driver Ernest Hemingway, along with complete converts Stein, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce. Joyce used the store as his office.

In Russia a lesser known (in the West) group of writers, film and stage producers, actors and poets, collectively called Futurists, created a literary foundation for the 1917 Communist revolution in Moscow. Among them was experimental poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, vocal spokesman for the Communist revolution and author of an epic poem in praise of Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin.

(Mayakovsky’s work was increasingly censored and his travel passport denied as Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin consolidated the new regime’s power in the 1920s. Mayakovsky took his own life in 1930.)


6. The Rest of the Story

It would be an oversimplification to lay all responsibility at the door of World War I. Along with it, and accelerated by it, was the decline in Christian faith and, more broadly, a decline in the basic moral beliefs held in cultures throughout the world and throughout history: belief in good and evil, belief in a divine and good Creator, and belief in the law of retribution (“you reap what you sow”; “what goes around comes around”). Avant la lettre doubters, both philosophers and poets, had been writing in England and the Continent since at least the eighteenth century. French poets had been chipping away in the nineteenth century but without official approval. For example, Paul Verlaine joined the short-lived Paris (communist) Commune in 1871; gained, lost, and regained his French literary audience, and died at 52 wasted by drugs and alcohol. The literary avant-garde in London and Paris had been burrowing for a good decade before 1914. The war was simply the last straw.

Two additional events deserve mention. The Russian revolution, a byproduct of the war, and the stock market crash of 1929 both contributed to the new direction in Western art and poetry. Each heightened the appeal of communism and socialism to Western writers and intellectuals, many of whom, believing that the next stage of civilization had been unveiled, now made Moscow a spiritual destination. Academia developed social sciences which provided a social-democrat, seemingly non-doctrinaire, view of society and economics. Under the influence of these two events, college-level economics turned towards the reform capitalist prescriptions of Bloomsbury economist John Maynard Keynes. Philosophy and education departments moved toward the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre and the progressivism of John Dewey. With the notable exception of some Christian colleges and universities, academia as a whole, both in America and in England, moved from preexisting absolutes towards a new Absolute: the perceived failure of the West.

(Nowhere is that absolute more noticeable today than in the accelerating rate of decline of university courses in Western civilization. A recent study by the National Association of Scholars [NAS – New York and Princeton] showed that, in 2010, of 50 elite colleges and universities rated as the best in the United States by U.S. News and World Report—including Amherst, Harvard, Columbia University, University of North Carolina, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and the state universities of Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, North Dakota, and California, and thirty-seven more of equal stature—not a single one required a course in Western civilization, down from 20 percent which did have that requirement in 1964. Just 32 percent made such information available in any form such as Great Books surveys or courses in general education. The study also found that, for all fifty colleges and universities, surveys of American history were no longer included in general education requirements. See: Glenn Ricketts et. al., The Vanishing West: 1964 – 2010 [National Association of Scholars, Princeton New Jersey, 2011. Contact:].)

Newspapers, scholarly journals and textbooks accelerated this shift and poetics simply joined the parade. The prim modernism of Marianne Moore in the 1930s, still reflecting the rules of an earlier era, was replaced by her own student Elizabeth Bishop, who contemplates in fascinated horror her own possible suicide in “At the Fishhouse;” by Sylvia Plath, who finally did put her head in a gas oven (“Dying / Is an art, like everything else / I do it exceptionally well”); then by a gaggle of the utterly wretched (on display at the Web site Morbid Gothic Poems – viewer discretion advised), and by the plain weird, including Mark Strand, American Poet Laureate 1990-1991: “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. / There is no happiness like mine. / I have been eating poetry.”


7. The Decline of Faith

There is another reason for the decline of post-war artistic standards which to this point has only been mentioned in passing: the shattering of belief in the doctrines and mores of Christianity. These had been the foundation of Western civilization, perhaps the defining element, with Biblical stories, themes, moral injunctions and overall outlook serving as guides to “polite society” in public and private life, and as overt inspiration for the shining lights of Western art, architecture, music, and poetry. With the loss of this foundation, a loss powerfully hastened by the war, European civilization, which until then could clearly be called Christian, lost its lodestar.

(For a formal “death of God,” the most memorable midwife was German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century, while it gained wider authority through the writings, political activities, and death of German theologian and Hitler resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed by the Nazis in 1945. A “God is Dead” movement blossomed in the 1960s. See Matthew Rose, “The Death of God Fifty Years On,” Commentary August 2016.)

Other religious faiths and secular philosophies hastened to fill the gap. Poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1957), who held to recognizable poetic instincts down to his death, wrote in his imaginatively-entitled Opus Posthumous (1957), “After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” But for many literati before him and for most in the generations following World War I even this sedately atheistic view was too limiting. There was neither need nor desire for a substitute god or for the moral restraints imposed by any religion.

(A small number of modern-era writers have defied the trend. Novelist Evelyn Waugh [1903-1966] converted openly to Catholicism in 1930, announcing that “Everything in the world that is good depends on (God),” and that “The Church . . . is the normal state of man from which men have disastrously exiled themselves.” From: Unpublished letter to Edward Sackville-West, July 2, 1948; quoted in Selina Hastings, Evelyn Waugh: A Biography [1995]. Traditional poets have found an outlet in the journal Lyric since 1918, and more recently a small group around the Society of Classical Poets [New York], including President Evan Mantyk and Joseph Charles MacKenzie, have written and promoted only poetry with traditional forms and values.)

A year before Stevens’ death the Beat poet Alan Ginsburg published “Howl,” an unrhymed, word-inverted protest against American society based on his worldly experience with jazz musicians, poets, drug addicts, mental cases and homosexuals. The tone of the poem is revealed in its first lines: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked / dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. . . .”

The above is not an apology for the truth of any religion, but for the historical influence of the Christian faith on both aesthetic standards and social mores. Its decline has been coterminous with, and a major factor in, the decline of each.


8. Life and Death of the “Emancipated”

Just how far down the liberated approach could take the intellectuals is evident in their lives. Many suffered from alcoholism, depression, and drug use. Writer Jack London killed himself by an overdose of a mixture of drugs in 1916, although whether his death was deliberate or accidental is still debated. Poets Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Bloomsbury-set writer Virginia Woolf each took their own lives. So, too, did Russian “Futurist” poet and Russian revolution supporter Vladimir Mayakovsky, who ended his life in 1930 at age 37. Plath’s husband, Ted Hughes, British Poet Laureate from 1984 to 1998, was a frequent employer of occult themes, lifelong stream-of-consciousness writer and a celebrity in London literary circles. He seemed to articulate this unhealthy side of the liberated approach and even foretell the self-destruction of Sexton (and perhaps the suicide of his and Plath’s son in 2009) in “Crow”:

“Flying your black bag of jewels
From chaos to chaos
Probe hard for those maggoty deaths
Which poison our lives . . . ”

Twenty years after his dictum “Make it new,” modernist Ezra Pound, for his support during World War II of fascist leader Benito Mussolini, was incarcerated in Italy for treason, and after the war at St. Elizabeth’s in New York for insanity.

Thus the modern poet, freed from all constraints and confinements. What shall we call this: poetic apotheosis, or the end of the line? Compare Hughes, above, who made the god of Christianity a laughingstock in “Crow,” with George Herbert (1593-1633), writing almost four centuries earlier on the Church:

“I joy, deare Mother, when I view
Thy perfect lineaments, and hue
Both sweet and bright:
Beautie in thee takes up her place,
And dates her letters from thy face,
When she does write . . . .”

and with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s aesthetic expressed in “The Rhodora” (1834):

“Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing / Then Beauty is its own excuse for being . . . .”

And compare the whole of the modernist melange with the previous, and main, thread of Western art and literature, as given by German romantic poet Friedrich Schiller in his charge to artists – and in particular, to writers of poetry:

“O sons of Art! Into your hands consigned / O heed the trust, O heed it
and revere / The liberal dignity of human-kind!” (“The Artists” 1789. Free English translation by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.)

The above injunction is preceded by the lines: “So, scattering blooms, the still guide Poetry / Leads him [the artist] . . ’till the time / When what we long as poetry have nurst / Shall as God’s own swift inspiration burst / And flash in glory . . . ”


9. Conclusion

We have paid a price for shedding the guidance of the centuries as to what is truly poetic. Schiller was not the first to note that civilization itself is uplifted by its creative artists. Aristotle, in The Politics, called for a close watch over the music listened to by youth to ensure that it formed good character. Poetry is not, and has never been, “mere poetry”; it has always been both a measure of society’s cultural level and a powerful guiding light. Which of the poets cited in this essay would the reader wish to clip and put in his scrapbook? From which would he teach his children, and from which take his own direction?


A university faculty (PhD  University of California 1967, political science) and freelancer in his early career, Ted Hayes moved into full-time journalism and is now retired.


Gloss of prefatory poem

Line 1 “essai” – The French word for “attempt,” it also has the connotation of an extended essay.

Line 2 “contemned” – Old French, contemner; Latin, contemnere, to scorn. “Chiefly literary” – Webster’s.

Line 4 “non-Sense of Craft” – This plays on the word “nonsense,” a one-word summary of this poem’s thesis, and “Craft” being poetry itself.

Line 6 “false emperors, stripped of all clothes” – From Hans Christian Anderson’s folk tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (Copenhagen 1837), in which a haughty emperor employs clever tailors who promise to weave him a set of new clothing which all will admire except those who are unfit for their high positions. In fact, the tailors produce no clothes at all, and when the emperor “wears” the suit no one is brave enough to call him on it until a child who cries out: “He’s wearing nothing at all!” From this story comes the phrase “The emperor has no clothes.”

Line 8 “Pipers of Hamelin” – A folk tale which appears in Robert Browning’s poem “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” as well as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. In 1284 the mayor of Hamelin, a small town in Saxon Germany, hired a flute player wearing colorful (pied) clothing to lure the rats away from his town and into the nearby river. The piper does so, but the mayor cheats him from the full amount promised. The piper returns with his pipe and lures away almost all of the town’s children who are never seen again. Some versions of the story have the children drown in the river, Browning’s has them disappear into a cave in a nearby mountain, and some have the piper returning the children when he is paid three times the amount promised.

Line 9 “gaggle of goosefeathers” – A “gaggle of geese” is a colloquial term. Just as a “flock of ducks” means a group of ducks, or a “pride of lions” means a group of lions, a “gaggle of geese” means a group of geese. But what is a gaggle of goosefeathers? Exact definition is left to the reader, but “bunch of nothing” is a suggested start.

Line 10 “Patent-med” – Patent medicines, a century ago, were placebos – in pill or liquid form – sold by phony salesmen (“snake oil salesmen”) who falsely touted their medicinal qualities.

Line 12 “slithy toved” – From Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” in his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The word “slithy” is, Webster’s tells us, a “portmanteau word” – meaning, a made-up word, composed of other words, which in this case Carroll made up himself. The word “slithy” is a combination of “slimy” and “lythe” (this explanation given as an example of a portmanteau word in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1950, p. 658). Borrowing from Carroll’s freedom with English, I have turned the noun “toves” into the adjective “toved.”
But what is, or were, “toves?” The word does not appear in Webster’s of 1950, 1964, or 1999. The following is from the website, the handiwork of Dutch woman Lenny de Rooy, a Carroll enthusiast:
“Toves – curious creatures that are something like badgers, something like lizards, and something like corkscrews. They make their nests under sun-dials and live on cheese.”

Line 12 “saboteur” – Here, the French noun refashioned as an adjective. Thanks to Mr. Carroll for the eccentric path now condoned as poetic license.

Line 13 “Fortissimo” – A musical notation calling for the highest volume.

Line 14 “Untimely raised” – An amended borrowing of the phrase “untimely ripped” in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Witches’ assure Macbeth that no person “born of woman” could kill him; but in mortal combat with Macbeth, Macduff tells him that he was “from my mother’s womb / untimely ripped” – in effect, unnaturally born.

Line 17 “canon” – “A law, or body of laws, of a church” (Webster’s). Here, the canon of modern poets is the absence of any laws. Adding just one “n,” the word denotes a piece of artillery and creates another meaning.

Line 25 John Donne (1572-1631) – Author of some of the greatest poems in English, including “Death Be Not Proud” (“Death, thou shalt die”). Not all moderns condemn Donne. Lionel Trilling and Cleanth Brooks have acknowledged his poetic abilities. T.S. Eliot offers him half a loaf, mentioning with approval “the massive music of Donne” and speaking of Donne’s “most successful and characteristic effects” (T.S. Eliot, review of Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems . . . .Donne to Butler (Oxford: Clarendon Press), in the [London] Times Literary Supplement, October 1921.
But others are more severe. C.S. Lewis, modern but no modernist, considered Donne overrated. Stanley Fish describes Donne’s work as “bulimic” – a word describing the illness of overeating followed by vomiting. British academic John Carey, twice chair of the Booker Prize and a prolific poetry critic known for his cynical view of high culture, in his full-length study of Donne’s life and poetry (John Donne: Life Mind and Art, first published 1981, revised 1990, republished by Faber and Faber/Faber Finds in 2008) decries Donne’s poetry as powerful only as it reflects the poet’s personal social aspirations, while displaying a masculine drive to dominate. Dr. Freud, take a bow.

Corrections to the above essay were made on March 7, 2019. 



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68 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson


    I deeply appreciate all the work you’ve put in to explicate the cultural disaster that hyper-modernism has brought to bear on those of us who still cleave to venerable traditions. I sincerely hope that publication itself will be for you sufficient justification of your painstaking effort.

    • Edward hayes

      Mr. Anderson, I appreciate your reaction, and especially your phrase “cultural disaster,” which sums up my essay.

      • James Sale

        It’s important to say that being a ‘great metaphor’ does not mean assent to its tenor, however that may be interpreted; only liberals seem to want to ban ‘unacceptable’ books and ideas and as I am not a liberal, then I do not. I believe in freedom of speech and of ideas and that all books should be available. But great metaphor, though. And again, because one person coins one great metaphor, or one great poem, does not imply that one likes or approves of others that that same person may coin. There is a complete failure of logic in these assumptions. Further, I made it very clear when I endorsed Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle, that I did not consider him a modernist although he was active in their period. As I said, his love of classical forms – and his villanelle being a great example – virtually precluded him being a modernist. So, regarding his comments on ‘Mr Sale’, I utterly fail to see the relevance, the logic or the perspicacity of what ‘Mr Bede’ is asserting. There are many good examples of contributions from the BDW on these pages, but sadly this is not one of them and is a lapse in judgement.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    With C.B., I also appreciate the thought that has gone into writing this piece.

    My one comment will be limited to a response to the question (which lacks a question mark) regarding T.S. Eliot and “Ash Wednesday.”

    “Perhaps the reader can find the Christian convert in this.”

    When he wrote “Ash Wednesday,” Eliot was in the pangs of being reborn from one world (atheist/modernist) into another (Christian/traditionalist). It was a painful, disorienting, even humiliating moment in his life. This “poem” (it is clearly not one of his best) is his first attempt to put the shattered pieces of his universe back together (see the history of the West Window of Winchester Cathedral for a architectural simile).

    In a sense, Ash Wednesday is his first public confession–his coming out of the closet, so to speak. In publishing this poem he was burning social, artistic, and academic bridges he had spent a lifetime building; all in the still uncertain hope that his all-or-nothing gamble would pan out–a leap of faith, so to speak–with Ash Wednesday written when he was still up in the air and had not yet arrived at a safe landing.

    Some ten years later, in the attempt to articulate his deepening faith in the Four Quartets, we find that he is still trying to find a way to put his experience of faith into words. In East Coker he famously admits to this difficulty, “That was a way of putting it–not very satisfactory:/A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,/Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle/With words and meanings.”

    And again, several years further on, in Little Gidding, “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”

    Eliot was not the only modernist who struggled with this transition to Christianity. C.S. Lewis (although, being a medievalist, gave him a rational, prosaic advantage over Eliot) also spent his post conversion years trying to articulate his faith in contemporary language. Lesser known is Stravinsky’s return to Russian Orthodoxy, at which point he composed a neo-traditional setting for the Mass.

    Eliot did not believe that becoming a Christian required him to return to the poetic style of Milton or Donne, any more that Lewis felt the urge to revert to writing about God in the language of the Authorized Version of the Bible, or Stravinsky felt the need to compose sacred music in either the style of Bortniansky or the imitative work of Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff.

    Can Christian faith be articulated in “modernist” poetic styles?

    Can God be glorified in contemporary musical forms?

    These are questions worth a conversation. What is not debatable, however, is that for each of these men, Eliot, Lewis and Stravinsky, conversion to the Christian faith changed the way they approached their creative vocations. Many critics believe that the work of both Eliot and Stravinsky lost its edge following their conversion. That there was, in fact, a change–whether for good or ill–is obvious

    In any case, returning to the original question regarding “Ash Wednesday:”

    “Perhaps the reader can find the Christian convert in this.”

    My response is, “I do.”

    • C.B. Anderson


      I defer to you on all matters regarding Eliot, but I can’t help wondering whether he was disappointed for never having written a poem half as good as Arnold’s “Dover Beach”. Ezra Pound served him ill, no friend at all, in my opinion. Better had Pound’s Cantos been edited by Eliot, for then we might have been spared a hefty load of crap.

    • Edward Hayes

      Mr. Tweedie, I am perhaps overstating by taking on a person of your reputation and ability. But as I read your comment it seems to replacing what Eliot wrote with your own question. Of course, faith in God or traditional values can be expressed in modernist poetry. The question, re Eliot, is whether that is what happened in his “After Lambeth” (1930) poem? My answer in the essay is a definite “No,” and I use the following from his poem to make the point:

      “Because / Because I do not hope to turn again / Because I do not hope / Because I do not hope to turn,” and continues later with the following image: “The same shape twisted, on the banister / Under the vapour in the fetid air / Struggling with the devil of the stairs . . . .’

      I still do not see the Christian convert in this. Help me!

      • James A. Tweedie

        Mr. Hayes, By chance I happened to discover your comment reply this evening. I will grant you that the passages you cite convey more of the sense of spiritual/intellectual struggle and doubt than of conviction and faith. There are, of course, other sections of the poem that more clearly articulate his newfound “conversion/adoption” of the Christian faith. With unfeigned sincerity, he embraces snippets of Christian liturgy, the image of Mary, shares a mystical meditation of the “Word” and “words,” contrasts images of “light” with “those who walk in darkness,” and calls for intercession for both those who choose and for those who do not. As I see it, he has climbed the third stair and has left his (literal or metaphorical) struggle with the devil behind him, lost in the darkness of the past. He has made his confession that, “Lord, I am not worthy,” and has asked for “God to have mercy upon us.” He has wandered in the desert (an multi-faceted image that reflects the 40 years of Israel’s wandering, the desiccated bones referenced by Ezekiel, Jesus’ 40 day of temptation, and the spiritual separation from the world by the early Desert Fathers). He experiences something similar to the medieval mysticism articulated in the “Cloud of Unknowing” (ie. “Because I know and do not know . . .”). He speaks personally of experiencing the “dreamlike twilight between birth and dying.” He concludes the poem with a cry to Mary and to God, asserting that “Even among these rocks, Our peace in His will.” He prays, “Suffer me not to be separated,” and, at the last, he prays, “And let my cry come unto Thee.” There is clear movement in this poem from chaos to order, from turmoil to peace, and from darkness to light. Whereas once there was a time when he was not able/willing to “hope to turn again,” it is clear that at the poems conclusion, he has embraced the core significance of Ash Wednesday, which is to repent (i.e. to “turn”), to confess, and to begin the spiritual 40-day twilight pilgrimage of Lent that leads through the austere participation in self-mortification (the act of “dying” to sin-symbolized by the mark of ashes and the words, “From dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return”); a journey which will lead him to Good Friday, the cross, the tomb and then to Easter and new “birth.” As I said in my previous comment, I do not find it difficult to detect a convert to the Christian faith in this poem.

    • Veronica

      Thank you, this was informational. I also appreciate the parallel of your response to the renewal of Baptism. 🙂

  3. james sale

    One may quibble about this point or that, but in essence this is a wonderful expose of the horror that was and is modernism/post-modernism. One of the fascinating aspects of it, which this essay picks up as a thread, and which could be developed even more, is or are the endings: how the lives lived with these negative, counter-productive, anti-life beliefs finally end up. And few of them end well. It is one thing to end badly because of principle – to be a prophet of the Lord (or of any religion) and to suffer because the world persecutes you – it is entirely another to find suicide attractive and to embrace all that is low in life and to encourage others to do so. We have to make the case that being a drunk didn’t help Dylan Thomas write poetry; it destroyed his gift. That drugs, depression and excess aren’t part of creativity; they are the escape from it. But well done – wonderful work here.

    • C.B. Anderson

      James Sale,

      You’ve nailed it down in regard to Dylan Thomas. I don’t much care how he got there (he wasn’t ashamed of his drinking), and I don’t know what he would have accomplished without his famous crutch, but his “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” was worth every sip.

      • James Sale

        Thanks CB. Of course, Thomas wasn’t a modernist – he loved form too much and was really good at not only using traditional ones (his Do Not Go Gentle being possibly the best villanelle ever written) but creating his own. And as you comment, he wrote some fine poems. It was the New York coroner who wrote that he died of a ‘severe insult to the brain’. I guess I take the view that he would have been a better poet without the stimulants than with them; but such a case is never provable. In mentioning him I am just adding to the list of self-destruct victims, along with the modernist and post-modernists, whose dire belief systems led them to such an impasse.

    • Edward Hayes

      April 10, 2019
      Mr. Sale, A perspicacious comment, in the view of the unhumble author of the essay. It would be interesting to know which of the current, and recent-past, modern poets and literati are now, or were, on drugs, and whether the needles lying around in the streets of San Francisco today belong to any of them

  4. Mark Stone

    Ted, The essay is well researched, well written and very informative. Thank you!

  5. Sameen Shakya

    I would agree with the essence of what the essay said had it not bashed Modernism so easily. Also, the fetishization of English poetry pre- 1920 is just boring. Before Pound and his ilk came to change poetry, or to “make it new”, poems weren’t the high minded works of art described in the essay. They were self reflecting works filled to the brim with verbal ornaments with exercises in meter the public would surely never understand. Though I agree that modern poetry, for the most part, is rhythm-less, unmelodious and an arse-gravy of personal narratives I’ve realized that it has less to do with poetry and more with how fragmented the world is, and due to this personal narratives are the only way to write for lack of a common mythology that the old poets had. We can no longer rely on alluding to the greco-roman mythology for our metaphors, nor the judeo-Christian myths. The world has become to large and in such a world if a collective unconscious is to be probed the only mythology available is the human heart. Though I agree not a lot of poets have probed it well. There’s those that fondle the surface (like some instagram poets I could name), and there’s those that delve in too deep, create one or two wonderful poems, and then disappear in their own mediocrity. Our duty as 21st century poets is to find the happy middle, and, like Rimbaud, become the new seers of this fragmented world.

    And by the way, the pretension of this essay just turned me off. Poetry nowadays isn’t a golden age, but at least now we’re hearing more voices than old white dudes’. Instead of saying poetry’s dead we oughta make it new, eh?

    • C.B. Anderson

      Dear S.S.,

      Exactly what do you find in Modernism that doesn’t deserved to be bashed? It’s a consummate aesthetic failure on so many levels. But maybe you don’t believe in levels or hierarchies. In the end, does is all come down to De gustibus non est disputandum? Or is there actual order in the universe of discourse?

      • Sameen Shakya

        Dear C.B.

        There is a lot in Modernism that does not deserve to be bashed. It is important to note that before Modernism came about there was a dearth of progress in Anglo-American Poetry. Housman and Swinburne were the exceptions to the norm with the norm being sentimental verse that were akin to the pop songs you here on the radio today. Poetry was flaccid and paralytic. Modernism was the much needed kick start to the heart of Poetry that brought about a myriad of varied verse- from the avant garde of the Early Modernists such as Elliot, Pound, H.D. to the formal poetry infused with a touch of the Modern such as Frost, Auden and Larkin. Modernism was the big bang that diversified poetry from the normal ABAB rhymes (Yes, yes, we all know there was more to that but it still stuck to the basics) to something that encapsulated so much more. Yes, Modernism gave birth to Post-Modernism and all the disjointed diaspora of poetics that followed but with age and time the good and the great from Post-Modernism will remain as the terrible poems wash away; as is true with every age.

        I hope I have answered your question. And I entreat you to read more works from the Modernist era. There is true beauty in them. Or everything maybe does come down to De gustibus non est disputandum. Though I hope it is not so.

    • Evan Mantyk

      Dear Sameen Shakya,

      Did you actually read the whole essay? This essay is much broader and more informed than your critique lets on…

      From the Essay:

      “It would be an oversimplification to lay all responsibility at the door of World War I. Along with it, and accelerated by it, was the decline in Christian faith and, more broadly, a decline in the basic moral beliefs held in cultures throughout the world and throughout history: belief in good and evil, belief in a divine and good Creator, and belief in the law of retribution (“you reap what you sow”; “what goes around comes around”).”

      Also, it is unnecessary to insert race into the discussion isn’t it? Such typical socialist (like the National Socialists – the Nazis) tactics do indeed beg the question of an agenda, as Mr. Salemi mentions, and an inhuman one at that.

      You may find the opinion of Mr. David Gosselin, editor of the Chained Muse, interesting. The deadest thing about “Dead White European Males” is the idea that people should be attacked for race and gender rather than the merit of their verse.

    • Edward "Ted" Hayes

      April 2014

      Ms. Shakya, I thank you for taking the time for an extended critique. Your comment seems to understand the essay, in its praise for lyrical poetry of a century ago, as defending Christian and pagan myths as the only metaphors to be relied upon. That is not at all, at all, the meaning of the essay, however poorly I may have expressed it. The essay does not defend any set of myths – be they such – as the only acceptable ones, or that myths in general, or metaphors of any sort, are requirements for what I see as real poetry. The whole essay is a defense of a) meaning b) formal style – rhyme and meter, in general, with acceptance of free verse by those who can handle it – and c) an elevated theme and style – bravery, fear, love, disillusion, the enjoyment of the senses – that goes beyond simple stringing together of words.
      The crux of the matter may come down to this: What is the “poetic style”? Have you tried Shakespeare’s sonnets? (I’m sure you have). They have it. Or John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island”? Or any of John Charles MacKenzie’s work? I can only define “poetic style” by examples; it defies and brief definition suitable for Webster.
      I hope you can help me with this, and would really appreciate your insights, and perhaps examples of your poetry. – Ted Hayes

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    When anyone says that “Our duty as 21st century poets is…”, you know that you are listening to somebody with a hidden agenda.

  7. jame sale

    Hi Sameen, you start off well; you make some good points. It is true, for example, that much of the Edwardian and Georgian poetry of the time was pretty dire. And it is also true that the world has become increasingly fragmented, and what were once seem as sources of authority by a whole country are no longer seen that way by the majority now. Stephen Fry in his excellent book wrote: “But if the old fascist [Ezra Pound] was right in determining that his generation needed to get away from the heavy manner and glutinous clichés of Victorian verse, its archaic words and reflex tricks of poetical language, and all out-dated modes of expression and thought in order to free itself for a new century, is it not equally true that we need to escape from the dreary, self-indulgent, randomly lineated drivel that today passes for poetry for precisely the same reasons?” That seems to express what the SCP is partially about, and no excuse needs to be made for it. But what I strongly object to in what you have said is – as Joseph Salemi has suggested – the political agenda underpinning what was otherwise a good series of points. I, for one, see no reason whatsoever to apologise for being an old, white middle class male; and I totally reject the fatuous consequence of making a remark like you have. Namely, so if you are a woman, a Black, a disabled, an Asian or any other “minority” (note the inverted commas, for women are hardly a minority) then somehow that makes it ‘poetry’. I am interested in reading poetry from anybody – anybody – but it has to be poetry. That’s the key thing: is it poetry? And that’s what your final comment fudges. As a matter of fact there are some great, old, white middle class poets on these pages – why sneer at that or apologise for it? If people are writing real poetry, then the audience will emerge. If it’s simply more political posturing, then welcome grants, tenures, media claptrap, and fame for a short period of time. Like those old Edwardians and Georgians, few read them now – and few read Ezra Pound (thankfully) – but we read the real poets: Yeats, Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Wilfred Owen and so on; and so on includes Ian McDonald, that little and little known in the UK, but tremendous Caribbean poet whose work is fabulous.

  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Aesthetic modernism is a plague, but even in plagues some symptoms and disorders are less destructive than others. Granted, artists such as Pound, Eliot, Stevens, and other high modernists were scarred by their adherence to the general strictures of modernist ideology, and they might have produced a different and better body of work if they had escaped that ideology. But grant also that they were men of serious poetic talent and real genius, and they produced some brilliant (if flawed) poems that deserve our respect.

    In fact, a few of these men did craft some perfectly fine work in the classical tradition. After all, they had been raised and trained in those formal traditions before modernism’s pernicious influence became widespread. But like so many of their contemporaries — in all fields — they were swept up by the Zeitgeist that blighted twentieth-century art.

    Our real enemies today are not the high modernists, who are long dead, and mainly denigrated these days by the dominant elements in the poetry world and by their whores-on-retainer in the English and literature departments of academia. Our real enemies are those who have now carried modernism (and its postmodernist backwash) to utterly absurd levels of trivia, meaninglessness, fakery, and deliberate ugliness.

    Eliot and Pound made some major mistakes, but they were in fact genuine appreciators of fine literature (what we used to call “belles lettres”), and they did produce some brilliant work on occasion. We don’t need to aim our fire at those men, when we have targets like the talentless fraud Yoko Ono, whose entire aesthetic endeavor has been to produce tasteless, inane garbage in every field she presumes to enter. We have purveyors of absolute crap like Banksy and Basquiat, along with their parallels in the poetry world. These are the living heirs of the modernist revolution. They are easy targets, because they are the reductio ad absurdum of the entire modernist project.

    • Edward "Ted" Hayes

      April 10, 2019

      Mr. Salemi, I am still hoping to do a Part II to my essay, which is a look at more recent poets who are not clearly the “extreme modernists,” and would be glad to include a more sympathetic view of the modernists, including Pound and Eliot, if I could read the poetic or critical work which you thinks makes them “producers of brilliant work on occasion.” Anything you would like to send me, as citations, will be seriously and gladly read.

      -Ted Hayes (begin the title line with “me, Salemi,” so I don’t lose it in the myriad of advertisements which are a daily trial. PS – my website below is of a few of the songs I wrote about, and while in, England; I do not have a literary website.

  9. Bryan Edward Helton

    “Poets Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Plath’s husband (until her death) Ted Hughes, and Bloomsbury-set writer Virginia Woolf each took their own lives.”

    Ted Hughes did not commit suicide.

    Also, if you’re going to attack poets who wrote in unrhymed or blank verse, don’t forget those immoral recreants Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton.

    • Edward "Ted" Hayes

      April 10

      Mr. Helton, Thank you for the comment. You are correct, and SCP has made the correction in my essay as it now appears. Your comment about blank-verse poets Shakespeare et. al. is well taken – you CAN be a poet and still write blank verse. This raises a question I did not try to answer: Can there be poetry in the other-than-lyric style? I would strongly agree that there can be, and is, and that the writers you cite are illustrations. So then, the further question is raised: What is the “true” definition of poetry? In brief form, I would answer writing in the poetic style. So what is this style? I’ll quote from my answer to Ms. Shaheen, above:

      “What is the ‘poetic style’? Have you tried Shakespeare’s sonnets? (I’m sure you have). They have it. Or John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island”? Or any of John Charles MacKenzie’s work? I can only define ‘poetic style’ by examples; it defies and brief definition suitable for Webster.”

      And I might add: wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a book written by a universally-accepted Grand Master of the Poetic Art, entitled “True Poetry Defined: An Explication including Examples of all Previous Ages and Styles.” I would be the first to buy the volume and hawk it in my town.

      And I would appreciate your answer to the question. Email me at the below, with the title line reading “me Helton SCP” to separate it from the junk mail.

      – Ted Hayes

  10. Joseph S. Salemi

    Mr. Hayes did not attack blank verse, which is an honored element of the classical English poetic tradition. In fact, this website has published several examples of blank verse.

    • Bryan Edward Helton

      Third paragraph.

      “The leading lights of these formats were literary revolutionaries who enthusiastically trashed the poetic canon of the preceding centuries. Under their influence metered poetry gave way to blank verse, disciplined thinking to stream of consciousness…”

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Blank verse IS metered poetry, so I assume Mr. Hayes misspoke, and meant to say “unrhymed and unmetrical poetry.”

  11. The Society

    Dear Bryan Edward Helton,

    Thank you for pointing out the errors! They have been rectified above.

    Evan Mantyk, Website Editor

  12. Lew Icarus Bede

    Prefatory and Forward: The anapestic tetrametres of “A Gaggle of Goosefeathers” are metrically off in several places; nor are the endnotes needed…at all.

    From the times of David and Homer, beauty has not been the standard of art; it is only one of many.

    Epstein’s essay lacks Gioia’s insights in “Can Poetry Matter?” Kantor’s landscape is larger than that of Epstein, Gioia and Hayes; and though I understand her emphasis on the importance in English literature of focusing upon the English language, from Anglo-Saxon works, like the epic “Beowulf” to Postmodernist works, like the short stories of Flannery O’Connor; still classical for me goes back at least to 1000 BC, as in David’s “Psalms”, or works, from China, India, Greece, and Rome.

    Though no ordering of literature is perfect, I order recent English literature differently than Mr. Hayes: Realist 1850-1900; Modernist 1900-1950; Postmodernist 1950-2000; New Millennial 2000-2050. Writers don’t fit historical divisions perfectly, as Mr. Hayes points out. Premodernists, like Whitman and S. Crane, used free verse, and Postmodernists, like R. Lowell and Wilbur used meter and rhyme.

    I appreciate Mr. Hayes’ focus on the influence of World War I. Recently British writer Harry Eyres noted that Wilfred Owens, in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, at one fell swoop struck a knife into the classical poet Horace, one of the great writers of the Golden Age of Latin literature, and the Modernists, like Pound, followed suit; yet what 20th century poet in English (or from anywhere in the World) is as careful with his or her language as Horace was? Yes, Modernism matters, as Mr. Shakya notes, it has thoroughly influenced my writing, but so too, and even more importantly, do Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian truths. Though Mr. Shakya may not realize it, the richest language in the World (in terms of its vocabulary) is English, whose letters are Roman and whose words are at least 50% Latin. [In fact, it is surprising how latinate Mr. Shakya’s language is.] He certainly hasn’t thrown out his Latin tradition. Can one even imagine Spanish, French, or Italiam literatures without the Latin tradition?

    “pity this busy monster, manunkind,

    not. progress is a comfortable disease:
    your victim (death and life safely beyond)

    plays with the bigness of his littleness
    —electrons deify one razorblade
    into a mountainrange; lenses extend
    unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
    returns on its unself.
    /A world of made
    is not a world of born—pity poor flesh

    and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
    fine specimen of hypermagical

    ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

    a hopeless case if—listen there’s a hell
    of a good universe next door; let’s go”

    Though Joyce pales profoundly when compared to Homer (a postwar poet), and Eliot pales decidedly compared to Aeschylus (another postwar poet who fought at Marathon), Mr. Salemi is correct to point out that they were at least “genuine appreciators of fine literature”.

    Hayes: “Plath [sic] and husband Leonard Woolf…”?

    Modernism hit a lot more than England, America, and Russia. It was particularly viral in China and Japan, in France and Germany, in Spain and Latin America…

    What is nice about Mr. Hayes’ essay is how expansive it is; yet I wish it were far more expansive, and much more tighter in its insights.

    The decline of faith is as important now, as it was in the ancient classical world, and includes, inter alia, the religious outlooks of Judaism, Greek and Roman mythologies, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Catholicism, Islam, and Protestantism.

    Unfortunately (to me) suicide has classical roots—from ancient Rome to the Japanese tradition.

    Pound’s “Make it new” derives partly from ancient classical Chinese literature.

    Poetry is complex. As in mathematics, which has as long a tradition, individuals only ever make incremental additions. No single Modernist, Postmodernist, or New Millennial mathematician, or poet, could or can master all of his or her field, and we are all of us limited in our visions. Yet it is human to press on; and so we shall, traditionalists and experimentalists.

    • The Society

      Thank you, Mr. Bede (Bruce Dale Wise), the Plath error has been corrected.
      -Mr. Mantyk

    • Edward "Ted" Hayes

      April 10, 2019

      Mr. Bede,

      I agree with much of yours, and even in disagreement find it worth reading. And: Suicide may have “classical roots,” but my point is not where the idea came from, but what it is wreaked in the private lives of Western literati, and in addition, what their poetical examples that “life has no meaning” has done to suicide rates in the USA. And: Pound’s “Make it new” may have a literary origin, but would it really need that for him to express the very core of his own belief? And Didn’t his exhortation, born in part of the disaster of World War I, encourage the literary disaster that defined much of Western poetry ever since? And: I agree with your last line, poetry “presses on,” traditional and experimental. But the consequences of uninhibited experimentalism – my target in my essay – has been a disaster. If someone “invents” an experimental airplane, and dies in it, on takeoff, he reaps what he sowed. But if someone writes a da-da-ist, or surrealist, etc. poem, he becomes instantly famous, the talk of London – or San Francisco. His reward is glamour, money, and that elusive godhead, success. Which of the experimental schools mentioned in my essay would you judge successful?

      Send me an email reply. In the title line, please write “me, Bede, SCP” so I can distinguish it from junk mail.

    • Edward "Ted" Hayes

      April 10, 2019

      Mr. MacKenzie,

      To someone of your ability in the lyric, serious, major-historical-themed style, I appreciate your remark. But as I tutor (at age 81) in high schools, I find the students’ English texts have nothing critical to say of the “modernists,” but simply publish them and treat them as worthy equals of the greats. If we don’t exhume Pound and destroy him; or exhume Mssrs. Marx and Stalin and destroy them, or any of the tin-hat philosophers whose preachments now echo through the halls of Congress, someone else will exhume them and creat 15-foot high statues and mount them in the center of town – witness what the Germans are doing with a supersized statue of Herr Marx in the town of his birth.

      Write and tell me why I am wrong! Start it with “me MacKenzie” so I can distinguish it from junk mail. For Part II of the essay I would appreciate your comments on any 20th century poets you consider real poets.

  13. Lew Icarus Bede

    As B. S. Eliud Acrewe once noted, “It is important to dredge of the dregs of the Dead. Why? Because, like Aeneas, we too must travel to Avernus.”

    I wonder if Mr. Sale thinks Mr. MacKenzie’s reference to the Modernists as “corn-eating Goths” is a “great metaphor”.

    I can’t remember all the SCP members who have who admired Modernist and Postmodernist poets, but there have been a few.

    Recently Mr. Anderson mentioned Dylan Thomas’ “A Refusal to Mourn the Death of a Child of London”, Mr. Sale “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, and Mr. Mantyk used Frost’s “Mending Wall”.

    Others have mentioned poems they liked by Modernist Robert Frost, like Ms. Foreman “The Silken Tent”; and Mr. Grein looked at ten of Frost’s less “traveled” poems.

    Mr. Robin mentioned Edward Thomas’ “Tall Nettles”. Mr. Cramer spent a year with William Carlos Williams, Mr. Sarangi mentioned the poetry of Heath-Stubbs, Mr. Cooperman mentioned Roethke’s “I Knew a Woman”.

    Mr. Whippman suggested I should look at MacNeice’s “Autumn Journal”, while Mr. Whidden analyzed Norman MacCaig.

    If I remember correctly, others have mentioned Neruda, Millay, Tagore, Yeats, the late Hardy, the later Kipling, as in “If”, Paudric Columb, Richard Wilbur, etc. I think I even remember somebody mentioning John Magie’s “High Flight”.

    If I’m not mistaken, I think I also recall Mr. GMH Thompson mentioning his favourite poems were all Modernist and Postmodernist. [By the way, I do miss his impassioned comments on 20th century literature.]

    Because I have learned so much from the Modernists and Postmodernists, literally hundreds of them, and because I am a true traditionalist, I will not be tossing out those who have been useful to me, poets and prosists, like Pound, T. S. Eliot, Russell, Whitehead, Wittgenstein, Pessoa, Dos Passos, Cummings, Crane, Moore, Stevens, Faulkner, Hemingway, Orwell, O’Connor, Borges, Robert Lowell, etc.

    • Gregory Spicer

      Aye! That’s the spirit Mr. Bede! You just keep saying no to those book burners. Sometimes tradition can get as sour as retribalized kraut.

    • Joseph Charles McKenzie

      Thanks for the reminder. I meant say “the modernists AND their pseudo-‘traditionalist’ disciples are corn-fed Goths.”

      Very pleased to see my metaphors so abundantly quoted, a sure sign of the power they hold over those quoting.

  14. Joseph S. Salemi

    The problem here is that Bruce Dale Wise’s overview of literature is naively chronological. He thinks that if a writer was born within an arbitrarily labeled “Romantic” period, then the writer is obviously “a Romantic,” or that if someone else lives in an equally mislabeled “Postmodernist” period, the writer is therefore “a Postmodernist.” This is an absurdly Procrustean and unscholarly way to make literary categorizations. There certainly were contemporaries of Shelley and Keats who by no stretch of the imagination could be called “Romantics,” just as writers like myself or Joseph MacKenzie or Amy Foreman are not “Postmodernists,” even though we might live in a so-called “Postmodernist” time period. Painting everyone who lives in a certain time frame with the same brush is silly and unilluminating, and is the result of taking labels of convenience too seriously.

    “Modernism” and “Postmodernism” are not defined by time slots. They are defined by aesthetic preferences and approaches. It is utterly bizarre for Wise to classify profoundly traditionalist writers like Yeats, Tagore, and Dylan Thomas as “Modernists” on the basis of when they lived. Frost? Neruda? Millay? Kipling? Wilbur? Has Wise actually read these people? Does he recognize how totally informed by inherited traditions (and non-modernist) their styles and approaches were? Calling lucidly straightforward writers like George Orwell and Flannery O’Connor “Modernists” might work in a Twilight Zone episode, but in literary criticism it only marks one as clueless.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Dr. Salemi,

      Wise’s error in “boxing” poets according to badly-drawn time-frames is glaring. It is nevertheless prudent to draw our attention to it; for, I fear the adherence to this facile and shop-worn concept is rather widespread, the result of state-funded education (which, of course, is no education at all).

      • James Sale

        Yes, and without wishing to pile up too much agony on BDW, who can write interestingly even when wrong, my comments above on the metaphor issue – which I have inadvertently posted under the wrong thread – not only allude to this but to his failure of logic and to read correctly what somebody has written; for I made it abundantly clear that whilst Dylan Thomas lived through the modernist period, he wasn’t one. And of course JSS is perfectly correct in pointing out what is very obvious when you think about it: all these so-called periods of time, ‘Romantic/Georgian/Elizabethan etc’ all had innovators who embraced the ideas or ideology of the time, but there were always those ensconced in their contemporary reputations who actively resisted these ‘new’ trends, and so there was and are co-terminous existences and it would be surprising if this weren’t the case. For what happens in poetry, happens in the arts generally, as well as in politics and religions as we consider the even bigger issues. Perhaps our position might be that the future is not always better, that progress is not always progress, and that ‘luddites’, whoever they be, sometimes have a point; and when it comes to poetry, certainly, there are principles which, if abandoned, lead to chaos, desecration, and the gods of non-poetry parading as if they were real.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        It’s extremely important what James Sale is saying here because it proves that there is a kind of “golden thread” of lyricism running throughout the history of letters, a thread that by its very nature resists the trends around it.

  15. Gregory Spicer

    Tradition, sir, must prove itself
    Just as all other things must do
    And is no magic little elf
    With tubes of precious glitter glue
    Or some too little, too late paste
    To salvage stale orations
    With the metronomic waste
    Of archaic occupations.
    It must marry well, and merry up
    And expect some ruffled feathers
    When sipping from the mixing cup
    Of brainstorms and bellwethers
    Which may contain some isotopes
    Off putting to the misanthropes.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      The same is true for modern crap,
      For which we’re not obliged to clap.

  16. Wilbur Dee Case

    1. Mr. Bede’s chronological view of literature view is hardly naive; it is not that original.

    2. Obviously, as Mr. Bede mentioned earlier on this thread, no ordering of literature is perfect: “Writers don’t fit historical divisions perfectly”. Procrustean? Hardly.

    3. The contemporaries of Keats and Shelley, especially in literature, but not only there, were Romantic, as Mr. Bede uses the term; which does not seem as limiting as Mr. Salemi uses it. For Mr. Bede, it seems it is a time period, which informs not only literature, but music, painting, mathematics, etc.

    4. I wonder if Mr. Salemi seems Postmodernist to Mr. Bede, but that Mr. MacKenzie and Ms. Foreman seem New Millennial.

    5. Despite Mr. Salemi’s comments, Mr. Bede does label Yeats, Tagore, and D. Thomas as Modernists. I suspect Modernist, as he uses the term is not as limiting as Mr. Salemi uses it.

    6. Mr. Bede probably has read all of the poets mentioned, and they may have influenced him in their various ways.; but that he labels writers in this way, I imagine, makes him more dispassionate when using literary terms.

    7. Mr. Bede does label George Orwell a Modernist; however, I think he labels Flannery O’Connor a Postmodernist. Are they really as “lucidly straightforward” as Mr. Salemi seems to think they were, or were they were much more profound?

    8. As to Mr. Sale’s and Mr. MacKenzie’s literary comments, I suspect Mr. Bede finds himself more in accord with Mr. Spicer than with either of them here.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Thanks, Bruce, for demonstrating that you are completely incompetent as a literary critic.

      A “time period” informs literature? Really? So everyone who wrote in the Victorian period was informed by the same spirit and creative style? And writers as wildly diverse as Dickens, Tennyson, Praed, Clough, Thackeray, Browning, the Rosettis, Samuel Butler, Dowson, Patmore, Kipling, and Henley all share some common core? What are you smoking, Bruce?

      George Orwell HATED modernism! Read his acidic comments on Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein. The devoutly Catholic Flannery O’Connor, if she had even heard of postmodernism, would have dismissed it as a pathetic intellectual joke.

      Amy Foreman is a “Millennial”? Millennials are persons born after 1996. Far be it from me to ask a woman her age, but I am certain that Mrs. Foreman was born before that year. Bruce Dale Wise has arbitrarily created an absurd literary category (“New Millennials”) which he is fatuous enough to say will run on until 2030. This isn’t literary criticism; it’s fake imagination and crystal-ball gazing posturing as serious commentary.

      Bruce, learn what the terms “Romanticism,” “Modernism,” and “Postmodernism” actually mean before throwing them around like nickels at the Automat.

  17. Wilbur Dee Case

    1. Ad hominem again?

    2. Yes. Absolutely. Yes Yes. I don’t smoke.

    3. So. Flannery O’Connor is at the top of Postmodernist short story writing.

    Everything about her was a wash,
    awash in pain and peacocks. What chance did
    she ever have to flourish, filled with bosh
    and lupus. Gosh, her innards were rancid,
    sardonic, accurate, and Catholic,
    stowed with the grace and power of the South.
    Cluck, cluck—she, our own, home-grown basilisk
    with a receding chin and drooping mouth.
    She’d pout that, since she taught a chick to walk
    backwards at six, all was anticlimax.
    That was her manner, how she’d write and talk:
    a woman facing God’s love and time’s axe.
    I miss her spir’t, I, who never knew her,
    child of her era and a Northerner.

    4. “New Millennial” and “2050”. Read closer. Of course, others will make their own distinctive divisions; these are simply mine. Nobody else needs to subscribe to them.

    5. Silly simile.

  18. Alexander Ream

    Dear Ted Hayes,

    Your excellent essay. I don’t know how to thank you.

    Please forgive the autobiographical, but my family lived through this time by clinging to the absolutes and universals: woefully, imperfectly. My grandfather was educated on an industrial scholarship at Pennsylvania during the height of Protestant Liberalism (grad. circa 1921) – he learned “how not to be,” and he taught us to “doubt the Bible’s critics.” He was employed by Jews during the Depression and made a small fortune as furniture plant manager. My father’s generation stepped further away from modernism in the Presbyterian Church; his lifetime best friend was Jewish. I worked for Delta Kappa Epsilon in Ann Arbor and encountered my own small, humble “God and Man at Yale” experience: the Berkeley and Michigan Dekes, chiefly the Jews, made me understand I was to be a poet. SCP and The Lyric have confirmed this. The Demosthenian Literary Society at the University of Georgia still means the world to me.

    Your essay; it has a great deal of my family’s story. We are without a zion. We are wandering exiles seeking a city above: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Speaking of Jesus, the Gospel of John.

    Thank you for listening. I’m not much, but by the pity of heaven, I am what I am.

  19. Christopher DeFilippis

    Poetry must always change. What should never have been forsaken is the Beautiful, the Sublime and a correspondence with Nature. Poetry should have greatness and a deliberate and universal meaning and purpose.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s opinions of the post modernist poets and our present day contemporary poets for the most part. But the moderns mentioned, Eliot, Joyce etc while paving the way for an age of poetry that has lost the poetic, can not be placed in the same category. Nor can they be held responsible for what happened to poetry any more than the German romantics can be blamed for Hitler’s appropriation of their ideals.

    A topic of greater urgency is what is next for poetry? Surely not a return to an antiquated style that will have no relevance nor audience. What comes next is a poetry that goes to the new spirituality that is happening. A poetry that informs the politics that must happen. A poetry that finally reminds us that we are not separate from Nature, God or each other.

    If poetry is to regain its importance and relevance it must engage a new discourse. It will not look like anything we have seen before but will embody everything that has come before. It cannot merely be “the act of finding what will suffice”. It must pursue that which will save us.

    • James Sale

      Yes, Christopher – I hope you can make the symposium at the Princeton Club on the 17th June where some of what you suggesting will be discussed and some ideas put forward. Good to meet you there.

  20. Trevor Morgan

    At age 8 I discovered John Clare and never for a moment ever saw free verse as poetry. Anyone can heap stones in a pile. A medieval cathedral is a pile of stones, but with a difference; form!
    Never on approaching any academic have I been encouraged to write formal verse. As a not so social man I just got on with ignoring nonsense I saw as trash.
    I year for a return to the formal and gave up publishing anything.
    A relative created a web site for me which I use as a sort of patchwork quilt of poems from several longer works I have put together.
    I have a vain romantic notion that this dead art I work at may rise again but not in my lifetime…

    • Gregory Spicer

      Dear Mr. Morgan,

      Your stone pile analogy is excellent and even though free verse can be nauseating it is no more so than the common prose which gives the people the voice they crave. Yes, It’s charming to give one’s voice the advantage of order and structure but at the end of the day that is all that particular advantage is, as any songwriter can tell you.

      I enjoy form, structure, and order as well but always ask myself “to what purpose”. If that purpose is the ugly world of unmitigated hatred and revanche then the form or structure of poetry itself becomes harnessed to the evils of anarchy that so many people claim that they object to. There is order, after all, in a barbed wire fence, a firing squad, and other forms of abatis.

      Fixed fortifications solve nothing and only communicate one thing.

  21. Leo Black

    A stuffy condemnation of anyone who refuses to bow to what is called conventional beauty. The removal of rules is the only path to true creativity and art. Anyone who believes that one must pass art through a filter of rules and regulations for it to be considered art has sorely misunderstood the concept thereof.

    • The Society

      Well, Mr. Black, one might say “the removal of rules” is now entirely “conventional” and “stuffy.” At any rate, you are free to pursue the free verse path in most places, but in its publishing of new poets, the SCP will stay true to good poetry, as we see it and as past great poets century after century have seen it. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.
      -Evan Mantyk

    • James Sale

      Nothing could be more wrong than this principle. The removal of rules does not produce art or poetry; it produces chaos and the chaotic. Dr Johnson correctly observed that it is the duty of criticism to distinguish between that which is established because it is right, from that which is right merely because it is established. From this we see that the poet and the critic can well challenge the establishment, or the rules, but that is not the same thing as abolishing them; nor does it cover the position in which the rules are wholly justified and cannot be violated without detriment to poetry and art. A case in point would be meter in the English language: the very structure of the English language demands that we use meter if we wish to say the very greatest things. And 100 years of free verse has only proved that point – I can’ think of one poem in free verse that holds a candle to Yeats’ Second Coming or Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Where are these works which have broken all the rules – and which anyone, apart from socialist ‘wokes’, reads? It is simple wishful – utopian – thinking to believe poetry has progressed because it has abandoned the ‘rules’. Dream on.

  22. Evelyn Landon

    This essay is misguided to the highest degree. First, it takes a Euro-centric view of poetry. The problem with this is that the influence of Japanese, Chinese, and ancient literatures are disregarded. Ezra Pound, in fact, took as his model for his early Imagiste poetry–as well as his Cantos–Japanese, Greek, and Chinese poetry. To say that the loss of artistic and moral standards in the 20th century due to the decline of Christianity is to take an entirely myopic viewpoint of comparative literature. One of the things that I believe is lost in your essay is any acknowledgement of a world outside of Christian poetry. Also, another objection I have to your reasoning is your objection to the loss of metre and rhyme. It is entirely unfounded to believe that metre was truly lost in the modernist movement. Again, the poetry of Pound utilizes alliterative, quantitative, and accentual-syllabic verse at various points throughout the work. The times where he does not utilize metre are in an attempt to recreate Debussy’s, Wagner’s, Bartók‘s, etc., musical phrase, as opposed to an entirely quantified ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM which has negligible capability for expressiveness. By relying on the music, the words retain their burden of meaning, whilst providing a beauty that surpasses the lowly iambic line. For examples of this, look to H.D., Pound, and Williams. As to “postmodern” poetry, the rhythms and sounds are built upon the same foundations as “modern” poetry, but with far more prevalent experimentation, and with a disregard for the lyric form, at least in Language poetry (Susan Howe, Ron Silliman). However, I believe that the poetry of the Beats (Ginsberg, Kerouac, Snyder) is generally naïve to the greatest extent, and so it cannot be labeled indicative of the more imaginative verse of the Objectivists and the Black Mountain school. As to “who killed poetry?” I think the only answer is the exclusivity of the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Foundation, all who serve to censor better poetry. But blaming the effects of capitalism, on priceless experimentation and the decline of God, is regrettable, because without those factors, poetry would not be as precise or as–dareisay–beautiful as the best works are.

  23. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Evelyn Landon,

    Thank you for reading. The piece does say:

    It would be an oversimplification to lay all responsibility at the door of World War I. Along with it, and accelerated by it, was the decline in Christian faith and, more broadly, a decline in the basic moral beliefs held in cultures throughout the world and throughout history: belief in good and evil, belief in a divine and good Creator, and belief in the law of retribution (“you reap what you sow”; “what goes around comes around”).

    So traditional moral values extend beyond the Christian faith to Judaism, Buddhism, and Taoism, for instance.

    Also, there is a lot more to meter than iambic pentameter. For instance:

    2 syllables: pyrrhus: dee – dee
    2 syllables: iamb: dee – DUM
    2 syllables: trochee: DUM – dee
    2 syllables: spondee: DUM – DUM
    3 syllables: tribrach: dee – dee – dee
    3 syllables: dactyl: DUM – dee – dee
    3 syllables: amphibrach: dee – DUM – dee
    3 syllables: anapest: dee – dee – DUM
    3 syllables: bacchius: dee – DUM – DUM
    3 syllables: antibacchius: DUM – DUM – dee
    3 syllables: cretic: DUM – dee – DUM
    3 syllables: molossus: DUM – DUM – DUM


    Also, the original Chinese poetry that Pound translated had very consistent meter (usually seven characters per line) and splendid end rhymes, so again, those weren’t Chinese Christians in the Tang Dynasty. Meter and rhyme are a universal tradition in poetry.

    Lastly, I wonder if perhaps you would enjoy this essay more:

    Evan Mantyk, website editor

    • Evelyn Landon

      Hi! Thanks for responding.

      The examples of moral decline which you say are extant in Judaism, Buddhism, and Taoism, actually only really occurred in the Judeo-Christian sphere. What do I mean by this? The systems of morality in Taoism and Buddhism (I’ll repeat your arbitrary use of these religions) are completely different from the moral systems in the Judeo-Christian sphere. In fact, they are completely different from the Abrahamic religions, substantively. If I am right (feel free to correct me), Taoism and Buddhism are far more concerned with the SEARCH for the truth, whereas Christianity takes the search for granted. As such, Buddhism and Taoism (and I’ll add Shinto-ism and Confucianism, the latter for Pound’s involvement) do not have a pre-prescribed moral “code of conduct.” Logically, then, there was no decline in morality outside of the realm of Christianity, which can be hard for us Westerners to comprehend at first.

      Obviously, I oversimplified Accentual metre, but the intentions are still the same. For instance , how many poems can you name that are written in a–predominately–pyrrhic metre? I can’t think of any pyrrhic pentameters. However, this is all to my advantage, because the poetry of China, Ancient Rome and Greece, Japan, etc., were all written in uncompromising metres, whereas in English, there is much room for variation (for an example, see the rhythmic alterations in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”). All metred English poetry is loss in regard with the iambic (which is the de facto foot for most English poetry, with rare and unskillful outliers). The Imagistes took a very loose form, and removed its final boundary, the five (or four, three, six, what have you) beat line, similar to how composers like Liszt, Debussy, Wagner, Brahms, Bartók, etc., were all experimenting with changing metres during a musical phrase. If I am allowed a precise statement of summation: free-verse (referring to the poetry of the Imagistes, Objectivists, Beats, etc.) attempts to renew poetry with a musical sound-vocabulary, whereas English metred verse focuses wholly (and often unskillfully) on the word choice, to the degradation of the MUSIC of the words.

      I hope to hear back from you! I will have read that article by then.

      • Evan Mantyk

        Dear Evelyn,

        My use of Buddhism and Taoism were anything but arbitrary, as I have studied both quite a bit. There are some key universal values that we will find across cultures. First of all, one must understand that in the West, these will often be limited to what is thought of as the religious sphere or Judeo-Christian tradition, whereas you cannot treat such matters (or perhaps any matter) on a simple one-to-one equivalency basis across civilizations. In China’s 5,000-year-long civilization, the spirituality was embedded in the culture. The Emperor was literally “Son of Heaven”; dynasties rose and fell due to the “Will of Heaven”; Chinese characters, fire, medicine, farming, and music were all invented by gods who walked the earth; the Four Great Novels of China all have a strong spiritual character to them, as if Robinson Crusoe and Prince Hamlet were both Christian monks.

        So looking then at what might be better termed traditional culture, we find these basic values are more or less universal across cultures and throughout history:

        -A belief in the divine, of higher life with a higher moral character and higher power. In the West, Yahweh made man out of dust and in the East, Nuwa made man out of soil.

        -A belief in good and evil that can systematically be studied and known. Not moral relativism. I’m guessing this doesn’t require explanation, but it does imply traditional gender boundaries. In Taoism, the yin and yang, corresponding to female and male, are different and are supposed to be different. Yang is male, hard, strong, heavenly, and generally positive. Yin is female, soft, weak, earthly, and generally negative. However, you can’t have one without the other and they work as mutually complementary, creating a powerful harmony when balanced. Ultimately, this is similar to traditional gender roles in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

        -A belief in the law of retribution. In the West, we have sin and in the East there is karma. Heaven, the universe, God, whatever greater force will punish you for wrong and reward you for good, if not in this life than in the next (Judeo-Christian stops at “next life” whereas in the East there is reincarnation). Human beings do not need to struggle to pick winners and losers as socialism does; it will happen naturally.

        There is much, much more than the above, but those are overarching points of degeneration that have affected every sector of culture, including poetry.

        It would be interesting to see what the “music of the words” involves, though I suspect it to be so subtle and subjective as to have difficulty gaining real traction among a plurality of poets. If you did have something on such an approach that was solid and coherent, we could potentially publish an essay on it.

        Now, of course, you can write whatever kind of free verse or other poetry you want to write, but here at the SCP we publish metered poetry, usually with rhyming, alliteration, and other traditional techniques. Why? Because it is the best poetry, if you ask me. It is not a coincidence that generation after generation of children naturally like traditionally metered poetry; it is not a coincidence that poets in almost every major civilization have, prior to the modern era, preferred using a form of traditionally metered poetry; it is not a coincidence that people (non-poets) today are more likely to remember and cherish traditionally metered poetry; it is not a coincidence that once traditionally metered poetry was abandoned by the poetry and academic establishment, poetry generally declined in influence and popularity.

        If we return to traditional meter and techniques, poetry will rise again:

      • Evelyn Landon

        Dear Evan,

        I think I understand what you are saying about religion, but one thing that I am still apprehensive about is the essay’s calling the degradation of morality in the twentieth century a contributing factor to poetry’s demise. I can think of many metred poets whose work exemplifies “immoral” tendencies. Take, for example, “To His Coy Mistress,” or “Le Bateau Ivre.” Bother poems are absolutely fantastic, but the first expounds and defends premarital sexuality, and the latter is an ode to teenage angst and homosexuality. The essay name-drops Anne Sexton, whose work, tho rhymed and metred, is sexually tense and occasionally perverse. Homer took moral sides in neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey, and neither did Virgil (whose Aeneid is essentially a footnote to Homer). Ovid wrote about the strife between humanity and the gods without any moralistic pretense (humans are destroyed by the gods for nothing, and are protected even when they commit adultery or incest). John Milton humanized Satan. Even George Herbert never decided whether or not God was wrong or right in His merciless inflictions upon the poet and clergyman. I will not disregard the religious verse that praises God, and which shows what’s Wrong and what’s Right. Rarely, however, does poetry of this bent impress me in any way, because generally the qualities of figurative language and poetic technique are disregarded in favor of bold, but uninteresting, Rhetoric. I’d rather read Rimbaud than Longfellow.

        If you want to know a concrete approach for an essay about musicality in verse, then I will give you my plan. First, I would explain how sounds play a role in poetry. I would explain rhyme, slant-rhyme, alliteration, etc., but showing their parallels in music. Then I would begin to explain the musical phrase, and give examples of it in, for instance, poems by Robert Burns, Poe, Millay, and Sappho (or similar poets), and music by Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, etc. Then, I would begin to draw more parallels between the music of Bartók, Debussy, Wagner, Gesualdo, and Brahms, and developments in the poetry of Dylan Thomas, Les Imagistes, the Harlem Renaissance, Language poetry, and Robert Frost. As to your statement that my approach would not take hold of a plurality of poets, I can assure you that it has been prevalent throughout history: Dante, the troubadours (Arnaut Daniel especially), the Greek lyric poets (Sappho, Pindar, etc.), and William Blake, are all examples of poets whose music is just as important as their words, and in the case of Homer, even more so.

        I understand your reservations towards the newer movements in poetry, but in my honest opinion, they were/are just the next step in an immortal tradition. Imagine how critical the feelings of Latin poets when they saw that they were being replaced by poets who wrote in the “common” Italian. Imagine what the English felt when Chaucer replaces alliterative verse with the foreign developments of rhyme and accentual-syllabic metre. I believe that Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, H.D., and William Carlos Williams only did what their forebears did: they perceived a problem in the dominant form of poetry, and sought to reinvigorate poetry by offering a solution (regardless of whether or not it worked). I personally think that Ezra Pound was one of the best poets in history, and so I lay my biases here for you to see. However, I will completely agree with you that poetry is not at its finest right now. Instead of completely ascribing the blame to the development of vers libre, however, I believe (similarly with the writer of the article, in some respects) that universities have taken over poetry, and have made the world of poetry a meritocracy, which only produces poetry in a single, completely uninteresting vein. Poets like Paige Lewis (whose style is very characteristic of modern poetry, with its blend of surrealism, faux social commentary, and pretention) are paid and published because they fit sweetly into a fashionable style of American poetry. The institutions at fault are most certainly the Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets, both of which support poetry that is essentially derivative of the poets John Ashbery, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens, completely ignoring the marginalized movement of Language poets (and others in their vein) who are consciously trying to break with the mainstream, and are succeeding, but with little popularity (is like to mention Susan Howe and Ron Silliman here). The problem with Language poetry, however, is that it is old-fashioned. There have been ZERO unique poetry movements in the last thirty years. As to the place of metred verse in this landscape, I believe it exists, but it would only gain popularity if it were like Wallace Stevens (who wrote predominantly blank verse), or the confessionalists. You may disagree with my standpoint, but I personally believe that free verse is not the culprit, but the universities are (for the same reason why English-language novels in recent years are mostly very similar and uninteresting).

        I hope that my perspective on free verse does not immediately disqualify me from writing an essay. In fact, there is much musical verse in the metred realm, and I have no objections toward the use of metred verse at all, which would be reflected in my essay. I would be very interested in writing an essay for the Society, as I believe that it is important for all poetry, metred included.

        Thank you so much!
        Evelyn Landon

    • The Society

      Dear Evelyn,

      I suspect we won’t be able to run it, but feel free to submit it, or maybe a brief snippet of a specific example to see if it is feasible. We are interested in traditional poetry with traditional, consistent meter. It’s beautiful and we love it. Send your thoughts to

      There is much I could comment on in what you wrote, but instead I will only say that Homer absolutely captures the traditional values I outlined. He precisely and perfectly does so.


  24. John Graham DAY


    I came across your website and your material on epic poems. I live in Newcastle, Australia and have just listed on Amazon Kindle an epic Native American Adventure in rhyming narrative verse, trochaic tetrameter, entitled Dreams of the Golden Eagle. 33,500 words, 13 Native American characters.

    Whilst the work is not an epic poem in the traditional sense, it truly is an epic adventure poem that includes numerous and continuous use of poetic forms and styles, the work has 1,404 four-line stanzas, uses enjambment and profluence to make it most readable modern novel – albeit in rhyming narrative verse.

    Perhaps you might like to take a look at the free preview of my book in Amazon Kindle, click on front cover, and help me to find out just where the work sits.
    Is it an epic poem. Is it an epic novel. Is it simply an adventure in narrative verse. I can not find anything like it on the internet.

    I am 76 years old, not an academic and need help if it is available.
    I am in the process of having the book published on Audible.

    I am truly out of my depth and need help. The quality of the writing will astound you. I have used catalexis or the dropping of a syllable at the end of a line of metric verse together with enjambment etc to make the work read more like a normal novel than an epic poem per se.

    Please contact me if you can.

    Yours sincerely,

    John Graham Day.

    * Enter my full name in Google, press enter to obtain short cut to my ebook.

      • The Society

        Dear Abdul,

        I believe he was already elderly and after he finished part 1 was in a car accident and is now in some kind of assisted living situation where he does not write much (Ted, if you are reading this, and I have the details wrong, please correct me).

        There is a short 7-minute or so video coming out by Andrew Benson Brown in the near future that will overlap with some of this same content. I think the simple answer is that people using traditional techniques are shedding the poisonous communist-socialist-Darwinian-Freudian strain of culture that has become dominant. The traditional strain is re-emerging and reviving good poetry. That is what we are doing here at the SCP.

        -Evan Mantyk

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