Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ahead of Their Time

Amit Majmudar has unburied masterpieces by Matthew Arnold, Lord Byron and Tennyson where no one ever thought to look—including the poets themselves.
Some traits that we value in poetry—irregularity of rhythm, unpredictability of language, a highly personal bent—were things that the Victorians allowed themselves only in their letters. The letter also lent itself to a structural characteristic so ubiquitous in contemporary poems it is almost unrecognized: the first-person anecdote. So Matthew Arnold is terribly out of favor among contemporary poets; I myself find much of his poetry unreadable. But what a shock in the Letters!
According to Benjamin Schwarz, it would take another two decades after Tennyson's death for someone to anticipate Majmudar's insight:
Frost, who urged Thomas to turn to poetry, proposed that he transform into poems some segments from his finely observed book on country life In Pursuit of Spring—a decisive suggestion. “All he ever got from me,” Frost said years later, “was admiration for the poet in him before he had written a line of poetry.” Thomas would, shortly before his death, characterize his poems as the “quintessences of the best parts of my prose books.”

1 comment:

James Pollock said...

Brilliant. Thanks for posting. I think this is exactly why Pound wrote that poetry should be at least as well-written as prose; he noticed this same thing.