chapter  5
6 Pages

The Neutralization of Nature

The poets are failing us, or we them, i f after reading them we do not find ourselves changed; not with a temporary change, such as luncheon or slumber will produce, from which we inevitably work back to the status quo ante, but with a permanent altera­ tion o f our possibilities as responsive individuals in good or bad adjustment to an all but overwhelming concourse o f stimula­ tions. How many living poets have the power to make such deep changes? Let us set aside youthful enthusiasms; there is a time in most lives when, rightly enough, Mr Masefield, Mr Kipling, Mr Drinkwater, or even Mr Noyes or Mr Studdert Kennedy may profoundly affect the awakening mind: it is being introduced to poetry. Later on, looking back, we can see that any one o f a hundred other poets would have served as well or {54} better. Let us consider only the experienced, the fairly hardened reader, who is familiar with a great deal o f the poetry o f the past. [44]

Contemporary poetry which will, accidents apart, modify the attitudes o f this reader must be such as could not have been writ­ ten in another age than our own. It must have sprung in part from the contemporary situation. It must correspond to needs, impulses, attitudes, which did not arise in the same fashion for poets in the past, and criticism also must take notice o f the con­ temporary situation. Our attitudes to man, to nature, and to the universe change with every generation, and have changed with unusual violence in recent years. We cannot leave these changes out o f account in judging modern poetry. When attitudes are changing neither criticism nor poetry can remain stationary. T o those who realize what the poet is this will be obvious; but all lit­ erary history bears it out.