The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.
X. Later Poets
§ 1. Poets of East and West
IN the expanding, heterogeneous America of the second half of the nineteenth century, poetry lost its clearly defined tendencies and became various and experimental. It did not cease to be provincial; for although no one region dominated as New England had dominated in the first half of the century, the provincial accent was as unmistakable, and the purely national accent as rare, as before. The East, rapidly becoming the so-called “effete East,” produced a poetry to which the West was indifferent; the West, still the West of “carnivorous animals of a superior rank,” produced a poetry that the cultivated classes of the East regarded as vulgar. In a broad way it may perhaps be said that the poetry of this period was dedicated either to beauty or to “life”; to a revered past, or to the present and the future; to the civilization of Asia and Europe, or to the ideals and manners of America, at least the West of America. The virtue of the poetry of beauty was its fidelity to a noble tradition, its repetition, with a difference, of familiar and justly approved types of beauty; its defect was mechanical repetition, petty embellishment. The virtue of the poetry of “life” was fidelity to experience, vitality of utterance; its defect, crudity, meanness, insensitiveness to fineness of feeling and beauty of expression. Where the poets are many and all are minor it is difficult to make a choice, but on the whole it seems that the outstanding poets of the East were Emily Dickinson, Aldrich, Bayard Taylor, R. H. Stoddard, Stedman, Gilder, and Hovey; and of the West, Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, Sill, Riley, and Moody.