The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.X. Later Poets
§ 18. Contemporary Poetry
Moody brings us to the new century, in years and in spirit. In his work is a turbulence unknown in the facile and edifying poetry of our “albuminous” Victorian era, a passionate discontent with old forms, old themes, old thoughts. In the twentieth century our poets have more and more believed that, if their work was to be vital, they must return to the laboratory of poetry to study afresh the raw materials and to seek a new formula in accord with the time spirit. In this effort they have naturally derived more help from Whitman, a poet in posse, than from anyone else. To him, and of course to others, they owe their usual form, free verse, and their point of view, that of an exaggerated individualism, often combined with humanitarian emotion and an intimate feeling for nature. But though their intellectual outlook is still in the main that of Whitman’s century, their poetic energy is so fresh and vital that it may reasonably be expected to prelude a new vision of life adequate to the new era. From the point of view of a conventional public, the new poetry has been bizarre and not always sincere; but the new poetsthemselves—to mention only Edwin Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, and Amy Lowell, of the many poets who may be studied in W. S. Braithwaite’s annual anthologies—have for the most part honestly sought to see life more truly than it has been envisaged by the poets of the past, and to reveal their findings to other men by means of a form entirely dictated by the substance—the very substance externalized. Recent years have brought forth an extraordinary number of poets, a great mass of verse, not a few remarkable poems, and the promise of still higher achievement when the new poetry has found its intellectual and artistic standards through some kind of genuine discipline.