Poets and Poetry: After Second World War

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      New Signature Poets - Auden, Spender, Louis MacNiece, Cecil Day Lewis continued writing poetry after the second world war. Auden's American period began since 1940; Spender's Collected Poems appeared in 1954; MacNeice's Goethe's Fans was published in 1951, C.D. Lewis "The Eclogues of Virgil' was written in 1963. Among the moderns after the New Signature Poets (Auden and his group), the most famous name was that of Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953). Intensity and energy of his verse before the war show his response to the violent historical dimensions of the period.

Among the moderns after the New Signature Poets (Auden and his group), the most famous name was that of Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953). Intensity and energy of his verse before the war show his response to the violent historical dimensions of the period.
After war Poetry

      Auden (1907-1973) the leader of the group, is a richly-endowed poet and his influence on the contemporaries is deep. As Scarfe has observed; "Auden has been a liberating influence which gave the younger writers a self-confidence which they might otherwise have had a fight dearly...He enlarged for the younger writers the vocabulary, syntax, rhythm and imagery of poetry" His poetic development followed a clear upward curve. His first notable volume, Poems of 1930 shows the consciousness of the old effect social, political and economic set-up of the world and of the need of revolution if we want to live, 'we'd better start to die'. The disease is at once psychological and economic and Freud and Marx are called in for doctoring it. The tragedy of the Spanish War wiped away the ironic simile from his lips and the poem Spain was written in a deadly earnest tone. Look, Stranger which came in 1936 is a collection of beautiful lyrics, which remind us of Elizabethan lyrics in expression of emotions. With the outbreak of the Second World War he went to America and became a naturalised citizen there (his wife is a German, the daughter of the famous German writer Thomas Mann). It is interesting that Auden has recently returned to England and as a fitting recognition of his poetic genius the office of the Poet-Laureate was offered to him but he refused it. His earlier style was full of mannerisms but in the latter volumes it developed on the proper lines and attained a grace and dignity of its own.

      Cecil Day Lewis, (1904-1972) (more widely known as Nicholas Blake, the pseudonym under which he wrote famous detective fictions) as a poet is different from Auden in spite of close literary association. He is a more human poet than Auden and has a great love for the fresh open-air nature, for the wind and the bird song which inspired his poetry. His The Magnetic Mountain comes nearer to the spirit of early Auden, begin pre-occupied with the sickness of the world and yet a hope for the world. Its language is firm and clear. The Spanish Civil War ended with the victory of Franco and growing menace of Fascism lowering darker and darker over Europe had overcast his hope. The result was his Overtures to Death (1938), which strikes a tragic note, indignant and ominous, though not despairing. He of all the poets of his group had the most satisfying fulfilment in the forties and had the highest acceptance.

      While anger and scorn mark Auden's denunciation of the 'Waste land', Stephen Spender (1909-1977) has a more delicate awareness and compassion which, if he were born in another age, would have made him a romantic poet. Emotion, gentleness and pity break through his criticism of the status quo. His compassion for the workless men who idle in the streets and the children of the slum school move him into genuine poetry. His 'Still Centre', published in 1939, is a characteristic volume. Its subjects are politics, war and his own personal emotions. The group of poems on the last are beautiful lyrics in which emotions and reflections mingle and reach poignancy and beauty. He has real poetic sensibility, a good ear and strong lyric impulse. He is more of a poet than a partisan.

      Louis MacNice (1907-1963) "the ablest, certainly the robustest, of them all," a fine scholar, is a master alike of the old manner and the new. He is a friend of Auden, but he does not share Auden's communism : on the contrary he is a rugged individualist, who views the contemporary scene with ironic detachment. He came from Ireland and has the Irishman's strains of melancholy, romantic sentiment and self-pity and also a sense of humour. He was an idealist and humanist. He loved the old world of his classical education (he became a university lecturer in classics), but he saw in it isolation, and weakness; yet he could not whole heartedly accept the new. It is in his short lyrics that he is at his best. He has a perfect mastery of the musical qualities of the language and "he writes with a control, finish, lightness of touch and a structural sense who are often lacking in the poets of his group". His Poems, The Earth Compels and Autumn journal appeared by 1939. He also wrote some poetic drama. The Dark Tower and other for broadcasting.

      Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) edited Wheels : An annual Anthology of modern Verse which appeared between 1916 and 1921 and revolted against the popular Georgian poetry. Like all the poets who achieved eminence in this period she was deeply conscious of the unhappiness and spiritual emptiness of the Inter-war years. But she sought escape into the world of childhood and art. She shared with her brothers (Osbert Sitwell and Sir Sacheverell Sitwell) a nostalgic regret for the culture which has disappeared with great verbal dexterity, wit and brilliance of poetic imagery, her early poetry including Clowns Houses (1918), The Wooden Pegasus (1920), and Bucolic Comedies (1923) creates a wholly artificial world from the dreams of childhood. She is essentially an artist, exploiting to the full the magic of language, ceaselessly experimenting with verse forms and patterns. Her technical virtuosity is prominent in Facade (1922). In a single word or phrase, she can achieve a striking effect. She is particularly fond of describing the perceptions of one sense in terms of another (e.g. Pig-shouted breeze). In her later poems, her verse lost much of its earlier brittleness. But her humanity became apparent. Her other publications include The Sleeping Beauty (1924), Troy Park (1925), Street Songs (1942), The Song of the Cold (1945). Edith Sitwell's criticism of the contemporary scene and the strangeness and experiment in her technique are major aspects of her poetry. She laid too much emphasis on the patterns and technical skills of poetry, as though verbal artistry were all-important. However, her sensitive appreciation of the poetry of Pope in Alexander Pope (1930) did much to provoke a revaluation of the poetry of Pope.

      Christopher Isherwood was a novelist and dramatist who collaborated with Auden in writing three sociological plays - The God, Beneath the Skin (1935), The Ascent of F. 6. (1936) and On the Frontier (1938).

      Outside this group there numerous other poets who wrote in this decade. Much of the works of these poets belong to coterie and the poets have their own manifesto of the nature and purpose of poetry which was translated into their works. This provoked Eliot's ironical saying: "Everyone talks of poetry but no one gives us a poem." Dylan Thomas, George Barker and Sachervell Sitwell however stand out prominently because of the great qualities of their poetic works.

      In contrast to the response of English poets in World War I, (Owen, Sassoon, Eliot etc.), The second great upheaval of the twentieth century produced little agonised protest against war. There was virtually no diatribe against the Germans or the Japanese. Alun Lewis (1915-1944) killed in the Burmah Campaign and Sidney Keyes (1922-1943) killed in Tunisia as the most accomplished of the war poets.

      New Line Poets or Poets of the 'Movement' are known as the most vocal of post- war poets. The anthology of New Lines appeared in 1956. The poetry of these poets is characterised by colloquial ease, allusion to the trivial in everyday life, disillusioned and ironic self-scrutiny. Dropping any heroic or tragic view of life, these poets write poetry out of the very inadequacy and pointlessness of modern existence. Unlike the New Signature poets (Auden and his group), the New Lines writers never had a Utopian vision. However, the influence of T.S. Eliot and Auden was dominant.

      Philip Arthur Larkin (1922-1985) was born in Coventry and studied at King Henry VIII Grammar School. He graduated from Oxford University. He first came into limelight as a novelist. His first novel had the title of 'Jil' published in 1946. His next novel was entitled 'A Girl in Winter' (1947). He then devoted himself to poetry and successively published four major volumes of poems Vie North Ship (1945), The less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), High Windows (1974). His reputation grew with the publication of his volumes of poetry. He was awarded the Queen's Gold, Medal for poetry; he received honorary Doctorates from several British Universities.

      Larkin has proved himself within a limited range as a precise and disciplined craftsman. Time, death, chance and choice have been identified by critics as the leading themes in Larkin's poetry. Church Going has been frequently cited as a major example of New Lines Verse. A sceptical contemporary in an era of withered faith wanders through an old church. After casual boredom he suggests in a solemn speech no religious conviction but a quiet regeneration effected by a place where men for centuries have sought peace and solace. The absence of any poetic posturing and the presence of honest perception of the present have made Larkin seem the genuine voice of poetry for his time.

      The Whitsun Weddings maintains the same excellent craftsmanship. Like Hardy, Larkin dwells upon the poignant pointlessness of life and the ignoble ignorance of man, but for more than his master Larkin can stoically accept the grimness of change and decay.

      Compared with the poets of the early Twentieth Century, poets of the second half of the Twentieth Century are modest and unassuming. Larkin's carefully constructed poems with layer upon layer of complexity in their depiction of contemporary English life represent a subtle expression of the changing mood of Britain in the decades following the end of the Second World War.

      Larkin's near contemporary Ted Hughes (1930-1998) particularly in Crow (1970) is a different kind of poet, with a consistent strain of violence in his work; in particular, he sets the savagery of nature against the pretensions of civilisation. He is not connected with the Movement but he shows strength and individuality. His poems, The Jaguar, The Casualty attracted a good deal of attention. In 1956 Ted Hughes and some of his friends started a poetry magazine : St. Botolph's Review. The magazine which had only one issue and a single number contained four poems by Ted Hughes: "Fall-grief girl friends, Law in the Country of Cats, Soliloquy of a Misanthrope and Secretary.

      Hawk's first collection of poems, The Hark in the Rain was published in 1957. In the best poems in The Hark in the Rain, we find a language characterised by its faithfulness to the facts and vigour of images, Lupercal was the second collection of poems which appeared in 1960. Many poems in this collection deal with animals: Hawk Roosting, The Bull Moses, View of a Pig, Pike, Thrushes etc. The subject turned to the ritualistic and mythic. The title itself is derived from the Roman Festival of Lupercalia celebrated on the fifteenth of Febuary (Lupercal was temple on the Palatine in Rome). The poems deal with man's confrontation with Nature, with the world of ritual and the world of animals. Technically and stylistically, these poems show an advance over many poems that appeared in The Hatok in the Rain. Other collections of poems are Wodow, Crow which is a major collection of poems published in 1972 in England. The Crotw is a fine synthesis of many myths and folk tales in different parts of the world. Hughes rendered the Prometheus myth in his poems Prometheus on His Crag. He also wrote a play Orghast. He wrote for children Senson Songs in 1975. His other volumes include Cave Birds (1977), Gandele (1979), Remains of Element (1979), Moortown (1979). His most recent works are River (1983) and What is the Truth ? (1984).

      Ted Hughs is a major modern poet of the second half of the Twentieth century His themes vary from concern with Nature, myth and ritual, the animal and human world as well as the existentialist questions about the meaning of this life and the world. His styles reveal great variety.

      Roy Broadbent Fuller (born on 1912) is a bridge between the New Signature poets and The Movement. His first volume, Poems (1939) echo Auden. Fuller's wartime service (1941-1946) with the Royal Navy produced one of the notable volumes of war verse, The Middle of a War (1942).

      Collected Poems (1962) is strongest when Fuller follows the idiom of New Lines verse. Holding little or no hope for the future of mankind and no belief in personal immortality, he none the less counsels endurance and dignity. In "Expostulation and Inadequate Reply" and "To Posterity" Fuller finds sombre grandeur in the Prospect of man as a dying species upon a doomed planet.

      Donald Davie born on 1922 is a devoted admirer of eighteenth century poetry as is demonstrated in Brides of Reason (1955). A Sequence For Francis Parkmam (1961) scrutinising America's role in western culture displays perhaps a large grasp of history than that held by any other poet of the 1960's and reveals an experimental, independent spirit boding well for future poetic development.

      Edmund Blunden, Edwin Muir, and John Betjeman are traditionalist poets. He wrote Undertones of War (1928) in prose takes its place with the most prominent of the anti-war autobiographies. Blunden's verse has treated of War and Nature from Poems (1914) to A Hong Kong House (1962). He has consistently depicted not mere bucolics but a genuine countryman's Nature, often as gnarled in verse as the bent trees he loves. He seems more the poet of the immemorial landscape than the follower of any twentieth Century School.

      Edwin Muir (1887-1958) published his Collected Poems (1921-1958) (1960) reveals a poet who probably would have achieved major fame in another era, whose temper would run counter to ours. Muir's verse is reflective, not of modern tension and irony, but of "emotion recollected in tranquillity". Archetypal dreams and mythology rather than the pains of the century occupy him. He sees the powers of good as greater than those of evil, because goodness is more primordial, humble and close to elemental simplicity. His lines are commendably clean and smooth.

      John Betjeman (born on 1906) writes to fascinate the British Middle class. He poxes fun at the welfare state and summons his readers nostalgically from the present of television commercials and neon movie signs to the imaginary paradise of pre - 1914 England. Betjeman's passionate love for "Dear old, bloody old England" has endeared him to thousands who never read poetry before except in school.

Other Poets :-

      The poetry of Elizabeth Jennings (born on 1926) has constructed a method of observation and meditation which is remarkably coherent. She relies on perfection of diction and movement, and what she explores - states of mind about identity love, landscapes and memory is a continual capture and analysis of the elusive. This can be seen simply in her poem, 'For a Child Born Dead' where the purity and innocence of the death moves, without any explicit moralising, to an awareness of the purity of the resultant grief. The child is beyond any manufactured grief, because there are no memories which could distort what has happened. His poems Bell-Ringer, Fishermen, The Cimbers, The Island take people or places as parables of thought or behaviour.

      Thomas Gunn (born on 1929) is another energetic poet. Fighting Terms have poems concerned with love, but with love as battle, political or military. The very title of his book is an indication of his manner and his preoccupations. His poems have notes of doubt and bewilderment, but always expressed in firm and deliberate terms:

"Searching thoroughly, I did not see what I wanted What I wanted would have been what I found."

      His later Poems, several of which are included in New Lines have ranged more widely but the manner is still recognisably the same. His most ambitious poem is "On the move" which explores the idea of unmotivated action and violence.

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