Poetry During 1930 to 1940: Before The 2nd World War

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      There are sixty one poets represented in Allott's Contemporary Verse, A major poet is Roy Campbell (1901-1957). His poetic personality was vigorous, masculine and prolific. Born in South Africa, he raged against what he considered to be the effeminacy and in-bred quality of English literary life. As a writer of lyrics, he was full of verbal invention and zest, specially when he spread himself in such an extended lyric as 'The Palm'. What prevented him from being more important and successful is that he was for too often too determinedly exuberant so that his force becomes purely verbal, his wild rhymes and diction rush on and on.

Poetry during 1930 to 1940
Poetry : 1930 to 1940

      Kathleen Raine and Amne Ridler are two women whose poetry show that mere sensibility is not what one should necessarily expect from feminine verse. Ane Ridler's essential decency of ordinary human relationship is refreshing The last stanza of At Parting is remarkable:

"We cannot quite cast out lack and pain
Let him remain- what he may devour
We can well spare "

The investing of the commonplace with distinction can appear even in individual passages which surprise one not with their novelty but with their power of expressing truths unaffectedly and economically: Thus she says of a child in the womb :

"And when our baby stirs and struggles to be born
It compels humility."

      Her powers of directness and restraint, together with her lyrical gift are most impressive in her long poem, 'A Matter of Life and Death', a meditation on birth and childhood. Her religious poetry is as close in spirit to Herbert, and Traherne as anything written in the present century. Another poet who sometimes reminds one of seventeenth century writers is F.T. Prince (bron on. 1912). At other times, his work seems like a skilful translation from some foreign language. In his love poems, such as "The Inn, The Dice, The Diamond" gives him the appearance of being a smoother Donne. In his poem, like 'Soldiers Bathing', lie is more purely himself though his structure, which is so neat in the shorter poems, tends to become sprawling when he attempts bigger things. However, 'Soldiers Bathing' is one of the major poems of this time. Taking as its starting point the sight of a group of soldiers bathing in the sea during a lull in fighting during the Second World War, it moves on to link the scene with a Michael Angels drawing of Florentine soldiers, also bathing, surprised by the enemy; the fragility and purity of the naked bodies about to be slaughtered reminds him:

"That rage, that bitterness, those blows
That hatred of the slain, what could it be
But indirectly or brutally a commentary
On the crucifixion for the picture burns."

      Henry Reed (born on 1914), another important poet of the thirties wrote 'Lessons of the War' which are ironical meditations on three elements of a modern soldier's basic training - the categorical naming of the component parts of a rifle, the methodical ability to judge a distance correctly and combat without weapons. 'Judging Distances' is the most popular part of the poem. It contrasts the natural scene with the precise, dry terms in which it must be described militarily. Everything must be reduced to its base essentials; there is no room for emotion, or even for certainty. Reed deliberately juxtaposes an exaggeratedly romantic description of the lovers in the field with the correct military description

"And that under some poplars pair of what appear to be humans
Appear to be loving."

      These are poems not only of ironical wit but also of direct good humour. Other poets who have made marks are Lawrence Durrell (born on 1914), Roy Fuller (born on 1912) Lawrence Durrell's 'A Ballad of the Good Lord Nelson' shows that he can handle rowdy comedy as well as Auden ever did in 'Songs and Musical Pieces'.

      Surrealism, the anti-rational literary and artistic movement which began in France and central Europe during the late 1920s never became really at home in England, except, perhaps in some of Paul Nash's painting, and in the early work of David Gascoyne (born on 1916). Gascoyne was at one time called the only whole-hearted English Surrealist. By the time he was twenty-two, Gascoyne had almost emerged from whatever allegiance he felt for surrealism. He began to write a sequence of religious poems, called 'Miserere', all of which are concerned with the terrible spiritual desolution of those who are banished from the sight of God.

      There are some poets whose apparent promise was cut off by their death in the Second World War - Alum Lewis, (1915-1944), whose "The Mahratta Ghats begins well with an evocative picture of India, but the attempt to force it to a concluding moral is a failure. Lewis and Keyes were at the time of their death the most highly praised of the 'war poets'. Douglas and Allison are much less well known. Douglas who took part in the North African campaign is a poet of the desert Egypt, the look and feel of the sand, the extreme featurelessness or landscape and climate.

      Drummond Allison (1921-1943) was a much more intellectual poet whose work relied little on places or on the particular atmosphere of the time. He had, within the intellectual framework a vein of fantasy which produced some of his best poems including 'The Brass Horse'. He had more poetic subjects, more technical promise than Lewis, Keyes or Douglas.

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