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New Poetry And The Lingering Line
by [?]

But I have just been reading the latest Imagist anthology, especially the Lacquer Prints by Amy Lowell, not ten years, but hardly ten minutes ago–and I cannot repeat one of them. I could learn them, of course, by an effort. But that is not the way man desires to remember music and poetry. It must come singing into his head and heart–and remain there without his effort. Here is a “Lacquer Print” called Sunshine. It is indeed vivid, though (quite properly, of course) a little garden pool to Tennyson’s vast ocean.

The pool is edged with blade-like leaves of irises.
If I throw a stone into the placid water
It suddenly stiffens
Into rings and rings
Of sharp gold wire.

Here is a vivid picture, here is economy and scrupulous selection of epithet, here is no “poetic” diction of the despised sort. But something is lacking, none the less. It does not haunt you, it does not ingratiate itself with your ear, you do not find yourself repeating it days and months later. Close the book–and the poem perishes, even as those rings subside on the pool.

It would be only too easy to find much more striking examples in the new verse. Take, for instance, the opening stanza of Ezra Pound’s poem, The Return:

See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

It is doubtful if any reader will fail to see the trouble in the pace of these lines! No doubt it was exactly the effect the poet desired, but it will forever effectually prevent the repetition of his poem by anybody without the book. When a woman once boasted that she could repeat anything on a single hearing, Theodore Hook rattled off the immortal nonsense, beginning, “She went into the garden patch to get a cabbage head to make an apple pie, and a great she bear coming up the road thrust her head into the shop and cried ‘What, no soap?’ and so he died–” and the woman was floored. Such a poem as The Return would have floored her quite as completely. I find, after reading carefully all the twenty pages assigned to Ezra Pound in The New Poetry Anthology, edited by Miss Monroe (a greater space, I believe, than was awarded to any other poet), that I can now repeat just one line–or, rather, two lines, such is Mr. Pound’s odd way of phrasing his rhythms. Here they are:

Dawn enters with little feet
Like a gilded Pavlova.

There is a certain humorous charm of epithet here, and a rhythmic suggestion of metrical beat to follow. That, no doubt, is why the line has stuck in my memory. But the metrical beat did not follow, and the rest of the stanza has gone from me. I am sure even a gilded Pavlova would be at some difficulty to dance to Mr. Pound’s rhythms.

But Miss Monroe is catholic in her choice of new poets. She includes, for instance, Walter de la Mare, if in less than two pages. She selects his wonderful poem The Listeners, and the quaint, haunting, Epitaph. It is a little hard to see just why The Listeners is new poetry, except chronologically. Its odd, apparently simple but really intricate and triumphantly fluid metrical structure, so unified that there is no break from the first syllable to the last; its lyric romanticism of subject; its obvious delight in tune; even its occasional lapses into the ancient “poetic” vocabulary (the traveler “smote” the door, the listeners “hearkened,” and so on), are all a part of the nineteenth-century tradition of English verse. It is no more modern than La Belle Dame Sans Merci–which, to be sure, is quite modern indeed to some of us. And it has lyric beauty, it has lines of unforgettable musical loveliness, it creeps in through the ear and echoes in the memory. You surely remember the close: