Literature Modernity Poetry tradition

The Essences of Classical & Modern Poetry ~ The Imaginative Conservative

As a sustained inventive faculty, modernism can’t endure. However classical artwork is everlasting as a result of the concepts it expresses are everlasting. A resurrection of classical type does not characterize a return to the previous, actual or imagined, however as an alternative a return to sanity, a reorientation of the inventive eye back to its pure, absolutely human objective and use.

Classical and trendy poetry are inarguably totally different. Certainly, modernism’s chief boast is its break with classicism and custom more broadly. The distinction is palpable in even probably the most cursory studying of a classical poem alongside a modernist one. But in what does the difference lie? It could be tempting to comply with Justice Stewart’s well-known maxim “I know it when I see it.” In fact we all know the difference once we see it, but a reasonably surface-level analysis of the 2 types of poetry reveals what the difference is and why it’s so.

The first facet instantly noticeable a few classical poem is its readability of expression. The language is perhaps lofty or florid or sensuous, but the which means—the underlying fact the poet is conveying by way of his art—isn’t lost. Against this, a modernist poem is notable at first for its opacity. Symbolism unique to the poet or even the poem, inexplicable with out footnotes, pervades the work. And the language all the time speaks in riddles, conjuring many attainable interpretations, none of them necessarily mistaken.

The divergence in opinion over readability extra basically stems from a distinction in worldviews. The classical poet operates beneath the presumption of fact. Poetry is merely a car for expressing that fact, and a poem that isn’t clear in that expression is a failure. The modernist poet, by stark distinction, denies both the discoverability or the existence itself of any absolute fact. Fact then becomes subjective, equivalent to the perceptions of the observer. With the observer as the last word arbiter of fact, effect becomes paramount, and the success of a poem is decided by the facility of the effect it has over the reader, regardless of the conclusions to which the reader arrives. Thus, in a modernist poem, the timbre, the nuance, the imagery of language is paramount, for they themselves include, quite than convey, fact to the reader.

Two poems that superbly illustrate this divergence are Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” and Hart Crane’s “Voyages.” Comparable in construction and vividness and grandeur of their imagery, they serve as good contrasts to research the use of poetic language by a classicist and by a modernist in contrast with one another. These, together with each classicist and modernist polemical writings, illustrate this elementary distinction over the nature of fact and its measurable stylistic effects.


First, Shelley. Earlier than analyzing his verse, it is worthwhile to think about what he himself thought-about the top of poetry to be. In any case, what better benchmark to measure the success of his poem than the one he himself set out? In his 1821 essay “A Defence of Poetry,” Shelley divides the human mental processes into purpose, or “the enumeration of quantities already known,” and creativeness, or “the perception of the value of those quantities.”[1] Poetry is “the expression of the imagination.”[2] Thus, the language of poets “is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before unapprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until the words, which represent them, become, through time, signs for portions or classes of thoughts instead of pictures of integral thoughts . . .”[3]

For Shelley, “[a] poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.”[4] Whereas a story is merely “a catalogue of detached facts” related solely by way of time, place, and causality, a poem “is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the creator, which is itself the image of all other minds.”[5] Poetry thus captures the ideals themselves, somewhat than the types noticed.

But poetry also acts in another “diviner” approach: “[i]t awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought;” it “lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”[6] On this method poetry precedes and is superior to ethical regulation, for it “enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void for ever craves fresh food.”[7]

In the direction of the top of his essay, Shelley lays down the position and function of poetry in human society. “The functions of poetry are two-fold,” he says; “by one it creates new materials of knowledge, and power, and pleasure; by the other it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them according to a certain rhythm and order, which may be called the beautiful and the good.”[8] Poetry, then, is the “center and circumference of knowledge” and “comprehends all science,” and is most wanted when “the accumulation of the materials of external life”—information and perception—“exceed the quantity of the power of assimilating them to the internal laws of human nature.”[9]

Formidable stuff—not shocking for a bit that famously ends by calling poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”[10] However Shelley was not one for small ideas. To him, poetry was a minimum of the revelation of fact more comprehensively than both science or ethics might obtain.

To see Shelley put his poetic excellent into apply, his “Mont Blanc” supplies one of one of the best examples of clarity of expression. The poem has grow to be one thing of a war-horse for undergraduate lecture rooms, however this on no account diminishes its value for research. Its sweeping, grandiose imagery captures the quintessence of the Romantic superb of the chic as lovely, and renders the poem a perfect case research to watch clarity of expression even by way of a heavy floor layer of imagery.

The first stanza begins:

The eternal universe of things
Flows by means of the mind, and rolls its speedy waves,
Now darkish — now glittering — now reflecting gloom —
Now lending splendour . . .

Right here Shelley brings the reader from the broadest potential matter, “the everlasting universe of things,” unconstrained by place or even time, and frames it as thought inside the thoughts of the observer. It is the human thoughts alone that accommodates the universe whole. Then he introduces the primary metaphor:

. . . the place from secret springs
The supply of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters, — with a sound but half its personal,
Reminiscent of a feeble brook will oft assume
Within the wild woods, among the many mountains lone,
The place waterfalls round it leap for ever,
The place woods and winds contend, and an enormous river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

The human thoughts, which incorporates the universe, is likened to a “feeble brook,” so frail amidst the titanic forces of mountains, waterfalls, and river rapids. Despite the depth of the pictures, neither the metaphor nor the primary concept is misplaced. Certainly, the imagery serves the metaphor, highlighting the brook’s feebleness amongst mightier forces of nature.

Having set the mountain scene for the brook that represents the human mind, Shelley spends the first twenty-two strains of the second stanza immersing the reader in vivid description of the “awful scene” of uncooked, untamed, overpowering natural forces within the Arve Valley beneath Mont Blanc: the “giant brood of pines;” the “chainless winds;” the “earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep / Of the aethereal waterfall whose veil / Robes some unsculptured image.” Then Shelley returns to the human thoughts—his own, this time—reflecting on the superior sight he simply described:

Looking for among the many shadows that move by⁠
Ghosts of all things which are, some shade of thee,
Some phantom, some faint picture; till the breast
From which they fled recollects them, thou artwork there!

Here Shelley’s Platonism surfaces. He sees in the photographs before him mere “shadows” and seeks amongst them the “ghosts of all things that are,” not very subtly evoking Plato’s famous analogy of the shadows on the cave wall.

Within the third stanza, Shelley explores the Platonic ideally suited additional, pondering the existence of the perfect beyond “

Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,
Mont Blanc appears, — still, snowy, and serene —
Its topic mountains their unearthly types
Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
Blue because the overhanging heaven, that unfold
And wind among the many accrued steeps;
A desert peopled by the storms alone,
Save when the eagle brings some hunter’s bone,
And the wolf tracks her there — how hideously
Its shapes are heaped round! impolite, naked, and excessive,
Ghastly, and scarred, and riven.

The imagery is superior and scary. The mountain, aloof above the clouds, serves as the metaphor for the Platonic ideals Shelley has simply been pondering. Eventually Shelley addresses the mountain immediately, calling on it (or, fairly, the perfect it represents) to behave upon the imperfections in the perceivable world:

Thou hast a voice, nice Mountain, to repeal
Giant codes of fraud and woe; not understood
By all, however which the clever, and great, and good
Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.

Again, even on the poetic climax, probably the most awe-inspiring pictures in a poem full of awe-inspiring pure imagery, the poetic language serves solely as a car for expressing the metaphor of the mountain as representing the Platonic very best.

The fourth stanza descends from the serene, unreachable mountaintop to the chaotic scene beneath. Throughout the imagery is highly effective and scary: “glaciers creep / Like snakes that watch their prey;” the piled rocks resemble “A city of death . . . yet not a city, but a flood of ruin;” “Vast pines . . . branchless and shattered stand.” These pictures present the irresistible power of nature, amid which “The race / Of man flies far in dread, his work and dwelling / Vanish, like smoke before the tempest’s stream . . .” Thus, humanity is fleeting not solely in comparison to the idealized, unreachable mountaintop, but in addition to the natural, if transient, forces of nature beneath.

The fifth and remaining stanza concludes, “Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there.” It ponders how high on the remoted peak the winds rush and the lightning flashes silently. And but:

. . . The secret Power of issues
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a regulation, inhabits thee!
And what have been thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human thoughts’s imaginings
Silence and solitude have been vacancy?

With that query, the immovable, eternal superb represented by the mountaintop is framed inside the thoughts of the creatures portrayed as miniscule and powerless just a few strains earlier than. The energy of the mountain rests only in the human thoughts’s capability to understand it and grasp the perfect it represents in the poem.

Throughout the poem, Shelley’s which means isn’t misplaced. It is a philosophical lesson vividly, breathtakingly described. Nowhere is any imagery gratuitous. It serves only to help the metaphor. Be it the frailty of human nature and the human thoughts, the uncooked, overpowering grandeur of untamed nature, or the unreachable Platonic best, all of the vivid description serves the purpose being made. Nowhere is the which means obscure or ambiguous. Certainly, the poem can be a failure otherwise. If Shelley is going to propound philosophy, it will sick serve him to make his readers guess at his which means. Philosophy is, of course, the search for fact, and presumes the existence of a fact to discover.

Shelley uses the poetic language not as a masks, however as a lens to reveal that fact. The imagery makes the concepts they convey come alive, phrased in concrete phrases to which any reader can instantly relate. Fairly than forcing the reader to guess at his which means, Shelley reveals it extra clearly and extra powerfully by way of imagery with energy and detail enough to conjure the feelings.

Before shifting to modernism, some further words of classical polemics provide a worthy supplement to Shelley’s. An equally enthusiastic polemicist, Edgar Allan Poe echoes Shelley in his posthumously revealed essay, “The Poetic Principle.” Poe, after concluding that the perfect poem is short however not too brief, addresses the perform of poetry. Whereas Shelley’s human thoughts is twin, Poe’s is tripartite, divided between intellect, taste, and moral sense.[11] The mind considerations itself with fact; style with magnificence; and ethical sense with obligation.[12] Relating to style, “[a]n immortal instinct, deep within the spirit of man, is thus, plainly, a sense of the Beautiful. This it is which administers to his delight in the manifold forms, and sounds, and odors, and sentiments amid which he exists.”[13]

Mere copy of these sense-impressions, although “is not poetry.”[14]

There’s still a something within the distance which he has been unable to achieve. We’ve got nonetheless a thirst unquenchable . . . no mere appreciation of the Magnificence before us – however a wild effort to succeed in the Magnificence above. Inspired by an ecstatic prescience of the glories past the grave, we wrestle, by multiform mixtures among the many issues and thoughts of Time, to achieve a portion of that Loveliness whose very parts, maybe, appertain to eternity alone.[15]

It’s “the struggle to apprehend the supernal Loveliness” that “has given to the world all that which it . . . has ever been enabled at once to understand and to feel as poetic.”[16]

In concluding, Poe summarizes his poetic principle as “strictly and simply, the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty.”[17] And “the manifestation of the Principle is always found in an elevating excitement of the Soul” unbiased of ardour or even fact.[18] Poe, nevertheless, is quick to hedge his exclusion of fact from the poetic precept: “if . . . through the attainment of a truth, we are led to perceive a harmony where none was apparent before, we experience, at once, the true poetical effect”—but the effect refers to the harmony perceived, not the truth itself “which merely served to render the harmony manifest.” [19]

Thus, for Poe, as with Shelley, the precept upon which all poetry is founded is the revelation of a fact. However for Poe, revelation isn’t by way of a direct telling of the reality, as in prose, however a displaying of it via a “harmony” or metaphor beforehand unrealized by the reader. Any of Poe’s works readily show his use of this precept. “The Bells,” with its stark imagery and oppressive repetition, is one instance.

Let us conclude the dialogue of the classical strategy with a press release from Keats in a letter to his good friend, the poet John Hamilton Reynolds:

Poetry must be great [and] unobtrusive, a factor which enters into one’s soul, and doesn’t startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject. – How lovely are the retired flowers! [H]ow would they lose their beauty have been they to throng into the freeway crying out, “[A]dmire me I am a violet! [D]ote upon me I am a primrose!”[20]

This easy statement of methodology stands in stark contrast to the sweeping, grandiose philosophizing of Shelley and Poe. With this easy, virtually childlike statement, Keats more succinctly and perhaps higher than either Shelley or Poe captures the essence of classical aesthetic: which means isn’t subverted to the sensory delight of the imagery.


If philosophy and rhetoric don’t belong in poetry, all that is still is the uncooked emotional effect of the language itself. The modernist conception, which sees the effect of language as the true substance of poetry, leaves no room for philosophizing. Or fairly, it makes its philosophy concerning the poem—and subsequently exterior to the poem—relatively than inside the poem. In this method modernist poetry, which payments its opacity as depth, is definitely superficial.

For instance the modernist conception of poetry as superficial, few higher examples are available than Hart Crane’s “Voyages.” While on its floor the poem might sound a poor comparison to Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” as its poems are indisputably love poems. To make certain, modern critics, mired in the dominance of sexual id politics, are likely to view Crane’s “Voyages” as primarily expressions of gay love. But Crane himself characterized them as primarily “sea poems” and only secondarily as “also love poems.”[21] The sweeping imagery Crane uses in portraying a subject as grand and common to the human expertise as the ocean compares completely to Shelley’s equally sweeping description of a similarly grand and common object of nature.

Earlier than turning to the poems themselves, it’s once again worthwhile to look at polemics, this time modernist. “Voyages” emerged within the modernist milieu, and understanding modernism is important to analyzing its language. Crane didn’t depart us with any sweeping polemic stating his conception of poetry as Shelley did, but he left voluminous correspondence that permits perception into his poetic ideals. There, Crane expressed his high regard of each Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.[22] Each Pound and Eliot, it so happens, have been extremely influential polemicists, and their arguments should present some helpful insight into Crane’s ideals.

In his brief but tight 1913 essay, “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” Pound begins by defining the poetic “image” as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.”[23] The presentation of this emotional “complex,” in turn, “gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.”[24] To Pound, “[i]t is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.”[25]

Pound advises poets, “Don’t be ‘viewy’—leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays,” and “Consider the definiteness of Dante’s presentation, as compared with Milton’s rhetoric.”[26] Pound’s use of “viewy” is unclear. Although it might often imply “showy” or “ostentatious,” he associates it as an alternative with philosophy relatively than the display of imagery he advocates. Given the primacy of the picture in his conception, his choice for “presentation” over “rhetoric,” and his earlier definition of the image complicated, it isn’t a troublesome leap to conclude that Pound conceives of poetry not because the conveyance of a message so much as the conveyance of an emotional effect.

T.S. Eliot’s profoundly influential 1919 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” supplies a way more detailed and eloquent articulation of the modernist strategy to poetry. Though the essay’s main focus is the relationship between the heritage of previous literature and current poetry, its complete second section describes the purpose of poetry in Eliot’s modernist conception.

For Eliot, the mature poet is a mere catalyst, a “finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations” in the identical means that platinum catalyzed the formation of sulfuric acid without itself being consumed.[27] The parts that the poet catalyzes are “emotions and feelings,” and their product, “

On analyzing the greatest poetry, Eliot perceives “how completely any semi-ethical criterion of ‘sublimity’ misses the mark.”[31] Its greatness lies not in “the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts.”[32] Although poetry may “employ[ ] a definite emotion,” its “intensity . . . is something quite different from whatever intensity in the supposed experience it may give the impression of.”[33] Providing the instance of Keats, Eliot asserts, “The ode of Keats contains a number of feelings which have nothing particular to do with the nightingale, but which the nightingale, partly, perhaps, because of its attractive name, and partly because of its reputation, served to bring together.”[34]

Eliot also rejects the Wordsworth’s well-known definition of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.” For Eliot, the poet doesn’t recollect emotion, however collects experiences, using abnormal emotions and working them by way of poetry “to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all.”[36] In concluding, Eliot calls this emotion in art impersonal, and has its life in the poem and not in the historical past of the poet.

These two essays reveal the modernist conception of poetry as utterly alien to that of Shelley, Poe, or Keats. Nevertheless highly Eliot regarded those poets as part of the historic custom he and his era have been to broaden, his views of their art could not be more alien to theirs. For both him and Pound (and the remaining of the modernists), the poem is just not the conveyance of an underlying fact in a fashion that delights—a concept, no less than in English, stretching again to Sir Philip Sidney in the Renaissance—it’s moderately the conveyance of an effect on the reader. For Pound, the conveyance is a posh shaped from the poetic image, and for Eliot it’s a focus of an impersonal expertise that conjures a brand new emotion. But Eliot’s definition is simply a more expansive view of Pound’s. The essence of both—the essence of modernism—is that poetry’s objective is to convey an impact, not a fact. It works on, slightly than speaks to, the reader.

If “effect” is merely the emotional response of the reader to the language used, then poetry is but a cosmetic artwork, and a poet is however a author who can string collectively a collection of pretty-sounding phrases that conjure a picture. That process requires no special talent. Like structure or carpentry, true craftsmanship in poetry requires consideration to structure and basis, not merely shade and ornament. And shoddy constructions and Potemkin villages by no means endure. True artwork lies in the essence of the work, not its impressions. That is yet one more sense through which to read Keats’s well-known line, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”

The language Crane uses in “Voyages” completely encapsulates modernism: poetry because the conveyance of impact fairly than fact. The first poem paints a vivid picture of the grandeur of the sea: “fresh ruffles of the surf,” “[b]right striped urchins.” “The sun beats lightning on the waves, / The waves fold thunder on the sand.” But as quickly as it leaves these photographs, it concludes with an exhortation to “brilliant kids”—“frisk with your dog” and “[f]ondle your shells and sticks”—together with a warning that “

The second poem follows the identical pattern, beginning with a portrayal of the sea in sweeping photographs: “rimless flood, unfettered leewardings, / Samite sheeted;” the “undinal vast belly moonward bend[ing];” the “scrolls of silver snowy sentences;” and the hanging simile “as the bells of San Salvador / Salute the crocus lustres of the stars / In these poinsettia meadows of her tides.” Right here Crane likens the sea to a “great wink of eternity” and urges the lover to whom the poem is addressed to “hasten . . . – sleep, death, desire / Close round one instant in one floating flower.” Once more, the poem ends with an tackle, this time as a double invocation, first to the “Seasons clear” to “bind us in time” and “awe,” then to the “minstrel galleons of Carib fire” to “bequeath us to no earthly shore.”

Both of the primary two poems include putting imagery undeveloped in relation to any metaphor. As an alternative, they’re atmospheric items serving primarily the same objective twice: to painting the sweetness and grandeur of the sea. The first presents the sea from the shore and the second on the high seas, but these pictures are only a backdrop for the true message of the poem, which is shouted on the finish of every as a direct announcement. Finally, the essential message of poems, fairly than being developed as an argument throughout the poem, is said plainly in summary style on the end, as an exhortation and then as an invocation. Pretty descriptions adopted by a blunt statement of prosaic literality, although, for nevertheless many wonderful turns of phrasing they include, don’t make poetry.

The third poem is darker, hinting at demise. It begins with an impression of the “tendered theme” of the lover “that light / Retrieves from sea plains where the sky / Resigns a breast that every wave enthrones.” Meanwhile, the narrator is separated in “ribboned water lanes . . . laved and scattered with no stroke,” to be “admitted through black swollen gates / That must arrest all distance otherwise”—an image of demise beneath the waves, “Past whirling pillars and lithe pediments.” Shifting from shore to sea, the third poem has now introduced the reader beneath the water, to see “Light wrestling there incessantly with light, / Star kissing star through wave on wave . . . / Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn.” Here Crane mentions dying explicitly, not as one thing to worry however one thing which “if shed, / presumes no carnage”—a relaxing transformation that the underwater calm evokes. As with the others, this poem closes with an invocation, this time directly to the lover: “Permit me voyage, love, into your hands . . .”

The language of the fourth poem is far less concrete, as it is the most message-oriented relatively than atmospheric, of the six poems. Right here, the narrator sings the immortality of love between two mortals, the love “Whose circles bridge, I know, (from palms to the severe / Chilled albatross’s white immutability),” that renders the narrator’s mortality “clay aflow immortally” to the lover. The solely really hanging photographs given are the “Bright staves of flowers and quills” and the “Blue latitudes and levels of your eyes.” The relaxation of the language is remarkably abstract in comparison to the other 5 poems, on the similar time that the poem’s message flows persistently via the poem. This is not coincidental. The fourth poem is the closest Crane comes to expounding on a theme, but he fails to take action with any unifying metaphor, as an alternative speaking immediately concerning the immortality of his love.

What metaphor is missing? Metaphor as a single underlying concept that unifies the sensory descriptions of the poem into a coherent entire. Metaphor is the which means of a poem, in the classical sense. Without this unifying precept, “Voyages” as an entire seems as little greater than a collection of gaudy descriptions passing one after the other like floats in a Mardi Gras parade.

The fifth poem returns to descriptive imagery, portray an intimate nighttime scene:

Meticulous, past midnight in clear rime,
Infrangible and lonely, clean as though forged
Together in a single cruel white blade—
The bay estuaries fleck the onerous sky limits.
—As if too brittle or too clear to the touch!
The cables of our sleep so swiftly filed,
Already cling, shred ends from remembered stars.
One frozen trackless smile . . .

The moonlight is “deaf.” It workouts “Slow tyranny.” The moon is a “godless cleft of sky / Where nothing turns but dead sands flashing.” Bleak language. It types both the backdrop and the conclusion of the narrator’s musings on his lover’s words. The place the lover sees contentment, the narrator sees solely a deaf, tyrannical, godless world—exactly reverse of how the narrator views the universe within his love, as he has described in the previous poem. Portraying the moonlit scene this manner is probably the closest Crane comes to classical use of metaphor, but he doesn’t take the metaphor anyplace beyond the nihilistic view of the world.

Each the fourth and the fifth poem, as with the third, shut with an handle to the lover. The fourth poem’s ending is ambiguous in its joined verbs “exclaim receive”—is it the “bright insinuations” that exclaim, or is the narrator commanding his lover to exclaim, to receive, or both? The fifth poem unmistakably directs a lengthy handle to the lover, “Draw in your head and sleep.” As with the first three poems, this exhortation in the fifth poem immediately states some extent for the atmospheric scene set out at first of the poem with an exhortation that strongly, virtually ham-handedly, hints at dying. The lover’s complete absence from the subsequent poem bolsters that implication.

The sixth and shutting poem is exclusive in the set for its rhymed quatrains in iambic tetrameter. It opens with a collection of pictures, the primary two unconnected pictures of the ocean and the latter two as analogies to the churning in the second picture:

Where icy and brilliant dungeons raise
Of swimmers their misplaced morning eyes,
And ocean rivers, churning, shift
Green borders beneath stranger skies,
Steadily as a shell secretes
Its beating leagues of monotone,
Or as many waters trough the sun’s
Pink kelson past the cape’s moist stone;

Right here Crane bombards the reader with evocations, every related solely loosely by method of analogy, and all unconnected to any metaphor underlying the poem, not to mention the set of six. However he doesn’t finish there; he evokes “siroccos harvesting / The solstice thunders,” and Belle Isle, the “Unfolded floating dais before / Which rainbows twine continual hair.” Lovely language, however they are merely observations incidental to the voyage on which the narrator ends the poem. Right here the narrator neither addresses nor even mentions the lover, strongly implying that the 2 have parted methods.

The poem closes with a paean:

The imaged Word, it is, that holds
Hushed willows anchored in its glow.
It is the unbetrayable reply
Whose accent no farewell can know.

Crane leaves the reader with not a grandiose summary of his musings on love as reflected in the sea, but a simple musing after the lover’s implied departure. The concept, the “image” of the lover stays, and unlike the lover himself is aware of no departure, for it stays with the narrator.

“Voyages” cannot be analyzed based on the circulate of its logic like “Mont Blanc,” for it has none. It is better thought-about as a set of six atmospheric items, each conveying a selected mood concerning the sea and love. Their arrangement does have a logic to it: the setting progresses from shore to high sea to underwater to a moonlit night time to an ocean-wide voyage; and the themes progress from fun to love to dying to basic musings on love. And whereas the poems as an entire use the ocean and its pictures to characterize love, both your complete set and every particular person poem comprising it lack a single, tight metaphor around which all of the poetic language revolves. With out that central image to anchor the poem, Crane’s six poems depart the reader with no central concept as Shelley’s does, however solely with a different collection of musing on his love and the beautiful marine imagery he so strikingly details.

But Crane’s imagery accompanies, moderately than describes, the musings on love. They set the scene, create a mood. The pictures themselves don’t converse to the poems’ subject. The sea just isn’t love. As an alternative, the narrator loves while surrounded by the sea, which conjures up the varied musings on love. It is poetry devoid of metaphor, and for all the sweetness of its language, is little more than the “philosophizing” Pound derides. And as a lot as Shelley “philosophizes,” he makes Mont Blanc into the Platonic excellent. Crane does no such factor with the ocean, and leaves the reader with only a set of idle musings and impressions.


“Mont Blanc” represents the classical excellent of poetry: the revelation of a fact by means of language that delights. Why should anyone else care what Shelley felt on seeing a Swiss mountain two centuries in the past? If those distant emotions are to have any which means, they need to include something common that a reader of the twenty-first century can grasp just as easily as Shelley. That is the fact Shelley reveals, the Platonic perfect, and its distant, unreachable permanence that dwarfs the titanic forces of nature which in turn dwarf humanity within the valleys under.

To convey this poetic fact, Shelley is all the time clear. His language is vivid, even florid in locations, however his which means isn’t lost. Nothing remains in the poem that doesn’t serve the central fact and Mont Blanc as its metaphor. Shelley fulfilled his preferrred as a classical poet.

“Voyages,” as representative of modernist poetry, for all its lovely language and imagery, is as clear as swamp-mud, and like swamp-mud requires wading and dredging to fathom. This is deliberately so. Modernism as a worldview denies absolute fact. It holds which means to be subjective, and as such it exists in artwork solely inside the response of an individual observer. Which means to the modernist subsequently is united with effect, and the primary objective of poetic language in modernism is to convey an effect, not an concept.

Eliot and Pound each state as much of their polemic essays. However the quintessence of modernism would greatest be summarized many years later, after classicism was swept apart in two World Wars, by a man not conventionally acknowledged as a poet. The Doorways’ Jim Morrison said: “Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything; it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through anyone that suits you.” That is the logical end-result of Pound’s and Eliot’s polemics, and it’s also how the complete poetry institution would define poetry at present.

But poetry is expression. The poet writes to precise, to convey not only feelings and experiences however the ideas that render these emotions and experiences common, and hence powerful. Successful communication is determined by readability of expression. The reader should comprehend what the author intends to precise. A poet who has no intention for the reader is conveying nothing, and really has nothing to say.

Modernism and its progeny have had their time, and it was a enjoyable experiment whereas it lasted. Now let it properly develop into a museum-piece, a relic of an era when art sought new modes of expression. As a sustained inventive faculty, nevertheless, modernism can’t endure. Indeed, its continued dominance past its expiration date has led to a devolution of art typically and poetry particularly into quotidian smatterings of no inventive rigor, leaving the reader, the viewer, or the viewers to provide the which means. Failure to grasp turns into the fault of the observer, not the artist, for the onus is on the observer to provide the which means. It’s a clever rip-off underneath which artists have too lengthy gotten away with, not needing talent or rigor for his or her works to accumulate business value.

Classical art is eternal because the concepts it expresses are eternal. A resurrection of classical type doesn’t characterize a return to the past, actual or imagined, however as an alternative a return to sanity, a reorientation of the inventive eye back to its natural, absolutely human objective and use.

Republished with gracious permission from The Chained Muse (January 2019).

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the dialogue of tradition and politics as we strategy dialogue with magnanimity fairly than with mere civility. Will you assist us remain a refreshing oasis within the increasingly contentious area of trendy discourse? Please contemplate donating now.


Crane, Hart. The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932. Ed. Brom Weber. Univ. of California Press, 1965.

Eliot, T.S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” The Egoist, Vol. 6 No. 4, September 1919. (Accessed December 28, 2018.)

Keats, John. “Letter to J.H. Reynolds, 3 February 1818.” Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats. Random House, Inc., 2001. 493-94.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Poetic Principle.” The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Random Home, Inc., 1992. 889-907.

Pound, Ezra. “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.” Poetry Basis, March 1913. (Accessed December 28, 2018.)

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “A Defence of Poetry.” The Reader’s Shelley. Ed. Carl H. Grabo & Martin J. Freeman. American E-book Co., 1942. 473-512.


[1] Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry,” p. 473-74.

[2] Ibid., p. 474.

[3] Ibid., p. 478.

[4] Ibid., p. 481.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 484.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 504-05.

[10] Ibid., p. 512.

[11] Poe, “The Poetic Principle,” p. 893.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., p. 893-94.

[16] Ibid., p. 894.

[17] Ibid., p. 905-06.

[18] Ibid., p. 906.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Keats, Complete Poems and Selected Letters of John Keats, p. 493.

[21] Crane, The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932, p. 192.

[22] Ibid., pp. 28, 66.

[23] Pound, “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” para. 1.

[24] Ibid., para. 2.

[25] Ibid., para. three.

[26] Ibid., paras. 19, 29.

[27] Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” paras. 11-12.

[28] Ibid., para. 13.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., para. 14.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., para. 15.

[35] Ibid., para. 18.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., para. 19.

Editor’s Notice: The featured image is a detail from “Parnassus,” or “Apollo and the Muses,” (c. 1640) by Simon Vouet (1590-1649), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author