Works of Sri Aurobindo » English » CWSA » The Future Poetry » The Course of English Poetry ­ 1

The spirit of English poetry thus struck its first strong note, a characteristic English note, got as far as the Anglo-Saxon mind refined by French and Italian influence could go in its own proper way and unchanged nature, and then came suddenly to a pause. Many outward reasons might be given for that abrupt cessation, but none sufficient; for the cause lay deeper in the inner destiny of this spirit. The real cause was that to have developed upon this line would have been to wander up and down in a cul-de-sac; it would have been to anticipate in a way in poetry the self-imprisonment of Dutch art in a strong externalism, of a fairer kind indeed, but still too physical and outward in its motive. English poetry had greater things to do and it waited for some new light and more powerful impulse to come. Still this external motive and method are native to the English mind and with many modifications have put their strong impress upon the literature. It is the ostensible method of English fiction from Richardson to Dickens; it got into the Elizabethan drama and prevented it, except in Shakespeare, from equalling the nobler work of other great periods of dramatic poetry. It throws its limiting shade over English narrative poetry, which after its fresh start in the symbolism of the Faerie Queene and the vital intensity of Marlowe ought either to have got clear away from this first motive or at least to have transmuted it by the infusion of much higher artistic motives. To give only one instance in many, it got sadly in the way of Tennyson, who yet had no real turn for the reproduction of life, and prevented him from working out the fine subjective and mystic vein which his first natural intuitions had discovered in such work as the Lady of Shalott and the Morte d'Arthur. Instead of any deepening of this new original note we have to put up with the Princess and Enoch Arden and the picturesque triviality of the Idylls of the King which give us the impression of gentlemen and ladies of Victorian drawing-rooms masquerading as Celtic-mediaeval knights and dames. If there is a meaning of some kind in it all, that does not come home to us because it is lost in a falsetto mimicking of the external strains of life. Certainly, it is useless to quarrel with national tendencies and characteristics which must show themselves in poetry as elsewhere; but English poetry had opened the gates of other powers and if it could always have lifted up the forms of external life by these powers, the substance of its work might then have meant much more to the world and the strength of its vision of things might constantly have equalled the power and beauty of its utterance. As it is, even poets of great power have been constantly drawn away by this tendency from the fulfilment of their more characteristic potentialities or misled into throwing them into inapt forms, and to this day there continues this confusion and waste of poetic virtue.... ..Cont

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