Posted by Dennis » 1 Comment »
I came across the following bits of interest from H.L. Mencken’s collection of critical essays, Prejudices: First Series. I thought Eric might be interested in his judgment of Edgar Lee Masters, which includes references to ubi sunt poetry and the Greek Anthology:
As for Edgar Lee Masters, for a short season the undisputed Homer of the movement, I believe that he is already extinct. What made the fame of “The Spoon River Anthology” was not chiefly any great show of novelty in it, nor any extraordinary poignancy, nor any grim truthfulness unparalleled, but simply the public notion that it was improper. It fell upon the country at the height of the last sex wave—a wave eternally ebbing and flowing, now high, now low. It was read, not as work of art, but as document; its large circulation was undoubtedly mainly among persons to whom poetry qua poetry was as sour a dose as symphonic music. To such persons, of course, it seemed something new under the sun. They were unacquainted with the verse of George Crabbe; they were quite innocent of E. A. Robinson and Robert Frost; they knew nothing of the Ubi sunt formula; they had never heard of the Greek Anthology.
He was largely railing against ‘the new poets,’ and seemed to have a sort of sympathy for Pound. I stumbled upon these passages looking for the context of a very familiar quotation:
Ezra Pound? The American in headlong flight from America—to England, to Italy, to the Middle Ages, to ancient Greece, to Cathay and points East. Pound, it seems to me, is the most picturesque man in the whole movement—a professor turned fantee, Abelard in grand opera. His knowledge is abysmal; he has it readily on tap; moreover, he has a fine ear, and has written many an excellent verse. But now all the glow and gusto of the bard have been transformed into the rage of the pamphleteer: he drops the lute for the bayonet. One sympathizes with him in his choler. The stupidity he combats is actually almost unbearable. Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. But this business, alas, is fatal to the placid moods and fine other-worldliness of the poet. Pound gives a thrilling show, but—. . . . The remaining stars of the liberation need not detain us. They are the streetboys following the calliope.
He ends with a rhetorical flourish which my AP students should be able to recognize as aposiopesis.