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BEFORE Tomlinson joined our Literary members, but we realized that we needSociety, it was a very quiet affair. We ed new blood. He gave us his views at were only a company of friends who the second meeting that he attended. met together and read aloud from the We should look upon ourselves not as a literature of the day. We did n't inter- society of antiquarians, but as a poetipret 'the day' too literally; indeed we cal current-events club. We should be were inclined to the Biblical idea that on a sharp lookout for new genius, and one day might be as a thousand years, we should aim to be ninety per cent efand a thousand years as one day. If ficient. We should let no gifted man any member came across a good thing, escape. Poetic genius is like a fire: we he brought it along and shared the never know where or when it's going to pleasure with us. A trifle like a thou. break out. We must rush to it at the sand years since the decease of an first alarm, and not wait for the heavy author did n't trouble us. We gradu- critics who are never on the spot till the ally drifted into the habit of reading fire's out. He had noticed, he said, that poetry not because we thought it in- some of the members had brought in trinsically better than prose, but be- old stuff, some of it published as much cause it was more condensed. More as a dozen years ago. We must cut that over it was particularly adapted for out. If we were to keep up with the reading aloud. We got more pleasure march of literature, we must think no through the ear than through the eye. longer in centuries or decades, we must We found we could enjoy many of our be up to the minute. contemporary poets better that way. He warned us that we must beWe found that their poems sounded ware of the obvious. Anything that is better than they looked. In this way we obviously agreeable is likely to be rewere not confined to the old favorites, actionary. Keats, who in some respects but were gradually becoming ac- was in advance of his age, confessed customed to new voices.
as much. He said: That was before Tomlinson joined “A thing of beauty is a joy forever; the society. He came in with a bang.
Its loveliness increases ...' There was an urgency about him which That's why our most up-to-date was a little disconcerting to the older critics are suspicious of a thing of VOL. 134 - NO. 2
beauty. People stop to contemplate it would say. “Some do now; but some of and watch its beauty increase, and by the smartest poets just throw a line or
sidewalk. The progressive artist who rest. It saves their time and cultivates wants to keep the crowd moving must our imagination. Here's a specimen make it painful for any to loiter too page of a book of poems. It's not much long before his work.
to look at, mostly margin. You have to The purpose of poetry, according to read between the lines, and all around. Tomlinson, is to serve as an intelligence The poet is a master of the hiatus. All test. It would never do to have the his hiatuses are rich and revealing. same test repeated. You could never You will notice that he begins as if he get at the intelligence quotient that were going to say something, and then way. If you find you can understand a he does n't. That makes it exciting. bit of poetry, then you must try some- It's like watching a man on skis at a thing harder. If we eliminate the easy winter tournament. He comes like a pieces, he said, we will soon get rid of streak down the icy slide to the jumpthe dead wood. Those who can't stand ing-off place, and then shoots through the pace will drop out.
the air for a hundred feet or so. The Tomlinson spoke in an easy, confident thrill comes when you see him going off way. He had been taking a corre- through space, and you don't know spondence course in salesmanship that whether he will land on his head or on guaranteed that he could impose his his feet. We must get rid of the old ideas on others by sheer force of ac- pedestrian traditions and enter into the quired personality. The rest of us spirit of the poet Ezra Pound tells had n't taken the course, so we yielded. about.
From that day our literary society ‘My muse is eager to instruct me in a new gamut changed its character. Those who proved unadaptable dropped out. Up, up, my soul, from your lowly cantillations, Whenever we saw an old head we hit it. put on a timely vigor.' Whenever we heard of a new verse “What is a gambetto?' asked a timid form, or an example of formlessness, we new member. studied it. We had no tolerance for the 'It's something the old poets did n't things of yester-week. We had no have,' said Tomlinson. The thing longer any literary background and which this society needs to take to were glad of it. We had emerged from heart is that if we are to keep up with the shadow of great names and were in the march of mind, we must put a the open. Tomlinson began to talk of timely vigor on. the New Humanism and assured us we 'According to the Freudians a person were ‘It.'
is either an introvert, or an extrovert. Those were great days for the club, An introvert is always turning his mind honos e t massa
que comes in when we could watch a succession of in on itself to see what it looks like. An books of poetry emerge from the Un- extrovert sits up and takes notice of known, like Pharaoh's fat and well what is going on outside. Now that exfavored kine presaging years of plenty. plains the different kinds of poetry. An But Tomlinson was just as well pleased extrovert will look out of doors and when they were followed by lean vole describe a rain storm, the drops of umes whose meagerness grew on ac- water falling on the umbrella, and that quaintance.
sort of thing. An introvert is not in'People used to write poetry,' he terested in a rain storm, but he can
t. We had no tole We had no which this soe
make poetry out of his own brain “That sounds like something new. storms. He gives you an instantaneous The poem makes you have that gone view of his mind when it is struck by an feeling which you have when an elevaemotional blizzard.
tor drops from under you. The old We want to study both kinds, just poets could n't produce such effects; as they come along. Now here is a they did n't have elevators in those poem by an extrovert. It's thoroughly days.' objective. The poet does n't waste any ‘Do you really like all that, Tomlinemotion, he just gives a snapshot of son?' I asked. what goes on.
'It is n't a question of liking,' he 'I grasped the greasy subway strap,
said, 'It's a question of learning to like And I read the lurid advertisements, what's being produced. If we are going I chewed my gum voraciously.
to encourage the producers, the con‘That is n't a very pretty scene, but sumers must do their part. If the peoyou are made to see it. It bears the ple in Fresno are to produce more stamp of truth. Now if the poet were raisins, the people in Boston are told to an introvert he would n't say anything eat more raisins, and they do it. If we about these details. He would give you are to keep the wheat farms in North an impressionistic view of what was go- Dakota at the peak of production, we ing on in the gum-chewer's mind as he must eat more bread. And so if we are was hanging on for dear life to the to have an American school of poetry, strap. It would n't be much, but you we must read more poetry, and read it would get a general impression of men- quick.' tal vacuity. There are flutterings of in- This view of the subject gave me a choate sensations. There is a sugges- new respect for Tomlinson, as I saw tion of intelligence somewhere, like a that he had a sense of social responsifaint perfume. You can't be sure of it. bility. But it put a new strain on our Perhaps it is n't a thought, but maybe critical powers. We felt that procrastiit is. What it is that the gum-chewer nation might be fatal. As Tomlinson has in mind the poet does n't tell said, “We must appreciate while the directly. Such brutal frankness would appreciation is good.' destroy the whole effect. He gives you As we were whirled through conthe impression of what something in temporary verse I had glimpses of the gum-chewer's mind, makes on his beautiful things over which I wished to mind. Then he leaves you with the im- linger. There were ways of pleasantpression that it does n't matter much ness and paths of peace. But to ask anyway. It's all very stimulating. Tomlinson to slow down that we If we can only keep our minds limbered might enjoy them was like asking a up so that we can catch each poem as motorist to leave the state highways in it comes we'll be all right.
order to loiter along a shady wood ‘Let me read what a competent road. So we yielded to his will and
'He has pregnant fragile untouched emotions. His verse has the appearance of perverse abandon, of dizzy falling. There is always the appeal to the motor and visceral sensations, change of position, alarming passive motion — as in an elevator.
admiration for all that was unfamiliar.
Sometimes I expostulated mildly. ‘Don't you think it would rest the club if we stopped to get a bit of perspective?'
We don't want perspective. What we are after is originality.
‘But what is originality?' I asked. 'It is being different from the way 'He inquires as to “the state of the they used to be.
art.” Of course if we were contented to ‘But how can we know that we are enjoy a thing of beauty just because it different unless we know how they used is beautiful we would n't mind how old to be? The other day I took up Dr. it was. But if it's this season's novelties Johnson's introduction to Cowley and we are after, we ought to make sure it struck me that the fashionable poets they are novelties.' of the seventeenth century might not Tomlinson looked at me with comhave been so different from their suc- miseration. 'I see that you are feeling cessors as we imagine. Dr. Johnson the strain. All of us do at times. But says, “They were wholly employed on you must n't look back. Remember something unexpected and surprising. Lot's wife. Remember what Washing... Their wish was only to say what ton — or was it Jefferson — said about they hoped had never been said before. entangling alliances. Don't get en... Authors of this race were more tangled with former generations. They desirous of being admired than under- had another set of primary interests stood.”
in poetry as in every thing else.' 'In their headlong search for original “But what if it should turn out that ity these seventeenth-century poets the primary human interests are the produced “a combination of dissimilar same in all generations, and it's only images, or discovery of occult resem- the secondary interests that are difblances in things apparently unlike, ferent? Let me read you a bit of and they conceived that to be the Euphues' Anatomy of Wit, which was highest kind of writing in verse which very fashionable reading in the sixis chiefly to be preferred for its near teenth century. He watches the swift affinity to prose. : . . This lax and law. procession of the books of the day with less versification so much concealed the eagerness to keep up with them. deficiencies of the barren and flattered the laziness of the idle that it im- 'We constantly see the booke that at mediately overspread our books of Christmas lieth bound on the stacioner's poetry, and all the boys and girls caught
stall, at Easter be broken in the haberthe pleasing fashion.”'
dasher's shop. It is not strange when the
greatest wonder lasteth but nine days, ‘Dr. Johnson was an incorrigible old
that a new booke should not endure Tory,' said Tomlinson.
but three months. But a fashion is but a 'Perhaps so,'I answered, ‘but in this day's wearing and a booke but an hour's instance he was talking not about a new reading. fashion, but about one that had for the time gone out. He says, “The fashion- 'Euphues expounds the changing able style remained chiefly with Cowley; taste of the day to his elderly interSuckling could not reach it and Milton locutor and we are told that “Euphues disdained it.”
having ended his talk, departed leav‘Don't you think we could have a ing the old gentleman in a quandary." better sense of values in contemporary That was just the effect he meant to literature if we had something to meas- produce. ure them by? When an inventor has a “There were some books written in happy thought about a mouse trap he that breathless age that were destined employs someone to go to the Patent to last more than three months. But I Office to find out whether there is any doubt if the author of Euphues knew thing like it there.
which they were.
prose. Preferred for it which