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A U D E N ' S B O O K V E R S E O F
O X F O R D L I G H T
Oxford New York Toronto Melbourne O X F O R D U N I V E R S I T Y PRESS
Oxford University Press, Walton Street, Oxford 0x2 6DP OXFORD LONDON GLASGOW NEW YORK TORONTO MELBOURNE WELLINGTON NAIROBI DAR ES SALAAM CAPE TOWN KUALA LUMPUR SINGAPORE JAKARTA HONG KONG TOKYO DELHI BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS KARACHI ISBN o 19 881331 7 First published 1938 First issued as an Oxford University Press paperback ig?3 Reprinted in hardback and paperback igyg All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
TO P R O F E S S O R E. R. D O D D S
Reproduced, printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading
" ? R i n s
I N T R O D U C T I O N E H I N D the w o r k of any creative artist I there are three principal wishes: the wish to make s o m e t h i n g ; the wish to perceive something, either in the external world of sense or the internal world of feeling; and the wish to communicate these perceptions to others. T h o s e who have no interest in or talent for m a k i n g something, i.e. no skill in a particular artis'tic m e d i u m , do not become artists; they dine out, they gossip at street' corners, they hold forth in cafes. T h o s e w h o have no interest in communication do not become artists either; they become mystics or m a d m e n . T h e r e is no biological or mathematical law which would lead us to suppose that the quantity of innate artistic talent varies very greatly from generation to generation. T h e major genius m a y b e a rare phenomenon, b u t n o art is the creation solely of geniuses, rising in sudden isolation like craters from a level plain; least of all literature, whose m e d i u m is l a n g u a g e — t h e m e d i u m of ordinary social intercourse. If, then, we are to understand the changes that do in fact take place, w h y in the history of poetry there should b e periods of great
INTRODUCTION fertility, and others comparatively barren, why b o t h the subject-matter a n d the manner should vary so widely, why poetry should sometimes b e easy to understand, and sometimes very obscure, we m u s t look elsewhere than to the idiosyncrasies of the individual poets t h e m selves. T h e wish to m a k e something, always perhaps the greatest conscious preoccupation of t h e artist himself, is a constant, independent of time. T h e things that do change are his m e d i u m , his attitude to the spoken and written word, the kind of things he is interested in or capable of perceiving, and the kind of audience with w h o m he wants to communicate. H e wants to tell the truth, a n d he wants to amuse his friends, a n d what kind of t r u t h he tells and what kind of friends he has depend partly on the state of society as a whole and partly on the kind of life which he, as an artist, leads. W h e n the things in which the poet is interested, the things which he sees about him, are m u c h the same as those of his audience, and t h a t audience is a fairly general one, h e will not be conscious of himself as an unusual person, and his language will b e straightforward a n d close to ordinary speech. W h e n , on the other hand, his interests a n d perceptions are
INTRODUCTION not readily acceptable to society, or his audience is a highly specialized one, perhaps of fellow poets, he will be acutely aware of himself as the poet, a n d his m e t h o d of expression may depart very widely from the normal social language. I n the first case his poetry will be 'light' in the sense in which it is used in this anthology. T h r e e kinds of poetry have been included: ( i ) Poetry written for performance, to be • spoken or s u n g before an audience [e.g. Folk-songs, the poems of T o m M o o r e ] . (2) Poetry intended to be read, b u t having for its subject-matter the everyday social life of its period or the experiences o f t h e poet as an ordinary h u m a n being [e.g. the poems of Chaucer, Pope, Byron]. (3) Such nonsense poetry as, t h r o u g h its properties a n d technique, has a general appeal [Nursery rhymes, the poems of E d w a r d Lear]. 1 L i g h t verse can be serious. It has only come to mean vers de societe, triolets, smoke-room 1 A few pieces, e.g. Blake's Auguries of Innocence and Melville's Billy in the Darbies, do not really fall into any of these categories, but their technique is derived so directly from the popular style that it seemed proper to include them. When Blake, for instance, deserts the proverbial manner of the Auguries for the eccentric manner of the Prophetic Books, he ceases to write 'light verse*.
INTRODUCTION limericks, because, u n d e r the social conditions which produced the Romantic Revival, and which have persisted, more or less, ever since, it has been only in trivial matters that poets have felt in sufficient intimacy with their audience to be able to forget themselves and their singing-robes. II B u t this has not always been so. Till the Elizabethans, all poetry was light in this sense. It m i g h t be very dull at times, b u t it was light. A s long as society was united in its religious faith a n d its view of the universe, as long as the way in which people lived changed slowly, audience and artists alike tended to have m u c h the same interests and to see m u c h the same things. I t is not until the great social and ideological upheavals of the sixteenth a n d seventeenth centuries that difficult poetry appears, some of Shakespeare, D o n n e , M i l t o n , a n d others. T h e example of these poets should warn us against c o n d e m n i n g poetry because it is difficult. L i g h t n e s s is a great virtue, b u t light verse tends to b e conventional, to accept the attit u d e s o f t h e society in which it is written. T h e m o r e homogeneous a society, the closer the artist is to the everyday life of his time, the
INTRODUCTION easier it is for h i m to communicate what he perceives, b u t the harder for him to see honestly a n d truthfully, unbiased by the conventional responses of his time. T h e more unstable a society, a n d the more detached from it the artist, t h e clearer he can see, b u t the harder it is for h i m to convey it to others. I n the greatest periods of English Literature, as in the Elizabethan period, the tension was at its strongest. T h e artist was still sufficiently rooted in the life of his age to feel in common with his audience, a n d at the same time society was in a sufficient state of flux for the age-long beliefs a n d attitudes to b e n o longer compulsive on the artist's vision. In the seventeenth century poetry, like religion, had its eccentric sports. Milton, with the possible exception of Spenser, is the first eccentric E n g l i s h poet, the first to make a m y t h out of his personal experience, a n d to invent a language of his own remote from the spoken word. Poets like H e r b e r t and Crashaw and prose-writers like Sir T h o m a s Browne are minor examples of the same tendency. Marvell a n d H e r r i c k are 'traditional' in a way that these others are not, even t h o u g h the former often u s e the same kind of tricks. T h e Restoration marks a return both to a more settled society and to a more secure
INTRODUCTION position for the artist u n d e r aristocratic patronage. H i s social status rose. W h e n Dryden in his 'Essay on the D r a m a t i c P o e t r y of the L a s t Age* ascribes the superiority in correctness of language of t h e new dramatists to their greater opportunities of contact with genteel society, he is stating something which h a d great consequences for E n g l i s h poetry. W i t h a settled and valued place in society, n o t only minor poets, b u t the greatest, like D r y d e n and Pope, were able to express t h e m selves in an easy manner, to use the speakingvoice, and to use as their properties the images of their everyday, i.e. social, life. T h e i r poetry has its limits, because the society of which they were a part was a limited p a r t of the community, the leisured class, b u t within these limits, certain t h a t the aim of poetry was to please, a n d certain of w h o m they h a d to please, they moved with freedom and intelligence. T h i s ease continued until the Romantic Revival which coincided with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. F r o m a predominantly agricultural country, where the towns were small and more important as places for social intercourse than as wealth-producing centres, E n g l a n d became a country of large manufacturing towns, too b i g for the indivi-
INTRODUCTION dual to know anybody else except those employed in the same occupation. T h e divisions between classes became sharper a n d m o r e numerous. A t the same time there was a great increase in national wealth, a n d an increase in the reading public. W i t h the increase in wealth appeared a new class who had independent incomes from dividends, and whose lives felt neither the economic pressure ofthe wageearner nor the b u r d e n of responsibility of the landlord. T h e patronage system broke down, and the artist had either to write for the general public, whose condition was well described by W o r d s w o r t h in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads^ 'A multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. T h e most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident, which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies'; or if he had an artistic conscience he could starve, unless he was lucky enough to have independent means.
INTRODUCTION A s the old social community broke u p , artists were driven to the examination of their own feelings and to the company of other artists. T h e y became introspective, obscure, a n d highbrow. T h e case of W o r d s w o r t h , t h e greatest of the Romantic poets, is instructive. W h i l e stating that he intended to write in the lang u a g e really used b y m e n , in particular by W e s t m o r l a n d farmers, whenever he tries to do so he is not completely successful, while in his best work, the Odes a n d The Prelude., his diction is poetic, and far removed from the spoken word. T h e sub-title of The Prelude, The Growth of a Poet's Mind, is illuminating. W o r d s w o r t h was a person w h o early in life had an intense experience or series of experiences about inanimate nature, which he spent t h e rest of his poetical life trying to describe. H e was not really interested in farm-labourers or any one else for themselves, b u t only in so far as they helped to explain this vision, and his own relation to it. W h e n h e objects to eighteenth-century diction as 'artificial', what h e really means is artificial for his particular purpose. T h e diction of the Immortality O d e would be as artificial for P o p e ' s purposes as P o p e ' s was for W o r d s w o r t h ' s . W o r d s w o r t h ' s case is paralleled by the
INTRODUCTION history of most o f t h e R o m a n t i c poets, b o t h of his day and of the century following. Isolated in an amorphous society with no real c o m m u nal ties, bewildered b y its complexity, horrified by its ugliness a n d power, and uncertain of an audience, they t u r n e d away from the life of their time to the contemplation of their own emotions a n d the creation of imaginary worlds. W o r d s w o r t h to Nature, Keats and Mallarme - to a world of p u r e poetry, Shelley to a future Golden A g e , Baudelaire and H s l derlih to a past, . . . ces epoques nues Dont Phoebus se plaisait a dorer les statues.1 Instead of the poet regarding himself as an entertainer, he becomes the prophet, 'the u n acknowledged legislator of the world', or the D a n d y who sits in the cafe", 'proud that he is
1 Mr. Stephen Spender, in his essay on Keats in From Anne to Victoria, has analysed the gulf between the world of the poems and the world of the letters. Keats's abandonment of 'Hyperion* with the remark that there were too many Miltonic inversions in it, is a sign that he was becoming aware of this gulf. When the subject-matter of poetry ceases to be the social life of man, it tends to dispense with the social uses of language, grammar, and word-order, a tendency which Mallarm£ carried to its logical conclusion. Browning is an interesting case of a poet who was intensely interested in the world about him and in a less socially specialized period might well have been the 'easiest' poet of his generation, instead of the most 'difficult*.
INTRODUCTION less base than the passers-by, saying to himself as h e contemplates t h e smoke of his cigar: " W h a t does it matter to m e w h a t becomes of m y perceptions ? " ' T h i s is not, of course, to condemn the Romantic poets, b u t to explain w h y they wrote t h e k i n d of poetry they did, w h y their best w o r k is personal, intense, often difficult, a n d generally rather gloomy. T h e release from social pressure was, at first, extremely stimulating. T h e private world was a relatively unexplored field, a n d the technical discoveries made were as great as those b e i n g made in industry. B u t t h e feeling of excitement was followed by a feeling of loss. F o r if it is true that the closer b o u n d the artist is to his community the harder it is for him to see with a detached vision, it is also true that when he is too isolated, t h o u g h he may see clearly enough what he does see, that dwindles in quantity and importance. H e ' k n o w s more and more about less and less'. I t is significant that so many of these poets either died young like Keats, or went mad like Holderlin, or ceased producing good work like W o r d s w o r t h , or gave u p writing altogether like R i m b a u d . . . . ' I m u s t ask forgiveness for having fed myself on lies, and let us g o . . . . O n e must be absolutely modern.' F o r
INTRODUCTION the private world is fascinating, b u t it is exhaustible. W i t h o u t a secure place in society, without an intimate relation between himself and his audience, without, in fact, those conditions which m a k e for L i g h t Verse, the poet finds it difficult to grow beyond a certain point. Ill B u t L i g h t Verse has never entirely disappeared. A t the beginning of the Romantic age stand two writers of L i g h t Verse who were "also major poets, Burns and Byron, one a peasant, the other an aristocrat. T h e former came from a Scottish parish which, whatever its faults of hypocrisy and petty religious tyranny, was a genuine community where the popular tradition in poetry had never been lost. I n consequence Burns was able to write directly a n d easily about all aspects of life, the most serious as well as the most trivial. H e is the last poet of w h o m this can be said. Byron, on the other hand, is the first writer of L i g h t Verse in the modern sense. H i s success lasts as long as he takes nothing very seriously; the m o m e n t h e tries to be profound a n d 'poetic' he fails. H o w e v e r m u c h they tried to reject each other, he was a m e m b e r of 'Society', and his poetry is the result of his membership. If h e cannot be poetic, it is
INTRODUCTION because smart society is not poetic. A n d the same is true, in a minor way, of Praed, whose serious poems are as trivial as his vers de societe are profound. , IV T h e nineteenth century saw the developm e n t of a new kind of light poetry, poetry for children and nonsense poetry. T h e breakdown o f t h e old village or small-town community left the family as t h e only real social unit, and the parent-child relationship as the only real social bond. T h e writing of nonsense poetry which appeals to the U n c o n scious, and of poetry for children who live in a world before self-consciousness, was an a t t e m p t to find a world where the divisions of class, sex, occupation did not operate, and the great Victorian masters of this k i n d of poetry, Lewis Carroll and E d w a r d Lear, were as successful in their day as M r . W a l t Disney has been in ours. T h e conditions u n d e r which folk-poetry is made ensure that it shall keep its lightness or disappear, b u t t h e changing social conditions .are reflected in its history b y a degeneration b o t h in technique and in treatment. T h e Border ballad could be tragic; the music-hall song cannot. 1 Directness and i Kipling, who identified himself with British middle-class
INTRODUCTION ease of expression has been kept, b u t at the cost of excluding b o t h emotional subtlety and beauty of diction. O n l y in America, u n d e r t h e conditions of frontier expansion a n d prospecting and railway development, have the last h u n d r e d years been able to produce a folkpoetry which can equal, similar productions of pre-industrial E u r o p e , and in America, too, this period is ending. T h e problem for the modern poet, as for every one else to-day, is how to find or form a genuine community, in which each has his valued place and can feel at home. T h e old pre-industrial community and culture are gone and cannot be b r o u g h t back. N o r is it desirable that they should be. T h e y were too unjust, too squalid, a n d too custom-bound. Virtues which were once nursed unconsciously by the forces of nature m u s t now be recovered and fostered by a deliberate effort of the will and the intelligence. I n the future, societies will not grow of themselves. T h e y will either be made consciously or decay. A democracy in which each citizen is as fully conscious and capable of m a k i n g a rational choice, as in the imperialism, as Pope identified himself with the 18th-century landed gentry, wrote serious light verse; and it is, perhaps,, no accident that the two best light-verse writers of our time, Belloc and Chesterton, are both Catholics.
INTRODUCTION past has been possible only for the wealthier few, is the only kind of society which in the future is likely to survive for long. I n such a society, a n d in such alone, will it be possible for the poet, without sacrificing any of his subtleties of sensibility or his integrity, to write poetry which is simple, clear, a n d gay. F o r poetry which is at the same time light a n d adult can only be written in a society which is b o t h integrated and free. W . H . A.
EDITORIAL NOTE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
E R T A I N notes should be added on the editorial methods and arrangement which have been followed. T o avoid overlapping, no poem which appears in The Oxford Book of English Verse is included (with the exception of a poem b y T h o m a s J o r d a n which appears here in a fuller version). M a n y of the poems in that anthology, particularly in the earlier sections, are, of course, 'light' in the sense in which the word is used here. T h e order of t h e poems is chronological. P o e m s of known authorship are arranged by the dates of their authors' births, b u t more varied criteria have been used to determine the position of the large n u m b e r of anonymous poems, ballads, and songs which the volume contains. T h e earliest versions of the ballads and nursery rhymes have been used, except where later versions were more complete, or of greater literary merit. T h e nursery rhymes have generally been placed at the date of the earliest extant version, b u t when there is evidence that a r h y m e existed earlier, it has been placed at the earlier date. T h e vexed question of ballads has been settled, in some cases perhaps rather arbitrarily, by dividing t h e m
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