Jeremy Noel–Tod

Dating Games

The Twentieth Century in Poetry

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In his 1908 ‘Lecture on Modern Poetry’, the modernist agitator, T E Hulme, described the relationship between poetry and prose as the origin of cliché: ‘One might say that images are born in poetry. They are used in prose, and finally die a long, lingering death in journalists’ English.’ The Twentieth Century in Poetry illustrates the process starkly. The first poem of the book, Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ (dated ‘31 December 1900’), is a lament for the nineteenth century which anticipates the strangeness of the twentieth through bleakly vivid imagery (‘The tangled bine-stems scored the sky/Like strings of broken lyres’). Compare the melancholy poise of Hardy’s ‘good-night air’, though, with the breezy prose of his latest anthologisers:

[In 1901] Queen Victoria had died … bringing to an end the age to which she gave her name … as the more than middle-aged Prince of Wales mounted the throne after his marathon wait to succeed, his subjects hoped for a breath of fresh air. The great glacier of Victorian social attitudes had been showing cracks for some years.

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