On the Modernist Long Poem by Margaret Dickie

By Margaret Dickie

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1300 or of Back Bay of 1872, and leave him simply the great true recorder. (LE 299-300) The depersonalization of the long work and of art itself which Pound praises here had its strange and contradictory appeal for all the Modernists. For these experimental poets the attraction of the long poem was precisely in the "bulk of its processes," which might ease the pressure for constant experimentation and still permit the largest experiment. But length, even that briefly achieved by adding one word or line to another, revealed swiftly its tendency both to inhibit expression and to restrict experimentation.

In this, The Waste Land testifies both to the tenacity of form itself in the face of every experiment and change, and at the same time paradoxically to the persistence of experimentation in finding its adequate form. In order to start a long poem, the poet must have some idea of how he will complete the work, and Hugh Kenner has argued Page 22 convincingly that The Waste Land began as an urban satire. 1 The first sustained work on the poem was the seventy-two-line opening of ''The Fire Sermon," written in the style of Dryden or Pope which Eliot eventually abandoned.

For it is in that, that it be particular to its own idiom, that it lives. (P viii) This start in an intention to write a long poem distinguishes these poems from various long poems that develop as open form or sequences such as Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. These Modernist long poems are not sequences in the sense that they were composed casually, one poem added to another in a random process of development. The idea of a single poem was present in the poet's mind, even in Pound's mind, from the start of the work.

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