The Listener, 29 March, 1945. Vol. XXXIII. No. 846 (p. 353) [.pdf]
Poetry in War Time
Mr. Reed flatters us. I do not think that either I or Mr. Richards could give him points in the non sequitur handicap. And, unawed by his somewhat superior reproof, I must still maintain that he did, most clearly, say and not merely suggest, that good poets had lacked appreciation in the past. There is his letter. I have just looked at it again. He speaks of 'the perennial absurdity of the contemporary'. He says that it 'is no new thing', but that Tennyson and Wordsworth and Coleridge and Keats were belittled or 'coldly received' and he feels quite sure that Shakespeare would have been thought 'uncouth' by those brought up on Marlowe: And he clinches these statements by his 'one only' reason, viz., 'the interadicable human belief that only the dead are harmless and praiseworthy'.
There is nothing here about 'a vociferous subcurrent of criticism' (whatever strange sort of noisy silence that may be). It is perennial and universal, 'an ineradicable human belief that, only the dead are praiseworthy'. Now, the modern poets whom Mr. Richards and Major Hunter and I fail to appreciate are, I believe, still alive. Very well thensequitur? Now, in his last letter, Mr. Reed agrees that good poets are appreciated in their lifetimes. But it does not follow that all poets who gain applause or have a following in their lives are good poets. The age that produced Dryden also produced Shadwell, who 'never deviated into sense'. The age that produced Pope also produced Colley Cibber and the other even less admirable heroes of the Dunciad. The age that produced Keats also produced Thomas Haines Bayley. The age that produced Byron also produced 'hoarse Fitzgerald' of the 'creaking couplets'and so on. Mr. Reed need only consider the list of Poets Laureate from Pye to Alfred Austin to see that Messrs. Eliot and Auden and Pound are not safe yet. For all these forgotten versifiers were admired during their lives. All had a following.
But it is neither the gallery nor the select few who, in each generation, applaud new things just because they are new or to show their own superior eclecticism, who are the final arbiters. It is Timeand the consensus of opinion of all lovers of poetry, that is to say all human people. And we've got to wait for that. Securus judicat orbis terrarumand I don't want to hedge that bet.
Lane EndWilliam Bliss