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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 7. June 25, 1951

Measures of Greatness

Measures of Greatness

Some of the tendencies and dangers which have arisen in our poetry will now perhaps seem inevitable. Maybe all modern poetry is still in the middle of a struggle to reconcile the diversities of form—organic form, which Herbert Read defines as (the product of) "inherent laws, originating with . . . invention, and fusing in one vital unity both structure and content." This has often led to vagueness in description, to over-frequent abstraction, and to the stifling of poetry in a forest of verbosity. The compelling advantages of modem technique have made these faults the harder to overcome. Although N.Z. poets have never indulged that poetry of spiritual iconoclasm which, though dynamic, made Ezra Pound and the early Eliot esoteric, they have been all too prolific in "refining" modem poetry into a more of less daring, more or less metrical abstraction of Nature and Man in terms of a semi-spiritual society. An analogy, at times uncomfortably close, may perhaps be made to the neo-classical period which followed the Age of Pope.

Poetic tradition, ultimately responsible for these traits, can also show us where they fall short, and what is lacking. Primarily it is the vitality and passion which have been as essential to all great poetry, which made heroic verse stirring and gave dramatic force to the poetry of the Elizabethans. Nor is it a mere chance that Donne's religious poetry has the passionate drive of his love poems or that Goethe wrote philosophically and symbolically in "pure poetry" in his seventies, when already a master of lyrics and of poetic drama.