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June 03, 1941 - Image 2

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The Michigan Daily, 1941-06-03

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Page Two

PE R SFP E C TI V ES

THE NEW POETRY OF FAITH
B. y Sam Moon

T IE CURRENT DISCUSSION con-
cerning youth's attitude toward
politics in general, and - which
is of more concrete importance
-the present state of democracy in
the United States, is assuming larger
dimensions each month as the new mag-
azines appear on the news-stands. The
question has been viewed from many
different sides by our older writers, evi-
dence being offered by school teachers,
social workers, government officials and
many others. However, there is one group
of young Americans whose collected
opinion has not yet been considered,
to my knowledge - the poets. Yes, I
agree; poets cannot represent the en-
tire group. Their ideas frequently do not
coincide with those of the layman, but
they certainly can be called represen-
tative of the more intelligent young
people - the ones, if I may say so,
who are more seriously concerned with
this question and who devote more time
to the solving of it. It seems to me that
the more intelligent youths are worthy
of a special consideration for this rea-
son; and, further, because it is they who,
by their mental prestige, wield the most
influence, not only among people of their
own age, but also among the more ma-
tu rethinkers.
I have been fortunate in having near
at hand an excellent criterion of the
attitude of the more discriminatig
youth in the poetry manuscripts of re-
cent Hopwood Contest winners. These
poets have studied at the University of
Michigan, a university with an extreme-
ly cosmopolitan student body. And their
ability is not small, for the Hopwood
Contest is one of the most important
literary contests in the country and
has attracted a great deal of attention
recently in literary circles. The import-
ance of the contest is reflected by the
imposing group of its past Judges, among
whom are included such people as
Margaret Widdemer, John Gould Fletch-
er, Louise Bogan, Horace Gregory, Pa-
daric Colum, and Babette Deutch. The
winner in 1939, John Ciardi, has had
his volume published, and Norman Ros-
ten, who won a prize the year before,
has had a later volume of poetry pub-
lished and a play produced in New York.
Before we look at the Hopwood poets'
work it may be wise to see how poetry
has developed since the last World War
in order to have in mind a clear pic-
ture of the contemporary poetry and its
background. When, in 1914 and the sub-
sequent years, the war was crashing
about our heads with such fury, the
exuberant self-confidence of the nine-
teenth century which had prevailed un-
til that time was shattered beyond rec-
ognition. Freud's name was on everyone's
lips, and his revolutionary work in psy-
chology was offering to the starved
minds of the people an entirely new view
which they gulped eagerly in their search
for a re-orientation. The intense emo-
tional strain which the war years had
placed upon the people was showing its
effect in the attitude of disillusionment
and helplessness so prevalent then. It
is perfectly natural that poetry, which
expresses more accurately than any
other form of writing the emotional
activity of its people, should reflect this
atmosphere, and suffer from the same
malady as the people themselves. Science
and its unshakable demand for factual
evidence were the rulers of the day, and
their power in America was tatal. The
thinkers were confused and turned anx-
iously in search of solid ground for their
activities. Mr. Horace Gregory says in
looking back, "We were certain then only
of what seemed a belief in non-belief,
a paradox which proved too ingenious,
too fragile to endure beyond the hour."
Actually, it was the combination of the
acceptance of the scientific method of
thinking and-the incompleteness and in-

accuracy of scientific knowledge which
had destroyed the poets' faith. It was
fine to accept the facts which science
was able to prove, but when science
could go no further the people also
stopped, for they had forgotten how tp
be philosophers.
BUT, as Mr. Gregory pointed out, this
condition was too fragile to endure
beyond the hour, and when that hour
had passed a great deal of its bewilder-
ment also disappeared. Almost uncon-
sciously people began to rediscover ideals
and faith. In reaction to the aimless
groping of post-war thought, they began
to see that their situation could be
solved in the light of positive values.
A revived faith in democracy was par-
ticularly evident, and this was caused

that I would have you see now. John
Malcomb Brinnin's book, "The Lincoln
Lyrics," was selected ,as the best entry
of 1940. Its entire theme concerns itself
with the question of democracy. He for-
words the volume by saying, "This poem
is an attempt at restatement of the
democratic ideal in terms of American
mythology suggested by the life and
times of Abraham Lincoln." It is not
the story- of Lincoln's life, but rather
of the importance of Lincoln's life to
American democracy, the tradition
which has developd out of Lincoln's
story. Through it all run several themes
- among them the equal opportunity for
success, regardless of birth or standing,
to be found in democracy, the function
of the people's choice, the dread of war,

Vton Jt I\OC/
The narrow house has a strong wall
Because your fathers built it so;
The sturdy timbers of the hall
Were set there long and long ago.
Though small and windowless, inside
It has a silent, shining gloom
In which you take a careful pride
And guard the doorway of the room.
If you should ever long for light
From other fires beyond the door,
You are condemned to homeless night
You are condemned forevermore.
To give the house more light, you know
Would shake its structure to the ground;
Yet would the ageless rock below
Be troubled at the tiny sound?
Marion Jane Cowung.

We are the challenged and nay be
the last
To test the possibilities of man
- and proudly tell us in the last stan-
za that our devotion for the t rdition
behind Lincoln's example will prove far
stronger than the "whips of fear" which
personify the iron rule that predom-
inates European government today,
Democracy, according to Mr. alrinnin,
offers another privilege to its citizens,
the right to their own opinions and a
voice in the selection of their leaders.
The phases of the moon o Illinois
Prefix the little crises: freemen go
To swell the ballot boxes with his
name.
A great wheel turns that wl not
once be still.
And tree-hung avenues of torchlit fun,
Rehearsed with roister-doister anti,
make
Alarms. and harmonies submarina
In rum: the sober victor takes -his coat.
Sometimes, he finds that the privilege
is abused, but it is the representative-
ness of the suffrage that is important.
Whose sovereign gestures voyage on
the Day,
(Bed-wetters, poets, wagon-drivers,
whres)
Toe-dancing in the reveries of choice,
(Impostors, cripples, flower-nakers,
clowns)
Or drowned in wilulness, or drunk,
or lost
(Patriots, boot-lovers, trigger-men)
In colors and paralysis of thought,
(Emigres, sculptrs, bowlers, cla-
trophobes)
Must skirmish toward the counting of
the votes ... .
Out of the slums and fecal waterfronts,
Museum lawns with iron dgs and
deer,
Across the glittering arteries of
streams.
Agreement rectifies the hosts of
Wrong.
War, in the mind of John Bri nin, is
truly a terrible thing. He sees young
people - his own age, his own friends-
going to war, and it is a pitiful sight..
The young depart,
Whose demon is so gay and righteous
(Hermaphrodites'on holy cards with
wings)
Whose morning is so challenging and
glad,
(Knighthood, Mother, and the Baptist
Church)
Whose small careers are ground in
policy.
One will be found with frigid hands
locking
A blade of grass; another, spearing'
air, "
Will perish for some Lady of Shalott.
Anonymous as uniforms, they come
And will anonymously go; they are,
So far away, so long ago, the names
As meaningless as kings in opened.
tombs.
As early in the poem as the Prologue
he is concerned with the enemies of
democracy and warns America to keep
a strong watch on the valuable posses-.
sions which her heritage has given her -
Look, then, behold their (our ances-
tors') house of victory -
The dee is yours, the decor charming
as
Cape Cod antiques. But O the hinges
creaking,
Uneure sand around, the wicked vial-
( etoCs)
(Continusedoan ae es)

not only by a reaction to the cynicism
of the preceding decade, but also by a
reaction to the negative policy of dic-
tatorship which was beginning to dom-
inate European politics. We have indeed
come a long way since then in an oppo-
site direction from post-war conscious-
ness. Art, according to Archibald Mac-
Leish, or more specifically, poetry, which
is a form of art, "is an organization of
experience in terms of experience, the
purpose of which is the recognition of
experience"' Thus, it is quite simple to
see what change has occurred in the
field of poetry. Our experiences have
changed from those of disillusionment,
rejection and non-belief to new ones
of reawakened faith and enthusiasm.
Democracy, for example, instead of being
doubted and sometimes rejected, as it
was in the post-war era, is again being
accepted enthusiastically and with a new
attitude of faith. Art - and poetry -
continue in their customary role, the
expression of an experience. All that
has changed is the experiences. Our po-
litical life has become a life which moves
us to personal indignation, and we
therefore have no choice but to say that
our experiences of thise life are ex-
periences of intense personal emotion.
They are such as poetry can and does
make recognizable. Although examples
of this changetare infrequently found
in the work of the older poets, they are
surprisingly evident in the work of
younger writers.
THE HOPWOOD WRITERS, as I have
said before, are representative of
these younger poets, and it is their work

and a warning to his readers of the
enemies of democracy.
Although he makes his idea of equal
opportunity evident throughout the po-
em, it is most clearly stated toward
the end where he says:
A. Lincoln, then, percipitates the
dreams
That cross our pride, becomes that
ancestor
For wisdom and identity, we sense
The sweet cnjunction of his lood
with ours,
Who are the getters of a race undared,
Unchronicled in any saga sung.
We are the challenged and may be
the last
To test the passibilities of man.
Surround him here, retrace that vic-
tory,
Make kindness cotagious where he
walked;
The selfsame structures - abin to
capitol
Are livable and all to do again.
A tyrant on the marbled page may
read
Devotion told beyond the whips of
fea
See monuments like icties in the sky
Defined within the recinets of or
hearts.
Not only is Linoln's admirable example
lauded in this passage. The words also
suggest our relation to the situation
in dictator-ruled Europe -

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