Vol. 8 No. 2 1941 - page 129

Public Speech
(1936), and
America Was Promises
It is no crime for a poet to have models; it can be a token of
high esthetic conscience and a serious creative modesty; but Mr.
MacLeish's discipleship went further than a respectful observance
of the art and inspiration of his most gifted contemporaries. Mr.
Humphries has traced the derivations in some detail. "I do not
mean," he says,
that Mr. MacLeish is influenced by this contemporary, or borrows
to advantage from that one; I mean much more; I mean that he
depends on this one or that one for his very existence. In prose
he attempts to distract attention from this phenomenon by deplor·
ing the investigation that would discover his guilty secret. Still,
these innocent tropisms are not so very dreadful; there is nothing
shameful about striving to be like something which you long to
be. Poetry derives from the art of mimicry; where Mr. MacLeish
errs is in that his ecstasy commits him to the mimesis of poets,
instead of the mimesis of things. We need not examine his early
work if he does not want us to, for plenty of poets begin by
imitating other ones, and writing verse whose early publication is
a subsequent embarrassment. But whereas the normal course of
poetic progress is from imitation to originality, in the case of Mr.
MacLeish it has been from imitation to more extended feats of
that art. He is getting better at it all the time.... The whole
complex of Eliot's language, tone, rhythm, anthropological refer·
ences, and symbolical allusiveness, has been elaborately imi·
This derivation persisted up to about 1932, when Mr. Mac–
Leish's interests began to shift toward social and humanitarian
issues. Since then Pound has perhaps been the dominating source
of supplies. It would be too embarrassing for all concerned to push
the tracing of echoes and devices into the verse of the past five
Public Speech
promised a fresh energy through the extra–
version of the poet's interests from their prolonged self-commis–
eration; it gave signs of cross-fertilization from poets like Hopkins
and Phelps Putnam; its colloquialism lost some of the ventriloquist
reverberation and fake-slang exertion of
and the
The excitement of public speech and causes hinted a salu–
tary merging of the private poet with the social man and a new
lease on life for Mr. MacLeish's exhausted elegiac and historical
80...,119,120,121,122,123,124,125,126,127,128 130,131,132,133,134,135,136,137,138,139,...160
Powered by FlippingBook