Vol. 8 No. 2 1941 - page 131

THE POET ON CAPITOL HILL
131
belief. These are the two major ambitions of the modern poet. But
his shortcomings as a creative intelligence made it impossible for
him to cope with history except in terms of heroic pathos and a
kind of whimsical brooding which dissolves the energy of facts and
distends the force of events beyond all reach of dramatic or imag–
istic concentration. And his extreme need of a personal faith and
authority so far exceeded his sense of poetic confidence and certi–
tude that the need showed up with the mawkish exaggeration which
is the common rule among people outside of literature who are
out hunting a faith and who can he humanly excused on grounds
of psychic compulsion or moral extremity which are never suf–
ficient in poetry itself.
Mr. Blackmur spoke of this fundamental hiatus in MacLeish's
equipment when he reviewed the
Poems
in 1934:
Mr. MacLeish is a serious poet in two quite different senses.
. . . He is serious in his themes, and he is serious about himself
personally.
If
I may make the comparison, Dante was serious
about his poem, but was serious about himself only incidentally.
For. Mr. MacLeish the accent is the other way round, and it is
because of his excessive seriousness about himself that his major
poems are substantially defective.
It
lays him open to mistakes
and confusion and inadequate writing; particularly it allows him
to confuse what has been significant to himself with what is
objectively significant in his poems.... He is apparently, for all
his talent, unable to judge when his writing is adequate to the
poem he has conceived and when it is adequate only to his private
understanding. How Mr. MacLeish comes to such a confusion
may, I think, be explained with comparative brevity. It is partly
owing to the psychological and philosophical predicament of any
sensitive man, not committed to an authoritative way of life, who
yet pursues the theme of such a life.... In search of a personal
salvation he finds something essentially not individual, not dis–
tinct, at all; he finds something, rather, of the lowest common
denominator in which to immerse himself-in the pure rhetorical
emotion of the
Hamlet
or in the oblivion of enthusiastic action
of
Conquistador.
Thus he finds refuge rather than salvation by
securing attitudes without reference to contemporary life}
6
It is inevitable that a man caught between a need and a lack
should be in a painful condition of tension and distraction, hut
such tension is fundamental to modern experience and out of it
the greatest writers of our time have milde their art, their visi6n
of
80...,121,122,123,124,125,126,127,128,129,130 132,133,134,135,136,137,138,139,140,141,...160
Powered by FlippingBook