Vol. 9 No. 6 1942 - page 462

musical possibilities of an established convention of the relation
of the idiom of verse to that of speech; at other periods, the task
is to catch up with the changes in colloquial speech, which are
fundamentally changes in thought and sensibility. This cyclical
movement also has a very great influence upon our critical judge·
ment. At a time like ours, when a refreshment of poetic diction
similar to that brought about by Wordsworth has been called for
(whether it has been satisfactorily accomplished or not) we are
inclined, in our judgements upon the past, to exaggerate the
portance of the innovators at the expense of the reputation of the
developers: which might account for what will seem, surely, to
a later age, our undue adulation of Donne and depreciation of
I have said enough, I think, to make clear that I do not believe
that the task of the poet is primarily and always to effect a revo–
lution in language. It would not be desirable, even if it were
possible; to live in a state of perpetual revolution: the craving
for continual novelty of diction and metric is as unwholesome as
the obstinate adherence to the idiom of our grandfathers. There
are times for exploration and times for the development of the
territory acquired. The poet who did most for the English language
is Shakespeare: and he carried out, in one short lifetime, the
task of two poets. I have attempted to indicate his dual achieve–
ment elsewhere: I can only say here, briefly, that the development
of Shakespeare's verse can be roughly divided into two periods.
During the first, he was slowly adapting his form to colloquial
speech: so that by the time he wrote
had devised a medium in which everything that any dramatic
character might have to say, whether high or low, 'poetical' or
'prosaic,' could be said with naturalness and beauty. Having got
to this point, he began to elaborate. The first period--of the poet
who began with
but who had already, in
Labour's Lost,
begun to see what he had to
from artificiality
to simplicity, from stiffness to suppleness. The later plays move
from simplicity towards elaboration. He is occupied with the
other task of the poet-doing the work of two poets in one lifetime
-that of experimenting to see how elaborate, how complicated,
the music could be made without losing touch with colloquial
speech altogether, and without his characters ceasing to be human
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