The Poetry of Barbarism

  • Philip Hobsbaum


There are certain qualities, inherent in the English language, that are brought out strongly in the work of its greatest poets. Such qualities, indeed, define the nature of the work such poets can do. The resources at a writer’s disposal will be seriously warped if he attempts to make English sound like Italian; if he seeks to avoid the letter ‘s’; if he concentrates upon the image at the expense of the total structure. All this may seem obvious, yet ambitions such as these have been explicitly voiced by poets in the past; and other examples of self-limitation could be cited. More positively, one can say that the character of English is to be tactile, even kinaesthetic. Its poetry is full of muscular movement and packed with interacting consonants. This last is a very remarkable characteristic. It means that climaxes of intensity tend towards distinct alliterative patterns. This is a norm in medieval verse, of course, but even there it can be shown to act out the sense, and this demonstrative capacity is the basis of the essentially expressive nature of English verse:


English Verse Great Poet Prison Camp Thorned Scrub Prose Poem 
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© Philip Hobsbaum 1979

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  • Philip Hobsbaum

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