Poetry of Equipoise: Tradition in Modern Verse

  • Geoffrey Harvey


Whenever poets and critics discuss the concept of ‘tradition’ or, what often amounts to the same thing, the notion of ‘Englishness’ in modern poetry, the debate usually generates a good deal of heat. Defensive positions are quickly taken up, fortified by examples of poetic procedures culled from the entire range of English verse. Some modern poets employ differing conceptions of what constitutes an English tradition in order to confirm and justify their own poetic convictions. William Empson with his commitment to irony and ambiguity is an obvious instance of this natural tendency. And varying definitions of an English tradition have also been invoked by critics such as Cleanth Brooks and F. R. Leavis, for instance, to vindicate respectively their New Critical and Moralist approaches to poetry. As one might expect, arguments about the existence and the nature of a native English poetic tradition have been sharpened considerably in recent years by the deepening gulf between Modernist and post-Modernist verse. As Geoffrey Thurley remarked a decade ago,


Moral Realism Ordinary Life Ordinary Experience English Poetry Romantic Poet 
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© Geoffrey Harvey 1986

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  • Geoffrey Harvey

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