I pitched my day's leazings in Crimmercrock Lane,
To tie up my garter and jog on again,
When a dear dark-eyed gentleman passed there and said,
In a way that made all o' me colour rose-red,
   "What do I see—
   O pretty knee!"
And he came and he tied up my garter for me.

'Twixt sunset and moonrise it was, I can mind:
Ah, 'tis easy to lose what we nevermore find!—
Of the dear stranger's home, of his name, I knew nought,
But I soon knew his nature and all that it brought.
   Then bitterly
   Sobbed I that he
Should ever have tied up my garter for me!

Yet now I've beside me a fine lissom lad,
And my slip's nigh forgot, and my days are not sad;
My own dearest joy is he, comrade, and friend,
He it is who safe-guards me, on him I depend;
   No sorrow brings he,
   And thankful I be
That his daddy once tied up my garter for me!

Thomas Hardy—"the Dark-Eyed Gentleman", Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses

I've since finished Expansive Poetry ("Essays on the New Narrative and the New Formalism"), but as I mentioned before, I would like to get back to some of the attacks on Ezra Pound and T.S.Eliot in that volume.

Richard Moore, who is no lightweight authority, uses Hardy's wonderful "Dark-Eyed Gentleman" to set up an assault on the acknowledged pillars of modern poetry. He shows how Hardy's work was couched in a tradition while shrewdly undermining the ugliest aspects of that tradition. Moore points out that Hardy, rather than rail on in the poem about the near misogynistic standards of Victorian mores, chose to create a vivid character who expressed the problem using a frank, affecting voice with just the right amount of irony. So the point is that Hardy is an poet of extraordinary skill and sensitivity? As a devotee of Hardy, I whole- heartedly agree. After working this point about quiet revolution through a wandering journey in Euripides, Shakespeare and others, Moore arrives at his main task.

Moore starts by blasting Pound's "In a station of the metro". The entire poem:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Moore scoffs at the slackness of the iambic hexameter of the first line and at the second line, which he says "makes no metric sense at all". He then goes on for almost two pages about how the poem shows contempt for the conventions of English poetry by merely "alluding" to iambic pentameter, rather than properly using it.

At this point I'm bewildered. Can this really be Richard Moore writing? It seems obvious that Pound here is translating Chinese and Japanese prosodic conventions into English accentual verse. But never mind the eastern motor within this poem. One needn't know the first thing about haiku in order to feel the power of Pound's 4 stresses per line.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Coleridge used the same 4 stresses non-syllabic in Christabel. You need look no further than the famous opening lines:

'T is the middle of night by the castle clock
And the owls have awakened the crowing cock;

I can imagine Moore praising Coleridge as a metrical genius for the way he mirrors the lines as anapestic tetrameters with iambic final feet, but then how would he explain the "Tu–whit !— — Tu–whoo !" of the next line? What are those, anyway? Two iambs (surely no one would stoop to such scansion)? Two spondees? What of the clue in the em dashes? (Christabel was a favorite of an old girlfriend of mine, and I remember her reading it aloud. She was no prosodist, but I remember that she nailed the crucial caesura in that line.) How would Moore go on to explain the rest of Christabel? (Forget for a moment that even Coleridge can't adequately explain "How drowsily it crew")? Of course a discerning critic such as Moore would appreciate the accentual meter for what it is. Why can't he see Pound's poem the same way?

Clearly "In a station of the metro" is accentual, rather than accentual- syllabic. It would take a truly tin ear to want to stress "of" and "in" in the first line, just because it made them iambic, as it would to add "like" to the beginning of the second, because it makes it approximately iambic. Pound uses the copious unstressed syllables in the first line to emphasize that he's starting from a very quotidian encounter ("quotidian" in the modern sense, as borrowed by English from medieval Latin, rather the classical Latin adverbial expression, as used in the title of this article). The second line explodes into the image as even Moore acknowledges. The lack of unstressed syllables cuts the image into the line as surely as a laser etching. Even the unstressed syllables in the second line have a purpose. It occurs to me to think of "on a" as saying "if you mistook that last word for a cheap-trick trochee, just you watch what comes next".

I have always counted this poem as one of the triumphs of "free verse". De gustibus non disputandem and all that–I can understand a critic's not liking it, but I cannot understand a critic's insistence in setting up such a blatant straw man of false prosody.

Moore then goes on to work on Eliot (I can just hear Robert Graves goading him: "These be thy Gods, O Israel").

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;

(from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock")

Moore goes on about how this simile just does not appeal to him. Again this is a matter of taste, and there's not much material for argument. But he also claims that Eliot is being merely capricious and manipulative by (ab)using such an outlandish trope. Surely Moore has read the numerous critics, such as I.A. Richards who recognized Eliot's hearkening back to the metaphysical conceit. Surely he knows that Eliot himself wrote about his debt to the Metaphysicals. Throughout Eliot's work, his exploration of the conceit has always been his most personal application of the ideas he expounded in "Tradition and the Individual Talent". No news there. Surely Moore would not dare castigate John Donne for his extravagance in trope. Should we invoke the Dean of St. Pauls in Eliot's defence? Alas. It seems that Donne can only commiserate:

Who would not laugh at mee, if I should say
I saw a flaske of powder burn a day

(from "The Broken Heart") (Note: the italics are original (I think), not mine. I'm not sure why the Luminarium doesn't italicize that phrase. All my dead tree texts do.

Ah well. Moore's attack on "Prufrock" again reads to me as from a critic who probably knows better when he chooses to ignore the precedents on which the poet is building. The critic doesn't want to admit any mitigation of his attack on the poets supposed sullying of tradition.

Many of the free verse fundamentalist followers of Pound and Eliot seemed truly confused about the craft of those two. They thought that Pound and Eliot helped free them from the supposed tyranny of form. They clearly couldn't appreciate what great examples Pound and Eliot were of the fact that free verse ain't no free lunch. It takes even more craft to execute free verse well than it does to write in form, and that craft right now must be learned rigorously from the metrical tradition. As I've said, I agree with Expansive Poetry in its denunciation of the movement that marginalized form in the middle 20th century, but I find it unfortunate when a critic such as Moore makes the same mistake as the free verse fundamentalists, even in pursuit of the opposite argument.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia