Post World War II


In England, meanwhile, the ‘Puritan’ simplicity embraced by Wordsworth (see the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads) had its new exponents in Philip Larkin, John Betjeman and W H Auden. They saw England teeming with contrary images: factory and field; industrial grime and natural purity. Within this stood the poet: lonely, alienated and cynical, like Marvell in The Garden (see Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974)). Yet, humour and satire filled their poetry. It is telling that Larkin defaced a copy of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene in St. John’s library at Oxford University, wittily declaring a hatred of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and Beowulf at the same sitting. Tradition, he implied, is bunk. To an extent he correctly gauged the new vanguard of individualist poets, less ignorant than uninterested in classics and complex forms. Modern poets have written from their own experience, or in a stream of images but avoiding literary allusions. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes alike shared this, taking respectively but probably unknowingly William Carlos Williams’s twin Paterson declarations as if their muse: "no ideas but in the truth" and "no ideas but in things".

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