The Apocalyptic Movement
The Apocalyptic Movement
The Apocalyptic Movement, or The New Apocalypse, was a loose amalgamation of British, Scottish, and Welsh poets of the late 1930s and early 1940s some of whom appeared in the anthologies The New Apocalypse (1939) and The White Horseman (1941).Writers appearing in these volumes include Dylan Thomas, Kathleen Raine, David Gascoyne, George Barker, Henry Treece, G. S. Fraser, Vernon Watkins, and Herbert Read. While these writers adhered to no specific style or themes, much of their writing shows the influence of Surrealism and Romanticism and uses mythological and prophetic motifs to convey a belief that European civilization was destined to collapse. Apocalyptic Movement writers also reacted against the political commitment of such 1930s Oxford University verse writers as W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day Lewis, and further rejected strict adherence to all social and literary tenets. Henry Treece, in his 1946 book How I See Apocalypse, enumerated the qualities of Apocalyptic Movement writings: “In my definition, the writer who senses the chaos, the turbulence, the laughter and the tears, the order and the peace of the world in its entirety, is an Apocalyptic writer. His utterance will be prophetic, for he is observing things which less sensitive men may have not yet come to notice; and as his words are prophetic, they will tend to be incantatory, and so musical. At times, even, that music may take control, and lead the writer from recording his vision almost to creating another voice. So, momentarily, he will kiss the edge of God's robe.”
The Apocalyptic Movement's anti-political stance is reflected in George Barker's 1939 poem “Elegy on Spain”; the poem's neutral point of view contrasts sharply with other contemporary English poems on the Spanish Civil War. The mythopoeic influences of the writings of William Blake and William Butler Yeats are displayed in the prose and verse works of such Apocalyptic Movement writers as Kathleen Raine and Vernon Watkins. Raine, for example, wrote extensively on the mythological qualities of the poetry of Blake and Yeats, while Watkins's poem, “The Ballad of Mari Lwyd,” reinvents a Welsh New Year's Eve custom as an epic rhyming competition between the living and the dead. The surrealistic component of Apocalyptic Movement literature is evident in the works of David Gascoyne, who adapted the techniques of French Surrealists to his works concerning mortality and Roman Catholic mysticism. While the surrealist, romantic, metaphysical, and apolitical qualities of Dylan Thomas's poetry and the publication of some of Thomas's works in The White Horseman often prompt critics to associate him with the Apocalyptic Movement, Thomas denied any affiliation with the group. His poetry and the poetry of George Barker have been cited by commentators as the best examples of Apocalyptic Movement literature.
Poems (poetry) 1935
Calamiterror (poetry) 1937
Elegy on Spain (poetry) 1939
Lament and Triumph (poetry) 1940
Eros in Dogma (poetry) 1944
G. S. Fraser
The Fatal Landscape and Other Poems (poetry) 1943
Home Town Elegy (poetry) 1944
Man's Life Is This Meat (poetry) 1936
Holderlin's Madness (poetry) 1938
Poems, 1937-1942 (poetry) 1942
J. F. Hendry
The Bombed Happiness (poetry) 1942
The Orchestral Mountain: A Symphonic Elegy (poetry) 1943
Far Cry (poetry) 1943
The Inward Eye (poetry) 1946
Recollections of the Gala: Selected Poems, 1943-1948 (poetry) 1948
Stone and Flower Poems, 1935-1943 (poetry) 1943
Living in Time (poetry) 1946
The Green Child (novel) 1948
Collected Poems (poetry) 1966
18 Poems (poetry) 1934
Twenty-Five Poems (poetry) 1936
The Map of Love (poetry) 1939
The World I Breathe (poetry) 1939
New Poems (poetry) 1943
Deaths and Entrances (poetry) 1946
Collected Poems: 1934-1952 (poetry) 1952
38 Poems (poetry)...
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SOURCE: “Notes on Contemporary Tendencies,” in A New Romantic Anthology, edited by Stefan Schimanski and Henry Treece, The Grey Walls Press Ltd., 1949, pp. 51-8.
[In the following excerpt, Morgan differentiates the social activism of 1930s poetry with the poetry of the 1940s, which he perceives as more inclined to reflect current events than attempting to shape them.]
In our time there are so many factors in one's consciousness of which one is not fully aware, so many factors which will emerge into the full light of reason only when they have begun to lose their real potency, so many intuitive needs which will be adequately expressed only when they have been resolved, that when one finds oneself face to face with the increasing stream of modern verse, one hesitates to embark upon definite conjecture, or to make any immediate prophecy about the qualities it will display in the future.
Some observations however can be made. For we have seen within the last few years in poetry a complete volte-face both in manner of treatment and in objective. The mood of inspiration too has largely changed. The 1930's thought that poetry and art could revolutionize life. It is recognized now that it is much truer to say that it is life that changes art; and that each decade evokes its own particular qualities and vices. The moods of Picasso, for instance, it can be seen, and the vigorous disharmonies...
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SOURCE: “Vernon Watkins, Poet of Tradition,” in The Texas Quarterly, Vol. VII, No. 2, Summer, 1964, pp. 173-89.
[In the following excerpt, Raine discusses the work of Vernon Watkins, finding similarities in themes and styles with the works of William Blake and William Butler Yeats.]
I first heard of Vernon Watkins in the nineteen thirties from Dylan Thomas at a party given by the editor of New Verse, the magazine to which all the young poets of those days contributed. We were discussing, as the young will, driven by the partly noble, partly ignoble, passion to excel in our art, who was the best poet then writing. The obvious names were Auden, Spender, MacNeice, and Day Lewis, but there were others. “I am the best poet now writing,” I remember Dylan Thomas exclaiming with a boyish indignation. He then went on to praise “The Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait,” which he had just written. I have often since remembered Dylan Thomas's outburst with respect: right or wrong, he knew what spirit was in him. He then went on to talk of Vernon Watkins, saying that Watkins was an even better poet than himself, a wonderful poet.
Thirty years later, asking myself the same question, I have been surprised to reach (perhaps hélas) the same conclusion now as Dylan Thomas then. This judgment excludes (obviously) T. S. Eliot and Edith Sitwell, whose work is done. It excludes that...
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SOURCE: “David Gascoyne and the Prophetic Role,” in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXV, No. 1, January-March, 1967, pp. 193-229.
[In the following excerpt, Raine discusses the life and work of David Gascoyne, contending that Gascoyne is a master poet who has achieved absolute imaginative truth in his work.]
“Genius, Poet: do we know what these words mean? An inspired Soul once more vouchsafed us, direct from Nature's own great fire-heart, to see the Truth, and speak it, and do it.” (Carlyle, Past and Present)
The publication in 1965 of the Collected Poems1 of David Gascoyne brought to the notice of a generation to whom his name is unfamiliar (for his latest work, Night Thoughts, was published in 1956) the work of an outstanding poet.
David Gascoyne was born in 1916; his father was a bank-clerk (subsequently for a time manager of a bank in the small town of Fordingbridge between Salisbury and Poole); on his mother's side he is related to the actress Winifred Emery. Many, even most writers of the present time (and among them poets), have come from lower middle-class suburbs; talent is at home anywhere, and numbers of writers have described suburban life in terms of suburban or working-class values; have made those values articulate, comprehensible, acceptable. Some would see in this articulation the sole task of literature....
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SOURCE: “Barker's Esthetic: Dynamic Philosophy,” in George Barker, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1969, pp. 15-29.
[In the following excerpt, Fodaski examines George Barker's literary output, theorizing that much of his poetry inspired the Apocalyptic Poets.]
George Barker's poetry discloses a fundamentally Romantic and religious sensibility. Keenly aware of the magic and mystery of language and of the trial and tragedy of human life, his first-person speaker is seer and sinner, apostate and aspiring saint. Questor, prophet, interrogator, supplicant, or critic, he struggles to resolve contradictions between feeling and thought, gratification and guilt, and the beast and god in man. His early (1933-1937) and middle (1938-1949) poetry batters at the dark mysteries of idealism, sexuality, war, and man's spiritual isolation. His later poetry (1950-) is often chastened, sometimes spare and lyrical, sometimes direct and satiric in its impatience with the demons in the modern world or in the human breast. For Barker, poetry is spiritual autobiography.
One of the rare modern poets wholly dedicated to his vocation as poet, Barker wanted, as he himself wrote of André Gide,1 to write his life and have it too. He also wanted to read it. His literary excursions started early. The essay “Coming to London” outlines the most important—“certain books and the eccentric consequences of...
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SOURCE: “Introduction: The Inward Gaze,” in Poets of the Apocalypse, Twayne Publishers, 1983, pp. 1-22.
[In the following excerpt, Salmon discusses the London literary milieu of the Apocalyptic Poets.]
THE LITERARY SCENE
“The New Apocalypse was a well organized movement of the continental type,” Kenneth Rexroth writes in his Introduction to The New British Poets (1949). But the Apocalyptic Movement was less well organized than Rexroth imagined. The idea for it grew out of the work of Nicholas Moore (a son of the philosopher G. E. Moore), John Goodland, and Dorian Cooke on the magazine Seven, which published the early works of other writers associated with the New Apocalypse: J. F. Hendry, Henry Treece, Norman MacCaig, and G. S. Fraser. “Fraser I met at St. Andrews, and … when I started my magazine Seven in 1938, he was immediately a contributor,” Moore recalls, adding, “Treece I never met, but I accepted a rather large batch of his poems for Seven, and from that—indirectly—The New Apocalypse was born.”1
John Goodland, who started out as a coeditor of Seven with Moore, later designated himself merely as publisher. He had attended a Quaker school with Moore and later Cambridge, where the two planned Seven. Goodland was “not exactly ‘a rich Quaker,’” as reported in earlier criticism....
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SOURCE: “James F. Hendry: Apocalyptic Poet and Apologist,” in Poets of the Apocalypse, Twayne Publishers, 1983, pp. 23-42.
[In the following excerpt, Salmon examines the work of James F. Hendry.]
Confusion about the meaning of the term apocalypse began at the outset of the Apocalyptic Movement and plagues subsequent interpretations. Consequently, Dylan Thomas in 1938 can write to John Goodland that although he has not yet seen the Apocalyptic “manifesto,” “… many of your suggested contributors [to the first Apocalyptic anthology] are, I am certain, by any definition, among the least apocalyptic writers alive. …”1 And Nicholas Moore, one of the brightest poets associated with the Apocalyptic Movement, can write in 1980: “One of my troubles with Apocalypse and apocalyptic is that I have never known exactly what it means.”2
Literary critics have generally avoided defining the term apocalypse, while sometimes discussing what they believe to be the salient features of the philosophy of the Apocalyptic Movement. Finding “irrationalism” a dominant motif, Hoffman emphasizes that the “young English poets of the early 1940s, who called themselves the poets of ‘The New Apocalypse,’ had been introduced to Freud and to the surrealists quite early in their careers.”3 To explain the...
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