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The Apocalyptic Movement

The Apocalyptic Movement Essay - Critical Essays

The Apocalyptic Movement

Introduction

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.

Representative Works

George Barker
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

David Gascoyne
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

Norman MacCaig
Far Cry (poetry) 1943
The Inward Eye (poetry) 1946

Nicholas Moore
Recollections of the Gala: Selected Poems, 1943-1948 (poetry) 1948

Kathleen Raine
Stone and Flower Poems, 1935-1943 (poetry) 1943
Living in Time (poetry) 1946

Herbert Read
The Green Child (novel) 1948
Collected Poems (poetry) 1966

Dylan Thomas
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

Henry Treece
38 Poems (poetry) 1940
Invitation and Warning (poetry) 1942
The Black Seasons (poetry) 1945
How I See Apocalypse (criticism) 1946

Vernon Watkins
Ballad of the Mari Lwyd and Other Poems (poetry) 1941
The Lamp and the Veil (poetry) 1945
The Lady with the Unicorn (poetry) 1948

Criticism

Walford Morgan (essay date 1949)

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 of Bartok are so much an expression of our Zeitgeist that they resume more effectively than any philosophy the underlying spirit and temper of the day; and have in a sense the defects of their era. To change the ‘Portrait d’une dame, 5 mars 1940’ of Picasso or his ‘Femme au costume vert, février 1940’, one would need to alter the underlying circumstances and troubles of the age—the broken ties, the uprooted friendships and marriages, and the faulty values which have found their outlet in the chaos of two wars. For it is through the broken facets of modern life, of disharmony and discord, that the acute vision of Picasso finds visual expression. The price the poet has to pay for real activity is that of contemporaneity and awareness. Poetry in order to be created has to be created out of the complex of direct or intuitive perceptions and apprehensions which form the poet's consciousness, and which come to him as an active member of a living community. That is why the artist has often been called the flickering gauge-reading of the thoughts and minds of his time. And if the outward world is sick and disordered, the community diseased, the poet suffers from an acute form of anguish and is set with problems of expression and adjustment. Often it is imperative that he be a revolutionary.

Each decade has constantly to find the satisfaction of newly felt and inherent needs which were probably subordinated and only half-realized in previous modes of expression—has to find new orientations and new directions. In the unsatisfactory world of today it is natural that such should be the case; and that movements should lead poetry through many different phases. Just as painting has passed through Post-impressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism (to mention but a few phases which could be multiplied were we to cast our mind over the movements in different countries), so too, modern poetry has developed a highly sensitive consciousness not only of progress in the other visual arts but of the whole trends and movements in European thought in our time. That perhaps will prove to be one of the outstanding characteristics of the poetry of our day. It is true to say in a special sense that English verse has never been the same since the advent of Hofmannsthal and Rilke (to a lesser degree one might add George) and since Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud; all poets who can roughly be classified (Baudelaire alone excepted) under the general trends of symbolism. For tendencies now appear to be internationally rather than nationally traditional; the cross-fertilization of the cultures of various countries being a factor of the utmost significance for literature in our time.

That is not quite the same thing as saying that regional or national movements will be subordinated beneath general international trends; but rather that regional and national cultures which find their expression in poetry—Welsh, Spanish, Chinese, German, etc.—while retaining their inherent qualities, will now feel themselves increasingly enriched by a consciousness of a similar inward struggle that goes on everywhere else under the diverse operations of the Spirit, throughout all mankind; and will find themselves in the forefront of man's battle for freedom. Differences of race and nationality, of religion and culture, will give each language its own tonalities, naturally, and its own peculiar texture, its own particular emotional and metaphysical range; differences which in ultimate essence will always be untranslatable; but there will often be an identity of aims.

These factors being predominantly operative, within this complex of influences one can discern two distinctive phases in recent English poetry; both aiming at different qualities and achieving different ends; apparent in two decades.

In Auden, Day Lewis, and Spender—and more particularly in their followers in the 30's—a new proletarian consciousness came into being; one saw the current of modern verse nourished by the effluvia of many a factory; the downward reaches tinged by the tainted by-products of a predominantly materialistic age; the swans of poetry swimming in an iridescence of oil. The meticulous accuracy of the technologist acquired such a prestige value that it turned the poetry of the decade into the photographic reportage of the journalist. And brilliant though these chief protagonists were, it was undoubtedly a phase in which the spirit was fettered. In spite of many an inward conflict and the desire to show the supremacy of human values, it was the outward and mechanical creation of man that was honoured. Salvation was to come, according to the trite formula—a formula soon to be overdone and refuted—through the triumph of technology. It was a movement which...

(The entire section is 2545 words.)

Kathleen Raine (essay date 1964)

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,...

(The entire section is 6472 words.)

Kathleen Raine (essay date 1967)

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...

(The entire section is 11486 words.)

Martha Fodaski (essay date 1969)

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...

(The entire section is 6016 words.)

Arthur Edward Salmon (essay date 1983)

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...

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Arthur Edward Salmon (essay date 1983)

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.]

APOCALYPSE

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....

(The entire section is 7028 words.)