The Poetry of Flecker Essay - Critical Essays

James Elroy Flecker

Critical Evaluation

It is possible to risk the generalization that there are two types of the minor poet. To one type belongs the writer who fits neatly into the style prevailing at the moment, echoing all of its mannerisms so faithfully that his poems cannot be distinguished from those of any other equally minor figure of the day. Then there is the opposite type, the minor writer who never seems able to settle on any style and whose poems, in consequence, seem to have been written by half a dozen people. It would not be unfair to place Flecker in this second category.

According to J. C. Squire, who wrote the introduction to the COLLECTED POEMS, Flecker was much impressed by the poetic theory of the French Parnassians. Squire then quotes a passage from the preface to THE GOLDEN JOURNEY TO SAMARKAND in which Flecker expressed his admiration for that school of poetry, which had come into being under the leadership of Charles Marie Leconte de Lisle as a protest against the excessive emotionalism and subjectivity of the Romanticists; in addition, the Parnassians wished to return French prosody to something like its former strictness. According to their point of view, a poem should be purely objective and should rigorously exclude the exploitation of the author’s private feelings. The doctrine of the school has been described as “Spartan”; its culmination as the hundred and eighteen sonnets of Jose Maria de Heredia, a Cuban-born French poet whom Flecker greatly admired. Except for George Moore, who rejected from his ANTHOLOGY OF PURE POETRY in 1924 any verse with a taint of subjectivity, on the grounds that the only permanent world is the world of things, Flecker seems to have been the only English writer influenced by the Parnassian doctrine. He described that which was contrary to the Parnassian principles as dull, vulgar, or obscure versifying.

Flecker’s theorizing is revealed as basically a part of the revolt against Victorianism that began in the 1880’s and continued until World War I. Also, he illustrates another aspect of the rapprochement with French literature that marked this same period; instead of turning to the French Symbolists, as the poets of the generation before his had done, he turned to the Parnassians. Yet it is difficult to find in Flecker’s work (though he translated one of Leconte de Lisle’s poems) any obvious influence of the French school that he so much admired. Indeed, some of his early poems, such as the “First Sonnet of Bathrolaire,” sound amazingly like products of the 1890’s. And there is the inevitable translation from Baudelaire—this time of the “Litany to Satan,” an attempt of which it can be said only...

(The entire section is 1098 words.)