A. D. Hope Analysis

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A. D. Hope Analysis

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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In his introduction to a selection of his poems in 1963 as part of the Australian Poets series, A. D. Hope stated that “all theories about poetry are inadequate and that good poetry has been written on many assumptions that actually appear to be incompatible with one another.” That claim notwithstanding, Hope did admit to several “comfortable prejudices” that allowed him to ignore poetical practices with which he had no sympathy. “The chief of these,” he said, “is a heresy of our time which holds that by excluding those things which poetry has in common with prose, narrative, argument, description, exhortation and exposition, and that, depending entirely on lyric impulse or the evocative power of massed imagery one can arrive at the pure essence of poetry.” This remark is central to any understanding of Hope’s work, for he consistently lamented the impoverishment of twentieth century poetry when comparing it to the “great variety of forms practised in the past.” The remark also reveals the strong influence of Latin studies on Hope’s work, for his list includes most of the common topics of classical rhetoric. Of those he mentions, narrative and argumentation are important techniques that he consistently employed in his best poems.

Hope’s second complaint was with “the notion that poetry can be improved or its range extended by breaking down the traditional structure of English verse by replacing its rhythms by those of prose.” Hope, who studied at Oxford with C. L. Wrenn, editor of Beowulf, wrote learnedly on the origins of English poetic meter, particularly on the transition from accentual meters to accentual syllabics, which took place in the century after Geoffrey Chaucer’s death (the 1400’s), and on the metrical practices of John Dryden and Pope. Like Robert Frost, Hope credited the tension between meter and sentence rhythm as the key to the successful iambic pentameter line, of which Hope was a master. Given his mastery of meter, Hope had little patience with theories of “open form” or “projective verse” that were forwarded in defense of free verse.

According to Hope, another of the modern “heresies” stemmed from “that irritable personalism which is partly a heritage of the Romantics, the view that poetry is primarily self-expression.” Even though Hope stated his disagreement with the poetical theories of Edgar Allan Poe, he would seem to agree with the primacy of a poem’s effect on its audience: “The poem is not a feeling, it is a structure of words designed, among other things, to arouse a certain state of feeling.” Similarly, Hope seems to have agreed with Eliot (“a poet whose poetry I cannot bring myself to like at all”) in the need for a poet to find “an ’objective correlative’ for the transmission of the poet’s state of heart and mind to his readers.”

It should be apparent from these comments that Hope had little sympathy for the confessionalist tendencies of much modern poetry, which, according to Hope, provide many poets with “an adoring cannibal audience waiting for the next effusion of soul meat.” He added that the emotions in poems should not necessarily be equated with the emotions of poets: “The delight of creation and invention is their proper emotion and this must be in control of all other feelings.”

Finally, Hope’s personal preferences in the language of poetry were that it be “plain, lucid, coherent, logically connected, syntactically exact, and firmly based in current idiom and usage.” To a large degree, Hope remained true to this dictum; his poetry is remarkable for its avoidance of needless obscurity and ambiguity. As he said, “A poem which can be parsed and analysed is not necessarily a good poem, but a poem which cannot is almost certainly bad.” He did, however, allow himself the option of a certain elevation of language, what has been disparaged in recent decades as “poetic diction .” With William Wordsworth, Hope agreed...

(The entire section is 2,997 words.)