The first assertion M. L. Rosenthal makes [in "The Modern Poets"] is that "the most marked stylistic break between past and present is not, as is commonly assumed, a break from forthrightness to riddle-making. It is from relative formality to simplicity and directness; an unpretentious intimacy, and awareness of everyday life, has been brought into poetry more emphatically than before." He points out that Yeats. Pound, and Eliot, from whom the most powerful impulses in our poetry today derive, are grounded in tradition, and concerned with continuity. At the same time, our poetry since the twenties has made every effort to use whatever in the past is "myth-making, wonder-contemplating, and strength-giving, and to discover widened, fresher meanings."
This effort, he makes us see, in long and lucid outlines of modern poems, is energetic in invention and experiment, but always sensitive to the voices of the past. Mr. Rosenthal is not defensive, however. He states more clearly and reasonably than any other literary historian of the time, what exactly goes on in the poetry of our time. His view is in sharp focus at a decade's length, and in a single poem's length.
"The Modern Poets" is divided into seven chapters. In the first, Mr. Rosenthal describes the widening of sensibility, and the continuity of tradition, then makes a bridge of Hopkins and Hardy, to reach the modern period. That Yeats is the first great poet of the period, he leaves no doubt. "Ezra Pound: the Poet as Hero," which is the third chapter, also leaves no doubt in the reader's mind as to the importance of this poet, to Mr. Rosenthal, at any rate. His treatment is full, detailed, and commanding, when he discusses the Cantos, and this is a valuable chapter. With Eliot, he pictures the displaced sensibility; this fourth chapter establishes the dominating effect of such displacement on modern poetry.
(The entire section is 462 words.)