Emergence of poetry
Given its interest in larger socioliterary movements and its belief in the interdependent relationship between literature and society, it is not surprising that much earlier Marxist criticism focused not on individual poems, but on the emergence of poetry as a literary genre. One of the first full-length studies of the origins of poetry was Christopher Caudwell’s Illusion and Reality: A Study of the Sources of Poetry (1937), in which the young British Marxist, who died fighting in the Spanish Civil War near the time his book was published, mixed insights into the sources of poetry with some rather crude analyses. George Thomson was a major disciple of Caudwell, and his Marxism and Poetry (1945) was a much more developed study that argued the organic relationships between work and consciousness, between inspiration and collective expression. Even the rhythm of poetry, Thomson argued, could finally be traced to the use of tools in work.
Probably the best study of the origins of poetry appeared in the Austrian critic Ernst Fischer’s Von der Notwendigkeit der Kunst (1959; The Necessity of Art: A Marxist Approach, 1963), which describes the history of the arts from a Marxist perspective and includes, in its analysis of everything from the collective origins of art to the modern conditions of alienation and mystification, a number of poetry topics, including William Shakespeare and the Romantic poets. (See “The world and language of poetry,” in Fischer’s chapter “Content and Form.”) A similarly valuable work a few years later was Raymond Williams’s study of English literature that touches on various poets and poetic forms over thousands of years. Fischer and Williams proved how valuable Marxism could be in exploring the complex and symbiotic relationship between art and literature (including poetry), on one hand, and the societies out of which they came, on the other.