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"It is not extraordinary that this war has produced so many poets," said Mr. Cecil Roberts, the English poet in a recent interview for the CRIMSON on the relation between the world war and poetry. "Every young man could, if he would, write verse, but heretofore he has been ashamed of it. The poet has been considered too aesthetic and not in keeping with the spirit of healthy athleticism. But the world has changed affairs considerably. Usually before a man went into battle he wrote a semi-hysterical 'death-letter' to send away. But he also wrote a letter to himself,--a sort of diary--which took the form of verse. Then again in the long waits in the trenches and during his hours of rest he had to have something to occupy his mind, something to prevent him from brooding or going insane.
"As a relief from the tremendous strains of battle, many men began to write poetry. The average of this poetry was not very high, although it was above that of the works of the young poets in normal times. This fact may be attributed to the reason that, whereas the young poets had previously treated light, inconsequential subjects, in this case they were brought face to face with the fundamental questions of life and death. Men who had never written before took it up and some remarkable poets have come as a result. The war was merely an excuse for printing poetry; it was the thing to do--to issue a volume of poems.
Pre-War Poets Will Come Forward
"The question arises as to what these 'war poets' will do now in peace times. These men will fade into insignificance as time goes on. For such men the war was the great thing, and everything in the remainder of their lives will be an anti-climax. But the men who were poets before the war will come forward to the front rank. During the war these men wrote practically nothing, for 'poetry is an emotion recollected in tranquility.' And so the coming generation will be ripe for the writing of this retrospective poetry."
Referring to poetry in general, Mr. Roberts said, "It is a sad fact, but there are usually no more than two men in a thousand capable of understanding poetry. There are many hypocrites, to be sure, who pretend to understand verse and who join an exclusive Browning cult, but this is done in order to conform to custom. The poet is born, not made. He has within him the 'urge of the eager' which needs no routine training. In college the poet is usually shy, for an individual is repressed, but the type advanced. You have a very good school of young poets here in America. Vachel Lindsay in his poem 'General William Booth enters into Heaven,' shows the ability of this group. Mr. Lindsay ventures to go one step further than Walt Whitman, joining melody to realism.
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