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This article is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

David Perkins on Modern Poetry John Paul Russo

A HISTORY OF MODERN POETRY impresses through its comprehensiveness, its standard of judgement, and its taste. The book is written in an elegantly compressed and rapid prose that readily delivers its intellectual virtues and pays real tribute to its subject. This volume, the first of a projected two-volume study of the poetry of Great Britain and America, ranks with the very finest literary histories of the past thirty years.

Although we are in the last quarter of the century, we have not yet had a history of modern poetry, one that embraces the eighty-year period as a whole, in all its rich diversity and complexity. Typically there are books on half a dozen poets-usually the same poets. Perkins's book is the first to offer an authoritative history of the entire period.

As for comprehensiveness, A History of Modern Poetry runs six hundred and two pages, covering a period from the late 1880s to the mid-1920s. It begins with the Decadence and ends with the establishment of Modernism-first, of an open and popular type; later, of a closed, allusive, brilliantly polished type in what Professor Perkins names the "High Modernist Mode." Generally one finds that the allotment of space to a writer implies a judgement on value, though many poets win attention for reasons other than the intrinsic qualities of their poetry. In the very front rank are five poets who inhabit separate chapters: Hardy, Frost, Pound, Eliot, and Yeats. Then, by my own count, there ...


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