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This article is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

In Retrospect J.F. Hendry

WHEN George Barker introduced the baroque into twentieth-century English poetry just before World War II, that signalled a radical departure from purely discursive verse and the beginning of an epistemological battle which is by no means over, but of which few even now are even conscious. To the rationalism of such critics as Geoffrey Grigson the new development was not at all welcome. Though Calamiterror (1937) was a portent of history to come, neither prophecy nor imagination was what was wanted in either poetic or military studies. Better the concept of the Maginot Line than the dynamic imagery of Liddell-Hart'stanks.

Opposition to 'inspired', or imagist, verse has persisted ever since and has led to a barren debate and barren attitude, from which poetry still suffers, and as a result of which Barker has not received the recognition due to him as an innovator of a different type from Dylan Thomas. Yet the 'imagists' were foreseeing Dresden and Hiroshima, when the 'discursives', like the Georgians, were still attending garden-parties and visiting depressed areas they had not known existed.

Calamiterror was described by Francis Scarfe (Auden and After, London, 1942, p. 126) as 'a symphonic poem' that becomes 'an intricate network of tied imagery'. 'Its power is not in the argument but in its rich interplay of feeling and image . . .' Here Scarfe almost reaches an understanding of the reasons for the absence of the barren discursiveness that leads to war. 'After some strange visions ...


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