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This article is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

Myth, Magic and the Future of Poetry Grevel Lindop

A dozen years from now, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land will be a hundred years old. This poem, which ever since its first appearance has epitomised the modern, the poem of our own immediately recognisable condition, will have been with us for a century. I find this an extraordinary thought, and I hope you do also. It seems to me that it’s time to ask ourselves where poetry is going, and what it can do for us, in a world that has altered immeasurably since Eliot wrote his fractured masterpiece.

Eliot’s poem was a diagnosis. It drew on myth to suggest that something was missing from the life and consciousness of his age, and that the result was an impoverishment, a spiritual desert. It was left to another twentieth-century poet, Robert Graves, to add a prognosis. In The White Goddess (1948), Graves not only attempted to reconstruct the goddess-worship of ancient Europe, but, in a chapter entitled ‘The Return of the Goddess’, predicted the breakdown of modern civilisation, which he foresaw taking place because of a neglect of the feminine consciousness and a violation of the natural environment. ‘Agricultural life’, he wrote, ‘is rapidly becoming industrialized… the more exhausted by men’s irreligious improvidence the resources of the soil and sea become, the less merciful will [the returning Goddess’s] mask be, and the narrower the scope of action she grants.’ The function of poetry, he announced a little implausibly,

was once a warning to man ...

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