The recent New England Pulitzer prize winners--Coffin, Frost, Hillyer
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Problem. In this study we shall examine the life, work, beliefs, and contemporary criticism of Coffin, Frost, and Hilly er in an endeavor to show: 1. that the better New England poets represent an island of classicism in the general sea of American poetic romanticism. 2. that the average American poetry critic of the day completely misunderstands and misinterprets the New Englanders. 3. that the great mass of critical evaluation of the day is hopelessly inadequate in its classification of modern poets, especially those of New England. The proof of the first proposition will aid us in deciding whether the New England background has contributed anything special to its poets. The proof of the second proposition should show the need for checking the loose and vague critical use of terms and the oversimplified classification of poets by means of a single label. The proof of the third proposition will bring us to a defense and justification of the much maligned New Englanders. Method. Our method will first require that we present a brief review of the contemporary American scene in poetry. The review will be organized along two major lines: 1. A history of the trends in American poetry since 1912. 2. A discussion of the chief American poets since 1912. The history of the poetic trends will enable us to perceive in its broad outlines the general direction which the mass of our poetry has taken. The discussion of our outstanding poets will enable us to tie this direction down to particular individuals. Once this background has been established we can then place the New England poets against it so as to see more clearly exactly what their position is. Our next step will consist of a factual summary of the lives of our three poets--Coffin, Frost, and Hillyer. This will give us material with which we can compare the backgrounds of the poets, and will lead us to a consideration of those influences in their backgrounds which have made for classicism. The final procedure will take us to a careful analysis of the criticism which has been offered on these men by their contemporaries; and a critical examination of the poetry which they have written, and the beliefs which they have expressed. For the review of the contemporary scene the chief modern literary historians and critics will be referred to. Biographical data on the lives of our poets will be gathered from all available published sources. The discussion of the background for classicism will be based on reputable histories of the particular New England institutions involved. Finally, the critical material on our poets will be collected from all of the materials on the subject that are extant; and the examination of the work and beliefs of the poets will be based on their latest and best known writings. Findings. With the problem in mind, and using the methods outlined above several things became evident. The general body of modern American poetry was shown to be romantic and experimental and the chief of the practicing poets were see to be for the most part romantic users of free verse. The New England poets stood out by virtue of the fact that they were classical and traditional in their poetry and because of the tremendous percentage of success that they had achieved (on the Pulitzer Prize) as against the poets of the rest of the country. The lives of our poets--Coffin, Frost, and Hillyer--revealed certain things which they had in common: residence and education acquired in New England's old universities (Harvard and Bowdoin), connection and contact with England, love for the land and nature, membership in Phi Beta Kappa, and publication in the Atlantic Monthly. These institutions we saw were all connected in the New England background because their founders and chief men had in each instance consisted of the same group. We pointed out that the original influences had been classical and traditional and had persisted to this day. They were in large measure responsible for the classicism of the poets of our study. In our examination of the work and beliefs of the New Englanders it was at once made clear beyond doubt that all of them were classical in their attitude toward their poetry and traditional in their use of verse. We saw, too, that the critics misunderstood and misinterpreted the New Englanders accusing them: 1. of having no philosophy, 2. of being aloof and showing no concern for man. Our analysis of the work and beliefs of the poets proved this to be untrue. The New Englanders all deplored our modern mechanized, mercantile society and recommended a return to nature and the simple, elemental things of life. They all showed a strong belief in the unity of humanity and God, and in the value of the human spirit. Coffin we saw to be more assertive in this belief and more propagandists in his approach. Frost and Hillyer both repudiated any tendency toward extreme points of view socially or politically and adhere to the middle ground, the golden mean, as a way of life. In our study of modern criticism as it has been applied to these men two things became evident: 1. that most of the critics attempted to classify these poets with some one term such as "realist," etc., 2. that the critics for the most part disagreed greatly over what terms were to be applied, some using "realist" while another used "naturalist" for the same thing. We saw in our analysis of Coffin, Frost, and Hillyer that the first of these practices is a serious fallacy since the poets were all complex men with many sides to their development, all of which require adequate critical consideration. The second practise is obviously bad for criticism as a science since the first necessity of any profession is that those who practise it agree on the terminology which they must use.
This item was digitized by the Internet Archive. Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University