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The Anxiety of the Thirties: Richard Aldington’s Life Quest

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Richard Aldington’s Life Quest, the modernist long poem that time forgot

The standout modernist long poem of the 1920s was The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot’s poem redefined what modernism could do in poetry, influenced by James Joyce’s example of the ‘mythical method’ in his novel Ulysses and the various Symbolist and imagist experiments in French and English verse. It captured a moment and mood of post-war desolation and uncertainty, a world in ruin plagued by fears and anxieties, ennui and a lack of self-confidence. But what happened to the modernist long poem in the 1930s at another moment of anxiety and transition has been less well-covered by scholars and critics of modernism.

The thirties belong to W. H. Auden, and to a lesser extent those who moved in his orbit but were good, or very good, poets in their own right: Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, the ‘Pylon poets’. Curiously, Auden more or less began his poetic career with a highly unusual work, caught between Read the rest of this entry


The Imperfect Imagist: The Poetry of Richard Aldington

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle celebrates the rough edges of one of modernist poetry’s most rebellious voices

Richard Aldington (1892-1962) is a figure who tends to be mentioned alongside his more famous contemporaries: as an imagist he usually figures less highly in histories of the movement than his sometime wife, H. D., while as a novelist of the Great War he comes behind Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford, and Erich Maria Remarque. As a poet-critic he is mentioned after people like T. S. Eliot and William Empson. Richard Aldington was many things: poet, editor, critic, biographer, novelist, modernist, anti-modernist. He was a rebel even within the rebellious movement to which he nominally belonged.

Not long after her poetry began to appear in print, H. D. was labelled ‘the perfect imagist’. If that is the case, Richard Aldington might be given the complementary sobriquet, ‘imperfect imagist’. This is not so much because his work lacks polish (although it sometimes does) as because he refused to conform to Ezra Pound’s directives for imagism – his famous ‘A Few Don’ts’ – and instead forged his own looser, rougher kind of verse which Read the rest of this entry