Stephen Regan

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In critical studies and literary histories of postwar British poetry, a good deal of discussion has been concerned with the existence - real or imagined - of a group of writers known as the Movement. The common assumption is that the Movement was largely a reaction against the inflated romanticism of the 1940s, a victory of common sense and clarity over obscurity and mystification, of verbal restraint over stylistic excess: in short, the virtues of Philip Larkin over those of Dylan Thomas. Those critics who admire the rationalism of Larkin's verse have been concerned to emphasize the importance of the Movement and its continuing influence in contemporary poetry; some have gone so far as to claim for the Movement a significant place in a tradition of modern poetry - usually dubbed 'the English line' - extending back through Edward Thomas and Thomas Hardy to the poetry of William Wordsworth.

At the same time, there exists a degree of scepticism about the aims and achievements of the Movement. John Press, surveying the poetry of the 1950s, finds the issue unsettling: 'To what extent the Movement was more than a lively journalistic invention is not easy to decide' (Press, 1969, p. 253). Ian Hamilton concludes that the movement was a 'hard-sell' by the literary journals on behalf of a favoured few: 'it was a take-over bid and it brilliantly succeeded' (Hamilton, 1972, p. 71). This critical scepticism is compounded by the reluctance of the writers themselves to acknowledge their membership of a particular group. Philip Larkin, when interviewed by Hamilton, confessed 'no sense at all' of belonging to a movement, and Thom Gunn has said of the Movement: 'I found I was in it before I knew it existed . . . and I have a certain suspicion that it does not exist' (Morrison, 1980, p. 4). Elizabeth Jennings was similarly inclined to play down the idea of a movement among a particular generation of postwar poets: 'They may have common aims - but this is something very different from that deliberate practice and promulgation of shared views which a true literary movement implies' (Jennings, 1961, p. 10).

If the Movement did not exist as a coherent literary group, it certainly operated as a significant cultural influence; it was the product of specific views about literature and society, which in turn it helped to establish and disseminate. Those critics who have disputed the idea that the Movement was a well-organized group with a clear and consistent programme of ideas have nevertheless recognized among its alleged participants a shared set of values and assumptions closely related to the moods and conditions of postwar England. Neil Corcoran goes so far as to claim that the preference for traditional forms and methods in Movement poetry was part of a determined effort to rebuild the intellectual culture of the postwar years: 'Syntax, measure and a logic of statement were, in the Movement poem, almost an act of postwar reconstruction: to build the decorous shape of the poem was to provide a defence against barbarism' (Corcoran, 1993, p. 83).

To understand the origins of the Movement it is necessary to return to the autumn of 1954, when the arrival of a new poetic trend was announced in the literary journals. What emerges most forcefully from the early articles and reviews announcing 'the Movement' is not so much a departure from the alleged romanticism of the 1940s, as an awareness of the continuing dominance of W. H. Auden and the poets of the 1930s. In his review article 'Poets of the Fifties' (generally thought to herald the Movement), Anthony Hartley begins by asking 'What do most readers mean when they talk of modern poetry?' He offers the following reply:

In the eyes of the general reader it is the Thirties that continue to typify the modern movement in verse. . . . Now, however, there are signs that this twenty-year-old domination is coming to an end. New names in the reviews, a fresh atmosphere of controversy, a new spirit of criticism — these are signs that some other group of poets is appearing on the horizon. (Hartley, 1954, p. 260)

At the same time as signalling a shift in direction, the new poetry retains its roots in the work of the 1930s. In Hartley's estimation, 'the return to romanticism which came between was essentially a sport'. Hartley does not consider the new movement to be a school of poets with a specific programme and manifesto, but there is evidence, he argues, 'that the present generation has been sufficiently affected by common influences and circumstances for a not too vague Zeitgeist to be apparent in their productions' (ibid.). 'Poets of the Fifties' is perhaps the earliest and the most useful description of the Movement as it was perceived in its own time.

Hartley goes some way towards explaining the characteristic features of the new poetry: 'It might roughly be described as "dissenting" and non-conformist, cool, scientific and analytical . . . the poetic equivalent of liberal, dissenting England' (ibid.). It is here that a Movement ideology is first identified. The poetry of Philip Larkin is only briefly mentioned, along with the work of John Wain, Donald Davie, Kingsley Amis and Thom Gunn, but already a group personality is seen to exist. Stylistically, these writers share an avoidance of rhetoric, an austere tone and a colloquial idiom. The importance of Hartley's early review is that it acknowledges the political and cultural contours of a dominant literary tendency in postwar England. The 'liberalism' to which Hartley refers can be traced back to the kind of liberal idealism espoused by E. M. Forster in the early part of the twentieth century: 'A liberalism distrustful of too much fanaticism, austere and sceptical. A liberalism egalitarian and anti-aristocratic. A liberalism profoundly opposed to fashion in the metropolitan sense of the word' (ibid.). This remains one of the best descriptions of Movement ideology.

Hartley's confident remark that 'we are now in the presence of the only considerable movement in English poetry since the Thirties' (ibid., p. 261) is echoed in the title of a later Spectator article, 'In the Movement', by its editor J. D. Scott. Scott agrees that 'the English literary scene' has not been transformed in such a way since the 1930s, and contrasts the social, political and moral consciousness of that age with the seeming disengagement of the 1950s. Once again, the Movement is defined in terms of a lost idealism and in terms of a vigilant readjustment to an unsettled postwar England: 'The Movement, as well as being anti-phoney, is anti-wet; sceptical, robust, ironic, prepared to be as comfortable as possible in a wicked, commercial, threatened world which doesn't look, anyway, as if it's going to be changed much by a couple of handfuls of young English writers' (Scott, 1954, p. 400).

It was the appearance of poems by a particular group of writers in several anthologies of the 1950s which gave further impetus to the idea of a movement in English poetry. The editors of Springtime: An Anthology of Young Poets and Writers (1953) speak in narrowly technical terms of a poetry which is 'going through a period of consolidation and simplification ... of reaction against experiment for its own sake', and they further claim that their chosen contributors are 'poets of an analytical habit of mind, whose aim is to clarify, by stating plainly, typical complex situations' (Fraser and Fletcher, 1953, pp. 7—10). The same emphasis on 'honesty of thought and feeling and clarity of expression' can be found in D. J. Enright's introduction to Poets of the 1950s: An Anthology of New English Verse, but Enright is clearly alert to the cultural conditions that have prompted this kind of poetic response. Echoing the Spectator articles, Enright acknowledges 'a new spirit stirring in contemporary English poetry' (Enright, 1955, p. 15). He presents his anthology not as the work of a movement, however, but as a selection of poems by individual writers, some of whom share common attitudes. Like the Spectator he stresses the distinction between the political commitment that characterized the poetry of the 1930s and the desired neutrality of the 1950s. Enright offers little explanation for this seeming retreat from political commitment, but his introduction nevertheless registers the disenchantment and general uncertainty of a postwar generation of writers.

The liberal humanist perspective identified by Hartley is given further clarification by Enright, who speaks of the need to 'resuscitate the idea of the dignity of the human individual' and of the way in which 'private responsibility' sometimes outweighs 'social responsibility' (Enright, 1955, pp. 13—14). Despite Enright's disclaimers about a group identity, his poets seem to share a common set of values and assumptions: a vigilant individualism, a careful distancing of the private from the public, and a cautious avoidance of political commitment. Enright's poets are 'moderate': they exemplify 'chastened common sense' and they eschew obscurity 'because they find it unnecessary'. Enright demands from his contemporaries 'a fairly tough intelligence and an unwillingness to be deceived', and in doing so he suggests how closely the poetic ideals of the time were linked to the general scepticism that prevailed in postwar England (ibid., p. 13). In listing these 'virtues' Enright felicitously alludes to the title of Philip Larkin's 1955 volume of poems, The Less Deceived.

Had Enright's anthology been more widely distributed, the political and cultural significance of the Movement poets and their anxious relationship with the poetry of the 1930s might have been better understood by a later generation of readers and writers. As it happened, Enright's anthology probably received less attention than it deserved. Instead, the anthology which had the greatest impact and which was generally held to be most representative of the Movement was Robert Conquest's New Lines (1956). It was Conquest's introduction to the anthology which was largely responsible for encouraging the idea of a reaction against the excesses of 1940s romanticism. The poets of that decade, he argues, were 'encouraged to produce diffuse and sentimental verbiage', while the new generation holds to 'a rational structure and comprehensible language' (Conquest, 1956, pp. xiv-xv). Conquest shows little concern for the social and historical circumstances of postwar England and instead resorts to dubious cultural metaphors of sickness and health. The 1940s attitude to poetry induced a 'sort of corruption'; it led to 'a rapid collapse of public taste, from which we have not yet recovered'. The poetry of the 1950s, however, represents 'a new and healthy general standpoint . . . the restoration of a sound and fruitful attitude to poetry' (ibid., pp. xii-xiv). Conquest's bombastic description of the new poetry is frequently cited as a manifesto for the Movement poets:

If one had briefly to distinguish this poetry of the fifties from its predecessors, I believe the most important general point would be that it submits to no great systems of theoretical constructs nor agglomerations of unconscious commands. It is free from both mystical and logical compulsions and - like modern philosophy - is empirical in its attitude to all that comes. This reverence for the real person or event is, indeed, a part of the general intellectual ambience (in so far as that is not blind or retrogressive) of our time. (Ibid., pp. xiv-xv)

What Conquest seems to be saying here is that the poetry of the 1950s is characterized chiefly by its anti-dogmatic ideals, by a kind of aesthetic purity and philosophical detachment. There is an apparent disregard for the poetry of the 1930s in his jibe at 'theoretical constructs', but the principal target would seem to be Dylan Thomas. Conquest assumes that poetry can maintain a 'free' and neutral stance, and that 'empiricism' is, in itself, a guarantee of this neutrality. Even though Conquest defines the new poetry in negative terms - that is, largely in terms of what it is not - he cannot conceal the problems of a poetic theory that refuses to recognize its own 'theoretical constructs' and which condemns 'ideology' in the very moment of declaring its own interest and allegiances. A preoccupation with what is 'real' and 'honest' becomes a way of disguising those interests, of positing something 'authentic' against what is merely 'theoretical' and 'false'. These are the problems of a good deal of so-called Movement poetry and they were partly responsible for its eventual demise. The pose of neutrality and objectivity could not be sustained indefinitely; the tensions and conflicts of postwar England continued to disturb the equanimity of such poetry, and what began as something separate and detached was either made to look increasingly defensive and withdrawn, or pushed towards a point of declaration. In the case of Philip Larkin, the fastidious restraint of The Less Deceived gradually gave way to a much more confrontational and openly polemical writing, especially in High Windows.

Conquest has since strongly denied the charge of having created a Movement manifesto, but what his anthology clearly shows, especially when read in conjunction with Enright's similar offering, is that unmistakable similarities of style and outlook existed among the rising generation of 1950s poets. This is certainly the opinion of Samuel Hynes, writing in the Times Literary Supplement in 1980: 'The poems resemble each other enough to suggest that a movement did in fact exist. And the prefaces that the contributors wrote for Poets of the 1950s confirm that view: these poets had a programme, they knew what they were for and against' (Hynes, 1980, p. 699). A resemblance in attitudes and techniques is certainly in evidence in much of the Movement poetry that was anthologized in the 1950s and 1960s, and it is useful to compare such poems as Larkin's 'Deceptions' and Amis's 'Alternatives', or Davie's 'A Christening' and Larkin's 'The Whitsun Weddings'. The use of wit and irony is a prominent feature, and this often produces a poetry that seems defensive and guarded. While much of this poetry strives for clarity and intelligibility, it can at times appear tame and trivial.

The prevailing tone of Movement poetry is urbane and academic, and many of the anthologized pieces are too neatly prescriptive or look like pieces of versified literary criticism. Some of the titles provide an indication of a 'bookish' or 'middlebrow' attitude: Kingsley Amis's 'A Bookshop Idyll', D. J. Enright's 'The Verb to Think', Donald Davie's 'Rejoinder to a Critic' and 'Too Late for Satire', and John Wain's 'Reason for not Writing Orthodox Nature Poetry' and 'Poem Without a Main Verb'. One of the shortcomings of Movement poetry is its tendency to make a virtue out of the civilized sensibility, to value intellectual detachment and 'urbanity' above all else. This cool, ironic aloofness can be mildly shocking, as in Amis's 'Shitty', but more often than not it leads to a shallow denial of human potential for change and development, as in Davie's 'A Christening', with its cynical insistence: 'What we do best is breed'. Perhaps the most significant 'manifesto' within Movement poetry is Davie's 'Remembering the Thirties', which in many ways epitomizes the cautious outlook of the Cold War years in its declaration that 'A neutral tone is nowadays preferred'. What the poem demonstrates most forcefully, however, is that the example of Auden and his contemporaries continued to have a powerful impression upon the postwar generation of writers and could never be simply forgotten.

It is also the case, however, that Movement poetry probably displays far more diversity and daring than subsequent critical accounts have given it credit for. Literary history has too readily equated the work of the Movement with parochialism and provincialism. Looking back on Conquest's anthology is to be reminded of the cosmopolitan, international interests of several contributors. Larkin appears resolutely English, but the New Lines volume also contains 'Afternoon in Florence' and 'Piazza San Marco' by Elizabeth Jennings; 'Lerici' by Thom Gunn; 'Evening in the Khamsin' and 'Baie des Anges, Nice' by D. J. Enright; 'Nantucket' and 'Near Jakobselv' by Robert Conquest; and 'Woodpigeons at Raheny' by Donald Davie. Davie's Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952) is often thought to have set the standard for a neo-Augustan discipline in Movement poetry, promoting a particular kind of English traditional lyricism, but this aspect of Davie's critical endeavours needs to be set against his intense and prolonged engagement with the poetry of Ezra Pound and with post-Poundian poetics in the United States. It is certainly the case that critical appraisals of Movement poetry have tended to repeat the formulas and generalizations associated with 1950s and 1960s anthologies rather than exploring the extent to which the work confounds those familiar summaries.

One of the earliest appraisals of Movement poetry can be found in Rule and Energy by John Press (1963). Although Press gives little credence to the publicity surrounding the Movement in the mid-1950s, he nevertheless ventures a critique of its aims and achievements. The new poets 'advance no systematic theory of poetry and offer no rigid set of dogmatic beliefs', but it is possible, Press claims, to summarize the main characteristics of their work:

They all display a cautious scepticism, favour an empirical attitude, speak in carefully measured accents, and examine a problem with an alert wariness. . . . All of these poets, mistrusting or ignoring the legacy of the Romantics and aiming at colloquial ease, decorum, shapeliness, elegance, are trying to bring back into the currency of the language the precision, the snap, the gravity, the decisive, clinching finality which have been lost since the late Augustan age. (Ibid., pp. 45—6)

Here, Press is referring not just to a reaction against the 'neo-Romanticism' of the 1940s but to the whole trend of English poetry since the early nineteenth century. The Movement poets, in this respect, are seen to represent a new 'classicism' in English poetry. Yet it is clear throughout Rule and Energy that this distrust of inflated rhetoric and large emotional gestures is only one aspect of a much broader postwar tendency. The most striking characteristic feature of English poetry in these years, as Press insists at the outset of the book, is 'the general retreat from direct comment on or involvement with any political or social doctrine'. This is particularly noticeable, he adds, 'if we contrast the verse of the past two decades with that of the 1930s' (ibid., p. 5). What disturbs Press is the peculiar passivity of postwar poetry. He speculates that the establishment of the Welfare State may have mitigated some of the more glaring political and social injustices, but continues: 'it is absurd to pretend that in our affluent society a poet can find nothing to arouse his compassion or his savage indignation' (ibid., p. 11). The importance of this statement is that it very accurately identifies the 'neutral tone' of the new poetry and seeks to explain it in terms of its historical context. In 1962, however, Philip Larkin had not yet published The Whitsun Weddings and Press was able to offer only a brief and tentative analysis of Larkin's work. Similarly, D. J. Enright's work was to develop in ways that could hardly have been expected in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1980 Blake Morrison produced the first full-length study of the Movement, proposing that it was 'a literary group of considerable importance', as central to the 1950s as 'the Auden generation' was to the 1930s. Morrison asks a number of crucially revealing questions: 'Did the writers know each other? Is there any evidence of mutual admiration, mutual influence, or collaboration? Did the writers come from the same social background? Did they have similar political beliefs? Did they intend to write for the same kind of audience? Was there a common belief about the direction which contemporary literature should take?' (Morrison, 1980, pp. 5-6). To all of these questions Morrison responds positively, and he goes on to argue decisively and persuasively that despite some obvious divisions and contradictions, 'for a time at least, there was considerable agreement and interaction, and that out of these was established a Movement consensus'. 'It is even possible', he suggests, 'to talk of a Movement "ideology" — an identifiable "line" on sex, religion, politics' (ibid., pp. 6, 9). In addition, Morrison offers some illuminating contextual readings of Larkin's poetry (he considers The Whitsun Weddings as a Movement collection) and further demonstrates how Larkin 'continued to defend and develop principles central to the Movement programme' (Morrison, 1980, p. 8).

The great strength of Morrison's book lies in its acute analysis of class and culture in the postwar years. What was especially significant, Morrison believes, is that Movement writers were identified by their contemporaries with a spirit of change in postwar British society and were thought to be representative of shifts in power and social structure. They were seen, that is, to have benefited from the new opportunities made available to the lower-middle and working classes and were therefore regarded by some members of the ruling class as a threat to the old order. Evelyn Waugh spoke of 'a new wave of philistinism with which we are threatened by these grim young people coming off the assembly lines in their hundreds every year and finding employment as critics, even as poets and novelists', while Somerset Maugham callously dismissed the same people as 'scum':

They do not go to university to acquire culture, but to get a job, and when they have got one, scamp it. They have no manners, and are woefully unable to deal with any social predicament. Their idea of a celebration is to go to a public house and drink six beers. They are mean, malicious, and envious. (Morrison, 1980, pp. 58—9)

Morrison, however, finds that the Movement writers were very far from rebellious; they were, in many ways, meekly submissive and often given to compromise and conservatism:

What emerges in the work of the Movement, then, is an uneasy combination of class-consciousness and acceptance of class division; an acute awareness of privilege, but an eventual submission to the structure which makes it possible. ... As spokesmen for the new self-proclaimed lower-middle-class intelligentsia, the Movement was forced into an ambivalent position; on the one hand opposed to the 'old order'; on the other hand indebted to, and respectful towards, its institutions. (Ibid., pp. 74-5)

Morrison attributes this ambivalence to the fact that most of the Movement poets were scholarship boys in centres of learning still largely dominated by the upper-middle class and therefore subject to pressures to understate social difference. Larkin refers to this process in the introduction to his novel Jill, where he admits that in Oxford in 1940 'our impulse was still to minimize social differences rather than exaggerate them' (Larkin, 1983, p. 17). Furthermore, the influence of thinkers like F. R. Leavis, especially in such subjects as English, undoubtedly helped to promote the kind of conformity and spirit of national unity that Morrison detects.

Despite its mood of dissent and its anti-establishment attitude, the Movement offered only 'a token rebellion', and did not attempt to change the prevailing social structure. The ambivalence of Movement politics becomes particularly evident in the immediate context of the postwar years and manifests itself in a wavering liberal attitude towards the changing balance of power in the new society. The Movement poets were clearly influenced by the democratic idealism that accompanied the Labour victory of 1945, however short-lived that spirit of optimism might have been, and yet most of them were distrustful of egalitarian political ideals and remained deeply suspicious of radical change. Blake Morrison diagnoses the Movement predicament very astutely and shows how it operates in their poetry. Donald Davie's poem 'The Garden Party', for instance, seems at first sight to be severely critical of both class division and capitalism, yet the speaker of the poem has benefited too well from the current social structure to wish to change it. The poem ends in compromise, seeming to offer a critique of existing social arrangements but carefully maintaining a sense of distance and neutrality. The Movement, then, for all its initial anti-establishment fervour, proved to be politically inoffensive. In contrast to the poets of the 1930s, many of whom were upper-middle-class political activists, the poets of the 1950s were lower-middle class and politically neutral.

Given this ambivalence in politics, it is not surprising to discover in the work of Movement writers a sense of nostalgia and regret in the face of Britain's inevitable decline as a world power. Neil Corcoran claims that 'Some of the most interesting poetry of the Movement in the 1950s may be read as inscribed with the sense — anxious, distressed, nostalgic, stoic — of a great national termination and reorientation' (Corcoran, 1993, p. 83). Morrison, too, acknowledges the impact of the end of empire on Movement poetry and shows how a seemingly innocent lyric poem like Philip Larkin's 'At Grass' might be read within this context. He claims that the reason 'At Grass' became one of the most popular postwar poems is that 'by allowing the horses to symbolize loss of power, Larkin manages to tap nostalgia for a past "glory that was England"'. Accordingly, Morrison identifies 'At Grass' as 'a poem of postimperial tristesse' (Morrison, 1980, p. 82).

What is particularly impressive about Morrison's thesis is that it demonstrates how the Movement's social and political ambivalence extends into the formal and structural texture of the poetry in terms of hesitations, qualifications and conversational asides. In fact the whole sense of an audience in Movement poetry, Morrison argues, is shaped by questions of socio-political identity, especially by the difficulty of appealing to an academic elite and at the same time being responsible to the general public in a modern democracy. Morrison explains the alleged 'anti-romanticism' of the Movement not as a narrow literary response to the work of Dylan Thomas but as a careful strategy in a Britain more intent on pursuing communal and egalitarian ideals than it had been before the Second World War. In the new Welfare State democracy this amounted to an admission that the poet was not 'a mystic or visionary removed from society' but a 'responsible citizen responsibly employed' (ibid., p. 178).

Further confirmation of the Movement's political caution can be found in Robert Hewison's well-documented account of the postwar years, In Anger: Culture in the Cold War 1945—60 (1981). Rather comically, Hewison reminds us that 'the movement did not exist' (it was, he believes, an effective piece of stage management), but he himself can hardly avoid using the label (Hewison, 1981, p. 86). His essential point is that the attitudes of the Movement poets reflect the restrictive conditions of the Cold War. In other words, the neutrality, caution and self-limitation of these writers belong to the mood of fear and suspicion created by the continuing opposition among the military and diplomatic forces of East and West after 1945:

The Cold War tended to freeze public attitudes, and counselled silence about the private ones. It recommended a guarded private life, in which only small gestures were possible, gestures chiefly about the difficulty of making a gesture. Hence the concern of the Movement poets with the problems of perception and expression. (Ibid., p. 122)

As Hewison points out, literary history alone does not provide an adequate explanation for what prompted the Movement and determined the kind of poetry it stood for. It was part of a postwar social formation where heightened rhetoric and inflated emotion were likely to be regarded with suspicion.

Most critics writing on the work of Philip Larkin have tended to acknowledge the influence of the Movement on both his poetry and his fiction, while insisting that Larkin ultimately leaves the Movement consensus well behind. The early poetry, in particular, clearly coincides with the Movement ideology described in this chapter, especially in its struggle for neutral ground. The creation of a self-effacing, 'modest' discourse and a self-deprecating, ironic persona is immediately apparent in the poems of The Less Deceived; so too is a distrust of large, idealistic gestures and a preference for English provincial settings over those of 'abroad'. Along with the anti-metropolitan and anti-cosmopolitan instincts in Larkin's poetry, there is a sedulous avoidance of any direct treatment of recent history. This does not mean, however, that the poems themselves somehow 'transcend' history. Blake Morrison has shown how well a poem like 'Church Going' fits the Movement 'programme' by carefully balancing agnostic dissent with a susceptibility to tradition and belief. The poem manages to be both reverent and irreverent. In keeping with Movement preferences, 'Church Going' has a traditional iambic structure and a lucid, rational argument; its speaker is presented as an ordinary, fallible and clumsy individual. It is a poem that testifies to the persistence of both the English church and an English poetic tradition (Morrison, 1980, pp. 225—37).

There are, of course, important ways in which Larkin's poetry departs from Movement principles, and these tendencies were evident even before the Movement dissolved into divergent lines. Morrison claims that Larkin is much more astute than his peers in his sense of audience and perhaps more sympathetically attuned to the Romantic influences the Movement poetry professed to scorn. Samuel Hynes in reviewing Morrison's book claims that Larkin's work is more 'expansive' and more 'wide-ranging' than that of other Movement poets (Hynes, 1980, p. 699). Many critics are convinced that Larkin is a 'better' poet than Amis, Wain, Enright and Davie without being entirely sure why. Implicit in their evaluation is a belief that Larkin's poetry, in contrast with the work of other 'Movement' writers, not only exemplifies a deeper imaginative apprehension of social experience and its contradictions, but also exhibits a far greater range of formal and stylistic devices and a more profound sense of the linguistic and aesthetic possibilities of modern colloquial English.

In 1963 Robert Conquest published a second anthology of contemporary poetry, New Lines II, in which he once again paid tribute to the persistence and variety of 'the central current of English verse'. Modernist innovations such as might be found in the poetry of Ezra Pound were, for Conquest, little more than 'peripheral additions to the main tradition of English poetry'. Acknowledging the work of Philip Larkin as an essential continuation of this tradition, Conquest continued in a vein of strident anti-modernism:

One even comes across the impudent assertion that English poets were unaware of the existence of the darker elements in the human personality, and of large-scale suffering, until psychoanalysts and world wars drew attention to them, and this is compounded with transparently spurious logic, by the notion that the way to cope with these forces is to abandon sanity and hope. (Conquest, 1963, pp. xiii—xiv)

Without being explicit about the matter, Conquest was responding to a rival anthology, The New Poetry (1962), in which Alfred Alvarez had strongly criticized the work of the Movement (and Larkin in particular) for failing to deal with the full range of human experience. The obvious irritation in Conquest's rejoinder is an indication of the profound impact that Alvarez had made on contemporary literary criticism. By throwing 'tradition' and 'experiment' into sharp relief, The New Poetry undoubtedly stimulated one of the liveliest debates in the history of twentieth-century poetry. Alvarez also helped to shape a climate of opinion in which the poetry of Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and others — a poetry seemingly at odds with the work of the Movement — might flourish. By 1962, however, any sense of a coherent Movement project had largely dissolved and the writers who were briefly identified with it had already gone their separate ways.


Alvarez, A. (ed.) (1962). The New Poetry. Har-mondsworth: Penguin.

Conquest, Robert (ed.) (1956). New Lines: An Anthology. London: Macmillan.

Conquest, Robert (ed.) (1963). New Lines — II: An Anthology. London: Macmillan.

Corcoran, Neil (1993). English Poetry Since 1940. London: Longman.

Davie, Donald (1952). Purity of Diction in English Verse. London: Chatto and Windus.

Enright, D. J. (ed.) (1955). Poets of the 1950s: An Anthology of New English Verse. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.

Fraser, G. S. and Ian Fletcher (eds) (1953). Springtime: An Anthology of Young Poets and Writers. London: Peter Owen.

Hamilton, Ian (1972). 'The Making of the Movement.' In Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop (eds), British Poetry Since 1960: A Critical Survey (pp. 70-3). Oxford: Carcanet.

Hartley, Anthony (1954). 'Poets of the Fifties.' Spectator, 27 August, pp. 260-1.

Hewison, Robert (1981). In Anger: Culture in the Cold War 1945-60. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Hynes, Samuel (1980). 'Sweeping the Empty Stage.' Times Literary Supplement, 20 June, p. 699.

Jennings, Elizabeth (1961). An Anthology of Modern Verse 1940-1960. London: Methuen.

Larkin, Philip (1983). Jill. London: Faber and Faber.

Morrison, Blake (1980). The Movement: English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Press, John (1963). Rule And Energy: Trends in British Poetry Since the Second World War. London: Oxford University Press.

Press, John (1969). A Map of Modern English Verse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scott, J. D. (1954). 'In the Movement.' Spectator, 1 October, pp. 399-400.

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