After the Exile: Poetry and the Death of Culture

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By Anthony Esolen

In February 1893, shortly after the death of Lord Alfred Tennyson, Henry van Dyke published a tribute to the great poet in The Century magazine. He wrote:

For this generation, at least, the poetry of Tennyson, which has interpreted so faithfully our aspirations and hopes and ideals, which has responded so directly and so strongly to the unspoken questions of men and women born into an age of transition and doubt, must continue to be a vital influence. It has woven itself into the dreams of our youth. It has helped us in the conflicts of our days of storm and stress. Our closest bonds of friendship and love have been formed to the music of “Enoch Arden” and “The Princess,” “Maud” and the “Idylls of the King.” And when those bonds have been broken by death, we have turned to the pages of “In Memoriam” for that human consolation which is only less than the divine. I suppose that there is only one Book which, for these last forty years, has done more to comfort sorrow. Men do not forget such a debt as that. They cannot. It has become a part of life, and the evidence of it is written on all the things that are seen and heard.

I have lately begun to wonder whether a good gauge of what I and other professors in arts and letters accomplish might be this: to raise up a few students every year who could read my old issues of magazines like The Century and understand half of what is there.

 

Continue reading… After the Exile

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Ironies of FaithHe has translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

First published in Public Discourse  February 10, 2017

 

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