conformity and poetic form

Subject: modernists were (like) communists
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 07:41:45 -0500 (EST)
Precedence: bulk


This contribution to the already good discussion of "Cottage
Street, 1953" has a title: "MODERNISTS WERE COMMUNISTS?"

Alexandra wrote:

 Being "different" was much worse in the 1950''s than it is today.  Not
 only were those who weren't "mainstream" ostracized and shunned, many
 were labeled "communists."  I have a feeling McCarthy and the Red Scare
 applicable background information for Wilbur and his portrayal of Sylvia
 Plath in such a way.

Although Wilbur's poem is not at all about communism, it is, as Alexandra
notes, about conformity. Wilbur, I think, knowingly, somewhat reluctantly,
but for the most part confidently, accepts

                conformist social values
                along with a "return to traditional poetic forms"
                        (the so-called "new formalism" of the 50s)

all in an atmosphere that precisely animated the "red scare." In a sense
the "free" craziness of poets who don't do well socially at Edna Ward's
tea afternoons in staid New England are in need of saving by those of
us who, like--Wilbur, ahhhhh, sadly but confidently--are comfortable
enough with tradition to be the ones doing the saving.

In this climate, modernists are "out there" in a way not so unlike the way
communists are "out there."

This was all a matter of poetic form. Note how carefully and deliberately
the form of this poem implies an endorsement of Mrs. Ward's system of
social ethics and condemns the version of "free" embodied in the
doomed, burning-candle-at-both-ends freakishly free Sylvia.

Someone -- not I? it's your job! -- should comment more specifically on
the way Wilbur's poetic form comments further on the Edna Ward/Sylvia
Plath alternative.


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