What is Minor Poetry?

T. S. Eliot

Spring 1946

I do not propose to offer you, either at the beginning or at the end, a definition of “minor poetry.” The danger of such a definition would be, that it might lead us to expect that we could settle, once for all, who are the “major” and who are the “minor” poets. Then, if we tried to make out two lists, one of major and one of minor poets in English literature, we should find that we agreed about a few poets for each list, that there would be more about which we should differ, and that no two people would produce quite the same lists: and what then would be the use of our definition? What I think we can do, however, is to take notice of the fact that when we speak of a poet as “minor,” we mean different things at different times; we can make our minds a little clearer about what these different meanings are, and so avoid confusion and misunderstanding. We shall certainly go on meaning several different things by the term, so we must, as with many other words, make the best of it, and not attempt to squeeze everything into one definition. What I am concerned to dispel is any derogatory association connected with the term “minor poetry,” together with the suggestion that minor poetry is easier to read, or less worth while to read, than “major poetry.” The question is simply, what kinds of minor poetry are there, and why should we read it?

The most direct approach, I think, is by considering the several kinds of anthologies of poetry: because one association of the term “minor poetry” makes it mean “the kind of poems that we only read in anthologies.” And, incidentally, I am glad of an opportunity to say something about the uses of anthologies, because, if we understand their uses, we can also be guarded against their dangers—for there are poetry-lovers who can be called anthology addicts, and cannot read poetry in any other way. Of course the primary value of anthologies, as of all poetry, lies in their being able to give pleasure: but, beyond this, they should serve several purposes.

One kind of anthology, which stands by itself, is that which consists of poems by young poets, those who have not yet published volumes, or whose books are not yet widely known. Such collections have a particular value for both poets and readers, whether they represent the work of one group of poets, with certain principles in common, or whether the only unity of the contents is that given by the fact that all the poets belong to the same literary generation. For the young poet, it is generally desirable to have several stages of publicity, before he arrives at the point of having a small book all to himself. First, the periodicals: not the well-known ones with a national circulation—the only advantage, to the young poet, of appearing in these, is the possible guinea that he may receive on publication—but the small magazines, devoted to contemporary verse, and edited by young editors. These small magazines often appear to circulate only among contributors and would-be contributors, their condition is usually precarious, their appearance at irregular intervals, and their existence brief, yet their collective importance is out of all proportion to the obscurity in which they struggle. Apart from the value they may have in giving experience to future literary editors—and good literary editors have an important part to play in a healthy literature—they give the poet the advantage of seeing his work in print, of comparing it with that of his equally obscure, or slightly better known contemporaries, and of receiving the attention and criticism of those who are most likely to be in sympathy with his style of writing. For a poet must make a place for himself among other poets, and within his own generation, before he appeals to either a larger or an older public. To those people who are interested in publishing poetry, these small magazines also provide a means of keeping an eye on the beginners, and watching their progress. Next, a small group of young writers, with certain affinities or regional sympathies between them, may produce a volume together. Such groups frequently bind themselves together by formulating a set of principles or rules, to which usually nobody adheres; in course of time the group disintegrates, the feebler members vanish, and the stronger ones develop more individual styles. But the group, and the group anthology, serve a useful purpose: young poets do not ordinarily get, and indeed are better without, much attention from the general public, but they need the support and criticism of each other, and of a few other people. And, last, there are the more comprehensive anthologies of new verse, preferably compiled by more detached young editors. These have the value of giving the poetry reader a notion of what is going on, a chance of studying the changes in subject-matter and style, without going through a great number of periodicals or separate volumes; and they serve to direct his further attention to the progress of a few poets who may seem to him of promise. But even these collections do not reach the general reader, who as a rule will not have heard of any of the poets until they have produced several volumes and consequently found inclusion in other anthologies covering a greater span of time. When he looks at one of these books, he is apt to judge it by standards which should not be applied: to judge promise as if it were mature performance, and to judge the anthology, not by the best poems in it, but at best by the average.

The anthologies which have the widest circulation are of course those, like the Oxford Book of English Verse, which cover whole of English literature up to the last generation; or those specialising in a particular period of the past; or those which cover the history of some part of poetry in English; or those which are limited to “modern” poetry of the last two or three generations, including such living poets as have established some reputation. These last, of course, serve some of the purpose of the purely contemporary anthology as well. But, confining ourselves for convenience to those anthologies which include the work of dead poets, let us ask what purposes they may expected to serve their readers.

No doubt The Golden Treasury, or the Oxford Book, has given many people their introduction to Milton, to Wordsworth, or to Shelley (not to Shakespeare: but we don’t expect to make our acquaintance with a dramatic poet through anthologies). But I should not say that anyone who had read, and enjoyed, these poets, or half a dozen others, in an anthology, and yet had not the curiosity and appetite to tackle their complete works, and at least look to see what else they might like—I should not that any such person was a real poetry lover. The value of anthologies in introducing us to the work of the greatest poets, is soon over; and we do not go on reading anthologies for selections from these poets, though they have to be there. The anthology also helps us to find out, whether there are not some lesser poets of whose work we should like to know more—poets who do not figure so conspicuously in any history of literature, who may not have influenced the course of literature, poets whose work is not necessary for any abstract scheme of literary education, but who may have a strong personal appeal to certain readers. Indeed, I should be inclined to doubt the genuineness of the of poetry of any reader who did not have one or more of these personal affections for the work of some poet of no great historical importance: I should suspect that the person who only liked the poets whom the history books agree to be the most important, was probably no more than a conscientious student, bringing very little of himself to his appreciations. This poet may not be very important, you should say defiantly, but his work is good for me. It is largely a matter of chance, whether and how one makes the acquaintance of such poetry. In a family library there may be a book which somebody bought it was published, because it was highly spoken of, and which nobody read. It was in this way that I came across, as a boy, a poem for which I have preserved a warm affection: The Light of Asia, by one Sir Edwin Arnold. It is a long epic poem on the life of Gautama Buddha: I must have had a latent sympathy for the subject-matter, for I read it through with gusto, and more than once. I have never had the curiosity to find out anything about the author but to this day it seems to me a good poem, and when I meet anyone else who has read and liked it, I feel drawn to that person. Now you don’t, as a rule, come across extracts from forgotten epics in anthologies: nevertheless it is always possible that in an anthology you will be struck by some piece by an obscure author, which leads to a closer acquaintance with the work of some poet whom nobody else seems to enjoy, or have read.

Just as the anthology can introduce us to poets who are not very important, but are what one happens to like, so a good anthology can give us useful knowledge of other poets who are very important, but whom we don’t like. There are only two reasons for reading the whole of The Faery Queen or of Wordsworth’s Prelude. One is that you enjoy reading it: and to enjoy either of the poems is a very good mark. But if you don’t enjoy it, the only reason is that you are going to set up as a teacher of literature, or as a literary critic, and have got to know these poems. Yet Spenser and Wordsworth are both so important in the history of English literature because of all the other poetry which you understand better because of knowing them, that everybody ought to know something about them. There are not many anthologies which give substantial extracts from long poems—there is a very useful one, compiled a few years ago by Mr. Charles Williams, who has the peculiar qualification of really enjoying all sorts of long poems which nobody else reads. But even a good anthology composed of short pieces, can give one some knowledge, which is worth having, of those poets whom we do not enjoy. And just as everybody must have his personal tastes for some poetry which other people set no store by, so everybody, I suspect, has a blind spot towards the work of one or more poets who must be acknowledged to be great.

The next use of the anthology is one which can only be served if the compiler is not only very well read, but a man of very sensitive taste. There are many poets who have been generally dull, but who have occasional flashes. Most of us have not time to read through the works of competent and distinguished dull poets, specially those of another epoch, to find out the good bits for ourselves: and it would seldom be worth while even if we could afford the time. A century ago or more, every poetry lover devoured a new book by Tom Moore as soon as it came out: who to-day has read the whole even of Lalla Rookh? Southey was Poet Laureate, and accordingly wrote epics: I do know one person who had Thalaba, if not The Curse of Kehama, read to her as a child, and retains something of the same affection for it that I have for The Light of Asia. I wonder whether many people ever read Gebir; and yet Landor, the author of that dignified long poem, was a very able poet indeed. There are many long poems, however, which seem to have been very readable when they first appeared, but which no one now reads—though I suspect that nowadays, when prose fiction supplies the need that was filled, for most readers, by the verse romances of Scott, and Byron and Moore, few people read a very long poem even when it is new from the press. So anthologies, and volumes of selections, are useful: because no one has time to read everything, and because there are poems only parts of which remain alive.

The anthology can have another use which, following the train of thought I have been pursuing, we might overlook. It lies in the interest of comparison, of being able to get, in a short space, a conspectus of the progress of poetry: and if there is much that we can only learn by reading one poet entire, there is much to learn by passing from one poet to another. To pass to and fro between a border ballad, an Elizabethan lyric, a lyric poem by Blake or Shelley, and a monologue by Browning, is to be able to get emotional experiences, as well as subjects for reflection, which concentration of attention on one poet cannot give. Just as in a well arranged dinner (if I may be pardoned for reminding you of such pleasures nowadays), what one enjoys is not a number of dishes by themselves but the combination of good things, so there are pleasures of poetry to be taken in the same way; and several very different poems, by authors of different temperaments and different ages, when read together, may each bring out the peculiar savour of each other, each having something that the others lack. To enjoy this pleasure we need a good anthology, and we need also some practice in the use of it.

I shall now return to the subject from which you may think that I have strayed. Though it is not only the minor poets who are represented in anthologies, we may think of the minor poets as those whom we only read in anthologies. I had to enter a caveat against this, in asserting that for every poetry reader there ought to be some minor poets whom it is worth while for him to read entire. But beyond this point we find more than one type of minor poet. There are of course poets who have written just one, or only a very few, good poems: so that there seems no reason for anybody going beyond the anthology. Such, for example, was Arthur O’Shaughnessy, whose poem begining “We are the music makers” is in any anthology which includes late nineteenth century verse. Such, for some readers but not for all, will be Ernest Dowson, or John Davidson. But the number of poets of whom we can say that it holds true for all readers that they left only one or two particular poems worth reading, is actually very small: the chances are that if a poet has written one good poem, there will be something in the rest of his work which will be worth reading, to at least a few persons. Leaving these few out of account, we find that we often think of the minor poet as the poet who has only written short poems. But we may at times also speak of Southey, and Landor, and a host of writers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as minor poets also, although they left poems of the most monumental size: and I think that nowadays few, at least among younger readers, would think of Donne as a minor poet, even if he had never written satires and epistles, or of Blake as a minor poet, even if he had never written his Prophetic Books. So we must count as minor poets, in one sense, some poets whose reputation, such as it is, rests upon very long poems; and as major poets, some who wrote only short ones.

It might seem at first simpler to refer to the minor writers of epics as secondary, or still more harshly as failed great poets. They have failed, certainly, in the sense that no one reads their long poems now: they are secondary, in the sense that we judge long poems according to very high standards. We don’t feel that a long poem is worth the trouble unless it is, in its kind, as good as The Faery Queen, or Paradise Lost, or The Prelude, or Don Juan, or Hyperion, and the other long poems which are in the first rank. Yet we have found that some of these secondary poems are worth reading, for some people. We notice further that we cannot simply divide long poems into a small number of masterpieces and a large number of those we needn’t bother about. In between such poems as those I have just mentioned, and an estimable minor work like The Light of Asia, there are all sorts of long poems of different kinds and of every degree of importance, so that we cannot draw any definite line between the major and the minor. What about Thomson’s Seasons and Cowper’s Task—these are long poems which, if one’s interest lies in other directions, one may be content to know only by extracts; but I would not admit that they are minor poems, or that any part, of either of them, is as good as the whole. What about Mrs. Browning’s Aurora Leigh, which I have never read, or that long poem by George Eliot of which I don’t remember the name?

If we have difficulty in separating the writers of long poems into major and minor poets, we have no easier decision with writers of short poems. One very interesting case is George Herbert. We all know a few of his poems, which appear again and again in anthologies; but when we read through his collected poems, we are surprised to find how many of the poems strike us as just as good as those we have met with in anthologies. But The Temple is something more than a number of religious poems by one author: it was, as the title is meant to imply, a book constructed according to a plan; and as we get to know Herbert’s poems better, we come to find that there is something we get from the whole book, which is more than a sum of its parts. What has at first the appearance of a succession of beautiful but separate lyrics, comes to reveal itself as a continued religious meditation with an intellectual framework; and the book as a whole discloses to us the Anglican devotional spirit of the first half of the seventeenth century. What is more, we get to understand Herbert better, and feel rewarded for the trouble, if we know something about the English theological writers of his time; if we know something about the English mystical writers of the fourteenth century; and if we know something of certain other poets his contemporaries—Donne, Vaughan and Traherne, and come to perceive something in common between them in their Welsh origin and background; and finally, we learn something about Herbert by comparing the typical Anglican devotion which he expresses, with the more continental, and Roman, religious feeling of his contemporary Richard Crashaw. So in the end, I, for one, cannot admit that Herbert can be called a “minor” poet: for it is not of a few favourite poems that I am reminded when I think of him, but of the whole work.

Now compare Herbert with two other poets, one a little senior to him, and one of the previous generation, but both very distinguished writers of lyrics. From the poems of Robert Herrick, also an Anglican parson, but a man of very different temperament, we also get the feeling of a unifying personality, and we get to know this personality better by reading all of his poems, and for having read all of his poems we enjoy still better the ones we like best. But first, there is no such continuous conscious purpose about Herrick’s poems; he is more the purely natural and un-selfconscious man, writing his poems as the fancy seizes him; and second, the personality expressed in them is less unusual—in fact, it is its honest ordinariness which gives the charm. Relatively, we get much more of him from one poem than we do of Herbert from one poem: still there is something more in the whole than in the parts. Next, consider Thomas Campion, the Elizabethan writer of songs. I should say that within his limits there was no more accomplished craftsman in the whole of English poetry than Campion. I admit that to understand his poems fully there are some things one should know: Campion was a musician, and he wrote his songs to be sung. We appreciate his poems better if we have some acquaintance with Tudor music and with the instruments for which it was written; we like them better if we like this music; and we want not merely to read them, but to hear some of them sung, and sung to Campion’s own setting. But we do not so much need to know any of the things that, in the case of George Herbert, help us to understand him better and enjoy him more; we need not concern ourselves with what he thought, or with what books he had read, or with his racial background or his personality. All we need is the Elizabethan setting. What we get, when we proceed from those of his poems which we read in anthologies, to read his entire collection, is a repeated pleasure, the enjoyment of new beauties and new technical variations, but no such total impression. We cannot say, with him, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

I do not say that even this test—which, in any case, everyone must apply for himself, with various results—of whether the whole is more than its parts, is in itself a satisfactory criterion for distinguishing between a major and a minor poet. Nothing is so simple as that: and although we do not feel, after reading Campion, that we know the man Campion, as we do feel after reading Herrick, yet on other grounds, because he is so much the more remarkable craftsman, I should myself rate Campion as a more important poet than Herrick, though very much below Herbert. All I have affirmed is, that a work which consists of a number of short poems, even of poems which, taken individually, may appear rather slight, may, if it has a unity of underlying pattern, be the equivalent of a first-rate long poem in establishing an author’s claim to be a “major” poet. That claim may, of course, be established by one long poem, and when that long poem is good enough, when it has within itself the proper unity and variety, we do not need to know, or if we know we do not need to value highly, the poet’s other works. I should myself regard Samuel Johnson as a major poet by the single testimony of The Vanity of Human Wishes, and Goldsmith by the testimony of The Deserted Village.

We seem, so far, to have arrived at the tentative conclusion that, whatever a minor poet may be, a major poet is one the whole of whose work one ought to read, in order fully to appreciate any part of it: but we have somewhat qualified this extreme assertion already by admitting any poet who has written even one long poem which combines enough variety in unity. But there are certainly very few poets in English of whose work one can say that the whole ought to be read. Shakespeare, certainly, and Milton: and as to Milton one can point out that his several long poems, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, not only should each be read entire, for its own sake—we need to read them all, just as we need to read all of the plays of Shakespeare, in order fully to understand any one of them; and unless we read Shakespeare’s sonnets as well, and the minor poems of Milton, there is something lacking to our appreciation of what we have read. But the poets for whom one can make such a claim are very few. One can get on very well in life without having read all the later poems of Browning or Swinburne; I would not affirm confidently that one ought to read everything by Dryden or Pope; and it is certainly not for me to say that there is no part of The Prelude or The Excursion which will not bear skipping. Very few people want to give much time to the early long poems of Shelley, The Revolt of Islam and Queen Mab, though the notes to the latter poem are certainly worth reading. So that we shall have to say that a major poet is one of whose work we have to read a great deal, but not always the whole. And besides asking the question, “Of which poets is it worth while to read the whole?” we must also ask the question, “Of which poets is it worth my while to read the whole?” The first question implies that we should always be trying to improve our taste. The second implies that we must be sincere towards what taste we have. So, on the one hand, it is no use diligently going through even Shakespeare or Milton from cover to cover, unless you come across something there which you like at once: it is only this immediate pleasure which can give you either the motive power to read the whole, or the prospect of any benefit when you have done so. And there may be, indeed, there should be—as I have already said—some poets who mean enough to you to make you read the whole, though they may not have that value for most other people. And this kind of liking does not only pertain to a stage in your development of taste which you will outgrow, but may indicate also some affinity between yourself and a particular author which will last a lifetime: it may even be that you are peculiarly qualified to appreciate a poet whom very few other people are able to enjoy.

I should say then that there is a kind of orthodoxy about the relative greatness and importance of our poets, though there are very few reputations which remain completely constant from one generation to another. No poetic reputation ever remains exactly in the same place: it is a stock market in constant fluctuation. There are the very great names which only fluctuate, so to speak, within a narrow range of points: whether Milton is up to 104 to-day, and down to 97 1/4 to-morrow, does not matter. There are other reputations like that of Donne, or Tennyson, which vary much more widely, so that one has to judge their value by an average taken over a long time; there are others again which are very steady a long way below par, and remain good investments at that price. And there are some poets who are good investments for some people, though no prices are quoted for them on the market, and the stock may be unsaleable—I am afraid that the comparison with the stock exchange rather fades out at this point. But I should say that while there is an objective ideal of orthodox taste in poetry, nevertheless no one reader can be, or should try to be, quite orthodox. There are certainly some poets, whom so many people of intelligence, sensibility and wide reading have liked for a long time, that (if we like any poetry) it is worth our while to try to find out why these people have liked them, and whether we cannot enjoy them too. Of the smaller poets, there are certainly some about whom, after sampling, we can pretty safely take the usual opinion that they are quite adequately represented by two or three poems: for, as I have said, nobody has time to find out everything for himself, and we must accept some things on the assurance of others.

The majority of smaller poets, however—of those who preserve any reputation at all—are poets of whom every reader of poetry should know something, but only a few of whom any one reader will come to know well. Some appeal to us because of a peculiar congeniality of personality; some because of their subject-matter, some because of a particular quality, of wit or pathos for example. When we talk about Poetry, with a capital P, we are apt to think only of the more intense emotion or the more magical phrase: but there are a great many casements in poetry which are not magic, and which do not open on the foam of perilous seas, but are perfectly good windows for all that. I think that the Revd. George Crabbe was a very good poet, but you do not go to him for magic: if you like realistic accounts of village life in Suffolk a hundred and twenty years ago, in verse so well written that it convinces you that the same thing could not be said in prose, you will like Crabbe. Crabbe is a poet who has to be read in large chunks, if at all; so if you find him dull you must just glance and pass by. But it is worth while to know of his existence, in case he might be to your liking, and also because that will tell you something about the people who do like him.

The chief points which I have so far tried to make are, I think, these: The difference between major and minor poets has nothing to do with whether they wrote long poems, or only short poems—though the very greatest poets, who are few in number, have all had something to say which could only be said in a long poem. The important difference is whether a knowledge of the whole, or at least of a very large part, of a poet’s work, makes one enjoy more, because it makes one understand better, any one of his poems. That means a significant unity in his whole work. One can’t put this increased understanding altogether into words: I could not say just why I think I understand and enjoy Comus better for having read Paradise Lost, or Paradise Lost better for having read Samson Agonistes, but I am convinced that this is so. I cannot always say why, through knowing a person in a number of different situations, and observing his behaviour in a variety of circumstances, I feel that I understand better his behaviour or demeanour on a particular occasion: but we do believe that that person is a unity, however inconsistent his conduct, and that acquaintance with him over a span of time makes him more intelligible. Finally, I have qualified this objective discrimination between major and minor poets by referring it back to the particular reader. For no two readers, perhaps, will any great poet have quite the same significance, however in accord they may be as to his eminence: all the more likely, then, that to no two people will the pattern of English poetry be quite the same. So that of two equally competent readers, a particular poet may be to one of major importance, and to the other of minor.

There is a final reflection to be made, when we come to consider contemporary poetry. We sometimes find critics confidently asserting, on their first acquaintance with the work of a new poet, that this is “major” or “minor” poetry. Ignoring the possibility that what the critic is praising or placing may not be poetry at all (for sometimes one can say, “If this was poetry, it would be major poetry—but it isn’t,”) I don’t think it is advisable to make up one’s mind so quickly. The most that I should venture to commit myself to, about the work of any living poet when I met it for the first time, is whether this is genuine poetry or not. Has this poet something to say, a little different from what anyone has said before, and has he found, not only a different way of saying it, but the different way of saying it which expresses the difference in what he is saying? Even when I commit myself this far, I know that I may be taking a speculative risk. I may be impressed by what he is trying to say, and overlook the fact that he hasn’t found the new way of saying it; or the new idiom of speech which at first gives the impression that the author has something of his own to say, may turn out to be only a trick or mannerism which conceals a wholly conventional vision. For anyone like myself, who read a good many manuscripts, and manuscripts of writers no work by whom I may have seen before, the pitfalls are more dangerous still: for one lot of poems may be so much better than any of the others I have just been looking at, that I may mistake my momentary feeling of relief for an awareness of distinguished talent. Many people content themselves either with looking at anthologies—and even when they are struck by a poem, they may not realise the fact, or if they do, they may not notice the name of the author—or with waiting until it becomes apparent that some poet, after producing several volumes (and that in itself is some assurance) has been accepted by the reviewers (and it is not what reviewers say in writing about a poet, but their references to that poet when writing about some other poet, that impresses us most).

The first method does not get us very far; the second is not very safe. For one thing, we are all apt to be somewhat on the defensive about our own age. We should like to feel that our own age can produce great art—all the more so because we may have a lurking suspicion that it can’t: and we feel somehow that if we could believe that we had a great poet, that would in some way reassure us and give us self-confidence. This is a pathetic wish, but it also disturbs critical judgment, for we may jump to the conclusion that somebody is a great poet who is not; or we may quite unfairly depreciate a good poet because he isn’t a great one. And with our contemporaries, we oughtn’t to be so busy enquiring whether they are great or not; we ought to stick to the question: “Are they genuine?” and leave the question whether they are great to the only tribunal which can decide: Time.

In our own time there is, in fact, a considerable public for contemporary poetry: there is, perhaps, more curiosity, and more expectation, about contemporary poetry than there was a generation ago. There is the danger, on the one hand, of developing a reading public which will know nothing about any poet earlier than say Gerard Manley Hopkins, and which will not have the background necessary for critical appreciation. There is also the danger that people will wait to read a poet until his contemporary reputation is established; and the anxiety, for those of us who are in the business, that after another generation has established its poets, we who are still contemporary will no longer be read. The danger for the reader is double: that he will never get anything quite fresh, and that he will never return to read what always remains fresh.

There is therefore a proportion to be observed between our reading of old and modern poetry. I should not trust the taste of anyone who never read any contemporary poetry, and I should certainly not trust the taste of anyone who read nothing else. But even many people who read contemporary poetry miss the pleasure, and the profit, of finding something out for themselves. When you read new poetry, poetry by someone whose name is not yet widely known, someone whom the reviewers have not yet passed, you are exercising, or should be exercising, your own taste. There is nothing else to go by. The problem is not, as it appears to many readers, that of trying to like something you don’t, but of leaving your sensibility free to react naturally. I find this hard enough, myself: for when you are reading a new poet with the deliberate purpose of coming to a decision, that purpose may interfere and obscure your awareness of what you feel. It is hard to ask the two questions, “Is this good, whether I like it or not?” and “Do I like this?” at the same time: and I often find that the best test is when some phrase, or image, or line out of a new poem, recurs to my mind afterwards unsummoned. I find, too, that it is useful for me to look at the new poems in the poetry magazines, and at the selections from new poets in the contemporary anthologies: because in reading these I am not bothered by the question, “Ought I to see that these poems are published?” I think it is similar to my experience, that when I go to hear a new piece of music for the first time, or to see a new exhibition of pictures, I prefer to go alone. For if I am alone, there is nobody to whom I am obliged to express an immediate opinion. It isn’t that I need time to make up my mind: I need time in order to know what I really felt at the moment. And that feeling is not a judgment of greatness or importance: it is an awareness of genuineness. So, we are not really concerned, in reading a contemporary poet, with whether he is a “major” or a “minor” poet. But if we read one poem, respond to it, we should want to read more by the same author; and when we have read enough, we ought to be able to answer the question, “Is this merely more of the same thing?”—is it, in other words, merely the same, or different, without adding up to anything, or is there a relation between the poems which makes us see a little more in each of them? That is why, with the same reservation as about the work of dead poets, we must read not only separate poems, as we get them in anthologies, but the work of a poet.

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