Like the adjective “Victorian,” “Georgian” has two implications. First, it denotes a specific historical period and, second, it describes a set of literary characteristics associated with a specific group of poets belonging to that period. The Georgian era spans the reign of George V (1910-1936).
The so-called Georgian poets aimed at reviving public interest in poetry. But that could be done only by reviving poetry itself, which was lying moribund at the beginning of the twentieth century. When Tennyson died in 1892, it was commonly said that English poetry had also died with him. Those who called themselves Georgians wanted to assert their identity as also to imply that they were worthy of a rank comparable to that of the great Victorians before them.
The name of Edward Marsh is important as he was the editor of the five anthologies, each entitled Georgian Poetry, which appeared successively from 1912 to 1922. The idea of bringing out such books of poetry was first mooted by the poet Rupert Brooke. In order to arouse curiosity and create public interest in poetry, Brooke proposed to write a sheaf of poems himself but to make it appear as the work of “twelve different writers, six men and six women, all with the most convincing pseudonyms/’ But Marsh was of the view that an anthology of poems written by living poets would be a better proposition. Marsh’s proposal was seconded by several poets such as John Drinkwater, Harold Monro, and W. W. Gibson. Consequently, in late 1912 the first Georgian anthology entitled Georgian Poetry, 1911-12 was published by Harold Monro from his Poetry Bookshop situated in a Bloomsbury slum. The book was an instant and respectable success in its aim of stimulating public interest in poetry. A.C. Ward remarks in this context: “However little future attention may be paid to the neo-Georgians of 1912-25, they did stir the public to buy-and to read-poetry, even before the war threw men back upon elementals expressible only in poetry.”
The Georgian anthologies represented the work of as many as forty poets, but none of them a really major one. Further, it must be understood that unlike, say, the Metaphysicals or the pre-Raphaelites, the Georgians did not constitute a school. They were a group rather than a school. They had no doctrine, no declared critical or aesthetic principles. Each of them had his own predilections. Still they shared a lot in common. For example, most of them strive after lucidity of style by eschewing archaism, grandiloquence, and hackneyed phrases and poetic diction.
Their themes are derived from nature, familiar objects, and common experience. A few of them are fond of conjuring dream-worlds of their own and even supernaturalism, but most of them execute a sort of another “return to nature” in the manner of the great Romantics who preceded them by about a century. The Georgians are, therefore, sometimes compared to Wordsworth and Blake, the two great poets of nature and childhood who celebrated purity and innocence as against the corruption and constraint of urbari culture. However, this comparison should not be taken very far. The Georgians’ interest in nature is that of a picnicker rather than a mystic. And Blake’s daring defiance of organized authority and quest for disturbing truths are foreign to their sedate temper.
Though in theory the Georgians were no path-breakers yet, having a lot of talent, they turned out good work. Cazamian identifies in their work “two main tendencies, but not new.” These are:
1. Consciousness of aesthetic form. This desire for beauty of form and expression draws them “towards the ideal of a classical and refined inspiration”. This tendency is apparent in Abercrombie, Hodgson, Graves, etc.
2. The second tendency is evinced by a far larger group of
Georgians. Rather than seek formal perfection they just try to please and soothe by means of what Cazamian calls “a vehement effort towards a direct, simple utterance. They look to familiar, concrete subjects, and to spontaneous language and prosody, for the virtue of thoseimmediate effusions of which literature at periodic intervals tries to refresh itself.”
Some Individual Georgians Considered:
As we have already pointed out, the Georgians were a large group of forty poets. We take up here the more important of them for brief individual treatment.
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), was, as has been pointed out at the beginning, the originator of the idea of bringing out “Georgian” anthologies. Brooke was indeed exceptionally handsome. Add to it his intense patriotism and poetic talent and you can well understand the reason he became a cult hero at the beginning of the First World War. He joined the War but died of an illness before taking part in the campaign.
Brooke’s poems about the War, such as The Soldier” amply show his dashing nature and patriotism. While in the poetry of most war poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, war is presented as a horror and an evil, Brooke represents it as a glorious enterprise and an opportunity to prove one’s mettle and patriotism. Brooke’s nature poems show his real interest in nature. A.C. Ward observes: “His love of Nature was neither mystical nor metaphysical. He saw and touched and enjoyed; that was enough.”
Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962) was an exceptionally talented poet. His poems show a lot of emotional force and sincerity as well as an impeccable ear for music. Somewhat like Lawrence, he evinces an uncanny rapport with animals. His well-known poem “The Bull” subtly presents the plight of a bull who was once the leader of his herd but has now been ousted by a young rival. The unfortunate beast, now aged and
infirm and forsaken, stands alone dreaming of his glorious past while vultures hover over him waiting for him to turn into dead beef.
See him standing dewlap-deep
In the rushes of the lake,
Surly, stupid, half-asleep.
Vividness and compression are important features of Hodgson’s poetic style.
James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915) was chiefly concerned with the creation of beauty. He is known mainly for his oriental play Hassan which is full of melodious and enjoyable lyrics. For his beautiful music and sensuous richness and particularity he reminds one of the Pre-Raphaelites: but, as A.C. Ward puts it, “his verse reeked of the unguent pot and the perfume jar.”
Lascelles Abercrombie (1881-1938), one of the original contributors to Georgian Poetry had a much more austere style and discriminating imagination than most Georgians. He disliked lushness and looseness. In his blending of emotion and intellect he reminds one of the Metaphysicals. but as a literary critic he had a pronounced Classicist bend.
Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) was a prominent figure among the Georgians. Almost frankly escapist, his poetry is chiefly doncemed with the creation of dream-lands far away from the humdrum world of reality. The imaginary world created by him has often touch of the supernatural and the weird. Now and then, however, he manages, like Coleridge, to blend delicately the real and the bizarre, the psychological and the supernatural. As a children’s poet de la Mare is good at recapturing the world of lost innocence of childhood.
W.W. Gibson (1878-1962), the longest surviving of the Georgians, had several phases to his poetic career. His most characteristic poetry, however, is marked by stark realism and humanitarian concern at the pitiable, penurious plight of the industrial labourers. His war poems, too, are very bitter and gloomy. He has a gift for withering and mordant irony which transfigures his-sombre rhetoric. He is often compared to Crabbe, but whereas Crabbe was diffuse, Gibson often impresses with a telling conciseness and undermining irony.
W.H. Davies (1879-1940) is, according to Cazamian, “Probably tne central figure of this group.” His genius is inclined to lyricism. He specializes in composing brief, musical, spontaneous poems. Like most I-eorgians, Davies was sensitive to and appreciative of nature which be approached without any intellectual presuppositions. A.C. Ward curves: “Davies flew to Nature for solace and forgetfulness, pursuing -~oy. eschewing Sadness. The central fact in his poetry is not that he saw little more than externals, but that he was grateful to Nature for hanging a solacing veil between his susceptibilities and the world’s pain.”
The Georgians’ Contribution to English Poetry:
The place of the Georgians in the history of English poetry is not very prominent. In their time they reacted against the decadent Romanticism of the early twentieth century. Their freshness of approach to nature and their colloquial and genuinely lyrical style were welcome. However, as a group they lacked the strength and originality and the intellectual-critical base which characterizes the true Modernist poets-chiefly Eliot and Pound-who were very soon to write a new chapter in the history of literature. Isolated from its historical context the term “Georgian poetry” has now come to signify, in Abrams’ words, “verse which is mainly rural in subject matter, and traditional rather than experimental in technique and form.”