Taste in Poets

Thu Jul 20, 2006

Michael Berube posts about Yeats, mentioning in passing that he’s the greatest English-language poet of the 20th C.

I replied there that I prefer Stevens, Eliot, and possibly also Auden; but “prefer” is not quite the same thing as “consider the greatest.” Outside of some appreciative pockets, this kind of question is something I haven’t heard anyone take seriously since I was an undergrad, if then (though the problem trended more apathetic than contemptuous thereabouts).

I’m fascinated by Yeats’s mind, certainly, and I enjoy comparing A Vision to Lewis’s roughly contemporaneous encyclopedic (though decidedly non-occultic) works (The Art of Being Ruled, Time and Western Man, The Lion and the Fox, The Childermass, Paleface, and The Apes of God). But to say that “Sailing to Byzantium” makes, for example, the Four Quartets seem “thin and watery” is the type of error with which there can be no compromise, if you’re into that sort of thing.