The first, most clearly seen in the French Parnassians, is in close, if unconscious, sympathy with the temper of science. Poetry, brought to the limit of expressive power, is used to express, with the utmost veracity, precision, and impersonal self-suppression, the beauty and the tragedy of the world. It sought Hellenic lucidity and Hellenic calm—in the example most familiar to us, the Stoic calm and ‘sad lucidity’ of Matthew Arnold.
The second, best seen in the French Symbolists, was directly hostile to science. But they repelled its confident analysis of material reality in the name of a part of reality which it ignored or denied, an immaterial world which they mystically apprehended, which eluded direct description, frustrated rhetoric, and was only to be come at by the magical suggestion of colour, music, and symbol. It is most familiar to us in the ‘Celtic’ verse of Mr. Yeats and ‘A.E.’.
The third, still about us, and too various and incomplete for final definition, is in closer sympathy with science, but, in great part, only because science has itself found accommodation between nature and spirit, a new ideality born of, and growing out of, the real. If the first found Beauty, the end of art, in the plastic repose of sculpture, and the second in the mysterious cadences of music, the poetry of the twentieth century finds its ideal in life, in the creative evolution of being, even in the mere things, the ‘prosaic’ pariahs of previous poetry, on which our shaping wills are wreaked. We know it in poets unlike one another but yet more unlike their predecessors, from D’Annunzio and Dehmel and Claudel to our Georgian experimenters in the poetry of paradox and adventure.
The third quarter of the nineteenth century opened, in western Europe, with a decided set-back for those who lived on dreams, and a corresponding complacency among those who throve on facts. The political and social revolution which swept the continent in 1848 and 1849, and found ominous echoes here, was everywhere, for the time, defeated. The discoveries of science in the third and fourth decades, resting on calculation and experiment, were investing it with the formidable prestige which it has never since lost; and both metaphysics and theology reeled perceptibly under the blows delivered in its name. The world exhibition of 1851 seemed to announce an age of settled prosperity, peace, and progress.