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In its visiting scholars series WBA a present's visit with a playwright hard won the visiting scholars program of the Cleveland Public screws was developed under the direction of Superintendent Paul breaks and was designed to bring teachers and students into direct personal contact with outstanding scholars. Today we bring you an interview with Dr. William Alfred a professor of English at Harvard University. He authored the successful OC Broadway play Hogans goat and the first play Agamemnon. He is coeditor of The Complete prose works of John Milton and co-author of a new translation of Beowulf. He discusses modern poetry today with Cecilia Evans of WBA WI. Professor Alfred what would you suggest to give students and teachers and help in understanding modern poetry. But I would suggest that they begin by looking at the little magazines the Partisan Review the Hudson review the Kenyon review and the poetry
magazine. To see what poets you know and conceive of as poetry. I never find that. My poetry is much easier than most people really think it is. Well I think most of these magazines are available at the library aren't they. Yes they are really in the public eye. You know in some cases that may not circulate but the other end of the article is the range of very very very wide in these magazines would you say so that some are more difficult and obscure than others. No I think that pretty much of a piece there being somewhat obscure Paul was in each of the magazines but that will be quite a good sampling of what sounds like a very good way to way to get him. Could you tell us Professor Alfred approximately when modern poetry is as we think of it began. And who are the poets that did most to change the direction of poetry. Well I think really that it began with too much time to have old people. Certainly
Times had it had an enormous effect on a great man a modern poet. He was Dylan Thomas's favorite poet. He had a great effect on Odin and a great effect on John Crowe Ransom and the so-called fugitive college. But if you look at the terms holiday poem it's interesting because you can see that he was struggling with addiction which for him had lost its meaning. That is side by side with a pretty phrase which had been overused in the Victorian times. You have a kind of grainy preference it doesn't really seem to belong in poetry and this graininess of texture is one of the distinguishing marks of a great many modern poems. When this was a beginning that was a beginning then I suppose the real beginning is as a repairer who set out to remake poetry has a tight little make it new. And he really
turned it into a program for his own life the kind of goal which Heidi had unconsciously and. And he began first by translating and setting up touchstones of what was best in poetry through the ages and in all nations. And from that he avowed the style of the musical who lives arose from the meaning itself. So the aural sense of meter. Just you know straightforwardly that. It was broken down it wasn't as important to our time and the experimentation of his reply. I was the big translations of the Iliad of Homer and the Odyssey was the eighteenth century because those translations the great translation of Cooper William Cooper were a blank verse and they helped to murder the couple.
How important do you feel it is to read some of the sources that drew on for his work in understanding him do you think that this is vitally important. I think it is very important to read the translations of Ezra Pound as a collection which is luckily in paper it used to be very expensive and the Italian is on one side and the English is on the other side because he doesn't have that for every language some of the poems translated from Chinese it would be much more. But the reason that you should do that is that you will you will have an immediate grasp of what he is doing with his style what he thinks is beautiful what he thinks is eloquent. Now there is a kind of indirect symbolism and that is very very hard of comprehension in the in the kind of. You have references to everything from Renaissance bankers to John Adams
and Thomas Jefferson. I'm two pounds personal friends. Some of those references by and impenetrable particularly the ones the personal friends I remember a scholar once said to me that he went to eat Cummings and asked Cummings. What particular reference to him meant in a poem of income he said I didn't claim I had spackled. Now of course it's too late but there's still a feeling that comes through and that's what it was. Yes and it's a it's a great ragbag of glorious poetry and you certainly can't agree with some of the ideas some of them of almost fascistic ideas but that the descriptions of nature. And the descriptions of the prison camp in which this deponent was. Imprisoned during the war and peace are very beautiful and touching them. It's interesting there's this split between the talent the
sensitivity and the personal adjustment so that a man like LB did have these these two sides. Yes he was a man always a lot of his generosity would happen to me or heaven only knows I guess he just followed a kind of very private idea the idea of Social Credit and became a kind of dupe of a fascist state mentally because he was so comfortable. It would have been hard for him to leave Italy. You know he lived the life you know that about four years ago in the summer. Mr. Pound completely retracted of of his fascist ideas. And he said that he thought that heard they heard his poetry and that takes a great deal of courage for a man in his eighties shows a great deal of growth. Yes it was a really great regret. When you feel that two poets who are most important in making a beginning for modern poetry were hardy and yes out of the
pound comes Eliot Of course you say and to whom. The way Flanders dedicate the wasteland and called him the better to work with him really often is Hardy read very much by young people these days do you know where we make them read to read. I mean anthology of Hardy and the somewhat Quadri of this is it. I had to have it. And at first I don't like him they think he's eloquent you know. But there are some lovely poems in memory of his dead wife. And when they see the humanity of those poems then they will go through the poems which I just very easy satirical things I think most people remember Heidi as the poet of surprise coincidence ironical and sort of life's little ironies as they were one of his books and yet they seem rather like a politicized O'Henry story.
But that that isn't his real Grand River injures to face a feeling and come to terms with it. You make me feel like going back and reading them. Professor Alfred what other fresh approaches to poetry do you feel these these men introduced in terms of their techniques. We have the most and important one beside the musical phrase being dictated by the drift of the meaning. When I was at the insistence which over the years. Has really helped to make poetry easier that you can say anything in poetry. There were certain words in the late 19th century which people believed in using poetry. Such as newspaper as I don't mean the improper word but I mean they just did not consider it poetic.
The revolution of poetry in poetry has been to broaden the vocabulary so that the medium itself is your last it could describe every feeling even the feeling of somebody walking through a rainy street on his way to work you know. And before you had to keep dragging the Muses in by the golden era and their work that comes much closer to experienced I would think it was going to bring closer to experience in the years since Mr Elliot and and frost. That they did great work by fraud what frosted was to make a language which was capable of describing the experience on the song in a particular part of the country. It was the great revolution and for me that's taken place since then and it is a revolution. Use the
one which arose from Robert Lowe's book Life studies. That is a book of. Direct personal reminiscence. Where the experiences of a man's life are seen with the imaginative energy used by the earlier poets to create symbols. So that when we first came out it really confused people because they didn't realize these were direct references. That when he said a particular name he meant that particular person and not a symbolization of the person. It wasn't standing for something else in his life. It was his life as he saw it and he felt to be embodied his time. Do you think that he's better understood now that this were I think there were. Yes I think one of the factors in simplifying modern poetry is the lecture platform on a great many poets now read aloud and it is very difficult to read a complex symbolic.
And again I think I really do think that that has helped to simplify modern poetry. Self defense they write the more simply I think. The creativity of forethought. Well I think it's been said that Lowell is more pessimistic than Frost. Do you think that the statement has much meaning that you could make such a comparison. If you get wet and pessimistic in. An anger with the rule in which people make of their lives but that pessimism is really a kind of seed seed bed of optimism a seed bed of hope. For our lost it is not fashionable to say I was a savage poet you know and what they do is to go through the considerable body of work and take those poems which celebrate uncanny parts of human experience. There's a
very good flower pose like that. The home was of deep and almost cosmic loneliness. And they say that it's for us. Well that is for us. But there is there is a whole body of his work which has to do with the joy of the early joys of marriage and the joys of tenderness. The critic Benjamin Dumont in last week's Herald Tribune has just simply said that and I agree with him completely I think that the greatest gift of frost was tenderness in their life which was that when you ground him down until he was ready to put in the pursuit of writing great poetry he never really lost his ability to feel for other people and the poems really reflect that. They're really wonderful. This is very special. Yes indeed. Professor Alfred We appreciate having had this opportunity to discuss modern poetry with you.
Visiting scholars
Dr. William Alfred, part one
Producing Organization
Cleveland Public Schools
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, features an interview with Dr. William Alfred, Harvard U., author of plays "Hogan's Goat" and "Agamemnon," and co-editor of "The Complete Prose Works of John Milton."
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This series features interviews with outstanding scholars from various fields.
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Interviewee: Alfred, William, 1922-1999
Interviewer: Evans, Cecilia
Producing Organization: Cleveland Public Schools
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-2-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:56
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Chicago: “Visiting scholars; Dr. William Alfred, part one,” 1967-11-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 17, 2022,
MLA: “Visiting scholars; Dr. William Alfred, part one.” 1967-11-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 17, 2022. <>.
APA: Visiting scholars; Dr. William Alfred, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from