ARTICLES IN JOURNALS and COLLECTIONS
Morel, Frederick and Marysa Demoor. “Laurence Binyon and the Modernists: Ezra
Pound, T. S. Eliot and F. T. Marinetti.” English Studies 95.8 (2014): 907-22. Web.
Justin Kishbaugh, Duquesne University
In their article “Laurence Binyon and the Modernists: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and F. T. Marinetti,” Frederick Morel and Marysa Demoor attempt to recast or “reassess” Binyon’s relationship to Modernist poetics. Looking primarily at the ways Pound scholars have characterized Binyon as a transitional figure between the Victorian and Modernist eras whose poetry fits best under the title of Edwardian or Georgian (908), Morel and Demoor argue that Binyon championed a more Modernist aesthetic than that for which he is commonly credited.
Following a brief-but-informative biography that aligns Binyon with such artistic heavyweights as Bernard Shaw, Arthur Symons, and W. B. Yeats, Morel and Demoor outline Binyon’s relationship with Pound, and, then, provide detailed synopses of Binyon’s major critical works. In the section “Flight of the Dragon and Vorticism,” the authors identify three particular similarities between Binyon’s assessment of Asian art and the defining characteristics of Vorticism. First, in The Flight of the Dragon, Binyon writes that “[w]hile European artists seek unity by building up their ‘composition round a central group,’ the Japanese used ‘the fluid lines of a torrent in [their] design’” (911). Even though a “torrent” and a “vortex” are not exactly the same type of phenomena,1 the constant movement in Asian art that Binyon describes definitely finds an aesthetic corollary in Vorticist art. Second, Morel and Demoor point out that in The Art of Botticelli (published in 1913) Binyon argues for the validity of looking to one’s artistic heritage as a source of inspiration, but cautions that “we must make it new and our own” (qtd. 912). Obviously, the article connects Binyon’s use of the phrase “make it new” to Pound’s subsequent use of the same maxim, but positions Binyon as less extreme than Pound in his views on remaking the past (912-13, 918). Third, the section compares Binyon’s praise for Chinese and Japanese artists’ non-mimetic portrayals of their subject matter to similar statements Pound made on Vorticism such as “The vorticist relies not upon similarity or analogy, not upon likeness or mimcry [sic]” (qtd. 913).
In the second section, “Laurence Binyon, T. S. Eliot and F. T. Marinetti,” the authors investigate Binyon’s possible effect on Eliot’s famous “Tradition and the Individual Talent” essay, and Binyon’s tempered support of Futurism. Morel and Demoor recount that between the publication of the first and second installments of “Tradition and the Individual Talent” in September and December 1919, Eliot offered a lecture entitled “Modern Tendencies in Poetry” to the Arts League of Service—an organization chaired by Binyon (914). The authors state that although Eliot’s lecture and essay contain strikingly similar content, the lecture did not contain the word “tradition” whereas the essay uses it ten times. Morel and Demoor then go on to parallel Binyon and Eliot’s thoughts regarding artistic heritage. The section concludes by drawing attention to Binyon’s rather surprising positive comments on Futurism. Despite disapproving of their contempt for museums and the past, Binyon apparently enjoyed the vitality and non-representational quality of Futurist art. He told the New York Times in 1912 that the Futurists “have, perhaps, that idea of getting at the underlying rhythm and meaning of things,” even if they cannot “carry it out” (qtd. 916).
The final section, “Poetry and Modern Life,” discusses Binyon’s defense of free verse in post World War I poetry. The article states Binyon believed that, following the war, writers needed something other than “the artifice of Tennysonian rhythms” to accurately express their feelings (918). Like Eliot, Binyon was of the opinion that “to write poetry without metre exacts a higher discipline, a stronger inspiration, and a severer sense of form than to write in metre” (qtd. 918). Morel and Demoor also consider Binyon’s Dante translations that, similar to Pound’s version of “The Seafarer,” strove to capture the melopoeia of the original as well as its logo and phanopoeia (919-20).
Ultimately, the article does a fine job demonstrating the sympathies between some of Binyon’s aesthetics and those of high-modernists like Pound and Eliot. While the piece seems to suggest that Binyon might claim a significant degree of influence upon those figures, it hedges by reminding that “Binyon was not the only scholar studying Chinese and Japanese art at the time who could have influenced Pound” (911), and “[t]o what extent Pound was directly influenced by Binyon is difficult to prove” (913). After reading the article, I do understand Binyon as a more progressive thinker than I had previously. Even more, though, I am reminded of both Pound’s October 1913 letter to Dorothy Shakespear in which he states, “I seem to be getting the orient from all quarters” (264), and his 1915 declaration that “[n]ew masses of unexplored arts and facts are pouring into the vortex of London (“Affirmations” 411). I agree with the article that while we may never know the degree to which Binyon was responsible for modern London’s aesthetic milieu, he certainly contributed to it.
Pound, Ezra. “Affirmations VI: Analysis of This Decade,” New Age 16:15 (11 Feb. 1915): 409-411. Web.
Pound, Ezra and Dorothy Shakespear. Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters 1909-1914. Eds. Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions, 1984. Print.
1. Despite their differences, a “torrent” and a “vortex” do seem more related if one considers Allen Upward’s metaphorical use of a whirling “waterspout” to describe the relationship between the intention and reception of ideas located in things as another intermediary influence upon Pound’s concept of the artistic Vortex (The New Word 197-8). Of course, Upward’s description of the waterspout was published in 1910, whereas Binyon’s The Flight of the Dragon did not appear until 1911. Interestingly, though, Morel and Demoor include another quote by Binyon in which he also uses the term “torrent” to describe the static nature of Western art. The quote originally appeared in his 1912 essay “The Return to Poetry” and reads, “Within the last few years Oriental art has opened its treasures to us. We are fascinated by an art beside which ours seems so turbid, so torrential in matter, so solid, so immobile in form” (qtd. 912).