I remember the first college literary journal I ever saw. One of my friends brought it to me from Kenyon College. I was in high school. I opened it up to a poem about being drunk and thinking you were Jesus Christ. It was one of the milder poems.
I thought about that journal today when I opened up The Poets of the Future, a college literary anthology from 1917-1918.
"The stars are close tonight,/ Thoughts in the book of time; / Yet veiled unto my sight / The page sublime," a Dartmouth student wrote.
An Amherst gentleman said what he had to say in six lines: "Philosophy! A game, no more; yet such / As dwarfs all other games to nothingness, / That plays with aeons in its daring touch, / With stars for pawns, infinity to span. / Philosophy! A game for gods, no less, / That leaves man beaten, but a greater man."
Women were represented, of course, too. Here are a few lines from a somewhat self-absorbed Connecticut College student: "When clouds pass over the moon, / A thousand lurking shadows leer, / A thousand black-faced shadows peer, / From behind the trees and beside the wall and across the snow, / At me."
How did we change so much in 100 years? These poems are presumably what the students wanted to write. They were deservedly proud of them. I can't imagine one of these poems being accepted in one of today's college-sponsored literary journals. The language, the subjects........and I'm not even getting into the poems in this book that are so wildly politically incorrect that my eyes just skimmed the words in discomfort.
Well, that change--the change involving political correctness--I can understand. I witnessed the evolution of that sort of thing. But how did flowery, romantic language, once held in high esteem, reach a point of such disfavor? We don't have to go back 100 years, actually. Consider the lyrics of the hit songs of the 1950s. Could today's teens possibly embrace "Love is a Many Splendored Thing.....it's the April rose that only grows in the early spring" (1955)?
Or "Love and Marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage" (1955)? Or how about "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, That's Amore" (1953)? There are better examples—I know this because the thought occurs to me often when I hear music from this period. It just doesn't seem within the realm of possibility that today's kids could find anything to relate to in those songs. Why is that? We're still human beings, with the same feelings, aren't we? Or are we evolving as a species more rapidly than I can comprehend?
I used to observe car-crazy young males and wonder what boys their age did in all those generations before the automobile was invented. I suppose the answer to that is they all lusted after bigger and faster horses.
By the way, guess which Yale University student is on p. 82.......Stephen Vincent Benet. "Poets of the Future" indeed.