In a retrospective lecture given in Glasgow in 1942, “The Music of Poetry,” T.S. Eliot gave an account of the developments in poetic discourse at the beginning of the 20th century which he and Ezra Pound protagonized. The vision of poetic change in Eliot’s speech appeared to agree with a statement made by Stevens in “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words,” a talk delivered at Harvard the year before, that “the imagination is always at the end of an era.” For Eliot, however, the idea that such revolutions are always happening-that a successful poem is itself a miniature revolution-coexists with the notion that revolutionary poetic changes, produced in reaction to the aloof refinement and expressive decay of fins-de-siècle, are cyclic, collective, and historically verifiable, spaced out at approximately a century’s interval:

Very conspicuously, Eliot’s Anglocentric history of poetry omits a voice which preceded Eliot’s own revolution-“something over a century” after Wordsworth’s preface to the Lyrical Ballads-with the uneven number of approximately seventy years, but with an equally powerful claim in the history of poetic transformation, and precisely in the name of a return to common speech: Walt Whitman. In this sense, the modernist agency of Eliot and Pound can be seen as fighting on two fronts. There is Whitman’s notion of poetic modernity, intent on clearing the ground of all obstacles for untrammeled expression, regarding struggles to perfect poetic technique as something of a non-issue. On the other side, there is poetry like Stevens’, which appears to flaunt its sound material and traditional metric form at the expense of the presentational powers of the poetic image. Interestingly, later Poundian objections to Stevens’ poetics have had a strong Whitmanian component, which suggests an often unacknowledged affinity at the core of Eliot and Pound’s versions of modernism and, not least, their normative legacies.