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News > Haileybury Archives and History > What makes for good poetry, a Haileyburian asks?

What makes for good poetry, a Haileyburian asks?

A hundred years ago, in the November issue of The Haileyburian, a pupil known as "Rhyme and Reason" dissects Tennyson's Brook in the furtherance of his campaign against the balderdash of modern poetry

Poetic Balderdash - Rhyme and Reason lambasts modern trends in poetry
Poetic Balderdash - Rhyme and Reason lambasts modern trends in poetry
In the November 21st issue of The Haileyburian (No 477, Vol. XXII, price 11d) a letter was published from a certain Rhyme and Reason, in which the trend in modern poetry for brevity and looseness of form was roundly condemned. In it, he writes:

I would like to call your attention to the peculiar nature of modern poetry. In order to do this more effectively, I would ask you to bear in mind Tennyson's Brook, which ends:

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river;
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Let us translate this poem into modern poetry. It would run something like this:
Where coots live and ferns grow
I start. A strange stream:
I bicker past bridges
And thorpes.
Green, green and sometimes blue,
I cavort
And gambol,
On stony ways and pebbles;
Bits of weed and bottles,
In the current churning
And churning,
Flow towards the sea, which is far away.
Men may live, and die,
I cannot; I wish I could.
I am tired of being quoted.
I am also immortal.

This, Sir, is the kind of balderdash which the "Modern School" of poetry turns out. Why not write instead good prose?

I am, Sir, yours etc,
"Rhyme and Reason"

Such effrontery could not, of course, go unchallenged by Rhyme and Reason's opponents in the poetic arts. In the December issue of The Haileyburian (No 478, Vol XXII, Price, now 1s 1d) a pupil by the name of ETC, writes scathingly:


The statement of "Rhyme and Reason" in your last issue that Tennyson is superior to modern poetry must certainly not be allowed to pass unchallenged. It is, of course, well known that Tennyson designed "The Brook" as a nursery rhyme, and it does not bear any comparison with the soul-stirring rendering of the same theme on which "Rhyme and Reason" endeavours to pour ridicule and contempt. But he condemns himself out of his own mouth. That is exactly the kind of thing that is worthy of the name of poetry. It created a profound impression on many. I may say, Sir, that when I, for one, began to read it, I was moved to tears when the vivid picture of that broken bottle, scorned and cast away to be lost in the depths of the foaming watercourse, was brought before my eyes; and when I read it out to  some of my friends they begged me, with voices broken by sobs, to desist; it was too much for them!

Believe me, Sir, it is this kind of poetry which exalts us to the highest terrace of true emotion, not the rhyme which cloaks the empty verbiage of a barren imagination.

I am, Sir, yours,

Now, one hundred years on, one wonders what, if anything, Rhyme and Reason would have thoughts of the likes of Ted Hughes, Kei Miller and Carol Ann Duffy. ETC may well be smiling now high in those elysium fields of the heavenly Terrace in the sky.


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