LEE HAMMER, Marquette University


This study provides a thorough chronicling of and commentary on the evolution of John Masefield's critical reputation as a poet of the twentieth century. The study is motivated by the seeming paradox of Masefield's having been acclaimed in the early years of the century as a bold, progressive, modern poet, but of his having been only vaguely remembered in later years as a kind of relic of the nineteenth century. Through examination of the critical commentary found in the reviews, essays, and books that appeared through the various phases of the sixty-five-year span of Masefield'd poetic career, an attempt is made to determine the issues contributing to the rise and fall of his status as a vital twentieth-century poet. The published commentary on Masefield is followed through four chronological periods: (1) 1902-1920; (2) 1920-1935; (3) 1935-1967; and (4) 1967-the present. The study of this commentary reveals the following: the enthusiasm generated by The Everlasting Mercy, the 1911 narrative poem which gave Masefield his momentary reputation as a leading modern poet, was considerable; the fascination with the qualities (among the primary ones, what was thought of as energetic and bold realism) in this and the other early Masefield poems diminished in the early 1920s; perplexity and doubt existed during the twenties and early thirties (the segment of this latter decade marking the initial years of Masefield's reign as poet laureate) regarding the likelihood of the poet either developing further as a vital modern poet or of his even sustaining the quality of poetry he had earlier produced; from 1935 on the combination of Masefield's failure, indeed, to develop poetically and his decision to write laureate verse caused serious critical interest in his work to all but die away completely; in the very late years of his life, Masefield, to some extent, represented a sort of active anachronism who could startle those who had forgotten about him to either outrage or delight; at present, in spite of an isolated voice of advocacy among the very few who still offer comments at all on the poet, Masefield is quietly regarded as a minor force in the early development of twentieth-century poetry.

Recommended Citation

HAMMER, LEE, "JOHN MASEFIELD IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY: A REPUTATION STUDY (POETRY, CRITICISM)" (1985). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8516271.