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"Modern" is, perhaps, the most misleading adjective in the dictionary. There is no term in any language that is more fluctuant and elusive, that shifts its meanings with greater rapidity, that turns its back so quickly upon those ardent champions who defended it most stubbornly. The present merges so swiftly into the past that today's definition of modernity may seem, after the shortest of intervals, an impertinent apology for some safely enshrined classicism. Numberless critics have been haunted by the knowledge that the outrageous heresy of to-day is often the orthodox dogma of to-morrow.
And yet, though one should not use hard and fast rules when measuring so fluid a thing as time, one must at least be arbitrary about the years when making an anthology. A "modern" compilation is no exception. Although it is difficult to draw a line between periods of literary activity—and particularly of poetry—the task is made somewhat easier by the advent of Walt Whitman in America and the close of the Victorian Era in England. It would have been pleasant to divide the poetry of this dual collection into groups and distinct tendencies. Unfortunately, such a scheme would give the reader a series of impressions that would be contradictory and, in the final effect, false. One should not attempt to ticket contemporary writers (on whom the chief emphasis is placed in this volume) with conclusive labels, especially since so many of the writers are still developing. One cannot give a true picture of a period in the state of flux except by showing its fluid character. It has been the editor's aim to reflect this very Aux and diversity.
Since the chronological arrangement is, in spite of certain disadvantages, the only logical one, an arbitrary boundary has been fixed. Conceiving modern British poetry to begin after the fertile Tennyson-BrowningRossetti-Swinburne epoch, the year 1840 is made to act as dividing-line; any poet born before that date is ruthlessly excluded. In the case of American poetry, the line has been moved back ten years. Thus, by including work of poets born in this country as early as 1830, a richer background has been given the poetry of our times; and, although some of the interval poets like Aldrich and Lanier could scarcely be considered "modern," it is curious to see how wide and how completely the circle has swung since Walt Whitman startled the world with Leaves of Grass. The first part of this collection might well be called, "American Poetry since Whitman" for the poet who has often been called the godfather of the new generation ended one period and began another.
It is a happy circumstance that this volume should begin with the poetry of Emily Dickinson (born 1830) whose work, printed for the first time after her death, was unknown as late as 1890 and unnoticed until several years later. For hers was a forerunner of the new spirit --free in expression, unhampered in choice of subject, keen in psychology—to which a countryful of writers has responded. No longer confined to London, Boston or New York as literary centers, the impulse to create is everywhere. There is scarcely a state, barely a township that has not produced its local laureate.
The notes preceding the poems are intended to support and amplify this geographical as well as biographical range. It is instructive as well as interesting to see what