John Cornford: Poems
Communist Poetry of the 1930s and Modernism
Virginia Woolf’s critique of 1930s poetry as being too often an exercise in didacticism is perhaps warranted from an overall perspective. The overwhelming import of the fascist threat that rose in Franco’s Spain, however, holds a unique place in the literary history of this time. The Spanish Civil War served as a call to arms that legitimised for many the embrace of a far-left alternative to awaken the closed eyes of many in Britain and throughout Europe. As the subject for the adoption of a loudspeaker mentality, very few moments in modern history are more deserving. What may be lost amid the generalised opinion of Virginia Woolf is that so many of those poets had but one issue to drive them. Far more instructive in analysing her assertion is how writers of talent who chose to tackle the issue of radical liberalism succeeded or failed. The real question that must be addressed is whether active engagement with beliefs is better suited to turning propaganda into art, or whether the key lies in detached, observational analysis. In other words, is propaganda more likely to reach the level of art if one is fully or only partly committed to the cause?
W. H. Auden was never a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, but like so...
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