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C. Day Lewis, the eminent poet, traces the “singing line” through English poetry from the sixteenth century to the present day. He discusses the original nature of lyric as words for singing, and shows how the liberation of the form from music enabled poets to enlarge its scope and deepen its imaginative capacity. The “story lyric,” or traditional ballad, is then examined—its sources and modern development; in “The Common Muse,” Day Lewis deals with popular verse and the effect of industrial civilization upon poetic utterance. “Country Lyrics,” after considering the problems of writing nature poetry in a scientific age, concentrates on the lyric verse of John Clare and William Barnes. Finally, in “The Golden Bridle,” Day Lewis turns to the contemporary love lyric, and gives a personal account of the making of lyrical poetry.
The author throughout relates the traditional uses of lyric with its more recent developments. He is aware that modern sophistication, together with our contemporary demand that poetry should be tough, complex, and ironic, runs counter to the simpleness, purity, and “aerated” quality of lyric writing. But he believes that the lyric impulse flows from deep in man’s heart, and to deny it would be to impoverish poetry.