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“As long ago as the first industrial revolution in Britain the end of poetry was predicted, as by Thomas Carlyle. The prediction was proved wrong, both because the squalor brought in by that revolution created a need to escape from it — the Romantic Movement — and because an expanding readership, even for poetry, could be served by the mass production of written texts. The reversal of that development may now look like the end of a whole culture, the literate one, in which literacy was bound up with an awareness of the past — a selected past, therefore ‘elitist’ in the terminology of those who confuse class resentments with considerations of quality. This reversal is still resisted here and there, by dwindling minorities, but other threats of environmental, economic and political disasters detract again and again from the urgency of the resistance, now that it is not the continuity of one culture, one civilisation, but of life on our planet that is in question. Any prediction about the future of poetry would rest on the complacent assumption that the larger destruction can still be averted.”

Michael Hamburger



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