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The chance appearance in a London bookstall of Thomas Traherne's manuscripts of poems and meditations early in the twentieth century coincided with Modernist interests in seventeenth-century poetry.This coincidence naturally included Traherne in Modernist studies of lyric poetry. Modernist ahistoricism, however, relegated Traherne to a secondary place among already established poets such as Donne, Herbert, and Marvell: his work did not conform to standards that established poetry as "classic," such as compressed metaphors, double entendres, "telescoping images," and formal unity. In his essay "Mystic and Politician as Poet" (Listener 3 [1930]: 590-91), T. S. Eliot exercises his Modernist detachment from cultural context, deeming Traherne "more a mystic than a poet," a writer attentive to contemporary religious and political ideology at the cost of language and form. Thus, Eliot dismisses Traherne from the pantheon of worthy poets. Ironically, while modernist requirements for inclusion into the canon eschew historical and cultural circumstance, the cultural circumstance of Traherne's discovery is the very criterion that placed him in Modernist sight lines. Further, precisely due to circumstance, and in spite of steady critical activity and the recent discovery of several new manuscripts, Traherne's language and ars poetica remain among the most maligned among anthologized seventeenth-century poets.


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