Compare and Contrast the Future and Past
Because the present is all we get, right? And Emily Dickinson dies almost completely unknown . . .
This, from Stevens in 1951:
Not long ago I was listening to a conversation between two men about modern poetry. [I have just used the words “modern [poetry]”. These words are intended to mean nothing more than a poet of the present time.] One said to the other “Do you really think that any of these fellows are as good, say, as Sir Walter Scott?” Now, how many of you when you go home tonight are likely to sit down and read The Lady of the Lake? Sir Walter Scott’s poetry is like the scenery of a play that has come to an end. It is scenery that has been trucked away and stored somewhere on the horizon or just a little below. In short, the world of Sir Walter Scott no longer exists. It means nothing to compare a modern poet with the poet of a century or more ago. It is not a question of comparative goodness. It is like comparing a modern soldier, say, with an ancient one, like comparing Eisenhower with Agamemnon.
. . . [W]hat a modern poet desires, above everything else, is to be nothing more than a poet of the present time.
What he derives from his generation he returns to his generation . . .
Stevens states it more strongly as I would, as I can think of a lot of cases where an ancient poet can suddenly gain new relevance, either through translation (Sappho, for instance), or through rediscovery (the way Melville and Dickinson have become more relevant to future generations than they were to their own).
But that said, in general, I agree with his Eisenhower vs. Agamemnon analogy, though it does raise the question, why has no one made that video game yet?