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The Degenerate MuseAmerican Nature, Modernist Poetry, and the Problem of Cultural Hygiene$
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Robin G. Schulze

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199920327

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199920327.001.0001

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. Nature Study, Degeneration, and the Problem of Poetry

. Nature Study, Degeneration, and the Problem of Poetry

(p.39) 1. Nature Study, Degeneration, and the Problem of Poetry
The Degenerate Muse

Robin G. Schulze

Oxford University Press

The Nature Study movement in America grew out of a Progressive Era desire to make the public education of American children immediate and relevant. No sooner had Nature Study made inroads into the schools, however, than reformers began to argue about its content. Advocates of scientific Nature Study wanted it to inoculate American children against racial degeneration. To serve that purpose, however, the nature in the classroom needed to be nothing but a clean collection of forces that would test the fitness of American children. The turn against all humanistic forms of Nature Study took particular aim at the use of nature poems in the classroom. Poetry became an enemy that kept children from seeing and thinking clearly. The critique of nature poetry sent Nature Study advocate, Liberty Hyde Bailey, scrambling to find a new verse that would lead readers to nature without distorting its subject. Bailey proposed a new poetry of short, sharp, direct word pictures free of sentiment and moralistic comment. Bailey’s efforts to redefine poetry in response to American fears about degeneration predict those of Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and Harriet Monroe, who sought to reform the art of verse in ways that echoed Bailey’s admonitions.

Keywords:   nature Study, poetry, degeneration, Liberty Hyde Bailey, David Starr Jordan, american, education, race, decay

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