Autobiography 1932-1934

In his Foreword to The Interior Landscape (1969), McLuhan remembered:

In the summer of 1932 I walked and biked through most of England1 carrying a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury [of Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language]. There had never been any doubt in my mind that art and poetry were an indictment of human insentience past and present:

Aye, many flowering islands lie
In the waters of wide Agony.

In the Lake Country I reveled in Wordsworth phrases: 

Most sweet it is with unuplifted eyes
To pace the ground, if path be there or none,
While a fair region round the traveller lies.

Every poem in that book seemed to have been written to enhance my pilgrimage:

Yes, there is holy pleasure in thine eye!
The lovely cottage in the guardian nook
Hath stirr’d thee deeply; with its own dear brook,
Its own small pasture, almost its own sky!

“Pied Beauty,” the single poem of Hopkins in my copy, was quite startling. I assumed he was a Victorian eccentric who had been noted for one or two small poems such as this. Nobody could tell me about him.

After a conventional and devoted initiation to poetry as a romantic rebellion against mechanical industry and bureaucratic stupidity, Cambridge was a shock. Richards, Leavis, Eliot and Pound and Joyce in a few weeks opened the doors of perception on the poetic process, and its role in adjusting the reader to the contemporary world.

My study of media began and remains rooted in the work of these men. (…) 

The effects of new media on our sensory lives are similar to the effects of new poetry. They change not our thoughts but the structure of our world.

All this is merely to say that my juvenile devotion to Romantic poetry is closely related to my present concerns with the effects of the media in our personal and political lives.

  1. McLuhan traveled with his Winnipeg friend and future UT colleague, Tom Easterbrook.

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