In this memorial essay on Sir Frank Kermode (1919–2010), the author focuses on his own exchange of views with Kermode during the 1970s. In Kermode's book The Sense of an Ending (1966), he had criticized Frank's essay “Spatial Form in Modern Literature” (1945) as part of a larger critique of what the Romantic-Symbolist tradition of English poetry had become in the twentieth century. Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and other late Symbolists had turned artists into advocates of an irrational wisdom superior to reason and common sense, thus isolating—so Kermode argued—the world of art from that of ordinary human concerns. Rejecting their view of art, he turned instead to a pre-Romantic tradition (including Spenser and Milton) that the Symbolists had rejected. Among modern writers, Kermode turned to Wallace Stevens, who became his foil for Yeats, Eliot, and Pound, as well as the most important influence on his own later thinking. Joseph Frank, in this essay, recalls the combination of acerbic intelligence, social concern, gentility, and finally friendship that characterized his debate over these questions with Kermode. Frank recalls as an indication of his respect and admiration for Kermode that he wrote, in 1977, that, even if his own theory of spatial form were to be shown worthless, it would still have value in having provided some of the stimulus for Kermode to write The Sense of an Ending.

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