One of the foremost writers between the two world wars, Ernest Hemingway in his early work depicted the life of two classes of people. One brand consisted of men and women deprived, by World War I, of faith in the moral values in which they had believed, and who lived with cynical disregard for anything but their own emotional needs. The other class were men of uncomplicated character and primitive passion such as prizefighters and bullfighters. Hemingway wrote of their bold and usually vain battles against circumstances.

It was surprising to learn that Hemingway composed poetry and this particularly pithy and to the point piece tells an interesting tale. After the war Hemingway was a correspondent for the The Toronto Star then settled in Paris where he joined a literary group of "young bohemians," giving a voice to "the lost generation" coming to terms with his understanding, over his vanished comrades and innocence. While he was there American expatriates and authors Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein encouraged his style of tough, hard-hitting, no-nonsense poetry.

The Age Demanded was composed by Hemingway at the age of 23 while he was living in Paris in 1922 and initially published in a periodical Der Querschnitt in February 1925. A bookseller, Captain Louis Henry Cohn (d. 1953), was Hemingway's first bibliographer to publish some of his earliest works in a collection titled Four Poems The Age Demanded, The Earnest Liberal's Lament, The Lay Poets With Footnotes, and The Soul of Spain with McAlmon and Bird the Publishers. A dozen printings of Four Poems were supposed to be in print by August of 1930 and done 'behind closed doors' to avoid them from being bootlegged. Due to certain censored words Hemingway had used, the publishers refused copyright and Four Poems never saw publication. Today only the manuscript and galley proofs survive as a part of the Cohn Collection.

Ezra Pound influenced artists as far-reaching as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Allen Ginsberg. It was in 1920, already in the middle of the first world war, disgusted with a botched society that would sacrifice the blossoms of its youth to the fetid mud of Northern France when Pound declared a new image was needed for the 20th century and demanded change for the modern era through his poetical persona Hugh Selwyn Mauberley:

    The age demanded an image
    Of its accelerated grimace,
    Something for the modern stage,
    Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

    Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries
    Of the inward gaze;
    Better mendacities
    Than the classics in paraphrase!

    The "age demanded" chiefly a mould in plaster,
    Made with no loss of time,
    A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster
    Or the "sculpture" of rhyme.

    from "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly"
    Ezra Pound (1920)

Mauberly wants to do away with The Attic, a stage in Greek architecture and art. Get rid of these Greek symbols; create his own modern movement. What has happened to art for art’s sake? Mauberly illustrates art means 'something', this meaning changes and the changes are the product of an audience, a creator, and a history. The nature of literature is art as expression, art as pattern, art as ornament, art as necessity. Art is made for the masses. To understand the origins and purposes of art is to respond to humanity’s changing demands. Two years later Hemingway borrowed the title and rhythm from second part of Ezra Pound's ` Mauberly' and wrote a concise and pertinent rejoinder.

      The Age Demanded
    The age demanded that we sing
    And cut away our tongue.

    The age demanded that we flow
    And hammered in the bung.

    The age demanded that we dance
    And jammed us into iron pants.

    And in the end the age was handed
    The sort of shit that it demanded.

    -- Ernest Hemingway
The similarity is unmistakable. What many poets attempt, and so few get right is that a fanatical sense of moral indignation does not by itself make a great poem – the missing element, which Hemingway’s poem has in liberal measure is craftsmanship. This is not a structured versus free verse rant. A certain class of ‘poets’ make disparaging and sniffy remarks about Craft versus Art; blindly reiterating phrases like 'spontaneous overflow of emotion' to rationalize their refusal to labor at a poem. A good poem needs as much exertion as it does inspiration, “It’s more a reaction to the attitude that shaping a poem (that) spoils its artistic purity,” says one scholar:
    The poem is spare but not minimalist. The terseness is never allowed to get in the way of the smooth flow of the words, but Hemingway nevertheless manages to convey his point with a remarkable economy.
Less than a hundred poems survived Hemingway, his first published book entitled Three Stories and Ten Poems (Paris, 1923), gives them unexpected celebrity. His reputation rests on his finest work, short stories and novels, including In our Time (1923), The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms(1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

Married four times, in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. An avid fisherman, hunter and bullfight enthusiast, Hemingway drew heavily upon his personal experiences. His adventurous life led to several close brushes with death: during the Spanish Civil War shells exploded inside his hotel room; in World War II he was struck by a taxi during a blackout; and in 1954 when his airplane crashed in Africa. His death by gunshot in Ketchum, Iowa on July 2, 1961, is regarded a suicide.


Audre Hanneman, Ernest Hemingway: A Comprehensive Bibliography Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1967.

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Hemingway, Ernest Miller," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.


University of Delaware:Special Collections Department:

Public domain text and some information taken from The Wondering Minstrels:

CST Approved.

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