Michael Hamburger is one of those academic writers you just want to call up and thank. He seems to delight in making complex concepts plain, but without dumbing them down. Anyone who finds twentieth-century poetry "difficult" or irritating or considers it grossly inferior to the lyrical work that came before it should read this book. Hamburger narrates the century-long story of poetry wrestling with itself as it tries to find new ways to make meaning, and confronts (or evades) the political, philosophical and psychological developments of modern life. His observations on the use of "personae" and the problematic distinction between public and private poetry are particularly valuable, as is the breadth of this study which isn't limited to poetry written in English. Unlike so many academics, Hamburger recongnises that plenty of the works influencing a poet's practice were not even written in the same language (think of the French Symbolists' influence - it even got as far as Australia). Hamburger seems to be an ardent modernist, but he doesn't let his enthusiasm blind him to modernism's failings and contradictions - indeed, they're some of things that make it so interesting. His analysis of the work of several canonical modern poets is refreshingly evenhanded. His insightful exploration of Pound and Eliot is superb, particularly the way in which he relates Eliot's poetry to his philosophy and criticism. Those crouched at Eliot's feet might do well to look up for five minutes and read it.