Major characteristics of modern poetry

Modern English Poetry is of a cosmopolitan nature, with English, Irish and American poets achieving eminence. We began to trace elements of modernism in English poetry by the end of the Victorian era. The modern age is an age of democracy and nationalism.

The mid-nineteenth century American poet Whitman glorifies the individual and celebrates democracy. English poetry in the modern age could no longer afford to be parochial. Both American and English poetry searched for new modes, new technique and so on. They began to be influenced by the poetry of other countries. French symbolism greatly influenced modern English poetry.

T.S. Eliot was to modern poetry, what William Wordsworth had been to Romantic poetry. Eliot was greatly influenced by Laforgue and other symbolist poets. W.B. Yeats was an Irish nationalist and his poetry reflects his love for Ireland. Modern poetry is full of diversity. Robert Frost wrote poetry from the viewpoint of a New England dweller which is a part of the U.S.A. Thus we find, Modern Poetry consists of diverse streams of poetry-regional poetry (Frost), Patriotic romantic poetry (Yeats), the poetry of social criticism (T.S. Eliot) and so on. The essential note of modern poetry is that of revolt. The modern poet often scorns and mocks the ways of society. He is an individualist and is frequently realistic.

As a result, in the choice of his diction, metre and subject matter, he accepts no limitations and regulations. Modern poetry tends to follow more closely the structure of common speech. T.S. Eliot says-
The essential advantage of a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal; it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom and the horror and the glory.
The whole universe is the modern poet's experience. He writes of nature, patriotism, ghosts, religion, materialism and what not. A prominent characteristic of modern poetry is the passion for humanity, and its adoration of the life of the labourer, the farmhand and in general the proletariat. The criminal, the prostitute, the slum dweller form the theme of a large member of modern poems and the tendency is to show sympathy to the down-trodden.

In modern English poetry, Wilfred Gilson treats with sympathy the tragedy, the heroism, the courageous fight against want and disease. His poem “The Machine” gives a pathetic but impressive picture of the dull monotony life of mechanical labourers. John Masefield in his poem “Consecration” effectively drives home his point to us-
Others may sing of the wine and the wealth and the mirth/The portly presence of potentates goodly in girth; Mine be the dirt and the dross the dust and scum of the earth.
The humanity of the modern poets, such as Walter Dela-Mare, G.K. Chesterton, Ralph Hudgeson etc extends even to the animals which are treated with cruelty by man. We observe that the modern poet has become more compassionate and humanitarian. Yeats was at once a poet of the Irish literary revival and a poet for the whole English speaking world. Poems such as The Wild Swans Coole Michael Robartes and the Dancer'; The Tower', The ing Stair' etc take us out of the hypnotic dream world of the Twilight into a daylight world, sometimes of bitter regret, but always of honesty and courage.

Some poems such as The Second ComingByzantium, Leda and the Swan are acknowledged to be among the finest achievements of the early twentieth century. Yeats is the greatest poet of the transitional age between Morris and Pound, between Swinburne and Eliot, being himself responsible for much of the ease of the transition.

The main features of modernism

Yeats had a vision of man and world and spoke with distinctive original authority. He owed much Ireland as Ireland owed much to him. Hugh Selwyn Mauberley of Ezra Pound and The Waste Land of T.S Eliot put an end to Georgian poetry. Whereas the poetry of the Georgian was consciously English, full of nostalgia for the countryside in spring, the life of the village, the open road, the inn at twilight, the poetry of the new school was consciously cosmopolitan and allusive the nostalgia it invoked was for the city, the crowded streets, the life of offices and bars and flats, the prostitutes at eventide.

The early verse of Eliot was based partly on his reading of Laforgue and other French symbolists, partly on his reading of later Elizabethan dramatists and the metaphysical poetry of the 17th century. Poems such as "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", "Gerontion", “The Waste Land", "The Hollowmen" were written in the first phase of his poetic career. It is one of the most obvious differences between Eliot's early verse and his late that the earlier is full of phrases which stick willy-nilly in one's memory. For instance, "Time for you and time for me", "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker", "The burnt-out ends of smoky days", "April is the cruellest month," "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" etc. "Ash Wednesday" and "The Four Quartets" are very significant in the 2nd Phase of his poetic career. The despair of the "Hollowmen" (belonging to the 1st phase) gives place to what the poet conceives to be resignation to God's will, in 'Ash Wednesday' (belonging to the 2nd phase).

The Four Quartets are meditative poems, in which Eliot thinks on a number of associated matters: Problems of national history, including the war during which three of the poems were written. Personal problems concerning his development as a poet the problems of the modern poet has to face in particular that of finding a vocabulary.

Ezra Pound is the leader of the Imagist Movement which included poets like T.E Hulme. Hilda Doolittle and her husband Richard Arlington, Amylowell, John G. Fletcher. The modest scope of this movement was towards the precision of language and the use of clear, hard images deeply influenced as it was by contemporary translations of Chinese and Japanese verse. Imagism began as a revolt against excessive Romanticism. Imagism was able to bring into verse, the quality of accuracy and straight forward definiteness of descriptions. It used free verse. In Imagist poetry, we find an economy of phrasing and expression and an attempt to secure great effects from single words that prevent attention from straying.

The most obvious feature in Pound's poetry is the delicate control of the rhythm which conveys a tone of the subtle witty comment. The element of elaborate artifice, even pedantry and sometimes romantic archaism and mystification progressively took control in his work. His masterpiece the still unfinished cantos is a brilliant though often obscure work woven of myth and legend in which he attempts to reconstruct the history of civilization. His other important works are-"Homage to Sextus Propertius" and also "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley".

Gerald Manley Hopkins was one of the four giants of modern poetry, the rest being Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and W.B Yeats. His poems are disconcerting, original syntactically arresting and full of coined compound words and alliteration. The imagery is dense sensuous and mostly drawn with a closely observing eye from nature. The poems convey a sense of energy to the reader partly by their phrasing and rhythms and partly by their vigorous rejoicing in the created world as a manifestation of the love and glory of God. His work "The Wreck of the Deutschland" is of primary significance.

Robert Frost was a poet of Nature who limited his poetry to the region of New England. Frost showed in his poetry Nature where people roam. There is little of spirituality he found in Nature in the sense that Wordsworth did. To Frost, Nature is neither guardian nor guide and he believes man loves Nature with temperance and that there is the boundary between man and Nature. Man and Nature may intermingle but they can not achieve spiritual union. Just as Victorian poetry was an outcome of Romantic poetry.

Likewise, Modern poetry was an outcome of Victorian poetry. By means of evolution, Victorian poetry gave way to Modern poetry. Modern poetry is indebted to the Victorian poets such as Browning, Tennyson, Arnold and so on. The modern poets have chosen "Verse libre". Modern poetry has done away with strict metrical rules. The lines of a poem do not observe any particular rules of rhyme. There is an increasing tendency of the modern poets to use the technique of "Montage". Modern poets have not forgotten nature. Even T.S. Eliot for all his spiritualism does not exclude Nature from his poetry. There is mysticism and spiritualism in Modern poetry.

W.B. Yeats had multiple genius. He was a poet of mysticism and also of love. His poem "When You Are Old" is about a rejected lover. In Modern poetry (especially post 1st world war) despair and disillusionment is integral. The war destroyed standards and shattered beliefs. Realism in Modern English poetry is a result of excessive romanticism of the past poets. Poets like Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves etc. described the horrors of war in a realistic tone.

Modern poetry aims at stark reality and is profoundly influenced by scientific innovations and psycho-analysis. Realistic as he is, the modern poet has not ceased completely to be imaginative, dreamy. There are romantic strains in the poetry of Yeats, De la mare etc. Irish legends and heroes enthralled Yeats and he wrote many imaginative poems in praise of the heroes and historic events of his Ireland.

It is said that Dante merely visited Hell but Baudelaire came from there. Modern English poetry owes much to the French poet Baudelaire who wrote pessimistic poems about the ugly harsh realities of life in Paris. Late 19th and early 20th century English poetry often tended to have leftist overtones like that of Baudelaire. As T.S. Eliot profoundly influenced the later day English poets of the 20th century, so the French symbolist poets such as Laforgue, Mallarme, Verlaine etc. profoundly influenced T.S. Eliot.
Next Post Previous Post
No Comment
Add Comment
comment url