American Poetry An Introduction


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Lecture at BISAG, co-presenter Ms. Pankti Desai

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American Poetry An Introduction

  1. 1.
  2. 2. AMERICA <ul><li>‘ America’ is another name for the United States of America or the U.S. or the U.S. of A </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Americans <ul><li>The indigenous peoples of America or the Native Americans are believed to have migrated from Asia, beginning between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago. </li></ul><ul><li>In 1492,  the explorer Christopher Columbus, under contract to the Spanish crown, made the first contact with the indigenous people.  </li></ul>
  4. 4. Early American Poetry <ul><li>The poetry before the founding of the United States was largely oral. </li></ul><ul><li>Most of the early colonial poetry is modeled on the British poetry of the seventeenth century. The influence of the Puritanism is clearly felt in early American poetry. </li></ul>
  5. 5. ANNE BRADSTREET <ul><li>One of the first recorded poets of the British colonies was Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672), one of the earliest known women poets who wrote in English </li></ul>
  6. 6. Post-Independence American Poetry <ul><li>The thirteen American colonies declared themselves as independent of the British Empire on 4 July 1776. </li></ul><ul><li>The need to be free from British poetic models and tradition is an important concern of the Post-Independence American poets. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Post Independence American Poets <ul><li>Some of the most important poets of the nineteenth century were Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), and Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849). </li></ul>
  8. 8. Post Independence American Poets <ul><li>The search for distinctive American voice and identity is reflected in the presence of American landscape and native traditions in their poetry. </li></ul>
  9. 9. AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISM <ul><li>The American Transcendentalism began in 1848 as a protest against the general state of culture and society. It was founded on the belief that the ideal spiritual state &quot;transcends&quot; the physical and empirical and can be realized only through the individual's  intuition , rather than through the doctrines of established religions. </li></ul>
  10. 10. PROMINENT TRANSCENDENTALISTS <ul><li>Prominent transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and  Walt Whitman (1819 -1892). </li></ul><ul><li>Transcendentalism was the distinctly American strain of English Romanticism of William Wordsworth and S.T.Coleridge. Emerson is believed to have met these two poets. </li></ul>
  11. 11. EMERGENCE OF THE TRUE AMERICAN VOICE <ul><li>Emerson declared in 1837, ‘Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close’. </li></ul><ul><li>Two very different poets represent the emergence of this new spirit and genuinely American voice. </li></ul>
  12. 12. WHITMAN AND DICKINSON <ul><li>Walt Whitman </li></ul><ul><li>(1819–1892 ) </li></ul><ul><li>Emily Dickinson </li></ul><ul><li>(1830–1886) </li></ul>
  13. 13. TWO AMERICAN POETIC IDIOMS <ul><li>Louis  Untermeyer (Modern American Poetry) notes that t hese two poets represent two major American poetic idioms —the free metric and direct emotional expression of Whitman, and the gnomic obscurity and irony of Dickinson—both of which would stamp the American poetry of the 20th century. </li></ul>
  14. 14. ‘ HE IS AMERICA’ <ul><li>Whitman is often called </li></ul><ul><li>America’s first ‘poet of Democracy’. </li></ul><ul><li>Modernist  poet  </li></ul><ul><li>Ezra Pound said </li></ul><ul><li>“ He is America.” </li></ul>
  15. 15. WALT WHITMAN <ul><li>Walt Whitman was born into a working class family in West Hills, New York, a village near Hempstead, Long Island, on May 31, 1819, just thirty years after George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the newly formed United States. </li></ul>
  16. 16. WALT WHITMAN : A LIFE <ul><li>Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, a government clerk, and a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War (1861–1865)  in addition to publishing his poetry. </li></ul>
  17. 17. WALT WHITMAN : A LIFE <ul><li>  After a stroke towards the end of his life, he moved to Camden, New Jersey where his health further declined. He died at age 72 and his funeral became a public spectacle. </li></ul>
  18. 18. AN AMERICAN EPIC <ul><li>Whitman's major work , Leaves of Grass , was first published in 1855 with his own money. The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with ‘an American epic’. He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892. </li></ul>
  19. 19. LEAVES OF GRASS <ul><li>Walt Whitman, age 37, frontispiece to  Leaves of Grass steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer </li></ul>
  20. 20. LEAVES OF GRASS <ul><li>Leaves of Grass   has its genesis in an essay called  ‘The Poet’ (1845) by Emerson, which expressed the need for the United States to have its own new and unique poet to write about the new country's virtues and vices. </li></ul>
  21. 21. LEAVES OF GRASS <ul><li>The title  Leaves of Grass   was a pun. &quot;Grass&quot; was a term given by publishers to works of minor value and &quot;leaves&quot; is another name for the pages on which they were printed. </li></ul>
  22. 22. ONE'S-SELF I SING. <ul><li>“ ONE'S-SELF I sing—a simple, separate Person; Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse …………… </li></ul><ul><li>Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power, Cheerful—for freest action form'd, under the laws divine,  The Modern Man I sing” </li></ul><ul><li>One of the most important poems in Leaves of Grass </li></ul><ul><li>“ One’s Self I Sing” </li></ul>
  23. 23. TERRY MULCAIRE ON “One’s Self I Sing” <ul><li>‘ A poetic universe of productive tension is hinted by that &quot;Yet&quot;; the tense equipoise between individualism and democracy, this poem suggests, is the foundational theme of Whitman’s book. The poem then goes on to introduce the site and symbol for this reconciliation of individual to mass: the body.’ </li></ul>
  24. 24. I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC <ul><li>  I SING the Body electric; </li></ul><ul><li>The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth  them;  They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to  them,  And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul. </li></ul><ul><li>This radical power of the human body is celebrated in the poem ‘ I Sing the Body Electric’. </li></ul><ul><li>  I SING the Body electric; </li></ul>
  25. 25. ‘ The Self’ and the ‘ I’ <ul><li>Whitman seems to put himself in the center, but the &quot;self&quot; of the poem's speaker - the &quot;I&quot; of the poem - should not be limited to or confused with the person of the historical Walt Whitman. This is an expansive persona, one that has exploded the conventional boundaries of the self. As he says, ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’ </li></ul>
  26. 26. OTHER FAMOUS POEMS OF WHITMAN <ul><li>Some other famous poems of Whitman are ‘ Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’, ‘ I hear America Singing’ , ‘A Noiseless patient Spider’. </li></ul><ul><li>His poems like ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d , and ‘ O Captain, My Captain’ are elegies on the death of Abraham Lincoln </li></ul>
  27. 27. EMILY DICKINSON <ul><li>One of the most important American poets and contemporaries of Walt Whitman is Emily Dickinson. She was born 10 December 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she lived until her death on 15 May 1886.  </li></ul>
  28. 28. EMILY DICKINSON <ul><li>Although she was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>I'm Nobody! Who are you? </li></ul><ul><li>Are you – Nobody – too? </li></ul><ul><li>Then there's a pair of us? </li></ul><ul><li>Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know! </li></ul><ul><li>How dreary – to be – Somebody! </li></ul><ul><li>How public – like a Frog –  </li></ul><ul><li>To tell one's name – the livelong June –  </li></ul><ul><li>To an admiring Bog! </li></ul><ul><li>EMILY DICKINSON AT NINE </li></ul><ul><li>I'm Nobody! Who are You?   </li></ul>EMILY DICKINSON
  30. 30. EMILY DICKINSON : A LIFE <ul><li>Dickinson was a private and introverted person who disliked fame as the poem ‘ I am Nobody’ shows.  Adrienne Rich notes that this privacy was freedom to her. </li></ul><ul><li>Dickinson’s life as well her poetry stands in complete contrast to Whitman. </li></ul>
  31. 31. EMILY DICKINSON’S STYLE <ul><li>Dickinson's poems are unique. They contain short lines, typically lack titles, slant rhyme , and unconventional capitalization and punctuation.  </li></ul>
  32. 32. EMILY DICKINSON : MAJOR THEMES <ul><li>Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality, two recurring topics in letters to her friends. </li></ul><ul><li>The influence of American Transcendentalism is also felt in her works. </li></ul>
  33. 33. ‘ BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH’ <ul><li>“ Because I could not stop for Death –  </li></ul><ul><li>He kindly stopped for me –  </li></ul><ul><li>The Carriage held but just Ourselves –  </li></ul><ul><li>And Immortality.” </li></ul><ul><li>The noted critic Allen Tate says about this typical Dickinson poem ‘ If the word great means anything in poetry, this poem is one of the greatest in the English language’. </li></ul>
  34. 34. THE TRADITION OF AMERICAN POETRY <ul><li>The tradition of American poetry can be represented by the contrasting figures of Whitman and Dickinson. </li></ul><ul><li>What unites both is the distinctive and individualistic voice that is very American and very powerful . </li></ul>
  35. 35. <ul><li>The passionate quest for genuine American identity and the spirit of non-conformity continued in the twentieth century. </li></ul>THE TRADITION OF AMERICAN POETRY
  36. 36. THE RISE OF MODERNISM <ul><li>Modernism emerged in the early part of the twentieth century as a reaction against the sentimental and romantic Victorian poetry. </li></ul>
  37. 37. THE RISE OF MODERNISM <ul><li>  Ezra Pound  (1885–1972) and  T. S. Eliot  (1888–1965) steered American poetry toward greater density, difficulty, and opacity, with the use of techniques like fragmentation, ellipsis, allusion, juxtaposition, ironic and shifting personae, and mythic parallelism.  </li></ul>
  38. 38. TWO EARLY MODERNISTS <ul><li>Ezra Pound (1885–1972) </li></ul><ul><li>T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) </li></ul>
  39. 39. IMAGISM <ul><li>Modernist poetry in English is generally considered to have emerged with the appearance of the Imagist movement. Imagism favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language and rejected the sentiment and discursiveness typical of much Romantic and Victorian poetry. They emphasized the use of free verse. </li></ul>
  40. 40. OTHER MODERNIST POETS <ul><li>Other modernist poets of the period include Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), Wallace Stevens(1879–1955), William Carlos Williams (1883–1963), Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) (1886–1961), , Marianne Moore(1887–1972), E. E. Cummings (1894–1962), and Hart Crane (1899–1932). </li></ul>
  41. 41. ROBERT FROST <ul><li>Robert Frost (1874-1963) is one the most influential American poets of the twentieth century. </li></ul>
  42. 42. ABOUT ROBERT FROST <ul><li>Robert Frost was born in San Francisco on March 26, 1874. He moved to New England at the age of eleven and became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was enrolled at Dartmouth College in 1892, and later at Harvard, though he never earned a formal degree. </li></ul>
  43. 43. POETRY OF ROBERT FROST <ul><li>He is highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech. Though his poems avoid the experimental excesses and techniques of the modernist contemporaries, a very modern and very American sensibility is felt in Frost’s poetry. The influence of Imagism is also seen on his poetry. </li></ul>
  44. 44. The New England Poet <ul><li>His work frequently employed settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. A popular and often-quoted poet, Frost was honored frequently during his lifetime, receiving four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. </li></ul>
  45. 45. MENDING WALL <ul><li>A typical Frost poem is ‘Mending Wall’, which appeared in North of Boston (1914). It is  meditative lyric that reports and assesses a dialogue between neighbors who have joined in the annual occupation of rebuilding the wall which separates their farms. </li></ul>
  46. 46. GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS <ul><li>The poem reexamines the stock belief regarding the relationship between human beings and the relationship of human beings with nature. </li></ul>
  47. 47. <ul><li>The speaker in the poem a New England farmer questions conventional wisdom of mankind -‘Good fences make good neighbors’ and indicates that forces of nature do not accept human boundaries. </li></ul>GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS
  48. 48. MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP <ul><li>‘ Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ which appeared in Frost’s 1922 collection New Hampshire is widely known. </li></ul><ul><li>The last stanza of the poem is extremely famous: </li></ul>“ The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”
  49. 49. MEYERS ON STOPPING BY THE WOODS <ul><li>Though the poem is read simplistically as the conflict between ‘beauty’ and ‘duty’ or between the romantic world view and the pragmatic one, Jeffery Meyers says ‘The theme of &quot;Stopping by Woods&quot;-is the temptation of death, even suicide, symbolized by the woods that are filling up with snow on the darkest evening of the year. The speaker says, &quot;The woods are lovely, dark and deep,&quot; but he resists their morbid attraction. </li></ul>
  50. 50. THE ROAD NOT TAKEN <ul><li>One of the most famous American poems is ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost. It was published in the collection Mountain Interval in 1916. </li></ul><ul><li>The speaker in the poem is a traveler who is remembering his journey. He says that he had to make a choice between two roads at an important juncture in his life. </li></ul>
  51. 51. THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY <ul><li>The speaker concludes by saying: </li></ul><ul><li>I shall be telling this with a sigh </li></ul><ul><li>Somewhere ages and ages hence: </li></ul><ul><li>Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– </li></ul><ul><li>I took the one less traveled by, </li></ul><ul><li>And that has made all the difference . </li></ul><ul><li>The traveler's choice in living unconventional life indicates his philosophical outlook, his individualism and non-conformist attitude. </li></ul>
  52. 52. THE JOURNEY OF AMERICAN POETRY <ul><li>The journey of American poetry can be summed up as follows: </li></ul><ul><li>The attitudes of American poets are like those of the speaker- individualistic, non-conformist and always keen to venture into unknown territories. </li></ul>
  53. 53. The American Tradition of the New <ul><li>The major American poets like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost have always believed in taking the Road which is usually not taken and which ‘ wanted wear’. </li></ul>
  54. 54. <ul><li>Consequently, they have made all the difference to literary traditions by opening new pathways and streets and hence have been immensely influential internationally. </li></ul>The American Tradition of the New