1. Umm-e-Rooman Yaqoob
Roll no. 3
B.S (English) 6th
Modern poetry is the rebellious attitude thatflourished between 1900-1930.This movementallowed poets,thinkers
and writers to think for new alternatives.Writers began to write on new concepts.All the new forms of writing were
demolished and new were broughtin the society. Modernism is a philosophical movementthat,along with cultural
trends and changes,arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western societyin the late 19th and
early 20th centuries.Among the factors that shaped Modernism were the developmentofmodern industrial societies
and the rapid growth of cities,followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of
Enlightenmentthinking,and manymodernists rejected religious belief.
Background of Modern Poetry:
The advent of writing enabled scribes and bards from China,Mesopotamia,Persia,India,and Ancient Egypt to write
down odes,Vedas,legends,and myths that had existed in their cultures for thousands ofyears.
Poetry itselfprobablydates back to cavemen and the earliestshamans,who chronicled events in picture-stories,
symbols,songs,and tales to chronicle hunts and features ofthe land on which these people survived. Poetry also
took nomads into altered or supernatural realms.
Since then, people have depicted their inner and outer worlds – and the worlds oftheir peers,legends and
civilizations – through hundreds or thousands ofpoetic forms.Like other types of art and music,the evolution of
poetry escalated during fertile creative times and in particularly open societies.
Poets may have created, modified,or used poetic forms,but centuries later these same forms provide a snapshotof
the civilizations from which they emerged.The gorgeous lyrical love poems ofAncient Greece and Rome reflected
cultures open to physical and emotional expression.
So esteemed was poetrythat three of the classic nine Muses inspire specific forms ofpoetry: Calliope (epic poetry),
Erato (love poetry), and Polyrhythmia (sacred poetry). In a culture that routinely mixed poetry, music,and the stage,
two others are close cousins:Euterpe (music) and Melpomene (tragedy).
Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays reflected an Elizabethan era when creativity, expression,and experimentation
ignited England intellectually.
The developmentofmodern poetry is generallyseen as having s tarted at the beginning ofthe 20th century and
extends into the 21stcentury. Among its major practitioners are RobertFrost,Wallace Stevens, and Anne Carson.
Most of the characteristics thatdistinguish itfrom other forms ofutterance—rhythm, rhyme, compression,intensityof
feeling,the use of refrains—appear to have come aboutfrom efforts to fit words to musical forms.In the European
tradition the earliestsurviving poems,the Homeric and Hesiodic epics,identifythemselves as poems to be recited or
chanted to a musical accompanimentrather than as pure song.Another interpretation is that rhythm, refrains,and
kennings are essentiallyparatactic devices that enable the reciter to reconstructthe poem from memory.
In preliterate societies,these forms ofpoetry were composed for,and sometimes during,performance.There was a
certain degree of fluidity to the exact wording of poems.The introduction ofwriting fixed the content of a poem to the
version that happened to be written down and survive. Written composition meantpoets began to compose for an
2. absentreader.The invention of printing accelerated these trends.Poets were now writing more for the eye than for
Foreground of Modern Poetry:
Foregrounding is used as a major stylistic device by many authors whether that is in plays, novels, shortstories or
long poems.One of the mostillustrative (if a little brash) examples ofthe use of foregrounding in the shortstory genre
is in the story 'The Scarlet Ibis.' In this story, a stricken bird lands in a tree in a family's yard while the people are
having lunch.It is a hot day and graduallythe bird slumps,collapses and falls through the branches to the ground in a
heap.It's ganglylegs and reddish color foreshadow the manner in which the little disabled son will die (perhaps of
heart failure or exhaustion) later on, his legs and heartsimilarlydepicted.
"The term foregrounding is borrowed from artcriticism.Art critics usuallydistinguish the foreground ofa painting from
its background. The foreground is that part of a painting which is in the centre and towards the bottom of the canvas
the items which occur in the foreground of a painting will usuallyappear large in relation to the restof the objects."
Foreground is the antonym of background.In a literary text, in order to highlightsomething or to put special emphasis
on something is the reason offoregrounding.To make a part perceptuallyprominent,and notable thereby, the
authors take help of foregrounding.Deviations,parallelism,repetition - all these are created to foreground different
certain parts. According to NTC's Dictionary of Literary Terms,calling attention to something (an idea,a character, a
viewpoint) to make it stand outfrom ordinary by placing itto the foreground is called foregrounding.
For example,look at the following excerpt from e.g. Cummings’ poem:
Pity this busy monster,man unkind,
Not Progress is a comfortable disease.
Here, the poethas created a new word "man unkind"and gone through neologism.This word has been foregrounded
because ofthe fact that it is Cummings’ own invention.This lexical deviation has emphasized the cruelty or
ruthlessness ofmodern mankind,and to supportthe theme of the poem,the poet has broken the normal paradigm of
a verse by not capitalizing the firstletters. Thus,through these deviations,he has been able to foregroun d the feature
of modern humans.
Trends of Modern Poetry:
Following are the trends presentin the modernistsocietyand among the modern writings.
Death of Truth:
The New Criticism ushered in by Pound and Eliot, finding in the admired poetryof the pastso much that was no
longer true, declared that truth was not to be looked for in poetry. All that mattered were the words on the page,and
the ingenious skill with which they deployed.The experience of historians was setaside,as was indeed thatof
readers ofhistorical romances,both of whom can remain happilysuspended between the pastand present.Whatthe
New Critics wanted were the unchanging laws ofscience,and they adopted a language oftensions and psychology
withoutunderstanding the issues involved.
Poet as Social Outcast:
The later nineteenth-centurypoets contended thatpoetry was notlanguage used to its fullestextent, but an
altogether differentway of using language.Poetry could no longer be written in high-minded diction,or perhaps atall
after the horrors of the Second World War. In fact it was the cold efficiency of state organization that had so vastly
increased,butpoets did not read history, or perhaps much philosophy,as some hazardous simplifications were made
in identifying man’s true nature with his mostelementary.
3. The Decline: Tradition and Innovation :
Many have sincerelyfelt that in the twentieth century no great poetry was written and none is being written now.As a
critic has put it, there have been manypoetic persons in the twentieth century, but no poets. It is said thatas
civilization advances poetry declines.Poetry indeed has declined,though itis somewhatdebatable i fcivilization has
advanced. At the beginning ofthe new century at least,there was no poetof any stature.
Modern poetry exercises a great freedom in the choice of themes.Gone are days when it was believed that the job
of the poet was only to create "beauty." T. S. Eliot offers a representative view: "The essential advantage ofa 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." He is free to write poems on themes ranging from kings to cabbages and from
the cosmos to a pin's head.
The two wars and impending danger ofa third (and perhaps the last) have casta gloomy shadow on much ofthe
poetry of the twentieth century Well has the modern age been called "the age of anxiety." In spite of our material
prosperitywe are full of tensions and anxieties which are almostan inseparable feature ofmodern living.Add to them
the disappearance ofreligious faith.T. S. Eliotwas quite religious buthis attitude towaras life as we find itjn such
poems as The Waste Land and 7he HoUowMen. is far from optimistic.To quote a few lines from the latter:
We are the hollowmen
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices when
We whisper together
Are quietand meaningless
As wind in dry grass.
The pessimism of twentieth-centurypoets is-notof the nature-ofthe somewhatstylised melancholyof Shelley or what
David Daiches describes as "the Tennysonian elegiac mode with its lingering enjoymentofself-pity." It is more
intellectual and more impersonal.
Such prosaic social concern is basicallyinimical to all romantic tendency mostmodern poets,as we have said earlier,
scorn all romanticism-even the subdued kind ofromanticism as in Tennyson. Hume,a major influence on’ Eliot and
others,asserted in his essay"Romanticism and Classicism"in the few Age: "I object to the sloppiness which doesn’t
consider thata poem is a poem unless itis moaning or whining aboutsomething or other."
Another "romantic tendency to be found in some modern poets is interestin nature.Nature fascinates some poets
because she offers such a wonderful contrastwith the hubbub and ugliness ofan industrialised and over-
sophisticated age."In the face of modern industrialism,"'says A. C. Ward, "they [modern poets ]solace their souls by
retiring to the country and celebrating the beauties ofunspoiled Nature."Such poets as Masefield,RobertBridges,W.
E. Davies,and Edmund Blunden maynot find any mystic significance in mature,butthey are, all the same,charmed
by her unsophisticated beauty.Masefield in "Sea-Fever" expresses a strong desire to run away from the dreary life
into "the lonely sea and the sky." Edmund Blunden points his finger lovinglyat the little-noticed things ofnature.
Davies poetry has the feature of childlike curiosityin the natural objects everybody finds around himself.
Religion and Mysticism:
4. Religion and mysticism also find a place in the work of some poets ofthe twentieth century. Coventry Patmore and
Francis Thompson,who wrote religious poetrytowards the end of the preceding century, seem to have inspired a
number ofpoets in this century. The name of Mrs. Alice Meynell deserves to be mentioned.In the poetry of the Jesuit
Gerard Manley Hopkins,too,we have something religious now and then.Ralph Hodgson's The Song of Honour is a
notable poem pulsating with religious feelings.Even in the poetry of such poets as Yeats there are mystical strains.
Rejection of the Past:
No doubtthe new approaches challenged whatpoetryhad once been, but the new practitioners rewrote history.
Poetry had always been contemporary, they argued,which now meantbeing direct,personal and American.Great
poetry had in fact been more than that, but the supporters ofpopular Modernism—William Carlos Williams,the Black
Mountain School,Beat Poets and the San Franciscans—had answers ready.Poetry mustbe unmediated ifsincere,
and the techniques ofverse were a handicap to expression.Theyremembered Pound’s “make itnew”,and asserted
that a more democratic age musthave a more democratic poetry. Theoretical scaffolding became a necessarypart of
contemporarypoetry, the more so as the floodgates were soon to be opened in schools and writing classes
Diction and Metre:
This movementhas also revolutionalised the conceptof poetic diction and metre.Traditional "poetic diction"
saccharine poeticisms.and even regular metre have been discarded almostcompletely.As Moody and Lovett point
out, "Imagism did modern poetrya tremendous service by pointing the way to a renovation of the vocabulary of
poetry and the necessityof ridding poetic technique ofvague and empty verbiage and dishonestand windy
generalities."Though rhyme has almostcompletelygone,yet as Daiches puts it,"rhythm freed from the artificial
demands ofmetrical regularity"is still used.A language with the flow and turns of common speech is mostly
employed. Verse libre (free verse) is the mostusual mode ofall serious poetryof today. In the twentieth century
many experiments have been made on the technique and diction of poetry. Doughty, for example,as Grierson and
Smith put it, "manhandled"English.The American poetCummings refused to startevery line of his poetry with a
capital letter, and so on. Many of such experiments have been interesting-butinteresting only.
So arose the presentscene,a vast medleyof communities,all sharing some beliefs and working practices,and
uniting round common problems,butstill competing for attention,status and economic livelihood.Perhaps thatis only
natural,and anthropologists often picture communities as successive waves ofinvaders interbreeding with earlier
peoples butalso dispersing them to more difficultterrain,where their gene-driftgraduallymakes them more
distinctive but also less productive.