Text of The Literature of Modernism: Poetry (1914 — 1945)
• The Literature of Modernism:
• Poetry (1914—1945)
• 1. Definition:
• The term modernism refers to the radical
shift in aesthetic and cultural sensibilities
evident in the art and literature of the post
• experimental • a rejection of 19th-century traditions:
conventions of realism or traditional meter.
• disturbed the readers by adopting complex and difficult new forms and styles.
• In fiction:• continuity of chronological development
was upset • new ways of tracing the flow of characters'
thoughts in the stream-of-consciousness styles.
• In poetry:• Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot replaced the
logical exposition of thoughts with collages of fragmentary images and complex allusions...
• It marks a distinctive break with Victoria
n bourgeois morality;
• rejecting the nineteenth-century optimis
• presenting a profoundly pessimistic pictu
re of a culture in disarray.
Key Features of Modernism
• Language as a substance in its own ri
• Departure from conventional literary str
• Collage and allusion
• In literature, the movement is associated with the works of
• T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, W. B. Yeats,
• Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, H.D., • Franz Kafka.
Imagism• Name given to a movement in poetry, originating in 19
12 and • represented by Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others in
America, • aiming at clarity of expression through the use of prec
ise visual images.• Theoretical principles/basic principles by T.E. Hulme
P159 • Three phases P159-160
American Imagists • The most outstanding figures of the movement wer
e Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell (1874~1925), and Hilda Doolittle (1886~1961).
• Pound championed the movement from 1912 to 1914, setting down the Imagist principles.
• Then Amy Lowell led the movement into the period of “Amygism, as Pound called it, from 1914 to 1917.
• And 1917 marked the end of the short-lived movement.
• Hilda Doolittle was the only poet who throughout her career remained an imagist.
• Three Principles of Imagism (by Ezra Pound &F. S. Flint) P159
• 1) Direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective.
• 2) Economy of expression. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
• 3) Rhythm. A poem should be composed with the phrasing of music, not a metronome.
The second principle is greatly influenced by Chinese and Japanese poetry,
in particular Japanese Haiku （俳句） .
天净沙 · 秋思
马致远 枯藤老树昏鸦。 小桥流水人家。 古道西风瘦马。 夕阳西下，断肠人在天涯。
Images in Imagist Poems
• Pound defined an image as that which presents
• an intellectual and emotional complex in an
instant of time.
• An imagist poem enables the reader to see the
physical thing rather than put him through an
Influence on American Literature
• 1. The imagist poets rebelled against conventional poetic material and forms and advocated the direct presentation of feelings in exquisite images.
• The imagist theories call for brief language, pinpoint the precise picture in as few words as possible.
• This new way of poetry composition has a lasting influence on the 20th century poetry. Most of the 20th century top poets are related with it, and benefited from it.
• 2. The second lasting influence of imagism is the form of free verse.
• In free verse, some lines may be long while others may be very short. There are no metrical rules.
• The rhythmical unit of the line divides the material into cadences, into phrases that the poet believes work together.
“Oread”• Whirl up, sea—
• whirl your pointed pines,
• splash your great pines
• on our rocks,
• hurl your green over us,
• cover us with your pools of fir.
Ezra Pound (1885~1972)
American poet and critic, "the poet's poet"
the poet most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry
his promulgation of ImagismImagism
Life Background P164
• Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, • educated at the University of Pennsylvania and a
t Hamilton College in New York State. • In September 1908 he traveled to London, where
he renewed his acquaintance with W. B. Yeats. • While in London he also became friendly with T.
E. Hulme with whom he started the Imagist Movement in poetry.
• In 1924 he moved to Italy and became involved in Fascist politics
• In 1933 Pound had met Mussolini and been impressed by the dictator’s imposition of order in Italy.
• 1945, arrested on charges of treason, • 1946: insane • 1958: released • He died in Venice at the age of 87.
Grave of Pound on the cemetery island of San Michele, Venice
• Pound wrote 70 books
and over 1500 articles in
• His major work of
poetry is The Cantos, a
long poem which he
wrote in sections
between 1915 and 1945.
In a Station of the Metro 1913
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.p161
• The poem was first published in 1913 and is considered one of the leading poems of the Imagist tradition.
• The poem is Pound’s written equivalent for the moment of revelation and intense emotion he felt at the Metro at La Concorde, Paris.
• "In a poem of this sort," as Pound explained, "one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective."
• The poem is essentially a set of images that
have unexpected likeness and convey the rare
emotion that Pound was experiencing at that
• Pound contrasts the factual, mundane image
that he actually witnessed with a metaphor from
nature and thus infuses this “apparition” with
• He wishes to translate his perception of beauty
in the midst of ugliness into a single, perfect
image in written form.
• The word “apparition” is considered
crucial as it evokes a mystical and
supernatural sense of imprecision which is
then reinforced by the metaphor of the
• The plosive word ‘Petals’ conjures ideas
of delicate, feminine beauty which
contrasts with the bleakness of the ‘wet,
• Pound’s process of deletion from thirty lines to only fourteen words typifies Imagism’s focus on economy of language, precision of imagery and experimenting with non-traditional verse forms.
• It is also worth noting that the number of words in the poem (fourteen) is the same as the number of lines in a sonnet.
• The words are distributed with eight in the first line and six in the second, mirroring the octet-sestet form of the Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet.
• "In a Station at the Metro" is an early work
of Modernist poetry as it
• attempts to "break from the pentameter",
• incorporates the use of visual spacing as a
• and contains not a single verb.
The “Accumulation of Images”
• To put two images together without any
comment to produce a new effect.
• What is the effect of “Accumulation of
Images” in this poem?
By “Accumulation of Images,” Pound made a c
omparison between face and petal.
Flower “petal on a wet, black bough” serves as
the most concise, direct ad definite metaphor f
or the “faces in the crowd.”
Petals are beautiful, but they exist very short ti
me, so do the faces.
Here Pound deplore that in modern city beauty
Chinese Version• 地铁车站
• 人群里忽隐忽现的张张面庞， 黝黑沾湿枝头的点点花瓣。
• 又： 人群中这些脸庞的隐现； 湿漉漉、黑黝黝的树枝上的花瓣。 （裘小龙）
• 地铁站里 • 出现在人群里这一张张面孔；
• 人群里这些脸忽然闪现； 花丛在一条湿黑的树枝。 （流沙河）
人群中，这些面孔的鬼影； 潮湿的黑树枝上的花瓣。 （余光中）
IV Influences on American Literature
• 1. Ezra Pound, for two generations, has
been identified as the father of
modernism, the first and the last of a band
of revolutionists who changed the course
of twentieth-century poetry.
• 2. Pound was a great man with a remarkably
keen ear for the qualities of verse, constantly
discovering new poets, generously and
tirelessly getting them published in books,
generously and tirelessly trying to educate the
public to accept new forms of poetry.
• 3. Pound had an extremely important
influence because of his stress on the
economy of verse.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
one of America's leading 20th-century poets and a four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize
his life's ambition: to write "a few poems it will be hard to get rid of."
Unofficial Poet Laureate
• highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech.
• 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
Life Background• Robert Lee Frost was born and raised in San Francisco;
his father was originally a New Englander and a graduate of Harvard.
• In 1912 he took his family to England, where he met Pound.
• He won the Pulitzer Prize four times and was praise as unofficial poet Laureate.
• He was a professor of English at various universities, as poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan, as professor at Harvard University in 1936.
Major Works• 1. A Boy’s Will (1912)• 2. North of Boston (1914)• 3. Mountain Interval (1916)• 4. New Hampshire (1923)• 5. West-Running Brook (1928)• 6. A Further Range (1936)• Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening; • The Road Not Taken; • Mending Wall; • After Apple-picking ; • Design
• Dramatic poetry
• Meditative poetry
• Satirical poetry
• Philosophical poetry
Categories of Frost’s Poetry
Major Themes in Frost’s Poetry
• The relationship between men and the natural world
• The fragmentation of modern experience• The nature of existence; the complexity
of human life• The ambiguity of nature• p198-9
The Road Not Taken
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, • And sorry I could not travel both • And be one traveler, long I stood • And looked down one as far as I could • To where it bent in the undergrowth;
• Then took the other, just as fair, • And having perhaps the better claim • Because it was grassy and wanted wear, • Though as for that the passing there • Had worn them really about the same,
• And both that morning equally lay • In leaves no step had trodden black. • Oh, I marked the first for another day! • Yet knowing how way leads on to way • I doubted if I should ever come back.
• I shall be telling this with a sigh • Somewhere ages and ages hence: • Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, • I took the one less traveled by, • And that has made all the difference.
• The poem has two recognized interpretations; one is a more literal interpretation, while the other is more ironic.
• Readers often see the poem literally, as an expression of individualism.
• Critics typically view the poem as ironic.• – "'The Road Not Taken,' perhaps the most
famous example of Frost's own claims to conscious irony and 'the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep's clothing.'“
• – and Frost himself warned "You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem – very tricky."
Literal interpretation • This poem is commonly known as "the path
less traveled' by some, but its correct name is "the road not taken." The names refer to two different roads, the correct name referring to the one the traveler did not take.
• The poem's last lines, where the narrator declares that taking the road "less traveled by" has "made all the difference," can be seen as a declaration of the importance of independence and personal freedom.
• "The Road Not Taken" seems to illustrate that once one takes a certain road, there is no turning back.
• Although one might change paths later on, the past cannot be changed.
• It can be seen as showing that choice is very important, and is a thing to be considered.
• The ironic interpretation, widely held by critics, is that the poem is instead about regret and personal myth-making, rationalizing our decisions.
• In this interpretation, the final two lines are ironic – the choice made little or no difference at all, the speaker's protestations to the contrary.
• The speaker admits in the second and third stanzas that both paths may be equally worn and equally leaf-covered, and it is only in his future recollection that he will call one road "less traveled by".
• Frost: "It was my rather private jest at the expense of those who might think I would yet live to be sorry for the way I had taken in life."
Analysis• The poem is in iambic tetrameter.• Themes:• 1. The poem points to the core issue in life: the
choice of the road in one’s life. • Once the choice is made, he has to go along the
road. As life is short, an alternative choice is not permissible.
• 2. P196
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
• Whose woods these are I think I know,• His house is in the village though.• He will not see me stopping here,• To watch his woods fill up with snow. • My little horse must think it queer,• To stop without a farmhouse near,• Between the woods and frozen lake,• The darkest evening of the year.
• He gives his harness bells a shake,• To ask if there is some mistake.• The only other sound's the sweep,• Of easy wind and downy flake.
• 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.
• written in 1922 and published in 1923 in his New Hampshire volume.
• Imagery and personification are prominent in the work.
• It was Frost's favorite of his own and in a letter called it "my best bid for remembrance."
• This lyric poem is in iambic tetrameter quatrain.• It depicts a breathtaking view on a snowy evening in
the rural New England, the speaker feels as if standing in wonderland free of secular desires and worry.
• Passing the woods in a coach, the speaker is so attracted by the spectacular view that he stares at it in meditation before the horn bell brings him back to reality.
• The speaker leaves the woods conscious of the duty and responsibility.
Theme• Usually when two different desires occur at the
same time, there will be ambivalent feelings: • the persona stopped by woods, he is attracted by
the lovely and mysterious scene on one hand; • he has many many promises to keep and so many
things to do, on the other hand. • Frost wants to explores the ambivalent feelings
and small and large conflicts in the hearts. • p197
Tone of the poem
• The winter bleakness of the setting establishes a lonely tone.
• “frozen lake” “downy flake” “the darkest evening” “lovely, dark and deep” woods
Symbols 1. woods "the woods are lovely, dark and deep" (L13) ---a mysterious element ---in contrast to civilization The Scarlet Letter ---mazelike and full of hidden obstacles • Lines 1, 4, 7, 13: Some interpret the woods as an
extended metaphor for death. • Line 4: a clear and crisp image as it is described as
filled up with snow.
• 2. The Natural World • The ideas of the village, of a farmhouse,
or of the promises he must keep are not nearly as appetizing to the speaker as the cold beauty of the world around him.
• There's something very lulling about the "easy wind and downy flake" (L12), and we get the sense that the natural world is pretty compelling and pretty good at convincing our speaker to forget about civilization.
• Nature is powerful in this poem.
• Lines 6-8: a crystal clear image of the snowy woods and frozen lake at night.
• Line 11: can almost hear the sound of the wind in the alliteration of "sound's the sweep."
• Line 13: While the fact that the woods are "lovely, dark and deep" might not seem visually helpful, this description actually helps visualize the image of the woods even more clearly.
• 3. Line 2: The "village"
• a symbol for society and civilization.
• 4. Line 6: Farmhouses
• a symbol for society and civilization.
• 5. Lines 15-16: "Sleep"
• a metaphor for death.
Sound and Sense
• Rhythm: rigidly regular---iambic tetrameter
• rhyme scheme: a complex pattern of interlocking stanza.
• Each verse (save the last) follows an a-a-b-a rhyming scheme, with the following verse's a's rhyming with that verse's b, which is a chain rhyme.
• Overall, the rhyme scheme is aaba/bbcb/ccdc/dddd.
• The monotonous rhyme symbolizes the dull ordinary life.
• And Frost destroys the regular rhyme scheme in the last stanza on purpose, because he wants to show that the persona is attracted by the woods and thus his life regularity is changed.
• This attraction produces a sense of ambivalence in his inner heart.
Features of his Poetry
• 1) The subjects come from New England daily life of ordinary people.
• He wrote about what happened in the country, about farmers, about shepherds, about small rural events, isolated from urban society.
• 2. His themes might be simply defined first as • love, friendship, family, and social relationship, • and secondly as finding sufficient faith in the self,
nature, and the cosmos to fuel persistence amid suffering and chaos.
• The New England landscape he portrayed in his poems reflects the fragmentation of modern society.
• The grotesque characters under his pen reveal the tension of modern life and alienation among modern people.
• 3. As for his poetic style, he used simple language, a graceful style, and traditional form of poetry.
• He made his poems seem effortless by using colloquial and direct expression and conversational rhythms.
• He achieved an internal dynamics in his poetry by playing the rhythms of ordinary speech against the formal patterns of line and stanza.
• He liked rhyme, and enjoyed regular iambic meter. • Sometimes he used blank verse. • P197
• 4. He used symbols from everyday life to express profound ideas.
Influence on American Literature
• 1. Robert Frost was the most popular American poet of this century.
• He won many prizes and the American government presented him a gold medal in 1960 for his contribution to American culture.
• 2. Frost’s primary contribution to poetic technique is his theory of the “sounds of sense” or “sentence sounds”.
• Uniting the regularity of the iambic meter with the freedom of the speaking voice, Frost revolutionized blank verse.
• His poems often sound so much like talk.
• 3. His success mainly comes from two aspects:
• 1) he combined traditional poetic forms with American vocabulary and speech rhythms;
• 2) he worked individual poems into a larger unity by presenting in them a recurrent “persona” in the image of a wise country-folk.