Early Modern Poetry

Early Modern Poetry, 1860-1918

Henri Matisse, “The Dessert”

Overview

Early Modernism is — as its name implies — a period of transition from earlier forms of art and literature into new explorations of language and form that challenged classic models.  A new cynicism and sense of alienation tends to dominate much of the literature of this period — an embittered attitude caused in part by the heavy casualties of WWI.

Lesson Plans

Good lesson plans on this unit can be found here: Modernist Poetry Introduction 

Helpful overviews on the following topics:

Essay assignment for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  can be found here.

Background Reading

In order to understand the early modern poets, it is fairly important to read about the poets and poetic movements out of which they emerged.  I’ve referred you here to some helpful articles about some pivotal figures and movements that you really must read before we begin talking about how modern poetry diverged from them.

NOTE: Readings are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.”  They are given to help you understand the course material.  If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you.  If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at burkerv@interact.ccsd.net with your suggestions.   

Note: Please be aware that these are Internet links and content may change.  If the links are no longer valid, please contact me to let me know as soon as possible.  As of this writing, all links are classroom-appropriate; however, if you find content on the sites has changed, please again inform me immediately.  Thanks!!

Texts

Early Modern American Poetry

  • Please read this 1885 selection from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” sections 1-7, from “I celebrate myself…” to “…and cannot be shaken away.”
  • Please read this selection by Emily Dickinson: I Heard a Fly Buzz, published in 1890, though written much earlier, probably around the 1860s.

Early Modern English Poetry

Imagists

Assorted Questions

NOTE:  Below are questions we will most likely be addressing in class.  These are put here for your convenience and reflection.  It would be helpful to you for you to review these questions and think about how you would answer them before we discuss these works together. 

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Outstanding questions on this poem are to be found at this site: “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – Discussion Questions”

Prufrock Classwork can be found here — Class activities, pointers for discussion, and more!

Essay assignment for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  can be found here.

  • What kind of person writes a love song?  Why are love songs often written?
  • What kind of name is “J. Alfred Prufrock”?  What initial opinion do we have of this speaker based on his name?  What about the “J.”?  The “Alfred”?  The “Prufrock”?  How does each element contribute to an initial understanding of this speaker?
  • What about the quotation from Dante’s Inferno that begins the poem?  How are our presuppositions about this poem affected by the fact that a) We have a quotation from the Inferno generally, and b) We have these specific words?
  • It begins with an invitation — “Let us go.”  Is the invitation accepted?  If not, why?  If so, where?
  • What kind of patterns do you see in this poem?  What ideas or words are repeated? 
  • How do the questions change over the course of the poem?  Keep track of the questions, looking especially at the verb forms.  Do you see a pattern from the opening question to the final one?  What has changed?
  • What changes about the verb forms used in the questions?  What does this change of verb form suggest about Prufrock’s progress?
  • Is this a love song?  If so, about what or to whom?
  • Where is the climax of this poem?  How does the rest of the poem shape itself around the climax?
  • Consider the major motifs in this poem: time, questions, death or stasis.  What is the author (or Prufrock himself) saying ABOUT these ideas?

“The Second Coming”

  • If Yeats’ “The Second Coming” possesses political overtones, as some authors assert, what are those political overtones?  That is, what political forces does the poem seem to refer to?  Is it better (for the poem) that those references are left vague and unspecified?

Adapted from a question in Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry (4th Ed.) by John Frederick Nims and David Mason.

Early Modern Poetry Resources for the Media-Minded

NOTE: Resources are mandatory unless specifically marked “Optional.”  Optional resources, like the optional readings, are just that — optional.  They are there for your convenience and to help expand your understanding of the course material.  If you’re having a hard time understanding something, the optional materials can often be very helpful to you.  If you have suggestions for optional material you would like to see on this page, please email me at burkerv@interact.ccsd.net with your suggestions.   

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