High Modernism

High Modernism, 1918-1945

Rene Magritte, “Time Transfixed”


High Modernism is a loosely catchall term for literature that followed WWI — and in many ways existed in reaction to the war. I’ve included here the “war poets,” specifically Wilfrid Owen, whose “Dulce et Decorum Est” is probably the best-known poem of this genre, even though the High Modernist folks are very different in tone, style, and overall viewpoint from the war poets largely because both groups were profoundly affected by the war and its brutality and loss of life.         


 Please check the course lesson plans for weekly assignments and due dates.        

 Background Reading        

Note: Please be aware that in some cases, I have provided you 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  If the links are no longer valid, please contact me to let me know as soon as possible.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!! Note #2: Unless I’ve specifically said “This resource is optional” or “This reading is optional,” please assume that you are responsible for doing it, reading it, seeing it, or experiencing its wonderfulness for yourself.      


Pieter Breughel, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus"

 Assorted Questions          

“Acquainted With the Night”         

It’s always interesting in Frost to take a look at his use of sentences and structure.  In “Acquainted With the Night,” count up the lengths of the sentences compared to the number of lines per sentence.  For example, line 1 is one sentence long.  The number of lines in that sentence is therefore 1. Do this for all sentences in this poem.      

  • Do you see a “norm”?  What is that norm?
  •  Do you see a break from that norm?  Where does it come?
  •  Is this deviation from the norm related to meaning?

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

“The Emperor of Ice-Cream”

For this poem, we will be answering questions from p. 89 of Western Wind — too extensive to repeat here — but as preparation, ask yourself some of the following questions:     

  • What opposites (antitheses, ironies) do you see occurring in this poem?
  • Who is the “emperor”?
  • What is a “finale”?
  • Remembering that a symbol is a thing that represents an idea, choose three “things” — including the ice cream — that could be symbols in this poem.  What ideas could each one symbolize or represent?

“Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”

One fundamental — indeed, absolutely crucial technique used in modern poetry, one that lies behind that whole “collage” effect that modern poetry often uses, is the technique known as parataxis: the act of setting side by side.  In a collage, the parataxis is visual: in the Beatles’ famous cover for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, for instance, think about the relationship set up between the Beatles and such other prominent celebrities and cultural figures such as Marx, Freud, Poe, and comedian Lenny Bruce, all of whom appear in the cover.  (See the helpful Wikipedia article for more information.)  What relationships does this act of parataxis, of placing side by side suggest?  Why is Oscar Wilde next to John Lennon, for example…and so on.  

  • You, the reader, are the missing “bridge” between those elements.  You, the reader, supply the “connective tissue,” to borrow a more physical metaphor, between the ideas set side by side by the poet. To quote John Frederick Nims and David Mason, “Life, we might even say, is all parataxis: It presents us with situations and events; we have to determine their logical relationships” (Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, 4th Ed., p. 273).
  • After reading “Anyone Lived…” use the quotation from Nims and Mason above as a starting-point for a brief discussion in writing about the “situations and events” you find in e.e. cummings’ poem.  What are the “logical relationships” we find in this poem?
  • Before you begin this exercise, however, you really must do the following:
  • Identify all antitheses.
  • Identify the rhyme scheme.
  • Identify all references to time.
  • Identify all references to the changing of the seasons.
  • THEN… identify any and all places where the “norm” that Cummings has set up ALTERS or CHANGES.  Does the rhyme scheme alter?  How about the pattern of antitheses?  Of changing seasons?  Of time?  Where and why does that change occur?

Resources for the Media-Minded  Note: Please read/use/become inspired by /receive enlightenment from the following:   

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