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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Modernism - 2



The modern writer was influenced by the emergence of city life as a central force in society.  He/she experienced a shift from a knowledge based aesthetic to a being-based aesthetic.  Central to literature were individualism, the randomness of life and the mistrust of government and religion.  Juxtaposition, irony and satire were used.  Writers turned away from Romanticism to concentrate on the mundane.  A movement to which Ezra Pound was central was Imagism.  Key to Imagism were exactness of observed detail, apt metaphors and economy of language.  This formula is still very influential to free verse poets. 

This would be a literature to suit an era of technological advance and global violence.  American poets such as Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost questioned and reinvented their artform.  I won't move on to post modernism yet and of Andy Warhol I haven't much to say, except that he made art of his popular culture.  I didn't know that he had been shot in the 1960's. 

The poem I have chosen to highlight from the modern period is Eliot's The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufock (which I have always loved, even though we didn't study it in Leaving cert it was still available to read in Soundings) even though The Wasteland is considered to be the greatest poem of the 20th c.  I've only ever read excerpts from The Wasteland.  I can't tell you the amount of times I have said to people Let us go then you and I when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table only for them to look at me strangely!  In this poem the poet places himself as one who is on hell on earth.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . . 10
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 20
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep

from The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufock, T.S. Eliot

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