Introduction to Literature

Poetry V: the Modern World

  • What do the poets, or you, think about the modern world, its capitalism, industrialism and wars?  Do you think our world is still "modern"? Or "post-modern"? 
  • How do the poets, or you, look at nature?  Is nature seen as an ideal, a metaphor, or part of the world?

  • Marcel Duchamp
    Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 1912. 
    "I completely gave up the naturalistic appearance of the nude, retaining only the abstract lines of some twenty different static positions in the successive descending movement," Duchamp.    
    William Wordsworth  (1770-1850)  
      Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)  
    W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
    Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
    Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

    Left: From Michael Wood, et al.  Art of the Western World New Yok: Summit, 1989:  274

    for Ray's class
    for Kate's class


    William Wordsworth  

    "The World is Too Much with Us" (1807)  
     --leading questions  

    Relevant Links  

    WW 1a. Wordsworth in 1806, aged 36, 
    by Sir George Beaumont. the portrait  from 
    A Literature and the Arts course
    "The World is Too Much with Us"
    ¡@ Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis;  2. Application & Wild Association

    Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis  

      1. The poem begins with the speaker complaining about people's values in the modern world. What exactly is he saying? What does he mean by "the world"? What does he think people are preoccupied with now?
      2. How does this situation affect the speaker?
      3. How does the speaker define nature?  Consider the images of sea, flower, and the mythological allusions to Proteus and Triton.
      4. What does the speaker of this poem think people in the modern world should do?
      5. This poem is a type of poem called a  "sonnet."  Look up the word "sonnet" in your handbook and describe the characteristics of a sonnet. How does the form (e.g. the rhythm, rhyme and meter) of this poem support its content?
    Application & Wild Association  
      1.  Compare "The World is Too Much with Us" with "I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud".
      2. Is "the world" too much with you?  How do you define "the world" today and how is it different from Wordsworth's?
    Relevant links:   back to the top


    Matthew Arnold   

    ¡§Dover Beach¡¨  

    Relevant Links

    from Matthew Arnold site, 
    with picture, bio. poems, and an essay on Arnold 
    "Dover Beach"
    Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis;  2. Application & Wild Association

    Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis  
    1.  Who is the speaker of this poem? Who is he talking to? What is their relationship like? What is the setting that is described in the first stanza?
    2. Why do you think the speaker would be talking to his lover about Sophocles, the Aegean Sea, the "Sea of Faith,"¨ and "ignorant armies"? Who was Sophocles? What does the speaker mean by the "Sea of Faith"? Who are the "ignorant armies"?
    3. To help you understand this poem you might want to review what you know about nineteenth century English history. Why was religious faith being criticized when this poem was first published in 1867?
    4. What is the relationship between the setting in stanza one and the description in stanza two of what Sophocles heard beside another sea? What is the relationship of the first and second stanzas to the "Sea of Faith" described in stanza three?
    5. The final stanza offers love as the solution for the problems that the speaker and his lover see in the world around them. Explain the meaning of love and its importance in this poem. Do you agree with Arnold's idea?

    6. What does this poem suggest about love and the modern world?
    Relevant links: ¡@  
      • "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold (A Reading guide): a teacher's step-by-step instructions with a simple test.
      • A poem written in response to "Dover Beach"
      • Brief student comments about the poem
      • an essay on Arnold and the modern age (by Irving Babbit)--
        • "The few writers, chiefly poets, who seem to Arnold to tend to imaginative wholeness, to combine ethical insight in an eminent degree with excellence of form, or, as he would say, high seriousness of substance with the grand style, he puts in a class apart; they differ from other writers not merely in degree but in kind.
      • An essay on "Dover Beach" and Eliot's  "Prufrock"
        •     "In the industrialized age of Arnold, people no longer were able to look upon nature for inspiration; the unpopulated country of Wordsworth's time was no longer accessible to a centralized people. The increased pace of life and urban crowding obviated the Romantic's luxury of reflection in natural solitude. While the poet observes nature in Dover Beach,  
          the experience is metaphorically useful, but not an end unto itself, nor does it bring any comfort. Rather, Arnold uses the futility that he sees in the ocean's tides to illustrate the fruitlessness of human endeavor."
      • Matthew Arnold site: with picture, bio. poems, and an essay on Arnold.
      • A Matthew Arnold Page: with bio and criticism.  [Under construction 11/25]
    back to the top¡@ 


    Anthony Hecht  

    ¡§Dover Bitch¡¨  

    Relevant Links  

    from A.R. Ammons and Anthony Hecht
    "Dover Bitch"
     by Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis;  2. Application & Wild Association
  • Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis
    1. How would you compare and contrast the speaker of this poem with the speaker of the previous poem?
    1. How does the speaker of this poem feel about the ideas that the speaker of ¡§Dover Beach¡¨ expresses? How do you think the speaker of ¡§Dover Beach¡¨ would respond to the opinions of this speaker? What do you think of their different points of view?
    2. Does your initial opinion of this speaker change by the time you finish the poem?
    3. How would you characterize this speaker¡¦s view of love and his relationship with the girl? How does that contrast with the ideas about love expressed in ¡§Dover Beach¡¨?

    4. What views of love and the modern world are presented in this poem?
    Relevant Links   back to the top¡@  

    W. B. Yeats  

    ¡§The Second Coming¡¨(1919)  

    Relevant Links  

    from Yeats The Second Coming
    with photo, the poem and Revelation, Chap 13

    "The Second Coming"
    Text, Annotations and Illustrations of the Gyre;
     Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis;  2. Application & Wild Association

    Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis  

    1.  The poem begins with the image of a falcon flying out of control. Do you know what falconry is? Describe it. Yeats is using this image from falconry to suggest the situation of the modern world. In what ways do you think the modern world is like the distant, circling falcon?  Can you give a specific examples of the 'things [that] fall apart"?
    2. This poem is heavy with allusions to the Bible and Yeats' own world views.  To fully understand it, you need to read the Text with Annotations.   BUT before doing that,  please read the poem out loud and feel tone of the speaker (e.g. the repetitions, exclamation and question at the end).
    3. After you've read the annotations, do you know what the Second Coming is? Is the Second Coming that Yeats expects the same as the Christian idea of the Second Coming?
    4. What vision does the speaker of the poem have? How does he respond to that vision? Can you explain in your own words what the speaker comes to know in lines 19 and 20?
    5. Explain the last two lines.
    6. What does Yeats suggest about the modern world in this poem?
    Application & Wild Association  
    1. Yeats wrote this poem in 1919, after the experience of World War I as well as other wars and human atrocities.  Do you think the situation of the world today is as bad as lines 3-8 suggest?
    2. Singer Joni Mitchell turns the poem into a song "Slouching Towards Bethlehem."  Does the two convey the same feelings about the modern world?  Which do you like better?
    3. Do you want to see another reproduction of Yeats' "Second "Coming"?  As a lively example of how famous the poem is, this page "reproduces" the poem by using titles from various books.
    Relevant links:   back to the top¡@


    Ezra Pound (1885-1972)  

     "In a Station of the Metro" (1911-1912)   

    Relevant Links  

    from HD and Ezra Pound, Poetic Conversations
    ¡§In a Station of the Metro¡¨
    the text with a picture and some background information
     by Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis;  2. Application & Wild Association

    Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis  

    1. The Metro is the name of the subway system in Paris. This poem, Pound claimed, describes his experience of coming out of a subway car (see Pound's notes in the text). The poem presents, instead of a story about this experience, two images, one in each line. Can you describe in your own words the image in the first line? What are the connotations for each of the important words in that line?  For instance, instead of the "beautiful face[s]" that Pound saw, why does he present "apparition of these faces"?
    2. Describe the image in the second line. What are the connotations for each word?  What do they make you feel?
    3. What is the relationship between the first line and the second line? Does the punctuation at the end of the first line help you to understand that relationship?  Can "the petals" and "the wet, black bough" be metaphors of anything?
    4. What is this poem suggesting about life in the modern world?

    5. Look at the web sites below about the literary movement called imagism. What are the characteristics of an imagist poem? In what ways is this poem an example of imagism?
    Application & Wild Association  
    1. What does this poem tell us about human perception?  Have you this kind of experience--of transforming a moment into a visual image, or some images?
    2. From Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,", "The World is Too Much with Us," Whitman's "I saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing" (and his other poems), Hardy's "Darkling Thrush", Arnold's "Dover Beach," to "In a Station of the Metro" (1911-1912) and  Yeats' "The Second Coming"(1919) , how is "the world" treated differently? How about nature?  As part of the world, its metaphor, or its opposite?
    Relevant links:   back to the top


    Langston Hughes  


    Relevant Links

    ¡@ Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis;  2. Application & Wild Association

    Questions for 1. Understanding & Analysis  

    1. This poem is about the speaker's individual dream and about the American dream. What is the American Dream?
    2. Do you know what and where Harlem is?  (if not, please read relevant link no. 3.)  Langston Hughes was an African American who lived for part of his life in Harlem. What does this poem suggest about the relationship of African Americans to the American Dream?
    3. Why do you think the poem consists mostly of questions? What is the effect of the many questions?
    4. Do you agree with the analysis of this poem that appears in our textbook on pages 502-7?
    5. What does this poem suggest about the life of African Americans in the modern world?
    Application & Wild Association  
    1. How is Hughes' version of the modern world different from Yeats' or Pound's?  So far you have read four poems by or about Afro-Americans: "Harlem" (1951), "We Real Cool" (1960)"Those Winter Sundays" (1962),  and "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio"(1963)Do they share similar concerns?  Or similar styles?  They were all written in or a little before the 60's.  Do you know what happened in the sixties?  Can you try to compare them with the modern poems you have read by Auden, Yeats, Frost, Pound and Williams?
    Relevant links:  
      • A photo with very brief biography
      • Langston Hughes Sites a lot of useful information, including About Langston Hughes (A brief biography of Hughes with links to other related material); The Boston Book Review (A review of The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes Edited by Arnold Rampersad); Dream Deferred (Another poem from Afro-American Fragments plus brief biography of Hughes with links to other related material); It's a Hughes Thang!!!!!(Historical information on Hughes including some interesting related links; Origins (About Hughes' early life while residing in Lawrence, Kansas); Poet Hero (An essay by Jeff Trussell); Works of Langston Hughes, etc.  
      • Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance: a page from Langston Hughes's  Sweet and Sour Animal Book, Discovery Theatre.   The SS page offers sound clips of readings of Hughes' poems.
      • Picture, biography and works
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