Showing posts with label modernist poems. Show all posts
Showing posts with label modernist poems. Show all posts

Saturday 22 May 2021

W.H. Auden Poems

 Poems: W. H. Auden [21 February 1907 - 29 September 1973]

Wystan Hugh Auden, known as W. H. Auden, was a prolific and influential poet of the 20th century. Born in 1907 in York, England, Auden's poetic career spanned over four decades, and his works covered a wide range of themes and subjects, from politics and war to love and spirituality. His poetic voice was distinctive, and his contributions to the field of literature were significant.

One of the key characteristics of Auden's poetry was his ability to blend traditional poetic forms with contemporary language and themes. He was able to take the classic poetic forms such as the sonnet or the ballad and infuse them with a modern sensibility, making them relevant to his time. This approach to poetry was particularly important during the mid-20th century when modernism was in full swing, and poets were experimenting with new forms and techniques.

Auden was also known for his ability to tackle complex and challenging themes in his poetry. For instance, in his poem "The Shield of Achilles," Auden presents a bleak and disturbing view of the world in the aftermath of World War II. The poem is a commentary on the horrors of war and the potential for violence that lurks within human nature. Similarly, in "September 1, 1939," Auden reflects on the political upheavals of the time and the need for hope and resilience in the face of adversity.

Another notable feature of Auden's poetry was his use of irony and wit. His poems often had a satirical or humorous edge that challenged the reader's assumptions and expectations. For example, in his poem "Miss Gee," Auden portrays the tragic life of a spinster in a small town, but does so with a touch of humor that undercuts the pathos of the situation.

Finally, Auden's poetry was marked by its spiritual and philosophical depth. He was deeply interested in questions of morality, ethics, and spirituality, and his poetry reflects this preoccupation. For example, in his long poem "For the Time Being," Auden explores the meaning of Christmas and the role of the divine in human affairs. He also wrote extensively on the nature of love, and the ways in which it can transform and enrich our lives.

W. H. Auden was a significant figure in the world of poetry, whose work continues to inspire and challenge readers today. His ability to blend traditional poetic forms with contemporary language and themes, his willingness to tackle complex and challenging subjects, his use of irony and wit, and his spiritual and philosophical depth all contributed to the enduring appeal of his poetry.

1. September 1, 1939

W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939" is one of the most powerful and influential poems of the 20th century. Written in the aftermath of the outbreak of World War II, the poem reflects on the political turmoil of the time, the rise of totalitarianism, and the sense of despair and anxiety that many people felt as they faced an uncertain future.

The poem is set in a bar in New York City, where the poet is observing the reactions of the people around him to the events that are unfolding. The opening lines of the poem are particularly striking, as they describe the mood of the city in the aftermath of the news of the war:
"I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade"
These lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a meditation on the state of the world at the time. Auden reflects on the failure of human beings to live up to their ideals, the danger of nationalism and totalitarianism, and the need for hope in the face of adversity.
One of the most powerful aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Auden uses vivid and evocative language to paint a picture of a world in crisis. He describes the "cracked tin tray" of the moon, the "thugs" who "can be heroes," and the "blind skyscrapers" that tower over the city.
Throughout the poem, Auden reflects on the idea of love and its role in the world. He writes that "we must love one another or die," and that love is the only way to overcome the forces of hatred and violence that threaten to destroy us. This idea is central to the poem, and it has resonated with readers for generations.
In the final stanza of the poem, Auden reflects on the role of poetry in times of crisis. He writes that "poetry makes nothing happen," but that it can provide comfort and solace to those who are struggling. He suggests that poetry can offer a way to transcend the limitations of the present moment, and to imagine a better future.
"September 1, 1939" is a powerful and moving poem that reflects on the political turmoil of the 20th century. Its vivid imagery, its powerful message of love and hope, and its reflection on the role of poetry in times of crisis have made it one of the most enduring works of literature of the past century.

2. In Memory of W. B. Yeats

W.H. Auden's poem "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" is a tribute to the great Irish poet who had recently passed away. Yeats was a major influence on Auden, and this poem is a reflection on his life and his work, as well as an exploration of the role of poetry in the modern world.
The poem is structured in four parts, each of which explores a different aspect of Yeats' life and work. The first part is a meditation on Yeats' poetry, and the ways in which it reflects the tensions and contradictions of his time. Auden writes that Yeats was able to "make us feel the tumultuous events he lived through" and that his poetry "mirrored the contradictions of his time."
The second part of the poem is a reflection on Yeats' personal life, and the ways in which his poetry was shaped by his experiences. Auden writes that Yeats was "no easy personality" and that his poetry was marked by a sense of "unresolved conflict." He suggests that Yeats' personal struggles were a key part of his creative process, and that his poetry was a way of working through those conflicts.
The third part of the poem is a tribute to Yeats' legacy, and the ways in which his poetry continues to resonate with readers today. Auden writes that Yeats was a "master of the artifice of eternity" and that his work continues to inspire and challenge readers to this day.
The final part of the poem is a reflection on the role of poetry in the modern world. Auden suggests that poetry has lost some of its power in the modern era, as we have become more cynical and skeptical of its ability to change the world. He writes that "poetry makes nothing happen," but that it can still provide comfort and solace to those who are struggling.
Overall, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" is a powerful and moving tribute to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Auden's exploration of Yeats' life and work, as well as his reflection on the role of poetry in the modern world, make this poem a timeless and enduring work of literature. It serves as a reminder of the power of poetry to inspire and transform us, and the importance of honoring those who have dedicated their lives to this craft.

3. Epitaph on a Tyrant

W.H. Auden's poem "Epitaph on a Tyrant" is a short but powerful reflection on the nature of dictatorship and the dangers of political power. The poem was written in the aftermath of World War II, a time when the world was still reeling from the atrocities committed by Hitler and other totalitarian leaders. The poem is a warning against the dangers of tyranny and a call to remember the lessons of the past.
The poem is structured as an epitaph, a memorial inscription that is typically written on a tombstone. In this case, the epitaph is written for a fictional tyrant, whose name is not given. The poem reflects on the characteristics of this tyrant, and the ways in which he abused his power.
The first stanza of the poem sets the tone, describing the tyrant as "Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after." This line is a clear indication that the tyrant is not simply a madman or a monster, but someone who was driven by a desire for control and order. The line also suggests that the tyrant's pursuit of perfection is what ultimately led to his downfall.
The second stanza of the poem describes the ways in which the tyrant maintained his power, through "fear and the fire of hate." This line is a reminder of the tactics used by many dictators to maintain their grip on power, through the use of propaganda, censorship, and violence.
The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as it reflects on the legacy of the tyrant and the lessons that can be learned from his life. Auden writes that "He held on tight and rode out the storm," suggesting that the tyrant was able to survive for a time, despite the damage that he inflicted. However, the final lines of the poem serve as a warning, reminding us that "In the nightmare of the dark/All the dogs of Europe bark."
Overall, "Epitaph on a Tyrant" is a haunting and powerful poem that serves as a warning against the dangers of political power. The poem is a call to remember the lessons of the past and to remain vigilant against the forces of tyranny and oppression. Auden's use of language is simple yet effective, and his message is one that remains relevant and important to this day.


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Introductory presentation by Students (2023)

Saturday 25 June 2016

Modernist Poems : Activity - Identify modernist metaphors in these short poems

10 Very Short Modernist Poems Everyone Should Read

Activity for sem 3 students: Read these small poems and identify "Modernist" symbols, imagery and metaphors. Post your observations on your blog and share the blog link as a comment under this blog.

Modernist poetry is often associated with long poems such as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, but modernism was also when poetry went small, thanks in no small part to Imagism, spearheaded by Pound himself. Here are 10 works of modernist poetry which couldn’t be accused of outstaying their welcome – none is longer than twelve lines.
T. E. Hulme, ‘The Embankment‘ (7 lines). T. E. Hulme (1883-1917) was an influential poet and thinker in the first few years of the twentieth century. He left behind only a handful of short poems – our pick of which can be read here – but he revolutionised the way English poetry approached issues of rhyme, metre, and imagery. ‘TheT E HulmeEmbankment’ is probably his best-known poem, a miniature modernist masterpiece spoken by a man fallen on hard times. The poem seems to invert Oscar Wilde’s famous line: we can all look at the stars, but some of us are in the gutter.
Joseph Campbell, ‘Darkness‘ (4 lines). Campbell was an Irish poet writing a similar kind of poetry to Hulme at around the same time, though they were working independently of each other. In a previous post we’ve offered four short poems by Joseph Campbell, including ‘Darkness’ – a very short piece of early modernist poetry. Poetry doesn’t come much more understated than this.
Edward Storer, ‘Image’ (3 lines). Storer was writing at around the same time as several other early modernist poets on this list, notably T. E. Hulme (whom he knew) and Joseph Campbell, though he started off writing independently of them. He was clearly influenced by Japanese forms such as the haiku, as the following poem demonstrates (we’ve included it here as it’s not readily available online):
Forsaken lovers,
Burning to a chaste white moon,
Upon strange pyres of loneliness and drought.
Ezra Pound, ‘In a Station of the Metro‘ (2 lines). Along with T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound is probably the most famous modernist poetworking in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century. Pound arrived at this two-line poem after writing a much longer draft which he then cut down, line by line. The poem describes the sight of the crowd of commuters at the Paris Metro station, using a vivid and original image.
H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), ‘The Pool‘ (5 lines). Hilda Doolittle and Pound both hailed from the US, and it was Pound who gave Doolittle the rebrand ‘H. D.’. They were even an item at one point. Along with Richard Aldington and Pound himself, H. D. was one of the main practitioners of Imagism, the short-lived poetic movement which Pound founded (and named) in 1912. ‘The Pool’ is one of H. D.’s finest short poems, about coming face-to-face with her reflection in the waters of a rock-pool.
Richard Aldington, ‘Insouciance‘ (5 lines).Aldington and H. D. were husband and wife in the 1910s and 1920s, and Aldington made up the trio of leading Imagists along with his wife and the movement’s founder, Pound. ‘Insouciance’ is about writing poems in the trenches – Aldington, like many men of his generation, saw action at the Western Front during WWI.
T. S. Eliot, ‘Morning at the Window‘ (9 lines). T. S. Eliot got his big break on the London literary scene thanks to Ezra Pound, who befriended his fellow expatriate American shortly after Eliot’s arrival in London in 1914. ThisT. S. Eliot 2poem was written in London in the same year, shortly after the outbreak of WWI – a context that may lurk behind the poem’s dark, oppressive images of everyday life. It’s an unrhymed poem, but look at the shared syntax of the line endings: ‘in basement kitchens’, ‘of the street’, and so on.
William Carlos Williams, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow‘ (8 lines). Perhaps one of the most divisive poems ever written, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ has variously been viewed as the epitome of Imagist practice and as barely ‘poetry’ at all. It first appeared in Williams’s 1923 volume Spring and All, a book which combined free verse with pieces written in prose. Some scholarly analyses of ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ can be found here.
Wallace Stevens, ‘Anecdote of the Jar‘ (12 lines).First published in 1919, this is one of Stevens’s best-known short poems. It appeared in his first volume of poems and has been baffling critics and readers ever since…
E. E. Cummings, ‘l(a‘ (9 lines). This poem appeared in 1958 in Cummings’ collection 95 Poems, so it’s really a late modernist work. Although it’s nine lines long, it only contains four words – cleverly arranged so that ‘a leaf falls’ appears parenthetically within the word ‘loneliness’. Richard S. Kennedy, Cummings’ biographer, called it ‘the most delicately beautiful literary construct that Cummings ever created’. We agree.
Some of the best short modernist poems (including several featured here) can be found in the excellent anthology Imagist Poetry (Penguin Modern Classics), which we’d heartily recommend. You can continue to explore the world of the short poem with these short Victorian poems.
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