What is Modern Poetry?

Background of the Modernism: Following the First World War (28 July 1914 - 11 November 1918) the mass destructions, loss of about 40 million human lives, cruelty, sensations of helplessness & hopelessness and violence motivated by predatory profit-motive as influenced by the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. This all resulted in an atmosphere of pessimism, existential crisis, and impetus of urgency to reconstruct the whole worldview in new ways which might happen to be better than the old ways. This theoretical urgency paved the way for Modernism with the Four Fathers of Modernism: Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche, whose theories deconstructed centuries-old worldviews and constructed novel ways of looking at life and the world. These changes became more vibrant in the 20th century which signifies the paradigm shift from 19th century Victorianism and long-cherished established rules, traditions, conventions, morals and values. Modernism became the negation of "traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religion, and social organisation.

Modern Writers:

  • break with the past
  • reject literary traditions that seemed outmoded
  • reject aesthetic values of their predecessors
  • reject diction that seemed too genteel to suit an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence
  • break with Romantic pieties and clichés (such as the notion of the sublime) and become self-consciously sceptical of language and its claims on coherence
  • Stylistic experimentation and disrupted syntax
  • Stream of Consciousness (a term coined by American psychologist William James to describe the natural flow of a person’s thoughts)
  • The theme of alienation: characters or speakers feel disconnected from people and/or society/the world
  • Focus on images

Formal features of Modern Poetry

  • Open form
  • Use of free verse
  • The juxtaposition of ideas rather than consequential exposition
  • Intertextuality
  • Use of allusions and multiple associations of words
  • Borrowings from other cultures and languages
  • Unconventional use of metaphor
  • The importance given to sound to convey “the music of ideas”

Free verse

  • Use of poetic line
  • The flexibility of line length
  • The massive use of alliteration
  • and assonance
  • No use of traditional metre
  • No regular rhyme scheme
  • Use of visual images in distinct lines

20th Century Development of Modern Poetry

Following the ideological, political, socioeconomic, and scientific qualitative changes that came during and after World War I and the Industrial Revolution modernist poetry developed under influence of the aftermath, and traumatic and post-traumatic existential crisis. 

1st Phase (1909 - 1916)

The earliest stage of the movement, the school of imagism, the impact of French symbolist poetry, style, and the predominance of war poetry were all various expressions of modernism in English poetry between 1909 and 16 AD.

2nd Phase (1917 - 1929)

All these early manifestations of modernism came together to find a full natural expression in the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, and later Yeats, most notably in Eliot's The Waste Land, Sitwell's Gold Coast Customs, and Yeats' Michael Robartes and the Dances, during the second phase of the movement, which took place between 1917 and 1929.

3rd Phase (the 1930s)

The 1930s, the years which are usually considered the third and last period of Modernism, are characterised by poets like Auden, Louis McNiece, C. Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender.

Major Trends in Modern Poetry 

Since modernism is replete with many "-isms", therefore, different modes of expression are experimented with in this age. Some of the major movements that greatly shaped modern poetry are detailed below:

Imagism (Developed 1912 - 1914)

Summarily: Imagism as a mode of expression focuses on producing concrete images in the poem for the reader to experience the feelings and sensations themselves.

The imagist poetic ideas were refined in the writings of Ezra Pound who was the founder of imagism. Imagism placed a strong emphasis on the benefits of conciseness, clarity, and accuracy in language. Imagists used witty and vivid imagery. The movement reached its pinnacle in 1914 when Pound published Des Imagists, an anthology of imagist poetry, in both England and America. Pound, H. D. Richard Aldington, F. S. Flint, Amy Lowell, James Joyce, and William Carol Williams were among the poets whose work was included in the anthology. In 1914, when Pound decided that Vorticism was more appealing, Amy Lowell led the imagist movement from there on.


Summarily: Reproducing art full of significant symbols of ideas and feelings.

French-based symbolism was a significant literary trend of the 19th century. Other names like as decadence, aestheticism, neo-romanticism, heresy, modernism, and imagism are frequently attached to it. This is how literary historians speak. A certain set of French authors, including Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme, and Paul Valery, are referred to be symbolists. Instead of using obvious meaning, the French symbolists used a sophisticated system of secret symbols in their poetry. This method had a significant impact on poets like Arthur Symons, Ernest Dowson, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, and others throughout Europe, England, and America. After World War I, literature had a remarkable rise in symbolism. Many prominent modern poets make use of symbols, some of which are created and some of which are taken from religious and esoteric traditions. Symbolism was the poetry of disappointed and even dejected idealists who looked to poetry as a kind of escape from the ugliness, hypocrisy, and rapacity of the industrialised society of the 19th century. Symbolist poetry stressed an ideal world beyond the material and sought an ideal language to convey that reality, in contrast to the materialist, utilitarian, and practical perspective of the universe.


Summarily: Reproducing realist reflection of reality without idealist and unreal notions.

Realism was a dominant force in poetry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This literary movement was a reaction to the previous Romanticism movement, which focused on idealism and emotion. Realists believed that art should represent the world as it actually is, wars and all. This was a departure from the idealized view of the world that romantics held. Some of the most famous realist poets include Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens. These poets wrote about the everyday mundane world in a way that was both new and fresh. Their poems gave readers a new way to see the world around them. While realism is not as prevalent in poetry today as it once was, there are still many poets writing in this style.


Summarily: Going to the extreme of realism by showing the private, psychological, fantastic and neurotic.

Naturalism is a literary movement that began in the late 19th century. It was a reaction against the idealism of the Romantic movement. Modern poets who are influenced by naturalism include Robert Frost, Theodore Roethke, and Sylvia Plath. Naturalism in poetry often focuses on the dark and ugly aspects of human life. This can be seen in Frost's poem "The Death of the Hired Man," which focuses on the death of a farmer who is not mourned by his family. In Roethke's "The Far Field," the speaker reflects on his life and how it has been shaped by tragedy and loss. And in Plath's "Daddy," the speaker confronts the dark reality of her father's death. While naturalism can be depressing, it can also be powerful and cathartic.


Summarily: Presenting unrefined first impression of everything by the poet.

Impressionism is often thought of as a style of painting, but it can also be found in other forms of art, including poetry. Impressionist poetry is characterized by its use of sensory language, symbolic imagery, and suggestive meaning. In many ways, impressionist poetry is the literary equivalent of impressionist painting. Both seek to capture a moment or feeling rather than to provide a full and complete picture. This makes impressionist poetry often very private and personal, as each reader will interpret the images and symbols in their own way. While impressionism is sometimes seen as an outdated style, it can still be found in the works of modern poets. In fact, some of the most popular and well-known poets of our time, such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, were heavily influenced by impressionism.


Summarily: Probing deep into one's own psyche and trying to express the hidden and deepest feelings as in confessional poems.

Expressionism is a modernist literary movement that emphasizes the inner emotions and experiences of the writer over the external world. Expressionist poets often use imagery and symbolism to convey their feelings and ideas. This poetic style can be seen in the work of many Modernist poets, such as T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and W.B. Yeats. In recent years, expressionism has also been used in more contemporary styles of poetry, such as confessional poetry and free verse. If you're interested in exploring expressionism in poetry, there are many great resources available. Start by reading some of the classic expressionist poets, and then move on to some of the more contemporary poets who are using this style today


Summarily: The way of imposing the mood of madness, intoxication, and neurosis to excite the illogical "language" of the unconscious

One of the main branches of modernism in the 20th century is surrealism. It is a modernist trend in the arts that sought to use amazing imagery and content juxtaposition to convey the unconscious mind's processes. Andre Breton, a French poet and critic, organised the movement that came out of Dadaism. Depending on its supporters, the movement took inspiration from turbulent interwar politics, Freud and Jung's theories of dreams, and studies of the occult, and the irrational. The goal of the surrealist was to depict reality as it truly exists. Although surrealism's primary medium is painting, it also had significant poets and writers. Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan, and others including W. H. Auden


Summarily: An important model of how political and ethical concerns can be incorporated into a poetry of formal experimentation based on objectivity rather than subjective emotions.

A loosely-knit group of second-generation Modernists that formed in the 1930s, mostly in America, is known as objectivism. Ezra Pound and William Carol Williams had a significant impact on the Objectivists. Imagism gave rise to Objectivism. The tangible items that the Objectivist offers are presented for their sensual properties rather than to communicate abstract notions. It illustrates the poet's major focus on creating an understandable framework of relationships rather than providing interpretations of reality. Additionally, Objectivists want to use language literally rather than symbolically. They generated a wide range of genres and had a significant impact on writers who followed the Modernist movement.

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