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Universitatea Dunrea de Jos

din Galai
Facultatea de Litere
Limba i literatura romn Limba i literatura englez

Curs opional de
literatur englez
Prof. univ. dr. Michaela Praisler

Anul III, Semestrul 2


Facultatea de Litere

(Elective Course in English Literature
for 3rd Year Students)

Course tutor:
Professor Michaela Praisler


Introduction Recent Metamorphoses of Poetic Discourse

Chapter 1 Modernist Poetry


1.1. Imagist Poetry

1.2. Symbolist Poetry


Chapter 2 Contemporary Poetry


2.1. Group Poetry

2.2. Feminist Poetry
2.3. Multimedial Poetry


Chapter 3 Sample Responses to Individual Poems


3.1. Accessing Womens Silent Territories

3.2. Genre Crossovers, Architectural Palimpsests and Medial




Other Imagist Writing
Twentieth Century Perspectives on Poetry




Introduction Recent Metamorphoses of

Poetic Discourse
Twentieth century English literature may be divided into two phases:
modernism and postmodernism. In both phases, changes in literary
technique and subject matter are closely linked with comparable
transformations in music, art and architecture. Modernism and
postmodernism were also inspired by and contributed to social changes and
developments in philosophy, psychology, anthropology and science. Literary
modernism in England started during the first decade of the century, but
World War I played a major part in its development, contributing especially to
the sense of radical newness, of the apocalyptic and of destruction plus
desolation after the prolonged and massive slaughter of the war put an end
to the Victorian sense of stability and progress. As to postmodernism [1], it
remains a much controversial term, but it may be linked to a second, more
profound transformation of European culture at the close of World War II.
This war produced the death camps and the atomic bomb, and thus
generated a new understanding of mans inclination towards evil, of the
destructive potential of scientific knowledge, and of the perils of political
totalitarianism. The end of Empire and post-war changes in the world
economy and in the structures of political power involved new relationships
between Britain and other cultures.
In poetry, it was T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound who were the leading
spirits of modernism: Eliot through his poetry and his criticism, Pound to
some extent in his poetry, but more through his role as a man of letters,
theorist, starter of movements. Reacting against the Romantics and against
the conventions of Edwardian poetry, they introduced free verse, fragmentary
and innovative structures, allusive and erratic modes of thought, a fantastic
dimension meant to counteract the real.
Powerful accounts of the experience of war are found in the work of
the so-called War Poets, Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasoon,
Edmund Blunden, Ivor Gurney and Charles Sorley in particular. Some of
them had also been associated with the Georgian Poets who, in technical
terms, represented a relatively traditional strain in poetry. Three poets are
best considered independently of movements (which are, anyway, somewhat
arbitrary and temporary phenomena): William Butler Yeats, Thomas Hardy
and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Other poets who published major works before
1930 included David Herbert Lawrence, Robert Graves and the Scottish
poets Hugh MacDiarmid and Edwin Muir.
In the 1930s, poetry was dominated by political concerns. A group of
poets led by W.H. Auden employed the ideas of Marx and Freud and dealt
directly with contemporary social issues such as unemployment, class
conflict and the approach of the war, as well as exploring psychological
states. The main members of this group were Stephen Spender, Cecil Day
Lewis and Louis MacNeice. In the 1940s, The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas
achieved considerable popularity with his lyrical and rhetorical style of poetry.


Since 1945, two basic tendencies have been evident in English
literature, poetry included. One of these is identifiable with post-modernism
(considered as a phase of western culture and characterized by a continuing
interest in experimental techniques, the influence of philosophy and literary
theory existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism in particular) and
a creative interchange with continental, American, Latin-American and other
literatures. The second tendency is a reaction against aesthetic and
philosophical radicalism in favour of the reassertion of more traditional
modes; this tendency has an English and anti-cosmopolitan streak. However,
this division does not necessarily entail a polarized option; both tendencies
are sometimes found in the work of the same writer. This reassertion of
traditional values and modes was especially evident in the 1950s. The group
of poets who became known as the Movement favoured clarity, irony,
scepticism and a no-nonsensical tone; these included Philip Larkin, Donald
Davie and John Wain.
During the 1960s, a number of major poetic talents emerged: Ted
Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Charles Tomlinson, Geoffrey Hill and Seamus Heaney.
As far as they are concerned, the cause of poetry abandoned the gentility of
the Movement and absorbed the implications of psychoanalysis and World
War II. Hughes poetry of extremity, physicality, anthropomorphism and the
creation of myth rapidly gained him popularity and a place on the school
syllabus. Plath, like Eliot and Pound, came to England from the U.S.A.; she is
best known for her powerfully sensuous and symbolic exploration of
disturbed states of mind, which associate her with fellow Americans such as
Robert Lowell and John Berryman. Charles Tomlinson and Geoffrey Hill are
poets with smaller, but devoted followings of similar issues. Tomlinson is very
much a cosmopolitan poet, influenced by American and continental models,
and by the paintings of Czanne; his poems render the visual perception, its
process and significance, with an unerring subtlety. Hills work combines
religious and historical subject matter and an almost overpowering sense of
tradition with an intensely physical imagination and a post-modernist
scepticism about the ability of language to engage with reality. Heaneys
work, with its sensuous precision, its involvement with Irish political issues
and its deeply personal, yet highly accessible concerns, has made him one of
the most popular and admired of contemporary poets, pre-eminent among a
flourishing group of Ulster poets, including Paul Muldoon, John Montague,
Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.
All the poets mentioned so far have developed within the framework of
the two essential concepts that go into the making of our most troubled
century: modernism and postmodernism. While the former carries the
connotations of transgression and rebellion, being a break away from
nineteenth century values and challenging, even destroying cultural
definitions, the latter resists the very idea of boundaries. It regards distinction
as undesirable, even impossible, so that an almost utopian global world, free
from all constraints, becomes possible. The slow transition from modernism
to postmodernism was the result of the last twenty years that have witnessed
a change in attitude towards focussing upon a series of unresolvable
philosophical and social debates, such as race, gender and class.
Nevertheless, postmodernism has many interpretations and no single
definition. Different disciplines have participated in the postmodernist debate
and movement in varying ways; for example, in architecture traditional limits


have become indistinguishable, so that what was commonly on the outside of
a building is placed within and vice versa. In literature, as has already been
stated, writers adopt a self-conscious intertextuality, sometimes verging on
pastiche, which denies the formal propriety of authorship and genre. In
commercial terms, postmodernism may be seen as part of the growth of
consumer capitalism into a multi-national and technological identity. Its allembracing nature thus makes postmodernism as relevant to street events as
to the avant garde, and as such is one of the major focal points in the
emergence of interdisciplinary and cultural studies.
To return to poetry and to what has become of it, one has to look
deeper into the essence of things, although the prospect is not entirely
promising. The vice of the age (our own) may well be a sort of
deliberateness, a chafing against the bondage of a formed style and an
exhausted subject matter. It is a deliberateness evident in generic choices
(including the historical sequence), in forms, in diction. It is not always an
imaginative deliberation, something we expect from the highest poetry, but
more a sense that the poems are constructed and do not have the sanction
of the pulse or of the discovering intellect. There is a kind of poetry which
seems to be the fruit of analysis rather than forceful synthesis, following from
rather than preceding critical thought. It is a poetry that is aware of its being
poetry; it lacks spontaneity, inevitability and a universe of its own. It is praised
by academic critics and poet-critics, who tend to undervalue the basically
imaginative mainstream English poetry.
Modern poetry, as we usually understand it, is something that appears
aggressively and consciously different from the poetry of the past. In this
sense of modern, the poet fights back tradition in search of innovation and
originality, but remains at the same time very much hereditarily marked by
precursors and their works. The search for a style and a typology becomes a
self-conscious element in the Modernists literary production; he is
perpetually engaged in a profound and ceaseless journey through the means
and integrity of art. In this sense, modernism is less a style than a search for
a style in a highly individualistic sense; and indeed the style of one work is no
guarantee for the next. [2]
The postmodern equivalent is rooted in contemporaneity and
corresponds to needs, impulses, attitudes which did not arise in the same
fashion for poets in the past, as our attitudes to man, to nature, to the
universe change with every generation and have changed with unusual
violence in recent years. From the symbolism, decadence, impressionism,
imagism and vorticism of modern poetry, a shift has been made to feminist
and postcolonial concerns (with Elizabeth Jennings, U.A. Fanthorpe, Feur
Addock, Jackie Kay, Sujata Bhatt, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Fred DAguiar),
confessionalism (with John Fuller, James Fenton, Craig Raine), performance
(with Roger McGough, Adrian Mitchell, Benjamin Zephaniah, Julia Darling),
sexuality (with Wendy Cope, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Clanchy), technical
versatility (with Simon Armitage, Glyn Maxwell, Don Patterson, Kathleen
Jamie), political fables (with Sean OBrian, Ian Duhig, Michael Donaghy,
Ciaran Carson), to a reevaluated textual and contextual realism in a word,
manifesting itself in the special concern with accumulation and re-writing, in
creating selective literary canons, in playing with language, in forwarding
texts as games (puzzles) to be solved if form is to provide any sort of access
to content. The Martian poetry of the 80s (presupposing an affirmation of
difference as the voices of other cultural forms break out from the body of


Eng.Lit.) and the New Generation poetry of the 90s (bringing the margins to
the centre and remapping the contemporary complex cultural background)
are clear manifestations of the postmodern crave for plurality and dynamism,
for challenging established patterns and weaving a dense structurality, all of
which ask for a reading lite, a cultivated consumer of a literature which is
becoming increasingly threatening because eclectic and difficult.
[1] see Ihab Hassan, The Postmodern Turn, Essays in Postmodern Theory
and Culture, 1987: 87-90, where ten conceptual problems related to
postmodernism are mentioned and the debate starts from the consideration
of the term itself: The word postmodernism sounds not only awkward,
uncouth; it evokes what it wishes to surpass or suppress, modernism itself.
The term thus contains its enemy within, as the terms romanticism,
classicism, baroque and rococo do not. (87)
[2] Malcolm Bradbury; James McFarlane (eds), Modernism, 1976: 29


1910 Between Tradition and Innovation (E. Pound, J. Joyce, D. H.

- metaphysical poetry influenced by imagism and vorticism
- poetry which intensifies and condenses (following Browning and
- the lyric form replaces the narrative poem and the novel-poem

1920s Undertones of War (S. Sassoon, W. Owen)

- challenges the prevalent philosophy of language (as transparent,
reflecting reality)
- self-conscious poetry, which foregrounds form over content
- breaks in poetic consciousness and linguistic coherence

1930s Return to Symbolism (W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot)

- the problem of poetry feeds into the problem of culture
- redefines the condition of art and the artist
- modernist relativity of time and perspective
- politicization of writing and immersion into the daily, ugly and banal

1940s The Apocalyptics (D. Thomas, H. D., W. S. Graham)

- unbridled, undisciplined
- free language from the boundaries of rationality
- work through rearrangements, permutations of statements
- allow meaning to self deconstruct
- explore the outer reaches of paranoia
- disturbing meeting of mental illness and political repression



1950s The Movement (P. Larkin, D. Davie, E. Jennings)

- post-war Anglo-Saxon rationalism
- repulsion for grand gestures
- mask of the minipoet
- a no-nonsense tone
- reaction against the excesses of the 1940s
- parochialism and provincialism replacing eclectic internationalism

1960s The Group (T. Gunn, T. Hughes, S. Plath)

- striving to break the minipoet mould
- a poetics of irrationality and violence
- combine a sense of tradition with physical imagination
- postmodernist skepticism about the possibility of language to engage
with reality
- confessional writing, expressionism, internationalism
- approach primal passions and taboos

1970s The Regional Schools (R. McGough, S. Heaney, P. Muldoon,

D. Mahon)
- Liverpool, Newcastle, Ulster
- result of establishment of small presses outside monolithic publishing
- experimental and avant garde work
- Liverpool: a British version of American Beat poetry
- Newcastle and Ulster: fought the cultural imperialism of the south-east

1980s Martian Poetry (D. Levertov, R. Fainlight, C. Reid, J. Agard)

- presents everyday objects as if seen for the first time by aliens visiting
- an affirmation of difference and otherness
- voices of other cultural forms break out from the broken body of Eng.
- marginalisation and the literary crisis shape opens the canon from
within poetry itself

1990s New Generation Poetry (W. Cope, C. A. Duffy, S. Armitage)

- chic, sophisticated poetry; multiverse and a plurality of voices
- politicizes the problems of what constitutes a poem and of who the
poet is
- questions what is British in British poetry
- inner emigres (black, female or Irish) continue to feel homeless
- English poetry seems to undergo a death process



Chapter 1 Modernist Poetry

1.1. Imagist Poetry

EZRA POUND (1885-1972)
A. Bio
born in Hailey, Idaho, USA
spent most of his life in Europe (England, France and Italy)
education in Romance languages
developed the imagist movement together with Hilda Doolittle
encouraged and supported many new writers of the time
collaborated closely with the Dadaists and the surrealists
wrote for various prestigious literary magazines
translated Provencal and Chinese poetry, works in Greek and Latin
became interested in Chinese Noh plays
received accusations of anti-Semitism, fascism, treason
wrote his main works in prisons and mental institutions in Italy and the
USA (1945 - 1957)
died in Venice
B. Works
- A Lume Spento (1908)
- A Quinzaine for This Yule (1908)
- Exultations (1909)
- The Spirit of Romance (1910)
- Provenca (1910)
- Canzoni (1911)
- Ripostes (1912)
- Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)
- Poems, 19181921 (1921)
- Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound (1926)
- Selected Poems (1928)
- Homage to Sextus Propertius (1934)
- The Cantos of Ezra Pound (1948)
- Cathay (1915)
- Twelve Dialogues of Fontenelle (1917)
- Remy de Gourmount: The Natural Philosophy of Love (1922)
- Confucius: Ta Hio: The Great Learning, newly rendered into the
American language (1928)
- Confucius: Digest of the Analects (1937)
- Confucius: The Great Digest; The Unwobbling (1951)
- The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius (1954)
- Sophocles: The Women of Trachis. A Version by Ezra Pound (1956)



Essays (a selection)
- A Few Donts by an Imagiste (1913)
- Imaginary Letters (1930)
- How to Read (1931)
- ABC of Economics (1933)
- ABC of Reading (1934)
- Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935)
- Polite Essays (1937)
- Culture (1938)
- What Is Money For? (1939)
- Patria Mia (1950)
- Brancusi (1957)

C. Specificities
The poet-critic
- initiator and representative of the imagist movement (Des Imagistes,
- main points made in A Few Donts by an Imagiste (1913)
- language:
- What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of
- Dont imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of
- Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the
decency to acknowledge the debt outright.
- Dont allow influence to mean merely that you mop up the
particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom
you happen to admire.
- Use no ornament or good ornament.
- rhythm and rhyme:
- Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can
discover, preferably in a foreign language so that the meaning of
the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the
- Let the neophyte know assonance and alliteration, rhyme
immediate and delayed, simple and polyphonic, as a musician
would expect to know harmony and counter-point and all the
minutiae of his craft.
- Dont imagine that a thing will go in verse just because its too dull
to go in prose.
- Dont be descriptive; a painter can describe a landscape much
better than you can.
- Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an
advertising agent for a new soap.
- That part of your poetry which strikes upon the imaginative eye of
the reader will lose nothing by translation into a foreign tongue; that
which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the
- Dont mess up the perception of one sense by trying to define it in
terms of another. This is usually only the result of being too lazy to
find the exact word. To this clause there are possibly exceptions.



- he was part of the modernist movement, supporting and collaborating
with James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot,
Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Ford Madox Ford etc;
- as a modernist, Pound reacted against the Victorian legacy of poetic
diction (as represented by Alfred Tennyson among others), which he
found to be pompous and propagandistic
- language:
- Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal
- Dont use such an expression as dim land of peace; it mixes an
abstraction with the concrete.
- Go in fear of abstractions.
- rhythm and rhyme:
- Dont chop your stuff into separate iambs. Dont make each line
stop dead at the end, and then begin every next line with a heave.
Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave,
unless you want a definite longish pause.
- Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of
your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning.

Read the texts below and underline: the power and impact of the
visual component; the inner symbolism of the image constructed by Pound in

L'Art, 1910
Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.

Paganis, November 8
Suddenly discovering in the eyes of the very beautiful
Normande cocotte
The eyes of the very learned British Museum assistant.

And the Days Are Not Full Enough

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.



1.2. Symbolist Poetry

A. Bio
born in Dublin
lived in London
attended the Dublin School of Art
became interested in
- the occult
- Irish legends
- the cause of Irish independence
back in London: starts his literary career
marries Georgie Hyde-Lees
writes poems, plays, political essays
in his later years, serves as an Irish senator
founds the Abbey Theatre
1923 awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (as a poet)
B. Works
- The Wanderings of Usheen [Oisin] and other Poems (1889)
- Poems (1895)
- The Secret Rose (1897)
- The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)
- In The Seven Woods (1903)
- Collected Works in Prose and Verse (1906)
- The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910)
- Responsibilities: Poems and A Play (1914)
- Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1920)
- The Tower and Other Poems (1928)
- Words for Music, Perhaps (1932)
- The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)
- A Full Moon in March (1935)
- Dramatis Personae (1935)
- New Poems (1938)
- Last Poems (1939)
- The Land Of Heart's Desire (1894)
- The Countess Cathleen (1912)
- The Hour Glass (1913)
- Four Plays for Dancers (1921)
- Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902)
- On Baile's Strand (1904)
- The King's Threshold (1904)
- The Shadowy Waters (1906)
- Deirdre (1907)
- The Green Helmet (1908)



- The Celtic Twilight (1902)
Short stories
- Out of the Rose (1893)
- Rosa Alchemica (1897)
- Stories of Red Hanrahan (1897)
- Synge And the Ireland of His Time (1911)
- Essays 1931-1936 (1937)

C. Specificities
The poet
- felt the need for a system, since he saw the work of the writer as
multiple and fragmentary
- sees poems as lighting up one another, referring to one integral
whole (the poet himself)
- it is the poet who should possess an arrangement of beliefs promoting
a sense of unity
- the poets task is to establish some sort of integrity through fiction or
imagination, for an otherwise chaotic world
- art is superior, in this respect, to science, religion or philosophy
- universal humanity is represented by the stored images of the
unconscious, evoked by symbolism in writing
- an adept of the symbolism of Blake and Shelley and of the occult
traditions which seek a unitary explanation for the world and the soul
- some of the systems he grew interested in:
- the system of the Theosophical Society (which he joined in 1877),
inspired from Indian philosophy: reincarnation and cyclical lives
- the system of the Cabbalist McGregor Mathers and of the Society of
Hermetic Students of the Order of the Golden Dawn, seeking access,
through symbol, into a place he calls THERE, where everything falls
back into place
- Yeatss system of beliefs
- necessary in view of avoiding multiplicity in personality
- emphasises his understanding of the character of his times as
- serves to underline the role of the artist/poet as creator of a single
intelligible world, where reality and justice come together as one
- allows him to continually make and remake his poetry: old writings are
integrated into patterns later established
* the Cabbala - a set of esoteric teachings which aim at explaining the
relationship between an eternal and mysterious Creator and the mortal
and finite universe (His creation).

Poem Types and Main Themes

His poems cover a wide range of forms/modes:
- songs
- ballads
- romantic meditations
- elegies
- tragedies
- Themes (all including a meta dimension):
- personal



- political
- doctrinal
- the bird universal spiritual elevation; man in search of knowledge
- the tree emanation of that which is above and which, through
various letter and number relationships can be combined into an
infinite series of designs (archetypal man)
- the rose Ireland (Rose, a girl with black hair); the cross (the fourleafed rose); beauty (Maud Gonne)
- the tower and the winding stair correspondence between the ideal
and the physical world; channel of communication between the world
above and the world below; life
- the Mask secret selves; a means of escape, retreat
- the Gyres opposite features; man as both subjective and objective
- the Great Wheel 28 phases of the moon; 28 basic types of
personality (each with an opposing mask); universal unity (brings
everything together in the centre: there)

Read the poems below and point out the characteristics of Yeatsean
poetic discourse, keeping in mind the broader philosophical ideas forwarded
by the poet.

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?




Sailing to Byzantium
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
Those dying generations, at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unaging intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.


A. Bio:
born in St. Louis, Missouri, USA
came from a Unitarian family
educated at Harvard & Oxford
studied in Paris (philosophy of Henri Bergson)
studied in Germany (left when the war broke out)
editor, playwright, poet, university lecturer
1915 marries Vivienne Haigh-Wood
1927 adopts British citizenship; converts to Anglicanism
1948 awarded Nobel Prize for Literature
1957 remarries (Esme Valerie Fletcher)



dies of emphysema; buried in East Coker, the village from which his
ancestors had emigrated to America
commemorated in the Poets Corner Westminster Abbey

B. Works:
- Prufrock and Other Observations (1917)
- Poems (1919)
- The Waste Land (1922)
- Poems, 1909-1925 (1925)
- Ash Wednesday (1930)
- East Coker (1940)
- Burnt Norton (1941)
- The Dry Salvages (1941)
- Four Quartets (1943)
- The Complete Poems and Plays (1952)
- Collected Poems (1962)
- Sweeney Agonistes (1932)
- The Rock (1934)
- Murder in the Cathedral (1935)
- The Family Reunion (1939)
- The Cocktail Party (1950)
- The Confidential Clerk (1953)
- The Elder Statesman (1958)
- The Sacred Wood (1920)
- Andrew Marvell (1922)
- For Lancelot Andrews (1928)
- Dante (1929)
- Tradition and Experimentation in Present-Day Literature (1929)
- Thoughts After Lambeth (1931)
- John Dryden (1932)
- After Strange Gods (1933)
- The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)
- Elizabethan Essays (1934)
- Essays Ancient and Modern (1936)
- The Idea of a Christian Society (1940)
- The Classics and The Man of Letters (1942)
- Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1949)
- Poetry and Drama (1951)
- Religious Drama: Mediaeval and Modern (1954)
- The Three Voices of Poetry (1954)
C. Specificities
The poet-critic
- A conscious poet, speculating on the nature and function of poetry;
- Distinguishes between:
- structure (the positive, rational will)
- texture (produced by negative imagination)
- Deliberately builds structure and allows talent and spontaneity to
stamp texture;
- Aware of the relationship of the present with the past and of the poet
with his precursors defines poetic outlook and sensitivity;


- Places individual writers within the chain of literary tradition, to which
they belong despite originality and innovative modes of writing.
- The collective mind is a richer reservoir than the private mind;
- Language is a development of feeling (allowing the sharing of
- Unity in poetry is sought in view of counteracting the fragmentation of
everyday life;
- Vaguely emotional language about vague emotions should be
corrected by the introduction of an objective correlative;
- Poetic idiom should be closely related to contemporary speech;
- The poet should attempt personal verse variations, capable of
disclosing the voice beyond the text;
- The evil spirit of the age should be revealed for social criticism to be
possible at the level of the text, eventually managing to influence the
- Culture and religion are identical, in that they both manifest
themselves within and have a powerful impact on the social stage;
- Careful consideration needs to be given to frames of mind and
patterns of behaviour (having defined humanity in time and across
boundaries of space);
- Emphasis should be placed on the role of culture, literature and the
self in approaching a problematic century marked by two world wars
and gradually moving towards an apocalyptic denouement.
- Blakes symbolism
- Brownings dramatic monologue
- Swinburnes technical innovation
- French symbolism (Rimbaud, Valery)
- intricate patternings
- intertextuality
- symbolism
- juxtaposition of worlds (real and fantastic)
- manipulation of words
- subjectivity of time and perspective
- free association
- stream of consciousness
- use of colloquial language
- urban imagery

Read the poem below and identify the specific features of Eliots
diction and style, also emphasising the modernist philosophy converging on
the subjectivity of time.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised 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...
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,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair (They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin (They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,



I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?...
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet - and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all" If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all."



That is not it, at all.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor And this, and so much more? It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old ... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.




Chapter 2 Contemporary Poetry

2.1. Group Poetry

TED HUGHES (1930-1998)
A. Bio
born in Yorkshire (Mytholmroyd)
1949-1951: did National Service in the RAF
studied English, anthropology and archaeology at Pembroke College,
lived in Devon most of his adult life
travelled to the US
1956: married Sylvia Plath; separated in 1962
1963: became executor of Plaths literary estates
battles with suicidal attempts of family members (Sylvia Plath, Assia
Wevill and his daughter by her); following his death, his son by Plath also
commits suicide (2009)
1984-1998: British Poet Laureate
1998: awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II
B. Works:
Plays, Translations, Books for Children, Short Stories, Essays
Poetry collections:
- The Hawk in the Rain (1957)
- Lupercal (1960)
- Wodwo (1967)
- Crow (1970)
- Cave Birds (1975)
- Gaudete (1977)
- Moortown (1979)
- River (1983)
- Flowers and Insects (1986)
- Wolfwatching (1989)
- Birthday Letters (1998)
C. Specificities:
- reaction against the imaginative narrowness of The Movement
(although his own poetry suffers from sameness of tone)
- associated with The Group
- he intensifies, rather than moves forward
- approaches primal passions and taboos
- adds a marked cultural component
Main themes:
- awareness of nature
- fascination with the animal world



- the myth of World War I (the cultural, political, psychological
dislocation it brought about)
- concern with violence, power and survival in the animal world and in
the historical, social world
- All are mixed into a kind of anthropological allegory of ambitious
- formally, his poems are well controlled, to produce a maximum effect
without threatening the overall cohesion
- they induce a feeling of progressive unease on each re-reading
- uses images (rather than language) to express content
- jostling syntax, drummingly irregular in 3 and 4 stressed lines
- experience is not described, but embodied fully
- avowed disregard of the terrible, suffocating, maternal octopus of
English poetic tradition
- modernist attempts at reinvigorating language and form so as to
restore some meaning to an otherwise incomprehensible world

Read the text below, concentrating on: the main theme(s); the poems
central dichotomies; the images of the zoo and their cultural implications.
The Jaguar
The apes yawn and adore their fleas in the sun.
The parrots shriek as if they were on fire, or strut
Like cheap tarts to attract the stroller with the nut.
Fatigued with indolence, tiger and lion
Lie still as the sun. The boa-constrictors coil
Is a fossil. Cage after cage seems empty, or
Stinks of sleepers from the breathing straw.
It might be painted on a nursery wall.
But who runs like the rest past these arrives
At a cage where the crowd stands, stares, mesmerized,
As a child at a dream, at a jaguar hurrying enraged
Through prison darkness after the drills of his eyes
On a short fierce fuse. Not in boredom
The eye satisfied to be blind in fire,
By the bang of blood in the brain deaf the ear
He spins from the bars, but theres no cage to him
More than to the visionary his cell:
His stride is wildernesses of freedom:
The world rolls under the long thrust of his heel.
Over the cage floor the horizons come.




SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963)
A. Bio:
born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
mother: Austrian; father: German
brought up in the Unitarian faith; following her fathers death in 1940 (foot
amputation & diabetes), she remained ambivalent about religion
educated at Smith College (USA) and Cambridge (UK)
wife of Ted Hughes
daughter: Frieda; son: Nicholas
worked as a journalist in the UK and the US
1959: settled in London
became a professional poet
committed suicide (asphyxiation)
posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize
B. Works:
books for children
novels and collected prose
collections of poetry
- The Colossus and Other Poems (1960)
- Ariel (1961-1965)
- Three Women: A Monologue for Three Voices (1968)
- Crossing the Water (1971)
- Winter Trees (1971)
- The Collected Poems (1981)
- Selected Poems (1885)
- Plath: Poems (1998)
- Sylvia Plath Reads (2000)
C. Specificities:
- Dylan Thomas (the continuing process of life and death)
- William Butler Yeats (revisions of the past)
- Marianne Moore (poetry a matter of skill and honesty)
Main themes:
- states of mind in extremity
Private vs Public:
- autobiographical vein; however, her poetry cannot be marginalised as
a depoliticised expression of private agonies
- awareness of the political nature of writing for a woman
- insistence on parallels between her own experience and disturbing
historical and political reality
- in modern mythology, she exemplifies the self-consciously tragic
poetic genius figure
- relentlessly pursues the question of the I, of poetry and madness
- successive personal and public deaths are brought forth
- warfare scrutinised with a sharp killers eye
- grotesque and erotic drives



combines bold imagery and original rhythms with strenuous artistic

Read the texts below and underline: the personal/cultural/historical
dimension; the intertext holding the poem together; the language games
Lady Lazarus
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it ----A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify? ----The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot ----The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands,
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,



Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say Ive a call.
Its easy enough to do it in a cell.
Its easy enough to do it and stay put.
Its the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:
A miracle!
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart ----It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.



You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there ----A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

2.2. Feminist Poetry

WENDY COPE (1945 - )
A. Bio:
born in Kent;
read History at St Hilda's College, Oxford;
trained as a teacher at Westminster College of Education, Oxford;
taught in primary schools in London (1967-81 and 1984-6);
Arts and Reviews editor for Contact, the Inner London Education
Authority magazine;
became a freelance writer in 1986; television critic for The Spectator
magazine until 1990
B. Works:
selected poetry collections:
- Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (1986)
- Serious Concerns (1992)
- If I Don't Know (2001)
- Family Values (2011)
C. Specificities:
Within and against tradition:
- She chooses to parody the great names of literary tradition.
- The mundane aspects of English life she focuses on are made
memorable through the vivid imagery and conversational ease of her
poetic diction.
- She tackles the most serious of issues via irony and witty remarks,
- Her comic verse and her poetry for children has made her one of the
most popular poets today.
Main themes:
- women in domestic circumstances
- otherness revisited
- violence, exploitation vs acceptance, passivity
- time vs timelessness



stereotypical representations of womanhood
mimetic approaches to everyday realities
cultural symbolism
artificiality, theatricality of life
deliberate in-built ambiguities
colloquial language

Read the text below in view of emphasising: the myth(s)
deconstructed; the feminist/anti-feminist positions expressed; the ironic tone
Being Boring
If you ask me Whats new?, I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but its better today.
Im content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.
There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion Ive used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, Im thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If youre after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.
I dont go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you dont need to find a new lover?
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that Ive found a safe mooring,
Ive just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.


A. Bio:
born in Kent;
attended St. Anne's College, Oxford (1949-53) and the University of
London Institute of Education (1953-4);
assistant English teacher, and later Head of English, at Cheltenham
Ladies' College (1962-1970);
in 1971, took a diploma in school counselling at University College,
Swansea, and later worked as a hospital clerk in Bristol;



Arts Council Writing Fellow at St Martin's College, Lancaster (1983-5),
and Northern Arts Literary Fellow at the universities of Newcastle and
Durham (1987-8);
Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature;
holds honorary doctorates from the University of West England and the
University of Gloucestershire;

B. Works:
selected poetry collections:
- Side Effects (1978)
- Standing to (1982)
- Voices off (1984)
- Selected Poems (1986)
- A watching brief (1987)
- Neck-verse (1992)
- Safe as House (1995)
- Consequences (2000)
- Christmas Poems (2002)
- Queuing for the Sun (2003)
- Collected Poems (2004)
C. Specificities:
- a typically English poet
- celebrates the peaceful countryside scenery, the age old customs and
- adopts a feminine stance
Main themes:
- the cycle of life and death
- power and powerlessness
- necessary statements against patriarchy
- symbolism
- antithesis
- clear perception, active intervention
- sharp, critical eye
- elegant syntax
- subtle thought
- a weary female voice
Read the text below and comment on: the personae, the voices, the
perspectives, the atemporality, the embedded criticism of the poem.
Mother Scrubbing the Floor
She had a dancers feet, elegant, witty.
We had our fathers, maverick spreaders of dirt.
Dirt from London, dirt from Kent.
Mud, dust, grass, droppings, wetness, things,
Dirt barefaced, dirt stinking, dirt invisible.



Whatever it was, she was ready:
The rubber kneeler, clanking galvanized bucket,
The Lifebuoy, the hard hot water.
Let me! Wed say, meaning Hate to see you do this.
Too old. Too resentful. Besides, youll blame us
That you had to do it.
She never yielded. We couldnt do it right,
Lacking her hatred of filth, her fine, strong hands.
Dont want you to do this, she said. Dont want you to have to.
Just remember this: love isnt sex
But the dreary things you do for the people you love.
And Home is the girls prison,
The womans workhouse. Not me; Shaw.
I do remember. I stand where she knelt.


A. Bio:
born in Glasgow;
read philosophy at Liverpool University;
former editor of the poetry magazine Ambit and a regular reviewer and
in 1996 began to lecture in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University;
B. Works:
selected poetry collections:
- Standing Female Nude (1985)
- Selling Manhattan (1987)
- The Other Country (1990)
- Mean Time (1993)
- The World's Wife (1999)
- Feminine Gospels (2002)
- The Good Child's Guide to Rock N Roll (2003)
- Out of Fashion (2004);
- Take My Husband (1982)
- Cavern of Dreams (1984)
- Little Women, Big Boys (1986)
- Loss (1986), a radio play
C. Specificities:
Personal contribution:
- poet and playwright, bringing the two genres together
- builds characters and foregrounds their inner dimension
- trespasses temporal and spatial boundaries in search of common
human values and attitudes
Main themes:
- oppression, gender and violence


- contemporary politics
- modern celebrity culture
- accessible language
- intimacy of vocabulary and image
- creates puzzles to be solved through reading
- elements of the fantastic intermingle with vivid images of living in the
real world
- an acute sense of the past; dramatisation of remembered scenes

Read the texts below, bringing forth: the myths revisited, the concept
of the double, the reality/fiction borderline, the deliberate ambiguity, the
symbols and imagery of the poem.
Warming Her Pearls
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when Ill brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,
resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
Shes beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
I dust her shoulders with a rabbits foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.
Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head Undressing
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
she always does And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.




2.3. Multimedial Poetry

A. Bio:
born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
studied geography, psychology and philology
has worked as a probation officer
at present, teaches poetry at the University of Sheffield
has been awarded numerous and valuable literature prizes
B. Works:
- Zoom! (1989)
- Xanadu (1992)
- Kid (1992)
- Book of Matches (1993)
- The Dead Sea Poems (1995)
- Cloud Cuckoo Land (1997)
- Killing Time (1999)
- Selected Poems (2001)
- Universal Home Doctor (2002)
- Travelling Songs (2002)
- The Shout: Selected Poems (2005)
- Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid (2006)
- The Not Dead (2008)
- Out of the Blue (2008)
- Seeing Stars (2010)
- Homer's Odyssey (2006)
- Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (2007)
- The Death of King Arthur (2011)
- Little Green Man (2001)
- The White Stuff (2004)
Works for the radio
- Second Draft from Saga Land on W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice
(for BBC Radio 3)
- Eyes of a Demigod On Victor Grayson (for BBC Radio 3)
- The Amherst Myth on Emily Dickinson (for BBC Radio 4)
- From Salford to Jericho A verse drama (for BBC Radio 4)
- The Bayeux Tapestry A six part dramatisation (for BBC Radio 3)
- The Odyssey A three-part dramatisation (for BBC Radio 4)
- Writing the City (for BBC Radio 3)
C. Specificities:
- autobiographically inspired poems
- uses the radio, television, internet to make his voice heard (both as a
poet and as a cultural and literary critic)



- predominant are genre crossovers, architectural palimpsests and
medial transposition
Main themes:
- the flaws of contemporary society
- the intricacies of contemporary mind
- cultural violence and its impact on the future
- versatility of language
- seriousness of tone
- reader friendly lines
- use of slang and dark urban imagery

Watch the two parts of Words on Film (to be accessed at, observing the genre
crossings, the social and cultural messages, the dense symbolism and




Chapter 3 Sample Responses to Individual Poems

3.1. Accessing Womens Silent Territories

Contemporary poetry seems to form a homogeneous whole, mostly defined
in terms of technical innovation, linguistic experimentation, the break with the
past. And, indeed, obvious within the broader boundaries of its poetics are: a
syntax which differs from that accepted by grammarians; a newer, rhythmic,
broken musical pattern; a structure that outgrows the conventional, expected,
anticipated; the juxtaposition of multiple layers of representation, all facilitated
by different media. Nevertheless, besides these aspects pertaining to poetic
form, at the content level there linger a number of recurrent issues which
retain the essential debates of the literary past, reformulated and moulded
into present day frames of reference, to address the here and the now.
Politics, culture and education contaminated, as they are, by
personal experience, stylistics and artifice remain at the core of poetry,
within which they mutually engage to forward a subtle reflective theory of art
as a superstructure on society. Apparently playful and entertaining,
contemporary poetry is difficult and challenging because of its deep
seriousness and wide range of disturbing examples used to support its
argument. Despite the personal nature of authorial intent, the referent stays
public and invites at a thorough consideration of causes and effects. Similar
to what novelists call documentary fiction or faction [1], most of the poems
written today disclose the self as indisputably the origin of all feeling, while
implying that it is only through the generic and the repetitive that such feeling
can be conveyed to others. In other words, silent territories are accessible
through language, which nobody owns: it is the property of the tribe. [2]
The merit of good poetry seems therefore to reside in its manipulating
the linguistic code to serve the purpose of decoding inbuilt universal data
(resuming the personal metonymy and thus defining the public situation) and
that of encoding subtle critiques which flavour the reading and favour the
reader. Brought to attention by these texts with an acute sense of an
audience is the classical concern with society and culture, governed by the
margin/centre dichotomy. Concentrating on the affirmation of difference and
incorporating tradition to widen the gap between perspectives and
standpoints, politicising the problem of otherness at war with levelling
consensus, poetry now gains prominence through a kind of multiverse, a
plurality of accents and experiences breaking open the poised egocentric
tradition. [3]
Formulating a politics and a poetics of its own, contemporary poetry
by, about and for women seems to have given up any overt commentary on
the outmoded battle of the sexes and to have chosen more subtle ways of
foregrounding inner/hidden hopes and fears. From the wide range of poetic
forms and voices, three have been selected as illustrative for the struggle to
overcome inertia and engage in change: Wendy Copes Being Boring [4], U.
A. Fanthorpes Mother Scrubbing the Floor [5] and Carol Ann Duffys
Warming Her Pearls [6]. All three posit women and womanhood in the



foreground and open a window on the possible hows and whys of myth
Myths have always been in the making. They feed on earlier
contexts, but find constantly changing cultural ground to be anchored in.
Mythical representations of women and womanhood (from Medusa and
Electra to Cinderella and Bridget Jones) have summed up the
quintessentially feminine from patriarchal positions: weakness, defeat,
submission, vulnerability, domestication (and the list could obviously go on).
Silenced have been women themselves, refused a part in myth-making and
myth-breaking. Today (as always, only openly so), the voicing of that silence
takes many forms, assumes different tonalities, addresses an audience more
inclined to stare taboo in the face and move against the flow of cultural
Contemporary womens poetry breaks free from past impositions and
exposes the absurdity of a condition which is to be blamed on men and
women alike. Subtle and refreshing, ironical and symbolic, it finds appropriate
means of expressing the obvious ridiculousness of a whole pattern of
existence at the heart of the human race.
The quotidian and banal (the way we are and the way we stubbornly
mean but to stay) forms the starting point of profound analyses of the
philosophy of gender. The three hypostases brought forth by the poems
under discussion are, basically, the following:
women abandoning the tiresome courting game once swamped under the
routine of marriage (long desired, now hopelessly spreading its net): Wendy
Cope, Being Boring
women accepting the yoke of housekeeping and pretending it is an act of
love (for madness to be avoided and a plausible excuse to be found): U. A.
Fanthorpe, Mother Scrubbing the Floor
women dreaming of escaping from the cage, but fearing the freedom
(made up of a wilderness of other, similar cages to choose from): Carol Ann
Duffy, Warming Her Pearls.
Cope, Fanthorpe and Duffy share a teaching experience whose
impact upon the clarity, directness and appealing formulations of their verse
is more than obvious. Complicate isms and serious nesses find explicit
wordings, and mini-films unfold to sustain the language with images, address
the eye as well as the ear.
Acts of communication, Being Boring, Mother Scrubbing the Floor and
Warming Her Pearls are linguistically alive with the rhythms of everyday
speech, the only capable of reproducing everyday women in everyday
situations, and of capturing the attention of the public in our day and age,
where there is so much competition from television, journalism, pulp fiction,
the internet and so on. Primitive in comparison with all the contemporary
media, poetry sums up basic feelings and experiences that we can all relate
to (love, anger, joy, hatred etc) and the poems under focus here plainly
portray circumstances in which the I becomes the we and resumes the
human condition.
The motto to the first of them: May you live in interesting times.
Chinese curse points to the disturbing normality we all take for granted and
mocks at the inertia born out of cowardice and passivity, which brings about
the impression of safety and relative happiness. The monotonous and
stereotypical, tackled in opposition with the glamorous and the adventurous,
becomes all the more enticing for one who is already fed up with the



imposition of extra-ordinary models which fit no actual situation, find no
workable embodiment.
Mimetic in essence (Who would not recognise in ones self or in the
woman next door the boring-wife-with-a-boring-life-and-a-boring-husband,
the floor-scrubbing-mother or the housewife underneath the cosmeticisedand-prettily-wrapped-outdoor-girl?), the poems tell stories that have already
been told, but add ingredients that have been missing and develop a critique
of silent ridicule. In their palimpsest of worlds and world outlooks, THE norm
they oppose is that of otherness. The stereotypes of the vegetable, the slave
and that of the mistress-and-the-maid they are centred around are applicable
to everyone, although generally associated with women. The three texts play
with the notion of time and timelessness, draw on the social dimension to
judge the self hidden behind the mask, foreground women and background
men, emphasise the fertile feminine and repress the sterile masculine.
Being Boring is very much a poem about the game of match-making
(now over) and the ensuing vegetable life of partners caught on the
conveyor-belt of married life. Structured like a dialogue with the deaf
(domestic by definition), or like a dramatic monologue revealing more than
utterances denote, it flows with the ease of convention, holding no surprise,
offering no novelty, pursuing no originality. The emphasis is on routine, on
the equal movement of day following day ad infinitum.
If you ask me Whats new?, I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but its better today.
Im content with the way things are going.
The contentment with the state of things (actually going nowhere) will
gradually become synonymous with acceptance/passivity and being boring.
The reference to the he in the ending section of the opening stanza
takes the discussion inside the home, where the battlefield has, predictably,
become the stage, whose curtain is now drawn:
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.
The show now on resembles an absurdist play or a kitchen sink
drama, the very opposite of the great tragedies of the past.
There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion Ive used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, Im thankful.
Deliberate theatricality and artificiality (paradoxically resembling
reality) remain a given in the context of married life:
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.



If youre after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.
The ending stanza attempts a justification through references to the
useless efforts to socialise and play the game:
I dont go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you dont need to find a new lover?
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
The final metaphor sums up the lesson women are taught:
shipwrecked on an island cut off from the rest of the world appears preferable
to sailing troubled waters:
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that Ive found a safe mooring,
Ive just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.
Mother Scrubbing the Floor features the she in the me, past
generations haunting present ones. Autobiographic and metonymic at the
same time, the mother in the poem embodies femininity crushed under the
heavy boot of patriarchy. Loved and hated, her frailty and strength keeps the
world rolling and her self-imposed enslavement slowly, but surely, propels
the family and guards its fate.
The antithetical first lines announce the conflict in the poem:
She had a dancers feet, elegant, witty.
We had our fathers, maverick spreaders of dirt.
There follows a symbolical enumeration, whose negative connotation
obliquely defines the enemy:
Dirt from London, dirt from Kent.
Mud, dust, grass, droppings, wetness, things,
Dirt barefaced, dirt stinking, dirt invisible.
At war with all the baseness about to contaminate the territory under
her care, she intervenes like a Don Quixote without the Sancho Panza:
Whatever it was, she was ready:
The rubber kneeler, clanking galvanized bucket,
The Lifebuoy, the hard hot water.
In the real world, however, things are viewed differently and what
strikes the eye is the kneeling position implying subjection:
Let me! Wed say, meaning Hate to see you do this.
Too old. Too resentful. Besides, youll blame us
That you had to do it.




Her determination is beyond words, beyond reactions not formulated,
but vibrantly transmitted:
She never yielded. We couldnt do it right,
Lacking her hatred of filth, her fine, strong hands.
Another lesson follows under the form of a re-memorized set of
principles deeply inscribed in the mothers being:
Dont want you to do this, she said. Dont want you to have to.
Just remember this: love isnt sex
But the dreary things you do for the people you love.
And Home is the girls prison,
The womans workhouse. Not me; Shaw.
The concluding line brings forth the belief in change, in emancipation:
I do remember. I stand where she knelt.
Warming Her Pearls is almost a love poem. Its misleading eroticism
stems from the intimacy of the atmosphere and from the warmth of the tone;
it is also observable at the level of vocabulary and imagery. Nonetheless, it
manages to address the intellect as much as it does the senses and the
message it carries remains in the area of representations of womanhood.
It begins unexpectedly, introducing part of the disparate pieces of the
puzzle later to be found a solution to:
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when Ill brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,
resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
Love and devotion mingle in this Upstairs-Downstairs hierarchy (a
television serial comes to mind) resonant of long gone days. Amplified by
imagination, the maids attraction for the mistress verges on the indecent:
Shes beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
The second half of the poem is the one to offer clues and gradually
shed light on the mystery:
I dust her shoulders with a rabbits foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.



After the looking-glass scene, where the I and the she become one,
the next stanza, with its fairy-tale elements, anticipates the fantastic, dreamlike perfect world in the ending lines:
Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head Undressing
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
she always does And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
Only now, reading backwards, does a further story get told: that of the
millions of modest Cinderellas waiting for night to fall, pearls to be worn and
make-believe fill the void left behind by daytime hard labour about the house.
Wives, mothers and daughters, sinners and saints are the main
protagonists on the huge screen of life. Cast in roles they do not necessarily
enjoy, but which they, obediently, play well, these superwomen (to use a
term coined by Fay Weldon) now populate the poetic universe of many a
writer conscientious enough to record on paper, for posterity, the voices of
the unheard, the silences beneath words.
Humorist and parodist Wendy Cope, sharp and critical U. A.
Fanthorpe, subversive and symbolical Carol Ann Duffy add these new voices
to those opened up in poetry by T. S. Eliot, among others, allowing verse to
grow in the strangest of corners, adapting poetic discourse to match the
contemporary age and stage, advertising the writing and reading against the
grain, demystifying ready-made suppositions or seeking to disturb the
complacent certainties of patriarchal culture.

[1] see Peter Porter, Public and Private in Contemporary British Poetry, in
New Writing 5, 1996
[2] Peter Porter, op. cit.: 280
[3] Marion Wynne-Davies, Bloomsbury Guide to English Literature, 1989: 96




3.2. Genre Crossovers, Architectural Palimpsests and Medial

Despite its characteristic diversity both in terms of form and of content,
contemporary poetry shares the preoccupation with experimenting
techniques intended to recycle the past and to address the contemporary
reader on present day issues, communicated via present day interactive
communicative chains. At the crossroads of poetic tradition, it processes
previous writing in its intertext, considers its own scaffolding at the level of its
intratext, tackles various neuralgic issues intersectionally and exploits
intermedial [1] channels of representation.
Although highly elaborate, almost elitist, most of the poetry written
today is marketed as playful and popular. Accepting the challenge of the new
media (having rendered reading obsolete), it advertises itself as a cultural
product in the making, at once showing, telling and awaiting response for the
world that is and the world of simulacra. Wrapping up words in image, sound
and movement, it features a disturbing syntax, tribal rhythms, gothic
atmosphere, naturalist standpoints. Its poetics supports the social politics it
formulates, where art is not only contaminated by the context that has
generated it, but has a decisive role in having it changed.
From the wide range of twenty-first century poetic voices, forms and
practices, selected here as illustrative for the struggle to overcome inertia
and engage in change is the clever and refreshingly new approach of Simon
Armitage [2], the poet-policeman, who, as he himself admits in the numerous
interviews given, writes not only for the page, but for radio, television, stage
and screen also. Versatile but serious, realistic but creative, socially oriented
and reader friendly, his poetry moulds itself on the contemporary mind,
drawing inspiration from Armitages own everyday world (industrial Yorkshire
and Lancashire, pub talk, slangy anecdotes from schooldays and from his
work in youth rehabilitation) with a confidence that marks him out as
someone to watch.
Representative for Simon Armitages work and symptomatic of the
present day situation is Xanadu, the poem film for television. Produced for
the BBC in June 1992 by Peter Symes and Julia Simmons with a team of
photographers, sound recordists, production assistants, unit managers,
graphic designers, dubbing mixers and film editors, it was broadcasted under
the title Words on Film, and published the same year as a collection of
poems illustrated with stills from the film, working against the grain in as far
as form and wrapping are concerned, not only at the level of the content of
ideas an increasingly widely spread marketing and recycling strategy (see
the many books published following their cinematic adaptation, with famous
actors in leading roles featured on the front cover adaptations of
adaptations of adaptations a Baudrillardean culture of endless
The poem/film is set on the Ashfield Valley Estate in Rochdale,
Lancashire, which consisted of 26 alphabetically named flats. Ashfield Valley
was in the process of being demolished as the poems were written and the
film was being made. At the time, Simon Armitage was working as a
probation officer, being a raw recruit to Rochdale, where his patch included
Ashfield Valley. Xanadu is his personal and imaginative response to the illstarred estate, using highly innovative and strangely unsettling poetry and



film techniques, assisted by contributions from the last surviving Ashfield
tenants. Dogs, snow and Hungarian dancers add further zest to Armitages
Xanadu. (Bloodaxe Books, 1992)
Its merits also reside in the fact that its double layered structure and
duality of message (supported by words, sound, image, movement) address
both the common reader and the elites. On the one hand, it tells the sordid
urban story of poverty and criminality (of particular interest on the
contemporary stage (standing as proof: the numerous television programmes
about forensic detectives, medical examiners, police in action, heinous
crimes, famous criminals etc), to which it adds a social and political critique,
avenging the muffled fury of citizens exposed to domination, inequality and
the abuse of power.
On the other hand, Xanadu revisits the literary tradition, with covert but
pertinent intertextual references, mainly to Samuel Taylor Coleridges Kubla
Khan, but also to Robert Brownings My Last Duchess, William Butler Yeatss
Sailing to Byzantium, Thomas Stearns Eliots The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock, David Herbert Lawrences The Piano or Daphne de Mauriers
Inscribing itself within the postmodernist frame, Simon Armitages
poem-film parodies its romantic ancestor, constructing not a dream, but a
nightmare. Its Xanadu is, like Kubla Khans, man-made, but not for pleasure
(its initial purpose had been utilitarian). Surrounded by walls, its inhabitants
are actually locked up (an inspired metaphor, after all), having lost their
(Miltonian) paradise. At once gothic, savage and holy (resonant of
Coleridges vision), its creative powers trapped in symbols that have been
taken off their pedestal (water falls, fountains, rivers and the like are replaced
by images of melting snow, sooty rain, or drain water pools), this Xanadu is
apocalyptically dark and in the darkness the voices of the dead impose the
suffocating silence. As for the passer by, the onlooker, the poet, he is
deprived of any power to imagine worlds beyond the world that is, since the
unimaginable has already happened. His only role seems to be that of
vehicle, channel, communicator, as are his chosen media. All the other texts
still visible on the poems palimpsest support the image thus constructed and
help in forwarding the message had in view all along.
Xanadu starts with an almost desperate appeal Do you copy? Do you
read me, over?, suggestive of the deaf ear society turns to unpleasant news,
and anticipatory of the consequences of this attitude, via images if words are
inefficient. It then tells the story of a dream, of a seascape whose waters
fertilise the mind and address the inner eye:
Last night I dreamt
I went to Manderley again,
unravelled the thread
of the drive, meandered again []
Its intertextual core (here sending to Daphne de Mauriers 1938
Rebecca and the fictional estate of Maxim de Winter, that the latters former
wife haunts itself an intertextual novel having crossed the frontier of genres
and taken up the subject of Robert Brownings My Last Duchess, together
with its dramatic monologue) is made to overlap the poems own setting
(Manchester Lancashire) and to create a gothic atmosphere, to be
developed and supported throughout.



[] What is it?
mischief, sorcery,
moonlight, mockery,
makes up and takes
this scene for Manderley,
equates this plot
with that estate,
mistakes the two,
trips up the memory,
reads Ashfield Valley
as Daphne de Maurier.
The unreality thus constructed is not disambiguated at all; instead, as
if there were a natural connection, the poem film continues to present the
autobiographically inspired experience of a freshman in the police force on
his very first mission, that of personally delivering a summons / to a man with
a hell of a past.
I was
a probation officer raring to go,
a recently qualified fresh-faced P.O.,
on standby, on hold, awaiting the order
and the call-up posted me over the border,
to Rochdale.
The descent into the contemporary version of Hades underworld is
rendered indirectly, through the advice given but not thoroughly received.
The immanence of danger thus expressed shows, on the one hand, the
passivity of the wise/witness and, on the other hand, the dynamism and
courage of the innocent/victim both emphasised as social stereotypes
universally valid today.
Take care when you walk
in the shadow of the Valley.
A fist of keys
and a torch would be handy
and bones for the dogs
at the end of the landing.
A map would be good,
not to read, but to shred
and drop out behind
like pieces of bread,
and a finger of chalk
to mark out the thread.
Keep to the path,



whistle in the dark,
dont park in the car park
and never look back.
The following stanzas bring dream and reality together again, with
references to the Fall from Grace in terms of a plunge into the wells of
consciousness and a walk down Memory Lane intertextually bringing to
mind D. H. Lawrences poem The Piano, for instance, from among other
similar poems dealing with revisiting the past at the incentives offered by
present external stimuli. The letter from prison that is embedded in this
section is probably the most memorable, in the sense that its topos stands for
the lack of freedom/choice and for extreme promiscuity, its scenes are violent
and punitive, its endless repetitions portray life on a conveyor belt, yet all are
rhythmically, musically rendered possibly another invitation at considering
the contemporary cultural situation on the whole (where artists, musicians
have seemingly been left without anything beautiful to convey).
Not the ounce of snout
but the smell of the cabbage,
not the slopping out
but the smell of the cabbage,
not the landing light,
but the smell of the cabbage,
not the Governors wife,
but the smell of the cabbage. []
Not the bird, the stretch,
the term, the porridge
but the sound of the town
and the smell of the cabbage,
not the girl, the wife,
the woman, the marriage,
but the sun going down
and the smell of the cabbage. []
Concluding the meditation on life in the previous lines is the statement
on mans incapacity to grasp the sad truth of civilisation working against
nature, of mankind having grown older but not wiser adding a broader
frame to T. S. Eliots description of the human condition in his famous The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which breathes from in between Armitages
fluid poem.
Love, God and poetry are offered as solutions and ways out of the trap
of living in the city, of the tomb that mummifies:
Blow its cover
like Howard Carter



and enter the tomb
of the small front room.
Art is seen as the perfect reminder, as capable of bringing
Tutankhamun to light (in the exegi monumentum tradition so dear to the
Romantics). Actually, this sums up the aim and politics of Xanadu, which
spells out the need to stop exoticising the flaws of the West (or, simply, to
stop sweeping the garbage produced by the occident under the carpet of
global culture) and to show English society as it really is in view of dealing
with its problems instead of looking the other way. Inserted is an ironic stanza
on the poet himself, aware of the ridiculousness and uselessness of his
who discovered the truth
stood up for himself
and hit the roof.
The dream is reinforced and repeated later on, with the journey now
also signalling William Butler Yeatss Sailing to Byzantium as intertext:
Last night I dreamt
I sailed to Mandalay;
walked on the roof,
looked east and westward
for the sea and the saw
the whole of Rochdale
as a bay
and Ashfield Valley as a cove. []
The Burmese city referred to at once supports the critique of
easternising western standards of living and moves backwards in time to
unspoilt, unconquered beauty and harmony. Like Byzantium, it remains
geographically identifiable, but no longer represents the grandeur and might
of its days as the city of gems. Simon Armitage uses Yeatss metaphor to
reflect on his poem, but changes his mind and mocks at his
presumptuousness, in an appropriately metapoetic mode, when he turns to
considering naming his text (actually recreating a discussion held in the local
Eureka, gentlemen, this one should do,
its poetry or something: Xanadu,
an idyllic estate or place (and Im quoting)
from Kubla Khan by S. T. Coleridge.
Born, baptized, the poem quickly grows and moves towards its ending,
only apparently open and playful, since it resumes the core message
conveyed one last time and, in so doing, announces some kind of death.



We idle now on waiting lists, and dream
of runways, level crossings, traffic queues;
waiting to come clean,
to break the news
of how we live, of what we have seen,
of how it leaves us, and what that proves.
A light goes green,
but nobody moves.
It almost seems to take the reader to its afterlife. A cultural sign, like
the traffic lights it speaks of, it voices (or, better still, pictures) a deplorable
state of affairs, but does not manage to instruct or motivate to actively
participate in the expected changes. It might therefore be read as a
pessimistic statement Simon Armitage makes on the inertia of the
contemporary situation (despite its advertised dynamism) or as a criticism
addressed to the reader traditionally inactive, willing to accept the authority
of the author rather than rewrite his text (in spite of the proclaimed writerly
position adopted).
A script in verse for a film intended for the television screen, a poem
transmitted orally, a collection of photographs telling a story, or all of these,
Simon Armitages experiment is thought provoking and asks for an
interpretation which stands at the intersection of various disciplines (like
literary theory, film and cultural studies, politics and sociology).
Translating words into images and sounds, Xanadu (and its
adaptation, Words on Film) builds a complex representation of the world as
we know it and as others have seen it. It refuses to comply with imposed
demarcations of genres, modes and views, plays with the readers decoding
expectations and makes use of crafty marketing and communication
strategies. Its bold architecture spreads horizontally to cover various other
texts and vertically to juxtapose multiple hypostases of reality.
As for its intermedial configuration, it adds to the poems overall
signification system, which may be reached through the careful consideration
of the illusion-forming quality of the textual medium. In other words,
rewarding in approaching Xanadu as cultural construct is tackling
intertextuality/intramediality as reproduction and intermediality as imitation.
Along these lines, our own approach has shown it as recycling previous
literary texts and as evoking elements or structures specific to other media.

[1] The term intermedial is used here to designate border crossings between
different media, in close connection to Bakhtins dialogism and Kristevas
intertextuality. Also used in approaching the text are the three subcategories
of intermediality, as advanced by Irina Rajewsky in her Intermediality,
Intertextuality and Remediation: A Literary Perspective on Intermediality:
medial transposition (the transformation of a given media product or of its
substratum into another medium); media combination (film, theatre
performance etc or mixed media); intermedial reference (references to
painting in film, to photography in painting etc).




Armitage, S. (1992). Xanadu. A Poem Film for Television, Newcastle upon
Tyne: Bloodaxe Books
Bradbury, M.; J. McFarlane (eds), (1976). Modernism, Harmondsworth:
Penguin Books
Brooker, P. (ed), (1992). Modernism/Postmodernism, London and New York:
Fischer, T.; L. Norfolk (eds), (1999). New Writing 8. An Anthology, London:
Hassan, I. (1987). The Postmodern Turn, Essays in Postmodern Theory and
Culture, USA: Ohio State University Press
Hope, C.; P. Porter (eds), (1996). New Writing 5, London: Vintage Books
Jones, P. (ed), (1972). Imagist Poetry, London: Penguin
Jones, P.; M. Schmidt (eds), (1980). British Poetry since 1970 A Critical
Survey, Manchester: Carcanet Press
Martin, G.; P.N. Furbank (eds), (1975). Twentieth Century Poetry Critical
Essays and Documents, England: The Open University Press
Morrison, B., (1980). English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s, Methuen,
Rajewsky, I. (2005). Intermediality, Intertextuality and Remediation: A
Literary Perspective on Intermediality, in Intermdialits, No. 6, Automne,
Thompson, N. S. (ed), (1998). Atlanta Review, Spring/Summer 1998, USA:
Poetry Atlanta
Wimsatt, W. K. (1965), What to say about a poem, in Twentieth Century
Poetry (1975), ed. by G. Martin and P. N. Furbank, England: The Open
University Press, pp. 4-6
Wynne-Davies, M. (ed), (1989). Bloomsbury Guide to English Literature,
London: Bloomsbury Publishing House

Words on Film,
accessed: 1.02.2012)





This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

A stand of people
by an open
grave underneath
the heavy leaves
the cut and fill
for the new road
an old man
on his knees
reaps a basketful of
matted grasses for
his goats




D. H. LAWRENCE (1885-1930)

The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.
She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941)

I Hear an Army Charging Upon the Land

I hear an army charging upon the land,
And the thunder of horses plunging, foam about their knees:
Arrogant, in black armour, behind them stand,
Disdaining the reins, with fluttering whips, the charioteers.
They cry unto the night their battle-name:
I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling laughter.
They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame,
Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.
They come shaking in triumph their long, green hair:
They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore.
My heart, have you no wisdom
thus to
My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?




ORIGINS: complex and often apparently contradictory in both theoretical and
critical positions/practices.
Matthew Arnold - with his belief in the necessity of replacing philosophy
and religion by poetry in modern society and the conviction that anarchy
can only be fought back by culture (see Culture and Anarchy, first
published in 1869)

Thomas Stearns Eliot - with his emphasising that writers must have a
certain historical sense, a sense of the tradition of writing in which they
must find a place, and his pointing to the necessary depersonalisation of
the artist from his/her art for it to become impersonal and approach the
condition of science (see Tradition and the Individual Talent, first
published in 1919)
A profound, almost reverential regard for the literary works themselves
is what holds the Anglo-American tradition in criticism together. Literature is
idealised from an aesthetico-humanist point of view and literariness
becomes the key term in judging texts, especially those considered to be
worth including in the canon. But if the canon was initially described as
artificial (exclusive and hierarchical) and natural at the same time (not
created by critical discrimination of any kind), it nevertheless carried the
danger of becoming elitist and imposed; that is why, in the 1960s critical
revolution, it was to be demystified so as to include the writing that had
previously not found a place within it (i.e. popular and gothic fiction, working
class and womens writing etc).
The modernist type of criticism that emerged immediately after the
First World War in Britain was mostly due to English becoming a central
subject in universities and academics willing to transcend the older belletrist
critical tradition and to adopt a new position towards the literary scene. The
phenomenon was especially strong at Cambridge, but other centres soon
joined in.

A. Richards who argued that criticism should adopt the precision of
science and attempted to lay down an explicit theoretical basis for literary
study. He articulated the special quality of literary language, differentiating
the emotive language of poetry from the referential one of non-literary
discourse. (see Principles of Literary Criticism, 1924 and Practical Criticism,

William Empson who placed the emphasis

on ambiguity
as the defining characteristic of poetic language. He also underlined the need
for a so-called creative practical criticism that presupposed detaching

literary texts from their contexts in the process of reading. (see Seven Types
of Ambiguity, 1930)
In the United States, the new criticism found a fertile soil because of
its ahistorical, neutral nature and its inviting the reader/critic to look only at
the words on the page (an apparently equalising, democratic activity,
appropriate to the new American experience after the war). For the
Americans, what counted above everything else was the text itself, its
language and organisation; the historical, biographical, intellectual context
and the fallacies of intention or affect were initially left aside.
John Crowe Ransom who wanted students to study literature, not
about literature and, considering poetry, said that the critic ought to exhibit
the residue or tissue which keeps the object poetical or entire, not the prose
core to which a poem might be reduced. (see The New Criticism, 1941)

Cleanth Brooks who, analysing John Keats Ode on a Grecian Urn,

rejected the relevance of biography, admired the poems history above all
other kinds of histories, of the scientific and philosophical generalisations
which dominate our world and praised the poems insights into essential truth;
who therefore underlined the superiority of all art. (see The Well-Wrought Urn:
Studies in the Structure of Poetry, 1947)

W. K. Wimsatt who moved to theoretical, rather than practical writing

and pursued an objective criticism which overlooks, if not denies altogether,
both the personal input of the writer (intention) and the emotional effect on
the reader (affect); for him, the outcome of these fallacies is that the poem
itself, as an object of specifically critical judgement, tends to disappear (see
The Intentional Fallacy, 1946 and The Affective Fallacy, 1949)

Mark Schorer who applied New Critical methods to prose fiction and
saw that the difference between content or experience and achieved content
lies in technique. He extended his analysis of the language of fiction by
revealing the unconscious patterns of imagery and symbolism (beyond the
authors intention) present in all forms of fiction and not just those which are
characterised by poetic discourse (see Technique as Discovery, 1948 and
Fiction and the Analogical Matrix, 1949)

R. S. Crane a Neo-Aristotelian, who established a theoretical basis for

criticism derived from Aristotles Rhetoric and Poetics and, worried by the
limitations of New Critical practice (rejecting historical analysis, tending to
present subjective judgements as if they were objective and being principally
concerned with poetry), attempted to develop a criticism that would cover all
genres and draw for its techniques whatever method seemed appropriate for
a particular case (see the anthology Critics and Criticism: Ancient and
Modern, 1957)

Wayne Booth whose project was to examine the art of communication

with readers the rhetorical resources available to the writer of epic, novel or
short story as he tries, consciously or unconsciously, to impose his fictional
world upon the reader. He did accept that the literary text is autonomous, but
stated that it also contained an authorial voice, the implied author, whom the
reader invents by deduction from the attitudes developed in the text. He
distinguished between a reliable narrator
(third person, associated toON
values of the



implied author) and an unreliable one (often a character at the level of the
story), enhancing the formal equipment available for the analysis of the
rhetoric of fiction (see The Rhetoric of Fiction, 1961)

F. R. Leavis who refused to theorise his work by saying that criticism

and philosophy are quite separate activities and that the business of the critic
is to attain a peculiar completeness of response to enter into possession of
the given poem in its concrete fulness. Like Richards, he declares himself
in favour of practical criticism, but (like a New Critic) is also concerned with
the concrete specificity of the text itself. Great works of literature written in
the past continue, for Leavis, to measure the present and are to be actively
deployed in an ethnico-sociological-cultural politics (see The Great Tradition,
1948 and The Common Pursuit, 1952)


In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we
occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to "the
tradition" or to "a tradition"; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that
the poetry of So-and-so is "traditional" or even "too traditional." Seldom,
perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it
is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of
some pleasing archological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word
agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the
reassuring science of archology.
Certainly the word is not likely to appear in our appreciations of living
or dead writers. Every nation, every race, has not only its own creative, but
its own critical turn of mind; and is even more oblivious of the shortcomings
and limitations of its critical habits than of those of its creative genius. We
know, or think we know, from the enormous mass of critical writing that has
appeared in the French language the critical method or habit of the French;
we only conclude (we are such unconscious people) that the French are
"more critical" than we, and sometimes even plume ourselves a little with the
fact, as if the French were the less spontaneous. Perhaps they are; but we
might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that
we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when
we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in
their work of criticism. One of the facts that might come to light in this process
is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his
work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of
his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of
the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet's difference from his
predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find
something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we
approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the
best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the
dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do
not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full
Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following
the ways of the immediate generation before
in a blind or
timid adherence to its successes, "tradition" should positively be
discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand;


and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider
significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by
great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may
call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond
his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only
of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels
a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a
feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the
whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and
composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of
the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the
temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same
time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His
significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead
poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast
and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of sthetic, not
merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall
cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is
something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which
preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves,
which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art
among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for
order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order
must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values
of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity
between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of
the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that
the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed
by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great
difficulties and responsibilities.
In a peculiar sense he will be aware also that he must inevitably be
judged by the standards of the past. I say judged, not amputated, by them;
not judged to be as good as, or worse or better than, the dead; and certainly
not judged by the canons of dead critics. It is a judgment, a comparison, in
which two things are measured by each other. To conform merely would be
for the new work not really to conform at all; it would not be new, and would
therefore not be a work of art. And we do not quite say that the new is more
valuable because it fits in; but its fitting in is a test of its value a test, it is
true, which can only be slowly and cautiously applied, for we are none of us
infallible judges of conformity. We say: it appears to conform, and is perhaps
individual, or it appears individual, and may conform; but we are hardly likely
to find that it is one and not the other.
To proceed to a more intelligible exposition of the relation of the poet
to the past: he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminate bolus,
nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, nor can he
form himself wholly upon one preferred period. The first course is
inadmissible, the second is an important experience of youth, and the third is
a pleasant and highly desirable supplement. The poet must be very
conscious of the main current,
which does
not at all flow invariably through the most
distinguished reputations. He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art


never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must
be aware that the mind of Europe the mind of his own country a mind
which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind
is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which
abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either
Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian
draughtsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication
certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.
Perhaps not even an improvement from the point of view of the psychologist
or not to the extent which we imagine; perhaps only in the end based upon a
complication in economics and machinery. But the difference between the
present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the
past in a way and to an extent which the past's awareness of itself cannot
Someone said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we
know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we
I am alive to a usual objection to what is clearly part of my programme
for the mtier of poetry. The objection is that the doctrine requires a
ridiculous amount of erudition (pedantry), a claim which can be rejected by
appeal to the lives of poets in any pantheon. It will even be affirmed that
much learning deadens or perverts poetic sensibility. While, however, we
persist in believing that a poet ought to know as much as will not encroach
upon his necessary receptivity and necessary laziness, it is not desirable to
confine knowledge to whatever can be put into a useful shape for
examinations, drawing-rooms, or the still more pretentious modes of publicity.
Some can absorb knowledge, the more tardy must sweat for it. Shakespeare
acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the
whole British Museum. What is to be insisted upon is that the poet must
develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should
continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.
What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the
moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a
continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.
There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its
relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be
said to approach the condition of science. I shall, therefore, invite you to
consider, as a suggestive analogy, the action which takes place when a bit of
finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and
sulphur dioxide.
Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the
poet but upon the poetry. If we attend to the confused cries of the newspaper
critics and the susurrus of popular repetition that follows, we shall hear the
names of poets in great numbers; if we seek not Blue-book knowledge but
the enjoyment of poetry, and ask for a poem, we shall seldom find it. In the
last article I tried to point out the importance of the relation of the poem to
other poems by other authors, and suggested the conception of poetry as a
living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written. The other aspect of
this Impersonal theory of poetry is the relation of the poem to its author. And I
hinted, by an analogy, that the mind of the mature
poet differs
from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of
"personality," not being necessarily more interesting, or having "more to say,"


but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very
varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.
The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously
mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form
sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present;
nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the
platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and
unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or
exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more
perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who
suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest
and transmute the passions which are its material.
The experience, you will notice, the elements which enter the
presence of the transforming catalyst, are of two kinds: emotions and feelings.
The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience
different in kind from any experience not of art. It may be formed out of one
emotion, or may be a combination of several; and various feelings, inhering
for the writer in particular words or phrases or images, may be added to
compose the final result. Or great poetry may be made without the direct use
of any emotion whatever: composed out of feelings solely. Canto XV of the
Inferno (Brunetto Latini) is a working up of the emotion evident in the
situation; but the effect, though single as that of any work of art, is obtained
by considerable complexity of detail. The last quatrain gives an image, a
feeling attaching to an image, which "came," which did not develop simply
out of what precedes, but which was probably in suspension in the poet's
mind until the proper combination arrived for it to add itself to. The poet's
mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings,
phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to
form a new compound are present together.
If you compare several representative passages of the greatest poetry
you see how great is the variety of types of combination, and also how
completely any semi-ethical criterion of "sublimity" misses the mark. For it is
not the "greatness," the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the
intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the
fusion takes place, that counts. The episode of Paolo and Francesca
employs a definite emotion, but the intensity of the poetry is something quite
different from whatever intensity in the supposed experience it may give the
impression of. It is no more intense, furthermore, than Canto XXVI, the
voyage of Ulysses, which has not the direct dependence upon an emotion.
Great variety is possible in the process of transmution of emotion: the murder
of Agamemnon, or the agony of Othello, gives an artistic effect apparently
closer to a possible original than the scenes from Dante. In the Agamemnon,
the artistic emotion approximates to the emotion of an actual spectator; in
Othello to the emotion of the protagonist himself. But the difference between
art and the event is always absolute; the combination which is the murder of
Agamemnon is probably as complex as that which is the voyage of Ulysses.
In either case there has been a fusion of elements. The ode of Keats
contains a number of feelings which have nothing particular to do with the
nightingale, but which the nightingale, partly, perhaps, because of its
attractive name, and partly because of its reputation, served to bring together.
The point of view which
am struggling
to attack is perhaps related to the
metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is,


that the poet has, not a "personality" to express, but a particular medium,
which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and
experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and
experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry,
and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible
part in the man, the personality.
I will quote a passage which is unfamiliar enough to be regarded with
fresh attention in the light or darkness of these observations:
And now methinks I could een chide myself
For doating on her beauty, though her death
Shall be revenged after no common action.
Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours
For thee? For thee does she undo herself?
Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships
For the poor benefit of a bewildering minute?
Why does yon fellow falsify highways,
And put his life between the judges lips,
To refine such a thingkeeps horse and men
To beat their valours for her?
In this passage (as is evident if it is taken in its context) there is a
combination of positive and negative emotions: an intensely strong attraction
toward beauty and an equally intense fascination by the ugliness which is
contrasted with it and which destroys it. This balance of contrasted emotion is
in the dramatic situation to which the speech is pertinent, but that situation
alone is inadequate to it. This is, so to speak, the structural emotion, provided
by the drama. But the whole effect, the dominant tone, is due to the fact that
a number of floating feelings, having an affinity to this emotion by no means
superficially evident, have combined with it to give us a new art emotion.
It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular
events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His
particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry
will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of
people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact,
of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in
this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The
business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones
and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in
actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will
serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must
believe that "emotion recollected in tranquillity" is an inexact formula. For it is
neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning,
tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the
concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical
and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a
concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These
experiences are not "recollected," and they finally unite in an atmosphere
which is "tranquil" only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of
course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of
poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate.
fact, the bad
poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious,
and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make


him "personal." Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from
emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from
personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions
know what it means to want to escape from these things.
This essay proposes to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism,
and confine itself to such practical conclusions as can be applied by the
responsible person interested in poetry. To divert interest from the poet to the
poetry is a laudable aim: for it would conduce to a juster estimation of actual
poetry, good and bad. There are many people who appreciate the expression
of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can
appreciate technical excellence. But very few know when there is expression
of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the
history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot
reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be
done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what
is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is
conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.