Poetry After Modernism

In simple terms, modernism is the name given to the movement which dominates the art and culture of the first half of the 20th century (i.e. 1950). During this movement poet like Eliot with his The Waste Land and Pound with Cantos came up as the early modernist masters through their innovatory techniques.

Similarly Robert Frost with his work like A Masque of Reason, A Masque of Mercy became the most widely acclaimed modern poet of America. He broke the tradition by writing pastoral poems. His Steeple Bush is simple and readable on the surface, but it reveals complex feelings through subtle irony and dry wit. So, the poet like Frost, Eliot, and Pound etc came up with their own poems written in various ways about various things during 20 th century. The one thing that was common between them was that they all tried to break up from the traditional past and start their own individual style.


Robert Frost was such a modern poet who started early with his poem A Boy’s Will (1913). Frost basically dealt with nature and pastoral life due to which people did not take him as an innovator. Frost was not satisfied with the 20 th century industrial society and its uncertainty. So he complained about it by writing pastoral poetry. Giving excess importance to nature as he was highly influenced by Thoreau and Wordsworth, he showed how pastoral life was better than industrial life. His poems A Boy’s Will, A Masque of Reason, A Masque of Mercy, Steeple Bush are simple and readable on the surface, but they reveal complex feelings through subtle irony and dry wit.


Wallace Stevens was a contemporary to Frost, who was also not satisfied with the industrial society as it brought the loss of faith from religion. He did not adopt the pastoral mode; rather his poems are heroic and brilliant attacks against the emptiness of Heaven.
As Stevens believed in the emptiness of heaven he attempts to fill this emptiness with an imagined hero, whom he calls major man and is larger than any individual. This attempt can be noticed in his works- A private like an Orb, Harmonium.In regard of poetry, Wallace Stevens believed that 20 th century poetry is experimental poem in terms of the use of language. Through his woks it can be said that, Wallace Stevens worked with the awareness of Romantic heritage, and at the same time, He was also aware of modern sensibility. So Stevens is considered as one of the masters of modernist poetry in thought and in style.


The most admired work of poetry published during the war was T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. He is another trend- setter of American poetry, who focused on the jeopardy (danger) brought about by the series of war and the idea of the collapse of the world. The effect of Eliot up on his successors was so over powering that he is considered as a literary dictator. He was a prime mover of the revolutionary aesthetics of modernism with his works like The Waste Land. In American poetic scenario, Eliot is seen to be working together with Pound. Eliot regarded himself as a classicist in Literature, royalist in politics and Anglo-catholic in religion. He was very much influenced by metaphorical poets because there he found balance between sense and imagination (i.e. emotion and reason).


Pound is the contemporary poet of Eliot and one of the influenced poets of the modern 20 th century. He was very much influenced by the rebellious attitude of Shelly himself being a rebel against industrialization and free flow of materialism in capitalistic system. So, Pound was the next writer, who like Eliot, proposed the corruption of the spirit brought about by materialism and industrialism. In 1930 s he attacked that the decline of western civilization is due to the corruption of spiritual values. As his voices started to spill over from poetry to politics, he was captured by American military force and put in security jail with the charge of treason.

He was also declared to be mentally unfit and kept in the insane asylum in Washington D.C. There he continued to write and by 1940 he had published The Cantos.This work of Pound is the collection of ground breaking poems which became so influential that he not only provided directions for succeeding poets, but he also dominated the post war period especially with his style of using self as the fulcrum of historical and personal experience.


Auden emigrated in the United States from London, and soon became a fair exchange with Eliot. Though Eliot was a literary dictator of that time, Auden was the successful one to break down the traditional established by Eliot.He disagrees with Eliot’s impersonality and claim that one can be influenced not only by traditional but also by contemporary ideas and a poet is free enough to express his personal feelings. Besides refusing Eliot’s views Auden also criticizes capitalism.

So we find a leftist tone in his works. Also being a part of depression, W. H Auden was against industrialization as well. He was established as a leading poet by his works like poems, The Orators, The Dance of Death and Look Stranger. On the whole, in Auden’s work, there can be observed two main phases. In his earlier works, Auden is more tilted towards Marxism; but in his later works, he seemed to be more influenced by Freudian philosophy. Therefore, Auden started with focusing on social issues and then, shifted on to focus on psychological aspects.