Modern Poetry

After a period of great disruption –war, pandemic, plague, fire, loss– or after a state of exception, “someone” (as the poet Wislawa Szymborsks says)  “has to clean up the mess.”  Periods of shut-down and recalibration can lead to periods of fierce revaluation, re-formation. In this term we will look at several such periods of convulsive reevaluation, in social and aesthetic terms: the decades just after the Spanish flu/WWI, and the years just after the Great Depression/WWII, were periods of radical rethinking. Poets and artists of those periods asked fundamental questions about aesthetic forms, about the materials of their practice, and about the relation of art to the social world. So. what comes next?  What have we learned? What are we learning? Who are we, the survivors? What comes next? 

In this intermediate subject we will read major poems by the most important poets in English in the twentieth century, emphasizing especially the period between post-WW I disillusionment and post-World War II internationalism (ca. 1918-1950). We will read poems that pay attention both to this disillusionment and to the compensatory joyous attention to the image: to ideas of the poet as language priest, to aesthetic experience as displaced religious impulse, and to poetry as faith, ritual, and cultural form. Poets whose work we will read include: Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,  W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Rabindranath Tagore, Hilda Doolittle.

In-class discussions, frequent student reports, final presentation-projects, no final.