Characteristics of Early Modernist Verse

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"The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, daring, and revolt."
--F.T. Marinetti

Randall Jerry, A Note on Poetry (1946), includes the following elements:

  • "[v]ery interesting language, a great emphasis on connotation,
  • "texture"; extreme intensity,
  • forced emotion--violence;
  • a good deal of obscurity on sensation, perceptual nuances;
  • emphasis on details, on the part rather than on the whole;
  • experimental or novel qualities of some sort;
  • a tendency toward external formlessness…:
  • an extremely personal style--refine your singularities;
  • lack of restraint--all tendencies are forced to their limits;
  • there is a good deal of emphasis on the unconscious, dream structure, the thoroughly subjective;
  • the poet's attitudes are usually anti-scientific, anti-common-sense, anti-public--he is, essentially, removed;
  • poetry is primarily lyric, intensive--the few long poems are aggregations of lyric details;
  • poems usually have, not a logical, but the more less associational structure of dramatic monologue."

The Imagists defined their movement this way:

  1. Direct treatment of the "thing", whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.

while T.S. Eliot in The Sacred Wood understood modern poetry to have a kind of objectivism:

"The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such as when external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the motion is immediately evoked."

Joseph Frank in "Spatial Form in Modern Literature" stresses the following non-narrative quality to modern poetry:

"If the chief value of an image was it capacity to present an intellectual and emotional complex simultaneously, linking images in a sequence would clearly destroy most of their efficacy. Or was the poem itself one vast image, whose individual components were to be apprehended as a unity? But then it would be necessary to undermine the inherent consecutiveness of language, frustrating the reader's normal expectation of a sequence and forcing him to perceive the elements of the poem as juxtaposed in space rather than unrolling in time."

In addition, one can include some of the following:

  1. a distrust of the Romantic, uncomplicated, unified self
  2. a stress on the immediacy of image and symbol; the "surface" of the poem matters most
  3. an attempt to picture a fragmented world with some resolution or explanation via aesthetic form
  4. a stress on the college as a mediating form for the long poem

[also see for a discussion of Modern Poetry in English.]

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding