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Modern Poetry: A Radical Shift from Conventional Poetry in Reference To Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings and D.H. Lawrence

Jessica Islam
ENG 445, Modern Poetry
14 December 2011
Modern Poetry: A Radical Shift from Conventional Poetry in Reference To
Ezra Pound, E.E. Cummings and D.H. Lawrence
Modernist poetry in English emerged in the early years of the 20th century with the appearance of the Imagists. Inspired by Avant-garde they wanted to replace the typical romantics with daring originality. Modernists saw themselves as looking back to the best practices of poets in earlier periods and other cultures. Their models included ancient Greek literature, Chinese and Japanese poetry, the troubadours, Dante and the medieval Italian philosophical poets and the English Metaphysical poets. These writers believed that romantic art was over-subjective, and argued for a renewed emphasis on the object-like nature of the art work. The questions of impersonality and objectivity seem to be crucial to Modernist poetry. Modernism developed out of a tradition of lyrical expression, emphasizing the personal imagination, culture, emotions and memories of the poet. For the modernists, it was essential to move away from the merely personal towards an intellectual statement that poetry could make about the world. After World War II, a new generation of poets sought to revoke the effort of their predecessors towards impersonality and objectivity.
Writers at these time was seeking to create a modern mode of writing which would provide a flexible alternative to the Victorian mode, and satisfy a new aesthetic criterion based not on emotional indulgence but on the precision of the writing itself. In juxtaposition of subjectivity of romanticism, the idea of objective presentation style seemed more promising and revolutionary.
Writers thus took the risk of experimenting with new style, language and mainly completely changed the conventional way of poetry.
Modern elements in writing of some prominent writers will be discussed here.
Ezra pound was one the pioneer and major personality of modernist movement. His poems were the first glimpse of imagism and his experiment with style made people think outside of the box. He tried to capture a single moment with direct simple language in a way so that the aesthetic value of the moment remains true. The problem with romantic poets was their subjectivity ignored the total dilemma of life. So Ezra Pound presents the idea to write about the whole picture. He was influenced by the Greek language and Japanese haiku poems.
Greek inspired him because of the directness in the language and haiku poems mainly 3-5lines poem that holds Simplified version of truth and dilemma of life and express inexpressible Zen philosophy.
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd ;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

In a station of the metro is one of the imagist poem of Pound describes a moment in the underground metro station in Paris in 1912; Pound suggested that the faces of the individuals in the metro were best put into a poem not with a description but with an “equation”. This poem does not have any verb or apparent rhyme scheme and simile. In this poem we can see that a ghostly crowd moving and the two beautiful faces are compared with nature here. Interestingly here we can find almost all the modern elements, e.g. urbanization, eroticism and dehumanization.

Cumming’s typical style was blizzard of punctuation, the words running together or suddenly breaking part, the type spilling like a liquid from one line to the next. He hardly even paid any attention to the syntax of things. Cummings once declared,
“So far as I am concerned, poetry and every other art was and is and forever will be strictly and distinctly a question of individuality [. . .] Nobody else can be alive for you; nor can you be alive for anybody else.”
As a painter he adopt a style which was difficult to analyze but easy to feel. It’s hard to put any syntactic meaning to his abstract style of poetry. Cummings was also an artist, and took great pains with the layout and typography of his poems. He was a rebel who spoiled the young with his art but was not taken very seriously at his time. E. E. Cummings, for all his unconventionality, made use of many classical poetical associations, metaphors and devices: Spring – love-flowers and the contrast of love and joy with death and the human condition.
His ideology was that love, feelings, passion these are far more important than rational, constructive intellectualism.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
“Kisses are a far better fate than wisdom” might well be his goal, similar to romantics but he wrote in the language of modern man.He was driven by the idea “make it look easy.” The cynical tone and intellectual concern was missing but that does not mean that his art was any less than the other poets. The lack of formal conventional versification and of obvious rhythm and rhyme, conceals the great efforts that Cummings often made to ensure that the music and melody of his poems were perfect. These are evident in his readings, and indeed, several of his poems have been set to music.

nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

The line is abstract and talks about distinct feelings. There can be many interpretation of the lines but no logical analysis. Use of unique figure of speech, lack of punctuation, grammatically incorrect, fragment and of course the use of lower case alphabet made him a rebel even among the modern poets.

Cummings’ poems, like the rain, and roses and stars and the magic of love, are there for readers to enjoy and feel.

D.H. Lawrence’s poetic work is often described as visionary, prophetic, and Romantic in intent. Furthermore, Lawrence insisted that his work be read as an autobiography. His poems are written in a very free verse form, unbounded by traditional structures. The results are fresh, arresting, and full of verbal dexterity. He was especially fond of writing about animals, flowers, and other aspects of nature – usually in a deeply symbolic manner. He was intrigued by the Freud’s psychological analysis and human mind.
Lawrence appealed to the Modernists because of his love of natural speech rhythms (a major part of Modernism was getting away from the stilted vocabulary and artificial language of the poets of the late nineteenth century) and also because his poems use a scientific objectivism when they describe animals Ezra Pound called this ‘direct treatment of the object. Pre-modernist poets usually described animals in a flowery and sentimentalized language, modernist tried to be as objective – even scientific – as they could. In many ways Lawrence’ animal poems go even further than the Modernists did.

In his poem “Snake” talk about a real story with the collectivity of myths, religion and physiological note. He was also influenced by metaphysical poets like George Herbert. He adopted the idea of shaped poetry from metaphysical poets and rather than showing the connection with god and human beings, he reveal the psyche of modern man. In the poem “snake” he show us that modern man is torn between the cultural education, religion and his own mind. How people lose control over the consciousness and unconsciously his primitive perversion for snake take over. Lawrence’s motive arises from his “accursed human education,” which teaches not only that venomous snakes are to be killed on sight but that the earth itself, creator and destroyer, is terrible. We see the procrastination of a man in this poem, the indecision if he should hit the snake or not. He indicates snake as one of the lords of life who is waiting for a second coming. The poem depicts a living creature that might remind one of the Christian God. Christ prepares for his second coming in which he will judge the good and the evil and send the former into heaven, and the latter “into outer darkness”; and the snake, Lawrence, suggests, is “Now due to be crowned again” like Christ.
His poem can also be read erotically, as Lawrence’s vision of a phallic serpent, the demonic seducer of Eve in the Garden of Eden, hanging out of and re-entering the body of a firy procreative Earth. Given Lawrence’s extraordinary visions of sex and death, such a reading can no doubt be sustained, although children of all ages, in and out of school, might be forgiven for missing the point, believing that he really did meet a snake one day at the water-trough and wrote the poem. Interestingly at the end of the poem he think for repentance and probably suggest that how modern man should seek salvation.

As Ezra pound declared “make it new” modern poets tried to break away the conventional way of writing poetry and moreover brought poetry to a new era.

Work cited

A Brief Guide to Imagism . poetry.org.web.
Bradbury,Malcolm and Mcfarlane, James. “The Name and Nature of Modernism”. P.19-55
Lancashire,Ian Commentary . 9.9.2002.
Kirsch,Adam.”The Rebellion of E.E. Cummings”.March-April 2005. Web.
“Reading and understanding E. E. Cummings.” Yu-hu.com. web.


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