Poetry groups and movements or schools may be self-identified by the poets that form them or defined by critics who see unifying characteristics of a body of work by more than one poet. To be a ‘school’ a group of poets must share a common style or a common ethos.
There are many different ‘schools’ of poetry. Some of them are described below in approximate chronological sequence. The subheadings indicate broadly the century in which a style arose.
The Oral tradition is too broad to be a strict school but it is a useful grouping of works whose origins either predate writing, or belong to cultures without writing.
ELIZABETHAN AND SHAKESPEAREAN ERAS
Italian literature was an important influence on the poetry of Thomas Wyatt , one of the earliest English Renaissance poets. He was responsible for many innovations in English poetry, and alongside Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey introduced the sonnet from Italy into England in the early 16th century. Wyatt’s professed object was to experiment with the English tongue, to civilise it, to raise its powers to those of its neighbours. While a significant amount of his literary output consists of translations and imitations of sonnets by the Italian poet Petrarch, he also wrote sonnets of his own. Wyatt took subject matter from Petrarch‘s sonnets, but his rhyme schemes make a significant departure. Petrarch’s sonnets consist of an “octave”, rhyming abba abba, followed, after a turn (volta) in the sense, by a sestet with various rhyme schemes, however his poems never ended in a rhyming couplet. Wyatt employs the Petrarchan octave, but his most common sestet scheme is cddc ee. This marks the beginnings of English sonnet with 3 quatrains and a closing couplet.
In the later 16th century, English poetry was characterised by elaboration of language and extensive allusion to classical myths. The most important poets of this era include Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney. Queen Elizabeth herself, a product of Renaissance humanism, produced occasional poems such as On Monsieur’s Departure and The Daughter of Debate. Edmund Spenser was the author of The Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596), an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth I. Sir Philip Sidney , English poet, courtier and soldier, works include Astrophel and Stella, Poems intended to be set to music as songs, such as by Thomas Campion , became popular as printed literature was disseminated more widely in households.
Other central figures of the canon are Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Shakespeare also popularized the English sonnet, which made significant changes to Petrarch’s model. Poems intended to be set to music as songs, such as those by Thomas Campion, became popular as printed literature was disseminated more widely in households.
THE CASTALIAN BAND
The Castalian Band is a modern name given to a grouping of Scottish Jacobean poets, or makars, which is said to have flourished between the 1580s and early 1590s in the court of James VI and consciously modelled on the French example of the Pléiade. Its name is derived from the classical term Castalian Spring, a symbol for poetic inspiration. The name has often been claimed as that which the King used to refer to the group. Prominent poets in the group are: Alexander Montgomerie, Alexander Hume, William Fowler and Robert Aytoun.
Membership was supposedly fluid and some figures, such as Montgomerie, were already established poets. French influences were particularly important for the King. James himself made translations of work by the Gascon soldier-poet du Bartas, and du Bartas in return translated James’s own Lepanto. Du Bartas himself visited the Scottish Court on a diplomatic mission in 1587 during which time James unsuccessfully attempted to persuade him to stay.
Alexander and Ayton later represented a more anglicised stream of Scottish writing. They came to prominence more properly after the Union of the Crowns, the ascension of James VI King of Scots to the crowns of England and Ireland in 1603. . Ayton was one of the first Scottish poets to have written explicitly in English, while Alexander wrote rhymed tragedies in a genre sometimes referred to as closet drama and assisted the King in his metrical translations of the Psalms of David.
The term metaphysical poets was coined by the critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of 17th-century English poets whose work was characterized by the inventive use of conceits, and by a greater emphasis on the spoken rather than lyrical quality of their verse. These poets were not formally affiliated and few were highly regarded until 20th century attention established their importance. Given the lack of coherence as a movement, and the diversity of style between poets, it has been suggested that calling them Baroque poets after their era might be more useful.
There is no scholarly consensus regarding which English poets or poems fit within the Metaphysical genre. Colin Burrow, writing for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, singles out John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Richard Crashaw as ‘central figures’, while naming many more, all or part of whose work has been identified as sharing its characteristics. Two 20th century anthologies have been important in defining the Metaphysical canon: Herbert Grierson’s Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century (1921) and Helen Gardner’s Metaphysical Poets (1957). The latter also included ‘proto-metaphysical’ poets such as William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Raleigh and, extending into the Restoration, brought in Edmund Waller and the Earl of Rochester. While comprehensive, her selection, as Burrow remarks, so dilutes the style as to make it ‘virtually coextensive with seventeenth-century poetry’.
During the course of the 1920s, T.S. Eliot did much to establish the importance of the school, both through his critical writing and by applying their method in his own work. By 1961 A. Alvarez was commenting that “it may perhaps be a little late in the day to be writing about the Metaphysicals. The great vogue for Donne passed with the passing of the Anglo-American experimental movement in modern poetry.” Two decades later, a hostile view was expressed that emphasis on their importance had been an attempt by Eliot and his followers to impose a ‘high Anglican and royalist literary history’ on 17th-century English poetry.
Burrow’s opinion, on the other hand, is that the term ‘Metaphysical poets’ still retains some value. For one thing, Donne’s poetry had considerable influence on subsequent poets, who emulated his style. And there are several instances in which 17th-century poets used the word ‘metaphysical’ in their work, meaning that Samuel Johnson’s description has some foundation in the usage of the previous century. However, the term does isolate English poets from those who shared similar stylistic traits in Europe and America. Since the 1960s, therefore, it has been argued that gathering all of these under the heading of Baroque poets would be more helpfully inclusive.
Johnson’s definition of the Metaphysical poets was that of a hostile critic looking back at the style of the previous century. In 1958 Alvarez proposed an alternative approach in a series of lectures eventually published as The School of Donne. This was to look at the practice and self-definition of the circle of friends about Donne, who were the recipients of many of his verse letters. They were a group of some fifteen young professionals with an interest in poetry, many of them poets themselves although, like Donne for much of his life, few of them published their work. Instead, copies were circulated in manuscript among them. Uncertain ascriptions resulted in some poems from their fraternity being ascribed to Donne by later editors.
A younger second generation was a close-knit group of courtiers, some of them with family or professional ties to Donne’s circle, who initially borrowed Donne’s manner to cultivate wit. Among them were Lord Herbert of Cherbury and his brother George, whose mother Magdalen was another recipient of verse letters by Donne. Eventually George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Richard Crashaw, all of whom knew each other, took up the religious life and extended their formerly secular approach into this new area. A later generation of Metaphysical poets, writing during the Commonwealth, became increasingly more formulaic and lacking in vitality. These included John Cleveland and his imitators as well as such transitional figures as Cowley and Marvell.
What all had in common, according to Alvarez, was esteem, not for metaphysics but for intelligence. Johnson’s remark that “To write on their plan it was at least necessary to read and think” only echoed its recognition a century and a half before in the many tributes paid to Donne on his death. For example, Jasper Mayne’s comment that for the fellow readers of his work, “Wee are thought wits, when ‘tis understood”. Coupled with it went a vigorous sense of the speaking voice. It begins with the rough versification of the satires written by Donne and others in his circle such as Everard Gilpin and John Roe. Later it modulates into the thoughtful religious poems of the next generation with their exclamatory or conversational openings and their sense of the mind playing over the subject and examining it from all sides. Helen Gardner too had noted the dramatic quality of this poetry as a personal address of argument and persuasion, whether talking to a physical lover, to God, to Christ’s mother Mary, or to a congregation of believers.
Late additions to the Metaphysical canon have included sacred poets of both England and America who had been virtually unknown for centuries. John Norris was better known as a Platonist philosopher. Platonic ideas had earlier played their part in the love poetry of others, often to be ridiculed there, although Edward Herbert took the theme of “Platonic Love” more seriously in his poems with that title. But in the poetry of Henry Vaughan, as in that of another of the late discoveries, Thomas Traherne, Neo-Platonic concepts played an important part and contributed to some striking poems dealing with the soul’s remembrance of perfect beauty in the eternal realm and its spiritual influence.
Traherne’s poetry remained unpublished until the start of the 20th century. The work of Edward Taylor, who is now counted as the outstanding English-language poet of North America, was only discovered in 1937. When a first selection was published, he was called simply “A Puritan sacred poet”. Soon after, however, he was being described as “an American metaphysical” and his poetry typified as ‘Colonial Baroque’. In his work appear such typically Baroque elements as acrostic verse, word play and use of conceits, as well as spoken meditations reminiscent of George Herbert. A later study compared his approach to that of such Baroque Poets as Giambattista Marini and Francisco de Quevedo, who in his time were influencing the Spanish-language poets of the New World.
A different approach to defining the community of readers is to survey who speaks of whom, and in what manner, in their poetry. On the death of Donne, it is natural that his friend Edward Herbert should write him an elegy full of high-flown and exaggerated Metaphysical logic. In a similar way, Abraham Cowley marks the deaths of Crashaw and of another member of Donne’s literary circle, Henry Wotton. Here, however, though Cowley acknowledges Crashaw briefly as a writer (“Poet and saint”), his governing focus is on how Crashaw’s goodness transcended his change of religion. The elegy is as much an exercise in a special application of logic as was Edward Herbert’s on Donne. Henry Wotton, on the other hand, is not remembered as a writer at all, but instead for his public career. The conjunction of his learning and role as ambassador becomes the extended metaphor on which the poem’s tribute turns.
Twelve “Elegies upon the Author” accompanied the posthumous first collected edition of Donne’s work, Poems by J.D. with elegies of the author’s death (1633), and were reprinted in subsequent editions over the course of the next two centuries. Though the poems were often cast in a suitably Metaphysical style, half were written by fellow clergymen, few of whom are remembered for their poetry. Among those who are were Henry King and Jasper Mayne, who was soon to quit authorship for clerica lorders. Bishop Richard Corbet’s poetry writing was also nearly over by now and he contributed only a humorous squib. Other churchmen included Henry Valentine, Edward Hyde and Richard Busby. Two poets, Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland and Thomas Carew, who were joined in the 1635 edition by Sidney Godolphin, had links with the heterodox Great Tew Circle. They also served as courtiers, as did another contributor, Endymion Porter. In addition, Carew had been in the service of Edward Herbert.
Isaac Walton’s link with Donne’s circle was more tangential. He had friends within the Great Tew Circle but at the time of his elegy was working as a researcher for Henry Wotton, who intended writing a life of the poet. This project Walton inherited after his death, publishing it under his own name in 1640; it was followed by a life of Wotton himself that prefaced the collection of Wotton’s works in 1651. A life of George Herbert followed them in 1670. The links between Donne’s elegists were thus of a different order from those between Donne and his circle of friends, often no more than professional acquaintanceship. And once the poetic style had been launched, its tone and approach remained available as a model for later writers who might not necessarily commit themselves so wholly to it.
THE CAVALIER POETS
Cavalier Poets is a broad description of a school of English poets of the 17th century, who came from the classes that supported King Charles I during the English Civil War. Charles, a connoisseur of the fine arts, supported poets who created the art he craved. These poets in turn grouped themselves with the King and his service, thus becoming Cavalier Poets.
A cavalier was traditionally a mounted soldier or knight, but when the term was applied to those who supported Charles it was meant to portray them as roistering gallants. The term was thus meant to belittle and insult. However, it became the term applied to those who supported Charles. They were separate in their lifestyle and divided on religion from the Roundheads, who supported Parliament, consisting often of Puritans (either Presbyterians or Independents).
The best known of the Cavalier poets are Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, and Sir John Suckling. Most of the Cavalier poets were courtiers, with notable exceptions. For example, Robert Herrick was not a courtier, but his style marks him as a Cavalier poet.
Characteristics of Cavalier Poetry
Cavalier poetry is different from traditional poetry in its subject matter. Instead of tackling issues like religion, philosophy, and the arts, cavalier poetry aims to express the joy and simple gratification of celebratory things much livelier than the traditional works of their predecessors. The intent of their works was often to promote the crown (particularly Charles I), and cavalier poets spoke outwardly against the Roundheads who supported the rebellion of Parliament against the crown. Most Cavalier works had allegorical and/or classical references. They drew upon the knowledge of Horace, Cicero, and Ovid. By using these resources they were able to produce poetry that impressed King Charles I. The Cavalier Poets strove to create poetry where both pleasure and virtue thrived. They were rich in reference to the ancients as well as pleasing. Commonly held traits certainly exist in Cavalier poetry in that most poems “celebrate beauty, love, nature, sensuality, drinking, good fellowship, honor, and social life.” In many ways, this poetry embodies an attitude that mirrors “carpe diem.” Cavalier poets certainly wrote to promote Loyalist principles in favor of the crown, but their themes ran deeper than that. Cavalier poets wrote in a way that promoted seizing the day and the opportunities presented to them and their kinsmen. They wanted to revel in society and come to be the best that they possibly could within the bounds of that society. This endorsement of living life to the fullest, for Cavalier writers, often included gaining material wealth and having sex with women. These themes contributed to the triumphant and boisterous tone and attitude of the poetry. Platonic Love was also another characteristic of Cavalier poetry, where the man would show his divine love to a woman, where she would be worshipped as a creature of perfection. As such it was common to hear praise of womanly virtues as though they were divine.
Cavalier poetry is closely linked to the Royalist cause in that the main intent of their poetry was to glorify the crown. In this way, Cavalier poetry is often grouped in a political category of poetry. While most of the poetry written by these Cavalier poets does advocate the cause of the monarchy in some way, not all of the writers we now consider Cavalier poets knew that they fell under this categorization during their lifetime. Cavalier poetry began to be recognized as its own genre with the beginning of the English Civil War in 1642 when men began to write in defense of the crown. However, authors like Thomas Carew and Sir John Suckling died years before the war began, yet are still classified as Cavalier poets for the political nature of their poetry. Once the conflict began between the monarchy and the rebellious parliament, the content of the poetry became much more specifically aimed at upholding Royalist ideals. These men were considered by many to write in a nostalgic tone in that their work promoted the principles and practices of the monarchy that was under philosophical and, eventually, literal attack.
There was also a celebration of the monarchy of Charles I among the Cavalier poets. Jonson in particular celebrated ideas of common sense, duty, moderation, propriety, and elegance (the which he also practiced). These ideas didn’t belong to the ancients but rather belonged to the court and to England. In this way although the Cavaliers embraced the old ways of thinking from the ancients, they also incorporated their own ideas and thoughts into their poetry. This made their writings applicable for the era they were writing in and also portrayed the greatness of the crown and of Charles.
Other characteristics of Cavalier poetry were the metaphor and fantasy.
Issues of Classification
The foremost poets of the Jacobean era, Ben Jonson and John Donne, are regarded as the originators of two diverse poetic traditions—the Cavalier and the metaphysical styles.
English poets of the early seventeenth century are crudely classified by the division into Cavaliers and metaphysical poets, the latter (for example John Donne) being much concerned with religion. The division is therefore along a line approximating to secular/religious. It is not considered exclusive, though, with Carew (for example) falling into both sides, in some opinions (‘metaphysical’ was in any case a retrospective term). The term ‘sacred poets’ has been applied, with an argument that they fall between two schools:
Herbert, Crashaw and Vaughan form, not, indeed, a school of poetry, but a group with definite links connecting them. Unlike the Fletchers and Habington, who looked back to “Spenser’s art and Sydney’s wit,” they come under the influence both of the newer literary fashions of Jonson and Fres, and of the revived spirit of cultured devotion in the Anglican church.
Others associated with the Cavalier tradition, according to Skelton, include Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Aurelian Townshend, William Cartwright, Thomas Randolph, William Habington, Sir Richard Fanshawe, Edmund Waller, and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose. Because of the influence of Ben Jonson, the term Tribe of Ben is sometimes applied to poets in this loose group (Sons of Ben applies properly only to dramatist followers of Jonson).
In his introduction to The New Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse Alastair Fowler makes a case for the existence of a third group centering on Michael Drayton and including William Browne, William Drummond of Hawthornden, John Davies of Hereford, George Sandys, Joshua Sylvester and George Wither.
Neoclassicism (from Greek νέος nèos, “new” and Latin classicus, “of the highest rank”) is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the “classical” art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome. Neoclassicism was born in Rome in the mid-18th century, but its popularity spread all over Europe, as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals.[The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, latterly competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.
The leading neoclassic poets are: John Dryden, Alexander Pope, William Blake, Robert Burns and William Cowper
The “Graveyard Poets”, also termed “Churchyard Poets” were a number of pre-Romantic English poets of the 18th century characterised by their gloomy meditations on mortality, ‘skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms’ elicited by the presence of the graveyard. Moving beyond the elegy lamenting a single death, their purpose was rarely sensationalist. As the century progressed, “graveyard” poetry increasingly expressed a feeling for the ‘sublime’ and uncanny, and an antiquarian interest in ancient English poetic forms and folk poetry. The “graveyard poets” are often recognized as precursors of the Gothic literary genre, as well as the Romantic movement.
The Graveyard School is an indefinite literary grouping that binds together a wide variety of authors; what makes a poem a “graveyard” poem remains open to critical dispute. At its narrowest the term “Graveyard School” refers to four poems: Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Thomas Parnell’s “Night-Piece On Death“, Robert Blair’s The Grave and Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts. At its broadest it can describe a host of poetry and prose works popular in the early and mid-eighteenth century. The term itself was not used as a brand for the poets and their poetry until William Macneile Dixon did so in 1898.
Some literary critics have emphasized Milton’s minor poetry as the main influence of the meditative verse written by the Graveyard Poets. W. L. Phelps, for example, said, “It was not so much in form as in thought that Milton affected the Romantic movement; and although Paradise Lost was always reverentially considered his greatest work, it was not at this time nearly so effective as his minor poetry; and in the latter it was “Il Penseroso”—the love of meditative comfortable melancholy—that penetrated most deeply into the Romantic soul. “However, other critics like Raymond D. Havens, Harko de Maar, and Eric Partridge have challenged the direct influence of Milton’s poem, claiming rather that Graveyard poetry came from a culmination of literary precedents. As a result of the religious revival, the early eighteenth-century was a time of both spiritual unrest and regeneration; therefore, meditation and melancholy, death and life, ghosts and graveyards, were attractive subjects to poets at that time. These subjects were, however, interesting to earlier poets as well. The Graveyard School’s melancholy was not new to English poetry, but rather a continuation of that of previous centuries; there is even an elegiac quality to the poems almost reminiscent of Anglo Saxon literature. The characteristics and style of Graveyard poetry is not unique to them, and the same themes and tone are found in ballads and odes.
Many of the Graveyard School poets were, like Thomas Parnell, Christian clergymen, and as such they often wrote didactic poetry, combining aesthetics with religious and moral instruction. They were also inclined toward contemplating subjects related to life after death, which is reflected in how their writings focus on human mortality and man’s relation to the divine. The religious culture of the mid-eighteenth century included an emphasis on private devotion, as well as the end of printed funeral sermons. Each of these conditions demanded a new kind of text with which people could meditate on life and death in a personal setting. The Graveyard School met that need, and the poems were thus quite popular, especially with the middle class. For instance Elizabeth Rowe‘s Friendship in Death: In Twenty Letters from the Dead to the Living, published in 1728, had 27 editions printed by 1760. This popularity, as Parisot says, “confirms the fashionable mid-century taste for mournful piety.” Thomas Gray, who found inspiration in a churchyard, claimed to have a naturally melancholy spirit, writing in a letter that “low spirits are my true and faithful companions; they get up with me, go to bed with me; make journeys and returns as I do; nay, and pay visits, and will even affect to be jocose, and force a feeble laugh with me; but most commonly we sit alone together, and are the prettiest insipid company in the world.”
The works of the Graveyard School continued to be popular into the early 19th century and were instrumental in the development of the Gothic novel, contributing to the dark, mysterious mood and story lines that characterize the genre—Graveyard School writers focused their writings on the lives of ordinary and unidentified characters. They are also considered pre-Romanticists, ushering in the Romantic literary movement by their reflection on emotional states. This emotional reflection is seen in Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode” and Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy.”
Some Graveyard Poets are: Thomas Parnell, Thomas Warton, Thomas Percy, Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, Christopher Smart, James MacPherson, Robert Blair, William Collins, Thomas Chatterton, Mark Akenside, Joseph Warton, Henry Kirke White and Edward Young.
Parnassianism (or Parnassism) was a French literary style that began during the positivist period of the 19th century, occurring after romanticism and prior to symbolism. The style was influenced by the author Théophile Gautier as well as by the philosophical ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer. The name is derived from the original Parnassian poets’ journal, Le Parnasse contemporain, itself named after Mount Parnassus, home of the Muses of Greek mythology. The anthology was first issued in 1866 and again in 1869 and 1876, including poems by Charles Marie Rene Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville, Sully-Prudhomme, Stéphane Mallarmé, Léon Dierx, Paul Verlaine, François Coppée and José María de Heredia.
The Parnassians were influenced by Théophile Gautier and his doctrine of “art for art’s sake“. As a reaction to the less-disciplined types of romantic poetry/and what they considered the excessive sentimentality and undue social and political activism of Romantic works, the Parnassians strove for exact and faultless workmanship, selecting exotic and classical subjects that they treated with rigidity of form and emotional detachment. Elements of this detachment were derived from the philosophical work of Schopenhauer.
The Parnassians were a group of late 19th-century French poets, named after their journal, the Parnasse contemporain. in reaction to the looser forms of romantic poetry, they strove for exact and faultless workmanship, selecting exotic and classical subjects, which they treated with rigidity of form and emotional detachment:
ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY
In England the poet William Wordsworth was actively engaged in trying to create a new kind of poetry that emphasized intuition over reason and the pastoral over the urban, often eschewing consciously poetic language in an effort to use more colloquial language. Wordsworth himself in the Preface to his and Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s Lyrical Ballads (1798) defined good poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”, though in the same sentence he goes on to clarify this statement by asserting that nonetheless any poem of value must still be composed by a man “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply;” he also emphasizes the importance of the use of meter in poetry (which he views as one of the key features that differentiates poetry from prose). Although many stress the notion of spontaneity in Romantic poetry, the movement was still greatly concerned with the difficulty of composition, and of translating these emotions into poetic form. Indeed, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, another prominent English Romantic poet and critic, in his On Poesy or Art sees art as “the mediatress between, and reconciler of nature and man”. Such an attitude reflects what might be called the dominant theme of English Romantic poetry: the filtering of natural emotion through the human mind in order to create art, coupled with an awareness of the duality created by such a process.
Romantic poets include William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats (those previous six sometimes referred to as the Big Six, or the Big Five without Blake); other Romantic poets include James Macpherson, Robert Southey and Emily Brontë.
Characteristics of English Romantic poetry
Reaction against Neoclassicism
Romantic poetry contrast with neoclassical poetry, which is poetry of intellect and reason, while romantic poetry is the product of emotions, sentiments and the heart. Romantic poetry is a reaction against the set standards, conventions, and the traditional rules of poetry. According to one critic, “The Romantic Movement was marked, and is always marked, by a strong reaction and protest against the bondage of rule and custom which in science and theology as well as literature, generally tend to fetter the free human spirit.”
Belief in the importance of the imagination is a distinctive feature of romantic poets such as John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unlike neoclassical poets, who shunned imagination in their poetry, romantic poets laid stress on imagination. Keats said, “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Spirituality in both Wordsworth and William Blake, as well as Victor Hugo and Alessandro Manzoni, the imagination is related to morality, and they believed that literature, especially poetry, could improve the world. The secret of great art, Blake claimed, is the capacity to imagine. To define imagination, in his poem “Auguries of Innocence”, Blake said:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Love for nature is another important feature of romantic poetry, a wellspring of inspiration, satisfaction and happiness. This poetry involves a relationship with external nature and places, and a belief in pantheism. However, the romantic poets differed in their views about nature. Wordsworth recognized nature as a living thing, teacher, god and everything. These feelings are fully developed and expressed in his epic poem The Prelude. In his poem “The Tables Turn” he writes:
One impulse from the vernal wood
Can teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and good,
Than all sages can.
Shelley was another nature poet, who believed that nature is a living thing and there is a union between nature and man. Wordsworth approaches nature philosophically, while Shelley emphasises the intellect. John Keats is another a lover of nature, but Coleridge differs from other romantic poets of his age, in that he has a realistic perspective on nature. He believes that nature is not the source of joy and pleasure, but rather that people’s reactions to it depends on their mood and disposition. Coleridge believed that joy does not come from external nature, but that it emanates from the human heart.
Medievalism is another important characteristic of romantic poetry, especially in the works of John Keats and Coleridge. They were attracted to exotic, remote and obscure places, and so were they were more attracted to Middle Ages than to their own age. Romantic poetry was also attracted to nostalgia.
The world of classical Greece was important to the Romantics. John Keats’ poetry is full of allusions to the art, literature and culture of Greek. The “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is an example of this.
Most of the romantic poets used supernatural elements in their poetry. They used supernaturalism not just for the creation of horror and awe, but rather for the pleasure of the reader. Samuel Coleridge is the leading romantic poet in this regard. His poem “Kubla Khan” is completely the product of his imagination, and is full of supernatural elements.
Romantic poetry is the poetry of sentiments, emotions and imagination. Romantic poetry opposed the objectivity of neoclassical poetry. Neoclassical poets avoided describing their personal emotions in their poetry, not like the Romantics.
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style originates with the 1857 publication of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire admired greatly and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated by a series of manifestos and attracted a generation of writers. The name “symbolist” itself was first applied by the critic Jean Moréas, who invented the term to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadents of literature and of art. Significant poets of the group included Paul Verlaine, Tristan Corbière, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé.
Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic styles which were attempts to represent reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. Symbolism was a reaction in favour of spirituality, the imagination, and dreams. Some writers, such as Joris-Karl Huysmans, began as naturalists before becoming symbolists; for Huysmans, this change represented his increasing interest in religion and spirituality. Certain of the characteristic subjects of the decadents represent naturalist interest in sexuality and taboo topics, but in their case this was mixed with Byronic romanticism and the world-weariness characteristic of the fin de siècle period.
The symbolist poets have a more complex relationship with Parnassianism, a French literary style that immediately preceded it. While being influenced by hermeticism, allowing freer versification, and rejecting Parnassian clarity and objectivity, it retained Parnassianism’s love of word play and concern for the musical qualities of verse. The symbolists continued to admire Théophile Gautier’s motto of “art for art’s sake“, and retained – and modified – Parnassianism’s mood of ironic detachment. Many symbolist poets, including Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine, published early works in Le Parnasse contemporain, the poetry anthologies that gave Parnassianism its name. But Arthur Rimbaud publicly mocked prominent Parnassians, and published scatological parodies of some of their main authors.
Modernist poetry refers to poetry written, mainly in Europe and North America, between 1890 and 1950 in the tradition of modernist literature, but the dates of the term depend upon a number of factors, including the nation of origin, the particular school in question, and the biases of the critic setting the dates. The critic/poet C. H. Sisson observed in his essay Poetry and Sincerity that “Modernity has been going on for a long time. Not within living memory has there ever been a day when young writers were not coming up, in a threat of iconoclasm.
Notwithstanding it is usually said to have begun with the French Symbolist movement and it artificially ends with the Second World War, the beginning and ending of the modernist period are of course arbitrary. Poets like W. B. Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke started in a post-Romantic, Symbolist vein and modernised their poetic idiom after being affected by political and literary developments. Imagism proved radical and important, marking a new point of departure for poetry. Some consider ‘it began in the works of Thomas Hardy and Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Yeats, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. English language poets, like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Basil Bunting, Stevens and E.E. Cummings also went on to produce work after World War II.
Nature of Modernism
Modernism emerged with its insistent breaks with the immediate past, its different inventions, ‘making it new’ with elements from cultures remote in time and space. The questions of impersonality and objectivity seem to be crucial to Modernist poetry. Modernism developed out of a tradition of lyrical expression, emphasising 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. Even when they reverted to the personal, like T. S. Eliot in the Four Quartets and Ezra Pound in The Cantos, they distilled the personal into a poetic texture that claimed universal human significance. Herbert Read said of it, “The modern poet has no essential alliance with regular schemes of any sorts. He reserves the right to adapt his rhythm to his mood, to modulate his metre as he progresses. Far from seeking freedom and irresponsibility (implied by the unfortunate term free verse) he seeks a stricter discipline of exact concord of thought and feeling.”
After World War II, a new generation of poets sought to revoke the effort of their predecessors towards impersonality and objectivity. In the English language modernism ends with the turn towards confessional poetry in the work of Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, among others.
The Fireside Poets (also known as the Schoolroom or Household Poets) were a group of 19th-century American poets from New England. The group is usually described as comprising Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The name “Fireside Poets” is derived from that popularity: their writing was a source of entertainment for families gathered around the fire at home. The name was further inspired by Longfellow’s 1850 poetry collection The Seaside and the Fireside. Lowell later published a book titled Fireside Travels in 1864 which helped solidify the title.
These poets’ general adherence to poetic convention (standard forms, regular meter, and rhymed stanzas) made their body of work particularly suitable for memorization and recitation in school and also at home. Only Ralph Waldo Emerson rejected the traditional European forms that his contemporaries often utilized and instead called for new American forms and emphasized content over form. The poets’ primary subjects were domestic life, mythology, and the politics of the United States, in which several of the poets were directly involved. The Fireside Poets did not write for the sake of other poets, for critics, or for posterity. Instead, they wrote for a contemporary audience of general readers.
In 1901, Emerson and Longfellow were inducted as inaugural members of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, which would add Lowell and Whittier in 1905, and Holmes and Bryant in 1910. Longfellow was commemorated with a bust in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey in London; he was the first non-British writer honored this way and remains the only American poet represented with a bust. Even before the end of the century, however, Lowell acknowledged a change in the poetic climate and feared the erasure of gentlemanly gentility in emerging poetry. He wrote to William Dean Howells: “The danger of our literature… seems to me to be lawlessness & want of scholarly refinement. This is the rock I see ahead just now, & I fear we may go to pieces on it if we don’t look sharp.” With the death of Holmes in 1894, the last of the Fireside Poets, one literary magazine called it “the closing of an era in American literature”.
The Fireside Poets (also known as the Schoolroom or Household Poets) were a group of 19th-century American poets from New England. The group is usually described as comprising Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISTS (1836-1860)
Transcendentalism became a coherent movement and a sacred organization with the founding of the Transcendental Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 8, 1836, by prominent New England intellectuals including George Putnam (1807–78; the Unitarian minister in Roxbury), Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Frederic Henry Hedge. From 1840, the group frequently published in their journal The Dial, along with other venues.
It arose as a reaction to or protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality at the time. The doctrine of the Unitarian church as taught at Harvard Divinity School was of particular interest. A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent.
The Transcendentalists grew from that mission statement, which was inspired by Emerson’s love of Hinduism, Swedenbourg’s mystical Christianity, and Immanuel Kant’s transcendental philosophy. They created a shadow society that espoused utopian values, spiritual exploration, and full development of the arts. They revolted against a culture they thought was becoming too puritanical, and an educational system they thought overly intellectual. Like the Romantics, heart-centered, personal expression was their aim – and so was the development of socialized community. They even had a commune, Brook Farm. These sentiments informed their gatherings, discussions, public meetings, essays, and poetry. Unlike the Romantics, who often clashed because of their personal differences, the Transcendentalists sought commonalities, no doubt influenced by Emerson’s adherence to Hinduism.
Transcendentalism emphasizes subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with as little attention and deference to past masters as possible. Transcendentalists believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community can form. Even with this necessary individuality, transcendentalists also believe that all people possess a piece of the “Over-soul” (God). Because the Over-soul is one, this unites all people as one being.
Major figures in the transcendentalist movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Amos Bronson Alcott. Other prominent transcendentalists included Louisa May Alcott, Timothy Brooks, William Ellery Channing, James Freeman Clarke, Christopher Pearse Cranch, William Henry Furness, Frederic Henry Hedge, Theodore Parker, Jones Very, and Walt Whitman.
Georgian Poetry refers to a series of anthologies showcasing the work of a school of English poetry that established itself during the early years of the reign of King George V of the United Kingdom.
The Georgian poets were, by the strictest definition, those whose works appeared in a series of five anthologies named Georgian Poetry, published by Harold Monro and edited by Edward Marsh, the first volume of which contained poems written in 1911 and 1912. The group included Lascelles Abercrombie, Hilaire Belloc, Edmund Charles Blunden, Gordon Bottomley, Rupert Brooke, William Henry Davies, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Ralph Hodgson, John Drinkwater, James Elroy Flecker, Wilfred Wilson Gibson, Robert Graves, D. H. Lawrence, Francis Ledwidge, Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, T. Sturge Moore, Siegfried Sassoon, Sir J.C. Squire, and James Stephens.
Imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. Imagism has been described as the most influential movement in English poetry since the activity of the Pre-Raphaelites. As a poetic style it gave Modernism its start in the early 20th century, and is considered to be the first organized Modernist literary movement in the English language. Imagism is sometimes viewed as ‘a succession of creative moments’ rather than any continuous or sustained period of development. René Taupin remarked that ‘It is more accurate to consider Imagism not as a doctrine, nor even as a poetic school, but as the association of a few poets who were for a certain time in agreement on a small number of important principles’.
The Imagists rejected the sentiment and discursiveness typical of much Romantic and Victorian poetry, in contrast to their contemporaries, the Georgian poets, who were generally content to work within that tradition. In contrast, Imagism called for a return to what were seen as more Classical values, such as directness of presentation and economy of language, as well as a willingness to experiment with non-traditional verse forms. Imagists use free verse.
Imagist publications appearing between 1914 and 1917 featured works by many of the most prominent modernist figures, both in poetry and in other fields. The Imagist group was centered in London, with members from Great Britain, Ireland and the United States. Somewhat unusually for the time, a number of women writers were major Imagist figures.
A characteristic feature of Imagism is its attempt to isolate a single image to reveal its essence. This feature mirrors contemporary developments in avant-garde art, especially Cubism. Although Imagism isolates objects through the use of what Ezra Pound called “luminous details”, Pound’s Ideogrammic Method of juxtaposing concrete instances to express an abstraction is similar to Cubism’s manner of synthesizing multiple perspectives into a single image.
In 1911, Pound introduced two other poets to the Eiffel Tower group: his former fiancée Hilda Doolittle (who had started signing her work H.D.) and her future husband Richard Aldington. These two were interested in exploring Greek poetic models, especially Sappho, an interest that Pound shared. The compression of expression that they achieved by following the Greek example complemented the proto-Imagist interest in Japanese poetry, and, in 1912, during a meeting with them in the British Museum tea room, Pound told H.D. and Aldington that they were Imagistes and even appended the signature H.D. Imagiste to some poems they were discussing.
When Harriet Monroe started her Poetry magazine in 1911, she had asked Pound to act as foreign editor. In October 1912, he submitted thereto three poems each by H.D. and Aldington under the Imagiste rubric, (published in the November 1912 second issue thereof ) with a note which described Aldington as ‘ one of the ‘Imagistes’. This note, along with the appendix note (‘The Complete Works of T. S. Hulme‘) in Pound’s book (also published in Autumn 1912) entitled Ripostes are considered to be first appearances of the word Imagiste(later anglicised to ‘Imagists’) in print.
Aldington’s poems, Choricos, To a Greek Marble, and Au Vieux Jardin, were in the November issue of Poetry, and H.D.’s, Hermes of the Ways, Priapus, and Epigram, appeared in the January 1913 issue; Imagism as a movement was launched. Poetry’s April issue published what came to be seen as “Imagism’s enabling text”, the haiku-like poem of Ezra Pound entitled “In a Station of the Metro“:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The March 1913 issue of Poetry contained A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste and the essay entitled Imagisme both written by Pound, with the latter being attributed to Flint. The latter contained this succinct statement of the group’s position:
- Direct treatment of the “thing”, whether subjective or objective.
- To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
- As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.
Pound’s note opened with a definition of an image as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”. Pound goes on to state,”It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works”. His list of “don’ts” reinforced his three statements in “Imagism”, while warning that they should not be considered as dogma but as the “result of long contemplation”. Taken together, these two texts comprised the Imagist programme for a return to what they saw as the best poetic practice of the past. F.S. Flint commented “we have never claimed to have invented the moon. We do not pretend that our ideas are original.”
The 1916 preface to Some Imagist Poets comments “Imagism does not merely mean the presentation of pictures. Imagism refers to the manner of presentation, not to the subject.”
Determined to promote the work of the Imagists, and particularly of Aldington and H.D., Pound decided to publish an anthology under the title Des Imagistes. It was first published in Alfred Kreymborg’s little magazine The Glebe and was later published in 1914 by Alfred and Charles Boni in New York and by Harold Monro at the Poetry Bookshop in London. It became one of the most important and influential English-language collections of modernist verse.] Included in the thirty-seven poems were ten poems by Aldington, seven by H.D., and six by Pound. The book also included work by F.S. Flint, Skipwith Cannell, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Allen Upward and John Cournos. Max Michelson was also another included in the important 1963 anthology by William Pratt The Imagist Poem Modern Poetry in miniature.
Pound’s editorial choices were based on what he saw as the degree of sympathy that these writers displayed with Imagist precepts, rather than active participation in a group as such. Williams, who was based in the United States, had not participated in any of the discussions of the Eiffel Tower group. However, he and Pound had long been corresponding on the question of the renewal of poetry along similar lines. Ford was included at least partly because of his strong influence on Pound, as the younger poet made the transition from his earlier, Pre-Raphaelite-influenced style towards a harder, more modern way of writing. The inclusion of a poem by Joyce, I Hear an Army, which was sent to Pound by W.B. Yeats, took on a wider importance in the history of literary modernism, as the subsequent correspondence between the two led to the serial publication, at Pound’s behest, of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in The Egoist. Joyce’s poem is not written in free verse, but in rhyming quatrains. However, it strongly reflects Pound’s interest in poems written to be sung to music, such as those by the troubadours and Guido Cavalcanti. The book met with little popular or critical success, at least partly because it had no introduction or commentary to explain what the poets were attempting to do, and a number of copies were returned to the publisher.
Some Imagist Poets
The following year, Pound and Flint fell out over their different interpretations of the history and goals of the group arising from an article on the history of Imagism written by Flint and published in The Egoist in May 1915. Flint was at pains to emphasise the contribution of the Eiffel Tower poets, especially Edward Storer. Pound, who believed that the “Hellenic hardness” that he saw as the distinguishing quality of the poems of H.D. and Aldington was likely to be diluted by the “custard” of Storer, was to play no further direct role in the history of the Imagists. He went on to co-found the Vorticists with his friend, the painter and writer Wyndham Lewis.
Around this time, the American Imagist Amy Lowell moved to London, determined to promote her own work and that of the other Imagist poets. Lowell was a wealthy heiress from Boston whose brother Abbott Lawrence Lowell was President of Harvard University from 1909-1933. She loved Keats and cigars. She was also an enthusiastic champion of literary experiment who was willing to use her money to publish the group. Lowell was determined to change the method of selection from Pound’s autocratic editorial attitude to a more democratic manner. This new editorial policy was stated in the Preface to the first anthology to appear under her leadership: “In this new book we have followed a slightly different arrangement to that of our former Anthology. Instead of an arbitrary selection by an editor, each poet has been permitted to represent himself by the work he considers his best, the only stipulation being that it should not yet have appeared in book form.” The outcome was a series of Imagist anthologies under the title Some Imagist Poets. The first of these appeared in 1915, planned and assembled mainly by H.D. and Aldington. Two further issues, both edited by Lowell, were published in 1916 and 1917. These three volumes featured most of the original poets, (also including imagist poetry by the American poet John Gould Fletcher), with the exception of Pound, who had tried to persuade her to drop the Imagist name from her publications and who sardonically dubbed this phase of Imagism “Amy-gism.”
Lowell persuaded D. H. Lawrence to contribute poems to the 1915 and 1916 volumes,[ making him the only writer to publish as both a Georgian poet and an Imagist. Marianne Moore also became associated with the group during this period. However, with World War I as a backdrop, the times were not easy for avant-garde literary movements (Aldington, for example, spent much of the war at the front), and the 1917 anthology effectively marked the end of the Imagists as a movement.
Imagists after Imagism
In 1929, Walter Lowenfels jokingly suggested that Aldington should produce a new Imagist anthology. Aldington, by now a successful novelist, took up the suggestion and enlisted the help of Ford and H.D. The result was the Imagist Anthology 1930, edited by Aldington and including all the contributors to the four earlier anthologies with the exception of Lowell, who had died, Cannell, who had disappeared, and Pound, who declined. The appearance of this anthology initiated a critical discussion of the place of the Imagists in the history of 20th-century poetry.
Of the poets who were published in the various Imagist anthologies, Joyce, Lawrence and Aldington are now primarily remembered and read as novelists. Marianne Moore, who was at most a fringe member of the group, carved out a unique poetic style of her own that retained an Imagist concern with compression of language. William Carlos Williams developed his poetic along distinctly American lines with his variable foot and a diction he claimed was taken “from the mouths of Polish mothers”. Both Pound and H.D. turned to writing long poems, but retained much of the hard edge to their language as an Imagist legacy. Most of the other members of the group are largely forgotten outside the context of the history of Imagism.
The objectivist poets were a loose-knit group of second-generation Modernists who emerged in the 1930s. They were mainly American and were influenced by, amongst others, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. The basic tenets of objectivist poetics as defined by Louis Zukofsky were to treat the poem as an object, and to emphasise sincerity, intelligence, and the poet’s ability to look clearly at the world. While the name of the group is similar to Ayn Rand’s school of philosophy, the two movements are not affiliated in any way, and are, in fact, radically different.
The core group consisted of the Americans Zukofsky, Williams, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen and Carl Rakosi, and the British poet Basil Bunting. Later, another American poet, Lorine Niedecker, became associated with the group. A number of other poets were included in early publications under the Objectivist rubric without actually sharing the attitudes and approaches to poetry of this core group. Although these poets generally suffered critical neglect, especially in their early careers, and a number of them abandoned the practice of writing and/or publishing poetry for a time, they were to prove highly influential for later generations of writers working in the tradition of modernist poetry in English.
The period 1909 to 1913 saw the emergence of Imagism, the first consciously avant garde movement in 20th century English-language poetry. Pound, who was Imagism’s prime mover, served as foreign editor of Harriet Monroe’s magazine Poetry. In October 1912, he submitted three poems each by H.D. and Richard Aldington under the label Imagiste. Aldington’s poems were printed in the November issue, and H.D.’s appeared in the January 1913 issue. The March 1913 issue of Poetry also contained Pound’s A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste and F. S. Flint’s essay Imagisme. This publication history meant that this London-based movement had its first readership in the United States. It also meant that Imagism was available as a model for American Modernist poets of the next generation.
Zukofsky was one such poet. He published a poem in Poetry in 1924 and introduced himself to Pound in 1927, when he sent the older poet his “Poem beginning ‘The,'”. Pound published the poem in his magazine The Exile, and a long correspondence and friendship between the two began. This relationship was strengthened by Zukofsky’s 1929 essay on Pound’s long work in progress The Cantos. Pound also provided an introduction to William Carlos Williams, a physician and poet who had been a classmate of Pound’s while at the University of Pennsylvania and who lived in Rutherford, New Jersey, not far from Zukofsky. Zukofsky and Williams quickly became close friends and were to be literary collaborators for the rest of Williams’s life. Another of Zukofsky’s literary mentors at this period was Charles Reznikoff, a New York City poet whose early work was also influenced by Imagism. By 1928, the young American poet George Oppen and his wife Mary Oppen had become friendly with Zukofsky and Reznikoff. Another young American poet, Carl Rakosi, started corresponding with Pound around this time, and the older poet again recommended him to Zukofsky. The final member of the core group, Basil Bunting, was an English poet who came from a Quaker background and who had been imprisoned as a conscientious objector during World War I. In 1923, Bunting met Pound in Paris and the two men developed a close literary friendship, with Bunting living near Pound at Rapallo from 1931 to 1933. In 1930, Bunting published his first collection of poetry, Redimiculum Matellarum, and Pound introduced him to Zukofsky.
The term ‘Objectivist’ developed because Harriet Monroe insisted on a group name for the February 1931 issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, which Monroe had allowed Zukofsky to guest edit, at Pound’s urging. Zukofsky recounts the occasion with Monroe in Prepositions: “Harriet Monroe at the time insisted, we’d better have a title for it, call it something. I said, I don’t want to. She insisted; so, I said, alright, if I can define it in an essay, and I used two words, sincerity and objectification, and I was sorry immediately. But it’s gone down into the history books; they forgot the founder, thank heavens, and kept the terms, and, of course, I said objectivist, and they said objectivism and that makes all the difference. Well, that was pretty bad, so then I spent the next thirty years trying to make it simple.” It also seems that the core group did not see themselves as a coherent movement but rather as a group of individual poets with some shared approach to their art. As well as the matters covered in Zukofsky’s essays, the elements of this approach included: a respect for Imagist achievement in the areas of vers libre and highly concentrated language and imagery; a rejection of the Imagists’ interest in classicism and mythology; for Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Rakosi and Oppen, a shared Jewish heritage (which, for all but Oppen included an early childhood in which English was not their first language); generally left-wing, and, in the cases of Zukofsky, Rakosi, and Oppen at least, Marxist politics.
Another aspect of Objectivist poetics that is not explicitly addressed in these essays is an interest in exploiting the resonances of small, everyday words. As Zukofsky was to write some time later (in 1946), “a case can be made for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve. Those who do not believe this are too sure that the little words mean nothing among so many other words.” This concern is also reflected in Oppen’s statement “if we still possessed the word ‘is’, there would be no need to write poems”.
The Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York, spanned the 1920s. During the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement,” named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. The Movement also included the new African-American cultural expressions across the urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest United States affected by the African-American Great Migration, of which Harlem was the largest. The Harlem Renaissance was considered to be a rebirth of African-American arts. Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, many francophone black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance is generally considered to have spanned from about 1918 until the mid-1930s. Many of its ideas lived on much longer. The zenith of this “flowering of Negro literature”, as James Weldon Johnson preferred to call the Harlem Renaissance, took place between 1924 (when Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance) and 1929 (the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression).
During the early portion of the 20th century, Harlem was the destination for migrants from around the country, attracting both people seeking work from the South, and an educated class who made the area a center of culture, as well as a growing “Negro” middle class. The district had originally been developed in the 19th century as an exclusive suburb for the white middle and upper middle classes; its affluent beginnings led to the development of stately houses, grand avenues, and world-class amenities such as the Polo Grounds and the Harlem Opera House. During the enormous influx of European immigrants in the late 19th century, the once exclusive district was abandoned by the white middle class, who moved further north.
Harlem became an African-American neighborhood in the early 1900s. In 1910, a large block along 135th Street and Fifth Avenue was bought by various African-American realtors and a church group. Many more African Americans arrived during the First World War. Due to the war, the migration of laborers from Europe virtually ceased, while the war effort resulted in a massive demand for unskilled industrial labor. The Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of African Americans to cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York.
Despite the increasing popularity of Negro culture, virulent white racism, often by more recent ethnic immigrants, continued to affect African-American communities, even in the North. After the end of World War I, many African-American soldiers—who fought in segregated units such as the Harlem Hellfighters—came home to a nation whose citizens often did not respect their accomplishments. Race riots and other civil uprisings occurred throughout the US during the Red Summer of 1919, reflecting economic competition over jobs and housing in many cities, as well as tensions over social territories.
Poets of the Harlem Renaissance are: Gwendolyn Bennett, Arna Bontemps, Sterling A. Brown, Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr., Countee Cullens, Clarissa Scott Delany,, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimke, Robert Hayden, Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Helene Johnson, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Effie Lee Newsome, Anne Spencer, Jean Toomer and Lucy Ariel Williams.
The Beat Generation is a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-World War II era.The bulk of their work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s. Central elements of Beat culture are rejection of standard narrative values, spiritual quest, exploration of American and Eastern religions, rejection of materialism, explicit portrayals of the human condition, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation and exploration.
Allen Ginsberg‘s Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs‘s Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road (1957) are among the best known examples of Beat literature. Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that ultimately helped to liberalize publishing in the United States. The members of the Beat Generation developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.
The core group of Beat Generation authors – Herbert Huncke, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Lucien Carr, and Jack Kerouac – met in 1944 in and around the Columbia University campus in New York City. Later, in the mid-1950s, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs and Carr) ended up together in San Francisco where they met and became friends of figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance. The core group was later joined by Gregory Corso. Diane Di Prima, Gary Snyder, Hettie Jones, Joyce Johnson and Anne Waldman
In the 1960s, elements of the expanding Beat movement were incorporated into the hippie and larger counterculture movements. Neal Cassady, as the driver for Ken Kesey’s bus, Further, was the primary bridge between these two generations. Allen Ginsberg’s work also became an integral element of early 1960s hippie culture.
Confessional poetry or ‘Confessionalism’ is a style of poetry that emerged in the United States during the 1950s. It has been described as poetry “of the personal,” focusing on extreme moments of individual experience, the psyche, and personal trauma, including previously and occasionally still taboo matters such as mental illness, sexuality, and suicide, often set in relation to broader social themes. It is sometimes also classified as Postmodernism.
The school of “Confessional Poetry” was associated with several poets who redefined American poetry in the 1950s and 1960s, including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, and W. D. Snodgrass.
Life Studies</> and the emergence of Confessionalism
In 1959 M. L. Rosenthal first used the term “confessional” in a review of Robert Lowell’s Life Studies entitled “Poetry as Confession”, Rosenthal differentiated the confessional approach from other modes of lyric poetry by way of its use of confidences that (Rosenthal said) went “beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment”. Rosenthal notes that in earlier tendencies towards the confessional there was typically a “mask” that hid the poet’s “actual face”, and states that “Lowell removes the mask. His speaker is unequivocally himself, and it is hard not to think of Life Studies as a series of personal confidences, rather shameful, that one is honor-bound not to reveal”. In a review of the book in The Kenyon Review, John Thompson wrote, “For these poems, the question of propriety no longer exists. They have made a conquest: what they have won is a major expansion of the territory of poetry.”
There were however clear moves towards the “confessional” mode before the publication of Life Studies. Delmore Schwartz‘s confessional long poem Genesis had been published in 1943; and John Berryman had written a sonnet sequence in 1947 about an adulterous affair he’d had with a woman named Chris while he was married to his first wife, Eileen (however, since publishing the sonnets would have revealed the affair to his wife, Berryman didn’t actually publish the sequence, titled Berryman’s Sonnets, until 1967, after he divorced from his first wife). Snodgrass’ Heart’s Needle, in which he writes about the aftermath of his divorce, also preceded Life Studies.
Life Studies was nonetheless the first book in the confessional mode that captured the reading public’s attention and the first labeled “confessional.” Most notably “confessional” were the poems in the final section of Life Studies in which Lowell alludes to his struggles with mental illness and his experiences in a mental hospital. Plath remarked upon the influence of these types of poems from Life Studies in an interview in which she stated, “I’ve been very excited by what I feel is the new breakthrough that came with, say, Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, this intense breakthrough into very serious, very personal, emotional experience which I feel has been partly taboo. Robert Lowell’s poems about his experience in a mental hospital, for example, interested me very much.” A. Alvarez however considered that some poems in Life Studies seemed “more compulsively concerned with the processes of psychoanalysis than with those of poetry”; while conversely Michael Hofmann saw the verbal merit of Lowell’s work only diminished by emphasis on “what I would call the C-word, ‘Confessionalism’”.
Another significant, if transitional figure was Adrienne Rich; while one of the most prominent, consciously “confessional” poets to emerge in the 1980s was Sharon Olds whose focus on taboo sexual subject matter built off of the work of Ginsberg.
THE NEW YORK SCHOOL
The New York School (synonymous with abstract expressionist painting) was an informal group of American poets, painters, dancers, and musicians active in the 1950s and 1960s in New York City. They often drew inspiration from surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular action painting, abstract expressionism, jazz, improvisational theater, experimental music, and the interaction of friends in the New York City art world’s vanguard circle.
Concerning the New York School poets, critics argued that their work was a reaction to the Confessionalist movement in Contemporary Poetry. Their poetic subject matter was often light, violent, or observational, while their writing style was often described as cosmopolitan and world-traveled. The poets often wrote in an immediate and spontaneous manner reminiscent of stream of consciousness writing, often using vivid imagery. They drew on inspiration from Surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular the action painting of their friends in the New York City art world circle such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
Poets often associated with the New York School include John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Joe Brainard, Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan and Bill Berkson.
O’Hara was at the center of the group before his death in 1966. Because of his numerous friendships and his post as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, he provided connections between the poets and painters such as Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers (who was also his lover). There were many joint works and collaborations: Rivers inspired a play by Koch, Koch and Ashbery together wrote the poem “A Postcard to Popeye”, Ashbery and Schuyler wrote the novel A Nest of Ninnies, and Schuyler collaborated on an ode with O’Hara, whose portrait was painted by Rivers. Ron Padgett and Ted Berrigan both came to the group from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
THE BLACK MOUNTAIN POETS
The Black Mountain poets (also known as the Projectivists) were a group of mid 20th century postmodern poets associated with Black Mountain College in the United States. Major figures include: Charles Olson, Larry Eigner, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn, Hilda Morley, John Wieners, Joel Oppenheimer, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams and Robert Creeley.
SAN FRANCISCO RENAISSANCE
The San Francisco Renaissance was initiated by Kenneth Rexroth and Madeline Gleason in Berkeley in the late 1940s. It included Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Robin Blaser. They were consciously experimental and had close links to the Black Mountain and Beat poets.
The Movement was a group of English writers including Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Donald Davie, D. J. Enright, John Wain, Elizabeth Jennings and Robert Conquest. Their tone is anti-romantic and rational. The connection among the poets was described as “little more than a negative determination to avoid bad principles.”
THE LANGUAGE POETS
The Language poets were avant garde poets from the last quarter of the 20th century. Their approach started with the modernist emphasis on method. They were reacting to the poetry of the Black Mountain and Beat poets. The poets included: Leslie Scalapino, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian and Susan Howe.
The New Formalism is a late-twentieth and early twenty-first century movement in American poetry that promotes a return to metrical and rhymed verse. Rather than looking to the Confessionalists, they look to Robert Frost, Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, Anthony Hecht and Donald Justice for poetic influence. These poets are associated with the West Chester University Poetry Conference, and with literary journals like The New Criterion and The Hudson Review. Associated poets include Dana Gioia, Mark Jarman, Rachel Hadas, R. S. Gwynn, Charles Martin, Kay Ryan and Brad Leithauser.
The Fugitives were a group of poets and literary scholars who came together at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, around 1920. They acquired the name after publishing a small literary magazine, The Fugitive (1922–1925), which showcased their works. Although its publication history was brief, The Fugitive is considered to be one of the most influential journals in the history of American letters. The Fugitives made Vanderbilt a fountainhead of New Criticism, the dominant mode of textual analysis in English during the first half of the twentieth century.
The group was noted for the number of its members whose works were recognized with a permanent place in the literary canon. Many members were also influential teachers of literature. Among the most notable Fugitives were John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Merrill Moore, Donald Davidson, and Robert Penn Warren. In “The Briar Patch”, Robert Penn Warren provided a look at the life of an exploited black in urban America. “The Briar Patch” was a defense both of segregation, and of the doctrine of “separate but equal,” enshrined by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Less closely associated with the Fugitives were the critic Cleanth Brooks and the poet Laura Riding.