BJU American Literature Chapter 12

Traditionalists
This group of writers includes:
• Edwin Arlington Robinson
• Robert Frost
Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)
His poetry is representative of both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. He combined traditional form with modern themes. Unlike most modern poets, he wrote in rhyme and meter and depended on the sonnet and quatrain. Yet, he wrote of human failure. He drew on childhood experience for his setting and characters.

• Attended Harvard as a special student
• Published his first volume of poetry, The Torrent and the Night Before
• Published The Children of the Night
• Earned a living by working in the New York Custom House
• Began spending his summers at the macDowell Colony
• Received his first Pulitzer Prize for Collected Poems
• Published Tristram, a book-length poem that became a best seller

Miniver Cheevy
The eponymous character is a failure in his own eyes as well as the eyes of others. A romantic dreamer, he is a misfit in Tilbury Town. Although he lives in an imaginary world of the past, his motives and values are closely tied to the present.

He thinks his circumstances make his dream impossible, but the truth is that his own weakness makes it unattainable.

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Richard Cory
One of Robinson’s best known poems. The story of a Tilbury man who seems to have everything but inward happiness. The people on the pavement play an important role in this poem.
Cliff Klingenhagen
Unlike most of Robinson’s characters because he is happy. This poem is very much like a parable. His happiness results from his anticipation and acceptance of the bitter aspects of life.
Cassandra
The prophet in this poem tells Americans to beware the Trojan horse of materialism. But like the Trojans, Americans remain blind to their danger. They do not realize that the very thing they worship is actually feeding on them.
Credo
Robinson portrays human existence as black and confusing. Yet he senses the coming of some special, positive force. Although the traditional form of the poem is that of the Italian sonnet, its bleak account of life is thoroughly modern.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
America’s most popular modern poet.
His works, while distinctively regional in setting, character, and language, are strikingly universal.
His poems, while following traditional forms like the sonnet, blank verse, and rhymed quatrains, are permeated by the modern spirit of skepticism.
Deceptively simple on the surface, his poetry communicates complex attitudes and meanings.

His poetry at first glance appears to be nature poetry. However, in almost all of them, the focus is on man.

His verse often contains subtle didacticism.

• Moved to New England after the death of his father
• Published his first poem in his high school newspaper
• Graduated from Lawrence High School as covaledictorian with his future wife, Elinor White
• Published a poem for the first time in a national publication
• Attended Harvard as a special student
• Settled on a farm in Derry, New Hampshire
• Taught at Pinkerton Academy in Derry
• Moved to England
• Published his first volume of poetry, A Boy’s Will, in London
• Returned to the United States because of WWI
• Began the first of numerous special teaching appointments at various universities
• Received the four Pulitzer prizes for his poetry
• Read “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy
• Received a gold medal from Congress on his eighty eighth birthday; toured Russia as part of a goodwill mission sponsored by the US State Department.

The Pasture
This short poem is an invitation to the reader to come away with the poet. Like most of Frost’s poetry, it is written in first person, the poet speaking directly to his reader.
The Gift Outright
Frost once called this “a history of the United States in a dozen lines of blank verse.”
The Road Not Taken
The title is symbolic. It presents a universal situation all men face many times in their lives when they must choose between two alternatives.
The Death of the Hired Man
One of Frost’s most famous poems. Three people are portrayed: the farmer, his wife, and an old incompetent hired hand, shiftless and proud.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
The poet deftly uses imaginative comparisons and images. The speaker has an apparent attraction toward what seems to him to be the luxury of death.
Mending Wall
Frost pictures fences as walls and develops this poem by describing two New Englanders’ efforts to repair them.

There are conflicts of individuality vs conformity on the personal level and isolationism vs internationalism on the national level.

Birches
Divided into three sections. First twenty lines describe the birch trees themselves. Next twenty lines describe the life of the boy. The last nineteen lines comment on life.

Swinging birches become a metaphor for escape from the present material world that has become like “pathless wood.”

Frost uses a number of vivid images in this blank verse poem.

Desert Places
Seems to be a simple description of nature but is, in reality, a description of man. Uses contrast to show how terrifying personal loneliness is.
Minor Traditionalists
This groups includes:
• John Crowe Ransom
• Theodore Roethke
• Edna St. Vincent Millay
• W.H. Auden

All are traditional in a large part of their work. Yet each of these four is also a poet of the modern age, sharing a number of attitudes and expressing many of its values.

John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974)
As a poet he often combined serious content with wit and irony. His themes frequently include death, the decline of the South after the Civil War, and the contrast between rural and urban life, between chivalry and commercialism. His verse examines the modern world through traditional metrics and other poetic conventions inherited from the past.

• Sponsored the Fugitives at Vanderbilt University
• Published I’ll Take My Stand; The New Criticism; and Selected Poems
• Received the Bollingen Prize

Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter
This poem illustrates clearly the unsentimality of Ransom’s verse. The poet contrasts the stillness of the girl as she is now with her abundant energy in life.
Theodore Roethke (1903-1963)
His poems generally fall into two groups:
• orthodox in form, rational in theme, ironic in tone
• free in form, sometimes bordering on irrational and surrealistic
His verse is also traditional in the sense that his themes and forms are heavily dependent at times on those of two American predecessors, Emerson and Whitman.

• Earned M.A. degree from University of Michigan
• Published first book of poems, Open House and Other Poems
• Received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the Bollingen Prize in poetry

Dolor
This poem describes a type of sadness or grief. An exposition of one of the modern hells: the institution that overwhelms the individual man.

The poem becomes a critique of the type of modern education that merely processes its students without considering their individual differences and helping each develop himself to his fullest capacity.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
Typically traditional in vocabulary and verse form (she mastered the sonnet), her work is nevertheless thoroughly modern in theme and tone.
Her lifestyle, along with her lyrics, caused her to symbolize for many the liberated woman of the 1920s.

• Published “Renascence”
• Graduated from Vassar College, published first book of poetry
• Received the Pulitzer Prize for The Harp-Weaver
• Elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters
• Published Fatal Interview, a sonnet sequence of Arts and Letters

Sonnet XXVI
This sonnet is one of a sequence of sonnets appearing in Millay’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, The Harp Weaver and Other Poems. This treats the subject of love, but unconventionally, attacking the foolishness of sonneteers. This poem expresses a complex view of the “I.” The poet seems to be looking into a mirror or at a picture as she comments on her features. The poem becomes a miniature drama.
W.H. Auden (1907-1973)
He suggested in his later poetry that the solution to social ills may lie in religion (Although he does not specify the religion of the Bible). His use of alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme reveals the influence of Anglo-Saxon poetry on his work.

• Became a naturalized citizen of the United States
• Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and also received the Bollingen Prize
• Returned to England and became professor of poetry at Oxford, received the National Book Award

The Unknown Citizen
This poem satirizes the modern welfare state–the earthly paradise conceived by modern political and social scientists.
A special element in this poem’s satire is the burlesque of the type of poetry that bureaucratic agencies might produce.
The poem reveals no inner life, no spiritual qualities that suggest this citizen is anything other than merely a higher animal.
Lines 6-7 are doggerel.
This poem is an example of irony.
Doggerel
Verse of a poorly executed type, usually monotonous in rhyme and meter and trivial in subject matter.
Experimentalists
This groups includes:
• Ezra Pound
• William Carlos Williams
• Archibald MacLeish

[• Carl Sandburg
• E.E. Cummings]

Since they were concerned with painting sharp images, they almost always omitted any statement of meaning.

Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
One of the most influential experimentalists among modern American poets. His highly elusive, open form has helped bring about a revolution in poetic taste and standards in modern English language poetry. Led the imagist movement which taught that poetry should have no message.

• Went to Europe, where he spent most of his adult life; published his first volume of poetry
• Edited Des Imagistes, the imagist movement’s first volume of poetry
• Settled in Italy and became a supporter of fascism
• Received the Bollingen prize for The Pisan Cantos

Imagist Creed
• Use the language of common speech, but always employ the exact word
• Create new rhythms through the use of free verse
• Allow absolute freedom in the choice of the subject
• Present an image through the use of particular details
• Produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite
• Concentrate as much as possible into the fewest words possible
In a Station of the Metro
This poem is one of the shortest yet one of the most famous imagist productions. Pound imaginatively captures a scene through a sharply focused metaphor.

The rhythm of the poem imitates the sound of a train coming to a stop.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
He attacked conventional forms of poetic expression throughout his long career. He strove to represent actual American speech in his verse.
He believed that meaning could be found only in actual objects. As a result, his imagist poems focus on lowly, familiar subjects.

• Received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania
• Elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters
• Received the Bollingen Prize for Poetry
• Received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Poem / The Red Wheelbarrow
Both of William’s poems illustrate well the artistic principles of the imagists, such as: exactness, common speech, concreteness, observation without comment, and common subject matter. Both of these poems disregard meaning.

The first captures an action.

The second captures a static object but remains puzzling because of the opening phrase.

Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)
Although he drew from the imagist movement, he was not limited by it. He eventually wrote poetry that showed a growing awareness of his national, social, and cultural heritage.

• Published “Ars Poetica”
• Received the Pulitzer Prize for Conquistador, an epic poem
• Received the Pulitzer Prize for Collected Poems, 1917-52
• Received the Pulitzer Prize for drama

Ars Poetica
In this MacLeish aptly defines and expresses the imagists’ theory of poetry. This poem particularly illustrates the modern misconception that poetry should not include didactic elements but exist solely as an art object.
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)
His poems about Chicago showed no regard for rhyme and meter. They also shocked readers by their use of free verse and slang and their uninhibited content. Although free verse was not new to American poetry, he made it more popular with the general public. The image he projected was that of a shaggy, homespun, folksy man who lived close to the earth and to the common people.

• Published privately his first volume of poetry
• Gained public recognition when Poetry published a collection of his poems on Chicago
• Published Chicago Poems
• Received a Pulitzer Prize for Cornhuskers
• Published Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years in two volumes
• Published Abraham Lincoln: The War Years in four volumes
• Received Pulitzer Prize for the Lincoln Biography
• Moved to his retirement home in Flat Rock, North Carolina
• Received a Pulitzer Prize for Collected Poems

Chicago
This poem perhaps more than any other illustrates Sandburg’s contributions to American poetry. Sandburg breaks with poetic tradition in choice of words, in subject matter, and in metrics.
Fog
This poem shows Sandburg’s debt to imagist theory.

The meaning of the poem is significantly limited. All it says is that fog comes and goes silently like cats.

Grass
Sandburg represents both the work of nature and the attitude of humans in this short lyric.

The grass, which covers all, removes the scars of war from the earth and thus from people’s minds so that they soon forget what they no longer see.

E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
A painter, poet, novelist, and playwright, but above all he was an individualist. His experimentation with capitalization, punctuation, coined words, syntax, and typography identified him as a member of the avant-garde. Most of his poems are either lyrics or satiric pieces.

• Published his first poem
• Graduated with a BA degree from Harvard
• Imprisoned for three months in France
• Lived in Paris, studying art and literature; published a novel, The Enormous Room
• Published his first volume of poetry, Tulips and Chimneys
• Exhibited his first major show of paintings
• Lectured at Harvard
• Received the Bollingen Prize for his poetry

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
This poem is surprisingly traditional in its form, although the omission of capitalization and punctuation makes it appear otherwise. It follows the form of a sonnet. It uses slant rhyme.

The humor develops out of the juxtaposition of a commonplace event in nature with a human action.

Slant Rhyme
Only approximates the rhyming sounds.
somewhere i have never travelled
Although the capitalization, spacing, and punctuation of this poem are unconventional, it is very much a love poem.
in Just-
This poem is a tribute to spring.
r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
This poem, with rearrangement, become decipherable.
Cummings uses the scrambled letters both as a joke and for the serious purpose of making the reader reexamine his assumptions about the nature of reality.
Poets and Religious Issues
These wrote on this subject:
• Wallace Stevens
• James Weldon Johnson
• T.S. Eliot

These poets’ works represent major responses to Christianity, specifically to its basis in Christ’s atonement and to its relevance to modern life.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
In his works he particularly focused on the nature and function of poetry, the role of the poet, and the power of the imagination. He believed the creative imagination must impose order on experience so as to make sense out of the confusion. Oftentimes his poetry is impersonal and usually abstract.

• First poems appeared in Poetry magazine
• Published Harmonium, his first volume of poetry
• Received the Bollingen and Pulitzer Prizes for poetry

Sunday Morning
The difficulty of this poem’s vocabulary, allusions, and dramatized argument is characteristic of modern poetry. Rejects outright the Word of God, choosing to turn to nature for the answer to the meaning of life. Substitutes a neo-pagan religious view of the world.
Stanza I (Sunday Morning)
This stanza establishes the setting, situation, and central question of the poem.
Stanza II (Sunday Morning)
In this stanza the woman questions her need to giver her life to Christ. She believes that nature’s pleasures and sympathetic response to her emotions are the key to life’s meaning and destiny.
Stanza III (Sunday Morning)
The first part of this stanza describes Jove (Jupiter) and links the supreme god of Roman mythology to the God of the Bible, whose nature commingling” with human nature “virginal” in the incarnation fulfilled human desire.
Stanza IV (Sunday Morning)
In this stanza the woman questions whether earth is really the paradise mankind has longed for. The poetic speaker directly answers and says that immortality is a vain delusion.
Stanza V (Sunday Morning)
The woman still feels a need for some type of imperishable bliss. The speaker responds that an awareness of death heightens one’s appreciation of life and thus replaces one’s dream of and desire for an eternal state.
Stanza VI (Sunday Morning)
In this stanza the speaker caricatures paradise as a static place where nothing happens because of the absence of death. He returns to the theme that Death is the mother of beauty.
Stanza VII (Sunday Morning)
This stanza depicts the pagan rites of sun-worshipers who chant the praises of nature, not of God. The poetic speaker stresses mankind having only a natural origin and a natural destiny.
Stanza VIII (Sunday Morning)
The woman hears a voice saying that Christ did not rise from the dead. The poem develops the notion that mankind lives without any support by God. The final lines introduce a movement toward darkness, a universal metaphor for death.
James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)
He was the first black after Reconstruction to be admitted to the bar in his home state, Florida. His work helped lay a foundation for the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He regarded his material as mere legend or myth.

• Published The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
• Published God’s Trombones

The Creation
Achieves grandeur by uniting a reverent but humanlike view of the Creator and His actions with a serious, dignified style. The poet’s real interest is the black heritage of religious expression, not the Biblical material itself.
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Dominated the English and American literary scene during the middle third of the twentieth century. His influence affected modern poetry, drama, and criticism. He records modern ills, but he prescribes the remedy of traditional religion.

• Published “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Wasteland,” and “Journey of the Magi.”
• Became a British subject
• Received the Nobel Prize for literature; received the Order of Merit, Great Britain’s highest award

Journey of the Magi
This is,
• first, a dramatic monologue spoken by one of the Biblical wise men who came to see the Christ Child.
• second, a symbolic account of Eliot’s own conversion to Christianity.
• third, an imaginative portrayal of the journey of a soul from doubt and despair to spiritual life.

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