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American Modernism: Poetry. How does literature reveal the values of a given time period?. Poetry Terms to Know. Repetition Repeating a sound, word, or phrase Rhythm The alteration of stressed and unstressed syllables to create a beat Metaphor

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American modernism poetry

American Modernism: Poetry

How does literature reveal the values of a given time period?

Poetry terms to know
Poetry Terms to Know

  • Repetition

  • Repeating a sound, word, or phrase

  • Rhythm

  • The alteration of stressed and unstressed syllables to create a beat

  • Metaphor

  • Direct comparison of two unlike things using a form of “to be”

  • Simile

  • Comparison of two unlike things using “as,” “like,” “than”

Poetry terms to know1
Poetry Terms to Know

  • Symbol

  • A person, place, thing, or event that has meaning in itself and represents something else

  • Imagery

  • Language that appeals to our sense of sight, smell, taste, touch, or hearing

  • Mood

  • The overall emotion created by a work of literature


  • Created by Ezra Pound

    • He wanted to find the “exact word.”

    • Believed that imagery could send the poem’s emotional message.

    • Less emphasis on stanzas, patterns, etc.

  • Imagery is language that creates vivid sense impressions and suggests emotional states (lets you “see,” “smell,” “taste,” “touch,” and/or “hear” what is happening in the poem.

William carlos williams
William Carlos Williams

  • Was a doctor and poet who was influenced by Ezra Pound’s idea of imagism.

  • Disliked poems that contained many historical, religious, and literary allusions.

  • Wrote about common subjects in a spare style.

  • “The Red Wheelbarrow” p.593

  • “The Great Figure” p.594

  • “This is Just to Say” p.595

T s eliot
T. S. Eliot

  • Later became a British citizen (American and Great Britain both claim him).

  • Was the editor of The Criterion, a literary magazine in England and was interested in classical poetry.

  • Wrote The Wasteland (a long poem) in 1922 about a spiritually empty society.

    • Greatly influenced by the destruction of WWI and the collapse of traditional values following the war.

The love song of j alfred prufrock
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

  • This poem is written as a dramatic monologue (a poem in which a character speaks directly to the readers).

  • There are many allusions in this poem that we, the readers, must understand before we can fully understand the poem itself.

  • What are the overall themes from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?

For next class
For next class:

  • Write down examples from the poem (include line numbers) that illustrate the theme topics (at least one example per topic).

  • Topics summed up:

    • 1. meaninglessness of daily life

    • 2. smart people feel ostracized

    • 3. seedy side of modern life

    • 4. satirizing self-consciousness

    • 5. misunderstandings between people

    • 6. broken/divided personalities

    • 7. the past is in the present

    • 8. empty spiritual state

Topic for a theme
Topic for a theme…

  • 1. Eliot believes that much of human activity is habitual, futile and a waste of time. Because of the repetitiveness of the daily grind of life, Eliot assumed people found it meaningless. He felt that humans therefore found life unfulfilling. Even in his religious poetry, Eliot depicted people’s sense of defeat, even the necessity for human life to be a failure

  • ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’ [Prufrock]‘In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo’ [Prufrock]‘How should I begin to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme1
Topic for a theme…

  • 2. Eliot suggests that a thinking individual inevitably feels weary, alienated, dislocated or even worthless:

  • ‘For I have known them all already, known them all’ [Prufrock]‘How should I begin to spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways’ [Prufrock]‘I should have been a pair of ragged clawsScuttling across the floors of silent seas’ [Prufrock]‘I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker’ [Prufrock]‘An easy tool, deferential, glad to be of use’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme2
Topic for a theme…

  • 3. Eliot portrays the seedy side of modern life, especially urban life. Society has lost its traditional moral values and restraints. Life has become tainted:

  • ‘Certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreatsOf restless nights in one-night cheap hotels’ [Prufrock]‘a tedious argument of insidious intent’ [Prufrock]‘The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panesLicked its tongue into the corners of the evening’ [Prufrock]‘Is it perfume from a dress that makes me so digress?’ [Prufrock]‘The skirts that trail along the floor’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme3
Topic for a theme…

  • 4. Eliot focuses on vanity and tortured self-consciousness. He mocks the endless procrastination of self-conscious individuals. He satirizes those who exaggerate the significance of appearance in modern society. He mocks hypocritical respectability:

  • ‘There will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet’ [Prufrock]‘And time yet for a hundred indecisions,And for a hundred visions and revisions’ [Prufrock]‘There will be time to wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?" [Prufrock]‘They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"’ [Prufrock]‘The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall…’ [Prufrock]‘In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme4
Topic for a theme…

  • 5. Eliot suggests that humans find it hard to communicate; they are separated by misunderstanding or selfishness. People betray each other. Sometimes they live in their own world. Eliot questions people’s sense of reality:

  • ‘That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all’ [Prufrock]‘It is impossible to say just what I mean!’ [Prufrock]‘Lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows’ [Prufrock]‘Human voices wake us, and we drown’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme5
Topic for a theme…

  • 6. Eliot depicts broken or divided personalities:

  • ‘You and I’ [Prufrock]‘At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--Almost, at times, the Fool’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme6
Topic for a theme…

  • 7. Eliot argues that the present contains the past in fragmented memories or in various forms of continuity:

  • ‘In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo’ [Prufrock]‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead’ [Prufrock]

Topic for a theme7
Topic for a theme…

  • 8. Eliot explores spiritual states. He jests ironically at the futility of spiritual quests. He exudes a metaphysical weariness. He evokes spiritual emptiness and links it to the monotony of life, and moral cowardice. His later poems reveal his spiritual regeneration:

  • ‘An overwhelming question’ [Prufrock]‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’ [Prufrock]‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’ [Prufrock]‘I am no prophet--and here's no great matter’ [Prufrock]‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’ [Prufrock]