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Some Characteristics of Modernism in Literature

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Literature, being a part of art, went through terms of transformations, variations, modifications and changes. People never stopped developing and meanwhile creating something brand-new and fresh. This thirst for renovation of ideas realized itself in the early 20th century with the coming of one of the most prominent and revolutionary time phase in the history of literature - the period of breaking the rules and traditions called “modernism”.

Development in science, technology and culture predetermined this shift in literature. The key word of this epoch is “new”. Modernism is a new idea in a new form created by new people and implemented in a new way. The features of this period are the belief in reality as an artificial truth, subconsciousness as a field for creativity, change from the flat perception of time into a relief one, gnoseology as a determiner of theology, absurdity of absolute verity notion but the relative one (Characteristics of Modernism).

Style of Modern literature

Talking about how the style and the way of writing modified during this period, few things should be mentioned. Heroes were represented vaguely, not as stable characters but as ambiguous creatures prone to be different; gap characterized kind of plot refused from linear evolvement of topic and simple ending. This period of history in literature is famous for a new style of writing which is called “stream of conscience”. It is more based on the inner life perception of the author than on the external one and may not be as easy understood as other kinds of literature. The author creates his imaginary logic and ‘asks’ the reader not to try to explain or understand the written but to perceive it (Characteristics of Modernism).

Modernism is all about personal perception and understanding which goes beyond any limits, rules or prohibitions. Modern literature should not be compared or assessed in negative or positive way. It is the absolute that takes its beginning from itself and ends exactly there. To my way of thinking, modernism is the most precise reflection of art in its initial condition – not adapted, not made to be understood but created for the sake art.

Robert Frost "Home Burial"

Robert Frost, a bright representative of modernism in literature, wrote an interesting, unusual and outstanding poem called "Home Burial". Reading the poem, in the structure of dialogue, we imagine an average couple talking but not listening to each other. They have lost a child, and it made the woman, Amy, vulnerable, lost, and flattered, when the man tries to stay the man in all the possible meanings. He tries to overcome the sorrow ignoring it. The time passed, and he realized that his only option to live further is to accept the life as it is, because it is not only joy and happiness, but also problems, grief, death…The main two heroes are not on the same wavelength as they perceive the loss  of the child in two entirely different ways. This poem does not blame the father to be hard-hearted, but mother does. “She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see, blind creature; and a while he didn’t see” (lines 15-16).

In the poem, we can vividly see at least two problems: the death of the son and the communication gap between a man and a woman. The second one seems to be the consequence of the first one, but, I believe, the reason lies much deeper. He prefers not to speak about what troubles them and just live, when she cannot ignore her emotions and blames him in reluctance to understand her. The tragedy broke the relationship between two different people as they had dissimilar outlooks and ways to live with a fiasco.

Eliot and his poem "The Hollow Man"

The poem “The Hollow Man” written by Eliot may at first seems to be slightly depressive, but if you read till the very end you will understand all the complexity of the idea. At the beginning of the poem, the author represents people as broken, empty and stupid. It feels like Eliot is blaming the people to be wrong from their insides: “Shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion” (line 11). My personal interpretation of the poem is the search of identity by the author. Being disillusioned in the people of this world, he tries to find something true, real and sincere. He finds it in the perfect God’s will where the life sacrifice to God is something very honorable and high. The idea of self identity and realization can be traced within all parts of the poem.

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To my way of thinking the idea that unites these both poems is that they both are about people and their inner worlds: emotions, feelings, thoughts. The modernist characteristics can be noticed as the poems are open to be understood and interpreted in the personal way, because nothing is explained in the poems and they do not carry any moral lesson to the reader, just being the written experience of the poet.

“Back out of all this now too much for us, back in a time made simple by the loss” are the first lines of another Frost’s poem which is called “Directive”. This verse outlines the idea and concept of time: future, past and present. The poem itself is full of symbols and is vague in understanding. This is the author’s directive to everyone how to leave and what to do. This poem is compared to "Spring and All", William Carlos Williams. This is another poem which is oozing with symbols and metaphors. The poem is quite easy to read but not that easy to catch all the poetic figures. The poem is about the nature in its state when spring comes. The most vulnerable in this uneasy period of time are leaves: “small trees with dead, brown leaves under them” (line 12-13). The author uses personification as he gives human characteristics to things, for instance “leafless vines - lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches - they enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter” (14-15). Williams is in the special relationship with nature as he notices a lot of small details which people regularly do not pay attention to, which creates the magnetic effect of the poem.

"Directive" Frost and "Spring and All" Williams

“Directive” written by Frost and “Spring and All” by Williams are two poems between which it is really hard to trace similarities. Still, the rebel and individualism, which were in the air that time, inspired these poems. They both contain so many symbols that one time reading is not enough to understand at least something. With every other reading, you find something new for yourself, as the poems are so deep and profound that cannot ever go out of trend, I would rather say that they go beyond the trend.

Thomas Stearns Eliot "The love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Another, I dare to say, remarkable poem of the modernist epoch is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by Thomas Stearns Eliot. This poem is a stream of consciousness realized in a monologue full of emotion experience. The narrator, Prufrock, presents his thoughts in a very random, illogical way that for the reader it is hard to follow the path and find the connection between clauses. The author is not explaining anything to anybody but opens the complicated world of psyche of one man. It is really hard to answer the question what this poem is about. Frankly, I cannot trace the connection between the title and the poem itself but I may assume that the aim of this poem, as of all the literature of this period, is to realize the idea in written form. The poem can and should be interpreted personally. From my perspective, this is the poem about versatile personality with deep and vulnerable inner world. The poem is the vision of the world of one person and his attempts to explain it first of all to himself: “It is impossible to say just what I mean! But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: would it have been worthwhile if one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, and turning toward the window, should say: “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all” (lines 104-110).

An extremely burning issue is raised in the Frost’s poem “Mending wall.” The poem represents two types of people: open to new experience, adequately thinking and understanding the main points of life; and another type is people afraid of any change, reserved and used to keep to all old-fashioned stereotypes. In the poem, one man says that there is no reason in building a wall as “He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across, and eat the cones under his pines” (lines 24-25). Still, it means nothing to the other man as he is scared to try something new, so conservative no longer can he live freely but cursed to exist on a regular basis not being able to see further than his nose. His answer outlines all his primitivism and vacancy: “Good fences make good neighbors” (45).

William Carlos Williams "This Is Just to Say"

Another poem that strikes with its originality is “This Is Just to Say” written by William Carlos Williams. The form and content make it look like a memory stick left on refrigerator explaining the reasons and the issue itself. The husband is asking for forgiveness in an unusually poetic form for eating the plums left for breakfast. This poem, being so short and uncomplicated, sounds very entertaining and melodious. Reading “This Is Just to Say” innocence and sincerity are felt in every single word. The poem does not convey any kind of morality and does not raise any global issue, but, still, a lot of people like this poem as it is so consisted in its idea and brings some colours to routine life.

Three last poems are totally different being the works of different people, written because of different reasons and having different purposes. I believe that they cannot be compared because we just cannot come up with criteria fair and equal to every poem. These poems are the examples of statement which proclaims art to be a full-fledged notion but not an addition to something. They do not teach anything, they just present what they have and it make it so special and so close for someone.

Conclusion

To sum up, I cannot resist the temptation to say that I adore modernistic poetry. This period in the history of world literature gave to the poetry the chance to be as free as it can be imagined. The authors took this opportunity, or better to say gift, and wrote what they felt, what is, actually, by far the hardest thing in the world – express yourself. That is why we have got no other option but to read, absorb, interpret and receive keen pleasure from originally pure art, which aims nothing else but its direct goal – to be.

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