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A Response to the Reading of Modern Poets A Response to the Reading of Modern Poets

The Modern Poets hold a particular fascination for me. I am very interested in the way that they break away from the rules and traditions of those who went before them. They try new styles and forms, in particular, the idea of free-verse and the notion of fragmentation. I particularly like the way they reach into the mind and conjure up images of emotions that are so intense there are no words to express them. Out of the six poets that we read this week, I find the styles of Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens embody the aesthetic of the Modern Poets.

While Robert Frost did not care for free-verse in his poetry, it does exude a certain darkening of vision that seems to be characteristic of the modern poets. In “Birches”, Frost conveys a feeling of unhappiness towards life and adult concerns. He longs to return to the childhood life of simplicity.

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boys’ been swinging them.

And then, by using a circular structure, Frost is able to convey a sense of returning to where you started but with a better picture at the end.

That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

In the Mending Wall the two neighbors keep a fence between them (even though one isn't needed) and I find this symbolic of the way that people always do what is expected by them. The narrator of the poem wants to shake things up a bit "Spring is the mischief in me" (1178) but decides against it because his neighbor is not the type of man who enjoys being shook up. "He moves in darkness as it seems to me...He will not go behind his father's saying,..." (1178) The neighbor likes to do what he is 'supposed' to do and he doesn't ever think to question 'why'. The simple language of the poem speaks to the common man, the man who never questions 'why'. I think it is sad that people like the neighbor would read this poem and still say "I don't get it."

In contrast to the poetry of Frost, which uses a simple language easy to understand, Wallace Stevens poetry goes right to the emotion in the reader, producing first emotion and then understanding. I love the way he describes what is not there, the emotional state that is the reality. Stevens language dresses up dark realities to make them easier to look at, just as we do in our day to day lives. Wallace held that there is no imagination, there are only emotions that translate into reality. In ‘Sunday Morning’, the narrator carries on a meditation of sorts with the young woman. The young woman ponders and wonders if earth isn’t the true paradise,

Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams? (1238 lines 16-18)

The woman says what she is ‘feeling’, “I am content…”, “I still feel the need…”. Wallace translates her feelings into reality by taking her thought and carrying it through a bit further. It is as if the narrator is outside of the picture of the woman lounging in her “peignoir”. He observes her feelings and comments on them.

While many of the poets we have read this week can be difficult to understand, Frost and Wallace are the poets that I enjoy reading the most. They use language that is not as fragmented as Williams and Eliot. Of course, the purpose of fragmentation (used extensively by Eliot) and mixed diction (a favorite of Williams) is to represent a fragmented and confusing world but I like Frost and Wallace because their poetry is more accessible to the common reader.

November 2002

K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2002, 2006

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