The Age of W. B. Yeats: 20th Century Poetry

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      Many critics believe that no great poetry has been written in the 20th century. In the words of A.C. Ward, “when the twentieth century opened, Tennyson had been dead nine years ago, and there was a widespread impression that English poetry had died with him.” But it could be even said that poetry today has not died. It is, to take a line from T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “Like a patient etherized upon a table.” The fact is that there is a lot of experimentation and innovation in modem poetry. Modem poetry has been exercising a great freedom in the choice of themes. The poet feels free to write on such diverse subjects as kings, cabbages and railways. The modem poet is down to earth and he is interested in depicting the reality of life around him.

      Pastoralism, romanticism and such like tendencies were of very little interest to them. Pessimism is another trait in modem poetry. The two wars and the impending danger of a third have cast a gloomy shadow on the poetic sensibility of the modem poet. But this pessimistic view of the sad realities of life is partly responsible for the humanitarian aspect of modem poetry.

      The modem poets prefer a simple and direct mode of expression. T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats and W.H. Auden have been some of the prominent poets of the age. T.S. Eliot represents a new age of poetry, i.e., a new type of poetry which reflects the post-war phase of bitter disillusionment. Eliot like many others poets of his time had been influenced by Ezra Pound. The Waste Land is perhaps Eliot’s best poetic work. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The. Four Quartets also have won great fame. Ezra Pound himself produced some of the best poetry in vers libre and in the Imagist Style. He was one of the earliest to welcome the new note in Tagore’s Gitanjali. Many of his early poems were translations or adaptations from the various Eastern and Western languages. In his early poetical autobiography, Hugh Seltuin Mauberley gives an account of his bitter struggle with the commercial age. While in Italy he wrote his masterpiece The Cantos. Ezra Pound had even influenced W. B. Yeats who was himself in certain respects an Imagist. But Yeats was also a mystic poet whose poetry was rooted in the soil of Ireland. The Rose, The Green Helmet and Other Poems and The Last Poems are some of his noteworthy poetical works.

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