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The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. What is modern poetry. The University of Chicago radio office presents Alan Simpson in the fourth program of this series of discussions and readings entitled techniques of modern poetry. The text was originally written by C. Day Lewis for a presentation by the British Broadcasting Corporation Mr. Simpson. What do we mean by a pert technique. First his word of using rhyme meter stanza forms image patterns. Second his use of language. The two are interdependent of course but the letter the use of language is the more fundamental. It governs to a considerable extent the formal structure of a perts verse. It's metres and rhyme schemes and
it embodies his own identity of the quality by which one pert can be distinguished from another. A pert style in fact is equivalent to the personality by which we recognise a human being. And this is even when it is an extremely impersonal style. But when we speak of a style we defer to the general poetic idiom of a given period as well as to the individual poets variation of it. And this lens be in trouble straight away. For if we look at the metaphysical the or Gaston's or the Victorian minor perts we get an impression of a poetic language held in common. We are struck by the resemblance as in style between individual poets of each period whereas with contemporary verse we are struck more by the differences. It seems a sort of babble that is apparently no norm to which contemporary poets approximate no composition poetic language being built up on their individual styles.
No doubt this is partly a delusion the result of our being too close to those living perverts and unable to see the wood for the trees. But it is not entirely so I think. During the last 30 years there has been an unusual amount of technical exploration in many different directions and contemporary verse has been subjected to a diversity of influences both literary and social which have prevented it from settling into one mode the way we write is affected not only by our personal interests and characteristics but by our subject matter which includes the climate of our times and this climate has produced some unusually change for and unpredictable weather for us. So our verse has been unsettled Retic on the whole revolutionary in technique. But one should not carry this line too far. It would be wrong to say that the ruthless neurotic
modern sensibility here must be expressed in a desire or dead hysterical kind of poetry or that a disintegrating civilization where the center cannot hurled requires a centrifugal verse. It would be wrong because there are the perch and respond to the outer world. It is also his task to impose order within his own world. The world of the poem. One cannot even claim their preoccupation with the morrow and social problems of our time must inevitably produce and innovating modernistic poetic language. Spencer and Tennyson for example were greatly exercised by such problems. Tennyson style was never a revolutionary one. While Spencer's was conservative and to some degree even our kick. No I think the basic reason for the eccentricities of modern verse is a simpler one I wrote against the poetic language of our predecessors but more
self-conscious less spontaneous perhaps. Then such revotes have generally been certain factors of our time have tended to degrade and exhaust the language with unusual rapidity. The popular press for example modern publicity methods the dumb ox dialogue of plays and films the spreading miasma of Cheap Jack fiction. This being said the purge becomes so much the more aware of the more self-conscious in his task of renovating language and the violent efforts he must make to really enlighten it will show in his verse. The most obvious effect of this and the one which gives readers greatest trouble is the compression of modern verse. Poets try to concentrate their meaning in the smallest possible space. There must be no diffuse ness no slackness of texture no superfluous ornament. A poem should be all per trip. Not an
archipelago of heightened poetic passages linked together by a sea of verse a fied prose. There is nothing very new in the idea. Keats told Shelley he ought to know that every rift with her or Edgar Allen Poe's demand for her per chair helped to create the simplest movement in France. What is new is the general acceptance and practice of the idea and the technical methods whose application it has lead to. Let us look first at two examples of these methods in action. Here is a passage from TS Eliot's The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock. For I have known them or already known them or have known the evenings mornings are afternoons. I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. I know the voices dying with a dying fall beneath the music from a father room. So how should I
presume. And I have known the eyes already known them all. The eyes that fix you in a firm related phrase. And when I am firmly elated sprawling on a pin when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall then how should I begin to spit out all the back tens of my days and ways. And how should I presume. And I have known the arms already known them all. Is that a bracelet and white and bare. But in the lamp light does sound with light brown hair is a perf human from a dress that makes me so digress that lie along a table already back to shore and should I then presume. And how should I begin. Shall I say I have gone to dusk through narrow streets and watch the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirt sleeves leaning out of windows.
I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. The perm from which that is taken presents no difficulty today. But when it first appeared many readers felt Befort or outraged by it. The language of this particular passage is not for the most part very concentrated. It is diffuse or at least discuss it with its lyrical refrain. For I have known them all already there and its dramatic repetitions. This noose unemphatic texture of language throws into hard relief the few metaphors and concentrated phrases so that they leap out at your. I have measured out my life with coffee spoons a phrase that tells us a great deal about Vista Prufrock the monotony in frivolity or futility of his social life. At any rate is he in middle age sees it. He cannot make up his mind whether to propose marriage. His indecision is at the
core of the power but it is always expressed openly clear elusively and how should I presume so is the appeal for sympathy he hesitates to make. He does not say I am ageing and take pity on me he says. I have gone a dusk through narrow streets and watched the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirtsleeves. His fear of rebuff his sense of his own insignificance comes out in the last two lines the image of a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. The concentration of this passage then lies not so much in a close texture of language as in its elusiveness and its omission of logical connecting links. We have to jump imaginative there a gap between lonely men in shirtsleeves and the crab scuttling over the ocean floor. Readers should have no trouble
in doing this no. Yes it is a cinematic technique. In a film we see a man packing a bag. We then get a brief shot of an engine's coupling rod moving and this fades into a shot of a girl waiting for the men at the barrier of a railway terminus. The sequence such as this leaving out any direct reference to the man's journey seems straightforward enough to us but the early film would have found it difficult to follow. Now we will try another method of compression where Mr Dylan Thomas begins a perm with a line. I agree for Gore. He is compressing a world of experience into a nutshell. But it is still a matter for their extremely audacious one on the traditional patent for an illustration of his original and intense poetic language. Here are the last three stanzas of Fern Hill a perm about his childhood.
And then to awake in the fall I'm like I wonder why. With that you come back the cock on his shoulder was all shining. It was Adam and Megan. The sky gathered again and the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light in the first spinning place. The spellbound horses walking warm out of the green stable onto the fields of praise and honored among foxes and pheasants by the gay house under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long in the sun burned over and over. I ran my heedless ways. My wishes raced through the house high and nothing I cared had my sky blue trades that time allows in all his tuneful turning so few and such mornings before the children green and golden follow him. Out of grace nothing I cared. And the lamb
white days that time would take me up to the Swallow thronged aloft by the shadow of my hand. Moon that is on ways arising now that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with a high fever and way to the far for ever fled from the child less land. As I was young again easy in the mercy of his mean time held me green and dying though I sang in my chains like the sea. If you're hearing that for the first time it's language may strike you as rep's article loose rather wild raps article it is but not loose the Pearl is in an elaborate irregular stanza form. The language is intricate closely meshed. The recipe their poems are not of course created from recipes it's Association of
images verbal associations and a turning upside down as it were of ordinary conceptions. But this is not arbitrary. Not just playing tricks with words and images. The farm like a wonder are white with the do come back. The cock on his shoulder is giving us like that as a person because it is part of the animistic imagination of a child to whom his surroundings seem alive. Reborn every morning. The imagery throughout derives from a child's vision. My wishes raced through the house high head his high as a house to a small child. It overtops him. And the feeling of my wishes raced has been led up to by happy as the heart was long a phrase which freshens an old cliche happy as the day is long and gathers force from its association.
In the last stanza we returned to the farmhouse. The child does not care that he will one day wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land. This is animistic again and it gets its effect from turning an ordinary idea topsy turvy. The idea of the child growing up leaving the farm for ever becomes instead the farm leaving the child leaving a land that is childless. Because this particular child is not there anymore there is poetic reason for all the apparent oddities of expression. Nothing I cared in the lamb white days the time would take me up to the Swallow throng laughed by the shadow of my hair and why I left him white days because like the sky blue trades which it echoes. It gives us the feel of childish innocence and joy. Why that time would take me by the shadow of my hand because the child's lamb Y days
seem endless and bedtime only a distant chatter and perhaps he foresees the shadow of his own hand on the stair rail. Going to bed thrown by the moon that is always rising. I think I've said enough to show you how intricate and concentrated Mr Thomas is poetic language is and how this poem has taken shape. One image arising naturally from another one phrase begetting another by verbal Association. The whole process keyed to the experience and vision of childhood. Let us now turn to yet another type of compression the kind of poetry in which language is drawn. Taught by dialectic by argument. Here is a sonnet of Mr Robert Frost's. He would declare and could himself believe that the birds there are in all the garden round from having heard the daylong voice of the head added to their own and over sound. Her tone of meaning but without the words admittedly and
eloquent So Soft could only have had an influence on birds when a call or laughter carried it aloft. Be that as may be she was in their song. Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed had now persisted in the wood so long that probably it never would be lost. Never again would bird song be the same and to do that to birds was why she came. That poem has none of the abrupt transition. The startling epithets or phrases we found in Mr. Elliott or Mr. Thomas it's language may seem to you rather flat and unpoetic but it isn't extremely subtle. And it sets a standard for the modern use of colloquial language and poetry by this I do not mean slaying but a language following the contours of ordinary speech and heightening it. The opposite of an artificial poetic diction colloquial means people talking together.
In that permafrost you have the pro talking to himself in a meditative argumentative where. The first five lines state the proposition that the birds in the garden from hearing the daylong voice of the head added to their own and over the next three lines modify this proposition. Admittedly an eloquent So Soft could only have had an influence on birds when call after carried aloft. After this temporary check which is the turn of a second bar is putting in a mild objection. The main argument is summed up be that as maybe she was in their song and moves on again to a second point and amplification. Moreover I have ice upon their voices crossed had now persisted in the world so long that probably it never would be lost. And so to the clinching discovery of the last line and to do that to birds was
why she came. This line with its dry tone of understatement its absolute rejection of the grandiose has nevertheless a remarkable poetic impact. I can compare it only with the scientific Panj which need not travel far if the boxer is perfectly balanced and that's able to put his her weight behind it. This line has behind it the weight and balance of the her or her in itself it would be nothing in its context. The leisure controversy all manner of the it's closely were in dialectic. The line has an effect of extraordinary concentration. New styles come into being through the necessity for recharging language that has run Darren. So it is with new kinds of writing and rhythm rhyme words can grow stale and thus we can approach contemporary verse implies a number of devices for avoiding the staleness first frequent use of
internal rhyme Estens and alliteration alliteration as a kind of writing. You can hear it in these lines by W. R. Rogers. Slow slow slow or with bubble pauses and slide. He paced before you roll by there and she as if with a shivering through her shoulders now shyly about yet she shivered still never did shadow so shimmer with midges as she with withering. Should she go or no body and so she saw already in it. Second there is the consonantal in Dryden such as Wilfred Owen used so effectively it escaped scooped growing and grow and be still a
step dad. Third instead of normal end rhymes you may get distances distorted sound echoes at the end of the lines as you do in Mr McNiece a spirited syncopated bagpipe music which begins like this. It's no go the merry go round it's no go the rickshaw all we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peep show. Their knickers are made of crepe to Sheen their shoes are made of pipe and the halls are lined with Tiger rugs and their wells with heads of bison. JOHN MCDONALD found a corpse put it under the sofa waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker. Sold its allies for souvenirs sold its blood for whiskey kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was 50. It's no go they are gay man it's no go. Love at ski all we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi. I need MacDougall went to milk caught her foot in the
heather Welk to hear a dance record playing about old Vienna. It's no go your maidenhead it's no go your culture. All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil man the puncture lead to Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober. Count to speak to prove the fact and found he had one foot over Mrs Carmichael had a fit. Looked at the job it repulsion said to the midwife take it away I'm through with over production. And so it will not have escaped your. This is far from being a jazzed up nonsense perk. It is set and if we wish to be solemn about it we could say that it is attacking the materialism the debasement of values the valid Garrity of our day. It does this by a sort of jujitsu technique giving way to the valid Garrity as it were and compelling it does to overreach and expose itself. This is the
dramatic as opposed to the analytic method of satire. You will find it much used in contemporary verse. But I was talking about writing another innovation common in the modern practice of as is occasionally right. You have no formal set to rhyme scheme you put in an end rhyme. Just here and there to mark the end of a period as Shakespeare used it or to call the reader's attention to a passage of special importance or to underline your meaning at certain points. This is the theory. At any rate it is part of the theory and which produced free verse and which now produces irregular verse verse that is to say in which the lines are of irregular length and the stanzas or successive passages have no obvious formal correspondence to one another. This technique is justified on the grounds that it gives the purge more freedom to say exactly what he wants to say instead of having to force his meaning into a
rigid prefabricated structure of rhyme and meter. That's cramping or distorting it. Against this you may argue that every great poet in the English language except Whitman has used set forms and managed to convey a great deal of meaning. I do not myself consider that a really conclusive argument. A more cogent one is that the discipline of strict form itself generates and defines poetic meaning rather than narrows or abstracts it. Pearl Valerie said. The exemption C's of a strict prosody are the artifice which endows our natural speech with the qualities of a refractory material. Foreign to the search and as it were deaf to our desires. Once they had been accepted we cannot do everything we please. We cannot say everything strict forms in other words not only
compel us to say things in a certain way. They help us to discover what it is we want to say. However that may be the typical liberties taken by contemporary verse where rhyme and meter are concerned must be seen as attempts to recreate language methods of using words in a fresh vigorous illuminating manner. Just as from Weathering Heights and Moby Dick to the work of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf a novelist can be seen enriching fiction with the symbolism and the heightened language which used to be considered the preserve of poetry. So in the last 30 years perjury has tended towards the language of prose and of everyday conversation tended to become more colloquial an expression and to follow more closely the rhythms of ordinary speech. There are many exceptions to this of course but if you are reading a modern which seems to have no definite structure
no fixed meter. Read it aloud stressing the syllables you would naturally stress if it was a piece of prose closely following the contours of the phrases and you will soon be able to grasp its poetic rhythms. On the other hand if you read aloud passages from Mr Elliot's play at the cocktail party you will notice how a basic metre the rigid fir stress light is made extraordinary supple. Speeding up or slowing down pointing the dramatic argument by its distribution of stresses adapting itself to colloquial rhythms but sharpening them. Throughout these talks I have given most attention to the less traditional kinds of contemporary verse to the new subject matter and the new methods of treatment which modern perverts have attempted. Because they need interpretation in a way that the purpose of Walter Dellinger mess or Edmund Blunden do not. But in case you feel the balance between the
experimental and the traditional needs redressing we will end with to perms by living writers which are simple and straightforward. On the surface at any rate. With no shockingly modern imagery or use of language. The first the foreboding is by Robert Graves a pervert too in fact has been one of the foremost experimenters of our time. Looking by chance in at the open window I saw my own self seated in his chair with gaze abstracted photoed forehead unkempt. I thought that I had suddenly come to die. That to a cold corpse This was my farewell until the pen moved slowly on the paper and tears fell. He had written a name yours in printed letters one word on which bemusedly to pour
no protest no desire. Your naked name nothing more. Would it be tomorrow. Would it be next. But the vision was not false This much I knew. And I turned angrily from the open window a Garst at you. Why never a warning either by speech or look. That the love you cruelly gave me could not last. Already it was too late. The bait swallowed the hook fast. That her strong point and laconic is permanent perjury. You have heard the techniques in modern poetry. The final programme in the series. What is modern poetry. The text was read by Alan Simpson professor of history at the University of Chicago and the poetry was read by
What is modern poetry
Techniques of modern poetry
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
In this program, Professor Simpson analyzes a variety of then-current poetic techniques.
Other Description
This series presents lectures with readings of poems. It strives to discuss and define modern poetry in a non-technical way. Text is read by Professor Alan Simpson of the University of Chicago; poetry is read by members of University Radio Theatre.
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Prufrock, J. Alfred (Fictitious character)
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Performer: Simpson, Alan
Producer: Parrish, Thomas (Thomas D.)
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-7-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:20
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Chicago: “What is modern poetry; Techniques of modern poetry,” 1955-03-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 19, 2022,
MLA: “What is modern poetry; Techniques of modern poetry.” 1955-03-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 19, 2022. <>.
APA: What is modern poetry; Techniques of modern poetry. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from