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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 first programme of this series of discussions and readings of modern poetry. The text was originally written by C day Lois for a presentation by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Mr Simpson who am I talking to generally speaking to anyone who is interested in perjury and who is capable of responding to that concentration of words thought and feeling which we call a perm. There are far no such people nowadays than is commonly supposed to perverts who cannot sell more than a few hundred copies of their books and they include nearly all the perverts. Good and bad. Old and young writing must feel that theirs is the least appealing of the arts. And yet there are thousands of people who listen to poetry broadcasts and go to recitals of per trip. Many of these people want to become familiar with contemporary verse. But for one reason or
another they do not seem able to get a grip on it. It is to them in particular that my talks will be addressed. They will not be apologies for modern poetry or propaganda for it. They could not be for there is no such thing as modern poetry in the sense that a kind of poetry which began to be written in 1917 say or in 1930 it is divorced from the English tradition is wholly novel in its language and its meaning or its lack of meaning. This should not need saying that we have people today some influential and highly respectable journalists among them who talk in these very terms who give you the impression that there is a kind of poetry a proprietary brand Taking did by Mr Elliot and maybe oh by Mr Orton and put out by others under different names with very slightly altered ingredients that this is modern per trip that it is obscure unmusical flouts tradition
breaks all the rules. It's pretentious jibberish written by impostors who wish to shock the public or who just enjoy writing jibberish and sod. Of course there is much bad verse being written and some pretentious rubbish. There always have been. But the things which must strike anyone who seriously examines contemporary poetry. Once he has got used to its general idiom almost exactly the reverse of what those pundits would have us believe. You will find that so far from wallowing and thrashing about in free verse a fast term of abuse anyway. Most English poets of the past that he does employ elaborate and often strict verse forms that they are highly conscious of poetic traditions and sure the best the most practical kind of respect for them namely by adapting tradition to their own needs and the circumstances of their own time. That then obscurity when
they are obscure is not willful but the result of their efforts to purify and Rian life in the language or to explore complex states of mind that they are by no means indifferent to the sound of their verse. The arrangement of vowel and consonant the phrasing the cadences they are doing in short what birds have always done. They are poets not modern birds. Above all I think you will be struck by the range and variety of contemporary verse those in its language and its subject matter. I do not say that this is necessarily a virtue but it does certainly affect. You cannot accuse contemporary verse of any doll uniformity. Indeed you can hardly find any common denominator for it. When you consider the work of living birds so diverse as T.S. Eliot Robert Frost wanted to learn their Ezra Pound Edith Sitwell W.H. Auden
and Dylan Thomas. What is the contemporary perk trying to do when he writes of. He is trying to make sense of poetic sense out of his experience. He writes Not in the first place to be understood but in order to understand the Perche who has written a good is like an explorer who has found what he did not know he was looking for who did not know what he was looking for till he found it. In the successful program a number of fragmentary or apparently unrelated experiences bits of the poet's observation sought reading emotional processes have been brought together in such a way that they lose their identity or their separateness and fragment arenas and are absorbed into a hurled a delicate complex organization which gives them meaning and whose meaning for us is more than the sum of its parts. We say that a permit is
satisfactory and we feel that it satisfies us. When we get this impression that it is a whole thing a complete thing to which nothing could be added and from which nothing could be taken away without impairing its value even perhaps destroying its life. The making of a perm and the more or less conscious search for truth. Implicit there in are not separable activities. They are two aspects of the same process for the purge is usually not just putting truth into verse as a dressmaker I might build a dress around a model. He is discovering truth through verse as a swimmer discovers himself in water or a pilot in the air. That is his element. A very tricky unreliable element like water or air. It demands that you both surrender yourself to it and struggle with it. The proud element his medium is composed of words we
all use them but he has to use them in a special way more carefully more lovingly than the rest of us. Out of us all that make rhymes. Well you choose sometimes as the winds use a crack in a wall to drain their joy or their pain to whistle through. Choose me you English words I know you your lighters dreams tough as oak precious as gold as poppies and Koran or an old cluck sweet birds to the ear as the burnt rose in the heat of mid-summer strain as the races of dead and unborn strange and sweet equally and familiar to the eye as the dearest faces that a man knows and has lost homes. But the older of them the oldest you as our hills are old and worn
new again and again young as our streams after rain and as did as the earth which you prove that we love. So here I am in the middle way having had 20 years 20 years largely wasted and years along with trying to learn to use words and every attempt is a wholly new start and a different kind of failure because one has only learnt to get the better of words or the thing one no longer has to say or the way in which one is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture is a new beginning. A raid on the United ticket with shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision of feeling and disciplined squads of emotion and what there is to conquer by strength and submission has already been discovered once or twice. Well
several times by men one cannot hope to emulate. But there is no competition. There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again and now under conditions that seem on propitious. The first of those extracts is from Edward Thomas a Kurd killed in the 1914 war the second from Mr. Eliot Four Quartets both purred speak of words as if they had an independent life of their own. Choose me as you English words one is only learn to get the better of words both perps are expressing their sense of dedication and of humility. Mr. Elliot writes of the men whom one cannot hope to emulate.
Edward Thomas asks words to use him as the winds use a crack in a wall or a drain burst Kurds consider a perm as an exploration a raid on the inarticulate Mr. Elliott calls it in which words play the leading part. Can discover truths the bird was are not unaware of or incredulous are as dear as the earth which you prove that we live birds perts are deeply concerned with language. Edward Thomas was the paradox of words which are both strange and familiar and old as the hills yet one knew again and again. Mr. Elliot with the idea that every new venture every new person seems to demand a different use of language. I have chosen these extracts to illustrate the enormous importance which Purt set on words. The layman tends to value a perm in terms of emotion of thought of meaning
there is no reason why he should not. Provided he realizes that these can be got ADD only to the actual words of the power by an act of strength and submission of imagined effort and surrender comparable with that of the poet who wrote it. But when we read those two passages you may have been struck much more by their differences than by their resemblance. I can imagine a listener who was unfamiliar with them. One who has been brought up on the older kinds of perjury are responding like this. They may be saying the same sort of thing but the way Edward Thomas sais it sounds more like poetry to me. This poem is lyrical graceful simple. I can feel the excitement and sincerity of his self dedication to words in the passage. I recognize the sincerity here but do not feel the excitement. Surely it is rather curt and captivated almost prosaic. The language isn't poetical. And why is he so down on emotion. The general
mess of imprecision of feeling undisciplined squads of emotion. Another type of listener may dismiss Edward Thomas's parent once as a piece of Georgina's I'm pretty secondhand dated stuff he should remember that our most aggressive critic of George and Jeb has called Thomas a very original Purt who devoted great technical subtlety here to the expression of a distinctively modern sensibility in what all this comes down to is a problem of language. The basic themes of poetry are few larger death good and evil. The transients and the eternal. These have not changed in the past 30 years. What has changed is the language of Birchip And if you want to enjoy contemporary verse you must accustom your yard to an unfamiliar language. During the past 500 years there have been at least four major revolutions in English poetry and many minor ones. They have been revolutions primarily of language
and even poetic revolutions are disturbing disagreeable things to live through man's first response to their results to the new order of language is almost invariably there. But it isn't Bertrand. They said it of Wordsworth they said it of Tennyson. They said of the veil yet. When Elliot complains about those undisciplined squads of emotion he was only saying what Wordsworth Wordsworth said a hundred fifty years ago and what every perk knows that emotion recollected in tranquillity it is best for power trip that raw violent immediate emotion plays havoc with the words us like Elliot reacted against what he believed to be the degradation of contemporary poetic language. He too thought that the perch equipment was shabby and deteriorating deteriorating says Elliott in the general mess of imprecision of feeling. This is not an
attack on feeling in poetry or outside it. It is saying that imprecision sloppiness sentimentality or feeling go with the deterioration of language and conversely where if language is imprecise slovenly air and disciplined it cannot do proper justice to feeling. This is extremely important. The kind of truth with which a perm is concerned is not objective truth. A Perm is not affect your scientific description. It may even be wrong in its facts but it must not be wrong or anything but most delicately precise in its feeling for that specific truth emerges from the interpenetration of feeling and theme. A good program is one whose theme has matured in the feeling it distills for the pert that is why we can feel the truth of a pearl. Before we have fully understood it. But you may say if those themes of poetry are few and unchanging Why
must poetic language alter. Why can't Eliot write like tennis. Why I could not tell us and write like Wordsworth. In the rivers of Britain. There is only a limited variety of fish but any angler will tell you that you need different flies to catch the same fish in different streams or different weathers poetic themes are elusive thing and the climate of one age is not that of the last day. So poetic language must be changed for new conditions besides a poetic language become stale and exhausted after hard use. The seams will not rise to it any longer spring for example. The season associated with perts by cartoonists the season of reawakening and rebirth. The theme capable of infinite variations. In spring time in springtime the only pretty ring time when birds do sing hey ding a ding ding sweet lovers love the spring.
So Forth issue the seasons of the year. First lusty spring all Dighton leaves of flowers that freshly buttered and new blooms did in which a thousand birds and built their bowers that sweetly sung to call forth paramours and in his hand a javelin he did there and on his head as fit for warlike staus as a gilt engraving morion he did wear that as some did him love so others did him fear. Now here is the nightingale begin the song of spring. No luck sitting upon his earthy bed just as the moron appears listened silent then springing from the waving corn field loud. He leads the choir of de drill drill drill drill mounting upon the wings of light into the great expanse react going against the lovely blue and shining heavenly shell his little throat labors with inspiration
every feather on the throat and breast and wings vibrates with the effluence divine. Oh to be in England now that April's there and whoever wakes in England sees some warning unaware that the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf around the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf while the chaffinch sings on the orchard bar in England now. Nothing these so beautiful spring when we sing we shoot long and lovely and lush thrushes a good look little oh heavens and thrush through the echoing dim but also rinse and wring the air. It strikes like lightning to hear him sing glassy pear tree leaves and blooms when I brush the
descending blue that blue is all in a rush through the richness the racing lambs to have failed their fling. I imagine each of those passages sounds to you like Bertram and except for the last one perhaps they may seem to speak very much the same language but in fact they do not. Each of them is written in a quite different poetic idiom although they have a common subject matter. These poets Shakespeare Spencer Blake Browning and Hopkins each had to find a different way through the subject matter to get at the heart behind it. To find his own variation of the theme. But now what about this. April is the cruelest month breeding lilacs of the Dead Land mixing memory and desire during roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm covering earth in forgetful snow feeding a little life with a dried tuberous summer surprised us coming over the Steinberger say with a shower of rain. We stopped in the colonnade and went on and sunlight into the hole forgotten and drank coffee and talked for an hour. Being a kind of star Marshalltown. And when we were children staying at the archduke's My cousin's he took me out on a sled and I was frightened he said. Mary Mary hold on tight and we went in the mountains there you feel free. I read much of the night and go south in the winter. Those are the opening lines of The Waste Land. The poem which published in
1922 presently altered the course of English Birchip. I. Suppose you are hearing this passage for the first time. How does it most differ from the ones we have just read. It differs obviously in language and rhythm but it differs most deeply. And this is why its language and rhythms are as they are in its point of view. The theme is still that of rebirth. But here it is the pangs of rebirth the cruelty of spring which we are faced with. Spencer has hinted at it that has sounded him love so others did him fear does more than hint. The speaker sounds depressed and where one might be to be working out of a winter sleep cozy and numb under the snow and tortured with memory and desire. When one only wants to stay dead the wasteland is both a prophetic and a satirical Pearl. Its first
seven lines may be interpreted as the reluctance and agony of coming to life again after war's a long winter but the worst of the agony lies in the pervert's prophetic vision of the world into which he is awaking. A Well blasted exhausted disintegrated by the war a civilization whose values lay in fragments our waste land. This is suggested at the start of the pearl for the memories which spring has aroused in the Spica turn out disjointed and horrifyingly trivial. A cup of coffee a gossip a sled dried. The first of the prophecy in the satire appointed by language and rhythm of the language throughout this passage is flat unpoetic in any traditional way. Arid and at times deliberately been the rhythm of the first seven lines is slow hesitant tired as it were disillusioned. Then at some a surprise does the rhythm changes is galvanized into a
sort of brittle rapidity it adapted to the gossipy triviality of the speaker's memories. This is in fact not only prophetic and satirical purtier but dramatic verse. In my next three talks I'm going to examine more closely the sources and influences of contemporary verse. It's range of subject matter and its techniques. We shall see that since the wasteland there have been two minor revolutions in English. But it is fair to say that without the energy released by Mr Elliot's work these might not have occurred or else would have taken far different forms for the present. Let me try to sum up the qualities by which the verse of the past 30 years also is noticeably distinguished from that of its predecessors. Most of these qualities are visible in that passage of the wasteland. A greater elusiveness in speech and in a bleakness of approach which have tended to degenerate into a private language. A search for greater
concentration similes giving place to metaphor out the concrete image preferred to the poetic generalization. The movement of the poem speeded up so the reader deprived of logical connections all linked passages has to jump with the perc from one association of thought to the next. A rejection of the highly Onate artificial poetic style in favor of a language following more closely the contours of common speech. But of course every poetic idiom is artificial is somehow distanced from our everyday language. An effort to explore perjuries a job seems through specifically modern subjects. I do not mean simply dragging pylons roadhouses and atomic bombs into ones of us. I mean the poet's effort to respond to the climate of his time and the world in which he lives. Finally hand in hand with this extension of subject matter. A weakening of the predominance of lyrical Tria and the rise of a
poetry in which satirical and dramatic elements are struck. Please do not take me as saying that none of these qualities are to be found in our predecessors. All that we are somehow more significant than their Tennyson was keenly aware of the problems of his time Browning's verse can be as allusive and or bleak as that of any living writer. Janet Manley Hopkins achieved a great a poetic intensity it than any contemporary bird has achieved W.B. Yeats rejected the ornate mannered language of his earlier pair of foreign doctrines purer simpler more austere. These four and Thomas Hardy seemed to me a man of greater stature than any poet writing in English today. But if you compare our present minor Percheron with the minor perjury of the Victorian Age or the 18th century I believe you will find it more interesting more various more alive. Here are two by living pert to illustrate the great range of language
the great diversity of treatment you find in contemporary verse. We have had a number of passages about spring. Here is a poem called April RA is written 30 years after the wasteland by Laurie Lee. It is fresh. Individual concentrated without being self-assertive experimental It is a very senseless prayer. And I want you to notice particularly how it mixes the impressions received by the different senses sight hearing and touch blends them together in images which play upon all our senses similar tenuously like those other spring passages. It is concerned with regeneration. If ever I saw a blessing in the air I see it now. When this still early day wear Lemon green the vaporous morning drips with sunlight on the powder of my eye
blown bubble film of blue the sky wraps around weeds of warm light to his every root and Rod splutters with soapy green and all the world sweats with the beat of summer in its blood. If ever I heard blessing it is there where birds and trees that shoals and shadows are. Splash with their hidden wings and drops of sound to break on my ears the CRist's of throbbing air pure in the haze the emerald sun dilates the lips of Sparrow milk the Mossi stones while white as water by the lake girls winds are Greenland among the gathered swans. Now how was the almond burned that smoking wick dropping small flames to light the candle to grass. Now as my low blood scales a second chance if ever world were blessid. Now it is.
Finally a love poem by Louis McNeice springlike too in its color hope and energetic but so different in its language. It is called a toast. The slurred and drawled and crooning sounds the blurred and suave and sidling smells the webs of do you the bells of bugs the sun going down and crimson suds. This is on me and these are yours. The bland and sculpt and urgent beasts are here and there and nowhere birds the tongues of fire the words of foam the curdling stars in the nights dome. This is on me and these are your eyes. The face and grace and muscle of man the balance of his body and mind who keeps a trump behind his brain till instinct flicks it out again. This is on me and these are
yours. The courage of eyes. The craft of hands of the gay feet the pulse of hope the will that flings a rope though hard to catch the future of its God. This is on me. And these are yours. The luck and pluck and plunge of blood the wealth and spills and sport of breath and sleep. Come down like death above the fever in the peace of love. This is on me and these are yours. You have heard themes in modern poetry. The first programme in the series. What is modern poetry. The text was read by Alan Simpson professor of history at the University of Chicago. The poetry readers were Mike Nichols and Richard Ayo both of the University of Chicago radio theater. These programmes are taken from the BBC series by C. de lo was produced by Thomas
de parish in the radio office of the University of Chicago. This is the n AB network.
What is modern poetry
Themes in modern poetry
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University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents lectures on mid-20th century poetry with readings of poems.
Series 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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Performer: Simpson, Alan
Performer: Nichols, Mike
Producer: Parrish, Thomas (Thomas D.)
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-7-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:25
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Chicago: “What is modern poetry; Themes in modern poetry,” 1955-02-20, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “What is modern poetry; Themes in modern poetry.” 1955-02-20. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: What is modern poetry; Themes in 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