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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 and the third program of this series of discussions and readings and titled themes and subjects in modern poetry. The text was originally written by C. de lowers for presentation by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Mr. Simpson turning and turning in the widening the full can cannot therefore things fall apart the center cannot be anarchy is loosed upon the world the blood tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned the bear still lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand. Surely the second coming is at hand the second coming. Oddly all those words out when a vast
image of spiritus Mundi troubles my sight somewhere in sands of the desert a shape with Lion body and the head of a man. A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun is moving its slow sighs while all about it the real shadows of the indignant desert and the darkness drops again. But now I know the twenty centuries of stony sleep makes to night by a rocking cradle and what rough beast its come round at last slouches towards it basically had to be born. That great and grievous visionary by W.B. Yeats published in 1921 is one of the keeper of our century. And the best introduction to my subject. It sums up the
world in which the contemporary Purt is living which he has to deal with which is his field of subject matter and forms the climate of his times. What does this poem say to us. It says amongst other things that our civilization is disintegrating for lack of a core Face-Off alas appear strong enough to hold it together. That brute instinct with cruelty intolerance stupidity and strain is gaining ground over intelligence and tradition. That belief has been replaced by evil fanaticism on the one hand and an honest but impotent agnosticism on the other that a new dark age is about to be born. We shall see presently that the general class of poetry during the past 30 years can be plotted as a series of attempts by the perverts to get to grips
with the situation as Yeats imagined in that the Second Coming. To respond sensitively and and accurately add to the predicament revealed here. Do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that every pert formulated the situation in some such terms and consciously strove to apply his poetic powers to exploring and changing it. What I am saying is that all of us to some extent shared this vision of Yeats we shared it because it was already coming true. It further what would soon be the overmastering preoccupations of anyone who could see beyond his own immediate interest. It focused correctly the weather of our times prefigured the modern sensibility. And in doing so it helped to clarify our field of subject matter. Let us be quite sure that we know what we mean by subject. The subject which
gave rise to Yeats as the second coming was the trouble in Ireland but it would be absurd to say that this pearl is about an Irish Rebellion and civil war. It is clearly about something much bigger altogether. So we may define a subject as an area of experience in which a theme lies buried or a medium through which the purge can best approaches the the starting point of a perm. If you read through an anthology of modern US you will find perms on many different subjects but you will find certain common attitudes of viewpoints too of the subject matter. Variations on certain dominant themes which emerge in that permeates. There is no law that a perp must write about his own time and its problems. There is merely a compulsion whatever his subject matter to approach it from a particular point in time where he happens to be standing. And to explore it for
meanings which have some correspondence with life as he and his contemporaries nerd. Yeah it does line things fall apart the center cannot hurt. Might have been the text for Mr Elliot wasteland not to the wasteland as a sermon or only a segment. It is a pearl by the tragic view of life. If you watch the next generation of Kurds struggle to escape from. But unsuccessfully. Its vision is of a world where moral values are debased tradition is shattered to fragments yet they are all we have. These fragments I have shored against my ruin. Europe is spiritually dead. Mr Elliot sees London's inhabitants as ghosts in a kind of eternal rush. Unreal city here under the brown fog of a winter dawn. A
crowd flowed over London Bridge so many I had not thought death had undone so many sighs short and infrequent were exist and each man fixed his eyes before his feet flowed up the hill and down. King William Street to Wes and Mary were not kept with a dead sound on the final stroke of nine. This is in Matthew Arnold sentence. Perjury is the criticism of life. You may hear it as a protest against urban civilization a very different kind of protest from that of the Georgian turds carefully pining for a little cottage in the country. Mr Elliot was not of course the originator of urban Percheron but the wasteland did open up for the next generation a wider and relatively unexplored field of subject matter. The life of twentieth century folk in tartans and
encourage us to use it for Image and metaphor. There I fancy none of us has used it as cogently as Mr Elliot. The second most influential poet of our time Mr. W.H. Auden has also come to rest in Christianity there by a different route. He is a. Heard of great vitality great intellectual curiosity with an exceptional power for assimilating into poetry the ideas and modes of living of our time. Whereas Mr Elliot's earlier work was enriched by his borrowings from cultural deposits from anthropology for example or from 16th and 17th century literature. Mr. Orden has made matchplay with modern scientific data particularly the theory of the psychologists fried ground back home Alain. One of his perms begins. So no man's enemy forgiving or. But will his negative inversion be prodigal.
There are references in it and everywhere in order to work to psychoanalysis and psycho somatic Syria. The need for a change of heart and a positive attitude to life are stated but who is this. So who is being addressed. It is that very evasive savior father figure who keeps cropping up in the verse of the thirties the sort of humanistic Legard and abstractions but one which represented a deeply felt need the need for love not sex your love but the active under stored relationship between individuals which makes for a living society. Here are some of Mr. Orden prologue. One of the finest expressions of this need. Notice the sweeping view it takes and its use of specifically modern material or a lot of the interest itself in thoughtless heaven.
Make simpler daily the beating of man's heart within there in the ring where Name an image meet inspire them with such a longing as will make his thought on live like patterns among the ration of starlings rising in joy over walls unwittingly. We. Here are two on our little reef display your power. This fortress perched on the edge of the Atlantic scar the mohel between all Europe and the exile crowded sea and Meiko says Newton was who in his garden watching the apple falling towards England became aware between himself and her of any terminal tie. For now that dream which so long is contented hour will I mean of uniting the Dead didn't do a splendid empire. Under whose fertilizing flood the Lancashire more sprouted up chimneys. England Morgan hit a life Graham as a title rock pools in its glove
shape ballets is already retreating into her maternal shadow leaving the furnaces gasping in the impossible air the flotsam at which Dumbarton gates and hunger while upon when love brawly no hammer shakes the cluster of mounds like a midget golf course. Graves of some who created these intelligible dangerous marvels affectionate people but crude their sense of glory far sighted as folk and they look down another future. But the seed in their lines were hostile. They were afraid of their pride and told with a shadow on how inertly wait in bar in netted chicken farm in Lighthouse standing on their impoverished constricting acres. The ladies and gentleman apart too much alone.
We may pick out two points from that. The sense of an industrial civilization running down and the sense of men and women isolated within their own private interests. Prevented by the conditions of modern life from finding true community. These themes we might call them the themes of exhaustion and of exile are constant in the purchase of the earth that is they were touched off by the slump the widespread unemployment the migration of exiles from Naziism and fascism. This was a purgatory of social conscience and of pity. Some of those who wrote it turned to communism as the best hope for a revival of community. Almost all were strongly anti-fascist. To the extent that it was in a broad sense political chair it was classical poetry which looked outwards at the human condition seeking its motive power
not in the personal response of the inner life so much as in the general movements of thought and the changing configurations of history. In turn it was curiously Bryant optimistic almost. But I knew superficially as a sort of whistling in the dark. It had a certain nervous fact elatior but lacking either a myth or the basis of popular acceptance. It never achieved true classism. Nevertheless it produced a few acts which most survive because the first of their idealism or satire broke through their subject to a deeper level of poetic application. These two stanzas by Mr Stephen Spender for instance have outlived the objective situation which produced them. After they've tired of the brilliance of cities and of striving for office where at last they may languish hung round with easy chains until death in
Jerusalem glorify also the crossing sweeper then those streets the rich build and their easy love fade like old cloth. And it is death. Stocks through life grinning white. Through all of faces clean and equal like the shine from snow. In this time when grief pours freezing over us when the hard light of pain gleams at every street corner when those who are pillars of that days go to roof shrink in their clover was surely from hunger. We may strike fire like fire from Flint and our strength is now the strength of our bones clean and equal like that shine from snow and the strength of famine and of our enforced idleness. And it is the strength of our love for each other. This social care disappeared in England quite saddened there at the end of the decade.
The work created if only for a few years has that sense of community in which the 1930s Purt had cried out for. Then after the war communism in action began to look shabby. While the welfare state and the policy of full employment removed the sources of indignation which had inspired these birds a reaction had already set in against their so-called neo classicism. A minor revolution in language headed or rather heralded by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. As I said last week per tree from about 1940 it shows a general tendency to turn inwards away from social preoccupations. But this is not to say that it has lost touch with the interests of ordinary men and women. Consciously or unconsciously perks nowadays are apt to be in opposition to throwing their weight against the big battalions
in the thirties they arrange themselves with the underdog. Now they show signs of arranging themselves against the conquering common man. However much we approve of the welfare state we must admit that it contains a potential danger to human individuality and to certain qualities of Independence Evista Cretic qualities if you like without which mankind would be the poorer. Recent Percheron with its emphasis on the inner life is a natural reaction against this. A counterpart is to the leveling process. We have undergone over the past 12 years or so. We can see this movement very clearly. If we compare the perjury of the First World War with that of the second. The best of the firmer was written by soldier perverts such as Wilford whom I talked about last week. But it was two noncombatants Miss Edith Edith Sitwell and Mr Dylan Thomas who wrote best about the
1939 war. The English poets of the thirties had already written there were protests during the Spanish War and the Munich period. We had many perks in the forces from 1939 onwards but none was the genius of Wilfred Irwin. Besides further competent soldiers the conditions were less favorable. He and they were moved about too fast. The bird needs a settled background such as the most static 1914 war provided on the western front at least. However hellish that background may be. Perjury can put down roots in a trench but hardly in a tank or an airplane. Wilford was speaking in a strict sense for his men for the common man the ordinary fighting soldier and the tenor of his actions was pity. In the two perms you are going to hear by Mr Dylan Thomas and miss it will you will find something rather different and original to protect language
the use of religious symbolism. A highly individual approach to the subject. Combined with the sort of impersonality here which suburbanites pity to a more comprehensive passion and a prophetic message. Here is Mr. Thomas as per entitled A refusal to murder in the death by fire of a child in London. Never until the mankind making bird beast in the flower of fathering and all humbling darkness tales with silence the last light breaking and the still hour is come of the sea tumbling and harnessed. And I must enter again the round Zion of the water deed and the synagogue of the ear of corn. Shall I lead pray the shadow of a sound. Or so my soul to seed in the least valley of sackcloth to moan from majesty and burning of the child's death I shall
not murder the mankind of her going with her grave the truth. God blast beamed down the Stations of the breath with any further elegy of innocence and you are deep with the first dead flies London's daughter robed in the long friend the grains beyond a shadow the dark veins of her mother secret by the on mourning water of the writing to him. After the first death there is no other. And still is the reign by Edith Sitwell. It is a person rising out of the same subject as Mr. Dog as its subtitle is The raids 1942 night and door. Still for the rain doctors the world of man
Black is our loss. Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails upon the cross still falls the rain with a sound like the pulse of the heart that is changed to the hammer beat in the potter's field in the sound of the empiricist beat on the tomb still forms the rain in the field of blood with our small hopes breed and the human brain has its greed that worm with a brow of Cain still falls the rain at the feet of the starved man hung upon the cross. Christ. That each day each night nails there have mercy on us on Divas and on Lazarus under the rain the solar and the gold are as one. Still for the rain still falls the blood from the starved man's wounded side. He bears in his heart all wounds those of the light that
died. The last thing sparked in the self murdered heart. The wounds of the sad uncomprehending dark. The wounds of the baited bear the blind and weeping bear whom the keeper beat Tony's helpless flesh. The tears of the hunted bear still for the rain. Then. O'REILLY popped Oh my God who pulls me down. See you see Christ's blood streams in the firmament. It flows from the bra we nailed upon the tree deep to the Dying to the first in your heart that holds the fires of the old dark smirched with pain as Caesar's Laro crown. Then the voice of one who like the heart of man was once a child who among beasts has lain. Still do I love still shed my innocent like
my blood for me. That perm seems far removed from the idiom and outlook of the 30s yet there is a link. The theme is still in Mr Odin's phrase we must love one another. Or die. That we are all responsible for one another or sharing to greater or less degree the guilt of the world's evil Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind said John done long ago. If contemporary poetry can be said to have any common coherent message this is it. It is a basic theme linking the 30s with the 40s a vision and a way of feeling which the pervert's have used their best powers to realizing for us and insofar as they have done so they have deserved well of mankind.
For without it mankind will surely perish. But around these dominant themes I have tried to put before you there is a great variety of subject. For better or for worse we have discarded the idea that some subjects are poetic others not. Contemporary verse ranges from Mr Henry Reed's grave and dramatic reflections on the story of Philip TT's to Mr. Badman's enthusiastic celebrations of love in the home counties from the gritty unorthodox satirical verse of Mr. Robert Graves. To Mr Dylan as sad lyricism. You will find their own stark poetic properties. Stars swallow girls hair side by side with pylons football pools windscreen wipers Greek myths rubbing up against modern theory of space time. It is all rather ragbag rather
deserted. Quite impossible to sort out yet for a while. But it is exciting. It has vitality here. There should be something for everyone in contemporary verse. Next week I should be talking about its techniques. But it is worth making two points now. The subjects and the language of Berkshire can be dealt with separately by the critic. As readers there we must remember the perms language and its meaning are inseparable a single entity. If you paraphrase a person you may succeed in roughly stating what the person is about. But Your paraphrase is no mother per then a sketch map is a piece of countryside. Secondly the practice of purging at any given period depends upon the pervert's conception of what may legitimately be about on the Hill. The language of us will be more literary when its subject matter is confined by
convention to certain traditional or generally accepted fields knuckler naira that is to say to the rhythms of common speech. When new ideas new sense data or a broader view of poetry is functional at work as they are today within it. We began with a visionary of W.B. Yeats. We will end with another vision reply by Edwin Moore. It is close to combat. And it describes the unequal and perpetually recurring duel between two creatures the crested animal in his pride and a soft round beast as brown as Claire. I do not want to tie explanatory labels to these creatures. It is enough to say that like the second coming. This poem is telling us something about good and evil. It is a matter of which never moralizers. Something within
us it conveys is against all the odds imperishable that needed saying as much as did the dark prophecy of Yeats the second coming this and the come but offer us different facets of a great poetic theme. The obvious and reverse of a sovereign human truth. It was not meant for human eyes that combat on the shabby patch of clouds and trampled that lies somewhere beneath the sodden skies for I have towed or added to cat. And having seen it I accuse the crested animal in his pride. A raid in all the royal hues which hide the claws he well can you use to tear the heart out of the side body of Lapid eagle's head.
And what could be going lion's mane and frost grey head to feathers spread behind. He seemed of all things bread. I shall not see his like again. As for his enemy there came in a soft round beast as brown as clay all ran and patched his Richard skin a battered baggy might have been some old used thing to throw away yet he awaited face to face the furious beast in a swift attack. Soon over and done. That was no place or time for chivalry or for grace. The fury had him on his back and two small paws like hands flew out to right and left. As the trees stood by. One would have said beyond a doubt this was the very end of the bout but that the creature would not die for air but Deathstroke he was gone. Writhed and whirled huddled into his den. Safe somehow
their fight was done and he had lost who had all but won. But oh his deadly fury then while the place lay blank. Go alone. Drowsing is in relief from pain. The cricket chirped the grating phone stood and a little sound was born. The champions took their posts again and all began that don't sleep all slashed out anyone could nothing's save these rags and tatters from the claw or nothing. And yet I never saw a beast so helpless and so brave. And now while the trees stand watching still the unequal battle rages there. That killing beast that cannot kill swear ozone swells Anya's fury till you don't most think it was despair.
You have heard the Third Programme and the theory is 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 Mr. Simpson and members of the University of Chicago radio theater. These programs are based on the BBC series by C. Day Lewis and produced by Thomas parish in the University of Chicago radio office. This is the N A B network.
What is modern poetry
Themes and subjects 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 analyzes themes and subjects in mid-20th century poetry.
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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Poetry--Themes, motives.
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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: 55-7-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:36
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Chicago: “What is modern poetry; Themes and subjects in modern poetry,” 1955-03-05, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023,
MLA: “What is modern poetry; Themes and subjects in modern poetry.” 1955-03-05. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <>.
APA: What is modern poetry; Themes and subjects 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