Is modern English poetry synonymous with the poetry of revolt? There is another question hidden in answer to this question. The hidden query is can anyone fix the border of modern poetry? Or is it possible to define the actual borderline of the beginning of contemporary or modern poetry?
Modern or contemporary English poetry means poetry written at the present time. And “present” time means this very day, or this month or this year. However, the current time is constantly flowing because what is present today is past tomorrow. That means it is challenging to limit modern poetry to the outline of time. In its true sense, it covers a more extensive period.
Most researchers mark 1890 as the inception year of modern English poetry. The year also marked as the twilight point of Victorian poets. Robert Browning, one of the leading Victorian poets, breathed his last in 1889. Although, top-tier poets of this age like Tennyson, Ruskin, and others were still alive with their excellence of expressions through words. But it was also the turning point that started witnessing a significant decline of the Victorian era. New voices started emerging with new enthusiasm as if new movements were preparing to stir. And, the province of poetry now acquired a new term, the poetry of revolt.
Contemporary or modern English poetry had been criticized in many ways since its birth. This trend of criticism has changed over time, but it has not stopped. One of the most common criticisms is discussions about poetry don’t include modern poetry in most cases. The reason behind the said logic says contemporary English poetry does not have the touch of excellence like the old one. Also, there is a common tendency to mark it as puerile, eccentric, and wayward.
Renowned author A.C. Ward has opined that a common but extensive impression regarding English poetry emerged after Tennyson’s death. The said impression involved a notion that English poetry had died with the demise of Tennyson. In a word, English poetry died with the emergence of the twentieth century. According to him, the twentieth century has appeared as a period devoid of “genius and breadth of range.” He added that poets of this age preferred not to follow the emotion of romantic love, which was very much present in the works of Victorian poets.
Many critics have even suggested that poets of the contemporary poetry era have no specific significant theory of the universe to offer through their writings. They think modern poets set no great ideal before the readers. They also believe that with the advent of modern industrialism these poets solace their souls by celebrating unspoiled nature’s beauty. That means modern poetry retires with no sustain contribution. And, poets of this era fail to sustain any significant imagination or expression. Moreover, their verse inclines to become rhetoric.
However, such criticism regarding modern or contemporary poetry does not appear plausible. Also, calling contemporary poetry puerile, eccentric, and wayward is never justified. It never happened at any stage of literary development that the arena of English poetry faced a shortage of great poets and excellent poems. Furthermore, modern English poetry is an inevitable part of the “imperishable literary heritage” with a new existing form, i.e., the poetry of revolt.
It is true that from the beginning, modern English poetry witnessed a new movement of thoughts. Poets of this era were no more ready to swallow the same old poetic vocabulary. In a word, the nineteenth century seemed to have witnessed a new voice. One crucial question is why contemporary poetry needed to acquire a new voice or a new movement.
Before the beginning of the Modern English poetry era, poems contained the flavor of romance or the emotion mingled with romantic love. In addition, the excessive use of the leaven of romance was bound by the boundaries of social philosophy, humanitarianism, and to some extent, propaganda. But the new movement brought a revolt, and it was not purposeless. The poets who introduced this “new voice” tried to rejuvenate the poetic vocabulary. They unveiled various aspects of a wide range of poetic thought. They felt the urge to widen the range of the poetic subject matter. However, these modern poets also knew that revolt must travail amongst loud wailing and raging protests.
A new intellectual thought with emotion surfaced in the words of modern English poetry. The timidity in protest started declining, and poetry of revolt began to take a concrete shape gradually. It appeared, to some critics, as a “sterile dualism” in poetic thoughts. Some even saw it as a fissure within the poet himself. Some others marked it as a fissure between the society and the poet.
There is no denying that a part of modern poetry is, no doubt, experimental. Also, a small amount bears only ephemeral value. But the truth is the said movement of modern poetry is lean towards bringing change and freshness. And, one should understand that tenuity or thinness of thought or can’t be regarded as a specific characteristic of any particular age. It is by and large for all ages.
The so-called insufficiency of sustained contribution or imagination and expression is only a voguish fallacy. One must not forget that modern poet like Hardy has beautifully fused his imagination with a unique architectural unity in his famous shorter lyrics. On the other hand, Abercombie’s lyric impulse is identified with his intellectuality. Works of the eminent poet Robert Bridges uncover his deep knowledge about English prosody. No one can deny the versatility of J.C. Squire. G.K. Chesterton. Nobody can forget the contribution of British author Iolo Aneurin Williams who stood up as proof to define the modern poets’ capacity in learning and the hidden genius in them. It is a total contribution of all the modern poets that have ultimately marked modern English poetry as the poetry of revolt. And, the coming days must bear this poetic characteristic to maintain the ongoing flow of change and freshness in thoughts, imagination, expression, and poetic vocabulary.