Some Modern British Poets - Welcome to myMVNU | Home

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Some Modern British Poets
At the Turn of the Age
Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928)
• Both an English novelist and poet. While his works
typically belong to the Naturalism movement,
several poems display elements of the previous
Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature,
such as his fascination with the supernatural.
• While he regarded himself primarily as a poet who
composed novels mainly for financial gain, during
his lifetime he was much better known for his
novels, such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far
from the Madding Crowd, which earned him a
reputation as a great novelist.
• The bulk of his fictional works, initially published as serials in
magazines, were set in the semi-fictional land of Wessex
(based on the Dorchester region where he grew up) and
explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and
social circumstances
• Hardy became a truly great English poet after the death of his
first wife, Emma, beginning with the elegies he wrote in her
memory, calling these poems, "one of the finest and strangest
celebrations of the dead in English poetry."
• Most of his poems such as "Neutral Tones'" and "A Broken
Appointment" deal with themes of disappointment in love and
life (which were also prominent themes in his novels), and
mankind's long struggle against indifference to human
• As in his novels, Hardy sometimes wrote ironic poems, like
"Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave," in which he employed
twist endings in the last few lines or in the last stanza to
convey that irony.
• Some, like "The Darkling Thrush" and "An August Midnight",
appear as poems about writing poetry, because the nature
mentioned in them gives Hardy the inspiration to write. His
compositions range in style from the three-volume epic closet
drama The Dynasts to shorter poems such as "A Broken
• A particularly strong theme in the Wessex Poems is the long
shadow that the Napoleonic Wars cast over the nineteenth
century, for example, in "The Sergeant's Song" and "Leipzig".
• A few of Hardy's poems, such as "The Blinded Bird" (a
melancholy polemic against the sport of vinkenzetting), display
his love of the natural world and his firm stance against animal
cruelty, exhibited in his antivivisectionist views and his
membership in the RSPCA.
Religious Faith
• Hardy's family was Anglican, but not especially devout. He
was baptised at the age of five weeks and attended church,
where his father and uncle contributed to music.
• However, he did not attend the local Church of England
school, instead being sent to Mr Last's school, three miles
• As a young adult, he befriended Henry R. Bastow (a
Plymouth Brethren man), who also worked as a pupil
architect, and who was preparing for adult baptism in the
Baptist Church.
• Hardy flirted with conversion, but decided against it.
Bastow went to Australia and maintained a long
correspondence with Hardy, but eventually Hardy tired of
these exchanges and the correspondence ceased. This
concluded Hardy's links with the Baptists.
Hardy’s idea of fate in life gave way to his
philosophical struggle with God. Although
Hardy’s faith remained intact, the irony and
struggles of life led him to question the traditional
Christian view of God:
The Christian god — the external personality — has
been replaced by the intelligence of the First
Cause…the replacement of the old concept of God as
all-powerful by a new concept of universal
consciousness. The 'tribal god, man-shaped, fieryfaced and tyrannous' is replaced by the 'unconscious
will of the Universe' which progressively grows aware
of itself and 'ultimately, it is to be hoped, sympathetic'
• Hardy's religious life seems to have mixed
agnosticism, deism, and spiritism. Once, when
asked in correspondence by a clergyman about
the question of reconciling the horrors of pain
with the goodness of a loving God, Hardy
– “Mr. Hardy regrets that he is unable to offer any
hypothesis which would reconcile the existence of
such evils as Dr. Grosart describes with the idea of
omnipotent goodness. Perhaps Dr. Grosart might
be helped to a provisional view of the universe by
the recently published Life of Darwin, and the
works of Herbert Spencer, and other agnostics.
“The Darkling Thrush”
• Originally published in The Graphic with the subtitle
“By the Century's Deathbed,”
• It was published on New Years Day 1901.
• The poem opens with a description of the dreary, bleak
winter landscape, but the melancholy tone is shattered
by the bright, optimistic singing of "an aged thrush,
frail, gaunt, and small."
• As mentioned before, the nature described here gives
Hardy the inspiration to write.
• In the end, the speaker concludes that the small bird
possesses "some blessed Hope, whereof he knew and I
was unaware."
“The Darkling Thrush”
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
• He was an Irish poet and playwright, and one of the
foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar
of both the Irish and British literature
• He was a driving force behind the Irish Literary
Revival and, along with Lady Gregory, Edward
Martyn, and others, founded the Abbey Theatre,
where he served as its chief during its early years.
• In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in
• The Nobel Committee described his work as
"inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives
expression to the spirit of a whole nation."
• He was the first Irishman so honoured.[1] Yeats is
generally considered one of the few writers who
completed their greatest works after being awarded
the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower
(1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems
• He studied poetry in his youth and from an early age
was fascinated by both Irish legends and the occult.
Those topics feature in the first phase of his work,
which lasted roughly until the turn of the 20th
• His earliest volume of verse was published in 1889 and
those slow-paced and lyrical poems display debts to
Edmund Spenser, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the PreRaphaelite poets.
• After many stormy love affairs Yeats (then 51)
proposed to twenty-five year old Georgie Hyde-Lees
(1892–1968), whom he had met through Olivia
Shakespear. Despite warning from her friends—
"George ... you can't. He must be dead"—Hyde-Lees
accepted, and the two were married on 20 October
• During the first years of his marriage, he and George
engaged in a form of automatic writing, in which
George contacted a variety of spirits and guides they
called "Instructors."
• The spirits communicated a complex and esoteric system of
characters and history, which the couple developed during
experiments with the circumstances of trance and the
exposition of phases, cones, and gyres.[52] Yeats devoted
much time to preparing this material for publication as A
Vision (1925).
• In 1924, he wrote to his publisher T. Werner Laurie
admitting: "I dare say I delude myself in thinking this book
my book of books"
• From 1900, Yeats' poetry grew more physical and realistic.
He largely renounced the transcendental beliefs of his
youth, though he remained preoccupied with physical and
spiritual masks, as well as with cyclical theories of life.
“The Second Coming”
• First printed in The Dial (November 1920) and
afterwards included in his 1921 collection of
verses titled Michael Robartes and the Dancer.
• The poem uses Christian imagery regarding the
Apocalypse and second coming as allegory to
describe the atmosphere in post-war World War I)
• The poem is considered a major work of
Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in
several collections including The Norton
Anthology of Modernist Poetry.
• While the various manuscript revisions of the poem
refer to the Renaissance, French Revolutions, the Irish
rebellion, and those of Germany and of Russia, Richard
Ellman and Harold Bloom suggest the text refers to the
Russian Revolution of 1917.
• Bloom argues that Yeats takes the side of the counterrevolutionaries and the poem suggests that reaction to
the revolution would come too late.
• Early drafts also included such lines as: "And there's no
Burke to cry aloud no Pitt," and "The good are
wavering, while the worst prevail."
“The Second Coming”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best 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! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,’’
• Hopkins first ambitions were to
be a painter, and he would
continue to sketch throughout his
life, inspired, as an adult, by the
work of John Ruskin and the
• He was the first of eight children
of religious, literary and artistic
parents. His siblings were
greatly inspired by language,
religion and the creative arts.
• Hopkins became a skilled draughtsman
and found that his early training in visual
art supported his later work as a poet.
• As a college student became a major
follower of Edward Pusey, the last
member of the original Oxford
• It was during this time of intense
scrupulosity that Hopkins seems to have
especially begun confronting his strong
homoerotic impulses[6] and began to
consider choosing the cloister.
• Never acted on the impulse.
• On 18 January 1866 Hopkins composed his
most ascetic poem, “The Habit of Perfection.”
• On 23 January he included poetry in the list of
things to be given up for Lent.
• In July he decided to become a Catholic, and he
traveled to Birmingham in September to consult
the leader of the Oxford converts, John Henry
• Newman received him into the Church on 21
October 1866.
• On 5 May 1868 Hopkins firmly "resolved to be
a religious." Less than a week later, he made a
bonfire of his poems and gave up poetry almost
entirely for seven years.
• The decision to convert estranged him from both
his family and a number of his acquaintances.
• After his graduation in 1867 Hopkins was
provided a teaching post at The Oratory
School by Newman, but the following year
he decided to enter the priesthood, pausing
only to visit Switzerland, which officially
forbade Jesuits to enter.
• While he was studying in the Jesuit house of
theological studies, St Beuno's, near St Asaph
in North Wales, he was asked by his religious
superior to write a poem to commemorate the
foundering of a German ship in a storm.
• So in 1875 he was moved to take up poetry
once more and write a lengthy poem, “The
Wreck of the Deutschland,” inspired by the
Deutschland incident, a naval disaster in
which 157 people died including five
Franciscan nuns who had been leaving
Germany due to harsh anti-Catholic laws .
• The work displays both the religious concerns and
some of the unusual meter and rhythms of his
subsequent poetry not present in his few
remaining early works. It not only depicts the
dramatic events and heroic deeds but also tells of
the poet's reconciling the terrible events with
God's higher purpose.
• The poem was accepted but not printed by a Jesuit
publication, and this rejection fuelled his
ambivalence about his poetry.
• Most of his poetry remained unpublished until
after his death.
• Hopkins chose the austere and restrictive life of a
Jesuit and was at times gloomy.
• The brilliant student who had left Oxford with
a first class honours degree failed his final
theology exam.
• This failure almost certainly meant that,
though ordained in 1877, Hopkins would not
progress in the order. In 1877 he wrote God’s
Grandeur, an array of sonnets including “The
Starlight Night” and finished “The
Windhover” only a few months before his
Sprung rhythm
• A poetic rhythm designed to imitate the rhythm of natural
• It is constructed from feet in which the first syllable is stressed
and may be followed by a variable number of unstressed
• Hopkins claimed to have discovered this previously-unnamed
poetic rhythm in the natural patterns of English in folk songs,
spoken poetry, Shakespeare, Milton, et al. and used diacritical
marks on syllables to indicate which should be drawn out
(acute e.g. á ) and which uttered quickly (grave e.g. è ).
• Some critics believe he merely coined a name for poems with
mixed, irregular feet, like free verse.
• However, while sprung rhythm allows for an indeterminate
number of syllables to a foot, Hopkins was very careful to keep
the number of feet he had per line consistent across each
individual work, a trait that free verse does not share
“The Windhover”
To Christ our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride,
plume, here
AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.
Sites Cited
• “The Darkling Thrush Introduction” enotes
• “The Darkling Thrush” Wikipedia.
• “Thomas Hardy” Wikipedia.
• “William Butler Years” Wikipedia
• “William Butler Years The Vision”