History of Literature





The Beginnings of Literature. Myths and Legends

Classical Myth

Myth and Mystery


Hebrew literature

Ancient Greek literature

Ancient Greek literature. Greek theatre

Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose

Latin (Roman) literature

Latin (Roman) Literature. The Silver Age

Latin (Roman) Literature. Renaissance

Modern Italian Literature

The Middle Ages Literature

The Middle Ages. Elizabethan England

The Restoration

The Rise of the Novel

Cervantes and Spanish literature

The Enlightenment


Classicism and Naturalism

The 19th century - Prose

The 20th century - Modernism

The 20th century - The Political Novel

The 20th century - Modernism


The 20th century - Modernism

Henry James

Joseph Conrad  "Lord Jim"

Knut Hamsun

Sigmund Freud
"The Interpretation of Dreams"
Chapter 1 The Scientific Literature of Dream-Problems (up to 1900)
Chapter 2 The Method of Dream Interpretation
Chapter 3 The Dream as Wish Fulfilment
Chapter 4 Distortion in Dreams
Chapter 5 The Material and Sources of Dreams
Chapter 6 The Dream-Work
Chapter 7 The Psychology of the Dream Process
"Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex"

Arnold Bennett  "The Old Wives' Tale"   BOOK I-II, BOOK III-IV

H.G. Wells  "The War of the Worlds"   PART I, PART II   
"The Invisible Man"
"A Short History of the World"  PART I, II, III, IV, V

Marcel Proust

James Joyce
William Faulkner

Virginia Woolf  "Jacob's Room"
E. M. Forster
D.H. Lawrence  "Sons and Lovers"    PART I, PART II "Lady Chatterley's Lover"   PART I, PART II

Émile Verhaeren

Rainer Maria Rilke "Duino Elegies"
Guillaume Apollinaire
Hugo von Hofmannsthal "Poems"
T.S. Eliot  "The Waste Land"
Ezra Pound
William Butler Yeats  "A Man Young And Old"

Maurice Maeterlinck

Ivan Bunin
Georgy Ivanov
Vladislav Khodasevich

Aleksandr Blok  "Dvenadtzat" ("The Twelve")  llustrations by Yuri Annenkov
Nikolay Gumilyov "Poems"
Anna Akhmatova "Poems", "Requiem", Iconography
Osip Mandelshtam
 "Tristia", "Poems"
Marina Tsvetayeva  "Poems"

Eugene O'Neill
Tennessee Williams
Arthur Miller
Eugene Ionescu
Samuel Beckett  "Waiting for Godot"
Harold Pinter
Friedrich Durrenmatt
Robert Frost "Poems"
Dylan Thomas  "Poems"
Philip Larkin
Ted Hughes

Max Ernst. The Beautiful Season




The dramatic changes that took place in literature between 1900 and 1930 can justly be called a revolution. In rejecting the traditional forms and values of 19th-century literature, Modernism included the adoption of new subject matter as well as new style and new technique. The visual arts were affected no less, more obviously in fact, than literature, and some movements, such as Dada and Surrealism, Italian Futurism, and English Vorticism, spanned both art and literature. Like most such convenient labels, however, 'Modernism' is elastic. The first great modernists in the English novel — James, Conrad - were in action well before 1900, and they were strongly influenced by still earlier writers such as Balzac, Hawthorne and George Eliot.



The sales of
Henry James (1843-1916) were far less than Hardy's and, except for his famous ghost story The Turn of the Screw (1898), he was not very widely read (recent Hollywood adaptations have revived public interest), but his critical reputation was far greater (a famous biography of James by Leon Eciel runs to five volumes). The novelist's novelist, he was virtually the first English speaking writer to give serious consideration to the novel as an art form, and his sheer craftsmanship has created such enthusiasm among critics that it is easy to forget that James was a born story-teller.

He came from a New England family of intellectual heavyweights, but disliked the current commercialism of American society and found the older culture of Europe more rewarding. He settled in England in 1876 and eventually became a British subject. Nevertheless, he remained closely engaged with America, and his novels, especially those of his first period — including Roderick Hudson (1875), The American (1877), The Europeans (1878), Daisy Miller (1879) and the finest of them, Portrait of a Lady (1881) — are largely concerned with the conflict between the old and new civilizations.

In the 1890s he turned his attention to English society and he also made serious efforts in drama, but his plays were painfully unsuccessful.
James was a man of deep human sympathy - 'be kind' was his advice to his young nephews — but in his second period his style became more indirect and sometimes obscure. Nor are his last three great novels, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904), in which he returned to the ever-fascinating question of Euro-American contrasts, easy reading. Among other notable examples of his fiction are Washington Square (1881), The Bostonians (1886), The Aspern Papers (1888) and What Maisie Knew (1897). His travel writing, critical essays (Balzac was his favourite) and fragments of autobiography are full of interest.



Joseph Conrad  "Lord Jim"

A more shadowed, psychologically more subtle view of Empire is presented in the works of
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). He was born in the Ukraine of Polish parents, who both died before his 12th birthday. He spent 20 years in the French and British merchant navies before becoming a writer - in English, his third language. In his early novels, including An Outcast of the Islands (1896), which were set in Malaya and the South Pacific, there is an occasional suggestion of strain, but by the time of The Nigger of the Narcissus (18977) he was m full command of the language, of an elaborate, rhythmical style and of a distinctive sense of form.

Conrad had once captained a river steamer in the Congo, providing background for the novella Heart of Darkness (1899}, an allegory of the takeover of the Belgian Congo, in which Conrad's concern with the corruptibility of the individual is taken to a shocking conclusion. This theme, of man's susceptibility to evil influences, is evident in Lord Jim (1900) and in the powerful Nostromo (1904), set in South America and regarded by some critics as his greatest work.

Conrad's novels were slow to engage the approval of either critics or readers, although his brilliance was swiftly recognized by contemporaries such as Henry James and Edward Garnett, Jonathan Cape's near-legendary publisher's reader. By the time of his death he was established as a leading Modernist


Knut Hamsun


Knut Hamsun (August 4, 1859 – February 19, 1952) was a Norwegian author. He was praised by King Haakon VII of Norway as Norway's soul. In 1920, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for the epic, Growth of the Soil. He insisted that the main object of modern literature should be the intricacies of the human mind, that writers should describe the "whisper of blood, and the pleading of bone marrow". Hamsun's literary debut was the 1890 psychological novel, Hunger, which some critics consider to have been an inspiration for Franz Kafka's classic short story, A Hunger Artist.

Hamsun's reputation was severely tarnished by his vehement advocacy of Nazi Germany both before World War II and after Germany occupied Norway in April, 1940. He lionized leading Nazis and in 1943, in the middle of the war, he mailed his Nobel medal to Joseph Goebbels. Later, he visited Hitler and in a eulogy for the German leader published on May 7, 1945 — one day before surrender of the German occupation forces in Norway — Hamsun proclaimed, “He was a warrior, a warrior for mankind, and a prophet of the gospel of justice for all nations.” After the war, due to a finding that Hamsun was in mental decline, efforts to prosecute him for treason were dropped.

Nearly 60 years after his death, a recent biographer told a reporter, “We can’t help loving him, though we have hated him all these years. That’s our Hamsun trauma. He’s a ghost that won’t stay in the grave.” In 2009, the Queen of Norway presided over the gala launching of a year long program of commemorations of the 150th anniversary of the author's birth. On August 4, 2009 a Knut Hamsun Center (Hamsunsenteret) was opened in Presteid, Hamaroy island.




The period between the 1890s and the First World War was a period of transition. Writers were acutely aware of changes in society, particularly those relating to science and technology, and to human consciousness. The certainties of the Victorian era were lost, and the modern age loomed as a frightening, unknowable future. However, such insecurity was not exactly new. It had activated the often-noted malaise that affected so many 19th-century writers, including such pillars of the Victorian age as Tennyson or Matthew Arnold. Literary historians see the 'modern' revolution as two movements, the first, relatively optimistic phase, which ended in 1914, and a second, pessimistic phase in the
wake of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917.



Like every new movement in the arts. Modernism was antagonistic to the tradition it displaced. It was hostile not only to 19th-century moral values, but also to 19th-century techniques, the general structure of rational narrative, description and resolution. Instead of the omniscient narrator, for example, novelists preferred to convey personality through unspoken thoughts and feelings in the 'stream of consciousness' technique (the phrase originated by the American philosopher
William James, brother of Henry James). Modernism was self-consciously and determinedly experimental, which is one reason why it is hard to categorize as a 'movement'. Incidentally, it represented a further widening of the division between the upper reaches of literature and the lower slopes occupied by the reading public. Poetry, in particular, was to become an increasingly a minority interest.


Arnold Bennett  "The Old Wives' Tale"   BOOK I-II, BOOK III-IV

Of course not all writers of the early 20th century were modernists. In English literature, critics draw a distinction between modernists and Edwardians - broadly, those who followed the realist tradition, such as Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), John Galsworthy (1867-1933) or H. G. Wells (1886-1946).

It is today increasingly evident that this distinction is far from straightforward, and that the most revered names among the modernists (
James, Conrad, the early D. H. Lawrence, even Joyce) often wrote in an 'Edwardian' way. The influential novelist and critic Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), a major figure in contemporary thinking about literary form, who scoffed at amateurish 'nuvvles', nevertheless published, as editor of the English Review, Bennett and Galsworthy, as well as James, Conrad, the Voracist Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound. His four-volume masterpiece. Parade's End (1924— 28), though employing many characteristic modernist experimental devices, can be seen as a direct successor of the old, three-decked, 'condition-of-Fngland' type novel. Altogether, Modernism was more pragmatic than is often assumed.


"The Interpretation of Dreams"
Chapter 1 The Scientific Literature of Dream-Problems
Chapter 2 The Method of Dream Interpretation
Chapter 3 The Dream as Wish Fulfilment
Chapter 4 Distortion in Dreams
Chapter 5 The Material and Sources of Dreams
Chapter 6 The Dream-Work
Chapter 7 The Psychology of the Dream Process

"Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex"

Probably no one had more influence on modern literature than the Viennese psychologist and founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). In an elegy written on Freud's death, W. H. Auden called him, without exaggeration, "no more a person now but a climate of opinion'.

Freud's ideas arose from his study of neuroses. Freudian criticism, though perhaps not Freud himself, sees creativity as a form of sublimation, typically deriving from traumatic experiences in childhood, and art as a pathological phenomenon. In the words of the critic Lionel Trilling, 'the poet is a poet by reason of his sickness as well as by reason of his power'. The greatest impact of Freud himself resulted from his theories of the unconscious mind and the nature of repression, his study of the development of sexual instincts in young children, and his 'interpretation of dreams' (the title of his first great book). Many of his ideas have given rise to popularised conceptions with which everyone is now familiar: for example, the Oedipus Complex, the sexual rivalry between a son and father for the mother (whence the Electra Complex, rivalry between daughter and mother for the father); the death wish; phallic symbols, the significance, conscious or unconscious, of any penis-shaped object as a symbol of male sexuality; penis envy, the desire of a girl for such an organ. The latter doctrine in particular has aroused outrage amongst feminists, and in fact very little of Freud's teaching is now accepted without considerable qualification. However, that does not lessen its impact on the modernists.

Freud would have been less influential had he not also been a fine writer. Some of his case studies are true works of art, and he was also a penetrating literary critic, his writings on Hamlet, Oedipus and other characters marking the beginning of a long, continuous, tradition of Freudian biography.


After the writings of
Freud, the most influential work was The Golden Bough of the British anthropologist. Sir James G. Frazer (1854— 1941), the first volume of which was published m 1907. It is a monumental comparative study of myth and religion, the fundamental thesis of which is that humanity progresses from magic, through religion, to science. Frazer's eloquent style added to its appeal. His work inevitably relied on secondary sources and his ideas have long been overtaken, but his description of primitive society and his discussion of such matters as fertility rites, sacrifice, the dying god, etc. had a profound effect on writers - which was in fact a greater effect than they had on anthropologists.



The novel thrived in the early years of this century, and so did the idea of the novel which, among the modernists, was turning into a very different creature. According to the literary theories of Flaubert and Henry James, style and form were everything, or almost everything, and subject matter was unimportant. The novel was an autonomous aesthetic creation, not an imitation of life, on which the creator - the novelist -should not intrude. Aesthetic considerations of this kind were the chief concern of the greatest novelists of the period, including Proust, Joyce, Woolf and Faulkner.


Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was physically frail, an asthmatic, who as a young man moved freely m Parisian high society. There he acquired the material for his single great masterpiece, A la recherche dii temps perdu (published in seven sections between 1913 and 1927), translated as Remembrance of Things Past. The work became practically his only interest during his latter years when he lived as a recluse, seldom venturing outside in daytime, an existence only partly prescribed by deteriorating health. The subject of this seminal novel, which ran to about 3,000 pages, is Time and Memory. The authentic past can only be recaptured through involuntary memory, triggered by an apparently insignificant incident or object. Through such 'privileged moments', the past is recaptured. All traditional ideas of narrative are abandoned, and events and feelings are fed through a narrator figure, Marcel (not, in spite of similarities, an alter ego). Proust's precision in describing human consciousness echoes
Henry James and Joyce; his idea of insignificant past incidents assuming later importance is found in Virginia Woolf, and his notion of human relationships forming a pattern like a piece of music was adopted by Anthony Powell in A Dance to the Music of Time (1951-75).


Born and raised in Catholic Ireland,
James Joyce (1882—1941) set all his fiction in his native city of Dublin, although from 1904 he abandoned country and religion and lived abroad. His first, autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published, largely clue to the enthusiasm of Ezra Pound, in 1916, throws light on his early life and his discovery of his vocation. It adopts a stream-of-consciousness narrative reflecting the hero's development and foreshadows the astonishingly original use of language that characterises his greatest work, Ulysses (1922; not published in Britain until 1936 due to alleged obscenities). Ostensibly it covers a single day in the life of three characters in Dublin (Leopold and Molly Bloom and Stephen Daedalus, the hero of Portrait of the Artist). Its 18 episodes roughly reflect equivalents in the Odyssey, and this mythic structure contributes to the creation of an epic from superficially mundane material. Past and present interact, trivial events acquire sometimes profound significance, and extreme erudition mingles with coarse humour. Joyce's highly allusive style, including parodies of various literary forms, does not make for easy reading, and his last book Finnegans Wake (1939) is inaccessible to the ordinary reader without a comprehensive gloss. Newcomers to Joyce, possibly the most influential novelist of the century, wisely start with his early short stories, Dubliners (1914), which are relatively conventional in technique.

Marilyn on Long Island (New York) Reading
James Joyce's Ulysses
by Eve Arnold (1955)

'Can't hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice
bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome?
... Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night!.
My ho head halls. 1 feel as heavy as yonder stone ...
Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!'

Joyce, Finnegans Wake.


Place is no less important in
William Faulkner (1897-1962), whose mythical Yoknapatawpha County reflects Lafayette County in Mississippi where his family had long been established and where he lived nearly all his life. The history and legends of the South, including his own family, furnish the material for most of his books and all of the better ones. Encouraged by Sherwood Anderson (1876—1941), a leading naturalistic writer famous for his stories of Winesburg, Ohio, he began writing fiction while working as a journalist in New Orleans. His first two novels were based respectively on his experiences as a trainee pilot in the Royal (British) Air Force and bohemian life in contemporary New Orleans.

Moving back to his home town of Oxford (Jefferson in the novels),
Faulkner began to write the remarkable novels that presented a fictional illustration of the doom-laden history of the South, containing plenty of tragedy and horror but also much humour. Though his literary career was long and productive, Faulkner's fame rests chiefly on the novels written in the late 1920s and early 1930s, persistently experimental in style and earning him recognition as a leader of Modernism (a slightly later development in North America). The Sound and the Fury (1929) has several narrators, one of them mentally disabled. As I Lay Dying (1930) brilliantly employs the stream-of-consciousness technique. Light in August (1932), the immense and complex Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Intruder in the Dust (1940) consolidated his reputation. Faulkner also wrote short stories, including the classic 'The Bear' which is an episode in Go Down, Moses (1942), and two volumes of poetry. By the time he won the Nobel Prize in 1949, his best work was some years behind him, though his last novel, The Reivers (1962) is genial and entertaining.



Bloomsbury is an area of west London containing the University, the British Museum (and Library), many publishers, bookshops, and residential Georgian streets and squares which, in the early years of the century, were home to many mutually acquainted literary and artistic people. 'Bloomsbury', in the sense of an intellectual social circle, extended much further. It represented the essence of the post-Victorian, modernist culture, extending from literature and art to sex, family life and international relations. Bloomsbury in this sense had a profound effect on Britain, although its truly international figures were few, the most notable being the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and the novelist Virginia Woolf. Today, Bloomsbury has become a cult, and an apparently inexhaustible subject of books. Tourists have worn a path along the bank of the River Ouse in Sussex to the spot where Virginia Woolf committed suicide in 1941.



Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf  "Jacob's Room"

Virginia Woolf
(1882-1941) came from a prominent literary family. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was the originator of the (British) Dictionary of National Biography, and her mother was a Duckworth, the publishing family Her sister Vanessa Bell was, like her husband Clive, an artist, who designed jackets for the Hogarth Press, set up by Virginia and her husband Leonard in 1917. Virginia, a woman of ethereal beauty and, like so many of the Bloomsbury group, bisexual, married Leonard, social reformer and author, in 1912.

Woolf, whose life was punctuated by nervous breakdowns, was an experimental novelist often compared with [ovce. Besides her own work, she was a stimulating commentator in her luminously intelligent essays and in her feminist criticism, for example, A Room of One's Own, 1929. Her early novels, The Voyage Out (1915, but written earlier) and Night and Day (1919) were relatively realistic. The interval between them was largely occupied with the Hogarth Press, which published Katharine Mansfield and T. S. Eliot, among others.

Her reputation as England's leading modernist author was established in the 1920s by Jacob's Room (1922), based on the life and death of a beloved brother; Mrs Dalloway (1925), a classic using the stream-of-conscious-ness technique; To the Lighthouse (1927), employing the same technique to explore male-female conflict and based on her parents; and The Waves (1931), her most boldly experimental (and difficult) novel, and considered by some critics to be her masterpiece. The eponymous Orlando (1928), is alternatively male and female through four centuries. Something of a departure, it was her most successful novel and dedicated to Vita Sackville West, a woman of shared affinities. Her last novel Between the Acts (1941) returns to the stream-of-consciousness technique and celebrates traditional English values in the shadow of war.



E. M. Forster (1879-1970) was a more traditional novelist. The novel, he famously said, 'tells a story'. He established his reputation with Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room With a View (1907) and, conclusively, with Howard's End (1910), a brilliant encapsulation of contemporary middle-class mores, which ends with Forster's famous motto, 'Only Connect ... ', signifying his commitment to sympathetic relationships as the foundation of a civilized existence.

During the rest of his life he wrote only two more novels: Maurice (1971), celebrating a homosexual relationship, which he declined to publish during his lifetime, and his most famous, A Passage to India (1924), the fruit of two visits to the subcontinent that cemented his hatred of imperialism. Sexual deviance, then highly improper, no doubt contributed to Forster's humane liberalism (he was the first president of the National Council for Civil Liberties). Besides his few but intensely evocative novels, he wrote short stories and fine and accessible commentaries on English literature, notably in Aspects of the Novel (1927).



D.H. Lawrence  "Sons and Lovers"    PART I, PART II "Lady Chatterley's Lover"   PART I, PART II

As the son of a Nottingham miner, the connections of
D. H. Lawrence (1883-1930) with Bloomsbury were remote, though when living in London he became friendly with several of the group, including the critic David Garnett, the new Zealand short-story writer Katharine Mansfield and the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He was a born — and prolific - writer, of poetry, criticism, travel, plays, essays and short stories, as well as novels. His first novel, The White Peacock (1911), was published thanks to Ford Madox Ford, who had been impressed by his early poetry. Sons and Lovers (1914), based on his childhood, exemplified the intensity of Lawrence's passions, but The Rainbow (1915), one of his best, ran into trouble through alleged obscenity and for some time he was unable to find a publisher for Women in Love (privately printed 1920).

In 1912,
Lawrence ran off with Frieda, the German wife of a Nottingham professor, and from 1919 they lived a peripatetic life. Australia provided the setting for Kangaroo (1923) and Mexico for The Plumed Serpent (1926). Although the real subject of his last novel is the destructive effects of industrialism on human consciousness, Lawrence's frank treatment of sex prevented publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover until 30 years after his death from tuberculosis at the age of 44.


Poetry of the modern period, as one literary historian put it, 'has not escaped the atmosphere of controversy.' Few groups of poets have endured such censure as the English 'Georgians' (1920s), seen as artificial and shallow. French symbolism remained an important influence, especially in Germany, where it stimulated one of the finest lyric poets of the century, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) and the Austrian Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929), while in France Surrealism, a term coined by the 'evangelist of Modernism', Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), aimed, under the vigorous leadership of Andre Breton (1896-1966), to overturn all accepted doctrine in poetry and the arts. Other influential movements included German Expressionism and Italian Futurism.

The last note of English Romanticism was sounded by A. E. Housman (1859-1936), and a powerful influence was exercised, not for the best, by the highly original work of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), almost unknown before 1918. The exotic appeal of the East surfaced in James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915); Walter de la Mare (1973-1956), champion anthologist, wrote technically distinguished lyrics untouched by modern fashion. In short, variety, like controversy, was not lacking. Nevertheless, poetry in English in the first half of the 20th century was largely dominated by an Irishman, Yeats, and an American, Eliot.

The First World War had a dramatic effect on literature. All the great works of Modernism, if not actually concerned with the War, are affected by it. The term 'war poets' signifies a disparate group in whose work the War plays the major part, often because, sadly, the poet himself did not survive it.

Rupert Brooke, a young Georgian, was probably the most popular with - civilian - readers, though not with critics. He died early (April 1915), before the hideous experience of the trenches had obliterated the curiously exalted spirit in which, at the outset, war was regarded as a liberating, cleansing experience. Julian Grenfell (fatally wounded May 1915) also died before disillusion led Edmund Blunden (a survivor) to the realisation that only 'the War had won, and would go on winning'. Other survivors included Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, a major though idiosyncratic writer, and Ivor Gurney. Among non-survivors were Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen.

Émile Verhaeren


Émile Verhaeren, (b. May 21, 1855, Saint Amand lez-Puers, Belg.—d. Nov. 27, 1916, Rouen, France), foremost among the Belgian poets who wrote in French. The vigour of his work and the breadth of his vision have been compared to those of Victor Hugo and Walt Whitman.

Verhaeren was educated at Brussels and Ghent and during 1875–81 studied law at Leuven (Louvain), where he became acquainted with Max Waller, the founder of the influential periodical La Jeune Belgique (1881). Verhaeren became one of the group in Brussels who brought about the literary and artistic renaissance of the 1890s.

His first book, a collection of violently naturalistic poems (Les Flamandes, 1883; “The Flemish Women”), created a sensation. Verhaeren was an art critic as well as a poet, and many of the poems in his first collection concerned paintings. He followed this volume with a collection of short stories, but his reputation as a lyric poet was confirmed by a succession of works. After he produced Les Moines (1886; “The Monks”), a mystical celebration of Belgium, a personal crisis dominated his next three collections: Les Soirs (1887; The Evening Hours), Les Débâcles (1888), and Les Flambeaux noirs (1891; “The Black Torches”). They were followed by Au bord de la route (1891; “Along the Way”; later retitled Les Bords de la route), Les Apparus dans mes chemins (1891; “The Appearances on My Road”), and Les Campagnes hallucinées (1893; “The Moonstruck Countrysides”), after which he wrote solely in free verse.

Verhaeren’s growing concern for social problems inspired two collections in 1895: Les Villages illusoires (“The Illusory Villages”) and Les Villes tentaculaires (“The Tentacular Cities”). His more intimate Les Heures claires (1896; The Sunlit Hours) is an avowal of his love for his wife; it led to the series of his major works, among which the most outstanding are Les Visages de la vie (1899; “The Faces of Life”), the five-part Toute la Flandre (1904–11; “All of Flanders”), and a serene, joyful trilogy composed of Les Forces tumultueuses (1902; “The Tumultuous Forces”), La Multiple splendeur (1906; “The Manifold Splendour”), and Les Rythmes souverains (1910; “The Supreme Rhythms”). During that period he also published books on art, two further collections of personal lyrics addressed to his wife, and plays—including Les Aubes (1898; The Dawn), Le Cloître (1900; The Cloister), Philippe II (1901; Eng. trans., 1916), and Hélène de Sparte (1912; Helen of Sparta).

The qualities most noted in Verhaeren’s prolific poetry—more than 30 collections—are his great range and vitality. His lyricism and originality are expressed in a fresh, unpolished language of great power and flexibility. No writer since Charles de Coster had addressed his fellow Belgians so directly. Verhaeren’s three main themes are Flanders, human energy (expressed in the desire for progress, the brotherhood of man, and the emancipation of the working classes), and his tender, mature love for his wife. It is perhaps in the poems celebrating domestic joys that he is most moving. More generally popular are those glorifying Flanders—the greatness of its painters and the pleasures of its common people—and those that exalt the triumph of human intelligence over matter and praise the epic beauty of the industrial age.

Verhaeren’s plays in verse, although often showing dramatic power and poetic inspiration, are sometimes criticized for their excessively rhetorical style and are rarely produced. His critical writings on art are sympathetic to those painters—Rembrandt, Rubens, and others—who depict life at its boldest, most dramatic, and most colourful.


Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke "Duino Elegies"

Rainer Maria Rilke (also Rainer Maria von Rilke) (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926) is considered one of the German language's greatest 20th century poets. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety — themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets. He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose. His two most famous verse sequences are the Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies; his two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He also wrote more than 400 poems in French, dedicated to his homeland of choice, the canton of Valais in Switzerland.


Hugo von Hofmannsthal

Hugo von Hofmannsthal "Poems"

Hofmannsthal was born in Vienna, the son of an upper-class Austrian mother and an Austrian-Italian bank manager. His great-grandfather, Isaak Löw Hofmann, Edler von Hofmannsthal, from whom his family inherited the noble title "Edler von Hofmannsthal," was a Jewish merchant ennobled by the Austrian emperor. He began to write poems and plays from an early age. He met the German poet Stefan George at the age of seventeen and had several poems published in George's journal, Blätter für die Kunst. He studied law and later philology in Vienna but decided to devote himself to writing upon graduating in 1901. Along with Peter Altenberg and Arthur Schnitzler, he was a member of the avant garde group Young Vienna (Junges Wien).

In 1900,
Hofmannsthal met the composer Richard Strauss for the first time. He later wrote libretti for several of his operas, including Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), Ariadne auf Naxos (1912, rev. 1916), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1933). In 1901, he married Gertrud (Gerty) Schlesinger, the daughter of a Viennese banker. Gerty, who was Jewish, converted to Christianity before their marriage. They settled in Rodaun, not far from Vienna, and had three children. In 1912 he adapted the 15th century English morality play Everyman as Jedermann, and Jean Sibelius (amongst others) wrote incidental music for it. The play later became a staple at the Salzburg Festival.

During the First World War
Hofmannsthal held a government post. He wrote speeches and articles supporting the war effort, and emphasizing the cultural tradition of Austria-Hungary. The end of the war spelled the end of the old monarchy in Austria; this was a blow from which the patriotic and conservative-minded Hofmannsthal never fully recovered. Nevertheless the years after the war were very productive ones for Hofmannsthal; he continued with his earlier literary projects, almost without a break. In 1920, Hofmannsthal, along with Max Reinhardt, founded the Salzburg Festival. His later plays revealed a growing interest in religious, particularly Roman Catholic, themes. Among his writings was a screenplay for a film version of Der Rosenkavalier (1925) directed by Robert Wiene.


Guillaume Apollinaire

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Guillaume Apollinaire (August 26, 1880 – November 9, 1918) was a French poet, writer, and art critic born in Italy to a Polish mother.
Among the foremost poets of the early 20th century, he is credited with coining the word surrealism and writing one of the earliest works described as surrealist, the play Les Mamelles de Tirésias (1917, later used as the basis for an opera in 1947). Two years after being wounded in World War I, he died at 38 of the Spanish flu during the pandemic.

Born Wilhelm Albert Vladimir Apollinaris Kostrowitzky and raised speaking French, among other languages, he emigrated to France and adopted the name
Guillaume Apollinaire. His mother, born Angelica Kostrowicka, was a Polish noblewoman born near Navahrudak (now in Belarus). His father is unknown but may have been Francesco Flugi d'Aspermont, a Swiss Italian aristocrat who disappeared early from Apollinaire's life. He was partly educated in Monaco. Apollinaire was one of the most popular members of the artistic community of Montparnasse in Paris. His friends and collaborators during that period included Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Marie Laurencin,
Andre Breton, André Derain, Faik Konica, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Ossip Zadkine, Marc Chagall and Marcel Duchamp. In 1911, he joined the Puteaux Group, a branch of the cubist movement. On September 7, 1911, police arrested and jailed him on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa, but released him a week later.

Apollonaire then implicated his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning in the art theft, but he was also exonerated. He fought in World War I and, in 1916, received a serious shrapnel wound to the temple. He wrote Les Mamelles de Tirésias while recovering from this wound. During this period he coined the word surrealism in the program notes for Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie's ballet Parade, first performed on 18 May 1917. He also published an artistic manifesto, L'Esprit nouveau et les poètes. Apollinaire's status as a literary critic is most famous and influential in his recognition of the Marquis de Sade, whose works were for a long time obscure, yet arising in popularity as an influence upon the Dada and Surrealist art movements going on in Montparnasse at the beginning of the twentieth century as, "The freest spirit that ever existed."

The war-weakened
Apollinaire died of influenza during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. He was interred in the Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.



T.S. Eliot  "The Waste Land

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Harvard, where he wrote some of the satirical poems in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917),
T(homas) S(tearns) Eliot
(1888-1965) left the U.S.A. in 1914 and settled in London, eventually becoming an influential publisher at Faber and Faber. Like many others, he was encouraged by Ezra Pound, to whom The Waste Land (1922) is dedicated. Among other important influences were Dante, the Elizabethans Jacobeans, especially Donne, and Christian mystics (Eliot joined the Anglican Church in 1927). The Waste Land, the most influential (though not the most read) poem of the century, is a pessimistic view of the desolation of European civilization after the war. In five books, mainly in free verse, it is uncompromisingly intellectual, full of complex and learned references which are not much clarified by Eliot's notes (for further elucidation of a transcription from the Sanskrit Upanishads, the reader is advised to consult a scholarly work in German).

Eliot's poetic drama. 'Sweeney Agonistes' (published in the 1936 Collected Poems, but written ten years earlier) turned him towards the theatre. His most successful verse play, often revived, was Murder in the Cathedral (1935), about the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and first staged there. The Cocktail Party (1950) was also a popular and critical success. The work that some critics think challenges The Waste Land as Eliot's masterpiece is the sequence Four Quartets (1943), 'Burnt Norton', 'East Coker', "The Dry Salvages' and 'Little Gidding'. It is suffused with Anglo-Catholic mysticism, dwells on time, memory and consciousness and offers some hope of reconciliation that is hardly discernible in The Waste Land. Eliot also wrote several volumes of profound and original social and literary criticism, not forgetting humorous verses for children about cats.



Another American exile,
Ezra Pound (1885— 1972) lived in London, Paris and, mostly, Italy. He was leader of the experimental movement known as Imagism, characterised by new verse forms, complex imagery and everyday speech. Adherents included the poets H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Amy Lowell and Richard Aldington. Pound also promoted the work of Robert Frost, advised Eliot, and was associated with the brief Vorticist movement. Hugely well-read, witty, complicated, his own creative effort went into his Cantos, a modern epic that occupied most of his life. This, plus his influence on others and his main1 volumes of criticism, make him one of the masters of Modernism. Pound's support for Fascism led to his incarceration for 13 years in a US mental hospital after World War Two where he completed The Visan Cantos (1948), controversially awarded the Bolhngen prize for poetry.


The upsurge of Irish nationalism that began in the late 19th century and lasted until after the establishment of the Free State in 1921 was largely a cultural phenomenon. Irish legend and folklore, history and poetry, even games, all played a part, but drama was at the core. The Irish Literary Theatre, which later became the Irish National Theatre and eventually the Abbey Theatre Company, was founded in 1899. The moving spirits were two dissimilar individuals who shared a passionate devotion to Catholic Irish culture (though themselves members of the Protestant English-speaking ascendancy), W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.


William Butler Yeats  "A Man Young And Old

Son and brother of successful painters, W(illiam) B(utler) Yeats (1865-1939) gave up art in favour of literature in his twenties, his early publications including studies of Blake and Spenser. A convinced Irish nationalist, he was fascinated by Irish folklore and from an early age was powerfully attracted by mysticism and the supernatural, a significant influence and potent source of symbol in his work. He founded an Irish Literary Society in London (1891) and later Dublin, and his dream of a national theatre began to take concrete shape when, through a Catholic landowner, Edward Martyn, he met Augusta, Lady Gregory, widow of an ex-governor of Ceylon. His play, Ibe Countess Cathleetu based on a story in his first collection of Irish folk tales, was staged in Dublin in 1892, an event taken as marking the beginning of the Irish Revival.

Yeats's most successful play was Catbleen ni Houlihan (1902) with Maud Gonne, the beautiful revolutionary nationalist and subject of his love poetry, in the title role as a personification of Ireland. In spite of all his work for the Irish theatre, Yeats was essentially a poet, not a playwright, though Ireland is the theme of all his creative writing. Often described as the greatest poet in English of the century, Yeats went through many reincarnations, from the Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite poems of his early years, to a tougher, more refined style under the influence of Synge, Pound and others, to the dense symbolism of The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933). What lends him great stature is the blend between his life and his work, his noble, if sometimes faulty (he flirted with Fascism in the 1930s), effort to make the world fit his imaginative pattern.

'Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams,"

Yeats, 'He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven'.


Realism in drama encouraged Realism in the theatre - in sets and stagecraft, as well as acting. Among the leaders in this development were Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre in London, where he induced nightly fainting fits with his highly detailed production of the famous melodrama, The Bells (1871); Duke George II of Saxe-Meiningen, who with his actress-wife formed a touring company in which the actors spoke rather than enunciated; and the American impresario David Belasco, a truly 'theatrical' personality, famous for special effects of which his own popular plays were often the vehicle (Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West, attained greater fame as Puccini operas).


The most obvious casualties were the 'popular' theatres and music halls which catered to the working class, but they were not the only ones. The middle classes were also deserting the theatre. For this, however, the cinema was only partly to blame. From Henrik Ibsen and on, people simply did not like the new drama: it broke cherished taboos and demanded that they think for themselves, something they had no desire to do. With the arrival of Modernism, in its various anti-Realist guises, all the old conventions appeared to have been abandoned, and anarchy, it seemed, strode the stage. Experimental drama did not provide 'a good night out', and theatres contracted to adjust to their reduced audience.


Maurice Maeterlinck

The reaction against experimental drama was noticeable in France as early as the 1850s; a dramatisation of Zola's Tberese Raquin was booed off the stage. Zola was a Symbolist only in the rather general sense in which symbolism is a characteristic of nearly all literature. More specifically, Symbolism refers to certain French writers and artists around the turn of the century, perhaps to a group of Russians somewhat later and sometimes to Modernism in Latin America.

The most influential figure was
Mallarme whose advice to depict not the thing but the effect is a kind of Symbolist motto. He advocated a new drama portraying the mental life, not the world of the senses. For the Symbolists, art is a means of understanding rather than feeling, and since they despised mundane reality, the Symbolists were antagonistic towards Realist drama. Symbolist drama tends to be learned and decidedly static.

The Art Theatre founded in the 1890s by the poet Paul Fort, was at the centre of the movement, set up largely in reaction against the predominantly Realist Theatre Libre of the actor-director Andre Antoine, a friend of

Playwrights patronized by the Art Theatre included
Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), best known for Pelleas et Melisande (1892, later the basis of Debussy's opera) and The Blue Bird (1908), Hugo von Hofmannsthal "Poems" (1874-1929), Paul Claudel (1869—1955) and the young Yeats, whose interest in the occult the Symbolists shared. The influence of Symbolism was widespread, not only m Russia and Latin America, but also on Pound, Joyce, Eliot, Rilke and Virginia Woolf.


J. B. Priestley remarked 'it is a waste of time trying to find an exact definition of Expressionism in drama'. In its most forceful, revolutionary phase, it belonged to the Berlin theatre of the early 1920s, more broadly to Central Europe in the first quarter of the century, and more broadly still to much non-Realist drama. The term was first used of painting in which the painter 'sought to express emotional experience rather than impressions of the physical world'. The young Expressionist playwrights had large ambitions, seeking a spiritual transformation of society, and, in terms of the drama, abandoning objectivity and attempting to capture the subjective depths of modern poetry and the greater scope of, significantly, the cinema (where Expressionism had powerful effects . Rebelling against most current values. Expressionist playwrights turned to once-taboo subjects such as sex and class. The typical Expressionist 'hero' (always male) is not involved in a plot but in some kind of inward odyssey, and the mood is often violent, always extreme. Stage designers were influenced by Expressionist art, with atmospheric lighting, fierce colours, and jagged lines. Beyond Central Europe, the Expressionist influence was not great, though an exception might be made for Eugene O'Neill.


Silver Age of Russian Poetry

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Silver Age is a term traditionally applied by Russian philologists to the first two decades of the 20th century. It was an exceptionally creative period in the history of Russian poetry, on par with the Golden Age a century earlier. In the Western world other terms, including Fin de siècle and Belle Époque, are somewhat more popular.

Although the Silver Age may be said to have truly begun with the appearance of Aleksandr Blok's "Verses to the Beautiful Lady", some scholars have extended its chronological framework to include the works of the 1890s, starting with Nikolai Minsky's manifesto "With the light of conscience" (1890),
Dmitry Merezhkovsky's treatise "About the reasons for the decline of contemporary Russian literature" (1893) and Valery Bryusov's almanac "Russian symbolists" (1894).

Aleksandr Blok  "Dvenadtzat" ("The Twelve")  llustrations by Yuri Annenkov

Although the Silver Age was dominated by the artistic movements of Russian Symbolism, Acmeism, and Russian Futurism, there flourished innumerable other poetic schools, such as Mystical Anarchism. There were also such poets as Ivan Bunin and Marina Tsvetayeva who refused to align themselves with any of these movements. Aleksandr Blok emerged as the leading poet, respected by virtually everyone. The poetic careers of Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, and Osip Mandelshtam, all of them spanning many decades, were also launched during that period.

Boris Pasternak "Poems"

The Silver Age ended after the Russian Civil War. Blok's death and Nikolay Gumilyov's execution in 1921, as well as the appearance of the highly influential Boris Pasternak collection, My Sister is Life (1922), marked the end of the era. The Silver Age was a golden era nostalgically looked back to by emigre poets, led by Georgy Ivanov in Paris and Vladislav Khodasevich in Berlin.

Osip Mandelshtam "Tristia", "Poems"


Anna Akhmatova "Poems", "Requiem", Iconography


Marina Tsvetayeva  "Poems"


North America in the 19th century was not short of theatrical entertainments, from vaudeville and burlesque through melodrama to serious plays, but native American drama made little impression on the world stage until the early 20th century. Its flowering then is associated largely with O'Neill and the development of an American equivalent of the European independent art theatre. O'Neill was unique, but there were other dramatists worthy of serious consideration, such as Maxwell Anderson (1888-1959), Thornton Wilder (1897-1976), remembered especially for his evocation of provincial life in Our Town (1938) and his best-selling novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), Lilian Hellman (1907-84), who caused a sensation with her first play, dealing with lesbianism, The Children's Hour (1934), and, later and greater, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.


Son of an actor,
Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953), as with so many American writers, knocked about in various colourful jobs (gold prospector, seaman, etc.) before beginning to write plays, mainly naturalistic dramas based on his maritime experience, while confined in a tuberculosis sanatorium. He became involved with the Provincetown Players, a group of actors and writers who founded an art theatre in a converted New England fishing shack in 1915, and the company produced his early plays. With Beyond the Horizon, a full-length realistic drama, and the Expressionist The Emperor Jones (both 1920), about the rise and fall of a black adventurer, he achieved national recognition. Although O'Neill is generally known for only a handful of plays, he was at this time extremely prolific: between 1920-22 he produced nine plays. He was widely recognized as America's first great playwright, and became a major influence on later American drama.

Influenced by
Ibsen, Strindberg and Greek tragedy, O'Neill was an experimental dramatist who did not find his true voice until comparatively late. The New England tragedy Desire under the Elms (1924) is naturalistic in form. Strange Interlude (1928) is an experiment in the dramatic use of the stream-of-consciousness technique, and Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) is O'Neill's rewriting of Aeschylus set in the American Cavil War. After Ah, Wilderness! (1933), uncharacteristically a nostalgic comedy, and the unsuccessful Days Without End (1934), no new play appeared for twelve years, due largely to ill health, although he did not stop writing. His final period began with The Iceman Cometh (1946), a long, naturalistic tragedy of the pipe-dreaming no-hopers in a saloon on New York's Bowery. His masterpiece, Long Day's Journey into Night (1956) was written in the early 1940s and first performed posthumously. It recounts a day in the lives of the troubled, mutually destructive Tyrone family, based on his own. A Moon for the Misbegotten (1957) concerns the self-destruction of the elder brother of the family after the mother's death.


O'Neill, Tennessee (Thomas Lanier) Williams (1911-83) had many one-act plays performed by obscure groups before establishing a reputation for his deeply felt, partly autobiographical drama The Glass Menagerie (1944). Williams was born in Mississippi and Southern culture and families form the major component of his plays. His sympathy for the lost, tormented individual (a description that, judging from his Memoirs, 1975, might be applied to him) was evident also in A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), set in New Orleans and concerned with the destructive - or destroyed — illusions of a faded Southern belle. None of his later plays had quite the resounding success of these two. They included; The Rose Tattoo (1950), a comedy; the symbolic, experimental Camino Real (1953); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), a psychological family drama; Sweet Bird of Youth (1956), and The Night of the Iguana (1959)


Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

The finest plays of
Arthur Miller (born 1915) were written by the time he was 40, although his reputation has continued to climb, especial in Britain. His first Broadway play in 1944 closed within a week, but All My Sons (1947), a drama of disillusion in the tradition of Ibsen an important influence), was a big success, and his masterpiece, Death of a Salesman (1949) . an even greater one. An American classic, it concerns an ordinary, well-meaning man destroyed by the false values of society. Miller's famous essay on 'Tragedy and The Common Man' was written the same year. The Crucible (1953) is a powerful, if flawed, drama about the witch trials of 17th-century Salem, bur clearly reflected McCarthy's persecution of alleged Communists in contemporary America. A View from the Bridge (1955), set among Sicilian longshoremen (dockers) in Brooklyn, is again concerned with tragedy brought upon a simple family by contemporary values. Perfectly constructed, it features in many 'Eng. Lit.' syllabuses. After a long silence. Miller's next play was the controversial After the Fall (1964), apparently based on his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Incident at Vichy (1964) concerned the persecution of the Jews; The Price (1968), more widely admired, returned to his old theme of the destruction of family relationships; Broken Glass (1994) won the Olivier Best Play Award.


The rise of the independent 'art' theatre, the rejection of Naturalism and the resulting experimentalism in drama spawned a variety of novelties. Some caused a brief flutter and disappeared as suddenly as they arose. Others carried more intellectual weight and, although contemporaries may have seen them as passing curiosities, they proved to have unexpected staying power and influenced the later development of drama.



Eugene Ionescu (1912—94) was an admirer of Jarry and also found comedy in the absurd, notably in The Bald Prima Donna (1948), constructed largely from the banal phrases of a French phrase book. His later 'anti-plays', often featuring a bewildered author-figure, fuse humour with grim and tragic elements, even despair. In his most successful play. Rhinoceros (1959), human beings are turned into rampaging pachyderms by an increasingly totalitarian society.

The rough early life, much of it spent in prison, of the 'saintly monster" Jean Genet (1910-86) furnished material for his plays, notably The Maids (1947), The Balcony (1957) and The Blacks (1958). Illusion battles with reality, and bizarre, often violent fantasies are played out in a dream-like atmosphere that, in spite of Genet's declared amoral and hedonistic principles, approaches religious ritual. This was something like the form of drama, misleadmgly called the 'Theatre of Cruelty", advocated by the actor-director Antonin Artaud (1896-1948).


Samuel Beckett  "Waiting for Godot"

The idea that the world is absurd, mysterious beyond comprehension, naturally gives rise to pessimistic sentiments, bewilderment and a sense of purposelessness. Representing these themes in drama can have enervating effects. Plots become more illogical or non-existent, dialogue minimal and obscure. Theatregoers for whom the naturalistic drama is the norm naturally complain of these difficulties. Compensations include humour, an important element in
Beckett's renowned play Waiting for Godot (1952, first performed in English in 1955), which had a massive impact on modern drama and is chiefly responsible for Beckett's reputation as the most innovative, influential writer of his time.

Samuel Beckett (1906-89) was born near Dublin, went to Paris, where he later settled permanently, and met Joyce, a lifelong friend and subject of his first book. Most of his work was written in French, sometimes translated into English by himself. His later stage plays include Endgame (1957), Krapp's Last Tape (1958) and Happy Days (1961). With Come and Go (1966), containing 121 words, and Breath (1969), lasting 30 seconds, he took minimalism as far as possible. He also wrote novels, stories and poems. Although Beckett's work is despairing, it is illuminated by black humour: some of the two tramps' exchanges in Godot amount to an intellectual comic patter, and the play overall has a strangely exhilarating effect.


Born into a Gockney Jewish family, Harold Pinter (born 1930) was writing poetry in his teens. He became a professional actor, later a notable theatrical director, and aroused interest with his second play. The Birthday Party (1958). It contained many of the characteristics of Pinter's distinctive style: set in a single room, whose occupant is vaguely and inexplicably threatened by mysterious intruders, the dialogue inconsequentially conversational, with pauses more meaningful than words. In The Caretaker (I960), which established Pinter as a major playwright internationally, a derelict who may or may not be named Davies, seeks to gain possession or occupancy of a room which may or may not belong to one or both of two brothers. The prevailing air of menace is hard to account for. Of his other plays, perhaps the best is The Ilomecoming (1965), a black and sinister 'comed\'' superficially about the effects of introducing a woman into a male household. Later plays lacked the impact of the early ones, and Pinter became involved with various other projects, e.g. directing plays and writing film scripts.


Swiss playwright
Friedrich Durrenmatt (born 1921), a prolific writer who first gamed attention abroad in the 1950s through his existentialist detective novels, considered, in the wake of the horrors of 1939—45, that it was no longer possible to make moral judgements since the world was devoid of moral values. ' Tragedy' is therefore no longer appropriate, but his disillusioned, absurdist plays are very black comedies. The Marriage of Mr Mississippi (1952) concerns two people whose zealous pursuit of justice ends in their justification of murder, and the infinite corruptibility of human beings underlies The Visit (1956) and The Physicists (1962). Durrenmatt's later plays show signs of mellowing and are more conventional in technique.

According to legend, the denunciations of the poet Archilochus against his enemies were so effective that they committed suicide. By the mid-20th century, poets and their work had lost that kind of impact. Perhaps the last poet who really believed in poetry's influence on public events was Yeats, who agonized that his play Cathleen ni Houlihan was responsible for the deaths of the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin ('Did that play of mine send out/Certain men the English shot?'). Modern poets are more of the mind of Auden (in his elegy to Yeats): 'poetry makes nothing happen'.
Opinion polls show that a large number of people have written a poem at some time, and published poets are more numerous than ever, though very few make a living from their poetry. Modern poetry since
Eliot has often been too 'difficult' for the average reader. However, a handful of poets in the late 20th century have achieved a huge popular following as well as the respect of the critics.



Robert Frost

The popular image of
Robert Frost (1874— 1963) is of the poet of New England, its birch trees and farmland, the heir of Wordsworth and the Transcendentalists. His early poetry was published in old England, where he lived with his family in 1912—15 after a period of profound depression caused partly by the deaths of two children. He formed a close friendship with the English poet, Edward Thomas, killed in the First World War, who shared his love of the traditional and the colloquial. He subsequently settled on a New Hampshire farm, though neither farm nor poetry absolved him from the need to teach. By the time of Collected Poems (1930), Frost's 'woodland philosophy' — and the accessibility of his work — had made him an American icon, but there was something deeper and darker in him. This bitter, destructive element is more evident in the dramatic, blank-verse poems of the 1940s, which explore the relationship of the individual to God m the modern world.


Dylan Thomas  "Poems"

Hugely popular during his lifetime,
Dylan Thomas (1914—53) has come to be regarded with suspicion by some critics, who suggest that his extraordinary verbal exuberance and elaborate style mask superficiality and insincerity. Even in Wales, some regard him as a showman, exploiting Welshness. However, a few of his poems are among that select number familiar to nearly everyone. In general, his poems need to be read aloud, and no one read them better than himself. Best of all is his radio play. Under Milk Wood (1952), a picture of a Welsh fishing village in language that bridges the division between prose and poetry. His exhausting American tours, combined with frail health and an addiction to wild living, combined to cause his early death.


For thirty years librarian at the University of Hull,
Philip Larkin (1922-85) knew from youth that he was a writer, but he did not find his true voice until about 1950, and first attracted widespread attention with The Less Deceived (1955). His other major collections are The Whitsun Weddings (1964) of which the title poem is his best known, and High Windows (1974). Conservative, anti-modernist, working with traditional forms and conventional subject matter but in subtly new ways, Larkin, if not a major artist - his total output was small - seems to exemplify the first-rate poet who yet remains in touch with and appeals to ordinary people.


Ted Hughes (born 1930), who succeeded the much-loved John Betjeman as Britain's Poet Laureate in 1984, is a very masculine poet, vital, even violent, whose best-known work is probably Crow (1970), a sequence of poems linked by the image of the dark, crafty, predatory crow. Hughes's view of the animal world, his chief subject, emphasizes the alienation of modern society from its natural origins. He has also written extensively for children and for the theatre. Hughes was married to the distinguished American poet Sylvia Plath (1932—63). whose subsequently much-discussed suicide (before most of her work was published; has obstructed objective judgment of her work and may (or may not) be connected with Hughes's ambiguous attitude to women.


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