Last updated: September 28, 2019
Topic: ArtPoetry
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Concrete Analysis of Modernist Authors D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats

 

The onset of the Industrial Age brought about sweeping changes in the literary expression of fiction writers and poets in the industrialized parts of the world. William Butler Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot typify certain qualities of literary writers who reacted to or against the Industrial age in their work.

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Yeats’ poem “The Wild Swans at Coole” uses the symbolism of swans to evoke the vanishing of humanity’s harmonious relationship with nature. The poem is both ecologically and spiritually evocative, tying the breadth and vision of poetic experience to nature and lamenting the loss of both the sanctity of the natural world and the authenticity of poetic vision in the modern age. “I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,/And now my heart is sore.” Rather than exultation, the poet experiences regret with his encounter with nature.  The depth and profundity of this loss is fully expressed in the poem’s closing lines: “Mysterious, beautiful;/Among what rushes will they build,/By what lake’s edge or pool/Delight men’s eyes when I/ awake some day/To find they have flown away?” (Yeats)

The lament for nature’s apparent fall is echoed in D.H Lawrence’s short-story “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” where a brief love affair can be seen as symbolizing man’s relationship to nature and the steady encroachment of the industrial age looms over the affair like a building storm. The submission of the individual to the modern age of industry and progress is symbolized in the following passage: “Joe watched with glazed hopeless eyes. The horses were almost like his own body to him. He felt he was done for now. Luckily he was engaged to a woman as old as himself, and therefore her father, who was steward of a neighbouring estate, would provide him with a job. He would marry and go into harness. His life was over, he would be a subject animal now.” (Lawrence) If the above-passage is read as universal, that is: that each reader stands as Joe in the above-passage, it is easy to measure Lawrence’s appraisal of the encroaching modern age.

No less obvious a lament for modernity is present in T.S; Eliot’s famous poem “The Wasteland.” From the opening line of T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, “The Wasteland,” a theme of lament— of piercing irony establishes itself: “April is the cruellest month, breeding”. One takes away from this opening image and diction a the theme of deepest grief, as though this single line stood as an assault on everything humanity previously held dear: Spring, life, reproduction. The themes of The Wasteland are desolate: war, fragmentation, death. The mood is somber; the imagery dissolute and weary. The overall impact is one of negativity. The Wasteland, though composed as a lyric poem, evaded the usual subjectivity of lyric poetry by way of complex mythological, historical, and literary allusion, as well as by the use of careful (and arbitrary) symbolism. The poem’s theme of modern social disintegration finds a worthy scaffolding in ancient myth, particularly through the lens of Sir James Frazier’s then-contemporaneous study of world myths, The Golden Bough. Eliot’s compositional plan for The Wasteland includes deliberate fragmentation of the poetic form itself; in addition to the radical diction and imagery of the opening lines, the poem’s multiple, titled sections as well as its stanzaic forms and diction express a recurrent theme of fragmentation and disintegration. In fact, these theme pervades the whole of the poem, with every line contributing to an overall feeling of dissolution. “O O OO that Shakespearean Rag/ It’s so elegant/So intelligent”; lines which seem to refer to the poem itself and its intention to dwell on melancholy, sadness, and negativity.

Other writers such as W.H. Auden and Philip Larkin created works with deep resonances with those discussed above. In the literary reaction against modernism, Auden’s works “The Age of Anxiety,” “A Walk After Dark,” “The Love Feast”, and “The Fall of Rome” indicated his interest in the themes of humanity united with nature and natural rhythms. Philip Larkin was an outspoken critic of modernism and conveyed thee essence of his beliefs in his notable work ” Required Writing” which was a collection of non-fiction. These writers and many others constituted a literary revolt against modernism which persists even if in small measure to this day.

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