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Modernism in Yeats' poetry


Modernism in Yeats' poetry




Hira Shafiq





5 Pages


Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the

term describes the modernist movement in the arts, its set of cultural tendencies and associated cultural
movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes toWestern society in the late
19th and early 20th centuries. In particular the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid
growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I, were among the factors that shaped
modernism. In general, the term Modernism encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the
"traditional" forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were
becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political conditions of an emerging fully
industrialized world. The poetEzra Pound's 1934 injunction to "Make it new!" was paradigmatic of the
movement's approach towards the obsolete.

Modernism in Yeats' poetry



Common concerns of modernism are: the breaking down of social norms, rejection of standard social
ideas, and traditional thoughts and expectations, rejection of religion and anger against the effects of the
world wars. As well, modernists tend to reject history, social systems, and emphasize alienation in
modern urban and industrial societies. Modernist art was all about fragmentation versus order, the
abstract and the symbolic. Juxtaposition,irony,comparisons, andsatire are important elements found in
modernist writing. Modernist authors use impressionism and other devices to emphasize the
subjectivity of reality, and they see omniscient narration and fixed narrative points of view as providing
a false sense of objectivity. They also employ discontinuous narratives and fragmented plot structures.
Modernist works are also often reflexive and draw attention to their own role as creator. Juxtaposition
is used in a way to represent something that would be oftentimes unseen. Irony and satire are important
tools used by the modernist writer to comment on society. Modernist writing can seem frustrating to
understand because of the use of a fragmented style and a lack of conciseness.




Yeats is generally considered one of the twentieth century's key English language poets. He was a
Symbolistpoet, in that he used allusive imagery and symbolic structures throughout his career. Yeats
chose words and assembled them so that, in addition to a particular meaning, they suggest other
abstract thoughts that may seem more significant and resonant. His use of symbols is usually something
physical that is both itself and a suggestion of other, perhaps immaterial, timeless qualities. Unlike
other modernists who experimented withfree verse,Yeats was a master of the traditional forms. The
impact of modernism on his work can be seen in the increasing abandonment of the more
conventionally poetic diction of his early work in favor of the more austere language and more direct
approach to his themes.
(A Coat, An acre of Grass and Sailing to Byzantium)

Following are the modernist features used by Yeats in his poetry that are explained in detail with
examples from the text of the poem.
1. Quest for truth is the first aspect. The modern poetry makes one to stop and think about the harsh
realities of life. It forces the reader to understand the purpose of everything and to search for the truths
of life. It represents reality and what actually happens in the real world. Yeats also allows the reader to
understand the actual reality of life by accepting the truths as they are. In the poem An acre of grass,
Yeats accepts the fact that he hasnt found out the truth in his lifetime. He represents a clear description
of ending of a manslife and the time of regrets when only memories remain and time and potentials
are lost. He also draws a picture of the people of the real world who are selfish by nature and who
always cheat others for their own benefits in the poem A coat.
2. The poetry of Yeats is modern because it has no complex poetic diction which emphasis on use of
simple language. It is easy and straight forward but the complexity comes when we talk of the themes.
The Themesof immortality, chaos, death, disintegration, pessimism, emptiness, hollowness and loss of
morals and faith are the ones which are evident in the modern poetry and as well as Yeats poetry.
3. The basic agenda or purpose of modernism was breaking away from the traditions and thus the
modern poetry and poetry of Yeats also emphasizes the Breaking away from traditional structure of
poetry and doing something different. In the poem sailing to Byzantium Yeats wants to leave his




place and go to Byzantium because the monuments of traditional work would be unable to provide him
eternity and Byzantium is a place where being different was celebrated. He says:
.. Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium (second stanza lines 13 -16)
4. Yeats poems are a great example of Free versewhich was one of the most basic features of modern

literature which meant extreme way of breaking rules of traditional poetry. There was kept no concern
of following proper meter and rhythm. It was said as it came to a writers mind with the quality of being
in a conversational style for readers also being in an open format with readers left to think, judge and
interpret various aspects. Conversational expression is also a great feature of modern poetry which
can also be seen in the Yeats work. Yeats talks to his readers in a very simple style such as he is
conversing directly with the audience.
5. The modern literature had always the quality of being subjective using personal pronoun I. Thus we
also see this feature in Yeats poetry as well where the Idea is personal, subjective and individual i.e. of
Yeats himself. He represents his own individual philosophy. He says in his poems
I MADE my song a coat. (A Coat: line 1)
Grant me an old mans frenzy,
Myself must I remake
Till I am Timon and Lear (An acre ofgrass: stanza 3)
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing (Sailing to Byzantium: stanza 4)

6. Yeats poetry consists of complex symbols and themes with use of imagery and other figurative
techniques that add to the complexity of the poem as a whole. Moreover multiple meanings and
interpretations are a great feature which we see in Yeats poetry similar to the modern literature. No
conventional poetic diction or structure of sentences is used in Yeats poetry. Apparently his poems
seem simple and straight forward with complexity in themes and style. Although Yeats uses simple
diction but he brings complexity and ambiguity in his poems through metaphorical language that
implies multiple meanings under it. Modern literature itself was complex in a way that it was written
for an educated audience which could understand and analyze the deeper unfolded meanings of the
apparently simpler diction and style.







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Academia 2015