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The 20th century: Poetry


Trends shaped by Victorian/ post-Victorian poets, such as Hopkins and Hardy, were greatly various and varied in outputs, therefore it is difficult to group the 20th century poets under one category.

1885 – 1920s: new trends and ingredients, such as thematic (Hardy’s pessimism) and stylistic (sprung rhythm of Hopkins).

- Late Victorians
- Romantic pastoral, such as Bridges and Housman, with their bittersweet pastoral and love poems.

The Georgians (after Edward VII’s death)

“Georgian poetry”: Brooke, De La Mare and Davies are the representatives.
They had no revolutionary technique and no revolutionary themes;
This poetry was characterized by the imitation of romantics – the so-called romantic nature poetry, of rural life and with a smooth rhythm – and by the avoidance of contemporary problems: they worshipped their country as the ultimate country;
In this provincial and petty attitude in portraying the countryside a Georgian poet was the “escapist”.  It lost its appeal at the outbreak of the WW1: lots of these authors were later called war poets. They moved into a totally different poetry, the war poetry (or trench poetry): a great clash between individual experience and patriotic feeling was caused by disappointment.

The War Poets

Poetry of war: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon and Rosenberg are the most famous war poets.
They presented two opposite views of the world and war because of their contrasting feelings: the initial patriotism was replaced by realism, despair and frustation of war ideals.  From their initial patriotic and enthusiastic attitude, they developed the opposite attitude.
Physical and psychological sufferings of trench soldiers were a new subject-matter.
They were revolutionary in topics and displayed individual reactions.

Brooke (1887-1918)

Brooke, who belongs to the generation of Georgian poets, lived quite short years.
These poets had a post-romantic approach: they still used romantic diction and preferred post-romantic setting.  They celebrated the beautiful images of the countryside.
The choice of this post-romantic setting was definitely an idealization of the country: it was in a direction of patriotic feeling.
The pictures and messages he offered in his poems report about a fake reality: by celebrating the natural beauties of England, he exaggerated in its presentation, therefore he represented an idealized country. This refers back to an idea of idyllic country where everything is beautiful and positive.
In this idyllic patriotism another ingredient emerges: England is the fatherland of white soldiers (nationalistic concept developed by English soldiers), who are fundamentally heroes.
War is heroic.  It is a heroic poetry: in this celebration, they wanted to give a sort of contest to the birth and upbringing of those heroes.  These heroes are flat characters: in these poems we find flat human beings with no feelings. The only value is in fact fighting for their own country.
This beauty therefore makes up for the emptiness of feelings. The gratefulness for one’s own upbringing and feelings are of spiritual origins: this emptiness is filled with sentimental and elevated images, in which everything is very spiritual and the countryside is a beautiful picture.
For these reasons Brooke belongs to symbolism, a very long trend: he employed symbols exactly in the same ways as symbolic authors, reporting about his own dreams.
This dreamlike atmosphere of the poem is positive and supported by the idea that war is clean and cleansing, definitely in favour of the white Anglo-Saxon English people: this atmosphere served him to celebrate his country.  It served very much for propaganda, which has a fundamental lie.

Owen (1893-1918)

Owen had a totally different view of the war.
These post-romantic settings are never there in Owen, who was never concerned with an idyllic reality: he represented a totally reversed reality in the contemporary situation of physical combat.
Contemporary setting of suffering: he composed his works in the trenches, in what he said being the suffering and where the physical combat took place. The physical setting is the trench and also psychological suffering: they blend in his poetry. He never idealized the dimension of war!
He never celebrated his country from this point of view: war is always suffering, it is an extreme reality.  The extremity of this reality is rendered in his poems: he portrayed no fake reality.
Patriotism is not only denied, but it is unmasked as a lie.  Denial, rejection of the “old lie”, the lie of patriotism. He wrote My poetry is not about heroes, but about the pity of war: there is no idea of heroism and the only value is a compassionate feeling to his comrades/ fellow soldiers’ suffering, who are real men and who have human ties.
Because of this representation of real men who suffer and die because of physical combat, his poetry is very crude and images are very clear: he employed them in order to produce an extreme realism.
His poetry is therefore characterized by Truthfulness (Italiano: carattere veritiero): it must be truthful.
He would help poetry redefine itself, for example, in the movement of imagism.
Here the atmosphere is nightmarish: war is a nightmare.
War is filthy and pityless.
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