Part One Introduction
Chapter One Brief Introduction to British and American Poetry
The earliest English poems appeared in the Anglo-Saxon period which experienced a Bookless Age. English literature was almost exclusively a verse literature in oral form. The oldest specimens which now exist are found in the Exeter Book containing the following poems Widsith, Doer’s Lament, The Wanderer and The
Sea-Farer, The Battle of Maldon. By far the most significant poem of the
Anglo-Saxon Age, however, is Beowulf which is the oldest poem and the oldest
surviving epic in the English language. It is the representative work of Pagan poetry. The poem descended from generation to generation in oral form, sung by bards at the
thend of the sixth century. The present manuscript was written down in the 10 century
or at the end of the 9th century.
The characteristics of Anglo-Saxon poetry are the abundant use of metaphor, understatement and alliterative meter. At the same time a number of Christian poets appeared. The most well-known were Caedmon and Cynewulf. They chiefly took their subject matter from the Bible, but their writing styles were almost the same as Anglo-Saxon poetry.
The Norman Conquest in 1066 brought forward a literary revolution. Thanks to the French influence, the language and literary taste experienced an enormous change. A new literary form named ―romance‖ became prevailing. Romance dealt mainly with
perilous adventures about courageous knights‘ devotion to the king and church. Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight is the most charming and enduring example.
The first harvest in English literature was in the 14th century, in which several remarkable poets lived, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, John Gower and John Wycliff. Among them, Chaucer towered above all and became the representative of this century. He has won the title of ―the Father of English poetry.‖
The 15th century was an age full of wars which greatly affected the development of literature. There were no great names in poetry but a group of Chaucerians. So the fifteenth century in English literature is traditionally described as the barren age. Yet in this barren age, ballads became popular, for example, Lord Randal, Glasgerion and
English poetry in the 16th century achieved an age of its prosperity. Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth poetry writing became a fashion. It was a golden age of poetry. There appeared a group of excellent poets, such as Sir Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Wyatt introduced into England the Italian sonnet, a fourteen-line poem with a rhyme scheme abba, abba, cddc, ee. It was Henry Howard who invented the English form of sonnet with the rhyme scheme abab, cdcd, efef, gg. This scheme was so skillfully used by Shakespeare later that it is usually called the Shakespearean sonnet. Wyatt and Howard are generally regarded as the founders of the golden age. Sir Philip Sidney‘s best known book was his pastoral romance, Arcadia. His sonnets,
altogether one hundred and twenty poems, were imitative of Italian ones, but they possessed a charm distinctly of their own. Edmund Spenser‘s chief works included
The Faerie Queen, The Shepherd’s Calendar, and the Amoretti. In his The Faerie
Queen, Spenser planned twelve books, each speaking of twelve virtues and with a different hero distinguished for one of the private virtues. But it was a pity that only six books and two cantos of the seventh were completed. In writing this great allegorical poem, Spenser created a new poetic form known as the Spenserian stanza, consisting of nine lines rhyming ababbcbcc. This form was widely imitated by later poets, especially by the romantic poets of the nineteenth century. The best imitator of Spenserian stanza is John Keats. Christopher Marlowe‘s entire reputation rests on his
plays such as Tamburlain, The Jew of Malta and Doctor Faustus. Marlowe is
considered to be the greatest of the pioneers in English drama. He is the first poet to make blank verse the principal instrument of English drama. The last one, Shakespeare, is undoubtedly the greatest. Besides his 37 plays, he also wrote two long poems and 154 sonnets. His sonnets figure among the greatest in the language.
At the death of Elizabeth in 1603, the Tudor dynasty was brought to a close and the throne was passed to the Stuarts. On the basis of different political and religious beliefs, people of this period were separated into two vastly different groups: the Cavaliers and the Puritans. In the field of poetry, two schools of poets appeared: the
Cavaliers and Metaphysical poets. The noteworthy names of Cavaliers were Robert Herrick, Sir John Suckling, Richard Lovelace and Thomas Carew. The Cavaliers were royalists sided with the King against the revolution. They found their happiest poetic expression in gay little sparkling lyrics. The chief representatives of metaphysical poets were John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvel, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw, Abraham Cowley. The term ―metaphysical‖ was applied by Dr. Samuel
Johnson to Donne and his followers. Their common features are: arresting and original images and conceits, wit, ingenuity, good use of colloquial speech, considerable flexibility of rhythm and meter, complex themes, a liking for paradox and dialectical argument, a direct manner, a caustic humor, a keenly felt awareness of mortality, and a distinguished capacity for elliptical thought and tersely compact expression. Their manner was directly opposed to the grace and romanticism of the Elizabethans. They have made a profound influence on the course of English poetry in the 20th century.
The distinguished example of Puritan poets is John Milton. He wrote one of the greatest odes, Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, a famous elegy Lycidas, a
number of unforgettable sonnets, the tragedy Samson Agonistes and his masterpiece
Paradise Lost. Milton‘s religious ideas influenced his political and literary careers. During the revolution he became a fighter by using his pen. The chief poet of the Restoration period was John Dryden, who won fame as a dramatist, satirist, and writer of odes and lyrics. He contributed to English literature his greatest drama All for Love,
a political satire Absalom and Achitophel, two religious poems Religio Laici and The
Hind and the Panther, and a magnificent Pindaric ode Song for St. Cecelia’s Day.
Nowadays modern writers show their great interest in the study of the Restoration and Metaphysical poets. Dryden in particular has received the applause and cheer of many intellectuals.
The 18th century in England is known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment Movement was an expression of struggle of the bourgeoisie against feudalism. It was a progressive intellectual movement and also a furtherance of the Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It exerted an
immense influence upon English social life and literature. The purpose of the movement was to enlighten the whole world with the light of modern philosophical and artistic ideas. The enlighteners fought against class inequality, stagnation, prejudices and other survivals of feudalism. They celebrated rationality, equality and science. The major representatives were Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and so on. Artistically this period was characterized by the so-called neoclassicism, a revival of classical standards of order, balance, and harmony in literature. John Dryden and Alexander Pope were major exponents of the neoclassical school. Toward the middle of the century, a new literary trend of sentimentalism appeared. This trend was closely knitted with the radical social and ideological changes in England of that age. It indulged in emotion and sentiment, which were used as a sort of relief for the grief felt toward the world‘s
wrongs and mild protest against social injustice. The first notable poem in this tendency is James Thomson‘s The Seasons. Another is Thomas Grey‘s Elegy Written
in a Country Churchyard which has been ranked with the greatest of meditative lyrics. The century drew its curtain down with Robert Burns, a lyrical poet and William Blake, a mystical poet. Burns wrote the majority of his poems in his Lowland Scottish dialect. In spite of the limitation of his lyric range, his expression of the simple singing line was greatly varied. Blake, with his Songs of Innocence and Songs of
Experience, is regarded as the forerunner of Romanticism.
th Poetry in the 19 century was undergoing a significant phase in its development in Britain. William Wordsworth, together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1798, published an epoch-making volume, Lyrical Ballads, which marks the break from the
neoclassicism of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the romantic revival in England. Wordsworth wished to intensify everyday experience. The three men, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Robert Southey were known as Lake Poets, so called because they spent much of their time in the Lake District of northern England. George Gordon Lord Byron‘s fame rests mainly on two long poems: Childe Harold’s
Pilgrimage and Don Juan. He also wrote many short beautiful lyrics such as She
Walks in Beauty and When We Two Parted. Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s writing is the most
passionate and intense of all the Romantic poets. His greatest lyrics include Song to
the Men of England, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark. John Keats, influenced by
the poets of the English Renaissance period, endeavored to create a beautiful world of imagination as opposed to the sordid reality of his day. His immortal odes are To
Autumn, Ode on Melancholy, Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn. Robert
Browning has obtained the title ―the Shakespeare of the nineteenth century‖. He was
interested in stylistic experimentation, to make deliberate use of rough colloquial diction and word order, of surprising and even grotesque rhymes, and of harsh rhythms and metrical patterns. His Men and Women, a collection, displays his perfect
use of a poetic form: the dramatic monologue. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning‘s wife, is the first woman poet who has occupied an everlasting place in English literature due to her sequence of love poems entitled Sonnets from the
In the Victorian Age even when the novel became the dominant literary form, there appeared many important poets such as Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Victorian poetry has a close connection with Romantic poetry. Tennyson is a follower of John Keats, Swinburne the follower of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Matthew Arnold the follower of William Wordsworth. The Victorian poets endeavored to search for appropriate modes and experimented in a variety of ways. In versification, they experimented with new or unusual metrical patterns. In line with their metrical experiments were those in the art of narrative poetry. Among them appeared dramatic monologue, which Tennyson and Browning used most effectively. In subject matter, they dealt with some frequently recurring subjects, including a preoccupation with man‘s relationship to God, an acute
awareness of time, the timeless equilibrium of lovers, the poignant experience of isolation and hostility of partners in a shattered marriage. Tennyson was the most representative poet of the Victorian spirit. His works included the sentimental romance Maud, the epic Idylls of the King, the famous elegy In Memoriam.
Swinburne‘s poetry threatened the Victorian sense of decency, so he became celebrated for his revolutionary utterances. His Poems and Ballads was considered a
masterpiece of erotic literature. He was an expert in metrical ingenuity and in the phonetics of the language. He outwitted others and created a new form, the roundel. Arnold was as much a critic and essayist as a poet, although his poetic output is comparatively little. Sohrab and Rustum, his best-known poem, is written in a delicate
blank verse with Homeric style. But as a matter of fact his Dover Beach attains far
greater heights. Many of his best poems convey a melancholy, pessimistic sense of the dilemmas of modern life and tend to focus on the moral aspect of life.
The early 20th century saw a technical revolution which is known as Imagism. In the years leading up to WWI, the imagist movement set the stage for a poetic revolution and reevaluation of metaphysical poetry. Thomas Stern Eliot extended the scope of Imagism by bringing the English metaphysicals and the French Symbolists to the rescue, introduced into modern English and American poetry the kind of irony achieved by shifting suddenly from the formal to the colloquial or by oblique allusions to objects or ideas that contrasted sharply with those carried by the surface meaning of the poem. So the 1920‘s is regarded as the age of Eliot. Gerard Manley
Hopkins combined absolute precision of the individual image with a complex ordering of images and a new kind of metrical patterning. William Butler Yeats worked out his own notions of symbolism, developed a rich symbolic and metaphysical poetry with its own curiously haunting cadences and imagery. His poetry reflected the varying developments of his age and maintained an unmistakably individual accent. Both Thomas Hardy and Alfred Edward Housman inherited English poetic traditions and shared the similarity in having a pessimistic vision to human life. Wystan Hugh Auden often combined deliberate irreverence with verbal craftsmanship. His poetry is noted for its vitality, variety, and originality. Robert Graves and Edwin
thMuir are the two important 20-century poets who stood somewhat apart from the
main map of English poetry in the first half of the century. Both of them show that there were strengths in the English poetic tradition untapped by Thomas Sterns Eliot and his followers. They were much concerned with time and the human response to time, and both had a deep sense of history. New forces kept coming in during the sixties and seventies. English poetry today is more diverse than before. Since the end
of the 1950‘s a new element of both rhetoric and myth has been coming into English poetry. The recent famous poets are Ted Hughes, Tony Harrison, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney.
In American literature the Puritans who had settled in New England were the first poets of the American colonies. When they came to America they maintained their cultural allegiances to Britain. Most Puritan poets saw the purpose of poetry as careful Christian examination of their life. So the Puritan‘s religious subject and imitation of
English literary traditions were the two essential characteristics of early American literature. Anne Bradstreet, the first American poet, published a volume of poetry. Her famous The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America contained a muted declaration
of independence from the past and a challenge to authority.
Colonial poets of the 18th century still followed the example of British poets such as Alexander Pope. Ebenezer Cook and Richard Lewis wrote accomplished satirical poems based on British pastoral models. The development of poetry in the American colonies mirrors the development of the colonies themselves. Revolutionary-era poets felt an urgency to produce a serious national poetry that would celebrate the country‘s new democratic ideals. They did not bother with the question whether a new nation required new forms of poetry, but were content to use traditional forms to write about new subjects in order to create the first truly American poetry. Many of Philip Freneau‘s poems focused on America‘s future greatness and other subjects including the beauties of the natural world. His lyric poems such as The
Wild Honey Suckle and On a Honey Bee can be seen as the first expressions in
American poetry of a deep spiritual engagement with nature. Phillis Wheatley wrote in 18th-century literary forms. But her highly structured and elegant poetry nonetheless expressed her frustration at enslavement and desire to reach a heaven where her color and social position would no longer keep her from singing in her full glory.
In the 19th century American poetry assumed real literary value for the first time. The most remarkable poet born in America was William Cullen Bryant who gained public recognition for his Thanatopsis. Influenced by British Romantic poets,
especially by William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Bryant wrote about his personal experience in nature and society, therefore, nature became the major theme of his poems. Edgar Allan Poe created noble poetry with felicity and won a reputation both in America and abroad. Toward the middle of the century there appeared a group of poets named the New England group, which consisted of John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. John Greenleaf Whittier became best known for Snow-Bound
(1866), a long nostalgic look at his Massachusetts Quaker boyhood. Whittier was sensitive to find the beauty of the commonplace, to comprehend the profound meaning of freedom and democracy. Oliver Wendell Holmes followed the tradition of neoclassicism in his poetic creation, although he lived in the Romantic Period. His poetry was characterized by his light verse with witty, arresting charm. James Russell Lowell was best remembered for his volumes of poems such as A Year’s Life, Under
the Willows and The Cathedral in which he demonstrated his striking characteristics of simplicity, wit and urban good nature. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is the most distinguished poet in his story-telling faculty. His long poem The Song of Hiawatha
was written in the nearest approach to a native epic that America as yet possessed. Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s poetry was more searching and intellectual than sensuous. His verse functioned as the transition from blank verse to free verse. These poets were united by a common search for a distinctive American voice to distinguish them from their British counterparts. The transcendentalism of Emerson and Henry David Thoreau was the distinctly American strain of English Romanticism. During the 19th century, black and white poets wrote about the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of slaves.
Bridging the gap between the New England group and the contemporary poets towers the figure of Walt Whitman, the first working-class American poet. In 1855
Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass which marked the birth of
truly American poetry. In this collection Whitman developed a poetic style of originality, which was a major experiment in cadenced rather than metrical versification. Emily Dickinson is now regarded a chief poet, as great as Walt Whitman. She, the only important female poet in America in the 19th century, was fascinated with love, friendship, nature, life, immortality and death. Her poetry is distinguished not only by its intensity of emotion but by its idiosyncratic form----the frequent use of dash and capitalization, fragmentary and enigmatic metrical patterns. Herman Melville, though much better known as a novelist, nonetheless wrote powerful poetry about the Civil War, collected in Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the
War (1866). He later wrote a long and mysterious poem, Clarel (1876), about his
search for faith, his struggle with doubt, and his anxiety about the decline of civilization.
By 1900 the United States experienced multiple changes: westward expansion, waves of immigration, and increasing urbanization that combined to create a physically larger, more populous, and far more diverse country. American poetry in the opening decades of the century displayed far less unity. In the last decades of the 19th century, American literature had entered a period of regionalism. Dialect poetry—written in exaggerated accents and colorful idioms—became a sensation for a
time and found its chief exponents in James Whitcomb Riley, Eugene Field, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
The following period in the development of American poetry is generally considered as ―new era‖ dating from 1914. Edwin Arlington Robinson‘s Children of
the Night and Collected Poems were full of brilliant condensations and sympathy for all phases of humanity, particularly with those lost dreamers whom the world appraises as mediocrities and failures. Robinson explored the lives of New Englanders in his fictional Tilbury Town through dramatic monologues. He employed the rhythm of everyday speech and reflected a Puritan sense of humankind‘s moral corruption. At