Literary trends in modem poetry may be summarized as follows:
(1) Complex and Many sided:
Twentieth century poetry is a curious mixture of the traditional and the experimental, of the old and the new. It is complex and many-sided.
(2) Poetry of Revolt:
Modern poetry is poetry of revolt against tradition, and as such there is much in it that is experimental, ephemeral, and puerile. This is why Roy Campbell describes modern poetry as, “an epidemic of intellectual and emotional diarrhea”, and A.C. Ward finds it, “eccentric, way-ward, in derail and commonplace”.
(3) Realism in Poetry:
The poet turns away from the decadent romantic tradition: a tradition which still persists in Georgian poetry. This revolt is best exemplified in the poetry of T.S. Eliot. The poet sees life in its naked realism, and even the most prostatic and commonplace subjects are considered suitable.
(4) Debris of War:
After the war, poems appear in an ever increasing number on the destructive means of warfare.
(5) The Language of Everyday Life:
The imagery and vocabulary of the modem poet reflect the influence of science and scientific inventions. Realism in subject matter has led the modern poet to reject the highly ornate and artificial poetic style of the romantics in favor of a language which resembles closely the language of everyday life. Modern poetry is characterized by the use of colloquial diction, speech rhythms and prosaic words.
(6) Delight in the Sensuous Beauty of Nature:
For the modern poet nature is a box of toys which delights his heart and which is very dear to him. A deep feeling of love and joy in nature is a prominent characteristic of such poets as W.H. Davis, Walter De La Mare, Edmund Blunden, etc.
But the modern poet does not spiritualize nature, like Wordsworth, nor does he intellectualize her, like Shelley. Rather, he is content to render her through the senses, and his rendering of her is remarkable for its realism, and precision in d3tail. However, Eliot does not write of nature of the countryside. His poetry is strictly urban.
(7) The Humanitarian Spirit:
Nor does the modern poet love nature alone; he also loves and feels for the lower animals living in the lap of nature. He is moved by their suffering and makes a forceful plea for a more humane treatment of the dumb creation.
Indeed, humanitarianism- a deepened sense of pity for the poor and the suffering- is a leading characteristic of modern poetry. Gibson in particular is the champion of the underdog and the down redden. Davidson, Masefield, etc., are other poets who take pains to glorify and reveal the heroism of the mean, obscure, and squalid existence of the have-nots.
The new poetry is realistic and the poet’s consciousness of the grim realities of life has shattered all illusions and romantic dreams. The pessimism of the modern poet is more poignant and heart-rending, even more than the pessimism of Hardy, because it arises out of the contemplation of the stark realities of life, and there is nothing sentimental about it.
Eliot regards man as “hollow” and ‘stuffed” and in The Crazy-jane Poems of W. B. Yeats, “human sorrow becomes an elemental passion, profound, eternal and burning like a flame.” As a matter of fact, the modern poet sees life as a whole, wants to face it squarely, and has no wish to escape from it into a world of dreams.
He looks at life without the spectacle of romance, and paints it as he finds it in all its ugliness, and in all its misery and headache. Nor has he lost his capacity for laughter. Even in the works of the most pessimistic of poets, we find wit, satire, humor, grim jests and jokes.
(9) The Religious Note:
The influence of science and the spirit of rationalism not mean that religion is not longer a source of inspiration in the new poetry. In T.S. Eliot and Francis Thompson we find a revival of Christian mysticism. Masefield’s The Everlasting Mercy has a religious theme and there are many fine devotional lyrics scattered all over his works.
Even today there are mystical poets in the tradition of Blake and Wordsworth. Thus D.H. Lawrence has his mystic, “religion of blood”, and speaks of strange dark gods. W.B. Yeats is a mystic visionary in whose poetry the gods and fairies of Celtic mythology live again, and T.S. Eliot finds the still point in the supernal.
(10) The Metaphysical Note:
There has been a revival of interest in the poetry of Donne and the other Metaphysical Poets of the 17th century. Ryerson’s edition of Donne’s poems was published in 1912, and ever since English poetry has reflected more and more the intellectual qualities of Donne’s poetry. Eliot has done much to bring about this metaphysical revival.
(11) The Romantic Note:
Despite its stark realism in theme and treatment, there also runs a vein of romanticism in modern poetry. Much of Georgian and Edwardian poetry is in the romantic strain. We find this strain of romance in the poetry of waiter De La Mare, John Masefield, Edward Thomas, etc. Robert Bridges has left behind him some fine love lyrics, and W.B. Yeats has been called the greatest love poet of the 20th century.
In France, this note of romance is struck by the French symbolists, Lafarge, Verlaine, Mallarme, etc. Under the influence of French symbolists, poets like Yeats and Eliot make extensive use of symbolism to communicate their vision and sensations, often too complex and intricate to be conveyed in any other way. Such use of symbolism often results in ambiguity and obscurity.
(13) Poetic Techniques:
The modern poet is constantly experimenting with new verse forms and poetic techniques. The use of slang and colloquialism has become common, the language and rhythm of poetry approximate more and more to those of common speech, the bonds of meter have been loosened, and the use of verse libber has become increasingly common.
(14) The Age of Innovations:
Modern period was the age Innovations. Impressionism, imagism and Surrealism are some innovations in 20th century poetry. The impressionists seek to convey the vague, fleeting sensations passing through their minds by the use of a novel imagery and metaphor.
The imagists, headed by Ezra Pound, aim at clarity of expression through the use of hard, accurate and definite images to convey their intellectual and emotional complexes. The Surrealists try to express whatever passes in the subconscious, or even the unconscious, without any control or selection by the conscious. These innovations have influenced the art of poets and verse writers of the age.
English novel has got its immense popularity at the turn of the 19th century. It has eclipsed poetry and drama, it is the only literary form which has competed successfully with the radio and the cinema, and it is in this genre that work of the greatest merit is being produced. Chief literary trends of modern novel may be summarized in following ways,
(1) A prominent feature of the modern English novel is its immense variety and complexity. Novels are being written practically on all possible themes and subjects. A number of different trends are to be noticed.
(a) There are the traditionalists like H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and Galsworthy who, while they propound new ideas and open out new vistas to the human mind, still follow the Victorian tradition as far as the technique of the novel is concerned.
(b) There are innovators, like Henry James, Joseph Conrad, James Joys, and Virginia Woolf, who have revolutionized the technique of the novel with their probing into the subconscious.
(c) While H.G. Wells fully exploits modern science in his scientific romances, novelists of purpose or novelists of social reform, like Galsworthy, make the novel form a vehicle for the discussion of the baffling socio-economic problems of the day. Along with above discussed trends biographical novels, regional novels, satirical novels, sea- novels, detective novels, war-novels and novels of humor also continue to flood the market and the list is by no means exhaustive.
(2) The modern novel is realistic. It deals with all the facts of contemporary life, the pleasant as well as the unpleasant, the beautiful as well as the ugly, and does not present merely a one-side view of life.
(3) The modern novel presents realistically the doubts, the conflicts and the frustrations of the modern world. It is, therefore, pessimistic in tone.
(4) The theories of psychologists, like Freud and Havelock Ellis, new biological theories and methods of birth control, and the boredom, frustration and brutality caused by the war, go far to explain the pre-occupation of the contemporary novel with sex-themes.
(5) The modern novel has evolved as a serious art form. It is compact in body and integrated in form and everything superfluous is careful avoided. It is very well constructed, having nothing loose or rambling about it.
(6) Story seems to have died out of the 20th century English novel. For the Victorian novelist life easily fell into the mould of a story; but for the novelist of today it refuses to do so. It is like a sentence that sets out confidentially. It has grasp of origins but not of ends. It is late an incomplete sentence and, its incompleteness is a reflection of the incompleteness of a whole region of thought and belief.
(7) The modern novelist rejects his characterization as superficial. He has realized that it is impossible to give a psychologically true account of character by such means. He propose deep into the sub-conscious, even the unconscious, and loses himself in the complexities and subtleties of inner life; instead of depicting a conflict between different personalities, he depicts the individual at war with himself.
(8) The modern novels are predominantly psychological. The psychologists shock the foundations of human thought by their revolutionary discoveries in the field of Psychology. They revealed that human consciousness has very deep layers and buried under the conscious, are the subconscious and the unconscious. Novelists like Henry James, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, and Elizabeth Bowen have made the English novel extremely psychological in nature.
(9) The impact of the new psychology on plot and character has already been noticed above. Its impact has been equally far-reaching on the theme of the novel. There is a shift in the theme of the modern novelist. The individual is more important for him than society. Both Lawrence and Forster consider “the great society” as the enemy of the individual and want it to be reformed. Conrad’s chief personages are all lonely souls and betrayal is the major theme of his novels.
(10) New influences, specially the Russian and the American, are daily widening its horizons and renewing its vigor and vitality. New experiments are being conducted, some temporary and fleeting, others, of a more permanent significance. The caravan of the English novel goes on, ever-changing, becoming and growing.
(1) There is the naturalistic prose drama, dealing with contemporary social problems, focusing attention on them, discussing them from various angles, and in this way provoking thought on these problems. Shaw and Galsworthy are the chief exponents of this realistic prose drama.
(2) Despite the efforts of the major Victorian poets, there was not tradition of poetic drama at the beginning of the 20th century. But, later, it came in modern trend and became, common.
(a) By 1920, there were signs of a rebirth, but the atmosphere in which realistic, naturalistic drama throve was uncongenial to a play in verse.
(b) At the Abbey Theatre Dublin, W.B. Yeats attempted to revive poetry on the stage but he lacked the essential qualities of the dramatist.
(c) Stephen Philips (1864-1915) is a more important figure in the history of poetic drama. He wrote a number of blank verse plays, including Herod, Ulysses, The Son of David, and Nero, but he had little popular appeal.
(d) Masefield, too, experimented in poetic drama but had only limited success while Gordon Bottomely (1874-1948), who wrote a number of quite powerful poetical plays, saw hope for this form only in the amateur.
(e) It was also during this period that John Drinkwater (1882-1937), began his career with poetic dramas, and achieved popularity with such plays as The Stony, The God of Quiet, and X = 0: A Night of the Trojan War.
(f) But the true poetic drama was that of J.M. Synge which, though not is verse, had all the qualities which the others lacked.
(g) Lord Dunsany’s career as a dramatist began in 1909 with the staging of The Glittering Gate. One of the best exponents of the One-act play, he merit inclusion in our consideration of poetic drama (although he writes in prose) by virtue of the romance on which his plays are built and his ability to create a most powerful atmosphere, often of the East.
(h) T.S. Eliot both through his theory and practice, provided a powerful stimulus to English Poetic Drama, and Christopher Fry contributeohto it the “Theatre of Words”, and the “Comedy of moods.”