Modnerism and Poetry

Modernism & Poetry
James Joyce
Change was fast and intense at the turn of the 20th
century. The world was being transformed by the
flood of new inventions and new concepts – movies,
radio, assembly lines and suburbs, comic strips and
much more came along for the first time.
People could suddenly fly, travel by automobile,
control disease and anything seemed possible.
However these great changes were colliding with the
social, political and economic systems that were
outmoded and unresponsive.
Around the planet, there were riots, political turmoil,
and labor unrest; in Russia, Mexico, and China there
were full-scale revolutions.
Traditional beliefs seemed to be in decay, and newer,
more extreme ideas began to germinate: embryonic
versions of communism and fascism were beginning
to emerge.
Instability spilled over into international relations.
It was an age when everything seemed to be up for
grabs, and the Great Powers became ever more
aggressive in the pursuit of supremacy, while
ambitious smaller nations opportunistically played
for advantage.
Crisis followed crisis until statesmen lost the will to
avoid a complete breakdown.
In the end, this
promising era collapsed into the immense
catastrophe of the First World War and the Second
World War.
Modernism: Definition
Modernism is a literary and cultural
international movement which flourished
in the first decades of the 20th
century. Modernism is not a term to
which a single meaning can be ascribed
. It may be applied both to the
content and to the form of a work, or
to either in isolation. It reflects a
sense of cultural crisis which was both
exciting and disquieting , in that it
opened up a whole new vista of human
possibilities at the same time as
putting into question any previously
accepted means of grounding and
evaluating new ideas. Modernism is
particularly manipulation of form , and
by the realization that knowledge is
not absolute .
Modernism: Movement
The modernism movement
is not just related to
literature but also to:
The sciences
Modernism and Literature
• In terms of literature, a text is not an author’s pure
and conscious intention; it reflects elements of a
culture and a discourse that existed long before the
author did. Roland Barthes makes a similar point in
“The Death of the Author” when he suggests that “a
text is not a line of words releasing a single
‘theological’ meaning (188).
• A writer cannot be aware of all of the influences on his
or her work, so the significance of a work of literature
is not necessarily the same for the writer as for the
reader, especially when the two are separated in time
and place.
• Modernist writers were greatly affected by what was
occurring around them in all aspects of life, such as
art, music, technology, etc. This is greatly reflected in
their work and very obvious.
Ideas in Modernist Works
Intentional distortion of shapes
Focus on form rather than meaning
Breaking down of limitation of space and time
Breakdown of social norms and cultural values
Dislocation of meaning and sense from its normal context
Valorisation of the despairing individual in the face of an
unmanageable future
Rejection of history and the substitution of a mythical past
Need to reflect the complexity of modern urban life
Importance of the unconscious mind
Interest in the primitive and non-western cultures
Impossibility of an absolute interpretation of reality
Overwhelming technological changes
Characteristics of Modernism
Literature (1900-1950s)
• Writers at this time were highly experimental seeking a
unique style
• Increased use of monologue and stream of consciousness
• Poetry greatly increased following the deaths of Whitman
and Dickinson
• Composers reflected the ideas of Darwin (survival of the
fittest) and Karl Marx (how money and class structure
control a nation)
• WWI and WWII had a great influence on the modernist
composers’ works
• There was an overwhelming technological advancement and
changes in the 20th century
• Rise of the youth culture as they become more outspoken
• The Harlem Renaissance – a literary movement in the 1920s
that fostered a new black cultural identity
Modernism: Features of Poetry
• Use of free verse
• Juxtaposition of ideas rather than
consequential exposition
• Intertextuality
• Use of allusions and multiple association of
• Borrowings from other cultures and languages
• Unconventional use of metaphor
• Importance given to sound to convey “the
music of ideas”
Free Verse Poems
• Use of poetic line
• Flexibility of line length
• Massive use of alliteration and
• No use of traditional metre
• No regular rhyme scheme
• Use of visual images in distinct lines
James Joyce (1882-1941)
James Joyce was a Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most
influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century
He is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark novel which perfected his stream
of consciousness technique.
During his career Joyce suffered from rejections from publishers, suppression by
censors, attacks by critics, and misunderstanding by readers. From 1902 Joyce led
a nomadic life.
Other major works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914) and the novel A
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and his complete oeuvre includes three
books of poetry.
In his early twenties he emigrated permanently to continental Europe, living in
Trieste, Paris and Zurich. Though most of his adult life was spent abroad, Joyce's
fictional universe does not extend beyond Dublin, and is populated largely by
characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time
there; Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of the
He was born in to a a lower-middle class family. He was educated by Jesuits at
Clongowes Wood College, at Clane, and then at Belvedere College in Dublin (189397). In 1898 he entered the University College, Dublin.
At the outset of the First World War, Joyce moved with his family to Zürich. In
Zürich Joyce started to develop the early chapters of Ulysses, which was first
published in France because of censorship troubles in the Great Britain and the
United States, where the book became legally available only in 1933.After the fall
of France in WWII, Joyce returned to Zürich, where he died on January 13, 1941.
I Hear an Army Charging Upon
the Land
I hear an army charging upon the land,
And the thunder of horses plunging, foam about their
Arrogant, in black armor, behind them stand,
Disdaining the reins, with fluttering whips, the
They cry unto the night their battle-name
I moan in sleep when I hear afar their whirling
They cleave the gloom of dreams, a blinding flame.
Clanging, clanging upon the heart as upon an anvil.
They come shaking in triumph their long, green hair:
They come out of the sea and run shouting by the
My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?
My love, my love, my love, why have you left me
In "I Hear An Army" by James Joyce, the poet is perhaps re-telling a nightmare in which an
army is approaching him on horses. Joyce uses surreal images to express his dream. Sound
also appears to be vital to the understanding of the poem which is emphasised through the
opening of “I hear” inviting the reader to use their listening sense. The poem also seems to
have a musical nature with the use of repetition, onomatopoeia and assonance of long vowels
(Clanging, blinding, flame, etc)
But what is the nightmare about? Is it a nightmare of personal calamity, provoked by anxiety
over the loss of a loved one ("my love, why have you left me alone")? Or is the nightmare a
political prophecy of World War I? The poem was written in 1904, about ten years before
"the Great War" began. In the years preceding the war, there was already rattling amongst
the European military powers which alarmed citizens of all Western countries.
In this poem, Joyce, as the poet-dreamer, feels terrified by the war. When he cries out,
"My love . . . why have you left me/ alone?" the "love" he addresses, in this case, may be
civilization in general.
Rampaging charioteers, and thunder and lightning ("a blinding flame") conjure up visions of the
end of the world as depicted in the Book of in The New Testament. Revelation describes how
the angels of the Lord open up the gates to "the bottomless pit" and unleash "an army of two
hundred thousand thousand horsemen" (Rev. 9:16-17) to slay all the sinners of the world.
But these horrifying horsemen only destroy evil people, and therefore their ultimate purpose
is noble. In contrast, it is hard to guess at the purpose of the demonic army in Joyce's
poem, though at first glance they seem only intent on inciting mayhem and terror. Joyce could
be suggesting that the war is like the end of the world, only there no good in that, as it is
not for a noble purpose and will only bring destruction.
Further Analysis
Joyce uses many words that have “dark” and “negative” conations. Words such as “black”,
“night” and “gloom”. Many of the words in the poem are demonic, predicting death and
Horses are sometimes associated with demons since "witches [and even the devil himself] can
easily change into horses”. Horses are also associated with death. Death often appears on
horseback. For example, in Revelation 6:8 Death is depicted as riding a horse.
The colour black is also associated with evil and is apparent throughout the poem (“black
armor”, “night”).
Also some words in the poem that usually have positive associations, have instead negative
ones. The sea usually has a positive effect as it originates life, however in the poem the
horses come out of the sea on, delivering death instead, which is ironic.
The assonance of long vowels ("clanging", "blinding", "flame", "cleave", "green", "sea") imitates
a prolonged cry of pain from the person suffering the nightmare, or imitates the shrill battle
cries of the horsemen. Onomatopoeic words are important here since they put you into the
middle of the nightmare where you can hear the sound of the army and the anxiety of the
There is also quite a lot of repetition of words and phrases. The repetition of "my love, my
love, my love" imitates the fast pounding heartbeat of the nightmare victim as well as
emphasizing his earnestness. Other effective repetitions are "clanging, clanging" and the word
"they" in "They cry", "They cleave", "They come". These repetitions highlight the military
rhythm of the pounding hooves.
The last word in the poem is "alone" on a line by itself, providing a feeling of utter desolation
and embodying the meaning of the word and thus emphasising its meaning.
Activity: Bingo
• I will read some questions that have
been answered in this presentation,
the answers are on your bingo cards.
You are to mark the answers using a
highlighter or a pen.

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