In the early years of the XX century, when the world was pretty fed up with paying the homage to the Victorian era and was yet not quite sure what exactly can replace the sweet and innocent years of the Charles Dickens epoch and his oeuvre, the advent of Modernism literally changed everything.
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The entire world seemed to be seized by the gold rush – or, to be more precise, the rush for new and unique means of self-expression in art and literature. A truly Golden Age of British poetry and its complete rebirth, the Modernist movement in the British poetry offered a number of provocative questions to solve.
However, it would be a mistake to think that the entire nature of the Modern poetry was aimed solely at destruction of the existing principles and mocking the downtrodden morals.
Though the intent was rather aggressive and had a lot to deal with the World War I, which made the entire world shudder and, therefore, set the whole generation into a very specific mood for the rest of their lives, making them feel the world around them collapsing, the Movement had quite noble aims: “Collectively, they were said to represent English poetry and even the contemporary English soul” (Perkins, 1987, 419).
When speaking of Modern Movement, one will necessarily recall the Post-Modern one as well. However, there is a considerable gap between the two.
Indeed, if considering the two a bit closer, one can see distinctly that, while Post-Modern poets were trying to find new means of expressing their feelings about the changes in the society, the Modern poets, especially Dadaists, considered the existing reality the lowest common denominator of life and, therefore, deliberately chose the most grotesque and unappealing means to depict the despised and nonsensical universe (Cook, 2008).
There can be no possible doubt that the World War I had huge impact on people’s perception of the world and, therefore, on the development of Modernism. One of the cruelest experiences in the history of the humankind, the bloodbath of the WWI added to the misanthropic vision of the Modernist world. Seeing their own inability to act as basic human beings, people were completely desperate and disgusted, which Modernist poetry reflected.
However, the world of Modernists did not collapse at once – on the contrary, the process of rotting was quite time-taking, which allowed to feel the essence of human vulgarity. Thus, the loss of hope was the first stage of the Modernist Movement.
Then came the loss of faith. Observing incredible cruelty, people were unable to understand how God can allow such awful things to happen, which finally led to the conclusion that there was no God. Forced to be Atheists, Modernist poets had literally nothing to lose.
Nevertheless, it was not only the World War that had a great impact on the Modern poetry. Along with the rest of the factors, the rapid development of science also played its part in the way people of the early XX century saw the world. With all the innovations and breakthroughs, especially in the military sphere, science took care of people’s nightmares for the rest of the century.
In addition, the development of the economical state of the world’s major countries also contributed to shaping Modernist perception of reality. With the United States facing the threat of the Great Depression, and the rest of the countries being devastated by the results of the World War I, the state of affairs left much to be desired, and poverty was as common as catching a cold. Naturally, these factors shaped Modernist movement a lot.
All in all, the world at the threshold of a new century was completely devastated and ruined to the core, which the Modernist poetry reflected quite well. It is quite peculiar that the Modern poetry captures the very idea of the loneliness which people felt during the bloodbath of the WWI, as well as the pessimism about the future and the notorious question on whether there actually is such thing as future of the people who have seen the horrors for the World War.
Thus, it is obvious that the Modern British poetry did offer a lot of food for thoughts and was literally a major breakthrough, not only for Britain, but also for the entire world. Allowing poets to create a new universe where the reality seemed even more grotesque and all the vices of the humankind could be crucified.
Therefore, Modern British poetry was basically a perfect coping mechanism for the people of the early XX century to put up with the reality. Reading Modern poems, one did not forget about the reality, but was able to laugh it off and shake it off for a little while. A shelter for the ones who tried to escape the brutal reality, Modern British poetry was a short yet great relief – and, though time flies, it still remains one of the most outstanding features of the epoch.
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Cook A. S. (2008). Forces in Modern and Postmodern poetry. Bern: Peter Lang.
Perkins, D. (1987). A history of Modern poetry: Modernism and after. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.