This study of six modernist poems by six different poets demonstrates the multiple facets of modernism. By showing not only what the poets and poems have in common but also by exploring their remarkable diversity, David Young reveals that the modernist narrative is really many narratives at once.
Young believes that modernist poetic practice can best be demonstrated through close attention to particular poems. In this composite portrait of high modernist poetry, each of the book's six chapters reads one key modernist poem in the light of emergent modernism. The six poets discussed here—four writing in English, one in German, and one in Italian—emerge as distinctive practitioners of a common aesthetic, one that challenged received ideas and patterns of thinking from a variety of perspectives. “Making it new” was very much what modernism was all about, and these six examples demonstrate that fully.
Along with the four poems written in English, the two non-English poems are presented and discussed in Young’s own translations. He describes the provenance of each of the six poems, puts it in the context of its time and the poet’s career, and surrounds it with references to other poems that are quoted generously. In this way, each poem is not only fully explicated but also presented as a kind of preeminent example representing other poems of its type.
Combining close reading with contextual discussion, this book is a significant contribution to the fields of poetry and modernism. The impeccable scholarship is presented in an accessible, engaging manner. Written for general readers as well as for scholars, it will shed a new and timely light on some of the 20th century’s finest poems.
The Poets and Their Poems
Eugenio Montale, Mediterranean
Marianne Moore, An Octopus
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Bowl of Roses
Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning
William Carlos Williams, January Morning: A Suite
William Butler Yeats, Among School Children
“Subtly, with a many-faceted attention and care, David Young takes us on a journey through six modernist poems and reveals why and how these works continue to be luminous presences in the lives of so many poets and readers.”—Susan Stewart, Princeton University
“Rilke, Yeats, Stevens, Williams, Moore, and Montale: these writers have been like Stevens’s ‘old chaos of the sun,’ an unquenchable source for much of the best 20th-century poetry. Never are they more challenging or exciting than in the long poem. David Young, one of the premier teachers of poetry in the United States, chooses a representative long poem by each and then generously guides us through each one. His intelligence and curiosity are keen, his voice melodious. Young adapts his discussion as needed to bring out each poet’s utmost individuality yet also well shows what they have in common.”—Peter Schmidt, chair, English Department, Swarthmore College