Of Modern Poetry

Of Modern Poetry

 by Wallace Stevens

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice? It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.

It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one. The actor is
A metaphysician in the dark, twanging
An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives
Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly
Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend,
Beyond which it has no will to rise.
It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

Summary of Of Modern Poetry

  • Popularity of “Of Modern Poetry”: This poem is written by Wallace Stevens, a distinguished American poet. Of Modern Poetry is a thought-provoking piece about modern poetry, its subjects, and impacts on the audiences. It also emphasizes that old ways of writing should be evolved with time.
  • “Of Modern Poetry”, Criticism on Old Ways of Writing: The poem details the speaker’s revolutionary ideas regarding poetry. The poem begins with a statement that writing poetry is not an easy job. The writers and poets need to keep the defined paradigms in mind. In doing so, they only strive to maintain the set standards and ignores the sad reality of the world. According to him, the poets should let go off the old ways of writing poetry. While talking about the attributes of good poetry, he states a good poem does not require highly defined words. It should be written in a way as if words are reaching the audience in the existing time and space. Moreover, the actions and incidents of the poem should be lifelike. Hence, the poet proposes a few guidelines to bring change in the old methods of writing poetry.
  • Major Themes in “Of Modern Poetry”: Creativity, literature, and modernism are the major themes of this poem. The poet evaluates the simplicity and satisfaction of past poetry. He suggests that writers should bring revolutionary changes in the poetic world. They can easily meet the current needs of the readers only by writing as a mirror to the modern times. They should leave the idealized part of the poetic world and write about the realities around them.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Of Modern Poetry”

Literary devices are tools used by writers and poets to convey their emotions, feelings, and ideas to the readers. Wallace Stevens has used a few literary devices. It’s important to note that in modern poetry, very few devices are used because the phrases used are direct and simple. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /t/ in “Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound” and the sound of /s/ in “To something else. Its past was a souvenir.”
  2. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, “It has to be on that stage, like an insatiable actor”, “A metaphysician in the dark” and “With meditation, speak words that in the ear.”
  3. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /a/ in “And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and; With meditation”.
  4. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects different in nature. The entire poem is an extended metaphor for the decline of religious and traditional values.
  5. Simile: It is a figure of speech used to compare something to something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. For example, “And, like an insatiable actor, slowly”. Here, poetry is compared to an actor who can be greedy.
  6. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, as the sound of /w/ in “What will suffice. It has not always had”.
  7. Onomatopoeia: It refers to the words which imitate the natural sounds of the things. For example, “twanging”.
  8. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break. The entire poem has used enjambments. For example,

Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Of Modern Poetry”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this rhyme.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are three stanzas in this poem of a varying length
  2. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, the first and last stanzas are quatrains.
  3. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used as a quote in a lecture while teaching poetry.

The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice? It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.”