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Write Like a Modernist Essay

Over the course of the next several days, you will complete a writing assignment. In the assignment, you will demonstrate your understanding of the tenets of modernist literature by rewriting a Romantic poem in a way that incorporates typically modernist qualities in terms of language, style, literary elements, and themes. The assignment is broken down into four parts.

Part 1: Choose a Romantic Poem

Romantic literature champions the beauty of the world and the inherent goodness of human beings, and Romantic verse is highly structured and deeply traditional. Modernism frequently defines itself as a reaction against and a rejection of romanticism. Modernist poets viewed Romantic poetry as a remnant of the nineteenth century. Modernists did not think that writing as the Romantics did in the 1800s could effectively capture their twentieth-century world or their experiences in that world.

Begin this assignment by choosing a Romantic poem from the nineteenth century that you intend to rewrite in a way that incorporates typically modernist qualities. You can find numerous examples of nineteenth-century Romantic poetry on pages 83–112 of your Journeys anthology. For example, William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” which appears on pages 90–91 of your anthology, is a well-known Romantic poem. Note: You may not use this poem in your answer.

Part 2: Briefly Explain the Romantic Poem You Chose

In a single paragraph, describe the Romantic poem that you selected. Focus on the language, style, literary elements, and themes of the work. This step of the process is important because these are the aspects of the work that your modernist rewrite of it will change. Here, as an example, is a brief explanation of Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:

Most of Wordsworth’s poem describes how a “crowd” of daffodils near a lake looked as they fluttered in the breeze. This poem uses formal language, has a fixed rhyme scheme, and employs an even meter. The speaker is very closely linked to the poet, and neither the voice nor the perspective in the piece ever shifts. The work contains a number of similes—one compares the speaker to a lonely cloud, another compares the daffodils to stars—and the flowers are personified to make the descriptions of them more vivid. Thematically speaking, the poem is about how, even long after having seen the flowers, the speaker feels comforted and happy whenever he thinks of their beauty.

Part 3: Do a Modernist Rewrite of the Romantic Poem You Chose

Begin your rewrite. To do so, imagine yourself as a poet in the early twentieth century, and imagine your rewrite as an attempt to update the outdated elements of the nineteenth-century work you selected. Remember that modernist poems

• Capture the cynicism and disappointment many people felt toward outdated nineteenth-century ideas

• Focus on the complexities of modern life

• Highlight the alienation of the individual in the modern world

• Break with past literary traditions and styles

• Employ references to diverse cultures, belief systems, and histories

• Use experimental language and techniques, such as drawing a distinct line between the poet and the speaker and writing from multiple perspectives and in different voices

Your rewrite must incorporate at least three of the six listed characteristics of modernism. Here is an example of a modernist rewrite of the first stanza of Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:

Part 4: Briefly Explain Your Modernist Rewrite

In a response of at least two paragraphs, provide an explanation of the steps you took to rewrite the Romantic poem you selected. Your explanation should point out at least three typically modernist qualities in your work with regard to elements such as language, style, literary elements, and themes. Here, as an example, is a brief explanation of the modernist rewrite of the first stanza of Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:

In the first stanza of my rewrite, I tried to drastically change the mood of the poem. I did so by first changing the opening simile, linking the speaker (who is most certainly distinct from myself as the poet) to a World War I flying ace looking down on an empty town devastated by war. This image not only calls to mind the destruction that people in the early twentieth century witnessed, but also the loneliness felt by the individual when witnessing such devastation. I introduced ambiguity by not identifying the nationality of the pilot to whom the speaker compares himself: He may be a man seeing the destruction of his own town, or he may be one of the men who brought destruction on the town during battle.

Then I decided to change the daffodils—a symbol of the beauty of the natural world in Wordsworth’s poem—to a crumbling building on an abandoned and ugly street. I thought these images helped convey a sense of loss. I used the word crumblecracking—an invented term—to call to mind how the broken bricks of the building look. This type of experimentation with language is typical of modernist poetry. Finally, I used the word forsaken not only because it suggests abandonment, but also because it calls to mind the last words of Jesus on the cross. This allusion then quickly blends into the reference to a mythological figure, Tefnut, the Egyptian goddess of rain and fertility. This allusion hints at the possibility of remaking a new world out of the fragments of the old, yet the “sagging” hospital attests to how hard such a restoration would be. Thematically, I was trying to depict the loneliness and the alienation of the speaker in this decrepit world.

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