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Literary Movements

Rafael de Almeida Carolina Alvarado

Literary Movements

Augustans Romantic Poetry The Symbolists Modernism


The Harlem Renaissance Postmodernism The Beats Confessional Poets New York School of Poets


Arts Movement

Metaphysical Poetry

metaphysical poetry movement began in the seventeenth century England, around the time of the early Renaissance. Rather than following troubadours, Petrarch, and Shakespeare, these poets exhibited introspective meditation on love, death, God, and human frailty. The respective poems are very vivid descriptions of the topics above which startle the reader, presents a new perspective through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax, and the use of conceit.

John Donne

the father of the metaphysical poets. John Donne came into the world in a time of great political and theological unrest. Very passionate about religion, as it was in the center of most of his poetry. In the latter part of his life, his writings reflected his fear of inevitable death. Known for vivacious, compelling style and thorough examination of mortal paradox.

No Man is an Island

Andrew Marvell

father death caused him to abandon his studies and travel, learning many languages in the way; ended up working as a tutor and then as a politician. The political and theological unrest drove Marvell away from publication, but he wrote satirically about every faction: he criticized and lampooned both the court and the parliament. Little is known about Marvells life, which is why he is a source of great interest. He mainly wrote lyrics and satirical prose and poems targeting politicians, especially Jesuits.

To His Coy Mistress

What to look for


irony, and paradox. The wit is seen through comparing dissimilar objects for the purpose of a paradoxical conceit, such as the use of mathematics to describe ones deep abiding love for a wife. Use of elaborate stylistic maneuvers such as ornamental conceits and rhymes, usually to underscore something. Big shifts in scale, such as from ants to planets, or conflating glo-worms and comets. These are all used to talk about deep philosophical issues, which is shown in the poems in the dramatic unfolding of that truth through irony, conceits, and shifts.


poetry is best known for its rhymed, heroic-couplet satire; employs iambic pentameter to produce forward propulsion. This movement links the metaphysical poets and the romantics. Augustan poets are wickedly funny and goes back to antiquity for their inspiration, such as translating Greek and Roman epics into English using heroic couplets, and wrote their original work based on classical forms. The juxtaposition of high rhetoric and low subject matter adds to the humor of the poems.

John Dryden

Dryden was trained in the art of rhetorical argument which remained a strong influence in his writing and critical thought throughout his life. Dryden mostly wrote in time of affliction of himself or the nation, which lead him to become the first official Poet Laureate of England, because of his dexterity with his earlier panegyrics. Dryden adopted a style closer to natural speech, which became a dominant poetic mode for a century.

Mac Flecknoe

Alexander Pope

in a catholic family, Alexander Pope was barred from attending public school or university, so he became self-educated, taught himself French, Italian, Latin, and Green, and discovered Homer at the age of six. Pope began writing early, composing his earliest extant work at the age of twelve. Suffered Potts disease since twelve, becoming a target for his literary enemies in the latter part of his life. Pope, along with Jonathan Swift and John Gay, formed the Scriblerus Club, which was a congregation of writers who enjoyed satirizing poor taste and ignorance.

Epitaph for Sir Isaac Newton

What to look for


irony, and paradox are just as paramount, but what creates the distinction between the metaphysical poets and the Augustans is the brevity of their observations because of the heroic couplet. The main subject of Augustan poetry is human frailty. Write beautifully about mundane topics, such as the cutting of hair as an epic. Some poems address the ongoing controversies between the forces of religion and science.

Romantic Poetry

style of poetry in the nineteenth-century that breaks with earlier neoclassical ideas about poetry. The poems are emotional and enthusiastic in its embracing of the impressive forces of nature and the infinite resources of the human imagination. Famous for giving the image of tormented poets idly strolling over moors and its strong thematic content.

William Wordsworth

mother died when he was eight and that event strongly shaped his later work. His love for poetry was established with his attendance at Hawkshead Grammar School. Before he graduated college, Wordsworth set out on a walking tour of Europe which also helped influence his poetry and political sensibilities. He witnessed the French Revolution which brought about his sympathy for the life of the common man.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

Walt Whitman

the age of twelve, Walt Whitman began to learn the printers trade and fell in love with the written word. Whitman worked as a printer, then as a teacher at the age of seventeen, and finally as a journalist, during which time he founded the weekly newspaper, Long-Islander. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a purged and cleansed life. Overcome by the suffering of wounded soldiers, Whitman decided to work at hospital rather than write freelance journalism.

When I Heard the Learnd Astronomer

What to look for


imagery displays the imagination of an individual stuck in a city, such as Wordsworths I wandered Lonely as a Cloud, where the speaker is on a couch. The human imagination empowers individuals to escape from societys strictures, such as Whitmans When I Heard the Learnd Astronomer. The sublime rather than the merely beautiful is the main descriptive mode; words such as colossal, vast, and boundless are used to overstate how something is. Finding transcendence in the ordinary is the main goal by the romantic poets, such as finding a human soul in a spider, or a city as a beating heart.

The Symbolists

are considered the link between romanticism and modernism. Their poesy are full of yearning for transcendence, and they took that yearn into a more decadent and sensual direction full of frankness. The poems are obscure and full of deep symbols and intuitive associations.

W. B. Yeats

Butler Yeats discovered poetry at the age of fifteen, and since he was Anglo-Irish, Yeats became involved with the Celtic Revival. Yeats writings towards the end of the 19th century drew extensively from Irish folklore. Yeats met Ezra Pound and became so enchanted by his writing that Yeats himself became more modern in concision and imagery. He was highly influenced by mysticism and the occult which was off-putting to a lot of readers.

T. S. Eliot

Stearns Eliot graduated from Harvard and moved to England where he became a teacher. Ezra Pound met Eliot in England and assisted him with the publication of many of his works. Eliot transmuted his affinity to the English metaphysical poets and the French symbolists into radical innovations. His poems articulated the disillusionment of a post-WWI generation with the values and convention of the Victorian era.

What to look for


of the symbolists deal with the crepuscular (dusk and dawn) and with the time between waking and sleep. Look for synesthesia, which is the using of one sense to describe another such as, the pie tasted like sunlight or that red dress is so loud. French symbolists are adept at using ambivalent words like a white tablecloth which could mean as a white sail for a boat, and as a white, blank page. Symbolists are drawn to the properties of music and try to reflect it in their poems by using mellifluous words. Usually associated with art for arts sake which put forms and aesthetics over political relevance and reducible message.


is a revolutionary force. Around the world, people and nations were making the avant-garde possible and normal: Einstein revolutionized science with his theory of relativity, nations were creating bombs and weapons, painters adopted cubism, futurism, and abstraction, so literature jumped right in. Modernists were very daring in trying different forms and styles, often creating something new entirely.

e.e. cummings

Estlin Cummings began writing poems at the age of eight. In 1920, Cummings published seven of his poems in which he experimented with an avant-garde style in literature known as synthetic cubism, which is repetition and repetitive phrases as building blocks in passages and chapters. Cummings is known to radically experiment with form, punctuation, spelling, and syntax to create an idiosyncratic means of poetic expression.

James Joyce

Joyces novels are characterized by the use of innovative language, dialogue, the modernist form, and social frankness. Joyces Ulysses was banned from the United States for eleven years because it was considered obscene and radical, because of his use of curse words and stream-of-consciousness narrative. Joyce based some of his poems on songs and was known as a lyric poet. Much of his writings are based on his Irish experience, where he explores the stagnation of Dublin society. Joyce stopped writing poetry altogether by 1932.

What to look for


poems are full of allusions and they tend to reduce human experience to fragments. e.e. cummings, for instance, breaks language down into its component parts, using pieces of overhead conversation alongside more grandiose pronouncements. They are highly influenced by cubism, so many of the poems explicitly or implicitly look at the world from many different angles.

The Harlem Renaissance


Harlem Renaissance began after WWI with the movement of African Americans from the rural south to northern industrial cities (the Great Migration). The literature is highly influenced by the journey of this migration, the negro experience in the south and America, music, and folklore. Adapted the style of the modernists.

The Harlem Stride

Langston Hughes

Hughes was all over the place in his early life, moving to Mexico and many different cities in the United States. He published a book of poetry right after he arrived in the United States after travelling to Africa and Europe as a seaman. Hughes is known for his insightful and colorful portrayals of black life in America. He is known for engagement in the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing. Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America; he wanted to tell stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including their suffering, their love for music, laughter, and language itself.

Claude McKay

McKay was born in Jamaica and he was educated by his older brother, who possessed a library of English novels, poetry, and scientific texts. McKay published his first book at the age of twenty where he recorded his impressions of life in black Jamaica in dialect. During the twenties, McKay developed an interest in Communism and travelled to Russia and then to France where he met Edna St. Vincent Millay. He lost faith in Communism when he moved to Harlem and turned his attention to the teachings of various spiritual and political leaders in Harlem.

What to look for


content of poems from this movement is often directly related to African American concerns and issues of the time. Many Harlem Renaissance poems rely on repetitive structure similar to blues lyrics or on fragmented structure similar to jazz improvisation. These poets often sought a new American idiom alongside other African American artists.


literary movement that began post-WWII. Share the same concern as modernists but lead their principles to a much different end. As was Einsteins theory of relativity the emblem of modernism, Heisenbergs uncertainty principle was postmodernisms because it introduce a note of chance and chaos, which is how the movements post-WWII responded to the WWII.

Andre Berton

Breton was the founder of Surrealism, a branch of postmodernism. He was originally part of a movement called Dadaism, which is a group of people that reason and logic of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. Breton wrote Surrealist Manifesto where he defines Surrealism to be the "psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner--the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern."

William S. Burroughs

Seward Burroughs graduated from Harvard and after being rejected from the U.S. Navy and the Office of Strategic Services, he became afflicted with a drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life. His works are semi-autobiographical, where he draws his experience as a heroin addict. In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, in a drunken game of William Tell in Mexico, and he only spent 13 days in jail. After his wifes death, he spent some time in South America looking for a drug called yage, which is a DMT-based psychedelic and it supposedly gave the users telepathy.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

The Beats

Beats used different settings all over the United States and the world to practice their hallucinogenic, visionary, anti-establishment art. They mythologized themselves and shared a sense of personal frankness with the confessional poets and a sense of interdisciplinary energy with the New York school. Poets from the Beats were the hipsters of the time: many practiced Buddhism (solely for the Buddhist idea of impermanence) or followed anarchical mindsets; mixed William Blakes version of romanticism into their own writing, where the individual free his mind from societys constraints; and they yearned for transcendence. Their motto was: First thought, best thought, which describes their aesthetic ideal.

Allen Ginsberg

Ginsbergs parents were the hipsters of the 1920s, a couple of two Jewish members of the New York counter-culture movement. His mother was a supporter of the Communist party and a nudist who suffered from mental disease, which gave Ginsberg an enormous empathy and tolerance for madness, neurosis, and psychosis. Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe were his favorite poets and they highly influenced his writing style. He was the most important figure in the founding of the Beat movement. Ginsberg studied under gurus and Zen masters towards the end of his life.

Jack Kerouac

Kerouac is a literary iconoclast of the Beat generation. He had a scholarship to Columbia as a runnerback but he dropped out to later join the Navy. Kerouac was diagnosed with Dementia praecox, now known as schizophrenia. On October 20, 1969, Kerouac was scribbling notes for a book when he suddenly felt sick in his stomach. He ran to the toilet and he started throwing up large amounts of blood. He was taken to the hospital as blood still came out of his mouth and he underwent several surgeries and transfusions, dying the following day.

Confessional Poets

poets took personal pronouns seriously and explored intimate content in their poetry, such as love affairs, suicidal thoughts, fears, and violent opinions. These poets pried open their innermost thoughts and opened them for the world to see. They revealed the doubts and anxieties that kept common people awake at night.