What is Modern Poetry?

Modern poetry is a style of writing that is defined by two distinct characteristics. The first is technical innovation in the writing, exemplified by the liberal use of free verse. The second is a departure from the Romantic idea of an unproblematic poetic ‘self’ speaking directly to an equally unproblematic ideal reader or audience. This literary movement developed as a result of the philosophical, scientific, political, and ideological transformations that occurred in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, as well as the shock of World War I and its aftermath.

Modern poetry began in the early years of the twentieth century with the Imagists. As with many other modernists, these poets wrote in response to Victorian poetry’s perceived excesses, with its reliance on traditional formalism and elegant diction. In many ways, their criticism parallels what William Wordsworth wrote in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads over a century ago to kick-start the Romantic movement in British poetry, denouncing the gauche and pompous school that predominated at the time and attempting to bring poetry to the masses.

Modernists saw themselves as emulating the best practises of poets from previous eras and cultures. Their models included classical Greek literature, Chinese and Japanese poetry, troubadours, Dante, and mediaeval Italian philosophical poets (such as Guido Cavalcanti), as well as English Metaphysical writers.

Much of early modernist poetry was composed of brief, concise lyrics. However, as the collection progressed, longer poems took centre stage. These are the primary contributions of the modernist movement to the canon of English poetry in the twentieth century.

Modern writers:

• break with the past
• reject literary traditions that seemed outmoded
• reject aesthetic values of their predecessors
• reject diction that seemed too genteel to suit an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence
• break with Romantic pieties and clichés (such as the notion of the sublime) and become self-consciously skeptical of language and its claims on coherence
• Stylistic experimentation and disrupted syntax
• Stream of Consciousness (a term coined by American psychologist William James to describe the natural flow of a person’s thoughts)
• Theme of alienation: characters or speakers feel disconnected from people and/or society/the world
• Focus on images

Formal features of poetry

1.  Open form
2.  Use of free verse
3.  Juxtaposition of ideas rather than consequential exposition
4.  Intertextuality
5. Use of allusions and multiple associations of words
6.  Borrowings from other cultures and languages
7.  Unconventional use of metaphor
8.  Importance given to sound to convey “the music of ideas”

Free verse

1.  Use of poetic line
2. Flexibility of line length
3. Massive use of alliteration
and assonance
4.  No use of traditional
5.  No regular rhyme scheme
6.  Use of visual images in
distinct lines

Characteristic Features of Modern Poetry

✏️Modern poetry is characterised by its freedom. Modern and postmodern poets are free to write in any structure they wish—rhymed poetry, blank verse, or free verse—and to experiment with novel hybrid structures. Their poetry is sometimes marked by extremely intimate imagery and allusions that are difficult for the majority of readers to comprehend. Modern poetry, for the most part, is unconstrained by the demand that it make sense or have meaning. It may be motivated by a sensation, an experience, a provocative shadow of an idea, or an embryonic notion, rather than a fully realised meaning. While some poets generate meaning for their audience, meaning is frequently left to the reader’s imagination, as the reader must bring their own self to the poem. In the modern and post-modern ages, much is accepted as poetry.

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✏️ The overarching theme of the modern poetry is realistic. The realities of life are shown in the modern poetry. The tragedy of human life are present in the psyche of human poets. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” illustrates the traffic jam and misery of human life.

A blanket condemnation of modern life and
modern society

✏️ The confident bourgeois society before 1914 has been permanently destroyed, and the modernist poet feels that the collapse of modern civilization into vulgarity and triviality presages the complete breakdown of Western culture.

Autonomy of the individual and the poem

✏️ Living in the midst of chaos, the modern poet abandons all hope of social structure and focuses on the role of life for the isolated individual. Each poem is thus an island unto itself, not to be related to other works but solely to its own evocation.

The private symbol

✏️ The loss of any conscious universal symbols in our fragmented society results in the purely personal symbol, often incomprehensible to the uninitiated and failing to communicate to many readers.

Sense of humanity

✏️Modern poetry is characterised by a strong sense of humanity. The desire to sympathise with the oppressed is a prevalent theme in a great number of modern poems.

Purposeful difficulty

✏️ As T. S. Eliot states, “A confused and complicated age requires comparable expression, not a false simplification.”


✏️ Modern poetry emphasizes tension rather than seeking the time-honored resolution of it through poetry. Such verse tends to disturb rather than soothe, reflecting the contemporary temper instead of placating it.

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✏️ Modern poets like to write through free association, dismissing pre-1914 belief in man as a being capable of solving his issues rationally as grotesquely naive (though their revisions are frequently quite cerebral).

✏️ Ideally, modern poetry consists solely of
symbolic and descriptive images, ignoring the propositional, the denotative, and the explicit.


✏️ Not conscious but unconscious symbols, archetypes from the collective unconscious of man, fascinate modern poets. Tapping such deep veins of hidden emotive concepts constitutes the means of a communications with others.

Aggressive unpopularity 

✏️Modern poetry has sought to create a new elite, since the 19th-century bourgeois triumph obliterated the old stratification of society. Jose Orgtega y Gasset (Spanish Philosopher) explains recent 20th-century as “the art of a privileged aristocracy of finer senses” united less by aesthetic theory than by scorn for the non-intellectual masses.

Defiantly Urban contemporary

✏️ The nature escape of the Georgians is blatantly scorned, as the subject now
is the tortured spirit in the industrialized jungle. Modern poets in their language frequently spout the idiom of today. Instead of the traditional poetic emphasis upon the cosmic, moderns concern themselves with the everyday.

Unceasing experiment in form and technique

✏️ Modern poets have vastly increased the scope of poetry by subjects, allusions, and phrasings never previously deemed appropriate to poetry. Daring rhythms and irregular metrical patterns have often created an exciting freshness unknown to earlier verse. Some modern poetry has
explored perhaps the limits of verbal magic and mood, minimizing rational content.

Emphasize Individuality

✏️Modern poets emphasize the individuality of the author, while at the same time the author often hides behind a persona, or “mask of the self”; stresses interior modes of consciousness while exhibiting “a concern to objectify the subjective” (Bradbury 48–think of imagism). Poems often allude to past cultures and avoid the formulaic and generic (e.g., Richard Watson Gilder). Sometimes one poem will feature many voices or personae (e.g., The Waste Land) from various time periods and social classes.

Fragmentation and meaningless

✏️ Since the 20th century, everyday existence has become fragmented and meaningless. With industrialization and scientific advancement came existential crisis. The days of progressing science were gone. The time is marked by uncertainty regarding scientific progress and history as a forward march. The period saw two global wars, which caused the bubble to burst. The loss of life and property prompted thoughts about life’s meaning. Many modernist poets employ mythology to escape harsh post-war realities. Their poetry conveys the prevailing sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia for a period when there was just one truth. Modernist poets thus attempt to address themes of intrinsic meaninglessness and loss of certainty. ‘The Waste Land’ and ‘Second Coming’ by T. S. Eliot are good examples.

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Use Simple Language

✏️ Modern poetry is written in simple language, the language of every day speech and even sometimes in dialect or jargon like some poems of Rudyard Kipling (in the jargon of soldiers).
Sophisticated Poetry

✏️ Modern poetry is mostly sophisticated as a result of the sophistication of the modern age, e. g. T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”.


✏️ The poet is alienated from the reader as a result of the alienation of the modern man.

Highly Intellectual

✏️ Modern poetry is highly intellectual; it is written from the mind of the poet and it addresses the mind of the reader, like the poems of T. S. Eliot.

Interested in ugly side of life

✏️ It is interested in the ugly side of life and in taboo subjects like drug addiction, crime, prostitution and some other subjects. Like the poems of Allen Ginsberg.


✏️ Modern poetry is pessimistic as a result of the bad condition of man in many parts of the world, such as most of the poems of Thomas Hardy.


✏️ Modern poetry is suggestive; the poem may suggest different meanings to different readers.


✏️ Modern poetry is cosmopolitan. It appeals to man everywhere and at every time because it deals with the problems of man or humanity.


✏️Experimentation is on of the important characteristic feature of modern poetry. Poets try to break new grounds, i. e. to find new forms, new language and new methods of expression.


✏️ It is irregular, written without metre and rhyme scheme and sometimes written in prose like the pros poem.

Interest in politics

✏️ Interest in politics and the political problems of the age.

Interest in the psychology

✏️ Interest in the psychology and in the subconscious. Many poets wrote unconsciously under the effect of wine or drugs.

Irregularity of form.

✏️Modern poetry is mostly written in free verse and prose (the prose poem).


✏️Most of the modern poetry is ambiguous for many reasons.

Interest in myth

✏️ Interest in myth and especially Greek myth.

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