Virginia Woolf once wrote that somewhere around 1910, the world changed. Things became, well, modern. Students and scholars still debate what exactly she meant by such a highly specific declaration, but few would disagree that fundamental changes were underway: rapid urbanization following industrialization; the challenge to traditional religious beliefs brought on by Darwin; the dwindling of British empire and the rise of America as a global force; the increasing tension and self-reflection surrounding questioning of race, gender, and class relations; developments in physics (e.g. Einstein) or the social sciences (e.g. Freud) and other areas of inquiry. The list goes on. Our task in this course will be not to gain some monolithic sense of Modernism (with a capital “M”) but to understand how multiple, overlapping modernisms–some innovative, some more traditional–emerged as as a response to this world of rapid, often violent change.
Though the majority of poetry we read will fall between the two World Wars (1914-1945), we will begin by going back to what we might think of as the roots of modernism in the nineteenth century. We will also trace various “late” modernisms as the movement persists beyond WWII. What happens, we will ask, to modernism after, well, modernism? Finally, we will conclude by looking at how certain modernist figures live on in the poetic imagination of poets plying their trade up to the present day.