Part today. The traditions started with sonnets and

Part I


For many centuries,
poetry has provided a channel for people to share vocabulary, perspectives,
emotions, and history. Although poetry has changed greatly from the 16th
century to the 21st century, it still serves the same function as it
did so long ago. The changes in the tradition of English-language poetry start
in the 1500s and are still changing through the 21st century today.

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The traditions started with sonnets and strict abstract metrical premises and
moved into the romantic era with ballads and poetry straying from such a strict
meter and form. Free verse arose in the 19th century, followed by modernism
bringing about a big change in poetry in the 20th century. Lastly,
the 21st century includes poems very relevant to society today. The
changes in the traditions of English-language poetry have launched social and
political discussions as well as had an effect on the creative scene of all
forms of art and music as well.

Starting in the 16th
century, the sonnet found its way to England through Sir Thomas Wyatt. He
introduced new poetic forms to English literature after visiting Europe and
experiencing the Italian Renaissance. The sonnet swept through England with
works from Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare who each added their
individual touches. The transition from Italian sonnet was characterized from
the rhyme scheme ABBAABBACDECDE changing to the Shakespearean sonnet with rhyme
scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Traditionally, a sonnet has a common theme that includes
different types of romantic love including poets’ feelings for their beloved
and the pain and emotions of falling in love. The original sonnets theme almost
exclusively about love was changed by John Donne’s poem “From Holy Sonnets 1”.

In this sonnet Donne relates to a religious experience. Donne is speaking
directly to God, asking God to “repair me now” before “our old subtle foe”
tempts him and takes his soul through sin.

The Romantic period was
the next large movement in English poetry originating in the 18th
century with its peak through the 19th century. This period
consisted of works like “Sir Patrick Spens”, and poems by William Wordsworth. The
concept of the ballad consists of a poem narrating a story in short stanzas,
and was usually passed on orally from one generation to the next, originating
from lower class society members. The ballads formal pattern includes stanzas
with four lines, and a pattern of strongly accented syllables for each line.

The first line has four beats, the second line has three to four beats, the
third line has four beats and the fourth line has three beats with a rhyme
scheme following an ABAB pattern. In “Sir Patrick Spens”, you can hear the
lyric and imagine it being sung out loud throughout the poem that ends “And
there lies guid Sir Patrick Spens Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet.” Another
poem from the Romantic period is “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Although
this poem is not a ballad by any means, it is a poem that presents a crisis and
then attempts to solve that crisis. Many poets during this period took ideas
from lower class society members and used them in their poetry to reenergize it
and add something new and different. An example of this is Tennyson’s use of
“Ulysses” to resemble the figure of Ulysses from Dante’s “Inferno”.

Following the Romantic
period came the rise of the free verse poems, started by Walt Whitman. The
complete lack of obvious pattern or an abstract metrical premise in the 19th
century poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” may make it harder to
understand, but it adds authenticity that previous centuries’ poetry may have
lacked. Whitman’s use of the repeating “O” places a sound of mourning and grief
throughout the poem that the reader cannot miss. The idea of free verse poetry
stems from Whitman’s desire to think in a new way and throw out the ways of the
world and current systems of belief. The free verse style of varying line
lengths from stanza to stanza in Whitman’s poem shows the chaos of everyone’s
feelings following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Without the use
of free verse, the same effect would not be portrayed from this poem, showing
the importance of the emergence of free verse during this time.

As we moved into the 20th
century, the modernism movement engulfed technology, the economy, politics,
realities and art. At the beginning of the 20th century, the old
order of the world was breaking down and fragmentation was taking over.

Although Fascism and the imposition of a new-shared order tempted some
modernists, others thought fragmentation was going to prevail and many peoples
way of thinking and living changed. They saw beauty in the chaos of finding a
new order. Poet T. S. Eliot did not ignore fragmentation or try to impose a new
order, but wanted to use fragmentation to create new art. In William Butler
Yeats poem “Easter, 1916” the varying lengths of stanzas, lack of an abstract
metrical premise, and the content of the poem being about the “sacrifice” and
“needless death” for the uprisings against the British rule in Ireland all
portray the modernist movement of the 20th century. Eliot
acknowledges how “writing it out in a verse” the names of several of the
revolutionaries concretizes their efforts and the memories of them. Females of
the 20th century also added a very experimental aspect to modernism
poetry. Their poems were usually very different in form and content, like in
Hilda Doolittle’s poem “Helen”. In this poem Doolittle uses three stanzas each
with a line more than the stanza before and each stanza contains one strong
rhyme and one slant rhyme. This original form is a perfect example of the
experimental nature many poets took on during this time period.

The most recent movement
of the 21st century, and the most influential in possibly the last
one hundred years is the Beat movement. The Beats were a marginalized group who
wanted to use art and creative expression to give a voice to outsiders and
outcasts. Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” linked many of the characters and
interests of the Beats by one common theme: a desire to live their lives as
they defined it. The Beats also paved the way for more radical hippies
following this movement.

The main developmental
trends and changes in the tradition of English-language poetry start in the
early 16th century with strict form and meter, sonnets, and
conservative content. Poetry moved into the romantic period with ballads and
less abstract metrical premise use. Following the romantic period arose free
verse and modernism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Currently, the 21st century has seen some of the most
anti-establishment and free form poetry of the modern world. The transitions of
English-language poetry have differed greatly, but poetry has always encouraged
creativity and allowed for many different people to experience the emotions of
someone else’s mind.  


Part II




In X. J. Kennedy’s poem “September Twelfth, 2001” the lack of a concrete
poetic form portrays the chaos of the day following this tragic event in US
history. The simple language and short, twelve lines of poetry portray the
speaker as insightful, and the imagery makes us realize that life is fragile.

The overall lack of an abstract metrical premise adds to the fact that we
know that the day following September 11th, 2001 was extremely
chaotic and sad. The poet’s use of straightforward wording contrasts the use of
free verse by simplifying the situation for the speaker and the “you” he references
in line 5. The image of two people “hurtling” out of the burning building in
the first stanza is horrific, but could symbolize the choices we make everyday
to face life together, not knowing what is in store. The twelve lines corresponding
to the date of September 12th shows the craftiness Kennedy used
throughout the poem. Although the poet does not use trite, dramatic or even
clever wording, his use of “aren’t us” in line 5 captures the essence of being
spared and wondering why we are still here when so many after that day were
not. The image of our lives being described as “bubbles rising and bursting”
shows the fragile quality and complete unpredictability of life from day to

This poem reminds me of William Butler Yeats’ poem “Easter, 1916” for
several reasons. The title has a very similar format, the attitude in both
poems is relatable, and both poems were written after a tragedy to concretize the
emotions following it. In “Easter, 1916”, Yeats explains the revolutionaries he
once knew as just normal people, and the speaker in Kennedy’s poem describes a
normal morning. Describing these two events as normal adds to the question in
“September Twelfth, 2001”, why were we spared? We know the speaker in Kennedy’s
poem does realize the good fortune of waking up next to the person you love for
another day when he describes the morning with “the incredible joy of coffee.” Kennedy
does not use a formal pattern in his poem, but he still has crafted a poem with
many creative aspects to explain to the reader the thoughts following this
horrible event in history. These thoughts include that life is often taken for
granted and we never know what can happen.





In Merwin’s poem,
“For the Anniversary of My Death,” his act of mourning himself seems
very opposite of how we normally wish to embrace life and our time here on
Earth. This poem is elegant with a theme that is universal among all people,
but mysterious enough to capture the reader’s attention. We are usually
encouraged to embrace the smallest moments in our lives, not think about the
day when our life will be over.

Lines two through five
have heavy alliteration and repetition of words beginning with the same letters
that slows the reader down and allows you time to think about a different way
to view our lives. Although the syllable numbers in each line ranges from five
to thirteen and the stressed syllable number ranges from line to line the poem
is still organized by lots of sound repetition of t’s, r’s and l’s. As the poem
ends with rainfall, the wren’s song seems to celebrate and embrace the end of
his life. This poem can be characterized by a strong sense of closure and an
internal rhyme in the last line, “And bowing not knowing to what.”  Poetry is often a way for an outside reader
to understand what is happening inside someone’s mind for a short period. The
unique quality of this poem allows the reader an analysis of the speakers’
death, from his point of view. Merwin’s view of death seems dreary and gives
him a sense of emptiness. The biggest question to most people, even more so
than when we will die, is what comes after death. Merwin purposefully closes
the poem with the line “bowing not knowing to what.” The indescribable after
death experience is the most important but must unknown part of describing life
and Merwin wisely leaves that part of death and the poem unsaid.

Merwin’s “For the
Anniversary of My Death” reminds me of the excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem,
“From Song of Myself”. In Whitman’s poem he believes death is a fortunate thing
and not something to fear, but Merwin explains his acceptance of his unknown
death date each year as depressing. Both poets use lots of repetition to add
emphasis and free verse to express their thoughts openly.




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