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Modern Poetry II

Lecturer: Mark Hewson

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2017

This course will study a series of key figures in modern poetry: Nerval, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Yeats, Pound, Dickinson, and it will closely study poems selected from each of these poets, along with critical writings in which poets reflect on their own practice and on that of their contemporaries.

The guiding assumption of the course will be that modern poetry is an international phenomenon (comparable to “modern art”), and is based on a perception of a shift in the meaning and status of poetry. For this reason, historical reflection upon the phenomenon needs to develop its own concepts and methods, and these will have to be distinct from those employed in the literary history of particular national traditions. The course will give attention to some poets and critics who have made a start on this problem. In order to understand what is at stake in the conjunction of the modern and the poetic, the course will draw upon philosophical and social-scientific discussions of the concept of modernity. 

Students registering in the course are requested to read Gérard de Nerval's story, Sylvie, prior to the first lecture, as preparation. It is freely available in an out-of-copyright version at the Internet Archive (

Course Schedule

1. Introduction: the historical status of “modern poetry”.

Gérard de Nerval. Sylvie. Poems: “El Desdichado”, “Delfica”, “Artemis”.

2. Charles Baudelaire. “Crepuscule of the evening” (the prose poem and the poem of the same name). “Harmony of the evening”. “The Swan”.

Prose poems by Baudelaire: “The Eyes of the Poor”: “The Widows”.

3. Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell (focussing on the last sections, especially “The Impossible”, “Morning” and “Adieu”)

4. Stéphane Mallarmé, “Crisis of Verse”, “Restrained Action”, “Displays”, “The Book: Spiritual Instrument” (three pieces of poetic prose making up the section of Divagations entitled “As for the Book”).

5. W.B. Yeats, “The Song of the Happy Shepherd”, “The Man who Dreamed of Faeryland”, “The Wild Swans at Coole”, “Among School Children”, “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”, “Vacillation”.

6. Ezra Pound, “The Return”, “The River Merchant's Wife”, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly”, essays from Make it New. T.E. Hulme, writings from Speculations, T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays 1917-1932, selected poems from Eliot's first two collections, Prufrock and other observations (1917) and Poems (1920).

7. Emily Dickinson, selected poems. Wallace Stevens, selected poems.

8. The last week is left open, on the assumption that the course may fall behind its ambitious schedule. Depending on class interests, it could be used for additional English and American poems, the emergence of surrealism in France, or a first approach to some modern German poetry (Rilke, Celan).

Critical texts:

Walter Benjamin, “On some motifs in Baudelaire”

Paul Valéry, “The place of Baudelaire”, “Stéphane Mallarmé”.

Jean-Paul Sartre, What is Literature, Baudelaire.

Maurice Blanchot, essays from Faux pas, The work of fire, The space of literature.

Paul de Man, “Lyric and Modernity”