Can someone please help compare and contrast modern versus traditional poetry?

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The characteristics of traditional poetry depend on which tradition you examine and how far back you go. John Milton referred to "the troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming" when he decided to write his epic poems in blank verse, consciously following the traditions of classical Latin and Greek epic. However, centuries before Virgil, there were Latin poems that featured rhyme. The question is further complicated by the fact that there is no consensus on what constitutes "modern poetry." Some scholars identify modern poetry with the Modernist movement, and refer to poetry written since the 1960s as contemporary, rather than modern.

If, however, we compare poetry written in English up to the end of the Victorian era with poetry written in the 120 years since then, there are some general observations which hold true. The first is that modern poems are less likely to feature formal rhyme schemes and regular meter, and are correspondingly less likely to be written in specific forms such as the sonnet or the sestina. In terms of content, modern poems still deal with universal themes such as love and war, but they are more often explicitly political (partly because of the dangers of writing overtly about politics at many times in history), and are likely to deal with modernity itself as a subject. Modern poetry also features a much greater diversity of voices, with many more poems by women, members of ethnic minorities, and people from a wider range of social and cultural backgrounds.

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A good place to start when tasked with comparing modern and traditional poetry might be picking one strong example of each that you can use as a microcosm of the form as a whole. That way you've narrowed down your subject matter to something much more manageable.

Broadly speaking, traditional poetry encompasses forms with strict rules like the sonnet or the villanelle. There are generally specific length requirements, both in terms of number of stanzas and number of lines within stanzas. Traditional poetry is also generally written with a formal meter like iambic pentameter and a strict rhyme scheme.

Though there are certainly poets working today that impose formal constraints on their work, the form most commonly associated with modern poetry is that of free verse. Free verse refers to any poem that is not metered or rhyming. The poem can be separated into stanzas or remain unseparated. It can look like a traditional poem, or it can look like a paragraph of prose. This is the biggest difference between traditional and modern poetry: modern poetry plays fast and loose with the concept of rules.

There is also generally a difference in language use. Traditional poetry tends to employ elevated language, while modern poetry, though sometimes elevated too, can employ an everyday, even conversational tone. Any of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems would make a great example showcasing all of these differences.

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One of the big differences between traditional poetry and modern poetry is the use of form and structure. Traditional poetry is generally...

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considered to adhere to specific forms, rhythms, and meters. Some examples of traditional poetry are sonnets, ballads, odes, and elegies. Traditional poems often rhyme (but not always) and they tend to have a specific and symmetrical structure. For example, Shakespeare's sonnets were written in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. Consider a more recent example of traditional poetry, Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death" (1863). The poem consists of six stanzas, each with four lines. The first and third lines are written in iambic tetrameter and the second and third lines are in iambic trimeter. 

Because I could not stop for Death--

He kindly stopped for me--

The Carriage held but just Ourselves--

And Immortality. 

Modern poetry is much more experimental in form. Therefore, modern poetry looks and reads quite differently from traditional poetry. Modernist and postmodernist poets (specifically in the 20th and 21st centuries) questioned the strict adherence of form and structure in poetic verse. So, there are some modern poems that seem to read more like prose than poetry. Consider a section of this poem called "Incident" (1969) by Imamu Amiri Baraka: 

He came back and shot. He shot him. When he came

back, he shot, and he fell, stumbling, past the

shadow wood, down, shot, dying, dead, to full halt. 

Although appearing less like a poem and more like a series of sentences sporadically broken by enjambment, this is still poetic. The blunt phrases and repetition emphasize the violence of the subject matter. The freedom to experiment with form made this effect possible. 

Here is another example of modern, experimental poetry, E. E. Cummings' "[space being(don't forget to remember)Curved] (1931)." This poem experiments with form, structure, and language to create different juxtapositions of words that attempt to illustrate ideas about stream of consciousness, curved space-time, and relativity. 

Space being(don't forget to remember)Curved

(and that reminds me who said o yes Frost

Something there is which isn't fond of walls)

an electromagnetic(now I've lost

the)Einstein expanded Newton's law preserved

conTinuum(but we read that beFore)

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