Of Modern Poetry Questions and Answers
by Wallace Stevens

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What is a summarization of the poem "Of Modern Poetry" by Wallace Stevens? I need to give a brief explanation of the poem, but I am having some trouble fully understanding it.

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The title of Wallace Stevens's "Of Modern Poetry" suggests his purpose:  poetry as part of Modernist literature.  For, this poem is a clear example of Modernist thinking.  As clarification of this thinking, one can refer to T.S. Eliot's remarks about James Joyce's Ulysses: 

It is simply a way of controlling, or ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.

In his poem, Wallace Stevens declares that the poetry of the mind must find "what will suffice" for the individual, who lives in the "theatre" of the world that has changed.--"It has to construct a new stage."  "With meditation"  the poem must

speak words in the ear....that whichi it wants to hear at the sound/Of which an invisible audience listens,/not to the play, but to itself.

The poet's ideas expressed in "Of Modern Poetry" are very much in keeping with Modernist thought.  The individual, "the poem of the mind" must make order out of what Eliot has called "the immense panorama of futility."  The simple, orderly acts of the individual are important in an orderless universe because they are all that give meaning to his/her existence.

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The poem "Of Modern Poetry" by Wallace Stevens concerns, partly, the nature and purpose of a poem, particularly a modern one. Stevens appears to be saying that poetry cannot be a "dead" thing - it has to be timeless, to speak of universal themes. These could be the common themes that concern all human individuals - the drawing together of souls, emotions, lives intertwining or two people becoming one. He speaks about "the mind" as if it exists alone, and then returns to the theme of two entities mingling. Poetry needs to whisper truths that will be recognized and appreciated in the most delicate sense by discerning readers. It must be a conduit for simple truths such as that of "a woman combing" - it must adapt, reconstruct and re-invent itself to stay relevant. There is a cold minimalism about the poem which enhances its theme of simplicity but which may not appeal to everyone - it is only relieved by the images at the end.

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