What are the differences and development of poetry across different eras?

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Now widely regarded as core curriculum in American schools, Poe's depressing psychedelia was long lost on T.S. Eliot, who thought the "Raven" a bit sloppy. Compare Poe's:

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore —
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

with Eliot's anticipation of a guest in "The Wasteland":

    I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,
    Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see
    At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
    Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,
    The typist home at tea-time, clears her breakfast, lights
    Her stove, and lays out food in tins.

Depressing. Strange. Allusions to curious books of lore--Tiresius being the transgender blind prophet of Thebes that crops up all over classical Greek works. But clearly, the arch-Modernist Eliot was writing from a different universe from Poe. The relentless percussion and murmuring vowels of "The Raven" evoke intense phobic anxiety quite effectively (and the ryhme scheme might drive anyone nuts). Eliot's grand rolling ironies are the supreme description of twentieth century melancholia. Different strokes from different folks. Just imagine some Freaky Friday where Edgar Allan Poe and T.S. Eliot wake up in each other's bodies and have to make a 5:00 deadline.

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Unfortunately, most of us are unable to read dead languages, so when reading translations of ancient texts, try to also find good notes from the translator on what they struggled to convey of the original and what got left on the cutting room floor. This advice goes for poetry written in a living language as well. Which brings me to Stephane Mallarme and the french symbolists. Mallarme hung out with Yeats and Rilke and Verlaine and was a seminal influence on the major movements that followed: Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and of course, Bob Dylanism. An example of Mallarme, from Afternoon of the Faun (which was set to music by Stravinsky and choreographed by Njinsky, famously causing a near riot, yes, a ballet riot):

    No water murmurs but what my flute pours
    On the chord sprinkled thicket; and the sole wind
    Prompt to exhale from my two pipes, before
    It scatters the sound in a waterless shower

Mallarme was in his turn influenced by bad boy Charles Baudelaire, whose Les Fleur du mal, turned poetry upside down by putting the Romantics' nature worship and essential optimism in the garbage. Compare Baudelaire's:

    t's Ennui! — his eye brimming with spontaneous tear
    He dreams of the gallows in the haze of his hookah.
    You know him, reader, this delicate monster,
    Hypocritical reader, my likeness, my brother!

with Keats' Romantic ode in which he says to a pretty a Grecian urn:

    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
      "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"---that is all
            Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Poetry is radical. The Romantics were in rebellion against the Enlightenment, which they found too rational. (Note, Enlightenment thinkers sprouted thickly, but Enlightenment era poets are sparse. Hm.) Keats, Shelley, Byron wrote gorgeous gushing poetry which was at once unabashedly enthusiastic and carefully restrained. They were masters of all the insanely demanding tools of the poetry trade. They did, however, get on a lot of people's nerves, then and now and in between. So the french symbolist reaction was perfectly natural, but where did Baudelaire get his freakishly decadent new poetry kit? From the weird American guy, Edgar Allan Poe--who after his death became more popular in Europe (thanks to Baudelaire's translations) than in the U.S.

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Wow, Sesh. Can you hear the crickets? I saw your post on the 28th, said to myself "Yikes!" and came back to it today in hopes of seeing what other people had to say. Clearly, I'm not the only one who took a raincheck, but with all the poetry nerds out there, I'm sure we can provoke some interesting posts. First, I will mention that when I need to understand something about poetry, I whip out my very old copy of the very wise Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, two old guys who really knew their stuff.

Until the invention of voice recognition software, writing things down was a lot of work. The drive to record human expression, however, seems to have been built into the species, especially since some of those early stories were really good. The lifespan of primitive storytellers being short, it became necessary to make those stories memorizable as well as memorable so that pro storytellers could compose stories that would survive from one lifetime to the next. Prose is notoriously tricky to memorize, but give it rhythm and (boom!) you have oral tradition. By the time people starting writing stuff down, it had taken on all sorts of forms and devices to make it not only easy to memorize but beautiful, meditative, exciting, anguished, suspenseful, nationalistic--servicing the whole range of human thought, feeling, and aspiration. For examples, see Homer, the early books of the Bible, Gilgamesh, and so on.

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