The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Of Modern Poetry” attempts to redefine poetry for a world with no stable structures or values. Its form approaches blank verse, but it is not close enough to that form to be so labeled. The form is flexible, with five stresses in most lines but six or four in others. The loose form is appropriate for this poem, as a part of its argument is that modern poetry refuses labels, designations, and categories of all kinds.

The poem begins with its basic definition: Modern poetry is “The poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” Contemporary poetry must be self-descriptive; it must look at itself searching and must observe its own invention. Thus, poetry is not so much a product as an act or activity. In the past, the speaker continues, the “scene was set”: Poetry was formerly a matter of following the conventions. Everyone knew what was considered poetic material and what the acceptable forms of poetry were. This is no longer the case. The new poetry must be written in today’s language, and it must reflect changing times and shifting concerns. It must include a consideration of war, for example. (The poem was published during World War II.) It must make use of the materials that are currently available to create a representation of those who will read it.

The poem then compares the poet with other types of artist for whom performance is a major part of their artistry. These comparisons help communicate the point that...

(The entire section is 452 words.)