The English-language poets of the first forty years of the twentieth century who called themselves modernists developed their movement in response to a number of discoveries, disappointments, and disillusions in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
In the nineteenth century, scientific discoveries led to the development of photography, which made the mimetic value of painting and sculpture less important. Artists, thus liberated, developed Impressionism, stressing the effects of light and color at a moment in time, and post-Impressionism, asserting that significant rendering eludes mere representation. In the realm of poetry, this trend can be seen in the dramatic monologue, which came to prominence in the mid-nineteenth century. This poetic form rendered the world through the distorted vision of driven people, as in “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning (1812-1889), in which the duke matter-of-factly reveals that he ordered his wife murdered because she was gracious to people. The Romantic William Wordsworth (1770-1850) recounted the moral wisdom of nature, and John Keats (1795-1821) declared with magnificent grace that truth and beauty are mysteriously one; but in the dramatic monologue, the poet no longer mines objective truth or prophetically conveys higher values. The duke’s story reveals a perverse aspect of human character. Punctuated in such a manner as to render the rhymed couplets almost invisible, it is true, ugly and extraordinary,...
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