Dr. Mary Warner
May 3, 2014
Unit of Study: “The Hollow Men” as a Bridge into
Modernism and Poetry
Why Teach Modernism and Poetry Together
The turn of the century presented writers with a variety of changes. Intellectual life was rapidly changing. Freud proposed a new, unsettling psychoanalytic method of understanding the self. His work undermined cultural and religious conceptions about human nature. Sir James Frazer’s anthropology in Golden Bough also challenged cultural and religious stability. Frazer undermined a Eurocentric view of religion by comparing Christ to the pagan fertility gods that died and resurrected to usher in the seasons. In philosophy Nietzsche pronounced God dead and encouraged people to accept their inability to change reality and stoically affirm their fate. Spiritually, intellectually, and culturally, the West was changing fast (Stallworthy and Ramazani 1828-29).
Everyday life changed too. Increasing urbanization and the spread of new technologies such as cinema, electricity, and the radio made information more readily available, as did the widespread literacy that many gained as a result of compulsory education (Stallworthy and Ramazani 1827-29). Encouraged by so many changes, early modernist writers had a utopian view of the future (“modernism”). However, their optimist was shattered. From 1914 to 1918, Europe lost a generation of young men to the First World War. The times were new, and they required a new art, one that could speak meaningfully to such a tumultuous age. Modernist poetry attempted to provide a voice to the bewildered West during the first half of the 20th century. Modernist poets sought to account for the rapid changes and disruption of conventional life that occurred at the turn of the century by departing from many poetic
conventions of the previous century. Due to its rejection of conventions, modernist poetry can be difficult to understand and enjoy, as it often lacks regular rhyme, storyline, meter, and form. Nevertheless, it is this very rejection of poetic conventions that makes modernist poetry so fit to raise and explore the question: what is poetry? This unit of study is designed to introduce students to literary modernism through T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” while encouraging them to consider the nature of poetry in a wider, more comprehensive sense. Launching the Unit: The Nature of Poetry
The unit would begin with the class’ watching the lyric video for David Bowie’s “Five Years” on youtube.
After watching the video, I would ask the students to comment on lyrics that they liked, disliked, or that simply caught their attention. I would then discuss with students the link between poetry and music. After some discussion, I would submit to the students that music lyrics are a form of poetry.
After the discussion, I would pass out the poem titled “How to Eat a Poem” by Eve Merriam. I would ask students for reactions to this poem also. With this poem, I would ask what the students think it means.
Pointing out that poetry is very diverse, I would ask students then to shout out (in an orderly manner) what words or phrases come to mind when they think of poetry. Both factual and opinion statements would be welcome. I would write the terms that students associate with poetry in a list on a small white board. I would leave the whiteboard out on display through the duration of the “Modernism and Poetry” unit. That way, students would be able to see how true their observations about poetry were, as well as what misconceptions about poetry our study of it challenged.
Studying the Text: “The Hollow Men”
I would then provide copies of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” for everyone. I would give students a chance to read the poem at home.
At the next class meeting, we would read the poem together. I would assign a stanza to each volunteer and take one for myself.
After the reading, I would then ask the students for reactions, like...
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Engle, Margarita. Hurricane Dancers. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. Print.
"modernism." Merriam Webster 's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, MA: MerriamWebster, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 May 2014.
Mora, Pat. Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love. New York: Ember, 2010. Print.
Soto, Gary. A Fire in My Hands. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006. Print.
Norton & Company, 2006. 1827-50. Print.
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