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Even if under the term "Modernism" there are different movements including Sym­bolism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism and so on, common features were the awareness of the sperimental studies that had developed in other disciplines and the loss of faith in the traditional vision of reality and art. As a consequence "modernism" became synony­mous with reaction and opposition to the traditional expressive form, mainly to representa­tional art. It was persistently experimental and gave way to Rela­tivism while scientific and philosophical discoveries increased.

The founder of the new poetic theory was the Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot.

He dedicated his poem The Waste Land, the greatest modern poem, to Ezra Pound, the leader of Imagism.

Modernism established that the new poet had to reject subjective feelings in favour of a central authority and objective, central standards. T.S. Eliot found this central authority in tradition that consist in the works of the great masters of the past, like Dante.

The new poetry, which was deeply influenced by the French symbolists, was highly symboli­cal and concise, using contrast and paradoxes, colloquial and formal speech, in­cluding the vulgar. However it was written for the learned, that could understand the many allusions to different traditions.

A great characteristic was that the new poetry rejected the rural in favour of the city, and contemporary life.

The experimental novel focuses on the haphazard flow of thoughts, feelings and emo­tions that take place within the individual without following a logical or chronological order.

Freud: with his studies on dreams and sexuality revealed the existence of the sub­con­scious in man, showing that man's past is man's present even if we are unable to remem­ber the former. So, for example, a particular experience done in infancy or in childhood will govern future rational decisions. His main works is Interpretations of Dreams.

Einstein: his theories put the very idea of time in doubt. The principles that form the foundation of his Theory or Relativity are simple and based on experience (they were demonstrated experimentally only in the seventies). According to the theory, time and space cannon be separated: Einstein maintained that time was a subjective dimension, a relation between the subject and his speed.

Bergson: he revolutionises concepts of time and consciousness. In fact, to him time was no longer seen as a series of points in an objective chronological sequence, but as a flux of subjective consciousness in which present, past and future co-exist. He thought there is no past or present, but a series of floating memories simultaneously present in Man's mind.

According to his theory, new novel ceased to be a sequence of facts or events chrono­logically arranged and became a representation of reality as perceived and ex­perienced in the character's mind.


The creator of the term was William James, who maintained that the work of the mind is like a "stream or flux" with its free play of images and associations according to the current of changing impressions. The stream of consciousness found its proper medium in the in­terior monologue technique, which can be defined as a soliloquy of the mind with itself.  


Symbolism was a poetic movement originated in France in the late 19th century. The French writers (Symbolists) reacted against the descriptive precision and objectivity of realism and the scientific determinism of naturalism as an attempt to "spiritualise" litera­ture.

The term "Symbolism" was first used in this sense by Jean Moréas in "Le aro" in 1886.

Important precursors of the Movement, which reached its height with Paul Verlaine and Mallarmé, were Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe.

Other French Symbolist writers included such poets as Rimbaud and Laforgue.

Its influence on the other arts can be seen in the music of Debussy and in paintings of Van Gogh and Gauging.

Reacting against Realism and Naturalism the Symbolists aimed to capture and repre­sent individual emotions and experiences by suggesting them rather than by describ­ing them directly.

They made use of symbol and image to express what was beyond language. The use of "free verse" was a reaction against all traditional metrical forms.

Symbolism emphasised the primary importance of suggestion and evocation in the ex­pression of a private mood or reverie.

The Symbol was held to evoke subtle relations and affinities especially between the mate­rial and spiritual worlds.

The notion of affinities led to an interest in esoteric and occult writings (notably Swedenborg and the Qabbalah) and to ideas about the "musicality" of poetry, stressing the possibility of orchestrating the theme of poem through the evocative power of words.

The Symbolists gave mystical significance to their impressions of the observed world, the world of the sences using a language that spoke to irrational rather then to the rational.

Art is seen as a kind of religion and the artist an occult Initiate, a kind of priest, vi­sionary or magus who has privileged access to the transcendental world.

After 1900 they fell into disfavour as too artificial and decadent, paving the way for the fu­ture Imagists Movement, influencing some modern British poets including Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Auden and Thomas Hardly.

The most influential voice in British Symbolism is that of Yeats with his elaborate prose-work "A Vision" in which he formulated a complete symbolical system.


Determinism maintains that man is the product of three factors: the race, the envi­ronment and the pressures of the past on the present stressing the influence of he­redity and envi­ronment on man's character.

SYMBOL: something that stands for or represents another thing. A symbol is any­thing rep­resenting something else linked by free mental associations.

The colour white for example, is a symbol of purity.

Es: a flag for a state

IMAGE: images are descriptions and ures of speech used to appeal to the reader's senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste). They are comprensive of all the language which serves to convey and create mental representations of feelings, thoughts, ideas and object.


He led an ascetic life and turned to mystical speculations seeking esoteric meaning in the Holy Scriptures and contacts with supernatural beings.


The term refers to esoteric and mystical Jewish tradition, of which Zohar ("splendour") is the basic text (13th century).

The central themes of cabbala are: the nature of God; the derivation of Universe from Him and the return to Him.


A term first use in France in the 1850s to charatterize a way of writing which gives accu­rate, objective descriptions of real life without illusions or romantic attitude.

Naturalists seek to explore areas of life customarily ignored by the arts, realists writers fre­quently look to the lowest social classes and to cruelty and suffering for their subject-mat­ter.

Accurate observations make George Eliot's "Middlemarch" and Gaskell's "Mary Bar­ton" notable examples of English 19th century realism.


A term generally applies to art that seeks to adhere to nature; it spread in Europe around 1870 as a form of extreme realism.

More strictly it refers to the scientifically based extension of Realism, propounded by Zola.

The movement developed in France between the 19th and the 20th century. It evolved along with positivism; the 19th century philosophical view based on a deterministic in­ter­pretation of human nature.

The Naturalists came to see man only as a creature conditioned by his own environ­ment and by the circumstances of the moments.

Man was no longer responsible for his actions, since he was genetically and histori­cally determined, by forces beyond his control.

The struggle of the individual to adapt to environment and Darwin's evolutionary theory of the survival of the strongest, became the central concern of naturalist fiction and drama.

In their wish to be realistic, the Naturalists tended to focus on the worst aspects of life and they stressed external reality and environment that they described with the detached precision of a scientist.

Unlike the Romantics, they limited themselves to "photographing" reality without judging or commenting on it.

From France Naturalism spread to other European countries and also to the USA. In Italy it evidenced regional features and it was called "verismo". The most representa­tive Italian novelists were Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana. Naturaism was a major in­fluenced in the European and American culture. In Great Britain however it tended to fuse with the long-estabilished tradition of realism. Zola's novels affected such writ­ers as George Eliot and Thomas Hardy whose concept of "predestination" can be traced back to the naturalistic concept of "heredity".


He was born in a suburb of Dublin in 1865, but his family moved to London when he was nine; however he continued to spend his school holidays with his grandparents in Slingo, a county whose scenery, folklore and legends later appeared in many of his works.

Young Yeats studied painting, and when he left school he decided to become an artist, but he soon realised his real vocation was poetry. His first poem was published at Dublin Uni­versity in 1885. In 1889 The Wandering of Oisin was published; now he was a professional writer and was soon involved in the literary life of London. The story of those years in Lon­don is told in his Autobiographies.

One of his friends, the poet and critic Arthur Symons, introduced him to the French Sym­bolist movement; he edited the Poetic works of William Blake and so he remained deeply influenced by Blake's mysticism. He was extremely interested in spiritualism, occultism, magic and the­osophy and studied them till he died.

When he was 24 he met Maud Gonne. He fell in love with her and spent the next twenty years writing poetry in her praise, and trying to become the active nationalist she expected him to become. In spite of this doing Maud married another man; that marriage was terri­ble to Yeats . his art changed. He turned to drama and his main topics became politics, metaphysic and art while his style became hard and bitter.

In 1899 Yeats, with other playwrights, contributed to the foundation of the Irish Theatrical So­ciety. With his new experience as a dramatist, Yeats' style became more precise and more conversational.

In 1917 he married Miss Georgie Hyde-Lees, a spiritualistic medium. During their honey­moon she made experiments in automatic writing, which had a deep effect on Yeats' life and work. When she bore him a daughter and a son, the family was living partly in Oxford and partly in Dublin. Always helped by his wife he could continue and examine more carefully his studies in occultism; the consequence was the im­provement of his poetic technique.

Five years after his marriage, in 1922, Yeats was appointed a Senator of the Irish Free State and, in 1924, he was awarded Nobel Price. Even if suffering from heart, in his last years he wrote some of his greatest poems.

He died in 1939.


It was a philosophical view based on faith in scientific analysis.

Positivism excluded revealed religion and metaphysics and replaced them with socio­logi­cal ethics.


The many influences that shaped Yeats' inspiration make his vast poetic production diffi­cult to classify. There is no clear sequence, with one set of ideas developing from a previ­ous set. These influences were continually being modified and reworked in his mind and art towards a synthesis of a symbolic system containing all the various as­pects of his thought.

The complex set of ideas behind Yeats' poem is not a complete philosophy. Rather, he felt that the world was "a bundle of fragments", totally incoherent, since religion or science could not impose a system on it. It was the poet's task, the creation of "a last defence against the chaos of the world".

In order to fully understand Yeats' system it is important to know his main ideas; in an es­say on magic written in 1901 he states that he believes in three doctrines:

-That the borders of the mind are always shifting, and that many minds can flow into one an­other, so as to create a single mind, a single energy;

-That the borders of our memories are part of one great memory, the memory of Na­ture herself;

-That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.

Yeats tried various ways of reaching this Great Memory, through Irish folklore and myth, then through many occult traditions, the most important of which are:

-The system of Theosophical Society

-A modern vision of the Qabbalah.

Yeats' central symbol is the gyre, or climbing spiral.

Its movement involves repetition (the same circular movement) and progress up and then down. These movements represent the flow of natural cycles from their begin­ning to their end. Thus the gyre symbolised the course both of mankind and history.

This symbolism enables Yeats to reconcile life's contraries: change and identity through time, youth and old age through love, madness and wisdom.


It was a philosophical doctrine, mode of speech, designed for or appropriate to an in­ner circle of advanced or privileged disciples, communicated or intelligible only by the initiated.

Truth is revealed only to few initiated.


It was wisdom concerning God or divine things. It maintains that a knowledge of God may be achieved by spiritual ecstasy, direct intuition or special individual revelation.

It as an esoteric religious sect.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon yhe world,

The blood-dimmer tide is losed, and eveywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

Where a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troules my sight: somewere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while al about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to mightmar by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Ruotando e roteando nella spirale che sempre più si allarga,

Il falco non può udire il falconiere;

Le cose si dissociano; il centro non può reggere;

E la pura anarchia si rovescia sul mondo,

La torbida marea del sangue dilaga, e in ogni dove

Annega il rito dell'innocenza;

I migliori hanno perso ogni fede, e i peggiori

Si gonfiano d'ardore appassionato.

Certo qualche rivelazione è vicina;

Certo s'approssima il Secondo Avvento.

Il Secondo Avvento! E le parole sono appena dette

Che un'immagine immensa sorta dallo Spiritus Mundi

Mi turba la vista; in qualche luogo nelle sabbie del deserto

Una forma dal corpo di leone e dalla testa d'uomo

Con gli occhi vuoti e impietosi come il sol avanza

Con le sue lente cosce, mentre attorno

Ruotano l'ombre degli sdegnati uccelli del deserto.

Nuovamente la tenebra cade; ma ora so

Che venti secoli di un sonno di pietra

Furono trasformati in incubo da una culla che dondola.

E quale rozza bestia, finalmente giunta al suo tempo avanza

Verso Betlemme per esservi incarnata?



The Second Coming is included in the volume Micheal Robertes, that containts several of Yeats' most famous poems; it was written at the height of his poetic power, and we can say this is a key poem in his production.

The political situation of the time (it was written in 1919), and particularly the con­flict be­tween Irish patriots and English soldiers, influenced him, who feared revolu­tions, wars, moral and political disorders. His interest in occultism and the world of the irrational sways him too.

The Second Coming has certainly a religious meaning. The title derives from the be­lief in the second coming of Christ, foretold in the Gospel according to St. Matthew

The poem is divided into two parts.

In the first stanza Yeats describes the present condition of our civilisation, the Christian era, in symbolic terms. This description contains in itself the meaning that the Christian world is disintegrating and seems near to be falling in pieces. The image of the falcon that flies farther and farther, circling away from its keeper, repre­sents the loss of contact be­tween the authority and its subjects; our civilisation has lost its fixed cen­tre, its principles, the Christian ideas of peace, order and love. The consequences are political disorders and anarchy on one side and moral disorder on the other, while confusion and doubt have killed the faith of the best, who reveal themselves to be hopeless, different from the worst, who reveal all their brutal pas­sions and all their determina­tions.

According to his theory, Yeats sees history as formed in a series of opposite cycles, each cycle lasting about 2000 years. Each age is opposite of the previous one, so an age of rule and authority as the Christian was, will be followed by an age of anarchy and violence. Each cycle has a circular development, like a climbing spiral -called gyre- that gradually ascends, reaches a climax and then, with a slow decay, de­scends, is destroyed and soon replaced by the following cycle.

So the Christian era, started about 2000 years ago with the birth of Jesus, was pre­ceded by another cycle of history started with the union of the Greek god Jupiter and Leda. Now, at the end of those 2000 years, our cycle is closing, and the Second Coming would seal the beginning of a new historical era.

Here is where the second stanza begins.

The state of disintegration of the world cannot but be the prelude to the Second Coming. This time the birth cannot be a divine one, but a monstrous one, that of the anti-Christ. An age of violence and blood is in fact approaching, represented by a rough beast, which is slowly going to Bethlehem to be born there and to desecrate the holy place . differently from Christ, who saved the ancient world from its errors, this anti-Christ will be the fore­runner of an era of destruction, destruction of what Christ had done. The ure of this anti-Christ is described as a horrible creature, with lion body and the head of a man, like a sphinx. We can find a similar description in the book of Apocalypse.


The central theme is the "mal du vivre". As a "dramatis persona" Prufrock embodies the intellectual at the turn of the century, uncertain whether to face the fundamental issue of existence or to forget everything in the monotonous routine of his cosy life. His qualities are those of an "attendant lord" , of a minor character who will never be the protagonist of his own destiny.

In spite of the title, no love is mentioned. Prufrock has no the spiritual force to offer it. He is passive and aimless, and although he perceives the word around him (that is strangely active), he is powerless to act. Indecision as the moral disease of contemporary man is, in fact, Eliot's starting point.

He sees contemporary man as being paralysed by fear and condemn to inactivity , which he consider immoral. In this way the philosophical dilemma about morality and immorality is redefined in the terms of the failure  or ability to choose, the former being evil and the latter good.

The poem is made up of flashes. Exterior and inner realty., London on an October night, its foggy streets and its interiors mingle with Prufrock's mental wanderings, questions and answers.

The word of Eliot's poetic composition is characterised by the split between inner and chronological time, and by the emphasis on memory. Time is a flux, an endless repetition of meaningless gestures.

The main motives are:

The squalid and precisely details of the setting in contrast with the vagueness in inconclusiveness of Prufrock's thoughts.

The party where Pruftock is going to, characterised by trivia and culture, in relation to which Prufrock feels inferior.

Prufrock's worry about his appearance

Prufrock's indecision

The sea images that allude to an alternative to the monotony of ordinary life and to live an instinctive life.

The various questions that never lead to the real one, the "overwhelming question".


The poem is made up of 4 sections.

The 1st part established Prufrock's confinement and isolation in time; the character is awake of his own situation and of the social events happening all around him. Prufrock recognises the futility of his daily days too.

The 2nd sections contains the failure of Prufrock's will to change his world.

The 3rd part emphasised the contrast between Prufrock's inner and external reality again.

The 4th and final section opens with his acknowledgement of failure: differently from Hamlet, who finally takes a decision, Prufrock can't do so. He can't escape his life but can only imagine a different existence. In fact a sense of drowning, that is the realisation of his own life-in-death, takes possession of his being.


The form of this poem is the dramatic monologue. The metre employed is the iambic pentameter distorted into free verse and the tone used is mock-heroic.

objective correlative: it can be defines as "a chain of events". T.S. Eliot thought a poet should represent his emotions though something objective so the reader may "correlate" it with a particular emotion and feelings not logically linked to it.

juxtaposition: with this technique squalid elements are juxtaposed with poetic ones, trivial elements with sublime ones. It's used in this poem to emphasize the contrast between banality  Prufrock's life and his search something more lasting and meaningful. T.S. Eliot derived it from Laforgue.

repetition: the repetition of worlds, images and phrases from e to e gives form and unity to the various part of the poem and add meaning.

mythical method: the contrast between present and past appears especially through the mythical allusions, in fact modern society has lost the deep meaning of old myth. It's used by T.S. Eliot as a framework to give unity for fragmented images.

conceit: it's a complicated ure of speech that makes an ingenuous ison between two apparently incongruous  things or concepts.


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