Thoughts on Modernist poetry – By Colin Ian Jeffery

Pic by Dima Savin



Modernist literature is characterized by a break with traditions of literary subjects, forms, concepts and styles, with the movement associated with new trends in literature given birth in the early twentieth century following World War One, and publication of T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land in 1922.

Modernist poetry falls under four major headings: modern or new experiments in form and style with new themes and word-games, modes of expression with complex open-ended themes and meaning.

The poetry is the experimentation of new modes of expression with many ways expressing thoughts and emotions, including images for readers to experience the feelings expressed and embracing the emotions and interpreting intellectually, expressing hidden feelings, such as in the confessional poem.

Modernist poetry embraces a wide range of themes and issues, while traditional poetry limits the collective impact of the world with human appeal, even when poems are romantically personal. The modernist poet covers many varied topics such as nature, spiritual, political, satire, humour, love, erotic love, and life’ journey with death’s constant shadow closely following.

Some single modernist poems cover more than one theme at the same time, for example Dylan Thomas’s poem “This Bread I Break” which covers nature, spirituality, and art. The modernist poet never says, as in traditional poems, what is the precise meaning of the poem. That is for the reader to discover as personal experiences and thoughts are focused upon the images being created.

The modernist movement changed the rules of poetry, in form, style, stanza, and rhythm. There are blank verse poems, pictorial poems, prose, sonnets, lyrical, and monologues. The old metrical rhyme-schemes, traditional symbols, metaphors no longer dominate with each poet making his own rules. Diversity of styles is distinctive of modernist poetry.

What is poetry?

Poetry is language of heart and soul, creating images and landscapes within the reader’s mind — and as the saying a picture is worth a million words, and so it is with a modernist poem, creating dreams, enhancing memories. There are many styles of poetry and the poet must have a unique voice.

Poetry is the highest of literary achievements, timeless, appealing down the ages, revealing a poet’s struggles and experiences, stresses, joys and passions, navigating the way through life journey. Poetry is word paintings, full of colours, bright and dark, creating with words images that inspire and enhance the imagination and recall memories.

The modernist poet uses personal experiences and emotions, often raw and painful, sharing visions, good and bad, relationships with family, friends, and lovers, ever seeking knowledge and answers.

I am a poet of the modernist school and compose best in spiritual pain with poems forged white hot and hammered out upon an anvil of anguish, exploring what it means to be human in my Age and time, with adventures, being in love, always seeking for the meaning to the mysteries of the Universe, looking for God hiding in his everywhere.

Poetry should have a steady beat like a drum with the poet creating a word picture seen clearly within the mind providing more than mere words upon a page. The truth of the poem is a springboard into the poet’s soul inspiring the reader to an array of heartfelt emotions.

What would life be like without poetry? Well, for me, like the sun in my universe being perpetually eclipsed with a darkness never yielding to the bright promise of a bright dawn where the soul can soar free above mountain high with eagles on the wing.

The poet’s Muse composes within the secret landscape of the soul, and is as important as the beat of the poet’s heart and every breath taken, and is the daily bread, revealed emotions, sweet, joyful, sometimes sorrowful and grieving, when the poet struggles out-pacing purple storms chased by thunder clouds and lightning bolts of unhappiness.

In childhood
A voice called to me
And I hear it calling still.


About the Author

Colin Ian Jeffery is an established English poet and novelist with world-wide reputation.  He was seven, a choirboy, when he became entranced by poetry after hearing the twenty-third psalm. The beauty of the words struck his soul like lightning and his Muse began to sing. He then found poetry was being read on the BBC radio Home Service and would listen in awe and delight to such poets as Dylan Thomas, John Betjeman, and Ted Hughes.