19 April 2013

Top Five Friday: National Poetry Month - My Favorite Literary Periods

The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse... the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be.  Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. 
~ Aristotle, On Poetics

A
pril is National Poetry Month.  I sense a meme coming on.  Something along the lines of: “I don’t always recite poetry, but when I do, I make sure it’s one that is completely unintelligible.”

Isn’t that how a lot of people view poetry?  I for one hated Paradise Lost when I had to study it in high school and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen caused an intellectual aneurysm.  To be honest, however, foreign languages are not my forte, and Elizabethen English might as well be Sanskrit: to this day, it makes my eyes cross.  But then I met The Romantics (no, not the band) and they “with (their) Voice might captivate my mind.”

A Little Night Music (That’s Background to You)
The University of Toronto has a handy poetry timeline that defines different Literary Periods.  For our purposes, I’m sticking to English Poetry (see note above):

Old English - 449-1066
Middle English - 1066-1485

Early Modern English - 1485-1800
Renaissance - 1485-1603
17th Century - 1603-1667
Augustans - 1667-1780
Romantics - 1780-1830

Present-day English - 1800-present
Victorian - 1833-1903
Georgians - 1903-1920
Moderns - 1920-1960
The Beat Generation - 1950-1970

Although I now recognize the importance of the poets that lived and wrote prior to 1780 (guess those English classes paid off!), I still favor the five literary sub-periods after that date.  And I have many “dead friends” as my pen friend CarolAnn calls them among those five ~ far too many for just one Friday post.  So today I’m just looking at the five periods.

Romantics (1780-1830)

These gents (and ladies too!) are probably the most quoted poets.  Who hasn’t heard of Blake, Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, or Wordsworth?  Oddly enough, you sometimes see them connected with the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (and you know how much I love them!), but most of these poets were either dead or nearing the end when the Brotherhood was founded in 1848 and those painters were influenced largely by Greek and Roman myths (hence the name).  Every literary period has its gifted artists ~ word-painters or picture-painters alike.  But the Romantic period has the bulk of the stars. 

As Anne Eliot said to Captain Benning: “We are living in a great age for poetry.”  And they certainly were.

Victorian (1780-1830)

The Victorian era is a little tricky.  Within this category, we have two sub categories:

American Renaissance (Poe, Longfellow, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman)
Edwardian (Kipling, Housman, Chesterton)

I dare say the American Renaissance was also a great age for poetry; after our Romantic heroes, they are the second most quoted group (at least for me).  I’m counting the American Ren as one of my top five since after the Romantics, I love them the most.

Moderns (1920-1960)

Think Cummings, T.S. Eliot, and Frost.   Okay, I’ll admit it: in college, The Wasteland had me rolling my eyes and running for the prose hills.  But I have since developed an appreciation for his wisdom and talent. Sort of like a red wine:  you learn to taste the finer notes of a dry versus a sweet.

Post-Moderns (1960-Present)

I think that today we’re seeing a bit of a renaissance in poetry.  Think Dana Gioia and Maya Angelou.  It may not be the “great age” that it was, but we certainly are living in interesting times and what better way to capture the essence of life lived then through poetry?


Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
Next Friday: we delve a little deeper into each literary period.

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