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Introduction to Modern Poetry

Class at Faculty of Arts |


Wednesday, from 14,10 (Main Building, room no 300)    19. 2. Josef Hrdlička: Introduction: What is Modern Poetry?

Introductory lecture dealing with basic questions: How to define and delimit modern poetry historically, thematically, structurally. Fundamental characteristics of modern poetry and some principal poets. Examples of poems. 

Suggested readings:

Culler, Jonathan D. Theory of the lyric. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Greene, Roland et. al. (eds.). The Princeton Encyclopedia of poetry and poetics. 4th ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012 (accessible via ebrary).

Hamburger, Michael. The Truth of Poetry: tensions in modernist poetry from Baudelaire to the 1960s. New York: Helen and Kurt Wolff Book, 1970 (several editions). 

Read, please,  before this lecture:

Charles Baudelaire: Correspondances / Correspondences (French - / English -

J. A. Rimbaud: Voyelles / Vowels (

Ivan Blatný: Stará bydliště / Old Addresses; Slavnost / Festivity - in attached file.     26. 2. Záviš Šuman: Mallarmé's Un coup de dés

In my lecture I shall focus on some of the essential features of French Symbolist poetry such as musicality of the verse, autonomy of poetic image and its impersonality. A careful examination of two Mallarmé’s poems (Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard / A Throw of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance and Epilogue, later titled Las de l’amer repos / Tired of bitter rest) will help us to sketch why and by what shifts it has been so influential to later generations of poets. It would be helpful if you read these two poems before the lecture.

Texts on-line: 

Suggested readings:

Barbara Johnson: "The Dream of Stone". In D. Hollier (ed.), A New History of French Literature, Harvard University Press, 2001, p. 743-748. (A survey of Parnasse movement.)

Patrick McGuinness: "Symbolism". In W. Burgwinkle, N. Hammond, E. Wilson (ed.), The Cambridge History of French Literature, Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 479-487. (A very good introduction to Symbolism in France where you will find solid recommendations how to read Symbolist poems.)       4. 3. Záviš Šuman: Apollinaire's Alcools

In my lecture I will try to summarize Apollinaire’s impact on avant-garde poetry. I shall focus on Alcools (1913), and especially on the first poem of this collection, called Zone. By comparison of this poem with its first draft I will point out to the main characteristic features of Apollinaire’s poetry such as free association and the role of the poetic "I" in his poetry.

Readings:       11. 3. Stephan Delbos: The Opening of the Field: The Development of Projective Verse in Mid-20th Century American Poetry

One of the most interesting and influential developments in American poetry after World War II, Projective Verse exploded onto the literary scene with the publication of Charles Olson’s essay of the same name in 1950. This lecture traces the development of this seminal concept and style of writing to other cultural activities of the 1940s and ‘50s, including the poetry of William Carlos Williams and the breakthroughs of abstract expressionist painting in the 1940s. Outlining the main tenets of Projective Verse with examples from the poetry of Olson and other practitioners such as Robert Duncan, the lecture will illuminate the importance of this style as a poetic development and also provide a larger framework for its conception within general trends of post-war American poetry and culture. 

Suggested readings:

Duncan, Robert. The Collected Later Poems and Plays. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

Olson, Charles. The Collected Poems of Charles Olson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Olson, Charles. The Maximus Poems. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Rosenberg, Harold. “The American Action Painters.” Art News 51/8. December 1952: 22.

Williams, William Carlos. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol 2: 1939-1962. New York: New Directions, 1991. 

Before class, please read:     18. 3. Justin Quinn: W. B. Yeats and Form in Modern Poetry

Many critical narratives of early 20th century poetry have emphasized the formal experiments of modernism, often occluding the persistence of conventional form in the work of poets as various as Paul Valery, Rainer Maria Rilke, Bohuslav Reynek, Robert Frost among many others. This lecture will concentrate on the example of W. B. Yeats and explore what his formal choices can tell us about modern poetry, its traditions and its innovations.

Read, please, poem "The Tower" before this lecture:

Suggested readings:

Brown, Terence. The Life of W.B. Yeats. 1999. Ellmann, Richard. The Identity of Yeats. 1964.  ----. Yeats: The Man and the Masks. 1979. Foster, R.F. W.B. Yeats: A Life. 2 vols. 1997, 2003. Kermode, Frank. Romantic Image. 1957.      25. 3. Daniel Soukup

Playful Transience in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens and Vítězslav Nezval

The lecture will explore correspondences between Wallace Stevens first book of poetry (Harmonium, 1923), and "Poetism", a Czech literary movement which flourished in the interwar era. The lecture will offer a close reading of selected poems, as well as a more general comparison of two kinds of modernism, and an existential perspective on how creative playfulness finds both its limit and meaning in transience. 

Primary sources

Nezval, Vítězslav: Básně I, ed. Milan Blahynka, Brno: Host 2011.

Stevens, Wallace: Collected Poetry & Prose, New York: Library of America, 1997.

Suggested readings:

Cook, Eleanor: A Reader’s Guide to Wallace Stevens, Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007.

Teaching Wallace Stevens, ed. by John Serio and B. J. Leggett, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994.

Vendler, Helen: Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.     1. 4. Mariana Machová: Elegy as an Essential Lyric Genre

Elegy can be seen as one of the basic lyric genres, acquiring particular importance in the 20th century. The lecture will briefly touch on the history of elegy (its classic roots, its importance in Anglo-Saxon poetry), while the main focus will be on the role of elegy in modern lyric and the varied ways the genre has been handled by modern poets writing in English.

Suggested readings:

Weisman, Karen. The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Ramazani, Jahan. Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Fuss, Diana. Dying Modern: A Meditation on Elegy. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Sacks, Peter M. The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.     8. 4. Martin Pokorný: T. S. Eliot's Observations

T. S. Eliot’s poetry before the publication of The Waste Land has its own specific style, characterized by formal rigour and a unique emotive modulation. The concept of observation, used by El


The course is dedicated to modern poetry. Scholars from different departments will present several topics concerning modern poetry generally from the end of 19th century to the present. The aim of lectures is to explore fundamental aspects of the modern lyric from a comparative point of view.

The lecture will be accompanied by a brief discussion of 1-2 poems.