What Are the Characteristics of Modern Poetry?

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Modernist poetry is characterized by themes of disillusionment, fragmentation and alienation from society. These characteristics are widely believed to be feelings brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the many social, political and economic changes that accompanied it. This multinational cultural movement began in the late 19th century and maintained its prevalence in art throughout World War I and the immediately subsequent years. Many modernist poems have speakers that seem to be struggling with their own definition of self and placement in society.

The rapid rise of cities in the late 19th century was brought on by the shift from a largely agricultural economy to a largely industrial one. Massive waves of immigrants from Europe seeking economic opportunities flocked to major cities. This left many artists and poets feeling alone and isolated in the midst of busy, populated cities. The poetry of the period reflects feelings of disenchantment, anxiety and hopelessness, especially in the work following the devastation of World War I. Modernist poets are also noted for their rejection of Romantic ideas and artistic styles, preferring to approach language with more suspicion, resulting in fragmented sentence structure. Notable modernist poets include Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf.