Lamentation of death is the traditional elegiac focus, but in the twentieth century the elegy has become characterized as well by the mourning of other kinds of loss—those personal, familial, romantic, cultural, and philosophical privations and dispossessions that have so greatly shaped the modern sensibility. According to John B. Vickery, a profound elegiac temper is itself the major trait of twentieth-century culture, registered in attitudes ranging from regret, sorrow, confusion, anger, anxiety, doubt, and alienation to outright despair. He transforms our understanding of the elegy and its relation to modernism in The Modern Elegiac Temper.
Vickery offers in-depth readings of a broad sampling of British and American poems written from World War I to the present. He considers works of overlooked poets such as Vernon Watkins, George Barker, and Edith Sitwell while also attending to canonical writers such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, and Wallace Stevens. Taking a text-oriented rather than author- or theory-oriented approach, he discusses in turn the personal, love, cultural, and philosophical elegy and shows how war, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and other major historical events influenced poets' elegiac expressions.
By suggesting ways in which the individual-centered concerns of the traditional elegy metamorphose under the depersonalizing lens of high modernism, Vickery reveals the modern elegy to be a finely calibrated instrument for reading and expressing, absorbing and reflecting, the modern temperament.
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