Arts and Modern Society

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Arts and Modern Society

  • Sound, Image & Sense
  • Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 1912


  • Memorizing a poetic stanza or a speech from Pygmalion (10 lines)
  • Comparison: not a list of differences (reference at the Google drive)
  • No plagiarism (partial or full)!!!


  • Social Manners (Pygmalion)
  • Politics & Social Inequality (e.g. Race--“Harlem”; Gender & Class Pygmalion, “A Rose for Emily”; “Araby”…)
  • Responsibility (e.g. “Stopping by Woods” “Those Winter Sundays”)
  • Individualism, Alienation or Social Fragmentation (“I’m Nobody” “l(a” “Musee des Beaux Arts”)

Modern Arts

  • The beauty of abstraction & mechanical reproduction
  • Artistic Invention
  • Fragmentation

The Modern World

  • What is ‘Literary Modernism’? How many writers we have read so far are “Modern” writers (i.e. 1890-1940)?
  • Please see here
  • Modern Times: under the influence of capitalism, industrialism and some great thinkers (e.g. Darwin, Freud, Marx and Nietzsche)
    • The beauty of abstraction and mechanical reproduction, convenience  Cubism (立體派)  Kaleidoscopic visions e.g. “In a Station of the Metro”
  • Ref.
  • 1) British Modernism (historical changes and great thinkers);
  • 2) Introduction to Modernism (period 2:02; 7:11 roots; 8:10 examples)

Literary and Artistic Modernism

    • 2. Literary Modernism: a great period of artistic invention and confirmation of “Art.” (e.g. as a religion or Art for Art’s sake)
    • 3. Modern Fragmentation  postmodern Connectedness: war, capitalism & photography  Internet: The world gets smaller, time faster, life emptier, we—lonelier or more connected—by the flows of virus, capital, ecological changes, natural disaster and terrorist threats, etc.
  • Ref. 3) More visual examples in History of Modern Art (Aestheticism, Avant Garde)


  • Subject/Title
  • Themes
  • Group
  • Modern Times
  • Treatments of tech. invention, fragmentation
  • 3, 4
  • “In a Station of the Metro” (1916)--
  • Beauty of Transience & Science
  • 7, 8
  • Musee des Beaux Arts (1938)
  • Art vs. Sufferings
  • 1, 2
  • The Dance (1962)
  • Art vs. Physical Pleasures
  • 11, 12
  • Anecdote of a Jar (1923)
  • Art/Artifice vs. Nature
  • 5, 6
  • Comparison
  • Views of Death
  • 9, 10
  • Final Exam
  • Next Week: Poetry can be Fun!!! Poetry in different shapes and forms
  • Roles (*optional)
  • 1
  • Presenter (1) Critic
  • 2
  • 3
  • Commentator on Poetic Language
  • 4
  • Commentator on Sound Effects
  • 5
  • Summarizer/Paraphraser *
  • 6
  • Vocabulary Enricher*
  • In a Station of the Metro (1913)
  • (image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)

"In a Station of the Metro“— Pound’s Experience

  • Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and suddenly saw a beautiful face, then another, and another, and then a beautiful child's face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying and found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found in words, but there came an equation . . . not in speech, but in little splotches of colour. It was just that--a "pattern" you mean something with a "repeat" in it. But it was a word, the beginning, for me of a language in colour.(Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir) (video clip)
  • Note:
  • 1) The Metro-- the name of the subway system in Paris. 2) This poem, Pound claimed, describes his experience of coming out of a subway

"In a Station of the Metro“— Pound’s Experience

  • He first wrote a 30-line poem, but was not satisfied with it.
  • 6 months later, he reduced the poem in half.
  • 3. A haiku(俳句)-like poem (with special punctuation)
  • The apparition of these faces in the crowd :
  • Petals on a wet, black bough .
  • Pound: “I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.” (source)
  • Reference: HAIKU for PEOPLE

"In a Station of the Metro“— Questions

  • Images: The poem presents, instead of a story about this experience, two images, one in each line. Their meanings (meanings of each word and what they possibly represent) ?
  • Pattern: the relationship between the first line and the second line?
  • Theme: What is this poem suggesting about life in the modern world? Do you have similar images about the passengers at our MRT stations?
  • Note: imagism. In what ways is this poem an example of imagism?

"In a Station of the Metro“

  • The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
  • Petals on a wet, black bough.
  • Note:
  • apparition: 1) ghostly figure 2) : the act of becoming visible (m-w)
  • (image sources: 1, 2, 3*)

"In a Station of the Metro“— My Analysis

  • Theme: In the mass transit system, where people come and go, the faces of the passengers are beautiful images like apparition and petals (on wet black boughs)
  • Images & Pattern: * There can be different interpretations!!!
  • Metro
  • machines
  • Station
  • Crowd, people coming and going.
  • Faces as apparition
  • Sudden appearance and detachment from the crowd, becoming strange.
  • Petals on a wet black bough
  • Petals –leaving the flowers and landing on a bough, color intensified by its contrast with black color, and its wetness.  The people are gone, but their beautiful faces –on the image of the train--are imprinted on the mind.
  • parallel


  • Pound set forth the basic tenets of Imagism:
  • I. direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective;
  • II. [economical use of words]: to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation;
  • III. in regard to rhythm, to compose in sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome (節拍器).
  • Pound sought to capture a pure image, or what he described as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."
  • (March 1913 issue of Poetry)
  • Reference: Marisa Pagnattaro, An overview of "In a Station of the Metro," in Poetry for Students, Gale, 1997.

Imagism: Another example William Carlos Williams

  • so much depends upon a red wheel barrow
  • glazed with rain water
  • beside the white chickens.

The poem as an example of Imagism

  • The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
  • Petals on a wet, black bough.
  • Three principles:
  • Just the image itself;
  • No excess of language; e.g. a). No verbs; apparition combines verb and noun; b) no conjunctions such as “are like”;
  • No traditional (monotonous) rhythm, but a melodic one.
  • Note: a hypertext interpretation of the poem.

The poem as an example of Imagism (2)

  • Rhythm –for your reference: (source) This scanning may not be necessary, but it shows how irregular (like speaking) the poem is.

"Musée des Beaux Arts"

  • What are the examples of human suffering in the poem?  How are they set in contrast to the daily activities of human beings or even animals? Of all the examples of human/animal indifference, which is the least appreciated?   
  • For the speaker, these two kinds of events concur and the "Old Masters" know it.  What is the speaker's attitude toward this concurrence, and toward the Old Masters? Is the poem ironic about the concurrence or open to it?
  • How do you compare this poem with “Stop all the Clocks” (or “Funeral Blues 1936-1938) by Auden?

"Musée des Beaux Arts"

  • 1 About suffering they were never wrong.
  • 2 The Old Masters: how well they understood
  • 3 Its human position; how it takes place
  • 4 While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
  • 5 How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
  • 6 For the miraculous birth, there always must be
  • 7 Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
  • 8 On a pond at the edge of the wood;
  • 9 They never forgot

"Musée des Beaux Arts"

  • 10 That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
  • 11 Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
  • 12 Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
  • 13 Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
  • 14 In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
  • 15 Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
  • 16 Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry.
  • 17 But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
  • 18 As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
  • 19 Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
  • 20 Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
  • 21 Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Musee des beaux arts

  • Three paintings:
  • The Census  at Bethlehem, based on Luke 2:1-5
  • The Massacre of the Innocents --取材于《馬太福音》;希律王派兵逐戶搜害幼孩
  • Landscape with the Fall of  Icarus.

"Musée des Beaux Art" (1)The Massacre of the Innocents

  • Image source
  • by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569),

"Musée des Beaux Art" (1)The Massacre of the Innocents

  • Images source:
  • by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569),

"Musée des Beaux Art" (1)The Massacre of the Innocents

  • Images source:
  • by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569),

The Census  at Bethlehem

"Musée des Beaux Art"

  • Landscape with the Fall of  Icarus

"Musée des Beaux Arts"

  • Theme: human suffering vs. daily activities ??
    • daily activities: banal, trivial, and commonplace
    • Innocent: children’s play, animalistic survival, routine work of peasants, the sun shining,
    • Indifferent: expensive delicate ship
    • Sufferings: birth, martyrdom, failed youthful aspiration.
  • Structure: from the general to one specific painting.
  • The 2nd stanza: Icarus -- simply a splash, a cry, a pair of "white legs“ –mixed with the daily occurrences.
  • Language: deliberately unpoetic + hidden rhymes
  • Old Masters = the speaker.

"Musée des Beaux Arts“ (Dec 1938)

  • In Historical Contexts:
  • Ovid’s Metamorphosis – “Some fisher …stood stock still in astonishment” – in Bruegel’s painting, they are oblivious of Icarus.
  • Written in Dec 1938 –before then, Auden went to China and witness Sino-Japanese war (esp. Japanese air-raid of Hankow):
  • Journey to the War qtd Nemerov 784
  • Journey to the War qtd Nemerov 786

For your reference: “Landscape With The Fall of Icarus” by William Carlos Williams

  • According to Brueghel when Icarus fell it was spring
  • a farmer was ploughing his field the whole pageantry
  • of the year was awake tingling near
  • the edge of the sea concerned with itself
  • sweating in the sun that melted the wings' wax unsignificantly off the coast there was a splash quite unnoticed this was Icarus drowning
  • -- The matter-of-fact language
  • -- no punctuation
  • --Icarus is the actual focus.

For your reference:

  • Some other poems:
  • -- “WAITING FOR ICARUS” – the wife’s perspective
  • -- “TO A FRIEND WHOSE WORK HAS COME TO TRIUMPH” –passion and idealism vs. pragmatism
  • “Icarus” by Carolyn Leaf (an animation at Intro2Lit)
  • Icarus Atop Empire State Building, 1931 Photo by Lewis Hine Courtesy George Eastman House

The Dance William Carlos Williams

  • This poem is a good example of "free verse.“ What patterns of sound can you find, i.e. rhymealliterationassonance, etc.? How do the rhythm and sounds support the poem's meaning?
  • Why do you think the last line of the poem repeats the first line?
  • Describe the tone and mood of the painting by Bruegel that this poem is based on. How would you characterize the relationship of the poem to the painting? How are they similar and how are they different? (Which part of the painting is not dealt with in the poem?)
  • What does this poem suggest about the meanings of art?

The Dance William Carlos Williams

    • In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
    • the dancers go round, they go round and
    • around, the squeal and the blare and the
    • tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
    • tipping their bellies, (round as the thick-
    • sided glasses whose wash they impound)
    • their hips and their bellies off balance
    • to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
    • the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
    • shanks must be sound to bear up under such
    • in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess
    • In Breughel's great picture, The Kermess,
    • the dancers go round, they go round and
    • around, the squeal and the blare and the
    • tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
    • tipping their bellies, (round as the thick-
    • sided glasses whose wash they impound)
    • their hips and their bellies off balance
    • to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
    • the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
    • shanks must be sound to bear up under such
    • rollicking measures, prance as they dance
    • in Breughel's great picture, The Kermess
  • For meter, a combination of dactyls & amphibrach; check the explanation here:

Not in the Poem…

  • Three men arguing; one with a peacock feather hat (suggesting vanity)
  • A couple kissing

The Dance William Carlos Williams

  • A free verse that uses internal rhymes (such as alliterationassonance, consonance) to present the merry movements and sounds out of the still painting.
  • Meter: a combination of dactyls and Amphibrach, suggesting the drunken dance movements
  • The last line of the poem brings the movement to a circle, suggesting the beginning of another circle.
  • The painting by Bruegel the elder: depict the merry peasant dance on a religious festival (a saint’s day). The peasants are fully indulged in their materialist pleasures so that they are oblivious of the religious background (the church, the virgin Mary picture)
  • The poem: only focuses on the sensual pleasure of the dance, suggesting that a poem can retain a moment of life as vividly as a painting, by adding music and movement to it.

Anecdote of the Jar (1923 p. 1043)

  • I placed a jar in Tennessee, And round it was, upon a hill. It made the slovenly wilderness Surround that hill.
  • The wilderness rose up to it, And sprawled around, no longer wild. The jar was round upon the ground And tall and of a port in air.
  • It took dominion every where. The jar was gray and bare. It did not give of bird or bush, Like nothing else in Tennessee.
  • Stevens, Wallace 

Discussion Questions

  • What is the “jar” symbolic of? Why is the poem about its “anecdote”?
  • How is the jar opposed to nature? How do the two respond to each other?
  • How is art treated (similarly and differently) in this poem and “The Dance”?
  • jar
  • wilderness
  • 1
  • round
  • Slovenly, surround
  • 2
  • tall and of a port in air
  • Rose up &
  • sprawled around
  • 3
  • took dominion, gray and bare
  • give of bird or bush

Anecdote of the Jar

  • The jar -- symbolic of art or artifice, which provides an organization or interpretation of nature (or human world).
  • the jar vs. nature
      • Art: organizing, sense-making, but “dead”
      • Nature: living, active and on-going.
  • Sound Pattern:
      • mostly iambic tetrameter
      • occasional rhymes (where the jar is described)

Sound and Rhythm

  • repetition: "round“; opening and closing lines end with “Tennessee.”
  • The use of the other open vowels around the word "round“ vs. “grey and bare” “bird and bush” in the last quatrain.

“Vincent” by Don McLean

  • An sympathetic view with belief in his sanity and passion;
  • Vision of colors –
    • “Flaming flowers that brightly blaze Swirling clouds in violet haze”;
  • Lonely but sympathetic with ordinary people and their tortures:
    • “Portraits hung in empty halls Frameless heads on nameless walls With eyes that watch the world and can't forget Like the strangers that you've met The ragged men in ragged clothes The silver thorn, a bloody rose Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow “


  • Modern Soceity – Beauty of Advanced Technology vs. Inequality & Human Sufferings (“In a Station of the Metro” “Harlem” and “Musee des beaux arts”)
  • Human Suffering/Aspiration and Art: Abstraction & Understanding of Human Position (“Musees des beaux arts”), Human Sympathy (“Vincent”)


  • Alexander Nemerov. “The Flight of Form: Auden, Bruegel, and the Turn to Abstraction in the 1940s.” Critical Inquiry / Summer 2005: 780-810.
  • Literature Time Line


  • Disyllables
  • ˘ ˘
  • pyrrhus, dibrach
  • ˘ ¯
  • iamb
  • ¯ ˘
  • trochee, choree
  • ¯ ¯
  • spondee
  • Trisyllables
  • ˘ ˘ ˘
  • tribrach
  • ¯ ˘ ˘
  • dactyl
  • ˘ ¯ ˘
  • amphibrach
  • ˘ ˘ ¯
  • anapaest, antidactylus

Final Exam (3 hours)

  • Close Analysis 30% (each 15%) – the poems and the play
  • Short Essay Questions (each 15%) -- 30%
  • Essay Questions 40% (each 20%)
    • A. comparison
    • B. Why is Pygmalion a Romance? What does the play mean if it ends at the end of Act 3, Act 5, and w/ the postscript?

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