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Of Modern Poetry

Of Modern Poetry

by Wallace Stevens

Life, Consciousness, and Existence Theme

When it all comes down to it, Wallace Stevens doesn't want to write about beautiful things like flowers and love. He wants to write about how human consciousness goes about finding beauty in the world, which is a different thing. Different people will find different things beautiful. But there are similar processes that happen in our minds when we find pleasure in a poem or in an experience. In "Of Modern Poetry," Stevens wants to talk about this common denominator. He wants to talk about the process of finding beauty, not beauty itself. And that means he wants to talk mostly about how the human mind works and how we perceive the things around us.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

  1. In your opinion, what's the difference between a normal poem and a "poem of the act of the mind"? How would the speaker answer that question? 
  2. Why is Stevens so concerned with writing about human consciousness instead of things like God, glory, and love? What's might he be looking for in his poetry? What parts of this poem give you your ideas? 
  3. Do you find that this poem is effective in the way it tries to make you think about your own mind and your own perception? Why or why not?
  4. Do you agree with Stevens' approach to modern poetry? Why is it important to think about the role that poetry can play in our daily lives?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

For Stevens, some things are more worthy of being called beautiful than others (we're looking at you, rainbows). It's not all subjective.

In "Of Modern Poetry," Wallace Stevens shows us that the nature of human consciousness has totally changed in the modern world. We need new poetry that can speak to our new collective nature. So get right on that, why don't you?

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