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Themes

"Of Modern Poetry" is about one thing: what poetry is supposed to be doing in the modern age. For that reason, Stevens uses the phrase "has to" quite a lot in this poem. The thing is sort of like a manifesto for Stevens' beliefs. In that sense, the entire thing is about the role of literature and writing in society, and what literature should be doing for its readers. For Stevens, the answer's pretty clear. Now that people's faith in religion and science has been shaken, it's now poetry's job to make people feel good about the world and their place in it.

Questions About Literature & Writing

  1. Do you think that poetry is important enough to take on the role of religion in people's lives? How can you see it succeeding?
  2. How can you see it failing? How would the speaker answer this question?
  3. What do you think the role of literature and writing should be in people's lives? What does the speaker think it should be? Why?
  4. What does Stevens mean when he says that modern poetry should be the "poem of the act of the mind"? What parts of the poem support your answer?

Chew on This

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

It's crunch time. For Stevens, modern poetry has pretty much run out of options. It's going to have to take desperate measures if it's going to reach people.

According to "Of Modern Poetry," classic poetry was pretty much worthless (in your face, Ovid). Now modern poetry has to pick up the slack and start being relevant to normal people.

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