A brief introduction to a modernist epic
Ezra Pound’s colossal work of modernist poetry, The Cantos, runs to nearly 800 pages and took him over half his life to write – and even then, he never finished it. Is The Cantos a masterpiece of twentieth-century poetry or an artistic failure? Is it sheer self-indulgent verbiage or an under-read and underappreciated epic for the modern world? We can hardly scratch the surface in this short introduction to Pound’s Cantos, but we’re going to address some of the key aspects of the poem and offer an analysis of its overall aims and features.
Ezra Pound referred to The Cantos as, variously, ‘an epic including history’ and, with more muted self-praise, a ‘ragbag’. Yet although it is undeniably a ragbag, there are a number of key themes running through The Cantos. Pound has started out with Imagism, in 1912, and the idea of ‘superposition’: placing, as it were, one image on top of another, so that in his most famous early poem, the two-line ‘In a Station of the Metro’, the faces of the commuters in the Metro station are placed next to the image of petals on the wet, black bough of a tree. Read the rest of this entry
An introduction to a classic play
The plot of Sophocles’ great tragedy Oedipus the King (sometimes known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannos) has long been admired. In his Poetics, Aristotle held it up as the exemplary Greek tragedy. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it one of the three perfect plots in all of literature (the other two being Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones). Oedipus the King might also be called the first detective story in Western literature. Yet how well do we know Sophocles’ play? And what does a closer analysis of its plot features and themes reveal? Read the rest of this entry
The best introductions to literary theory
Most English Literature students will encounter, at some point during their English degree, that strange beast known as ‘literary theory’. Whether it’s postmodernism or poststructuralism, feminism or postcolonialism, Marxism or reader-response theory, ‘literary theory’ (or, sometimes, ‘critical theory’) will rear its imposing head somewhere on the average degree course. Below are five of the most accessible and helpful introductions to studying literary theory. Read the rest of this entry