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The Modern Portrait Poem

The Modern Portrait Poem: From Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Ezra Pound

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Modern Portrait Poem
    Book Description:

    InThe Modern Portrait Poem,Frances Dickey recovers the portrait as a poetic genre from the 1860s through the 1920s. Combining literary and art history, she examines the ways Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, and J. M. Whistler transformed the genre of portraiture in both painting and poetry. She then shows how their new ways of looking at and thinking about the portrait subject migrated across the Atlantic to influence Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Amy Lowell, E. E. Cummings, and other poets. These poets creatively exposed the Victorian portrait to new influences ranging from Manet's realism to modern dance, Futurism, and American avant-garde art. They also condensed, expanded, and combined the genre with other literary modes including epitaph, pastoral, and Bildungsroman.

    Dickey challenges the tendency to view Modernism as a break with the past and as a transition from aural to visual orientation. She argues that the Victorian poets and painters inspired the new generation of Modernists to test their vision of Aestheticism against their perception of modernity and the relationship between image and text. In bridging historical periods, national boundaries, and disciplinary distinctions, Dickey makes a case for the continuity of this genre over the Victorian/Modernist divide and from Britain to the United States in a time of rapid change in the arts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3269-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1908, t.s. eliot saw a painting by Manet and described it in one of his first poems, “On a Portrait.” A year and a half later, he began “Portrait of a Lady” in his rooms at Harvard, finishing it in Paris in November, but keeping it to himself until he met Ezra Pound in London four years later. In the meantime, Pound had written several of his own portraits, including “Portrait d’une femme” (1912), and went on to develop the genre in the sequences “Moeurs Contemporaines” andHugh Selwyn Mauberley.pound’s college friend William Carlos Williams wrote a “Self-Portrait”...

  6. PART ONE The Portrait Poem to 1912

    • ONE Portraiture in the Rossetti Circle: WINDOW, OBJECT, OR MIRROR
      (pp. 17-47)

      The artist england on a portrait, is to inscribe the character and not the features,” instructed an 1861 article on portraiture. The artist “must ‘esteem the man who sits to him as himself only an imperfect picture or likeness of the aspiring original within.’”¹ According to this view of portraiture, the artist’s job is to make the sitter’s hidden interior visible, to interpret the sitter’s soul on the basis of his or her physical appearance. While the ideas about portrait-painting expressed in this article fromBentley’s Miscellanyremained more or less consistent in the popular imagination through the nineteenth century,...

      (pp. 48-75)

      Of the american modernist, Ezra Pound entered the twentieth century most openly under the sign of Rossetti and English Aestheticism; he was also the most prolific writer of portrait poems. Before the publication of his collectedPersonaein 1926 officially brought his entire oeuvre of short poems under this generic label, Pound treated the portrait as one of his major genres. On the last page ofUmbra, Pound listed his pre-1918 works as “Personae and Portraits,” and a year later, gathered his more recent work under the titlePoems1918–1920,Including Three Portraits and Four Cantos. From these rubrics,...

      (pp. 76-110)

      In the fall of 1908, the young T. S. Eliot composed two sonnets for publication in theHarvard Advocate, “Circe’s Palace” and “On a Portrait.” These poems are remarkable for their skilled integration of the Rossettian picture sonnet with the language of Swinburne. They are all the more remarkable for their very early dates of composition, before Eliot read Arthur Symons’sThe Symbolist Movement in Literature, discovered the poetry of Jules Laforgue, and sprang to life as a poet, as the story goes. In fact, these two sonnets suggest that Eliot’s reading of Rossetti and Swinburne had brought him to...

  7. PART TWO Modulations 1912 to 1922

      (pp. 113-143)

      The years 1912 and 1913 marked a sea change in many areas of literature and in modern life generally.¹ In poetry, a thorough rethinking of form, style, and content were underway. From 1912 to 1922, poets who had learned their craft under the influence of Aestheticism experimented with changing the features of the portrait poem. While the genres of many twentieth-century poems are hard to identify, relative consistency in the titling and subject matter of portrait poems enables us to trace what happened to this genre during the decade when Modernism went, so to speak, from zero to sixty. The...

      (pp. 144-182)

      In the years following its Imagist contraction, the portrait poem breathed out, multiplying into collections and expanding into longer and more complex forms. From Masters’s book-lengthSpoon River Anthologyin 1915 to the twenty-nine portraits in E. E. Cummings’sTulips and Chimneys(1922) and Melvin Tolson’s 1935Gallery of Harlem Portraits, the Modernist portrait collection became a site for exploring social relationships through a multiplicity of characters, rather than (as in earlier stand-alone portraits) the nature of consciousness and identity. Placed in this context, Ezra Pound’s sequences written between 1913 and 1920 are evidence of a change in the shape...

      (pp. 183-212)

      In 1914, william carlos williams sent a sequence of “Pastorals and Self-Portraits” to his friend Viola Baxter. Like Eliot’s “On a Portrait” and Pound’s “La Donzella Beata” and “Portrait: from ‘La Mère Inconnue,’” these poems were the first in a series of portraits that Williams would write in the nineteen-teens, before moving on to more expansive forms in the 1920s. The group of eight poems included two “Self-Portraits,” two “Pastorals,” and two “Idyls.” As these titles suggest, Williams saw an affinity between pastoral and portraiture in the sense that the natural world, specifically landscape, was his subject in both genres....

    (pp. 213-218)

    In focusing on only a few poets, this study has excluded many portrait poems that deserve attention. Before ending, I turn here briefly to one such group of portraits that point both forward to the rest of the twentieth century, and backward to the nineteenth.

    The name E. E. Cummings has been synonymous with Modernist formal experimentation since the publication of his first book,Tulips and Chimneys, in 1923. Unlike Pound and Eliot, whose work seems weighted by the past and by tradition, Cummings addressed contemporary topics in a fresh style that assimilated “high” Modernist fragmentation with down-to-earth language and...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 219-244)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 245-252)
  11. Index
    (pp. 253-262)