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1930s poetry and politics

The 1930s are notoriously marked by a high degree of politicisation of literary writing. Consider any poet working in the period and discuss the extent to which this observation is either useful or accurate as a means of reading their work. Can the 1930s be marked out as a special case in this way, and if so why?
Literature Essay

  • Assessment: essay
  • Mark: A
  • Year: 2006
  • Wordcount: 3263

The 1930s was a decade that can be characterized by the economic depression and the rise of authoritarian ideologies in Italy, Germany and Spain. These historical and political circumstances had a deep impact on the young writers and poets of Britain and Europe (Manteiga 1989:3). As Woolf (2004: 613) points out “in 1930 young men at college were forced to be aware of what was happening in Russia; in Germany; in Italy; in Spain. They could not go on discussing aesthetic emotions and personal relations”. Hence the poetry of this time is often seen as directly influenced by politics and as such “public, classical, and through association with Marx, left-wing” (Caesar 1991: 37). After the war, in the 1950s, this focus on politics within art had changed. Critics saw the 1950s and 1960s as a period where poets were “indifferent to the immediate problems of society” (Booth 2005:112). The Movement poets, for instance, were primarily concerned to uphold with their poetry conservative opinions and a sense of tradition (Draper 1999: 231).
In the first part of this essay I will examine the extent of the politicisation of the 1930s poetry of Auden, who is seen as “the clear Master of the Period” (Skeleton 2000: 33). In a detailed analysis of ‘Spain 1937’, a ‘Communist to Others’ and other examples of Auden’s poetry of the 1930’s I will assess the degree to which “the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act” (Auden 2004: 383). In the second part I will compare the committed writing of the pre-war period with the poetry of Philip Larkin. In examining ‘MCMXIV’, ‘Church Going’ and other examples of his writing of the 1950s, this essay will establish the notion that Larkin’s poetry is not only driven by a sense of nostalgia but is also concerned with the social injustices of his time.

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