Make your own free website on

Twentieth Century



20th Century Author Notes

Ted Hughes

  1. Often uses violent nature imagery to symbolize the human condition

  2. He has been called the “twentieth-century Aesop whose fables lack an explicit moral.”

  3. Married and later divorced American poet Sylvia Plath whose suicide has been partly blamed on Hughes.

  4. Although he writes of nature like the Romantics, unlike the Romantics his nature represents the darkest impulses of the human heart; violence is not only an accepted fact of life, but also an impulse that links all creatures on earth.

  5. In 1984, he was named the poet laureate of England.

  6. “Hawk Roosting

    1. The speaker is a hawk, roosting in a treetop.  The hawk exults that it has no false dreams; when it sleeps, it rehearses kills and eats its prey.  The hawk surveys its domain and declares itself the ruler of this world.  It presumes that all processes of nature work for its benefit.  The hawk approves of life as it is and permits and anticipates no change.

    2. The character of the hawk is self-assured and imperious; it sees itself at the center of all things.  The hawk views the world as existing for its pleasure, and it is a world that suits the hawk perfectly.  The hawk lives in harmony with the laws of nature and claims to hold creation in its foot, like a creator-god.

    3. Hughes personifies the hawk by allowing it to speak as if it is the lord of all creation.  This is an ironic echo of human claims of dominion over the earth and all its creatures. 

    4. This poem reflects the views that Hughes has of human arrogance.

  7. “Chaucer”

    1. This poem comes from the collection Birthday Letters which is a collection of autobiographical poems of Hughes’s relationship with American poet Sylvia Plath.

    2.  The first two lines of the poem are a recitation of Chaucer’s “General Prologue” of The Canterbury Tales.

    3. Plath’s recitation from memory of huge portions of Chaucer’s work is extraordinary because of the beautiful day, the amount that she recites, and the fact that the herd of cows is enthralled by the sounds and gather around her to listen.

    4. The cows in this poem are personified because they are “enthralled” and “appreciate Chaucer.”  They gaze into Plath’s face; they exclaim, renew their attention, try to “catch every inflection,” and keep a reverent distance of six feet.

    5. Since Plath enthralls the cows with her recitation of Chaucer, Hughes draws parallels between the father of English poetry, Chaucer and the American poet, Sylvia Plath, at least for the span of time she recites the poetry.  In this way, Hughes indicates how important he believes her voice to have been and still be.  He suggests that poetry is a kind of magic and that Plath wields the power of poetry and the great poets—and so has achieved a kind of immortality.


 William Butler Yeats

  1. Regarded as the 20th century’s greatest poet writing in English

  2. Influenced by the Art Nouveau movement which emphasized the mysterious and unfathomable, recommended evocation above statement, symbols above facts, and musical measures about common speech.

  3. As a young poet, he was a great versifier of old tales drawn from Irish folklore and mythology.  A pioneer in the Celtic Revival, determined to make the Irish conscious of their heroic past.

  4. 1923—Awarded the Nobel Prize in literature from his ritualized readings of his poems.

  5. Helped Lady Gregory establish Dublin’s Abbey Theatre as a monument to Irish culture and high literary standards.

  6. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

    1. In a lyric that is both decisive and dreamlike, the speaker determines that he will now leave his urban home and go to the lake island of Innisfree.  There he will build a cabin and live alone in harmony with nature.  He looks forward to the peace and transcendent natural beauty of the island.  He states that one reason for his departure is that he constantly hears, deep in his heart, the sound of the lake water lapping along the shoreline.

    2. Lines 2-4 provide an allusion to Thoreau’s Walden, which Yeats’s father had once read to him.  Both the bean rows and the cabin are straight from Thoreau’s account of his life in Walden Woods.

    3. In the second stanza, Yeats uses alliteration to create work music with the repeated s and p sounds; repetition of peace and dropping and the –ing sound.

    4. The last stanza suggests that the speaker has a mystical connection or basic identification with nature that endures despite daily life in an urban center.

  7. “The Wild Swans at Coole”

    1. On a lakeshore in Coole Park, in an October twilight, the speaker counts fifty-nine swans.  He recalls counting them nineteen years before and remarks that “[t]heir hearts have not grown old” and they have remained faithful to their mates.  The speaker, however, has a sore heart, and he acknowledges that much has changed in his life since he last saw the swans.

    2. In the third stanza the speaker’s mood is one of disappointment.  He grieves when he remembers a happier time nineteen years earlier when he first viewed the swans.

    3. In the fourth stanza the speaker contrasts himself with the swans because everything has changed in his life (including loosing the woman he loves), but the swans remain as they were nineteen years ago, including their same mates since swans mate for life.

    4. The last stanza provides the general characteristics that the swans possess that make them symbols.  The swans are mysterious, beautiful, and delightful in men’s eyes.


Dylan Thomas

  1.    A prodigy who wrote most of his famous works before he was twenty.  He also developed the themes, ideas, and angles of perspective for poems that he drew on for the rest of his short life.

  2.   His parents had “pretensions of gentility” which Thomas did not share.  This caused a crisis for him which he eventually turned to alcohol to solve.

  3.    He was unable to be a faithful husband and loving father which caused him additional pain. 

  4.   He was welcomed in America as a great poet.  He was recognized early by his contemporaries as one of the great voices in literature; however, this was not enough to keep him from living on the edge of poverty most of his life.

  5. “Fern Hill”

    The speaker recalls his idyllic childhood at Fern Hill, a Welsh farm where he spent his days in carefree, imaginative play.  To him, Fern Hill was like the Garden of Eden, a place where he was the lord of nature, ecstatic, independent, and unaware of the passage of time.  He concludes by musing that he did not know then, as he does now, that time would take him from that magic land and reveal to him his mortality.

     When the speaker was a child he played imaginative games in which he pretended to be a prince or a lord.

    The word green in lines 10, 15, and 53 means innocent, fresh, young, and inexperienced.  Thomas pairs green with “carefree” and “golden” at the beginning of the poem indicates that as a child the speaker had a wonderful life and optimistic outlook.  In line 53 green is paired with “dying” indicating that even in his “carefree” and “golden” state, the child is progressing towards death unawares.  In this fashion the speaker makes the reader aware of how precious life is since time is our master on earth even if our youth prevents us from understanding and comprehending how short life is.

    In lines 42-45, the speaker says that as a child he ignored the fact that time allows few carefree days before leading children out of grace to become adults, grow old, and eventually die.

  6. “In my craft or sullen art”

    The speaker explains when, for whom, and why he writes poetry.  He writes at night while others are asleep. He writes for the “most secret heart” of people.  He writes for lovers, “their arms / Round the griefs of ages,” even though they pay no attention to his poetry.

    In line 6 “singing” is an odd adjective to modify light.  The singing could be the noise the poet’s lamp is making or the fact that it is by the light of the lamp that the poet “sings.”

    In lines 10-11 the poet writes of “common wages” which he receives from his poetry.  These wages could refer to the effects, unconscious though they may be, he creates on his audience.

    In line 15 the “towering dead” could be literature’s great, deceased writers. 

  7. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”

    The speaker urges his father not to submit quietly to death, contending that people near death should struggle against “the dying of the light.”  He assets that those with true wisdom, even though they know death is inevitable, nevertheless rage against dying.  He looks for a sign that his father, at the end of his life, will challenge death, whether through cursing, blessing, or crying.

    This elegy is different from many other elegies in that it does not mourn a dead person, but is written to a dying man, urging him to meet death with challenge instead of quiet acceptance.

    The speaker compares death to night and life to light.

    The four types of men the speaker mentions in the center of poem, wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men, all find a reason for sorrow or repentance at the coming of death and all fight against it.  With these examples, the speaker is urging his father to also fight against death.

    In the end, the poem mourns the imminent death of Thomas’s father, and it also reflects on human mortality and how to face death.  It speaks of a love for life and a battle against death.