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Literary Movements at Lightspeed

  • What is a Literary Movement?
    • A literary movement is a group of writers who have something in common—a period in time, a set of literary aims, a region of the world, etc. Some writers accept being grouped, or even encourage it; some actively reject it.
  • Why Do Literary Movements Matter?
    • A knowledge of literary movements is like a cheat sheet for the exam.
    • If you know that a poem or prose work is part of a movement, you often know what to look for in terms of form, content, language, and meaning. You know when and (probably) why the author was writing. You have context.
    • Knowing a work’s context can also give you great buzzwords—it tells you what kinds of terms the reader is looking for in your essay, and what sort of answers you need on the multiple-choice section.
  • The Metaphysicals
    • When/Where: 17th-century England, mostly.
    • What is it? Poetry that breaks with the Renaissance tradition. These poems are often introspective meditations on love, death, God, human frailty, etc. Famously difficult and obscure.
    • What to look for: Wit, irony, paradox, and loads of style. Look for big analogies and conceits, striking rhymes, and lots of experiments with line length, stanza shape, and other elements of form.
    • Examples: John Donne (“A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”; “Death Be Not Proud”) / George Herbert (“Easter Wings”; “The Collar”; “Love (III)”) / Andrew Marvell (“The Mower’s Song”; “The Garden”; “To His Coy Mistress”)
  • Augustans
    • When/Where: England, 17th and 18th centuries
    • What is it? Rhymed, heroic-couplet satire
    • What to look for: Imitation of classical forms, pairs of lines in iambic pentameter, and mockery of everything, especially current events and human behavior.
    • Examples: John Dryden (“Mac Flecknoe”; “Marriage-a-la-mode”; “Absalom and Achitophel”) / Alexander Pope (“The Rape of the Lock”; “Windsor Forest”; “Epitaph on Sir Isaac Newton”) / Jonathan Swift (“Gulliver’s Travels”; “A Modest Proposal”).
  • Romantics
    • When/Where: England, 19th century
    • What is it? Emotional, enthusiastic poetry about real human life, nature, and imagination. Think puffy shirts.
    • What to look for: Natural imagery; power of the imagination; the sublime; transcendence.
    • Examples: William Wordsworth (“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”) / Percy Shelley (“Ozymandias”; “Ode to the West Wind”) / John Keats (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”; “Ode to a Nightingale”) / Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Song of Nature”, The Poet) / Walt Whitman (“When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”) /Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe); Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter) / Henry David Thoreau (Walden; Walking).
  • Symbolists
    • When/Where: France and the English-speaking world, 19th and early 20th centuries
    • What is it? A twist on the Romantics’ interest in transcendence, with more sensuality (a transition between the Romantics and the Modernists).
    • What to look for: Deep symbols, intuitive associations, transitional moments, synaesthesia, multiple meanings, musical effects, “art for art’s sake”.
    • Examples: Charles Baudelaire (“Spleen”) / Stephane Mallarmé (“Salut”) / Arthur Rimbaud (“Le bateau ivre”) / Oscar Wilde (“Chanson”; The Picture of Dorian Gray) / W.B. Yeats (“Leda and The Swan”; “Sailing to Byzantium”) / Arthur Symons (“White Heliotrope”) / T.S. Eliot (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”).
  • Modernists
    • When/Where: England and the U.S., 20th century
    • What is it? A questioning of everything that had come before, partly in response to the upheavals of the 20th century. An intensely experimental movement.
    • What to look for: Allusions; fragments of experience; multiple points of view; an individual’s relationship to his environment; machines and inanimate objects.
    • Examples: Wallace Stevens (“The Snowman”) / William Carlos Williams (“Red Wheelbarrow”) / H.D. (“Helen”) / Marianne Moore (“Poetry”) / T.S. Eliot (“Ash Wednesday”) / e.e. cummings (“anyone lived in a pretty how town”) / James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) / William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying) / Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway)
  • Harlem Renaissance
    • When/Where: Mostly Harlem, New York City, first half of the 20th century
    • What is it? Related to modernism, but with a distinctly African American focus and flair and an American idiom.
    • What to look for: The African American experience, including issues and allusions relevant to Black readers; musical elements (blues repetition, jazz improvisation).
    • Examples: Paul Laurence Dunbar (“Frederick Douglass”) / Claude McKay (“If We Must Die”) / Langston Hughes (“Montage of a Dream Deferred”) / Countee Cullen (“Incident”) / Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) / Richard Wright (Black Boy; Native Son) / Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man).
  • Postmodernists
    • When/Where: The English-speaking world, second half of the 20th century
    • What is it? Everyone’s still arguing, but mostly a poetic movement that involves a lot of chaos and uncertainty
    • What to look for: Parody, irony, narrative instability, pop-culture and classical allusions, spectrum rather than binary imagery, distribution over centralism, surface over depth.
    • Examples: the Beats, the confessionals, the Black Arts movement, the Black Mountain group, the New York School. That’s right—postmodernists form their own sub-movements.
  • The Beats
    • When/Where: U.S. and elsewhere, post-World War II
    • What is it? Hallucinogenic, visionary, anti-establishment poetry and art.
    • What to look for: Opposition to conformity; frankness; self-mythologizing; shared energy with music, especially jazz; pop culture; Buddhism; politics; individualism; longing for transcendence; connection to nature.
    • Examples: Lawrence Ferlinghetti (“The Changing Light”) / Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”;“Kaddish”) / Gregory Corso (“Marriage” ; “Bomb”) / Gary Snyder (“Four Poems for Robin”) / William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch) / Jack Kerouac (On the Road).
  • Confessionals
    • When/Where: U.S. and elsewhere, mid-20th century
    • What is it? Raw, intensely personal poetry about the life of the poet
    • What to look for: Love, sex, suicide, fear, failure, autobiography, ambivalent or violent opinions about family members, and above all anything that would make 1950s suburbanites squirm and grow reticent.
    • Examples: John Berryman (“Dream Song 1”) / Robert Lowell (“Skunk Hour”) / Anne Sexton (“For My Lover, Returning to his Wife”) / Sylvia Plath (“Daddy”; The Bell Jar).
  • New York School
    • When/Where: New York, mid-20th century to present
    • What is it? Abstract expressionism in poetry
    • What to look for: Surreal language and images; irony; combination of high and popular art; catalogues of everyday sights and sounds; jarring juxtapositions; new and different perspectives.
    • Examples: Barbara Guest (“The Blue Stairs”; “Wild Gardens Overlooked by Night Lights”) / Kenneth Koch (“One Train May Hide Another”; “To Various Persons Talked to All at Once”) / Frank O’Hara (“In Memory of My Feelings”; “The Day Lady Died”) / John Ashberry (“The Painter”; “The Instruction Manual”; “Daffy Duck in Hollywood”).
  • Black Arts Movement
    • When/Where: Urban America, 1950s – 1970s
    • What is it? Work associated with the Black Power movement in the United States
    • What to look for: Anger with the slow pace of the civil rights movement; politics; aggressive challenges to the White establishment
    • Examples: Gwendolyn Brooks (“We Real Cool”) / Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) (“Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”; “Black Art”; “In the Funk World”) / Sonia Sanchez (“Malcolm”; “I Have Walked a Long Time”) / Ntozake Shange (“My Father is a Retired Magician”; “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf”).
  • Black Mountain Poets
    • When/Where: United States, late 20th century
    • What is it? A wide range of poetry somehow connected to Black Mountain College in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
    • What to look for: Process over product. Look at subject matter and form, because these poets were experimenting and exploring both.
    • Examples: Charles Olson (“The Maximus Poems”) / Denise Levertov (“The Mutes”; “In California During the Gulf War”; “When We Look Up”) / Robert Creeley (“Age”; “For Love”; “A Wicker Basket”; “America”).
  • Other Poets
    • Emily Dickinson – Near-isolated American poet of the mid-19th century. Powerful but idiosyncratic. “Because I could not stop for death”; “I heard a fly buzz when I died”; Tell all the truth but tell it slant”.
    • Robert Frost – A traditional poet during the modernist period; locally colored poems (mostly about Vermont) with deep philosophical undercurrents. “Birches”; “Death of the Hired Man”; “Mending Wall”; “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
    • W.H. Auden – British citizen before WWII; American after. Giant of twentieth-century literature, a little bit modernist, but really mostly himself. “As I Walked Out One Evening”; “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”; “The Unknown Citizen”; “Musée des Beaux Arts”.
    • Elizabeth Bishop – American poet, mid- to late 20th century. A bit confessional but more reticent. “In the Waiting Room”; “Filling Station”; “At the Fishhouses”; “One Art”; “The Moose.”
    • Adrienne Rich – Major American feminist and political poet, mid-20th century to present. Major focus on the role of the poet in society. “Diving into the Wreck”; “North American Time”; “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”; “Miracle Ice Cream.”
    • Seamus Heaney – Irish poet, late 20th century. Uses rural imagery to tackle questions of identity such as what it means to be Irish and what it means to be a poet. “Digging”; “The Harvest Bow”.
  • A Great Resource for Poetry

Literary Movements at Lightspeed

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:12
  • Lesson Overview, cont. 0:34
  • What is a Literary Movement? 0:58
    • A group of writers who have something in common
  • Why Do Literary Movements Matter? 1:42
    • Knowledge of literary movements is like a cheat sheet for the exam
    • Gives you context
    • Gives you great buzzwords
  • Metaphysical 2:40
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Augustans 4:28
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Romantics 5:40
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Symbolists 7:18
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Modernists 9:28
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Harlem Renaissance 11:54
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Postmodernists 13:30
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • The Beats 15:26
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Confessionals 17:32
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • New York School 18:54
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Black Arts Movement 20:34
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Black Mountain Poets 22:00
    • When/Where
    • What is it?
    • What to look for
    • Examples
  • Other Poets 22:52
    • Emily Dickinson
    • Robert Frost
    • W.H. Auden
    • Elizabeth Bishop
    • Adrienne Rich
    • Seamus Heaney
  • A Great Resource for Poetry 26:41
    • www.poets.org