The phrase that can be used to describe Modernist poetry is that of the Emperor’s New Clothes. In accordance with the tale of the Emperor, the namesake commissions a tailor to create for him an outfit like none other, to which the tailor fabricates one using invisible thread. When the Emperor parades his new outfit, the populous are stunned, before it slowly begins to dawn on them that the Emperor is, in fact, naked: there is no outfit, despite the fact that the audience attempted to project the real existence of an outfit upon the Emperor. Much to his embarrassment, he became the ridicule of the town. But what meaning can be extracted from this tale? First and foremost, it raises the question of value, where there is a divide between actually and some set of imagined ideals. By way of the power of reality distortion, the Emperor’s gown is seen as something majestic and a creation of the finest craft. Viewed through eyes that expect nothing and have no interpretive agenda, there is nothing to be marveled at.
This is true also of Modernist poetry, where generations of finger-pointing at the naked Emperor have evolved into decades of public, private and academic discourse on that particular form of poetry that emerged in the twentieth century which is referred to as Modernism. In order illustrate the above predicament, the poem ‘Fog’ by Carl Sanburg will be reflect upon, insofar as it weaves something of a mystical illusion that ensnares the eyes of the unwitting and causes them to converse about nothing at all. First and foremost, it is necessary to consider what, exactly, Modernism is, from the earliest appearance of sets of words that turned the historical tradition of poetry on its head, through to the formalization of a style that centers upon bare and lucid reduction to a distilled essence. All fluff and finery are stripped away, and what is left are bare sounds, images, flavors, and any other immediate sensory experiences. The ideology behind Modernism is reactionary (for, by way of its articulation, it quite evidently rebels against a stultified and stuff poetic tradition, commencing by way of this rebellion and veering in the direction of the nothingness that is postmodernity. All the while, it subtly convinces us of its covert and subliminal cause.
So how does this lead to a discussion of the poem ‘Fog’? There are several distinctive ways in which this piece can be approached; for instance, it can be viewed through the eyes of Modernism itself, it can be viewed through the eyes of a critical discourse that accords upon such craft its merit and value, extrapolating it in terms of linguistic devices ad infinitum, through to the aforementioned analogy of the Emperor and his unfortunate New Clothes. To start, viewing the poem ‘Fog’ through the lens of Modernism confers upon the poem its own value; it evaluates itself by way of its own judgement, whilst simultaneously convincing its audiences to partake in not simply its reading, but also a critical analysis that clambers around it and views it as high art. What this means is that the poem simply comprises and description of something that goes on, like the words on this page. However, the words on this page are understood as being a critical analysis of a poem, and not a poem itself. If the words were strewn across the page in a haphazard manner, or indeed neatly arranged in a similar manner to that by Sanburg, it might be construed as poetry, or as bearing the qualities of the poetic.
An additional puzzle is the question of poetic discourse which emerges in the specific context of literary criticism. In this context, poetry immediately has value because it has been considered to be thus in a constant way. What this means is that where high school curricula and college-level courses preach and extoll the virtues of a particular poet and their poetry, there occurs the automatic assumption that this poetry is important in some way. Viewing the poem as something to be critiqued, it is, in its essence, a piece that compares a fog to a cat. It is presumable that the cat is either black or a misty grey, where the comparison is such that the fog is described as mimicking the movement of a cat. If one were to imagine a cat for an instance, its slinky movement is subtle and sensuous, which echoes the movement of a fog as it moves across a harbor and city. The analogy is quite striking, where the piece might be accorded value as a poem simply on the grounds of this blending of cat and fog together’even if this were to be the only thing it does. The distilled quality of the ‘silent haunches’ is such that the creeping motion of the fog and its analogue, the cat, are photographically captured in a way that conjures vivid imagery, preserving it in the photograph that is the poem.
Even if imagism were to be a real thing, rather than some abstraction of the poetic form in such a way as it is presented before audiences as a literary hall of mirrors, it is a difficult matter to shake off the uneasiness with which the poem presents itself as naked whilst the world attempts to confer clothes upon it. Is the analogy now self-evident? The poem is simply a combination of words, loosely strewn together and stitched by way of the fabric of association; they are unimportant and descriptive, with any evaluations arising through a falsity that marches about with pomp and a rather ridiculous prestige. Interestingly, where postmodernism ridicules that which came before it, it too falls prey to a similar fate’starting out as a reactionary discourse and the offering of a literary subculture, whilst eventually collapsing into an ideology of its own.
And so, the paper can be concluded with a set of reflections that take into account the differing perspectives that have been put forward thus far. As a final thought’one wonders as to which perspective takes precedence. What is clear is the fact that there exists a literary phenomenon called ‘poetry’ that is subject to interest and intrigue, now simply on the grounds of the fact that it is poetry. Whilst it may be subject to all manner of skepticism, extrapolation or analysis, it remains an open question as to whether its merit is founded. For this present author, the poem ‘Fog’ by Carl Sanburg is a work of trickery, with the poet silently mocking his audiences in a similar manner to the silence of the cat itself. Perhaps the poem means something, or perhaps it means absolutely nothing at all, where the fanciful garments of a haughty and embarrassed Emperor are revealed in the entire conversation of literary criticism. Of course, this observation might have to be concealed, for its implications are such that an enter system of conversations is destroyed on account of a post post-modernity, until the next literary fashion emerges and casts a disparaging of the past, together with the call for a continued contemplation of words in the present.