Portal:Literature
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Portal:Literature

Introduction

Literature, most generically, is any body of written works. More restrictively, literature refers to writing considered to be an art form or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, often due to deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.

Its Latin root literatura/litteratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts. The concept has changed meaning over time to include texts that are spoken or sung (oral literature), and non-written verbal art forms. Developments in print technology have allowed an ever-growing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.

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Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1869
"Ulysses" is a poem in blank verse by the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), written in 1833 and published in 1842 in his well-received second volume of poetry. An oft-quoted poem, it is popularly used to illustrate the dramatic monologue form. Ulysses describes, to an unspecified audience, his discontent and restlessness upon returning to his kingdom, Ithaca, after his far-ranging travels. Facing old age, Ulysses yearns to explore again, despite his reunion with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus.

The character of Ulysses (in Greek, Odysseus) has been explored widely in literature. The adventures of Odysseus were first recorded in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (c. 800-700 BC), and Tennyson draws on Homer's narrative in the poem. Most critics, however, find that Tennyson's Ulysses recalls Dante's Ulisse in his Inferno (c. 1320). In Dante's re-telling, Ulisse is condemned to hell among the false counsellors, both for his pursuit of knowledge beyond human bounds and for his adventures in disregard of his family.

For much of this poem's history, readers viewed Ulysses as resolute and heroic, admiring him for his determination "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". The view that Tennyson intended a heroic character is supported by his statements about the poem, and by the events in his life--the death of his closest friend--that prompted him to write it. In the twentieth century, some new interpretations of "Ulysses" highlighted potential ironies in the poem. They argued, for example, that Ulysses wishes to selfishly abandon his kingdom and family, and they questioned more positive assessments of Ulysses' character by demonstrating how he resembles flawed protagonists in earlier literature.

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1913 photograph of Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (30 October 1885 - 1 November 1972) was an expatriate American poet and critic who was a major figure of the early modernist movement. His contribution to poetry began with his development of Imagism, a movement derived from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, stressing clarity, precision and economy of language. His best-known works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) and the unfinished 120-section epic, The Cantos (1917-69).

Outraged by the carnage of World War I, Pound lost faith in England. He moved to Italy in 1924, and throughout the 1930s and 1940s embraced fascism. During World War II the Italian government paid him to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Jews. As a result, he was arrested by American forces in Italy in 1945 on charges of treason. While in custody he had begun work on sections of The Cantos that became known as The Pisan Cantos (1948), for which he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress, triggering enormous controversy. His political views ensure that his work remains as controversial now as it was during his lifetime; Hemingway nevertheless wrote: "The best of Pound's writing - and it is in the Cantos - will last as long as there is any literature."

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John Masey Wright - John Rogers - Robert Burns - Auld Lang Syne.jpg
Credit: John Masey Wright and John Rogers

"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. This illustration accompanied an 1841 printing of the poem.

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