Understanding the cultural context of a poem can often help our understanding of some aspect of the poem itself. The social, political, and economic currents surrounding a writer can, and usually do, impact the writer’s literary creation. Sometimes this influence is direct, as evidenced in the title of John Milton’s sonnet, “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.” Sometimes it is more allegorical, as is the case for “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. Sometimes it seems so slight that the cultural context of a work may be important only because it seems reasonable to assume that all writers are to some degree products of their time. However, we can only appreciate if and how a poem is responding to society when we explore the poem’s cultural context.

Choose one of the document collections on the left to explore a cultural context further.

Contributing author: Michelle Ephraim, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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