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Poetic Individuality in Clare, Hopkins, and Edward Thomas

HODGSON, ANDREW,JAMES (2014) Poetic Individuality in Clare, Hopkins, and Edward Thomas. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Edward Thomas form a trio of disparate yet tantalisingly related poets. What distinguishes them also conjoins them: the desire, in Hopkins’ words, to invest their poetry with ‘an individualising touch’. The poetic achievement of all three is animated by the effort to discover an idiom that answers to the pressure of a unique cast of mind, feeling, and vision of experience.

All three poets stand consciously apart from their period. They articulate a recurrent counter-voice in English poetry of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, grounded in an effort to imbue poetic language with an acutely personal bearing. The Introduction establishes the interrelation of their personal and poetic individuality, exploring the way their poems formulate and embody shared aims.

Clare once enthused over Keats’s description in Isabella of an eye ‘Striving to be itself’. The phrase gets purchase on the spirit of embattled innovation that the three chapters on Clare’s poetry locate in his language. The first seeks to characterise the haphazard ingenuity of Clare’s style, pursuing his trust in a brand of seemingly improvisational inventiveness as a means of discovering new modes of expression. Chapter 2 concentrates on the more controlled aspects of Clare’s experimentalism, attending to his poems’ twinning of actual and literary discovery. Chapter 3 focuses more explicitly on the disarmingly personal nature of Clare’s poetry, thinking about its strange marriages of personal fervour and literary archetype.

Hopkins insisted on ‘originality’ as a ‘condition of poetic genius’; but his poetry is alert to originality’s costs as well as its virtues. The concern of Chapter 4 is with how Hopkins’ valorisation of distinctiveness sits in tension with his wariness of ‘Parnassian’ – the quality of ‘being too so-and-so-all over-ish’; it contends that Hopkins is most himself at his most unpredictable. Chapter 5 extends an emphasis on Hopkins’ blend of craft and spontaneity, and the intricacy and fervour of his expression of feeling, into a consideration of the rich presence his poetry affords to the heart. Chapter 6 attends to the ways in which Hopkins’ nerviness about the potentially alienating qualities of his individual style feeds back into the distinctive tenor of his voice.

Thomas thought that ‘nothing so well represents […] singularity as style’. The first chapter on his poems explores takes off from T. S. Eliot’s notion of the ‘auditory imagination’ to explore the fusion of poetic and personal ‘singularity’ in Thomas’s harnessing of the postures of speech, and experimentation with the forms and rhythms of folk song. A large part of the individuality of Thomas’s style owes to the intricacy and tenacity of his syntax, and Chapter 8 explores the way in which his poetry’s distinctive voice arises out of an effort to trace the contours of thought and feeling. A final chapter devotes itself to the way in which, for all his idiosyncrasy, Thomas, like Clare and Hopkins, strives to achieve intimacy with a reader, contending that his best poems often invite us into the confidence of a personality that remains finally elusive.

A coda emphasises the inventiveness and personal candour that unites the three poets’ language.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:John Clare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, Poetry
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Oct 2014 15:31

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