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"'The Life We Image': Chaos and Control in the Poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Yeats"

CALLAGHAN, MADELEINE,FRANCESCA (2010) "'The Life We Image': Chaos and Control in the Poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Yeats". Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The tension between experiential chaos and artistic control is a constant if varying presence, and acts as a fertile, dangerous, but ultimately enriching principle, in the poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Yeats. Each poet is highly self-conscious about this tension, a self-consciousness traceable to their Romantic and post-Romantic understanding of the nature of poetry. Situating itself in the present post-McGannian critical landscape, my thesis looks at poetry through the lens of a new formalism. The thesis valorises aesthetic subtleties and lays emphasis on poetry’s performative intelligence.

The Introduction describes in detail the approach, method, and contents of the thesis. Section one examines the poetics of Byron, Shelley and Yeats, focusing on how each poet figures his attempted control of the potentially chaotic text. The first chapter, on Byron’s poetics, centres on Don Juan, Beppo and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and argues for the presence of a coherent poetics in his oeuvre. Chapter two, on Shelley’s poetics, examines A Defence of Poetry and its relationship with Shelley’s poetry, giving particular attention to Alastor and “Mont Blanc.” Chapter three examines the self-consciousness of Yeats’s poetics, and explores the way in which he makes poetry express his effort towards mastery while retaining the chaos that permits creative freedom in The Wanderings of Oisin, the Byzantium poems, and “Easter 1916.”

The struggle to assert poetic control is a form of heroism, and the second section examines the concept of the hero in works by each of the poets. I illustrate how traditional critical accounts of the poets underestimate the complexity that governs their versions of heroism. Chapter four, on Cain and The Giaour, and chapter five, on Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, trace Byron’s evolving challenge to any straightforward notion of heroism. Chapter six views Shelley’s Epipsychidion as a climactic exploration of the poet-as-hero, while chapter seven explores Adonais’s radical refiguring of the heroic and the elegiac. Chapters eight and nine focus on “The Tower,” on Yeats’s creation of a uniquely personal, yet carefully impersonal, poetic monument to the poet-hero.

The chaos of the actual, from which Byron, Shelley, and Yeats create their poetry, wars constantly with, but also paradoxically enables, the control they attempt to establish. It is their staging of the quarrel between chaos and control that not only provides them with the material out of which they make poetry but also means that their practice foreshadows and at times outflanks our critical constructions.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"Byron," "Shelley," "Yeats," "Romanticism," "Irish Poetry," "Romantics Legacies," "Chaos," "Control," "Authority,"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:23 Feb 2010 15:15

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