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The role of memory in the poetry of Douglas Dunn and Tony Harrison with specific reference to elegy.

By Rebecca Emily Smalley


The question at the centre of this thesis is whether or not the autobiographical memories we find in the poetry of Douglas Dunn and Tony Harrison merit consideration as more than human documentaries or nostalgic tales of the past. Remembering the familiar past provides both poets with the opportunity to confess feelings of grief (at the loss of a wife or parent) and unease (often caused by the appropriation of family life for poetry). Memory helps both poets to explore the origins of their poetic identities.\ud My approach combines close readings of individual poems (many of which have not been previously analysed in such detail) with awareness of the intertextual. I cite references made to famous elegies and suggest what has motivated both poets' use of their sources. Drawing on traditional elegies throughout - but especially in Chapters 1, 4 and 6 - I argue that Harrison and Dunn display elegiac tendencies in their treatment of personal memory almost as if to counter the consciousness of oblivion present in their imaginations. Making detailed use of Wordsworth's 'Essays upon Epitaphs' and Gray's 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard', Chapter 1 argues that Harrison reviews a poetics of epitaphs in V.. In Chapters 4 and 6 it is argued that the figures, structures and motifs of elegy fragmentarily echoed in Dunn's poetry are deformations as well as celebrations of tradition; and that such figures, structures and motifs highlight a social consciousness displayed in the poet's relationship with the people he remembers, and in the readership he imagines for himself inside the text.\ud The thesis also emphasises attention to reader response. Delineation of the reader responses anticipated by Harrison and Dunn provides evidence for the argument that both poets are aware that their choice of familiar subject matter is contentious and that each desires to justify his choice. In Chapter 2 Harrison is shown as being preoccupied with several different manifestations of oblivion including literary records of extinction. Chapter 3 investigates his dramatic contextualisation of the consciousness of oblivion (especially as induced by the threat of nuclear war). Links between representations of memory in translation and elegy are established, and the nature of Harrison's public voice discussed with special reference to Greek drama. Further to examining Dunn's awareness of what is implied by 'translation' (Chapter 3), the penultimate chapter of the thesis (Chapter 5) analyses Dunn's memories of childhood and growing up, memories which have similarities with those of Tony Harrison. The study of narrative representations of memory in Chapter 5 suggests the fundamentally rural origin of Dunn's poetic identity, and his preference for a past contained in a natural environment. Additionally, the evidence provided by Dunn's early collections indicates that he is instinctively an elegist whose art matures, almost as if in preparation for his masterpiece to date, Elegies. The thesis culminates with a chapter on Elegies in which it is argued that Dunn's domestic contextualisation of mourning produces social and cultural meanings

Topics: Literature Mass media Performing arts
Year: 1991
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Durham e-Theses

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