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Impersonality and the extinction of self: A comparative analysis of the poetry of Alun Lewis and Keith Douglas

By Peter Kerry Morgan


This thesis, comparative in method, examines a wide range of the poetry of Keith Douglas and Alun Lewis, and some of their prose writings. As Second World War poets, both sought a poetic register that voiced their testimony to changed realities, both internal and external. Degrees of commonality are traced between Douglas’s dominant impulse for ‘impersonality’ and Lewis’s increasing stylistic objectivity, alongside investigation of their shared underlying sense of loss, and of complicity as agents of war, even when their poetic voice is at its most impersonal. Diverse critical viewpoints are addressed, along with several psychoanalytical theories and relevant biographical commentary. Following an Introduction and Review of the Critical Field, each chapter is structured as a bipartite comparison, focusing first on Douglas, then on Lewis. Chapter 1 investigates Douglas’s impersonality as a controlled, ambivalently detached poetic register which, in its undertow and perceptual shifts, reveals the speaker’s submersed engagement and ethical complicity. Lewis’s poetry is seen to reveal a related impulse for increasingly subordinating the subjective voice in evocations of the painfully harsh realities he encountered. Chapter 2 explores the writers’ dialectical struggles to resolve or extinguish self-division, focusing particularly upon Douglas’s ‘bête noire’ and Lewis’s ‘enmity within’, configurations analysed as paradoxically creative/destructive ingredients of the poetic impulse. Chapter 3 then examines the poets’ epistemological and ontological preoccupations with death, ‘darkness’ and ‘being’, and their relevance to what is here termed ‘the extinction of Self’. Chapter 4 extends this enquiry to examine the poets’ representations of wartime separation and geographical dislocation as manifestations of ‘the exilic self’ and a mutual desire to extinguish internal crises. The conclusion drawn is that their shared, dual axis of poetic engagement and detachment reveals a deeply embedded, common impulse to voice and escape their burdens, both inherently personal, and as complicit agents of war

Topics: PN Literature (General)
Year: 2015
OAI identifier: oai:
Provided by: ORCA
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