The aesthetics of history in the modern English long poem : David Jones's 'The Anathemata', Basil Bunting's 'Briggflatts', Geoffrey Hill's 'Mercian Hymns' and Roy Fisher's 'A Furnace'
David Jones, Basil Bunting, Geoffrey Hill and Roy Fisher are major poets in the modernist tradition who have written long poems which incorporate and interrogate history. The Anathemata. Briggflatts. Mercian Hvmns and A Furnace all explore the poet's sense of identity and his relationship to the present by attempting to give order to the past. This thesis examines how this attempt, and the various ideologies, philosophies and aesthetics that have accompanied it, are given form in these poems. It relates detailed readings of the poems to their intellectual and historical contexts. The Introduction outlines the typical features of die modernist long poem and suggests that they are peculiarly suited to expressions of both history and nationalism. Chapter I is a critical assessment of the aesthetics of Wilhelm Worringer and Herbert Read. Chapter II shows how David Jones endeavours to give form to the various histories of The Anathemata by using these aesthetics in conjunction with the historical philosophy of Oswald Spengler, the analysis of myth and ritual of J.G. Frazer and Jessie Weston, and his own nationalism and Roman Catholicism. This chapter accounts for the poem's obscurity by investigating its conflicting ideas of form, and locating it in die context of the Second World War. Chapter III, on Briggflatts. argues that Basil Bunting combines the ideas of Worringer and Read with an autobiographical narrative and a structure derived from music, in order to give die poem a form mirroring both his melancholia and the harmony he perceived in nature. It contends that the histories in the poem are best read as relating to autobiography and not Northumbrian nationalism. Chapter IV shows how Geoffrey Hill refashions the English long poem in a manner close to that of the lyric sequence. It explores notions of empathy and historical continuity in Mercian Hymns. and analyses Hill's ambiguous evocation of his Anglo-Saxon roots in the context of contemporary political discourse. Chapter V discusses the ways in which Roy Fisher enacts different apprehensions of time and history in the dialectical structure of A Furnace, and relates them to the thought of John Cowper Powys. The Conclusion draws together the recurrent themes of the thesis: change and continuity, history and identity, time and timelessness.