Duty, integrity, and the auditory imagination : the poethics of T.S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney
Though they are seldom considered together, T. S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney resemble each other in that both devote considerable attention to the question of the poet's duties, sometimes conflicting, to art, to audience, and to the larger society. This thesis is a study of the ethical poetics, or 'poethics', of two of the 20th Century's most significant poet-critics, each of whom was seen in his lifetime as an important representative of the art of poetry in English. The first chapter introduces the concepts of 'integrity', 'objectivity' and 'impersonality'. It presents Eliot's early poetics, which explicitly insulates poetry from any un-literary consideration, as internally inconsistent, arguing that despite himself Eliot reveals a subjectivist tendency. Chapter II examines a change in Eliot's later prose which refocuses the poet's attention from the 'objective' data of poetry to its associative and evocative auditory qualities. After tracing the development of Eliot's central concept of 'auditory imagination', Eliot's socio-literary response to the Second World War is examined in terms of this mature understanding of poetry's nature. It is in this context that his poethics is most clearly articulated - Eliot's double vision of poetry as a cultural defence as well as a means of intercultural understanding leads him to make demands on poets, that they carry out their 'duty to language', which implies a corresponding duty to people. Thus Eliot preserves his ideal of poetic 'integrity' while admitting a social benefit to poetry. The last two chapters similarly divide Heaney's career into two poethical modes. In Chapter III Eliot's ideas of 'integrity' and 'auditory imagination' are identified as central principles in Heaney's criticism. Heaney's early poetry, which postures itself as inimical to the English literary tradition, is read in terms of these influences. Thus Eliot's idea of poetry as a cultural shield is enacted in Heaney's defensive poethical mode. The final chapter, which considers Heaney's poetry from Field Work (1979) on, reads the change in his poetics as the result of a poethical shift from an instinct for protection to a desire for expansiveness and inclusion. This inclusivity, a version of Eliot's ideal of cultural intercommunication, is pursued through a growingly universal poetry and the adoption of a literary-allusive method, both of which are more often associated with Eliot's most memorable verse.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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