Peasant mandarins : four poets negotiating traditions after the Empire
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The aim of this thesis is to examine Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Les Murray and Tony Harrison as important figures in contemporary English-language poetry. Writing in the aftermath of Empire, these four poets are all linked by being in some sense 'cultural provincials' who have sought to engage with an Anglocentric canon of English literature. The need to stay true to their indigenous regional, vernacular experiences as "peasant" poets has played a crucial role in the forming of their respective voices. However, this study also stresses the need to see Heaney, Walcott, Murray and Harrison as writers whose literary sensibility was formed during the late imperial period. Their formal education is discussed not merely as a culturally estranging experience, but also as a factor contributing to their strong sense of poetic tradition. It is through their negotiations across a broad cultural spectrum that these poets have turned their perceived cultural marginality into a strength. As "Peasant Mandarins", they have sought to balance their local cultural pieties with a sense of wider artistic autonomy that is not tied to a particular local or sectarian affiliation. Consequently, rather than examining Heaney, Walcott, Murray and Harrison merely as regional or national poets in a post-colonial context, this thesis draws attention to their role as international brokers of a shared, but polycentric and heterogeneous, tradition of poetry in English. While intended as a comparative study. Peasant Mandarins: Four Poets Negotiating Traditions after the Empire remains alert to the different cultural experiences of Heaney, Walcott, Murray and Harrison, and stays true to the distinguishing features of their respective voices. Four main chapters discuss each poet individually, while the Introduction and Conclusion assess their collective role as "Peasant Mandarins", linking them to the general climate of contemporary English-language poetry.
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