Dark saying: a study of the Jobian dilemma in relation to contemporary ars poetica ; Bedrock: poems
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Part I of this thesis has been written with a view to exploring the relevance a text over 2500 years old has for contemporary ars poetica. From a detailed study of ‘The Book of Job’ I highlight three main tropes, ‘cognitive dissonance’, ‘tĕšuvah’, and ‘dark saying’, and demonstrate how these might inform the working methods of the contemporary poet. In the introduction I define these tropes in their theological and historical context. Chapter one provides a detailed examination of ‘Job’, its antecedents and its influence on literature. In chapters two and three I examine in detail techniques of Classical Hebrew poetry employed in ‘Job’ and argue for a confluence between literary technique and Jobian cosmology. Stylistically, the rest of the thesis is a critical meditation on how the main tropes of ‘Job’ can be mapped onto contemporary ars poetica. In chapter four I initiate an exploration into varying responses to cognitive dissonance, suggesting how the false comforters and Job represent different approaches to, and stages of, poetic composition. A critique of an essay by David Daiches is followed by a detailed study of Seamus Heaney. In chapter five I map the trope of tĕšuvah onto contemporary ars poetica with reference to the poetry of Pilinszky, Popa, and to the poems and critical work of Ted Hughes. The chapter concludes with a brief exploration into the common ground shared between the terms tĕšuvah and versus as a means of highlighting the importance of proper maturation of the work. Chapter six consists of a discussion of how the kind of ‘dark saying’ found in ‘Job’ 38-41 impacts on an understanding of poetic language and its capacity to accelerate our comprehension of reality. I support this notion with excerpts from Joseph Brodsky and a close reading of Montale’s ‘L’anguilla’. Chapter seven further develops the notion of poetry as a means of propulsion beyond the familiar, the predictable or the clichéd, by examining the function of metaphor and what I term ‘quick thinking’, and by referring to two recently published poems by John Burnside and Don Paterson. In chapter eight I draw out the overall motif implied by a close reading of ‘Job’, that of the weathering of an ordeal, and map this onto ars poetica, looking at two aspects of labour, which I identify as ‘endurance’ and ‘letting go’, crucial for the proper maturation of a poem or body of poems. The concluding chapter develops the theme of the temple first discussed in chapter one. I argue for a connection between Job as a temple initiate, who has the capacity to atone for the false comforters, and poetry as a form of ‘at-one-ment’. This notion is supported by reference to Geoffrey Hill and Rilke. Part II of the thesis consists of a selection of my own poems, titled ‘Bedrock’.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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