Given to the River' and 'Form, Context and Tone in Eliot, Auden and MacNeice'
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Lawrenson, Dorothy Jane
Given to the River is a collection of poetry in which I explore themes of landscape, memory, mortality and the passage of time. Predominantly comprising lyric poetry in free verse, the collection also features some traditional and experimental forms, as well as a suite of six poems that exist in both Scots and English language versions. The collection is unified by recurring motifs of rivers, bridges, shorelines, estuaries and the sea. It attends to the flow of rivers and tides, and to activities such as beachcombing and seafaring, to meditate on the relationship between human emotional or intellectual concerns and the larger recurring movements of nature. A specific sense of place is evident in some of the poems, especially those concerning the river Tay, which explore childhood memories as well as the history of the Tay Bridge disaster. Many of the poems draw on personal, autobiographical subject matter. “The cut-off” and “My mother asks me to knit her a hat”, for example, explore the emotional challenges involved in navigating relationships between people who are widely separated geographically. “The lowes” / “The fires” and “Hansel” / “New-Year gift” explore the tension between the speaker’s desire to look backwards – to the past year or to the security of childhood – and her acknowledgment of the future’s inevitable uncertainty and the impermanence of physical forms. An element of fantasy enters into some poems, as in the speaker’s desire to be divested of her name in “A meditation on my Christian name”, or in the erasure “Epitaph for a Tragedian”, which reorganises William McGonagall’s words into stream-of-consciousness free verse. The collection is punctuated by four instalments of a long sequence, “Rax me that poem”, whose haiku-like stanzas obliquely approach the problems of writing poetry. In the accompanying critical study, Form, Context and Tone in Eliot, Auden and MacNeice, I analyse aspects of poems by T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, to demonstrate how formal features depend on context to influence tone and thereby voice and meaning. Focusing on Eliot’s use of chiasmus in Four Quartets, voice and verse in early Auden, and iterativity in early and late MacNeice, I discuss various ways in which these works exploit relationships between form and context, and I consider the resulting tonal effects. I argue that, for all three poets, these relationships and effects contribute to addressing preoccupations with identity, temporality and mortality.