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Abstract

My dissertation examines how Jones and Auden, two late modernist poets, woke up from the high modernist dream of poetic autonomy. Contemporaries like James Joyce, Wilfred Owen, W. B. Yeats, and T. S. Eliot tended either to revolt against the public status quo or to turn aside in private rebellion. Resisting this poetic “ire,” Jones and Auden wrote what I call an “irenic” poetry, one which peacefully coexists with the outside world. My first chapter traces the mature expression of this idea in these poets’ later reflections on art, religion, and the idea of a poetic vocation. The next two chapters look at how these poets tried to bring poetic landscape and ritual theater back to earth and to secular community. The fourth and fifth chapters consider these authors’ midcareer masterpieces, Jones’s In Parenthesis (1937) and Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror” (1944): though radically different in form and subject matter, both works address the danger of poetic violence by exploring the myriad varieties of poetic experience and their deeper unity in our common human nature. A final chapter compares the poetics traced in the preceding chapters to works by the most germane of these poets’ contemporaries. In addition to analyzing two major modernist poets in light of one another, this project develops a philosophical aesthetics, implicit in these poets’ work, concerned with what it means to understand two authors in each other’s light. Poetic affinities, I suggest, do not allegorize shared institutional or ideological backgrounds, but rather register a shared solution to an historically particular poetic problem, in this case, a problem about how a poem can acknowledge the existence of other poems, other persons, and other authorities. This account contributes to two important critical conversations, one about poetry, personhood, and human community, another about how modernist poets’ theoretical commitments and formal innovations shape and structure one another.

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