THE POETRY OF RONALD DUNCAN
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This thesis is the first sustained critical analysis of the poetry of Ronald Duncan (1914-1982). As this is the first study of Duncan's poetry, a substantial part is exegesis and follows a chronological pattern. Duncan was a man of letters who wrote poetry, plays, librettos, songs, short stories, journals, autobiographies, biographies and novels. He was strongly influenced by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. Their poetics and personal advice enabled Duncan to produce a series of publications that pursued some basic modernist tenets, such as an adherence to a European poetic tradition and the belief that poetry could induce cultural renewal, via an overtly subjectivised perspective. A chapter of this thesis has been allocated for each of Duncan's poetry publications. The introduction explores the personal and ideological importance of Pound and Eliot for Duncan; Pound's input into Duncan's magazine Townsman: and how Eliot, as Duncan's publisher, was able to offer a significant platform for his poetry. It also examines the position of the writer in relation to his writing, to show how the subjectivity of modernist authors compared with Duncan's belief that authorial presence was an essential part of any genuine poetic endeavour. Duncan's poetic career spanned almost forty years, from 1939 to 1977. His first publication, Postcards to Pulcinella (c1939), exemplifies his early experimentation with form. His next, and first Faber publication, The Mongrel (1950), is notable for its diversity of form and theme, and develops a greater awareness of European poetic diversity than is present in Postcards to Pulcinella. The Solitudes (1960) introduces a reworking of love poem sequences, which is developed in Unpopular Poems (1969) and For The Few (1977), and concentrates increasingly on lost love and personal grief. Between Unpopular Poems and For the Few Duncan published the five parts of his epic narrative poem Man (1970-4). This major work charts the history of the universe and human development, and blends poetic with scientific discourse. Man exemplifies, above all else, Duncan's on-going belief that all things exist only in his conscious understanding. The relationship between Duncan, the writing process and the resultant poetry, is a recurrent theme throughout the thesis. By drawing a distinction between author (writing subject) and the written representation of that author in the poetry (written subject) it explores the relationship between Duncan's own consciousness, the world it perceives, and the linguistic structures he uses in communicating their conjunction. Each of Duncan's poetry publications develops themes of love, sex, nature, human nature, Christianity and subjective isolation. Employing a variety of verse forms and tropes these themes are teased out book by book, but conclude with his belief that conscious expansion and cultural development through poetry was a futile, but nevertheless necessary, endeavour.
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