Sublime objective: form and meaning in the poetry of Basil Bunting

McGonigal, James (1978) Sublime objective: form and meaning in the poetry of Basil Bunting. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Basil Bunting's place in modern English poetry is, like the man himself, difficult to fathom. At one extreme his work has found a loyal following verging at times on the sycophantic; at the other it has evoked a distrust of the "obscurity" of his method and forms, a sense of deja vu, a feeling that a minor disciple of the modernist generation has been unworthily raised to the status of a master.
Between these extremes lies a range of approval more or less qualified, but all of it labouring under the difficulties created by the paradoxical texture of Bunting's verse, which stresses clarity yet employs obscure allusion, is individualistic yet admittedly derives from lessons taught by many other poets, is much concerned with form (which in the Sonatas precedes subject matter, he claims) yet gives the impression of freedom and variety; is emotional in its themes yet is also somehow rigorous and contained; and is objective while tending constantly towards the sublime. This study examines the nature and sources of these paradoxical elements in Bunting's work, while at the same time carrying out some of the task of explication which must, it seems, take place before right critical judgment of such a "difficult" poet can be arrived at. The first half deals with the external forces influencing the poetry. In Chapter II an attempt is made to find whether anything of the interesting detail of Bunting's life resolves itself into a central theme for his art. The seeds are uncovered of a quest myth of exile and heightened return which, as is later demonstrated, gives form to the whole. Chapter III examines his literary rather than personal history, and traces the influence on him of the series of poets whom he acknowledges in the Preface to Collected Poems. Although there is something of interest to be found, I trust, on each of these poets, for my own part the sections which rediscover Bunting's connections with the English epic and pastoral traditions, with Wordsworth,Wyatt and in particular with Spenser, have proved most illuminating. The discussion of external forces is completed in Chapter IV, a closely
argued consideration of influential aspects of music and syntax on Bunting's verse, which attempts to bring into alignment or harmony some at least of the diverse elements, attitudes and techniques encountered in earlier chapters. Music is, of course, the point of entry into any consideration of formal elements in Bunting's poetry. In Chapter V the problem of form in modernist poetry is discussed, as well as the theory and practice of the Objectivist movement(in which Bunting played some part) and its attitude to form. Finally, following Bunting's example, the sonata forms within each of his Sonatas are examined in diagrammatic fashion, and the interplay and resolution of themes demonstrated. Chapter VI is devoted to a detailed analysis of the quest myth earlier mentioned, as it shapes and explains the diverse literary and personal materials of
'Briggflatts'. The theory of archetypal. imagery on which this form is based is further examined in Chapter VII which suggests two means by which Bunting's complex poetry can and does communicate with audiences not wholly composed of research students. Chapter VIII brings the study to completion with a brief consideration of the sublime poem, and its metamorphosis in Bunting's hands.
As a whole, then, the study covers many problematic areas of
Bunting's work, demonstrates why it takes the precise fo m it does, introduces much new material on the influence of other poets upon it, and discovers the great central theme which informs the work of this important and too long neglected poet.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts
Date of Award: 1978
Depositing User: Ms Mary Anne Meyering
Unique ID: glathesis:1978-4988
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2014 09:33
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2014 09:40

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