Saying the unsayable: Language and the tension of the world in the late poetry of Robert Penn Warren

Van Dyke, John Carden (1997) Saying the unsayable: Language and the tension of the world in the late poetry of Robert Penn Warren. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis explores the turn in Robert Penn Warren's later poetry toward the problematic nature of language which he discerned in the unresolvable tension between the "sayable" and the "unsayable." Warren's struggle within this tension of language is not formulated in a clearly defined philosophy or theory; rather it is conceived through his attention to poiesis, to the act of poetic creation itself. Warren conceives of language as fallen, fractured, and sometimes arbitrary, but he also envisions a power within this limitation by which language enacts and actuates those things which may not be spoken. This concern for language is shaped to a large extent by his understanding through Coleridge of the role of the imagination and is evidenced by his attention in this later poetry to the voice of the world and to the act of naming. The poet, in Warren's word, "yearns" for the moment of articulation which both acknowledges the boundaries of the sayable and is empowered by the absent presence of the unsayable. The poet's quest after the unsayable is open-ended; thus, we find a poetry which resists closure and totalization through an on-going questioning of what it means to dwell in the world. By tracing out the development of this line of thought from Warren's 1946 essay on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "A Poem of Pure Imagination; An Experiment in Reading," through his 1969 poem, Audubon: A Vision, and in his subsequent poetry and criticism, it is argued that Warren's increased attention to language as both the problem and the power within the act of poetic creation discloses a subtle but discernible shift out of a modernist critical paradigm in which language is the tool of the poet and toward a more postmodern conception of language as the endless play of difference. Furthermore, by reading Warren within a certain heritage of thought that runs from Coleridge through Kierkegaard and Heidegger, it is claimed that Warren's poetry both anticipates certain emphases in postmodern thought and contributes toward the possibility of theological articulation within the postmodern condition.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: David Jasper
Keywords: English literature
Date of Award: 1997
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1997-71869
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 09:31
Last Modified: 17 May 2019 09:31
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71869

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