Theses Doctoral

Secularization and the British Lyric in the Twentieth Century

Stevens, Jeremy

This dissertation considers how twentieth century British lyric poets, in continuing the traditional relationship between religion and poetry, respond to changing expectations and assumptions about poetry’s role and power—changes directly related to ongoing social processes of secularization. By combining recent critical insights from secularization theory and lyric theory with close readings of poems, essays, and letters from British poets, this dissertation shows that due to social changes that cohere around World War I, poets like Wilfred Owen, Mary Borden, and David Jones confront an unsettling of traditional strategies of lyric enchantment. This unsettling both imperils the legitimacy of lyric poetics and opens new opportunities. Poets such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and H.D. subsequently engage in strategies of deliberate re-enchantment to justify wide-ranging vocations, while the later Eliot, David Jones, and Elizabeth Jennings confront the limits of re-enchantment but still imagine the poetic vocation as connected to religion. In every case, this dissertation shows that lyric re-enchantment (as a distillation of the aesthetic itself) is fundamentally ambiguous; it is necessarily secular and immanent, yet it continues to imply a transcendence that can easily be put to religious or even supernatural ends. The lyric is thus a genre that uniquely registers the opportunities and challenges for the aesthetic in a secular age.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Cole, Sarah
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2020