English Language and Literature ETDs

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I have little of that Dionysian faith which supposes that there are ways of "breaking through” to some ideal reality beyond the limits of the individual skin. We are all prisoners in individual cages of bones. It is difficult to even tap out a message to the people who have "known" us for years, and to communicate with strangers is a near impossibility. Yet it is one of poetry functions to attempt just that, for no poet worth his salt can, like Ivan Ivanich of Chekhov's "Gooseberries," murmur, "God forgive us sinners" and go to sleep.

Faced with, for me as a poet, the primary problem of communication, the problems that disturb me as a human being--a personal death and the resultant absurdity of existence--become subject matter to be written about or through rather than an organized and prosey philosophy to be “Preluded" about. Poetry then becomes a way of organizing a life, actually of justifying it. And this putting of wet rawhide around the amorphous mass of sense impressions, random thoughts and passing perceptions is my way of facing the problem of communication. The poem that works cannot be paraphrased or altered any more than a mountain could be paraphrased or a cloud altered. Not that the poem should merely be (whatever a certain school of poets mean by that!) but that it should communicate so well and in so complex a fashion, is the fact that gives a good poem its monumental quality.

Looking into the poem sharpens our ideas on the finality of death, thus making our stay perhaps more intense and sweet than the clouded, irrelevant earthly existence of the great medieval religious poets or of the anonymous faces we encounter daily. This combination of anxiety and a tempered hedonism gives my poetry whatever qualities it possesses. I am not what Robert Graves calls a “Muse poet” (directly influenced by the Goddess) nor am I what he calls an “Apollonian poet” (concerned only with the form of things) but somewhere between the two. I attempt at all times to convey in a basically pictorial manner (in forms ranging from heroic couplets to those based on the varied lengths and rhythms of speech) some quick perception of something relevant to the existence of “thought-burdened" twentieth-century man.

The pictorial or subject-grounded poems that I write are not to be confused with “occasional poetry." Subject­ grounded poetry which sets a picture before you clearly and then draws conclusions from it has a long history, I find, throughout seventeenth-century poetry from Donne's mannerism to Townshend's rococo. Blake, in the “Songs of Experience,” does much the same thing as do countless modern poets. I choose this method to bring details into sharp focus; and details are microcosmic representations of larger entities: a world in a grain of sand.

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Robert William Redding

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