The Burden and Promise of History: The post-War poetics of Jon Silkin, Geoffrey Hill, and Tony Harrison
AbstractThis thesis has two intersected lines of enquiry: it examines how Jon Silkin, Geoffrey Hill, and Tony Harrison respond to the Second World War and the Holocaust in their published writing, and it considers – using each poet’s archived correspondence, notebooks, and drafts – how their creative process and self-representation was informed by their self-awareness of their historical and geographical position. Analysing their published and unpublished work, my study explores how each poet’s (self-asserted) place within the poetic tradition, their creative, national, international, and personal identity, and their understanding of history and poetry was inextricable from their particular position as post-War English poets. Focussing in the first chapter on how Silkin, Hill, and Harrison engage with a tradition of war poetry within their writing, and in the second on the ways that they consider place, Englishness, identity, and belonging, this thesis explores how each writer’s published poetry and unpublished correspondence and drafts continually negotiate with the geographical and historical circumstances that shaped both their survival and the position of their witness. It argues that the result of this sometimes difficult negotiation and self-reflection is a determinately cosmopolitan and outward-facing post-War poetic – a set of individual styles both symptomatic and responsive to the historical events that took place within and beyond their national borders, and to the ethical, aesthetic, and political questions that these events subsequently raised.
Copley, Hannah Louise (2015) The Burden and Promise of History: The post-War poetics of Jon Silkin, Geoffrey Hill, and Tony Harrison. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.