UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Vernon Watkins, metaphysical poet McCaslin, Susan 1984

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C 1 VERNON WATKINS, METAPHYSICAL POET by SUSAN ELIZABETH McCASLIN Ph.D., The U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h C o l u m b i a , 1984 A THESIS SUBMITTED I N PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY r i n THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES ( D e p a r t m e n t o f E n g l i s h ) We a c c e p t t h i s t h e s i s as c o n f o r m i n g t o t h e r e q u i r e d s t a n d a r d THE UNIVERSITY OF B R I T I S H COLUMBIA May 1984 Q S u s a n E l i z a b e t h M c C a s l i n , 1984 In p r e s e n t i n g t h i s t h e s i s i n p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t o f the requirements f o r an advanced degree a t the U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree t h a t the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y a v a i l a b l e f o r r e f e r e n c e and study. I f u r t h e r agree t h a t p e r m i s s i o n f o r e x t e n s i v e copying o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be granted by the head o f my department o r by h i s o r her r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . I t i s understood t h a t copying or p u b l i c a t i o n of t h i s t h e s i s f o r f i n a n c i a l g a i n s h a l l not be allowed without my w r i t t e n p e r m i s s i o n . Department o f r^L^ /  The U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia 1956 Main Mall Vancouver, Canada V6T 1Y3 Date ^ /qfV Abstract VERNON WATKINS, METAPHYSICAL POET Susan E l i z a b e t h McCaslin The Welsh poet Vernon Watkins (1906-1967) can best be char-a c t e r i z e d as a modern metaphysical poet. Not only does he stand i n r e l a t i o n s h i p to c e r t a i n "Metaphysical Poets" of the seven-teenth century l i k e Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne, but he i s metaphysical i n the more comprehensive sense of being concerned with the r e v e l a t i o n of a transcendent order hidden w i t h i n the world of time. Throughout h i s canon he speaks i n a unique voice of the t r a d i t i o n a l metaphysical and o n t o l o g i c a l questions of God's r e l a t i o n to man, time to the timeless and the P l a t o n i c many to the one. A close reading of many of h i s poems reveals the conceptual and symbolic u n i t y of an imagination centered on the idea of the "overthrow of time." Though the t h e s i s places s p e c i a l emphasis on the l y r i c s — p a r t i c u l a r l y on two s e r i e s of l i n k e d poems (the " T a l i e s i n " and "Music of Colours" sequences) where Watkins views nature sub specie a e t e r n i t a t i s — h i s prose w r i t i n g s and longer dramatic l y r i c s are a l s o taken i n t o consider-a t i o n . I t i s found that symbols r e c u r r i n g throughout h i s work take on added resonance and depth when seen i n the context of the c a r e f u l l y woven matrix of which they are a part. The t h e s i s constructs a t r a d i t i o n a l and h i s t o r i c a l context f o r reading Wat-k i n s ' poetry by e x p l o r i n g f i v e i n t e r r e l a t e d aspects of h i s e s s e n t i a l l y metaphysical imagination: 1) h i s i n t e g r a t i o n of C e l t i c myth and C h r i s t i a n b e l i e f i n the sequence of poems d e a l i n g with the s i x t h - c e n t u r y bard, T a l i e s i n , 2) h i s use of P l a t o n i c i i i and N e o p l a t o n i c c o n c e p t s and symbols i n t h e " M u s i c o f C o l o u r s " s e q u e n c e , 3) t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p o f h i s c h o i c e o f t r a d i t i o n a l v e r s e forms and a m u s i c a l , v a t i c s t y l e t o h i s m e t a p h y s i c a l o u t l o o k , 4 ) h i s a f f i n i t i e s w i t h t h e s e v e n t e e n t h - c e n t u r y p o e t s , Donne, H e r b e r t , Vaughan and T r a h e r n e , and 5) t h e im p a c t o f t h e two modern p o e t s who had t h e g r e a t e s t i n f l u e n c e on h i s s t y l e , W. B. Y e a t s and D y l a n Thomas. W a t k i n s ' p r o f o u n d c o m p r e h e n s i o n o f t h e d e l i c a t e i n t e r r e l a t i o n o f t h e t e m p o r a l and e t e r n a l w o r l d s , c o u p l e d w i t h h i s i m p e c c a b l e c r a f t s m a n s h i p , p l a c e him among t h e f i n e s t l y r i c p o e t s o f t h e modern p e r i o d . i v Table of Contents Page A b s t r a c t i i Acknowledgements v i Ab b r e v i a t i o n s ^ v i i I n t r o d u c t i o n 1 B i o g r a p h i c a l Sketch 12 Chapter I The F i g u r e of T a l i e s i n : Poet as Bard and Prophet • 27 II Time and E t e r n i t y : The "Music of C o l o u r s " Poems 72 I I I The S t r i c t e r Muse: P o e t i c Form and the Metaphysical V i s i o n 115 Part I: P o e t i c Theory 116 Part I I : P o e t i c P r a c t i c e 141 IV Watkins and the Metaphysicals 169 Part I: Watkins, Donne and Herbert . . . . 170 Part I I : Watkins, Vaughan and Traherne . . 207 V Watkins as Twentieth-Century Metaphysical Poet 251 Part I: The Example of Yeats 252 Part I I : The F r i e n d s h i p with Thomas . . . . 300 Notes 339 B i b l i o g r a p h y 373 Appendix 386 V f o r Mark v i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I w i s h t o acknowledge t h e T r u s t e e s o f t h e I s a a k W a l t o n K i l l a m M e m o r i a l F e l l o w s h i p s whose f i n a n c i a l s u p p o r t d u r i n g t h e p a s t two y e a r s e n a b l e d me t o c o m p l e t e t h i s p r o j e c t . I am a l s o im-m e n s e l y g r a t e f u l t o my s u p e r v i s o r y committee a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h C o l u m b i a , C h a i r m a n , Dr. I . S. Ros s , and members, D r s . L. M. J o h n s o n and A. T. L. P a r k i n , f o r a s t u t e a d v i c e a t a l l o f t h e t h e s i s ' c r u c i a l s t a g e s o f d e v e l o p m e n t . F i n a l l y , I would l i k e t o o f f e r s p e c i a l t h a n k s t o Mrs. Gwen Watkins whose i n c i s i v e comments i n b o t h l e t t e r s and p e r s o n a l i n t e r v i e w e n -r i c h e d my a p p r e c i a t i o n o f h e r husband's work; t o my t y p i s t , Mrs. Mary Haddock, f o r t h e g e n e r o u s d o n a t i o n o f h e r t i m e and c a r e i n t h e p r e p a r a t i o n o f t h e f i n a l m a n u s c r i p t ; and t o my f a t h e r , D o n a l d A. M c C a s l i n , f o r h i s i n v a l u a b l e h e l p w i t h p r o o f r e a d i n g . v i i ABBREVIATIONS Books b y W a t k i n s c i t e d i n t e x t ( f o r f u l l d o c u m e n t a t i o n s e e b i b l i o g r a p h y ) : BML B a l l a d o f t h e M a r i Lwyd and O t h e r Poems (2nd e d . , F a b e r , 1947) LV The Lamp and t h e V e i l ( F a b e r , 1945) LU The L a d y w i t h t h e U n i c o r n ( F a b e r , 1948) DB The D e a t h B e l l ( F a b e r , 1959) CA C y p r e s s a n d A c a c i a ( F a b e r , 1959) A A f f i n i t i e s ( F a b e r , 1962) F F i d e l i t i e s ( F a b e r , 1968) UP U n c o l l e c t e d Poems ( E n i t h a r m o n , 1969) US U n i t y o f t h e S t r e a m (Gomer, 1978) BOD The B a l l a d o f t h e O u t e r D a r k ( E n i t h a r m o n , 1979) BW The B r e a k i n g o f t h e Wave ( G o l g o n o o z a , 1979) 1 I n t r o d u c t i o n " C h r i s t e n me, t h e r e f o r e , t h a t my a c t s i n t h e d a r k may be j u s t , And a d a p t my p a r t i a l v i s i o n t o t h e l i m i t a t i o n o f t i m e . " ( f r o m " T a l i e s i n and t h e S p r i n g o f V i s i o n " ) When V e r n o n W a t k i n s was i