UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Vernon Watkins, metaphysical poet McCaslin, Susan


The Welsh poet Vernon Watkins (1906-1967) can best be characterized as a modern metaphysical poet. Not only does he stand in relationship to certain "Metaphysical Poets" of the seventeenth century like Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne, but he is metaphysical in the more comprehensive sense of being concerned with the revelation of a transcendent order hidden within the world of time. Throughout his canon he speaks in a unique voice of the traditional metaphysical and ontological questions of God's relation to man, time to the timeless and the Platonic many to the one. A close reading of many of his poems reveals the conceptual and symbolic unity of an imagination centered on the idea of the "overthrow of time." Though the thesis places special emphasis on the lyrics—particularly on two series of linked poems (the "Taliesin" and "Music of Colours" sequences) where Watkins views nature sub specie aeternitatis—his prose writings and longer dramatic lyrics are also taken into consideration. It is found that symbols recurring throughout his work take on added resonance and depth when seen in the context of the carefully woven matrix of which they are a part. The thesis constructs a traditional and historical context for reading Watkins' poetry by exploring five interrelated aspects of his essentially metaphysical imagination: 1) his integration of Celtic myth and Christian belief in the sequence of poems dealing with the sixth-century bard, Taliesin, 2) his use of Platonic and Neoplatonic concepts and symbols in the "Music of Colours" sequence, 3) the relationship of his choice of traditional verse forms and a musical, vatic style to his metaphysical outlook, 4) his affinities with the seventeenth-century poets, Donne, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne, and 5) the impact of the two modern poets who had the greatest influence on his style, W. B. Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Watkins' profound comprehension of the delicate interrelation of the temporal and eternal worlds, coupled with his impeccable craftsmanship, place him among the finest lyric poets of the modern period.

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