UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social and lyric voices of Dorothy Livesay Boylan, Charles Robert


This thesis is a study of the growth and development of an important contemporary Canadian poet, Dorothy Livesay. I attempt to show that common to her personal, lyrical poems and her social documentaries is a democratic and humanist sensibility. Her purpose as a writer is to communicate with Canadians her responses to contemporary life as she experiences and feels it. Her perspective is that of a sensitive and critical mind, conscious of injustice and the difficult striving of people for happiness and fulfillment in what she feels to be a restricting, often violent society. She has always been a rebel; and it is her rebellious, unquiet spirit which drives her to express both her communal concerns as a political poet, and her innermost personal feelings as a woman. Chapter one shows her early concern with the problem women have in finding fulfillment in a male-dominated world. Her intimate knowledge of and fondness for women Imagist poets finds reflection in Green Pitcher and Signpost. Also evident is her realistic response to her environment, and the influence of Raymond Knister. During this apprenticeship period in her life she mastered the Imagist technique, and indicated competence at treating larger social questions. Chapter two explores the impact the 1930s and upsurge of revolutionary ideas had on her writing. She accepted Marxism as the only perspective which could rationally explain the social evils caused by the depression. Her life as a social worker led her to see the worst aspects of industrial society. She channelled her political activism into revolutionary poetry after she became aware of the lyrical writings of Auden, Spender, Day-Lewis and others. In this chapter I also show her commitment to peace and the Loyalist cause in Spain. Much of her finest lyrical and social poetry in this period is her response to the ugliness of war against which she has campaigned all her life. Chapter three extends my analysis of her social poetry into the area of national themes. I investigate the important question of national identity in Canada. I also indicate that Dorothy Livesay is a patriot but not a jingoist. As such she has made an important contribution in making her compatriots aware of the real essence of their nation which is the people who live and work within an expansive landscape. Chapter four describes the difficult decade of the 1950s. Dorothy Livesay responded to the atomic age and problems of raising a family by a sharp reduction in the quantity and quality of her poetry. I then show how her return from Africa to Vancouver in 1963 led her to re-explore the lyrical point of view of a woman in love. Chapter five concludes the thesis with an examination of her latest social poems, re-emphasizing the continuity of her democratic, humanist perspective, I show how her interest in new techniques and her raporte with young writers enables her to continue exploring themes of love, war, art and politics in modes that communicate clearly and effectively her progressive, critical attitudes to contemporary life in Canada.

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