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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Robert Duncan: The poem as process Wah, Pauline


It is the argument of this thesis that Robert Duncan's poetry arises out of a conviction that the poem is a vital process, depending on an active interaction or interplay between the poet and language, his medium. The argument rests on the assumption that Duncan's poetry as a whole, is a testimony of a spiritual process, with each individual poem being in some way a mystery and a revelation and, therefore, an instrument in the process of the spirit. The aesthetics underlying this concept of art are examined in the introductory chapter. In the next four chapters, the elements that contribute to the poetic process - generally defined as the work of the poem and the work of the poet - are analyzed, through an examination of selected poem and prose statements. A division is made of Duncan's work into two periods, in Chapter 2, with the rest of the study being focused on the second (later) period of writing, where Duncan's increased attention to language process is found to be instrumental in creating a poetry that is truly a vital process. The early work is briefly discussed in Chapter 2, as an exploration of the subject of love, that being its distinguishing characteristic, and also as a foundation for the later work. Germs of later developments are noted in Duncan's attention to psychological, magical, and musical processes in the the poem, and are discussed in "Towards an African Elegy," "Medieval Scenes," and "The Venice Poem," respectively. Chapter 3 turns to the later work, Letters, The Opening of the Field and Roots and Branches. Duncan's evolving concept of language as the source and place of revelation, and as the instrument, also, of approaching a transcendent communal reality, is traced through Letters to its full definition in the first poem of The Field, "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow." Preparatory to discussing the other half of the process - the poet's actual workings in the poem - Chapter 4 considers the poet's place in the poem, and his general function in its process. Duncan's two major poems of the later work, "The Poem Beginning with a Line by Pindar," and "Apprehensions" are discussed here to demonstrate the claim that Duncan assumes no omniscience in the poem; his position is one of limited awareness. It is found that he functions in the poem through an interplay or interaction between the creation of the poem and his consciousness. Finally, the precise nature of his participation, his working of the language toward a possible music through tone leading of vowels and thematic composition, is examined in Chapter 5. The concluding chapter summarizes Duncan's concept of process and then gives a brief sketch of areas not covered in this study. Duncan's major subjects and sources are outlined, with possible approaches to a study of his subject matter being suggested. Finally, it is claimed that however his work is approached, the spiritual centre of Duncan's art emerges as primary.

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