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The Influence of William Blake on the poetry and prose of Dylan Thomas Grant, Hugh Joseph

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to investigate the nature and extent of Dylan Thomas's artistic debt to William Blake. "Chapter I" of our study documents Thomas's professional interest in Blake, offering evidence that Thomas read Blake extensively and carefully. Further, evidence is presented of Thomas's admiration of Blake as a poet and his stated desire to emulate him. "Chapter II" traces Thomas’s direct borrowings from Blake in his 18 Poems as well as in a short story. Because Northrop Frye's idea of the importance of and significance of literary borrowing and literary allusion dictates the direction of much of our argument, our discussion attempts to show the significance of Thomas's borrowings; the implication is that Thomas's imagination shared certain archetypal similarities to that of Blake's. The method of investigation used throughout the thesis, then, has involved a detailed examination of the poems of both poets with the purpose in mind of indicating, where possible, the archetypal significance of the borrowing. "Chapter III" attempts to establish Thomas's direct debt to Blake for many of his images and concepts in his "Altarwise by Owl-Light" sonnet sequence. Our implication is that Thomas was directly influenced in writing the sequence by his knowledge of Blake's epics Vala and Milton. Evidence is presented, in fact, that Thomas borrowed certain of the images for his sonnets from Blake's epics. The preoccupation of both Blake and Thomas with the sinister female will aspect of love in marriage is investigated in "Chapter IV"; our argument implies that Blake derived much of his attitude toward married love from Milton, and through both Milton and Blake, Thomas inherited a somewhat similar attitude. At all times, however, our chief concern is with the poetry resulting from these underlying tensions. There emerges from our study evidence of a striking similarity in artistic vision between Blake and Thomas. Our tracing of literary archetypes (in Northrop Frye's definition) and analogues in the poems leads to the conclusion that Thomas saw the universe from a somewhat similar point of view to that of Blake. "Chapter V" compares Blake’s Jerusalem with Thomas's last poems to establish a correspondence of achieved vision. The comparison is validated, and our argument proceeds to show that, while Thomas was attempting to move in a similar visionary direction to Blake in terms of art, Blake far outstripped the Welsh poet from the point of view of achieved total vision expressed through poetry. Our conclusion follows that, while Thomas, throughout his artistic career, was influenced by Blake and borrowed from him, he found himself at a creative impasse out of which he attempted to work by turning to voice drama in the form of a dramatic and highly imaginative documentary called Under Milk Wood, and even this, his last work, is in some ways reminiscent of Blake's influence.

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