Taking the repeats: Modern American poetry in imitation of eighteenth-century musical forms.

Taking the repeats: Modern American poetry in imitation of eighteenth-century musical forms.

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Title: Taking the repeats: Modern American poetry in imitation of eighteenth-century musical forms.
Author: Richardson, C. Scott.
Abstract: This dissertation surveys the various efforts by modern American poets to imitate the repetitive structures of eighteenth-century instrumental music, setting in a wider historical context some of the central achievements of the twentieth-century long poem, as well as offering readings of some lesser-known but interesting works that draw on musical structures and processes as their formal models. The introduction examines why such disparate poets have wished to organize their work through some analogue to musical form. Taking their cues from western instrumental composition, writers have let the shapes of their poems be determined not by the demands of narrative for succession or the demands of discursive argument for progressive development but instead by music's repetitive imperative. In musical structures such as the variation set, the fugue, and the sonata, poets found constructive techniques congenial to the twentieth-century mind. Eighteenth-century musical genres can be seen as anticipating in a remarkable manner modern ideas concerning the circular patterns of thought and experience. The first chapter examines poetry modeled on the variation set, surveying works by Randall Jarrell, Wallace Stevens, Harry Mathews, Charles Olson, and Frank O'Hara. The second chapter deals with poetic fugues, including works by May Sarton, William Bronk, Weldon Kees, Delmore Schwartz, and Sylvia Plath. It also examines the validity of fugal analogies at both the macro- and micro-level of analysis in two key modern long poems, Ezra Pound's Cantos and Louis Zukofsky's "A". The final chapter examines poetic versions of sonata forms, including the sonata-based genres of symphony and quartet. It deals with works by Donald Justice, Conrad Aiken, John Gould Fletcher, Stevens, W. C. Williams, and John Ashbery. T. S. Eliot is central to the discussion: the chapter reexamines the validity of musical analogy in relation to Four Quartets and places Eliot's achievement in historical context, as a culmination of earlier currents and as a dominant presence in later musically-patterned poetry.
Date: 2001
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/9311

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