In the poetry of Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill, the potentially constricting routine of everyday life becomes a creative project. This dissertation describes the means and significance of that project, suggesting the importance of quotidian experience to critical accounts of American literature and twentieth-century writing as well as to definitions of the lyric. I argue that a specifically poetic conception of ordinary existence allows writers to see the dualistic distinction of mind and world as a constantly re-made relation rather than an uncertain either-or choice.
An everyday poetics discovers this relation through its use of repetition. As Frost, Stevens, Bishop, and Merrill link natural and human recurrence—connecting the rhythms of sunrise and sunset to the cadence of habit and routine, the rounds of morning and evening to the shuttle of memory and expectation—they define an experience in which each morning is both the emergence of an unknown future and the affirmation of a known past. In this pattern, the human mind can freely will what will actually come, or discover in impersonal futurity the affirmation of personal history. A deliberate dailiness thus charts a course between solipsism and self-effacement, constructing personal agency through accession to impersonal necessity. The recurrences of poetry uniquely enact this possibility: poetry's formal reliance on repetition, far from constituting a genre of timelessness, can reveal the possibilities of everyday temporality.
An opening chapter relates these possibilities to a modern and American context, explaining how diurnal poetry revises an oft-described modernist timelessness with a pragmatic emphasis on experience. I compare the resulting use of recurrence to Freudian psychology and Kierkegaardian faith, and show how it contrasts with other post-metaphysical philosophies of repetition. Individual chapters then describe related but distinct manifestations of this everyday poetics in four writers: Frost's habitual retrospection makes matrimony, conversation, and mourning into daily arts; Stevens's prospective routines enact a twentieth-century revision of romantic dreamwork; Bishop's ordinary repetitions craft a diurnal autobiography that grants secular atonement; and Merrill's returns discover an aesthetic endurance in the recurrences of quotidian patterns.
|Advisor:||Bromwich, David, Hammer, Langdon|
|School Location:||United States -- Connecticut|
|Source:||DAI-A 68/12, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Modern literature, American literature|
|Keywords:||Bishop, Elizabeth, Everyday time, Frost, Robert, Merrill, James, Ordinary, Poetics, Stevens, Wallace|
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