Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Lyric Trials is a comparative study of four contemporary lyric poets: Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, A. R. Ammons, and John Ashbery. Lyric is important in postmodern criticism because it serves as a point of self-definition for both its defenders and its opponents. Yet lyric has itself received little critical attention. This study aims, then, to revise and complicate our received notions about lyric--as expressing pure subjectivity, as autotelic poem--by examining the work of four quite different poets, all of whom have engaged in dialogue with post-Romantic assumptions. My study concerns itself with relations between image and discourse, lyric and the long poem, poetry and politics, gender and genre, the natural and the social, and Romantic and non-Romantic subjectivities; but its critical centre is the problematic relationship between lyric and its repressed--that is, rhetoric, the dimension of poetry dismissed from almost all post-Romantic theory.;Using rhetoric as a counterpoint, chapter one sketches lyric's Romantic history, from Wordsworth to the New Critics, establishing conceptual references for the chapters that follow: John Stuart Mill's definition of lyric as "overheard" discourse as distinct from the "heard" discourse of rhetoric; Jerome McGann's formulation of the Romantic ideology; Jonathan Culler's identification of apostrophe with lyric versus W. R. Johnson's endorsement of a non-Romantic lyric of intersubjective address; and Louis Althusser's account of ideology. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of poetics in the 1960s and the shift during the 70s "from experience to discourse" (Charles Altieri) which is reflected in the poetry studied here.;Chapter two examines the ideological use to which Heaney puts the figures of question and apostrophe in Field Work (1979), and the subsequent negotiations with politics he conducts on behalf of lyric in his later essays. Chapter three reads Rich's "Twenty-One Love Poems" (1978) as a trial of the love sequence for lesbian lovers and a test of the ideological limits of a particular lyric form. Chapter four considers issues suggested by two poems of the early 70s--Rich's "Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev" and Ammons' "For Harold Bloom"--that share a topography (the mountain) and a topos (the sublime). Chapter five examines the complementary relationship between Ammons' lyrics and his long poems, reading the lyrics of the late 60s and early 70s as tests of the lyric subject within the cybernetic epistemology that informs his "Essay on Poetics" (1970). Chapter six first discusses the different ways Ammons, Rich, and Heaney address the past as an index of their relation to the Romantic ideology; and concludes with a reading of Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (1975) as itself a magisterial reading of the various topics of this study.



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