Date of Thesis
In writing “Not in the Legends”, one of the images and concepts which constantly returned was that of pilgrimage. I began to write these poems while studying abroad in London, after having passed the previous semester in France and travelling around Europe. There was something in the repetition of sightseeing— walking six miles in Luxembourg to see the grave of General Patton, taking photographs of the apartment where Sylvia Plath ended her life, bowing before the bones of saints, searching through Père Lachaise for the grave of Théodore Gericault— which struck me as numinous and morbid. At the same time, I came to love living abroad and I grew discontent with both remaining and returning. I wanted the opportunity to live everywhere all the time and not have to choose between home and away. Returning from abroad, I turned my attention to the landscape of my native country. I found in the New England pilgrims a narrative of people who had left their home in search of growth and freedom. In these journeys I began to appreciate the significance of place and tried to understand what it meant to move from one place to another, how one chose a home, and why people searched for meaning in specific locations. The processes of moving from student to worker and from childhood to adulthood have weighed on me. I began to see these transitions towards maturity as travels to a different land. Memory and nostalgia are their own types of pilgrimage in their attempts to return to lost places, as is the reading of literature. These pilgrimages, real and metaphorical, form the thematic core of the collection.
I read the work of many poets who came before me, returning to the places where the Canon was forged. Those poets have a large presence in the work I produced. I wondered how I, as a young poet, could earn my own place in the tradition and sought models in much the same way a painter studies the brushstrokes of a master. In the process, I have tried to uncover what it means to be a poet. Is it something like being a saint? Is it something like being a colonist? Or is to be the one who goes in search of saints and colonists? In trying to measure my own life and work based on the precedent, I have questioned what role era and generation have on the formation of identity. I focused my reading heavily on the early years of English poetry, trying to find the essence of the time when the language first achieved the transcendence of verse. In following the development of English poetry through Coleridge, John Berryman, and Allison Titus, I have explored the progression of those basic virtues in changing contexts. Those bearings, applied to my modern context, helped to shape the poetry I produced.
Many of the poems in “Not in the Legends” are based on my own personal experience. In my recollections I have tried to interrogate nostalgia rather than falling into mere reminiscence. Rather than allowing myself poems of love and longing, I have tried to find the meaning of those emotions. A dominant conflict exists between adventure and comfort which mirrors the central engagement with the nature of being “here” or “there”. It is found in scenes of domesticity and wilderness as I attempt to understand my own simultaneous desire for both. For example, in “Canned Mangoes…” the intrusion of nature, even in a context as innocuous as a poem by Sir Walter Raleigh, unravels ordinary comforts of the domestic sphere. The character of “The Boy” from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot proved such an interesting subject for me because he is one who can transcend the normal boundaries of time and place.
The title suggests connections to both place and time. “Legends” features the dual meaning of both myths and the keys to maps. To propose something “Not in the Legends” is to find something which has no precedent in our histories and our geographies, something beyond our field of knowledge and wholly new. One possible interpretation I devised was that each new generation lives a novel existence, the future being the true locus of that which is beyond our understanding. The title comes from Keats’ “Hyperion, a Fragment”, and details the aftermath of the Titanomachy. The Titans, having fallen to the Olympians, are a representation of the passing of one generation for the next. Their dejection is expressed by Saturn, who laments:
Not in my own sad breast, Which is its own great judge and searcher out, Can I find reason why ye should be thus: Not in the legends of the first of days… (129-132)
The emotions of the conquered Titans are unique and without antecedent. They are experiencing feelings which surpass all others in history. In this, they are the equivalent of the poet who feels that his or her own sufferings are special. In contrast are Whitman’s lines from “Song of Myself” which serve as an epigraph to this collection. He contends for a sense of continuity across time, a realization that youth, age, pleasure, and suffering have always existed and will always exist. Whitman finds consolation in this unity, accepting that kinship with past generations is more important that his own individuality.
These opposing views offer two methods of presenting the self in history. The instinct of poetry suggests election. The poet writes because he feels his experiences are special, or because he believes he can serve as a synecdoche for everyone. I have fought this instinct by trying to contextualize myself in history. These poems serve as an attempt at prosopography with my own narrative a piece of the whole. Because the earth abides forever, our new stories get printed over the locations of the old and every place becomes a palimpsest of lives and acts. In this collection I have tried to untangle some of those layers, especially my own, to better understand the sprawling legend of history.
Poetry, Landscape, History and Place, Colonial America
Honors Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)
G. C. Waldrep
Moffat, David M.P., "Not in the Legends" (2012). Honors Theses. 111.