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Three views of Dylan Thomas's "Refusal to Mourn"

Breakdown with visuals for ENG 230 Survey of Contemporary Critical Thought
by

Bradly Fruhauff

on 18 October 2012

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Transcript of Three views of Dylan Thomas's "Refusal to Mourn"

Formalism Presuppositions:
form-content unity of text
self-sufficiency of text
linguistic mimesis*
stability of human nature, the self
show, don't tell Structuralism Texts participate in larger linguistic structures
Language is arbitrary, differential, and constitutive of our world
Specific texts tell us about larger textual patterns and possibilities Post-Structuralism Everything is mediated by text
Language is inescapably metaphorical; thus all dyads break down under strain of undecidability, i.e., which term is privileged
All texts are incomplete, fissured, and self-contradictory
Thus no reading can fix a center for interpretation Let's look at a poem Dylan Thomas Three Views Formal, structural, and post-structural analysis of a poem So...what have we learned? "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" That is, that language bears some stable relationship to reality and can therefore teach us something about it. Form:
Trochaic sestets consisting of two tercets with a 4-2-4 meter
abc abc rhyme scheme for sestet
Erratic rhythm arguably a sprung rhythm
Frequent iambs and spondees frustrate simple prosody
Creates general sense of something rambly, erratic, and uncontained Content:
Pervasive paradoxes
never - until
tells - silence
darkness tells light
majesty of death
sea in harness
murder of death
first death
"unmourning" Reading:
Disorder of world implied by child's death cannot be addressed by standard tools of poetry (e.g., elegy) or our "grave truths."
The world is incomplete, as in the dimeter lines
All deaths are "first" because surprising, interrupting Liberal Humanist bonus: Thomas is so distraught by this death that he cannot properly elegize her. His form becomes awkward and strains under the incompatibility of poetry with this death. Structural Analysis of “Refusal to Mourn” Synchrony / Metaphor Diachrony / Metonymy never dark (father) first silence sacred chance secret water unmourning repetition until
light
last
sound – speech – convention
profane
murder - unique
known
earth / mother
mourning
singularity The poem contrasts the finite world of the present with the infinite world of eternal death. Elegy, poetry, must "murder" the finality of the moment if it would honor the child's death in language, for the child is now beyond the world of time. The poem repeats the emotional dynamic of the self in time and the very structure of language itself. Post-Structural Analysis of “Refusal to Mourn” (1/2) Synchrony / Metaphor Diachrony / Metonymy never dark (father) first silence sacred chance secret water unmourning repetition until
light
last
sound – speech – convention
profane
murder - unique
known
earth / mother
mourning
singularity The dyadic relationship among some terms is undecidable, thus unstable, and the poem cannot be, finally, be “deciphered.” Post-Structural Analysis of “Refusal to Mourn” Synchrony / Metaphor Diachrony / Metonymy never dark (father) last silence profane secret convention water unmourning repetition until
light
first
sound – speech
sacred
murder - unique
chance
known
earth / mother
mourning
singularity Liberal humanism "drills down" to conclude something about human experience
Structuralism "backs up" to discern larger patterns in language itself. Returns to text to describe how the "author" manipulates the code
Post-structuralism "caresses and presses" the text to see where it shows gaps or where unintended, unexpected meanings leak through the apparent formal unity
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