"Winter Words" : the poetry of old age in Thomas Hardy, W. B. Yeats, and Philip Larkin.
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Rawl, Michael Sheldon, 1986-
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In this dissertation I examine the poetry of Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, and Philip Larkin in order to explore each poet’s response to later life in his work. Combining the insights of psychology and gerontology with close formal analysis of the poems, this dissertation aims to contribute to our understanding of how old age can be an enabling source of—rather than an obstacle to—creative work. Arguing that each poet considered imagines old age as a liminal or threshold period, I assert that each develops striking formal means for rendering and responding to this phase of life. Indeed, I argue that the poems find in old age a creative source rather than a barrier; they are creatively enabled by old age at the same time they may be fearful or resentful of it. I suggest that old age exerts an imaginative pressure on each poet, and each one’s work may be seen as a pushing-back of the imagination against the impinging realities of aging. Challenged by fears of poetic sterility, death, decrepitude, and senility, these poets respond in forms answerable to the realities they face, and in so doing these poems are ultimately affirmative rather than despairing; they are assertions of form against the formlessness and entropy of time. Thus I hope to show that even the bleakest of these poems of old age are imaginatively vital, paradoxically vivified by a state they frequently imagine as moribund.