"What was repeated had weight" : ordinary rituals in the poetry of Donald Hall, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, and Louise Glück.


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Twentieth- and twenty-first century poetry swells with the ordinary; poets chronicle mundane parts of daily life in their work, often describing these quotidian details with surprising reverence. While this fascination with the ordinary has been well documented in literary criticism, the significant role of ordinary rituals—ordinary actions that are repeated over and over in daily life—deserves much further consideration. My dissertation explores the subtly healing powers of ordinary rituals in the poetry of Donald Hall, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, and Louise Glück. Their poetic speakers perform ordinary rituals as a response to the difficult, wounding situations they face, including losses of family members (Hall), racial tensions that span generations (Walcott), political violence that results in death (Heaney), and existential depression (Glück). As the days go by, these ordinary rituals alter their speakers’ visions slightly, enabling them to see and approach their situations differently. As they are repeated over time, these ordinary rituals offer their enactors a means of continuing on, however subtle or recursive such a process remains. Ordinary rituals finally gesture at healing as they allow their enactors to contemplate their losses and wounds in steadfast, living ways. This interpretation is significant not only because it promotes ordinary ritual as a means for people to begin healing from their various wounds across many cultures and contexts, but also because it reveals the potential healing powers of poetry itself—a ritualistic art form created out of everyday language. As poetry utilizes repeating elements in order to offer profound insights into the human condition, so do ordinary rituals utilize repeating actions to offer their enactors healing over time.



Ordinary ritual. Repetition. Donald Hall. Derek Walcott. Seamus Heaney. Louise Glück. Elegy. Omeros. A wild iris.