Witness to woundedness in the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Natasha Trethewey, and Derek Walcott.


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In this dissertation I explore how Seamus Heaney, Natasha Trethewey, and Derek Walcott poetically bear witness to historical wounds expressed on both personal and collective levels. I first focus on how in North (1975) Heaney explores the sectarian violence of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and exposes the scapegoating mechanisms that perpetuate such violence. In the next chapter on Field Work (1979), I consider how Heaney navigates a tension between continuing to witness to the violence of his contemporary moment and returning to a poetic vocabulary that celebrates the goods of domestic life, the nonhuman natural world, and human community. I then turn to Trethewey’s record of private and public woundedness, particularly how she recovers and reimagines personal and communal suffering that official historical records might otherwise occlude. Drawing on her volume Native Guard (2006), I consider her verbal memorials as she resists historical erasures of both her mother’s memory after her murder and the Black troops of the Native Guard who fought on the side of the Union in the U.S. Civil War. In the chapter on Thrall (2012), I focus on how she poetically counters epistemological perspectives that objectify and instrumentalize others, particularly racialized bodies. She interweaves her relationship to her father as a mixed-race daughter with ekphrastic poems that form a record of historical attitudes toward race and gender. In the two concluding chapters on Walcott, I explore how he witnesses suffering and wrestles with what it means to make meaning while entering historical wounds. I first do a comparative reading of historical visions between two prose essays from What the Twilight Says (1998) and the first four chapters of Ecclesiastes. In the last chapter, I then turn to his volume of poetry, The Arkansas Testament (1987), and consider his treatment of Black pain in both St. Lucia and the U.S. though his use of Biblical narrative and Christian language and symbolism. Finally, in the Coda I consider avenues for further study of these poets’ witness to woundedness across the Atlantic.



Poetry. Seamus Heaney. Natasha Trethewey. Derek Walcott. Woundedness. Witness. Violence.