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Jeremy Prynne Bibliography Mla

The Romanian-German poet Paul Celan's remarks on the capacity of poetry to serve as a place of ‘encounter’ are well known. Rather than conceiving of language as a neutral and transparent tool for communication, Celan's philosophy of poetry posits it as a meeting-place in which subjects and texts encounter one another in profound, mysterious and meaningful ways. These encounters are multifaceted: they occur between reader and text, between subjects in and outside the poem, and between subjects and objects (both animate and inanimate). In short, Celan's concept of encounter describes a range of paradoxical qualities at the heart of poetry's ability to communicate, and in his model the poem both demands and challenges understanding. He contends that despite a ‘starke Neigung zum Verstummen’, even the post-Holocaust poem affords the possibility of fleeting, indeterminate, inter-subjective contact:

Steht das Gedicht nicht gerade dadurch, also schon hier, in der Begegnung – im Geheimnis der Begegnung?

Das Gedicht will zu einem Andern, es braucht dieses Andere, es braucht ein Gegenüber. Es sucht es auf, es spricht sich ihm zu.1

The ghostly image of the meridian which Celan draws on in his famous speech is the defining motif of this model of encounter: it is both abstract and real, portable and precise.2 But the terms and locations of Celan's encounters are not always as intangible as the famous meridian image suggests. His work is also full of specific places which serve as sites of encounter between past and present, and of symbolic inter-subjective engagement: houses, courtyards, caves, graves and tombs.

One of the most persistent images of the poem as place of encounter which informs Celan's work is that of the hut or simple dwelling. Several of Celan's poems contain images of this kind of temporary structure, explicitly conceptualised as existing within and created by language, from ‘das Haus / wo der Tisch steht’ in ‘Hüttenfenster’ – also conceived of as the house of Greek and Hebrew letters ‘Aleph’, ‘Alpha’ and ‘Jod’ – to the ‘Zelt- / wort’ of ‘Anabasis’.3 Most famously, Celan's ‘Todtnauberg’ recounts his meeting with Martin Heidegger at the latter's Black Forest hut and explores the significance of that place for Heidegger's own thought, for the intellectual and personal relationship between Celan and Heidegger, and for the conditions of poetic encounter more generally.4 This essay examines the hut motif in Celan's ‘Todtnauberg’ and ‘Hüttenfenster’, tracing its significance not only backwards to the thought of Heidegger, but also forwards to the work of the British poet, J. H. Prynne.

* * *

Prynne and Celan are writers shaped by quite different traditions, experiences and historical contexts, and such essential differences should not be effaced. Celan's fraught relationship with the German language, prompted by personal and historical trauma, necessarily underpins his own ‘Sprachskepsis’.5 The murder of many members of his family, and the lasting psychological impact of his own experiences during the Holocaust, render his use of the German language both inevitable and problematic. For Celan, as Peter Szondi puts it, ‘nach Auschwitz ist kein Gedicht mehr möglich, es sei denn, auf Grund von Auschwitz’.6

Prynne (b. 1936), who has been called ‘Britain's leading late-modernist poet’, was a major figure in the loosely defined Cambridge School of British post-war poetry.7 This group formed part of the British Poetry Revival, a resurgence of linguistically innovative and often self-consciously academic poetry from the 1960s onward, which arose in response to the perceived conservatism of much British writing of the 1950s and 1960s (i.e. the ‘Movement’).8 This provides the context for the ‘difficulty’ of his work and its stance regarding the communicative possibilities of poetry.9 Prynne's major poetic influences include high modernists, particularly Ezra Pound, and American Objectivists, including Charles Olson and Ed Dorn. The influence of German poetry and thought on his work is undeniable: Celan and Heidegger are significant figures, as are Hegel, Husserl, and Hölderlin. Prynne is a life-fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and continues to publish poetry, including some work in classical Chinese.

Detailed comparative study of Prynne's and Celan's work is long overdue. Celan's reception in British poetry and his relationship to Anglophone traditions remain under-explored, and Prynne's engagement with Celan's work has also received unjustifiably scant attention, given that Prynne is one of post-war British poetry's major figures and Celan is a significant presence in his work.10 Reading Prynne's and Celan's huts comparatively can illuminate the relationship between poetry, place and language in the work of these two important post-war poets. Both use the motif of the primitive hut as an important site of encounter in their poems. Although both draw the motif of the hut from Heidegger's work, each transforms and problematises it by considering its significance as a metaphor for language. Above all, for Prynne and Celan the hut reflects a series of ethical problems regarding the difficulty, and necessity, of encounter in language.

Heidegger's relationship to his Black Forest hut is one starting point for both Prynne's and Celan's engagement with the motif. Adam Sharr has explored the extent to which the building and surrounding landscape served, for Heidegger, as ‘participants in active questions of presence […] empty vessels, allowing the powerful possibility of human occupation’.11 Sharr contests a simplistic reading of the hut as a provincial idyll in contrast to the ‘inauthentic’ suburban life the philosopher experienced at his home in Freiburg, on the basis that the upkeep of the hut was predicated on Heidegger's salary and work schedule as an institutional academic, and that domestic luxuries such as electricity and a telephone connection eventually intruded on his isolation there. However, both Sharr and Andrew Benjamin, in his introduction to the same volume, ultimately conclude that the specific experience of life in the simple hut is a key factor in enabling Heidegger's thought. ‘[T]here is an important link between geography (place) and modes of thinking’, Benjamin argues; life in Todtnauberg ‘demands a concern with the primordiality of time and being’.12

Their argument is partly predicated on Heidegger's description of the ‘Schwarzwaldhof’ in Bauen Wohnen Denken as the exemplary form of ‘dwelling’, as well as on the short essay, ‘Schöpferische Landschaft: Warum bleiben wir in der Provinz?’13 In this latter early text (1933) the ethical problems inherent in Heidegger's link between place and thought become evident. The essay takes to task city-dwellers’ ‘herablassende Anbiederung und unechte Volkstümelei’ concerning the provinces, arguing for the authenticity of Heidegger's own engagement with rural life and its centrality to his ‘Arbeitswelt’.14 It is pointedly realistic about the hardships of peasant life, but positions these alongside and as equivalent to Heidegger's own intellectual labour: ‘Und die philosophische Arbeit verläuft nicht als abseitige Beschäftigung eines Sonderlings. Sie gehört mitten hinein in die Arbeit der Bauern’.15 The essay does not acknowledge Heidegger's status as ‘der Professeur’, an outsider in the community, cemented by the regular interruptions necessitated by ‘Verhandlungen, Vortragsreisen, Besprechungen und die Lehrtätigkeit hier unten’.16 The deixis is telling: ‘hier unten’ refers to Freiburg, while Todtnauberg is decentred as ‘dort oben’.

Moreover, Heidegger emphasises the connection between thought, place and ethnicity, arguing that ‘[d]ie innere Zugehörigkeit der eigenen Arbeit zum Schwarzwald und seinen Menschen kommt aus einer jahrhundertelangen, durch nichts ersetzbaren alemannisch-schwäbischen Bodenständigkeit’.17 Heidegger's engagement with National Socialism and its relationship to his philosophical thought have been stridently debated in the past seven decades, and the recent publication of the Schwarze Hefte has provoked renewed controversy.18 It is not my intention here to intervene in these debates. Instead, it is sufficient to note – as Celan and Prynne do – that Heidegger's understanding of the relationship between thought and place is not ethically or politically neutral.

Heidegger does not explicitly connect the relationship between thought and place epitomised by his Black Forest hut to ideas of language, but there is a clear relationship between the three concepts. Certain kinds of place facilitate certain kinds of thought, as do certain kinds of language; language is thus the ‘place’ in which thought, and Being, most emphatically belong. The concept of language as the ‘house of Being’ is a recurrent theme in Heidegger's work, and his view is neatly summarised in the ‘Brief über den Humanismus’: ‘Die Sprache ist das Haus des Seins. In ihrer Behausung wohnt der Mensch.’19 Language and place are thus linked by their intrinsic connection to particular modes of thought and Being. However, although the emblematic place of Heidegger's thought (i.e. the hut) is humble and marginal, the same cannot be said of his understanding of language, which is generally described as a permanent ‘house’ or even, in one instance, a ‘temple’.20 This is significant because it implies certainty regarding the centrality and communicative ability of poetry, a certainty that is not shared by either Prynne or Celan in their representations of the hut as the dwelling-place of language.

***

Many of Celan's poems display the influence of Heideggerian thought, but his most famous exploration of his relationship to Heidegger himself and Heidegger's conceptualisation of place occurs in the poem ‘Todtnauberg’:

Arnika, Augentrost, der

Trunk aus dem Brunnen mit dem

Sternwürfel drauf,

in der

Hütte,

die in das Buch

– wessen Namen nahms auf

vor dem meinen? –

die in dies Buch

geschriebene Zeile von

einer Hoffnung, heute,

auf eines Denkenden

kommendes

Wort

im Herzen,

Waldwasen, uneingeebnet,

Orchis und Orchis, einzeln,

Krudes, später, im Fahren

deutlich,

der uns fährt, der Mensch,

der's mit anhört,

die halb-

beschrittenen Knüppel-

pfade im Hochmoor,

Feuchtes,

viel.21

Celan and Heidegger took a trip together to Todtnauberg in 1966, and Celan wrote in the guestbook of the hut there. The extent of their ‘reconciliation’ has been the subject of critical speculation ever since. Hans Gadamer's ‘hagiography’ of Heidegger expresses a firm belief in the reconciliation between poet and philosopher, but has been criticised by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, among others. Lacoue-Labarthe, James K. Lyon and Martin Jörg Schäfer contend that the poem explores the tension between Celan's deep sympathy towards Heidegger's philosophy and revulsion at his politics.22 Otto Pöggeler and Lyon extend this argument by placing ‘Todtnauberg’ within the context of Celan's long-term engagement with Heidegger's thought, which (as Pöggeler notes) continued after their meeting in 1966.23 In the light of this, Lyon is forceful in his assertion that there is no evidence to suggest Celan ‘condemned’ Heidegger.24

The question of the extent of Celan and Heidegger's ‘reconciliation’ (and, indeed, the extent of any hostility needing to be reconciled) is impossible to resolve, and one should be wary of reducing the poem to a biographical document. Given the emphasis throughout on place and nature – from the poem's title to the plant-names and evocation of the ‘Knüppel / pfade im Hochmoor’ – we might instead ask what ‘Todtnauberg’ says about the role of place in Celan's relationship with Heidegger, and how Celan viewed Heidegger's attitude to the intersection between place and thought in a context where the place itself was profoundly problematic. In this context, Pierre Joris's reading of the text and its translations is instructive, noting as it does the significance of a tiny shift from the expected ‘Waldwiesen’ to ‘Waldwasen’. This latter term, as Joris notes, contains various meanings. It is a variation on ‘Torf’, and thus ‘grounds’ the poem more persuasively in the soil of the mountainside: ‘Celan is not talking of some grassy surface, a pleasant meadow, but has in mind something that goes deeper and incorporates the network of underground roots. His thought is, as usual, directed below the surface.’25 Moreover, Joris also points out that ‘Wasen’ is a regional dialect variation of ‘Schindanger’ or ‘knackers’ yard’, further cementing the move from tranquil glade to site of death and burial.26 Thus the poem reminds us of the connection between the German soil in the most literal sense, the nationalist myths which are predicated on it, and the violence these entail.

Like so many of Celan's poems, ‘Todtnauberg’ is a profoundly grounded text. From the wildflower names at the outset to the soil of the forest floor, the twin orchids and the log-path across the ‘Hochmoor’, the poem explores the notorious encounter with Heidegger using images which relate to the primal hut and its situation in the landscape. However, far from serving as benign images of primitive rural existence, these references to the hut and landscape reflect a lack of healing (as in ‘Arnika, Augentrost’), the trauma of violence (‘Waldwasen’), and the absence of mutual understanding between isolated interlocutors who are as remote from one another as ‘Orchis und Orchis, einzeln’. The poem thus refuses to subscribe to a Heideggerian vision of the unity of place and thought, or to acknowledge the necessity of German ‘Bodenständigkeit’ for full understanding of being and dwelling. Instead ‘Todtnauberg’ expresses an implicit critique of such conceptions of the relationship between geography and modes of thinking. Rather than enabling or demanding a mode of thought which is purely concerned with the primordial nature of time and being, the poem is disrupted by the acknowledgment of violence and trauma, and it calls into question the ethics of Heidegger's relationship to his hut.

Prynne reflects on Celan's poem and its consequences for ‘poetic dwelling’ in a 2008 essay on the subject of huts, which makes explicit the significance of this motif in his work.27 In it, he traces the history of huts in English literature, from the eighteenth-century poet William Collins to Shakespeare, probing the persistent appeal of this image. He gathers examples of symbolic huts, drawing on his own memory of performing National Service in the 1950s, the temporary office structures at Bletchley Park, and the huts of nomadic tribespeople in the Kudinsk Steppe. What emerges is a conceptualisation of the hut as a ‘marginal world’, a place which permits a certain kind of poetic reflection – just as, for Heidegger, the hut demands engagement with our primordial existence.28

As far as ‘Todtnauberg’ is concerned, Prynne follows Lyon in rejecting the suggestion that Celan was hostile towards Heidegger, arguing that later interpretations of the encounter are motivated by ‘cultural pressure’ to insist that there should be ‘no surrender and no compromise, the poet shall have clean hands’.29 Prynne's interest, though, is clearly in the nature of the place in which this encounter occurred and the associated relationship between geography and thought. Moreover, he takes the motif a step further into the realms of linguistic reflexivity. With the help of Heidegger's conceptualisation of ‘[d]ie Sprache [als] der Bezirk [templum], d.h. das Haus des Seins… [der] Tempel des Seins’, a passage underlined by Celan in his edition of Heidegger's work, Prynne approaches the notion of language-as-dwelling-place, asking under what conditions and in what philosophical and ethical contexts we might speak of (poetic) language as a kind of dwelling-place.30 He concludes:

The house of language is not innocent and is no temple. The intensities of poetic encounter, of imagination and deep insight into spiritual reality and poetic truth, carry with them all the fierce contradiction of what human language is and does. There is no protection or even temporary shelter from these forms of knowledge that is worth even a moment's considered preference, even for poets or philosophers with poetic missions. Because the primal hut strips away a host of circumstantial appurtenances and qualifications, it does not represent an elemental form, a kind of sweat-lodge; but it is confederate with deep ethical problematics, and not somehow a purifying solution to them. Yet the hut presents always a possible aspiration towards innocence, residual or potential, and towards transformation, so that a cynical report would be equally in error […] The house of language is a primal hut, is stark and is also necessary, and not permanent.31

This paragraph is illustrated with a photograph of a military watchtower hut, behind barbed wire. The image, along with examples of other squalid, violent or otherwise degraded ‘huts’, such as those at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, offers a key touchstone for Prynne's reading of the hut as a place of poetic encounter. The ‘hut’ is no provincial paradise – as, arguably, it is for Heidegger – but rather a scene of ‘deprivation and violence and psychic disorder, of crushing poverty and exclusion from the ordered domains of humankind’.32 These qualities, however, are balanced against the appeal of isolation and the ‘aspiration towards innocence’.

For both Prynne and Celan, this dynamic inherent in the hut's primordial nature – its stark, temporary and isolated status on the one hand, and its appealing capacity to shelter and transform experience on the other – are also the qualities of poetic language. According to Prynne, poetic language is capable of expressing the symbolic significance of the hut in all its ethical complexity, where philosophical language like Heidegger's falls short. The language in which Celan's ‘encounters’ occur – fraught, fragmented, in extremis – reflects the qualities of the primal hut as it provides shelter in challenging terrain. Heidegger's philosophy, in Prynne's view, mistakenly elevates language to a ‘temple’ which appears to transcend these ethical problems, and therefore also fails to engage with the complex connotations of the hut as a place of temporary shelter under difficult circumstances.33

Prynne's poem ‘Chemins de Fer’, published some forty years before the essay described above, explores this aspect of the hut motif in poetic form. The text is clearly identifiable as a poetic engagement with the Holocaust, and with Celan:

It is a forest of young pines and now we

are eating snow in handfuls, looking at the

towers which when the light topsoil is warm

again will carry the firewatchers. From here there

is no simple question of preparing to leave, or

making our way. Even the thinnest breath of

wind wraps round the intense lassitude, that

an undeniable political centre keeps watch; the

switch of light and shadow is packed with

foreign tongues. I shall not know my own

conjecture. The plants stare at my ankles in

stiffness, they carry names I cannot recognise.34

From the opening image of prisoners ‘eating snow in handfuls’ in a ‘forest of young pines’, to the ‘double eagle’ of the third stanza and the ‘machine gun in / a Polish scenario’ of the final stanza, the poem is scattered with oblique references to concentration and prison camps. The ‘hut’ in this poem, as in one example used in Prynne's ‘Huts’ essay, is a watchtower ‘which when the light topsoil is warm / again will carry the firewatchers’. The difficulty of the terrain, and the need to take shelter, are reflected in the assertion that ‘From here there / is no simple question of preparing to leave, or / making our way’ and the sinister undertones inherent in the final lines of this stanza, which seem explicitly to refer to Celan's litany of flower-names in ‘Todtnauberg’. In the final stanza, the scenery changes to a ‘Ruhrgebiet’ landscape, where the relationship between industrial power, violence, and warfare is alluded to:

And so slowly, still, draining gradually into

the Rhine, the huge barges freeze in the heat

of trade. How much power, the machine gun in

a Polish scenario, black and white fade into those

passionless excursions of childhood. The small

copse, water rusted in, an adventure! With which

the flimsy self pivots in wilful envy and lusts

after its strange body, its limbs gorged & inert.35

Once again, the connection between place and thought cannot escape traces of violence. We might conclude that the ‘passionless excursions of childhood’ mentioned here involve rural landscapes, isolated huts, and places of shelter in ‘small / copse[s]’. But as with Celan's pointed shift from ‘Wiesen’ to ‘Wasen’, the ‘copse’ in this text becomes uncannily close to ‘corpse’ in the context of the subsequent lines, reminding us of the violence and ‘deep ethical problematic’ associated with withdrawal to a ‘primordial’ dwelling-place. The self is ‘flimsy’ and requires protection. The ‘warm’ topsoil of the opening lines does not suggest a pleasant vernal atmosphere, but rather a shallow grave. The appeal of ‘a possible aspiration towards innocence, residual or potential’ (to return to Prynne's own turn of phrase) is denoted by the childlike exclamation ‘an adventure!’ – but this innocent vision of boyish escapades in the woods is punctured by the obvious grotesqueness of the ‘strange body, its limbs gorged & inert’.

‘Chemins de Fer’ explores the relationship between two places and modes of thinking. Unlike Heidegger's twin poles of suburban confinement and rural primordial ‘dwelling’, neither place is idealised as the natural, unproblematic home of deep philosophical engagement with the nature of time and being. Rather, the two places are the industrial centre, representing inhuman processes of manufacture, trade and power – and its counterpart, a place of isolation in a snowy forest, identifiable as a ‘Lager’ of some variety. The two are inextricably linked, both conceptually by the inhumanity of mass production and industrial processes; and literally, by the ‘Chemins de Fer’ which give the poem its title. These are in turn reminiscent of the train-tracks of Holocaust deportations, and many other uses of railways in the service of death and destruction since the end of the nineteenth century.

Crucially, the poem demonstrates an awareness of the instability and ethical questionability of its own form: ‘The approach here, of streamy recall / seems like the touch of Europe, an invert logic / brought in with too vivid a pastoral sense’. The disrupted syntax, mingling of familiar collocations (such as ‘black and white’, ‘light and shadow’), with unfamiliar vocabulary (‘intense lassitude’), obscure imagery (‘the heat of trade’), and lack of clear poetic narrative – all of which are typical of Prynne's work – are features of a poetic language which undermines attempts to access superficial meaning. The poetic language of ‘Chemins de Fer’ is no grand, beautiful temple: it is a challenging poem in which the very idea of ‘meaning’ is put under pressure.

In the primitive and isolated hut, the primordiality of time and being can be contemplated – but this contemplation demands an awareness of the conditions of isolation, and a language which both acknowledges its own fragility and contains regular reminders of the violence inscribed in the landscape by nationalist discourses and historical events. In short, ‘Chemins de Fer’ shows a connection between place, language and thought, which is not morally neutral.

Prynne's ‘Huts’ essay briefly mentions Celan's ‘Hüttenfenster’, a much earlier poem than ‘Todtnauberg’, as exemplary of the unique ability of poetic language to succeed, where philosophical language fails, in capturing both the crucial function and ethical problematics of the primal hut. In the context of a collection which explores the author's complex relationship to questions of Jewish identity, and interrogates both Eastern and Western European cultural and literary traditions of Jewishness, ‘Hüttenfenster’ can be read as a meditation on the fragile space (both literal and metaphorical) which Jewishness occupies.36 It invokes the figure of Marc Chagall, the Russian-French-Jewish artist who created stained-glass windows for several prominent buildings in the early 1960s. The window with which the poem opens reveals the ‘placeless’ condition of the Jewish people:

Das Aug, dunkel:

als Hüttenfenster. Es sammelt,

was Welt war, Welt bleibt: den Wander-

Osten, die

Schwebenden, die

Menschen-und-Juden,

das Volk-vom-Gewölk, magnetisch

ziehts, mit Herzfingern, an

dir, Erde:

du kommst, du kommst,

wohnen werden wir, wohnen, etwas

holt

Alpha Centauri herunter, Arktur, holt

den Strahl hinzu, aus den Gräbern,

geht zu Ghetto und Eden, pflückt

das Sternbild zusammen das er,

der Mensch, zum Wohnen braucht, hier

unter Menschen37

‘Hüttenfenster’ is regularly translated into English as ‘tabernacle window’, probably because this is a more recognisable architectural term in English than ‘hut window’. This translation clarifies what is otherwise an implicit reference to the Jewish tabernacle or sukkah, a primitive, portable place of worship used in the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorates the forty years the Israelites spent wandering the desert.38 The hut or tabernacle window here ‘gathers’ the stateless, placeless Jewish people in its gaze, under the aegis of ‘ein Atmen? ein Name?’ The poem expresses a conflicted homecoming and diasporic identity. Various images of desertion, abjection and suffering are interrogated alongside the spaces and places of myth and history: ‘[das Gedicht] schreitet den ganzen Bogen jüdischer Zeit aus: Eden, David, Witebsk, Ghetto, Aleph, Beth, Jod’.39

In the final stanzas, this search for a home-space is characterised in specifically meta-linguistic terms:

schreitet

die Buchstaben ab und der Buchstaben sterblich-

unsterbliche Seele,

geht zu Aleph und Jud und geht weiter,

baut ihn, den Davidschild, läßt ihn

aufflammen, einmal

läßt ihn erlöschen – da steht er,

unsichtbar, steht

bei Alpha und Aleph, bei Jud,

bei den andern, bei

allen: in dir,

Beth, – das ist

das Haus, wo der Tisch steht mit

dem Licht und dem Licht.40

The letters of two alphabets are named here as the precursors of an eventual dwelling-place and place of worship where the candles of Shabbat are lit: ‘Alpha’, from the Greek alphabet, and ‘Aleph’, ‘Jod’ (or, significantly, ‘Jud’) and ‘Beth’ from the Hebrew. ‘Beth’ is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the letter with which the Bible starts and the first letter of the Hebrew word for ‘house’.41 John Felstiner refers to these different alphabets as the orientation points for a diasporic experience of European space, arguing that both should seem ‘fremd, nicht heimatlich’.42 On the contrary, I would suggest that only the house of language, invisible and ‘sterblich-unsterblich’, can withstand the trial by fire described in these final stanzas to offer a temporary shelter, place of refuge and worship.

The form and poetic language of ‘Hüttenfenster’ reflect this conception of language as a temporary home for the displaced. The poem consists of one long sentence with complex punctuation sustaining a series of syntactical twists and turns, mimicking the never-ending search for a resting place which is described. Frequent repetitions, particularly of verbs of movement and of dwelling, emphasise the dynamic between stasis and movement: ‘geht, geht umher / sucht / sucht unten’. As in Prynne's poem, there is no single identifiable subject position, but rather a mixture of second-person singular and first-person plural pronouns which give the impression of multiple voices speaking in chorus or harmony. Finally, as in Prynne's text, there is a high level of semantic and syntactic ambiguity and polysemy, partly created by irregular line divisions which interrupt semantic units. In the phrase ‘das er, / der Mensch, zum Wohnen braucht, hier / unter Menschen, / schreitet / die Buchstaben ab’, one is forced to continually reappraise the syntax of the sentence as it unfolds. It is unclear whether ‘unter Menschen’ is related to ‘zum Wohnen braucht’ or ‘schreitet ab’.

In Celan's ‘Hüttenfenster’, the literal search for ‘home’ is reflected in a search for meaning in language. ‘Das Haus, wo der Tisch steht’ with which the poem concludes can only be seen as offering temporary shelter under these circumstances, since Celan's poetic itself represents language in the condition of breaking down, through ever-shifting syntax, unstable allusions and complex subject positions. Like Prynne's ‘Chemins de Fer’, the poem does not reassure us with a simple transparent narrative meaning. It does not elevate language to the status of a permanent, stable structure in which we may ‘encounter’ one another. Instead, poetic language is like the tabernacle or hut – a place of dwelling or worship which is necessary and appealing but also unstable and challenging. Geoffrey Ward has described the similarities between Prynne's and Celan's effacement of the subject position in their poetry, describing how this leads to a dynamic in which home and estrangement ‘seem to move like a Möbius strip’.43 It is this quality of their poetics which most clearly reflects the significance of the remote and primal hut in their work as the paradigmatic place of encounter in poetry – where thought, place, and language coincide most adequately, because all are placed under a high degree of strain.

Both Prynne and Celan, for different reasons and in different contexts, are interested in examining what kind of place poetry can be or can create, and what kind of structures it can construct and occupy. For Celan, the aporia of the Holocaust's empty Cenotaph is the motivating factor behind this drive to shape a place of encounter in language which extends beyond the abstract metaphor of the meridian. Prynne approaches the question more dispassionately, but nevertheless with a powerful ethical imperative. He is aware of what is at stake should poetry conclude that its rightful place is in some grand palace or opulent museum – but also of the necessity of preserving a place for encounter in language, however fraught and fragile. The peculiar qualities of the ‘hut’ – stark, necessary, and impermanent – serve well as a symbol of both writers’ belief in the possibilities and challenges of poetic encounter.

Although they draw on Heideggerian thought, neither Prynne's nor Celan's huts conform to Heidegger's model of the hut as the idealised home of being, the location where one might live in the immediacy of natural rhythms and thus see the sense of a philosophy which ‘[demands] a concern with the primordiality of being’.44 Instead, both Celan and Prynne render the relationship of thought to place ethically problematic: they examine the conditions of extremity and difficulty which force the construction of huts, and they ‘ground’ language and experience not in the pleasant soil of a home landscape, but in a soil inscribed with violence and trauma.

Adopting the motif of the hut as a place of encounter reflects Prynne's and Celan's belief – shared by Heidegger – that place is central to language, poetry and thought. The hut, as a place, possesses an enduring appeal, since it seems to offer a simple, stripped-down means of contemplating the primordial nature of being. However, in the post-war era, neither the hut and its surrounding landscape, nor the language in which the relationship of thought to place is expressed, is innocent and primitive: all are fraught with deep ethical problems, and it is this difficult terrain which these two writers seek to navigate in their poetry and critical writings. Poetic language serves as a kind of dwelling-place or place of encounter which, like the primitive hut, is ‘stark, necessary and not permanent’. No association between thought and place is devoid of ethical and political considerations; the role of poetic language can and should be to reveal the full complexities of such associations.

1If J.H. Prynne is now a much discussed poet, most analysis of his work focuses on the highly difficult conditions it creates for interpretation; much less consideration is given to its rhythm, or to other aspects of its prosody. This is despite the fact that there are ample reasons to consider Prynne’s poems as texts for reading aloud as well as in silence: the movements of his syntax bear a rhetorical as well as formal weight that lends itself well to oral performance; his poems contain frequent metrical passages, and occasional rhyme; and Prynne himself gives public readings of his poetry, albeit not very frequently, while others also read his work in public—such performances are, for example, a feature of the poet Out To Lunch (Ben Watson)’s radio broadcasts. Of course, criticism has not wholly overlooked the formal aspects of Prynne’s poetry—allusions to its “movement” (Larrissy 67), to the “gesture” (Wilkinson 12), or the “reading gestalt” (Patterson 245) by which it is characterised are quite frequent. Yet detailed attention is lacking.

2One reason for this is may be professional reticence on the part of both metrists and critics concerning the scansion of non-metrical verse rhythm, since the absence of metrical expectation—an absence which is the norm in Prynne, despite his occasional metricality—brings instability, and predictive uncertainty, to the relationship between text and performance. The best account of poetic rhythm that we have, the beat-offbeat metrics developed by Derek Attridge, has been applied by Attridge and others to a variety of non-metrical texts, yet Attridge himself acknowledges that in certain aspects the scansion of non-metrical texts remains “highly subjective” (1982, 322). This is undoubtedly a problem for criticism, but it is one which should, it may be thought, be understood as a limit to be engaged with and pushed back, and not as a sign of inevitable failure. If non-metrical poetry has succeeded, since the early twentieth century, in becoming the most widespread form of poetry in English, it must be assumed that it is—at least on occasions—satisfying a desire for new forms of linguistic shape or patterning among its readership, and that to a certain degree readers share a sense of what that patterning may be. It seems, therefore, important that criticism and metrics should make the attempt to imagine and describe instances of such patterning—even if caution is necessary.

3Another is the lack of agreement as to the tools with which the shape of non-metrical poetry may be described. Description of its rhythms—in particular, of its moments of metrical regularity—is reasonably well established, as is the critical tradition of describing the visual aspects of non-metrical poems’ form—the poem on the page and in the eye. Yet what about the “reading gestalts”, the “movements”, the “gestures” of the poem as it is read aloud? The most developed approach currently available is phrasal scansion, developed in particular by Richard Cureton and popularised in simplified form by Attridge (1995). Phrasal scansion, which is influenced by generative music theory, understands poems as nested groups of different types of movement; its aims are very close to those we might wish to pursue in addressing Prynne:

Phrasal scansion [. . .] reflects a reader’s sense of the way a poem goes—its high points, its unemphatic meanings, its tonal variations, its shifts in feeling, its complex of meanings [. . .] the way the meanings and syntactic connections of the poem actually unfold in the reader’s mind as he or she makes sense of the words. (Attridge 1995, 200)

Although this study is not the occasion for an extended analysis of phrasal scansion, it is important to note that the technique has disadvantages. It is cumbersome—the phrasal scansion of even a short poem can run over several pages; that by Cureton of a 21-line passage by William Carlos Williams runs to many more. It is also, in its creation of complex hierarchies, very difficult to reconcile with a readerly or critical stance that is marked by provisionality, confusion or doubt. This is because phrasal scansion is concerned, not with sound, but with “the shape of a text’s meaning” (Cureton 140), an ambition which requires the critic’s sense of the poem’s internal relations to be sufficiently secure that a total interpretative structure can be built upon it. This is a significant problem when dealing with challenging poetry. In the case of J.H. Prynne, although the relationship between meaning and shape is undoubtedly a crucially important part of the poetry, it must be assumed that, given the poetry’s difficulty, and its confusion of basic categories of syntax, defining what that meaning is at any given point of the poem, and determining how it relates to what has gone before, may be impossible.

4What is needed, therefore, is a set of descriptions that can point to aspects of a poem’s performance that structure its reception by listeners, and can create a sense of shape both locally and at the level of a whole poem, yet that can admit, and make available for debate, their own provisionality, and that exist even in the absence of total interpretations of the poem. The descriptions on which this study will draw are those which allow for the prediction of the possible intonational characteristics of the performed text—that is, not simply its rhythm, but also its tonality (its “chunking” into intonation groups) and its use of tone (the individual pitch movements that, in English, constitute the main, or nuclear, accents).

5Given the well-known variety of intonational behaviour, and its dependence on a wide range of factors—discoursal, syntactic, attitudinal, psychological, indexical—the appeal to intonation may seem, from an evidential point of view, doomed to failure. Yet, when investigated selectively, this is not the case. Drawing on previous studies of poetic intonation by Eleanor Berry, Alan Holder, the present author, and others, and above all on phoneticians’ accounts of intonation in English (e.g. Cruttenden, Wells), this study proposes that the following aspects of intonational behaviour are sufficiently well understood, and sufficiently predictable, to form the basis of a discussion of poetic form:

  • The distinction between falling and non-falling tones. This has been described as “the most basic distinction among English nuclear tones” (Wells 15). Falling tones are associated with discoursal finality; rising tones, with dependence and non-finality. Finer distinctions—among non-falling tones, that between rises, fall-rises, and level tones, for instance—can add detail to a discussion, but are probably too tenuously linked to textual cues to be relied upon to form its basis.

  • The distinction between high and low tones, associated respectively with greater and lesser degrees of speaker involvement. To avoid relying too heavily on subjective response, pitch height should only be drawn on when there are clear grounds—notably of punctuation and diction—for predicting it.

  • The placement of intonation-group boundaries on the basis of syntax, discourse structure, punctuation and line-break.

In many cases, a degree of discussion will be necessary to justify particular choices; less when it comes to associating a falling tone with the last prominence of a declarative sentence; more when it comes to deciding the intonational consequences of a line-break, since these depend on a range of contextual factors. More generally, analysis should be conducted on the basis of textual or otherwise public factors and influences; the project to which this study seeks to contribute is not, to paraphrase a well-known study by Catherine Addison, a “mood-of-the-moment” metrics. It is hoped, on the contrary, that it will allow new ways to be developed of describing the “reading gestalt” of non-metrical poetry; new ways of understanding how—to paraphrase T.S. Eliot this time—poetry can move before it is (fully) understood.

6“Again in the Black Cloud”, originally published in the volume Wound Response (1974), is a poem that, like much of Prynne’s work, moves in and out of clarity and makes confusion both theme and response. It is chosen for analysis here for several reasons: it is a poem that the author of this paper admires; it comes from a pivotal period in Prynne’s work, when his poetry was (to summarise crudely) more difficult than in 1960s volumes such as The White Stones, but had not yet reached the levels of impenetrability of the later work; and it has been the subject of helpful and ground-clearing extended discussion in the principal monograph devoted to Prynne, N.H. Reeves and Richard Kerridge’s Nearly Too Much. Reeves and Kerridge conjecture that parts of “Again in the Black Cloud” may evoke the intermittent brain function of a victim of stroke; their discussion also notes the varying stances and degrees of control evoked by the passages of what they call ‘“quotation”’ (57, 55). These are helpful ways of thinking about the poem; the mixture of apparently passionate recall (“his new shoes and boat!”) with scientific or pseudo-scientific language fits well with an interpretation of the poem as an attempt to account for a confused mental state from both inside and outside. The poem’s attention seems to be more frequently fixed on the consciousness that is experiencing this mental intermittence, while its moments of apparently generalising impulse (“Who can see [. . .]”), its use—without distantiating quotation marks—of imagery drawn from relativity theory (the “light cones” which represent the path that a flash of light would take through space-time, the “child line” which may evoke the “event line”), and its discussion of recollection and emotion in a ways that seem to cast their net of sympathy quite widely, allow the poem to be read as a more widely applicable set of responses to those questions of time, loss, memory and return which matter very much to Prynne’s poetry. As Alan Marshall has noted, “it can be argued that Prynne conceives of existence as being nostalgic in both structure and essence; that is to say, he sees it as being not just based on, but as also shaped by, a longing to return” (138).

7This sense of the poem is, of course, itself acquired in time, as reading progresses through stanzas and moves across the text of the poem in search of pattern and connection.

8The first stanza suggests the importance of memory to the poem, via a symbolist and synaesthetic description of particular configurations of light and sound, and the early repetition of the title word “again”. It goes on to identify both the importance of past experience for the construction of present states of mind (“the cells of the child line run back/through hope to the cause of it”) and the difficulty of having a clear sense of that experience: again, the imagery of sight links in to that of memory—the hour is “crazed” and thus presumably opaque, and the injury takes place “past the curve of recall”, with “past the curve” presumably suggesting something like “over the horizon”, and thus invisible. If the poem is indeed an exploration or evocation of questions of loss and recovery, this is perhaps its basic premise, its statement of theme. The second stanza does not so much develop this theme as complicate it, adding instances of memory both passionate and distracting—intense felicity, tinnitus aurium, and the addition of what seems to be an external perspective on the possibly damaged brain in which some of these instance may be occurring: the checklist of responses, the switch to medical or pseudo-medical discourse at stanza end. The third stanza adopts simpler language, refers once more to the child but also to age and perhaps to death, “the way out”, while the poem’s final stanza combines the vocabulary of relativity with a sensual concreteness to close on a paradoxical but apparently conclusive description.

9Although this brief account draws on acts of interpretation it is also, I believe, a response to a shape. That shape is partly visual, consisting in the variety of its different blocks of text, which include moments of Olsonian open-field expansiveness in the second stanza, moments of apparent restriction such as that in the third stanza, and the fourth stanza’s simple alternating structure of unindented and indented lines. Indentation is patterned throughout the poem: thus, the opening lines of the poem’s four stanzas form an easily grasped sequence, starting close to the left-hand margin, moving out to almost the opposite extreme at the beginning of the second stanza, and rowing back leftwards thereafter. That this sequence describes a simple movement out and back seems likely to contribute to the reader’s overall sense of the poem’s thematics of movement through time, and perhaps of nostalgia.

10The shape is also, of course, prosodic, and the description of that prosodic shape is the main burden of this discussion. It will encompass both rhythm and intonation. The analysis of rhythm will largely proceed via the scansion of short passages, in part for reasons of presentational ease, but also for reasons having to do with an intuition that the perceived shape of a difficult or various poem such as this may be built up out of a few relatively tangible moments. In a predominantly non-metrical poem, these may well be those that are associated with more strongly patterned passages, including passages of metrical language—defined, following beat-offbeat metrics, as those from which a sequence of beats is likely to be inferred.

11The analysis of intonation, on the other hand, will have more macrotextual ambitions, attempting to sketch patterns which—like those visual patterns described above—are operative at the level of the poem as a whole. These patterns are predominantly those of tonal sequence. As noted above, one of the central oppositions in the intonation of English is that between falling and non-falling tones; in sketching the shape of “Again in the Black Cloud”, particular attention will be paid to the distribution of passages likely to give rise to sequences of non-falling tones. Attention will also be paid to highly probable variations in tone height: where the poem seems—notably by means of punctuation—to cue a greater or lesser degree of involvement or excitement on the part of the presumed speaker of one or another passage; the distribution of such passages will be examined.

12For the purposes of describing rhythm, this study will draw on the scansion marks established in Attridge 1982 and slightly modified in Carper and Attridge 2003. Those used in scansions included in this study are the following:

  • Beat associated with a prominent syllable: B

  • Offbeat associated with a non-prominent syllable: o

  • Offbeat associated with two syllables (a double offbeat), both of which are non-prominent: -o-

  • Offbeat associated with two syllables (a double offbeat), the first prominent, the second non-prominent: =o-

One additional mark, helpful in contexts where lines are short and regularly enjambed, is proposed: square brackets, which can denote the perceived boundaries of sequences of beats that are not coterminous with a single line.

13For intonation, the notations used derive from the British nuclear-tone tradition most completely represented by Wells 2006. As noted above, this experimental scansion will not engage, by any means, with the whole gamut of intonational behaviour in English, and will limit itself to describing the following phenomena:

  • intonation-group boundaries:|

  • non-nuclear pitch accents: ' before the syllable

  • nuclear tones: syllable underlined, and preceded by one of the following three tonal marks:

\  fall
/  rise
V fall-rise

  • high or low fall, rise or fall-rise: H or L before the tonal mark. This departs from Wells’s notations—which place the tonal marks in superscript and subscript respectively—in order to make scansions more readable.

These marks are assigned on the basis of knowledge of the literature describing typical intonational patterns, and of analysis of the poetic text’s inducements towards these, in particular in the domains of syntax, lineation, and interpretation. The marks are applied conservatively, seeking to build an analysis that is, though speculative, representative of more than idiosyncrasy.

14For clarity’s sake, intonation and rhythm will be treated consecutively in this discussion, and intonational and rhythmic scansions will not be not combined, although intonation-group boundaries will appear in both. One exception is that, where the rhythm of non-metrical passages needs to described, this will be done using intonational scansion marks, since non-nuclear pitch accents and nuclear tones are, of course, the most important phonetic components of speech rhythm in English.

15It seems reasonable to suppose that most readings of “Against the Black Cloud”, even more than is typical of spoken English, will tend towards a higher percentage of falling than of non-falling tones. This is partly because Prynne’s poetry of this period tends to be constructed of syntactically complete—or at least, syntactically completed—declarative sentences; partly because the paratactic nature of its syntax—and the arguably obscure nature of its sense—necessitates relatively infrequently that signalling of syntactic subordination which is one of non-falling tones’ main functions. Of course, many non-falling tones are likely to be present nevertheless; at the end of line 5, for example, where the noun-phrase subject is likely—partly on the grounds of the enjambment—to be given its own intonation group, a rising tone may be used to signal syntactic incompleteness:

However, in the first stanza, as in the last, I can find no evidence that likely cues to non-falling tones are clustered or otherwise patterned. The first and fourth stanzas should, therefore, be considered as unmarked from the point of view of the relationship of falling and non-falling tones apart from the slightly greater than average tendency to falling tones noted above. The closing lines of both seem likely to be experienced as dominated by falling tones.

A further link between first and fourth stanzas is that neither contains strong cues to attitudinal uses of intonation: that is, while readers are as ever free to use high or low tone to express more or less involvement with any given proposition that these stanzas contain, there is no obvious punctuational or other inducement to do so. It seems safe to say, therefore, that from the point of view both of tone choice and tone height the first and fourth stanzas of the poem resemble each other, and can constitute a relatively intonationally unmarked ground with which more marked passages or stanzas might contrast.

16The second and third stanzas might well play this role. The second is characterised—intonationally as visually—by greater variety than that which precedes it, concentrated in three moments of local patterning. The first is the questionnaire-like list of assessments. Whatever tone is selected for the performance of the four letters (a), (b), (c), (d)—since falls, level tones and rises are all possible, analysis of any one would be of limited interest—it is very probable that each will be assigned its own intonation group, and that the same tone will be used in all four cases. The resulting groups—among the shortest in the poem—will create a strong pattern of alteration with the longer groups that separate them:

17The “list” pattern—notable in itself—contrasts in many ways with the more meandering structures that follow it: visually, syntactically, and in its other stylistic characteristics, as the language of medical case-history is succeeded by an evocation of “aimless beasts”. In one respect, therefore, intonational scansion simply reveals the prosodic contrasts that accompany these more traditionally analysed ones; nonetheless, in hearing the poem, the prosodic contrasts are arguably the most noticeable of all of them. They constitute a moment of clearly graspable pattern within the ongoing movement of the poem.

18Other such moments within this second stanza are those which result from its use of punctuation that is likely to steer readers towards selecting pitch height on attitudinal grounds. The more obvious example is the pair of exclamation marks in ll. 31–32, which a reader capable of being attendri(e) by the expression of Wordworthian emotion that the lines sketch is, it must be thought, likely to perform with a high-fall—“more interested, more excited, more involved” than other falls (Cruttenden, 91):

Less self-evident—but no less powerful—in its possible intonational consequences is the lengthy quotation or pseudo-quotation that closes the second stanza; apt to be taken as satirical in the context of the more vividly emotive language that precedes it (“fear grips the optic muscle”), its objective, diagnostic syntax and lexis repay the use of the “unexcited [. . .] dispassionate” tone that is the low fall (Cruttenden 91):

The three fall-rises that separate the low-falls in this scansion—themselves, it may be noted, forming a small prosodic sequence—are motivated by that tone’s capacity to signal incompleteness and contrastivity; other non-falling tones could also be selected.

19If the first and fourth stanzas suggest a relatively unmarked, unpatterned use of intonation, with a certain homogeneity in the high proportion of probable falls, the second, then, includes much more varied activity. The third—significantly shorter—is less various, but such variety as it has is very notable, since what seems to arise from this eleven-line stanza is a strong contrast of both tonality and tone between its first and second halves. Its opening five lines are characterised by what seems to be a seepage of sustained scientific discourse—kept in quotation marks in stanza 2—into the main body of the poem. The dense, pedantic jargon includes lengthy noun groups, which are very unlikely to be internally subdivided by intonation; in consequence, the intonation-groups associated with these lines are lengthy and accent-rich:

The tones are, lacking cues to the contrary, here assumed to be falls.

20In contrast, the stanza’s closing lines have much shorter probable intonation groups; they also, in their manipulation of rhythm, enjambment and punctuation, contain inducements to use non-falling tones:

These inducements are, it seems to me, twofold. The first is the strong rhythmic drive of the lines, whose eight metrical beats—discussed below—distributed over two-beat lines bring with them a strong sense of forward projection. This projection is complicated by internal rhyme and enjambment, with patterns of metre, phrase and rhyme repeatedly failing to align before finally coming together on the word “rain”, which momentarily satisfies all three systems: rhythmic projection (it carries the eighth beat in an eight-beat sequence), rhyme (via the echo of “gain”) and syntax (it brings the sentence fragment that began with “is” to some form of credible closure)—before itself being completed by the material to the right of the colon; which, given the absence of a full stop after “out”, is itself, in turn, not fully conclusive. There is, in other words, a very great deal of non-finality at play in these lines, a very great deal of syntactic and other openness. To this reader, at least, this openness—which contrasts very powerfully with the move towards ageing and finality which the meaning of the lines seems to suggest—demands a comparable prosodic openness, and the use of tones which are understood by speakers of English as signals of incompleteness.

21This sketch of the possible intonational characteristics of performance of “Again in the Black Cloud” has, then, revealed the following basic pattern: a first stanza in which falls predominate and which is otherwise unmarked; a second stanza with a great deal of prosodic variety, and patterning within that variety, and which, like the first, ends on falling tones; a third stanza of two strongly contrasting halves, in the second of which multiple poetic systems combine to induce non-falling tones; a fourth stanza which returns to the unmarked, fall-final patterns of the first. The poem as a whole thus has a fairly simple prosodic shape. This shape—whose function can in some respects be presumed to be, like musical form, abstractly dynamic—is also closely linked to the overall meaning of the poem; as its prosody moves way from and returns to unmarkedness and fall, passing firstly via variety (stanza 2), and secondly via what one might sentimentalise as a late resistance to fall (stanza 3), the impression that the poem has given readers such as Reeve and Kerridge of dealing with a thematic of return, memory and age cannot fail to be reinforced.

22Against this intonational backdrop, the poem’s most rhythmical moments stand out sharply. The passages that seem unmistakably metrical both occur immediately before the close of the stanzas in which they occur (1, 4)—a fact which suggests their structural importance. Both seem to be passages of relative interpretative clarity, which reinforce one important implication of our analysis of the poem’s cues to intonational patterning: that the patterns of meaning and of form are, in this poem, homologous. Both, finally, lead to a conclusion that is probably non-metrical, but which echoes the metre that immediately precedes it in the number and distribution of its probable accents.

23This emergence of non-metrical from metrical pattern reverses a much more common device of non-metrical poetry: that in which a passage of metre seems to emerge from the nonmetrical lines that precede it. The locus classicus of this device is Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”, in whose final line Paul Fussell finds “the shock of regular iambic pentameter registering a different and more valid way of perceiving” (85). Prynne does this very frequently in his poetry of the late 1960s—see, for example, “From End to End”, “In Cimmerian Darkness”, “Whose Dust Did You Say”, and the comments in Berget (20–21)—the poetry thereby acquiring a strong sense of orderly closure. “Again in the Black Cloud”, however, eschews this sense of closure for an arguably more complex phenomenon. In lines 11–12, as in line 54, the distribution of accents echoes the metre which has just been experienced—four-beat and two-beat respectively—but, because of an irregular distribution of non-prominent syllables, it does not quite permit it to continue. In such circumstances, the non-metrical conclusion seems almost to critique the preceding metre; the poem’s prosody seems to imply, and foster, an analysis in which metre both represents and constitutes an order that, for all its seductive power, has insufficient value as a structuring, or a dramatization, of experience.

24It may, finally, be noted that the last line of the poem’s last stanza echoes the last line of its first, both prosodically and in its apparently aphoristic or diagnostic vocation:

The sequence of probable intonation groups in l. 54 echoes that which stretches over ll. 11–12, both in the distribution of group boundaries and in the number and nature of probable nuclear tones and other syllabic prominences. As such, and especially given the complexities and differences that concluded the intervening second and third stanzas, it helps readings of the poem to close with an enriched and echoic sense of poem-internal context; as elsewhere in Prynne, return, of a kind, is achieved.

25The analyses set out in this study have sought to extend the kinds of discussions that can be engaged about a poetry that is, from the point of view of its form, traditionally under-described. What has emerged from them is a reinforcement of our sense of Prynne as a shaper, a poet who uses cues to intonation and metrical pattern to give the sense of a poem as developing structure or shape even when no argument or narrative can be discerned, creating what Jim Keery calls “the excitement of the music” (76) and deepening the poem’s engagement with the experience of time, memory and order. Such a conception of Prynne’s work by no means prevents a continued focus on its openings to and disruptions of interpretation, yet it may suggest the possibility of a mode of reception that is not without similarities to one sketched by John Ashbery in 1965, for all the British poet’s greater sense of semantic attack:

What I like about music is its ability of being convincing, of carrying an argument through successfully to the finish, though the terms of this argument remain unknown quantities. What remains is the structure, the architecture of the argument, scene or story. I would like to do this in poetry. (Ashbery, qu. Shoptaw, 211)

Whether, on the other hand, the forms, meanings and pleasures described here constitute important satisfactions to Prynne’s admirers—or indeed seductive ones to readers new to his poetry—is beyond the scope of this study.

26Finally, although the author of this paper concurs fully with Simon Jarvis’s statement that “the criticism that takes care to delete all indemonstrable claims may also have taken care to delete the field of criticism itself” (17), the techniques used here do demand more investigation, and more demonstration, than they have hitherto received, even if the claims made have deliberately sought to be modest ones. One possibility, for example, would be the testing of the intonational scansions against different readers’ performances of the poem; undoubtedly, some such future research will be necessary if scansion for intonation is ever to complement the reviving art of scansion for rhythm.

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