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'Under a shower of bird-notes': R. S. Thomas's elegiac poems for Elsi

Kennedy, David

Authors

David Kennedy

Abstract

It has been customary to see elegies by male poets as exceptional rather than typical poems. W. H. Auden wrote that ‘Poets seem to be more generally successful at writing elegies than at any other literary genre’. Peter Sacks reads Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ as a combination of a career move to secure immortality and a deliberate exploitation of ‘the pastoral elegy’s potential for theological criticism or political satire’. The poetry of R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) contains a body of love poems to his first wife Mildred (Elsi(e)) Eldridge (1909–91), which culminate in a number of elegiac poems published in Mass for Hard Times (1992), No Truce with the Furies (1995), and the posthumous Residues (2002) assembled by Thomas’s literary executor M. Wynn Thomas. Thomas’s elegiac poems for Elsi challenge critical assumptions about the exceptionality and separability of elegy outlined above. The relative informality of Thomas’s poems in terms of the subgenre’s conventions is, then, one interest of this article. My discussion will also focus briefly on Welsh aspects of the poems and how Thomas’s late poems for Elsi do not stand apart from his other poetry but are of a piece with it. It will also become apparent that many of Thomas’s poems are interested in commemorating a continuing shared subjectivity as opposed to describing a process of moving on from grief.

Publication Date Dec 2, 2014
Journal English
Print ISSN 0013-8215
Electronic ISSN 1756-1124
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 63
Issue 243
Pages 296-312
Institution Citation Kennedy, D. (2014). 'Under a shower of bird-notes': R. S. Thomas's elegiac poems for Elsi. English, 63(243), 296-312. https://doi.org/10.1093/english/efu018
DOI https://doi.org/10.1093/english/efu018
Keywords R. S. Thomas (1913-2000); Elegies; Poetry
Publisher URL http://english.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/243/296
Copyright Statement © The Author 2014.
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: English, 2014, v.63 issue 243.

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