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The poetry of consciousness : aspects of the modern tradition in English poetry, with special attention to Edward Thomas, Harold Monro, and F. S. Flint

Underhill, Hugh (1974) The poetry of consciousness : aspects of the modern tradition in English poetry, with special attention to Edward Thomas, Harold Monro, and F. S. Flint. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94699) (KAR id:94699)


This is a literary—critical study of three twentieth-century poets seen in relation to a continuous development of the English poetic tradition from Romanticism to what is approximately termed ’Modernism’. It traces the emergence of a particular group of poetic obsessions involving an intensely subjective striving for ’totality of self’, as well as a sense of a chasm between the poet and the world around him and the need to bridge this chasm. The battle of poets with style and technique in the earlier part of the century was a necessary accompaniment to the authentic expression of these obsessions. The historical core of the study is the second decade of the present century, but there is no closely-defined historical period, and the discussion ranges from Keats and Baudelaire to the later work of Yeats, Eliot and Graves. Introductory orientations are established in relation to certain wellknown works of criticism and theory. The change in the poet’s position in society broadly associated with the Industrial Revolution is still seen to affect poets, but it is clear that the Modern tradition, if continuous with the Romantic tradition, also splits off from it in important ways. The starting-points of this process are located in the events which followed the arrival of Ezra Pound in England in 1908 and culminated in the publication of The Waste Land in 1922; in particular it is thought necessary to define the role of Georgian poetry with some care. The poetry of Edward Thomas is seen as representative in possessing qualities which at once unite it with and distinguish it from the Romanticism in which it has its roots. His own commentary on Keats throws much light on the kind of psychological disposition and ’poetical character’ which makes poetry out of a state of being in which more or less normal experience appears an almost intolerable burden: this is described as ’the problem of acute consciousness’. Harold Monro’s haunted vision and stylistic uncertainties are related in various ways to T.S. Eliot’s treatment of the psychological problems of modern man, and the escapes and solutions the two poets explore are compared. F.S. Flint, a chief polemicist of the Imagist movement, is examined as an important mediator between French Symbolism and modern English poetry. He is seen to take part in initiating dominant trends in twentieth-century English poetry, notably the ‘confessional’ and anti-heroic modes, while his ’Otherworld’ is studied as a pattern of the conflict in modern poetry between escape and acceptance. The turning to ’nature’ by the Romantic poets in an attempt to discover there a new integration of the self is an aspect of the Romantic legacy which presents the modern poet, who has often revolted against rural subjectmatter, with a severe problem of identification, and the country and the city are seen to take on a symbolic antithesis in the modern poetic consciousness. The work of Thomas Hardy is crucial to a discussion of this situation; it suggests for the Modern tradition ways of resisting the poison, or ennui, which corrodes the Romantic sensibility and the escapes and evasions which tempt poets afflicted by it. The effects of this ennui, which involves a sense of ’life consumed in unfulfilment and often of hollowness at the centre of the modern urban experience, are correlated in the work of Baudelaire, Keats and T.S. Eliot, as well as in that of Monro, Flint and Thomas. It is observed that the intense subjectivity of modern poets is often directly connected with a yearning, which has both Romantic and Symbolist antecedants, for escape into a dimension of reality outside time and normal consciousness. All the poets examined seem to exhibit, in one form or another, a sense of ’difference* from other men and a profound uncertainty about the choices and commitments the m o d e m world demands of them, and about the nature of their identity within it. The striving to achieve ’the true voice of feeling’, -the attempt to record with the greatest exactness the feel of an experience, the quest for identity, representatively noted in the work of Monro, Flint and Thomas, are revealed as endeavours to define again for their own generation the distinctive qualities of human consciousness. In struggling with these problems of consciousness, the argument runs, the poets studied have at times succeeded in introducing the public or outer world into their poetry without falsifying the subjective self, or falling into the rhetorical and didactic modes of the nineteenth century. Their poetry, it is concluded, is an infinitely subtle and responsive record of sensibility and consciousness, which becomes at the same time a criticism of life.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94699
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: twentieth-century poetry, English poetic tradition, Edward Thomas, Harold Monro, F.S. Flint
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 23 May 2023 16:02 UTC
Last Modified: 23 May 2023 16:03 UTC
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