Harrison as Elegist
Harrison as Elegist
Among Tony Harrison’s outstanding achievements are the elegies written for his parents that appear in his School of Eloquence sequence and his long narrative poem ‘v.’. Morrison’s chapter explores the various ways in which these poems challenge and disrupt the conventions of the genre, by introducing subject matter and themes usually considered alien to the form—among them class, politics and personal identity—and by rooting them in a contemporary urban setting. The chapter also argues that Harrison’s elegies are cerebral as well as highly emotive; public as well as private; laboured rather than fluent (thereby expressing solidarity with the poet’s proletarian ancestors); and that they occupy a zone between inarticulacy (as exemplified by his father) and learned discourse. The poet’s acquisition of language is seen to come at a price: that of guilt towards his parents, from whom he feels cut off by virtue of his education and profession. After noting performative and acutely self-conscious elements in Harrison’s work, highlighting moments of humour, and touching on links to or departures from other poets (including Milton, Meredith, Yeats and Seamus Heaney), the chapter examines a single poem, ‘Marked with D’, in extensive detail. It concludes that although the poems under consideration were published over thirty years ago they are still striking relevant today—and indeed might be said foresee the key issues (of social class, affluence, regionalism and racism) that divide and disfigure the British nation today.
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