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New Light on Tony Harrison$
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Edith Hall

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266519

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266519.001.0001

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Modernism and the ‘Double Consciousness’ of Myth in Tony Harrison’s Poetry and Metamorpheus

Modernism and the ‘Double Consciousness’ of Myth in Tony Harrison’s Poetry and Metamorpheus

(p.185) 16 Modernism and the ‘Double Consciousness’ of Myth in Tony Harrison’s Poetry and Metamorpheus
New Light on Tony Harrison

Antony Rowland

British Academy

This chapter looks at the relationship between Tony Harrison’s work and the legacies of modernism. In the dominant version of Harrison’s relationship with modernism, the poet undergoes a ‘Eureka’ moment akin to Philip Larkin’s repudiation of Yeats when the Leeds poet begins to write The School of Eloquence sequence: switching to the example of Thomas Hardy, Larkin no longer wished, he contested, to ‘jack himself up’ into poetry, just as Harrison desires to be the poet that ‘blokes in the boozer’ might read. However, as with Larkin’s deployment of symbolist verse and references to T. S. Eliot in his later poetry, Harrison’s work does not simply repudiate modernism either. Harrison’s apparently antipathetic response to modernist literature seems to be encapsulated in Desmond Graham’s chapter on Harrison’s early poetry, in which he depicts the Leeds poet at Poetry and Audience editorial meetings, mimicking Eliot’s voice and demeanour. Yet the poetry tells a different story. In his first full collection, The Loiners, Harrison engages with a number of modernist antecedents, including Arthur Rimbaud, Joseph Conrad and Charles Baudelaire. This chapter then focuses on the modernist ‘double consciousness’ of myth that Harrison then draws on, and refines, throughout his oeuvre. Writers such as James Joyce and T.S. Eliot were the first authors to herald an intensification of writing about myth that fictionalises mythic characters rather than retaining them as symbols and narrative ballast. I explore how Harrison utilises this ‘double consciousness’ in his film-poem Metamorpheus and in the poem ‘The Grilling’ from Under the Clock.

Keywords:   Myth, Modernism, meta-modernism, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, The Loiners, V., Metamorpheus, The Grilling, Tony Harrison

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