Daphne in the twentieth century: the grotesque in modern poetry



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This dissertation seeks to expose the importance of the grotesque in the poetry and writings of Trans-Atlantic poets of the early twentieth century, particularly Ezra Pound, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy, Marianne Moore and T.S. Eliot. Prior scholarship on the poets minimizes the effect of the grotesque in favor of the more objective elements found in such movements as Imagism. This text argues that these poets re-established the grotesque in their writing after World War I mainly through Hellenic myths, especially myths concerning the motif of the tree. The myths of Daphne and Apollo, Baucis and Philemon, and others use the tree motif as an example of complete metamorphosis into a new identity. This is an example of what Mikhail Bakhtin entitles grotesque realism, a type of grotesque not acknowledged in art since the French Revolution. Since the revolution, the grotesque involved an image trapped between two established forms of identity, or what Bakhtin refers to as the Romantic grotesque. This grotesque traps the image in stasis and does not provide a dynamic change of identity in the same way as grotesque realism. Therefore, these poets introduce the subversive act of change of identity in Western literature that had been absent for the most part for nearly a century. The modern poets pick up the use of the complete metamorphosis found in Hellenic myth in order to identify with a constantly changing urban environment that alienated its inhabitants. The modern city is a form of the grotesque in that it has transformed its environment from a natural state to a manmade state that is constantly in a state of transformation, itself. The modern poets use Hellenic myths and the tree motif to create an identity for themselves that would be as dynamic in transformation as the environment they inhabited.