"Strange rituals of surrender": Seamus Heaney and contemporary elegy

Research output: Other contributionpeer-review


From the pre-modern era to the modern period, the lyric genre of elegy has witnessed a significant turn: from a consolation-oriented pastoral tradition to the well-established anti-consolatory modern ironic. This thesis departs from the majority of current critical approaches that focus on elegy and its relationships to irony, in particular the influential application of psychoanalysis to the mourning process. These now-familiar approaches document an attrition of power and agency available to the elegist, an attrition that results in elegies that ironically ‘fail’ to elegize: thus, the anti-consolatory modern lyric. Through interpreting the elegiac work of Seamus Heaney, one of the largest single bodies of contemporary lyric elegy, this thesis proposes a major shift of attention: toward the elegiac object. The elegiac object has been marginalized in the history of elegiac criticism. This thesis develops a new critical perspective, ultimately leading to the transformation of the object into a subject, and emphasizing elegiac landscapes of increasing interrelation. Through close prosodic attention, this thesis demonstrates how Heaney’s work shifts contemporary discourse on the elegiac; first-person lyrical perspectives; and ethical action rooted in elegiac embarrassment. This major historical shift in elegiac ecosystems revises (redresses) the tropes of First World War poetry, reshapes the elegiac space and form, and reworks the relationship between human and nonhuman.
Original languageEnglish
TypePhD Thesis
Number of pages251
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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