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Title: Nothing to Say: Silence in Modernist American Poetry
Authors: Williamson, Andrew
Advisors: Fuss, Diana
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Ernest Fenollosa
Ezra Pound
John Cage
Louis Zukofsky
Marianne Moore
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation explores the problematic of silence in modernist American poetry, touching on the work of such exemplary poets as: Elizabeth Bishop, John Cage, Hart Crane, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, H.D., Marianne Moore, Charles Olson, George Oppen, Ezra Pound, Carl Rakosi, Laura Riding, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Zukofsky. The twentieth century witnessed the explicit problematization of silence in the works of the mid-century poet and composer John Cage (1912-1992), whose lecture “Lecture on Nothing” (1949) and whose musical composition 4’33” (1952) present just two of the many examples of Cage’s intellectual engagement with performed restraint from speaking, singing, and playing. Paul Zukofsky, the son of the modernist poet Louis Zukofsky and an artistic collaborator of John Cage, asserted that Cage’s work “elevated silence to a place of importance equal to non-silence.” But, as becomes clear in a wide-ranging introduction, John Cage hardly introduced silence as an important feature of verse during the period. It was Ezra Pound, likely drawing on the works of the French Symbolist Stéphane Mallarmé, who broached the trope that would become a favorite one among modernist American poets. Through a close reading of Pound’s 1912 sonnet “Silet,” this dissertation demonstrates that Pound early in the century sought to achieve an unthinkable end: a lyric poem in which no one speaks. The reasons for this pursuit are multiple. On the one hand, Pound’s use of silence helped him create an Imagistic verse centered around the “intensification of a single Image.” On the other, as shown by a close reading of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, the poet’s silence helped Pound avoid a crucial shortcoming of speech and song. Vocal expressions inevitably decay. Silence endures. The endurance of silence allowed Pound’s voice to “resonate” in the works of later poets. To wit: Moore, Zukofsky, and Cage, the subjects of the second and third chapters and the coda, respectively. This dissertation concludes with a reading of Cage’s mesostic poem “For William McN. who studied with Ezra Pound,” a work that demonstrates clearly the influence of Pound’s use of silence on Cage.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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