Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(27) Post-war Poetry.

(The Movement, The Group; P. Larkin, T. Hughes, S. Heaney, and S. Smith).


T h e  T w e n t i e t h  C e n t u r y

[see "Background for Topics 12-27..."]


‘ T h e M o v e m e n t ’  ( e a r l y 1 9 5 0 s )

= a loose group of young poets and novelists

- the name: from the designation of the lit. ed. of The Spectator (1828 +) J. D. Scott for a group of essentially E poets x poets in Scot. / Wales not generally incl.

- reacted against the extreme romanticism of ‘The New Apocalyptics’ (overlapping with ‘The Scottish Renaissance’) and their irrationality, deliberate incoherence, outrageousness, and controversy x in favour of anti-romanticism, rationality, and sobriety (almost constituting a form of neo-classicism)

- generally retreated ‘from direct comment or involvement in any political or social doctrine’

- shared antipathy to the cultural pretensions of Bohemia and ‘Bloomsbury’, to the élitism of much Modernist writing, and to the post-imperial Welfare State Br.

- also shared (x but: not emphasised) their class orig

- incl. Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, John Wain, Donald Davie, Thom Gunn, D. J. Enright, Elizabeth Jennings, and Robert Conquest

> New Lines anthology (1956), ed. by R. Conquest: the introd. sets the aim of avoiding ‘bad principles’ = excesses both in terms of theme and stylistic devices, and criticises implicitly the 1940s poets, incl. Dylan Thomas & oth.

> New Lines 2 (1963)

- ‘The Movement’ collapsed to be succeeded by ‘The Group’


T h e G r o u p ’  ( m i d  1 9 5 0 s – m i d  1 9 6 0 s)

- often consid. the successor of ‘The Movement’ x but: exercised more practical criticism and mutual support than its predecessor with only little tangible public existence

- founded by Philip Hobsbaum, then a Cambridge student, as a poetry discussion group for students dissatisfied with the way poetry was read aloud in the uni (1952)

- H. moved to London, the group reconstituted itself there = ‘The Group’ (1955)

= an informal group of poets meeting once a week to ‘discuss each other’s work helpfully and without backbiting’, with ‘no monolithic body of doctrine to which everyone must subscribe’

- followed the principles of the ‘New Criticism’ (mid 20th c.) = the dominant trend in E and Am. lit. criticism in 1920s – 60s, advocating close reading and attention to texts themselves x rejecting criticism based on extra-textual sources, esp. biography

- incl. Edward Lucie-Smith, George Macbeth (1932 – 92), Peter Redgrove (1932 – 2003), Alan Brownjohn (b. 1931), Peter Porter (b. 1929), Martin Bell, and occasionally Ted Hughes

- H. left London for study, the group moved to Chelsea under the chairmanship of E. Lucie-Smith (1959) and incl. Fleur Adcock (b. 1934), Taner Baybars (b. 1936), Edwin Brock (1927 – 97), Nathaniel Tarn (b. 1928), and Zulfikar Ghose (b. 1935)

- H. moved to Belfast and establ. a similar group there = ‘The Belfast Group’ (1962)

> The Group Anthology (1963), ed. by P. Hobsbaum & E. Lucie-Smith: the foreword sets the aim of writing ‘frank autobiographical poems’ and a ‘poetry of direct experience’, the epilogue emphasises the importance of discussion and the writer’s need for ‘community to keep him in touch with his audience’

- publicity associated with the anthology increased the number of attendants, made the meetings no more workable, and restructured the orig. group into a more formal one under the chairmanship of M. Bell = ‘The Poet’s Workshop’ (1965)


T e d  H u g h e s  ( 1 9 3 0 – 9 8 )

L i f e :

- b. in Yorkshire, son of a WW I veteran

- married the Am. poet Sylvia Plath (1932 – 63) x but: 7 y. later she committed suicide

- appointed Poet Laureate (1985)

W o r k :

- conc. with nature = the world of raw sensation

- views the nature through the eye of the predator x S. Plath’s view through the eye of the victim

- plays tender games with mortality

The Hawk in the Rain (1957) and Lupercal (1960):

< D. H. Lawrence’s Birds, Beasts, and Flowers (1923)

- incl. electrifying descriptions of jaguar, thrushes, and pike

- fascinated with animal energy and independence

- relates the predators through metaphors to forces underlying all animal and human experience: human aspirations to freedom and power x the instinctive animal achievement of both

- presents the decay of wild animals caused by their restraint: a caged jaguar, a macaw in a cage, etc.

> “Hawk Roosting”, repres. the consciousness of an animal x but: expresses the animal single-mindedness with an unmistakably human arrogance

> “The Bull Moses”, contrasts the intense physicality x the ‘spirituality’ in the bull’s quietness when returned to his stall, with his leisure founded on some vision of future (<=> Moses)

- [Moses = “I drew him out of the water”, adopted by a Egyptian princess; ordered by God to lead His people out of the Egyptian bondage in the divine revelation of a burning bush; parted the Red Sea to allow an escape route for the Israelites from the Egyptian army; received the Ten Commandments from God on 2 stone tablets on the Mount Sinai => ‘the lawgiver’; and saved His people from destruction as God intended to destroy them due to their disobedience]

Wodwo (1967):

- mingles prose and verse

Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow (1970) and Gaudete (1977):

- abandons realism and the traditional metrical pattern in favour of extravagant mythic structures

ad Crow:

- culminates his experiments conc. with the violent animal and human world

= a gnomic sequence of poems about the crow = a survivor and a blackly comic speculator about the inadequacy of the old definitions of the relationship of the Creator x his Creation

- creates new myths about God, refuses to learn the word ‘love’, and re-enacts aspects of the stories of Adam, Oedipus, Ulysses, and Hamlet

- redefines establ. ideas by intense, even brutal stabs at meaning

> “Crow Blacker Than Ever”, “Crow Goes Hunting”

Moortown (1979), Remains of Elmet (1979), River (1983), and Flowers and Insects (1989):

- returns from the wilder shores of myth

- renders the natural world with a delicacy and tenderness as arresting as his earlier ferocity

Tales from Ovid: Twenty-Four Passages from the Metamorphoses (1997):

= a brilliant recreation rather than transl. of the Rom. poet’s work

- his fascination with violence and the fusion of the wild x the human takes on a new, sensuously charged power

- incl. a particularly agonised transformation of Myrrha from woman to a weeping tree

- [Myrrha in Ovid’s version = daughter of the king of Cyprus, committed incest with his father in disguise as a new concubine, punished not for her unnatural lust x but: for her practise of deception]

Birthday Letters (1998):

= a sequence of poems all but 2 addressed to his late wife

- celebrates their love and precisely recalls what was lost, what gained, and what survived the 35 y. of his dignified silence about his marriage

- introd. a newly demanding introspective poetry of readjustment


P h i l i p  L a r k i n  ( 1 9 2 2 – 8 5 )

F i c t i o n :

< early period: W. B. Yeats

< mature period: T. Hardy > a pessimistic preocc. with loneliness, age, and death

x but: the many negatives in the poems imply positives, out of reach of the ironic and self-deprecating speaker, available perhaps to oth. more fortunate

Jill (1946):

- set in an Oxford forced into a dispirited egalitarianism by the war

- introd. the common theme for the lit. of the 1950s – 60s, anticipated ‘The Angry Young Men’

A Girl in Winter (1947)

P o e t r y :

= the dominant figure of ‘The Movement’


- makes use of his novelist’s sense of place and of his skill in the handling of direct speech

- frees himself from both the mystical and the logical, takes an empirical attitude to all that comes

- ed. a controversial poetry anthology: opposes the imported modernist tradition (T. S. Eliot and E. Pound) x in favour of the native E tradition (G. Chaucer, W. Wordsworth, and T. Hardy)

=> produces his mature poetry to bypass the Modernist experiment and high-flown language x in favour of traditional metrical forms and a precise and plain diction


- analyses the welfare-state world of post-imperial Br.

- views human history and human experience as no occasion for rejoicing

=> alienates him from both an uncomfortable past and a cheerless Godless present

The North Ship (1945):

= his 1st coll. of poems

< the strong enchantment of W. B. Yeats

XX Poems (1951)

The Less Deceived (1955):

< T. Hardy > his poetic restraint

- H. seems to be echoed even in the title

The Whitsun Weddings (1964):

- a sharp ear for the inflexions of his own age

- a deliberately provocative frankness

> “The Whitsun Weddings”, his contemp. En. of false cheer, cheap fashions, and joyless wedding parties

High Windows (1974):

< an admiration for D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover

- a private penchant for ‘four-letter words’

> “High Windows”, the colloquial (= offensive) language stresses its contemporaneity

> “Annus Mirabilis”, an old man’s sing-song ballad: the publication of Lady Chatterley marks a wider shift in pop. culture and manners

“Church Going”:

- a ‘bored, uninformed’ post-Christian narrator with an ‘awkward reverence’ in a country church frets at the prospect of a future with relig. shrunk to a fear of death

“An Arundel Tomb”:

= perhaps his most delicate and lyrical poem

- fuses history, time, uneasiness about death, and human hope into new wholes

- a medieval funerary monument to a husband and wife shows them lying side by side and hand in hand x time both marred the sculptural image and altered the way to read and interpret all the images

“To Failure”



S e a m u s  H e a n e y  ( b . 1 9 3 9 )

L i f e :

- b. in Ulster into a Rom. Cath. family [Ulster = the Protestant Northern Ir. x Eire = the Rom. Catholic Ir. Rep.]

- received both Cath. and Protestant education

- establ. as a political poet x but: felt constrained by this role and left Ulster for the Ir. Rep.

- received the Nobel Prize (1995)

W o r k :

- H.: the ‘defensive love of their territory’ in the work of P. Larkin and T. Hughes once shared only by the ‘colonial’ poets => consid. himself one of the ‘colonials’

- speaks and writes in E x does not share the perspectives of an Englishman => the doubleness of his inheritance

- his native rural Ulster figures delicately, richly, and painfully in his poetry

< P. V. Glob’s (a Danish archaeologist) The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved > conc. with deeper levels of mythic and historical congruence

- G.: the preserved human bodies found in the bogs of Jutland = ritual sacrifices to the Mother Goddess

- H.: this rite = an archetypal pattern of the Ir. political and relig. martyrdom to Mother Ir. (= symbolised by the mythic figure Kathleen Ni Houlihan)

=> the Ir. bog = ‘a memory bank’, also preserves everything thrown into it


= the 1st poem of his 1st coll.

- defines his territory by digging into his memory to uncover his father, then his grandfather

- aims to give a voice to the silent and oppressed

Death of a Naturalist (1966) and Door into the Dark (1969):

- recalls a familiar childhood landscape peopled by farmers, labourers, and fishermen

Wintering Out (1972), North (1975), and Field Work (1979):

- incl. less of a private remembered landscape, more of the Northern Ir. of the ‘troubles’

- the history still continues to determine the present perceptions

ad North:

= his most obviously political coll.

- incl. the powerful bog poems:

> “Mossbawn: Two Poems in Dedication” (‘Mossbawn’ = the Heaney farm), memorial lyrics prefacing the coll. and extending the perspective from his father’s farm to the larger troubled Ulster = the history of that province related to the history of Ir. as a whole

> “Belderg”, the history emerges from the soil as haunted by the prehistoric, the Gaelic, the Norse, and the E strains

> “Freedman”, a direct treatment of the present x the rifts in Ir. life rooted in its history of occupation and imperial infl. => the subjugation to the culture of the Rom. Church x the ancient Rom. slavery

> “North”, a sharp look back to Norse enterprise and its ruthlessness and a reflection on how a poet can use an ‘alien’ language on his native soil: ‘dictions’ and ‘past philology’ = an inheritance obliging an Ir. poet to come to terms with the Teutonic roots of the E imperial language

Station Island (1984), The Haw Lantern (1987), Seeing Things (1991), and The Spirit Level (1996):

- continues to explore the landscape, language, and memory of the troubled Ir.

x but: finds a new harmony and chastity of expression x the sharpness of his North x the sensuousness of his earlier poetry

Opened Ground: Poems 1966 – 1996

Also wrote: a noteworthy transl. of Beowulf


S t e v i e  S m i t h  ( 1 9 0 2 – 7 1 )

L i f e :

- b. Florence Margaret Smith, nicknamed ‘Stevie’ for her resembling a jockey of that name

- developed TBC peritonitis as a child, remained off and on in a sanatorium for several y.

> distressed at being sent away from her mother, preocc. with death

- died of a brain tumour

W o r k :

= ostensibly simple poetry: uses subjects and expressions oth. poets might reject as trifles

- sentimentally attached to the Church of En. x but: denounces its doctrines and priests

- immerses herself in mortality x but: whimsically greets Death as a ‘gentle friend’ and dwells almost gaily on the effects of physical and mental decay

F i c t i o n :

Novel on Yellow Paper (1936):

= one of her 3 publ. novels, all of them lightly fictionalised accounts of her own life

> got her into trouble as people recognised themselves

P o e t r y :

A Good Time Was Had By All (1937) and Tender Only to One (1938):

= early coll. of poetry, illustr. by her own naive drawings

Not Waving But Drowning (1957), Selected Poems (1962), and The Frog Prince (1966):

= mature coll. of poetry

> won her reputation

“Not Waving but Drowning”:

= her most pop. poem

< autobiog.: the fundamental isolation of the poet from her audience via the medium of a misapprehension relating to a swimmer dying at sea

- the drowning man’s gesturing misunderstood: moans he was ‘much too far out all my life’

“Do Take Muriel Out”:

- presses Death to take the lonely Muriel on a last outing

“Come Death” I (1938):

- uses an Elizabethan title x avoids the echoes of Elizabethan melancholy and the mortal ambiguities of J. Donne

- longs for extinction with an admixture of archaism and easy modern frankness

“Come Death” II (1971):

- written in her final illness

- a far more lyrical form and punchy simplicity than the former poem of that title


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.



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