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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Forms of Time Public Lecture: Good while It Lasted”: Time in Lyric Poetry from Shelley to Mahon’

25th February 2013, 18:15 to 19:15, Room 140, Elvet Riverside Building, Professor Michael O’Neill, English Department, Durham University


Time takes on renewed significance as a theme in much English lyric poetry over the last two centuries. Shelley’s Urania in Adonais, an elegy that aspires to be a lyric of transcendence, laments that ‘she is chained to Time, and cannot thence depart’; Browning’s lover regrets that ‘the good minute goes’; for Larkin, ‘ though our element is time, / We are not suited to the long perspectives / Open at each instant of our lives’.  Awareness and manipulation of time are also central to poetry’s sense of itself as ‘A way of happening’, in Auden’s phrase. Poems slow down and speed up time in ways that involve control of an imagined and temporal experience: the syntax of Imagism seeks to annul time; the later Yeats both revels in the places and spaces of memory that time opens up and wishes to subject it to metaphorical conflagration; the early Derek Mahon, in ‘An Image from Beckett’, senses ‘civilizations’ come and go in a line or two. Taking in a wide range of writers, including Shelley, Tennyson, Yeats, Eliot, MacNeice, Davie, Larkin, and Mahon, this talk will offer some thoughts about the forms and shaping of time in Romantic and post-Romantic poetry.

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