Affective Rhythms in Edward Lear, T. S. Eliot, and Stevie Smith
This thesis reads individual affects in the compositions of Edward Lear, Thomas Stearns Eliot, and Stevie Smith. My central question is the extent to which compositions can be driven by, perform, and treat affect. In exploring how rhythmical tendencies ally with the representations of affect in poets’ published verses and unpublished manuscripts, I investigate how feelings are patterned and performed by poets and their poems. My research method combines close reading and biographical research with examinations of unpublished archival materials housed in the Houghton Library in Harvard, Berg Collection in New York, and McFarlin Library in Tulsa. The three types of affect I examine are: tears in Edward Lear (chapter one), nerves in T. S. Eliot (chapter two), and aggression in Stevie Smith (chapter three). Each chapter is divided into three sections and a fourth concluding section. These are chronologically as well as thematically shaped to follow the progress of a life as it comes to terms with affect in writing. In Chapter One, Lear’s Tears: ‘Breaking’ looks at moments of emotional rupture or bursting in Lear’s verses; ‘Private melody’ explores how tearfulness is secreted into and by his compositions; ‘Turtle, you shall carry me’ examines Lear’s dramatisation of rhythm as carrying us through upset; and ‘Too deep for tears’ contemplates Lear’s playful surfaces as leading us unknowingly into tearful depths. In Chapter Two, Eliot’s Nerves: ‘Early jitters’ looks at Eliot’s rhythms as dramatising moments of nervous crisis in the Inventions of the March Hare drafts; ‘Nerves in patterns’ explores how he develops this technique throughout the 1920s as influenced by his personal, theoretical, and socio-medical context; ‘Sickly vehicle’ questions whether The Waste Land drafts dramatise nervous breakdown and its treatment; and ‘When words fail’ explores Eliot’s apprehension of rhythm as a way ‘to report of things unknown’ and ‘to express the inexpressible’. In Chapter Three, Smith’s Scratches: ‘Beast within’ looks at how Smith considers her Muse to be an aggressive other that scratches for release from within her; ‘Scratching out’ examines how fantasies of violence are played out in her verses to bring her ‘ease’; ‘Too low for words’ explores how off-kilter rhythms dramatise ‘mental disequilibrium’ in her writing after 1953; and ‘Darker I move’ uncovers, through a close examination of Smith’s dying rhythms, that her music lay deeper than her words. In my afterword on disorder and dancing, I argue that these discoveries illuminate our understanding of poetics, at whose heart lies a mysterious acknowledgment of the psychosomatic nature of expression and its drive to release and re-form thoughts and feelings. If poetic rhythm can dramatise attempts to articulate and control affect, then affect moves the human creature and its language in the same way as rhythms move through bodies of poetry. This small-scale observation has large-scale implications for literary practice as feeding on psychosomatic disorder while crafting compositions of thoughts and feelings lying beyond human articulation and comprehension.