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«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»

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A Dissertation



Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of

Texas A&M University

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of


August 2012

Major Subject: English

Elegiac Rhetorics: From Loss to Dialogue in Lyric Poetry Copyright 2012 Sarah Elizabeth Hart


A Dissertation by


Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of


Approved by:

Chair of Committee, M. Jimmie Killingsworth Committee Members, C. Jan Swearingen Marian Eide Linda Radzik Head of Department, Nancy Bradley Warren August 2012 Major Subject: English iii


Elegiac Rhetorics: From Loss to Dialogue in Lyric Poetry. (August 2012) Sarah Elizabeth Hart, B.A, Southwestern University; M.A., Texas A&M University Chair of Advisory Committee: Dr. M. Jimmie Killingsworth By reading mournful poems rhetorically, I expand the concept of the elegy in order to reveal continuities between private and communal modes of mourning. My emphasis on readers of elegies challenges writer-centered definitions of the elegy, like that given by Peter Sacks, who describes how the elegy's formal conventions express the elegist's own motives for writing. Although Sacks's Freudian approach helpfully delineates some of the consoling effects that writing poetry has on the elegist herself, this dissertation revises such writer-centered concepts of the elegy by asking how elegies rhetorically invoke ethical relationships between writers and readers. By reading elegiac poems through Kenneth Burke's rhetorical theories and Emmanuel Levinas's ethics, I argue that these poems characterize, as Levinas suggests, subjectivity as fundamentally structured by ethical relationships with others.

In keeping with this ethical focus, I analyze anthology poems, meaning short lyric poems written by acclaimed authors, easily accessible, and easily remembered— including several well-known poems by such authors as Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Frost. Anthology pieces invite ethical evaluation in part

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does not. Because anthology poems are read by broad, diverse audiences, I suggest that a rhetorical methodology focusing on writer-reader relationships is essential to evaluating these poems' ethical implications.

This rhetorical approach to poetry, however, questions rhetoricians and aesthetic theorists from Aristotle and Longinus to Lloyd F. Bitzer and Derek Attridge who emphasize distinctions between rhetoric and poetics. I address the ongoing debate about the relationship between rhetoric and poetics by arguing, along the lines of Wayne C.

Booth's affirmation that fiction and rhetoric are interconnected, that poetry and rhetoric are likewise integrally tied. To this debate, I add an emphasis on philosophy—from which Plato, Ramus, and others exclude rhetoric and poetry—as likewise essential to understanding both poetry and rhetoric. By recognizing the interrelatedness of these disciplines, we may better clarify poetry's broad, ethical appeals that seem so valuable to

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I am quite fortunate to have had such helpful support from my family, friends, and professors throughout my graduate school career. I greatly appreciate the guidance and support of my committee chair, Dr. Killingsworth, and my committee members, Dr.

Swearingen, Dr. Eide, and Dr. Radzik, who so generously shared their expertise not only during the development of this dissertation, but also since I first started graduate school.

In helping me refine and improve my scholarship, they have also made the process even more pleasurable and meaningful. I am very grateful for Dr. Killingsworth's always prompt and practical responses to my work, and especially for his commitment to helping me to enjoy writing.

Having grown up in a literary family, I am not quite certain at which moment other people started helping me to think through the ideas developed in this dissertation.

My family has always encouraged my love of literature, and kernels of my ongoing conversations with them persist in this dissertation. I am especially grateful for my family's generous support of my graduate work, which provided an invaluable opportunity to refine my ideas and responses to our conversations. And finally, I would

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Poetry, Rhetoric, and Mourning "Márgarét, áre you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving?... It is the blight man was born for,/It is Margaret you mourn for" (G. Hopkins, "Spring and Fall" lines 1Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Spring and Fall" (hereafter cited as "Spring") suggests that mourning for others implies mourning for oneself, grieving for one's own losses. Hopkins's emphasis on the mournful self, however, contrasts strongly with Pericles's emphasis on the mournful community. In his famous funeral oration, Pericles addresses mourners at Athens's public burial for her first fallen soldiers of the Peloponnesian War: "So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier issue" (Thucydides). Hopkins and Pericles illustrate that poetry, in the genre of the elegy, and rhetoric, in the genre of the eulogy or funeral oration, both have long and venerable traditions of reflecting on loss.

Elegiac and rhetorical modes of mourning in fact share a common history, as C.

Jan Swearingen explains in "Song to Speech: The Origins of Early Epitaphia in Ancient Near Eastern Women's Lamentations." Funeral orations like Pericles's originated in the ____________

This dissertation follows the style of MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.

songs of mourning and praise sung by women in the ancient Near East (Swearingen, "Song to Speech" 213-214). Jeffrey Walker affirms that "what comes to be called the art of rhetoric... in fact originates... from an expansion of the poetic/epideictic realm"— and both poetry and rhetoric were preceded by song (18). The term "poiêsis," connoting "doing" or "making," emerged from "aoidê," meaning "song," but the terms "rhêtor" and "technê rhêtorikê" did not arise until almost a century later (Walker 19, 26). Swearingen traces the development of mourning songs into epitaphia and funeral orations as a result of historical influences like the advent of literacy, the increasing prevalence of patriarchal values and individualism, and women's removal from public rituals and positions of power ("Song to Speech" 217).

The genre of the funeral oration emerged in opposition to women's songful lamentations. For example, the funeral oration given at the Athenian burial ground, Kerameikos, portrays "the war hero-citizen" as an offspring not of human parents, but of the polis itself, defining the burial ground, its fallen warriors—and the oration itself—as public, masculine, and exclusive of "the lamentations of women, hymns, and the poets' lies" (Swearingen, "Song to Speech" 220-221). In contrast, Swearingen finds Aspasia's speech in Plato's Menexenos challenging the masculine publicity of such funeral rhetoric. Like Pericles and other funeral orators, Aspasia eulogizes fallen war-heroes, but she acknowledges these men's personal connections and upbringing—while, as

Swearingen points out, teaching her audience about rhetoric:

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Like Pericles, Aspasia eulogizes Athen's fallen warriors, but her personal terms like "friends" and her references to their "nurture and training" seem to synthesize public and private, masculine and feminine dichotomies. As Swearingen points out, the rhetorical tradition "silenced" Aspasia and her female counterparts ("Song to Speech" 223). This historical division between public and private rhetorics of mourning not only excluded women and other non-citizens from public rituals and forms of expression, but also seems to have invalidated certain modes of mourning, like lyric expressions of grief.

Such contentions about who gets to mourn and how are still rife within America today. For example, in "Spontaneous Memorials and Contemporary Modes of Mourning in America," Erika Doss describes conflicts over roadside memorials, which are banned in some states (Massachusetts, Missouri, Oregon, and Wisconsin) and regulated in others (Colorado, Florida, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming) (303). When Rodney Lyle Scott took offense at a Christian roadside memorial he passed on his way to work, he took it upon himself to remove the crosses and flowers (Doss 303). The family who had constructed the memorial honoring their lost loved one sued, but the case was dismissed when Scott's attorney questioned the use of "public lands to endorse religion" (Doss 303). What count as appropriate—and legal—ways of grieving and mourning in public continues to be debated today.

Doss also interrogates the pressing issue of "who is valued as a person worth mourning and remembering," an issue still hotly debated today, as evident in the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting (295). When carpenter Greg Zanis constructed fifteen wooden crosses on a hill by Columbine High School to commemorate both the thirteen victims who were killed and the two shooters, public dispute ensued (Doss 311). Some people left demeaning messages (like "'evil bastard' and 'unrepentant murderer'") on the killers' crosses, and physical fighting broke out between mourners' visiting the victims' crosses and those visiting the killers' crosses (Doss 311). The father of one of the student victims, Brian Rohrbough, removed the killers' crosses only two days after their construction, complaining that "it was an outrage to use a Christian symbol to honor the murderers at a victims' site" (Lowe and Guy qtd. in Doss 311). Rohrbough also helped relatives of another student victim chop down two of the fifteen trees planted by a local church to memorialize everyone who died in the tragic event (Doss 312). While Zanis viewed the killers as "victims of society," sharing the church's recognition of them as worthy of commemoration like the people they killed, Rohrbough and other mourners saw the killers as "undeserving of any form of commemoration or consideration"—as if through their brutal actions they had divested themselves of personhood worthy of mourning (Gray qtd. in Doss 311; Doss 311-312). Doss shows that what counts as lost personhood or subjectivity deserving of grief is constructed and in part projected onto individuals by their companions and communities.

Constructions and projections of personhood are also evident in Doss's account of mourning rituals surrounding pregnancy and infant losses, like the uses of "memory boxes" and "burial cradles" to commemorate lost fetuses and infants (Fein qtd. in Doss 304; Layne qtd. in Doss 304). Doss explains that "fetal personhood" is also constructed by antiabortion memorials, like the Memorial Wall for the Unborn at the Sacred Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Boulder Colorado, under which are buried the ashes of thousands of aborted fetuses (304-305).1 These fetuses and infants are constructed as persons or subjects worthy of mourning by the church and/or by their parents and families. Similarly, Doss claims that the memorial NAMES quilt restructures both "American subjectivity" and "American modes of mourning" by incorporating "queers" and AIDS patients into "the national narrative" as persons whose deaths are worthy of mourning (Doss 313). These contemporary modes of mourning determine who does and does not count as a person worth mourning—and worth recognizing as a fellow citizen of the community—much like the transition from lamentations to funeral orations in ancient cultures determined who could and could not mourn publicly. Mourning rituals still partially determine whom we do and do not recognize as people—and rhetoric and poetry both play a role shaping these recognitions.

1. The ashes were obtained from a mortuary that broke its contract with the Boulder Abortion Clinic not to permit the use of the ashes in "any religious or political ceremonies" (Doss 305).

Lyric poetry constructs and projects subjects worth mourning and subjects who can and cannot mourn. For example, both Christina Rossetti and John Keats construct speakers who deserve mourning and remembering—who their readers should mourn—in their respective poems "Remember" and "This Living Hand." Rossetti's speaker urges the listener to "Remember me when I am gone," arguing (at least in the sonnet's opening octet) that she is worth remembering and that listener should remember and mourn her (line 1). Rossetti thus positions her reader as someone capable of mourning, indeed someone valuable specifically as a mourner. Similarly, Keats's speaker argues that he is worth mourning by threatening to haunt the listener after he dies until she sacrifices her own life so that her "conscience" might be "calmed" (line 7). In the most austere of possible readings, the listener is thus constructed as someone not worth mourning— someone valuable only insofar as she mourns and remembers the speaker.

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