Academic journal article Style

Pinter's Poetry: A Diachronic Analysis

Academic journal article Style

Pinter's Poetry: A Diachronic Analysis

Article excerpt

A playwright, poet, actor, director, political activist, and the winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, Harold Pinter has become a focus of global criticism. Although Pinter was regarded as "one of the greatest playwrights of the twentieth century" (Pendarvis 189), his drama has been greatly discussed around the world; his poetry, on the other hand, has failed to gain enough attention. Up to now, most scholars (1) have discussed Pinter's poetry in passing when their foci are on his plays or life. They have observed with acumen some characteristics of Pinter's poetry. Like his best plays, Pinter's best poems can "force mundane reality to assume the deepest overtones" (Baker and Tabachnick 18). However, little attention has been given to the evolution of Pinter's poetry as a whole.

In a period of 60 years or so, Pinter as a poet had written a great number of poems, among which "at least 90" are published (Balter, Harold Pinter 134). A diachronic study of these published pieces will manifest an overall tendency toward a gradual compression: "Words, lines, verses all become briefer as time passes" (www.haroldpinter.org), which is confirmed by Baker when he observes that Pinter's "poems become shorter, increasingly so, with age" (Harold Pinter 19). But brevity is not all. In terms of diction, syntax, image, and other poetic components, Pinter's earlier poems are more elaborate, ornate, irregular, obscure, complicated, while his later ones become clearer, more direct, more unadorned, regular, and easily intelligible. His early poetic style can be called "baroque" while the late one "plain." The early phase covers from the 1950s to the 1960s; his middle phase encompasses the 1980s; the late phase refers to the 1990s and beyond. Such dates are approximate and inevitable features of earlier poetic rhetoric sometimes reoccur in later poetry written later. This paper will investigate the change Pinter's poetry undergoes by analyzing some representative pieces in different periods: and this examination will help us better understand the development of Pinter's poetic career. However, it should be borne in mind that Pinter's poetry, in company with others, has a tendency to resist formulaic generalizations.

The changes in his poetry reflect developments in Pinter as a creative writer. His early poetic writing is much influenced by the themes, language, and forms of Jacobean revenge tragedy, an interest encouraged by his English master at Hackney Downs Grammar School Joe Brearley, (2) and the inflated language of contemporary poets such as W. S. Graham and Dylan Thomas. (3) His middle period sees him increasingly influenced by Samuel Beckett (4) and reflects Pinter's paring down of language, simplifying it and remembering personal relationships. In Pinter's later period, his poetry is affected by personal loss such as the death of his father and close friends, personal illness, increasing awareness of his own mortality, and increasing political commitment.

Pinter's poetry also depicts the absurdity of the human condition in the post-Second World War world and reflects his effort to convey the pointlessness of existence by exposing its bleakness and by fighting injustice. Pinter's lifelong friend Mick Goldstein recalled that, at an evening gathering after school, Pinter cited "Cardinal Newman to me about creation being a vast aboriginal calamity." Billington, who quotes this remark, adds that "the notion that they need the surface of daily existence lie destination and emptiness permeates [Pinter's] work." (5) But this thematic preoccupation changes from the sense of apocalyptic angst caused by the aftermath of the War to concrete expression of oppression. It partly explains the permeation of death throughout Pinter's canon. The early poetry is shrouded in an enigmatic and doomed atmosphere; in his later poetry, the source of death takes on the shape of human agency in the so-called "democracies," to use a word he repeats four times in his 1996 poem "The Old Days. …

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