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Changing Times: Kipling, Yeats, Eliot, and the Measure of Modernity


“Changing Times: Kipling, Eliot, Yeats, and the Measure of Modernity,” examines the understudied discourse surrounding temporal prosody and its relationship with the long and varied process of national and global time standardization in nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetry. Today, readers are trained to think of English meter as accentual-syllabic, learning the English approximations of Latin feet and often laboring under the misapprehension that the iambs and dactyls used to describe a poem’s meter are both apolitical and ahistorical. However, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, debates concerning poetic rhythm raged and critics and poets alike proposed and employed a variety of metrical systems. Temporal prosody was an influential system in which the unit of poetic measurement was not the foot, but a time unit analogous to the musical bar, which allowed the inclusion of a varied number of syllables and the option for measured silence. While individual prosodists’ systems vary, temporal prosody can be summarized by E.S. Dallas’ 1852 formulation that “such, then, is metre in its simplest form – time heard.” Importantly, Dallas makes this pronouncement in the thick of material time standardization efforts across England, but well before critics of modernist literature begin to agree upon the effect of time standardization on literary works. And while critics have routinely read the innovative literary techniques that characterize modernist writing as the result of personal resistance to the imposition of standard time, the process of time standardization was longer, more complex, and more contested than such critical accounts admit. Similarly, critical narratives about temporality primarily focus on works of fiction rather than poetry. I argue that the debates surrounding temporal prosody at the turn of the century make poetry an important site for interrogating the modern subject’s changing sense of time. Along with historicizing the prosodic practice of three major figures, Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats, and T.S. Eliot, my dissertation questions entrenched critical narratives about Victorian and modernist time, metrical practice, and the development of free verse.

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